About Felicity Dowker

Melbourne-based writer Felicity Dowker is a multiple finalist and/or winner of various awards for her short stories and reviews, including the Ditmar, Chronos, Aurealis, and Australian Shadows Awards. Around 30 of Felicity’s stories have been published in Australian and international magazines, anthologies, and podcasts, most recently including Year’s Best Australian Fantasy and Horror Volume 2 edited by Liz Grzyb and Talie Helene from Ticonderoga Publications, and Circus: Fantasy Under the Big Top edited by Ekaterina Sedia from Prime Books. Felicity’s debut short story collection Bread and Circuses was launched by Ticonderoga Publications in June 2012 - find out more at http://www.indiebooksonline.com/catalog/product_info.php?products_id=118&osCsid=b5c32d273115fb7255450d035e6b6205.

Tales to Terrify Call for Submissions

Horror podcast Tales to Terrify (now up to its 41st episode starring work from Tim Lebbon, and still going strong, with its first print volume forthcoming) is open to submissions. If you want to be part of this stellar show, read the submission guidelines at the site.

Previous shows have featured HP Lovecraft, Stephen King, Margo Lanagan, Kaaron Warren, and a truckload of other talent, so you would truly be aiming to keep good company with your submission. Good luck!

(On a personal note, this is my favourite horror podcast. Period.)

News: Midnight Echo Distribution Deal and Giveaways

The News:

AHWA and JournalStone Publishing (JSP) have entered into an exclusive joint marketing agreement. AHWA and Midnight Echo magazine will be the exclusive Australian distributor of the quarterly magazine, Dark Discoveries, while JSP and Dark Discoveries Magazine will become the exclusive USA distributor of Midnight Echo. This means the pre-existing high premium that potential readers of each respective magazine have had to pay to receive the other periodical in their respective countries will be eliminated, making both magazines much more affordable and accessible/available for all. Look for availability on both the JSP and Midnight Echo websites soon, where you will be able to purchase the magazines individually or in a bundled offering that includes both Dark Discoveries and Midnight Echo.

The Giveaways:-

Midnight Echo is holding a subscription drive in the lead up to the much anticipated release of issue #8, with a swag of prizes to be won. Just take out a 1- or 2-year print subscription between now and November 30 and you will go into the draw to win the following:-

The winners will be announced on December 1. Go here for more details or to subscribe.

News: AHWA Announces Aradale Asylum Retreat

Extracts from the Australian Horror Writers Association (AHWA) website:-

LIMITED TO THIRTY (30) PARTICIPANTS. All welcome. The Australian Horror Writers Association has arranged a three-day/two-night stay at Aradale Mental Hospital (formerly Ararat Lunatic Asylum) for writers, editors, artists and any other creative-type people. It will involve having the days to create and the nights to investigate how to be scared stiff. There will be a ghost tour on the Friday night, and a paranormal investigation on the Saturday night (all equipment supplied).

When: THREE (3) DAYS – February 22-24th 2013

How Much: $395 PER PERSON all-inclusive three days

Includes: accommodation/full catering/tour/paranormal investigation.

Supplied: All meals, camp-beds. Please supply sleeping bag or bedding (if you are travelling from interstate, talk to us and we will be able to help with this).

***Email to confirm interest: ahwa@australianhorror.com***


Book Review: House at the End of the Street by Lily Blake

Atom, 2012


I’ve tagged this review as both a book review and a movie review, because this “novel” is in fact a hastily written movie tie-in that reads like the Cliffs Notes version of the script. There is no author name on the cover. When exploring the title pages one finds the following explanation: a novel by Lily Blake, based on the screenplay by David Loucka, from a story by Jonathan Mostow. Lily Blake’s name is also attributed to the Snow White and the Huntsman movie tie-in “novel”, which I’ve got here somewhere for review too. A quick Google turns up no photos or meaningful information about Lily Blake, so I can’t tell you anything insightful about this author (except that I don’t believe she really exists and is instead probably a personification of a gaggle of entities churning out these sort of movie promotional tomes).

I repeat: hmmmmmn.

