Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Cybernock Reviews: The Second Wave
By Anthony Servante

Welcome back, Cybernock fans. Our second wave of book reviews come from our interviewees from Cybernocturnalism Part II: Through the Cyber Glass: Gerald Rice, Lee Allen Howard, and Franklin E. Wales. Let’s begin with our first author.

Gerald Rice has been writing Horror stories for over ten years and has books online and on paper. His website is His first paper book was THE GHOST TOUCHER (2010); his latest e-book is TALES FROM AN APARTMENT (2012).

Gerald Rice-Tales from an Apartment

Gerald Rice finds horror in the commonplace. He does not want you to go too far to encounter monsters, zombies, or the supernatural. Here in TALES FROM AN APARTMENT, he wants the reader to find it in an apartment building. He gives us eight stories where the tenants encounter their share of horror. Each story is involving and very different from the last, as it should be, if you know apartment living. The prose works well with the themes of tales and adjusts from tale to tale. Rice has a connection with the macabre that he captures well with his short stories. 

As a fan of his novel, The Ghost Toucher, I was pleased to find that Gerald can compact the humor and horror of his longer writings into a few pages. Each of the eight stories is indeed compact and carry much of the creepiness and bathos of TGT with each tale. My favorite story was “The Second Death of Timothy Mosely”, a sad tale without the unnecessary maulin ending that many writers would rely on to make such a story work. I always proceed with trust when reading a Rice story. I know I’ll get horror with a pinch of pathos.

For a selection of Gerald Rice books, visit:

Lee Allen Howard writes horror, dark fantasy, and supernatural crime. His trade paperback publications include THOU SHALT NOT... (anthology) and THE SIXTH SEED. His fiction titles for Kindle include THE SIXTH SEED, MAMA SAID, STRAY, DESPERATE SPIRITS, NIGHT MONSTERS, and SEVERED RELATIONS. 

Howard has been a professional writer in the software industry since 1985. Besides editing fiction and non-fiction, he does editing and layout for health and fitness professionals, medical companies, and psychics.

Howard's writer site is Please visit and subscribe.

He also publishes classics of Modern Spiritualism: MEDIUMSHIP AND ITS LAWS, THE NEXT ROOM, ALL THE SPIRITUALISM OF THE CHRISTIAN BIBLE, FALSE PROPHETS AND FRAUDULENT MEDIUMS OF THE CHRISTIAN BIBLE, LETTERS FROM HEAVEN, and his own IN DEFENSE OF DEPARTED SPIRITS. Lee is a practicing metaphysician, spiritual healer, and Spiritualist medium. Howard reads and writes about metaphysical and consciousness issues on his blog at

Lee Allen Howard-Desperate Spirits

Desperate Spirits involves two tales of Calvin Bricker, Supernatural Investigator, and his dachshund Jerry, who detests otherworldly things. Right off let me say that Lee has a gift for similes and metaphors. Yes, I know they are filtered through the personality of Calvin the divorcee, but ultimately it is the author who channels the main character. The first story “The Vacant Lot” deals with an empty space in the neighborhood where Calvin resides, which Lee describes wonderfully as a “missing tooth on a beauty pageant contestant.” Nice. This lot is the focus of our detective’s investigation and what he uncovers provides the supernatural element that our friend Bricker specializes in. The second story “How I Was Cured of Naiveté” Calvin learns a valuable lesson in uncovering things not meant to be uncovered. The story deals with a haunting presence, a ghostly girl, in Calvin’s residence that leads his investigation not only to the basement but to memories the arcane detective had thought long forgotten. This is my first trip down the horror trail with the Supernatural Investigator, and it was a very pleasant adventure, somewhat akin to the BBC TV stories that are dry yet dripping with suspense. I look forward to further stories with Calvin Bricker.

For a selection of books by Lee Allen Howard, visit:

The author of six novels and numerous shorter works of fiction and nonfiction, Franklin E. Wales prefers the title of Storyteller to Novelist or Journalist. "It's a time honored tradition passed down through our parents and our grandparents," he says. "No matter what I am writing, it is my goal to entertain you with the story I'm telling." 

Born and raised in Conway, NH, Frank now lives with his beautiful photographer wife, Jacki, in the South Florida home they share with their two dogs and a cat named Oz (as in Wizard of).

Franklin E. Wales-Deadheads

I’ve been writing articles and reviews for just over a year now. My anniversary was August. During that time I have read, reviewed and interviewed some major authors in the field of Zombie Apocalypse fiction. So, when I opened the first pages of “Deadheads” and realized that I was about to read another Zombie book, I did not hesitate because the author was Franklin E. Wales. If anything, I expected some new tricks for an old dog. And I wasn’t disappointed.

The novel deals with the post-apocalypse of a zombie breakout and the healing and rebuilding of the human nation. But all is not as it seems. Gage Owens, a zombie killer, is up to his neck in “evolving” undead, smarter, devious, cunning. There is also a hybrid zombie/human that gets around, shall we say. And Frank’s use of humor serves as a release valve for tension, a necessary device for any smart horror book. There's  even a love interest in Sara, the girl Gage rescues, his new partner. We also meet many characters who add to the story from various angles; they are there to move the plot, not to feed Gage’s ego or act as his cheerleaders.

I will not place Deadheads at the top of the ZA genre just because there is a glut of undead books (especially ebooks); I’ve read too many imaginative and creative books with rousing heroes (Darlene Bobich comes to mind) and subtle story lines (think Jonathan Maberry) and many more that I don’t’ have space or time to list, but I will give Frank’s view of the ZA accolades for adding a new twist and put him in my top five best zombie books to date. Gage Owens would eat up the silver screen and the Wales’ smart undead might teach the Resident Evil film-makers how it’s supposed to be done. I look forward to Deadheads becoming a regular series.

For more books by Franklin E. Wales, visit:

That concludes our reviews of our second group of Cybernocks. We will pick up next month with our third group: Lisa Morton, Ray Garton, Mark Rainey, John Shirley, and Graham Masterton (on foreword). See you then.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Cybernocks 3: KIN by Kealan Patrick Burke
Reviewed by Anthony Servante 

Called "one of the most clever and original talents in contemporary horror" (BOOKLIST), Kealan Patrick Burke is the Bram Stoker Award-Winning author of five novels (MASTER OF THE MOORS, CURRENCY OF SOULS, THE LIVING, KIN, and NEMESIS), nine novellas (including the Timmy Quinn series), over a hundred short stories, and six collections. He edited the acclaimed anthologies: TAVERNS OF THE DEAD, QUIETLY NOW, BRIMSTONE TURNPIKE, and TALES FROM THE GOREZONE.

