October 28: Really insanely busy day. More REH absorption. Wolfie and I put on Dario Argento’s Deep Red at bedtime, with its insane giallo generator plot, but we fell asleep about 30 minutes in. We will have to re-attempt.
October 29: Put on perennial favorites The Devil Rides Out and The Black Cat (1934) in-between housework, shopping, and still being sick.
The Devil Rides Outis my favorite Hammer movie, even though it lacks Peter Cushing in his many tweed and velvet layers. And also his fantastic wardrobe. [rimshot] But I watch Christopher Lee’s perfectly-suited Duc de Richelieu and I marvel at how anyone could ever doubt his range and brilliance as an actor or find his natural impressiveness a reason not to hire him. I fantasize this is a lot like what Lee was like during his time in the SAS, too. We all know Nazis were into the occult. And we all know Lee believed in the occult, too, and its malign influence. Carol wrote about The Devil Rides Out in her piece on The Wicker Man for Cocktails and Capers, and she also draws on the fastidious Wheatley novel it was based on. Ah, the pleasures of the double basin sink!
I wrote about Edgar G. Ulmer’s The Black Catfor the Gutter here. Much as The Devil Rides Out is my favorite Hammer movie, with its marquee star playing a bit out of character, so too The Black Cat is my favorite Universal Horror, with its marquee stars Karloff and Lugosi squaring off against in a bizarre tale of war crimes, betrayal, necrophilia, the occult, incest adjacent snuggling, and strips of raw Karloff action. Also David Manners is there for some reason. Bela is kind of our hero, and again, like Lee as the Duc, I watch his sensitive portrayal and am amazed that anyone could doubt his range and ability. Look at that man suffer! Karloff is perfect as always. I wish this movie were twice as long and nothing but Lugosi/Karloff because damn, that is a chess game you can’t look away from.
October 30: THE DAY BEFORE HALLOWEEN AAAH CLEAN THE HOUSE BAKE THE CUPCAKES OH AND ALSO THE FAUCET IN THE VARMINT’S BATHROOM DECIDED TO BUGGER OFF AAH
Whew. Husband fixed the faucet. Hot showers were eventually had.
Started the annual House on Haunted Hillviewing early for cleaning along to. Tomorrow night will be mostly Luigi’s Mansion 3 and Pinkfong Halloween mix with the Varmint and Cousins trick-or-treating protocol so might as well pop that Price cork when I don’t have small children to loudly not appreciate it.
I wrote about House on Haunted Hill at the Gutter here.
And please enjoy the most aesthetically pleasing, I think, of the little kid public domain(ish) song slingers on the market today.
October 31. HALLOWEEN: This is it. The big day! And night! The veil between the living and dead is gossamer thin! We have a big-ass cauldron of candy! Let’s do dis!
Varmint had Halloween shenanigans at preschool. She was, again, Doc McStuffins, although we upgraded her costume from the cousin hand-me-down to the deluxe Disney Store version for Halloween festivities. Hopefully next year we can nudge toward a scary costume, but for this year, just putting on pants is grueling.
I stopped at Gamestop and purchased Luigi’s Mansion 3, which my husband and I have been looking forward to an insane amount, considering it’s not Bioware, and then I put on the Halloween 5 portion of Joe Bob’s Halloween Hootnanny and cleaned the house, as the Varmint’s cousins were set to come over and use our house as base for trick-or-treating.
One of the things I loved most about the entire Joe Bob Hootnanny was Darcy the Mail Girl’s tireless advocacy for Halloween III, which I have already lavished love on here and elsewhere and am taking as read. At the Halloween 5 point, she even dons Sexy Tom Atkins cosplay and THEN Tom Atkins calls in to the show and promises to kick Joe Bob’s butt for not including III, and that was wonderful. I want to hug Tom Atkins so much right now. I have November and December penciled in for the Gutter, but I am definitely doing that Night of the Creeps article in January now.
The problem with trick-or-treating this year was it was insanely cold. We went from too freaking hot for Halloween to too freaking cold with only 4 days of fall, so, climate change, eat me. So we started late, because uncomfortable young children tantrum more enthusiastically. Cousin was a demonic doll, and that was also her costume, so definitely more in the spirit than Doc; I appreciate that at 7, my young niece is already something of a horror connoisseur. Baby Cousin stayed home because cold and at not quite 2, his expectations are nil. Varmint and Cousin filled up their totes to brimming with bad sugars though and we had a good time. I came back and bought Man of Medan, which was 30% off for PlayStation’s Halloween sale, and Mark played a little Luigi and there was candy and pizza and so it was a good ‘un, if a little light on the trick-or-treats portion.
Wolfie and I closed out Halloween with the last new episode of this series of Creepshow. The episodes this week seemed primarily designed to empty out anything that was left in the effects budget. In the first story, Skincrawlers, Dana Gould stars as an unhappily overweight man selected by a self-improvement guru for the first run of a new miracle weight loss treatment. What could go wrong? BTW, the treatment is leeches.
