Parallels (2015) Failed Fox Pilot has Stephen King Overtones

Poster for Parallels
Despite the fact that Parallels is a failed Fox pilot with Stephen King overtones, the film released by Fox Digital Studio, is entertaining. It is an interesting look at the question of parallel worlds and the people who inhabit them. With such an open end plot device, it should have been a sure thing but apparently Fox, after their initial enthusiasm, got cold feet and released the pilot as a science fiction/mystery film.

There is good news for those who have seen the film and liked it, Netflix is apparently thinking of taking over this series that never was. Of course the last word on the show being picked up by the streaming service was back in March 2015 so it could still be that this film remains a one-off.

Directed, and co written, by Christopher Leone (Suit up, Wolfpack of Reseda) and starring a cast of relatively unknown upcoming actors, the pilot has a hook not too dissimilar from that of the Stephen King/Peter Straub novels The Talisman and its sequel Black House which told the story of Jack Sawyer whose own father is a traveler, much like the dad in Parallels, who was murdered by his business partner.

In the first book, Jack learns that he is a “oner;” a version of himself that has no equivalent in other worlds. This could be Ronan Carver (Mark Hapka) who learns that in at least one world he does not exist. Of course in the King/Straub books, except for the “oners” when one travelled to another parallel world they did not physically make the journey. Instead they inhabit the mind of their twinner.

Of course the biggest difference between the two tales is that The Talisman and its sequel are fantasy and Parallels is squarely in science fiction territory. Some of the plot seems very familiar, or as Polly (Constance Wu) puts it, has a sense of “deja vu,” is the introduction of a nuclear bomb which destroys one version of the world, or at least the town the Carvers and their little troop travel to.

The film follows Ronan, his sister Beatrix (Jessica Rothe), family friend Harold, aka Harry (Eric Jungmann) and, later, Polly; who comes from another world. At the start of the film, Ronan is getting beaten in a cage fighting bout and afterward gets a call from his elusive and estranged father telling him to go home immediately and then head to a building.

Once he arrives home, he finds Beatrix there having received the same message. They discover their father’s traveling bag in the trunk of his car and meeting up with Harold, who is desperate to get away from his mother, the three go to the building.

The story moves at a steady pace and there are enough twists and turns to keep the viewer’s interest piqued. The introduction of Polly, who reveals that the ball shaped item Ronan found in his dad’s bag comes from the “core” Earth, serves a dual purpose, she seems so be the fly in the ointment. She also explains that despite what must be an indefinite amount of parallel earths, there is one that is the original or “core.”

Leone does a great job on the pilot and he will hopefully get a chance to continue helming, and writing, this interesting science fiction tale of earth parallels with a nod to Stephen King. The news that Netflix may be producing the show after Fox apparently dropped it, is not so surprising. Other shows, that made it past the pilot stage, (like Longmire, for instance) have been picked up by the streaming service and will continue as per usual.

Regardless of whether the show will actually be picked up or not, the pilot as film, is entertaining and worth watching. This one is a 4.5 out of 5, half a point off for a little too much deja vu.

Burning the Middle Ground by L Andrew Cooper A Battle for Control

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Written by L Andrew Cooper and published by Blackwyrm Publishing, Burning Middle Ground is a supernatural cum horror cum occult novel. Featuring a religious zealot that will make you think immediately of that Westboro bunch, the book disturbs as much as it scares.

The book’s prologue deals with the murder/suicide of and entire family sans one, Brian. After the events on this tragic and horrible day, Brian doesn’t speak for an entire year. When he is released out into the community and he decides to move into his old house, feelings are mixed in the tiny burg.

The story is about small town USA and it’s a town split by two very different Christian factors. Investigative internet reporter Ronald Glassner goes to the small town of Kenning, Georgia to cover Brian’s return and besides fall for one of the local sheriff’s deputies, he gets caught up in a battle of wills between two churches. One of which is practising a religion older than Christianity and it’s very powerful.

Once Ronald arrives in the small town, strange things begin to happen. Animals run wild, impossible events become common place and people are acting very weird.

All the characters in Cooper’s book are likeable. I felt like I could identify with each and every one and they did a brilliant job of not just representing the denizens of the southern hemisphere of America, but they also had enough quirks and foibles to seem real.

Ronald has the acerbic wit and a sort of radar that helps him to sense when things are not right. He also tends to joke too much when he is stressed. As the third person narrator of the story he is charming, funny, scared and sensible.

