Archive for October, 2018

Under the Shadow (2016)

October 31, 2018

I had two best friends throughout my tenure at Friends School of Baltimore (12 whole years). One was a goofy yet deep artist who taught me about comic books and the other one was a more serious guy who was the first to teach me about cars and pro-wrestling. That second one was also a child of divorce who had been raised Muslim and Christian. When I was in elementary school (my school called it ‘Lower School’), we would spend lunch and recess running around a vast playground. I distinctly remember that one day, my friend began to tell me about the djinn. He told me that they were not anything like genies, granting wishes, they were evil spirits created by Satan and not to be trusted. He seemed absolutely certain that these spirits were real and that we could see one in America. Later, we were reading comic books in his room during a sleepover and his mother called up to look out the window at the Police helicopter flying by. I moved to comply and he blocked my path. He told me that it could be a trick and that Satan could be mimicking his mother’s voice in order to trick us into looking. It frightened me deeply.

I live in Baltimore, Maryland in the United States of America. Things might feel bad right now (as of 2018) but they are nowhere near the experience of areas in the Middle East. For most of my life, I have lived in a big city with a notoriously high crime rate. Almost every day I see reports of people getting shot or shot at in the Baltimore area. People jokingly call the place I live ‘Bodymore, Murderland” which is probably one of the greatest examples of dark humor I know of. However, only once in recent US history have we actually been attacked by a foreign power. In countries like Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Israel, and others, things are very different. We do not get bombs dropped on us in this country. The idea of sitting in my apartment in Baltimore on the east coast of the USA and worrying about a military accidentally dropping a bomb on me is unthinkable. Yet, that is a valid fear in other countries. The idea that you could be obliterated because of political differences between your nation and another is something politicians use as a political tool in the US but has not really been a strong possibility for decades. The concept itself is scary.

Once again, we have a horror movie with fabulous acting. It is a pattern that horror movies with a more psychological bent have good acting while gorefests usually have bad acting. Of course, there are exceptions but that is the general rule that I have observed. Narges Rashidi plays the lead character, a mother tired of being oppressed by the Iranian government especially considering she was attending medical school before the war. She is joined by her daughter played by Avin Manshadi who is a good little girl in the middle of a war. Most of the movie deals with the interactions between the mother, her daughter, and the supernatural. This is why this movie is often called ‘The Persian Babadook’. Like in that movie, the interactions between mother accentuate the experiences with the supernatural, making things tenser. The movie also does show a lot of slice of life scenarios in a war-torn Iran which is something we do not often see here in the US.

The camera work is great in this movie. There is a lot of it that reminds me of Veronica, The Haunting of Hill House, and The Shining. Great shots help make a great movie and this movie definitely captures that ‘every frame is a painting’ quality. Every shot really means something in this movie which feels rare these days. The movie does a lot with camera tricks, editing, and practical effects to make things scary. I have to admire a movie that does not have to rely on elaborate CGI, monster makeup, or puppets to make things scary. Like comedy, horror is all in the timing and a big part of that is editing which is on point in this movie. The movie draws on maternal fears for a child’s safety and self-doubt to create a horror story almost entirely in the mind. The pacing is great, starting slow but speeding up almost exponentially as the movie goes on.

Overall, I loved the movie. When it started, it was set on English which sounded really weird because the voice over sounded a bit dispassionate. I quickly switched it over to the original Persian so I could get the full breadth of emotions. Your mileage may vary, of course. The movie is very gripping and really made me feel for both the mother and daughter. The emotional tension got me good and keyed up for the supernatural bits. I love this direction in horror just as much as the cheesy Freddy stuff I crow about in this blog. However, I feel movies like this will have a more lasting emotional impact.


The Outing (aka The Lamp) (1987)

October 31, 2018

My first impulse is to think of museums as great, comforting places. I prize knowledge so much that I find it hard to separate that love from the actual locations where it is stored. I spent a lot of time in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in Manhattan when I lived in New York City. I loved seeing the artwork up close. When I went to England and France with my mother in my teens, we went to the Louvre, the Tate, and the Musee d’Orsay and I loved seeing the artwork so close. However, I also think of being in those museums and them triggering my social anxiety. Anytime I was looking at an exhibit and people would walk up, my inner anxiety would speak up. “Am I in their way? Do they want to be alone? Do I look like a weirdo?” I also remember going to a dinosaur museum down in South Carolina as a kid. I remember being terrified because they had the dinosaurs moving and making sounds. I have a vivid imagination and as a kid that made certain places scary or intimidating. A T. Rex skeleton became daunting, a stuffed rattlesnake worried me, and wax figures were especially terrifying. When you are younger, the line between fact and fiction are emotionally blurry even if it is intellectually solid. Even when you are an adult, that line can unexpectedly blur at the most inopportune moments.