Sidebar: I LOVE DANA GOULD. Acerbic and clever with a gorehound heart. And he’s very Dana Gould in this as the nebbishy hero. You know what else is very Dana Gould? His IFC series Stan Against Evil, starring John C. Reilly and the brilliant Janet Varney as the cursed sheriffs past and present of a doomed New Hampshire hamlet. There’s three seasons and I think you can see them all on Hulu. So aggressively weird and absurdly funny. Also way gorier than a lot of horror shows, much less comedy-horror shows. It was very of a kind with Ash vs. Evil Dead, which ran contemporaneously, but Stan was more fun and more creative, imho.
Back to Creepshow. That’s followed by Joe Hill’s By the Silver Waters of Lake Champlain, which tells the story of Rose, a young girl who lost her father to his obsessive quest to prove a local cryptid is real, and now she’s taking up the mantle of dad’s monomania. Adding to Rose’s troubles, her mom’s new guy is the kind of abusive asshole Creepshow was made to punish, but Rose doesn’t know she’s in a Creepshow.
Joe Hill’s work is so Perfected Stephen King sometimes that it challenges you not to straight up compare them, but what writer is going to be more influenced by Stephen King than Joe Hill? Other than Owen King. The thing is though, Joe Hill isn’t derivative of his dad’s work. Often, as in The Fireman or NOS4A2, has the vibe of a Stephen King joint, just pushes a little further into something more modern, a little more original. Although that’s not the case here. Lake Champlain is hella by the numbers and fine, but not what I expect from Joe Hill. It may be what I expect from Creepshow, but not in a bad way. Adorable lake monstrosity though!
Speaking of adorable monstrosities, motherhood calls. And so does booze. And the husband is firing up Luigi. Tune in in a couple weeks and I’ll probably be writing about Man of Medan/Until Dawn at the Gutter, and if you are so inclined to throw a few pennies in our cap, you can support the writing at the Gutter and score some sah-weet merch during our Gutterthon 2019 fundraising campaign. Thanks for reading!
October 18: Finished We Have Always Lived in the Castle. Loved it. There’s a new film of it on Netflix, apparently, which I assume was why I had to wait in a queue for weeks to borrow it from the library, but the novel is so perfect, I really have no desire to see the movie for a long while. I am certain it is worth seeing. But I’m just going to sit here and think about the relationship of Constance and Merricat and why they never blame each other, and how skillfully Jackson winds you up in Merricat’s head so, even as her sociopathic antipathies are shocking, they’re not really shocking, and you share them. I have been angry and I have been agoraphobic, and I understand these poor sisters somewhat. I resonate with the sisters in the novel, too.
Creepshow time. Pretty good ‘uns this week. If there’s a theme, it cautions against codependence. First up, “The Companion.” A boy flees a beating from his abusive brother right past no trespassing signs onto a secluded farmstead. Noticing a staff jutting from the chest of a bizarre scarecrow, he removes it, because, sure, a cudgel could come in handy against his brother and NO WAY was that the only thing keeping the grisly creature speared to its cross. Except of course it was. Kid discovers the scarecrow is alive. Fleeing into the farmhouse, he discovers a suicide’s body in the cellar, alongside his tragic diary of how the scarecrow, or the Companion, came to be. It ends with wicked justice, because that is how Creepshow rolls, but it felt rushed and jarring to me. But the Companion itself was very memorable, its design an unlovable mash of bones, teeth, and rags, its appetites pathetic and repulsive.
“Lydia Layne’s Better Half” stars Tricia Helfer as Lydia, a successful executive who passes her lover over for a promotion. It’s a fairly obnoxious, unfeeling setup, too. Trots her up to her sweet powerbroker penthouse office alongside the competition before a company party, dangles the promotion before both of them, and awards it to him then and there. I mean, BITCH. How did you think you would get any snugglins after that shit? Narcissism is a helluva drug.
When they’re alone together again, her girlfriend spurns Lydia, refusing to play placid arm candy; there’s a fight; there’s a sudden, violent death. Lydia is left trying to hide her girlfriend’s fate from the office party and, thanks to an earthquake, ends up trapped in an elevator with her dead lover’s corpse. Helfer is really good here in what is essentially a one-woman play, showing the savage, selfish pragmatist in duress, and I appreciate the symbolism of the stuck elevator and Lydia’s girlfriend’s staring eyes. Despite repeated attempts, Lydia can no more keep her lover’s accusing eyes closed in death than she could in life. It won’t be the worst thing that happens to her, of course.
October 19:The Varmint and I dressed up as the Thirteenth Doctor and Doc McStuffins (guess who was whom) and attended a special outdoor screening of Hocus Pocus, which I’d never seen and still kind of haven’t seen, as Varm got bored about 30 minutes in. She began to stray from the awesome projection screen to dawdle in the host’s house and play with other varmints in a ghoulishly decorated garden area, and it was just far enough away from the screening that I wasn’t comfortable letting her play unsupervised. I’m a hoverer.
Hocus Pocus was kinda bad though, even allowing for it being a 90s kids flick, and it so strongly reminded me of Merlin’s Shop of Mystical Wonders, I immediately Googled to see if there were a Rifftrax version available. Fun though. It’s just such a ABC Friday night sitcom version of reality though, spooky or not, and the kid was a Paul Rudd character in its pupa state.
