Posted in Other Media

Countdown to October: Movies 49–50

Demons

Year: 1985
Runtime: 1h 28m
Rated: not rated

Director: Lamberto Bava

Writers: Dardano Sacchetti, Dario Argento, Lamberto Bava

Stars: Urbano Barberini, Natasha Hovey, Karl Zinny

Initial: I figured I’d finish out the month with a couple films from the 80s. In this case, a film known to be a gore-fest

What Did I Think:
And gore-fest it is.

Actually, the first 30 minutes or so, while the audience watches the movie, are quite well done. Bava parallels action and mirrors earlier scenes in some really nice ways. Unfortunately, it feels like some of that care goes by the wayside when the demons start attacking. Then, it’s all screaming chaos and colorful ooze.

To some extent, no matter how artistic the setup, a movie with a group of characters under siege needs a certain fictional structure to have anything near an interesting plot. The Mist (2007) and Night of the Living Dead (1968), for example, rely on inter-character struggles to drive the plot, more-so than zombies or creepy-crawlies. This probably isn’t actually realistic. Realistic is coming to bad conclusions about what’s going on, formulating bad plans that lead nowhere, and probably having a demon burst from your back. Realism doesn’t necessarily make a good movie.

Unless you just want to watch a gore-fest.


Halloween III: Season of the Witch

Year: 1982
Runtime: 1h 38m
Rated: R

Director: Tommy Lee Wallace

Writers: Tommy Lee Wallace, John Carpenter, Nigel Kneale

Stars: Tom Atkins, Stacey Nelkin, Dan O’Herlihy

Initial: Rewatch, sort of. I used to watch a lot of movies while doing other things. I don’t do that anymore. I figured this would be the perfect wrap-up of my Countdown to October.

Production Notes: Halloween III gets categorically dismissed for being the one without Michaell Myers, kind of like Bourne Legacy is dismissed for being the one without Jason Bourne. I guess I’m the patron saint of unloved sequels.

What Did I Think:
For me personally, Halloween III is one of the movies I most remember hearing as a kid. My parents watched a fair amount of horror films, but of course, they would do this past my 9pm bedtime. But, our house was small. The walls were not thick. And Halloween III has that annoying/creepy commercial . . .

I do think that Halloween III is under-appreciated. Looking at contemporary reviews, it seems like audiences just didn’t get it, if they managed to get over the fact that this is the one without Michael Myers. If you think about it differently, though, this film is folk horror that decides to use modern technology to achieve its end. Is it a little “out there?” Yes. It’s also fairly inventive and would be a great double feature with John Carpenter’s They Live (1988).


Well, there it is: 50 movies in 75 days. Fourteen of those were rewatches. What were the gems among the new-to-me movies? Here are ten movies that I either enjoyed or thought a bit about in the order I watched them:

  1. Gonjiam: Haunted Asylum (2018)
  2. Prey (2022)
  3. Coherence (2013)
  4. Tigers Are Not Afraid (2017)
  5. Last Night in Soho (2021)
  6. Glorious (2022)
  7. Ganja & Hess (1973)
  8. Byzantium (2012)
  9. Speak No Evil (2022)
  10. Wishmaster (1997)

I’m certainly not done with horror for the year, but I’ll be branching out into other genres for a while.

Posted in Other Media

Countdown to October: Movies 46–48

The Temp

Year: 1993
Runtime: 1h 36m
Rated: R

Director: Tom Holland

Writers: Kevin Falls, Tom Engelman

Stars: Timothy Hutton, Lara Flynn Boyle, Dwight Schultz

Initial: Figured I’d give the 90s a little more attention before the month wrapped up. I’ve never heard of this movie, but it has some of my favorite character actors.

What Did I Think:
When I finished watching The Temp, I wondered if there had been problems during production. This was Tom Holland’s theatrical follow-up to Child’s Play (1988), which is pretty well-made film. In contract, The Temp has so many awkward transitions and tone shifts that it felt like the movie had been cut apart and Frankensteined back together. I did learn that the ending in particular had been rewritten (several times) and reshot after the original was deemed too violent by test audiences. Not sure that explains the rest of the movie though.

The Temp falls in a crack between horror-comedy and erotic thriller. It’s never either and ends up being kind of bland. Wolf (1994), a movie with a similar corporate aesthetic, is a much better film.


Wishmaster

Year: 1997
Runtime: 1h 30m
Rated: R

Director: Robert Kurtzman

Writers: Peter Atkins

Stars: Tammy Lauren, Andrew Divoff, Angus Scrimm

Initial: I think I’ve somehow been equating Wishmaster with the Leprechaun franchise. It hadn’t occurred to me that this is a djinn movie.

Production Notes: Wishmaster has an impressive number of horror cameos. Plus, Peter Atkins named many characters after horror writers.

What Did I Think:
I rather liked Wishmaster. There is obviously great horror potential in wishes gone wrong. Every time someone wished or wanted something I could immediately see how it wasn’t going to work out. That didn’t make the movie any less fun. The plot isn’t overly complex, which is for the best because the filmmakers take every opportunity to special effects the hell out of this story. Some of the effects are good, some of them are . . . not. In another couple years, CGI would be remarkably better.

Wishmaster is not great art. I’m not interested in its sequels. But as 90 minutes of horror fun? It’s perfect.


Nightbreed

Year: 1990
Runtime: Director’s Cut, 120m
Rated: not rated

Director: Clive Barker

Writers: Clive Barker

Stars: Craig Sheffer, David Cronenberg, Anne Bobby

Initial: Rewatch. Another movie I thought I’d watched in the more recent past, but I hadn’t logged it in Letterboxd, which I started in 2018.

Production Notes: I watched the Director’s Cut, which is shorter than the Cabal Cut, but better than the theatrical cut.

What Did I Think:
When Nightbreed came out in 1990, I somehow came into possession of a promotional pamphlet called “A Human’s Guide to the Nightbreed.” I probably picked it up as a freebie at Star Realm, our local science fiction/gaming store, but honestly I don’t remember. Obviously, I wasn’t reading Fangoria yet. The pamphlet provided a little background for Midian and some of the Nightbreed characters. It caught my imagination, but since I was 15 at the time, seeing the movie in theaters would have been work. I figured I’d catch it on cable at some point. Or maybe look into some works by this Clive Barker fellow.

It ended up being a long time before I finally saw the movie and the Clive Barker I read seemed a long way from the semi-good monsters of the pamphlet. The theatrical cut of Nightbreed ended up being one of those movies I always wished was a little better than it is. The director’s cut is either much better or I’ve chosen to overlook the movie’s larger flaws.

I never cared much for the third act: a bunch of gun-toting good-ol’-boys invade Midian. It always struck me as a little over-wrought. I guess it has been a few years since I watched Nightbreed because that hits a little differently now. Yeah, the gun-lust of these characters seems a little like parody, but the aggressive bullying of people who have done nothing wrong, but are “unnatural?” Clive Barker isn’t being subtle about is messaging and it sadly feels very on the nose.

Posted in History

Monday Miscellanea, 9/26/22

Photo by Designecologist on Pexels.com

How is it the last week of September already? I’m not really complaining. I’m happy for the shorter days and the gradually cooling temperatures.

Reading

Book Cover: Teller of Tales by Daniel Stashower
Book Cover: Famous Modern Ghost Stories, ed. by Dorothy Scarborough

As I suspected, The Italian Secretary didn’t last much longer than last Monday’s post. I wasn’t enjoying it, so I moved on to Teller of Tales: The Life of Arthur Conan Doyle by Daniel Stashower. It’s quite a dense book, but it’s moving along pretty quickly. Still reading from Famous Modern Ghost Stories and things are really getting going in Daily Dracula.

Deal Me In

I’m behind on Deal Me In, but I’ve been reading other short stories. The best from last week: “The Sin Jar” by Elizabeth Guilt, recommended via Horror Tree‘s newsletter.

Shelf Maintenance

No movement on my Beat the Backlog goal because I haven’t finished reading anything lately. It’s been 36 days since I acquired a new book.

Watching

My horror movie Countdown to October will be wrapping up this week. Additionally, I’ve been catching up with The Great British Baking Show (now that I have Netflix again) and watching Welcome to Wrexham. The fan culture in Nebraska is similar to that of Wrexham and, if you follow college football (the American style), you might have heard that there is some drama at Nebraska.

Ultimate Frisbee

Tonight is fall league draft. Since I set up the webpages, I get to watch virtually as teams are picked and the Google sheet is updated. I am once again the oldest woman signed up for league. Tuesday is our last summer league game.

Writing Check-In

On the docket this week:

  • Finish up the October flash fiction contest story.
  • Since I probably haven’t won the September contest (I believe I would have been notified by now), submit “The Aeronaut’s Wife” to the next market.

No word on “The Logical Sight” and I’ll be submitting “Colors of the Sea” on Monday of next week.

Posted in Other Media

Countdown to October: Movies 43–45

Death of Me

Year: 2020
Runtime: 1h 34m
Rated: R

Director: Darren Lynn Bousman

Writers: Ari Margolis, James Morley III, David Tish

Stars: Maggie Q, Luke Hemsworth, Alex Essoe

Initial: The premise of this movie seems promising.

What Did I Think:
As usual, I hadn’t seen the trailer before I watched this movie. I had expected more of a found footage aspect, maybe crossed with The Serpent and the Rainbow (1988). After a while though, it becomes pretty obvious that the entire village is in on what’s going on, that something bad is going to happen to Christine (Maggie Q) and it will ward away the massive storm baring down on this paradise island. The film is aware of the Wicker Man vibes and self-consciously references that film in a bit of throw-away dialog.

In general, Death of Me is just a little too messy. There are some gory bits and some uncanny moments, but the scariest thing is the gaslighting (which is what makes The Wicker Man (1973) good without gore or FX). There’s a late-breaking pregnancy sub-plot that makes little sense considering Christine’s sacrificial status and the movie’s timeline. The rules of this “island magic” require free will, but that somehow doesn’t include having every choice being manipulated.


Who Invited Them

Year: 2022
Runtime: 1h 21m
Rated: (not rated)

Director: Duncan Birmingham

Writers: Duncan Birmingham

Stars: Ryan Hansen, Melissa Tang, Timothy Granaderos, Perry Mattfeld

Initial: There seems to be a whole sub-genre of dinner party horror. I should make a list.

What Did I Think:
I found Who Invited Them uncomfortable, but not in a good horror way, more in a “I’m cringing so hard at social awkwardness that I’m dying” kind of way.

I didn’t like the character of Adam (Ryan Hansen). Actually, I’m not sure I’m supposed to like him. He’s a pretentious hipster who doesn’t understand why people might leave his party early (or not show up at all). Which means, I don’t care too much about him. The uninvited guests are menacing, but in that way that makes you wonder, “What would I do if guests at a party refused to leave?” It’s my social anxieties that are getting played with; if I wanted that, I’d go watch a sitcom. The plot ramps up in the last twenty-ish minutes., culminating with the most obvious instance of Chekov’s gun I’ve ever encountered.


Speak No Evil

Year: 2022
Runtime: 1h 37m
Rated: not rated

Director: Christian Tafdrup

Writers: Christian Tafdrup, Mads Tafdrup

Stars: Morten Burian, Sidsel Siem Koch, Fedja van Huêt

Initial: This was mentioned in an audience review of Who Invited Them as an example of how to do a similar story, but better.

What Did I Think:
I was joking about dinner party horror, but after reading a review of Speak No Evil, a thought occurred to me. There is the theory that horror movies reflect current societal fears and worries. I’ve been wondering what the current horror movie trends are and what they say about us. Many of these dinner party horror films, certainly Who Invited Them and Speak No Evil, are about personal boundaries and anxiety over causing offense or harm to others, even if those others would do us harm.

Speak No Evil takes it further than Who Invited Them. Who Invited Them gives its villains a concrete motive, one that makes the protagonists fairly incidental to the villain’s story. In Speak No Evil, when Bjørn asks Patrick why he’s tormenting Bjørn’s family, the answer is, “Because you let me.”

On an entertainment level, it’s hard to call a movie like Speak No Evil entertaining. I need to start watching trailers and probably avoiding anything that is heralded as a social satire. In the case of horror movies that seems to mean that characters will probably be tortured for the runtime.

Posted in History

Monday Miscellanea, 9/19/22

Last week was trash, motivation-wise. At least the weather has been nicer. I like being able to shut off the air conditioning at night.

Reading

book cover: The Italian Secretary by Caleb Carr
image featuring the Table of Contents from Famous Modern Ghost Stories

Finished The Monsters We Defy and moved on to Dark Carnivals: Modern Horror and the Origins of American Empire by W. Scott Poole. I was interested enough in Dark Carnivals to request an ARC. Unfortunately, I was really hoping for something that was more about horror in American culture and less about all that is bad about the United States.

I’m back to The Italian Secretary by Caleb Carr. Will I finish this book this time, considering I’ve picked it up and put it down about three times now? Maybe not. I have a complicated history with non-canon Sherlock Holmes stories and this one has a lot of Mycroft in it. Mycroft, to me, is just reason to involve Sherlock Holmes in big stories, which aren’t as much fun as when he’s knocking around with the Baker Street Irregulars. Still working my way through Famous Modern Ghost Stories. Next up, I think will be Teller of Tales, a biography of Arthur Conan Doyle by Daniel Stashower.

Deal Me In

Week 37: 10♠️
“Twilight Zone Party” by by Mark Allan Gunnells – It’s fun to put Christmas stories on the Deal Me In list and see when they pop up during the year. The same goes for Halloween stories, though I’m probably more likely to “celebrate” Halloween all year long. “Twilight Zone Party” is about a themed Halloween party with a mysterious host.

Shelf Maintenance

If I stick to the above plan, I’m back to reading books from my own shelves.

It’s been 28 days since I’ve acquired a book (the ARC I just DNFed), unless you count blank journals, in which case it’s been six days. I probably have enough journals to last me a year.

Ultimate Frisbee

Draft for fall league was pushed to next Monday. This week will be the fun process of moving man-matching players off the wait list, firming up the participation of the professional woman-matching players (who have team tryouts the same weekend as league finals), and rounding up team captains. None of this is stuff I am directly responsible for, but I am an anxiety sponge and people have my email address.

Summer league extends through the rest of the month. Tim, our summer league director, was hoping to add some players and remix the teams for the last series of games, but that didn’t happen. I’m okay with that because the three teams we have are quite even, at least results-wise. The team I’m on seems generally over-matched athletically, but we’re currently on the top of the standings with a record of 2-1-1. This league has been in Scottsdale and the fields are the best Eric and I have ever played on (and he’s played on polo fields in Florida)!

Writing Check-In

My Sept. 15th submission plan for “Colors of the Sea” was foiled by my rereading the market specs and realizing the word count limit was shorter for original fiction (as opposed to reprints). “Colors” is about 1500 words too long. I considered cutting it down, but I could only shorten it by 700 words that I wouldn’t be happy to lose. So, I’m waiting again for the beginning of October.

No responses on either of the flash pieces.

I learned over the weekend about Submission Grinder, which is so helpful! It’s what Duotrope was before Duotrope became a subscription service. I’ll need to spend a little time setting up my account this week.

Going to start work this week on October’s flash contest story. Maybe work on “Chess Gothic” too since I didn’t get much done last week.

Posted in Other Media

Countdown to October: Movies 40–42

Dracula 3D

Year: 2012
Runtime: 1h 50m
Rated: not rated

Director: Dario Argento

Writers: Dario Argento, Enrique Cerezo, Stefano Piani, Bram Stoker, Antonio Tentori

Stars: Thomas Kretschmann, Marta Gastini, Asia Argento

Initial: Oh hey, Dario Argento directed a version of Dracula, with Rutger Hauer as Van Helsing (finally a Dutchman playing a Dutchamn). . . . in 3D?

What Did I Think:
Remember just last post when I marveled at CGI effects from 2007 and noted that there are still so many bad effects? I could have been talking about Dracula 3D. But I’m not sure the effects are the worst thing about it to be honest.

Thomas Kretschmann’s Dracula has as much charisma as a—I’ve been trying to think of a proper comparison since mid-movie and I still can’t come up with anything. An old shoe has more charisma. The story is transposed entirely to Transylvania, which takes out any subtext of immigration. The Dracula/Mina doomed-love-story aspect only comes into play during the last 20 minutes. Some of the additions to Dracula’s abilities were confounding. I can only imagine one of the screenwriters saying, “Well, if Dracula can shapeshift into anything, why not—?” And no one told him a giant praying mantis was a bad idea. The pacing made this 110 minute movie seem much, much longer. Everything looks very clean and fresh and cheap. Except for the one crazy guy who has some dirt smeared on him. I will say that Asia Argento and Miriam Giovanelli have very nice breasts, because of course we have to have a sex scene and a bathing scene.

It made me long for one of Argento’s Giallo films, and I don’t like Giallo films.


Byzantium

Year: 2012
Runtime: 1h 58m
Rated: R

Director: Neil Jordan

Writer: Moira Buffini

Stars: Saoirse Ronan, Gemma Arterton, Sam Riley

Initial: Byzantium has been on my TBW list for quite a while.

Production Notes: This is Neil Jordan’s other vampire film. He previously directed 1994’s Interview with the Vampire.

What Did I Think:
It’s really nice to encounter a vampire mythology that is actually different. The vampire origins are somewhat geography(?)-based, but it’s this notions of a brotherhood of vampires—no women allowed!—which I almost wish was more fleshed out. I say “almost” because I’m also really fine with this movie not explaining itself to death. Instead, it’s a coming-of-age story about a girl who will never age. It’s also about telling stories and how tellers expect their stories to be received. This would be a great double bill with Candyman (1992).

Neil Jordan is a really good filmmaker. Byzantium is beautiful. Saoirse Ronan and Gemma Arterton give good performances. Obviously, this isn’t the most horrifying horror film ever (neither was Interview with the Vampire), but it does have a moment or two.


Final Prayer

Year: 2013
Runtime: 1h 29m
Rated: R

Director: Elliot Goldner

Writer: Elliot Goldner

Stars: Gordon Kennedy, Robin Hill, Aidan McArdle

Initial: Decided to watch a movie contemporary to the other two, more or less.

Production Notes: Released as The Borderlands in the UK, which is a much more intriguing title.

What Did I Think:
I hadn’t watched the trailer, so I had no idea where this movie was going. Where it ends up, I could never have predicted.

Considering the terrible effects in Argento’s Dracula, I found it funny that this third film pretty much entirely forgoes visual effects. Instead, taking a page from The Blair Witch Project‘s playbook, it relies mostly on sound. I think this is a good idea for found footage movies. Since the footage has been recorded digitally, there are some anomalies, but Final Prayer doesn’t overly rely on that kind of creepiness.

Events in Final Prayer are a little random. As with Byzantium, things aren’t entirely explained and this, too, is a good call in found footage genre. These stories never quite approach the messiness of reality, but their narratives shouldn’t be entirely whole either.

Posted in Female Author, Novel

Review ~ The Monsters We Defy

Book Cover: The Monsters We Defy by Leslye Penelope

The Monsters We Defy by Leslye Penelope

I wish I could remember who on Twitter mentioned The Monsters We Defy. It’s maybe a book that wouldn’t have crossed my path despite its blurb: “A woman able to communicate with spirits must assemble a ragtag crew to pull off a daring heist . . . ” A heist novel? With a spiritualist (of a sort)? That’s pretty much catnip to me.

And you know what’s even better? It’s good!

The plot is well constructed, the characters are enjoyable, and the setting and world building are clean and simple. Penelope based the main character of Clara Johnson on Carrie Johnson, a seventeen year-old who was arrested (and later acquitted) during the Washington DC race riot of 1919. Of course, this is historical fiction with an overlay of the supernatural and it works for me.

The Monsters We Defy has a few loose ends and I won’t mind mind reading more stories with these characters!