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10 Last-Minute Ebook Gifts For Under $5

December 11, 2014 2 comments

It’s time for the second gift list here at Opinions of a Wolf (see the first, 10 Non-book Gifts for Book Lovers here).  I thought with Hanukkah next week and some holiday parties already happening that it would be interesting to provide a list of cheap ebooks.  Ebooks make great last-minute gifts, as you can purchase them literally on your phone on the way to the party and have them arrive in your recipient’s email with them none the wiser that you waited until the last minute.  Since you can schedule when the gift email arrives, no one needs to know that you scheduled it only 5 minutes ago.  Ebooks are also great because you can find them for very cheap but a reader who loves ebooks doesn’t care how much the ebook cost.  A book is a book is a book!  I’m not just going to tell you a list of cheap ebooks though.  I’m also going to give you a little reader’s advisory–tell you who the book would be best for.  Without further ado, here is the list, in order of cost from least to most.

For the lover of YA who enjoys a touch of fantasy:

A bunette wearing a white dress with blue embroidery gazes at a blue pixie. The book's title and author's name are on the cover in blue and white lettering.
Initiate by Tara Maya
$0
Dindi is about to undergo her people’s initiation test and ceremony that not only welcomes her to adulthood but also will determine whether or not she is a member of the Tavaedi.  The Tavaedi are a mix of religious leader, healer, and warrior who cast magic spells by dancing.  Since Dindi can see the pixies and other fae, she thinks she has a chance.  But no one in her clan has ever successfully become a Tavaedi.  Meanwhile, an exiled warrior, Kavio, is attempting to shed his old life and the haunting of his father’s wars and his mother’s powers.  But he slowly discovers a deadly plot that brings him directly to Dindi’s initiation ceremony.
This is a unique piece of YA fantasy set in a tribal world inspired by Polynesia.  The romance is light and slow-building, and the focus is primarily on growing up and becoming an adult.  See my full review here.

For the urban fantasy reader without a lot of time:

Woman with short hair in a red shirt in profile.
Cursed by S. A. Archer
$0
London works for hire doing investigations mostly for parahumans, and her best friend is a vampire who keeps hoping she’ll consent to being turned.  Her life isn’t run-of-the-mill, but it isn’t too bad either, until one day she gets Touched by a Sidhe and finds herself sucked into the Fey world bubbling just beneath the surface of the regular one.
This fast-paced novella is perfect for the reader without a lot of time who still wants to get some urban fantasy into their day.  See my full review here.

For the lover of the style of classic scifi:
A dime sits on a black background between the title and author name, both of which are on a marble background.
The Coin by Glen Cadigan
99 cents
When Richard’s physicist professor uncle dies tragically in a plane crash and leaves him his coin collection, he is shocked to find a brand-new dime from 2012.  The only thing is, it’s 1989.  A note from his uncle states that the coin is important.  Richard thinks the answer to the mystery might be in his uncle’s personal diaries he also left him, but he’s not a physicist and can’t decipher them.  As the year 2012 approaches, Richard increasingly wonders what the coin is all about.
This novella is a fun new take on the storytelling methods of classic scifi.  The science is strong enough to be interesting but not too challenging, and the result of the mystery is surprising.  See my full review here.

For zombie fans who enjoy a touch of romance:

Brain in a bowl.
Hungry For You by A. M. Harte
$2.50
A collection of zombie-themed short stories and poetry with the twist that they all have to do with romantic relationships in some way, shape, or form.
This short story collection is different and fun simultaneously.  It will appeal to zombie pans, particularly women.  See my full review here.

For the reader of lesbian romance who loves fairy tale retellings:

Girl's hair with flowers and ribbons braided into it.
Braided: A Lesbian Rapunzel by Elora Bishop
$2.99
A lesbian retelling of Rapunzel.  Gray, a witch’s daughter, visits Zelda every day.  The witch switched Gray’s fate into Zelda, so now Zelda is the one entwined with the spirit of the tree that the people worship.  She must live on the platform and every day lower her hair for people to tie ribbons and prayers into.  Gray feels horrible guilt over their switched fates, but she’s also falling in love with Zelda.
this is a fun retelling of Rapunzel, particularly if you’re looking for a non-heteronormative slant or enjoy a more magical feel.  Note that this is part of a series entitled Sappho’s Fables, which consists of lesbian retellings of fairy tales.  The novellas may be mixed and matched.  See my full review here.