October 20: The Varmint had a playdate with her best friend from the old neighborhood. We were going to check out the dinosaurs exhibit at the Heard Museum, but they came to visit us because Wolfie is, as the poet said, insane in the membrane. It says a lot about how wonderful and trusting and dog-friendly our friends are that I basically said, “Our new dog is too destructive to be left alone and experienced, paid strangers refuse to take him because he shows teeth! Can you bring your small child over?” And they said, unhesitatingly, “Sure!” I made vegan pumpkin cookies that were a little overlarge so they fell the fuck apart, but no one cared, least of all the kids, and they still tasted good eaten with a fork. The adults had seasonal ciders and shandies and discussed late stage capitalism and how doomed we all are while Varmint and Bestie dressed up in costumes and chased butterflies through the neighbor’s garden before making cool zombie mermaid foam crafts that probably prove the zombie trend has reached its event horizon more than anything from the mind of Robert Kirkman. At some point I put on Return of the Ghoul Log, and Varmint’s bestie’s dad chided me, jokingly, that no wonder we had trouble getting Varm to sleep. I also noted that Varmint and Bestie had gotten into Mama’s TARDIS bookcase in the office, with all my most arcane volumes, and harvested a couple Montague Summers books to play with. No wonder indeed.
October 21: I lit on Hell House LLC in Shudder’s library at bedtime. Look, I clearly have a serious weak spot for found footage and fake documentaries. The Blair Witch Project, The Last Broadcast, Paranormal Activity, um, Parks and Recreation... One of my favorite lazy day activities is firing up a marathon of America’s Scariest Places or Ghost Adventures and letting it roll while I nap.
Hell House LLC purports to be a documentary chronicling the events leading up to a doomed Haunt attraction in rural New York. And isn’t that genius? They’re making a haunted house. They’re naturally pranking each other. They’re working on animatronics and troubleshooting and all that kind of thing. There’s love triangles and rivalries. They’re shooting a lot of it for web streaming crap, behind-the-scenes. This is the best rationale for this kind of set-up I can think of. The potential! The “documentary” mixes coverage from a news magazine program called Morning Mysteries, interviews with journalists, an historian whose mustache and general bearing seem influenced by Rip Taylor, and footage the team making the doomed haunted house shot themselves in the course of their day-to-day.
The acting isn’t bad, but I spent most of the movie internally amazed that cheap shots like “Aah, our haunted clown prop turned its head!” were actually wigging me out a little bit. OK, wigging me out a lot. There’s the one clown prop with gouged-out eyes — look, I can rationalize people filming everything, particularly in this venue, but I cannot rationalize them not lighting that motherfucker up by the second night. Go to Spirit and get a non-haunted one. They have very competitive coupons.
October 22: Having learned nothing from the previous night, Wolfie and I watched Hell House LLC: The Abaddon Hotel.This one picks up where the last one left off by following a team of online journalists — who scrupulously film everything they do, like TMZ meets The Blair Witch Project — and their quest to break into the Abaddon Hotel and secure evidence of spooky cult goings-on they believe is locked in the hotel vault. No one has cleaned up in the 8 years since the haunted house disaster, which means there’s blood on floors and satanic scrawls on walls and oh yes those freaking clowns. Seriously, no one moved the clowns? It’s been 8 years! Poor bored clowns.
The acting is not great in this one, and I’m not sure why I kept watching it. It does further develop the story about the hotel’s founding — all the way in the ancient 1980s! Boooooo! — and that’s not nothing. But overall, this second verse is worse than the first.
October 23: The Varmint had a dental checkup, so I just kept her home from preschool and we did a Mama/Varmint day out. Mild Halloween shopping resulted in a seasonal toy purchases for Wolfie and Tuck, and we added to her Happy Meal Halloween Hello Kitty collection, which I not-so-secretly want for myself. We also hit the library; I borrowed Revival by Stephen King for myself, which, as a survivor of Southern Pentacostal tent revivals, I have been curious as hell about. We also got about 11 other books for Varm, including a couple Halloween ones.
And then for our real #31DaysofHorror entry, Hell House LLC: Lake of Fire. OK, in this one, a modern production of Faust, called Insomnia, is being staged in the Abaddon Hotel. The production is helmed by a very famous producer, Russell Wynn, who is pouring everything into this bizarre staging outside New York, paying his actors suspiciously well and bussing patrons from the city. Russell notably survived a car crash a few years before, which left him with odd priorities and a gnarly Bioware character creation screen scar. The movie chronicles the new Morning Mysteries host filming a behind-the-scenes feature of the Insomnia production, despite being afraid of the Abaddon Hotel herself. The fun mustachioed historian from part one is back for gossipy commentary, and the previous two films are spliced throughout, even creating a couple little callback jump scares, which frankly seems like cheating. Those damn clowns are back, which also seems like cheating. Hardest working clowns in the haunt business. I have no doubt they paid for themselves many times over.
