BARE BONES: THE LAZARUS EFFECT, SOMETHING WICKED and WOLFCOP

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THE LAZARUS EFFECT (2014)

I credit Blumhouse Pictures a lot for the recent horror renaissance, so it’s disappointing when they crank out a lazy, generic piece of PG-13 horror like this. The Lazarus Effect is a routine, derivative (Flatliners anyone?) and predictable story about some scientists and students who are working on a way to prolong the period of time in which a recently dead person can be successfully resuscitated. Predictably, one of the group is accidentally killed and the far from perfect formula is used to revive them. Also predictably, they don’t come back quite normal. Film is competently directed by David Gelb, but the script by Luke Dawson and Jeremy Slater reeks of been-there-done-that. We’ve seen all of it before and much better done. The film also wastes a good cast on top of that. Wasn’t completely bored, but wasn’t completely interested either. Stars Olivia Wilde, Mark Duplass, Sarah Bolger, Evan Peters, Community’s Donald Glover and Ray Wise.

2 star rating

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SOMETHING WICKED (2009)

The most heartbreaking thing about this flick is that it is the last film starring the underrated and sadly gone too soon Brittany Murphy. it’s no surprise this convoluted mess was left on a shelf for five years before finally getting a minimal release. The barely coherent story follows pretty Christine Webb (Shantel VanSanten), who graduates high school and on the night of celebration and her announcement that she and her boyfriend James (John Robinson) want to get married, gets into a horrible car accident that costs the life of her parents. A year later Christine is married and in college and being stalked by a mysterious figure. She is also lusted after by her cop brother (James Patrick Stuart), her husband’s co-worker Ryan (Julian Morris) and apparently the director of this film as all the close-up shots of the pretty Miss VanSanten border on softcore porn. Murphy plays cop brother Bill’s psychiatrist wife whose barren womb sends the police officer into another woman’s bed…and to lust after his sister like we mentioned. There is a conspiracy of murder and shocking reveals and by the end of this badly edited soap opera level mess, I lost track of all the plots, sub-plots and double crosses and joined the cinematographer in staring at Shantel VanSanten’s shapely rear. Was there even a point to this movie?

one star rating

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WOLFCOP (2014)

I’m not a big fan of the Troma movies and this Canadian horror/comedy is definitely in the Troma-wannabe category. The story takes place in the rural town of Woodhaven and finds lazy, alcoholic cop Lou (Leo Fafard) being transformed into a werewolf by a group of cultists, who need werewolf blood for a ceremony to make themselves more powerful. Lou though, won’t let a slight case of lycanthropy keep him from catching the bad guys. The use of practical gore and make-up effects is about all this dull and unfunny flick has going for it. Most of the attempts at humor fall flat and the action sequences are very routine and strictly low budget…which would be fine if they had some energy or style. There are generous amounts of blood spattered, but the film is lethargically paced even for a movie that isn’t even 80 minutes long. That and it is just trying way too hard to be a midnight movie and the best of those types of flicks usually happen unintentionally. Not sure where all the internet hype comes from, as it lacks the style, originality, cleverness or outright manic over-the-top ferocity that makes a good cult classic.

2 star rating

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 -MonsterZero NJ
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REVIEW: FAULTS (2015)

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FAULTS (2015)

Faults is an intriguing and entertaining little movie from writer/director Riley Stearns. The story opens with cult expert Ansel Roth (Leland Orser) as his life is falling apart, his latest book has tanked and he owes some shady characters (Lance Reddick and Jon Gries) a lot of money. He sees hope in turning things around when a desperate couple (Beth Grant and Chris Ellis) come to him to for help to rescue their daughter Claire (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) from a cult oddly called “Faults”. For a price, Roth kidnaps the young woman and locks her in a hotel room to ‘deprogram’ her. While it seems to be going well at first, events begin to spiral out of control and the line between deprogrammer and subject blurs as does the one between deprogramming and brainwashing…but who is brainwashing who?

