Triple Spooky Scoop Review: Hereditary, Till Death, and Tag

Horror Bingo continues! Once again, we have three wildly different movies to discuss today. Let’s just skip straight to the blasphemy, shall we?

Hereditary

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Year: 2018
Director: Ari Aster
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Amazon
Spoilers: Yes, specifically in the 3rd and 4th paragraphs
Grade: Vanilla

Hereditary is . . . okay. It’s well-acted, particularly by Toni Collette. It’s well-shot. There are definitely some nice creepy moments and a few good surprises, which I’ll detail in the Spoiler Paragraphs. I like the use of the miniatures, which are clearly eerie AF.

But on the whole, I feel removed from this story, distant. I feel vaguely bad for this family because a bunch of truly awful shit happens to them, but I also don’t know that I particularly connect to any one of them as characters. There’s never really a moment that I became fully invested in their lives or the story in general. The whole movie is kinda, hm, flatly miserable I guess? Which, yeah I get it: this is horror, and no one’s here to have a good time. But I do feel like I’ve watched other horror films about suffering and grief that I’ve enjoyed a lot more and that have meant more to me. It probably doesn’t help, either, that I just read a handful of reviews that really have that whole “yes, Hereditary is a horror film, but it’s actually about something” energy, like the entire genre was trash before Blessed A24, Lord and Savior, came to save us from ourselves. I fucking despise that shit.

As far as the actual plot goes, I initially thought that the evil cult was trying to bring Dead Grandma back to life. (The evil cult itself was pretty, obvious, right, like we all knew that Ann Dowd was definitely Evil Grandma’s Equally Evil Friend?) Once we learned about Paimon, though, I was all, Oh, got it, we’ve been trying and failing to do this for a WHILE now, first with Long Dead Grandpa and then Long Dead Uncle and now Recently Dead Charlie. I completely missed that Charlie actually was Paimon since, IDK, she was a baby, basically? Until the ending reveal, I’d just assumed she was all emotionally fucked up due to the prolonged exposure to Evil Grandma.

There are some disturbing and/or holy shit moments I liked. When Charlie died, for instance (I thought she might go out early, but didn’t expect it to happen like that) or when Gabriel Byrne went up in flames. (Damn, that was a good surprise.)  Possessed Toni Collette decapitating herself; also, when she channeled Charlie during the seance. And the ants, God, I fucking hate ants. There really is some genuinely good stuff here.

But for me, the film as a whole didn’t linger. When Hereditary was over, I was kinda like, “Well . . . that was definitely a movie I watched,” and moved about my day. I didn’t hate it, but I didn’t connect to it, either, and I don’t think I was nearly as disturbed as I was meant to be.

Till Death

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Year: 2021
Director: S.K. Dale
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Netflix
Spoilers: Some, technically, but nothing that should ruin the movie for you
Grade: Strawberry

Again, this is okay. It’s a fun concept: woman who’s been handcuffed to her dead asshole of a husband has to find a way to survive, especially when a couple of dudes come to rob and kill her. You know, it’s like Gerald’s Game, but worse. (I presume. Despite having been a Stephen King fan since I was 11 or 12, I’ve still never actually read or watched Gerald’s Game.) There are some specific moments I like: golf clubs, the various troubles with staircases, a nice reversal where one of the bad guys gets handcuffed to a dead body. Dead Husband (Eoin Macken) is The Fucking Worst, and rudely, this movie makes you wait a little over 20 minutes for him to die, which is obviously criminal. But mostly, it’s an easy enough way to spend an hour and a half.

Unfortunately, Emma is played by Megan Fox, and while I genuinely like Megan Fox in some things–Jennifer’s Body, for instance–I don’t think she quite works here, which is a bummer cause the whole movie kinda rides on her performance. In the first 20 minutes, she’s going for . . . hm, meek, I suppose? Sad and subservient? But it falls a little flat for me, never quite manages to feel genuine or nuanced. Her performance is a bit stronger when Emma gets to the “fuck you, corpse-husband, I will survive no matter what” stage of the game. Still, even then I don’t buy a lot of her reactions. There’s one moment when Emma yells “Fuck you!” or something, and I flat out laughed.

