Triple Scoop Reviews: The Witch: Part I – The Subversion, Death Bell, and Guns Akimbo

The Witch: Part I – The Subversion

Year: 2018
Director: Park Hoon Jung
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Netflix
Spoilers: Surprisingly, no
Grade: Chocolate

Oh, I really enjoyed this Korean SF/F action-horror movie. I confess to not totally getting the title (something lost in translation, perhaps), but the movie itself is a pretty good time. Kim Da Mi is excellent here as Goo Ja Yun, an amnesiac who ran away ten years ago from one of those evil government facilities that likes to experiment on children. (A very specific sub-genre I’m apparently a sucker for, considering Dark Angel, Stranger Things, The Pretender, etc.) I also like Go Min Shi, who plays Ja Yun’s excitable best friend, and Choi Woo Shik, who plays, well, Chaotic Evil. I very much enjoyed the latter’s work in Train to Busan and Parasite, but it wasn’t until I saw this movie that I realized, oh, he’s not just talented; he’s hot. Lots of people try for smirky evil hot but only manage smirky obnoxious. Choi Woo Shik is not one of those people.

The Witch: Subversion – Part I has a slow, steady build with an explosive third act, and I’m looking forward to seeing a sequel. (I believe a trilogy is planned?) There are other things to talk about; unfortunately, they all include spoilers, and I’d prefer not to get into those now. But the movie is an awful lot of fun, and I’d highly recommend it to anyone who also enjoys a) this very specific sub-genre, and b) violence. Because there is most certainly violence. Obviously, I approve of this.

Death Bell

Year: 2008
Director: Chang
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other – Youtube
Spoilers: Some. Mind the tags, in particular
Grade: Strawberry

This is apparently a hugely popular horror film in South Korea and was fun enough to watch, but ultimately, I’m pretty meh on the actual execution. I’m all about the basic setup, of course: a group of kids (and teachers) are trapped at a high school and forced to successfully solve a series of test questions, or else their classmates will be violently murdered. I like the idea of the bad guys here and their respective motives. I’d genuinely like to see this film remade by a different director with a better script.

But as is, I have several problems, like, almost none of the death traps work for me, not just because they’re such obvious Saw knock-offs, but because they’re way too elaborate and ridiculous to fit the actual scenario. (Some people are quick to accuse a horror movie of being a Saw knock-off just because its exceptionally violent and/or includes death traps, but these ones really do lack originality.) There is both a human and supernatural angle to this story; unfortunately, the supernatural stuff mostly feels mishandled. The last minute twist seems particularly cheap because it doesn’t feel supported by the actor’s performance at all–though it does, I suppose, at least make another character’s whole storyline less random in retrospect. (Still not terribly fond of it, TBH.)

Additionally, two quick notes: one, I’m all about horror movies acknowledging that girls have periods–seriously, I am all for it–but this mostly felt like an excuse for a weird upper thigh shot, so, eh? And two, any sympathy I might have had for one character completely goes out the window the second she realizes that everyone around her has mysteriously passed out and decides that this is a great time to put on her headphones, alone, in the middle of a school where multiple people have been murdered. I. You. What. WHY?!?!?!

Guns Akimbo

Year: 2020
Director: Jason Lei Howden
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Amazon
Spoilers: Not really
Grade: Vanilla

There’s a lot to like here, especially if you’re into over-the-top, gonzo action flicks like me, but there are also things that don’t quite land. For one, I’m not sure I’m totally buying our Big Bad; Ned Dennehy is okay in the role, but I feel like other actors could’ve done more with it. Neal McDonough, for instance, was made for this kind of villain. Also might’ve enjoyed Clancy Brown, who Mek suggested for some punk Highlander vibes. More importantly, though, Guns Akimbo has this weird tendency to throw in a moral now and then that just doesn’t work. Like when Miles (Daniel Radcliffe) wonders how long it’s been since he went outside without staring at his phone, and I’m like, bitch, that’s some weak tea satire; are you actually mistaking that for an original perspective, and anyway, who the hell is thinking “gosh, I wish I’d stopped to smell the roses” when they’re stumbling around after waking up with gun hands? I feel, too, that there’s a small but annoying thread of “anti PC culture” running throughout the film, an impression that only seems validated after remembering the controversy around director Jason Lei Howden. Yikes.

