World’s Worst Trekkie: Friday’s Child, The Deadly Years, and Obsession

Okay. I started watching TOS, like, actual years ago. This damn show is all of three seasons; I should probably be on DS9 by now, and yet I keep putting TOS off because while I enjoy my recap/reviews, they also take forever to write. This is always my problem with the blog. I’m too damn chatty. I have 18,000 thoughts on any given movie or episode of television, and wrangling these thoughts into something even vaguely coherent is just so time-consuming. It’s been stressing me out. Thus.

We’re gonna trying Triple Scooping this bitch. It’s not a perfect system–it is, in fact, damn silly–but I think I might work better for me. We’ll see if it sticks or not.

DISCLAIMER

There will be SPOILERS for these three episodes and probably also the Star Trek franchise in general. You’ve been warned.

“Friday’s Child”

This episode is very hard to take seriously because–and I don’t say this lightly–the Capellans might have the most ridiculous costumes I have ever seen on this show. You can see them in the background above, but for further examples, please look here. And here. Assuming I ever go to a convention again, I demand to see this cosplay.

“Friday’s Child” is okay. Parts are kinda yikes; for instance, when Bones slaps a pregnant woman. (She slapped him first–twice, even–but I can guarantee you that the doctors at my job are not allow to hit their patients back. Besides, she told him not to touch her. Listen to your patients, dude.) Actually, Eleen (Julie Newmar!) is probably the most interesting part of the whole episode, something I mostly attribute to stage presence. There’s a story in here, somewhere, that could be fascinating: the pregnant widow of an overthrown king whose baby puts her life in grave danger and, thus, wants nothing to do with it . . . a grieving woman who’s not interested in being a mother without her partner . . . a fugitive queen who bonds with a strange outworld doctor who’s trying to help but only half-understands her customs, etc. Unfortunately, nuance and feminism aren’t exactly selling points for TOS, so what we actually get is Bones trying to persuade a patient that of course she wants her baby and other cringeworthy stuff. (Credit where credit’s due, though: I did laugh at Spock reluctantly holding the baby, as well as Kirk insisting that Bones’s baby-talk is an example of an obscure Earth dialect.)

Random Asides: A) Bones can apparently tell a woman’s about to give birth just by touching her belly, which, sure, that’s definitely more effective than his actual Tricorder, B) The Klingon ship backed down from a fight? Fuck you, they did. What utter horse shit, and C) if you need more evidence on TOS’s somewhat mixed moral message, consider this bit where Spock asks, “Revenge, Captain?” and Kirk responds, “Why not?”

Chief Asshat: The Red Shirt who immediately gets himself killed by pulling a weapon on this random Klingon the second he sees him, like, uh, no?  You don’t just get to attack people? Kirk’s all indignant about it, too, offering up a frankly disturbing “he was young and impetuous, it’s all understandable” defense. So, good to see that Kirk’s racism is still going strong here, well before the Klingons murdered his son.

MVP: Probably Scotty, for proving once again that he’s a competent officer. Poor Scotty. The movies did you wrong, man.

Grade: Vanilla

Line of the Episode: “I think you’re both going to be insufferably pleased with yourselves for at least a month. Sir.”

“The Deadly Years”

Ah, it’s The One Where Everyone Gets Old! Specifically, Kirk, Bones, Scotty, Spock, and Nurse Dead Meat get old; Chekov, mysteriously, doesn’t age at all, even though he was on the same away mission. At first, I was very excited by this, if only because Spock is usually the anomaly in these kinds of situations, and I was interested to see what made Chekov so special. (Spoilers: it’s FEAR. That is, adrenaline; Chekov sees a dead body in the beginning of this episode and freaks the hell out. Which A) valid, but also B) IDK, I feel like our heroes see a lot of corpses? Shouldn’t Chekov be used to this by now?

Unfortunately, this mystery is barely part of the episode. Instead, “The Deadly Years” is far more interested in examining Kirk’s rapidly progressing dementia as the crew hems and haws over whether he’s currently competent enough to be in charge, which, no, he is not; he is very, very clearly not. And yet we still have to watch, like, a whole tribunal to discuss Kirk’s incompetence, which is basically just a rehash of scenes that, FFS, we just saw. The acting isn’t bad here; in fact, it’s genuinely hard to watch Kirk’s anger and confusion as his mental faculties deteriorate. But we spend a lot of time on this, and I think that’s time that could’ve been spent better elsewhere: on our other aging crew members (like Nurse Dead Meat, who apparently no one cares about, or Scotty, who’s barely in this episode), or into The Mystery of Chekov, or maybe even on Kirk’s 87th Ex-Girlfriend, a blonde, breathy doctor who–and I can’t stress this enough–does absolutely nothing of any plot significance in this episode.

Part of the problem here, too, is that our big dilemma is Who Will Be in Charge Now . . . only it feels like a trumped up crisis. Spock insists that no one on the away mission, including himself, is currently capable of assuming command, which means that this entirely inexperienced Commodore has to do it. But this is nonsense: for one, if a junior officer can’t command the ship in an emergency, then maybe it would behoove us to have more than four senior officers on board; for another, Sulu’s definitely been left in charge before, only we’re conveniently forgetting that now for Contrived Plot Shit. The one good thing I will say here is that it’s nice that our Commodore, while somewhat useless in battle, isn’t actually a mustache-twirling villain. He’s not trying to steal anyone’s command; he’s just trying to step up and do what’s right.

“The Deadly Years” isn’t one of my favorite episodes by any means, but there are things I enjoy about it. Sulu and Chekov get a brief moment to banter. Kirk (now young again) saves the day by bringing back the Corbomite Manuever, which was a fun callback. And the old age makeup is hilarious because it’s absolutely as awful as you’d expect; actually, it might be even worse than normal, as rapidly aging seems to have made Bones’s hair . . . longer? (There are many, many hairline problems in this episode.) Bones’s Southern accent also gets much, much thicker, which happened in “This Side of Paradise,” too.

Chief Asshat: You know, I’m not sure I’ve got one this time. Kirk’s kind of a dick here but, for once, that’s not really his fault.

MVP: Chekov, maybe? In a way, his fear totally saves the day, and also I enjoy watching him bitch about all the medical tests he has to go through. Sulu thinks it’s funny too. His amused little smile is the absolute best.

Grade: Strawberry

Line of the Episode: “What a stupid place to hang a mirror.”

“Obsession”

Looks like it’s time to question the captain’s competency again! This time, Kirk is convinced that this strange smoke which killed a few of his crewmen is not some random weather pattern but an intelligent and malevolent creature; moreover, Kirk believes he has encountered this entity before, back when he was an ensign. Young Kirk hesitated for a split second before firing on said entity and thus blamed himself when, like, 200 people died, including his old captain. Now Kirk is obsessed with taking down this creature, even if it costs lives–and not just the lives of his crew, but also of the people on Theta VII, who are waiting for their super perishable vaccine doses.

I like that Kirk’s obsession stems from a mistake he thinks he made, rather than, IDK, a dead girlfriend or something. I like, too, that his trauma is echoed in Ensign Garrovick, who also hesitates and becomes convinced that he’s to blame for the deaths of his fellow officers. (Although I think making Garrovick the old captain’s son is silly and unnecessary.) There are several interactions with Ensign G that I enjoy: from Nurse Chapel’s comfort via tough love (oh my God, it’s amazing, where has this Nurse Chapel been all my life), to Spock’s comfort via tough logic (“I know you would prefer to wallow in a pool of emotion . . .”), to Kirk telling Garrovick that he isn’t to blame and thus quietly realizing that he, too, should forgive himself.

Still, I feel like improvements could be made. Kirk’s irrationality in this episode doesn’t entirely work for me, partially because it comes on too fast for my liking, and partially because I feel like “Obsession” really wants Kirk to be right in the end, which . . . I’m not convinced that he is. Sure, he’s correct about the smoke being an entity, but that doesn’t mean that delaying to Theta VII is the right call here. When the captain’s all nonchalant about the potential deaths of citizens, like, maybe that’s a big problem? It bothers me, too, that Kirk arguably gets some of his own officers killed, yet never seems particularly concerned or guilty about that. Like, how is this not being factored into his trauma? Also, Kirk’s whole instinctual and/or possibly psychic connection to the entity is incredibly vague and just feels like lazy writing to me.