Mostly, I just couldn’t stop thinking of actresses I’d rather have seen in the role. Like, we’re currently watching Season 2 of Evil, right, so immediately, I’m thinking, “Man, Katja Herbers would’ve owned this.” Other possibilities: Kate Siegel (double feature this and Hush!), Florence Pugh (double feature this and Midsommar!), Samara Weaving (this scream, it is the best, I will never shut up about it), Sandra Oh (Jesus Christ, I would cut off someone’s right arm to see Sandra Oh in a horror movie.) Till Death is decent enough, but a stronger actress could’ve made this one sing.

Tag

Year: 2015
Director: Sion Sono
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Amazon
Spoilers: Yes, primarily in the last two paragraphs
Grade: Chocolate

I mean, damn. Tag is WILD. I knew that going in, of course, but let’s be clear: in no way does that fucking trailer prepare you for the film you’re about to watch. Holy shit.

I’m finding this one hard to talk about. Tag is a madcap rush of action, gore, and surrealism, and for the majority of the film, I had very little idea of what was going on–though I did accidentally hit on a Big Twist, which I’ll discuss in more detail later. It helps, I think, to have a “fuck it, let’s just see what happens” mindset–which isn’t to say don’t engage with the film, just, like. It’s probably not gonna make much sense until the end. If that sounds super frustrating, this might not be the movie for you. Likewise, if you hate gore (or only like it when it’s tasteful) this is also probably not your movie. Unsurprisingly, that wasn’t a big problem for me. The opening scene alone, I mean, shit.

Tag is also a bit difficult to discuss because–as with any foreign film–I’m almost certainly missing cultural references or important context that Japanese audiences would know, not to mention this is Amazon, so how accurate are these translations, really? I can tell you that I enjoyed the score: I really like what I’ve heard from MONO so far; plus, there’s a brief instance of The Walking Dead theme music, which TWD, bah, but it’s damn good theme music. I can also tell you that I’d absolutely love to read an essay on this film from a queer feminist perspective. It’s not apparent from the outset, but by the end, there are some definite  fuck the patriarchy vibes here, which I enjoy. (Though there are also about a billion panty shots, which I guess you can argue makes sense, but I think the argument is weak.) And I can say–with only moderate spoilers– that one of the various antagonists in this movie is Evil Wind, a fear I deeply relate to, since apparently fire season has just sorta permanently traumatized me, goddamnit.

Here’s a funny thing: maybe halfway through the film, I told Mekaela that Tag would make for a decent video game, like, you could see how each reality felt like a different level, with different Bosses and different characters you could fight with, etc. Mek (who’d forgotten she’d seen this movie until it started) had zero reaction to this, which surprised me until we hit the end, and I realized Mitsuko actually has been in a video game this whole time, and Mek had been all, “Keep a straight face, keep a straight face.”

Tag is honestly a bit sad, although we do get that hint of optimism at the last moment. That old fucker doesn’t get his “prize,” at least, which is good. Mitsuko escapes, too, although she has to kill herself to do it, and it’s unclear exactly where she is now. Still. For a movie with Mass Murdering Wind, a pig-head groom, and absurdly comical levels of violence, Tag lands a bit heavier in the chest than I expected. This movie shows women the future, and it’s just Gross, Entitled Men Are Now Even More Entitled and Gross. I just feel very sorry for Mitsuko; also Aki, Sur, and all the other dead girls.

Triple Scoop Review: The Suicide Squad, The Red Queen Kills Seven Times, and The Green Knight

The Suicide Squad 

Year: 2021
Director: James Gunn
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other – HBO Max
Spoilers: Yes, but only in the last paragraph
Grade: Chocolate

You know, I liked this. In comparison to David Ayer’s Suicide Squad, obviously, which was a convoluted disaster, but also as its own thing. Gunn’s a pretty solid fit for the irreverent, kooky violence of this particular franchise, and I laughed a lot watching the film. Which isn’t to say that every joke or plot beat works for me. There’s this whole running bit with Polka-Dot Man’s mom that fell flat almost every time. There’s something about the Harley and Silvio Luna subplot (subplot might be a stretch) that feels a bit contrived, although I absolutely love how it concludes, so. It’s not a big complaint. The movie kinda comments on America’s propensity for fucking over other nations, while also . . . IDK, how to put this, exactly. Sorta makes a joke out of it? Which, you know, felt poorly considered. And I do think Peter Capaldi is a bit wasted here.