All that being said, I could watch Daniel Radcliffe and Samara Weaving in this all day. They’re both great here: Radcliffe has some absolutely phenomenal reactions–I am so down for all his absolutely bizarre post-HP projects–whereas Weaving is just as iconic here as she was in Ready or Not. She’s pretty fantastic in this, IMO. Not every bit of humor lands right (Rhys Darby’s character, sadly, feels like a series of punch down jokes, much as my Voltron geek girl heart hates to admit it), but a lot of the dialogue is genuinely hilarious; for example, I about died when Miles tried to cut off this cop’s tragic backstory. I like Nova (Natasha Liu Bordizzo), too; she doesn’t get much to do, unfortunately, but I did find her interesting. Also, Nerf Guy!

If you like the concept of Guns Akimbo, there’s a decent chance you’ll like the movie: there are some really fun fight scenes, amusing bits of meta humor, one or two solid surprise moments, and just a very enjoyable soundtrack. I’m actually glad I watched it; I just really wish I could tweak it some, too. And yeah, it’d also be nice if the writer/director didn’t entirely suck as a person.

Triple Spooky Scoop Reviews: Suspiria, Us, and Jason X

It’s the end of an era, folks! Okay, fine, it’s just the end of our first annual Horror Bingo–which, yes, should have been finished well over a month ago, but life! Holidays! Disney Plus! The point is, I got it done by Christmas, and that’s just gonna have to be good enough.

More importantly . . .

That’s right, I WON! Honestly, this was a lot of fun, and I’m already looking forward to Round 2 next year. Before I get into conclusions, though, we have three more movies to discuss: our final two Horror Bingo films and, of course, our reward movie: Jason X.

Suspiria (2018)

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

Well. That was a movie.

I was hopeful for this one. I do really enjoy the original film. (Gore! Maggots! Technicolor!) But also, I was kinda excited to see a different take on Ballet Witch Academy cause there are a lot of ways to go with that concept. (Not gonna lie, folks: if Ballet Witch Academy was a show on CW, I’d watch the hell out of it.) Add in Tilda Swinton and a score by Thom Yorke, and I was fucking sold. And credit where credit’s due: I do really enjoy that score. Listening to it now, as a matter of fact, and let me tell you: “The Hooks” is a particularly disturbing song when you’re listening to it by yourself at midnight. Also, the Susie/Olga dance scene is nothing short of horrific: grotesque, intense, and masterfully shot. There are certain plot developments I like, too, at least conceptually: the reveal that Susie is Mother Suspiriorum, for instance, is certainly intriguing. And that whole line about how the witches won’t suffer any retaliation for their votes? HA! I didn’t buy that bit of bullshit for one second, so the violent payoff at the end works well for me.

Overall, though, I just really didn’t enjoy this movie. I didn’t like the opening scene at all, like, Chloe Grace Moretz seems to be going for Crazy, Oh So Crazy, and it feels both atonal AF and, yeah, just kinda ick. At 2 1/2 hours, I think the film is far too long. I’m not saying you can’t have long horror films, but I am saying they’re hard to do well. (It: Chapter Two also failed at this.) We spend way more time on the psychiatrist than I think is warranted, and I don’t love that he’s played by Tilda Swinton; the performance is fine (I mean, it’s Tilda Swinton), but I find the choice itself unnecessarily distracting. I like the idea of Susie’s twist, but not the build or execution of it, and I don’t think the film does a very good job developing her and Madam Blanc’s relationship, either. Sure, they stare at each other a lot, and I suspect I’m supposed to get mad lesbian chemistry or maybe, IDK, incestuous mother/daughter vibes? Mostly, though, I feel like Suspiria relies way too heavily on its artsy mood and funky editing in an attempt to overcompensate for a lackluster script. I’m not particularly convinced the political backstory is working in the film’s favor, either. There were a few moments of interesting horror here, but primarily, I found myself bored, frustrated, or both.

