31 Days of Halloween/Horror Blogging, part II: Angela’s on Deadline

I fell little behind in the updates after gremlins got into our router and I experienced One of My Headaches. So this update should be followed close upon by the next, gremlins permitting.

October 7: I had to caption Twitler losing his damn mind on air again, so I started drinking as soon as my shift was over. It was also the usual busy end of my workweek and Varmint bath night, so between sips of a red blend, all I could fit in was the BBC Radio presentation of Sherlock Holmes vs. Dracula. So good. So queer! I mean, while it starts off as a pretty innocuous braid of Holmesian tropes and callbacks with the Stoker novel, eventually, as though it can no longer help itself, it gets all fanfic-y in its focus on Watson and Holmes’ very deep friendship. Sure, Dracula has Watson’s wife hostage (although conveniently non-vamped, like that is going to happen), but he makes it plain who really keeps him in the chase. The slashfic stays stubbornly subtextual, obvious but not body-fluid-exchange obvious, like series 8 Doctor Who, but since the script has no intention to overwrite Stoker, it’s really the only thing going on here. Cowards! I say go the full Goblin Market and have Dracula bite one of the dynamic duo and have the other suck out the wound or summat. But I suppose Victorian gentlemen bashfully admitting their importance to each other will have to do. 

October 8: Ah, Halloween III: The Season of the Witch. This is one of those movies I watch year round, but it is essential viewing this time of year. I wrote about it for the Gutter here and for the Lost Highway here. I’ve seen it so many times, I find myself honing in the performances of the extras. What did the fireman talk to the policeman with the notepad about so animatedly while Challis was on the phone? What he saw? Union stuff? Lorem ipsum?

I will suspend my disbelief about a lot in this movie, but Ellie packing black lingerie for a fact-finding jaunt about her father’s mysterious death gets me every time. Maybe that’s her regular nightwear?  It is not. Maybe that’s all that was clean when she was forced to take a quick trip owing to her father’s  unexpected demise? More possible. Who among us hasn’t been forced to wear the lacy thong on laundry day? Handy enough if she was into Dr. Challis from the jump, and I am not gonna slut shame my girl because she knows what she wants. Although if I were her friend, I would gently suggest that she’s in an emotionally vulnerable point of her life where she might want to be more cautious, and having lost “Papa” while getting snuggly on a significantly-older white knight will do her less good probably than it will the plot. 

But then it’s not all about Ellie. Fancy Challis cancelling his plans with his kids again to go with Ellie. Dude, not cool. In that final scene of Challis screaming into the phone, having failed to get the commercial off the third channel, consider how his absentee parenting has ultimately failed his kids in the face of toxic consumerism and conformity. He had, after all, bought his kids non-head dissolving masks, only to be overruled and undermined by his shrewish ex, who probably would be a lot less shrewish with a more reliable co-parent, Dr. Challis. Sheesh.

One of these days I’m going to write a Tom Atkins appreciation post. Although if I get around to writing about Night of the Creeps at the Gutter, that may well be the same thing.

Dan O’Herlihy’s Halloween speech is indispensable. I love how he says “The festival of Samhain,” his twinkling voice turning abruptly harsh. It feels like a key turning in a lock.

I also started listening to Stiff: the Curious Lives of Human Cadavers in the car. Writing a thing, needed some texturizing data.  Very amusing and thought-provoking introduction differentiating the bodies of loved ones versus the brave corpses that make new discoveries possible and help solve crimes, that kind of thing. It made me think of that time I went to the Body Worlds exhibit, waiting for the unquiet dead to repossess their muscle and sinew and rebuke the blasphemies made of them. 

October 9: Wolfie and I managed to watch most of an episode of The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, bringing my total to almost 2 episodes, and all of the extremely J-horror-influenced Filipino film Eerie by Mikhail Red, which was mentioned to me by Comics Editor Carol. I am going to hold off on saying much about Sabrina until I’m further along except:

a) yay John Carradine satyr devil in the opening, lifted from the comic itself

b) As a huge fan of the comic — which I recommend HIGHLY and also this article Carol wrote about it here — it’s a very pleasant compromise between what the comic is and what this TV series wants to be, and doesn’t it just scratch that Buffy itch I didn’t know I had?