An Irish expatriate, he currently resides in Ohio. Visit him on the web at or find him on Facebook at


One of the perks of a blogger is that we get to read what we like to read, so it is not uncommon to review books that I was planning to read anyway. Such is the case with KIN by Kealan Patrick Burke. “On a scorching hot summer day in Elkwood, Alabama, Claire Lambert staggers naked, wounded, and half-blind away from the scene of an atrocity. She is the sole survivor of a nightmare that claimed her friends, and even as she prays for rescue, the killers -- a family of cannibalistic lunatics -- are closing in.

A soldier suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder returns from Iraq to the news that his brother is among the murdered in Elkwood.

In snowbound Detroit, a waitress trapped in an abusive relationship gets an unexpected visit that will lead to bloodshed and send her back on the road to a past she has spent years trying to outrun.”

KIN tosses the reader in media res into the story. Something big has happened and something bigger is about to happen. The stories of the main characters will intertwine and the horror we did not see will return. Kealan’s strength comes from his acting background; he can frame a scene as if the written word were his camera. He can establish the character motivation as if he were the director.

In KIN, Claire Lambert has escaped from a family of cannibals living in the backwoods of the South. She survives. Luke, the tracker who follows the escaped woman, reports his failure to capture the would-be meal to the cannibal leaders, a sort of bizarro Pa and Ma Kettle. Luke and his own kin will have a price to pay. The principal characters, Luke and his voracious clan, Claire, her own family, the folk who rescued Claire, and Finch, the Iraq war vet who lost a brother (one of Claire’s group who didn’t escape), provide the story’s friction, its impetus to motivate the actions of the characters which in turn propel the plot along.

The points of view between the Merrill clan and the “civilized” clan raise the question of what is right and wrong in the natural world. What is right to an animal that survives the jungle? What is right to a creature of the city? What happens when these two perspectives conflict and survival does not allow for easy answers. It’s kill or be killed.

Kealan treads Jack Ketchum territory here, but takes the savagery one step further by adding depth to his characters. It is not all about tribal rituals and gory battles. There are emotions that are explored: fear, doubt, despair, and ultimately, hope. The human spirit when confronted by animalistic beings rises to the challenge to overcome its baser brothers of the flesh, for that is the scary part. These are men without respect for restraint, that emotion that defines law and order between civilized creatures not just in the concrete cities but in the jungle as well. The soldier represents the ritualistic killer bred by civilized men. But the cannibals are bred by their base environment. How many times have we seen people turn savage when their environment allows for a lack of restraint? Although Kealan utilizes the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 as a touchstone for our capacity for turning savage, I can think of a police chase of a trio of robbers the other day. The robbers threw money out the window in hopes of riling up the neighborhood to block the police so they could escape their pursuers. Instead, the crowds blocked the robbers in and the cops arrested them. But the crowds were out in the hundreds, looking for more free cash. They began to throw things at the police. The police responded quickly with a force dressed in riot gear. A few minutes ago, this same crowd was in their homes watching TV, washing dishes, changing diapers; the next, they were ready to go toe to toe with the riot squad. It was all about the money. At least for the Merrills, it was all about right and wrong, what God wanted and didn’t want. It is still scary to realize that the terrorists believed they were doing God’s will. But it is so easy to choose a side. Maybe God wanted the crowds to have the money? That would have made the policemen wrong. If God wanted the cannibals to feed on the civilized, that would have made the civilized not only wrong, but food, pure and simple. I mean, the title of the book is KIN, but which kin is Burke referring to, if not both. Of course it's both.

I turned the last page (does Kindle count as page turning?) and thought about the conundrum Burke set up for his readers. Two families, both right from their own points of view. This story can be added to stories like Deliverance, Southern Comfort, and Offspring, those effective tales that draw lines between civilized law and backwoods law, and how these lines must sometimes be ignored to survive. But then getting back to your side of the line is not such an easy task to accomplish, for this is Kurtz territory. He could not return once he accepted “the horror, the horror”. The reader will have a similar feeling after reading this empathetic journey into the heart of darkness.

For more on Kealan Patrick Burke, visit

This concludes of first group of Cybernock reviews. Next up we have the second group of Cybernocks, including Gerald Rice, Lee Allen Howard, and Franklin E. Wales. 

Monday, September 17, 2012

Cybernocks 2: Bad Billy by Jimmy Pudge
Reviewed By Anthony Servante

Jimmy James "M.F." Pudge was born into this world on 6-9-1979 in a truck stop toilet at a TA Travel Center in the backwoods of South Georgia. An honest and conscientious man, Jimmy served several prison sentences because he refused to give in to the federal laws that impose independent spirits' rights to be entrepreneurs. An expert in the art of pruno, shank construction, and paper dart blow guns, Jimmy briefly served as a leader in his dorm room before being released early for good behavior.

I’ve always measured the quality of horror not by the amount of gore incorporated into the story, but by the placement and context of the gruesomeness, not unlike a drive-in horror show: half the fun is watching a movie out in the open (save for being inside your vehicle) rather than the safety of the darkness of a cinema theater. Bad Billy returns us to the frights we used to have at the outdoor movie venue, where we remember seeing films like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Hills Have Eyes, The Gruesome Twosome, and other B classics.

In Billy we have the story of a young boy who reminded me of a junior Juggernaut (from the X-Men), who after years of being chained in the basement, escapes into the world to learn of the ways of man and monster (the titles of the last two chapters, in fact). The story contains real suspense, better than most the horror flicks I’ve seen recently, and an assortment of supporting characters right out of a drive-in flick: a drunk detective, a backwoods sheriff, a hokey deputy, an incestuous brother and sister, and more than enough to fill two dime novels. Framed in a William (Billy?) Blake format (innocence to experience), the story takes the reader on Billy’s grotesque “growth” from child-like creature to a creature that becomes self-aware of being more than an animal, of being a human, though leaving a path of victims like a fat man in a smorgasbord as he learns the difference.

His first lesson occurs when he sees himself in the mirror and realizes he terrifies even himself. And seeing him grow is half the fun. He undergoes many changes, which I cannot post here without spoiling the other half of the fun that comes from Billy's maturation. The supporting cast is believable and in the brief time we get to know them, we feel their loss. Then they get offed. This device is reminiscent of early James Herbert who in his book The Rats introduced us to his victims in great detail before having the rats devour them. The descriptions of the victims in Bad Billy actually outnumber the gory scenes, so we spend more time getting to know the characters before seeing them off, so to speak. Billy’s journey ends poignantly, but that is life after all, from William Blake’s teachings, anyway. And it turns out that Billy isn’t the only monster amongst men. But his final act is that of a man with a voice all his own.

