2019: Award Eligible Work and Recommended Short Stories

It’s that time of the year again: Award Nomination Season is upon us.

My own list of award-eligible works could not accurately be described as a list so much as a solitary bullet point. Nevertheless, I’m very proud of that particular bullet point:

Can you call your own story heartwarming? Is that a writer faux pas? Because, honestly, that’s how I like to think of it: a heartwarming sequel to a slasher movie. If you like stories that feature deconstructed horror tropes, found families, ace protagonists, violence, humor, and Feels, well, please consider making my day and checking it out.

Moving on: I am, as always, forever behind on my short story reading. Nevertheless, here are some of my favorites from 2019, in no particular order:

1. “We Are Here To Be Held” – Eugenia Triantafyllou (Strange Horizons)

This story is weird and gorgeous and I love it. Complicated maternal relationships and how the way you’re raised feeds into how you raise your children. What you learn, what you forgive, what you stand firm against. A lovely story with a perfect conclusion.

The first time your mother swallows you whole you don’t really see it coming.

2. “Away With the Wolves” – Sarah Gailey (Uncanny)

This is a lovely story about chronic pain and learning to let go of unearned guilt, about putting your needs, health, and happiness above what society unjustly demands. Bonus joy for shapeshifters and positive female friendships.

I’m still me when I’m a wolf, even if I’m missing some of the things that other people think of when they think of me. Even if I’m missing one of the biggest things I think of when I think of me.

3. “As The Last I May Know” – S.L. Huang (Tor)

Breathtaking. A story about war and propaganda and putting a human face on weapons of mass destruction, literally. What’s wonderful about this one is that it doesn’t condemn or glorify; it’s not so much about what decision is made but how it’s made. It’s not whether the ends justify the means. It’s that choosing to go through with those ends should never, ever be easy.

She didn’t know how, after so many people had read what was in her heart, she could feel so much like she had no voice.

4. “Where Gods Dance” – Ben Serna-Grey (Apex)

A swift gut punch of a story. Full of grief and dark wonders. A story about the inability to recreate what you’ve lost.

If he screamed, I never did hear it. They all spoke so softly. Abiram was his name. Marked but unburied.

5. “A Catalog of Storms” – Fran Wilde (Uncanny)

Oh, this is just lovely. Fascinating magic, strong family dynamics, and elegant prose throughout. A fantastic read.

While Mumma and I are gone, the Mayor comes by our house and puts a ribbon on our door. We get extra milk every Tuesday.

That doesn’t make things better, in the end. Milk isn’t a sister.

6. “This Is How” – Marie Brennan (Strange Horizons)

I am . . . I don’t want to say that I dislike redemption stories, exactly, but I can be a bit wary of them. Redemption, I think, can easily be handled poorly, even irresponsibly. Forgiveness, too. But this is a dark and beautiful fantasy about repentance and mercy and transformation, and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

A cat may let her prey run for a time before she catches it again, but not a valravn. He keeps what he kills, and will not let the man’s soul go.

7. “The Answer That You Are Seeking” – Jenny Rae Rappaport (Lightspeed)

This one hit me. Maybe because there was a school shooting the day before I read it, or because I live in one of the cities listed in this article, or because there have literally been more mass shootings than days of the year here in America. It hit me because the prose is concise and striking. It hit me because the desperation is real.

It’s the lollipops that break you.

8. “How The Trick Is Done” – A.C. Wise (Uncanny)

I mean, look, I’ve been an A.C. Wise fangirl for years. I love pretty much all of her work, and this story–with ghosts and resurrections and stage magicians and rabbit funerals and murder–is just a wonderful read, about people learning to let go of their toxic relationships, about learning to define themselves in new ways.

“I’m a Resurrectionist.” Angie’s mouth twists on the words, but she can’t think of a better way to explain. “Death and I have an understanding.”

9. “The Tailor And The Beast” – Aysha U. Farah (Uncanny)

A queer Beauty and the Beast where it’s the father who offers to trade places with his imprisoned daughter? I mean, yes, please. Lovely and sweet and romantic AF.

A beast dwelt in the castle on the hill.

There was nothing so very strange or unusual in this circumstance; recently it had been tremendously in fashion. A witch couldn’t really hope to make her debut in society without imprisoning at least one troublesome young man behind stone walls.

10. “The House Wins In The End” – L Chan (The Dark)

L Chan writes fantastic ghost stories. This is just fact. His hauntings are creepy and unusual, and they linger in your mind long after reading. This one is full of memory and trauma and the long, lonely struggle of learning to put your ghosts to rest. A wonderful read.

This is not a haunted house story. This is what happens after.

Happy reading, everyone! If anyone has any other short story recommendations of their own, I’d love to hear them in the comments.

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Triple Spooky Scoop Review: Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Hostel, and The Legend of Hell House

Invasion of the Body Snatchers

First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Hulu
Spoilers: Absolutely, and not just for this film. I will also heartlessly spoil Alien, Aliens, Scream, AND Halloween
Grade: Chocolate

I enjoyed this. I wish I could judge it against the 1956 film, but unfortunately, I haven’t watched that movie since I was 16 (studying McCarthyism and the Second Red Scare in US History, natch), and while I liked it at the time, I remember very little about the film now. Still, this 1978 remake is a lot of fun, and hey, look at all these people in it! Jeff Goldblum as a spiteful and atypically charmless writer! Leonard Nimoy as the evil psychiatrist version of Spock! (I’m specifically thinking of “This Side of Paradise.”) Robert Duvall as some rando priest on the swings! (It’s an uncredited cameo.) And, of course, Donald Sutherland as our fluffy-haired love interest turned doomed protagonist. I can’t believe I’ve finally seen the movie for this GIF! (You might think said GIF would’ve been a spoiler, but since I almost always see it in a “no, God, not YOU” context, I didn’t realize what was going to happen until right before it did.)

