Friday, January 11, 2013

Book Review 2012 #8 - Paul Magrs' Hell's Bells

Hell's Belles (Brenda and Effie Book 4) by Paul Magrs
Book Provided by Headline Publishing
Published by: Headline Publishing
Publication Date: 2009
Format: Paperback, 448 Pages
Rating: ★★★★
To Buy
Whitby is abuzz. The approach to Halloween usually means the town is deep in preparations for the annual Goth Weekend. But this year brings even more excitement. Whitby is to be the location for the remake of Get Thee Inside Me, Satan, which will film it's climax at the ruined abbey on Halloween night. The movie that was filmed in the sixties and has been wiped off the face of the earth because of the curse that lives within the film. Death and destruction have followed in this films wake. Yet one day at the local thrift store, Penny, Robert's new assistant up at the Hotel Mirramar, finds a copy of the film on DVD. How is this possible? This film should not exist in any form. Penny can't help herself. The coincidence is too much and she buys the film. She needs to see the original, see if it's true that the film holds pure evil, see if it's true that the star, Karla Sorenson, hasn't aged a day as she readies to film the remake, see if she, Penny, can survive watching it with her sanity intact.

Meanwhile, Brenda has been off gallivanting with her husband Frank, but she is returning for Goth Weekend. Her B and B will be filled to the rafters. Though she knows in her water that the filming in Whitby is bad news when she confirms that Karla Sorenson is there. Brenda was there, in the creepy quarry in Wales, all those years ago when the original film released evil into the world. And Karla remembers her. With mysterious arrivals in town and evil afoot, the film's curse looks as if it could bring all of Whitby to hell. Unless Brenda and Effie with their posse can bring a stop to Karla and her enrapturing ways as well as the mysterious Brethren.

Their is something primal about horror films. Everyone remembers their first real horror film that brought nightmares for years to come. That might still give you nightmares! The mere mention of the film brings chills to this day. For me it was The Legend of Hell House. Britain dominated the making of low budget B grade horror films in the sixties and seventies, Hammer Films being the most prolific and well known. While The Legend of Hell House wasn't a Hammer production, it had all the hallmarks of British cinema at the height of horror; a few "name" stars with Roddy McDowell and Michael Gough, a house steeped in evil where no one makes it out alive, and implied psychological horror versus too much on-screen gore.

I can still remember the morning I first watched the film. It was August the second, 1996 or 1997. Our house had just been tpeed, with over 167 rolls of toilet paper. It was a grey day, where it feels like it's constantly twilight or dawn out, you just can't tell; wet and humid, where your clothes stick to you no matter what you do. We spent hours and hours cleaning. When we cleaned up as much as we could, I was so exhausted I just came in the house and sat on the couch and turned on AMC. The Legend of Hell House was just starting. I have never been the biggest fan of scary movies, but that day I stayed my hand on the remote. I was a fan of Roddy McDowell and Gayle Hunnicutt, who I loved on Dallas was also in it. I don't know if it was just the exhaustion or the subject matter, but this movie freaked me out beyond belief. Weird possessions, mysterious deaths, nothing really scary, just the feeling of the whole. The movie come through my mental barriers and has forever haunted me.

Therefore, a film, albeit imaginary, but of the same school, thought to be actually possessed by the devil doesn't seem that far fetched to me as I think back to that fateful day in August. Paul was able to use his story to tap into my preexisting fears to create a delicious and scary read. While I was curled up in a comfy chair on a hot August day, I was also on that lumpy couch with my clothes plastered to me watching The Legend of Hell House for the first time. While I've enjoyed and loved Paul's writing in the previous Brenda and Effie books, I had never felt so connected with his writing as I was with Hells Belles. You could feel his love of this tacky genre and it made the book shine. He created something magical and luckily I was just drawn into the pages of a book, not into a quarry in Wales in the sixties.

Everything else was just icing on the cake. The introduction of new characters, from Penny Danby (that last name is so going to be important), the run away housewife Goth, to Michael, the mysterious Irish lad, to Karla the unaging vamp and the thrift store ladies who have other things in mind than "saving the kiddies." The final reveal of Mrs. Claus's secret, which has been building up and hinted at for quite some time, to the return of someone instrumental to Brenda's past. All of this is just extra wonderfulness on top of this horror movie framework. Next please!


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