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1. Shifting Perceptions: Shift (2011) by Em Bailey Review

Recently released from a mental hospital, Olive Corbett becomes convinced that the new girl in her year, Miranda Vaile, is a shapeshifter: a parasitic being that takes on the physical attributes and mannerisms of its host, while draining them of their vitality and spirit. When Miranda latches on to Olive’s ex-best friend Katie, Olive knows she has to do something, but what can she do when everyone knows that Olive’s crazy and shapeshifters don’t exist?




Just like Miranda Vaile, Shift is not as it first appears. This 2012 Gold Inky award winning novel  from Australian Em Bailey starts off as a clichéd teen sci-fi thriller and by page 50, I was convinced I had figured out every single plot twist for the rest of the book. Of course Olive will end up with Lachlan, the good looking life saver, but not before one or more of the “shock twists” that are inevitable in books with mentally unstable narrators. I was at the point of congratulating myself on being so clever and wondering if I should bother keeping on reading, when suddenly all of my predictions came true and I was only at the mid-point of the book. That’s when I realised that I’d been set up and Bailey had me right where she wanted me.

With everything “obvious” already having happened in the first half of Shift, readers are left wondering what could possibly happen next in the second half, and as a result, everything that follows is a real surprise. It’s a stunt I don’t remember seeing before and one I suspect few writers would be game to try, but Bailey pulls it off perfectly. By using sci-fi and thriller tropes to lull readers into a false sense of security, Bailey manipulates her readers so that they are at the point of genuinely wondering if Miranda could be a shapeshifter after all. And when the answer is finally revealed it doesn’t seem obvious at all.

Admittedly, some of the subplots are handled with less finesse than the main plot. The blossoming romance between Olive and Lachlan still feels trite, even after the mid-point ‘shift’. I could never figure out why Lachlan would waste so much time going after Olive when she spends most of the book rejecting him, and I assume that the only reason Bailey included this sub-plot was because she felt in some way obliged to do so given her target audience. Furthermore, Bailey spends so much time setting up the fact that Olive did something ‘unforgiveable’ that caused her father to desert her family that, when the truth is revealed, it is a major let down. Yet, these are relatively minor sub-plots and the rest of the novel is solid enough for them to be overlooked.

Verdict: Like a shapeshifter, Shift lulls you into a false sense of security and then gets into your head. Once it’s gotten hold of you, there’s no escaping the clutches of this highly engrossing thriller.

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2. 5 PG-13 Thrillers and Horror Movies That Don’t Suck

There are certain universally-accepted facts that everybody knows. Grass is green; what goes up must come down; and PG-13 thrillers and horror movies suck. Just ask any horror fan. The single worst thing that has happened to the horror genre in the past decade is the trend away from (US) R rated horror films, with their excessive gore and violence, towards much more restrained (and box-office friendly) PG-13 films. For those of you unaware of the US rating system, a PG-13 rating basically means no swearing, no sex, no nudity and minimal bloodshed. It’s the equivalent of a low-grade Australian M rating or a UK 12A or low-grade 15, and is the death-knell for the mystery, thriller and horror genres, which are all about bloodshed. The appallingly bad remakes of Prom Night, When a Stranger Calls and The Fog were all PG-13 rated. Enough said.

Yet, hard as it may seem to believe, it is actually possible to make a thriller or horror movie with a PG-13 rating that is worth watching. Horror-comedies, of course, work fine with a PG-13 rating (Ghostbusters and Gremlins were given the even more restrictive PG rating), but believe it or not, The Ring, which is a genuinely scary film, was also PG-13. The scares were there, there just wasn’t any blood. Disturbia, the teenage rip-off... uh ...update of Rear Window is also PG-13. It’s not the PG-13 rating that makes horror movies bad, it’s the fact that many film makers who make PG-13 horror films lack the creativity and innovation necessary to make those movies good.

To further prove my point, here are 5 more PG-13 thrillers and horror movies that are actually worth watching:


The Monster Squad (1987)

A group of kids must stop Dracula, the Wolfman, Frankenstein’s monster, the Mummy and the Creature from the Black Lagoon from bringing about the end of the world.

The Goonies, The Gremlins, The Monster Squad. They sure don’t movies like that anymore. Co-written by Shane Black, who also wrote such films as Lethal Weapon and The Last Boy Scout, I’ve never been quite sure whether this movie was aimed at kids or if, like Stephen King’s It, was in fact, an adult movie about kids. It also answers the question of what happens to a werewolf if you blow him into lots of little pieces.

Stars: Andre Gower, Duncan Regehr, Stephen Macht.

Rating: Australia M/ US PG-13/ UK 15.

Stonebrook (1998)

In order to pay his tuition fees, a college student (Brad Rowe) and his scheming roommate (Seth Green) become a pair of conmen backed by the mob.

A thriller rather than a horror film, this independent feature really ramps up in the last half hour when things inevitably go wrong for the pair resulting in a string of twists and double-crosses. Even though Brad Rowe is the star, the highlight is seeing Seth Green back in his Buffy days.

Stars: Brad Rowe, Seth Green, Zoe McLellan

Rating: Australia M/ US PG-13

Cry Wolf (2005)

A group of students at an elite boarding school start a rumour that the recent murder of a local girl in the nearby woods was, in fact, the work of a serial killer, and that more deaths will follow – then are horrified to find the rumour coming true.

Although the premise makes it sound like a teen slasher film, this modern update of The Boy who Cried Wolf is actually a very clever confidence trick movie with a fantastic ending.

Stars: Julian Morris, Lindy Booth, Jared Padalecki, Jon Bon Jovi

Rating: Australia M/ US PG-13/ UK 12A

Drag Me to Hell (2009)

After evicting an old gypsy woman from her home, an ambitious young loans officer is cursed to suffer three days of torment followed by eternal damnation.

Writer/director Sam Raimi returns to his horror roots with this grossly funny horror film that plays a lot like an episode of Tales From the Crypt. It’s the perfect example of a film maker using creativity to push the limits of the PG-13 rating.

Stars: Alison Lohman, Justin Long

Rating: Australia MA/ US PG-13/ UK 15

Fear Island (2009)

A group of high school students plans to spend a weekend partying on an otherwise deserted island are spoiled by the arrival of a killer out for revenge for something they have done. Told in flashback by Jenna (Haylie Duff), the last survivor of the group, who was found by the police clutching a bloody knife and whose memory of the events is less than 100% reliable.

This made for TV movie is the cinematic equivalent of R.L. Stine’s Fear Street books. Mystery and suspense take the place of blood and gore, but it still manages to achieve an acceptably large body count, clocking up a total of six corpses.

Stars: Haylie Duff, Aaron Ashmore, Lucy Hale

Rating: UK 15 / Unrated in the US, as it was made for TV, but conforms to the MPAA’s PG-13 certificate requirements.

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3. The Pen is Mightier...: Death Note/Death Note: The Last Name (2006) Review

Stars: Tatsuya Fujiwara, Kenichi Matsuyama, Erika Toda

When Light Yagami, an idealistic young law student, discovers a notebook with the power to kill anyone whose name is written in its pages, he uses it to embark on a secret quest to rid the world of criminals. But when the world’s greatest detective, L, starts closing in on him, Light’s definition of those who “deserve” to die starts to change, transforming him from being a self-proclaimed God of Justice to the most malevolent serial killer the world has ever known.


Japanese live-action cinema has always been a bit of a disappointment to me. Don’t get me wrong. Some of the story ideas are fantastic. However, more often than not, these great plots are destroyed by the fact that the film-makers lack the budget necessary to do them justice. Thankfully, this is not the case with Death Note, the two movie, live-action adaptation of Tsugami Ohba and Takeshi Obata’s manga of the same name, which actually manages to surpass its source material and ranks as my favourite Japanese movie(s) of all time.

Death Note is a serial killer story with a difference, in that the murders are committed using nothing more sinister than pen and paper. In an interview, manga creator Ohba explained that he made this choice because he “didn’t think he could create a normal fight-style manga” and thought “it might be good to have a suspense-type fighting manga”, which were very rare at the time. There is virtually no violence in Death Note (generally, if someone is killed using the Death Note, the cause of death is a heart attack); instead, the battle between good and evil is fought on a purely psychological basis.

The first of the two Death Note movies (which were made back-to-back and were intended to be watched together) focusses on Light’s descent into darkness. Through his relationship with his girlfriend Shiori, Light is initially shown to be an intrinsically good person with a strong sense of justice, but with each decision he makes, he becomes more and more corrupt, until the shocking finale where we realise he has become every bit as evil as the criminals he is trying to stop.

Although his presence is felt for most of the film, L, who is the Sherlock Holmes to Light’s Moriarty, and who is hilarious to watch with his bizarre array of idiosyncrasies (such as creating kebabs made of cakes and then eating them), only actually appears for the first time at the 72 minute mark and doesn’t come face to face with Light until the film’s end. This is very much Light’s film. 

The second film, Death Note: The Last Name, picks up immediately where the first film left off and expands the first film’s universe to include two more Death Notes and two additional killers. Light becomes a part of the police task force assigned to track down the Death Note killers and the focus of the film shifts to the psychological battle between Light and L, who are simultaneously working together and fighting to the death. When Light first arrives at the taskforce headquarters, he and L play a game of chess. This is the perfect metaphor for the film as a whole. Both Tatsuya Fujiwara (who also starred in Battle Royale – my next favourite Japanese movie) and Kenichi Matsuya are excellent in their roles as Light and L respectively (Kenichi Matsuya was nominated for Best Supporting Actor at the Japanese Academy Awards), and the scenes with them together are a highlight of the film.

The original manga upon which Death Note was based was serialized in a weekly magazine and ran for 108 chapters. The story spans seven years and has a number of phases to it, with various people obtaining the Death Note and various detectives trying to track it down at different stages in the plot. The movies, however, deal only with the first half of the manga and new material is added in order to create an exciting mid-point (at the end of the first film) and a satisfying conclusion. Although I enjoyed the manga, after about the half-way point it became repetitive and started to drag, so the decision to delete the later portion of it is extremely welcome. It also focus the story more tightly on Light and L, who are undoubtedly the best and most compelling characters in the manga.

Given that Hollywood seems to love remaking successful foreign movies, ever since I first saw Death Note I’ve been wondering why there isn’t an American version of it. Recently, however, there’s been talk of just that, with Shane Black attached as director. While I don’t necessarily believe that all American remakes of foreign films are intrinsically bad (The Ring and Let Me In, for example, were excellent), I struggle to imagine how Hollywood could possibly out-do the Japanese when it comes to Death Note. If you want to know just how good Japanese live-action cinema can be, Death Note is the film to watch.