Us

First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Amazon
Spoilers: All of them. Watch the film first, please.
Grade: Chocolate

Oh, this is difficult. There’s an awful lot I do like about this movie. The acting is great. Lupita Nyong’o is fantastic, Winston Duke is hilarious (he plays Such A Dad), and I really enjoyed Shahadi Wright Joseph quite a bit, too. I’d forgotten Elisabeth Moss was in this movie, and though it’s a small role, my God, if she doesn’t make the most out of it. There are so many wonderful scenes and moments here: the death of Pluto, basically everything that happens at the Tyler’s house, Adelaide and Red’s final fight/dance, etc. The soundtrack is phenomenal (I’ve now switched over to “Anthem,” naturally), and I liked a lot of the humor. I’m a huge sucker for family dynamics in horror, and I was definitely invested in these characters as we watched the film.

But I have criticisms, too, and unfortunately, they’re not minor ones. Like, when Red gives her monologue near the end of the movie about how the Tethered were kept underground as part of a government experiment and how she banded them together and such, it felt . . . messy. Interesting, certainly, but messy, like there’s enough story and metaphor in these five minutes alone to make a whole other movie, but instead of really doing something with it, it’s just sorta . . . thrown out there, slapdash as hell. I can’t quite decide if we’re given too much information here or not nearly enough, but either way, I think the writing is a bit weak in the third act. Still, I was willing to forgive it because, messy or not, Us is weird and fascinating, and I was having a pretty fun time watching it. And then we get Adelaide’s Big Reveal, and I just . . .

Look. We were roughly five minutes into this movie before I thought, “Oh, shit, maybe this is an evil changeling story! Maybe Adelaide isn’t traumatized; she’s just not Adelaide.” And you know, there is evidence to support that, particularly whenever Adelaide kills one of the Tethered. But the more Red talked, the more I realized I wouldn’t buy that twist anymore. Part of that’s dialogue: would she really have a whole speech about the humans Above, specifically calling them “your people,” without ever mentioning they were once her people, that the sky was once her sky? Would she say “we’re humans too, you know” to someone who, of course, does know? Would she use intentionally ambiguous (and slightly more awkward) phrasing like “how you could’ve taken me with you” instead of “you could’ve come with me” or “we could’ve both lived Above?”

But it’s not just dialogue. It’s also that the logic and mechanics of this place feel murky as hell: Little Adelaide starts behaving like a shadow while trapped Below, but . . . I don’t really know how or why: she isn’t mindless like the others, after all. So much here feels vague and inconsistent, and while horror doesn’t always have to be logical or explained in full to be successful, that doesn’t fly so well when you need to support a Big Twist. And it doesn’t help that I just don’t think this particular Big Twist adds much to the story, emotionally or thematically; mostly, it just strikes me as an unnecessary cheat, and considering Cheat Unreliable Narrators are one of my biggest storytelling pet peeves? It’s a really unfortunate note to end this otherwise very enjoyable film on.

Jason X

First Watch or Rewatch: Rewatch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other: Personal Collection DVD
Spoilers: Very much so
Grade: Vanilla

Oh, Jason X. This gloriously silly movie. This loving parody of its own franchise. You can come at me with your “Michael Myers is the best masked killer” until you’re blue in the face, but has Michael Myers ever been cryogenically frozen for 400 years? Has he ever cut off a dude’s arm purely by falling over? Was he resurrected and reconstructed into Uber Michael by futuristic nano ants? Yeah, I rest my case.

Jason X knows exactly what kind of movie it is. The puns are over the top, the kills are as violent as they are ridiculous, the fashion is hilarious (sometimes even intentionally!), and and everyone just seems like they’re having a really good time. The whole movie is a string of meta in-jokes punctuated by absurd violence. (See: the gratuitous nudity holograms and the nod to everyone’s favorite sleeping bag death from Friday the 13th, Part VII: The New Blood.) Hell, the whole plot structure is basically one giant homage to Aliens. Also, holy shit, David Cronenberg has a cameo in this! I don’t think I even realized that the first time I watched this movie.