Also? Veronica Cartwright is the actual final girl here! Sure, things aren’t looking great for her right now, but nevertheless, Nancy is a side character–the second female lead, even–who makes it further than anyone else in the film, and I am fascinated by that. Try to think of other horror movies where that even happens. It’d be like Halloween where Annie makes it instead of Laurie. Or Tatum outliving Sidney in Scream, or Vasquez surviving Aliens when Ripley does not. (Or hell, Veronica Cartwright herself in Alien.) It’s pretty much just not a thing, is my point. Besides, Nancy’s really clever: she’s the one who figures out how to evade detection, successfully continues doing so when Elizabeth cannot, and hey, she likes to read! I’m extremely excited to add Nancy to my list of Interesting Final Girls.

There are, admittedly, a few moments that are pretty hard to take seriously, like the mutant dog or how it initially looks like Earth is being invaded by space sperm. On the other hand, the scene where Donald Sutherland takes an axe to his own half-formed pod face is pretty great, and the moment when Elizabeth crumples apart is surprisingly sad. It’s always great when a horror movie can hit you with surprise Feels, and Invasion of the Body Snatchers successfully does this for me.

Hostel

First Watch or Rewatch: Rewatch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other – Personal Collection DVD
Spoilers: Definitely
Grade: Strawberry

I first watched Hostel (and reviewed it*) way back in 2010, and at the time, I really enjoyed the movie. But I also hadn’t seen it in several years, and had a sneaking suspicion that I’d feel differently about it now. My suspicions proved accurate.

Even now, I still don’t hate Hostel. But things have changed in the past decade, and one of those things is my tolerance for watching assholes be assholes for any elongated period of time. We’re with these dudes for about 40 minutes before we really get what we came for, and while it does make sense to have a lengthy first act when the bulk of your horror is  gory, torture-based violence . . . like, who wants to sit through 40 minutes of these little shitheads running around, being jerks, and seeing a truly improbable number of tits? (Jesus God, the ludicrous amount of tits in this movie.) It seems like there are two ways to fix this: either make these characters a lot more likable, or have Oli and Josh go missing much earlier in the film, putting the focus on Paxton as Amateur Detective rather than Paxton, Infuriating Dick.

Other problems I have with Hostel: a) Paxton’s backstory, not because of the backstory itself but because of just how lazily it’s dumped into the script, like, this is a teachable moment on How Not To Handle Exposition, b) how Josh, our only gay** and non-villainous character, dies, and c) Kana’s suicide, because come on, what the actual fuck. If she’d decided to kill herself months or even days after the fact, okay, that’s one thing, but to have her jump in front of a train here, just five minutes after escaping, because half her face is fucked up? Thanks, I hate it. Honestly, I hated this ten years ago, too, but when I read that the actress thought it was plausible, I tried giving it the benefit of the doubt. No more. This is total bullshit. Absolutely cannot deal.

All that being said, there are still things I like about this movie. For instance, that Achilles tendon shot remains fucking iconic. I think it’s interesting that Paxton is the only person you actually see murder anyone on screen. (Well, except for the Bubblegum Sociopath Street Gang, of course. I still kinda adore these random violent little children.) I actually like a lot about Paxton, if not Paxton himself: his ability to speak German, his revenge scene, his general ingenuity when it comes to survival. (Not to mention, Jay Hernandez’s performance; he’s pretty great in this.) Again, this is fascinating trope subversion because Paxton seems like the kind of asshole who gets killed off halfway through, when instead that’s Josh, our shy, asthmatic Nice Guy. Josh is such an obvious Final Boy that I really enjoy his surprise death–or would, anyway, if it weren’t for the Bury Your Gays thing.

*As always, the older the post, the more horrified I am by it. I do stand by some of my opinions in this review (I’m not linking to it; you can find it if you really want to), but I’ve also grown as both a writer and a feminist, and some of this review is just hideously painful to reread. It’s particularly jarring, too, because I mention some things about myself that just blatantly aren’t true . . . only I hadn’t realized that yet. Ah, the slow, frustrating process of self-discovery.

**Josh’s sexuality is not directly stated, but it is heavily implied.

The Legend of Hell House

First Watch or Rewatch: Rewatch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Amazon
Spoilers: Yup
Grade: Vanilla

I enjoyed The Legend of Hell House when I watched it on a whim last year, but I think I might’ve enjoyed it even more on the second go-round. The things that bothered me then still bother me now, unfortunately: like, the (apparently toned down) erotic hauntings are total bullshit. The only reason Ann is even here is so that someone can get possessed by a horny ghost. (You’ll notice it’s always the women who are getting “sex-possessed” in these movies.) The character literally does nothing plot relevant, not once, and considering this story really only has four characters? Come on. Florence, at least, is extremely plot-relevant, but she also decides to have sex with Daniel the Friendly Ghost in order to free his spirit, or something–only to find out that Daniel never actually existed; instead, Florence gets raped and possessed by Evil Belasco’s Ghost.

So, yeah. That’s . . . that’s a lot. But there is genuinely a lot to enjoy, too: the premise is basically my dream story, like, a scientist, a psychic, and a traumatized sole survivor–who’s also psychic–are hired to uncover the mysteries of the spooky haunted house? People, I’m in love. I also really like how this movie deals with physical mediums versus mental mediums and how our skeptical scientist does believe in psychic energy and scientific exorcisms; he just doesn’t believe in actual ghosts. I enjoy all of the trances and hauntings that aren’t based in shitty erotica, like, there’s some decent atmosphere in this movie. Young Michael Gough as Evil Preserved Corpse is perfectly creepy. And the mystery of “Who Is Actually Haunting Us?” is pretty fun throughout, although I will say that I’d like the “multiple ghosts” theory better if the mediums came across a fake ghost besides Daniel. (Say, Evil Belasco was impersonating someone Ben knew from the last expedition.) Also, while I quite like that it was Belasco All Along, the big reveal about his homicidal Napoleon Complex is, I think, pretty underwhelming. Although credit where credit’s due: the clues leading up to this in Ben’s backstory are pretty expertly handled.

