Reviews! New Ramsey Campbell Collection and “V/H/S 2”

9 06 2013
“Holes For Faces” (yet to be released)

Have you ever grown up, even grown old, with a writer?
When I was a kid, I read collections of horror stories. One of the first names I recognized was “Ramsey Campbell.”
I liked his relatable characters and settings. As a fan of Monty Python and Hammer Films, I liked his Britishness. Most of all, I liked his ability to create suspense and unease in mundane locations; cul-de-sacs, theaters, residential streets.
I lost track of Campbell for some years, but eagerly grabbed his novel “A Grin In The Dark.”
Oy, was I disappointed! The novel had such great ideas (laughter as an ur-language? Hell yes!) but the ending struck me as flat, and the protagonist’s fate sealed without a sporting chance.
Since then, Campbell’s work had seemed repetitive and his menaces had turned from familiar to caracatures. Boy or man of education and lower-middle class. Having an urgent errand. Bullied by someone stupider, boorish, or poor. In a public place which was now unkempt, and slowly becomes more surreal and disorienting. Vague but horrid fate.
“Holes For Faces” is a collection of short stories written by Ramsey Campbell. There are a few formulaic stories in it, but where before I saw fear of the lower class and changing times, I now see the fear of growing old and infirm.
Being of a certain age now, I can relate to these stories.
Campbell’s strengths are still evident. He writes characters who are vulnerable skeptics fumbling to control their lives.
A boy with his family at Christmas, as they try to adapt to Grandma’s advancing senility. An old man with a decades-old grudge against his teacher. A husband trying to find his injured wife in a labyrinthine hospital. It doesn’t take much to turn these very real situations into something appalling.
For all his limitations, Ramsey Campbell is still refreshing and necessary in today’s horror scene. His style is a claustrophobic, third-person limited. There is no gore, violence is only implied, and his language is vivid and lyrical. He is an always-welcome change from the splattery and the Big Themes offered by many other writers.
I recommend this collection, but do not read it all at once. Grab a couple of stories every few days and then do some errands, or talk to your nicer neighbors. You’ll be surprised at how easily you can imagine these stories happening to you or your friends, and that will give an even more fulfilling chill.

“V/H/S 2” (available through streaming and on PPV)

There are classic horror anthology movies (“Dead of Night”), and classic found-footage movies (“Blair Witch”). The “V/H/S” franchise of horror found-footage anthology is not quite classic, but has shown great improvement. The premise of the franchise is that an odd collection of frightful videos causes supernatural things to happen to those who view them. The wrap-around tale in “1” had a group of teens ransacking a house, finding these tapes, then coming to a bad end. In “2”, a pair of private eyes break into a house in search a missing boy, to discover the same malicious collection.

“V/H/S 1” held a lot of promise, but was hampered by the weaknesses of low-budget productions and raw ability. At two hours long, its stories meandered. The acting was weak. And there was the very logic that if demons were chasing you, why would you keep holding the camera?

Now, the cheap wearable camera has given new life to the found-footage movie. “V/H/S 2” has adapted and came up with satisfying explanations. One story has a prototype eye implant with recording technology. The other stories have spy cameras, helmet cams, even a dog cam, and they are all used believably.
The trailer for “1” gave away all the important plot points.
The trailer for “2” did not give away the best scares, and as a pleasant surprise, did not tip off moments.
Another improvement is that goals and motives are clearer. The pacing is faster. The acting is better. In particular, I liked the story of a slumber party attacked by aliens. The kids were engagingly energetic, abusive, and profane.
Still, it suffers from writing more interested in making shocks than in creating motives or logic. Extraterrestrials can’t find the hiding teenagers. In other stories, a cult leader’s evil vaguely causes a pregnancy to become hellish. Cellphones are forgotten. Whole arsenals are left lying on the floor. A zombie infection takes hold with inconsistent results.
What does watching these videos do to the private eyes, and why?
There still seems to be a maturity issue with “V/H/S.” The young, white, male directors in “1” had a lot of topless women as monsters, and an almost all-white cast. In “2”, there was only one set of boobs, and the only people of color were in the segment written by a new, foreign director.
It is not enough to put someone who looks like me on screen and have them say “I love you.” I have to see that someone be lovable.
Some segments have the problems found in most found-footage horror: sound or music stings come out of nowhere, people pull aside curtains with bloodstains, a quick turn away means a ghoul will be there when you turn back.
“V/H/S 2” has moments of chills and suspense, and is stronger than its predecessor. I look forward to seeing the next installment. Hopefully, it will be a classic.



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