I will say it’s a little disappointing that a) both black characters on the ship die, and b) they die sacrificing themselves for white people, which is certainly a shitty trope prevalent in horror. That being said, if you’re gonna go out in a heroic blaze of glory, you’ve gotta do it like Peter Mensah, whose character impossibly zooms in from out of nowhere, tackles Jason in space, and steers their bodies towards Earth 2, where they continue to fight even as they burn up in the atmosphere. It is exceptional. It is a thing of beauty.

THE GREAT HORROR BINGO WRAP-UP:

Of the horror films I’d never seen before, my favorites were probably Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978), The Babadook, It Follows, and The Wailing. Meanwhile, my least favorites were Suspiria (2018), Ghost Story, Insidious, and The Witch.

Of the horror films I have seen before, I think The Legend of Hell House remains my favorite, whereas my appreciation for Hostel has considerably dipped.

Movies I’m most disappointed we didn’t get to on this go-around: Deep Red, Overlord, and Phantasm.

Movies I’ll probably add to next year’s Horror Bingo, if I don’t watch them before then: Tigers Are Not Afraid, Happy Death Day, and Hausu.

And Now An Advertisement For My New Story

A little bored? Looking for something to read? Wishing there were more stories about Horror Purgatory and/or the girls who almost never survive slasher movies?

Assuming the answer to all those questions is yes (and, I mean, why wouldn’t it be), then may I present my short story “If We Survive The Night,” newly published at The Dark.

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It’s, well. It’s very much a me story. If you like your horror with a liberal dose of feminism, a huge heaping of meta, and a sprinkle of vengeance, it might be worth checking out. And if none of those sound like your jam, you should check The Dark out anyway because there are other horror and dark fantasy stories you might like in this issue, including one written by my ridiculously talented buddy Helen Marshall.

Happy reading, everyone.

The 2016 Book Superlatives (Length: EPIC)

It is time, my friends. Yesterday, I posted the list of all the books and graphic novels I’ve read in 2016, and today I will review them in my customary way: superlatives! (Clearly, a tormented piece of my soul will always be trapped in high school.)

To be upfront: the greater majority of my Book Superlatives are positive and/or silly because this is meant to be fun, and because I realized how shitty I’d feel if something I wrote ever got singled out as Worst Book Of The Year or something. However, there are some critical superlatives–Most Annoying Romance, for example–because I do look at these awards as (admittedly oddly formatted) reviews, and also because I’ve never not had multiple candidates for that particular category. I do, however, generally try to say positive things about a book even when I’m highlighting something particularly negative, which, honestly isn’t usually all that hard. There are often a number of things I like about even those novels that frustrate me: Most Annoying Romance, for instance, actually went to a book that I otherwise enjoyed quite a bit, even envied if I’m being honest, cause, damn that author can write.

If you are a published novelist who has somehow stumbled onto my little blog and don’t necessarily want to get blindsided by the possibility of seeing something negative about your novel, I totally get that: feel free to check out that link of stuff I read this year and see if any of your work is even on the table before making your decision. For anyone who is interested in reading, welcome! Today’s post will be full of super important awards like Favorite Sidekick, Chief Asshat, Book I Would Most Like To See As A Video Game, and Best Boo-Yah Moment. There will also be a list of my Top 10 Favorite Books of the Year, if that kind of thing interests you, and a list of my many, many favorite book quotes I read this year. God help me.

Shall we begin?

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A New Story At Lightspeed, Award Eligibility, And Recommended Short Fiction of 2016

It’s that time of the year again: the Awards Eligibility post–otherwise known as the Nominate Me Because You Like Me, You REALLY Like Me post–as well as My Favorite Short Fiction Recs of 2016. We’ll begin with my own award-eligible work first, because it’s a much, much shorter list.

I had two stories come out this year; amusingly, they turned out to be perfect bookends. “The Elixir of the Not-So-Disgusting Death Smell” was published in January at Mothership Zeta, and I’m crazy happy it’s there–I wrote the very first draft of this story years and years ago, and other than being the story that got me into Clarion West, it’s also the story that helped Young Carlie decide to focus on writing the kind of work she actually liked to read, namely speculative fiction. If romantic comedies with mad science, zombie hijinks, and Girl Scout cookies are your thing, then this might be a story worth checking out.