For the reader of women’s fiction with an interest in Scotland:

cover_emotional geology
Emotional Geology by Linda Gillard
$2.99
Rose is a textile artist with bipolar disorder who for years found her medication dulled her ability to work.  After a stunning betrayal that landed her in a mental hospital, she has moved to a quiet, extraordinarily rural island in Scotland in an attempt to control her illness with as little medication as possible so she may still create her art.  Her life isn’t quite as quiet as she imagined it would be, though, with a warm neighbor, Shona, who introduces her to her brother, a teacher and poet.
This is an emotional, challenging, touching read for fans of contemporary fiction with a heart.  See my full review here.

For the horror fan:

Eyes behind a beaker.Gargoyles by Alan Nayes
$2.99
Amoreena is determined to be a doctor and help people.  She’s a hard-working, scholarship student on the pre-med track in her third year of college.  Unfortunately, her single mother just got diagnosed with metastatic cancer and lost her health insurance.  With no time for a job and no money for the bills, Amoreena is grateful when she is approached by a surrogacy clinic to be a surrogate for $50,000 with payments upon successful insemination and each trimester.  But after she’s successfully inseminated, Amoreena becomes increasingly concerned that something is not quite right with her baby.
If your horror fan loves Rosemary’s Baby and is particularly freaked out by evil pregnancies, they will love this book. See my full review here.

For the lover of noir and urban fantasy:

Man in a hat standing next to a Europeanish buildingOne Death at a Time by Thomas M. Hewlett
$2.99
Jack Strayhorn is a private eye and a member of Alcoholic’s Anonymous.  Only, he’s not an alcoholic, he’s one of the vampires who meet in a secret vampire group that exists under the umbrella of AA to learn how to control their urges and feed on humans without killing them.  He’s just returned to LA, his death site that he hasn’t been back to since he had to run in 1948 after becoming a vampire.  When his current missing person case shows up dead next to a Fae politician, Jack gets dragged into a mixed-up underworld of Faes, werewolves, drugs, and a group of vampires determined to rule the world.
This is a delightful mix of urban fantasy and noir and is a strong first entry for a new series.  See my full review here.

For the reader of thrillers and fans of Gone Girl:

Title against a foggy image of a man walking in the woodsI’ll Sleep When You’re Dead by E. A. Aymar
$3.03
Tom Starks has not been the same since his wife, Renee, was brutally murdered with a baseball bat in a parking lot.  He’s been struggling for the last three years to raise her daughter, who he adopted when he married Renee.  When Renee’s killer is released after a retrial finds insufficient evidence to hold him, Tom becomes obsessed with dealing out justice himself.
This is a unique thriller, with its choice to cast the opposite of a bad-ass in the role of the main character.  This grounds the typical revenge plot into reality, lends itself to more interesting, unique plot twists, and has the interesting aspect of a flawed, nearly anti-hero main character that the reader still roots for.  See my full review here.

For readers of multi-generational family dramas and GLBTQ lit:

Road during a rainstorm.The Value Of Rain by Brandon Shire
$4.99
Charles hasn’t been home since his mother and uncle sent him away to an insane asylum at the age of fourteen after he was found in the embrace of his first love–Robert.  Now, ten years later, his mother, Charlotte, is dying, and he comes back to take his revenge.
This is one of those genre-defying books.  Shire explores the devastating effects of prejudice, hate, secrets, and lies throughout family generations, and that is something that is simultaneously universal and tragic.  See my full review here.

I hope this list helps you find a read for yourself or a gift for another.  Feel free to ask questions about any of these books or ask for recommendations for books for particular recipients in the comments!

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Book Review: The Loving Dead by Amelia Beamer

November 2, 2012 Leave a comment

Two women's faces behind a hole in a bloody door.Summary:
When Kate saves her bellydancing instructor from a random assault in the parking lot then brings her home to a party at her house full of 20-somethings, she doesn’t expect much to come of it. But before she knows it, she finds herself inexplicably attracted to her…not to mention tying her up for some BDSM.  That’s unexpected enough, but when Jamie and others turn pasty gray and start craving human flesh, Kate and her roommates find the world falling apart around them.  Thanks to an STD-style zombie plague.