The Legend of Hell House doesn’t always get a ton of love (at least, not when compared to other classic haunted house movies) and clearly there are things I’d like to change. But I honestly do think it’s a pretty neat take on the sub-genre and well worth a watch if you haven’t seen it before.

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Triple Spooky Scoop Review: Leprechaun, The Witch, and The Cell

Leprechaun

First Watch or Rewatch: Rewatch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other – Personal Collection DVD
Spoilers: Yeah, but come on
Grade: Strawberry

Horror Bingo was briefly put on hold last week during the great Sonoma County Evacuation, but that doesn’t mean horror wasn’t achieved! Mekaela, Lindsey, and I ended up nostalgia-watching Leprechaun, and boy, is it just as bad as I remember.

I mean, okay, some of the comedy is obviously intentional. Unfortunately, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the intentional comedy is actually funny. Honestly, it’s hard to know where to begin with this one. The terrible prologue. The ridiculous storyline. The overall poor acting. The “slow friend” as comedic device. The Leprechaun’s makeup. The fact that our painting crew is apparently painting the house fire engine red and bright blue, like, what the fuck even is that? Tori’s weird shorts, which even in the 90’s were a choice. Also: the truly tragic fact that Warwick Davis does not succeed in murdering our heroes because they’re all pretty awful; the only one I even halfway like is Alex, the precocious child, and honestly, that might just be because I remember the actor from Don’t Tell Mom The Babysitter’s Dead. I would happily have pushed Jennifer Aniston’s character down a well, and her love interest, too. Oh, that whole “feminism” exchange is so, so painful.

Although credit where credit’s due: death by pogo stick is always genuinely hilarious. More pogo stick deaths, please!

The Witch

First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Netflix
Spoilers: Definitely
Grade: Vanilla

Well, My Geek Blasphemy is about to earn its name today: The Witch is one of the biggest horror movies of the decade, and unfortunately, I didn’t much like it.

I do like parts of it. It’s very well-shot, of course. The scene with the ravens is, ah, effectively memorable. (Poor Kate Dickie. Between this and Game of Thrones, I can’t imagine how many breastfeeding jokes she must get every day.) The performances by Anna Taylor-Joy, Ralph Ineson, Harvey Scrimshaw, and Kate Dickie are all very strong, and I kind of enjoy this movie’s whole “if Shakespeare wrote Puritan-horror” vibe–although I did have to concede defeat about twenty minutes in and put on subtitles because between the accents and the colonial American vernacular, I realized I was only catching maybe one word out of ten. I also genuinely enjoy this story’s pace. There aren’t a lot of negative reviews for The Witch, but the few complaints I did find were mostly about the film being slow and dull. Those were definitely not problems I had with the movie.

So, what didn’t I like? Honestly, I’m having trouble articulating that. Certain scenes are easy enough to point to: Caleb’s whole religious ecstasy–heavy emphasis on the ecstasy–sorta icks me out, and, like, not the good kind of ick? You know, maybe, let’s not with kids? But I have larger thematic problems, too. Like, I have never said this before, ever, but I’m pretty sure I would’ve enjoyed The Witch more if it was just a psychological horror film. If, say, Caleb came back from the woods all weird and dying, and we never knew exactly what happened to him out there, only that it sent the family into paranoid self-destruction . . . those were the moments I genuinely liked. That’s where I think the horror is most successful. And to be fair, I don’t hate all of the supernatural elements: Black Phillip was cool, also those ravens, and I did like the shot of the levitating witches–although they’re naked because of course they are. (See also: the witch who seduces Caleb with her extremely prominent and wicked breasts.) Which, I get it: the witches here are presented like they would’ve been in the 1600’s. Research, historical accuracy, blah blah, woof woof.

The problem is you’re telling this historical New England folktale in 2019, when I’m well-aware of what happened to the actual women accused of witchcraft in this era, and while I think you can tell a story about evil Satanic witches from the 1600’s, I’m not totally convinced you should. (I didn’t love how The Conjuring handled this, either, BTW.) At the very least, I don’t think this is the way to do it: surely, there must be a way to discuss/delve into/update these Puritanical fears without also embracing such awful misogynistic stereotypes. And I do think this movie embraces those stereotypes; since watching this film, I’ve come across at least three different articles praising the subversive feminism of The Witch, and if that was your takeaway, okay, I’m not trying to rip that from you. But personally, I came away with the exact opposite reaction, and ultimately, I think that’s because this is a “driven to evil” story that I just don’t buy.

There are ways Thomasin’s turn to Satan could’ve worked for me. For instance, I might’ve bought it if her motivation had been wholly pragmatic, the desperation to survive in this awful, barren landscape on her own. I might’ve bought it if she’d gone mad with vengeance and grief, if she’d needed the Devil to find and punish the twins who she’d come to blame for all of this. And sure, you can argue those are subtextual motivating factors, but they’re also pointedly not what Satan actually offers; instead, he pitches pretty dresses and the chance to live deliciously. (To be fair, wouldst thou like to live deliciously is a damn good line.) Because, you know. Thomasin mentioned missing stained glass windows that one time, and that’s how you get women: through materialism.

Likewise, I’ve seen it argued that Thomasin is making a baller power move here, that she and all those other floating, orgiastic witches in the woods are finally embracing their sexuality. But to me, all they’re really doing is validating the belief that without God, without men, women are both easily manipulated and spiritually vulnerable. They can be won over by shiny things, and they will grind up babies for beauty and power, and if they’re not vigorously protected from their baser instincts, they will lose themselves to their instinctual sexual mania, becoming wanton creatures capable of luring innocent boys to their deaths. Seriously. There are lots of ways to symbolically depict “embracing your sexuality,” but I can’t help but feel that a girl stripping down for a goat and joining a bunch of other writhing naked women ritualistically chanting their devotion to some eternal dude is, well, a very dude fantasy to have.

Ultimately, The Witch condemns religious paranoia while also making the argument for its justification, and that just doesn’t really sit right with me, thematically or morally.