I enjoyed this movie. Not only do we get some offbeat characters that populate Roth’s world at the moment, but some interesting questions are posed and there are some nice twists and surprises. Claire appears content and happy when kidnapped by Roth and her parents seem a bit overbearing and controlling. It makes us question the validity of what is transpiring and if her parents have a right to force a full-grown, 28 year-old woman to adhere to their will against her own. We also question whether a man who has lost control over his own life is in any position to try to undo the effects of the cult’s influence, when he seems to be having his own issues. That’s also the fun of this film, which is played seriously, but has a darkly comic atmosphere to it. It gives us things to question, but just when we think we’ve got things figured out, it throws us some twists and curves. There are some nice surprises here and being in the hotel room with our characters in such an intimate setting, sometimes makes us too close to realize there are other things going on, until it’s too late…just like poor Ansel. Tables are turned and characters are not who they seem and Ansel is too focused on his own problems to see it…and it takes the audience awhile to realize it, too, though we do catch on long before our beleaguered ‘expert’. A clever and sometimes downright devious story that is intriguing to watch unfold and is well directed by Stearns.

This wouldn’t have worked as well without a good cast and that it has. Leland Orser really brings Roth to life as a man who is beaten-down and hitting rock bottom and who sees an opportunity to turn things around…so much so, he doesn’t see what’s really going on in front of him. Mary Elizabeth Winstead turns in another strong performance…she was so good in Smashed…that proves she is an underrated actress who really needs more recognition for her work. Her Claire is sweet and a little confused at first, but the more we get to know her, the more we realize she’s far more in control than she let’s on. It’s worth watching alone to see her slowly turn the tables on the man who is supposedly there to ‘fix’ her. Reddick and Gries are good as the oddball thugs Roth owes money to, for his self published failure of a book, and Grant and Ellis shine too, as Claire’s outwardly typical Middle American parents with their own hidden facets. A very good cast.

I definitely recommend this indie flick for those who like something offbeat and intriguing. The script is clever and the performances all strong. It’s an odd little movie for sure but, it’s involving and the story is refreshingly different. Definitely worth a look!

-MonsterZero NJ

3 kidnapped Claires (for her own good, of course!).

faults rating

 

 

 

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WEEKEND BOX OFFICE ESTIMATES APRIL 17-19

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Complete estimates are in for the weekend box office!

1. “Furious 7” $29 Million

2. “Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2” $24 Million

3. “Unfriend” $16 Million

4. “Home” $10.3 Million

5. “The Longest Ride” $6.85 million

6. “Get Hard” $4.8 Million

7. “Monkey Kingdom” $4.7 Million

8. “Woman In Gold” $4.6 Million

9. “Insurgent” $4.15 Million

10. “Cinderella” $3.9 Million

source: Box Office Mojo

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: UNFRIENDED (2015)

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UNFRIENDED (2015)

(Clicking the highlighted links brings you to corresponding reviews and articles here at The Movie Madhouse!)

While there have been horror films that utilized Skype before (Paranormal Activity 4) and films that took place totally on a laptop (Open Windows), Blumhouse Productions’ Unfriended is the first to set a horror film completely within the social media world. Characters pop from Skype to Youtube to Facebook as the story unfolds and we even get some messages about the negative effects of cyber-bullying and having your entire life published online for the world to see…all within a surprisingly chilling and suspenseful horror.

The story opens on the one year anniversary of the suicide of high school student Laura Barns (Heather Soddaman), who killed herself after a humiliating video is posted on Youtube. Five of her friends, including pretty Blaire (Shelley Hennig), are having a Skype chat when an unknown caller joins in. No one can delete them and any effort to identify them leads back to the accounts of the dead Laura. A possible prank in bad taste turns into a living nightmare as the cyber-stalker starts to threaten the group into playing a game that slowly brings out their darkest secrets. There are deadly consequences if anyone tries to leave the game and as their numbers dwindle, horrible truths are revealed and the friends quickly begin to turn on each other. Is this some hacker with a cruel and personal vendetta, or has Laura truly returned from the grave with a vengeance?

