Book Review: The Harbinger by Todd Keisling

The Harbinger

The Harbinger by Todd Keisling

Clowns, children, dolls. For many, these are actual phobias; they incite terror within the average human being. Maybe its the make-up and the mystery underneath, the false innocence, or the beady, lifeless eyes. Regardless, most people I know will avoid any media relating to them. Now, as a horror author, I can never resist the urge to use these in a horror story. As a reader though, this always draws me to a tale; I fear none of the above and they always make for terrifying, and often controversial, horror. In short, you know you’re in for a good time.

The Harbinger is no different. In fact, it manages to combine two of those fears (no clowns, sorry) with effortless guile, creating a short, horrific tale of isolation and mind-bending insanity. The plot is simple. Felix is a journalist, visiting the town of Dalton for his latest story. He is to interview Maggie Eloquence, the proprietor of a doll making factory, Dalton Dollworks. When he arrives, he realises things are a little peculiar in Dalton…the residents all seem to be adults, dolls decorate all of the establishments in the town, and why is the smell of pig shit so invasive? As Felix roams the town for a scoop, things start to take a turn into the macabre…and by then, it’s too late.

First of all, this story is phenomenal. It instantly drags you into the soul crushing isolation of the town. We arrive when Felix does and we see everything through his eyes. Jet lagged and tired, irritable and frustrated, he just wants the trip over with. Regardless, he owes a favour to his editor, who managed to see Felix through a tough divorce. Bound by a promise, he goes about his business in the least enthusiastic way possible. It’s a clever touch by the author, instilling a sense of dread and detachment from the get go. Felix doesn’t want to be there, so every little detail is enhanced. When he checks into his hotel, a normal process for most, there’s an underlying sense of menace, one that rumbles beneath the surface of the book until the taut finale. This menace develops as Felix navigates Dalton and it’s weird, spooky residents. It makes for thrilling suspense. 

Now, onto Dalton itself. A dark, brooding, creepy town. Right up there with Desperation and Silent Hill for the maximum creep factor. We’re constantly reminded of the pig shit smell that follows Felix everywhere. It’s a decent plot device, and one with massive relevance, but it doesn’t seem to affect any of the inhabitants. You’ll never forget this simple detail, but it pays off. As Felix investigates his story via a Dalton Dollworks tour (watch out for the gift shop scene, it’s a sublime piece of terror), a trip to the local diner and a mysterious, abandoned church, he starts to realise there’s more to Dalton then meets the eye. As the story rumbles to it’s horrific conclusion, you’ll be hooked until the final word. Some wonderful creativity – when Felix tries to check out, for example –  stops this story from being just another ‘town gone crazy’ story, which sometimes ruins a decent build up. This is original stuff, a story that will scare even the most stubborn minded horror fan, like me; it gave me goosebumps. I can’t remember the last story that did that to me in such a short word span.

VERDICT: The Harbinger is an excellent horror story, one that needs to be read by any true horror fan. Doing for dolls and children what Christine did for Plymouth Fury’s, you’ll never look at either in the same way again. Tense, thrilling and terrifying, Todd Keisling has produced a piece of work that will stick in the memory for some time. I’ve heard this is a part of his Ugly Little Things series. After this, I will be checking out the other stories. Recommended reading. A piece of advice though? If you have any dolls in your house, you might want to move them outside before reading. Trust me…    

Trick or Treating for UNICEF

Trick or Treat for UNICEF
Trick or Treat for UNICEF

Trick-or-Treating, the stuff of childhood! With each falling leaf, I eagerly anticipate Halloween with its tradition. Oh, to dress in costume, shedding my dull demeanor for imagined, horrific strengths! Monsters fear nothing, after all, not even other monsters.

As I grew, my love for Trick-or-Treating diminished not a jot. I dressed myself and my house with ghoulish glee to hand the neighborhood kids their treats – my own favorites, in case leftovers remained in the bottom of my treat cauldron.

When graced with children of my own, they donned costumes of their choosing, and I took them to carouse the neighborhood, leaving a friendly scarecrow to present sweets for our guests.

As a girl, I trick-or-treated until I grew too tall to disguise my age. It came as a surprise to me, therefore, when my petite eleven-year-old Alexis looked at me with big blue eyes and explained, “I’m not trick-or-treating this year.”