Verdict: A sprawling two-film epic that does justice to one of the most successful manga series of all time.

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4. Cool Title, Shame About the Movie: You Can’t Kill Stephen King (2012) Review

Stars: Monroe Mann, Ronnie Khalil, Crystal Arnette, Kayle Blogna, Kate Costello


When a group of six stereotypical and highly insufferable twenty-somethings visit the lake in Maine where horror writer Stephen King is rumoured to live, they find themselves being killed off one by one in ways taken straight from Stephen King’s works.




Love him or hate him, you have to admit that Stephen King is one of the most successful and influential writers of our time. His name is synonymous with “horror” and it is virtually impossible to find someone who hasn’t been exposed to at least one of his works, even if only through the numerous film adaptations. His stories have permeated the collective consciousness of our society so much so that at the mere mention of his name, you can guarantee certain images will immediately spring to people’s minds: Carrie White drenched in blood on prom night; Jack Torrance chasing after his family with an axe; It in the form of a razor toothed clown; and Annie Wilkes with her sledgehammer; to name but a few. As such, a film about a killer who is killing people in ways inspired by King’s works should be a great opportunity for fans and casual readers alike to play a big 90 minute game of “spot the King reference”. Unfortunately, it’s not.

Intended to be a horror-comedy homage to Stephen King, You Can’t Kill Stephen King fails on all three levels: it’s not scary, not very funny, and in spite of the film’s poster, which references five of King’s best known works, barely touches on King’s contribution to the horror genre at all. There are only four King-inspired deaths in the entire movie and all of them are based on obscure short stories that have never been turned into movies (three from Night Shift and one from Skeleton Crew). To date I’ve read 21 of King’s books and watched 50 movies/mini-series based on his works (not to mention The Dead Zone, Kingdom Hospital and Haven TV series), and were it not for one of the characters explaining the significance of these deaths, I wouldn’t have even spotted them as being King-inspired. It’s as if the writers of this film only bothered to read two of King’s short story anthologies and then said to themselves – “There. I’ve read King. This is what he’s all about.” If I was making this film, I would have, at the very least, re-read all of King’s most iconic works (for example, It, The Shining, Cujo, Christine) and worked from there, and I can’t figure out why the writers didn’t do the same.

The only really good things I can think to say about this film are (1) it’s short, and (2) the ending twist is kinda cool, although not really all that surprising and not cool enough to redeem what went before it. Nevertheless, much like with the similarly themed and similarly disappointing The Raven (2012), which featured an Edgar Allan Poe-inspired killer and also focused on Poe’s lesser known works rather than his best known classic, by depriving the audience of the opportunity to spot the references themselves, the makers of the film take away the very reason for the audience showing up in the first place. Early on in You Can’t Kill Stephen King one of the main characters is described as a “black hole of fun.” By focussing on the obscure works of King, the makers of You Can’t Kill Stephen King have created their own black hole of fun that is only likely to be fully appreciated by the most die-hard of Stephen King fans.

Verdict: What could have been an awesome homage to the most successful horror writer of all time never fails to disappoint from beginning to end. There’s a reason why you’ve never heard of this film.

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5. This is the Way the World Ends: The Way We Fall by Megan Crewe Review

When a small island is hit by an epidemic that kills almost everyone in its path, the government quarantines the island, preventing anyone from either arriving or leaving. Cut off from the rest of the world, with no one left to keep the peace, a group of survivors band together in an attempt to help those who remain and possibly find a cure.





There is something about a good epidemic story that can really get under your skin. When I first read The Stand, for example, Stephen King’s behemoth of an epidemic novel, I fell ill with symptoms very similar to those described in the book and spent the whole time I was reading it wondering if I was going to survive long enough to finish it. We have all been sick at some time and watched a cold or flu pass through everyone at work or school and can easily extrapolate the experience to a killer flu that wipes out 99% of the world’s population. Deep down we fear that the possibility of such an epidemic isn’t as remote as we’d prefer to believe.

In Megan Crewe’s The Way We Fall, Ground Zero for the apocalyptic epidemic is an island off the coast of Canada and the story of how this epidemic takes hold of and destroys the island’s population is told from the point of view of 16 year old Kaelyn via the diary which she is keeping. Just to be clear, this is NOT a zombie novel. It seems now days that every story about an epidemic features a virus that turns people into brain-munching rage monsters, and when I first picked up this book, I assumed it was no different. Instead, the virus at the centre of the novel is just a standard flu-type virus that kills people dead (in the no returns sense of the word), but only after they’ve had time to become very friendly and pass on their germs. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, though. It worked for Stephen King in The Stand, so why not use the same idea as the basis for a YA novel? The diary format works well as a means of conveying the paranoia experienced by Kaelyn in her quarantine situation and for the time I was reading this book, every time I heard someone cough or sneeze, I found myself wondering if they had the virus, too. Yet, after the initial set up, instead of picking up speed, the novel remains stuck firmly in second gear, rendering the whole thing a bit of a non-event.

Being the first in a planned trilogy, there are certain things you can safely assume going into this novel: the virus probably isn’t going to be eradicated any time soon and the main characters, especially Kaelyn, are probably going to survive. Nevertheless, The Way We Fall could still have been a lot more exciting and tense that it actually is. The problem is that Kaelyn never really does anything beyond delivering food to people, helping out at the hospital and sitting around home. Given the possibilities of the novel’s premise, surely Crewe could have found something less mundane for her to do. For a while, the villains of the story held some promise – a group of locals who start off by looting abandoned shops and move onto killing the infected in an attempt to control the disease - but even they are poorly utilised, with Crewe preferring to let the virus deal with them rather than forcing Kaelyn and her friends to fight them themselves. In fact, at times it feels as though the main characters are just sitting around waiting for their fellow islanders to die so they can move onto the (hopefully more interesting) sequel. (And incidentally, how is it that, on an island where everyone is dying of an epidemic, the main characters all manage to continually avoid infection, or if they are infected, rank among the rare few who survive? Isn’t that a little unlikely?)

The Way We Fall is not a bad novel, but given the plot elements Megan Crewe set up for herself, it should have been a lot better. Maybe the action will amp up in Book 2 of the trilogy (The Lives We Lost), but on the back of this novel, I won’t be rushing to find out.

Verdict: What could have been a YA version of The Stand, never quite manages to rise above the mundane.

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6. Horror Classic: Suspiria (1977)

Stars: Jessica Harper, Stefania Casini, Alida Valli, Joan Bennett.


When American dancer Suzy Banyon (Jessica Harper) moves to Europe to study at a prestigious German ballet academy, she comes to believe her new school is run by a coven of witches.


Suspiria is the most beautiful horror movie you will ever see. Made during the peak period of stylistic Italian horror director Dario Argento’s career, which started with 1975’s Deep Red and continued until 1987’s Opera, it is considered by many to be Argento’s masterpiece and is frequently included in lists of the best movies of all time, let alone of the best horror movies.

It tells the story of Suzy Banyon, who has the misfortune of arriving at the Freiburg Dance Academy the same dark and stormy night another student flees the school and is brutally murdered. Over the following weeks, the school is subject to a series of bizarre occurrences, ranging from maggots falling from the ceiling to horrific murders, which lead Suzy and her new friend Sara to the conclusion that there is a supernatural presence in the school that must be stopped. The plot becomes more and more flimsy as the film progresses, but that doesn’t matter because you don’t watch Dario Argento films for the plots (which can get pretty silly at times), you watch them because they are works of art.

Utilising bright colours instead of the usual horror blacks and greys, Suspiria’s Art Deco style sets are stunning and a clear effort has been made to make every scene look interesting and gorgeous. This stands in stark contrast to the horrible events that are happening on the sets. When combined with the unsettling background music that plays throughout, written by Argento himself with Italian rock band Goblin, the overall effect is to make the audience feel as unnerved as the characters themselves (in fact, to elicit the frightened performances given by the actors, Argento played the soundtrack at full blast throughout filming).

36 years after it was first released, the scare factor of Suspiria’s numerous death scenes has dulled somewhat. With blood that looks more like red paint, and obviously fake and over the top gore effects, it is hard to imagine anyone now days actually being frightened of these scenes. Yet, the gruesome nature of them scenes remains and they are still undeniably shocking almost four decades on.

One of the few great horror films that has yet to be remade, there have been rumours of a Suspiria remake being in the works for years. Most recently, these rumours cast Isabelle Fuhrman in the lead and had David Gordon Green (best known for films such as Pineapple Express and The Sitter) directing. Fortunately, every attempt at getting a remake off the ground has crashed and burned. Although I don’t have any fundamental objections to horror remakes (the My Bloody Valentine and Friday the 13th remakes were both better than the original movies), Suspiria is one of the rare cases where it would genuinely be impossible to improve on the original. Like Rosemary’s Baby, another fantastic horror film that has yet to be remade and which would make a great companion piece for this film, there are some horror films that are just pretty much perfect. Hopefully Hollywood will continue to recognise this fact for years to come.

Verdict: If you’re looking for a great night in this Halloween, you can’t go far wrong with Dario Argento’s Suspiria.

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7. Book vs Movie Showdown: Scott Pilgrim vs the World

Scott Pilgrim, video gamer and bass guitarist in a not-so-great rock band, thinks his life has finally taken a turn for the better when he fall for Ramona Flowers, an Amazon Canada delivery girl who takes short cuts through his dreams. That is, until he learns he must defeat all of Ramona’s seven evil exes for her to become his girlfriend.




The Book: The Scott Pilgrim Series by Bryan Lee O’Malley

According to Joss Whedon, “Scott Pilgrim is the best book ever. It is a chronicle of our time. With Kung Fu, so yeah: perfect.” I don’t think I would go quite that far.

Bryan Lee O’Malley’s six part graphic novel, published over the six year period from 2004 to 2010, starts off fantastically well, with the first two volumes being works of surreal brilliance. When Scott meets Ramona, a mysterious girl who rollerblades through his dreams; changes her hair every few weeks; and buys her shoes from the same place as Mr Silly; his life literally becomes just like the video games he wastes so much of his time playing. Ramona’s seven evil exes are essentially end of level bosses who vanish in a shower of coins when defeated; special “items” appear from nowhere when Scott performs certain tasks; and Scott even manages to earn an extra “life” at one point. The showdowns between the exes are great, too, with each playing out in a different but equally imaginative way (for example, the Bollywood inspired showdown with Ramona’s first evil ex, Matthew Patel).