I have been in locations after they have closed. It is pretty creepy. I used to work in a regional theater in New Jersey, doing lights, sound, and props. It was a small staff so I often was left to my own devices to work alone in the building. This building was an ancient theater that had been converted to a senior center and then back into a theater. Being alone in the dark in one of those places is very different from being alone in the dark at home. At home, there are windows so you are never truly in the dark. In that old theater, when the lights are out, it was completely and utterly dark to the point where I could not see my hand in front of my face. A lot of commercial spaces have very little natural light and are isolated from the noise and atmosphere of the outside world. I can imagine a museum being totally creepy in the dark after closing. Unlike a theater, there are humanoid figures waiting in that darkness to spook you. I remember the theater had an old cardboard cutout of James Dean which would scare the hell out of me in the low light. I always thought it was somebody waiting for me in the darkness. Like I said above, that line between reality and fiction can unexpectedly blur at the worst times.

The first thing I noticed is the excellent lighting in the movie. Maybe it comes from being a low budget eighties horror movie but there are a ton of shadows everywhere like a haunted house. It makes for a good atmosphere right from the start. The gore effects are pretty good. They use that good old-fashioned Karo syrup blood that looks gunky and goopy and creepy. The digital effects are almost laughable but sometimes I like a good horror movie with cheesy effects. The practical effects are way better and pretty exciting. There are plenty of explosions, smoke, and fire to make things exciting when they need to be exciting. This really is not a creature feature so we get to see a lot of props moving on their own and they did a great job with that. They also have a lot of creepy things to work within a museum that are all really fun.

The acting is not the best but I did not put on this movie expecting much. The main character is played by Andra St. Ivanyi in her only film role. Nothing is subtle about her character and she is over the top long before anything supernatural happens. Her father, a curator, is played by James Huston and is a somewhat bumbling but solid single father. She has a lot of instantly annoying friends who are just the types that cheap horror movies are filled with so you do not feel as bad when the deaths start. Also, they went hard on one of the villains to make him unlikable (including freely using the N-word while white). Deborah Winters plays one of the few likable members of the cast, a teacher who cares dearly for her students. She is also probably the best actor in the movie. Giving her a run for her money is the museum archaeologist played by Danny Daniels with a lot of gravity but also a lot of jovial charm.

Overall, I liked this movie well enough. My only problem with it is that the build is so long that the actual horror movie part feels a bit rushed nearer the end. Of course, it really is a heck of a set up so it is hard to complain too much. This movie is not very psychological like the other selections this year but it has a classic horror movie formula of setting up a bunch of victims and then knocking them down. Kicking back with a classically bad horror movie can be just as good as enjoying a finely crafted one so I do not regret this at all, especially since I have had a copy of it for over a year.  Also, I have no idea why this is called “The Outing”.

Veronica (2018)

October 29, 2018

I have never used a Ouija board or attended a seance mostly because I do not believe that one can talk to the dead. One of my guideposts earlier in my life was Houdini or perhaps it was just his legend that inspired me. When he first started out as a magician, his mentor was a man named Jean Eugene Robert-Houdin but when he found out the man was a fraud, he was disillusioned. Perhaps this experience caused him to rail against those who exploited people using belief in the supernatural. When he was dying (on October 31) he made a deal with his wife. He would once and for all disprove all of the mediums in the world, past, present, and future. Every year on the anniversary of his death she would hold a seance and he would try like heck to talk to her from the other side. If she never heard from him, she would know it was not possible. It was because of this and other subsequent studies and writings that I came to accept that seances (and therefore Ouija boards) will never work.

However, this is Halloween and we do not deal in reality during this holiday. Halloween has never been about exploring what is real, it is about exploring things from beyond life, death, and our universe. Though it may just be speculation, letting go and playing pretend can be fun and can help us examine the human condition. When we all put on costumes, hand out candy, watch movies, and other forms of celebration, we enter the realm of the fictional. Twice now I have talked about that barrier between life and death. That barrier is absolute even in fiction. On one side you are alive, on the other side, you are dead. However, what else could be trapped beyond this barrier? In supernatural settings that list is long. That thought is explored in The Void. Demons, Great Old Ones, Ghosts, the Undead, and all sorts of more obscure things. In movie after movie characters are warned to stay away from that barrier but nobody seems to listen. In movies like The Void, Re-Animator, and Beyond the Gates the protagonists or antagonists seek to reach beyond and everybody suffers.

The first thing I noticed was the good acting in this one. In movies about subtle things such as ghosts or possession, the acting has to be on point. The acting from the title character (played by Sandra Escacena). She is a normal teenage girl except that she has to act like a mother to her three younger siblings. Her physical acting is so good when she is being affected by the supernatural, sort of like the acting in the Exorcist. I really cannot say enough good things about her and this was her very first movie. If this movie is any indication, she will continue to do great things. I really liked Consuelo Trujillo who plays a nun at Veronica’s school. She is so interesting and strangely charming. Of course, an important ingredient for a lot of horror movies is creepy kids and kids hardly need any help to be creepy. The three little ones in this movie are top shelf creepy, including the bonus of two of them being twins. The little boy is especially interesting to watch because, despite his goofy grin, he comes off as vaguely creepy for most of the movie.