OTOH, this is an absolutely fantastic cast. I adore Idris Elba in this, like, he has just so many great lines and reactions. Obviously, Margot Robbie as Harley continues to be the Best, and I really like Viola Davis as Amanda Waller, too. (Although I’ll probably always wish Waller was being played by a fat actress.) Joel Kinnaman got a serious glow up as Rick Flag, like, I enjoyed him so much more this time around. John Cena has pretty great comedic timing, and Daniela Melchior as Ratcatcher 2 is sweet and sleepy and awesome. Also, a big shoutout to the scene stealers playing Waller’s support staff: Tinashe Kajese, Steve Agee, and Jennifer Holland.

Some things I can mention without spoilers: the music is great. I think Gunn is really fantastic at creating a fun, vibrant soundtrack without completely overwhelming every scene. I enjoy all the silly gore, obviously, and the flower gunfight scene, too. King Shark, of course, is a violent delight. And like I mentioned before, I laughed a LOT. That opening scene alone, like, holy shit. It’s been a stressful time. I appreciate the laughter.

With SPOILERS: I’m still tired of the Daddy Redemption trope (I swear to God, I just watched this exact setup in The Long Kiss Goodnight, it’s so ubiquitous), but I will say that Idris Elba and Storm Reid screaming at each other was kinda fun. Rick Flag bites it, which–not unexpected, but more of a bummer than I was prepared for. Captain Boomerang dies super early, which I called, as did almost everyone on Team 1. (Including Michael Rooker, who is the Nobu–that is, the character who exists to prove the bomb collar/bomb chip actually works). I really love all the background check fails: Weasel can’t swim, Bloodsport has a rat phobia, etc. Also, the intertitles are great, especially “Warner Bros Pictures presents” and “The Suicide Squad vs. Starro The Conqueror.” Finally, I was really hoping King Shark would eat Peacemaker, but . . . alas, spinoff. And as much as I enjoyed John Cena here, like. Why, of all possible characters, is Peacemaker getting a spinoff?

The Red Queen Kills Seven Times

Year: 1972
Director: Emilio Miraglia
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other – Shudder
Spoilers: Not really, no
Grade: Strawberry

So one day, I’m hanging out, flipping around on Shudder, as you do, and I see the title of this giallo movie. Naturally, I’m like, “Holy shit, that’s the best title ever,” and check out the plot description, which reads: Two sisters inherit their family castle that is supposedly haunted by their murderous ancestor. When their friends begin disappearing, they suspect that there might be some truth to the rumors. And I’m like, “OMG, this was MADE for me.”

And yeah, I did enjoy this one. The bad guy isn’t super hard to guess, like, Mek and I got that straight away, but there were enough red herrings and general shifty behavior to keep things interesting; also, a couple of twists I genuinely didn’t expect. The murders are fun and appropriately bloody, the killer has a signature maniacal laugh, the score by Bruno Nicolai is great, and JFC, the fashion in this movie. (Much of which can be seen in this fan-made trailer.) I basically wanna own Kitty’s whole wardrobe, not to mention, steal one of Rosemary’s outfits, the one paired with the most spectacular glasses I’ve ever seen. Martin’s sexy robe amuses me (more mid-thigh robes for men!) and Franziska’s nightgown is, uh. Well, it’s certainly a look.

There are things I’d change here, like, I’d straight up cut the completely unnecessary sexual assault that has absolutely zero bearing on the plot and is never mentioned again by anybody. I’d seriously rewrite almost everything about Elizabeth, “the crazy wife” character. And I’d kill off one of the survivors because, nah. Never liked them, anyway.  But overall, I had fun. Like, cool clothes, great hair, multiple ridiculous murders, weird dream sequences, spooky old family legends, and mildly perplexing castle designs? I mean, really, what’s not to like?

