Posted in Male Author, Novel, Other Media

Miscellanea, 11/21/22

Read

Cover: Neom by Lavie Tidhar

Neom by Lavie Tidhar

(A copy of Neom was provided to me by Tachyon Publications in exchange for an honest review.)

Compelling world building is a scale with details on one side and ambiguities on the other. A real world needs details: politics, religions, economies, arts, even sciences. The trick is knowing when to not explain these things. Lavie Tidhar’s Central Station is one of my favorite settings because, as a reader, I’m simply dropped into the world and maybe a reference is explained, maybe it isn’t.

The city of Neom is near Central Station. The story is (mostly) Earthbound, but it’s still a mash-up of space opera and fable, where an old robot takes a rose into the desert and digs up a buried automaton messiah. Neom is situated between Mecca and Bethlehem, so I’m sure there are allegories to be had here, but biblical comparisons feel too mundane and not mythical enough.

The characters in Neom are somewhat coincidental to the plot, but that plays into the feeling of predestination. Of course Miriam, with her half a dozen part-time jobs, is always where the story is taking place and of course Nasir and Saleh have items that are needed. The robot characters are more interesting and I’m glad a few of them might live on in other stories.

Short Stories

Deal Me In, Week 46: 10❤️ “Clearly Lettered in a Mostly Steady Hand” by Fran Wilde
Hearts are for Eugie Award winners and Nominees. “Clearly Lettered . . .” won in 2018. A sly story that reminds me of Tod Browning’s Freaks (1932), at least a little.

Yuletide Spirit

Yuletide Spirit Challenge & Readathon image

I’ll admit that this year I’ve been keener than usual to jump into the “holiday” season right after Halloween. (Though feeling that and hearing “All I Want for Christmas” at the mall last week are two different things . . .) When I saw Michelle’s announcement about the Yuletide Spirit Challenge and Readathon, starting on Nov. 21st, I thought, “Perfect! An excuse to have a November start time for celebrating!”

I’m going to shoot for the Mistletoe level (2–4 Christmas books) with a side of Fa La La La Films. And I’m going start my decorating process!

Watched

Nope (2022)

  • I’m kind of amazed that I managed to go into Nope without knowing very much about the movie. This probably says more about my lack of interaction with media than the popularity of the film.
  • I liked Nope better than Us (2019) and maybe more than Get Out (2017) too.
  • As a kid, I found Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) a bit scary. On second watch, I noticed a few things in Nope that strike me as a bit Spielbergian.
  • I miss Fry’s Electronics.
  • I’ve also missed Michael Wincott.
Posted in Mixed Anthology, Other Media

What I’ve Read & Watched, 11/4/22

Blog updates from me this month are probably going to be few and far between . . .

Read

It Came from the Closet: Queer Reflections on Horror by Joe Vallese (Editor)

It Came from the Closet was much more personal narrative-oriented than I expected. I felt that a wide range of LGBTQ+ perspectives were represented, but I acknowledge that I might have trouble seeing around my privilege. I would have liked more academic takes on the subject of LGBTQ+ representation and themes, but it was still a very thought-provoking collection of essays.

Watched

Wendell & Wild (2022)

Directed by Henry Selick (The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)) and written by Selick and Jordan Peele (Get Out (2017)), Wendell & Wild was one of the movies I was looking forward to during the Halloween season. It did not disappoint. Is it as iconic as Nightmare Before Christmas? No. Some of the plot bits are just a little too on the nose and tidy. Is it a lot of spooky fun? Yes! Kat is a great character and the titular demons (voiced by Peele and comedic partner Keegan-Michael Key) are the kinds of anti-villains I like: the heart of their dastardly plan is actually pretty wholesome.

Crimes of the Future (2022)

It’s been a little while since David Cronenberg has done a weird movie. Granted, I haven’t watched all his recent films, but it seems like it’s been since Existenz (1999) that we’ve gotten much squicky, body horror science fiction from him. Crimes of the Future is like a dystopian science fiction sequel to Dead Ringers (1988) where Dr. Mantle’s worries about mutant women are realized. If you like “genre” Cronenberg, I doubt you’ll be disappointed. If the only Cronenberg film you’ve seen is Eastern Promises (2007), you’ll be very confused.

Posted in Other Media

What I’ve Watched, 10/26/22

Such a melodramatic trailer!

Movies

Rope (1948)
I had alternately heard that Rope, Alfred Hitchcock’s “long take, no cuts” experiment was a boring flop or tensely exciting. FWIW, I didn’t feel the sort of tension that usually comes with long shots, probably because, while there are very few cuts, the camera is still relatively stationary. The one unmasked cut that does occur stands out in its effectiveness. Plot- and performance-wise, I enjoyed it. I found it pretty funny in places.

Dead Silence (2007)
I’ve been playing streaming service tag with this film for years. This is Wan and Whannell’s follow-up to Saw (2004) and someone somewhere said something good about it once. But apparently only once. I have a problem with Dead Silence having a 20% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes while Wan’s Malignant (2021) is 76%. Unlike Malignant, Dead Silence maintains its melodramatic, campy tone all the way through.