I love how subtle the effects are in this movie. Some of the best horror movies make you question whether the main character is imagining everything or not. At least, it is great in the early parts, eventually, something has to actually happen. This movie does well in walking that line of subtlety, making sure not to do too much too early. Later, the gore effects are just enough to be creepy without being too much. The movie does a lot of creepy stuff with simple shadows which I really enjoyed. Shadows and silhouettes are great tools for horror and I have rarely seen them used so well. The movie leaves a lot to the imagination which I appreciate because that makes things way scarier. The camera effects also really caught my eye in places, making things creepier. The camera moves in unnatural directions sometimes or moves with the characters in ways that are not the same as conventional filmmaking. You are usually not supposed to notice the camera but the director made sure to bring attention to it but sometimes doing so can be used to unnerve the viewer.

Overall, I really liked the movie. It was not my favorite horror movie but it was definitely a really strong movie to watch near the end. I had been saving it because it had been hyped up earlier this year as being super scary. I feel like it did not live up to the hype but that is alright. It was definitely a good movie and it was strong enough to pass the language barrier. (The movie is in Spanish and is set in Spain). I am always a bit wary about these “based on a true story” horror movies because that is so much BS but this one told a story in such a way that elements of it could be true.

Aftershocks: Playthings Pt. 4

October 27, 2018

Aftershocks Playthings

It took a while to find out where the kids were. This time, Lydia had no reservations about Rob doing some hacking. Already having access to a server was not the same as actively hacking into a government computer. Lydia spent her time trying to keep Nancy calm as Rob worked, knowing how much she cared for those children. Also, she knew the way her dad had preyed on children weighed on her and had her wanting to balance out his actions. It was a hard weight for sunny Nancy to carry and Lydia could see that. Also, she knew that Nancy’s freak out had started to wear on Rob’s nerves. How she became team mom, Lydia had no idea.

They arrived at the safehouse not quite as put together as they had been at the toy store. Lydia’s nerves were still jangled from combat, she was getting more battle-hardened but she still had a ways to go. Rob put on a brave face but Lydia was sure she could tell that he was nervous. Still, he was obviously the most composed. In the backseat, Nancy was like a dog begging to be let off of its chain. There was a wildness in her eyes that Lydia could understand but knew that they could not afford to indulge. She took Nancy’s hand in hers and spoke softly.

“Nancy,” she said. “These kids need us but they need us to be strong for them.”

“I’ll be strong for them,” Nancy said. “I’ll tear Charles apart like Ley and Jack.”

Lydia squeezed Nancy’s hand. “Nance, you are scaring me. We got lucky the last two times but this time they have hostages. We have to play it smart.”

Nancy looked helpless.

“You need to keep the monster at bay,” Lydia said. “Unless we absolutely need her. You are not a monster. You’re my happy friend. So let’s go save the day and make those kids happy again.”

Nancy took a deep breath. “Alright,” she said. “I’m with you.” Her voice was shaky but she looked sufficiently calmer.

Rob stepped out of the car and the girls piled out after him as quietly as they could. None of them were exactly stealth experts. At that moment, it really hit Lydia how young they were and how normal fighting demons had become. It was inspiring, frightening, and sad all at the same time. She wished she was reading paperbacks back in her room. She wished Nancy was leading sing-alongs back at camp.

Unfortunately, it was gunfire that snapped Lydia from her revelry and the three of them scrambled to duck back around the car. Rob cursed loudly as the bullets impacted the car but it was lost in the noise. Lydia reached into her bag and grabbed a mirror and held it up to try to see who or what was shooting at them. A bullet grazed the car near her arm and Lydia lowered the mirror. She whispered a few words and waved her hand over the mirror and she remotely viewed their surroundings. There were two cops with rifles aimed at their car.

“We’re not the bad guys!” Lydia yelled out. “We want to protect the kids.”

There was nothing but silence from the cops but they had stopped shooting.

“There is a maniac named Charles who is after the kids,” Lydia said into the night.

Both cops simultaneously tilted their heads back and let out insane cackling laughter. Then they spoke in unison. “The kiddies will be mine just like these two dopes. Either come and submit to me or I’ll pull out your eyes.” They both cackled again in perfect unison.

“Shit,” Rob said. “They’re possessed!”

“What do we do?” Nancy asked, eyes wide.

“We improvise and move forward,” Lydia said. “Sorry, Rob.”

Before Rob could ask what for, Lydia waved her hand and the hood of the car pried itself up and floated in the air. Lydia walked toward the house as the cops shot up the hood. The other two hurried to follow behind Lydia. At the last moment, she waved her hand again and the piece of metal flew into one of the cops. Rob pulled a revolver and shot the other cop in the shoulder. He pulled out a vial and sprinkled liquid onto the cop that Lydia had hit with the metal. There was no reaction.

“They’re gone,” Rob said. “It’s not normal demonic possession.”

Nancy actually growled and her hands sprouted sharp claws. Lydia actually mom armed her, raised her hand and snapped and both cops caught on fire. What had formerly been the cops flailed around but succumbed to the flames. Rob moved to pick the lock on the front door but Nancy lunged forward and dragged those claws down the door, cutting it to pieces. The three of them slipped into the house.

In the living room, the kids were unconscious and tied to the furniture. A little red-headed toy man stood in the middle of it all with a twisted grin on his face. He did not look afraid of the three newcomers. Lydia knew at once what this little man was planning and hoped that he had not succeeded.

