The Wide Game by Michael West: Top-Notch Terror

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Author Michael West has exceeded himself on this re-release of his first novel, The Wide Game. When this book was originally published it was only 249 pages long and had (presumably) a huge amount cut by the publishing house. Weighing in at a full 395 pages you get a lot of bang for your bucks in this Scare-ground ride of a book.

I will admit to being a huge fan-boy of Mr West’s work since “discovering” him on Goodreads. He has leapt onto the shelf of my favourite authors and will no doubt remain there. I first read Cinema of Shadows and after getting hooked on his writing style and the type stories he wrote, I started devouring everything I could read by the man.

There is not a doubt in my mind that Michael West will become as popular and as renown as Stephen King. There is a point in the book that is an apparent nod to King’s Pet Sematary and quite possibly to Salem‘s Lot. Not to mention a big “wink” to Children of the Corn. He definitely has that same “cinematic” touch that KIng has perfected over the years and Michael is the only other writer who can startle me so much.

He is that good.

The Wide Game introduces us to Paul Rice who has returned with his wife of six years, and their two children, to his childhood home of Harmony, Indiana for his ‘Class of 88’ high school reunion. Unfortunately for Paul this will not be a loving walk down memory lane. It will be a nightmarish “reliving” of the terrifying 1988 Wide Game.

The Wide Game is based on local Indian customs. The indigenous tribe in the Harmony area were called (oddly enough) Miami Indians and they were the “bringers of the corn” to Harmony. The game is a race through the corn fields that surround the town. Each year the Senior Class pays a fee to enter the race. Who ever wins the race (the finishing line is a flooded quarry) gets the “pot” and this year it is a thousand dollars.

Amazingly the Wide Game has a bloody history. Previous contestants have died or killed themselves. Or vanished. Despite the infamy connected to the game high school students participate in the race every year.

We get to meet a young (and old) Robby Miller, who we’ve met before in other Harmony books.  His high school years were split between school and working part-time as a paramedic for the towns fire department. We also meet Deidra, Paul’s old flame and first love. We follow the class and the main participants of the game and watch as the events spiral out of control and culminate in a horror filled night of demonic scares and death.

Paul has lived with the ghosts of his classmates deaths and a love for Deidra that has never gone away. He must face his past;  his demons and Deidra.

Michael West has once again taken us to Harmony, Indiana and scared the bejeezus out of his faithful readers. The action moves with all the deadly purpose of a runaway steam train. A train that is full of menace, death, demons, and fear. Like his other books, I could not stop reading this tale and at times I gripped the edges of the book with white knuckles while my eyes raced down the page. I can also attest to the fact that this book actually instigated a nightmare while I was reading about Paul and his classmates.

If you have not encountered Mr West’s superior horror fiction, I implore you to do so. Right now.

This is a full 5 star stunner of a book.

Author Michael West and a Colony Bay resident.
Author Michael West and a Colony Bay resident.

The Dark (2005) A Welsh Nightmare

Cover of "The Dark (2005)"

Adapted from the novel, Sheep by Simon Maginn (Stephen Massicotte wrote the screenplay) and directed by John Fawcett (Ginger Snaps, The Boys ClubThe Dark is a capable little horror film that delivers a fair amount of ‘jumps and scares.’

The Dark can also boast a capable cast, Sean Bean (Lord of the Rings Trilogy, Ronin), Maria Bello (Payback, Secret Window), Sophie Stucky (The Woman in Black, Driving Aphrodite) and Maurice Roëves (The Damned UnitedBrighton Rock).

I will say that I could have done with seeing a bit more of Sean Bean and Maurice Roëves. Bean is a brilliant actor who exudes a sort of weathered charm who is, it seems, incapable of giving a poor performance no matter what film he is in. And Roëves, who appears to have been in more films than Carter has little films,  is one of those ‘jobbing’ actors who has the ability to make you believe that he is the character he’s portraying.