I've always liked Jimmy Pudge. You get layers when most authors give you one dimensional stories. Let’s see, you get a “horror” savvy fan who takes on the persona of a gangsta taking on the persona of a horror writer. Even the titles of his books (Yo A$$ is Grass and The Dick, e.g.) add a new layer of ironic distance by bringing his readers in on the joke. But it’s a running joke, and Jimmy is a natural when it comes to running with this premise. With Bad Billy, Pudge himself has grown as an author. Frankenstein, the Wolf Man, Dracula, and Hannibal Lecter would be proud.

For more on Jimmy Pudge, check out his Amazon page here:

Next up on the Cybernocks reviews is Kealan Patrick Burke’s KIN. Coming soon.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Cybernocks 1 Lori R. Lopez
The First Wave Reviews
by Anthony Servante

The first wave of writers who contributed to the Cybernocturnalism series was Lori R. Lopez, Jimmy Pudge, and Kealan Patrick Burke. We begin our series of reviews of books written by our contributors with three stories by Lori R. Lopez.

Lori R. Lopez has always loved books since being read to when small, then reading and writing them herself. She is the author of works spanning multiple categories from Nonfiction to Fiction; novel to story to verse collection; children's fiction, storybooks and more, usually with a blend of genres such as Humor, Fantasy, Horror, Supernatural, Thriller, Epic-Adventure and so on. Her titles include OUT-OF-MIND EXPERIENCES, CHOCOLATE-COVERED EYES, DANCE OF THE CHUPACABRAS, and her award-winning novel AN ILL WIND BLOWS. She writes a humorous and darkly horrific column titled "Poetic Reflections" at, and unapologetically takes pride in creatively bending and reshaping the rules of writing when it suits her style.

Unnatural: Darius Exavier wants to fit in, but his gaunt overly thin figure limits his opportunities. After losing his job at the carnival as the Thin Man, a kindly doctor takes him in, but the doctor’s place is stranger than the carnival and what awaits Darius is well unnatural. Lori’s story-telling skills continue to grow and her stories tackle new ground though her characters maintain strong empathy. We follow Darius on a journey into the bizarre and are rewarded with a mad scientist and creepy monsters. Perhaps Lori can have each of the carnival freaks go on an odd journey as this troupe of friends seem rife with adventure. Story-telling at its best, Lori R. Lopez continues to deliver unique and clever tales.

Unleashed: I am not a big fan of animal/pet stories, but this Lopez story plays out like a whodunit, complete with multiple points of views as the investigation unfolds, so it was fun following the trail of the criminal feline. There’s lots of play on words for the pet lovers (“purrfect”, for one), adding a touch of humor to an otherwise morose and grim tale of a conniving cat. Besides, I’ve always suspected this line of thought is common to cats.

The Lycaning: Lori shows her strength at telling short stories with metonymic precision, that is, the whole is represented by the singular part. When Bart calls his father Homer, we know their relationship, Bart’s character, Homer’s character, and the dysfunctional nature of the family before we’ve even seen the rest of the show. In Lori’s werewolf tale, we see a world of Lycanthropes through the singular love story of the main characters. Because Lori packs so much information in so few images and character actions, one might mistake her frugal use of language for a lack of prose style, whereas the opposite is true: she is succinct in her prose and lets the mind of her reader burst with the full picture. She does not drag out the horror, making the tale more horrific, for we imagine the particulars that she frames for us. Anyone should enjoy this fine twist on the werewolf mythos, but those with an appreciation of metonymy should capture all The Lycaning’s nuances and subtleties.

Next up, we review Bad Billy by Jimmy Pudge. Coming sooner than you think. Till then, check out the cybernock interviews at and here on my blog as well.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Cybernocturnalism Part III: Old School Authors Speak Up
Compiled and conducted by Anthony Servante

Interviews with Lisa Morton, Mark Rainey, Ray Garton, and John Shirley, with a foreword by Graham Masterton.
Servante of Darkness


In Part I, I approached three authors on the verge of entering the ebook market and discussed their expectations. In Part II, I talked to three ebook authors about the ups and downs of publishing online and published two of my own stories on Kindle as an experiment in self-publishing. In Part III, I approached five paper book authors from the old school, that is, authors who have extensive experience with the paper market, and got their opinions about where the paper book market stands for them in light of this vanity press proliferation online, 

I first approached Graham Masterton and these questions were designed for him. Thank you, authors, for molding the questionnaire to frame your opinions on the topic at hand. In his foreword below GM will address his part in this piece. Ray Garton and Mark Rainey joined the group the same day, but because it was a short interview questionnaire, I decided to go with four authors rather than three. I asked both John Shirley and Lisa Morton about a week before the posting date, and they gave quick answers, one quicker than the other. At the last minute, I tossed in one more question, the one about buying good reviews.

I will present the four interviews and discuss the answers in a closing statement afterwards to summarize the parallels of the answers in terms of Cybernocturnalism. For those new to the series: Cyber is for the internet, and nocturnal is for the darkness, as in dark subjects such as horror, noir, fantasy and science fiction; thus Cybernocturnalism is the study of e-authors and e-books covering these topics, especially when self-published. A cybernock, therefore, is an e-author, not just of e-books but of blogs as well. As a verb/gerund, cybernocking is the act of publishing the above genres online in electronic form.

by Graham Masterton:

Although many readers not only love fiction but also love the feel and smell of books, and the fact that you can store a physical book on a shelf to show what you have read, there is no question in my mind now that the future of publishing is digital, and that the technology will become increasingly more sophisticated in a very short space of time. Especially in this worldwide recession, publishing and retailing "real" books has become increasingly difficult economically. In Poland, which for me is a major market, book sales in a single year have dropped between 25 - 40 %. With digital books there are of course no printing costs, no paper costs and no warehousing and distribution expenses. I had my first Ebook WHITE BONES published in digital format on March 1 on Amazon Kindle and within three months it had sold 118,000 copies, admittedly at a low promotional price. That means that I have been able to reach tens of thousands of readers who have never read my work before, but are now promising in their reviews to buy more of what I write. All of our lives have been changed dramatically by a combination of recession and digital revolution, and no matter how much we mourn books and bookstores, the future of publishing is electronic . This lifestyle change has also brought about a surge in audio sales.., people are too busy or tired to read s physical book, or maybe they simply don't have the time.., so to be able to listen to a book in their car is a boon. I have sold more than 20 of my backlist now as audio books and expect to sell many more.



Let’s get to the interviews now.