The House at the End of the Street starts off in Twilightesque fashion with a teen girl (played by The Hunger Games’ Jennifer Lawrence in the film) leaving the big city and moving to a quiet country town. Elissa and her mother score an impressive house cheaply due to its grisly history – the couple who lived there previously were murdered by their mentally handicapped daughter, Carrie Anne, who then disappeared without a trace. In true Twilight fashion, Elissa is the focus of many boys in her new town, but her own interest lies with strange and brooding Ryan, Carrie Ann’s brother, who still lives reclusively on the property in a separate house. Then, to use the phrase on the back of the book, “unexplainable events begin to happen” (ugh). There’s a twist that is fairly obvious from  early in the tale, although to be fair, it probably works much better onscreen. There’s also a lot of gratuitous use of “spooky” kids and tugging on the heartstrings ineffectively, which I tend to get my back up about these days, as a parent. If you’re going to use kids in horror, use them well, and use them with respect.

Putting aside my sneery judgemental jabs at cynical money-grubbing exercises masquerading as literature…the book goes through its motions pretty much as you would expect it to. I would class it as YA, and teens would probably enjoy it. It’s a quick read, not atrociously written, but certainly with nothing inspiring between its covers. The prose is cold and simple (and there are quite a few typos – hence my “hastily written” comment earlier). Whoever did actually write it phoned it in and didn’t bother to hide the fact – and why would they. This accompaniment to the movie is what it is. I didn’t hate it. I read it all the way to the end. I did feel dirty afterwards, but I read it anyway. I’ll probably go see the movie, as it’s a competent enough teen thriller, albeit predictable and cliched. What came across as one dimensional in print may do a far better job onscreen with Lawrence and others injecting life into it. It’s very hard to judge a movie when it’s slammed between paper covers and dubbed a “novel”.

Don’t bother reading it, but if you like teen slasher flicks with a bit of a psychological twist, you might enjoy the movie. I’ll go along to see if I do.

Movie Review: The Cabin in the Woods (2012)

Directed and co-written by Drew Goddard

Co-written and produced by Joss Whedon

Starring Kristen Connolly, Chris Hemsworth, Anna Hutchison, Fran Kanz, Jesse Williams

Here’s the integral thing you need to know about me in the context of this review: I’m not part of the cult of Joss Whedon, because I’m largely unfamiliar with Joss Whedon.

I can say “I like his work”, but when I say that, what I’m actually saying is “I like the episodes of Buffy I’ve seen” (because I haven’t seen all of them – and while I do like Buffy, I wouldn’t say I’m a massive fan of the series – I enjoy it, but I’m not passionate about it). And that’s it. I know he also did Firefly and Dollhouse, but I haven’t seen either of those, and in fact I don’t even know what they’re about. I haven’t even seen Angel. I’m sure he’s done other stuff that I don’t even know exists, which is essentially my point – I’m not an avid Joss Whedon fan; I don’t even have a solid awareness of his body of work. Yes, I am a Bad Geek, but the flipside of that is that I went into Cabin in the Woods without preconceived expectations or a pre-existing unshakeable belief that it would be good because Joss Whedon is good.

I’m pointing this out because one of the criticisms I’ve seen of positive responses to Cabin in the Woods is that people are just enthusing about it because Joss Whedon! – which, in my case, is obviously not true.

Now, on to the enthusing. BEWARE: SPOILERS AHEAD. Seriously, spoilery spoilers of extreme spoilerdom. If you haven’t seen the movie, don’t read on, it will totally ruin the experience for you. Don’t read any other reviews, either. Just go see the movie.

Cabin in the Woods is ostensibly the story of five college students who drive out to a remote, uh, cabin in the woods, to drink and smoke pot and screw, following which, gory bad things happen to them. The end.


There’s overt foreshadowing (actually, “foreshadowing” isn’t an accurate descriptor, there’s no subtlety to it, it’s just shoved in the viewer’s face because it’s not a secret, we’re meant to think we know exactly where things are at here) that all is not as it seems from the very start of the film, with technicians in an unnamed facility watching the five teens through surveillance equipment and gearing up for some nasty process to take place that they have obviously overseen many times before. We assume it involves the five’s messy demise. We’re also shown a type of forcefield around the cabin site that a bird smashes into and is electrocuted by. Got it. Can’t get in or out unless something/someone wants you to.