The Cell

First Watch or Rewatch: Rewatch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other: Personal Collection DVD
Spoilers: Yup
Grade: Chocolate

The Cell has a lot of problems; I know this. Some actors were spectacularly miscast, like, Marianne Jean-Baptiste is a great scene stealer and Vincent D’Onofrio with his proto-Anton Chigurh haircut is dead-on, but Vince Vaughn as our FBI profiler dude? Honey, no. Jennifer Lopez wouldn’t have been my top choice for our psychologist heroine, either, but honestly, she’s not bad in the role; it’s how they use her that’s ridiculous, like, that scene where she’s in a shirt and panties and so ludicrously, so obviously posed next to the refrigerator? Ugh. Come on, dudes. Also, I can’t imagine this film’s depiction of schizophrenia is any more accurate or less offensive than most horror movies. And I just can’t get over this ending where Jennifer Lopez locks everyone out of the system, brings permanently comatose serial killer D’Onofrio into her mind, ends up mercy killing him–and then? Not only doesn’t she get arrested, not only does she keep her job, she somehow gets permission to bring the comatose child into her brain after she just murdered someone during that procedure!

Regardless, I have a lot of nostalgia for this movie; it kind of blew my mind when I was 15, and while the special effects have aged predictably poorly after 20 years, I still love a lot of the cinematography, fashion, and design. This shot for instance–maybe begin at the 2.17 mark–is still absolutely gorgeous. (Watch this whole clip if you’d like a lesson/reminder on the aesthetics of early 2000’s horror because this NSFW scene is strongly reminiscent of 2002’s Thir13en Ghosts.) All the art history inspiration is really cool, too: the creepy women in the sand, the fucked up horse, all the H.R. Giger shit. I like that Anne Marie, our current victim, figures out how to survive long enough to be saved by the FBI. And I’m just a sucker for this basic premise, like, it’s basically Inception meets Silence of the Lambs, and I am all about that. I’d have watched more standalone sequels in a heartbeat. Shit, I’d probably still watch those sequels, or maybe an updated remake, or, ooh, what about a whole TV show? (Okay, I think that’s basically what Reverie was, but despite the awesome presence of Sarah Shahi, that show didn’t even make it a full season. We can do better.) So, yeah, this one has serious flaws, but I still kinda treasure its surreal what-the-fuckery.

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Triple Spooky Scoop Review: The Conjuring, Insidious, and A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night

Well, I’d intended to post this a few days ago; however, due to the insane winds and the Kincade Fire up north, my sister and I had to evacuate over the weekend, along with nearly 200,000 other people in the county. I’ve gotta tell you: fire season is really doing its best to dampen my enthusiasm for what’s otherwise the greatest time of the year.

I’m back home now, though, and as of writing this, the Kincade Fire is contained at 45%. (Earlier, I mistakenly told people it was 45% when it was really 30%, and then maybe an hour later, it actually jumped to 45%. I’m pretty sure this just means I’m psychic now.) Hopefully, things will only continue to improve; in the meantime, it’s back to business as usual at My Geek Blasphemy, which is to say, more Horror Bingo!

Happy Halloween!

The Conjuring

First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Netflix
Spoilers: Some, yes
Grade: Chocolate

I enjoyed this for the most part. It’s a decently creepy film with a lot of good scare moments, especially considering there’s very little bloodshed. Some bits that particularly stood out: many of the shots with the music box, the ghost perched on top of the wardrobe, the entire “hide and clap” game. I like that the haunting is spread out amongst the family: one girl has the invisible friend, one continuously sleepwalks into the wardrobe, etc. I also like there are multiple children: sure, these characters are based on real people, but families in horror movies usually consist of one, maybe two kids. Here we have five daughters, and that’s just kind of neat. I was also extremely relieved that Roger didn’t spend the entire movie insisting his family was imagining things. I’m very tired of the whole “woman is superstitious and scared/dude believes in facts and science” dynamic. In fact, the general lack of skepticism in this movie was a refreshing change of pace. And speaking of refreshing, hey, Drew made it out alive! This was also a delightful surprise.

There are things that don’t work so well for me, though. While I like everyone in the Perron family (Lili Taylor is my MVP here), I don’t always buy our actual exorcists. Patrick Wilson is often a hit-or-miss actor for me, but I’ll admit, Vera Farmiga was a surprise because I’ve liked her in just about everything I’ve seen. In Farmiga’s defense, though, some of that expository dialogue is pretty rough; for instance: Look, I’ve got to tell you, you have a lot of spirits in here, but this is the one I’m most worried about because it is so hateful. I genuinely don’t know if anyone could’ve pulled that line. I also didn’t love the whole “yeah, Salem witches were real witches who actually sacrificed their children to Satan” backstory because one, ick, and two, why? I’m not thrilled with the score, either: some of the “tense” music threw me out of the story, and the happy times music at the end was like something out of a Disney film. OTOH, I was kind of delighted–if utterly bemused–by the anachronistic appearance of Dead Man’s Bones halfway through the film. I’m always up for some Dead Man’s Bones.

I enjoyed The Conjuring enough to potentially check out the sequel, although I don’t have much interest in any of the Annabelle movies. Still, I kinda adore the fact that a relatively small haunted house movie was the starting point for this whole shared universe of horror.

Insidious

First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Netflix
Spoilers: Absolutely
Grade: Strawberry

Huh. It appears we’re following up James Wan and Patrick Wilson with more James Wan and Patrick Wilson. Unfortunately, I don’t find Insidious nearly as successful as The Conjuring, and not just because it has that superstitious wife/skeptical husband dynamic that I was specifically hoping to avoid. I do like the basic story well enough. I also thought the first attempt to communicate with Dalton was pretty fun (holy shit, I love the medium’s gas mask), and everything in The Further looks pretty cool–even if I do think a name like “The Further” is trying way too hard, like, it just doesn’t feel natural. (Like when American Muggles became No-Majes, for example, and basically every American was all hard pass.) I also like that Patrick Wilson used to astral project as a child, though I think that particular reveal comes way too late, and I’m disappointed the movie doesn’t follow-through on exploring his repressed childhood trauma.