Lisa Morton is a screenwriter, author of non-fiction books, award-winning prose writer, and Halloween expert whose work was described by the American Library Association’s Readers’ Advisory Guide to Horror as “consistently dark, unsettling, and frightening”. She began her career in Hollywood, co-writing the cult favoriteMeet the Hollowheads (on which she also served as Associate Producer), but soon made a successful transition into writing short works of horror. After appearing in dozens of anthologies and magazines, including The Mammoth Book of Dracula, Dark Delicacies, The Museum of Horror, and Cemetery Dance, in 2010 her first novel, The Castle of Los Angeles, was published to critical acclaim, appearing on numerous “Best of the Year” lists. Her book The Halloween Encyclopedia (now in an expanded second edition) was described by Reference & Research Book News as “the most complete reference to the holiday available,” and Lisa has been interviewed on The History Channel and in The Wall Street Journal as a Halloween authority. She is a four-time winner of the Bram Stoker Award® and a recipient of the Black Quill Award, and she recently received her seventh Bram Stoker Award® nomination for the collection Monsters of L.A. A lifelong Californian, she lives in North Hollywood, and can be found online at

Hi Anthony

1. How do you view the publication of paper books today? Are they on their way out or are they here to stay?

My answer to this is extremely prejudiced by my day job as a used bookseller, in a store where the business has exploded over the last year. So, keeping that in mind, my answer is that I think the popularity of e-books has been grossly exaggerated by the media, and paper books aren't going anywhere, at least not any time in the near future. 

2. Many of your books, if not all, have been published in many languages. Do you find these translations are more personal for your fans than their availability in ebook form in just one language?

I don't know about personal, but certainly more practical! Why should we expect the whole world to read in English?

3. What books have you written that are simply better reads when held in your hands?

Because I happen to have a personal preference for printed books, my smartass answer is, "All of them!" However, to address this more directly: Take something like MONSTERS OF L.A., which had a specific layout that incorporated images that reinforced the prose. Would that work as well on a screen that will re-format to fit the screen size, or may not display the graphics well? I don't think so. To me a book is more than just the prose - cover art, binding style, interior layout, font choice, and - yes! - even smell can all matter in the reading experience.

4. What are some of the advantages you take for granted as a paper book author?

I'd be lying if I didn't admit to gaining satisfaction from seeing a book I've written or contributed to on a bookshelf; somehow seeing it on a computer screen just isn't the same. Beyond that mere bald-faced ego gratification, I'm not sure there really are any.

5. How much control do you wield over the publication of your books in paper? Covers or font, for instance.

It varies from book to book, and even working with the same publisher it might vary according to the editor you're working with. For the most part I've been fortunate enough to have input at least on the covers, and sometimes on the interior layout.

6. Do you own any electronic reading devices (Kindle, for instance) or do you still prefer paper? (I prefer paper for personal reading, but for reviews, I insist on ebooks because they’re easier to quote from).

I own a Kindle, but I don't like reading on it (why aren't the damn things backlit? My bedroom reading lamp just glares on the screen and makes it impossible to read). I did install the Kindle app on my netbook, and I'll read a book on that, but I still prefer paper.

7. Books like Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury could not be written in an ebook world because ebooks cannot be burned, so to speak. Which of your books would have trouble translating to a cyber culture?

I have to disagree with you here about ebooks not being flammable - although that's technically true, Amazon has already demonstrated that it's far easier to banish ebooks (as with the debacle when they removed a particular edition of 1984 from the Kindle of all those who'd purchased it, without notifying the customers in advance). Fahrenheit 451 would have a new title, of course, but the ideas would remain the same.

8. Speaking of Bradbury, he had an infamous distrust of cyber-space, but you maintain a facebook page and share your thoughts with your fans. What are your thoughts on cyber communities, especially between authors and readers?

This is one technological innovation I adore. In the past, an author basically had to travel or put out their own snailmail newsletter to stay connected to fans, but now I can do it everyday from the comfort of my own home (and follow my own favorite authors at the same time). I really do enjoy it.

9. Have you given any thought to publishing an ebook, that is, a book that wouldn’t see paper?

I did try it once, with a novella (WILD GIRLS). It did well as a free download - which I suspect about five people out of a thousand actually read - and then sold three copies. Fortunately, at that point a paper publisher (Bad Moon Books) liked it enough to make an offer on doing it as a print book, and it sold a whole lot more copies in that format. Given that, it's going to be hard for me to consider a strict ebook again. It just doesn't seem to be where my readership lives.

10. H.P. Lovecraft and those writers after him, brought us the Golden Age of Horror, but you ushered in the Silver Age of Horror. With the Cyber Age of Horror upon us, what are your thoughts? Is it simply evolution of the genre or something more ominous, or more optimistic?

Here's where I'm going to make my most controversial statement: I don't think it's good. The problem with the cyber age is that anyone can (and apparently will) self-publish now. It no longer matters if you have not even the most rudimentary grasp of storytelling or grammar, and a culture of self-help gurus constantly shouting encouragement hasn't helped either. As a result, we've now got an ebook market swamped with crap. How are the real authors going to wade through this muck to find an audience? I have friends who have suggested that publishers in the future will still be the gatekeepers, and readers will still seek out books that come from established publishers...but with a proliferation of books offered for 99 cents, will readers be willing to spend a few dollars on ebooks? I just have no idea how real authors will make a living in the future. The midlist - like the middle class, I suppose! - will be gone, leaving either those very few who've realized huge success, and the bog for the rest of us.

What is your opinion of the book reviews for sale?

My gut response, of course, is that buying and selling reviews is despicable...but it would be a lot easier to believe that if it didn't seem to be genuinely paying off in increased sales for some authors. Would I ever do it myself? No...but I'm not going to hate on any author who does engage in the practice and can show increased sales as a result. 

There ya go, Anthony, and thanks for asking for my thoughts! – Lisa

Stephen Mark Rainey is author of the novels BALAK, THE LEBO COVEN, DARK SHADOWS: DREAMS OF THE DARK (with Elizabeth Massie), THE NIGHTMARE FRONTIER, and BLUE DEVIL ISLAND; over 90 published short stories; five short-fiction collections, including OTHER GODSand THE GAKI & OTHER HUNGRY SPIRITS from Dark Regions Press; and several audio dramas based on the DARK SHADOWS TV series, which feature many of the original cast members from the hit ABC TV series. For ten years, Mark edited DEATHREALM magazine, which won numerous awards for its superlative horror fiction, art, and poetry; and he has edited several anthologies, including SONG OF CTHULHU for Chaosium and EVERMORE (with James Robert Smith) for Arkham House. Mark lives in Greensboro, NC, and is an avid geocacher Visit his website at

Also visit:
The Realm of Stephen Mark Rainey

Hey Anthony — Here is your Q/A response. Hope these will be satisfactory.


1. How do you view the publication of paper books today? Are they on their way out or are they here to stay?

I think there will be at least a limited market for paper books for the foreseeable future. I do believe their overall numbers will significantly decrease over the next few years. We may see occasional resurgences in their popularity, much as vinyl records have made a comeback, albeit a temporary one.