Review:
Zombie erotica is its own special kind of erotica, and this is not the first of its kind that I have read.  Zombie erotica basically consists of….zombies and erotica. Also punny titles.  The title is definitely the best part of this book.  Everyone I said it to when they asked what I was reading totally cracked up.  The basic concept is rather ordinary, and the execution, while it has a few laughs, is mostly ho-hum.

Making the zombie plague an STD is a logical leap.  Many illnesses spread sexually, and often they spread before there are any visible symptoms.  In fact it’s a great way to spread an illness because of the amount of *ahem* proximity between carrier and the previously healthy person combined with the fact that people almost always will be having sex.  Toss in that the virus amps up attractiveness and/or promiscuity, and you’ve really got an epidemic.  The problem, of course, is that at some point the carriers have to actually turn into zombies.  Beamer handles this transition moderately well.  It is eventually understood that the carriers are basically irresistible crack-cocaine to the nearby uninfected, so that even if they know this person is about to turn into a zombie, they will still hook up with them.

It’s unfortunate that such a creative zombie plague is wrapped in a mostly ho-hum storyline that only becomes interesting when it becomes borderline offensive.  For the most part the story features two of the roommates in a household of 20-somethings approaching the zombie apocalypse getting separated early on, approaching the zombie apocalypse in their own way, then working to get reunited.  Michael tries to pull the household together when Kate abandons ship pretending that nothing is happening to keep her “date” with an older man that is actually more of a sugar daddy appointment.  Michael’s storyline is fairly straight-forward and believable, whereas Kate’s quickly goes off the rails.  I also am not sure that I’m a fan of the whole writing her as a huge slut who winds up having to pay for her crimes whereas Michael is the golden guy thing.  I don’t think Beamer intended it be read that way, but it certainly does not come across as sex positive.

The other part of the storyline that bothered me is that there is a rape. Now. I am not against rape as part of the plot in anything but erotica.  It is a crime that happens and pretending like it doesn’t happen is bizarre. But rape in erotica is an entirely different ballgame.  Erotica is all about turning on the reader, and I do not condone using a very real rape to turn a reader on.  Clearly two consenting adults can agree to act out a scene of non-consent if they wish, but within the book, this is not a consenting scene of non-consent.  There is no prior discussion, no safeword. The character is definitely raped.  To me it is no different from tossing in a pedophilia scene. It is an awful, heinous crime, and it shouldn’t be running around turning people on.  When a book’s entire point is to turn people on, it should definitely not be all up in my erotica.

All of that said, I must still admit that the book is well-written.  It is engaging with a unique plot.  I truly feel it is a book that each reader must decide upon for themselves, but I do hope that readers will come into it better informed than I was, knowing about the questionable sex positivity and the rape content.

2.5 out of 5 stars

Source: Amazon

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Book Review: Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion (Audiobook narrated by Kevin Kenerly)

April 16, 2012 5 comments

Living hand in dead one.Summary:
R is a zombie, and he remembers nothing about his life before he was one–except that his name starts with the letter R.  He and his group of the other living dead inhabit an old abandoned airport and are ruled by the bonies.  They hunt the living not just for the food, but also for the memories that come from ingesting their brains.  It’s like a drug.  One day when he’s out on a hunt, R eats the brain of a young man who loves a young woman who is there, and R steps in to save her.  It is there that an unlikely love story begins.

Review:
Now that I have a new job I decided to stop going through the rigamarole that is finding something you actually want to read as an audiobook in the public library and subscribe to Audible, especially since I always have my kindle with me anyway.  I decided to choose audiobooks to read from the bottom of my wishlist, so everything you’ll be seeing on here (unless it was free on Audible) was put on my wishlist a long time ago.  Half the time I couldn’t remember why it wound up there.  That was the case here.  I mean; I’m assuming it was there for the zombies, but I basically had no other idea about it heading in.  This is partly why my mind was blown, so if you want a similar experience I’m telling you to go get yourself a copy right this instant!  Vamoose!  For those who need more convincing, though, please do read on.