Now for Eerie,  a word I shamefully always have to look at to spell correctly. I’m about to ding 42, and most of that has been literate; I had a bit of hyperlexia as varmint myself, and every dang time, I put an I where an E should be. Anyway, the movie was good, but strangely unscary, even to me, a quaking Mr. Chicken when it comes to implacable dead girls and women in films like Ju-On, Ringu, and the Fatal Frame series, all of which strongly inform this piece. Eerie is about a guidance counselor, the sympathetic young Miss Pat, at a private Catholic school who is haunted by the suicide of one of the students, figuratively and literally. Miss Pat squares off against the strict and forbidding Mother Alice, the head of the school who clamps down on any attempt to investigate the suicide, even as Miss Pat fears a suspect implicated as the girl’s murderer is innocent. It’s super spooky, with phantom conversations on Miss Pat’s analog tape recorder, portentous dreams, and semi-regular visits to Miss Pat from the unquiet dead girl after hours. But somehow, it didn’t really scare me, and I can’t understand exactly why. I mean, I just think about such mild stuff as the opening to Insidious or the yurei screaming at Sarah Michelle Gellar in the bus window in The Grudge and have to click a nightlight on. I did really identify with Miss Pat though, and it was a pretty good time despite being able to go immediately to undisturbed sleep afterward.

October 10: Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers. This is by any objective measure a spiritless, silly sequel where they pretty much copy-paste 1978’s Halloween as much as they can get away with in the Facts of Life era. Luckily, I am not able to have any critical distance from it and love the stupid thing. LOVE IT. October without Halloween 4 just doesn’t happen to me. If we’re not counting Halloween III, Halloween 4 is my second-favorite Halloween, and I bet I’ve logged more hours with it. 

The overacting security guard at the mental hospital will always be one of my favorite performances on film. “You never get used to the faces. Never!” Own it, security guy! Vilify and objectify the mentally ill as dangerous, inhuman creatures! Set the tone! The traveling preacher that picks up a hitchhiking Loomis is a close second. I really appreciate Loomis, the raving Cassandra of the series, briefly being paired with a travelling preacher who fans even crazier Cassandra plumage.

Halloween 4 was, of course, when the series famously rejected the damn good film Halloween III, reflecting the will of audiences, and went back to bogeyman Michael, revealed to be still alive, though his story had already been beaten to death. Without Laurie Strode to hunt, Michael is drawn to murder her daughter, his niece, Jamie, who was recently adopted following her parents’ offscreen car accident. Unfortunately for Michael, his nemesis and psychologist Dr. Loomis also survived Loomis’ attempt to end the franchise with Halloween II, so he’ll be getting between Michael and his niece just like he did with her mother. The Michael/Loomis relationship is of unending fascination to me and the thing that really distinguishes this series from its imitators. I fully expect a reboot within my daughter’s lifetime that turns them into the Joker and Harley, because that is the arc of these things.

Speaking of mental health, there’s this scene: finding Jamie crying out against a nightmare of Michael, foster sister Rachel, who will be splitting Final Girl duties with Michael’s preteen quarry: “I know you miss your parents…” “It’s been 11 months,” complains Jamie. What is this supposed to mean? Does Jamie expect she should not still be having nightmares a year after losing her parents in a horrific accident? How long has she been with the Lloyd family? That’s a lot of upheaval, kid. Be gentle with yourself.

It is sweet they named her Jamie after Jamie Lee Curtis declined to play Laurie Strode again. The daughter character, played wonderfully by Danielle Harris, was originally going to be named Britti. As a kid about Jamie’s age when this came out, I can confirm there were several Jamies in my class. There were no Brittis. I am not sure there have ever been Brittis anywhere outside of a gentleman’s lounge.

