**”THE INTERVIEW: PART II”**

PART TWO: L.L. SOARES INTERVIEWS PETER N. DUDAR

L.L. SOARES: Well, here we are, back with Stoker-nominated writer Peter N. Dudar, to promote his new book, and give readers a little more insight into what we’ve both been up to lately.

Peter, I’d like to talk to you specifically about your new novella, THE MISSISSIPPI GLORY HOLE MUTILATIONS, out now from Grinning Skull Press. First off, congrats on the new book!

PETER N. DUDAR: Thanks! It’s great to have a new book out, especially after the pandemic. 2020 was a total wash as far as my writing career. So 2021 felt like I was starting from scratch. Getting back into writing was difficult; when you’re not flexing those muscles on a regular basis, they tend to atrophy a bit. I started slow, working on short stories and revising some of my older work. But by autumn of last year, I was ready to jump back in and working on something a bit longer.

LLS: I totally agree with you about the pandemic. For the first year or so, I lost all of my creativity. I didn’t read, I didn’t write, for about a year there. It was similar after 911. And It does feel like we’re starting from scratch again.

So, MISSISSIPPI GLORY HOLE is a sequel to BLOOD CULT OF THE BOOBY FARMERS. Can you tell us a little bit about that first book? And why did you want to do a sequel?

PND: BLOOD CULT was originally released in 2013, through Novello Publishers. I have to confess that stylistically, the story lands far outside my normal sensibilities, and my comfort zone. I tend to prefer well-crafted slow burn supernatural thrillers rather than the overtly gory and grotesque. BLOOD CULT allowed me the opportunity to craft a campy, over-the-top tribute to the old exploitation films of the 70s and 80s. My novella went out of print back in 2018 (I think), and I honestly was just going to let it rest in peace. The whole #MeToo movement happened the year after it was released, and the book’s subject matter was suddenly controversial in a very bad way. But when it went out of print from Novello, my publisher Michael Evans at Grinning Skull Press expressed interest in getting it back into circulation through GSP. I spent a lot of time thinking about it, but there was always that hesitation because I didn’t want any backlash coming back to bite me on the ass. It wasn’t until I started writing THE MISSISSIPPI GLORY HOLE MUTILATIONS that I realized that a) I love the character of Betty-June Gray and wanted to find out whatever became of her, and b) her new book was going to be an empowered woman story, where she would flip the script on the society that made her a victim in the first book. Once I knew that, I reached out to Michael at GSP and we worked out publishing both books this year. 

LLS: While BOOBY FARMERS is in the spirit of 1970s exploitation movies, the new book is more of a satire, even venturing into political humor. What inspired you to take such a different approach with the material this time?

PND: Yes, it absolutely IS a political satire disguised as a horror story, and it came as a response to five loathsome years of Trumpism and my own desperate need for a satisfying catharsis. The antagonist of the story is a composite caricature of several prominent GOP figures, but the most significant of the lot has a name that rhymes with the book’s Senator Rich McDonnell. But that isn’t the ONLY storyline in the book, it’s only one facet to it. The novella really examines a lot of what I don’t care for right now in our society. There are several really rotten characters in the story, who behave badly, and how I’ve chosen to portray them and the fates they face before the book ends underscores the sense of ridicule I believe they deserve.

LLS: The titles of both books tend to capture readers’ imaginations. But instead of inspiring dread, there’s a sense of playfulness, where they feel like they’re in for something that’s going to be a lot of fun and isn’t concerned with being politically correct. Was that your intention, and were these books fun to write?

PND: Both these books were definitely fun to write. Again, with BLOOD CULT, I was going for a campy, titillating story title that was going to stop people in their tracks and immediately want to know if that book was for real. And it actually worked fairly well, because whenever I worked a sales table at writers conferences, people would always pick that book up first, flip through it, and then put it back down on the rack. They just weren’t buying it the way I’d hoped they would. The thing with BLOOD CULT is that it IS goofy and campy, but only at the beginning. There is a certain point in that story that, once you hit it, the atmosphere immediately shifts to a serious, high-tension nightmare and the campy elements practically evaporate. When GSP produced this new edition, they hired artist Jeffrey Kosh to rethink the cover, and he went with a style that looks EXACTLY like a movie poster from the 70s. It’s brilliant! He also did the cover for GLORY HOLE, and again, with the same intensity I’d hoped for.

LLS: You’re right, Jeffrey Kosh did some amazing covers for your books! I love his style. We’ve both been very lucky when it comes to cover artists – which I think is really important. The cover gives people their very first impression of a book, before they even get to the words.

PDN: When I came up with the story idea for THE MISSISSIPPI GLORY HOLE MUTILATIONS, I wanted to create a title as evocative and captivating as THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE (1974). I wanted it to sound like a macabre true-crime thriller that was also titillating in the same sense as BLOOD CULT is.

LLS: There’s also an obscure movie from 1972 called INVASION OF THE BLOOD FARMERS that most people haven’t heard of. It’s a goofy movie made on a shoestring like MANOS: THE HANDS OF FATE (1966). If you haven’t seen it, you might want to check it out.

PND: And yeah, I really had a lot of fun writing these, because there’s the sense of freedom that introducing bizarro elements allows for. It lets me pull the rug out from under the reader, because they usually have read my other work prior to these books and never see it coming. 

LLS: Both novellas take place in the town of Cold Currant, Mississippi. Can you tell us more about the place, and what inspired you to create it? Do you have more stories you want to base there?

PND: Cold Currant is an entirely fictional town established along the banks of the Mississippi River. It’s an impoverished farming community in the deep south, which is about as polar opposite as you can get to my hometown here in Maine…but when I think about it, it’s really not all that different after all. Like I said before, I’ve always been in love with THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE and wanted to create some kind of similar southern gothic vibe when I started writing BLOOD CULT. It just feels like The South has this deeper sense of cultural depression to it, where there are pockets of citizens that cling desperately to 20th Century ideals and societal norms. I loved going back there with GLORY HOLE, because the book feels saturated with that hot, swampy atmosphere you find in southern gothic novels. And I definitely plan to go back there for one final Betty-June novella sometime early next year. The final book will be titled THE JAILHOUSE CRACK WHORE EXORCISM. And if I can convince Michael at Grinning Skull Press, I’d love to put out an omnibus edition with all three novellas, with maybe one final short story at the end to cap it all off. 

LLS: Have you read much fiction by Edward Lee? He’s one of these writers I find myself going back to from time to time, and he’s a master of the redneck horror story, with classics like HEADERS and THE BIG HEAD in his oeuvre. While I don’t think your stuff is anywhere as extreme as Lee’s, these books are pretty over-the top, and there is a kind of shared sense of atmosphere at times. Is this intentional?