I liked the new protagonists this film gives us a lot, and this one definitely gives us the best acting in the series. We have, of course, Russell, who’s enigmatic, but surprisingly warm, and there’s his right-hand man Jeff, who’s efficient and long-suffering and business-like, but also surprisingly warm, and our Morning Mysteries host Vanessa, whose earnestness to do a good job calls to me as a woman who was once ambitious, in the middle-management days before I was an exhausted toddler wrangler and sometime creative type. When she has a terrible fright, that’s no less documented on film, a weak point in this series’ credibility has that no one manages to address, she manages to sway me with her complaints that she can’t just leave the job, because male colleagues will think less of her. Although, ahem, again: you have it on tape. But I believed her. #BelieveWomen.
It’s a very avant garde notion, to hold a play in a haunted hotel that had been converted into a haunted house, and I could totally see this as a story in Clive Barker’s Books of Blood, but it’s incredibly awkward when we finally see it staged. But at that point, no one cares. Just do it. Get on with the hell gate stuff. We know you’re going to unleash hell. Just fucking do it! Do the hell! And then they do, as they have been hinting heavily throughout the film, and a thing happens and, well — it’s weird. It’s weird and they don’t quite pull it off, but much like the idea of staging a play in a haunted house doesn’t really work, I’ll accept it if we can just get on with it. Can we go? Turns out we can.
Not much changed in the hotel set from the previous two films — see also: production of Faust, impossible ways to credibly stage — but they did convert the unfinished plastic wrap upper hallways into a white on white drapery section host to several white draped, faceless sentinels. This is the play’s Heaven set, which is good for a little bowstring tightening and at least one “aah” moment, but we don’t spend much time there. There’s a good scare where the technical director is testing lights and we see a ghoul close on him as he commands different light and darkness settings. But most of the scares are contrived and dull, and when they inevitably send a drunk actress down into the basement to honk a clown’s nose on a dare — shout out to Zeebo, where my Midnight Society peeps at? — it’s so predictable man. I mean, I still yelped when eye-gougey clown turned his head to look at her. That was predictable, too. But it wasn’t really scary when he came after her, and nothing really happened, even though it was all on tape, and I don’t know how everyone who saw it aren’t noping out, number one, and taking a blowtorch to the basement clowns, number two, but they don’t, somehow. I guess they were as inured to the demon clowns as I was.
October 24: I have a cold. Listen to me, ye childless, ye DINKs, ye young adults. You have not had a cold until you have had a cold as a parent. This is true horror. I started throwing zinc gummies down my throat like actual gummies. If you do not have kids, the next time you are sick, you better motherfucking enjoy it, do you hear me? The lying down and not having to get back up. The sleeping as much as you can. The only worrying about feeding yourself. The not having to get up and get out and drive in the rain to fetch your child and feed your child and bathe your child. You enjoy the simplicity of single suffering.
Having a cold and it being one of my off days gave me an excuse to only do laundry and then lie in bed and watch Vampire Circus. Vampire Circus is one of Hammer’s non-Dracula vampire films, and while some of the dialogue just cries for Peter Cushing, it’s — guys, I think it might actually be better than any of their actual Dracula films. I know! I have strong feelings about romanticizing vampires, and while I appreciate how bestial Lee’s Dracula is, I think the vampires in Vampire Circus are more formidable because they are superficially more seductive, without losing that core of vicious hunger, which is further amplified by their predilection for children. There’s no reforming that. While it’s mostly parade of sex and murder and sideshows, the whole is surprisingly coherent for a film that was stuffed into the arms of Peter Musgrave before shooting was finished with a command to just make a film out of what they had in the can.
So, in Vampire Circus, we begin not with the circus, but just your basic medieval Eastern Europe vampire count situation: Count Mitterhaus feeds off a village’s young’uns with the help of a main character’s besotted wife, is killed, vows revenge (while being killed, I know, I know, he gets more last words than Twelve, yo), cursing the village and all its children. His mistress is forced to crawl a gauntlet by angry villagers, but escapes when her husband intervenes; the crowd resigns to just burn her down with her lover’s castle. Meanwhile, inside the burning castle, vampire mistress bleeds on her lover just enough to get him to croak out an order to find the Circus of the Night.
Time passes. A plague ravages the village, seeming to fulfill Mitterhaus’ curse; just as the village sends its doctor to the capital for medicine, a traveling gypsy circus breaches the quarantine to offer its entertainments. This is the Circus of the Night Mitterhaus bid his squeeze find, and along with his shapeshifting vampire cousin Emil, she is there, too, but in disguise. I love the vampires in this — including Romana II and Ethan Rayne as acroBATic vampire twins, David Prowse as the Strongman, and Adrienne Corri as the lead gypsy with a whip and a secret. And Laurence Payne’s cuckolded schoolmaster Mueller is a fine Cushing replacement, if you have to have one.
Lort, the sex in that sexless opening sex scene though. On one hand, it reminded me of the snuggling in the MST3K version of Mitchell, where Joel, as hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold Linda Evans, goes, “Could you maybe get aroused, Mitchell?” It was very Bond opening sequence, with lots of balletic naked rolling on each other and glacial sangfroid of the Count when he wasn’t lightly kissing stuff just below the camera’s eye. Yet it was still kind of sexy even though it was hilarious? I am going to analyze this way too much. I am doing erotica calculations in my head. But I also thought Count Mitterhaus (Robert Tayman) was ideal for this model of pretty vamp, much more so than his cousin Emil (Anthony Higgins), who looked savage, all right, but like a Motorhead roadie, not a man who spends much of his time slinking around as a panther. I guess I just prefer them fancy? But all the vampires in this are irredeemable, and that’s the part I appreciate the most.