Why does Loomis assume that Sheriff Brackett is still the sheriff? Sidebar: It was recently announced that Brackett will be returning for Halloween Kills next year, and man, the alternate universes of this thing are getting denser than X-Men timelines. 

Wait, it’s Thursday and Thursday is new Creepshow day! This week…hey, these are continuing the journey into darkness with tricksy sympathetic monster episodes. Neat. The first story, “All Hallows Eve” is extremely Trick ‘R Treat. You’ll see the twist coming, but the execution is flawless. The second story, like all the second stories thus far, is weirder. A harmless, luckless stoner comes upon a man stuffed into a suitcase, and in the course of his hapless attempts to help him, discovers that the man coughs up pure gold coins when he experiences pain. When the stoner’s ex and roommate learn about this, they convince the guy to keep the man in the suitcase prisoner while they torture him for quatloos. Once again, the real monster is man. 

October 11: 2 busy 2 spook. Put on Return of the Ghoul Log on Shudder while I did some light internetting and tried to find a spooky audiobook from the library’s catalog, but the dog barking on it freaked out Wolfie and I had to turn it off. I also failed to find an audiobook, as my library’s spooky available spooky offerings begin and end with public domain Lovecraft and later Stephen King. [sad trombone]

October 12: The weather finally arrived somewhere October-ish, and I walked Wolfie and Tucker twice under cloudless blue brightness with a brisk wind snatching at my hair and billowing my Doctor Who gears jacket. These were the quality moments Kurt Vonnegut enjoined readers to notice occasionally and think “if this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.” The last one I experienced was stopping in the Starbucks drivethru with Gus, his cancer diagnosis suspected, but not yet confirmed, grabbing him a butter croissant, his favorite, while “Mr. Blue Sky” played. I can’t remember now if was ELO or Weezer’s cover, but I do remember Gus was happy, and that made me happy, too. Mr. Blue, you did it right, but here comes Mr. Night.

Best chow. Best friend forever.

I didn’t have time for much spookiness, but I did put the Ghoul Log on for a while in the living room, which the Varmint enjoyed, and I listened to an episode of Suspense starring Vincent Price and Ida Lupino (I know, right?!) called “Fugue in C Minor.” From the opening urbane chatter, when new widower Vincent explains to party guests how his house is actually built around his pipe organ, you’re ready to start prying up floorboards looking for his wife. You might also want to pry around Vincent’s dressing room to figure out what the hell he’s doing with his voice. It’s weirdly deep and stagey, like he’s trying to be whatever the period equivalent of Alan Rickman was, although I suppose the period equivalent of Alan Rickman was Vincent Price, only with a lighter voice. He is also really on the nose with his portrayal, and while that might be a function of the medium, it’s not something I’ve ever noticed with his performances in The Price of Fear. I suppose it’s more likely he was just getting the hang of it. Ida Lupino is peerless as our heroine though.

October 13: More October walks, this time in my Thirteen coat, which really has incredible billow. I want to find a Dalek to run from, or maybe towards, depending on the story. I also the brainwave that I could cosplay as the Doctor without contacts or attempting her hair just by wearing my Thirteen outfit and saying I regenerated. I could even have an American accent that way. And take lots of naps! Sudden and deep naps are essential to a regeneration. I do suppose I’d need her boots to be really authentic though. And some golden sparkly powder to belch on people.

More Suspense, more Vincent Price. “The Name of the Beast” was the episode, and I had high hopes that Vincent + Sataney allusions would be good times. Aside from a lame epigraph from Revelations, I am sad to report there was no devilry, just noir. Stupid noir! I kid noir, it is fine, but this much like many episodes of Boris Karloff’s Thriller, where you tune in expecting creepy and come away with a story of lowlifes criming crimes, it feels like a bait and switch. Which is a crime.