PND: Like I said, extreme horror really isn’t my favorite style of genre fiction, but I really should rectify that at some point and read some of his books. If I was trying to emulate anyone with my style of writing in these books, I would have to say it would be Joe R. Lansdale. His work DEFINITELY has that bizarro sense of humor and some wonderfully brilliant over-the-top moments. Nacogdoches, Texas and Cold Currant, Mississippi are definitely on the same landscape, even if my town is only fictional. I think both of my books have that same vibe as BUBBA HO-TEP (2002). Or maybe even the Rodriguez/Tarantino film GRINDHOUSE.

LLS: I remember seeing GRINDHOUSE (2007)in a theater when it first came out, and it was a real event. After its theatrical run, the two movies that make it up were broken up and are shown separately now. But the entire GRINDHOUSE experience, with both movies and the trailers all together, was a real treat.

PND: Let’s just say I had to reach my late 40s to write fiction that would have satisfied the 13-year-old version of myself. It’s gratuitous and graphic and insane, but the books also address some pretty topical stuff in ways I don’t think people are expecting when they start reading. There are morals to these stories, and if I’ve done my job well, people will have walked away from these books feeling entertained and glad they read them.

LLS: I’m not sure if you’ve had a chance to really talk about this, but what writers do you think are your biggest influences? And not just for this new book, but overall?

PND: Well, Lansdale, for sure. We got the chance to meet him this past summer at (a writer’s conference in New England) which was cool as hell, but it just seemed like he always had a crowd of people constantly surrounding him, so other than getting to act like a fan boy and having him sign some of my favorite books of his, I never really got to talk one-on-one with him. In terms of style, though, I have a pretty broad spectrum for influences. For tone and atmosphere, I love authors like Peter Straub, Douglas Clegg, Shirley Jackson, Rick Hautala, and Tom Piccirilli (his southern gothic novel A CHOIR OF ILL CHILDREN is just unbeatable).

LLS: I totally agree about Lansdale. And Piccirilli’s A CHOIR OF ILL CHILDREN is excellent! I fucking love that book, and I can’t praise it enough.

PND: For building tension, it’s Thomas Harris, Robert Bloch, Richard Laymon, and Richard Matheson. For just plain brilliance, it’s Harlan Ellison, Ray Bradbury, Chuck Palahniuk, Jack Ketchum, and of course, Stephen King. It’s weird though, because every time I’m asked about my influences, I tend to panic and feel like I’ve left somebody out, especially with our contemporary authors who at the moment are creating some insanely brilliant stuff that deserves the spotlight. I feel truly jealous of the burgeoning new authors out there, still in their formative years, who are cutting their teeth on the authors in our own inner circles.

LLS: And keep in mind, over the course of our lives, we’re influenced by all kinds of media coming at us. The good and the bad. We mention the writers who had the most profound effect on us, but we’re just as affected by art and music and movies, and even the bad stuff – which helps us learn how to avoid it!

You mention contemporary authors. Do you have any that stand out to you? Who do you recommend reading right now?

PND: Oh, you for starters, brother! TEACH THEM HOW TO BLEED is hella-good. I just finished reading Steve Van Samson’s collection, BLACK HONEY And OTHER UNSAVORY THINGS, and absolutely loved it. Emma Gibbon’s DARK BLOOD COMES FROM THE FEET is as close to a contemporary version of Shirley Jackson as you’re going to find. Morgan Sylvia’s ABODE is a damn fine supernatural tale to read before Halloween. Kristen Dearborn’s new book, FAITH OF DAWN is coming out from Cemetery Dance in 2024. I got to read an advance copy and freaking loved it. Tom Deady’s novella, OF MONSTERS AND MEN is some of the best 80s coming-of-age nostalgia I’ve ever read. There’s just a ton of great writers delivering the goods right now; Tony Tremblay, Ed Kurtz, Doungjai Bepko, Bracken MacLeod, Errick Nunnally, Marianne Halbert, to name a few. Marianne’s collection, COLD COMFORTS, is terrific. Sorry if I’m rambling, but I’m always humbled and appreciative when friends of ours recommend our books. I have to pinch myself sometimes when I think about just how many modern masters of horror I can call my dearest friends. I’m still writing and publishing as a hobby rather than a primary source of income, but I feel like I’m moving closer to the day where writing fulltime will become an actuality. At some point I hope to find an agent and move from the Indie Press scene to mainstream publishing. 

LLS: Yeah, we’re pretty much on the same path there. And yes, there’s a lot of talent currently in the horror field.

There’s a Mothman in your new one. Were you aware of the urban legend of the Mothman from the movie THE MOTHMAN PROPHECIES (2002, starring Richard Gere and based on John A. Keel’s book of the same name)? Did you do any research on the mothman phenomenon, and were you trying to put a new spin on it?

PND: I saw THE MOTHMAN PROPHECIES when it originally came out, but honestly remember very little about it. That whole storyline in my book was probably more influenced by modern cryptozoology stories and websites like Creepy Pasta. I’ve always been fascinated with what David Cronenberg did with his remake of THE FLY (1986), where he captured this downward spiral change in Jeff Goldblum’s character, and how monstrous and pathetic he became during his transformation. Making Betty-June have to watch her own child going through this transformation creates the conflict that drives her decision-making and her own character arc in GLORY HOLE. How far will a mother’s love drive her? What are her limitations? When I was writing it, I had a very distinct movie-version of how this was all supposed to play out, with the Pig-Whistle Truck Stop Diner being terrorized by a six-foot mothman lurking about outside on a sultry summer night. But I also wanted to make it so that readers were rooting for the mothman rather than some of the terrible people inside the diner. And I wanted for it to come across that this would look fucking spectacular on the big screen if it was ever adapted for film. The mothman felt like the perfect monster for a hot, moist night in Mississippi.

LLS: There were several scenes, usually involving Jesus Gray (Betty-June’s son) and his transformation, that are rather poetic and very visual. I really enjoyed the scenes that involved Betty-June and her son. They kind of transcend the more satirical elements, and reminded me of scenes in your first novel, A REQUIEM FOR DEAD FLIES. I really like when you go in this direction.

PND: My friend Morgan Sylvia pointed out that very same notion, telling me that I’m very good at capturing a sense of Americana in my fiction. It’s a hard line to walk to create characters that are honest without being cliche, that evoke a sense of empathy for the reader without being condescending, and that feel natural even though their plot-points and conflicts make them who they are. Jesus Gray was born at the end of BLOOD CULT, and it was a miracle that he’d survived at all after everything Betty-June had endured on the Tucker Farm. That’s why she named him Jesus, because he was her miracle baby. In GLORY HOLE, we have an 8-year-old boy who is suffering toxic mutations from the local chemical plant and evolving into a freak. Yet she’s still tucking him into a bed at night that’s dressed with Marvel superheroes sheets and trying to convince him that he’s still a normal boy. It really is heartbreaking when you think about it, because our landscape is filled with mothers tucking their children into bed at night and trying to convince them that everything is fine, when their reality is cancer or financial distress or some other impending tragedy. Betty-June’s reality is a cluster of hard times, but the only thing that matters is trying to make life better for her son. 