Director Levan Gabriadze and writer Nelson Greaves have come up with a very clever horror set in the cyber world that today’s teens…and adults…inhabit. It lays out five convincing, typical high schoolers and then put’s them in a situation where their compulsion to document, and sometimes post, everything they do, comes back to haunt them…literally. Not only is Laura’s character dead due to a mean-spirited Youtube video, but her actual suicide was caught and posted as well. There is no privacy, even in death and this film exploits that as the mysterious stalker reveals the group’s darkest secrets through photos and videos they think are hidden safely on their computers. The fiend also seems to know some very personal details and there is even an online article about the dead communicating through social media with the living, to get the group…and the audience…properly spooked. And Gabriadze and his editors do a good job of building the chills and tension as this online nightmare gets worse and worse and the circle of friends gruesomely loses members when they don’t cooperate. The filmmakers make good use of the limited range of Skype, so we never know if there is someone…or something…lurking just behind our terrified teens. If anything held the film back a little, it was that those from an older generation, like myself, may have a harder time identifying with the laptop generation and the urge to have one’s personal life connected so thoroughly with the internet. That and some of the clicking back and forth between windows sometimes disrupts the tension a bit. Otherwise this is a very clever and sometimes very intense little horror that will make you think twice about how much you open up your personal life in cyberspace…or taunting someone else online.

The cast all do a convincing job portraying typical modern teens. They have their drama and sometimes can be a bit insensitive when it comes to the urge to go public with what happens around them and involving others. Shelley Hennig’s Blaire is our focus…it’s her laptop on which the action takes place…and she does solid work as she first tries to get to the bottom of this strange intruder and then conveying her terror as she is broken down and comes apart likes the rest of her friends. Those friends being played by Moses Storm as boyfriend Mitch, Renes Olstead as Jess, Will Peltz as Adam, Jacob Wysocki as stoner/cyber-geek Ken and Courtney Halverson as the bitchy Val. They all convey well their fear and anger as their souls are bared and it’s almost fun to watch as they go from fearing for one another to turning on each other to save their own lives.

So, overall I liked this a lot. I think it would have been even more effective if I identified better with today’s social media immersed generation. I don’t get people’s need to document and post their every though and action…says the guy with the blog…and certainly don’t understand the apathy and lack of respect by posting things harmful about others. This is not the fault of the film, however, and overall I recommend it for a clever, devious and sometimes very disturbing cyber-horror.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 very solid laptops.


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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: SPRING (2014)

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SPRING (2014)

(Clicking the highlighted links brings you to corresponding reviews and articles here at The Movie Madhouse!)

Spring is a very unique combination of genres that blends a sweet romance with disturbing horror and science fiction elements and does it very effectively. The story finds troubled Evan (Lou Taylor Pucci), who recently lost his mother and his job, fleeing to Italy to clear out his head and avoid the coming troubles from a recent bar fight. There he meets an enchanting young Italian girl named Louise (Nadia Hilker) who is a student and scientist conducting studies in evolution and genetics (pssst…never a good sign). It becomes obvious early on that there is something very different about Louise and as Evan falls deeper in love with the mysterious young woman, he has no idea how dangerous his love for her may become.

Written by Justin Benson and co-directed with Aaron Moorhead, this is a very different and sometimes very moving horror/romance. There are a number of things that make this work far better than you might expect and one is the establishing of a legitimate and very sweet love story between the displaced Evan and the beguiling Louise. If this were an indie romance, it would still have worked just fine. The filmmakers add a very disturbing twist to Louise, though, that will definitely bring chills when the side effects of her condition/true nature make themselves known. The FX portraying these effects are another reason this works so well. What we are shown ranges from the subtly chilling to outright shocking. There is also violent behavior that sometimes accompanies these changes and thus we do fear for Evan…even though we also want the two to be together…because, again, the love story aspect works so well. It’s gives the viewer some refreshingly mixed feelings. We can’t decide how we want this to work out. It makes for a very offbeat, engaging and disturbing movie. More elements in the plus column are an atmospheric soundtrack by Jimmy Laville and some lush cinematography of the Italian locations by co-director Moorehead.