2. Many of your books, if not all, have been published in many languages. Do you find these translations are more personal for your fans than their availability in ebook form in just one language?

I have no idea, really. I have only one foreign fan that I'm aware of. His name is Virgilineas Vanderblott, and he doesn't have an e-reader.

3. What books have you written that are simply better reads when held in your hands?

Wow, I don't know whether I can even speak to that question, or if there's a way to assess its legitimacy. E-books are simply a delivery system for words, as are paper and ink. I've had several signed, deluxe, limited editions of my work released by various publishers, and I suppose they may be held in higher esteem than any of my e-books, but almost certainly because of their cost and possible investment value. I can't imagine the medium significantly impacting the reader's impression of the work as a whole. I've read classic novels in both paper and e-book formats. I've read some of those signed, limited, deluxe editions by other writers. I don't enjoy the work any more or less based on its method of delivery. The story is the story. I may find myself more drawn to the aesthetic appeal of a beautifully produced print volume, but if the book sucks or shines on paper, it's going to suck or shine equally on the Kindle or Nook.

4. What are some of the advantages you take for granted as a paper book author?

Well, payment is one thing, but this has more to do with evolving business practices than its format. In the days of yore, publishers of traditional paper books paid advances and, if you earned out, future royalties. The model for most e-book publishers, at least in my experience, favors royalty-only payments — generally a higher percentage and on a more frequent basis. On some books, I've made as much on the royalty-only model as I have with an advance, but it's taken far longer to bring in that same amount of money. In the former case, the publisher is taking a risk that your book will earn out. In the royalty-only model, the publisher is taking far less risk than the author. In both cases, the author relies on the integrity of the publisher to pay the amount that is actually due. That's a whole 'nuther issue. The other thing that comes to mind is that many readers appreciate autographed copies of their books. It's much easier to sign a paper book than an electronic device.

5. How much control do you wield over the publication of your books in paper? Covers or font, for instance.

Most of the time, little to none. Most publishers have their own specs, and it's their job to put out a high-quality product. On occasion, I've had a publisher ask for some input on the cover art, but that's about the extent of it. In any event, those things are the publisher's rightful purview; if the publisher requests some participation from the author, so much the better, if the author has a reasonable grip on graphic production. I do have a strong graphic background — it's my day job — so it's an area in which I, personally, do like to have some input, when possible. A brilliant storyteller who is graphically challenged ought stay out of it anyway.

6. Do you own any electronic reading devices (Kindle, for instance) or do you still prefer paper? (I prefer paper for personal reading, but for reviews, I insist on ebooks because they’re easier to quote from).

I have a Kindle on my phone, and I initially thought it would be an awkward and uncomfortable device by which to read books. Quite the opposite has proven true. It's comfortable and convenient. I can format e-files for Kindle myself, so I've enjoyed creating e-books of public domain works for my own use on the Kindle. I just read H. G. Wells's WAR OF THE WORLDS for the umpteenth time on my phone. I gotta tell you, it was beyond handy, and its impact suffered not a whit less just because it was an e-file rather than a paper book.

7. Books like Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury could not be written in an ebook world because ebooks cannot be burned, so to speak. Which of your books would have trouble translating to a cyber culture?

I don't know that I've written that one. But you throw a Kindle on a fire, it's gonna ruin the contents, I can tell you.  <!--[if !vml]-->wink<!--[endif]-->

8. Speaking of Bradbury, he had an infamous distrust of cyber-space, but you maintain a facebook page and share your thoughts with your fans. What are your thoughts on cyber communities, especially between authors and readers?

They're a double-edged sword. They're perfect for promoting your work and interacting with readers and fans. They're also perfect for making a pure ass of yourself and putting off potential readers in droves. One must be careful; some things you share may draw people to you; others can turn them away permanently. It's up to the author to decide how much of his/her life to share with a passel of strangers. I try a very balanced approach, sharing writing news, personal experiences, politics, and other miscellaneous shit. I can say with some certainty that social media has done wonders for my work in the short term. Long-term, who the hell knows.

9. Have you given any thought to publishing an ebook, that is, a book that wouldn’t see paper?

Well, I'll be the first to admit I really do like having a paper product that I can point to and say, "Looky looky." It's a real, physical object that contains a fair bit of me between its covers. An e-book doesn't feel that way, regardless of how well it does financially. I recently tried my hand at releasing an e-book solely on my own, via Kindle on It's "TheGods of Moab," a novella I wrote last year. It's done pretty well for me — for all I know, even better than had it been released as a print product. I can put it out in front of people online, and in seconds, they can have it on their devices. No lag time. It's a most effective way to bring in readers who make spontaneous buying decisions. I don't know whether that's necessarily a good thing in the long haul, but time will tell.

10. H.P. Lovecraft and those writers after him, brought us the Golden Age of Horror, but you ushered in the Silver Age of Horror. With the Cyber Age of Horror upon us, what are your thoughts? Is it simply evolution of the genre or something more ominous, or more optimistic?

Evolution, yes. I don't necessarily consider it good or bad. It's inevitable. Had the e-book phenomenon never happened in my lifetime, I think I'd be all the happier for it. I have never once in my life wished, oh my god, I need to be able to read this book via some other method. But since we do have e-books, and they're expanding in the marketplace at such a pace, it doesn't pay -not- to embrace them. I certainly have, more so than I might have imagined a couple of years ago. In the end, it's -still- all about the work, not the method of delivery. In a few years, maybe they'll be injecting novels directly into our brains. Whatever. I hope some of those injections have "Rainey" imprinted on the delivery device.

Ray Garton

Ray Garton is the author of over 60 novels, novellas, short story collections, movie novelizations and TV tie-ins. His 1987 erotic vampire novel, Live Girls, called "artful" by the New York Times, was published in several different languages and nominated for the Bram Stoker Award. In 2006, he received the Grand Master of Horror Award. In addition to horror fiction, he has written a number of thrillers and crime novels, and in the 1990s, he wrote several young adult horror novels and thrillers under the name Joseph Locke. His comedy-thriller Sex and Violence in Hollywood, a novel originally published in 2001, is currently being developed as a motion picture. E-Reads has made many of his titles available as trade paperbacks and ebooks, including his two most recent novels, Trailer Park Noir, a dark, gritty story of sex and murder in a small town trailer park, and Meds, a thriller with deadly side effects. His novella Serpent Girl and short story “The Man in the Palace Theater” are available for Kindle and Nook. He lives in northern California with his wife Dawn.

Links ...