Chief Asshat: Kirk. Which is funny because as soon as we saw this episode’s title, Mek asked, “So, who’s going to be a dick this episode?” to which I immediately replied, “Kirk.” Mek, quite rightly, refused to take that bet.

MVP: Nurse Chapel, hands down. Thus far, Majel Barrett has been wasted on this show. Is it too much to hope we get more awesome moments like this?

Grade: Chocolate

Line of the Episode: “You know, self pity’s a terrible first course. Why don’t you try the soup instead?”

TV Superlatives: December, January, February – 2020/2021

It seems I’m capable of watching either a lot of TV shows or a lot of movies, but not both. Fall 2020 was Movie Time, specifically, Horror Movie Time, and TV definitely fell by the wayside. Winter, however, was rather the other way around.

Here is the list of TV shows I’ve been watching over the past three months:

Tale of the Nine-Tailed (Episodes 10-16)
Running Man (Random Episodes)
The Uncanny Counter
Alice in Borderland
The Expanse (Season 5)
Sweet Home
The Sleuth of the Ming Dynasty
WandaVision
Nancy Drew (Season 2, Episodes 1-6)
Busted (Season 3)
Infinity Train (Season 2)
L.U.C.A.: The Beginning (Episodes 1-5)
Last Week Tonight
Star Trek: Lower Decks

A quick reminder for how these work: I will bestow whatever TV shows I’ve been currently watching with my usual nonsense awards, whether they’re currently airing or not. As always, I will do my best to clearly mark these awards with spoiler warnings.

With that said, let’s begin!

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Die Hard: The Alternate 80’s Cast

Happy Inauguration Day! Hopefully happy, anyway; I’ll be honest, I’m having trouble feeling the sheer relief a lot of people have been expressing on social media for the past 24 hours. Maybe I’ll manage it on Thursday, if nothing terrible happens. In the meantime, consider this an official Distraction Post.

While reviewing Die Hard a few weeks ago, I mentioned that Mek and I had been having fun recasting the film with actors who could reasonably have been hired in 1988. Reasonably, in this case, meaning people who were actively acting around that time; I didn’t, like, look up people’s film schedules to make sure they were free or anything. Remember folks, this is all for fun and games and blasphemy; I didn’t sweat the nitty gritty, and I encourage you all to do likewise.

Recasting any movie–but especially something as iconic as Die Hard–will always be difficult because no two actors are gonna give the same performance. This John McClane, inevitably, will not be Bruce Willis’s John McClane. The Hans Gruber we all love and cherish simply can’t be replicated by any other actor, no matter how talented. This is a sad truth that we live with forever now: there was, and only ever will be, one Alan Rickman.

Still. I had a great deal of fun coming up with this Alternate Die Hard cast, and I hope you also have a good time, thinking things like “huh” and “hmm” and “sweet Christ, WHY?” This will be a pretty straight recast today: no gender-bending or the like, but if you are interested in a hypothetical genderbent cast, feel free to look here. (If you’re not interested in the rambling essay part, scroll down quite a ways.)

Prepare yourselves, friends. The blasphemy is about to begin.

DIE HARD: THE ALTERNATE 80’S CAST

John McClane – Kurt Russell

Now I know what a TV dinner feels like.

Here’s the thing: originally, I wanted to cast someone who–just like Bruce Willis–was an unconventional choice, someone wasn’t already an action star. Unfortunately, we just couldn’t come up with anyone we liked, not until we thought of Kurt Russell, who, of course, was smack in the middle of the (first) Big Action Phase of his career, with films like The Thing, Escape From New York, Big Trouble in Little China, and Tango & Cash. (Kurt Russell’s career fascinates me. It’s a beautiful, unholy mix of SFF action, regular action, violent westerns, the occasional romantic comedy, and some wholesome Disney shit.)

But Kurt Russell’s heroes aren’t all carbon copies of each other: Jack Burton is definitely not Snake Plissken, and MacReady is not Wyatt Earp. Russell goes deliberately over-the-top sometimes–which, TBH, I goddamn adore–but he can also pull it back, and I can genuinely hear him landing a fair bit of the dialogue. Plus. Let’s concentrate on what really matters, folks: you know he can wear the hell out of that white tank top. (Lipstick, too, clearly . . . but alas, that doesn’t canonically feature.)

Hans Gruber – Rutger Hauer

That’s a very nice suit, Mr. Takagi. It would be a shame to ruin it.

Again, there is no duplicating Alan Rickman. It simply can’t be done. But I’ve always been very fond of Rutger Hauer, too, and his Hans Gruber could’ve been interesting to see. I do suspect it would’ve been a touch more, shall we say, overtly menacing than Rickman’s performance? Like, Hauer was known for playing creepy and charismatic villains for a reason; he was damn good at them.

But I’ve seen some nice subtle bits of humor, too: this scene from Ladyhawke, for example, where he is–for once–the good guy. That expression on Hauer’s face when he says “No?” Oh, it always kills me dead. He could’ve gone for a German accent, I suppose, (apparently, he played several German characters over the course of his career), but . . . IDK, part of me just wants this Hans to have been an exceptional Dutch thief instead.

Holly Gennaro McClane – Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio

That’s okay, I have my eye on his private bathroom.

TBH, this is kinda just typecasting. In the late 80’s/early 90’s, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio definitely played this type of love interest, you know, professional and independent and not afraid to call the lead hero–who may or may not have been her ex–on their bullshit. Lindsey Brigham in The Abyss. Maid Marian in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. But I’ve always liked Mastrantonio, and I think she could’ve been a great Holly. I can easily see her stepping up to be the hostage’s spokesperson after Takagi dies. Plus, I mean, come on. Those curls. I’m not saying I’m making all my casting choices based on hair and fashion, but I’m not not saying it, either.

Sergeant Al Powell – Frankie Faison

No, but it’s gonna need a paint job and a shitload of screen doors.

Like Reginald VelJohnson–like a lot of the people in the original cast, honestly–Frankie Faison wasn’t a big name in 1988, at least not compared to some of the other actors you’ll find on this list. But he has a very nice voice and a lot of screen presence, always making the most of even the smallest roles: Barney, for instance, in The Silence of the Lambs. (Shit, does this make Kurt Russell his Clarice? I like it.) Dude’s in that movie for all of twelve seconds, but he always stands out in my memory. And of all the actors we came up with, Faison is the one I can hear the best when it comes to Powell’s dialogue. I absolutely love VelJohnson’s line deliveries, but I think Frankie Faison could’ve done a very nice job with them, too.

Karl – Patrick Swayze

I don’t want neutral. I want dead.

No, but listen. Listen. Is this a ridiculous casting? Yes. Is it the most ridiculous casting you’ve ever seen? Possibly, but you have to respect the legs. People. It is important. Alexander Godunov was a dancer, and by God, our Karl will be one, too. If he does not deliver the most beautiful jump kicks, is he really Karl at all? I rest my case.

Theo – LeVar Burton

Oh my God, the quarterback is toast!

Ah, the reason we did this recast in the first place. During our annual Christmas viewing of Die Hard, I found myself randomly wondering what it might’ve been like to see LeVar Burton as Theo. It amused me, of course, to think of a beloved children’s host (as well as beloved Geordi LaForge) as a bad guy–albeit, the funny bad guy that doesn’t kill anybody and, very thankfully, survives–but I really do think it could’ve worked. At the very, very least, I can absolutely see LeVar Burton rocking that sweater and glasses combo. (I’ll admit to finding the collective online thirst for attractive dudes in old man sweaters kind of baffling, but I’m always willing to be convinced!)

Takagi – George Takei

Ellis, I want you to meet John McClane. Holly’s husband. Holly’s policeman.

Let’s keep with the Star Trek theme for the moment, shall we?