Anyway, this was about an artist who aids a petty thief-cum-murderer so he can finish his chef d’oeuvre portrait. I will say this episode surprised me a couple times, but that was at least partly due to — man, I feel like a Moffat hater in a comment section, but here it’s true — herky jerky writing that does what the plot demands, not what makes sense. The characters take serious hairpin turns, and while you could charitably believe that the Matryoshka of facades well befits a nest of criminals, it still doesn’t quite scan. I think it would have benefited from a longer format so the various turnabouts and betrayals could have been better layered in. It’s a weird dynamic when an actor does their job so well with one aspect of a character that when they do an equally convincing interpretation of another aspect of the character, it seems wrong. It reminds me of this interview a young PCap did where he worked on a student film, and he remarked that the student filmmakers didn’t quite understand what actors could do. Pretty sure PCap was high at the time, and he probably didn’t mean exactly this, but if they’d had more room and less plot moving them like dolls, maybe it would have seemed less like schoolkids improvising. “You’re dead!” “No, uh, I have invincibility!” “I stole the jewels!” “No, I stole the jewels!” “I am a cool amoral character in the mold of Leopold and Loeb to whom aesthetic goals supercede any obeisance to law or shared humanity! Wait, no, I am a poor sap in love!”
But Vincent uses his own glorious purring voice here, and, as the credits herald his contemporaneous appearance in Dragonwyck, you can see his destiny foreshadowed in a villainous character who’s perhaps not the villain after all. This wasn’t the best, but it definitely limbered Vince up for House of Wax.

October 14: Began Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle audiobook from the beginning after starting/not finishing right before our move last year. Noodled with text and screencaps for Trick R’ Treat, which is to say, meant to finish and barely started.

October 15: Trick R’ Treat, smell my feet, crop the screencap of a werewolf’s teat.

October 16: Today, the husband and I took the Varmint for our annual pilgrimage to the Dallas Arboreteum’s pumpkin ‘splosion. This year had a Peanuts theme, which reminded me of how much I’ve always hated Peanuts. “Charlie Brown is an asshole!” says Billy, Principal Wilkins’ smart-mouthed moppet, in Trick R’ Treat. Billy ain’t wrong. Varmint really enjoyed herself, and I appreciated the fairytale whimsy that has taken hold of the STEM section, an inspiring blend of magic and science that I’m sure Richard Dawkins would hate.

October 17: Trick ‘R Treat article up! Please enjoy!

Wolfie and I watched the 2008 Australian suspense film Lake Mungo on Tubi, after my friend and colleague Steve from The Lost Highway and Scream Prints spoke well of it. It actually has a 94% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, which I find both encouraging and inexplicable because this is a beautifully made film that is absolutely destined to disappoint people expecting Paranormal Activity or summat.

Presented in a faux documentary format, the film follows a bereaved family in the aftermath of the teenage daughter Alice’s freak drowning during a family outing. From there, the documentary shows mom, dad, and brother hitting all the marks of a family in the grips of a haunting: they report strange noises emanating from her room, Dad experiences a violent visitation of his daughter’s ghost, they capture her ghostly image in photographs and on video, and they even enlist a famous local psychic to help. But then the film debunks nearly all of these tropes the moment they have you sucked in, and the discovery of the daughter’s sordid secret life similarly goes nowhere, or at least nowhere towards resolution. It’s that stubborn refusal to validate anything that is the brilliance of the film, supported by some really wonderful acting and purposeful storytelling. There is one genuine unexplained scare moment in the entire film, as the family traces Alice’s secrets to the titular Lake Mungo, but the film is really a song of grief. Audiences who can’t surface from their own expectations to meet the film where it is will probably nope out before the end, when, the family having finally arrived at a sense of closure, the credits reveal more unexplained evidence of Alice’s haunting that was before them and us the entire time. Paranormal Activity this ain’t, but in its way, it’s far, far bleaker and more horrifying.

The scariest thing may be, living and dead, that you can never really know what your loved ones are.

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