Meanwhile, there’s a lot that just doesn’t work for me on any level. For one, I don’t find this movie creepy at all. Basically none of the scares were scary: I laughed out loud at the opening credits when INSIDIOUS popped up on screen to the sounds of excessively dramatic violin, and sadly, things didn’t improve much from there. (Darth Maul the Ghost was not a turn of events I was expecting.) I’m bummed that Rose Byrne gets nothing interesting to do in the second half of the film; I’m even more disappointed that Lin Shaye bites it, something that surprised me–even though it shouldn’t have–because I knew she was in all the sequels. (In my defense, I didn’t know some of those films were prequels.) How awesome is it, I thought, to actually have an actress play a heroic character who a) survives multiple horror films, and b) is above the age of 60? What other franchise has done that? Poltergeist, maybe? (I don’t actually know; despite loving the original film, I never did see the sequels. Are they worth watching? Does Zelda Rubinstein make it through the whole trilogy?)

And while I don’t mind that Josh gets possessed, exactly–dude’s a weird combo of shifty, bland, and really annoying–I find the actual ending of the film fairly uninspired. Ultimately, this one’s just not my favorite.

A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night

First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other – Shudder
Spoilers: Surprisingly, no
Grade: Vanilla

The weirdest thing about this moody Iranian vampire-western is that it was filmed in Taft. Taft is a tiny ass town in Middle of Nowhere, California; it also just happens to be the place where I saw Rogue One on Christmas with my dad a few years back. This is not relevant to the film, of course, but it blows my fucking mind.

A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night is interesting, and I haven’t totally made up my mind about it yet. It’s extremely well-crafted and something I’d recommend, but it’s also unlikely to be a personal favorite. (Well. Maybe. I don’t know. Some movies take time and space to sink in.) The overall pace is slow, which is fine, but I find myself itching to shave minutes off multiple scenes, like, it often takes four beats too long for my liking for anyone to actually use their words. It’s all intentional, of course; this movie is definitely a mood piece, and good God, it’s got aesthetic like whoa. The music, the filming, just the whole style of it . . . this movie has such voice, and that’s pretty cool. It’s also always awesome to see horror movies directed by women, and considering this was the first Iranian vampire film at all? Like, that’s just neat.

I do wish I cared a little more about the relationship between Arash and the Girl. I do like the role reversal here–boy vamps can be so boring–and the Girl herself is pretty awesome. She’s strange and eerie, particularly whenever she’s mimicking and/or trailing after someone–and of course, I’m all about her striped shirt, chador, and skateboard. That is some cosplay gold. And yeah, Arash is fine, too, with his whole James Dean thing going on, and I get it–two lonely people in the night–but still, I just can’t seem to make myself care about them together. They spend so little time with one another, like, it’s really only a few scenes, and after, well, events . . . I’m just not sure I totally buy the ending. Which is frustrating because I actually love the ending: it’s interesting and original, and you can see exactly what Arash is thinking and when he comes to his decision without him ever saying a word. It’s such a cool conclusion, but that doesn’t mean I buy it exactly, not from him, not quite yet.

I don’t know, dudes: ask me again in six months. I’m still mulling over here.

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Triple Spooky Scoop Reviews: Ghost Story, The Wailing, and The Purge: Anarchy

Ghost Story

First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Amazon
Spoilers: Absolutely
Grade: Strawberry

So, I like parts of this. I can’t really judge it as an adaptation because while I’ve technically read the novel, that was roughly 15-20 years ago, and I remember very little about it now. I knew a bunch of old dudes (AKA, the Chowder Society) liked to meet up and tell ghost stories. I knew spooky supernatural shit would happen. And I remembered that I was disappointed by the novel’s resolution, though for the life of me, I can’t recall what troubled me about it. But that’s about it.

I enjoy the movie’s setup: an elegant old school horror society, a secret coming back to haunt them, a second generation drawn into the mystery, etc. (Although I think it would’ve been way more awesome to see the wives get involved in the investigation, too.) I like the revelation that Eva was still alive when she went into the water–frankly, these geriatric assholes deserve to die–and I enjoy how the film’s conclusion cuts between Ghost Eva menacing a helpless Don and Ricky finally revealing Eva’s rotting corpse. It’s also just neat to see these cinematic legends here, like, Fred Astaire in a horror movie! How cool is that?

Still, on the whole, Ghost Story isn’t my favorite. A lot of that’s due to writing and poor adaptational choices: the idea of ghost servants, for instance, is interesting on the surface, but Gregory and Fenny Bates have little actual purpose in this story. Fenny murdering Sears is an especially big letdown, and hey, whatever happened to this feral child, anyway? There are a number of logic leaps that annoy me, too, like when Don decides his fiancee isn’t “real,” despite the fact that all evidence at this point indicates a mentally ill woman with, like, a thyroid condition to explain her occasionally low body temperature. I mean, come on, Alma had a job! Other people saw her! I get that she literally ghosted him and all, but nothing that Don’s experienced thus far should make him think “ghost” yet. I also have no idea why Eva is so desperate to marry either Don or David, like, at first I assumed she needed someone to physically take her across the Milburn threshhold, but that’s clearly not the case, so, yeah, IDK. Also, what triggers the haunt to begin now? Don gives us some offhand bullshit about how decades of the Chowder Society’s ghost stories has given Eva/Alma’s spirit power or something, but man, they don’t sell that at all.

And unfortunately, the writing isn’t my only problem here. While most of the acting is fine (Alice Krige is enjoyable as Eva, and I like all the old men, especially John Houseman as The Asshole Friend), I find Craig Wasson as Don very hard to take seriously. Some of the scares are pretty laughable, and sure, 1981, but man, David’s death scene is ridiculous. (Points, I guess, for the surprising full-frontal shot? Sadly, Alice Krige has to be naked about 78 more times, so let’s not pretend this is equal opportunity nudity here.) The pacing is off. The score doesn’t fit the film at all. It’s just kind of a hot mess.