The books main “bogey-man” Deacon Jake Warren is an outsider who has made Kenning his home and base of operation. He soon enlists the aid of Reverend Michael Cox a local “fire and brimstone, eye for an eye” man of the cloth. Soon Cox’s wife and the local sheriff are part of his plans for Kenning as well.

In the opposite camp you have Jeanne Harper who runs a church that practices a more peaceful and loving religion she counts, among her flock, Brian and his girl friend Melanie and a small handful of locals who don’t like what Rev Cox preaches. Especially as it was one of his sermons that appeared to have set off the stream of events at the beginning of the book.

With imagery that would not look out of place in a Stephen King or Peter Straub book, Cooper has created a world that, despite its nightmarish aspect, is very cinematic and easy to picture in your mind as you encounter it. I became quite attached to all the main characters and as they struggle to the conclusion of this story, I felt bad when bad things happened to them.

This is obviously the beginning of what promises to be a brilliant series and I cannot wait to see what Mr Cooper has in store for the survivors of Kenning.

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The Secret of Crickley Hall by James Herbert: The Devil’s in Devon

Considering that this book was originally published in 2006, it has not lost the ability to entertain and enthral. I first read it back then and enjoyed it immensely. While waiting for Herbert’s next book to find its way into my hands (The Ghosts of Sleuth) which is another David Ash story, I decided to re-read this tale of terror set in the Devon seaside.

I have been a huge James Herbert fan since his “pulp” days. Pulp meaning stories that scared and revolted, sometimes at the same time; Herbert’s speciality back then was delivering his horror with all the power of a solid right cross. Then while you were reeling from that first punch, he’d swiftly follow-up with an uppercut. As Stephen King put it in his 1981 analysis of horror Danse Macabre: “Herbert likes to grab the reader and scream in his or her face if he needs to…” Anyone reading his earlier works would agree.

The Rats, Domain, Lair, The Fog, The Dark, et al; all scared the crap out of me and made me a fan for life.

Herbert then started changing his style of horror. He started slyly mixing in sophisticated touches with an enviable élan. The first book (in my opinion) where he deviated ever so slightly from his standard formula was his first David Ash book Haunted. The scream in your face scares were still there, but the right-cross was delivered by a gloved fist. The bare-knuckle crunch was softened and the story benefited from it.

Magic Cottage followed this new formula and Herbert has never looked back. I will say that I do miss the old books with the almost overabundance of gore and the constant shattering of social taboos that was his speciality back then. But not enough to turn my back on an author that I rank right up there with the illustrious Stephen King, Ramsey Campbell, Peter Straub, and Richard Laymon.

The Secret of Crickley Hall tells the story of the tragic Caliegh family. American Gabe Caliegh and his English wife Eve have lost their son. When an exhausted Eve took their son Cameron and sister Cally to a park in London, Eve fell asleep; when she woke up, Cally was screaming and Cam was gone. Gabe, Eve; their 12-year-old daughter Loren and Cally all go to the Devon seaside to a village called Harbour Bay to live in Crickley Hall for a year. A sort of “time-out” for the family while the anniversary of their missing son and brother grows nearer; unfortunately they could not have picked a worse place to have a break from the stress of their grief.

Crickley Hall was the centre of a WWII scandal that had been hushed up by the authorities. Eleven evacuee children drowned amid rumours of mistreatment by their strict “Christian” guardian and his sister. A dank, dark house that still reflects the pain and horror of those long ago victims; a place never occupied for very long because of its oppressive atmosphere; where Gabe and his family will end up fighting for their lives when the past makes its startling revelations known.

Like a fine wine, James Herbert doesn’t just get older, he gets better. He is still adept at delivering that one-two punch that will shake you and make you look uneasily over your shoulder while reading his prose. When Herbert was younger he was a Heavy Metal enthusiast and on every interview I ever saw him do, he wore the uniform of the Metal Rock fan; a black t-shirt, blue jeans and long hair. His books at that time could be said to be the  literary equivalent of the Heavy Metal rock genre, hoarsely screaming horrific images through his writing. If that is the case, then he has learned to include the backdrop of symphonic and operatic arias which help his “rock” style of writing reach sublime heights of fear, terror and a creepy uneasiness.

If you haven’t read this book keep an eye out for it at book stalls and shops. It’s a damned good read and when the climax occurs, you’ll wipe your sweaty forehead and release a sigh of satisfied relief. The BBC did an adaptation of the book for television, which I have not seen, but as usual I would recommend reading the book first. A real 5 star read

The author James Herbert showing off his OBE.

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