“You can’t stop me,” Charles said. It was the same voice that came from the cops. “Their bodies are mine. They will be the start of the Army of Me.”

“No way!” Nancy yelled.

“Yes way!” Charles yelled out. “Do you think I subdued all these kiddos myself?”

As if on cue, toys came out of hiding and attacked. Nancy lunged at Charles, claws out and began to wrestle him. It would have looked comical in any other situation. The other two combatted the rest of the toys, slowly hacking and smashing their way through them. The living room was chaotic with battle and thankfully the kids really were out of it. At one point, Nancy and Charles crashed through a window and outside which was impressive since there were bars on the windows. Rob and Lydia did their best on their own, slowly destroying each toy and it seemed to take forever. Finally, they made sure the kids were safe and headed outside.

They arrived just as Charles got the upper hand, landing on top of a prone Nancy and pulling out a large wicked knife.

“I’ll rip your guts out, kid!” He yelled.

A shot rang out and then two more and Charles went flying from shots from Rob’s revolver. He and Lydia charged forward, covering for Nancy as she tried to recover.

“You little shits!” Charles yelled out. “You’ll never win. Me and the big guy are friends to the end.”

“This is the end,” Lydia said. She snapped her fingers and Charles burst into flames.

His screams were horrible but oddly satisfying. The three of them stood and watched the doll burn. When the screaming stopped, Rob made an anonymous call to the police to come to clear things up. Nancy continued to watch the remains of Charles burn as Lydia and Rob collected the car’s hood and untied the kids. They came and grabbed Nancy and Lydia was satisfied that Charles would continue to burn down to cinders before the police arrived. The three of them left. None of them really wanted to talk about things yet.

Prom Night (1980)

October 26, 2018

My prom was rather uneventful. I skipped my Junior Prom, completely uninterested in the event and my friends did not seem too gung-ho about it either. While the richer kids were looking at the options for limos, dresses, and tuxes, I was excited to do just about anything else. I honestly do not remember what I did instead of going to Junior Prom and I know for a fact that nobody asked where I was the following Monday. I was already the weird theater kid who would have probably gone full goth if he did not have social anxiety. The following year, the Senior version of Prom approached and I was similarly nonplussed. Some of my friends were bringing dates but I had nobody and I had zero desire to ask anybody. I also had zero interest in going without a date. I just did not understand the appeal. I was working backstage at a show downtown at the time anyway so I had an excuse to get out of it. However, my mother pushed me to go anyway and so I went to the venue about thirty minutes before the scheduled end time. I really only agreed to attend because there was a tour of the cemetery where Poe was buried but when I arrived, the tours had been canceled. So I left.

Obviously, from what is written above, one could infer that I was alienated from my fellow students in high school. That is really how I felt. I felt that people I went to school with could care less if I lived or died and forgot me as soon as I was no longer in their field of vision. Looking back, I know that I decided this because it was a defense mechanism because of my social anxiety. If I wrote people off so I did not have to risk myself or put myself out there while I was in an extremely vulnerable time in my life. I had really good friends, two best friends at that time actually, but I was not as plugged into the social scene. I spent a lot of time with headphones on, scribbling in composition notebooks with bad poetry, story ideas, video game plots, short plays, short stories, and even song lyrics. It was during this period that I really embraced writing, something I still really love. In my memory, I shut myself off and just tried to survive. However, I went to reunions later and realized that people did remember me and remembered me fondly. They cared about what I was doing and who I am now. So, a lot of it was in my head and I have found that is a common experience in high school.

The first thing I noticed (as a former sound designer and technician), is the excellent sound in the movie. Older movies had fewer options when it came to special effects but they definitely could apply cool effects to audio. Over and over it is a part of older horror movies I have reviewed here like The Innocents, The Abominable Dr. Phibes, and The Hills Have Eyes. This movie is no different. The simple string music and the deep, rich sounds, and the proper use of echo sounds are so important to making this movie scary. Of course, this is also a disco movie but that is to be expected for a school dance movie in the early eighties. The pacing of this movie is also really good. There is a slow build to the movie that is instrumental to the tension of the movie. The movie has a slow burn that does well with ratcheting up the tension so that the viewer is good and ready for the chaos to begin. It also lets us get to know all of the players really well so that we will empathize with them as much as possible.

I would be remiss if I did not mention the cast in this one, especially considering a new release in theaters right now (Oct. 2018). The movie stars Jamie Lee Curtis, two years after Halloween so she is a little more mature and she has a few more movies under her belt. This was during the time she was gaining her title of Scream Queen (three horror movies in 1980 alone!). There is a reason that she is so celebrated. She is a great actress and she was really proving herself in this movie. Her father (and the principal) is played by Leslie Nielsen, who people forget can play a good straight man in non-comedic movies. George Touliatos plays the police lieutenant who is trying to track the killer, a very serious and haunted man. His scenes are very psychological as he is consumed by the responsibility of keeping the community safe. There are plenty of other teenage victims, the point of most slasher movies and it is interesting to see them interact in high school before the big dance. It creates a lot of intrigue, laying plenty of red herrings so it is harder to figure out who the killer is.