October 26: Cracked open The Horror Stories of Robert E. Howard audiobook while walking/trying to exhaust Wolfie. I’ve never actually read him. I know. Such a glaring defect in my erudition. One lifetime is not enough. But he kicks ass, doesn’t he? The vitality of his descriptions, the uncluttered perfection of his action scenes. So modern. Hard to imagine circumlocutin’ Lovecraft and bicep poppin’ Howard mutually admiring on one another, but I guess it happened. SO GOOD. Well —
Speaking of Lovecraft! There is the whole, ahem, virulent racism thing, of course. I listened to the whole introduction and didn’t skip to the good stuff because I knew fairly little about REH. In it, the reader was cautioned to recall that these attitudes were very of the day and blah, blah, yes. Everyone was racist in the 1920s. Except maybe the people of color? Probably some of them, too, sure. But while deploring and apologizing, the introduction also underlined how baked-in patriarchy and white supremacy is into not only our broader culture, but boundary-pushing genres like fantasy and horror. The introduction ended with a sort of anodyne “but some of his best characters were” sentiment, and as I listened to REH’s writing following, I was left both admiring the vivid texture of his worlds and considering blind spots and how such an attentive artist conjured so much so well so unexamined.
So, wincing occasionally at racism, I covered the introduction, “In the Forest of Villefere,” “A Song of the Werewolf Folk,” and part of “Wolfshead.” The moon was high, the air was crisp and full of woodsmoke, and I had a barely domesticated dingo leading me through ghoul-haunted dusk and past a big, bright, plastic Halloween festival at the elementary school. It was just about perfect.
Like most of the internet, I tuned in for Joe Bob’s Halloween Hootnannyon Shudder. Well, some of it. I had to put the Varmint to bed during Laurie’s friends getting killed in Halloween (1978) and had to saw logs by the time Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers started. But I enjoyed Joe Bob’s insightful yarns — Lifetime movies ARE low-budget horror! — and vocalized enough approval that my husband started making fun by echoing me as shuttled from room to room, Joe Bob’s Hootnanny playing loudly on my phone. “I know! Yes!”
Joe Bob pisses me off semi-regularly with his contrarian grumpy old man screeds in Takimag, and I admit this soured me on the news of his Shudder gig. MonsterVision was seminal, but it was a long time ago, and his pissy take on Jordan Peele and whinging about no more comedy without consequence made me want to shrug him off. Go to bed, old man! But I was wrong. He is and has always been one of the most persuasive, articulate, and unapologetic exponents of the virtues of B-movies and other forms of art generally held as beneath consideration, as we say in our Cultural Gutter mandate, and it is good that he is reaping all the love and acceptance he has sown for decades. Blood, breasts, and beasts is all about love, man. [takes toke] And he’s doing some of his best work. The Last Drive-In is the perfect format for him, giving him a library of some of the best, most marginalized stuff from Shudder without real time limits, commercials, or swear inhibitions to worry about, and he can be relied upon to find the remarkable in anything, even The Prowler. And I have to say, a lot of the observations he made about feminism in Halloween rang truer to me than Debra Hill’s.
October 27: Tonight I worked on decorating Varmint’s cardboard Doc McStuffins car, which my husband built, for a “drive-in movie” at daycare on Halloween. Next year, I will know to nudge her toward a design that will feature lots of crap I can just glue on, ala Trolls. Mark and the Varmint also carved our first pumpkin, based on Seren’s own scrawl, and it looks a lot like Mimsy from South Park. I think the rest of the week will be mostly about the pumpkin guts. I don’t think I can approach Rhonda’s house in Trick ‘R Treat levels, but we’ll see how many gourds I can tote home from Aldi tomorrow.
Listened to the rest of REH’s “Wolfshead” and “Up John Kane!” Man writes a good werewolf. Again, not so much “the blacks.”
Wolfie and I finished the day with Creepshow. Our stories this week are zombie flavored. “Night of the Paw” and “Times is Tough in Musky Hollar.”
“Night of the Paw” is a straight-up monkey’s paw retelling withBruce Davison as a regretful widower whose final wish is…unusual. It was pleasant. Maybe I missed something, but the undoing of the unwitting murderer at the end just kinda happens. But when you’re surrounded by cadavers and clutching a monkey’s paw, lots of things can kinda just happen, I reckon.
