Posted in Other Media

Countdown to October: Movies 7–9

This is a trailer made by The Trailer Guy from the first teaser trailers.
It’s much better than the “official” trailer.

The Blair Witch Project

Year: 1999
Runtime: 1h 21m
Rated: R

Director: Daniel Myrick, Eduardo Sánchez

Writers: Daniel Myrick, Eduardo Sánchez, Heather Donahue

Stars: Heather Donahue, Michael C. Williams, Joshua Leonard

Initial: Another rewatch of a movie I saw in the theater. When I used to go to the theater more often (in the mid- to late 90s, when student discounts made movie-going cheap fun), I didn’t see many horror movies. But the buzz around The Blair Witch project was so massive that I caught a late August screening.

What Did I Think:
This is not really one of my favorite horror movies, but it’s one I’ve still watched four or five times. The Blair Witch Project does what it does well, but that’s less of an 80mins of thrill ride and more of pressure-cooking three characters.

With this trio of found footage movies, I decided to concentrate on two things: when the first creepy thing happens and whether there is use of non-diegetic sounds/soundtrack.

There is very little on-screen paranormal activity in The Blair Witch Project. The first ten minutes or so of the movie is used to establish the trio of characters and the collection of legends that surround the Blair Witch. Then our filmmakers head into the woods. At 17 minutes in, after the character’s first night of camping, Josh says he heard cackling. We the viewers do not get footage of that presumable because Josh is not film-everything-Heather. The next “creepy” thing is the rocks in the trees a few minutes later. The scares here are subtle.

The soundscape of The Blair Witch Project is really well done. Nina Nesseth noted in her book Nightmare Fuel that there isn’t any non-diegetic soundtrack until the end of the film. Indeed, when the characters enter the cabin, there is a hollow, cave-like effect that bleeds into the end credits. I had always thought of this as the sound of being in the cabin, but it’s a small space and shouldn’t sound like that. It probably makes the space feel more uncanny.


Grave Encounters

Year: 2011
Runtime: 1h 32m
Rated: not rated

Director: Colin Minihan, Stuart Ortiz, (aka The Vicious Brothers)

Writers: The Vicious Brothers

Stars: Ben Wilkinson, Sean Rogerson, Ashleigh Gryzko

Initial: I had heard that this was a must-watch of found footage horror.

What Did I Think:
In the years after The Blair Witch Project, ghost hunting shows became very popular. Television documentaries about the strange and unknown had always had an audience, but by the mid-2000s, there was an increase in investigators doing “live” filming with hand-held cameras. I agree with the Vicious Brother: it’s surprising that no one had made a horror film with the premise of a ghost hunter show meeting the real paranormal before 2011.

The first “creepy” happening in Grave Encounters comes at the 27 minute mark. The team here is bigger and the fictional TV show requires a little more setup. Since the audience is also seeing the behind the scenes of the TV show, it’s clear from fairly early on that Lance Preston and his team set up some things (and lie) for dramatic effect. Since this is supposed to be the (mostly) uncut, doomed footage of the show’s last episode, there is no non-diegetic soundtrack.

I found Grave Encounters to be tedious by the end. Too many of the scenes were repetitive and the CGI of the jump-scare faces didn’t work for me.


Gonjiam: Haunted Asylum

Year: 2018
Runtime: 1h 35m
Rated: not rated

Director: Beom-sik Jeong

Writers: Beom-sik Jeong, Sang-min Park

Stars: Wi Ha-Joon, Yoo Je-Yoon, Seung-Wook Lee

Initial: Gonjiam: Haunted Asylum has a reputation for being pretty scary, so I was a little worried going in.

Production Notes: Gonjiam Psychiatric Hospital is a real place (and “10 of the freakiest places around the world” is an actual article), but the filmmakers were not allowed to film there.

What Did I Think:
I ain’t gonna lie: I watched probably the last 20mins of Gonjiam: Haunted Asylum through my fingers and was very happy that my streaming option had commercial breaks.