The Green Knight

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Year: 2021
Director: David Lowery
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Amazon
Spoilers: Only mild ones
Grade: Vanilla

You know. This was okay. I can see how The Green Knight might be a love-it-or-hate-it movie for some folks, but I find myself kind of caught in the middle. Again. It’s shocking, I know. Some of that might be the subject matter: Arthurian legends aren’t, by and large, my jam, and the only part of this story I knew prior to watching the film was the opening act. TBH, I really thought that was the whole story for a long time: Dude A says, “You can take the first shot, but I’m gonna hit you back just as hard next year,” Dude B says, “Ha-ha, no, you won’t,” and decapitates Dude A, and then Dude A picks up his decapitated head and says, “See you in a year, sucker!” I’m starting to wonder if maybe I read this in a spooky stories for kids book or something. But I digress.

The cast is great. Dev Patel is a solid leading man, and Sean Harris, Kate Dickie, Alicia Vikander, Erin Kellyman, and Ralph Ineson all make up a strong supporting cast. There are several scenes or small moments that I enjoy: Kate Dickie reading the Green Knight’s challenge, or basically any other time the Green Knight is on screen, all the fabulous costumes and crowns and hair, the fox, the intertitles, pretty much the entire subplot with Erin Kellyman, etc. “A Meeting With Saint Winifred” was easily my favorite part of the journey, partially because I like the actress, but also because it’s such great classic ghost story shit. (Also, I was already familiar with Saint Winifred, so I got to be all, “Ha! See, I know some references!”)

It’s interesting because, in some ways, The Green Knight actually isn’t as weird as I was expecting. Surreal? Sure, and I definitely didn’t catch all the symbology involved, but the basic plot is easy enough to follow, and while the the ending is arguably ambiguous, I also wasn’t blinking, all, WTF just happened? Much of the cinematography is, of course, lovely, although to me, some of the editing choices and camerawork just felt kinda distracting. (In fairness, the Ibuprofen for my headache had not fully kicked in, so some of the spins probably weren’t doing much for my mood.) My least favorite part, without question, was the whole section with The Lord and The Lady cause, like. I was so bored. I’ve now skimmed through several interviews and reviews explaining all the hidden clues, context, visual metaphors, interpretations, etc., but . . . I’m sorry. SO. BORED.

This is my thing about The Green Knight: the trailer looked wild, and I’m glad I tried it out, but while I enjoyed bits of it, on the whole, I felt kinda *shrug* about the movie after it was over. I honestly don’t have many criticisms and would never suggest it was a bad film, but sometimes you try something and find that, meh, maybe it just wasn’t for you. Which is fine! And it’s totally possible that I might like the movie more on repeat viewings, although at present, I don’t feel any particularly need to watch it again. If I do, though, it’s definitely gonna be around Christmas.  I’m always on board for more non-traditional Christmas movies. Adding this to list!

Triple Scoop Review: Fear Street Part One: 1994, Fear Street Part Two: 1978, and Fear Street Part Three: 1666

So, it’s July 3rd–or at least it is for me, right now, as I write this intro–and we’ll be doing our usual Triple Scoop Review a little differently today. Since Fear Street is a trilogy of interconnected horror films (each released a week apart on Netflix), I’m gonna first try discussing each story one by one, and then after the trilogy is concluded, look at the project as a whole. We’ll see how it goes!

Fear Street Part One: 1994

Year: 2021
Director: Leigh Janiak
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Netflix
Spoilers: Some, yes, but mostly just romantic relationship stuff in the 2nd paragraph
Grade: Vanilla

This is a silly, almost cute throwback to 90’s slashers, high on energy and relatively light on gore (with one very memorable exception). The PG-13 vibes make sense, considering the whole  trilogy is based on R.L. Stine’s Fear Street books. (I’ve never read them. I kinda skipped R.L. Stine as a kid.) I had fun watching the film, though how I feel about this entry  is probably gonna depend on what happens in the next two. Right now, lots of things feel unbalanced–the sheriff, the janitor, the mayor, Shadyside vs. Sunnyside (LOL), the ominous nose bleeds, etc.–but I expect that will change as I learn more in the upcoming installments.