E-Reads page:




1. How do you view the publication of paper books today? Are they on their way out or are they here to stay?

I don’t think books will disappear, but I think ereaders probably will become the preferred method of reading.

2. Many of your books, if not all, have been published in many languages. Do you find these translations are more personal for your fans than their availability in ebook form in just one language?

That’s an interesting question.  I hadn’t considered that before.  Yes, I would think having a book published specifically in your language might be a little more personal than an ereader.

3. What books have you written that are simply better reads when held in your hands?

Well, I think that’s what it comes down to.  Do you prefer to hold a book in your hands and turn the pages?  I do.  I like the feel and smell of a book.  But I’ll get an e-reader at some point.  And in the end, it’s the same book.  I don’t think the book itself will be affected by reading it on an e-reader or on the printed page.

4. What are some of the advantages you take for granted as a paper book author?

Author copies, for one thing.  One of my favorite things in life has always been receiving my box of copies of my latest book.  Opening that box and seeing my name on all those covers has never lost its thrill.  But it doesn’t happen as much as it used to.  E-Reads has published many of my reprints and two new novels, Trailer Park Noir and Meds, as print-on-demand trade paperbacks and ebooks.  With print-on-demand, I don’t get author copies unless I buy them at a discount off the cover price.  Also, signing books won’t be the same.  I’ve heard it’s possible to sign ebooks, although I don’t know if that’s true because I just haven’t kept up with them.  But still, it’s not going to be the same as signing your name to the page.

5. How much control do you wield over the publication of your books in paper? Covers or font, for instance.

I’m usually asked what I think of the covers, but that’s about it.

6. Do you own any electronic reading devices (Kindle, for instance) or do you still prefer paper? (I prefer paper for personal reading, but for reviews, I insist on ebooks because they’re easier to quote from).

I don’t.  It’s not that I’m opposed to them, or anything, I just haven’t gotten one yet.  In this economy, there are better things I can do with my money.  And we have a house full of books I haven’t read yet.

7. Books like Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury could not be written in an ebook world because ebooks cannot be burned, so to speak. Which of your books would have trouble translating to a cyber culture?

Technology has changed everything.  For example, most of my books were published before the advent of the cell phone.  If I were to go back and incorporate the cell phone into those books, I’d probably have to do some serious rewriting in all of them, because having a cell phone in every pocket changes things drastically.  Quite often, suspense stories rely on things like a character’s inability to communicate with others.  These days, that situation is harder to arrange.  Everybody’s got a cell phone that’s also a camera and a computer and a goddamned home entertainment system.  Or they’ve got OnStar in their cars.  That changes how you can tell a story.  It affects how you’re able to put people in danger or isolate them from information or other people.  The world has changed drastically in the last ten or twelve years.

8. Speaking of Bradbury, he had an infamous distrust of cyber-space, but you maintain a facebook page and share your thoughts with your fans. What are your thoughts on cyber communities, especially between authors and readers?

I have a certain amount of distrust of cyberspace, too.  But I think getting online and connecting with readers and fans is one of the best things I’ve ever done.  For one thing, it made me realize I have fans, which is always encouraging.  But it’s very easy to suck up a lot of time on Facebook or Twitter, or just about anywhere else on the internet, and that’s not very productive, so I have to be careful.  It’s made self-promotion a lot easier, too, which is good for me, because I’m not very good at that.

9. Have you given any thought to publishing an ebook, that is, a book that wouldn’t see paper?

I’m just now giving self-publishing a try.  I’ve published a story called “The Man in the Palace Theater” for Kindle and Nook, but it was previously published as a limited edition chapbook.  And my novella Serpent Girl, which was originally published by Cemetery Dance as a limited edition hardcover, is just about to be released for Kindle and Nook.  So I haven’t done anything exclusively as an ebook.  But I’m thinking about it.  I’ve got a novel I’ve been working on for years called Dismissed from the Front and Center, which is a comedy based on my two years at a Seventh-day Adventist boarding academy.  My agent doesn’t seem to think anyone would be interested, but I don’t agree.  Everyone went to high school and we all know what it’s like.  It’s weird.  It’s just a weird, demoralizing experience.  But I went to a high school that was even weirder.  And funnier, too.  I’m considering publishing that as an ebook to see if my agent is right.

10. H.P. Lovecraft and those writers after him, brought us the Golden Age of Horror, but you ushered in the Silver Age of Horror. With the Cyber Age of Horror upon us, what are your thoughts? Is it simply evolution of the genre or something more ominous, or more optimistic?

I'm less concerned with the Cyber Age of Horror than I am with the fact that horror seems to be stuck in the past.  We’re living in a time when vampires and zombies are the stuff of kids’ stories and romance novels.  I think horror needs to move on from those old tropes that have been updated and re-updated and co-opted by other genres and look around at the world we live in today.  It’s not like there’s a shortage of ideas or material. 

We live in a surveillance society that’s only going to get worse, and most of the infrastructure of that society has been and continues to be purchased by us for ourselves.  That’s scary enough on its own, but I get the impression that most people are spending so much time enjoying the surveillance society that they don’t know even what it is yet, or what could be done with it.  They don’t seem to be thinking.  Which is another scary element of life in the 21st century.

Education in America is being devalued and even deformed.  American history is being replaced in textbooks with distortions and complete fabrications, and science — the very way we learn things — is being attacked.  The Republican Party of Texas wrote into its 2012 platform that it opposes “the teaching of Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) (values clarification), critical thinking skills and similar programs that are simply a relabeling of Outcome-Based Education (OBE) (mastery learning) which focus on behavior modification and have the purpose of challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority.”  I didn’t make that up.  They are opposed to higher learning skills!  They aren’t even being subtle about it!  Challenging a student’s fixed beliefs is one of the jobs of education, particularly higher education, because the thing about fixed beliefs is that so many of them are wrong and have nothing to do with how the world really works.  These people are opposed to any education that does what education is actually supposed to do!  And if that doesn’t scare you ... well, I don’t know what will.  I find the fact that we’re fostering ignorance to be pretty terrifying, because out of ignorance come some very bad things.

One of my favorite horror stories of all time is Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol.  Most people associate it with Christmas, so they don’t think of it as a horror story, but it is.  Not only is it about ghosts, but it deals head on with our fear of death, which I think is at the heart of all horror fiction.  One of my favorite scenes in the novella is when the Ghost of Christmas Present shows Scrooge the ugly twins huddling beneath his garment.  The ghost says, “This boy is Ignorance.  This girl is Want.  Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all, beware this boy, for on his brow, I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing is erased.”  Doom!  The wages of ignorance is doom.  People think of A Christmas Carol as a “timeless classic,” but it’s definitely a book of its time that spoke directly to problems of that time, as well as more universal human problems.  And we’re still reading it today and something like eight hundred thousand movie and TV and radio adaptations have been made over the decades.  Because it’s not just a horror story.  It’s a horror story that uses fantasy to address very real fears and horrors.