Yet, O’Malley can’t seem to sustain the creative steam of the first few volumes, and around the midpoint, the story becomes more about Scott’s “real world” problems (like getting a job and reconciling with his own exes), much to its detriment. Even Ramona loses everything that makes her special by the final volume, with her character becoming virtually indistinguishable from the other women in Scott’s life, both in personality and visually. Joss Whedon did get it right about the Kung Fu, but that’s about it.

The Movie: Scott Pilgrim vs the World (2010)

Stars: Michael Cera, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Kieran Culkin

Edgar Wright’s perfectly cast film version of Scott Pilgrim, on the other hand, takes all of the best bits from O’Malley’s graphic novel and combines them to form a unique movie that is part video game, part motion comic (complete with captions, visible onomatopoeia and comic panel-style framing) and part modern fairytale.

The first half of the movie, covering the excellent first two volumes of the comic, follows the source material so closely the comic could practically have served as a story board for the production, but after that, things go in a slightly different direction. The fact that Wright only had 108 minutes of screen time to work with, rather than six 180-ish page volumes, means he was forced to cut the story back to the bare essentials, and unusual for a book to movie adaptation, this actually works in the movie’s favour. The film’s second half focuses almost entirely on Scott’s battles with the evil exes and is mercifully free from the dull realism that sapped all the magic from O’Malley’s comic. It’s faster paced and more focussed than the way-too-long comic and as a result, far more enjoyable.

That’s not to say that Wright always got it 100% correct. As mentioned previously, the original Scott Pilgrim series was published over a six year period and given the movie went into production prior to O’Malley commencing work on the sixth and final volume, Wright was forced to make his own guess as to how the story should end. This resulted in him initially going in a completely different direction from O’Malley to the point where, after defeating all of Ramona’s evil exes, Scott chooses his previous girlfriend, Knives, instead of Ramona. The advantage of this ending is that it means that Knives is better developed in the movie than the comic and has a bigger part in the finale but it does render the rest of the movie more or less pointless. Fortunately, after discovering O’Malley’s actual ending, Wright changed the movie’s ending to match O’Malley’s (only about the last minute or two – Wright’s original ending is available on YouTube and as a DVD extra if you’re interested in seeing it), making for a more satisfying finish that maintains the movie’s magic right to the very last minute.

The Winner

The Movie. Although O’Malley’s comic starts off well, it is Wright’s take on it that manages to go the distance.

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8. R U Game?: Game by Barry Lyga Review

Having proven himself by capturing a serial killer in his home town of Lobo’s Nod, Jazz Dent, son of America’s most notorious serial killer, Billy Dent, is called on by the NYPD to help them catch the Hat-Dog Killer, a serial killer who is terrorising the streets of New York City.






 
A friend of mine once told me that he refuses to start reading a series of books until the writer has written the final volume because it annoys him so much when he gets to the inevitable open ending of each instalment and has to wait a year or more to find out what happens next. Having just finished Game, Barry Lyga’s sequel to I Hunt Killers, I am starting to think this might not be such a bad idea. I get that writers of series books like to end on a cliff-hanger in order to encourage readers to buy their next book as soon as it hits the shops, but when a writer leaves so many plot threads hanging at the end of a book that it’s as if he or she forgot to write the final act, I find myself being turned off reading further rather than longing to read more. Unfortunately, such is the case with Game.

I say unfortunately, because I Hunt Killers (which can best be described as “I was a teenage Dexter”) was one of my favourite books of 2012. It’s the book I think should have won either the 2012 Edgar or Stoker award for Best YA mystery/horror novel and in my review (here), I tipped it as being the next big thing in YA fiction. As such, I really wanted to like Game. And in some respects, I did.

In Jazz, Lyga has created an original and compelling character (can you name any other teenage serial killer profilers?) and through Game, Lyga does all the things necessary to set up Jazz as a continuing franchise character: by setting the story in NYC, he has expanded Jazz’s universe and created the potential for future novels to be set in other locations; and he has upped the ante by making the killings bigger and badder than in the first novel and creating an enduring nemesis for Jazz, much like Moriarty was to Sherlock Holmes. I appreciated the fact that Jazz was facing a bigger challenge than in I Hunt Killers and enjoyed watching him cope with crimes in the “big city”.

Where Lyga goes wrong, however, is by making the mystery simultaneously too easy to solve and too hard. In I Hunt Killers, I didn’t figure out who the killer was, but I was left with the feeling that I could have, had I thought harder about the mystery at hand. In Game, I didn’t figure out who the killer was because he only appears in one scene prior to being revealed for what he is. Yet, at the same time, I figured out the “game” Hat-Dog was playing almost immediately (I think I had seen something similar in one of the two hundred different mystery series I watch on TV) and then had to wait until page 400 for Jazz to catch up. Lyga has underestimated the intelligence of his readers and the book suffers as a result.

Furthermore, while Jazz’s girlfriend Connie was merely a minor supporting character in I Hunt Killers, in Game, Lyga increases her role to the point of giving her her own subplot and mystery to solve. By making Connie a detective in her own right, Lyga diminishes what makes Jazz special. The whole premise of this series is that Jazz is capable of out-thinking killers and cops alike because he was brought up by a serial killer. If an ordinary teenager (i.e. Connie) can also out-think the police etc, then that means that Jazz’s abilities have nothing to do with his upbringing and more to do with the fact that the police are just plain dumb, which renders the whole series pointless.

As for the “shocking” reveal in the final line of the novel, I’d actually figured that out in the first novel. If a good ending can save a mediocre novel and a bad ending can ruin a great novel, what does it say when you finish a novel and find yourself saying aloud: “well, duh!” I think the answer is “nothing complementary”.

Verdict: Follow the advice of my friend and wait until Lyga finishes this series before embarking on this open-ended follow-up to the otherwise excellent I Hunt Killers.

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9. The Breakfast Club Goes to Hell: Bad Kids Go To Hell (2012) Review

Stars: Cameron Deane Stewart, Augie Duke, Ali Faulkner, Judd Nelson


While sentenced to Saturday detention locked in their school’s new library, six students from the exclusive Crestview Academy start falling victim to horrible “accidents”. With their number rapidly diminishing and no way of escaping the library, the remaining students must figure out who or what is causing the accidents before it is too late.





“This is not the f**king feel-good 80’s movie of the year where for seven hours we put aside our diffs and through commiserating about our mutually dysfunctional family lives or how lonely and alienated we each feel, we find some sort of common ground and end up as BFFs.” So says one of the characters early on in Bad Kids Go to Hell, which cleverly reimagines The Breakfast Club as a horror movie, by way of And Then There Were None, to great success.

The first twenty minutes or so of the film are a pure homage to the John Hughes classic: a cast of stereotypes brought together by Saturday morning detention – check; a very familiar looking library – check; even the scene in which the characters all arrive at the school is lifted straight from The Breakfast Club, and if that wasn’t enough, Judd Nelson appears in a cameo as the school principal. However, after the students have arrived, things start moving in quite a different direction from anything John Hughes ever imagined. Rather than talking about their problems, the teens of Bad Kids Go to Hell decide to conduct a séance in order to communicate with the ghost who is rumoured to haunt the library. Big mistake. It’s not long after that the accidents start happening, creating a whole new set of problems for the group, far more pressing than whether or not their parents really care. But what is causing the accidents? Is it really a malevolent spirit out for revenge or could it be one of the group?

An independent movie directed by a first time director (who also created the graphic novel on which it was based) and starring a bunch of actors you’ve probably never heard of, Bad Kids Go to Hell makes the most of its low budget, often substituting smart dialogue for violence, but leaving in enough scares and blood to keep horror fans satisfied. While watching it, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the 2011 horror-comedies Detention and The Cabin in the Woods, in particular Detention, which paid homage to The Breakfast Club as well as about a million other films of the 80’s and 90’s. Detention remains my favourite of the three, with its completely insane plot that schizophrenically changes direction every five or ten minutes but somehow manages to make sense. Yet Bad Kids Go to Hell still manages to hold its own in the group. If, like the characters in this film, you too ever end up stuck inside on a rainy Saturday afternoon, there are a lot worse things that you could do than watch a movie marathon made up of Bad Kids Go to Hell, Detention and The Cabin in the Woods.

Verdict: Did you ever think The Breakfast Club would have been better as a horror movie? Here’s your chance to find out. Bad Kids Go to Hell is a surprisingly good indy horror-comedy with a great ending you won’t see coming.

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10. Summer Camp Can Be Murder: Nightmare by Joan Lowery Nixon Review

Unlike everyone else in her family, Emily is an underachiever. She's spent her whole life sitting quietly in the back row, hiding behind her hair and it doesn’t bother her in the least – but it bothers her parents. In an effort to get her to reach her full potential, Emily’s parents enrol her in Camp Excel, a summer camp for underachieving teens. However, shortly after arriving at the camp, Emily is struck by a feeling of déjà vu. Ever since she was a child, Emily has had a recurring nightmare, the setting of which appears to be Camp Excel. Has Emily been to the camp before, and if so, could the dead body she sees in her nightmare actually be real?


When I first read the blurb on the back of Nightmare, I assumed this book was going to be kind of like the movie Disturbing Behavior. You know, parents send their underperforming kids off to summer camp so they can be reprogrammed to become perfect Stepford Kids. Sorry to spoil things for anyone who thought the same, but – it’s not. Nightmare is actually a fairly ordinary, albeit enjoyable enough, YA mystery from veteran writer Joan Lowery Nixon, that reeks of missed opportunities.

Starting back in the 1960’s, Nixon wrote over 130 books and this late entry in her bibliography highlights just how much young adult mysteries have changed since that time. First published in 2003, Nightmare is one of the last books Nixon wrote prior to her death that year, aged 76, but reminds me more of teen mysteries I have read that were published back in the 1970’s and ‘80’s (for example, some of the older Lois Duncan novels). Books back then were created using a completely different paradigm from what is used today: they were shorter (Nightmare is only around 45,000 words or 166 small paperback pages long); there is never a real sense of danger (the murder in Nightmare occurred well in the past, and there are no murders in the present); and all of the teenagers talk and behave like responsible adults, rather than how teenagers really behave (seriously, these teens are a bunch of slackers and underachievers who are away from their parents at summer camp. Does anyone really believe they would be spending their evenings doing homework?). Compare this to Barry Lyga’s recent I Hunt Killers, a book in which a teenage boy hunts an extremely vicious serial killer, and you’ll get what I mean. Presumably, Nixon worked within that old paradigm her entire life and in her old age, wasn’t about to change. Unfortunately, the consequence of this is a book that feels dated, in spite of being only 10 years old.