The film did provide some generation gap amusement, though. These fancy old fuckers are whining that men will soon only wear ties to wedding and funerals; meanwhile, Mekaela and I were completely baffled by Edward’s reaction to his son’s appearance. Dude basically says, “Don, you look like a hooligan!” And we’re like ” . . . uh, he’s wearing a sweater?”

The Wailing

First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other – Shudder
Spoilers: YES
Grade: Chocolate

I didn’t know a lot about The Wailing before watching it. I knew it was critically beloved. I knew there was a mystery element of some kind. And I knew it was long, like, not quite It: Chapter 2 long, but pretty close. Good news, though: I really enjoyed this one! It’s lengthy, yes, but I was quickly engaged in the story, and while the pace is slow, it’s also steady, never dragging unnecessarily or crashing to a halt at the halfway point. I enjoy the blend of mystery and horror; even the comedy works for me, which I find interesting because similar comedy didn’t work for me at all in The Host. The acting here is great, too; Kwak Do-Won gives a strong, multi-layered performance as our protagonist, and I really enjoy Kim Hwan-Hee as his possessed daughter: she has some amazing facial expressions.

Until that final act, where both Old Japanese Dude and Mysterious Woman seem shady AF, I was pretty confident that Old Japanese Dude wasn’t the bad guy because a) I was getting shades of “mob justice dooms us all” themes almost right away, and b) I had Mysterious Woman near-immediately pegged as a ghost, and I was all, Oh, no, she’s totally leading these guys into killing the one dude trying to help. But then Mysterious Woman insists she’s been protecting them, and I’m like, Well, shit. Now I don’t know WHAT the fuck to think. This part of the film was spectacularly well done. Also, like Jon Snow, I clearly know fuck-all since I was so obviously wrong about literally everything.

I am still trying to decide how I feel about a few things. I find myself wanting to know more about how that trap works: how does Jong-Goo returning home ruin it, exactly? Is it comparable to breaking a line of salt? Much more importantly, what would’ve happened if he had waited? How would it have stopped Hyo-Jin from killing everyone? I haven’t fully decided how I feel about the shaman yet, either; his secret villainy does seem a bit convenient to me, but to be fair, dude absolutely does come off as shifty throughout; he just seems more like a potential scam artist than, IDK, Devil’s helper? Maybe that’s the problem I’m having, the fact that I don’t really know the shaman’s relationship to the demon. It makes his villainous turn feel a bit out-of-nowhere, although I’m not certain that it actually is: an exorcist getting rich while working with his supposed enemy does, of course, make a certain grim capitalist sense.

It’s difficult. Sometimes, we need more than one viewing to fully appreciate a story’s layered complexity, not to mention that as long as we tell stories, we’ll almost certainly argue about how much information needs to be revealed in order to make a story successful versus being lazy, a cheat, or weak. And, of course, we can’t overlook the cultural component, either: as an American, I’m an outsider looking in here, and that obviously influences my perception of the film. One notable example: basically every character in this movie uses a slur to refer to the Old Japanese Dude, and I wouldn’t be surprised if that was a factor into how quickly I latched onto the “mob justice” narrative. But it’s also important for me to remember that America and Japan have a very different history than Korea and Japan. Also important: my knowledge of Korean mythology and folklore is extremely limited, which means that exposition I might consider necessary (like the nature of that trap, or the upper body/lower body symbolism of stolen items) is information that Korean audiences might not require at all. It’s not that my ignorance makes me a bad person or anything, but expecting a foreign film to stop their story just to give global audiences Folklore 101 is probably an ethnocentric dick move.

I will say, however, that no matter how much I learn, I don’t think I’ll ever be satisfied by the police officer who, I guess, is too horrified to point out the pictures/stolen items he discovered while they’re at the Old Japanese Dude’s cabin. And then Jong-Goo doesn’t even come back until the next day, and he’s upset because the guy burned all the incriminating evidence? Of course he did, you worthless sonofabitch. I mean, I genuinely do feel bad for this guy, but also? Nope. All the nope.

The Purge: Anarchy

First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Amazon
Spoilers: Yup
Grade: Vanilla

Believe it or not–and by now, you probably will–this is actually the first time I’ve seen any of the Purge films. What surprised me here is the genre itself: this has elements of horror, I suppose, but mostly, Anarchy just feels like an action movie, especially when we get to the Most Dangerous Game portion of the evening: the Sergeant kicks rich people ass, while our other survivors twiddle their thumbs for 15 minutes. I’ll admit, it’s not my favorite section of the movie: the Sergeant just isn’t interesting enough to dominate this much screen time. He’s so one-note, it’s not even funny; I genuinely don’t know why we waited the whole movie to confirm that, yep, he’s out here to murder the man who killed his son. Surely everyone understood this within the first 15 minutes? Surely?

Despite the lack of horror, I think this universe is pretty fun. Outlandish, sure, but I’ve said it before: I’ll take most wacky premises, so long as they’re given upfront. And it’s fun, contemplating what you’d do during the Purge: I can tell you what I sure as shit wouldn’t do, though, and that’s go to the grocery store the evening before, like, you assholes, you’ve had a year to plan for this. (The wife grew on me, and I liked that she stayed with the rebels. The whiny ass husband did not grow on me, and I clapped when he died.) But yeah, there’s a lot in this universe to play with, and I really find myself wanting to know more about how things specifically work. Like, I know emergency services are out for the evening, but what about long-term/gravely ill patients who can’t be discharged? Are they just left to die, or are there, like, secret underground hospitals somewhere? (I would 100% be up for a crossover between The Purge and Hotel Artemis, BTW.) Conventional horror movie wisdom insists the former, but personal experience and anecdotal evidence from real life natural disasters suggest otherwise. I kinda want to see sequels where specific communities (rather than individual families and/or random strangers) work together to survive the night. I’m also wildly interested in the story about the morning-after clean-up crew. You think I’m joking, but I’m dead serious: I would watch the shit out of that movie.