Now for “Musky Hollar” — guys, I’m watching this on the same date Trump announced the killing of al-Baghdadi, founder of ISIS (or cofounder with Obama and Hillary Clinton in Trump’s demented world). And that was the same night he brought his wife, Matt Gaetz, and a few other of his favorite fluffers to game 5 of the World Series and, on being announced, was booed and met with chants of “Lock Him Up.” Yeah, fuck your victory lap, Twitler. This succeeded in spite of you and because of the Kurds you betrayed and anyone paying attention knows it. I did not have to caption his loathsome press conference where he was obviously bullshitting about the operation like a fucking 8-year-old about what he saw on the scrambled pay channels after his parents went to bed, but I did have to listen to most of it, and motherfucker managed to grease and tar up an obvious coming together moment for all Americans in the most puerile, disgraceful ways, as usual. My high school English teacher used to say, “Did you read it, or did you look at the words?” If you can support Trump at this point, you’ve never read a book, especially the Bible. #selfrighteousatheist
Anyway. “Musky Hollar” is a pure revenge fantasy. It is not complicated. In it, we see a number of people hastily chained to seats in a strange apparatus. Some of them are begging and pleading, some are defiant, all are terrified. In flashbacks, we see that they’re all former pillars of the community, including the mayor and the sheriff. David Arquette stands out as the deposed peace officer, now vicious and belligerent and clearly trying to goad his fresh-faced captor into hurting him, maybe killing him, rather than locking him down into his waiting chair. About the time we get an idea of what’s waiting for these bastards when their chairs jolt them skyward, we learn that a zombie apocalypse has remapped the world. And the people in the chairs, particularly Arquette’s sheriff and the mayor, helped themselves to seats of power in the crisis. A small-time autocrat in hell on earth, the mayor jailed and persecuted anyone who stood against him, including innovating the punishment that is now being visited on him. And it is horrible. It is the kind of inhuman act that comes either from a place of the most depraved sadism or the most righteous fury. The practical effects really sell it, too. Lord, that shit ain’t right.
I can’t say the episode didn’t do its job, but it was a hard one to recommend. It’s brief and cruel and violent, and if that isn’t vintage Creepshow, I don’t know what is, but it’s ugly to watch and it’s ugly to feel. I remember when I was a kid, I happened to see some western where some guy was buried up to his neck and horses trampled him. And I was just sick to my stomach for days after seeing it. I could not imagine any reason for any human being to do that to another, and even though they didn’t show it, I was haunted by the suggestion.
It was interesting synchronicity, watching a sadistic pig who manipulated tragedy and fear for personal power get devoured by his own sadistic machinery on the night Trump was booed by a stadium full of baseball fans, on the night of the day he surely felt like he’d scored a big win with a NatSec victory against ISIS. Maybe enough to quiet the growing calls for impeachment? LOL, no, “Lock him up.” I keep thinking of prayers in Psalms that basically say, O, Lord, let the bad man be destroyed by his bad things. It looks like that may happen to Twitler, although I still think we’ll see his penis first.
But “Musky Hollar” isn’t just a revenge fantasy. It’s a very populist revenge fantasy. I look at it and see the mayor’s rhetoric and its clear parallel to Trump and other strongmen, but when you let those emotions sink in, you’re clamping a red hat on your head, whether it says Trump 2020 or whatever. In “Musky Hollar,” you’re given the barest outlines of this populist cartoon to activate those feelings, and that bothers me. I’m reading a lot into it, but we’re clearly meant to feel the people who become “pie” deserve it. I don’t like that, although it does horrify me. So I guess “Creepshow” does its job either way.
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.
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 Cadaversin 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.
Wolfie and I watched the 2008 Australian suspense film Lake Mungoon 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.
This year will be different. This year, no matter how much my child, the Varmint, botches my sleep, no matter how much OT I have to work slinging caps and gritting my teeth, no matter my deadlines, no matter if and when I take to the fainting couch with a migraine, no matter how hard it is to take time for my myself every day, I will take time to celebrate Halloween and appreciate the craft of horror every single day of October. It’s going to be #31DaysofHalloween and #31DaysofHorror, and it may not even quite stop there because in our house, we keep Halloween rolling until my birthday on Veteran’s Day, and then switch over to the Turkey Day/Christmas mashup. But definitely at least 31 Days.
This was a weird juxtaposition because Oates’ short story collection is almost an anti-Creepshow. I mean, the stories are all riveting horror setups, ripe to the point of putrefaction with boogeyman potential: a group of schoolgirls kidnaps and prepares to sacrifice a classmate in an ancient Indian ceremony; a dissolute man is teased by a mysterious woman from his past into a suspicious assignation; a young girl resents her baby sister and fixates on an ominous gray cat; a twin hates his superficially weaker, Inside Kid twin; another twin fantasizes about murdering his profligate, charismatic twin; a widow develops an unwise attachment to a war-scarred veteran working at a local charity. Every one of these could end with a gory flourish and a ghoulish puppet cackling at his own pun, but no. As Gothic and vicious and haunting as these exquisitely-wrought stories are, they all end in survival of some kind, even when they end in death. She walks the line of horror all the way to the denouement and at the last possible moment, flawlessly, she stops and folds up her dogeared, mystery-splotched penny dreadful into an origami swan. It is the more remarkable because it is consistent, because it is a, maybe the unifying thread of these stories. I suppose that may be why she called them nightmares. Nightmares are terrible, brief visits into horror, but then you wake up. And there will not be a cackling puppet at your bedside.