Perhaps surprisingly, I have read zombie love stories before, so I wasn’t expecting too many new or particularly engaging ideas.  This book is overflowing with them though.  Everything from zombies getting high on other people’s memories to getting to see both the zombie and living side of the war to the concept of what the war is ultimately about to even what a zombie is was all brand-new.  And it pretty much all makes sense in the world Marion has set up and is engaging.  I could not “put the book down.”  I listened to it in every spare second I had.  Nothing went the way I predicted and yet it all made complete sense.

R is far more complex than what you’d expect from a zombie, even before his symbolic awakening.  Julie is everything you would want from a heroine.  She’s pretty, smart, and she says fuck!  She can hold her own but is still emotional and vulnerable.  She’s exactly what any artistic, strong woman would be in a zombie apocalypse.  Even the more minor characters are well-rounded, and there is the racial diversity one would expect from a zombie apocalypse in a big city.

Alas, the narration was not quite as amazing as the story.  Although Kenerly does a very good job, sometimes he fails to convey all of the emotions going on in the scenes or doesn’t switch characters quite quick enough.  Don’t get me wrong, it was very good and didn’t detract from the story at all, but I also don’t feel that it added a ton to it.

This is a book that I know I will want to read again, and I may even need to buy an ebook or print version just to do so in a whole nother way next time.  It is an engaging new look at a zombie apocalypse that reads more as a dystopia than post-apocalyptic.  Anyone who needs restored faith in the ability of humanity to fix where we’ve gone wrong should absolutely give this book a shot.

5 out of 5 stars

Source: Audible

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Book Review: My Life as a White Trash Zombie by Diana Rowland

October 3, 2011 9 comments

Punk girl with blood and guts hanging out of her mouth.Summary:
Angel wakes up in the hospital to discover she was found naked and overdosed on drugs on the the side of the road in her small town after a fight with her boyfriend, Randy.  Someone mysteriously drops off medicinal energy drinks along with a note that she must work loyally for at least a month at a job newly acquired for her at the city morgue.  A high school drop-out living with her alcoholic and periodically abusive father, Angel decides that she should seize this opportunity.  It certainly helps that pills and alcohol no longer seem to do anything for her.  As her oddly gloppy energy drinks start to run out, though, Angel finds herself having cravings for something found in the morgue–brains.

Review:
I bought the kindle edition of this book the instant it came out as a birthday present to myself for two reasons.  First, the title is amazing.  Second, look at that cover!  Yeah, the whole thing just screamed my named.  My instincts were right, too.

It’s been a long time since I read a book that hits all the elements I love in literature like this one–urban fantasy style horror, a setting that rings familiar to me, a completely relatable main character, and a fun love interest.  It’s a world that’s simultaneously familiar and special, which is what makes urban fantasy fun.  Angel’s world of trailers, beer cans, and nothing to do reminds me a lot of my childhood growing up in Vermont.  On the other hand, Angel has cravings for brains.  And she somehow manages to keep this a secret in a small town, certainly a monumental task.

Angel’s problems are a combination or fantastical ones (must find brains to survive) and completely real world ones (a history of an abusive mother and an alcoholic father).  Angel has a lot to overcome even before she gets zombified, but the zombification adds an element of distance that allows tough things to be talked about without that dragging down dullness often found in literary fiction.

Rowland reworks the zombie trope without completely removing the essentials of a zombie.  Angel can function in day to day life as long as she has brains once every two days or so.  If she doesn’t have them though, her senses slowly dull and she gradually turns into the lurching monster simply desiring brains that we all know from the classic zombie movies.  This really works, because it allows Angel to be a part of society, yet still be the monster we’ve all grown to know and love.

That said, I will say that I am getting a bit tired of the monsters surviving by working in a morgue trope.  I wish Rowland had come up with something a bit more creative for how Angel gets her hands on brains than that.  It’s starting to seem like the staff of the morgues in all of urban fantasy consist entirely of monsters and sociopaths.  Thinking more outside the box would have made me love the book instead of really liking it.

Overall, this zombie book gave me thrills, chills, and laughs galore, but it also brought me close to tears.  It’s genre fiction with a heart, and I highly recommend it to anyone willing to see zombies (or white trash) in a whole new light.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Amazon

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Book Review: Lucky Stiff by Tonia Brown

August 29, 2011 2 comments

Voodoo doll and candle.Summary:
Peter’s just a young 18 on his first spring break to New Orleans with his friends when he accidentally takes ecstasy instead of sleeping pills and dies.  His friends, terrified, drag his corpse off to a local voodoo priestess who raises him with her special kind of magic–tantric magic.  Somehow this method of raising Peter combined with the time of year makes Peter into a very special kind of zombie.  One who can feed off of female orgasms instead of human flesh if he so chooses.