According to IMDb Trivia (which, you know, might be accurate?), John McTiernan wanted to hire George Takei for the role of Takagi, and George Takei wanted the role of Takagi, too, but there was some kind of paperwork mishap due to Takei’s agent, and the part went to James Shigeta instead. I can’t entirely regret this because I’ve always loved Shigeta in the role, but it also could’ve been really neat to see George Takei here as well. Not just because I’m a Sulu stan, but yeah, a little cause I’m a Sulu stan.

Ellis – Bill Paxton

Hey babe, I negotiate million dollar deals for breakfast. I think I can handle this Eurotrash.

I’ll admit, Ellis stumped me for quite a while . . . until Mekaela came up with the idea of Bill Paxton, and I was immediately sold. Ellis is kinda scummy, kinda sleazy, thinks he’s the shit (spoilers: he is not the shit), and overall, has a certain ‘cocaine will be my date to this Christmas party’ energy. In other words, think of Ellis as Bill Paxton’s audition for True Lies, and I think you might see it, too.

Bill Paxton was the best. Ugh, this casting is reminding me just how many amazing actors we’ve lost.

Argyle – Wesley Snipes

This IS Christmas music.

Argyle, surprisingly, was another tough character to cast. For a while, I was considering a young Will Smith, but he was still a few years out from his first acting role in 1988, and we decided to keep looking. Eventually, we came up with Wesley Snipes (in his pre-Blade days), and I kinda like the idea: he has just a ton of comedic energy in films like Major League, and I can absolutely see him laughing his ass off at the poor life choices of John McClane. As well he should. Love the dude, but McClane definitely deserves it.

Dwayne T. Robinson – John Larroquette

We’re gonna need some more FBI guys, I guess.

I’ve always thought that Dwayne T. Robinson requires a very specific type of humor. Initially, he’s just that one jerk cop played pretty straight, until the bigger jerk cops (the FBI) come into the picture, and then DTR gets to be . . . well, if not an ally, exactly, then at least funnier, a bit more likable. The comedic moments are small, though; they shouldn’t be overplayed, and I feel like John Larroquette–who can easily play either sharp and incisive or just hilariously incompetent–could make that balance work.

Thornberg – James Spader

Did you get that?

James Spader is 13 years younger than William Atherton, but Thornberg’s age is considerably less important to me than the punchability of his face, and in the 80’s and early 90’s, James Spader was extremely well-versed in the art of playing jerks with punchable faces. I can absolutely see him playing the guy who threatened a woman with deportation and endangered Holly’s life, all for a good story. Plus, let’s keep with the theme: look at that fantastic 80’s hair. Obviously, Die Hard could only be improved with all that amazing blond fluff.

Special Agent Johnson – Michael Ironside

This is Agent Johnson. No, the other one.

Yes. Yes. Michael Ironside as Special Agent Johnson (AKA, Big Johnson), and you know why? Because it’s perfect, that’s why. Come on. Come. On.

Agent Johnson – Eriq La Salle

I was in junior high, dickhead.

I’ve rewatched some ER clips recently, and it’s made me wanna see Eriq La Salle in more things–things that are not Jacob’s Ladder, ugh, that movie. Agent Johnson (AKA Little Johnson) would’ve been a minor role, admittedly, but Die Hard was a few years prior to ER, so that doesn’t bother me–and happily, he’s about the right age, since Eriq La Salle would’ve been in junior high about the time the Vietnam War ended. Also, I can really hear him delivering some of these lines: the one above, of course, but also “when we commandeer your men, we’ll try and let you know.” LOVE IT.

And finally . . .

Uli – Dennis Dun

*double take at the candy display*

Did I really need to cast Uli? No. Was I gonna cast Uli anyway? Absolutely.

Uli’s age definitely isn’t important, but I still kinda wanted him to be under 60, which took out 80’s heavyweights Victor Wong and James Hong. (Well, technically, I think James Hong was 59, but still.) But we did get to thinking about Big Trouble in Little China, which got us to Dennis Dun (and Dun’s glorious eyebrow raise).

Of course, now I want at least one more scene between Uli and John, so we can properly appreciate the reunion between Dun and Russell before our hero unceremoniously kills our wonderful thief who, damn it, just wanted a Crunch Bar. Poor Uli.

Well, that’s all for now! If you have time and were blown away by my legendary casting prowess, or have your own suggestions for an 80’s alternate remake, or would like to express your outrage at the fiendish horror I just put your through, please feel free to comment below!

Best of 2020: BOOKS

Well. 2020 was . . . yeah, catastrophic. But the books, at least, were delightful.  Last week I posted a list of all the novels and novellas I read over the year; today, we’ll be discussing some of those books in more detail.

(A quick reminder: any book I read in 2020 is eligible for these Best Of’s, no matter when it actually came out. If I only discussed books published in 2020, well. Let’s just say this would be a much shorter list.)

FASTEST READ

The Game – Linsey Miller

Listen, I am always, always up for Murder Games of any kind, so this YA–where a high school senior discovers that one of her classmates is killing people for reals in their game of Assassin–was basically my dream premise. I read most of this in one sitting, which is unusual for me; I love to read, obviously, but I don’t have half the speed or focus of many people I know. So, it’s always a delight to find something easy and fun to sink into. Plus, you know. MURDER. Murder is my ultimate jam.

Honorable Mentions: When We Were Magic – Sarah Gailey;  Proper English – K.J. Charles; Silver in the Wood & Drowned Country – Emily Tesh; Ninth House – Leigh Bardugo; Pet – Akwaeke Emezi; My Sister, the Serial Killer – Oyinkan Braithwaite

FAVORITE MYTHOLOGY STORY

Goddess of the North – Georgina Kamsika

Okay, I talked about this book last week, I know. But it’s such an entertaining and original urban fantasy. I especially enjoyed the Hindu mythology because I feel like we don’t get to see enough South-Asian myth in UF, or at least I haven’t. There are honestly so many deities from so many different pantheons here, and it’s a lot of fun to guess who’s going to pop up next. I also really love the complicated relationship between our protagonist and her mother because while tricksters do frequently pop up in fantasy novels, I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen a Trickster Mom before. The mother-daughter relationship here is easily one of my favorite parts of this whole novel.

Honorable Mentions: Circe – Madeline Miller; Gods of Jade and Shadow – Silvia Moreno-Garcia; A Song Below Water – Bethany C. Morrow

FAVORITE GRAPHIC NOVEL

Velvet, Vol. 2: The Secret Lives of Dead Men – Ed Brubaker & Steve Epting

Velvet Templeton is such a great character. Not that this is news: I’m aware I’m still catching up on five-year-old trades. Nevertheless, the world needs way more awesome middle-aged lady spies. And this volume, in particular, ends on one hell of a conclusion. I should probably dream cast this series, at some point.

Honorable Mentions: Velvet, Vol. 3: The Man Who Stole The World – Ed Brubaker & Steve Epting; Zodiac Starforce: By the Power of Astra – Kevin Panetta & Paulina Ganucheau

FAVORITE ROMANCE

Proper English – K.J. Charles

Okay, an F/F country house murder mystery romance novel? Holy Jesus, yes. This book is delightful: charming, witty, and actively queer, the last of which just isn’t something you get in Golden Age detective fiction, unfortunately. Proper English is definitely romance first, mystery second, but I enjoyed both aspects of the story: Pat is a likable, sensible heroine, and it’s a lot of fun to see her and Fen fall for each other and, also, solve crime. I’d like to see this story as a movie immediately.

Proper English is also something of a spinoff-prequel to Think of England, and you can better believe that novel’s already on my 2021 To-Read List.

Honorable Mentions: The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics – Olivia Waite; Silver in the Wood – Emily Tesh

FAVORITE MYSTERY

The Santa Klaus Murder – Mavis Doriel Hay

Like I said, I’m a huge sucker for a witty country house murder mystery. These kinds of books are the ultimate comfort read for me, and I suspect I came across this one at just the right time. One of the things I specifically like here is the character work: we get multiple POVs for the first five chapters, and while it’s a bit strange, structurally speaking, it also allows the reader more time to really get to know our suspects. Plus, I had no idea how reliable these accounts actually were, so I had an especially fun time looking for discrepancies and clues. The Santa Klaus Murder is also the very rare Golden Age novel that actually ends on a hilariously fitting line, rather than just sorta clunking to a stop. I love this period of fiction, but some of those endings are just oof.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that all Christmas stories are improved by a homicidal Santa; thus, this book also wins for FAVORITE CHRISTMAS STORY.