Yet another factor that makes this work, is the cast. Pucci’s Evan comes across as a guy who has been hardened by some tough road walked and yet he stills seems to be a good man at heart. He’s likable and seems to have found something here in Italy that he has been looking for all his life and it’s not just Louise. As for his paramour, German actress Nadia Hilker is perfect as the beautiful, enchanting, mystery girl with a dark secret. Not only is Miss Hilker the stuff of romantic fantasy, but is dead-on in playing the emotional turmoil of a woman who has a unique and sometimes dangerous condition yet, very human desires and emotions. She’s enigmatic, frisky, feisty and sexy, yet tragically sad and definitely a touch dangerous. A huge factor that this movie works as good as it does is the perfect casting of it’s leading lady. She even handles some potentially silly dialog with a sincerity and earnestness that makes it click.

It’s not perfect. When Louise finally explains what is going on with her, it is a bit out there and tough to swallow. It requires a lot of suspension of disbelief, but good work by the cast and the deftness of it’s handling by the directors wins out over a potential story collapse. Also, when Evan finally finds out what is going on by walking in during one of Louise’s “instances”, he accepts her preposterous sounding explanation and comes to terms with it a little too quickly even after he witnesses something out of a nightmare. He decides to stay by her side even with that very unbelievable explanation and does so a little too easily. It far from ruins the film, but there should have been a little more evidence of torn emotions before he decides he loves her enough to deal with her as she is. Then again, in a weird way, this is a sort of fairy tale, a disturbing, reverse Beauty and The Beast, if you will, so, from that perspective we can accept it easier, as fairy tales are exactly that…even dark ones.

A very bold, unique and offbeat film from Benson and Moorehead. One that is sweet and romantic one minute and disturbing and violent the next. Skilled direction and great work by the cast make it work far better than it should and work very well at that. Add in that Nadia Hilker is absolutely crush-worthy even when in not quite human form and no matter how slimy, spiny or gory things get, we never stop rooting for Evan and Louise to make it together. A refreshingly different and very affecting horror/romance.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 and 1/2 bunnies…don’t ask…

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: WER (2013)

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WER (2013)

(Clicking the highlighted links brings you to corresponding reviews and articles here at The Movie Madhouse!)

Wer is a fascinating and sometimes gruesomely intense twist on the werewolf film from The Devil Inside’s William Brent Bell. The film takes place in France where a vacationing American family is savagely attacked by what appears to be a large animal. The sole survivor (Stephanie Lemelin), though, describes a very large hairy man as the culprit. Police quickly arrest local resident Talan Gwynek (Brian Scott O’Connor) as the suspect. Gwynek suffers from Porphyria, a rare disease that can cause excessive body hair and other symptoms which are believed to have inspired the legends of werewolves and vampires. Enter human rights lawyer Katherine Moore (A.J.Cook) who plans to prove that Talan is just being used as a scapegoat. As her team (Vik Sahay and Simon Quaterman) investigates the case, they not only find a conspiracy to want to see Talan convicted, but a more shocking possibility there may be some truth to the ancient legends after all.

I really enjoyed this movie. Not only does director and co-writer…along with Matthew Peterman…William Brent Bell deliver a really fresh take on the traditional werewolf movie, but a suspenseful thriller and a gruesomely bloody horror film, too. The script is smart and keeps us guessing till the reveal about halfway through and then turns up the gruesome action once the film switches gears and becomes a more traditional monster movie…though one we aren’t really expecting. The use of the rare Porphyria as it’s focus and the implication that it has effects we are not aware of, is very cleverly handled and helps make this tale of lycanthropy more unique. There are also some really intense action sequences with some delightfully gruesome gore to satisfy the need for some more traditional elements. The film only stumbles just slightly when another character contracts the disease from a bite and there is an over-the-top battle royal between the two infected. It’s fun, but seems just a little out of place when compared to the rest of the film…on the other hand, who doesn’t like a good monster fight! Overall, though, the flick combines the horror and crime investigation elements nicely with a touch of conspiracy thriller thrown in. On a production level, the gore FX are good for the most part, though there is a lot of CGI which doesn’t look completely convincing and there are some really effective FX to illustrate the infected’s strengths and abilities.

The cast are all convincing. A.J. Cook is sexy and strong as Katherine. She truly believes in Talan’s innocence and when things start to spiral out of control, she conveys the woman’s shock and regret very well. O’Connor gives his Talan a humble sadness that makes you want to believe his innocence and also cuts an imposing figure that makes you have doubts. Vik Sahay is good as the cocky and arrogant Eric, as is Quaterman as animal specialist and Katherine’s former flame, Gavin. Rounding out is Sebastian Roché as Klaus Pistor, a hard nosed cop who may have ulterior motives to believe Gwynek’s guilt.