With only 166 pages to work with, there’s little time for character or plot development. The teen characters, that is, Emily and her friends punk Taylor, aspiring playwright Maxwell and new age Haley, don’t fare too badly (I actually really liked Maxwell), but the teachers at the camp, who are the main suspects in the murder, receive so little attention that when the killer is finally revealed, I had to flip back in the book to remind myself who this character was and even whether this character was male or female. The ending is extremely abrupt, with the killer being revealed and stopped all in the space of the last six pages; and Nixon never really capitalises on the full potential of her setting. If a book is set at an academic summer camp for underachievers, of course the people running it have to be doing something illegal and immoral. Why couldn’t Nixon see this?

If this book were published back in the 1970’s, I would probably have given it a more positive review, as by the standards of that time, it’s not a bad book and it kept me entertained for its entire duration. Yet, in the last two decades, YA mystery fiction has come a long way, and by comparison to books published at the same time as Nightmare, it’s not difficult to find something that’s a lot better. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go and re-watch Disturbing Behavior.

Verdict: A disappointing swan song from Joan Lowery Nixon, one of the most successful YA mystery writers of her time.

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11. The Future of Entertainment: Aim High Season One Review

Stars: Jackson Rathbone, Aimee Teegarden, Johnny Pemberton, Greg Germann


Nick Green (Jackson Rathbone) is one of 64 highly trained, teenage government operatives and spends his nights killing bad guys. However, Nick’s night job is easy by comparison to his days at school where his physics teacher keeps hitting on him; Amanda (Aimee Teegarden), the girl he likes, is dating a swimming jock who wants to kill him; and his best friend keeps threatening to expose his secret on his gossip blog.




What if Ferris Bueller were recruited by the CIA? That is the premise behind Aim High, an original web series that crosses Ferris Bueller’s Day Off with Anthony Horowitz’s Alex Rider books. The series opens with Nick having been in his job for three years, and as it progresses, Nick is faced with the dilemma of whether to continue risking his life for the government or throw it all in for a chance at passing his SATs and getting the girl of his dreams. Tough choice - not. Of course, Nick’s job isn’t exactly one you can just walk away from, and before you know it, pretty much everyone is trying to get Nick, one way or another, leading to the inevitable big showdown in the final episode which ties off all the main storylines, while simultaneously setting things up for the next season.

Developed by Warner Bros. and produced by action director McG, Aim High has a bigger budget and higher production values than the majority of web series made to date, and as such, is able to alternate smart dialogue (some of which is delivered directly to the camera, Ferris Bueller style) with television-quality action sequences, and include actors you might actually have heard of (Rathbone, Teegarden and Germann having previously appeared in Twilight, Friday Night Lights and Ally McBeal respectively).

The makers of Aim High have also made the unusual decision of having 8 – 12 minute episodes, instead of the webisode standard 3 – 5 minutes and it works well in their favour. The longer episode length gives the writers greater opportunities to develop characters and scenarios, and as 10 minutes is approximately the length between ad breaks in a network TV series, it feels more natural and avoids that stopping and starting feeling you often get with three minute webisodes.

Premiered on Facebook, Aim High is the world’s first social media series and can be watched through a Facebook app in “personalised mode”, which incorporates your own personal data and pictures into the video. For example, you may see your photo on a poster in Nick’s school or your name on a sign. Ironically, though, considering its social media ties (as well as the coolness factor of its gimmick), Aim High didn’t receive nearly as much publicity as you would expect. The first I heard of it was when I stumbled upon the DVD release in a bricks and mortar store. Still, enough people saw it to prompt Warner to green light Season Two and it’s nice to see a major studio finally starting to utilise the full potential of web-based entertainment.

Verdict: If this is a sign of things to come in web-based entertainment, the future is looking bright.

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12. Welcome Back Scarecrow: Scarecrow and the Army of Thieves by Matthew Reilly Review

Marine captain Shane Schofield, call-sign Scarecrow, is called back into action when a terrorist organisation known as the Army of Thieves takes over Dragon Island, a long forgotten Cold War weapons base in the Arctic, with the intent of using one of the weapons there to wipe out the entire Northern Hemisphere.




The literary equivalent of Hollywood blockbuster action movies, Matthew Reilly’s adventure thrillers may be hated by the Australian literary establishment for being far too commercial, but they are certainly loved by just about everyone else. One of Australia’s best-selling writers, Reilly does not write books with deep themes or messages or anything likely to ever be set for study in Year 12 English. What he does write, however, are huge scale, hyper-kinetic, over-the-top adventure stories that may not get you to think too hard, but will keep you turning the pages from beginning to end.

Although he has written some stand-alone novels (including my personal favourite, Contest, featuring an intergalactic death match in the New York State Library), the majority of his books are either about Jack West Jr., Reilly’s answer to Indiana Jones, or super-marine Shane “Scarecrow” Schofield, who has a habit of being in the wrong place at the right time. Recently, Reilly has been focussing primarily on the Jack West adventures, but after a gap of eight years, Reilly has finally decided to make a welcome return to the Scarecrow universe with Scarecrow and the Army of Thieves (aka Scarecrow Returns).

After all the horrible stuff Scarecrow has been through in the previous three novels and one novella (Hell Island, written as part of an Australian government-sponsored initiative), the USMC are convinced that Scarecrow is well and truly broken and have sent him to the Arctic with a group of scientists to test new equipment in extreme climates, in order to keep him busy and out of the way. However, as luck would have it, this places Scarecrow and his team in the closest proximity to the Dragon Island weapons base when the Army of Thieves decide to strike. The weapon the Army of Thieves are threatening to use is an atmospheric gas weapon, literally designed to set the sky on fire, and Scarecrow’s team of four marines, three civilians and a very cute robot called Bertie (think Wall-E with guns) have just 4 ½ hours to get in and stop them.

Not as grand in scale as Reilly’s previous effort (the two-part story made up of The Six Sacred Stones and The Five Greatest Warriors, which saw Jack West Jr. racing around the world to avert the apocalypse), Scarecrow and the Army of Thieves is still up to the same high standard as the previous Scarecrow books and has the added bonus of a great new character, the scenery-chewing, larger than life French soldier Baba, who is effectively the male equivalent of Scarecrow’s loyal second in command, Mother. The Arctic setting does feel reminiscent of the Antarctic setting of Reilly’s earlier Ice Station (I guess there’s a limit to the number of places Reilly’s novels can be set) and there is one very unpleasant, 1984-inspired torture scene that I could have done without, but on the whole, this is still a better book than the majority of novels I read each year  - and the majority of movies I watch, too, for that matter.

Purportedly aimed at adults (I’m still not convinced), Matthew Reilly’s novels read like the sorts of movies that have teenagers cheering in the cinemas and are among those rare few books that genuinely appeal to readers of all ages. If you’re new to Reilly’s works, Scarecrow and the Army of Thieves is not a bad place to start (although you may prefer to start with Ice Station, the novel in which Scarecrow first appeared) and if you’re a returning reader, you definitely won’t be disappointed.

Verdict: Another hit from best-selling author Matthew Reilly, a writer who makes me proud to be an Australian.

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13. Welcome Back Scarecrow: Scarecrow and the Army of Thieves by Matthew Reilly Review

Marine captain Shane Schofield, call-sign Scarecrow, is called back into action when a terrorist organisation known as the Army of Thieves takes over Dragon Island, a long forgotten Cold War weapons base in the Arctic, with the intent of using one of the weapons there to wipe out the entire Northern Hemisphere.




The literary equivalent of Hollywood blockbuster action movies, Matthew Reilly’s adventure thrillers may be hated by the Australian literary establishment for being far too commercial, but they are certainly loved by just about everyone else. One of Australia’s best-selling writers, Reilly does not write books with deep themes or messages or anything likely to ever be set for study in Year 12 English. What he does write, however, are huge scale, hyper-kinetic, over-the-top adventure stories that may not get you to think too hard, but will keep you turning the pages from beginning to end.

Although he has written some stand-alone novels (including my personal favourite, Contest, featuring an intergalactic death match in the New York State Library), the majority of his books are either about Jack West Jr., Reilly’s answer to Indiana Jones, or super-marine Shane “Scarecrow” Schofield, who has a habit of being in the wrong place at the right time. Recently, Reilly has been focussing primarily on the Jack West adventures, but after a gap of eight years, Reilly has finally decided to make a welcome return to the Scarecrow universe with Scarecrow and the Army of Thieves (aka Scarecrow Returns).

After all the horrible stuff Scarecrow has been through in the previous three novels and one novella (Hell Island, written as part of an Australian government-sponsored initiative), the USMC are convinced that Scarecrow is well and truly broken and have sent him to the Arctic with a group of scientists to test new equipment in extreme climates, in order to keep him busy and out of the way. However, as luck would have it, this places Scarecrow and his team in the closest proximity to the Dragon Island weapons base when the Army of Thieves decide to strike. The weapon the Army of Thieves are threatening to use is an atmospheric gas weapon, literally designed to set the sky on fire, and Scarecrow’s team of four marines, three civilians and a very cute robot called Bertie (think Wall-E with guns) have just 4 ½ hours to get in and stop them.

Not as grand in scale as Reilly’s previous effort (the two-part story made up of The Six Sacred Stones and The Five Greatest Warriors, which saw Jack West Jr. racing around the world to avert the apocalypse), Scarecrow and the Army of Thieves is still up to the same high standard as the previous Scarecrow books and has the added bonus of a great new character, the scenery-chewing, larger than life French soldier Baba, who is effectively the male equivalent of Scarecrow’s loyal second in command, Mother. The Arctic setting does feel reminiscent of the Antarctic setting of Reilly’s earlier Ice Station (I guess there’s a limit to the number of places Reilly’s novels can be set) and there is one very unpleasant, 1984-inspired torture scene that I could have done without, but on the whole, this is still a better book than the majority of novels I read each year  - and the majority of movies I watch, too, for that matter.

Purportedly aimed at adults (I’m still not convinced), Matthew Reilly’s novels read like the sorts of movies that have teenagers cheering in the cinemas and are among those rare few books that genuinely appeal to readers of all ages. If you’re new to Reilly’s works, Scarecrow and the Army of Thieves is not a bad place to start (although you may prefer to start with Ice Station, the novel in which Scarecrow first appeared) and if you’re a returning reader, you definitely won’t be disappointed.

Verdict: Another hit from best-selling author Matthew Reilly, a writer who makes me proud to be an Australian.