Review:
In case it’s not abundantly clear from the summary, this is an erotica novel.  A zombie erotica novel.  Frankly if you’re not grossed out by vampire undead sex, then this book shouldn’t bother you at all.  It’s not like Peter decays (don’t worry, Brown takes care of that part logically).  So it’s less sex with a decaying corpse and more sex with an undead dude.

Brown’s concept is hilarious and well-executed.  Peter is a zombie with a permanent hard-on who can’t come but needs female orgasms to feed off of to keep him from going all cold-blooded killer.  Um possibly the best female-friendly set-up for a paranormal erotica ever?  Since he died a virgin, he starts off with the Madam learning how to pleasure a lady for five years, then he gets booted out to go find his own way and become a pick-up artist.  He’s completely focused on and fascinated with the female orgasm.  You might even call it a fetish. 😉

It doesn’t matter if I can’t come as long as I can be a part of it when you do. (page 15)

On top of the fun and varied sex scenes though there’s lots of well-conceived plot.  Peter has issues he has to deal with.  He basically has to grow the fuck up enough to be able to handle a monogamous relationship and recognize real love for what it is.  For instance, at first he thinks he’s in love with the Madam, but she tells him:

Sex is just sex. Sometimes it’s really good, true, but it’s nothing in da grand scheme a’ things. We may have fucked, but we never made love.  (page 87)

In other words, he only thinks he loves her because he lost his virginity to her.  He needs to go out and learn what real love is.  That combined with navigating morality and your faith (he becomes a voodoo convert loyal to La Croix) are at the center of the plot.

Brown also drops in various witticisms that exhibit wisdom but are simultaneously hilariously dripping in paranormality:

The trick to being undead, much like being monogamous, is keeping everything fresh. (page 33)

Bits like that kept me laughing out loud whenever I wasn’t caught up in the erotica.

Alas, sometimes the dialogue is a bit stiff (haha, sorry, couldn’t resist).  Ahem, in all seriousness, sometimes the dialogue felt a bit forced and unnatural.  Similarly, I was bothered that, although Peter clearly is bisexual (he makes multiple comments about wanting to try things out with men in addition to women), for some reason male orgasms are too violent or pointed or whatever for him to be able to feed off of them.  Um, I’m sorry, but this isn’t logical.  At the very least it would make that if Peter gave head to a guy it would feed him, yes?  It felt like Brown wanted to be edgy by making Peter almost bi, but refused to really go all the way.  A great example of this is that Peter tries sex with a dude once, but only in the context of a threesome, and it’s the only sex scene not written as erotica.  It’s simply briefly mentioned in past tense.  I really wish Brown had gone all the way and made Peter bi.  It’d be interesting to see that here.  Alternatively, to just make Peter totally straight would’ve been fine too.  This fine walking of the line rubs me the wrong way though.

Overall this is a fun erotica with a unique storyline that manages to make zombies sexy with a heavy dash of voodoo.  I recommend it to those who love zombies and erotica fairly equally.  I’m betting, knowing the people that I know, that this is not as small a portion of the population as some may think.

4 out of 5 stars

Source:  Amazon

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Movie Review: Dawn of the Dead (1978)

Wounded head rising from the horizon.Summary:
The zombie uprising has struck, and chances of survival are looking dire.  Two American soldiers, a newscaster, and a helicopter pilot go on the lam looking for a place to hole up and hopefully survive.  They find it in a classic suburban mall, but how long will they be able to hold off the hordes–not just of zombies, but of other survivors?

Review:
This Romero classic is the follow-up to Night of the Living Dead (review).  Some similar themes may be found–holding off both the zombies and fear–but new ones exist as well, such as the danger presented by groups of other survivors.  Perhaps most interestingly, the question of how much does this apocalypse create a new world and how much of the old world should be held onto.