Overall, I really liked this movie. It came out the same year as Friday the 13th and is similar but I feel like it is way more artistic and fleshed out. Despite having Jamie Lee Curtis in it, it failed to be as big a hit even though I feel like it is the better of the two. Coming from me, that is high praise. The movie is more complex than many horror movies of its day (and later) in that it explores the victims and the killer and the situation in depth before really plunging into the real horror. I went in expecting this to be goofy but it had way more thought and heart than I thought it would.

Media Update 10/25/18

October 25, 2018

Haunting of Hill House (2018)

For those familiar with the original Shirley Jackson novel, this show is an adaptation but not a direct one. It shares plenty of plot elements but is constructed differently but no less interesting. The show follows a family who once lived in “the most haunted house in America” in order to flip it and sell it. To be fair, when they move in it has not yet widely known to be haunted. There is a father, a mother, Three daughters, and two sons. The show uses non-linear storytelling to jump from the past to the present to show the family’s journey. You get to see important events in the kids past and then you see the effects those events had in the present. You get to see the psychological effect that trauma has on a family in the short term and the long term. The editing of this is brilliant as sometimes a kid will open a door and step through and suddenly they are an adult in an entirely different place. We see a lot of parallels between the past and the present and get these great character studies of who these people were, who they are, and why they are who they became. The acting is really good as they really made me believe that the young versions and the older versions were the same people. There are also ghosts but they are almost secondary to the exploration of the family. I recommend it as it is not very scary but definitely intensely interesting.

Curious Creations of Christine McConnell

I have never really been a fan of “craft shows” as I remember seeing a bit of Martha Stewart as a kid and rolling my eyes at it. I need an actual story to keep interested. Later in life, I watched a lot of Discovery Channel when it used to be interesting to me and I would zone out and watch How It’s Made. When I saw this show pop up on Netflix, I dismissed it initially. However, people I trust on twitter started to praise the show and I decided to look into it. The show follows Christine McConnell making Halloween-inspired crafts and foods step by step. While that part did not really interest me (except for the Halloween part) I found out that the show teamed McConnell (an Instagram star? Do they have shows on Instagram?) with Brian Henson. McConnell’s character is a woman who lives in a spooky house with a bunch of monsters played by puppets. These puppets provide a lot of the humor and plot of the show which Christine plays off of and also gives Christine a reason to make random things. I absolutely fell in love with the offbeat humor in the show and the puppetry is really enjoyable. Plus, it is kind of fun to zone out a bit during the crafting segments and just watch her create art especially since Christine is very charismatic. The things she makes are way too much work for me but they are pretty to look at. I definitely recommend it especially to my friends who are very crafty and my friends who are very goofy.

Charmed (2018)

I was a pretty big fan of the original Charmed. It was a show that I started watching ironically and pretty soon I started watching it unironically. I really thought the show really picked up in the fourth season with the addition of Rose McGowan to the cast but I enjoyed all of the seasons. It was a show that explored the supernatural with likable characters, comedy, drama, action, and it did not take itself too seriously. This show is definitely a spiritual successor to that. The show reboots the original show and taking a lot of the central parts to it but also making it its own thing. Once again, there are three sisters who must confront the fact that they were born witches. However, this time they are all in college and not in their mid to late twenties. These three girls are playing different characters than the original although they share a few elements of their backstories. However, for the first time on the show, we get a main character who is a person of color and a main character who is gay. I really feel like this show has potential and, unlike others, I do not immediately dismiss reboots. It feels a lot like the original show (which was fun but totally goofy). Obviously, the special effects are better in the new series and I hope it has some staying power. I recommend it as I want people to watch it so it stays on.

Next Week’s Halloween Schedule:

October 29 – Veronica (2017)

A Splash of Djinn
October 31 – The Outing (1987)
October 31 – Under the Shadow (2016)

November 1 – Media Update – Halloween Hangover


Halloween Music of the Week:
Ghost – Dance Macabre

Concrete Blonde – Bloodletting

Lola Blanc – The Magic

Mai Lan – Vampire

Powerwolf – Night Of The Werewolves


Weekly Update:
– This week’s theme is “Halloween Television”
– I watched more Gotham Season 4
– I finished The Good Place Season 2
– I watched more American Vandal Season 1
– I watched more Glitter Force Doki Doki Season 2
– I watched more Once Upon a Time Season 7
– I started watching Daredevil Season 3

The Witch (2015)

October 24, 2018

I have always been intrigued by witchcraft. Producing magic through practice and ritual is such a near world-building element. In the real world, witches are generally harmless people who follow a pagan alternative to mainstream religions. Of course, the idea of witches has long been something vilified by mainstream culture. Wicca (the religion most witches claim) was introduced in 1954 but people have been hunting witches long before then. Famously, ‘witches’ were used as a handy term used for class warfare in the Salem Witch Trials all the way back in the 1690s. So in the seventeenth century, the term ‘witchcraft’ was known and already given evil or ‘non-Christian’ connotations. According to some, witches were satanic cultists because anything that was not Christianity was the opposite of Christianity and therefore evil. The mere label of ‘witch’ was enough to allow the torture and execution of people regardless of guilt or innocence. Nowadays, real-life witches are treated alright and are mostly dismissed by the public at large and embraced by parts of the Internet.