Each of the films in this trio have increased level of technology and the immediacy of the “broadcast.” The premise behind Gonjiam: Haunted Asylum is that a semi-popular YouTube horror streamer is going to take his team (including some hand-picked viewers) to one of the freakiest places on Earth. The team is again bigger and maybe the first fifteen minutes of the film contains some social detours on the way to the asylum. Honestly, I found these bits entertaining and gave us a good foundation for the characters.

We, the audience, are watching both what is being produced for the web stream as well as behind-the-scenes footage that was captured. Ha-joon is the “captain” of the production, watching the proceedings from an HQ tent outside the building. He queues music, playback of dramatic moments, and various semi-scripted segments as the group investigates the asylum’s main locations. So, there is something of a non-diegetic soundtrack when we’re watching what the web streamers would be watching. It probably makes later silences more effective.

The first paranormal occurrence happens at 27mins (again), though I’m not entirely sure it wasn’t a set-up moment. It isn’t until later that we find out, via behind-the-scenes footage, that Ha-joon and his regular Horror Times camera men have staged some phenomena. It’s after this revelation that things go awry.

I think Gonjiam: Haunted Asylum handles it media forms the best out of these three movies. It is light on “story,” but it’s found footage of what would be a YouTube steam; I’m not expecting Christopher Nolan level intricacy. And to quote a very different movie (A Room with a View (1985)), “Poor Charlotte . . .”

Posted in Female Author, Nonfiction

#20BooksOfSummer22 Review: Nightmare Fuel

cover: Nightmare Fuel by Nina Nesseth

Nightmare Fuel: The Science of Horror Films by Nina Nesseth

An electronic copy of this book was supplied to me by the publisher.

Last year, I read a book called The Science of Women in Horror. It was a mildly perplexing book. The History of Women in Horrors or The Roles of Women in Horror might have been better titles. It wasn’t an uninformative book, but other than touching on some sociology issues, it was pretty light on science. So, I was a little wary about Nightmare Fuel.

Luckily, there are quite a few ways in which to investigate horror films through science. Nina Nesseth starts with a quick primer on our biological fear reactions and how horror movies use certain tropes and techniques to trigger (or try to trigger) those responses. Chapter two takes a quick sociological detour to examine how horror films often reflect societal fears. (We have, it would seem, spent decades fearing communism . . .) Subsequent chapters look at how horror filmmakers design monster and soundscapes and how different types of horror (slashers, body horror, ghost stories, etc.) affect us in different ways. Nesseth wraps up the book with a lengthy chapter looking at what impact horror movies have on audiences. Do scary movies offer cathartic release or prepare viewers for dangerous situations? Why do people enjoy being scared? And do horror movie lead to desensitization to violence and asocial behaviors? These are all good questions to addressed, even if scientific findings aren’t always conclusive.

Nesseth is an engaging writer with an obvious love for the horror genre. She presents the science at a fairly basic level with clarity and humor. The book covers its subjects with a decent amount of detail. Included are interviews with filmmakers that, while sometimes interesting, don’t add a whole lot. In general, though, I enjoyed Nightmare Fuel. I’ll be keeping a couple of things from it in mind during my Countdown to October.

Posted in Other Media

Countdown to October: Movies 4–6

Unsane

Year: 2018
Runtime: 1h 38m
Rated: R

Director: Steven Soderbergh

Writers: Jonathan Bernstein, James Greer

Stars: Claire Foy, Joshua Leonard, Jay Pharoah, Juno Temple

Initial: Another Random Number Generator Horror Podcast No. 9 pick. I knew nothing about this movie. I hadn’t even watched the trailer. But, hey, Steven Soderbergh!

Production Notes: Shot over 10 days on an iPhone 7 Plus.

What Did I Think:
Looking over Steven Soderbergh’s body of work, he’s a director who is a little hit or miss for me. He’s made two of my favorite heist-comedies Ocean’s Eleven (2001) and Logan Lucky (2017). The Knick (2014) is a great TV show. But I’ve fairly cool on many of his other projects. And that’s okay; there is a wide variety of stories here.

The look of Unsane is its outstanding quality, to an almost distracting degree. The very direct portrait shots of characters really reminded me of Soderbergh’s first film, Sex, Lies, and Videotape (1989). For whatever reason, the lighting of the film really impressed me. Technically, it’s a good looking film, whether shot on a phone or not.

The story is less good. I appreciate that Sawyer, Claire Foy’s character, is not the most sympathetic protagonist. Characters don’t always have to be likeable and Sawyer does some not very good things in order to get out of her situation. Most of the horror of Unsane comes from Sawyer’s helplessness and its interesting how far she goes when she takes some power. Unfortunately, the setup has a few unbelievable aspects. Is there any hospital/institution, however dodgy, that would have male and female patients sleeping in the same ward? Couldn’t that have been reworked?


The Taking of Deborah Logan

Year: 2014
Runtime: 1h 30m
Rated: R

Director: Adam Robitel

Writers: Adam Robitel, Gavin Heffernan

Stars: Jill Larson, Anne Ramsay, Michelle Ang

Initial: I’d heard pretty good things about this movie, especially coming fairly late in the age of found footage movies.

What Did I Think:
From questionable mental illness treatments to dubious medical diagnoses; that’s this trio of movies thus far.

The Taking of Deborah Logan is . . . fine. It has some creepy moments as the titular character is not only losing her cognitive functions, but being possessed by something from her past. Which could have been better with fewer supernatural details early on. On the other hand, I also think the supernatural aspect could have been more cohesive. What’s the deal with Deborah “levitating” on to the stove/countertop? What does that have to do with the later possession, which has definitely has a theme?

In general, it was like filmmakers were more concerned with with the found footage aspects of the movie than telling a really good story. And they do everything in the land of found footage. Shaky, running cam? Check. Surveillance camera footage? Check. Night vision? Check. I did notice a few moments of non-dietgetic sounds, which I’m going to look out for more in my next trio of films.

I was impressed by the mostly female cast. It’s not surprising that Deborah’s primary care-givers (her daughter and doctor) are female. That’s how care-giving often works. But our documentary film maker/PhD candidate is female, as is the sheriff who leads later law-enforcement efforts. It was just nice to see women filling roles, I guess. And shout out to Sarah Logan (Anne Ramsey) for realizing she’s in a horror movie and being as competent as possible.


Shutter Island

Year: 2010
Runtime: 2h 18m
Rated: R

Director: Martin Scorsese

Writers: Laeta Kalogridis, Dennis Lehane

Stars: Leonardo DiCaprio, Emily Mortimer, Mark Ruffalo

Initial: Rewatch. I saw this movie in the theater when it came out. I’ve also read the book by Dennis Lehane. (The movie is very faithful to the novel.)

Production Notes: According to IMBD, as of 2022, this is the last movie Martin Scorsese shot entirely on film. I thought that was a detail of note considering the first film of this trio.

What Did I Think:
This was probably the first time I watched Shutter Island and remembered the twist. It didn’t lessen my enjoyment of the film. In fact, it made me realize how well-crafted the narrative is. It has detours here and there, but they definitely make more sense on a rewatch. The depictions of mental illness and its treatment are really dated, but this is a film set in the 50s. It’s supposed to be cringe-worthy.

The cast is great, stars and character actors alike. Robert Richardson’s cinematography is top-notch. The score is big and melodramatic and definitely evokes The Shining (1980). I also appreciated the sound design more than I had during past viewings. There are quite a few bug noises and that pulls from a line of dialogue late in the film.

Also according to IMDB, this is the only Scorsese/DiCaprio collaboration that was not nominated for an Oscar of any kind. Because it was a “genre” picture? Eh, maybe. Looking at some reviews from its release, many critics deemed it subpar for a Scorsese film.


66 days until October 1st.

Posted in History

Monday Miscellanea, 7/25/22

Reading

cover: Nightmare Fuel by Nina Nesseth

Finished Nightmare Fuel by Nina Nesseth. As is usual, I’ll have a review tomorrow or Wednesday. I guess I’m not quite in the mood for fiction yet because, of of the books left on my 20 Books of Summer list, I’m most drawn to Joyce Carol Oates’ On Boxing for my next pick. Actually, I don’t feel like giving Joyce Carol Oates attention right now.

Shelf Maintenance

  • Beat the Backlog: No progress since last week, 16/25 read.
  • It’s been 39 days since I acquired a book. (Unless count blank journals, in which case only been about three hours.)

Watching

Started a “Countdown to October” movie marathon, because of course I did.

Writing Check-In

  • No word, good or bad, on “Colors of the Sea” (short story).
  • I submitted “The Logical Sight” (flash fiction) to a market, so it’s out in the world now too.
  • Next project? haven’t decided yet.

I find it interesting that most of the places I submitted “Colors of the Sea” to are using Moksha Submission System, while most of the places I have in mind for “The Logical Sight” use Submittable. Difference in format, short vs. flash? Or sci-fi vs. horror markets? I had not used Submittable since back in 2013. I was surprised by the Discover feature—basically calls for fiction—and how many of those calls require payment, or have an option for better slush pile position with a payment. The more the industry changes, the more it stays the same.

Posted in Other Media

Countdown to October: Movies 1–3

On July 18th, I’d had enough of summer. Alas October was 75 days away. What’s an autumnal woman to do? Well, ready your watermelon jack-o-lanterns because I’m “counting down” to October with 50 horror movies/TV shows. Each bundle of reviews might be themed, but maybe not.


Nosferatu the Vampyre

Year: 1979
Runtime: 1h 47m
Rated: PG

Director: Werner Herzog

Writers: Werner Herzog, Bram Stoker

Stars: Klaus Kinski, Isabelle Adjani, Bruno Ganz

Initial: A Random Number Generator Horror Podcast No. 9 pick. I thought I watched this as a kid, but I’m not sure.

Production Notes: My husband buzzed by while I was watching, as he does. “Is this a French film?” he asked. It is in fact a French/German co-production.

What Did I Think:
I’m going to go against general opinion and say that I don’t think this update/remake of F. W. Murnau’s 1922 Nosferatu does anything particularly good with the source material.

Let me start by saying that Klaus Kinski and Isabelle Adjani are wonderful. I love the moment when Adjani’s Lucy decides none of the men around her are going to help and decides it’s all on her. No more fainting spells for Lucy. Kinski fully embodies Max Schreck’s original. His fingers are wonderful and his movements, more than the makeup, convey the Count’s uncanniness.

Unfortunately, without the heightened mood of 20s German Expressionism, some things in the story come off as very unrealistic. Dracula is barely human, but Harker just kind of accepts that. I guess you would if you’d just traveled on horseback for two weeks: there are no trains in this version of Dracula. The look of Dracula didn’t work for me either in a more realistic setting. With his big eyes and pale baldness, he looks baby-like.

I also wasn’t a fan of the lack of subtlety in relation to Dracula bringing plague. It felt really heavy-handed. (Also I hear that the rats (and other animals) weren’t treated very well.) I will admit, though, the scene in which people are eating at a table in the streets while plague rats swarm about them hits a little differently now than it might have three years ago.

Does Herzog do some pretty or atmospheric things? Yeah, but are they better than what’s in the 1922 version?


The Hunger

Year: 1983
Runtime: 1h 37m
Rated: R

Director: Tony Scott

Writers: James Costigan, Michael Thomas, Whitley Strieber

Stars: Catherine Deneuve, David Bowie, Susan Sarandon

Initial: This is another movie I believe I’ve watched in the past, but didn’t really remember. I’m quite a David Bowie fan, so maybe I wiped it from my mind due to his smallish part. Funnily enough, I bought the soundtrack back in the 90s. It’s a great combination of classical and ambient industrial. It has no David Bowie music.

Production Notes: Scott Free Productions (Tony and Ridley Scott’s company) co-produced a The Hunger anthology series. Season 2 is hosted by Bowie.

What Did I Think:
Or, maybe I didn’t remember this movie because it has a frustrating lack of plot.

Oh, it seems like there is going to be plot. All of the humans that Miriam has turned into vampires eventually suffer from insomnia which leads to sudden aging. At the start of the movie, her current companion John can’t sleep. But! There is this alluring medical researcher, Sarah, who is on the verge of finding a connection between sleep and aging. Miriam is obviously physically attracted to her. This would seem to set up a triangle between Miriam, Sarah, and John. John obviously doesn’t want to get old (and still not die), but maybe Miriam wouldn’t mind new blood in her life. And what sort of opportunity might there be for a researcher who could be given a couple lifetimes in which to work by a wealthy patron? But none of these things ever quite happen.

The Hunger is very stylish in a music video kind of way. There are a lot of quick edits, flashy scene juxtapositions, sheets blowing in the wind, and well-groomed pigeons. Kudos, I suppose, for being sexy. The cast is beautiful, though, yes, I would have been happier with more David Bowie sans aging make-up. It also adds some new wrinkles to vampire lore. Miriam can’t stand to put old lovers down and instead stashes them away. I have to wonder if John had ever asked about the attic full of coffin-sized crates (and pigeons). Does Whitley Strieber’s novel covers any of that?


Near Dark

Year: 1987
Runtime: 1h 34m
Rated: R

Director: Kathryn Bigelow

Writers: Kathryn Bigelow, Eric Red

Stars: Adrian Pasdar, Jenny Wright, Lance Henriksen

Initial: I’ve been wanting to rewatch Near Dark since I watched Kathryn Bigelow’s first film, The Loveless, a few weeks ago.

Production Notes: Tenuous movie connection: Tony Scott went out of his way to give Willem Dafoe a cameo in The Hunger. Dafoe’s first full-length movie was Bigelow’s The Loveless.

What Did I Think:
According to Letterboxd, it’s been not quite two years since I watched Near Dark. I still love this movie, but every time I watch it, I see more of its flaws.

The character motivations are weak. Why does Mae bite Caleb when really all he’s been is a dick to her? After Caleb pretty much hoses the gang, they are pretty quick to forgive him after he gets them out of the hotel shoot-out. I’d think this would only bring him back to even in their estimation. Why do Jesse and Diamondback decide to just combust? I feel like two or three little connective scenes could have given the characters better reasons for their actions. And vehicles just . . . blow up . . . as they tend to do in 80s movies.

I can see the threads between The Loveless and Near Dark. The bar scene in the latter is what the nightclub scene in The Loveless feels like it might have been. The characters and plots in both these movies are very connected with their vehicles. (Vehicles play a large part in Bigelow’s Strange Days (1995) as well.) Of course, both of these movies are about a group of wanderers who upend the status quo of wherever they stop.

It is the grungy, nomad quality of the vampires in Near Dark that I adore. It’s somewhat rare in vampire fiction. These are not upper-crust vampires who have made sound financial investments. Can I find a bigger difference in circumstances between Jesse, Diamondback, and their family and Miriam and John in The Hunger?


So, there we are: my first movies on the way to October, a trio of vampire tales. 72 days until October 1st.

Posted in Male Author, Novel

#20BooksOfSummer22 Review ~ The Cormorant

Cover: The Cormorant by Stephen Gregory

The Cormorant by Stephen Gregory

I don’t remember how, but at some point in college, I watched “The Cormorant,” an 88 minute episode of Screen Two, which is a British anthology TV series. I think it was probably on PBS and caught my eye because it starred Ralph Fiennes. Knowing that it was based on a book, I kept an eye out.

A few years later, the book was republished by White Wolf. A double win for me since I wanted to support White Wolf’s fiction publishing venture. (White Wolf is better known for RPGs like Vampire: The Masquerade.) And then, as is my MO, I didn’t read the book for 20 years . . .

It’s been nearly as long since I saw the TV version, but there are a few scenes that I’m pretty sure weren’t included in the adaptation. The story set-up is this: when misanthropic Uncle Ian dies, he leaves his cottage in Wales to his nephew, with the proviso that the family continue to take care of Uncle Ian’s cormorant. The cormorant is capricious, as any wild animal is. The year-old son of the protagonist is fascinated by the bird. Additionally, maybe Uncle Ian hasn’t quite moved on and is influencing little Harry.

Gregory’s writing is very sleek and raw. The tone of the novel reminded me of Joyce Carol Oates. Discomfiting, being an apt word for both. There is a somewhat incestuous scene that occurs. Many other reviewers see this as gratuitous and out of place, but I read it as Uncle Ian almost possessing Harry. This doesn’t make it any less squicky. There is also not surprisingly a bit of animal cruelty; be aware.

According to LibraryThing, I no longer own Gregory’s The Blood of Angels. I’m not sure that’s accurate, which would mean I have a box of books somewhere that I didn’t catalog. (This is not beyond the realm of possibility.) If I do still own it, I’ll probably read it at some point. If I don’t, I probably won’t go out of my way to read more Gregory.

Posted in History

Monday Miscellanea, 7/18/22

Reading

Had another week of not much reading and that’s okay. Last week, I finished and reviewed Elric of Melnibone and started Stephen Gregory’s The Cormorant. I should finish it today, but I wouldn’t put money on it. Next in the queue is Nightmare Fuel by Nina Nesseth. It’s an ARC, due for publication next week.

The Reverse Readathon is this weekend and I’m on the fence. I’ve been having such nice weekends of gaming both online and tabletop with my husband that I’m not sure I want to give one of those up so soon after getting into the swing of them.

Deal Me In

Week 27:
9❤️ “The War of Light and Shadow, in Five Dishes” by Siobhan Carroll (link)
I’ve noticed a trend in the last few years (this story is from 2018) of using a framework and a series of vignettes to tell stories. It’s not a new thing, but it seems very prevalent lately. In this case, “…in Five Dishes” is fantasy history told through a series of courses created by a war-time chef which cooks-in-training will eventually replicate to earn their certifications. It’s well-crafted, as are many stories with these conceits.

Week 28:
K♣️ “The Court Magician” by Sarah Pinsker (link)
“The Court Magician” is another story with a framework, though a looser one than “…in Five Dishes.” We are led through the life of a new court magician from “The Boy Who Will Become…” to “The Man Who is…” This is a story right up my alley, starting out with sleight-of-hand magic and moving on to the ethics of real magic. Definitely one of my favorites of the year.

Shelf Maintenance

  • Beat the Backlog: 16/25 read.
  • It’s been 32 days since I acquired a book.

Watching

One of my guilty pleasures is Married at First Sight. I don’t watch other relationship reality shows, but arranged marriages intrigue me. I enjoy the hopefulness of the wedding days and the rest is kind of a study on how people view love and marriage.

The World Games were last week and I watched lots of ultimate. The World Games feature sports that aren’t included in the Olympics. Flying disc has been included since 2001. There were some really close games this year, including the gold medal match between the United States and Columbia.

It’s 75 days until October 1st and I’m seriously considering a countdown horror movie marathon from now until then.

Goal Check-In

I like what I’ve done to “The Logical Sight,” so I’m going to give it another couple editing passes, format it, and then find some markets for it.

No word on “Colors of the Sea.” It’s moved up one spot in the reported queue since last week.