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14. Blood is Thicker Than Water: Stoker (2013) Review

Stars: Mia Wasikowska, Nicole Kidman, Matthew Goode, Alden Ehrenreich

After India Stoker’s (Mia Wasikowska’s) father dies in a car accident on the day of her 18th birthday, her Uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode), whom she never knew existed, comes to live with her and her mother Evie (Nicole Kidman). While Evie readily welcomes Charlie into their home and her heart, allowing him to fill the void left by her dead husband, India is not so sure of her feelings for this mysterious newcomer. Is he the charming traveller he purports to be or is he hiding something more sinister beneath his handsome exterior?




 
 
India Stoker exists in a strange world. Although she lives in the 21st century and attends an ordinary American high school, for India, going home at night is like stepping through a portal into another time. She lives in a big, old gothic mansion that is almost completely devoid of modern technology; dresses in clothes that are decades out of date; and her main interests are playing the piano and hunting game in the fields surrounding her house.  Her father was both her only friend and hunting companion, so when he dies, leaving her with her mother who is more of a teenager than India is, India finds she is more or less alone in the world. Enter Uncle Charlie, a kindred soul for India, even if she refuses to admit it.

Writer Wentworth Miller (best known for his acting work in the TV series Prison Break) combines elements of Dracula and Shadow of a Doubt (both clearly referenced in Charlie Stoker’s name) to create a film that is something you would imagine Alfred Hitchcock coming up with if tasked with modernising Dracula and relocating it to the American South. Not that this movie is about vampires. It’s a psychological horror/thriller with a much more human evil at its core. Much of the suspense hangs on the questions of what Charlie’s motives really are and what India will do when she discovers them, and the answers become less and less obvious as the film progresses.

Although, with its teenaged protagonist, Stoker ostensibly fits the teen movie mould, this is no ordinary teen horror flick. It’s a teen movie made for adults. It’s very smart and makes you join the dots yourself rather than spelling everything out for you. There’s bloodshed and a body count, which will keep horror fans happy, but it’s not the over the top gore you’d find in a Friday the 13th or Nightmare on Elm Street movie. There are no machete wielding maniacs on the loose. It’s also completely bonkers. The more we learn of the Stoker clan, the more apparent it becomes that none of them are 100% sane, and as you would expect from such a family, their actions are completely unpredictable. This means the film twists and turns in ways you wouldn’t imagine and it is one of the rare films I've seen where I genuinely had no idea of what was coming next.

Stoker is Korean director Park Chan-Wook’s first English language movie. Park manages to extract incredible performances from his three leads, in particular Wasikowska, who proves she now has what it takes to break into more adult roles. He even outdoes Oldboy, the movie which brought him international fame in the first place. The film is beautiful to behold and reminiscent in style of the visually striking work of Italian horror director Dario Argento at the peak of his career (in particular, his masterpiece, Suspiria). I’m not sure what the Academy’s opinion of weird, twisted horror thrillers is, and I’m sure the Academy’s notorious conservatism will work against this film. However, when it comes to award season, it will be a crime if this film does not pick up at least one or two prizes.

Verdict: One of the best films of the year to date, Stoker is unlikely to be everyone’s cup of tea, but is well worth seeing for all fans of high quality psychological horror.

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15. Blood is Thicker Than Water: Stoker (2013) Review

Stars: Mia Wasikowska, Nicole Kidman, Matthew Goode, Alden Ehrenreich

After India Stoker’s (Mia Wasikowska’s) father dies in a car accident on the day of her 18th birthday, her Uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode), whom she never knew existed, comes to live with her and her mother Evie (Nicole Kidman). While Evie readily welcomes Charlie into their home and her heart, allowing him to fill the void left by her dead husband, India is not so sure of her feelings for this mysterious newcomer. Is he the charming traveller he purports to be or is he hiding something more sinister beneath his handsome exterior?




 
 
India Stoker exists in a strange world. Although she lives in the 21st century and attends an ordinary American high school, for India, going home at night is like stepping through a portal into another time. She lives in a big, old gothic mansion that is almost completely devoid of modern technology; dresses in clothes that are decades out of date; and her main interests are playing the piano and hunting game in the fields surrounding her house.  Her father was both her only friend and hunting companion, so when he dies, leaving her with her mother who is more of a teenager than India is, India finds she is more or less alone in the world. Enter Uncle Charlie, a kindred soul for India, even if she refuses to admit it.

Writer Wentworth Miller (best known for his acting work in the TV series Prison Break) combines elements of Dracula and Shadow of a Doubt (both clearly referenced in Charlie Stoker’s name) to create a film that is something you would imagine Alfred Hitchcock coming up with if tasked with modernising Dracula and relocating it to the American South. Not that this movie is about vampires. It’s a psychological horror/thriller with a much more human evil at its core. Much of the suspense hangs on the questions of what Charlie’s motives really are and what India will do when she discovers them, and the answers become less and less obvious as the film progresses.

Although, with its teenaged protagonist, Stoker ostensibly fits the teen movie mould, this is no ordinary teen horror flick. It’s a teen movie made for adults. It’s very smart and makes you join the dots yourself rather than spelling everything out for you. There’s bloodshed and a body count, which will keep horror fans happy, but it’s not the over the top gore you’d find in a Friday the 13th or Nightmare on Elm Street movie. There are no machete wielding maniacs on the loose. It’s also completely bonkers. The more we learn of the Stoker clan, the more apparent it becomes that none of them are 100% sane, and as you would expect from such a family, their actions are completely unpredictable. This means the film twists and turns in ways you wouldn’t imagine and it is one of the rare films I've seen where I genuinely had no idea of what was coming next.

Stoker is Korean director Park Chan-Wook’s first English language movie. Park manages to extract incredible performances from his three leads, in particular Wasikowska, who proves she now has what it takes to break into more adult roles. He even outdoes Oldboy, the movie which brought him international fame in the first place. The film is beautiful to behold and reminiscent in style of the visually striking work of Italian horror director Dario Argento at the peak of his career (in particular, his masterpiece, Suspiria). I’m not sure what the Academy’s opinion of weird, twisted horror thrillers is, and I’m sure the Academy’s notorious conservatism will work against this film. However, when it comes to award season, it will be a crime if this film does not pick up at least one or two prizes.

Verdict: One of the best films of the year to date, Stoker is unlikely to be everyone’s cup of tea, but is well worth seeing for all fans of high quality psychological horror.

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16. How Not to Write a Sequel: Imposter by Jill Hathaway Review

In 2012’s Slide, we were introduced to Sylvia (Vee) Bell, a girl with the ability to literally “slide” into someone else’s head and see through their eyes; a talent she put to good use when her sister’s best friend was murdered. In Imposter, Jill Hathaway’s follow-up to Slide, however, the shoe is on the other foot. Someone is sliding into Vee and making her do things she wouldn’t normally do, including possibly pushing someone off the side of a cliff. Now Vee must find the second slider in order to clear herself of attempted murder.



Just like with Hollywood blockbusters, it seems there is no such thing as a stand-alone YA novel anymore. If a book is successful enough and the main characters are still alive on the final page, it’s a sure thing the publisher will be going back to the author and asking for Book 2. Hey, why even stop there? Isn’t everything part of a trilogy now days? From the interviews I’ve read with Jill Hathaway, this appears to have been what happened with Slide. Nevertheless, just because the publisher and readers think they want more, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a good idea.

Slide actually had the potential to give rise to a very good sequel, mostly because it was effectively just Stephen King’s The Dead Zone for teenagers. Since The Dead Zone, a novel of only around 400 pages (short by Stephen King’s standards) was able to be spun off into a highly successful TV series that ran for six seasons, it stands to reason that Jill Hathaway should have been able to get at least one more good story idea out of her psychic detective gimmick. However, in order to do that, there are a few things that she would have needed to do first:

• Expand the Universe in Which the Story Takes Place

Slide and Imposter both take place in a relatively narrow universe made up primarily of Vee’s family and school friends. Although there are a small number of new characters added in Imposter, most notably Vee’s aunt Lydia who comes to stay with her family, there’s not all that much here that we haven’t seen before in Book 1.

• Up the Ante

As a general rule, sequels should always be bigger and badder than their predecessors. In the case of Imposter, that would mean a higher body count, a scarier villain and a greater threat to Vee than was presented in Slide. Imposter starts off well with Hathaway introducing the notion of a second slider with the potential to use Vee as the ultimate murder weapon, but she doesn’t follow through on this premise. For reasons that entirely escape me, Hathaway seems more interested in having Vee dwell on her personal problems than on solving the mystery.

 Make Vee More Actively Seek Out Ways to Use Her Powers

In The Dead Zone TV series, Johnny Smith became a consultant to the police, allowing him to use his powers to solve a different mystery each week in a way that didn’t seem completely contrived. For Jill Hathaway to continue with the Slide series, she needed to come up with a gimmick like that. Admittedly, the idea of a teenager acting as a consultant to the police is hard to pull off (although Barry Lyga has managed it with the excellent I Hunt Killers), but turning Vee into a sort of psychic Nancy Drew or Veronica Mars would have gone a long way.

In my review of Slide, I praised it as being one of the best novels of the year. I am disappointed that I can’t say the same about Imposter. However, I’m not ready to completely write off Jill Hathaway just yet. I hear that her next novel, due out in 2014, will be about a completely different set of characters from those in the Slide/Imposter universe. Here’s hoping that the break from writing about Vee and her friends will return her work to the high standards set by her first novel, and that she isn’t just another YA one-hit wonder.

Verdict: A disappointing follow up to one of the best mystery novels of 2012.

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17. How Not to Write a Sequel: Imposter by Jill Hathaway Review

In 2012’s Slide, we were introduced to Sylvia (Vee) Bell, a girl with the ability to literally “slide” into someone else’s head and see through their eyes; a talent she put to good use when her sister’s best friend was murdered. In Imposter, Jill Hathaway’s follow-up to Slide, however, the shoe is on the other foot. Someone is sliding into Vee and making her do things she wouldn’t normally do, including possibly pushing someone off the side of a cliff. Now Vee must find the second slider in order to clear herself of attempted murder.



Just like with Hollywood blockbusters, it seems there is no such thing as a stand-alone YA novel anymore. If a book is successful enough and the main characters are still alive on the final page, it’s a sure thing the publisher will be going back to the author and asking for Book 2. Hey, why even stop there? Isn’t everything part of a trilogy now days? From the interviews I’ve read with Jill Hathaway, this appears to have been what happened with Slide. Nevertheless, just because the publisher and readers think they want more, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a good idea.