LLS: We’ve known each other for more than twenty years, and our careers have involved a lot of parallels during the time. From the fact that our first novels both got nominated for the Bram Stoker Award for 2012, to that fact that we both have new books that just came out – which seem like rays of light, after the last two years of chaos involving the COVID pandemic. Have you been enjoying the ride so far?

PND: Well, it’s definitely boosted my confidence. I’m always reminded of Billy Joel’s song “The Entertainer”. He sings the line, “…and I won’t be here in another year if I don’t stay on the charts!” And it’s the goddamn truth. Unless you’re constantly putting out new material and staying relevant, readers move on to the next author and the next novel. Even if it’s just a short story in the next anthology coming down the line, every sale counts. Every publication is a stepping stone, because if they like what they’ve just read, they’ll make the effort to look you up on social media and learn more about you. I’m certain that the pandemic was a career killer for a lot of people. Without the opportunity to perform reading events or attend book fairs, we lost a LOT of outlets that we took for granted in terms of promoting our work and meeting our readers face-to-face. For me, 2020 didn’t exist. I’m a postal worker, and learned that I’m an “essential employee” when stores closed and people quarantined and basically all commerce in America was done through the USPS. I spent ten straight months of working 60-70 hours per week. I didn’t write a single word in 2020. Didn’t read a single book after March of that year. It was a disaster, and I think at some level I went through a sort of PTSD or deep depression from it all. At this point, just getting the Cold Currant Chronicles published has been a lifesaver for myself and my writing career. The fact that people are really enjoying these books is icing on the cake. I sure don’t take things for granted anymore. I feel like the luckiest man alive at the moment. 

LLS: The pandemic had a big effect on our lives. Things finally seem to be getting back to normal now. So, what else have you been working on these days?

PND: I had started a new novel in November of 2019, as a NaNoWriMo project. The book is a supernatural thriller called THIS LITTLE PIGGY MISSES YOU. Once I had the final revisions completed on GLORY HOLE, I went back and reread what I’d already started, and found that it was actually better than I remembered. I’m now around 30,000 words into it and will be plugging away at that for the rest of 2022. Beyond that, I’ve signed contract with Trepidatio Publishing for a new short story collection, which will be published sometime in 2023. I also have a story titled, “Will’s Theory of Free-Floating Fat”, which will be published in the New England Horror Writers’ new anthology, WICKED SICK in April of next year. I may have one or two other surprises as well, so we’ll keep our fingers crossed as we wait and see. 

LLS: Thanks a lot, man. And best of luck with the new book!

THE MISSISSIPPI GLORY HOLE MUTILIATIONS is available in both electronic format and paperback. Here’s the link to it on Amazon.

“THE INTERVIEW, PART I”

PART ONE: PETER DUDAR INTERVIEWS L.L. SOARES

PETER N. DUDAR: I’m here today to talk with the Bram Stoker Award-winning novelist L.L. Soares about his latest release, TEACH THEM HOW TO BLEED, published by Bloodshot Books. L.L., it’s great to speak with you again, and a huge congratulations on your fifth full-length novel. For those readers who aren’t familiar with your body of work, how would you characterize your fiction, and without too many spoilers, what can they expect if they dive in with BLEED first?

L.L. SOARES: My stuff tends to pull things in from different genres. I guess, at the most basic level, I’m a horror writer, but it’s not unusual for me to add elements of crime fiction, or science fiction, or even fantasy. And in my books, there is a very big emphasis on characters. If someone picks up BLEED without having read other things I’ve written, I think they’ll get a good taste of my style.

PND: Stylistically, BLEED has the feel of a gritty, hard-boiled noir story, which takes the vampire trope in a whole different direction than the classical vampire tale. What led to this decision, and what were some of the vampire myths you were happy to dispose of?

LLS: I have to admit, growing up, vampires were probably my favorite archetypical monsters. Zombies, for example, can give us some raw scares, but vampires can interact with us on our level, even blend in with us, and yet they’re predators. Over the years, vampires have become a list of tropes where you check things off, and I didn’t want to do it that way. I wanted to get rid of some of the baggage, and sort of reinvent them. I’m definitely not the first person to think that. I didn’t want to deal with stuff like crosses and coffins and bats, and all that more traditional stuff. I like fangs – they can be very effective as a visual metaphor – but they weren’t essential, either.

Vampires have survived in literature because they are adaptive to change. Whether it’s Stoker’s DRACULA, or the vampires of Anne Rice, who have a much stronger emotional life, or even Stephanie Meyers’ sparkly TWILIGHT vampires. Even if there’s a take on the subject I’m not a big fan of, I can recognize that each generation is able to adapt vampires in a new way, and it’s this fluidity that keeps them relevant.

Two things inspired me to write my own take on vampires. The first, I remember seeing a lot of movies over the years where we see vampires covered in blood, mostly because they tend to be messy eaters – and that’s terrific for a movie screen; it’s very cinematic – but I got to thinking that real vampires would be like alcoholics. They wouldn’t want to waste a drop. And so I came up with the idea of vampires who are so dialed into the need for blood that they’d meticulously want to get every drop of blood they can out of a victim

The other thing was I felt vampires were getting a little tired, and I wanted to inject some new mythology into them. On one level, I really wanted to make them scary again, and one major way I do that is I changed how someone becomes a vampire – it’s a process that involves great violence.

PND: At its heart, BLEED is a great example of the Revenge Story. My original assessment of the book was to refer to it as “an adult fairytale.” Is this accurate? 

LLS: I started the book with a desire to do a vampire version of stories like HANG ‘EM HIGH (1968), where something awful happens to a character and he goes about killing off the “bad guys” who did this to him. That’s how Eliveer’s story begins. But then I went in completely different directions.

I guess that there are aspects of the book that could be seen as an adult fairytale, especially the parts that involve the Bottle World. I don’t think the book as a whole is like a fairy tale. It’s just one of the ingredients.

PND: BLEED has an ensemble cast that feels very reminiscent of your earlier novel, HARD. That is, we’re given multiple storylines that may or may not intersect throughout the course of the book, and some of these characters form partnerships that reminded me of “the buddy pic” for lack of a better term, where their banter and their own selfish needs can build either a marvelous sense of conflict or bring out the best in themselves. My mind immediately jumps to characters of L.B. Jade and Slow Henry.