Honorable Mentions: A Morbid Taste for Bones – Ellis Peters; The Skull Beneath the Skin – P.D. James; The Broken Girls – Simone St. James

FAVORITE NON-FICTION

TIE!

Afterlives of the Saints: Stories from the Ends of Faith – Colin Dickey
Monster, She Wrote: The Women Who Pioneered Horror and Speculative Fiction – Lisa Kröger and Melanie R. Anderson

I’ve never read a non-fiction writer whose prose inspires me as much as Colin Dickey. His sentences are thoughtful and elegant, and I always have at least seven new story ideas by the end of one of his books. The material here, too, is fascinating, not just because I find early Christian history interesting, but because of how the saints are analyzed and interpreted here: as punk saints, saints as rejects, etc. Dickey’s most recent book is called The Unidentified: Mythical Monsters, Alien Encounters, and Our Obsession With the Unexplained, and I’m looking forward to reading it.

Meanwhile, Monster, She Wrote is a remarkably quick read for non-fiction and makes for a fantastic reference guide. I jotted down all kinds of short stories, novels, and authors who I’m shamefully unfamiliar with. I especially enjoyed reading about women authors of the pulp era because that really seems to be a period where women have been selectively deleted from history. Also, seeing The Migration by Helen Marshall get a well-deserved shoutout was a delightful surprise. Helen, buddy, you rock.

Honorable Mentions: The Golden Age of Murder – Martin Edwards

FAVORITE MIDDLE GRADE

A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking – T. Kingfisher

This one’s a bit tricky: ostensibly, Ursula Vernon’s books are for children, while T. Kingfisher writes for adults, but in this case that appears to be a marketing decision; as Vernon discusses in her author’s note, she visualized this story as a dark children’s novel. That’s certainly how it read to me, so I’m placing it here, marketing be damned.

Shocking no one, I adored this book. It’s sort of warm and fluffy and laugh out loud funny, while also having these fantastically dark and weird bits that I absolutely love. One of the things I particularly like is how this novel discusses responsibility and heroism and never fully lets any of the adults, even the likable ones, off the hook for depending on children to save them. That all felt very real to me. There is also, as you might imagine, quite a bit of bread-related humor. The Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking is charming, and probably best enjoyed with something to snack on.

Honorable Mentions: Riverland – Fran Wilde; Peapsrout Chen: Battle of Champions – Henry Lien

FAVORITE YA

Pet – Akwaeke Emezi

There are books you spend years waiting to read, and then there are books that you’ve never heard of before, but which absolutely blindside you with just how goddamn brilliant they are; Pet was the latter for me, just so imaginative and exciting and wholly original. There’s so much voice in this book; I don’t quite know how to describe it, but I could really hear the language somehow, and I loved listening to it. In her review on Tor.com, Alex Brown mentions that the dialogue here is “as poetic as the narrative text itself,” and that definitely rang true to me.

The utopia in Pet is fascinating, particularly because it’s flawed without being secretly sinister or cruel. Jam is a great MC; in fact, I enjoyed all the characters, especially Pet. And monster-hunting creatures that emerge from paintings? Come on. That’s just cool. I’m definitely looking forward to reading more books from Emezi in the future.

Honorable Mentions: Blanca y Roja – Anna-Marie McLemore; A Song Below Water – Bethany C. Morrow; Cemetery Boys – Aiden Thomas

FAVORITE CONTEMPORARY FANTASY

Ninth House – Leigh Bardugo

Despite absolutely loving Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom, I didn’t run straight to the bookstore for a copy of Ninth House, mostly because secret society mysteries aren’t always my jam; I often have trouble taking them seriously. But I straight up loved Ninth House, like, okay, it definitely reminded me that I know absolutely nothing about Ivy League academia and rich people shit? But it also has so much amazing noir energy, like, this is exactly what I want from modern noir: interesting characters making morally dicey choices for reasons you understand. (As opposed to assholes being assholes for Asshole Reasons). The characters are great here: Alex is a fantastic protagonist, I liked Darlington straight away, and Dawes is kinda the best. Also: Turner and Mercy. I’m really into the world, too: the various houses and their different types of magic. And the way this one ends, I mean, damn. I NEED THE SEQUEL, PLEASE.

Honorable Mentions: The Library of the Unwritten – A.J. Hackwith; Riverland – Fran Wilde; Blanca y Roja – Anna-Marie McLemore; Goddess of the North – Georgina Kamsika

FAVORITE NOT-SO-CONTEMPORARY FANTASY

Silver in the Wood & Drowned Country – Emily Tesh

I’m counting The Greenhollow Duology as one entity here because I could really see these stories as separate halves of the same novel; also, this is my blog and I make the rules, so. Silver in the Wood has a lovely folkloric/fairy tale feel, while I guess I’d characterize Drowned Country as more of a seaside gaslamp fantasy? Both novellas are charming as hell (which is why they also win for BEST NOVELLA) and feature an interesting world, fantastic supporting characters, and an M/M romance to root for throughout. Tobias/Silver, I ship you madly.

Honorable Mentions for Favorite Not-So-Contemporary Fantasy: Gods of Jade and Shadow – Silvia Moreno-Garcia; The Ten Thousand Doors of January – Alix E. Harrow; A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking – T. Kingfisher

Honorable Mentions for Favorite Novella: Exit Strategy – Martha Wells; Come Tumbling Down – Seanan McGuire; Ring Shout – P. Djélì Clark; Made Things – Adrian Tchaikovsky

FAVORITE SCIENCE FICTION

TIE!

A Memory Called Empire – Arkady Martine
Gideon the Ninth – Tamsyn Muir

A Memory Called Empire has just about everything I love to see in SF: murder, political intrigue, and an in-depth focus on identity and culture. The world-building here is incredible, and I was fascinated by all of it: the naming conventions, the linguistics, the profound impact of colonization on one’s sense of self.  Also: the imago tech that connects our heroine Mahit to her dead predecessor, Yskander. Anyone who’s ever wanted more weird Trill shit from Star Trek, well, this is the book for you. Plus, Mahit is an awesome heroine; in fact, I really enjoy the whole cast of characters. I’m eagerly looking forward to the sequel coming out later this year.

But Gideon the Ninth was pretty fantastic, too, a dark and irreverent SF/Fantasy mashup with monster battles, necromancers, creepy nuns, dangerous challenges, and–once again–murder, just like, a LOT of violent, gory murder. Gideon, herself, is incredibly fun: punk, buff, cheeky as hell. This book’s got voice and then some. Also: serious cosplay potential, which isn’t something I usually find in novels. (I’m not great at visualizing stuff, TBH.) Gideon the Ninth also surprised me at multiple points, especially at the very end. Things get pretty bleak for quite a number of characters, which sounds depressing and, occasionally, kind of is. But it’s also easily one of the most entertaining books I read all year.

Honorable Mentions: Velocity Weapon – Megan E. O’Keefe; Exit Strategy – Martha Wells

FAVORITE HORROR

The Only Good Indians – Stephen Graham Jones

This book. Damn. It’s strange and challenging and, like the very best horror, it lingers long after you’re finished reading it. One scene, in particular, honest-to-God shocked me, and while I don’t find most horror novels scary as a general rule, I will fully admit this scene creeped me out in the best of ways. As always, I love Stephen Graham Jones’s prose: the words he uses, the words he leaves out, the way even his shortest sentences can punch you in the gut.

In her review of The Only Good Indians at Locus, Paula Guran says, “The book will be seen as effective ‘social commentary,’ but it is not ‘commentary’: it is simply the truth displayed and injustice portrayed clearly for all to read.” And that feels about right to me. There’s a lot of truth in this one.