Now ignorance has become a real problem again because it’s being encouraged by a significant segment of the population, and things like critical thinking are being condemned openly and explicitly.  And we’re seeing the results of that ignorance.  For example, more people than we’d like to think believe that the recent shooting in a Colorado movie theater was a staged ritual sacrifice that was somehow tied to the Olympics in London, the opening ceremony of which many believe to have been some kind of Satanic Illuminati ritual participated in by people around the globe.  And if that’s not creepy enough for you, stick around — institutionalized ignorance has a lot more fun in store for us, I’m sure.

A guy chewed another guy’s face off in the street in broad daylight in Miami, Florida, recently, and he wouldn’t stop until a police officer shot him to death.  Nothing supernatural, the face-chewer wasn’t a walking corpse, of course, because as we all know, zombies don’t exist.  But not everybody knows that because the CDC had to release a statement assuring everyone that there was no zombie virus and the zombie apocalypse had not begun.  Still, plenty of people suspect that incident was the result of some government-developed zombie virus.  There’s horror in the actual incident, of course, but I think there’s also horror in the way so many people are interpreting the events occurring around them.  If there’s an epidemic of anything, it seems to be delusion.

A young man murdered, dismembered and had intercourse with the corpse of another man and used his severed arm to masturbate, captured it all on video and put it on the internet.  It’s still out there.  Remember when serial killers were scary?  They had an air of mystery about them.  We read and heard about their horrifying crimes, but they remained unseen, left to our imagination.  Now there’s one you can watch online.  More than one.  You can also watch three Russian teenage boys murder a man with a hammer.  Or you can watch two young Russian neo-Nazis mutilating the corpse of a girl they just murdered.  There’s a lot of real human death, bloodshed and dismemberment available online along with all the kittens and puppies.

Now, I’m not Tipper Gore, I’m not one of those people who says that TV, movies or music make people violent.  But there’s a big difference between the fantasy of movies and TV shows or rock music and the reality of watching a human being’s life brutally ended for the gratification of someone else.  There’s plenty of horror in the killings, but what does watching it do to us inside?  I don’t think it’s going to turn anyone into a killer, but there’s definitely some hardening going on there, some burning away of nerve endings.  How desensitized are we going to become?  And it’s not just murder and dismemberment.  On YouTube, you can find an endless supply of videos of people falling off buildings, getting hit in the nuts with various objects — it’s Jackass 24 hours a day on YouTube.  On American Idol, you can watch people who are clearly unstable or somehow mentally damaged already get ridiculed by the judges for the amusement of the viewing audience.  We laugh at that stuff — and I include myself in that — but what is that doing to us?  Laugh at other people’s pain and misfortune long enough and pretty soon, that becomes the default reaction.

A lot of these themes are familiar to science fiction readers.  Stories of dystopian futures are a staple of that genre.  But it’s not in the future anymore.  I think as long as it’s in the future, it’s science fiction.  As soon as it becomes the present and you’re living in it, it’s horror.  And we’re surrounded by it right now.  We’re soaking in it.  But we aren’t really seeing it reflected in the horror genre.  I think horror works best when we see ourselves in it, when we see our lives, fears and problems reflected in it.  Those big bug movies might seem silly now, but they were tapping into real fears of the atomic age.  Ira Levin did that a lot with his horror novels.  Sure, Rosemary’s Baby was about a bunch of Satanists tricking a woman into carrying and giving birth to the devil’s baby.  But it was also about urban paranoia, and a growing sense of alienation from others, including those we love, and it had a few things to say about religion, too.  The Stepford Wives was, beneath its gloss, a horrifying story about men murdering their wives and replacing them with robots.  That’s obviously a story with more on its mind than murder and robots.  It was written at the height of the women’s movement, and it did a pretty good job of explaining why the women’s movement was necessary.

I’m not saying that all horror novels and movies should have a social conscience or make a statement or deliver a message.  Holy crap, no.  Horror, like almost everything else, is first and foremost entertainment.  And I’m not suggesting that anyone get on their soapbox, either — please don’t!  But the horror genre seems to be pretty disconnected these days from ... just about everything.  It seems to have no interest in the world around it.  We’re being dehumanized.  That’s nothing new, but I think it’s turned up to 11 right now.  As Howard Beale said in Network, we’ve been turned into a nation of “transistorized, deodorized, whiter-that-white, steel-belted bodies, totally unnecessary as human beings, and as replaceable as piston rods.”

But for the most part, the horror genre is still giving us zombies and vampires.  We seem to be in the middle of an inexplicable rash of movies about possession, some of which insist on insulting my intelligence before I even see them by claiming to be “based on a true story,” thus ensuring that I won’t see them.  The genre feels claustrophobic and static, even stagnant, and completely disconnected from the world.  It’s become more interested in itself than anything else.  Horror has become kind of narcissistic, I think.  But it’s certainly not alone.  That’s a pretty common problem these days.

How do you feel about authors buying good reviews?

My opinion of the fact that good reviews can now be purchased is only fractionally better than my opinion of anyone who would buy them. When are they going to start selling moral compasses? Because I think there's a huge need for them right now...


John Shirley (born 10 February 1953) is an American fantasist, author of noir fiction, and science-fiction writer. Shirley is a prolific writer of novels and short stories, TV scripts and screenplays who has published over 30 books and 10 collections. His novels include Everything is Broken, The Other End, Bleak History, Crawlers, Demons, In Darkness Waiting, and seminal cyberpunk works City Come A-Walkin', and the A Song Called Youth trilogy of Eclipse, Eclipse Penumbra, and Eclipse Corona. His collections include the Bram Stoker and International Horror Guild award-winning Black Butterflies, Living Shadows: Stories: New & Pre-owned and In Extremis: The Most Extreme Stories of John Shirley. He also writes for screen (The Crow) and television. As a musician Shirley has fronted his own bands and written lyrics for Blue Öyster Cult and others


Here's your shortest interview response:

  1. How do you view the publication of paper books today? Are they on their way out or are they here to stay?
1. They'll never completely go away but mostly.

  1. Many of your books, if not all, have been published in many languages. Do you find these translations are more personal for your fans than their availability in ebook form in just one language?
2. I'll bet you have no clue which of my books have been published where. At any rate your question makes no clear sense at all. I cannot read the translations, for one thing. Are you starting an ebook company or something?

  1. What books have you written that are simply better reads when held in your hands?
3. All of them.

  1. What are some of the advantages you take for granted as a paper book author?
4. I get paid a bit more.

  1. How much control do you wield over the publication of your books in paper? Covers or font, for instance.
5. Little for big press, more for small.