LLS: The ensemble cast goes back to my first novel, LIFE RAGE, where I looked in on several different characters, and then slowly drew them together. I like working with a big palette – a whole range of colors – and trying to flesh them all out. It’s a challenge and a joy. I notice a lot of my work tends to be either an ensemble kind of story, or sometimes I go the first-person narrator route, and there are benefits and disadvantages to both. I like the intimacy of the first-person story, and the way you can get inside someone’s head – but the narrator can’t be everywhere and know everything, so the ensemble story offers more ways to open up the narrative and see a full range of people, with different feelings and motivations. And yes, sometimes these characters have a kind of “buddy pic” feel to them.

As for Jade, she can change her gender at will. She quite literally is “gender fluid” in that whatever fits her best in a moment; she can change herself to reflect this. But this is not a new idea. There have been protagonists that can change their sex before – the most obvious examples being Virginia Woolf’s ORLANDO and the great science fiction character Jerry Cornelius, created by Michael Moorcock, starting with THE FINAL PROGRAMME, who could also change gender when he/she saw fit. By having this ability, Jade can seem more fleshed out, in that both the male and female aspects of her personality are on display.

But that’s just one aspect of Jade. I’d prefer if readers discovered Jade and Henry on their own.

PND: The novel also introduces us to Eliveer Davies, who seems to be the lead character at the beginning of the novel. I was wondering, how do you devise names for your characters? It seems like your fiction is full of characters with odd or extremely rare names, including Eliveer. 

LLS: I’m always looking for unusual names. Sometimes they just jump out at me. Eliveer is an unusual one. I remember being a teenager in a graveyard, and I saw the name Eliveer on a tombstone and it always stuck with me. I always knew I’d use it in a story sometime. Maybe it goes back to my own first name, Lauran, which is unusual (almost everyone I know spells it wrong, with an “en” at the end), which is kind of unique. The only other people who are named Lauran that I know of are my father and a western writer named Lauran Paine.

PND: Let’s talk about The Madonna of Skulls, the apparition on the cover of the book, with the sugar skull face and six arms. Who is the she, and how does she tie into the vampire cadre? 

LLS: I’m not sure I want to go into the Madonna’s origins too much. That may be fodder for another tale. The original idea I had, I think, while writing it was “What if Jeannie from I Dream of Jeannie was evil?” Instead of granting wishes, she was more likely to kill someone you didn’t like. But then it evolved into a whole world inside her bottle, that she escapes from. The Bottle World is a homage to the kinds of “wonderlands” that have been in fiction for centuries. I’ve always been a fan of those kinds of stories, whether it be Lewis Carroll’s Wonderland, L. Frank Baum’s Oz, or, to a lesser degree, C.S. Lewis’s Narnia, or whatever. So when we begin to explore the Bottle World, the first creature we meet is a kind of Bizarro World version of the Cheshire Cat that is both kind of hideous and possibly sinister.

PND: There are still a lot more characters involved in the story, and you’ve really created this violent, blood-soaked tapestry with an impressive body count in your novel. Do you find this kind of thing missing in the books coming out nowadays, or are you merely writing to satisfy the reader in yourself? 

LLS:I started writing when I was about six or seven years old. I was really into monster movies as a kid, and my first stories were kind of like one-page sequels to movies I had seen on TV. I’m sure if I read one now, it would awful! But it was a start. A lot of people I know had no idea what they were going to be when they grew up, but I knew from very early on that I was going to be a writer, and that never altered. I started submitting stories to magazines (mostly science fiction) back when I was still in high school, so I had this dopey idea I was going to be published early on and have a long career as a writer. But it didn’t turn out that way. For almost two decades, all I ever got were rejections. So by the time I finally started to get published, it almost looked like I was a late bloomer, which was frustrating!

All that said, it has taken a long time for my style to evolve. And it’s still evolving. But I write a certain way, because that’s my voice as a storyteller. It’s not a conscious thought to write something that is lacking elsewhere, so much as it’s just how I tell a story.

One thing I’ve always held in high esteem is originality. I’ve always striven to write something new and original. But, in a genre like horror, sometimes readers also like things that are familiar to them. TEACH THEM HOW TO BLEED was the first time I thought I’d take something familiar, like vampires, and do my own unique take on them. In fact, I think I use the word “vampire” only once or twice in the whole book – most of the time I refer to them as “beasts.”

PND: I think the artist who provided the cover for the book did a marvelous job. I’ve commented privately that I thought the cover of BLEED reminded me a lot of the old BLACK SABBATH album covers. It’s immediately evocative, and really captures what your book accomplished inside my mind.

LLS: Yes, I want to give props to artist Carlos Villas for the cover. I think it looks terrific. I came up with the basic concept – even though the Madonna of Skulls is kind of a minor character in the book, I thought she was the most visually interesting, and I thought people would look at that cover and think, “What’s this about?” – but Carlos definitely made it his own.

PND: Again, we have all the elements of the noir story here, with gritty, flawed characters trapped in this world of hopelessness and literal darkness. It almost feels as if this particular novel was written with a big screen adaptation in mind. Yet you’ve managed to intersect this darkness with some moments of real beauty and humanity. Is this your way of maintaining a sense of balance in your writing? Do you need moments of light just to illustrate how dark the rest of the novel can get? 

LLS: That’s funny, because I think BLEED is one of the most upbeat things I’ve written, in a way.

But I’ve always been drawn to the darkness. I just always found the seedier aspects of life to be the most interesting. Whether we’re talking about sex workers, drug addicts, criminals, murderers, or yes even vampires. I never had the desire to suddenly write a romantic comedy or something. I just go where my strengths (and interests) lead me. And, if a story goes in a bleak direction, that’s never turned me off. I guess in the worlds I write about, bad things happen, and a lot of times there is nothing anyone can do to save you. God’s not going to save you, other people aren’t always going to be able to, and, no matter how tough you are, you can’t always save yourself. But that’s okay. I find that lack of a safety net to be fascinating.

But I also like the idea of using whatever tools you have to tell a story – so if there are noir elements, or fantasy, or whatever, it’s because I see all of these as different tools, and I like to use them all. There are also parts when I use humor to decompress things a little. Why have them if you’re not going to use them? It’s kind of like music – when I was a kid, everyone was like “It’s either rock or disco.” Later, when I was heavily into punk rock, it was a choice between “punk or metal.” Growing up, there were always radio stations that just played one kind of music. Rock, country, pop, alternative. But now, looking back, I want to draw from everything! I want to throw some jazz in there, a smidgen of blues, a classical aria, a big scoop of hip hop. I like it all, and I want to be able to use it all in the stories I tell. That’s what makes my stuff personal. The ability to draw from all my interests.

On my most basic level, I think horror is what is at the heart of most of what I write. Horror is part of my DNA – the first time I ever really felt “I fucking love this!” was when I was a kid and saw the 1931 FRANKENSTEIN for the first time. I didn’t know what I could do, but I wanted my life to somehow involve this genre or this sensibility and how I could use it to tell stories. My palette – to get back to the painting reference – is a lot bigger now. And I want to try everything. But horror will probably always be at the heart.