Honorable Mentions: Ring Shout – P. Djèlí Clark; Disappearance at Devil’s Rock – Paul Tremblay

FAVORITE NOVEL

Gideon the Ninth – Tamsyn Muir

Per usual, I vacillated like crazy over this decision. Ultimately, however, I picked Gideon the Ninth because–in a year full of fear, incompetence, deliberate cruelty, and a little more fear– this book was just sheer irreverent fun, and I very much appreciated that.

Here is the rest of my Top 10 (not in any particular order).

2. Ninth House – Leigh Bardugo
3. A Memory Called Empire – Arkady Martine
4. Pet – Akwaeke Emezi
5. Silver in the Wood/Drowned Country – Emily Tesh
6. Proper English – KJ Charles
7. The Only Good Indians – Stephen Graham Jones
8. Velocity Weapon – Megan E. O’Keefe
9. The Library of the Unwritten – A.J. Hackwith
10. A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking – T. Kingfisher

Somehow there are always a few fantastic books on this list that I don’t end up individually discussing, so a couple quick shoutouts: Velocity Weapon by Megan E. O’Keefe is a space opera with political intrigue, BIG twists and turns, and characters who are allowed to be both likable and complicated.  Meanwhile, The Library of the Unwritten by A.J. Hackwith is full of myths, banter, teamwork, and literary tropes. Also, angels. Also, Hell. It’s a very enjoyable read chockfull of excellent quotes. Both books already have sequels out, and they are very much on my To-Do list.

Honorable Mentions For Top Ten: Ring Shout – P. Djèlí Clark; The Santa Klaus Murder – Mavis Doriel Hay; Goddess of the North – Georgina Kamsika; My Sister, the Serial Killer – Oyinkan Braithwaite; Circe – Madeline Miller

That’s it for now. 2021 Books, here we come!

Triple Christmas Scoop Review: Anna and the Apocalypse, Silent Night, Deadly Night, and Die Hard

Happy New Year, everyone! I’m loathe to even express hope for 2021 at this point, so let’s just belatedly talk about the Christmas movies I watched last week instead.

Anna and the Apocalypse

Year: 2017
Director: John McPhail
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Amazon
Spoilers: Some, but I don’t think any Big Ones
Grade: Vanilla

Ah, the traditional zombie musical holiday movie. I enjoyed Anna and the Apocalypse, although it’s a bit darker than I expected it to be. Ridiculous of me to assume otherwise, I know–horror comedies obviously tend to skew dark, not to mention Clear Foreshadow song “Hollywood Ending”–but I suppose I was thrown by all the dancing and cheer and cast full of generally likable characters? Musical comedies and horror comedies generally have different rules about who and how many people you can murder, and I found myself expecting a story that adhered more to the former than the latter. As such, some of the character deaths here definitely took me by surprise.

My absolute favorite character, though, is Assistant Headmaster Savage, who starts out this movie as a curmudgeonly antagonist–as all vice principals must–before transforming into a glorious mad villain–as all vice principals must. I’ve read a few reviews now that feel this turn is forced or unnecessary, and TBH, they aren’t wrong. But I also don’t care because Savage is so utterly delightful that I don’t give a damn what he’s doing, so long as he keeps talking. Every line is somehow drier and more disgruntled than the last until this dude’s sitting in the dark, ominously explaining that he’s eating his Christmas dinner, and I’m near in tears. Savage, BTW, is played by Paul Kaye, who also played Thoros of Myr in Game of Thrones, and now I’d really like to see a slideshow comparing every GoT actor with their absolute LEAST GoT-like roles.

Anna and the Apocalypse is also one of those movies where the horror might take you by surprise if you just stumbled across it on TV without knowing anything about the story. The first, IDK, 15-20 minutes play as a standard cute high school musical, and then we get “Turning My Life Around,” which changes everything. This scene is epic, delightfully having fun at the vast suspension of disbelief one inherently needs to enjoy musicals. Other favorite songs include “Soldier at War,” “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Me Now,” and “It’s That Time of Year.”

Silent Night, Deadly Night

Year: 1984
Director: Charles E. Sellier Jr.
First Watch or Rewatch: Rewatch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other – Personal Collection DVD
Spoilers: Yup
Grade: Strawberry

Despite owning this movie, I haven’t seen it in years and was a bit worried Mekaela wouldn’t like it and/or the film wouldn’t hold up, especially since some movies–especially ridiculous ones–are best experienced in a big group of people. These concerns proved groundless: Mek was hilariously indignant on Billy’s behalf, rooting for his inevitable killing spree to begin, and–despite the dreaded grade of Strawberry–I still find Silent Night, Deadly Night pretty solidly entertaining. There are things I’d change, certainly: the attempted sexual assault in the prologue, for instance, or the sheer number of tits on display. (The most egregious moment is when Scream Queen Linnea Quigley pulls on a pair of Daisy Dukes to go outside, but doesn’t bother putting on a bra or shirt? What?) Also, while I love that a kindly old priest gets killed after being mistaken for Evil Santa . . . IDK, maybe don’t make him deaf?

A list of standout moments: any time Billy says “NAUGHTY!” or “PUNISH!” (I’m definitely going to start yelling that at my cats now.) The ending, which sets up for the sequel that I still haven’t seen. (2021 Goals!) That fucking amazing moment when Billy gifts his bloody knife to a little girl. (Wait, this movie has five sequels and none of them are about this kid? JFC, hire me; I will write the shit out of an Evil Girl Santa movie!) Little Billy punching Santa Claus is pretty great, too, and that this toy store sells, like, actual bows and arrows, I guess? I mean, yeah, why not? Some of the death scenes are  fantastic, like, Bully Decapitated on a Sled is just *chef’s kiss,* and the dude who dies when he gets thrown through a window? YES. Partially because he’s impaled on just a ludicrously large piece of glass, but mostly because holy shit, someone in a movie finally dies from going through a window pane! I’m also in love with the blatant changes in film quality that sometimes happen mid-scene. It’s the absolute best.

The gigantic controversy that emerged when this movie came out is still shockingly absurd. I feel sorry for anyone whose career might’ve suffered just because people lost their minds and decided Silent Night, Deadly Night was an attack on Christmas, like, this wasn’t even the first Killer Santa movie, goddamn it. I remain vexed on this film’s behalf, and never mind that the movie is a year older than I am and no one cares anymore. This is nonsense. People should still be ashamed of themselves.

Die Hard

Year: 1988
Director: John McTiernan
First Watch or Rewatch: Rewatch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other – HBO Max
Spoilers: Obviously
Grade: Chocolate

Well, I mean. Die Hard is always gonna win for me: I grew up on this one, and the nostalgia factor is just too strong. It’s been my favorite Christmas movie since childhood, and honestly works even better for me as an adult–except that, like most cop movies, it’s kinda 2+ hours of police propaganda. (We need more mavericks like McClane! It’s only pesky rules that stop hardworking cops getting the job done! Thank God Al Powell learned the Will to Kill again after shooting an innocent kid!) Still. Messaging aside, I do love this one. There are just so many little moments I enjoy: all the humming and singing (“Ode to Joy” has honest to God become a Christmas song in my brain), Al Leong’s improvised candy bit (it is low key my favorite joke in the whole movie), Karl and Theo’s bet (which I somehow didn’t notice for years), etc.

The dialogue, too, seems effortlessly funny. All the Big Lines, of course, but also the little asides. The way Alan Rickman says, “I must have missed 60 Minutes.” The obvious amusement in Reginald VelJohnson’s voice when he asks, “Hey, Roy, how you feeling?” How Tony’s actions–wait, his name is TONY–somewhat belie his words when he assures, “I promise I won’t hurt you,” or the way James Shigeta quietly reminds Ellis, “Holly’s husband. Holly’s policeman.” TBH, I just adore Shigeta in this movie and always get a bit bummed when Takagi dies. Hans, too, of course, because let’s be honest: we all want to see the AU version where Hans wins, right? Or at least some deleted scenes with Exasperated Hans listening to John and Powell talk? Basically, I want more of Alan Rickman at every given opportunity. Damn, I still miss him.

Obviously, there’s really not much I can say about Die Hard that hasn’t already been said a billion times over. But I’m here, so: A) I have a lot of Feels/Ideas about characters who build a relationship (of any kind) before actually meeting, so of course, I think it’s awesome that John does this with his closest ally Powell (only one scene together) and Big Bad Hans (only two). B) I like that John is mostly a regular guy who gets caught in a bad situation, rather than the Super Cop he’ll become in subsequent sequels. (He’s  also a bit of a sociopath–evidence HO HO HO–and probably would’ve gotten everyone killed with that C4, but we’ll ignore this for now.) C) A bad guy actually does die from being thrown through glass; however, this moment is somewhat negated when John swings straight through a glass window himself and is basically fine. And D) I love that Kristoff survives because I don’t care what anyone else says; he lives, and it is the BEST.

Finally, I’m mildly obsessed with recasting movies, just for the challenge of it. Lately, Mek and I have taken to recasting movies and TV shows with Korean actors–I always end up casting Choi Won-Young as somebody–and, of course, we’ve already did a genderbent cast for Die Hard a couple years ago. (Scroll down quite a ways.) I mention all this because while watching Die Hard for the 574th time, I was  struck by a strange if charming idea: what if LeVar Burton had been cast as Theo? Not because I dislike Clarence Gilyard Jr. in this, but . . . I don’t know, I’m just very amused by the idea of everyone’s favorite children’s show host/mild-mannered Chief Engineer playing a bad guy (albeit, a comic relief bad guy). He could absolutely do it, and I think it would’ve been fun to see. Which naturally led Mek and I to a new game: recast actors who could somewhat reasonably have played these roles in 1987. We haven’t settled on a full cast yet, but I can tell you that some of the nominees for Karl have seriously cracked me up.

2020 Reading List – Novellas, Novels, Graphic Novels, and Non-Fiction

Well. 2021 approaches, finally. Coming to the end of 2020 means a vast number of things, but for today, it means I’m posting the official list of all the books I’ve read this year. Also to be discussed: unsurprising reading trends, a few fanfic recs, upcoming SF/F novels I’m looking forward to, shameless promotion for my super talented friends, and of course, ALL THE QUOTES.

Shall we get started?

Continue reading

2020: Award Eligible Work and Recommended Short Stories

Looks like it’s that time of the year again. Let’s go ahead and tackle my stuff first. I have two short stories eligible for award consideration:

Monsters Never Leave You” – Strange Horizons (June 29th, 2020)

I’m very fond of this story, but it was not an easy one to write. I went through several versions before this final one could be born, and I’m proud of how it ultimately turned out. TBH, I kind of wish more people had read it, so if you’re a fan of fairy tales, sibling stories, found families, living houses, domestic witchery, creepy trees, and/or dessert, I hope you consider checking it out.

Spider Season, Fire Season” – Nightmare (July 2020)

If you’re looking for slightly creepier fare, you might consider this short story instead. I wrote it shortly after the Kincade Fire, and structurally, it’s a bit of a switch-up for me. (Thematically . . . possibly not so much.) You may enjoy this one if you like ghost stories, found families, non-linear storytelling, California, violent comeuppance, and a bit of optimism in your horror.

Moving on now to some of my favorite short stories I read in 2020, in no particular order:

1. “One Time, A Reluctant Traveler” – A.T. Greenblatt (Clarkesworld)

Oh, this one is just lovely, a story about family and loss, history and survival, about taking all the tales you inherited and finding an ending of your own. It’s a quest story unlike any other quest story I’ve read, and that last line? Utter perfection.

If you must know, I left because if I stayed in Nat’s house one night longer, I was going to unravel, like a tragic traveler in one of my family’s tales. And that was a story I didn’t want to be.

2. “The Mermaid Astronaut” – Yoon Ha Lee (Beneath Ceaseless Skies)

There’s a lot to recommend in this stunning blend of mer fantasy and space travel: the exquisite prose, the supportive relationship between sisters, the bittersweet resolution that doesn’t rely on a cruel twist. This isn’t a story that punishes our young mermaid for having dreams, and I really appreciated that.

“I don’t think it’s such an evil thing,” Essarala replied, “to want to see new worlds and taste their waters.”

“Evil, no,” the witch said. “Difficult, yes.”

3. “Open House on Haunted Hill” – John Wiswell (Diabolical Plots)

As is likely obvious from my own eligible work, I adore stories about haunted houses and/or houses that are otherwise alive. 133 Poisonwood Ave is definitely alive: sweet and lonely and longing for a family to live inside its walls. This one is heartwarming and an excellent comfort read.

All 133 Poisonwood has is a light touch, but it knows how to use it. Haunting is an art.

4. “Teeth Long and Sharp as Blades” – A.C. Wise (PseudoPod)

Maybe one of these years I’ll make a favorites list without an A.C. Wise story on it, but honestly? That just doesn’t seem very likely. This one is dark and fascinating and hooked me from the very first line. I mean, come on: “Have you ever thought about how fairy tale heroines are like final girls?” That’s basically ALL I think about.

This is my story, but when you hear it, I am irrelevant, a moral in the shape of a girl, an object to be acted upon.

5. “My Country is a Ghost” – Eugenia Triantafyllou (Uncanny)

A melancholy, gorgeous, and ultimately hopeful story about immigration, assimilation, family, and culture. So many of the lines in this one . . . I mean, damn. It’s an incredibly moving piece and an absolute must read.

When Niovi tried to smuggle her mother’s ghost into the new country, she found herself being passed from one security officer to another, detailing her mother’s place and date of death over and over again.

6. “The Sycamore and the Sybil” – Alix E. Harrow (Uncanny)

Look, I know envy is unseemly and all, but also, Alix E. Harrow’s prose is just unfairly beautiful. This story is about women and witches and surviving, until survival alone simply isn’t enough anymore, and if you haven’t already read it, well. Get to it, please.

Before I was a sycamore I was a woman, and before I was a woman I was a girl, and before I was a girl I was a wet seed wild in the hot-pulp belly of my mother. I remember it: a pulsing blackness, veins unfurling in the dark like roots spreading through the hidden places of the earth. You remember things different, once you’re a tree.

7. “Housebound” – Ao-Hui Lin (Drabblecast)

Oh, this story. I knew almost immediately that it was gonna kick me in the stomach, and sure enough, that’s exactly what it did. It’s disturbing and tense and made me positively seethe in fury. This story stuck with me well after I finished reading it.

The closet. It used to be here, through this door, under the stairs. Now there’s just a pit and bite marks on the door jamb.

8. “Sunrise, Sunrise, Sunrise” – Lauren Ring (Apparition Lit)

Clearly, I love a good time loop story, and this one is particularly fantastic. It’s the rare story where the protagonist doesn’t want to break free from her loop, which I found both original and extremely intriguing. Great concept, strong character work, and a spot-on ending.

Every day, it goes like this: I wake to golden light, with the surface of a star just beyond my wide viewport window. As the hours pass, a supernova forms, enveloping my little research vessel. I check my monitoring equipment, I eat my favorite meals, and then in the evening, I die. 

9. “A Moonlit Savagery” – Millie Ho (Nightmare)

Oh, this is a spectacular horror story, full of loneliness and betrayal and some particularly flavorful just desserts. It’s also my introduction to phi pop, which is very exciting; I want to read about ALL THE GHOSTS, especially the hungry ones.

“ได้,” I mutter against his skin, already dizzy with fantasies of splitting his ribs open.

10. “Dead Girls Have No Names” – Claire Wrenwood (Nightmare)

Finally, we have even more hungry dead in this excellent Frankenstein-inspired short story, where dead girls are stitched together by a mother bent on revenge. It’s dark and  poignant and powerful, and the ending is absolutely sublime. READ IT.

As the lid slammed shut, the truth of our new existence dawned: Never again would any mother name us or hold us or take this cold from our bones.

There in the terrible darkness, we tried to weep and discovered we could not.

That’s it for now. Happy reading!

TV Superlatives: September, October, November – 2020

It’s TV Superlative Time! Except . . . there’s a problem: over the past few months, I’ve dropped nearly every television show I’ve started watching. I am officially in a TV Rut.

This is rare for me. It happens with books more often than I’d like and also with movies, but not so much with television. Which means that instead of our usual overly long list of nonsense superlatives, we’re gonna have to do things a little differently today. Thus I present to you my list of What I’ve Been Watching (And Abandoning) In Fall of 2020.

(Spoilers: it’s mostly K-Dramas again.) Continue reading

Triple Spooky Scoop Review: Sinister, Ready or Not, and Happy Death Day

My friends! Finally, we are at the end! Of course, Marisa is the real winner of Horror Bingo, but the St. George household required its own champion before the game could be properly concluded. There could be only One–

–and it was ME! Two years running, I AM THE WINNER.

We’ll get to the official Horror Bingo 2020 Wrap-Up at the very end, but first, our last three movies.

Sinister

Year: 2012
Director: Scott Derrickson
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other – Amazon
Spoilers: YEP
Grade: Strawberry

You know when something is relatively well-crafted but just isn’t your thing? Yeah, that’s Sinister, for me.

Some stuff is genuinely creepy. Like, a few of those snuff films are pretty disturbing, and I fucking adore all the Netherworld Children and their perfect little outfits and their dead little faces. Is it wrong that I kinda want kids just so I can dress them up like this for Halloween? Probably. Anyway, the all-around acting is fine, although my favorite is James Ransone as Deputy So-and-So. (I love that this is his official name in the sequel, even when he’s apparently the main character.) That bit where So-and-So’s like “You kidding me, I believe in all that stuff. I wouldn’t spend one night in this place, are you nuts?” HA. I also like the ending quite a bit–except the last minute jump scare, which is cheap and worthless. Admittedly, it is pretty obvious what fate awaits Ethan Hawke and his fam, like, once you discover that the Hanged Family moved from one murder house to the next, it’s not exactly a big leap to realize that all the families did the same. Still, I enjoy a story where leaving the cursed house is actually what kills you.

The thing is, though . . . I’m just not very invested in anyone’s survival. Ellison is kind of a schmuck, and schmuck protagonists, by and large, just aren’t my thing. I really feel sorry for his wife because moving into the Murder House without telling her? I mean, wow. Wow. That being said, I don’t actually like this woman. It’s a lot of little things, like how she keeps referring to their kids as his kids whenever they do something wrong, which yeah, I do that with my cats all the time, but I don’t actually mean it, and also they’re cats and don’t give a shit? But Tracy, she seems to mean it. She feels like that Stereotypical Uptight Wife that you kinda know a dude wrote: even when we’re meant to sympathize with her, she still manages to come off as slightly nagging? It’s not so much acting as script; in fact, I quite like Juliet Rylance’s performance when Tracy finally discovers Ellison’s lie. But Tracy still has virtually nothing in the way of interiority or plot-relevance, and she and her son feel less like full characters than thinly drawn victims waiting around to die. None of it’s terrible; it’s just that this is exactly the kind of family dynamic I’m not interested in seeing, especially in horror.

Ready or Not

Year: 2019
Director: Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett
First Watch or Rewatch: Rewatch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other – HBO
Spoilers: Yup
Grade: Chocolate

Yep, I still love this movie. I really enjoyed Ready or Not when it first came out last year, and I love it even more now. The concept is just fun: Murder Hide-N-Seek, plus Homicidal In-Laws, Eat The Motherfucking Rich, etc. The script is witty and entertaining, and the whole cast is phenomenal, like, I adore so, so many of them. Henry Czerny and Andie MacDowell. Melanie Scrofano and Kristian Bruun. Nicky Guadagni, thank you; thank you for giving me so much joy with this perfect face. Obviously, obviously, Adam Brody. He really is such a perfect fit as Daniel. And then, of course, Samara Weaving, who is the true star of the show; she goddamn shines in this film: the big laughs, the small emotional beats, the badass action scenes–she owns them all. Plus, she just has some of the best reactions. I could watch this scene all day.

Honestly, I don’t have a lot of quibbles here; I vaguely remember having a few, the first time around, but they seem to have faded on a second watch. (Wishing that Daniel would live just because I like him so much is less of a quibble and more of a “thank God for fanfic” moment.) Thus, I’ll just give you a short list of some of my favorite things: the glorious cosplay potential, pretty much all of Daniel’s lines, Emilie’s continuous fuckups, Fitch trying to learn crossbow via Youtube, Grace punching one of the kids in the face, OnStar Employee Justin, Tony’s exquisite meltdowns, the Good Brother/Evil Brother reversal, this song, and of course, the literally explosive climax. It is the best.

The only thing I really wish we got from this movie? A montage of deleted scenes where we saw the people who married into the family playing, like, Midnight Checkers and Old Maid and shit. That would be the absolute best.

Technically, I won Horror Bingo when I drew Ready or Not, but we decided to watch one last horror movie, anyway, mostly because of my frankly ridiculous reviewing system. Which brings us to . . .

Happy Death Day

Year: 2017
Director: Christopher Landon
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Amazon
Spoilers: Mildly? Nothing that should ruin the movie for anyone.
Grade: Vanilla

It’s ridiculous I waited so long to see this movie. I’m obsessed with both slashers and time loop stories, and I’d planned to see this one in theater, you know, back when going to the movies was a thing you could do. Maybe I was worried I’d be letdown and thus sought to avoid the inevitable disappointment? If so, my procrastination was unnecessary, because I thought Happy Death Day was cute and probably one of the more successful PG-13 horror films, in that I didn’t find myself constantly thinking about how hard they were working to avoid that R rating.

I will say the movie isn’t . . . hm, I’m not sure how to say this without sounding like a total snot. Happy Death Day has an incredibly fun concept, but it doesn’t really do anything terribly ambitious with it. It doesn’t need to, necessarily; I meant it when I said I enjoyed the movie. I liked searching for all the clues and little details. There are tons of suspects because everyone hates our protagonist, and this is one of the rare films where a thoroughly unlikable MC (at least, initially) actually works for me. It’s also just funny. I laughed several times, and I’m sure I’ll watch the sequel at some point.

But when I talk about ambition . . . look, the time loop is a time-honored trope in SF/F TV, and I’ve seen shows do some really exciting things with it in terms of meaningful plot development, character development, etc. The Librarians, Agents of SHIELD, Person of Interest, Dark Matter, Supernatural, Legends of Tomorrow, the entire series of Russian Doll, etc. These shows have both delighted and surprised me with how they’ve played with time loops; Happy Death Day is absolutely enjoyable, but I don’t know if it did anything to surprise me, that’s all. The most original element, I think, is that Tree can’t continue endlessly through these loops without suffering eventual physical consequences, which is genuinely interesting; unfortunately, that’s mostly dropped in the final loop or two, and as such, doesn’t do a particularly good job adding a plot clock or raising the stakes. It’s not a huge problem, though.

I’ll tell you what is a huge problem: my brain, all twitching around inside my skull, trying to force me into beginning a new story when I have 87 other projects to finish. There’s just so many ways you can go, exploring time loops in horror. Ugh. STOP IT, BRAIN.

THE GREAT HORROR BINGO 2020 WRAP UP

Of the films I’d never seen before, my favorites were probably Hausu, Becky, Deep Red, Midsommar, and Tragedy Girls.

My least favorites, on the other hand, were easily Mandy and Dream Home.

Movies I’m most disappointed we didn’t get to: One Cut of the Dead, A Bay of Blood (Twitch of the Death Nerve), and Lake Mungo.

Movies I’m most likely to add to next year’s Horror Bingo list, assuming I don’t watch them before then: Mayhem, Anna and the Apocalypse, Hereditary, and maybe a rewatch of Cube. (It’s been a long, long time.)

Triple Spooky Scoop Review: A Tale of Two Sisters, Black Christmas, and Black Christmas

A Tale of Two Sisters

Year: 2003
Director: Kim Ji Woon
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other – Shudder
Spoilers: Very much so
Grade: Vanilla

I know. I’m probably the last horror fan alive who hasn’t seen A Tale of Two Sisters–but no longer! I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect here (I’m only vaguely familiar with the folktale that inspired it), but I enjoyed this one–though do I suspect I might like it better on a second viewing, to better appreciate all the clues carefully being laid out. Still, I caught enough this time around to figure out the major plot twists. How Soo-yeon isn’t real, considering that her father never looks at her. How Eun-joo also isn’t real, considering she can see Soo-yeon. Not to mention, Moo-hyeon is weirdly cold and awkward with his supposed wife; also, it’s just incredibly rare for two characters to simultaneously suffer from “am I going mad” unreliable narrator syndrome, so the whole split personality angle was really the only explanation that made sense.

I definitely didn’t guess the truth about that wardrobe, though. Obviously, something terrible had happened, but I had no clue on the actual details. Poor Soo-yeon! Poor Soo-mi! The real Eun-joo is obviously The Worst, but also Moo-hyeon? Holy shit, what an asshole. For one, like, he kept the wardrobe; he even tells Soo-mi not to talk about it, all, “Yes, I decided to keep this giant piece of furniture which housed your mother’s dead body and also crushed your sister to death, but stop bringing it up, like, don’t be weird about it.” Also, once it’s clear that your daughter is still very unwell and needs inpatient psychiatric care, you absolutely cannot keep leaving her alone like this, WTF. And just this dude’s whole attitude, too, like, I’m sure he’s exhausted and grieving and all that, but Moo-hyeon talks to Soo-mi like she’s just having tantrums; he might as well say, “Stop being crazy; I’m tired of your dissociative identity disorder.” Like–

I do think that while A Tale of Two Sisters is well constructed, I might’ve found it more mind-blowing if I’d watched the film back when it premiered in 2003. That was almost 20 years ago (she says, sobbing), and I’ve seen variations on this twist a lot now. Still, nothing really comes off as cheat to me. The only thing that does feel off is the dinner scene where Eun-joo’s sister-in-law has a coughing fit that abruptly becomes a very violent seizure. I know why it happens, like, for Writer Reasons, but I wasn’t totally clear about the in-story reasons. Does she have a medical condition? Is this some kind of emotional trauma response? Did the ghosts poison her soup? It doesn’t seem like she sees the ghost until she’s already seizing, but I will fully admit to ignorance here.

After watching A Tale of Two Sisters, our next film was John Carpenter’s The Thing, which I’m not going to review because I’ve already done so twice now. (Most recently here.) I’m mostly mentioning it because with The Thing, we have a winner for Horror Bingo, and it’s not Mekaela or me, but my good buddy, Marisa! Congrats, Marisa!!!

Mekaela and I have a gentlewomen’s agreement to keep playing until one of us gets a Bingo, though. And thus, we continue with . . .

Black Christmas

Year: 2019
Director: Sophia Takal
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other – HBO
Spoilers: Yes, but mostly just in the third paragraph
Grade: Strawberry

This is . . . okay. It’s certainly better than the 2006 remake, anyway, although the bar on that is so low it’s near sunk into the ground. The thing about this Black Christmas is that it very much wants to be a Feminist Movie, and while I think it does have successful moments, the overall story is kinda sloppy and relies so heavily on a superficial idea of Girl Power™ that it often comes across as pandering rather than empowering.

Things I do enjoy: most of the characters, especially some of the minor roles. I was particularly fond of Fran, Jesse, and Kris. (Though awesome as Kris is, she does have a few moments where I’m like, ah, no–and the film doesn’t address it as fully as I’d like.) Some of the humor is great. I bust up at this line: “If you make me late for the train, I swear I’m never feeding you again. Ask my childhood hamster. He’s super dead.” Also, I really enjoyed the whole sexy Christmas number; it’s a hilarious “fuck you” song, yes, but also A) a great moment for Riley’s character arc, and B) just an awesome scene where the girls stick up for each other. There are some nice nods and reversals to the original film, too. And hey, there’s a DivaCup in this movie! Always nice when menstruation is something that’s actually acknowledged in Hollywood.

Still, a lot of the dialogue feels obvious and cheesy. It’s a problem throughout the film, but gets especially painful in the third act. I just . . . I don’t buy it, is the thing. (And the part where the white girl has to explain to her Black friend why the police aren’t trustworthy, like, yikes? Maybe not?) The script reads like someone had a long list of feminist catchphrases to get through in a very short amount of time. The plot, too, doesn’t quite work for me, partially because Riley jumps to “we’re obviously dealing with evil frat boy magic” way too fast for my liking, but also because for a story that heavily criticizes misogyny, it kinda lets men off the hook. Brainwashing pledges into mindless killers is a lot less horrific than young men actively choosing to kill outspoken women. Landon, too, mostly feels like he’s here to prove Not All Men, though I like Caleb Eberhardt’s performance; the character himself just feels distracting. Credit where credit’s due, though: I very much enjoyed Cary Elwes, as he always seems to be having so much fun, whether he’s playing a Ridiculously Smarmy Jackass (this, Stranger Things, etc.) or a Ridiculously Suave Motherfucker (The Princess Bride, Psych, etc.)

This Black Christmas works best, I think, as something meant to  introduce young girls to horror, like, part of a 101 starter pack: something that’s modern and broadly relatable and none  too gory or frightening; the PG-13 rating helps with that, though IMO, the downside to obscured shots and fade-to-black kills is that it doesn’t allow the Girls Who Won’t Survive any time to fight back, which I think is unfortunate. Still, if the target demographic is, IDK, 11-15-year-olds interested in giving slashers a go? I honestly think that would raise my estimation of the movie as a whole. (Though I’d still do at least one more editing pass. Probably two. This could’ve been better, damn it.)

Black Christmas

Year: 1974
Director: Bob Clark
First Watch or Rewatch: Rewatch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other – Personal Collection DVD
Spoilers: Yep
Grade: Chocolate

So, yeah. This is one of my absolute favorite horror movies, one I’ve already analyzed in considerable detail in this Genderbent Wednesday essay. I don’t know that I have many new thoughts on it now: I still think Jess is a very important and relevant Final Girl, though I’ll admit I don’t always buy Olivia Hussey’s line deliveries. Still, I love that she’s a goal-oriented protagonist who’s made a decision to have an abortion, never seems particularly upset about it, and refuses to change her plans to appease her worthless ass of a boyfriend. It’s also worth noting that the women are largely supportive of each other in this film, too, and there’s nary an exploitative tit shot in sight. Barb has a few lines I’d definitely like to cut, but overall? I’ll go to my grave arguing that Black Christmas is a feminist horror film, especially for 1970-fucking-4.

It’s also easily creepier than either of its remakes, like, Black Christmas has atmosphere, damn it. Those phone calls are deeply concerning, and Dead Claire in her rocking chair is iconic as hell. There are things I’d like to change, of course: at one point, the girls mention they haven’t locked the doors or windows, and I’m like WHAT? No, nope, that is absolutely ridiculous this late into the movie. Also, while I love so much about the film’s ending (Jess killing Peter, never learning the real killer’s identity, the last phone call ringing us into the credits, etc.), it remains completely unacceptable to me that the cops leave an unconscious Jess alone in a House of Dead Bodies with only one officer to guard her, like, I get it, she’s sedated and they think the threat is over. I do not care; this is nonsense. I need much better justifications than the ones the script provides.

Still, this is always gonna be a favorite. Peter is the absolute worst, and I enjoy rooting for his impending demise. Phyl is cool, and I mourn her offscreen death. Barb is interesting, and I could probably write a whole essay on her character alone. (Did you know that Barb is A) not a nerd, and B) asthmatic? Did you even realize that was something that could happen in Hollywood?) I enjoy John Saxon as Lt. Ken Fuller and Marian Waldman as Mrs. Mac. Laughing Detective is one of my favorite bit parts of all time. I love that there’s such a strong case against Peter, that it 100% makes sense for both Fuller and Jess to assume he’s the murderer. Black Christmas is just an incredibly well-constructed horror film that is disturbing, entertaining, and still surprisingly relevant almost 50 years after its release. Bob Clark might be best known for his other holiday movie, A Christmas Story, but Black Christmas remains my favorite of his work.