Slide actually had the potential to give rise to a very good sequel, mostly because it was effectively just Stephen King’s The Dead Zone for teenagers. Since The Dead Zone, a novel of only around 400 pages (short by Stephen King’s standards) was able to be spun off into a highly successful TV series that ran for six seasons, it stands to reason that Jill Hathaway should have been able to get at least one more good story idea out of her psychic detective gimmick. However, in order to do that, there are a few things that she would have needed to do first:

• Expand the Universe in Which the Story Takes Place

Slide and Imposter both take place in a relatively narrow universe made up primarily of Vee’s family and school friends. Although there are a small number of new characters added in Imposter, most notably Vee’s aunt Lydia who comes to stay with her family, there’s not all that much here that we haven’t seen before in Book 1.

• Up the Ante

As a general rule, sequels should always be bigger and badder than their predecessors. In the case of Imposter, that would mean a higher body count, a scarier villain and a greater threat to Vee than was presented in Slide. Imposter starts off well with Hathaway introducing the notion of a second slider with the potential to use Vee as the ultimate murder weapon, but she doesn’t follow through on this premise. For reasons that entirely escape me, Hathaway seems more interested in having Vee dwell on her personal problems than on solving the mystery.

 Make Vee More Actively Seek Out Ways to Use Her Powers

In The Dead Zone TV series, Johnny Smith became a consultant to the police, allowing him to use his powers to solve a different mystery each week in a way that didn’t seem completely contrived. For Jill Hathaway to continue with the Slide series, she needed to come up with a gimmick like that. Admittedly, the idea of a teenager acting as a consultant to the police is hard to pull off (although Barry Lyga has managed it with the excellent I Hunt Killers), but turning Vee into a sort of psychic Nancy Drew or Veronica Mars would have gone a long way.

In my review of Slide, I praised it as being one of the best novels of the year. I am disappointed that I can’t say the same about Imposter. However, I’m not ready to completely write off Jill Hathaway just yet. I hear that her next novel, due out in 2014, will be about a completely different set of characters from those in the Slide/Imposter universe. Here’s hoping that the break from writing about Vee and her friends will return her work to the high standards set by her first novel, and that she isn’t just another YA one-hit wonder.

Verdict: A disappointing follow up to one of the best mystery novels of 2012.

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18. The Hardy Boys Grow Up: The Hardy Boys Mysteries Season 3 Review

Are there any mystery fans out there who haven’t read at least one Nancy Drew or Hardy Boys mystery? Dating back to 1927, The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew mysteries have been the gateway drugs for generations of mystery junkies and their influence can be felt in a wide range of other teen and children’s series ranging from Scooby Doo to Veronica Mars and Supernatural. Yet, amazingly, none of the various attempts to adapt these series directly for film or television have ever been all that successful. That is, with the exception of the late 1970’s series The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries starring Pamela Sue Martin (and later Janet Louise Johnson) as Nancy and Parker Stevenson and pop singer Shaun Cassidy (half-brother of David and uncle of Katie) as Frank and Joe Hardy.


The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries started off as a weekly series that alternated episodes featuring the Hardy Boys with those featuring Nancy Drew, but in Season Two the format was changed to include cross-over episodes (such as The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew Meet Dracula) with the three detectives working together for the first time ever. It managed to remain true enough to the original novels (in particular, maintaining the supernatural-themed mysteries that made the books so much fun), while updating a few details here and there to appeal to the audiences of the time (such as giving Shaun Cassidy ample opportunities to sing). However, due to the fact that the Hardy Boys developed a bigger following than Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boy eventually became the main characters of the series and Nancy a supporting character. Which brings us to Season Three, the primary focus of this review.

In the third season, Nancy was written out completely and the show retitled The Hardy Boys Mysteries, although a better title might have been The Hardy Men. In this season, Frank and Joe, having presumably graduated from college, take up jobs with the Justice Department and the Scooby Doo-esque mysteries of the first two seasons are suddenly replaced with more serious fare, such as Joe tracking down the hit and run driver who killed his fiancé. Cassidy and Stevenson had some great chemistry going between them that made for a brotherly bond as convincing and likeable as that of Dean and Sam Winchester, and that’s still present. However, all the fun has been sucked from the series, rendering it indistinguishable from every other mystery show of the time. Cassidy isn’t even given the opportunity to sing – quite surprising, considering that one episode centres on the Hardys working with singer David Gates and his band Bread to find a Russian girl who has defected to the US. Needless to say, the changes to the series didn’t go down well with fans and after ten episodes, the show was finally cancelled.

The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries is essential viewing for any fans of the books, past or present, but only the first two seasons. After that, save your time and money and switch to watching the similar, but much better, Supernatural and Veronica Mars instead.

Verdict: A disappointing ending to an otherwise entertaining series. For fans only.

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19. Dexter the Early Years: I Hunt Killers by Barry Lyga Review

Jasper “Jazz” Dent only fears two things – that people will think he’s like his father and that he is. Not unusual for a 17 year old boy, except for the fact that Jazz’s father is Billy Dent, America’s most notorious serial killer, responsible for the gruesome deaths of 184 people. When another serial killer strikes in Jazz’s home town, Jazz, desperate to prove to himself that he’s nothing like his father, decides to put the lessons Billy taught him to good use and volunteers to help the police. However, when the police reject Jazz’s offer, Jazz is left with no option but to hunt the killer himself, with the assistance of his best friend and girlfriend.




Wow!  I didn’t think it possible for there to be a YA book that’s even darker and more disturbing that Koushun Takami’s Battle Royale, but here it is. A serial killer thriller written for teens. The fact that this book hasn’t been banned by those schools and libraries that have tried to ban everything from Goosebumps to Harry Potter can only be explained by the fact that not enough people have read this marvellously warped book yet. However, give it time, and I’m sure it will be – thus, increasing its sales many times over.

I Hunt Killers is like a reverse Dexter targeted at a younger audience (I think. I’m still not certain if the target audience for this book is teens or adults). In the Dexter books and TV series, Dexter is a serial killer who was raised by a cop to have a moral code and an understanding of police technique. In I Hunt Killers, Barry Lyga inverts the Dexter set-up with Jazz, a seemingly normal boy who was raised by a killer to have no moral code at all and an understanding of how to be a successful psychopath. Jazz’s upbringing makes him perfectly suited to two jobs: a serial killer profiler or a serial killer even better than his father was. While other kids his age are trying to decide on which college to go to, Jazz is faced with the decision of which of these career paths to choose – a decision that isn’t as obvious for him as it should be.

For a YA book, I Hunt Killers is surprisingly graphic in its descriptions of Billy and the new killer’s crimes. For the most part, Lyga spares his readers the prospect of reading about the murders as they are being committed, but does let them know, after the event, exactly what has occurred – and some of the killings are particularly nasty. In spite of the fact that most teenagers nowadays have probably seen their fair share of serial killer and horror movies, YA novelists have traditionally held back in their descriptions of violence and murder. Yet, in the context of this novel, breaking with this tradition is 100% necessary. Anything less and the book just wouldn’t have worked. Ironically, pretty much everything else about the book is PG-13. I didn’t notice a single expletive in 362 pages, for example. Does that mean that it’s OK for teens to read about murder victims being nailed to the ceiling but not to encounter an F-bomb?  I’m not really sure.

If I were asked to pick the book most likely to become the next big thing in YA fiction, I Hunt Killers is the book I would choose. It is just as well written, if not better, than most adult serial killer novels, and I far preferred it to Thomas Harris’s similarly themed The Silence of the Lambs and Red Dragon. And clearly, I’m not the only one who feels this way. Within six months of its release, an announcement was made that it is to be turned into a TV series by ABC Family (a subsidiary of Disney – go figure) with Joel Silver producing and Arika Mittman, who has previously worked on Dexter, as writer. The only thing negative I can say about this book is that the ending leaves things open to a sequel (something which I generally hate). However, I’m not going to complain too loudly about that because I can’t wait to read it. Bring on book 2.

Verdict: My nominee for the next big thing in YA fiction – and the next book to make the most banned books list.   

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20. Three Flavours Cornetto: Shaun of the Dead (2004), Hot Fuzz (2007) and The World’s End (2013) Review

It may have taken almost 10 years, but with the release of The World’s End, writer/director Edgar Wright, (writer/actor) Simon Pegg and (actor) Nick Frost have finally completed the last film in the so-called Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy (the name being a reference to the fact that each of the three films features the popular ice-cream in some form, albeit of a different flavour each time around, and also being a play on the name of Krzysztof Kieslowski’s Three Colours trilogy). Among the funniest films of the last decade, each movie takes on a different genre in a uniquely British way and together they prove that, in spite of the efforts of the makers of films such as Date Movie, Dance Movie and the like, the parody is far from dead.

This trilogy of surprisingly well-made films put Wright, Pegg and Frost (who had previously collaborated on the TV series Spaced) on the map, and while none of the trio has yet managed to meet the same heights on their own (although Edgar Wright’s Scott Pilgrim vs the World comes pretty close and Marvel has signed him on to direct the upcoming Ant-Man), it bodes well for the future of comedy and British cinema in general.



Strawberry Cornetto: Shaun of the Dead (2004)


On the day of the zombie apocalypse, Shaun (Simon Pegg), a 29 year old store clerk with no future prospects, tries to reconcile his relationship with his mum, win back his ex-girlfriend and sort out his life, all with the assistance of his best friend Ed (Nick Frost), an even bigger loser than himself.

You know how, in many movies, ordinary people suddenly develop military levels of competency when faced with a crisis of epic proportions? Well, Shaun of the Dead isn’t one of those movies. Shaun of the Dead shows how ordinary people probably would really act when faced with a horde of flesh-eating zombies. With no survival skills to speak of, Shaun and friends arm themselves with the only weapons they can find – cricket bats, hockey sticks and the like – and head straight for the safest place they can think of – the local pub. Much of the humour derives from their utter incompetence, but if your idea of fun is watching people beat zombies about the head with heavy objects, then you’ll find it hilarious. The Deus Ex Machina ending is a little abrupt and highly improbable, but it’s still a nice change from the usual downer endings that the majority of zombie movies have these days.

Genre: Horror (a zom-rom-com)
Best Moment: Shaun and his friends attacking a zombie with pool cues in time to Queen’s Don’t Stop Me Now.
Stars: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Kate Ashfield, Lucy Davis, Dylan Moran, Bill Nighy

Vanilla Cornetto: Hot Fuzz (2007)


400% better than anyone else, Sergeant Nicholas Angel (Pegg) is the most effective cop on the London Police Force. So much so that he is transferred to Sandford, a quiet village in the country, in order to stop making everyone else around him look bad. Partnered with PC Danny Butterman (Frost), an oafish local who dreams of being just like the cops in his favourite movies, Point Break and Bad Boys 2, Angel initially has difficulties adjusting to Sandford’s low crime rate, but this soon changes when he begins to suspect that a serial killer is on the loose in the village.