PND: Tell us what you’re working on now, and what your fans can expect in the immediate future.

LLS: I’m working on a few things. I don’t like to talk too much about works in progress – not because I am superstition or anything – but because I find, the more I talk about something to other people, the less interesting it is to me. I have no idea why – but I’ve had novels stall out on me, and I want to do whatever I can to keep the creative process spontaneous, to some degree. That’s why I don’t outline very much when I’m writing a book. I’ll outline maybe one or two chapters down the road, but never the entire thing at once. Because I know I’ll get an idea I never thought of at some point, and I want to be able to embrace whatever comes my way that appeals to me, without having to stick to a rigid plan.

I’m always working on something, and spontaneity is a big part of the creative process for me. That said, I am working on a crime fiction novel that is also a mash-up of horror and some science fiction. And I have ideas for sequels to TEACH THEM HOW TO BLEED, expanding on the world of these characters, and my last novel, BURIED IN BLUE CLAY. But which of these actually gets written is up in the air.

More immediately, I have a story in the upcoming New England Horror Writers anthology WICKED SICK, and a career-spanning short story collection coming in 2023 called SOMETHING BLUE And Other Colorful Deaths.

PND: So who are your influences. You said you’re into a lot of different genres.

LLS: When I was a kid, I remember reading a lot of horror early on – the classics – like Poe and Lovecraft. And lots of books about horror movies. In high school, I got more into science fiction, but the writers I was drawn to most were ones who either had a horror tinge to some of their stuff, or who experimented in different genres, especially those who were part of science fiction’s “new wave.” People like Fritz Leiber (who was a master of science fiction, horror, and fantasy), Theodore Sturgeon, Joanna Russ, Thomas Disch, Samuel R. Delany, Norman Spinrad, John Brunner, and, of course, Harlan Ellison.

In crime fiction, I’m a hardcore Jim Thompson fan, and also dig writers like Patricia Highsmith, David Gaddis, and Charles Willeford. I also really like transgressive literature, for lack of a better word, like William S. Burroughs, Charles Bukowski, and J.G. Ballard. Ballard is especially important to me. In more modern horror, I really love the darker writers, like Jack Ketchum, Clive Barker, Richard Laymon, Ray Garton, and Edward Lee. But also writers like Charles L. Grant, T.E.D. Klein, Dennis Etchison, Lucy Taylor, Michael McDowell, and the great Shirley Jackson. I enjoy extreme, subtle, and literary horror. All that matters it that it’s good! And then you have someone like Joe R. Lansdale, who can write anything, and kick ass doing it! And I almost forgot Flannery O’Connor, a wonderful writer who is pretty much a genre all her own.

I didn’t get into Stephen King until later on. I actually thought he’d be too mainstream for my tastes. I think the first time I read him, someone had given me a copy of GRAVEYARD SHIFT. Soon after I read CARRIE and THE STAND, and realized how great a writer he is. And his ON WRITING is one of the best books about the craft of writing that I’ve read.

PND: What about contemporary authors? Whose books are you seeking out at the horror conventions and on Amazon? Who would you like to recommend?

LLS: A lot of our contemporaries are putting out great work right now. I know I’ll miss people, but names that come to mind include Jeff VanderMeer, Adam Nevill, Paul Tremblay, J. Edwin Buja, Gretchen Felker-Martin, Michelle Renee Lane, Brian Keene, Ed Kurtz, Doungjai Bepko, Mary Sangiovani, Rena Mason, Tom Deady, Errick Nunnally, Trisha Woolridge, Tony Tremblay, Bracken MacLeod, and Matthew M. Bartlett. And that’s not even a complete list of the talented people we share a genre with. I also really enjoy whenever a new Peter Dudar book comes out. I know it’s going to be a fun ride!

PND: Again, congratulations on another remarkable entry in your oeuvre. I loved TEACH THEM HOW TO BLEED, and I know your fans are going to dig it as well. Any final thoughts you’d like to add about the book?

LLS: People who have read it so far seem to really enjoy it, especially the characters – which I’m obviously happy about. And I do notice, like I mentioned before, that my style, my voice continues to evolve. I hope I am getting better and better at it. You read someone like Chekhov and you realize how high the bar is, and that you’ll never reach that level, but you have to try. You have to reach for the stars. And maybe you’ll even grab a few every now and then.

PND: Thank you for your time.

You can order TEACH THEM HOW TO BLEED in paperback and electronic versions.

Here’s the link to the book on Amazon.

ROCK ‘N’ ROLL IS BACK IN PRINT!

Well, it’s been more than a year since I last updated this site, so I thought now might be a good time to correct that.

I didn’t have much publishing news during the pandemic, but I would like to announce now that my second novel, ROCK ‘N’ ROLL, originally published by Gallows Press in 2013, is now available from Crossroads Press (who also reiussed my novel HARD a few years ago).

This means not only a brand new cover (thanks, David Dodd!), but a new ending as well (the one I prefer over the one that was published in 2013). Currently, it’s available for electronic reading (Kindle, etc.), but the paperback edition should also be coming out soon.

Over the years, some people have told me this is their favorite of my novels, so I’m psyched to see it get a second chance at life.

Here’s just some of the places you can get it now:

For Amazon Kindle, go here.

For Barnes and Noble, go here.

For Smashwords, go here.

For Google Play, go here.

For Kobo, go here.

CATS (2019)

Review by LL Soares

I’ll admit, CATS isn’t a movie I would normally go to see. But I went after hearing how awful it was, hoping it would be an experience, like THE ROOM, where it was so bad it was entertaining. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. Maybe, with a receptive, responsive audience (like the one for THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW or THE ROOM), this one could be a lot of fun. But sitting there with a quiet audience (in a less than half-full theater), it was kind of like torture. For the record, I’m not a fan of the original Broadway production of CATS (never saw it) and I’m not a fan of musicals overall, so I was never the intended audience for this one.

For those not familiar with the story, it’s about a cat named Victoria (dancer Francesca Hayward), who is thrown (in a bag) into an alleyway by some awful human and emerges to find herself surrounded by other curious cats. The cats call themselves Jellicles, which is never really explained. Once a year, all the Jellicle cats gather for a great contest, where their leader, Old Deuteronomy (Judi Dench) chooses a winner, who then floats up in the sky to the “Heaviside Layer” to be reborn in some mysterious way.

In the meantime, we then get to meet various cats, some of which will be performing in the contest, and others that won’t, until we get to the big finale.