Wer is a really inventive and very intense horror flick. It breathes some new life into the time honored werewolf sub-genre and was well-directed from a cleverly written script. It’s got a pace that moves quickly, but not too fast and keeps us guessing till it’s ready to spatter the screen with some impressively bloody action. A really enjoyable flick that gets far too little attention than it deserves.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 and 1/2 full moons.

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: FROM THE DARK (2014)

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FROM THE DARK (2014)

(Clicking the highlighted links brings you to corresponding reviews and articles here at The Movie Madhouse!)

Irish horror film begins in the rural countryside where a farmer (Gerry O’Brien) is doing an excavation and unearths what appears to to be the corpse of something humanoid buried beneath the ground. It proves to be not quite dead and attacks him. At the same time young couple Sarah (Niamh Algar) and Mark (Stephen Cromwell) are traveling through the area and run into car trouble. As fate would have it, they arrive at the farmer’s home to seek help and encounter the man with a severe neck wound and acting strangely. The farmer isn’t their only problem, though, as something else is out there in the dark night…something with a thirst for human blood.

Conor McMahon’s last film was the 2012 clown horror/comedy Stitches but, here he goes for a completely serious approach as he tells his Irish vampire story. He generates some nice tension and suspense, especially when using a plot device dealing with the creatures aversion to light…of which there is a lack of. There is some nice atmosphere and McMahon gives it a deliberately smoldering pace which works very well in maintaining the mood. There is plenty of action and more than adequate blood spilling and we also get a fiery and resourceful heroine from Algar’s Sarah, who has to battle the creature once Mark is badly wounded early on. It’s a small film and true, some scenes could have used more impact but, otherwise this is a fresh twist on the time-worn vampire story and a case where the ambiguity of our blood sucking fiend works very well for it. The Nosferatu-like creature (Ged Murray) is effective and kept in shadow and there is a tense cat and mouse game between it and Sarah for the last act. McMahon also establishes Sarah and Mark’s relationship and character very quickly which helps us sympathize and empathize with them throughout the story. There is some crisp cinematography and good use of the remote Irish locations by Michael Lavelle and a spooky score by Ray Harman to add to the film overall. A solid little horror.

I liked this little movie. It could have used a bit more intensity at times but, the minimalist approach worked very well in maintaining a subtle creepiness and the scenes of full-on horror are very effective. It’s atmospheric and manages to add a few small fresh twists to vampire lore while delivering the bloodshed and suspenseful action expected. Niamh Algar makes for a very endearing and feisty heroine and our creature is effectively vicious and mysterious. A good little horror that goes for a smaller, more intimate story in an age of bombastic FX overkill. Recommended.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 fangs.

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: FEAR NO EVIL (1981)

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FEAR NO EVIL (1981)

(Remember, clicking the highlighted links brings you to other reviews and articles here at The Movie Madhouse!)

This 80s religious based horror is an absolutely terrible movie from future The Lady In White writer/director Frank LaLoggia. It literally takes the on-going battle between Lucifer (Stefan Arngrim) and three Archangels, Mikhail (Elizabeth Hoffman), Rafael (Frank Birney) and Gabrielle (Kathleen Rowe McAllen) and places it in a small town high school setting. The film has The Devil incarnate as an odd high school student named Andrew (Arngrim) who allows himself to be teased at school yet, demonically torments his parents at home. He is pursued by archangels in the form of a priest (Birney), a local woman (Hoffman) and a pretty fellow student (McAllen) that leads to a castle set confrontation between good and evil with a small town, a Passion Play production and a host of zombies, caught in the middle.