What isn’t quite working for me right now is Deena. Not the actress–Kiana Madeira does fine work–but the character herself, or at least her relationship with her ex, Sam (Olivia Scott Welch). Man, I want to root for these two. Are you kidding me? Two queer romantic leads in a slasher film? And a queer Final Girl who’s also a person of color? I desperately wanna be onboard, but frankly, Deena’s kind of an asshole to Sam. And like, emotions are messy, I get it. No one’s gonna act 100% perfect all the time, and that’s fine. But without getting into too much detail (NGL: there’s a bit of detail), Deena blames Sam for shit that’s mostly outside her control, acts all possessive and jealous despite being the one who called it quits, and then endangers Sam’s life, actually getting her hospitalized–and never really apologizes for any of it. Mind you, Sam (emotionally) hurt Deena in the past, too, but A) any pain you cause by not being ready to come out isn’t nearly as cut and dry as this movie wants it to be (especially in 1994, FFS), and B) if Sam did act like an asshole before, okay, but we never actually see that on screen. All we get is Sam apologizing to Deena, like it’s Sam’s fault that Deena’s being a dick. That’s all a BIG problem for me if I’m supposed to ship these two.

Beyond that . . . well, 1994 is, indeed, set in the 90’s, which the soundtrack is definitely not gonna let you forget. It’s a little too in your face for me, TBH, but I also knew and liked literally every single song except one, so. I got over it. (Though for those of you who care: a couple of songs did come out after 1994.) Being a 90’s child, I also enjoyed the homages to 90’s slashers, particularly Scream. I’m not so sure how I feel about Nurse Beddy, though, and upon reflection, there are two deaths that don’t make much sense, so either I’m missing something, or they’re kinda lousy, needless deaths.

Special shoutout to Julia Rehwald, who plays Kate and tends to steal every scene she’s in (despite an unnecessary romantic storyline that I definitely didn’t care about). But the whole cast is pretty enjoyable, and I’m curious to see how the next installment compares. We’ll see next week!

Fear Street Part Two: 1978

Year: 2021
Director: Leigh Janiak
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Netflix
Spoilers: Nah
Grade: Chocolate

1978 is, more or less, one very long flashback, as told by C. Berman (Gillian Jacobs), the sole survivor of the Camp Nightwing massacre–although we are seriously stretching the term “soul survivor” here, like, lots of other people escape this camp alive. It’s an exciting narrative structure, actually, a horror film that functions as both a prequel and a sequel in this ongoing storyline, and I enjoyed watching it–although it does get off to a slow start, and there are a few logic hiccups that may or may not trip you, depending how nerdy you get about narrative. (I am, of course, absolutely That Nerd.) Like how our Final Girl isn’t in every scene, for example, which means she’s relating a lot of stuff that she has little way of knowing. Also, one character kinda gets dropped entirely, which seems like a misstep. And this trilogy’s mythology is interesting, but IDK, messy? We do get answers to some questions (like what’s up with the mysterious nosebleeds), and that’s cool, but some stuff feels all over the place, and there’s a moment where a character comes to a conclusion that makes little sense unless she, too, has watched Fear Street 1994.

OTOH, 1978 is definitely more violent than 1994, which is obviously a plus for me, and I felt more invested in the overall story, probably because I care more about Cindy and Ziggy’s strained sibling relationship (as well as Cindy and Alice’s strained.once-friendship) than I ever did about Deena/Sam. There are similar thematic elements and parallels between the two films (betrayals and confessions, trying to remake your identity and carve yourself a future, etc.), but they work better for me in 1978, probably cause we don’t see Alice respond to Cindy’s snitching and stupid polo shirts by nearly committing involuntary manslaughter. (I’m sorry. Clearly, I’m still bitter about Deena.) I enjoy a lot of the cast, too: it’s especially nice to see Sadie Sink again, who I love in Stranger Things, although I think Emily Rudd also does a good job here.