These other cats include Jennyanydots (Rebel Wilson, giving it all she’s got), a stay-at-home tabby who has a musical number that includes mice and cockroaches; Macavity (Idris Elba), the villain of the piece, who eliminates anyone who might beat him in the contest by sending them to a strange boat, where they sit in chains, watched by a blustery old cat named Growltiger (Ray Winstone); Rumpleteazer (Naoimh Morgan) and Mungojerrie (Danny Collins), two mischievious (and kind of sinister) cats who briefly take Victoria under their wing, until they betray her; Rum Tum Tugger (Jason Derulo), a swaggering braggart of a cat; Grizabella (Jennifer Hudson), a formerly glamorous cat who has been reduced to a gutter stray after becoming involved with Macavity the year before; and Bustopher Jones (talk show host James Corden), a fat, gluttonous cat, who provides some comic relief.

There’s Gus the Theater Cat (Ian McKellan), one of the contestants, who spouts Shakespeare and reeks of sadness. Taylor Swift has a brief turn as Bombalurina, one of Macavity’s allies, and has one big musical number. Victoria’s friends, the cats who actually try to help her, include Munkustrap (Robbie Fairchild) and Mr. Mistoffelees (Laurie Davidson), a “magical cat,” who is quite likeable here.

There are no slackers here, the cast does all they can to make it work, but they’re underminded by a weak (almost non-existent) plot and creepy effects that take the elaborate costumes of the stage version and replace them with CGI fur, making all the cats looks really odd with slightly oversized, human faces stuck atop furry bodies. Instead of being fantastical, the effects just make everyone look really strange, which is distracting throughout.

Idris Elba does his best to inject some menace in his role as Macavity, but he’s not really suited for a musical, and only Hayward really emerges from the whole thing with her dignity (she’s one of the few pluses here). Since I didn’t care about the musical numbers, there wasn’t an awful lot here that I enjoyed. Instead, I was mostly bored. The only thing that maintained my attention throughout was the pure creepiness of it all.

Oh, and poor Jennifer Hudson. Almost every time she’s onscreen, she has snot dripping down into her mouth and it made me really nauseous. Why couldn’t they let her be more dignified?

As I said, with a receptive, rowdy crowd that’s in on the joke, this fairly unpleasant film could be quite enjoyable. But on its own, I found it to be rather tedious. Director Tom Hooper (who also gave us THE KING’S SPEECH, 2012, and LES MISERABLES, 2012) has made a film that plays almost like a bad acid trip. And unless you’re a fan of the music, there’s really not much here for you (or so I found). If you are a fan of the musical numbers, then there’s a good chance you’ll enjoy it more than I did.

I give CATS a rating of one knife, mostly because everyone really tries to make the movie better than it is, especially leading lady Hayward. But it’s a pretty bad one.

© Copyright 2020 by LL Soares

LL Soares gives CATS ~ 1 KNIFE

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WICKED WEIRD IS HERE!

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WICKED WEIRD, the terrific new anthology from the New England Horror Writers, is available now in both paperback and electronic versions. It features my new story, “THE SWEETNESS AND THE PSYCHIC,” as well as stories by such talented people as Errick A. Nunnally, Morgan Silvia, Steve Van Samson, William D. Carl, Trisha J. Woolridge, Paul R. McNamee, Rob Smales, J. Edwin Buja, Jeffrey Thomas, Barry Lee Dejasu, and my buddy Peter N. Dudar.

The new book I’m working on features the lead character from my story in WICKED WEIRD. Another reason to check it out. smiling-face-with-smiling-eyes

GET YOUR COPY OF WICKED WEIRD HERE

SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME (2019)

Review by LL Soares

Marvel Studios being the juggernaut it is, its movies have, at this point, transcended the comics that preceded them, creating a brand new history all their own. This is a good thing and a bad thing. Good for Marvel, because it means all these hit movies are interconnected and fans will probably see everything they put out, no matter what it is. Bad, because sometimes the comic book versions of things are actually better, and less entangled in the restrictiveness of the movie mythos. But because they don’t adhere to the new story – the good stuff has often been jettisoned, to be replaced by an inferior product.

Case in point: Spider-Man. He’s had a long and wildly uneven adventure on film so far. The first Sam Raimi trilogy was probably the most faithful to the comics, and gave us Tobey Maguire as Peter Parker. I liked the first one, loved the second one (due to a terrific performance by Alfred Molina and Spidey bad guy Doctor Octopus) and hated the third one (with its toothless take on Venom, its wasting of the Sandman, and that spastic “Spidey Dance” that Peter does in the street at one point). The next couple of films, starring Andrew Garfield as Parker, are so godawful, I’d rather just forget about them.

Which brings us to the current iteration of the character – Tom Holland’s version, which, despite being owned by SONY, has been embraced by Marvel Studios in a collaborative movie deal (probably due to the fact that SONY has often gotten it wrong, and Marvel knows how to always make money!), to the degree that he’s been completely integrated into the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) story, having appeared in his own films, as well as important milestones like CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR (2016) and the last two AVENGERS flicks.

The latest Spider-Man is a fun character, mostly due to the casting of Tom Holland, who despite being in his 20s, is completely believable as an awkward teenager, made more awkward by the fact that he has the powers of a spider, and will go to great lengths to protect his secret identity (which way too many people know about). But while Holland gives us perhaps the quintessential Spider-Man, he is also bogged down with lots of baggage from the MCU. In my opinion, too much baggage. Mainly because Tony Stark, Iron Man himself, got involved with Peter early on (in the previous film, SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING, 2017) and became his mentor, even providing him with costumes and state-of-the-art technology. Suddenly Parker wasn’t the kid from the comics who sewed his own costume and devised his own web shooters. Now he was just a kid who could stick to walls and who got all his gadgets and bling from Stark Industries. Which kind of undermines the creativity of our Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man, turning him into just another sidekick of Tony Stark’s. It’s like they took most of what was unique about him and tossed it aside to make him conform more to the MCU.

Yes, Robert Downey Jr. was bigger than life as the Avenger who started it all way back in the original IRON MAN (2008). But that doesn’t mean that he has to overshadow the very character we’ve gone to the movies to see.

In the comics, Parker is a loner who has his own storyline, his own cast of characters, and his own problems. He doesn’t need to become a part of the Avengers storyline – he has enough drama on his own. From his insecurity when it comes to girls, to his worrying about his elderly Aunt May’s health, to his concern about his enemies finding out who he is, and putting those he loves in danger, there’s more than enough drama to go around if they just stick to Spider-Man’s original comic book roots.

In the movies, though, he’s not a loner anymore. He’s just another timecard-punching member of the Avengers, albeit a junior leaguer, still learning the ropes.

This may be just fine with you. Obviously a lot of people like the new version of Spider-Man as an Avenger-in-training, with access to all kinds of Stark Industries’ gadgets. And they like all the non-Spider-Man plot points that go with it. That’s fine. But as someone who grew up on the comics, and got a chance to know Parker in his original incarnation, the new version seems second rate. And the Avengers stuff just takes up too much space and time that could be used to make Spider-Man more “one of a kind.”