So even now, we think we know what’s going on, right? Yes, the five hapless teens – archetypes from horror movies gone by, including the whore, the virgin, and the jock – are in a secluded cabin and horrific things will happen to them, and as an added twist, the technicians will watch, presumably for jollies or to produce some sort of warped reality show or…something. The end. Right? Nooooooooo.

Once in the cabin, our five become overstated parodies of the archetypes they represent, and there’s all the usual male-gaze and women taking off their tops and dirty dancing and tongue-kissing stuffed wolf heads (what?) and…all that stuff. In Cabin in the Woods, though, this is intended to be ironic. Y’know, the male-gaze here isn’t really male-gaze but a commentary on the male gaze in horror films, and also the product of deliberate manipulation of the five occupants into archetypal behaviours by the technicians overseeing the cabin. And I think, largely, this irony is successful. I still don’t enjoy sitting through pervy scenes of tits and bimbos. It’s still irritating and uncomfortable. But that’s kind of the point. It’s uncomfortable but Cabin in the Woods knows it’s uncomfortable – points out that it’s uncomfortable, and then laughs at itself. And us. And we let it.

And there’s a lot of laughter in Cabin. Scares, yes. Blood, yes. Authentic laughs? Yes. That’s a hard combo to pull off – comedy in horror rarely works well. It works here. And even that is a kind of ironic parody of itself, because the comedy in Cabin is silly and obvious and cliched. But it works because it’s meant to be silly and obvious and cliched and that’s why it’s funny. And we know it’s ironic and that our laughter is ironic and how silly and pretentious that is, and how silly and pretentious we are for buying into the irony, dahhhhhling, and that’s funny too. Aren’t we all so special and hip and bored with life. Ha ha ha. We’re laughing with the movie at the movie which is laughing with us at us laughing with it at it and who’s the idiot here, really?

So, the five go into the basement (which, of course, you should never do), and find weird and wonderful things, and touch the weird and wonderful things (another thing you shouldn’t do), and read out a Latin incantation (definitely never do that), and awaken a zombie redneck torture family who attack, maim, and kill them while the technicians watch and even manipulate to ensure maximum carnage. And eventually everyone except the “virgin” is apparently dead, the watching technicians are rejoicing, and the movie should end.

But that’s where it actually really starts.

Because someone who should’ve been dead isn’t, the order of things is destroyed, and the zombie redneck torture family turn out to be just one of an array of vast subterranean horrors housed beneath the cabin and brought up by elevator based on which object the five choose and activate in the basement.

Things go nuts. The scene where the elevators are all opened and all the creatures fly out and drown everything in all the blood is fucking awesome. The cameo by Sigourney Weaver is sweet. The old Gods thing is cool. The global perspective and the variations in horror between cultures is fun. It’s all massive rapid-fire sensory overload at this point, as the movie inverts itself over and over again, with so many homages and little treasures for fans to spot and enjoy, and it’s delicious.

Sure, some of it’s a bit weak, when you reason through it in hindsight. Like, for such a sophisticated and well-established facility, they sure don’t have any strategies in place to deal with things going wrong – one brain-challenged and easily overthrown guard to deal with escapees? No one thinks to go straight to the elevator the two surviving kids have entered to escape the cabin, despite it being easy to track it as it can only be the elevator the zombie redneck torture family entered the cabin from? Why are the elevators set up to bring all the horrors up from underground and give them free access directly into the facility, anyway? Isn’t there an easier way for the old Gods to get the blood sacrifices they require – like, just shoot the archetypal victims in the head, for instance? And even the archetypes are sort of confused and conflicted – the virgin isn’t a virgin, for example. I could go on. There are silly aspects. But, y’know…

I just didn’t care.