I’m not a fan of LaLoggia as a filmmaker but, at least The Lady In White had some positive qualities. This flick is a dull, schizophrenic mess that is both laughable and tragic. While I can appreciate the risk of taking a biblical battle of good and evil, literally involving Lucifer and The Archangels, and setting in a small town high school, this just comes off as a ridiculous mess. LaLoggia throws in everything but, the kitchen sink when some subtlety would have work much better. We get zombies, homosexual overtones that don’t seem to have a point…other than to shock, as it was the early 80s…and a laughable demonic assault on a production of The Passion Play. The final showdown resembles a cheesy 80s heavy metal video as Arngrim goes from creepy school kid to androgens rock star, when Lucifer finally battles Gabrielle in her cute, girl-next-door guise. Add in some truly cheesy special visual FX and some only moderate effective make-up and gore and you have a mess that is barely coherent and overly bombastic. Yes, in a way there is some entertainment to how blatantly awful it is but, ultimately it’s a waste of your time. Too bad, the story at least has an audacious, ambition to it but, it is just carried out in the worst possible way on pretty much every level.

So, while I let a lot slide with some films as long as they entertain…especially 80s flicks…this one is just too much of a ridiculous and misguided mess to enjoy. While I do feel the basic idea was a bit daring, the execution and result is too bad to even laugh at…OK, I did chuckle a little. It’s an incompetent and sometimes ludicrous attempt to combine a high school horror with a battle between good and evil straight out of the pages of The Bible. Maybe a more gifted filmmaker could have pulled it off but, LaLoggia loses control from the first frames and never gets it back. Awful.

-MonsterZero NJ

1 androgynous, 80s rock star-ish incarnation of evil.

Fear No Evil rating

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BOOK REVIEW: BORING GIRLS by SARA TAYLOR

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Occasionally at The Movie Madhouse I do crank out a book review if it’s something I think warrants attention. As this particular book is written by the lead singer of one of my favorite bands, The Birthday Massacre and since I’ve reviewed their music here before, why not Sara “Chibi” Taylor’s first book…

BORING GIRLS by SARA TAYLOR

Impressive debut book by Sara Taylor, who as “Chibi” is lead singer of The Birthday Massacre, a great goth/industrial band from Canada. Sara uses her song writing skills combined with her music business experiences to craft an engrossing tale of Rachel, a teen who finds expression through music and then, sadly, violence. Rachel is a shy introvert who finds her voice figuratively and literally when she discovers a love for death metal music and a bit of a soul mate in new friend Fern. Together they form the band Colostomy Hag and begin to pursue their dream of fame, fortune and succeeding where few women have before. But a horrible turn of events after going backstage with a band they idolize, shatters their worlds and leads them down a path of murder and gruesome revenge.

Taylor has always had a gift for poetic yet, dark lyrics and that translates wonderfully from songs to story-form. Her descriptions are vivid and her prose does flow like the lyrics to a 384 page Gothic opera. The things that make this tragic tale work so well, though, is that she creates realistic, engaging and delightfully original characters and takes them on a journey that slowly gets more and more twisted as it goes on. We like our lead Rachel. She’s shy but spirited at first and then discovers a way to express and defend herself and it’s just an unfortunate encounter that changes her path from one of possible fame and success to one of bloodshed and vengeance. If this book was about a girl and her band alone, I would still have enjoyed it immensely, but Taylor gives it a twisted twist and takes her lead character and best friend on a path that ruins their lives in more ways than one. It’s heartbreaking, as when she begins her spiral into homicidal behavior…even though it’s somewhat understandable…we still feel for Rachel and don’t want to see her turn into the person she is becoming. The book also offers a dark glimpse into what may occur behind closed doors in the music business and it causes us to continue to sympathize with Rachel…and Fern…despite their increasingly cruel behavior. A very involving, bold and engrossing read by a talented songwriter who is now a talented novelist. Highly recommended for something a bit off the beaten path told with a unique voice.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 and 1/2 guitars!

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Sara “Chibi” Taylor

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WEEKEND BOX OFFICE ESTIMATES APRIL 10-12

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Complete estimates are in for the weekend box office!

1. “Furious 7” $60.6 Million

2. “Home” $19 Million

3. “The Longest Ride” $13.5 million

4. “Get Hard” $8.6 Million

5. “Cinderella” $7.2 Million

6. “Insurgent” $6.85 Million

7. “Woman In Gold” $5.85 Million

8. “It Follows” $2 Million

9. “Danny Collins” $1.6 Million

10. “While We’re Young” $1.4 Million

source: Box Office Mojo

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