She knew I’d just finished arranging for two families of cousins to join us on the yearly excursion, so I found myself confused. I’d already sewn her costume and the costumes for her siblings, along with coordinating treat bags. “Ok, but why on earth not?” I asked.

She squared her ten-year-old shoulders and explained, “This year, I want to Trick-or- Treat for UNICEF.”

What a novel concept! I’d never heard of Trick-or-Treating for UNICEF, but Alexis saw an interview with one of her Disney idols, Selena Gomez, where the Latin beauty explained the benefits. UNICEF is a United Nations Program that raises funds to help needy children world- wide. The Trick-or-Treat program started by Mary Emma Allison in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA in 1950.

Alexis said, “UNICEF helps kids world-wide. I don’t need any candy anyway, Mom.” Who does, really?

A lump of pride took up residence in my throat. My girl was a growing philanthropist. I blinked back tears at the bitter-sweet thought.

“How do you get started?” I wondered. We went online to the UNICEF site, and Alexis ordered her collection box. However, I also found the little, orange cardboard collection boxes on a trip to the Hallmark store, so participating was easy.

That evening, as crisp breezes swirled cinnamon leaves about their feet, my group set out for their night of Trick-or-Treating. When her cousins and siblings held out their sacks for candy, Alexis, dressed as a Grecian Goddess, presented her little orange box instead. “Thank you for the offered candy, but may I please have a small donation for UNICEF instead?”

Many were confused. “You don’t want candy?”

She smiled and shook her head. “No, Ma’am. Thank you. I’m collecting money for UNICEF, which benefits thousands of needy children world-wide. Any spare change will make a difference to the underprivileged in developing nations.”

When the other kids spread their candy across the carpet, surrounding themselves with islands of sugary goodness, Alexis and I counted her collected money. She’s raised over $200, mostly in change. I found myself grateful for taping the edges of the box. It had strained to keep itself together under the weight of the coins. We wrote a check the next day.

It is estimated that children from the USA, Ireland, Mexico, Hong Kong, and Canada have collected more than $200 million for UNICEF through “Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF” since the program’s inception.

Find out more about UNICEF and how you can help children around the world.

Here is a video from UNICEF:

TV Review: The Walking Dead Season 4 (BluRay)

The Walking Dead Season Four
The Walking Dead Season Four

[Editor’s note: The countdown to The Walking Dead Season Five concludes! The fifth season will shamble back to AMC on October 12th. To celebrate, we will feature a  review of each season leading up to the 5th season premiere. We wish to thank Mark Rivera for allowing us to reprint his TWD reviews from his Genreonline site! Today we look at Season Four!]

The Walking Dead: The Complete Fourth Season: 5 Disc Set

The Walking Dead from the outset tells two different location based stories a season, conveniently split at the mid-season finale with the exception of the short introductory season which basically split the locations into Atlanta, Georgia and a quarry within sight of the Atlanta skyline and culminated in a trip to the CDC where Rick Grimes is told a secret regarding the zombie plague that makes their situation all the more harrowing. The second season masquerades itself as a largely one location season, but in actuality I would argue that the highway is a major force behind the actions of the entire season. How can this be? Well it is on the highway outside Atlanta where the group first encounters a zombie heard, which is the catalyst for the search for young Sophia, whose disappearance is what drives much of the action and heartache culminating in one of the most gut wrenching emotional moments in the entire season at the mid-season finale. This in turn drives the rest of the second half of the season as the false sense of safety on the farm quickly erodes from both the inside of the group and outside as the walkers come hot on the heels of a major confrontation between characters and forces the survivors back on the road. For the road or highway is not just the source for the herds of walkers that drive the action at the beginning and then set the final curtain for the end of the series, but metaphorically the road is the place where they wanted to get back to, but are driven from and only get to return to narrowly at the end while a bit later, besides the fading fire, the survivors learn the horrible nature of the infection and the reality that everything they knew before as personified in the man made paved highways in and out of Atlanta are no longer safe. Survival will now depend on leadership and unorthodox methods.