It was that good. I’ll pass them off as deliberate silliness, or more irony/commentary/enigma/critique, or hell, just genuine errors and oversights – whatever. I don’t care. They didn’t matter, the film worked, it was fresh, it was different, it had tension, laughs, surprises, a million small gore-geeky touches (like a device that resembled Lemarchand’s configuration, held by a Cenobite-esque creature called Fornicus, FTW!), it was smart and scathing of everything including itself, the climax just kept on climaxing, there were brilliant monsters and BIG SCENES OF EPIC  BLOOD AND HORROR, and I fucking loved it.

Brilliant. Best horror movie I’ve seen in a long time. So much more than just a horror movie, actually. It raised questions – was the whole thing a critique? A parody? A joke? A puzzle? Or a serious…something? What does it mean if I liked the movie? What would it have meant if I didn’t? The actors were all flawless in their roles (at face value, you’d think that would be easy to achieve in most roles in this movie, but I don’t believe that for a moment because nothing is what it seems here), the effects were fabulous, the aesthetic was gorgeously perfect, and I came out of the cinema reeling with bliss and raving with praise.

If I had a star system to rate movies,Cabin in the Woods would score five out of five.

Maybe I’ll have to consider joining that Whedon cult, after all.

Submission Call: Award-Winning Australian Writing

Have you written a story of no more than 6,000 words or a poem of no more than 200 lines that won first place in an Australian competition between 30 June 2011 and 30 June 2012? If so, Melbourne Books wants you to submit it for consideration for the Award Winning Australian Writing 2012 edition.

Full details and submission guidelines here. Submissions close 20 August, so hurry up!

Book Review – The Uninvited by Liz Jensen

Bloomsbury, 2012

I’ve not previously come across anything by The Uninvited’s author, London-based writer Liz Jensen (www.lizjensen.com). She is by all accounts an accomplished professional, with a list of achievements that includes seven best-selling novels, three Orange prize for fiction nominations, and publication in more than twenty countries.

Marketed as “part psychological thriller, part dystopian nightmare”, The Uninvited focuses on Hesketh Lock, a talented anthropologist with Asperger’s Syndrome, as he tries to piece together the meaning of a global pandemic of murders commited by children and seemingly unconnected acts of business sabotage commited by adults, whilst also grappling with the fallout from a messy relationship breakdown, and struggling to reconnect with his young stepson.

The writing in The Uninvited is coldly rational, yet there’s a thread of frustrated and misunderstood emotion woven through every sentence. This is a very effective tool for inserting the reader straight into the brain of Hesketh Lock and truly telling the story from his point of view, as well as achieving the difficult task of converting what might have been an unsympathetic protagonist into a sympathetic one. The novel itself has many moments of keen insight, both from an intellectual and philosophical standpoint. What begins as a fairly gratuitous tale of blood and woe very quickly morphs into something completely different and far more intelligent, and there’s no denying that the topics addressed are extremely relevant to our world today – namely, our greedy and foolhardy abuse of our planet and its finite resources, and the tragic future we’re creating for our children should we continue down the road we’re on. I very much appreciated the crucial issues explored and the thought-provoking and disturbing hypothetical future invoked. I also enjoyed the various cultural mores and myths explored throughout the story – this is a book that educates and enlightens.

However, I felt let down by The Uninvited’s denouement. It was a little vague and some things were left unexplained, or explained so scantly that they were done injustice.  In thematic context once the novel’s resolution is reached, the “need” for pre-pubescent children to murder adults (usually their loved ones) starts to appear tenebrous and confusing the more one contemplates it in hindsight, and it did feel like that was perhaps injected to give the novel its grisly oomph rather than as a true integral part of the novel’s purpose, which is something quite different to the evil children hook, really.

That said, overall The Uninvited is a well-written, clever, important novel. The amount of flawless research that clearly went into the story is mind-blowing. I read it in one day, so it’s certainly a page-turner (although I was confined to a hospital bed at the time, so it may have had an unfair advantage!). Despite the final dissonance I personally felt between the murderous children and the climax, I would definitely recommend The Uninvited. It’s unsettling, it’s brutal, and it’s a welcome twist on the much-loved apolocalyptic fable. The Uninvited is a Book With a Message (or, actually, many different messages, all equally valuable), and we as a species need to heed its warning. I’ll certainly be looking out for more of Jensen’s work.