I responded very much to these page-turners, or since it was an audiobook, press play-ers?, but I suppose there was something in the way she shrank from going full horror in her resolutions that I found not entirely satisfying. People might think me harsh or superficial. “Being raped or left to bleed to death in a graveyard is not sufficiently dark for you? That’s not horror?!” Well, horrific stuff, sure, but the difference is in the very Gothic element of ambiguity. You are left in a muddy wilderness of competing emotions in Oates’ stories, and the dominant strain is not horrified. The dominant strain is survival of trauma. It feels a little bit like being told a humorous story that never builds to a punchline. Many would consider this elicitation of complex emotion a higher, more artful achievement. I’m not assigning grades. I would only observe that as gorgeous as the writing is, as interesting as the stories are, my response was “wait, that’s it?” for pretty much every story’s conclusion. But life is like that, with ragged, unsewn ends to every story. Life usually feels unfinished, too. I make these distinctions not for the sake of gatekeeping, but to try to understand my own responses.
Now Shudder’s Creepshow. That’s ALLLLLLL PUNCHLINE, BABY. Which begs its own criticisms, but I see why horror fans everywhere were asplode with delight. I love how intelligently, how artfully the comic background is drawn into the forefront and onto the stories, as a transitional technique, a dramatic tool, and an occasional callback. I haven’t seen anything like it since the subtitles on Night Watch. It’s beautiful work, lavished with love and skill, and the integration of different animation techniques and practical effects is so inspired. Just [chef’s kiss]. It is a little weird, reading the intros rather than having them conventionally dramatized, but I feel like the shoulder tap of “hey, remember where this all comes from!” is worth the awkwardness and it keeps it distinct from Tales From the Crypt.
The first episode offers two delightfully ghoulish stories, the Stephen King adaptation “Gray Matter” and “The House of the Head.” A very pulpy 70s King joint, “Gray Matter” feels a little hackneyed now, but I’d prefer to think of it as…vintage, and the performances in this one are super strong. It’s really the perfect canvas for this particular grossness. “The House of the Head” comes across as much sillier, but it’s also compulsively watchable, as a young girl watches her dolls being tormented by a mysterious disembodied head. Both episodes end with the disquieting realization that the young protagonist in the story is standing aside to let evil consume innocents because it is the best or only way to protect their own family, which, since my every waking thought is infected with knowledge of our historical moment and the evil that is white privilege and Donald fucking Trump consuming the souls of most of my own family, I don’t know, it just feels a very immediate metaphor right now. Would we be here if more white people resisted latent racism, sexism, and homophobia when they were conscious of it? Or do we just let Uncle Randy rant harmlessly and uncontested? They’re also just good, creepy fun though. And unlike Joyce Carol Oates’ nightmares, you know exactly how you feel at the end of ‘em. Bleurgh.
October 2: Watched most of Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island, convincing Varmint it wasn’t really scary. I’ll be singing “Terror Time” all week and am not ashamed.Put up more Halloween decorations. Not all by any means. Not even close to all. Truly nightmarish time trying to get the Varmint to sleep in her own bed. Does that count? I lost fully as much sleep as I ever lost to Ju-On.
October 3: Rewatching and writing about Trick R’ Treat for the Gutter later this month. More watching than writing. So good. I need to reread what I wrote about Krampus so I don’t plagiarize myself too much. …Also so I can plagarize myself some.
October: 4: MOAR HALLOWEEN DECORATIONS. Had Super Monsters season 3 on for the Varmint. You think I have nothing to say about Super Monsters? You are correct. I mean, I guess it’s cool that they try to be inclusive beyond classic monsters/white kids, it is toyetic pablum trash, and were it not so aggressively inoffensive and bite-sized, I’d despair of the Varmint’s appreciation for it. With so many monster-themed shows aimed at her though — Super Monsters, Hotel Transylvania, Monster High, Vampirina — all with the basic idea of The Munsters, it’s a wonder she’s genuinely creeped out by monsters at all. Waiting for them to add a classic Japanese yurei in season 4.
At bedtime, I managed to watch some actual horror with Creepshow, episode 2, “Bad Wolf Down” and “The Finger.” Like last week’s entries, a juxtaposition of a straight, balls-to-the-wall horror (werewolves vs. Nazis) and then a quirkier piece (lovable loser and his unusual pet). I was watching these with Wolfie, our derpy monster Dixie Dingo, and they both reminded me of him in different ways. Werewolves, obv, but …I better cool out on mean tweeting Ted Cruz. Anyhoo. So much Charles Band influence on the creature in the second episode! I felt like this week was probably stronger than last, but then I’m sure “Gray Matter” will be a standout of the series and that’s doubtless why they led with it. Cohesively speaking, last week’s young protagonists made their peace with allowing evil to run rampant, but this week featured adults fully embracing monstrousness and using it to escape and prevail, and it overall felt more joyful in that exercise. These were stories with a Clive Barker moral in their hearts. Maybe next week will be a pair of stories from the POV of monsters?