The end comes with a bit of a twist that, while conceptually interesting, is pretty predictable from the get-go. But I do like getting to see all the little tie-ins from 1994 and 1978, and I’m looking forward to seeing how the trilogy concludes. (Personally, I’m hoping for a secret epilogue that takes place in 2021.)

Fear Street Part Three: 1666

Y

Year: 2021
Director: Leigh Janiak
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Netflix
Spoilers: Yes, avoid the third and fourth paragraphs
Grade: Strawberry

Without a doubt, 1666 is the hardest to evaluate as its own thing. It’s certainly the film I’d be the least likely to rewatch on its own, but it also does a pretty good job of tying all the loose threads together and concluding the overall 1994/1978/1666 story.

Hm, what can I say about this one? Well, it’s fun to watch the cast from the first two movies play entirely different roles, although I wish we could spend a little more time with the supporting players. (Though the story doesn’t necessarily require it. I just think it’d be neat.) Also, the accents . . . oh, those accents wander badly. It’s not damning, but it is distracting, which is mostly unfortunate because 1666 seems to be going for a darker, slightly more adult tone than, say, 1994’s PG-13 pop slasher fun or 1978’s violent summer camp horror. It’s a bit hard to sink into the grim witch hunt when half the line reads make me snicker. OTOH, when it comes to actual horror, big thumbs up for the church scene, which I thought was perfectly creepy.

Still, the best thing about 1666, for me, is the twist that Sarah Fier was framed for being a witch, and that Solomon Goode and his descendants were the real villains all along. It works on a lot of levels, like, obviously we all knew that there was more to the story, that Sarah had probably been betrayed by the town, that Sunnyside was fucking over Shadyside in some supernatural way, etc. etc. But I must admit, I did assume Sarah was at least somewhat responsible for the curse. And while the Sheriff absolutely seems, heh, shady for most of 19941978 successfully misdirected me into thinking he was On the Side of Good, which is neat. Also, this twist explains a lot of the seemingly sloppy and convoluted mythology, which is great. (Maybe not everything, though. I’m still not 100% on a few things, like those minor character deaths from 1994. Also, seriously. What is the deal with Adult Ziggy’s clocks?)

1666 wraps up more quickly than I expected, giving way to Fear Street – 1994: Part 2, and our happy ending. I like that everybody survives here, even if (sadly) I didn’t get my 2021 epilogue. (Although a mid-credits scene does technically leave the door open for a sequel.) I also like that we get to see Adult Ziggy’s reaction to the sad truth about her one and only friend, and also the Carrie blood bucket callback. Otherwise, though, not much stands out, like the last showdown is . . . okay, I guess? It’s aiming for light and fun, but doesn’t totally hit the mark, at least not for me. Still, the answers we get here wrap up the trilogy much more successfully than I’d been anticipating, which is fantastic.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Like I said, it’s really hard to grade these on an individual basis because while Fear Street is kind of billed as three separate movies, it plays more like a horror miniseries, with episodes that are dependent upon one another to work, especially 1666. Mind you, that’s not a complaint! I do feel like each individual story could be stronger, and there are clearly some significant changes I’d make if I was in charge of, you know, anything.

But I also feel like the trilogy itself is creative and playful and interesting, like, it’s this whole YA horror experience. As a 35-year-old, I enjoyed watching these movies over the course of three weeks. As a 13-year-old just getting into horror, I suspect I would’ve gone feral over them. And I’d love to see more projects like this in the future: horror featuring queer leads and happy endings, horror that deliberately plays with sub-genre and tone, interconnected slashers that play out over the course of several days or weeks. It really gives me just All The Ideas, and you know I love anything that brings The Ideas.

Overall Grade For Whole Trilogy: B (Vanilla)

Now Available at The Dark: “Forward, Victoria”

I know I’ve said this before, but man, writing is fickle. Nothing to report for months and months, and then all of a sudden, bam, two stories out a week apart.

Today’s story is “Forward, Victoria,” which is available to read for free at The Dark, and is the latest evidence of my slasher movie obsession. In the past, I’ve written about final girls, as well as the ladies who rarely get the chance to become final girls. Today, we have the girl as monster, the undead girl. The masked killer girl.