The film opens with Adèlle (Maria Bello) and Sarah (Sophie Stucky) driving in the  dark Welsh countryside. Adèlle is driving and map reading and Sarah is quiet. They are looking for husband/father James’ (Sean Bean) house and are a bit lost. They stop for the night and sleep in the car.

Upon awakening  Adèlle finds that Sarah is gone from the car. Looking out her window she see’s Sarah walking around a tall, almost triangular stone near the edge of a cliff. She goes to the stone to tell Sarah it’s time to go. Sarah disappears behind the stone and when Adèlle goes around to get her, she isn’t there. As she turns in confusion to look at the car for Sarah, a white faced and scary Sarah pushes her off the cliff’s edge.

As she is pushed off the cliff Adèlle wakes up with a start, it was a dream. She looks over to see Sarah still asleep in the passenger’s seat. The car is surrounded by sheep and they find that they were near James’s house already.

Dafydd

They drive to the house reunite with James and meet Dafydd the ‘handy-man.’ In a very short time we, the audience, learn that Sarah and mum Adèlle  have not been getting on, one repeating ‘flashback’ shows  Adèlle and Sarah arguing and Sarah getting slapped by mum. We also learn that: the stone is a commemorative monument to a group of cult followers who, following their leaders teachings, jump off the cliff edge; the house was the home of the cult leader; and that there is a dark past associated with the area where James lives.

Not even one third of the way into to the film, Sarah disappears from the seaside and is presumed drowned. While James and Dafydd (Maurice Roëves) are searching for the missing Sarah with the local authorities, Adèlle (who is consumed with guilt over her fight with Sarah) concentrates on a ‘girl’ she found in the old  Abattoir. The girl is Ebril and it’s not the first time that she has traded places with the living. Sarah’s ‘death’ has enabled Ebril to come back.

For all the good things about the film, the early scares and the quick build up of ominous happenings, the last quarter of the film almost ruins it’s impact.

James and Adèlle discover Ebril

The build up is done very well. The dream at the first of the film about the cliff’s edge, the sheep crowding Sarah to the edge of another cliff and then jumping over her to commit ‘sheep suicide’ are good signposts of what we think is going to come. But after Sarah disappears we are asked to do more than ‘suspend our disbelief.’ We are asked to buy into the films back-story and completely embrace it’s complex and fantastic myth.

Combining Stephen King’s Pet Sematary and Greek mythology the film’s back-story deals with the “swapping” of lives. The cult leader lost his daughter to the waves beneath the cliffs, known as “Annwyn” (Welsh for afterlife), and the legend is that if you get someone living to voluntarily sacrifice themselves to Annwyn then the loved one you’ve lost will be returned to you.

The cult leader talks his entire flock (except for Dafydd) into committing mass suicide and he gets his daughter, Ebril ( Abigail Stone) back. But like Pet Sematary’s returning dead, Ebril has brought something back with her that isn’t Ebril. Some dark and, presumably, evil thing. The cult leader winds up killing Ebril and it is she who took Sarah. Ebril is now back and under the guise of ‘helping’ Adèlle and James causes more problems.

Adèlle, after learning of the legend, takes Ebril to the cliff’s edge to push her off and get Sarah back. James interrupts her plan. In desperation she grabs Ebril and leaps off the cliff with her.

Adèlle after the fall.

Sarah comes back, but, like Ebril did before, she brings something else with her and Adèlle is trapped in Annwyn.

Right up to the point where Adèlle figures out how to get Sarah back the film had me. I felt that the film was delivering a good blend of ominous and eerie forebodings. I had no trouble ‘suspending my disbelieve.’ Unfortunately the film lost me when it dove off into Welsh “mythology” and the story of Ebril.

Still despite the disappointing ending the film was good. I feel that the ‘over-all’ enjoyment factor makes up for it’s somewhat fantastical ending. Definitely worth a look and I still think there should have been more Sean Bean.

Perhaps I should have read the book first.

Cover of "Sheep"
Cover of Sheep