In fiction, we very quickly picked up on the trope of vilifying witches and I am sure that there are essays and papers written on how that comes from a sexist place. Certainly, I have seen a more modern popularity of witches tied to the modern intersectional feminist movement. However, before all of that, witches were always the bad people. Even prior to Salem, we had the witch in the gingerbread house who terrorized Hansel and Gretel. Then I experienced Margaret Hamilton in the Wizard of Oz, a character who later received several PR makeovers. I also remember The Craft which had a very dark view of witches. Witches are often depicted as selfish pariahs who reject society. While some of that can be bent to a positive (see Charmed and Sabrina) it is more often made into a negative. Of course, like I said, that is changing but I think it will always be a point of reference. Until people stop writing things, writers will either follow the old trope or rebel against it. I am definitely interested in seeing where that goes and it is definitely something I am currently approaching in some of my stories.

The first thing I noticed in this movie was an awesome atmosphere. The whole movie feels dark, even when it is daytime. There is a dark shadowy feel to everything and it is both literal and figurative. The music really helps with this starting early on. The music is discordant and barely even music at all and it is just disquieting. On top of that, this is a period piece so life is horrible anyway. Colonial life was dark and deadly, oblivion waiting in the shadows and every crisis was capable of wiping everybody out. The movie follows a family who chooses to leave a plantation and live alone out near the woods. There is a lot of dread in the movie, a paranoia that grips it. The cinematography is so beautiful (and yet ugly) as each shot is done with such care.

The acting is fantastic. Ralph Ineson plays the father who is constantly spouting religious sayings, making everything creepier. Harvey Scrimshaw plays the eldest son, a young boy who just wants to do what is right and make his father proud and his mother happy. Anya Taylor-Joy plays the eldest daughter Thomasin, a girl who wishes the family was back in civilization. She was my favorite and often the focus of the movie. There is also the mother, played by Kate Dickie, who has a very forceful, willful personality that is impossible to ignore. There are also two small children who are creepy without doing anything ostensibly creepy. The acting is really what makes a lot of this really scary. If the family was not constantly spouting creepy Christian prayers, this would have not been nearly as creepy. However, it is not just the prayers, the acting is just spectacular.

Overall, I thought this was a wonderful horror movie. Early on, I was left wondering how much of it was supernatural and how much of it was just religious mania mixed with the horrors of colonial life. The atmosphere made me tense so that when things really got going, I was totally blown away. The movie kind of descends into madness and I loved every minute of it. I really cannot recommend this enough. This movie really left me with a lot to think about.

Hell Fest (2018)

October 22, 2018

Longtime readers of my blog know that I hate crowds. In the past, dealing with crowds has made me uncomfortable and very self-conscious. I feel trapped and exposed and I would often get through by somewhat retreating inside of myself. People are scary in general. Other people are unpredictable because one can only read one’s own mind so you can never truly predict others’ behavior. So, dealing with another person is kind of inherently scary from a logical standpoint at least until you get to know them a bit. A crowd multiplies that unpredictability by a lot. You never know what all of these people might intend. More than that, crowds can act as natural camouflage for predatory people. We often hear about serial killers look just like everybody else and blend pretty well into crowds. Of course, none of this has any bearing on my unreasoning fear of crowds (which has gotten better from medication, age, and therapy).

I also never really enjoyed theme parks. Alright, that is not entirely true but I would often be nervous during those visits. I hate rides. The guy who watches over two dozen horror movies a year does not really like getting scared in person. The one actual rollercoaster I rode (The Scooby Doo coaster at Kings Dominion) gave me a nosebleed and really shook me as a young kid. I never rode another one but I still got nervous on kiddie rides. One of the most memorable experiences of my childhood was riding the Snow White dark ride at Disney World with my cousin. She and I jumped on board and I was soon scared out of my gourd. I spent the second half of the ride ducked down, covering my face. As we passed the witch on the ride, I heard her say “Don’t cover your eyes, sweetie!” and I nearly died from fright. Eventually, I let my little brothers ride the rides on family trips and I hung out on a bench until they were done. I learned to enjoy the games, shows, art design, and general atmosphere (minus the crowds) but I always hated the rides.

The first thing I noticed about this movie is the setting is spectacular. The whole movie takes place in a fictional horror theme park called Hell Fest. It looks way more expansive but I would compare it to events like Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios. Everything is horror top to bottom and there is no safe space from getting spooked (except for the bathrooms). I found myself not wanting to go there but I did want to study its plans, look at its business model, and study all of the props and costumes. That is how real they made this place feel. It is a great setting for a horror movie. When you are at a Halloween attraction (even a singular haunted house) you feel paranoid and on your guard. However, at the same time, you know in the back of your mind that none of it is real and so it ends up being disarming. The effects of the various haunted houses were impressive and it gave the whole movie a different kind of feel. In a world where a lot of bad horror movies rely too much on jumpscares, this one throws a thousand at you so that you never know what is real. It really ratcheted up my paranoia.