There are a lot of presumably obvious horror movie influences here, but the biggest one for me? Definitely this dude.

(Your unofficial Radiohead pairing, BTW, is “Decks Dark,” which has been the first runner up song for so many stories. Listen to it, and all my other silly Radiohead pairings, here.)

If you read “Forward, Victoria,” I hope you enjoy!

Triple Scoop Review: Much Ado About Nothing, Hell Fest, and Space Sweepers

Much Ado About Nothing

Year: 1993
Director: Kenneth Branagh
First Watch or Rewatch: Rewatch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Amazon
Spoilers: Bitches, please, this story is literally over 400 years old
Grade: Chocolate

I grew up on this movie, like, Much Ado is some formative shit, and I absolutely love it to pieces, despite some of the, ah, questionable acting. It’s not just Keanu Reeves, either, although I can’t say this is his finest hour. (Too bad, too; I’d really love to hear someone nail that whole “I cannot hide what I am” speech.) Robert Sean Leonard is also . . . not great, like admittedly, Claudio is the actual worst? Still, dude’s pretty hard to take seriously. And Michael Keaton, just, what? WHY? Branagh, why didn’t you stop this?

However, I love Emma Thompson as Beatrice; oh, she’s so good, and her scenes with Kenneth Branagh are magic. I also kinda adore Denzel Washington here, who I rarely see in comedies and just seems to be having a delightful time . . . and yes, he does rock those leather pants quite nicely, thank you. (I highly approve of Shakespearian men in leather pants, and have since I saw a production of Romeo & Juliet where Mercutio, dancing around without a shirt, was even more enjoyable than usual.) I’m fond of Richard Briers as Leonato, too, whose hilariously nonchalant delivery makes “she does indeed, my daughter says so” my favorite line in the whole movie. (This entire scene is pretty great, honestly, and is actually where I think RSL does his best work. The comedic overacting is perfect. It’s the dramatic bits I don’t quite buy.)

Gosh, there’s so much to discuss with Much Ado. Like butts. If there was an award for The Most Ass Shots in A Shakespearian Adaptation, it would go to this movie, hands down. (Pleasantly, we get equal opportunity ass shots. It’s not just the ladies for once!) I’d also like to mention that while the cast is overall very white, I do love that Denzel and Keanu are brothers, and no one awkwardly inserts some forced exposition about it; they’re just enemy-bros and that’s that. I like many actors in the supporting cast, too. I’m always here for Brian Blessed and his absurdly deep voice, and I’m never gonna say no to Imelda Staunton, either–although Margaret’s a much more interesting character in the play, which is a hill that I will die on. And hell, how did I go all these years without realizing that Emma Thompson’s mom plays Ursula. It’s so obvious once you know.

Finally, a few things: A) Let’s be real here: that friar is sketchy as hell. B) Leonato seems like a pretty good dude, that is, until he’s all “I shall not suffer a slut to live.” Seriously. Fuck this guy. C) Claudio can’t even be bothered to sing his own goddamned lament. He straight up has that one random singer dude lament for him, ugh, Claudio is THE WORST. And D) In the end, everyone happily dances around except Don Pedro, presumably because he’s the only single dude left? Bullshit. Bullshit to that whole idea idea, but also, bullshit to anyone picking Robert Sean Leonard and Kenneth Branagh over Denzel Washington. (I have to admit, much as I ship Beatrice/Benedick–and I very much do–there’s a part of me that’s always wondered what a Beatrice/Don Pedro ship might’ve been like. I’d read that rare pair fanfic.)