Hot Fuzz is not just my favourite of the Cornetto trilogy, but one of my top 10 movies of all time. I’ve seen this movie five times now and I still enjoy it as much as the first time. What starts off slowly as a small town murder mystery comedy, much like a Miss Marple mystery with more laughs and a lot more (over the top) blood, builds up to a final half hour that beautifully pays off everything that has gone before it in a full blown parody of all the movies Danny adores.

The relationship between Angel and Danny that develops throughout the film is actually kind of sweet and it’s interesting to note that many of the scenes between these characters initially started off as scenes between Angel and a love interest who was dropped from the screenplay after the first draft. The love interest’s lines were simply transferred over to Danny in later drafts, often with minimal changes.

Genre: Action/Mystery
Best Moment: The entire final half hour and any scene involving the swan.
Stars: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Jim Broadbent, Timothy Dalton

Mint Cornetto: The World’s End (2011)


20 years after he and his four friends attempted a pub crawl through all twelve pubs in their small village, middle-aged loser Gary King (Pegg) rounds up his old friends Andy (Frost), Oliver, Pete and Steve for a second attempt. However, what starts of as an ill-advised reunion between old friends, soon takes a turn for the worse when the gang discover that their home town has been taken over by killer robots and the only way to make it out alive is to complete what they started and make it to the final pub, The World’s End.

Much higher in budget and more serious in tone than the previous two films in the trilogy, The World’s End is less of a comedy (although it is still funny) and more a science-fiction film in its own right, in the vein of Invasion of the Body Snatchers and The Stepford Wives. With Pegg and Frost now in their forties, it’s certainly a more mature film than Shaun or Hot Fuzz and deals with characters at a different stage in their lives – all of Gary’s friends are married with jobs and kids. Yet that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s also got a lot more depth to it than the earlier films and part of the fun is watching these seemingly respectable adults regressing back to who they were at 17.

The World’s End is a very clever film; the sort that can only get better with multiple viewings. As with Hot Fuzz, many of the seemingly minor details from the first half of the film are paid-off in the second half, and the names of the pubs provide clever tip-offs to what is going to happen therein, all of which are easily missed the first time around. I can imagine some people being disappointed with this film, in that it’s not the same as the two films that went before. Nevertheless, after making allowances for my preconceived expectations, I enjoyed it immensely. I considered it to be one of the best sci-fi films I’ve seen in a while; a film which manages to twist and turn in ways I often didn’t see coming; and in my mind, it provided a fitting conclusion to one of the best movie trilogies of all time. 

Genre: Sci-Fi
Best Moment: Gary and his friends discussing how many Musketeers there actually were.
Stars: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Rosamund Pike, Pierce Brosnan, Paddy Considine

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21. Book vs Movie Showdown: I Know What You Did Last Summer

Last summer, on their way home from partying, Barry, Helen, Julie and Ray hit a stranger with their car and left him for dead. Now it’s summer again, and someone has discovered the truth; someone who will stop at nothing in their quest for revenge.


I Know What You Did Last Summer will always have a special place in my heart. It was the first teenage horror movie I ever saw and was the film that got me hooked (no pun intended) on horror. As an added bonus, it also alerted me to the existence of YA suspense legend Lois Duncan, whose novel upon which the movie was based and got me to watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer, due to the Sarah Michelle Gellar connection. Not bad for a 100 minute teen film. But does that mean that it’s better than the book upon which it was based?

The Book (1973)


Author: Lois Duncan

Having read a number of Lois Duncan’s books over the years, I don’t consider I Know What You Did Last Summer to be one of her better efforts. Although it’s an interesting character study, not all that much really happens. The novel begins with Julie receiving a letter with the titular message, so the hit and run accident at the centre of the story is only ever described (briefly) in flash-back. With the exception of the hit and run victim (in this case, a young boy riding his bike home in the dark), no one even dies in the book. And worst of all, the ending is weak and rushed. After waiting for over 200 pages, the “final showdown” with the villain happens while one of the main characters is unconscious and we are merely told about what happened when she wakes up. I’m guessing that Duncan’s intention was to have the book’s focus be on the main characters learning to take responsibility for what they did (which – spoiler - they do), instead of on action and violence, but for readers who have spent years watching teenage horror films, it’s all rather disappointing.


The Movie (1997)


Stars: Jennifer Love Hewitt, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Ryan Phillippe, Freddie Prinze Jr.

Lois Duncan has made no secret of the fact that she hated this adaptation of her novel. Duncan, whose own daughter was violently murdered, didn’t like her novel being turned into a slasher film that sensationalized violence and murder. She believed that the only similarities between her book and the movie were the names of the main characters and the basic idea of teenagers being stalked as revenge for a hit and run accident. It’s true that major changes were made in bringing her novel to the big screen – most notably, in that the movie is more a hybrid of the source book and the urban legend of the guy with the hook, than a straight adaptation. However, there are actually more similarities between the book and the movie than Duncan seems to realise.

The majority of the key plot points from Duncan’s novel are still present in the movie, but in a more visually entertaining form. For example, the movie opens by showing us the hit and run accident and the main characters making their fateful decision not to call the police, rather than just hiding this away in a flashback. Furthermore, like Duncan’s book, for the most part, the film functions as a suspense thriller, with only one death (other than the initial hit-and-run) prior to the last twenty or so minutes of the film and even then, that one death had to be added in re-shoots to prove to the audience that the killer posed a tangible threat to the main characters. It’s only in the movie’s final act that it really becomes a true horror film, with Duncan’s story giving way to the hook guy on his murderous rampage, and given the lameness of Duncan’s own ending, that’s perfectly justified.

Overall, writer Kevin Williamson took a mediocre teen horror novel and transformed it into something much, much better. Although, it is not as well remembered as Williamson’s other hit, Scream, it was successful enough to spawn two sequels (one OK, the other terrible), and I’m sure it didn’t hurt the sales of Duncan’s books, either.


The Winner


Who says the book is always better than the movie. I admit that I’m biased when it comes to this one, but even allowing for that, the movie is still way better than the book. If you’re interested in reading a Lois Duncan book, try starting with Down a Dark Hall or Gallows Hill instead.

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22. The Hardy Boys Grow Up: The Hardy Boys Mysteries Season 3 Review

Are there any mystery fans out there who haven’t read at least one Nancy Drew or Hardy Boys mystery? Dating back to 1927, The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew mysteries have been the gateway drugs for generations of mystery junkies and their influence can be felt in a wide range of other teen and children’s series ranging from Scooby Doo to Veronica Mars and Supernatural. Yet, amazingly, none of the various attempts to adapt these series directly for film or television have ever been all that successful. That is, with the exception of the late 1970’s series The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries starring Pamela Sue Martin (and later Janet Louise Johnson) as Nancy and Parker Stevenson and pop singer Shaun Cassidy (half-brother of David and uncle of Katie) as Frank and Joe Hardy.


The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries started off as a weekly series that alternated episodes featuring the Hardy Boys with those featuring Nancy Drew, but in Season Two the format was changed to include cross-over episodes (such as The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew Meet Dracula) with the three detectives working together for the first time ever. It managed to remain true enough to the original novels (in particular, maintaining the supernatural-themed mysteries that made the books so much fun), while updating a few details here and there to appeal to the audiences of the time (such as giving Shaun Cassidy ample opportunities to sing). However, due to the fact that the Hardy Boys developed a bigger following than Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boy eventually became the main characters of the series and Nancy a supporting character. Which brings us to Season Three, the primary focus of this review.

In the third season, Nancy was written out completely and the show retitled The Hardy Boys Mysteries, although a better title might have been The Hardy Men. In this season, Frank and Joe, having presumably graduated from college, take up jobs with the Justice Department and the Scooby Doo-esque mysteries of the first two seasons are suddenly replaced with more serious fare, such as Joe tracking down the hit and run driver who killed his fiancé. Cassidy and Stevenson had some great chemistry going between them that made for a brotherly bond as convincing and likeable as that of Dean and Sam Winchester, and that’s still present. However, all the fun has been sucked from the series, rendering it indistinguishable from every other mystery show of the time. Cassidy isn’t even given the opportunity to sing – quite surprising, considering that one episode centres on the Hardys working with singer David Gates and his band Bread to find a Russian girl who has defected to the US. Needless to say, the changes to the series didn’t go down well with fans and after ten episodes, the show was finally cancelled.

The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries is essential viewing for any fans of the books, past or present, but only the first two seasons. After that, save your time and money and switch to watching the similar, but much better, Supernatural and Veronica Mars instead.

Verdict: A disappointing ending to an otherwise entertaining series. For fans only.

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23. Book vs Movie Showdown: I Know What You Did Last Summer

Last summer, on their way home from partying, Barry, Helen, Julie and Ray hit a stranger with their car and left him for dead. Now it’s summer again, and someone has discovered the truth; someone who will stop at nothing in their quest for revenge.


I Know What You Did Last Summer will always have a special place in my heart. It was the first teenage horror movie I ever saw and was the film that got me hooked (no pun intended) on horror. As an added bonus, it also alerted me to the existence of YA suspense legend Lois Duncan, whose novel upon which the movie was based and got me to watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer, due to the Sarah Michelle Gellar connection. Not bad for a 100 minute teen film. But does that mean that it’s better than the book upon which it was based?

The Book (1973)


Author: Lois Duncan

Having read a number of Lois Duncan’s books over the years, I don’t consider I Know What You Did Last Summer to be one of her better efforts. Although it’s an interesting character study, not all that much really happens. The novel begins with Julie receiving a letter with the titular message, so the hit and run accident at the centre of the story is only ever described (briefly) in flash-back. With the exception of the hit and run victim (in this case, a young boy riding his bike home in the dark), no one even dies in the book. And worst of all, the ending is weak and rushed. After waiting for over 200 pages, the “final showdown” with the villain happens while one of the main characters is unconscious and we are merely told about what happened when she wakes up. I’m guessing that Duncan’s intention was to have the book’s focus be on the main characters learning to take responsibility for what they did (which – spoiler - they do), instead of on action and violence, but for readers who have spent years watching teenage horror films, it’s all rather disappointing.


The Movie (1997)


Stars: Jennifer Love Hewitt, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Ryan Phillippe, Freddie Prinze Jr.