The beginning sequence in this film is less strong than in the previous one.  It is jumbled and confusing as we land right in the middle of the uprising, as opposed to at the beginning of it.  Everyone is talking at once, and it takes the viewer a bit to get acclimated.  Additionally, the scene in which the soldiers are introduced is confusing.  Plot-wise, it makes perfect sense, but logically, it makes no sense why the people the soldiers are going after are refusing to kill the zombies.  It does not seem like it should even be a problem, and yet it is.  This hesitance at killing zombies as if they were still people is present throughout the film.  Perhaps this reflects the ideals of the 1970s, but as a modern-day woman, I was completely unable to relate.

After the opening scenes, however, the story quickly picks up.  The four main characters are all well-rounded and interact well together.  Moving the plot to the mall was a brilliant choice on Romero’s part.  Much could be said about the commentary on the zombie movements through a shopping center, relentlessly wandering, up and down, around and around, surrounded by consumerism.  In fact, after the opening scenes, the entire film seems to be a commentary on consumerism.  Characters get into trouble when they want too much or try for too much.  In any case, the scenes of zombies wandering through the mall are incredible and clearly became iconic for a reason.

The concept of being able to have fun in the middle of a zombie uprising shows up here.  The characters run around the mall, blasting zombies, looting, learning to shoot, and more, and mostly seem to have fun doing so.  The distress mostly comes from boredom and feeling trapped, not so much from the zombies themselves.  This theme is certainly its own special section of zombie stories.  There are the stories that focus on the virus and the being eaten alive, and then there are the stories that focus on being trapped.

The special effects are dismal.  In fact, they are worse than in a black and white film because in color, it’s easy to see that the colors are off.  Obvious face-paint is used on the zombies.  Incredibly fake-looking blood that flows too slowly is present throughout the film.  One does wonder why they couldn’t at least get realistic-looking blood.

Overall, although the reasons this became iconic are abundantly evident, I still did not fall in love with it.  The plot was rather meandering, followed-up by a cliche ending, and there were portions that were just too illogical to suspend disbelief.  It is a fun watch for fans of zombies curious to see how they have developed over time, and it is those people to whom I recommend it.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Netflix

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Movie Review: Night of the Living Dead (1968)

February 1, 2011 5 comments

Black and white images of horror.Summary:
Dead bodies start inexplicably returning to life.  The horde slowly bears down on an old farmhouse full of a random group of survivors.  The night wears on, and eventually only one person is left.

Review:
George Romero’s classic is essentially what jump-started the cult fascination with zombies.  It established a lot of the unofficial rules for zombies–you have to destroy their brain to destroy them, they’re slow moving, etc…  I guess its status as a zombie classic left me with certain expectations.  Some were met; others were not.

It is filmed in black and white and makes excellent use of shadows.  The soundtrack is exactly what is to be expected from an old horror movie, and honestly some modern horror movies could learn a thing or two from it.  The collection of a bunch of strangers in one house to fight off the hoarde is now considered to be a trope, but it was interesting to see the collection of characters assembled by George Romero.  There’s the terrified woman, the cowardly man, the brave intelligent man, the brave man who’s a follower, and the person who’s been bitten.  The decade certainly shows in the characterization as none of the women are the kick-ass female character we’ve come to expect in modern times.  That was a bit disappointing.

I was completely shocked to see that the role of the last survivor went to a black actor.  This was incredibly progressive for the 1960s, and he was truly there as a man who just happened to be black, not the requisite black guy.  It was refreshing and pleasant to see, particularly in such an old movie.  ‘The zombies though, just didn’t look like zombies.  They were rather gaunt, but none of the decay or general zombie-look we’re used to in modern movies was present.  Also, when they say slow-moving, they mean slow-moving.  I’m pretty sure the actors were mostly moving in place for a lot of the shots.  That was a bit too slow-moving for my taste.  Another interesting factoid, the word “zombie” is never used once in the movie.  The dead.  The living dead.  The arisen dead.  But not zombie.

By far the most frightening scene and one that is repeated in zombie movies to this day is when the arms reach through the boarded windows at the people inside attempting to hold the boards on.  The clawing hands and moans of the undead sent shivers down my spine.  The movie is worth viewing for that scene alone.

Overall, viewing this classic it is understandable why it came to be one.  Although certain aspects of zombies have been improved upon with time, the ground-work is evident here.  I highly recommend this film to any fans of the horror genre or those interested in the presence of 1960s culture and mores in film.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Netflix

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