Things get very dark for Rick Grimes
Things get very dark for Rick Grimes

The third season is the era of the “Ricktatorship” with the dichotomy set up by the brutality of this new world as played out between the doppelgangers of Rick and the Governor and the respective locations of the harsh zombie infested prison Rick’s group cleans out and attempts to call home and the illusion of a normal small American town where it appears as though the values of a common good are being fostered, but the ultimate reality of Woodbury being a trap based upon manipulation and intimidation sets up the clash of the titans and ultimately what seems on the outside as the place no one would ever want to live in and the other being ideal exchange places in a world where the balance between pragmatism and humanity are frequently at odds.

Lauren Cohan kicking zombie tail
Lauren Cohan kicking zombie tail

This leads us into the fourth season where we pretty much discover greater threats within the prison that cannot be readily seen and the final battle between the Governor and Rick sends our survivors running in different directions in search of hope whether it is faith that two lovers will be reunited, a mission to save the world, and a journey to a safe haven that of course is not what it seems. The final words of Rick Grimes at the end of the season four finale will leave viewers so pumped up for season five that they will be binge watching the first four seasons just to satiate themselves until The Walking Dead returns in October and the absolute best way to watch the fourth season of the highest rated drama in basic cable history is through watching it on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Anchor Bay Entertainment.

The five-disc Blu-ray set presents all of the fourth season episodes in beautiful full 1080p/24fps, (where available), in the (1.78:1) aspect ratio preserving the means by which the series was originally broadcast on AMC. A well mixed and aggressive lossless English Dolby TrueHD 7.1

Terminus turns out not to be the sanctuary the group had hoped for
Terminus turns out not to be the sanctuary the group had hoped for

Soundtrack brings a higher fidelity and discreetness than one has ever heard on either the television broadcasts or even digital streaming. A French Language Dolby Surround Soundtrack as well English Subtitles for the Deaf and Hearing Impaired and Spanish Language Subtitles are also encoded as options.

In addition to the exclusive to Blu-ray Dolby TrueHD 7.1 Soundtrack, extended versions of the episodes “After” and “The Grove” are only available within this Blu-ray Disc set and are not on the DVD counterparts, which are sold separately. Retrospective audio commentaries for the episodes “30 Days Without An Accident”, “Internment”, “After”, “Still”, and “The Grove” feature the participation of Executive Producer and Showrunner Scott M. Gimple, Effects Make-Up Supervisor and Director Greg Nicotero, Co-Executive Producer Denise Huth, Director Julius Ramsay, Writer Angela Kang, and series Stars Scott Wilson, Danai Gurira, Emily Kinney, Norman Reedus, and for the first time viewing a completed episode of the series he is the lead in, Andrew Lincoln. There are actually two retrospective audio commentaries for “Still” with Emily Kinney participating in one and Norman Reedus participating separately on another. The average episode length is between 42 and 43 minutes while the average exclusive extended versions of the two select episodes run approximately 48 minutes each.

All of the bonus video features are on disc five and they include 16 Inside The Walking Dead featurettes and 16 Making of The Walking Dead featurettes as well, unfortunately these can only be viewed individually. There is no “Play All” feature for them. The rest of the extra value materials include a short regarding how the series draws inspiration from the comic (6:07), a short focusing on Actor Scott Wilson and his character of Hershel (7:59) and another focusing on Actor David Morrissey and his portrayal of The Governor (8:43), and a look at a college class with multiple lecturers including a mathematician, a physicist, public health specialist, psychologist and sociologist focusing on the science behind The Walking Dead (5:31). A look at the KNB EFX (18:20) as well as a featurette focusing on Rick’s journey in the season (8:18) and a reel of eight deleted scenes that can be viewed either individually or in succession (9:14) wrap up the bonus features on disc five.

Two 32 second spots for The Walking Dead and Comic Book Men respectively precede the main menu on disc one. Within the BD case is an insert containing a limited time only redeemable code for an Ultraviolet Digital Copy of The Walking Dead: Season Four and an insert filled with advertisements for Walking Dead related merchandise.

The Walking Dead: The Complete Fourth Season is available on Blu-ray Disc at retailers on and offline courtesy of Anchor Bay Entertainment. The fifth season of The Walking Dead will premiere on AMC in October of 2014.

Check out the trailer for season five: