Triple Spooky Scoop Review: The Changeling, Tragedy Girls, and You’re Next

The Changeling

Year: 1980
Director: Peter Medak
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other – Shudder
Spoilers: Only mildly–but the trailer above basically shows the whole movie, so beware
Grade: Strawberry

The dreaded grade of Strawberry is misleading here. I quite liked this movie, actually; I just happened to like the next two films more. The Changeling is a classic sort of ghost story: an old, mysterious house, a creepy music box, some strange banging sounds, a child’s ball bouncing down the stairs, etc. For all I know, this movie originated some of those tropes. The film is very atmospheric, and I enjoyed its slow, steady build; also, the seance scene, and how no one wastes time on tedious skepticism. YES.

I like George C. Scott in this, too; he’s very reserved, very understated, which I think generally serves the movie well. (Occasionally, he’s possibly a touch too understated; at one point, I was like, “Damn, man, have a reaction or something.”) Trish Van Devere, OTOH, doesn’t work quite as well for me, although to be fair, my problems might stem more from writing than the actual peformance. Claire feels more like an outline of a character than an actual character; she has virtually no interiority, mostly existing to A) get John Russell into the house, and B) give John Russell someone to bounce his ghost detective instincts off of. She also has a couple of emotional breakdowns, and while I’m 100% here for one of them, the other feels very random to me.

Overall, I found the mystery engaging, although I was a bit thrown when certain elements were dropped entirely. (Presumably just red herrings, but I still expected them to come back in some meaningful way?) I also wouldn’t have minded seeing a bit more with Russell’s dead family, who are barely mentioned in the second half of the story. (A quick aside: I knew Jean Marsh was in this movie, but completely failed to recognize her because apparently I was on the lookout for Mombi, not Tragic Dead Wife.) On the other hand, I did quite like Melvyn Douglas as Senator Carmichael, whose emotional reaction to {spoiler redacted} genuinely surprised me. If you’re trying to decide which Melvyn Douglas 80’s horror film to watch, I highly recommend The Changeling over Ghost Story (which we watched for last year’s Horror Bingo). And if you’re a Star Trek fan, hey, John Colicos (AKA Kor) plays a bit role here!

Here’s what I can’t get over, though: the size of this haunted ass house. Who’d wanna live in this spooky ass mansion by themselves? You could be housing 25 people in this place, easy! At one point, Claire shows John Russell to the music room, and I’m like, “Bitch, this is a damn castle; you could make five music rooms and still have space to spare.” Mr. Russell, sir, please. Next time, consider a damn cottage, I’m begging you.

Tragedy Girls

Year: 2017
Director: Tyler MacIntyre
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Hulu
Spoilers: Only for an uncredited cameo
Grade: Vanilla

This was an awful lot of fun. I already adored Brianna Hildebrand from Deadpool and The Exorcist (the cancelled-before-its-time TV show, not the 70’s classic, obviously), and I really liked Alexandra Shipp in Love, Simon and X-Men: Apocalypse (even if X-Men: Apocalypse, itself, was abysmal). Of course, neither disappointed here; these two are AWESOME as murder BFFs. The whole cast is pretty great, actually: I enjoyed Jack Quaid quite a bit as Jordan (even if dude hilariously cannot pass for a high school student), Kevin Durand is pretty perfectly cast as Lowell, and the uncredited Josh Hutcherson cameo? Oh. Oh, man. I was DYING. It is the absolute best. I will say, however, that I seriously wish that Rosalind Chao had been in the film for more than five seconds, and I kinda think the script sold Craig Robinson a little short.

Arguably, Tragedy Girls has a more negative philosophy in regards to social media than, say, #Alive, but it doesn’t bother me too much here because social media didn’t make Sadie and McKayla homicidal maniacs; they were clearly little homicidal maniacs from the jump. I honestly don’t have a lot of criticisms of this one. Obviously, I’m all about ride or die murder friends; also, the soundtrack is great, the ending is spot on, the violence is super gory, all things I love. You know, the whole movie is just . . . cute. Like, in a glittery, bloodthirsty sort of way.

You’re Next

Year: 2011
Director: Adam Wingard
First Watch or Rewatch: Rewatch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other – Personal Collection DVD
Spoilers: Definitely – do not read if you haven’t seen this yet
Grade: Chocolate

Ah, one of my favorites. It’s actually been a while since I rewatched this one, though–long enough that I actually said, “Jesus, how old is this movie” when Erin busted out an actual camera instead of her cell phone–and it’s a lot of fun to revisit when you already know the twists. I kept catching things I missed the first time around, like how “both” refers to Felix and Crispian, not Felix and Zee, or what’s behind Crispian’s smile when Erin says that his parents are loaded. And I still love so many things about You’re Next: how funny it is, how the horror is played completely straight despite just how funny it is, the family dynamics, the booby traps, “I don’t think that’s a fair criticism,” and Erin, yeah, just Erin as a whole. Also, the scene at the end where Crispian tries to justify his evil plan and win Erin back into his good graces, I mean, it is perfection. This scene is, no lie, one of my favorite scenes in any horror or comedy I’ve ever watched. The delivery is just so good here. “Maybe . . . an engagement?” I aspire to such mastery of craft.

Some random notes:

A. Aubrey (Barbara Crampton) has the gall to comment on Zee’s unusual name, like she didn’t name one of her kids “Crispian.” Barbara. Don’t put me on Zee’s side, here.

B. The opening scene is a bit weak IMO, but it’s also very short, so it’s not a huge problem. Still rolling my eyes at the woman strolling past the giant glass windows in an unbuttoned shirt, though, like seriously. One button, that’s all I’m asking for.

C. Hmm. Never did finish that You’re Next/Home Alone/Halloween fanfic, did I?

D. Felix and Zee’s deaths still get me. Like, they’re great deaths; this definitely isn’t a complaint. But man, do I cringe.

E. Seriously. Who even complains about a “jarring” Australian accent? When has that ever been a thing? Kelly, you suck. (On a positive note, Kelly is actually seriously hurt when she’s thrown through glass! This is so unusual in movies! Even Erin gets all cut up and impaled, although admittedly, she should really be dead.)

F. Poor Tariq. You miserable bastard.

Now Available at Nightmare: “Spider Season, Fire Season”

A funny thing about the writing business: you can’t always predict when your stories will be published. I submitted “Monsters Never Leave You” to Strange Horizons months before I even wrote “Spider Season, Fire Season.” I officially sold the former to SH in November 2019, while Nightmare didn’t buy the latter until late January 2020. Sat here for six months with little writing news to report, and then boom! Both stories are published within eight days of each other. Writing is weird.

But to the actual point: “Spider Season, Fire Season” is available to read for free at Nightmare! I wrote this little ghost story shortly after the Kincade Fire last year, and I think it came together pretty nicely. (She says, hopefully.) Especially recommended for anyone who likes ghosts (obviously), found families, California, multiple points-of-view, non-linear storytelling, and horror that has room for hope. TW for violence (including domestic violence) and off-screen deaths (including deaths of children).

If you do end up reading, I hope you enjoy!

Official Radiohead pairing: “2+2=5 (The Lukewarm)

Triple Scoop Review: Doctor Sleep, Underwater, and Tigers Are Not Afraid

Doctor Sleep

Year: 2019
Director: Mike Flanagan
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Amazon
Spoilers: Some
Grade: Vanilla

Let’s get this out of the way for anyone who doesn’t already know: I’m not a huge fan of The Shining. (Honestly, I’m not a huge fan of Kubrick’s work in general: I tend to like the cinematography and not much else.) Many adaptational changes annoyed me, especially as I saw the film soon after reading the novel. Admittedly, that was all roughly 15-20 years ago now, so I might feel differently if I were to ever try it again. Point is, unlike many horror fans, I didn’t come into this weird hybrid of a sequel with much in the way of expectations, high or low. It was pretty easy to judge Doctor Sleep as its own thing. And fortunately for me, I enjoyed the hell out of it.

Unlike The Shining, which is straight-up horror, Doctor Sleep has more of a dark fantasy vibe. Like, there are creepy moments, absolutely (I fucking loved it when Abra turned the tables on Rose), but the overall flavor of scare is different, kinda like the transition between the quiet, claustrophobic horror of Alien to the action-fueled horror of Aliens. It seems like a natural progression, but I can also see how fans of the original might have been disappointed. What’s really impressive, though, is how much I enjoyed this film, despite its two-and-a-half-hour runtime. Horror movies, especially, have to work hard to earn that length without losing tension or momentum, and Doctor Sleep does a pretty good job with that: there are problems in the third act–which we’ll get to shortly–but overall, the slow, steady pace of the film works well for me.

The cast is great, especially Kyliegh Curran (who’s absolutely fantastic as Abra) and Rebecca Ferguson (who makes for a pretty iconic villain, one who I’d like to cosplay immediately.) Ewan McGregor does solid work as grown-up/fucked up Danny Torrance, and I like pretty much the entire supporting cast: Carl Lumbly is a stellar choice as Dick Hallorann, Cliff Curtis is instantly likable as Billy, and Zahn McClarnon is an excellent right-hand man/second banana bad guy. All of McClarnon and Ferguson’s interactions are pretty great; in fact, the whole villainous family dynamic is awesome and makes these guys much more compelling as antagonists.

Unfortunately, that third act is where things start to falter, which is frustrating because most of the problems here could easily be solved by just not returning to the Overlook. Physically, that is; half the Final Battle takes place in Danny’s head, anyway, so why not just make the entire thing one big mental showdown? We could still get all those iconic references and flashbacks without Danny and Abra literally driving to Colorado for no goddamn reason. (There is a reason: Danny is convinced that they can’t beat Rose on their own, but that’s sorta nonsense because at this point, their batting average against her is pretty goddamn phenomenal.) This would also eliminate the awkward sense of Abra just chilling alone in the car for ten minutes, while Danny has an emotional catharsis inside the hotel with his dad. Like, I genuinely enjoy that scene, but also . . . maybe don’t leave the kid alone outside when a monster is literally hunting you down?

Random Notes:

1. Actually, maybe we could scale back just a bit on those iconic references? Cause I do want them, but also, it feels like Mike Flanagan is vomiting The Shining at you for the last 20 minutes? Like, hey, here are the twins, here is the blood, here is the bartender, the axe, the door, the boiler room, etc., etc., etc. Give me these moments, but not one for every goddam minute, please. Space them out or whittle them down.

2. Snakebite Andi might be the most Stephen King name I’ve ever heard in my whole fucking life. I really liked Emily Alyn Lind in the role, though, since I forgot to mention her before. Also, MR. HOMN!

3. I wish Rose the Hat’s hat was, like, more important? Especially after the grocery store scene, I kind of expected something else. Still, I’m never gonna complain too hard about fashionable millinery. I will complain about Danny hitting rock bottom, however, because I definitely interpreted that scene as “baby starved to death after Danny left him alone with his dead mom,” which . . . yeah, didn’t sit well with me. Apparently, though, there are multiple different interpretations of what actually happened to Mom and Baby? Still. If you’re trying for a redemptive story, IDK, I think everyone should be real clear on exactly what your MC is being redeemed for. Especially if it’s dark ass shit like that.

4. Now that I’ve read the differences between book and movie, holy shit, I’m kinda glad I never read this. The 9/11 subplot? The “we’re related” nonsense? What the actual fuck?

5. I’m just gonna say it: “steam” is a little hard to take seriously.

6. Finally, there is a RWBY poster in Abra’s room. I haven’t watched that show in years, but still, I found this small detail surprising and delightful.

Underwater

Year: 2020
Director: William Eubank
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Amazon
Spoilers: VERY MUCH SO
Grade: Strawberry

This was fun enough, but it also could’ve been better. Some scenes are successfully creepy and tense: whenever our characters are crawling through Way Too Tiny Shit, for example, or when poor Mamoudou Athie fucking implodes. (I was disappointed by this; I really thought he was going to last longer.) Most of the cast is pretty great, although I’d probably recast and rewrite Paul (TJ Miller). Still, I’m here for Kristen Stewart’s whole aesthetic, am happy that Smith survived, was amused by last minute Cthulhu, and really enjoyed that Jessica Henwick was our surprise Final Girl. Holy shit, that’s two Western horror movies now with Eastern-Asian women who live. 2020, this is actually something I like about you.

So, that’s the good. As far as the bad, well. The voiceover shit completely fails, like, I honestly have no idea what it’s even doing in this movie? The beginning is especially weird because the first few minutes have this strange, in medias res quality to them that makes the whole scene kinda feel like a dream. It doesn’t fit at all; in fact, I seriously wondered if they were trying to set up some kind of unreliable narrator here. But the rest of the movie is a pretty straightforward action-horror movie (with just a bit of a Lovecraftian twist).

Not all the action scenes work for me, either, because some of them are so muddy it’s impossible to tell what’s happening to whom. Like, I get it: Underwater is underwater. Chaos, poor visibility, all that. Still, when a monster drags two characters away, I wanna be able to tell who they are. I might’ve been more inclined to forgive this if these scenes were strictly from Norah’s POV, as she sadly loses her glasses early in the film and presumably can’t see for shit; unfortunately, that’s not really how they play. Which is a bummer, actually: if I ever lost my glasses in any kind of horror movie scenario, like, it would very much impact my day and/or likelihood of survival. It might’ve been kind of neat, seeing Norah actually dealing with this during the film.

Also, the character work needs, well, work. Norah (Stewart) and Smith (John Gallagher Jr.) both lost someone–the same someone–prior to the events of this movie, but for some reason, they barely have any interactions throughout to build their dynamic and/or lay in the groundwork for this reveal. More space, too, could’ve been given to the Captain and Norah’s relationship, or to Smith and Emily’s. Instead, we spend too much time with TJ Miller, who’s supposed to be the funny, weird guy, and generally lands harder on the latter than the former. (Although I will admit to laughing when he fake-volunteers Emily (Henwick) to investigate something, all, “This is your moment.” That shit was funny.)

Random Notes:

1. I love that Emily saves Norah, and Norah saves Emily, and they both save Smith together. Also, kinda love that Norah punches Emily in the face. Not because she deserves it, but because it’s a good “who will sacrifice themselves for the other” moment.

2. I’m considerably less impressed by how the women have to get way more naked than the dudes. Except TJ Miller, of course, but this is purposefully meant to be comedic, rather than sexy, presumably because he’s fatter than anyone else in the cast. #RAGE

3. The hands-down funniest thing about this movie: Paul carries around this stuffed bunny, right, like, he cradles it, strokes it, makes sure it’s okay as he’s going through dangerous, water-logged parts of the station, etc. He is 100% acting like it’s a real bunny, and I was seriously wondering if we were gonna get some kinda high-pressure nervous syndrome/space dementia subplot shit going on, especially because of all the Alice in Wonderland references. But apparently, there actually was a real bunny while filming, until the director got a stuffed one instead because of safety concerns. Only for whatever reason, he never bothered telling Miller that the stuffed rabbit wasn’t a stand-in. So, dude acted like the rabbit was real because he thought it would be post-production. I can’t begin to tell you how much this all delights me.

Tigers Are Not Afraid

Year: 2017
Director: Issa López
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other – Shudder
Spoilers: Mild
Grade: Chocolate

I’ve been meaning to watch this Mexican dark fantasy film for a while now, and I’m so glad I finally did, because it’s pretty fantastic. Admittedly, I probably could’ve picked a better week for it, like, if you need an escapist upper, uh, this isn’t it. (I literally held my breath when two of the kids walked up to a police car, and was utterly relieved when the cops just took off without killing them.) The violence here isn’t particularly gratuitous; in fact, it’s not a very gory film at all. But children do die, and die violently, on screen. Best to know that going in.

All of the kids are fantastic, especially Estrella (Paola Lara) and Shine (Juan Ramón López). I’m amazed that none of them had any prior acting experience because they’re all so good in this movie. One of the things that works best about Tigers Are Not Afraid: the quiet, funny moments when the kids are just hanging out: play-acting some American Idol shit in an abandoned building, telling ghost stories about this dude who eats kids with his pepperoni, etc. And while I can be hit or miss on stories that walk the line between “literal magic” and “is it, though?” I think the ambiguity serves this dark fairy tale well. Which probably isn’t so surprising, as it’s definitely a Monkey’s Paw kind of story.

I honestly don’t have many criticisms with this one. There are a few moments with this stuffed tiger that I found sorta hard to take seriously, but . . . yeah, that might kind of be it. While I’d hoped for a few specific things that didn’t end up happening, the actual ending itself fits the story well and isn’t wholly, needlessly bleak. And since I am, for once, trying not to spoil too much here, let me leave you with a vague list of some other things I really enjoyed:

The trails of blood
The goodbye scene
Morro is adorbs
The chalk
When the bodies are found

Also, the movie was both written and directed by a woman. YES!!!! I’m always excited to see more horror crafted by women!

TV Superlatives: March, April, May – 2020

Well. All is chaos right now, and it’s an absurd time to be talking about TV Superlatives. Regardless, that’s what we’ll be doing here today because at MGB, we believe that when people could use a moment’s break or distraction, what they really want is 5000+ words about cartoons, Chinese dramas, and CW shows.

Still. Before we get to any of that, let me list a few of the many places you can donate to help protestors and support Black Lives Matter:

Black Lives Matter

Campaign Zero

Black Visions Collective

Know Your Rights Camp

NAACP Legal Defense Fund

National Bail Fund (with a Directory of Community Bail Funds)

Please feel free to comment with links to any other related organizations or crowdfunding campaigns that you think need attention/donations. Please do not comment to say “blue lives matter” or any other inane bullshit. Save that crap for your Facebook page that nobody wants to read.

And now for the main event: our Spring TV Superlatives!

A quick reminder for how these work: I will bestow whatever TV shows I’ve recently been watching (whether they’re currently airing or not) with awards like Most Adorable, Best Kiss, Most Unintentionally Hilarious Moment, etc. As always, any awards with spoilers will be very clearly marked.

As a reference point, here are the shows I’ve been watching for the past few months:

The Untamed
Altered Carbon (Season 2)
Brooklyn Nine-Nine (Season 7)
Star Trek: Picard
Nancy Drew
Legends of Tomorrow (Season 5)
Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem, and Madness
Nailed It (Season 4)
Harley Quinn (Season 2)
Kingdom (Season 2)
Medical Examiner: Dr. Qin (Season 1)
Village Survival: The Eight (Season 1)
She-Ra and the Princesses of Power (Season 5)

Let’s get to it, shall we?

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TV Superlatives: December, January, and February – 2019/2020

It’s that time again: our winter TV Superlatives!

A quick reminder for how these work: I will bestow whatever TV shows I’ve recently been watching (whether they’re currently airing or not) with awards like Favorite Bromance, Favorite WTF Moment, Best Profanity, etc. As always, any awards with spoilers will be very clearly marked.

As a reference point, here are the shows I’ve been watching for the past few months:

Busted! (Season 2)
His Dark Materials
Nancy Drew
The Mandalorian
DC Universe’s Harley Quinn
Watchmen
The Expanse (Season 4)
A Black Lady Sketch Show
The Witcher
Barry (Season 2)
The Good Place (Season 4)
Star Trek: Picard
Legends of Tomorrow (Season 5)
Brooklyn Nine-Nine (Season 7)

Let’s get to it, shall we?

Continue reading

2019 Reading List – Novellas, Novels, Graphic Novels, and Non-Fiction

Well, it doesn’t look like I’m going to finish any more books before the New Year, so I’m updating my official list of everything I’ve read in 2019. Scroll down if you’d like to see a few unsurprising conclusions about my own personal reading trends. (Spoilers: this isn’t the year I finally started reading a bunch of travel memoirs.) You’ll also find some favorite quotes (these spoil nothing) because I just can’t help myself. I will be posting my 2019 Book Superlatives later, maybe even tomorrow if I get my shit together, but expect those to be considerably pared down from years past.

Finally, a guide to font colors: novels are in black, novellas are in purple, comics are in green, and non-fiction is in blue.

THE 2019 READING LIST

A Big Ship at the Edge of the Universe – Alex White
“I thought it was best not to kill anyone, given the political ramifications. I see you’ve taken a different approach.”

A Rising Man – Abir Mukherjee
Death smells worse in the tropics. Most things do.

Sawkill Girls – Claire Legrand
“What I’m saying,” Marion said, now looking right at Zoey, her gray eyes bright, “is that girls hunger. And we’re taught from the moment our brains can take it, that there isn’t enough food for us all.”

The Only Harmless Great Thing – Brooke Bolander
“We’re scientists,” Kat says. She stands. “All we do is teach people how the sausage is made.”

The Book of M – Peng Shepherd
Who are my people, Ory? The ones I’m with or the ones I want to be?

A Key, An Egg, An Unfortunate Remark – Harry Connolly
“If I were forced to guess, I’d say they were professional killers hired to murder everyone in the house. What does that tell you?”
“You’re not as popular as I thought?”

Terminal Alliance – Jim C. Hines
“Kumar, any progress?”
“I’ve gotten through 4.5 percent of the A-ring tutorial without killing everyone.”
Mops swallowed her first three responses. “Technically, that qualifies as progress. Keep at it.”

In An Absent Dream – Seanan McGuire
Following the rules didn’t make you a good person, just like breaking them didn’t make you a bad one, but it could make you an invisible person and invisible people got to do as they liked.

The Mystery of The Yellow Room – Gaston Leroux
A week after the occurrence of the events I have just recounted—on the 2nd of November, to be exact—I received at my home in Paris the following telegraphic message: “Come to the Glandier by the earliest train. Bring revolvers. Friendly greetings. Rouletabille.”

The Cabin at the End of the World – Paul Tremblay
Sabrina’s fingers and hands are pink with memories of blood.

Artificial Condition – Martha Wells
I phrased it as a question, because pretending you were asking for more information was the best way to try to get the humans to realize they were doing something stupid. “So do you think there’s another reason Tlacey wants you to do this exchange in person other than . . . killing you?”

Alice Payne Arrives – Kate Heartfield
Visit 2070: It’s Not an Apocalypse. Yet. This Time.

The Black God’s Drums – P. Djèlí Clark
The night in New Orleans always got something going on, ma maman used to say—like this city don’t know how to sleep.

All the Missing Girls – Megan Miranda
Annaleise didn’t know—I always took the dare.

The Migration – Helen Marshall
Mary’s face is happy, a picture of delight. But the angel? The angel doesn’t look happy. The angel looks bored rigid by the whole mess, the angel has seen it all: the culling of firstborns, the slaughter of the innocents.
The angel doesn’t care. Mortality isn’t his bag.

Swordspoint – Ellen Kushner
“Black,” Alec said in tones of deep disgust. “Black is for grandmothers. Black is for stage villains.”

The Nine Tailors – Dorothy Sayers
“If the law had found him, the law would have hanged him, with loud applause from all good citizens. Why should we hang a perfectly decent chap for anticipating the law and doing our dirty work for us?”

The Family Plot – Cherie Priest
“Ghosts or no ghosts, we’re burning daylight. We can’t salvage ghosts. They don’t sell for shit.”

Rogue Protocol – Martha Wells
I didn’t want to see helpless humans. I’d rather see smart ones rescuing each other.

Clockwork Boys – T. Kingfisher
He had not actually been flipping a knife, because hardly anyone really did that, but he looked like the knife-flipping type.

White is For Witching – Helen Oyeyemi
Lily was a bunch of crumpled pockets and Sylvie is a black dress, perfumed scarves, iron posture and whatever else turns a person into an atmosphere.

Undead Girl Gang – Lily Anderson
“I didn’t need the spells to work. They never worked! Spells are just prayers with more steps and a name that scares people.”

Gaudy Night – Dorothy Sayers
“Are you fond of children, madam?”
“Oh, yes,” said Harriet. Actually, she did not care much about children, but one can scarcely so, bluntly, to those possessed of these blessings.

Space Opera – Catherynne M. Valente
“HEY THERE! I’m Clippy, your computer assistant. It looks like you are trying to survive the night and not get slaughtered in the next five minutes like the miserably finite mortal organics you are. *Would you like some fucking help?*”

Calculating Stars – Mary Robinette Kowal
There is something about having your legs over your head that makes you need to pee. This makes it into none of the press releases, but every single astronaut talks about it.
The men have complicated condoms and catch pouches. I have a diaper.
Two hours into our three-hour wait, I use it, sure that the urine will overflow its confines and spread up the back of my suit. It does not, but I am once again enthralled by the glamour of being an astronaut.

Record of a Spaceborn Few – Becky Chambers
A king tells us a story about who we are and why we’re great, and that story is enough to make us go kill people who tell a different story.

Magic for Liars – Sarah Gailey
A lot of words. I resolved to read them in depth later, when I could focus. When there wasn’t wine in between me and the letters.

The Killing Moon – N.K. Jemisin
“Devout men lie poorly.”

Wicked Saints – Emily A. Duncan
“Nobles are nobles,” she had said, waving a hand. “Regardless of where they come from. The pettiness of court transcends all cultural boundaries.”

The Song Is You – Megan Abbott
“Developed a conscience now, have we?”
“Well, let’s not get hysterical.”

The Thief – Megan Whalen Turner
All I wanted to do was lie in the dry grass with my feet in a ditch forever. I could be a convenient sort of milemarker, I thought. Get to the thief and you know you’re halfway to Methana.

To Be Taught, If Fortunate – Becky Chambers
Viewed in this way, you can never again see a tree as a single entity, despite its visual dominance. It towers. It’s impressive. But in the end, it’s a fragile endeavor that can only stand thanks to the contributions of many. We celebrate the tree that stretches to the sky, but it is the ground we should ultimately thank.

Die, Vol. 1: Fantasy Heartbreaker – Kieron Gillen + Stephanie Hans
This isn’t a conversation. This is the sort of monologue you run in your head with lovers you’ll never speak to again.

The Crimes at Black Dudley – Margery Allingham
“You don’t mind, do you? I really couldn’t bring myself to put on my clothes at the hour I usually take them off.”

The Sundial – Shirley Jackson
Gloria sat alone for a minute or so, thinking that the sun was warm and the sky was blue, and wondering if they sky would be bluer if Aunt Fanny had never been born.

The Psychology of Time Travel – Kate Mascarenhas
Grace’s complaints reminded Ruby of her own feelings about university friends. People you’d once die for take appalling paths. It’s not that they become unrecognizable. They become more like themselves. Personality quirks grow more pronounced, and so do values, until you wonder how you ever ignored the differences between you.

Jane Steele – Lyndsay Faye
Hereby do I avow that I, Jane Steele, in all my days working as a governess, never once heard ethereal cries carried to me upon the brawny shoulders of the north wind; and had I done, I should have kept silent for fear of being labelled eccentric.

Busman’s Honeymoon – Dorothy Sayers
“When I’m investigating a murder, I hate to have too much sympathy with the corpse. Personal feelings cramp the style.”

A Man Lay Dead – Ngaio Marsh
The doctor performed the feat known in Victorian nursery books as “looking grave.”

An Unkindess of Ghosts – Rivers Solomon
She expected a reprimand, but his criticism was far gentler than Giselle’s ever was. She tried not to give him too much credit for it. People were so often mean that when they weren’t there was a tendency to bestow sainthood upon them. Aster did not reward common decency with her affection.

The Invited – Jennifer McMahon
Helen did not believe in ghosts. But she believed in history.

The Twisted Ones – T. Kingfisher
This train of thought would end with me crouched in the bathroom with a shotgun aimed at the door. This would not help Bongo and also, I didn’t know how to use a shotgun.

The 7 ½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle – Stuart Turton
“What does a child who has everything want?”
More, just like everybody else.

One Bloody Thing After Another – Joey Comeau
The broken-arm tree is wide above them, but Ann doesn’t know that. She thinks this is a straightforward fight to the death, without symbolism.

From Here to Eternity: Traveling the World to Find the Good Death – Caitlin Doughty
Women’s bodies are so often under the purview of men, whether it’s our reproductive organs, our sexuality, our weight, our manner of dress. There is a freedom found in decomposition, a body rendered messy, chaotic, and wild.

The Lady from the Black Lagoon: Hollywood Monsters and the Lost Legacy of Milicent Patrick – Mallory O’Meara
The story starts with an alien man from a planet called Metaluna appearing to Earth’s top scientists, inviting them all to come to his cool Earth mansion. He wants them to help him work on a supersecret alien project, which of course, no scientist can turn down. As far as I can tell, the main reason to become a scientist is so you can make yourself available for these types of cinematic situations.

I Remember You: A Ghost Story – Yrsa Sigurdardóttir
Anyway, you couldn’t make demands of the sun this far north in the dead of winter; you simply took what little sunshine you were given and were grateful.

The Red House Mystery – A.A. Milne
Why, you could have knocked her over with a feather. Feathers, indeed, were a perpetual menace to Audrey.

Crossing Places – Elly Griffiths
There is nothing more annoying, thinks Ruth, than someone who thinks they don’t have to introduce themselves on the phone, who assumes that you must recognize their voice because it is so wonderfully individual.

Murder in the Crooked House – Soji Shimada
The smile that had been on the face of these cherished dolls had transmuted, decomposed. There was no better way of putting it.
A deep-seated grudge. They’d been brought into the world by the whimsy of human beings, but then not permitted to die for a thousand years. If the same thing were inflicted on our bodies, the same look of madness would appear on our faces too.

A Necessary Evil – Abir Mukherjee
His parents had named him Surendranath: it meant king of the gods; and while I could make a fair stab at the correct Bengali pronunciation, I never could get it quite right. He’d told me it wasn’t my fault. He’d said the English language just didn’t possess the right consonants—it lacked a soft ‘d,’ apparently. According to him, the English language lacked a great many things.

The Seventh Bride – T. Kingfisher
Still, none of it made any sense. If you were a murderer, would you really guard your home with birds saying, “Hi, I’m a murderer”? It lacked subtlety.

The House of Shattered Wings – Aliette de Bodard
“He’s only here because you imprisoned him. Even if he were guilty—which he’s not—it’s a horrible way to die.”
There were no good ways to die, though.

Nobody’s Sweetheart Now – Maggie Robinson
Addie was just getting used to her widowhood when Rupert inconveniently turned up six months after she had sealed him in the Compton family vault in the village churchyard.

Teen Titans: Raven – Kami Garcia + Gabriel Picolo
“I belong to myself.”

Young Avengers: Style > Substance – Kieron Gillen + Jamie McKelvie
“Come with me if you want to be awesome.”

Going over this list . . . well, it’s definitely been the Year of Mystery. A lot of Golden Age novels, of course, including finishing up Dorothy Sayer’s Lord Peter Wimsey series, and also checking out books by other Queens of Crime, Margery Allingham and Ngaio Marsh. Also: contemporary mysteries, historical mysteries, speculative mysteries, and speculative noir. Otherwise, I’ve primarily read my usuals: SF, fantasy, and horror. Nothing that’s going to shock anyone, I’m afraid–though much less YA than normal, for some reason or another.

2019 is an all time low for comics. I like them, but I also find I have a hard time keeping up with them. Possibly, I should buy multiple trades at once, or just wait for the inevitable omnibus? This is a problem I also have with novellas. I’m working on it.

2019 also saw a slight dip in non-fiction, dropping from 3 to 2 books a year. Alas. I seek knowledge, and yet I’m so often distracted by MURDER.

Most Read Authors: Dorothy Sayers and T. Kingfisher (3 books each). I’ve mentioned this before on social media, but I definitely have a massive writer crush on T. Kingfisher. I’ve made significant steps this year in my quest to read ALL THE WORDS she’s written. Expect this to continue into 2020.

Favorite New-To-Me Authors: Paul Tremblay, P. Djèlí Clark, and Lily Anderson

And finally . . .

FAVORITE OPENING QUOTE:

After the funeral they came back to the house, now indisputably Mrs. Halloran’s. They stood uneasily, without any certainty, in the large lovely entrance hall, and watched Mrs. Halloran go into the right wing of the house to let Mr. Halloran know that Lionel’s last rites had gone off without melodrama. Young Mrs. Halloran, looking after her mother-in-law, said without hope, “Maybe she will drop dead on the doorstep. Fancy, dear, would you like to see Granny drop dead on the doorstep?”

The Sundial – Shirley Jackson

Because, dear God, Shirley Jackson knew how to begin a story. Every opening paragraph I’ve read by her is the best opening paragraph. Fucking legend.

Honorable Mentions:

“At least he was well dressed. Black tie, tux, the works. If you’re going to get yourself killed, you may as well look your best.” – A Rising Man

When I was younger, I used to play dead. – The Migration

The whistle isn’t jaunty, not Doris Day. It’s low and slow and the actor Bob Cummings would remember its hot zing for some time. – The Song is You

The problem with your best friend dying is that there’s no one to sit with you at funerals. – Undead Girl Gang

Ann’s mother isn’t feeling so good today. – One Bloody Thing After Another

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.

ETA: Apparently, I was incorrect before; I have two bullet points. My story “You Were Once Wild Here” in The Dark will also be eligible!

I’m pretty fond of this one, too. It’s, IDK. Brick meets Teen Wolf? Read if you like neo-noir, werewolves, ace-lesbian protagonists, second-person POV, weird magic, and psychic dreams.

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.

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.

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.

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.