Most of the victims are the usual gang of college kids, fleshed out but nothing spectacular. The standout for me was Bex Taylor-Klaus as that annoying friend we have all had who teases too much or acts up because they want our approval too much. I’m sure that she was meant to be a bit annoying but I liked her almost immediately. Amy Forsyth plays the main girl, somebody not really into Halloween who is the first to notice something might be wrong or is it paranoia? She really balanced fear with not wanting to not wanting to bother her friends too much. Reign Edwards plays the best friend who has more sense than most horror movie characters. The killer is played as an uncredited, non-speaking role and his power comes from how understated he is. You can get a lot of scares from just standing there calmly. There is also a nice, creepy cameo from Tony Todd (who we visited last week). Obviously, the actors in the park itself are great at acting like real scare actors.

Overall, I really liked this movie. The setting obviously did a lot for the movie and it was a gimmick that I have seen before but not on this scale. The premise is everything in this movie although I enjoyed the addition of the modern theme exploring the harassment of females. Nothing felt heavy-handed and it was just a fun romp through a horrible, scary environment which is refreshing sometimes. It felt a little bit like an old-school horror movie with a new school production style.

Aftershocks: Playthings Pt. 3

October 20, 2018

Aftershocks Playthings

Once again, Lydia insisted on driving, pushing Rob into the passenger seat since he was still a much younger kid. Nancy climbed into the back and made sure everybody buckled up before they started off toward the toy store. Nancy thought about how normally she would have been overjoyed to explore a toy store, even an abandoned one. Now, she knew that this was not going to be fun. It was going to be the gym and the hotel all over again. Beneath the fear was an anger quite unlike her usual happy demeanor. She clung to that anger a little, trying to use it to fight back the fear as she bounced a bit in the backseat of Rob’s big black car. Lydia glanced back at Nancy, a little worried for her best friend.

“So what’s our plan?” Lydia asked. “Go in hot like usual?”

“They’ve already hurt the parents,” Nancy said. “We need to crush them before they go after the kids.”

“Agreed,” Rob said. “Besides, the tactic has worked for us before. I don’t know what their plan is but we have to stop it.”

Nancy nodded. “For the kids,” she said.

“For the kids,” Lydia and Rob agreed. The three of them were still all under the age of eighteen but they did not really feel like kids anymore. Nancy looked over at Rob and wondered about him most of all since he was the youngest but had way more experience fighting these things.

Lydia felt the whole thing was unfair. She and Nancy had been pulled into this because of their shadow-touched pasts. They never chose it, it had been thrust upon them. Lydia was in this because her parents had dragged her to that house and things had gone off the rails. He had nearly married her and would have been unleashed on the world. Nancy’s story was even worse. She was only in the game because that demon had somehow impregnated Nancy’s mom so the process had been started long before her birth. It was maddening but if they could not get away, they both had decided to confront the problem head-on.

The three of them piled out of the car at the toy store and they opened the trunk to get out their weapons. Rob pulled out his silver blade, the one he called an ‘angel blade’ which was curious knowing what they had seen during their first encounter with the boy. Lydia pulled out her sword, an item that always made her feel sufficiently badass. Nancy grabbed the iron fireplace poker that she had taken from their last adventure in the hotel. It had served her pretty well and it was something she was more comfortable using than her own powers. Lydia was ready to use her magic spells. Finally, Rob grabbed a shotgun which Lydia was going to object to but thought better of it. The kid obviously knew what he was doing and they would be fighting sentient toys, not people.

Rob picked the lock on the sliding doors out front which raised some eyebrows with the girls but both of them let it go. The three of them slipped into the store which had shelves of old merchandise. Obviously, that made the three of them tense from what they had seen back at the bunker. They stood in the middle of those aisles and before any of them could comment, the shelves erupted with living toys. The three of them sprung to their defense and all three slashed at the attackers. It was an absolutely ludicrous sight to see three kids smashing and cutting up a whole bunch of toys. Everybody involved was screaming bloody murder and when the dust settled, the floor was littered with stuffing, plastic bits, springs, and all sorts of other parts. The three demon hunters were relatively unscathed. They walked toward the back.

“Where are you, Charles?!” Lydia called out, working at getting her breath back.

“Your plans are over!” Rob yelled.

They walked into the back and they almost ran into a baby doll, a teddy bear, and a jack in the box. The baby doll was smoking a cigarette calmly.

“This is the end of the line, kiddos,” the baby doll said. Its voice certainly sounded like it smoked.

“For you,” Nancy said.

“Charles isn’t here,” the jack in the box said, its voice like nails on a chalkboard. “We have a deal. He gets the kids, we get you.”

“What do you mean he gets the kids?” Nancy asked.

“Enough talk,” the baby doll said. With a growl, the teddy bear grew into a real bear and lunged after the three. Rob, Nancy, and Lydia spread out and the bear ended up chasing Lydia. The others each went after Rob and Nancy. Lydia swiped her sword at the bear, making sure to keep out of its reach the best she could. A couple of times, the bear nearly took her head off. She led it back into the shelves. Each slice with her sword only exposed stuffing under the bear’s fur. She was getting nowhere and she could feel her arms beginning to hurt and her swings started to slow down. Backed into a corner, she waved her hand and called out an incantation and set the bear on fire. As it panicked, it lost interest in Lydia before falling to the concrete and slowly burning away. Lydia leaned against the wall and tried to recover.