(By the way, the fact that SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE, 2018, doesn’t bring any of this Avengers baggage into the story–and it’s one terrific story–was why I still think it’s the best Spider-Man movie so far – way better than any of the live-action versions so far.)

Which brings us to SPIDERMAN: FAR FROM HOME, which takes place after the events of AVENGERS: ENDGAME, from earlier this year. Everyone who originally disappeared when Thanos decimated half of all life in the universe is back now (see ENDGAME for the details, I just don’t have the time to go into it here) and the event is being referred to as “The Blip.” Everyone who had disappeared is now 5 years younger than people who used to be the same age when they left.

Anyway, Peter (Tom Holland) wants to take a break from super-heroing and go on a class trip to Europe with familiar faces like his best friend Ned Leeds (Jacob Batalon), the girl he has a major crush on, MJ (Zendaya), and big-mouth bully Flash Thompson (Tony Revolori, who just doesn’t work at all for me in the role!). There’s also the smart Betty Brant (Angourie Rice), who has a romance with Ned overseas, Brad Davis (Remy Hii), a new student who is competing with Peter for MJ’s attention and who isn’t above dirty tricks to get an edge, and the teachers Mr. Harrington (Martin Starr, from FREAKS AND GEEKS and SILICON VALLEY) and Mr. Dell (comedian J. B. Smoove), trying to keep the kids all together, and lots of other nameless faces as other kids in the class.

Peter wants to be a normal kid so badly that he leaves his costume behind, but his Aunt May (Marisa Tomei – whoever heard of a hot Aunt May? It still doesn’t work for me!), who now knows about his secret identity, packs it for him “just in case.” Of course, Hot Aunt May is still dating Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau), Tony Stark’s right hand man when he was still alive, which creates for more tension, as Peter isn’t sure what he thinks about them as a couple.

In Europe, Peter gets tracked down by Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), who wants him to help S.H.I.E.L.D. deal with an otherworldly threat in the form of giant “Elementals” – creatures that embody the elements – ice, air, fire, etc., that are from another dimension and threaten to destroy the world. The main line of defense against them is Quentin Beck (Jake Gyllenhaal) , aka Mysterio, who has been using his his visually stunning (but kind of vague) powers to stop the monsters so far. Mysterio is also from that other dimension, an Earth that has been destroyed by the Elementals, and he’s trying to help Fury and the gang stop it from happening here.

Peter wants nothing to do with the mission. He doesn’t’ think he’s powerful enough to fight such major threats (and, really, why aren’t other Avengers involved instead?) and he doesn’t want his fellow high schoolers to know his true identity, if he’s always disappearing from the trip. Fury seems to let him off the hook, but then manipulates the kids’ trip so that Peter can keep up appearances, and eventually help fight the monsters, both at the same time.

Of course, anyone who is a long-time comics fan knows that Mysterio isn’t a hero, he’s a bad guy, and you just know he’ll eventually reveal his true colors. Meanwhile, the world is in danger from elemental beasts!

I have to admit, I really hated the storyline here. The Elementals are really boring villains with no personalities. Once we find out what’s really going on, it gets a little more interesting, but not much. I’ve been looking forward to Mysterio being the main villain in a Spider-Man movie since the Sam Raimi days, so it’s a kick to finally see him onscreen, fishbowl helmet and all. And Gyllenhaal is okay in the role, although he’s not even half as exciting as Michael Keaton was as the Vulture in HOMECOMING. Now that was a formidable antagonist! (For all the problems with HOMECOMING – many of which are my same problems here – Keaton’s Vulture is what worked best for me! Gyllenhaal doesn’t even come close.)

But, seriously, I hated almost everything they have Mysterio do in this movie. It could have been a much more exciting plot! And of course, even the Mysterio storyline has to somehow tie into the legacy of Tony Stark. Even though the character is dead, his presence is so much in this movie, it seems more like an Iron Man movie than a Spider-Man one.

And I didn’t even mention the crazy high-tech glasses (like a Google Glass on Steroids) that Happy gives Peter at one point, since Mr. Stark wanted him to have access to all his goodies. Those glasses tie into the plot, too.

FAR FROM HOME was directed by Jon Watts, who previously directed videos for bands like Fatboy Slim, Death Cab for Cutie, and Swedish House Mafia, as well as the movies CLOWN (2014) and COP CAR (2015), and he does a decent enough job of keeping things all together and moving them at a good pace. I was much less impressed with the script by Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers (who were also writers for SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING, 2017, and ANT-MAN AND THE WASP, 2018), which I’m sure the people at Marvel loved, but which I really hated.

The strange thing is, I think the performances here are really good. Tom Holland is the most likeable and faithful-to-the-comics version of Peter Parker so far (as far as his personality and his youth), Zendaya is interesting (and kinda cool) as MJ, Gyllenhaal and Jackson are also good. It’s the story they’re all involved in that I can’t stand.

But like I said, this is all subjective. Considering how much money this movie is making, a lot of people disagree with me. But as someone who remembers Peter Parker from his earliest days, FAR FROM HOME just doesn’t feel like a Spider-Man movie to me. It’s something inferior, and most of it just seemed like a lot of action and CGI, but totally without a point.

I give SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME 1 ½ knives.

© Copyright 2019 by LL Soares

LL Soares gives SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME ~ one and a half knives.

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AVENGERS: ENDGAME (2019)

Review By LL Soares

(Warning: Review Contains Spoilers)

After enjoying the non-stop action of AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR (2018), I was really looking forward to the second part of the story, AVENGERS: ENDGAME. Marvel has been pretty reliable (for the most part) when it comes to delivering decent superhero flicks, so I wasn’t too concerned about anything going wrong. And, based on its box-office take alone, ENDGAME is a bonafide blockbuster. But, on a personal note, I didn’t really enjoy this one all that much.

We begin where things left off in INFINITY WAR. That villainous purple guy Thanos (Josh Brolin) has spent the entire movie hunting down the five “Infinity stones” that will give him ultimate power over the universe. He even has a specially-constructed “gauntlet” to hold the gems in one place. As INFINITY WAR ended, not only did Thanos get all the gems, despite the best efforts of just about every hero in the Marvel universe to stop him, but he also puts them together on the gauntlet, and snaps his fingers, eliminating HALF OF ALL LIFE IN THE KNOWN UNIVERSE.

SNAP!

Suddenly, superheroes we know and love begin to disintegrate, along with half the population of Earth.

As ENDGAME opens, we realize that nothing has stopped that. It wasn’t a dream. Half of the Avengers are gone.

Then it jumps ahead five years.