Wolfgang Amadeus Englert, eater of shoes, couches, and human faces
Mark and the Varmint were off to the pumpkin patch with family because it was a work day for me, so I watched In the Tall Grass, Vincenzo Natali’s adaptation of a Stephen King/Joe Hill novella. EXTREMELY late 90s Stephen King feel, i.e. kinda coked-up and in need of a good editor, with the modernizing touches of time loops like in Mike Flanagan’s Hill House and Blair Witch. No, not The Blair Witch Project, not Blair Witch 2: Book of Shadows, Blair Witch, which, ironically, is the only one I would like to timeloop myself out of having watched. In the Tall Grass, too, as it turned out. Now I love King and I love Joe Hill and envy their talent and craftsmanship and I have not read the novella. Good stuff: powerful performances, spot-on casting, starts strong, Patrick Wilson is Terry O’Quinn as a pretty standard King villain. Honestly, in spite of all that, BORING and I finished it out of a sense of duty and academic interest. It was, in retrospect, much like Natali’s Cube, with characters gradually ground down trying to escape a frustrating enigma, with one stand-out crazy asshole turning into a savage menace among them.
Patrick Wilson has quietly become A Horror Actor, hasn’t he? Most horror stars are super camp or constantly naked like Julian Sands or intrinsically creepy like Julian Sands, but Patrick Wilson, just a benignly handsome everyman who goes to work every day and scans something like dramatic Will Arnett, but keeps cashing those horror paychecks. We’ll make a Robert Englund out of him yet.
In the Tall Grass brings a challenge to my mind: a horror story where technology — cars, cell phones, computers, flashlights, whatevs — doesn’t just get zapped by the spooky menace. Maybe the heroes are changed in ways that the tech doesn’t work for them, or maybe spooky menace opens up different possibilities with the tech. Maybe spookiness feeds on technology, so you can’t use it or have to be really judicious in using it. …Oh, come to think of it, Birdbox was kind of creative on that score. Nevermind, everybody. Good job, Birdbox.
I also managed to listen to the entirety of the CBC radio version of Tony Burgess’ Pontypool while I did light domestic tasks. Pontypool Changes Everything, the novel on which it’s based, is honestly is one of my favorite horror novels of all time, kind of David Cronenberg via James Joyce, or Nabokov writing as Clive Barker. This Pontypool is essentially an abridged version of the film, also scripted by Tony Burgess, with the same cast and everything, and I was surprised, though I shouldn’t have been, how perfectly some scenes are replicated in the radio play. It’s like Stephen McHattie is a professional actor or something! He said his lines exactly the same way at least twice! … Anyhoo, it does have a bleaker ending, although the ending of the movie is so weird, it’s probably hard to be certain of that. I mean, I’m certain of it, but you have a clear right not to be. The story works really well here for the most part, and with its tidy running time, it’s an great fellow traveler for your commute. Especially a night commute.
I wrote about Pontypool for my very first official article at the Gutter here.
October 6: I put on Scooby-Doo and the Witch’s Ghostfor the Varmint, but the only real #31DaysofHorror progress I made was finally reading the 2010 graphic novel The Green Woman, co-written by Michael Easton and Peter Straub, with AMAZING painted artwork by John Bolton. Apart from the AMAZING artwork, unfortunately, I must report it’s really, really meh.
The story finds an aging serial killer, Fielding Bandolier, haunted by the murderous bidding of a figurehead taken from a cursed ship in an abandoned bar, the titular — and she is quite sultry and topless! — Green Woman. Fielding was modeled on Peter Capaldi, which is *cough* the reason I even have this thing. Shut up, I don’t have a crush on Peter Capaldi; you have a crush on Peter Capaldi. Anyway. A berserker who either found his calling or lost the last vestige of his humanity as a soldier in Vietnam, Fielding tires of killing, but is urged to commit more murders at the behest of the Green Woman because. He’s also sought out by a young Irish serial killer, kind of a fan and also eager to succeed him as the Green Woman’s devotee, and a boozy, morally-questionable, but psychically-gifted homicide detective is sniffing both their trails. It’s a beautiful, but dull rehash of tropes you’ll find executed better in Hannibal (the series), Dexter, Zodiac, Manhunter (1986)…hell, Hellraiser: Inferno and Hellraiser: Judgment, as far as that goes. I will say it. Hellraiser: Inferno is better than this.
The art is startlingly good, but the story never really goes deeper than an outline with any of its stock characters. Fielding gets the most, best attention, and I understand he’s a central figure in Straub’s Blue Rose Trilogy, which I have not read, so maybe this graphic novel serves a satisfying capstone on that character arc, but overall, this work is missable, unmemorable, murky crap. It has made me curious about the first novel in the Blue Rose series, Koko, mainly because I’m wondering if Fielding’s wife Bee appears or is given more depth to explain the fanatic worship of her husband’s killing destiny. But even though Fielding is the most interesting character here, I’m still not very interested in him either, and that takes some (not) doing when he’s wearing Peter Capaldi’s face.
I do have to say, and you know I say it with love, that as peerless as I’m sure PCap himself would be in this role in the flesh, he has described himself as “an effete dramatic type,” and the beauty of Bolton’s art notwithstanding, it’s just kind of silly to see PCap, with his patrician features and art student physique, as a special forces badass, no matter how cray the character may be. Killing with a knife. Killing scores of armed Viet Cong with a knife. Yes, quickness, litheness, madness, of course, but a little upper body strength? Shoulders? Maybe? OK, I know the knife does a LOT of the work in these cases.