  1. Do you own any electronic reading devices (Kindle, for instance) or do you still prefer paper? (I prefer paper for personal reading, but for reviews, I insist on ebooks because they’re easier to quote from).
6. Yes and yes.

  1. Books like Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury could not be written in an ebook world because ebooks cannot be burned, so to speak. Which of your books would have trouble translating to a cyber culture?
7. None.

  1. Speaking of Bradbury, he had an infamous distrust of cyber-space, but you maintain a facebook page and share your thoughts with your fans. What are your thoughts on cyber communities, especially between authors and readers?
8. Most "cyber communities" are not communities, they're just a kind of overlap that may have some value sometimes.

  1. Have you given any thought to publishing an ebook, that is, a book that wouldn’t see paper?
9. Not necessary. Many of my books are ebooks also...

  1. H.P. Lovecraft and those writers after him, brought us the Golden Age of Horror, but you ushered in the Silver Age of Horror. With the Cyber Age of Horror upon us, what are your thoughts? Is it simply evolution of the genre or something more ominous, or more optimistic?
10. Silver? Who says I'm silver. I'm platinum motherfucker. My only thought apart from that is most ebook only writers seem to be at best semi literate. Most of them are just appallingly ignorant.

What is your opinion of the book reviews for sale?

Obviously selling a book review is a vile thing to do, and it's a vile thing to take part in it. The always frail ethical standard of our society has been eroding--possibly the Republicans and the Ron Paul libertarians and the Ayn Rand fans have been leading that charge into mindless exploitation, dishonesty, social irresponsibility...

Bet you never seen that side of John Shirley before, huh, gang? Me neither. I know him as the guy who has contributed to my book giveaway program from its inception. I can only assume I touched on a sore subject. But his answers added a bizarre balance to the optimistic and pessimistic answers overall. Question ten seems to be the touchstone regarding our authors’ opinion of vanity publishing online. In Parts one and two, it was agreed that from the glut of ebooks, the cream will rise. But in the here and now, the flood of bad writing makes finding the good writing a Herculean task. In Part III, we heard optimism that the good is forthcoming, and the pessimism that NOW is a bad time for ebooks, given the “bog” of overwhelming selections at bargain prices. And we’ve seen the frustration boiling over from an otherwise erudite writer. Lisa, although the youngest, seemed to have the strongest old school author spirit, defending paper books while looking to the future with a touch of skepticism. Mark looks forward to the brave new world with all the optimism of a fledgling writer, though he, too, is old school. And I really enjoyed Ray Garton's essay on the state of horror today. I'm glad I gave him a forum to get this off his chest. It seems everyone got a little something off their chest. See what I mean about balance? But ultimately, Graham Masterton is right. No matter how we feel about the future of Cybernocturnalism right now, we’ll have to wait and see how it evolves.
Thank you, authors, for participating in Part III of Cybernocturnalism. And thank you readers for joining us. After all, this is all about you, the ebook authors and readers. So comment, share, and let us know your thoughts on this time of transition in such a volatile e-market. 


Saturday, September 8, 2012

BRANDED (aka THE MAD COW) (2012)

Not in movie 

The first half of Branded introduces us to Misha Galkin, an advertising genius in Russia set in an undetermined future. Misha falls for his boss’s (Jeffrey Tambor) niece (Leelee Sobieski) and goes into business with her to produce a reality show where a “fat” lady after several surgeries will be madeover into a beautiful “thin” woman. The surgery goes bad, the show bankrupts, the TV audience turns on Misha, sending him into self-exile. Basically, that’s the story so far. That was easy to follow. It’s when he becomes a cowboy caring for a herd (six years later) that the second half of the movie gets weird.

Not in movie either

You see, Misha has a vision about performing a certain rite involving a “red” cow. After the rite, his girlfriend, the niece, Abby, has him in the back seat of her car, apologizing for kidnapping him. The last thing we saw was Misha passing out in the cow pastures. Now we’re back in the city, and it seems that because of Misha’s failed TV Makeover show, the corporations have taken advantage of angry public opinion against “fat” people and have made “fat” the new “thin”. You following?

Anyway, Misha looks at Abby as she apologizes and sees these creatures attached to her head and shoulders, creatures only he can see—get it? Because of the rite. These monsters are colorful balloon-like menaces that look like demons designed by the McDonald’s advertisers by way of Disney—creepy in a cute sort of way. Well, everybody has a monster attached to them, and only Misha can see them. Oh, and everybody is fat. I mentioned that, right? He tries to explain the creatures to Abby who is more concerned that Misha may not be a suitable father for their child (remember, six years have gone by, so guess how old the kid is?). After he tries to knock the monster off her shoulder, Abby mistakes his shoving her to the ground for the act of a lunatic and leaves him, fat son in tow. It is then that Misha figures a way to stop the monsters. Go green!

Definitely not in movie

That’s right. In order to bring down all the corporations (you see, each corporation’s logo resembles each creature), he convinces the country that hamburgers contain mad cow disease (thus the alternate title to the movie). Soon the healthy green food of the Koreans begins to replace that evil red food; we see this in two ways: the red restaurants come down and the green ones go up; and the gray flying demons kill the colorful balloon monsters. Very nice part of the movie, actually. I really thought it was going somewhere at this point because I wasn’t sure if Misha was just hallucinating after eating a mad cow himself. Soon Misha’s on a roll. He brought down the burgers. Cola is next. Then I-Phones. And he’s got a big list on the wall.

Yes, in movie for a few seconds

Let’s just say that things don’t turn out the way Misha planned. And the movie doesn’t turn out the way the trailers painted it either. Hell, I’m not going to lie to you. I liked this mess of a movie. As Shemp of the Three Stooges says, “It’s a mess-terpiece.” The monsters were cool. The overacting was adequate. The mysterious appearance of Max von Sydow is never explained and neither is his disappearance. Jeffrey Tambor’s role is misleading and he too is disappeared. Misha is the only constant, and it’s a treat to see him go from genius to cowboy to crazy visionary to advertising prophet to klutzy dad. At times, the movie seems to be a satire, at other times a science fiction metaphor for propaganda, but the abrupt edits never let the viewer decide just what he’s watching, and just when we think we know what’s going on, bam!, it changes direction again.

I’ve included the trailer below so you can see the highlights. But don’t be fooled. Though all those parts are in the movie, they are not in that order. And the voiceover seems like it came from an educational film from the fifties. But that just adds to the unintended creepiness of this movie. I recommend Branded only for those connoisseurs of bad film. Everyone else, enjoy re-watching the trailer a few times. Those few minutes is as good as it gets.