Hell Fest

Year: 2018
Director: Gregory Plotkin
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Netflix
Spoilers: Yep, sorry
Grade: Strawberry

This was our Bloody Hearts pick of 2021, and despite the film’s dismal reviews, I think it’s a pretty decent slasher. Admittedly, it doesn’t have the best start. The acting in the opening scene is, yeah, not stellar. Also, the Killer’s habit of humming “Pop Goes the Weasel” gets real old real quick. But the main cast is pretty likable. I am, of course, primarily here for Bex Taylor Klaus–and the Tony Todd cameo, obviously–but all the actors have good chemistry with one another, and there’s a lot of easy banter back and forth, which I very much enjoyed. Also, Mek and I definitely wanna go to this amusement park. Sans the murderer, preferably, but otherwise, this place looks pretty great. Well. Okay. While I’d absolutely love to go on an actual haunted house ride (especially if it “broke down” halfway through, YES), I’d sadly have to skip this one, as I won’t do haunted houses where people get to touch me. I don’t even want most people I know to touch me. I am, and forever will be, this GIF.

It’s great that the love interest dies first. Partially because it’s surprising, partially because that mallet to the face hurts me, and partially cause this guy makes absolutely terrible choices, and I feel little pity for him. (Come on. Who goes back to steal a stuffed toy just cause you can’t win one? I promise you, dude, your girl doesn’t give two shits whether you’re good at carnival games or not, and your fragile sense of masculinity is an impressively stupid reason to risk being arrested.) I love, too, that both our final girl, Natalie, and her BFF Brooke make it out alive. Brooke’s survival is especially awesome, as she’s both the MC’s BFF and the only Black actor in the main cast. These are extremely bad odds in a slasher; I’ve got Brandy surviving I Still Know What You Did Last Summer in 1998, and . . . that’s about it. I only wish that Taylor also survived because I adore Bex Taylor Klaus so much, and they’re awfully fun in this film. Still. Such is life.

Final, random thoughts: I kinda like that Natalie doesn’t have some stereotypical ‘dead mom or other trauma’ backstory to explain why she’s been distant; life’s just a Lot and people get busy, and that’s fine. I really like the ending, too, how we don’t get the usual last minute scare where our killer pops up in Spain or something; instead, he just goes home, adds to his serial killer trophy collection, and interacts with his cute little daughter, all of which is, TBH, much creepier. (Though, as an aside, I’m not sure exactly how Natalie is planning to get to Spain if scholarship money is currently a problem.) I’m not sure, admittedly, why Natalie and Brooke are just chilling outside one of the haunted houses at the end of the movie, presumably still bleeding, while the killer is on the loose, like, maybe we should get them to a hospital under police escort ASAP cause, you know, there are limits to the usefulness of shock blankets. Otherwise, though, yeah, I found this one pretty enjoyable.

Space Sweepers

Year: 2021
Director: Jo Sung-hee
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Netflix
Spoilers: Only mildly
Grade: Vanilla

Space Sweepers is a lot of fun. I think, maybe, it could’ve been a bit shorter? And I feel like we might be stretching what can realistically be expected of nanotech, but also, I care not at all because seriously, FUN. I love the whole Victory crew, I love how wildly dysfunctional they all are, and I genuinely like how long it takes our protagonist, Tae-ho (Song Joong-ki) to fully get onboard with doing the right thing–but for reasons you get, not just, y’know, Asshole Reasons. I’m obsessed with Captain Jang’s whole aesthetic, I mean, damn. She’s great. Kot-nim is adorable. Tiger Park is kinda adorable, too, and of course, I adore Bubs, because I am always here for both A) sarcastic, money-hoarding robots and B) gender identity and expression in robots. Bubs is awesome.

Our villain is played by Richard Armitage, which is hilarious because I never recognize this guy, ever; my brain just refuses to lock in on his face. Mek will be like, “Hey, is that Richard Armitage?” and I’ll be like “WHAAAAT?” as if we haven’t had this exact same conversation twice before. I enjoyed the whole supporting cast, too, and the effort to really make this story feel international. Just in general, there are a ton of small moments that I loved: the makeup scene, Tae-ho and Tiger Park getting into a water fight, the fact that our heroes are just so hilariously bad at being criminals, etc.

I don’t think there are any plans to make a Space Sweepers sequel or spinoff or anything, and TBH, we don’t really need one. The movie stands fine on its own. Buuuuuut . . . you know. If someone were to do that, I’m just saying. I’d definitely watch another movie or television show in this verse.

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!

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.)