Deadstream (2022)
I had heard some buzz about Deadstream, but I didn’t know anything about it aside from the social media aspect. I kind of expected it to be along the lines of Gonjiam: Haunted Asylum (2018) or a funnier Grave Encounters (2011). I did not expect it to be so very Raimi-esque. Deadstream has a long set up. Twenty minutes in I was dubious. Fifty minutes in I was laughing because many of the things set up earlier were being paid off. Enjoyment of this film might very much be linked to whether you find the main character of Shawn annoying or not.

TV

Queer for Fear (2022)
I’ve been a little on the fence about this series, especially since I started reading It Came from the Closet. Much of the commentary is fairle surface-level; emphasizing the usual usual thoughts on otherness and queer coding. But episode two had a really great interview with Oz Perkins about his father, Anthony Perkins, and how Norman Bates in Psycho was maybe too revealing for necessarily closeted Perkins. The sequels, especially Psycho III, which Anthony Perkins directed, seemed to give him some freedom.

Posted in Other Media

Watching Peril, 10/12/22

I Think We’re Alone Now

Year: 2018
Runtime: 1h 39m
Rated: R

Director: Reed Morano

Writers: Mike Makowsky

Stars: Peter Dinklage, Elle Fanning, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Paul Giamatti

Initial: I didn’t know the release date of this film when I watched it. I thought for sure it was a pandemic film, considering the very small cast and subject matter. It is not. It’s was released in 2018.

What Did I Think:
I don’t believe in the paranormal, so it seems rather incongruous that one of my favorite genres is horror, especially ghosts stories. The problem is, supernatural horror is such a good canvas for telling stories that I am more than willing to suspend my disbelief for the sake of the tale. The post-apocalypse can be a great canvases too, but I find that often those stories end up being too big, too inclined to satire. I Think We’re Alone Now is mostly a small, subtle post-apocalyptic story.

We’re not burdened with the “why” of the apocalypse: seemingly a majority of people simply died one Tuesday morning. I’m not sure if Del (Peter Dinklage) really believes he’s the last man on earth, but telling thing is that he doesn’t endeavor to find out and is befuddled by Grace’s appearance. It’s also pretty telling about me that I saw him living in the library and thought, “That’s the perfect way to spend an apocalypse!” How he and Grace (Elle Fanning) interact is absolutely the best thing about this film.

The third act widens the plot, but really only in a way that explains some of the mysteries surrounding both Grace and Del. Thankfully, the story stay too long away from our main characters.


Hellraiser

Year: 2022
Runtime: 2h 1m
Rated: R

Director: David Bruckner

Writers: Ben Collins, Luke Piotrowski, David S. Goyer

Stars: Odessa A’zion, Jamie Clayton, Adam Faison

Initial: This is a reboot and I have Hulu. Sure, why not?

What Did I Think:
Despite its many flaws, the original Hellraiser (1987) is one of my favorite horror films. In fact, I seem to like all the (3) movies that Clive Barker has directed. He has a very particular view that comes through in his films. I watched Hellbound: Hellraiser II (1988) and it was fine, but I jumped off the franchise that sequel. The story seemed to be headed in an overly baroque direction.

There are many things about this Hellraiser reboot are well done. Odessa A’zion’s Riley is good character and well-acted. The set and character design is wonderful. Voight’s boxed-in mansion is an image right up there with the new cenobite designs in memorable visuals. Jamie Clayton’s Pinhead/Priest is menacing, but also tempting.

This Hellraiser is also unfortunately rather tidy. Yes, I am complaining about a coherent story and explained lore, both of which feel out of place in this franchise. But also, the story and design are not gooey or grimy. The story shifts the focus from mostly transgressive characters (much of the first film’s runtime was spent with Frank and Julia) to a firm protagonist in A’zion’s Riley. We do see more of the cenobites, but they’re less villains and more like the inevitable curse that will catch up with you.

Still, Hellraiser (2022) is worthwhile viewing for spooky season. As with Prey (2022), I’m surprised there was no plan for any theatrical release, especially considering the recent success of other R-rated horror movies (notably, Smile and Barbarian).


Shadow in the Cloud

Year: 2020
Runtime: 1h 23m
Rated: R

Director: Roseanne Liang

Writers: Roseanne Liang, Max Landis

Stars: Chloë Grace Moretz, Nick Robinson, Beulah Koale

Initial: My sister recommended this movie to me ages ago! Mostly, because she knows I love movies with anachronistic synth soundtracks.

Production Notes: The script was rewritten somewhat after Max Landis was booted from the project. As far as I can tell from perusing an online version of Landis’s script, the bones of the action remained the same, but there was definitely some switch in focus.

What Did I Think:
You know the song “Princes of the Universe” by Queen? You know, the theme from Highlander (1986, 1992–1998 on TV)? I’ve linked it there if you’re unfamiliar with the whole track, and if you know it from Highlander, you might not be familiar with the whole track. Because “Princes of the Universe” is a great half of a song. It’s so epic that at the 1:40 mark there is no where to go with it.

Shadow in the Cloud is a great half of a movie. It’s stylish with a pretty rad soundtrack. We know something is up with Maude and her package, but we don’t know what. It’s pretty heartbreaking listening to the rest of the crew, all men, deride her, especially when enemy planes and actual gremlins come on the scene. It’s claustrophobic in more ways than one. I was getting strong Pontypool (2008) vibes. But, dang it, I wish this movie could have found some other ending. There’s a twist and I didn’t care for it. I also wasn’t a fan of the super-heroics, some of which made the trailer.

But the first half? Great half of a movie.

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 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.