There are a shocking amount of people I recognize here, mostly in very small roles. I knew Justina Machado would be in this, and mourned her character’s death accordingly. Michael K. Williams was a delightful surprise, as was John Beasley, Edwin Hodge, and Lakeith Stanfield. (I specifically liked Stanfield because his character was just a morally bankrupt kidnapper-for-hire. Like, why aren’t there more thieves running around? Why is it only bloody murder and attempted rape here?)

A few final thoughts:

A. Carmen Ejogo and Zoë Soul were absolutely fine in this movie, but I immediately started daydreaming about a fanfic crossover where Penelope and Elena Alvarez from One Day at a Time replaced their characters. I’m now trying to come up with a semi-likable Unhappy Married Couple and a Mournful Badass who’s more interesting than Sergeant.

B. I kinda enjoy that the Sergeant’s mercy is what saves him in the end, but I hated Big Daddy’s whole “we can’t have heroes” speech, like, dudes, come on. Even for me, this is too on the nose.

C. I find it very difficult to hear “purge” as a verb and not think of vomiting, which means I had trouble taking it seriously whenever a character, ominously holding a gun, would say something like, “I’m here to purge,” or whatever.

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Triple Spooky Scoop Review: The Babadook, It Follows, and Jennifer’s Body

Yes, my friends, victims, and mortal enemies, it is that most wonderful time of the year again: October, the Month of Halloween. There are people that only celebrate Halloween on the actual day, of course, or the weekend before. Those people are fools. Pity them.

Mekaela and I have instituted a new game this year: HORROR BINGO. We’ve written down a variety of scary movies to choose from–nostalgic favorites, recent sequels and remakes, horror masterpieces that basically everyone but me has seen–and thrown them into a glass skull jar to be chosen one by one. I’m afraid to inform you all that, thus far, I’m nowhere near bingo. Still, my sheet is not entirely without potential. Keep your fingers crossed for drawing Us or Cabin in the Woods soon.

The Babadook

First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Amazon
Spoilers: Yes
Grade: Chocolate

Yes, it’s true: I really hadn’t watched The Babadook until just last week. This is going to be something of a recurrent theme all month, I expect, so just prepare yourselves now. Because you have to understand: I love horror, I do. It’s just that I love bad horror so much–it’s like comfort food–that if I’m given the choice, I’m much more likely to say, “You know, it’s been a long day. Why don’t we save the critically acclaimed and inevitably depressing film for tomorrow and instead watch Naughty or Dead IV: The Final Kringle. Santa’s come back from Hell, and this time he has six more names on his list!”

Man. I would watch the hell out of that movie.

The point is, I finally watched The Babadook, and it’s pretty great. I don’t know that I’d ever feel any particular need to rewatch it, exactly–even when I’m in the mood for serious scares, psychological horror has never actually been my favorite flavor of the genre–but I can definitely appreciate how well-crafted it is. Director Jennifer Kent does a phenomenal job here: building the tension inch by inch, then flipping the script halfway, so that we begin with a monster child and transition to a monster mother. I really love how this movie presents motherhood, too: it doesn’t flinch back at all from showing how much parenthood well and truly sucks sometimes. Mothers especially, I think, are rarely allowed to be anything other than mothers in film and television; either they don’t have any interests, passions, or concerns outside of their kids–my BAY-BEE, Claire from Lost still screams endlessly in my head–or they’re simply never allowed to show any resentment towards their children. A mother who sometimes does not like her child, a mother who feels regret or doesn’t believe her kid is the greatest gift she’s ever been given, is a Bad Mother in most stories. The Babadook, however, rejects such a narrative. We’re invited to sympathize with Amelia over and over. Even after she’s been possessed, even after she kills the dog, Amelia is a victim here, not a villain.

The acting is also fantastic: Essie Davis really goes through this incredible transformation right before your eyes, and Noah Wiseman was what, like, six when he starred in this? That’s bullshit; you’re not supposed to be this talented at six. It’s rude, goddamn it. And, of course, the Babadook himself is not just a queer icon; he’s also creepy AF, and I’m a little obsessed with his top hat. Also, that book, like, damn. I’ve never particularly cared about owning first editions, but man, this is a first edition I’d actually be super excited to have.

What really makes The Babadook work for me, though, is just how well it nails the ending. I assumed we’d get something boring like this: Amelia kills small child, then gets arrested, then gets thrown into an outdated insane asylum, and then–just as we’re wondering if she was really crazy all along–we get one last jump scare and murdered orderly and a big evil grin. Instead of that predictable nonsense, we get a resolution that’s far more thoughtful and original. Amelia is successfully exorcised, but the Babadook cannot be banished entirely. Thus in our mostly-happy denouement, the Babadook lives in the basement, subsisting on the worms Amelia feeds him, still violent and terrifying and needing daily attention. And what I love about that, besides the fantastic blend of positive change and lingering consequence, is that this ending works whether you take the Babadook as a literal monster (as I am often wont to do) or simply as a manifestation of Amelia’s grief (something that she can never fully let go of, something that must be both accepted and constantly fed). This ending ties the whole story together and makes everything that came before just that much more powerful.

It Follows

First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Amazon
Spoilers: Yes
Grade: Vanilla

I’d actually hoped to see It Follows in theater way back in 2014 . . . and yet somehow here we are, five years later. I continue to fail this city.

I liked this one, though I feel like I might need to see it a few more times to decide exactly how much I like it. It’s certainly creepy: the opening act, the various shots of the unnamed it walking in slow motion. Wonderful cinematography, and the music is awesome. I also quite liked the whole out-of-time feel to the story, how you can never quite pinpoint what decade it’s set in. I don’t think that would work for every movie, but I rather enjoy this film’s vague retro feel. The Halloween influence is certainly present, but It Follows still comes across as its own thing, which is nice.

What I also liked: a) Jay’s friends trying to help out, even when they don’t fully believe her, b) the little-to-no drama between said friends, c) how their third-act electrocution plan completely and utterly fails, and d) the surprisingly non-judgmental tone of the film. Like, I was pretty worried about that last one, considering the basic premise of this movie can be summed up by the words “ghost STDs.” Thankfully, I never really got the impression that It Follows was punishing Jay for the sin of having sex. That was a welcome relief.