If you’re inclined to read only one of my stories, though–and who could blame you, time is short and there is SO MUCH good work out there–I’d actually push for “Every Day is The Full Moon,” which just came out today in Lightspeed.

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I’m pretty proud of this one. We’ll see if that pride takes a hit after I read reviews or not (although I’m happy to say I’ve got at least one awesome one at Quick Sip Reviews), but regardless, this piece means a lot to me. It’s a YA story about girl friendships and abuse dynamics and what the power of love actually means. It also has werewolves, fairies, demons, Valkyries, and a bunch of other neat stuff. Because I’m an honest soul, I feel I should tell you upfront that this story is written in 2nd person POV, if that’s something you absolutely can’t stand. But also because I’m trying to balance low self esteem with an honest assessment of my skills, I’ll also tell you that I’m actually pretty decent at writing in the 2nd person.

Now. As far as everyone else’s work goes, I’ve compiled a list of my 10 + 1 Favorite Short Stories that I’ve read this year. They aren’t ordered in any meaningful way whatsoever, and I’m referring to the list as “10 + 1” rather than “11” because . . . well, because I read fanfiction, and that’s just the kind of mood I’m in–although I suppose you could look at this list as a compilation of my Favorite 10 Standalone Stories + 1 Series Starter.

Regardless. If you haven’t read these stories, I highly recommend checking them out.

10 + 1 Favorite Short Stories (or Novelettes) of 2016

1. “This is Not A Wardrobe Door” – A. Merc Rustad – Fireside

I’m hard-pressed to think of a more charming or optimistic story, which is something I think most of us could use these days. The ending is just what I’d hoped it would be, even though I didn’t actually expect it. Also, there’s a little bit of shade thrown at Narnia, which I can’t help but approve of.

Dear Gatekeeper,
Hi my name is Ellie and I’m six years old and my closet door is broken. 

2. “How To Host A Haunted House Murder Mystery Party” – A.C. Wise (Bourbon Penn)

I just loved this story. I loved everything about it: it’s simultaneously both witty and melancholy, meta and elegant, not to mention a clever, gothic spin on some of my favorite tropes, like strangers invited to haunted houses or dinner parties with murder. By coincidence, I read this story a few days after watching Clue for the, oh, 112th time, which I think made this reading especially delightful.

Invite extra guests. Invite at least one person liable to turn up late. Provide at least one guest with the wrong address so they become lost along the way. They will consider themselves lucky, once all is said and done. Every tale needs a survivor.

3. “A Menagerie of Grief” – Kelly Sandoval – Flash Fiction Online

Just lovely. A perfect exploration of grief, and how it can be highly individualistic, how it can tear people apart or slowly push them back together.

They didn’t get along, Shane’s pretty little dog and my great ugly dragon. It was the dog’s fault. The way it pranced at Shane’s heels, so clean and appropriate, while my pain smoldered in the living room, curled around the couch where I’d taken to sleeping, its breath fogging up the windows. At night, the dog whined for hours. I could hear it pacing the bedroom, scratching at the door. Was it already trying to leave him? Maybe he only kept his grief for my sake. For the show of it.

4. “And In Our Daughters, We Find A Voice” – Cassandra Khaw – The Dark

A violent and gorgeous Little Mermaid retelling. This is the first thing I’ve read by Cassandra Khaw, and, yeah, definitely not gonna be the last.

My sisters die voiceless in a froth of red foam, gasping mouths and gaping eyes, no different from common fish.

5. “Blackpool” – Sarah Brooks – Shimmer

Disclaimer: Sarah is my friend, so, objectivity, or whatever.

Sarah’s prose is just so goddamn elegant; I was in constant awe/envy of her work when we were at Clarion West together, and, happily for me, “Blackpool” is my favorite of her CW stories. I’m so happy it found a good home at Shimmer because it is well worth a read.