Captain Marvel (just recently introduced last month in the movie CAPTAIN MARVEL) shows up on Earth and offers to help the remaining Avengers track down Thanos. The remaining members include Black Widow (Scarlet Johannson), who has pretty much been holding down the fort at Avengers Mansion and is in charge; Captain America (Chris Evans) who is leading support groups for people who lost loved ones in the big purge; and Rhodey/War Machine (Don Cheadle). Two Avengers who we didn’t see in INFINITY WAR show up. One is Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), who was with his family when the Thanos incident happened (why not helping his team?) and all of them vaporize at once, leaving him alone to pick up the pieces. Hawkeye pretty much goes off the deep end and, without much else to live for, becomes a vigilante, traveling around the globe and killing bad guys. Black Widow has been having Rhodey keep tabs on him. And Ant-Man (Paul Rudd), who went to the quantam realm at the end of ANT-MAN AND THE WASP (2018), finally comes back from his journey, to find himself alone and five years in the future after the events of INFINITY WAR.

Meanwhile, Thor has become a fat alcoholic in a place called New Asgard (somewhere on Earth, the Netherlands?). Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) has figured out how to alter his biology to become “Good Hulk” a cross between the Hulk’s size and brawn and Dr. Banner’s intelligence and calmer demeaner. Rocket Racoon is still around, too.

And on a disabled spaceship with diminishing reserves, Nebula (Karen Gillan) and Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) are pretty much waiting around to die, when Captain Marvel happens by and brings the two of them back to earth without much effort.

With Captain Marvel’s help, the remaining team are able to track down Thanos to a distant planet, where he’s living a monastic life after killing half the universe (he accomplished everything he set out to do, so his work is done). The reunion ends badly for Thanos (in one of the movie’s best scenes), but it still doesn’t bring back everyone we’ve lost.

But the quantam science that helps Ant-Man shrink to a sub-atomic level also holds the key to the possibility of time travel. And so Tony Stark uses his super brain to figure out a way to make it work. Which leads us to a huge mission to go back in time and find all of the Infinity gems before Thanos does, thus altering the history of the universe.

With the time traveling, there are a lot of tearful reunions, of course. Tony interacts with his dead father (John Slattery), now younger and alive, and with no idea who he is; Thor reunites with his death mother (Rene Russo); and Captain America happens to catch a glimpse of the love of his life, Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell), who he lost when he was cryogenically frozen way back in the 40s. The Hulk meets the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) who isn’t a loved one, but who is the Sorcerer Supreme before Dr. Strange takes the mantle, and the keeper of the Soul Stone. Nebula finds not only her younger self, but her dead sister Gamora (Zoe Saldana), now younger and alive, and of course, her villainous daddy, Thanos.

And so goes the mission to stop Thanos, reverse what happened, and save everyone who was vaporized when Thanos won the Infinity War in the last movie. Some major characters die (I won’t say who, because some people still plan to see the movie), and things wrap up in a neat and clean manner, with a bow on top.

And, for the most part, I found this one difficult to sit through. Not because, like a lot of people in the audience who had brought Kleenex, because I had a strong emotional investment with these characters. No, I didn’t shed any tears, dear reader. But I found it difficult because unlike the fast-paced perfection of INFINITY WARS, ENDGAME seemed like a real slow-motion slog, and I felt every minute of its three hour and 1 minute running time.

ENDGAME starts out great, until the survivors find Thanos and get their revenge. Up until that point, I really enjoyed this movie. And then, we get to the long, overly complex time travel mission, which takes up most of the movie, and I found myself bored and annoyed.

First of all, I really hate it when movies try to manipulate your emotions. Whether it’s “sad music” that cues you to feel sad in a Spielberg movie, or melodramatic deaths, I find movies that try to tell you what to feel kind of detestable. Second, even though I’ve seen every single Marvel movie and should have felt as invested as the other audience members, I just…didn’t. Which made me realize something. I grew up with these characters in the comics – some are in comics I still read – and so the emotional investment should be there. But the movie versions of these characters are often very different – changed sometimes drastically to fit the mold created by the Marvel Cinematic Universe – and thus just aren’t as sympathetic to me. And for every Tony Stark or Steve Rogers, there’s an awful lot of characters who just haven’t been developed enough onscreen to care a lot about.

And time travel is a problem. For some reason, it’s really hard to do well. I think time travel is what also killed the TV show HEROES, after its initially strong first season back in 2006. Once time travel was added to the mix, the show jumped the shark and just stopped being “must see TV.” And here, the super complex (and not very logical) time travel super mission just left me cold. I don’t know why.

So between the overlong time travel stuff, and the constant need for the movie to try to manipulate and pander to its audience, to get some kind of emotional reaction, I just sat there, not enjoying it at all.

There’s yet another great big showdown at the end, and for a short time the movie got interesting again. Even if there were just way too many characters cluttering up the screen (funny, I didn’t feel that so strongly in INFINITY WAR). Then the movie was over, and I just wanted to move on.

My knees were killing me from having to sit down for three hours. If it was a good movie, I wouldn’t have minded.

Like INFINITY WAR, ENDGAME was directed by Anthony and Joe Russo, and also like INFINITY WAR, the screenplay was by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely. That said, I’m surprised how different the two movies are.

I’m sure other people saw this movie and absolutely loved it. A lot of them were sitting near me, crying into their Kleenex. But for me, this was a long, drawn-out, yawn. I really wanted to like ENDGAME. I went in expecting to be blown away by it. But it just didn’t happen that way.

I give it two and a half knives out of five.

The things I liked about the movie? Thor is still the most entertaining character, and Chris Hemsworth was the most compelling one here. Rocket Racoon continues to have great chemistry with him. And while a lot of Marvel movies tend to have weak villians, Thanos is probably the best one so far, and I dug anything that involved him. Because he was finally a worthy adversary for the Marvel heroes.

Although I was never a huge Captain America fan, I think Chris Evans was perfectly cast in the role. The same for Robert Downey, Jr. as Tony Stark, even though he stopped being fun for me and started getting on my nerves around the time of IRON MAN 3 (2013).

The AVENGERS movies have been a see-saw for me. I still think the first THE AVENGERS (2012) was the best, and a great introduction to the team. I kind of hated AGE OF ULTRON (2015), even though Ultron is really cool in the comics and it gave the movies a chance to give us a cinematic version of The Vision. I loved INFINITY WAR. And I kind of hated ENDGAME. Up and down. Like a see-saw.

But that’s been pretty much my entire take on the Marvel movies. For every one I really enjoy, there’s one that I thought was a waste of time. For every IRON MAN (2008) or THOR: RAGNAROK (2017), there was an IRON MAN 3 or a THOR: THE DARK WORLD (2013). Maybe that’s why I wasn’t emotionally invested – because the entire series of movies has been so uneven.

I thought ENDGAME was overblown and kind of a letdown for the final wrap-up for Marvel’s first ten years dominating theaters. I kind of wish things had ended with INFINITY WAR instead.

But that’s me. You may feel differently. And more power to you.

For me, this was an anti-climax.

© Copyright 2019 by LL Soares

 

LL Soares gives AVENGERS: ENDGAME ~ 2 1/2 Knives

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