The baby doll had chased Nancy through the storeroom. It moved surprisingly fast for something with such little legs but Nancy supposed that demons worked with different rules of physics. She turned and swung the poker at the thing and was startled when the baby doll blocked the shot with a switchblade knife. Nancy thought it must have looked ridiculous as she started to fence with a baby doll. She was never going to look at another doll the same again. After a few moments, she gained an edge over the baby doll. At last, she disarmed the doll, sending the switchblade flying across the room and sticking into the wall. She drove the poker into the doll’s face and, as it shuddered and stopped moving, she worried about the nightmares this might cause.

As for Rob, he squared off with the jack in the box which laughed maniacally, showing off needle-like teeth. After spending some time trying to stab the thing with his angel blade, he gave up and retreated. As the thing laughed in triumph, Rob cocked the shotgun and blew its head off. The laughing abruptly stopped.

“This isn’t over,” Lydia said. “Charles is going after the kids. Where are the kids?”

“They’re all gathered together,” Rob said. “at the social services safe house.”

“Let’s end this then,” Nancy said. “Nobody messes with kids when I’m around.”

The Innocents (1961)

October 19, 2018

I think that we all instinctively worry about children. Even those, like me, who have no instinct to procreate and claim to ‘hate children’ have an innate instinct to protect children. When I hear a baby crying or a child screaming it grates on my nerves and I absolutely want somebody to fix it. It is that instinct that draws people in to protect or rescue children in danger. The only time that I have come close to becoming a caregiver was as a counselor at a summer camp but I never really had any dominion or responsibility for any of the kids. Still, I did teach some classes and I learned how determined young people are to be crazy and worrying. By design, children do not really have the wisdom that most of the rest of us accumulate that help us survive. Poor impulse control and curiosity can often lead to dangerous situations but the kids often do not realize the danger at first. For example, in the original film version of Frankenstein (1931), a little girl meets the monster and is unafraid and ends up drowning because of it. We should all approach life with an open mind but we should also be wary of potential danger at the same time. Children often have not realized that yet and it makes them harder to protect.

Ghosts can be effectively used in horror but it is a fine line to walk. To me, ghosts are creepiest when they are not seen or barely seen. Ghost stories can be very psychological for me because they deal with the barrier between life and death. That barrier is a hard and fast rule in our real world and there have been no reliable accounts of anybody crossing it and coming back. Once you are dead then you are dead and your story is done. In the fictional world of horror stories, people come back all the time. In fact, I watched two Stephen King adaptations already earlier this month that are literally about that. The world of the living and the world of the dead have different perspectives by nature. The world of the dead lives in the past because they have no real future. In our world, we understand that the past must remain in the past at least when it comes to bad things. We learn from the past but we understand that we should not literally bring it back or we will not be progressing and growing. The idea that the past can come back unbidden and affect our present and change our future is a scary concept even without throwing the supernatural into the mix.

This is an older movie and while some older movies do not age well, I have found that many horror movies benefit from being older. Black and white movies are really good at showing off the stark contrast between light and shadow. The cinematographer definitely played a lot with light and shadow. I also noticed how well they used space which is something I do not see as often. By space, I mean that the director places a great deal of empty space between people and things to unsettle the viewer. Older movies such as this one also have fewer frills than modern movies. There is nothing wrong with modern frills but it is refreshing to watch something without fancy special effects. It reminds me of my theater days. The soundtrack is simple but creepy in its simplicity. The music, in particular, has a tension to it and even the happy music feels a little dark. In fact, some of the music was sampled and used in The Ring (2002) because of its inherent creepiness. Like many good horror movies, it gains strength from its use of silence.

The acting is top notch in the movie. The movie is about a governess who is sent to the English countryside to look after two children. Unfortunately, the country estate is haunted by a past that it cannot shake. The strength of the movie comes from the star, Deborah Kerr, who shows such a dynamic range in her acting and it is hard not to like her. Of course, there are two children (Pamela Franklin and Martin Stephens). Kids can be a goldmine when it comes to horror and these kids are definitely great at horror without even trying. (Thankfully, the director shielded the kids from the intense nature of the movie’s plot). The kids are so good at being offputting that it is hard to imagine them doing it unintentionally. Their interactions with Kerr are the meat and potatoes of the movie and all the movie really needs to be scary. However, Kerr’s moments alone are also tense as heck. Finally, there is an emotional anchor to the movie in the housekeeper played by Megs Jenkins. She is a kindly old woman who provides a lot of the exposition.

Overall, I really loved this movie. To be fair, this movie is an adaptation of “The Turn of the Screw” by Henry James which is an old but brilliant ghost story. I actually did light and sound design for a stage production of the story years ago when I lived in New Jersey. The movie captures that theatrical kind of horror which involves a lot of the theater of the mind. It makes for a very psychological horror movie where you wonder how much of it is real. When the light comes again, we begin to doubt our thoughts in the darkness.

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