Lois Duncan has made no secret of the fact that she hated this adaptation of her novel. Duncan, whose own daughter was violently murdered, didn’t like her novel being turned into a slasher film that sensationalized violence and murder. She believed that the only similarities between her book and the movie were the names of the main characters and the basic idea of teenagers being stalked as revenge for a hit and run accident. It’s true that major changes were made in bringing her novel to the big screen – most notably, in that the movie is more a hybrid of the source book and the urban legend of the guy with the hook, than a straight adaptation. However, there are actually more similarities between the book and the movie than Duncan seems to realise.

The majority of the key plot points from Duncan’s novel are still present in the movie, but in a more visually entertaining form. For example, the movie opens by showing us the hit and run accident and the main characters making their fateful decision not to call the police, rather than just hiding this away in a flashback. Furthermore, like Duncan’s book, for the most part, the film functions as a suspense thriller, with only one death (other than the initial hit-and-run) prior to the last twenty or so minutes of the film and even then, that one death had to be added in re-shoots to prove to the audience that the killer posed a tangible threat to the main characters. It’s only in the movie’s final act that it really becomes a true horror film, with Duncan’s story giving way to the hook guy on his murderous rampage, and given the lameness of Duncan’s own ending, that’s perfectly justified.

Overall, writer Kevin Williamson took a mediocre teen horror novel and transformed it into something much, much better. Although, it is not as well remembered as Williamson’s other hit, Scream, it was successful enough to spawn two sequels (one OK, the other terrible), and I’m sure it didn’t hurt the sales of Duncan’s books, either.


The Winner


Who says the book is always better than the movie? I admit that I’m biased when it comes to this one, but even allowing for that, the movie is still way better than the book. If you’re interested in reading a Lois Duncan book, try starting with Down a Dark Hall or Gallows Hill instead.

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24. Three Flavours Cornetto: Shaun of the Dead (2004), Hot Fuzz (2007) and The World’s End (2013) Review

It may have taken almost 10 years, but with the release of The World’s End, writer/director Edgar Wright, (writer/actor) Simon Pegg and (actor) Nick Frost have finally completed the last film in the so-called Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy (the name being a reference to the fact that each of the three films features the popular ice-cream in some form, albeit of a different flavour each time around, and also being a play on the name of Krzysztof Kieslowski’s Three Colours trilogy). Among the funniest films of the last decade, each movie takes on a different genre in a uniquely British way and together they prove that, in spite of the efforts of the makers of films such as Date Movie, Dance Movie and the like, the parody is far from dead.

This trilogy of surprisingly well-made films put Wright, Pegg and Frost (who had previously collaborated on the TV series Spaced) on the map, and while none of the trio has yet managed to meet the same heights on their own (although Edgar Wright’s Scott Pilgrim vs the World comes pretty close and Marvel has signed him on to direct the upcoming Ant-Man), it bodes well for the future of comedy and British cinema in general.



Strawberry Cornetto: Shaun of the Dead (2004)


On the day of the zombie apocalypse, Shaun (Simon Pegg), a 29 year old store clerk with no future prospects, tries to reconcile his relationship with his mum, win back his ex-girlfriend and sort out his life, all with the assistance of his best friend Ed (Nick Frost), an even bigger loser than himself.

You know how, in many movies, ordinary people suddenly develop military levels of competency when faced with a crisis of epic proportions? Well, Shaun of the Dead isn’t one of those movies. Shaun of the Dead shows how ordinary people probably would really act when faced with a horde of flesh-eating zombies. With no survival skills to speak of, Shaun and friends arm themselves with the only weapons they can find – cricket bats, hockey sticks and the like – and head straight for the safest place they can think of – the local pub. Much of the humour derives from their utter incompetence, but if your idea of fun is watching people beat zombies about the head with heavy objects, then you’ll find it hilarious. The Deus Ex Machina ending is a little abrupt and highly improbable, but it’s still a nice change from the usual downer endings that the majority of zombie movies have these days.

Genre: Horror (a zom-rom-com)
Best Moment: Shaun and his friends attacking a zombie with pool cues in time to Queen’s Don’t Stop Me Now.
Stars: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Kate Ashfield, Lucy Davis, Dylan Moran, Bill Nighy

Vanilla Cornetto: Hot Fuzz (2007)


400% better than anyone else, Sergeant Nicholas Angel (Pegg) is the most effective cop on the London Police Force. So much so that he is transferred to Sandford, a quiet village in the country, in order to stop making everyone else around him look bad. Partnered with PC Danny Butterman (Frost), an oafish local who dreams of being just like the cops in his favourite movies, Point Break and Bad Boys 2, Angel initially has difficulties adjusting to Sandford’s low crime rate, but this soon changes when he begins to suspect that a serial killer is on the loose in the village.

Hot Fuzz is not just my favourite of the Cornetto trilogy, but one of my top 10 movies of all time. I’ve seen this movie five times now and I still enjoy it as much as the first time. What starts off slowly as a small town murder mystery comedy, much like a Miss Marple mystery with more laughs and a lot more (over the top) blood, builds up to a final half hour that beautifully pays off everything that has gone before it in a full blown parody of all the movies Danny adores.

The relationship between Angel and Danny that develops throughout the film is actually kind of sweet and it’s interesting to note that many of the scenes between these characters initially started off as scenes between Angel and a love interest who was dropped from the screenplay after the first draft. The love interest’s lines were simply transferred over to Danny in later drafts, often with minimal changes.

Genre: Action/Mystery
Best Moment: The entire final half hour and any scene involving the swan.
Stars: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Jim Broadbent, Timothy Dalton

Mint Cornetto: The World’s End (2011)


20 years after he and his four friends attempted a pub crawl through all twelve pubs in their small village, middle-aged loser Gary King (Pegg) rounds up his old friends Andy (Frost), Oliver, Pete and Steve for a second attempt. However, what starts of as an ill-advised reunion between old friends, soon takes a turn for the worse when the gang discover that their home town has been taken over by killer robots and the only way to make it out alive is to complete what they started and make it to the final pub, The World’s End.

Much higher in budget and more serious in tone than the previous two films in the trilogy, The World’s End is less of a comedy (although it is still funny) and more a science-fiction film in its own right, in the vein of Invasion of the Body Snatchers and The Stepford Wives. With Pegg and Frost now in their forties, it’s certainly a more mature film than Shaun or Hot Fuzz and deals with characters at a different stage in their lives – all of Gary’s friends are married with jobs and kids. Yet that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s also got a lot more depth to it than the earlier films and part of the fun is watching these seemingly respectable adults regressing back to who they were at 17.

The World’s End is a very clever film; the sort that can only get better with multiple viewings. As with Hot Fuzz, many of the seemingly minor details from the first half of the film are paid-off in the second half, and the names of the pubs provide clever tip-offs to what is going to happen therein, all of which are easily missed the first time around. I can imagine some people being disappointed with this film, in that it’s not the same as the two films that went before. Nevertheless, after making allowances for my preconceived expectations, I enjoyed it immensely. I considered it to be one of the best sci-fi films I’ve seen in a while; a film which manages to twist and turn in ways I often didn’t see coming; and in my mind, it provided a fitting conclusion to one of the best movie trilogies of all time. 

Genre: Sci-Fi
Best Moment: Gary and his friends discussing how many Musketeers there actually were.
Stars: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Rosamund Pike, Pierce Brosnan, Paddy Considine

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25. Dexter the Early Years: I Hunt Killers by Barry Lyga Review

Jasper “Jazz” Dent only fears two things – that people will think he’s like his father and that he is. Not unusual for a 17 year old boy, except for the fact that Jazz’s father is Billy Dent, America’s most notorious serial killer, responsible for the gruesome deaths of 184 people. When another serial killer strikes in Jazz’s home town, Jazz, desperate to prove to himself that he’s nothing like his father, decides to put the lessons Billy taught him to good use and volunteers to help the police. However, when the police reject Jazz’s offer, Jazz is left with no option but to hunt the killer himself, with the assistance of his best friend and girlfriend.




Wow!  I didn’t think it possible for there to be a YA book that’s even darker and more disturbing that Koushun Takami’s Battle Royale, but here it is. A serial killer thriller written for teens. The fact that this book hasn’t been banned by those schools and libraries that have tried to ban everything from Goosebumps to Harry Potter can only be explained by the fact that not enough people have read this marvellously warped book yet. However, give it time, and I’m sure it will be – thus, increasing its sales many times over.

I Hunt Killers is like a reverse Dexter targeted at a younger audience (I think. I’m still not certain if the target audience for this book is teens or adults). In the Dexter books and TV series, Dexter is a serial killer who was raised by a cop to have a moral code and an understanding of police technique. In I Hunt Killers, Barry Lyga inverts the Dexter set-up with Jazz, a seemingly normal boy who was raised by a killer to have no moral code at all and an understanding of how to be a successful psychopath. Jazz’s upbringing makes him perfectly suited to two jobs: a serial killer profiler or a serial killer even better than his father was. While other kids his age are trying to decide on which college to go to, Jazz is faced with the decision of which of these career paths to choose – a decision that isn’t as obvious for him as it should be.

For a YA book, I Hunt Killers is surprisingly graphic in its descriptions of Billy and the new killer’s crimes. For the most part, Lyga spares his readers the prospect of reading about the murders as they are being committed, but does let them know, after the event, exactly what has occurred – and some of the killings are particularly nasty. In spite of the fact that most teenagers nowadays have probably seen their fair share of serial killer and horror movies, YA novelists have traditionally held back in their descriptions of violence and murder. Yet, in the context of this novel, breaking with this tradition is 100% necessary. Anything less and the book just wouldn’t have worked. Ironically, pretty much everything else about the book is PG-13. I didn’t notice a single expletive in 362 pages, for example. Does that mean that it’s OK for teens to read about murder victims being nailed to the ceiling but not to encounter an F-bomb?  I’m not really sure.

If I were asked to pick the book most likely to become the next big thing in YA fiction, I Hunt Killers is the book I would choose. It is just as well written, if not better, than most adult serial killer novels, and I far preferred it to Thomas Harris’s similarly themed The Silence of the Lambs and Red Dragon. And clearly, I’m not the only one who feels this way. Within six months of its release, an announcement was made that it is to be turned into a TV series by ABC Family (a subsidiary of Disney – go figure) with Joel Silver producing and Arika Mittman, who has previously worked on Dexter, as writer. The only thing negative I can say about this book is that the ending leaves things open to a sequel (something which I generally hate). However, I’m not going to complain too loudly about that because I can’t wait to read it. Bring on book 2.

Verdict: My nominee for the next big thing in YA fiction – and the next book to make the most banned books list.   

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