The Detective seals the tears into a little plastic bag. When he examines them later he finds that they are genuine. He takes out a tear and places it on his cheek. It is cool on his skin.

6. “Once I, Rose” – A. Merc Rustad – Daily Science Fiction

The best Valentine’s Day story, ever. Short, wonderful, and romantic as hell.

Attempted Methods Of Communication Thus Far:

* Shedding petals into the words HELP ME. [Too difficult to arrange with no hands.]
* Pricking every finger that touches me; someone must realize I am not a rose. [People are imperceptive.]
* Asking the bees to carry my message to someone. Anyone. [Humans understand bees poorly.]
* Thinking your name as loud as I can, remembering how we said we would always recognize each other’s ghosts.

7. “A Spell to Retrieve Your Lover From the Bottom of the Sea” – Ada Hoffman – Strange Horizons

Also romantic, although differently. This is a lovely story with gorgeous imagery and a reminder to accept that not every battle is yours to conquer.

“Tell me the future,” you will say to your runes, but they will not quite tell you that. Instead you will cast them, again and again, and each future you see will be different.

8. “The Opening of the Bayou Saint John” – Shawn Scarber – Strange Horizons

I love the mythology here, this strange, fantastical world that’s been created out of the eerie swamps of New Orleans. Wonderful imagery and structure.

I grab the sharecropper by her dress and hold her. She fights to break away from my grip, but I am no woman. I may appear as a woman. Many a man has foolishly approached me as though I am eligible for their affections. But I am a thing. I am made of the swamps and dead sparrows and all the sorrows that wash up on the bank of the Mississippi.

9. “A Call to Arms for Deceased Authors’ Rights” – Karin Tidbeck – Uncanny

If you ever wished the term “ghostwriting” was a bit more literal, this is the story for you. Clever and enjoyable, particularly for writers.

As for the ghostwriters: writing for a corpse is traumatizing. You can’t just make someone do that and then chuck them into the street without helping them process the experience.

10. “Superior” – Jessica Lack – The Book Smugglers

Just a really cute YA, M/M romance between a superhero’s intern and a supervillain’s apprentice. I especially like how no one’s straight-up evil, even the characters you’d expect to be. And despite the word count (almost novella length), the story just flies by. Solid comfort read.

“Kidnapping a minor seems pretty bad.”
“Um, dude, all kidnapping is bad,” I say. “So is creating killer chimps using the cosmic power of Neptune.”
“Jupiter.”
“Whatever.”
Tad is adamant. “I had to do four hours of research. It’s the power of Jupiter.”

(Plus One): “Hurricane Heels” – Isabel Yap – The Book Smugglers

This is actually a series of five interconnected stories, but I’m specifically highlighting the first one, partially because picking multiple stories is cheating, but also because the first one is easily my favorite. “Hurricane Heels” is about a bachelorette party that goes right to hell, and it celebrates what’s best in life: girl friendships and fighting monsters and jewelry that turns into weapons! My inner 12-year-old Sailor Moon fan is so stoked right now.

In hindsight, we should have expected things would go to shit. Like always. But it was Friday and Selena was getting married, and we wanted to drink and dance and not blow up monsters for one night.

Happy reading!

“Time to Make The Chimi-Fucking-Changas.”

About a month and a half ago, I wrapped up my 2015 Movie Superlatives with one last award: Most Anticipated Movie of 2016. It wasn’t an easy call–there are a lot of big movies coming out this year–but ultimately I picked Deadpool because it just looked the most fun.

Last week, I went to the theater, desperately hoping I wouldn’t be wrong.

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Spoilers: I wasn’t.

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“At Least I Get To See Her. Even If She Is Being Chased By a Psycho With a Machete.”

When I first heard about The Final Girls back in August, I was totally delighted by the concept and I had every intention of watching the movie in theater. Unfortunately, I then discovered that this was not meant to be, for the film had a limited release, and Sonoma County–not shockingly–was not part of said release. I was pretty bummed by this.

Now, however, I’ve finally had time to watch the film. My conclusions?

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Yeah, I’m pretty sure The Final Girls just made it on my list of Favorite Horror Comedies of all time.

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