However, that might simply be because this movie seems to have very little to say about sex at all, like, don’t get me wrong: less sex is usually a bonus for me, but . . . IDK. You sorta expect some kind of relevant theme to emerge when your story has a sex-based haunting mechanism, don’t you? If it’s here, however, I confess that I missed it, and weirdly, that’s a bit of a disappointment for me. Like, they have such a fantastically original premise, and yet it never quite feels like they bother saying anything with it. There’s also a bit more male gaze here than I would’ve hoped for: tame compared to an 80’s slasher, sure, but for real, did we really need that whole one exposed breast thing? Like, let’s just say that I didn’t need to check to know this was directed by a dude.

I’m also not entirely sure how I feel about the ending quite yet. It might grow on me, IDK. I really do like the last actual shot of Jay and Paul going down the street with a menacing figure walking some distance behind them. But I also feel like the ambiguity here–you know, what’s their plan, do they even have one, what will happen to them now, etc.–doesn’t totally work for me. It doesn’t feel so much deliberately open-ended as it does “we’re not sure how to solve this, so . . . let’s just be vague and creepy.” (Also, Paul himself has a sorta Nice Guy feel to him, and I think I was a little disappointed that nobody called him on it. I was way more invested in Jay’s relationship with her sister than with this kid.) To be fair, though, ambiguous resolutions just often aren’t my thing, so what doesn’t work for me here might work really well for a lot of other people.

Jennifer’s Body

First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Amazon
Spoilers: Yes
Grade: Strawberry

Yes, this is yet another movie I’d planned to see upon its initial release–although in this case, my enthusiasm waned due to the veritable mountain of poor reviews it received, going from a “must-see” to a “I’ll get around to it, eventually.” Because I’m a failure of a human being, “eventually” turned out to be “a decade.” Fun fact: Adam Brody apparently hasn’t aged in about ten years. Again, rude, right? Like, what an asshole.

There’s a lot I enjoy about this: a fair bit of the humor (“lasagna with teeth”), a lady monster, unexpected cameos, J.K. Simmon’s unexplained hook hand, Satanist indie rock musicians, etc. (Seriously, that whole scene where they sacrifice Jennifer? Man, I was dying.) I really like the ending, too, with Needy telekinetically busting out of the mental hospital to enact bloody revenge on Low Shoulder. All end credits should feature violent murders, like, it should just be a rule.

Still, I can’t help but feel something’s missing here. It’s the friendship between Jennifer and Needy, I think; the whole story hangs on it, and I never quite buy it, mostly because it seems like the movie is trying to sell too many different dynamics in too short a time. Are they unlikely BFFs who will do anything for each other? Is their friendship toxic and manipulative? Is Needy secretly in love with Jennifer? Obviously, people don’t fit in easy boxes and relationships of any kind can be complicated, but the dynamic here doesn’t feel complicated to me; it feels short-changed and confused. The romantic stuff, for instance: a story about a girl who doesn’t know if she platonically loves her best friend or is In Love with her best friend is a totally valid and interesting one to tell, but to me, it feels shallow here, underdeveloped. The Kiss (well-shot as it is) mostly just comes across as an excuse for some Hot Wicked Bisexual Trope Time, which, come on. Must we?

Meanwhile, when Needy accuses Jennifer of always being a terrible friend, well, sure, that rings true because Jennifer has proven herself to be kind of the worst, even before she was possessed by a literal demon. Unfortunately, that’s both a) kind of dull–admittedly, a matter of opinion, but I’ve grown pretty bored of most toxic girl friendship stories–and b) really pushing the audience to embrace the dissolution of this friendship rather than mourn its loss. Which would be fine if this was a Friend Overcomes Emotional Abuse empowerment story, but that’s not really the impression I get from this ending. Consider the scene where Needy rips Jennifer’s BFF necklace off: the quick flashback to them as children and the way Jennifer, betrayed, goes still and empty and slowly falls back to the bed. It’s a surprisingly lovely and powerful shot, and I am really into it, like, I’ve rewatched it at least three times now. And yet, I’m also not totally convinced that the movie has earned this scene. I want more buildup to that moment. I want to be super invested in these two as friends. I wanna feel that tragedy, but it’s just not quite working for me.

Jennifer’s Body has become a cult phenomenon, of course, and I agree that it’s a lot better than people gave it credit for back in 2009. I definitely had a good time watching it, and I could easily watch it again. It’s just that while the comedy is there for me, and the gore is there for me, The Feels, unfortunately, are a bit of an uneven letdown.

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Now Available at Nightmare: “Some Kind of Blood-Soaked Future”

When you can avoid fires and evacuations and massive PG&E outages, October is the best month. This is not a new argument, I know, but I like to repeat it annually: there are costumes, candy, friends, horror movies, haunted houses, creepy board games, pumpkins, very few family obligations, and, of course, spooky reads. Today those reads include “Some Kind of Blood-Soaked Future,” a short story I sold and is now available to read for free at Nightmare.

In truth, this is not a very spooky story. It’s more of a horror-comedy with Feels, what a sequel to a slasher might look like if it was written by someone with serious fanfiction sensibilities, like yours truly. If I were tagging this story on Archive, I suspect I’d go with something like the following: Horror, Emotional H/C, Angst and Humor, Found Family Feels, Asexual Character, Graphic Depictions of Violence, and Post Canon. (The violence isn’t that graphic, honestly, but maybe for the squeamish–and okay, fine, post-canon isn’t technically accurate since this is the canon. But, you know. It reads like a post-canon fic.)

I am very fond of this story, and if you choose to read it, I hope you enjoy it, too. And if you’d like a little background music with your reading, may I suggest “The National Anthem” by Radiohead? It’s an excellent song, I think, for montages: here, I’m imagining an endless cycle of driving down highways, fighting masked serial killers, trying to wash blood out of clothes, and occasionally screaming bloody murder into the sky. You know, cheery stuff like that.

Happy reading!

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