Is anyone else watching the recent version of I Know What You Did Last Summer? It’s trashy as hell and it’s making me feel old as dirt (if I hear that one kid call someone “sus” one more time, I am gonna lose my shit) but you know what? It’s a lot of fun.

I don’t recall the original series of movies very well, but the source material, Lois Duncan’s 1973 book I Know What You Did Last Summer, wasn’t my favorite among her titles, so I’m not too precious about it.

A loose adaptation though the premise remains the same: a group of teenagers/young adults (I can’t tell? Everyone between 15 and 30 looks the same age to me now?) are involved in a hit and run and a year later, they begin receiving threatening messages from someone who doesn’t want to forget and who knows “what they did last summer.” And of course begins stalking them and picking them off one by one. It feels a bit Pretty Little Liars to me, but with more drugs and sluttery. So if that’s your thing, you may enjoy this! It’s definitely my thing. All the delicious drugs and promiscuity, please!

…but this version is set in Hawaii, which feels weird and off. Or rather, that it’s a show steeped in Hawaiian culture, but it’s still centered around a white family--that’s the part that doesn’t feel right at all. I think they are going for something very Twin Peaksian, but it doesn’t work. Still, it’s more gruesome than I expected, it’s genuinely funny in moments, and if I’m being honest, I just like to see “young people horror” …although I don’t know how reflective this is of young people culture? These characters are like 18 going on 40. But what do I know? I feel very out of touch sometimes.

Are you guys watching this? I’d love to know your thoughts!

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I have been meaning to read Tananarive Due’s The Good House from the moment that I closed the last page of Ghost Summer, which I thoroughly, delightedly enjoyed. My review for Ghost Summer wasn’t super in-depth or intensive, but about the book, I wrote the following:

These engaging short stories by Tananarive Due tick every box for what I want in a summer read. (I think I read this in September, so that still counts, as far as I am concerned!) A vast spectrum of supernatural business, characters that I care about, masterful writing that is emotive and nuanced but not super dense or difficult or inaccessible. It’s got everything!

Ghost Summer was previously my only experience with Tananarive Due’s writing, and though I believe that it was published more than a decade after The Good House, which I just read, it had all of the hallmarks that I’ve now come to expect from her work. I feel like it’s almost trite to say that a story or a book has “a lot of heart”…I mean, I say that a lot, but what does that mean, anyway? It’s the first thing that comes to mind when I think of this author’s writing, I am tempted to say “horror with a lot of heart.” I suppose what I’m trying to get across is that her stories seem to be written through an empathetic, compassionate lens. That her characters are fully fleshed out, down to their annoyances and imperfections, and their stories are treated in such a way that they’re wholly, profoundly human, and we really grow to care about them.

Also, Tananarive Due writes in such a way that you don’t feel punished for having read and connected with the work. I sometimes feel like a certain subset of writers must really hate us, the reader. That’s probably not true, but it’s easy to feel that way when you see your favorite, beloved characters brutally dismembered on the page before you. I just…never get a sense of that with Due’s writing. Of course, in her books, there’s horror and heartlessness and heart-stopping moments…but there’s also hope. I love that she gives us that, too. I guess that’s what I mean when I say a story “has heart;” that no matter what else transpires, no matter how big and expansive the horror and heartbreak is, she leaves the door open for goodness and hope, as well. I come away feeling good about what I read.

The Good House (unlike the House movie that I wrote about yesterday) is actually a pretty scary story in concept, and I did find myself a little freaked out while reading it. The home that belonged to Angela Toussaint’s late grandmother is so cherished and revered that the local townspeople refer to it lovingly as the Good House. All of this changes one summer when a terrible tragedy takes place during a Fourth of July celebration at the house, and both the Toussaint’s family history and its future is irrevocably altered. Two years after,  following her son’s suicide in the house, Angela returns and finally starts to unravel what happened and put things right.

Masterful storytelling combining multiple perspectives across different timelines, witchcraft and family curses, the burdens of inherited guilt, trauma, rich history, and mythology, and an overwhelming, palpable sense of stomach-curdling dread present from almost the very first page made this a vividly enthralling read and an intense page-turner, and I’m going to make it my mission in life to read everything author has every written.

Speaking of houses and homes–what’s more homey than a cozy bowl of porridge? Or steel-cut oats, to be more specific!
Here’s a little oatmeal bar I set up yesterday, with all the fixings: dates, pumpkin seeds and almonds, apricots, cream, and sugar. It was perfect for our 70-degree morning…which, if you live in Florida, you know that’s practically freezing, and about as close to autumn as we are likely to get! The little Halloween ramekins were a lovely surprise from Yvan, who picked them up for me from Le Creuset! I can’t seem to find them on the Le Creuset site (though he assures me there were quite a few in stock at the actual store and they weren’t exactly flying off the shelves) but if you are looking for them, it’s this set.

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House is another one of those horror movies that had intriguingly gruesome cover art that greatly appealed to my 13-year-old brain. Of course, I never got the opportunity to watch it, so 30 some odd years later I was very excited to sit down and take it in this past weekend.

To put it kindly, I was …not…impressed. “This is what everyone is reminiscing so fondly about?” I thought. “But it’s so stupid!”

I was, however, greatly impressed by the bizarre artwork that adorned the fantastically wallpapered walls of the titular house. They looked like marvelously weird Gertrude Abercrombie/Frida Kahlo/Salvador Dali hybrids creations, and I could have watched a whole movie about them alone!


I stopped watching the film about halfway through. I’ve only got so much time allotted to me on this earth, and slogging through this silly film was not how I wanted to spend it. But in zipping through it afterward to grab some stills of these nutty paintings for a blog post, I wondered if maybe…the art wasn’t somehow important to the plot? I mean, if I was going to the trouble of sharing the art, shouldn’t I at least finish the film to get an understanding of how it played into the story? So the next day I revisited the film. And I finished it. For art!

Ok, so maybe it wasn’t THAT bad. I think I just wasn’t in the mood for it, in that initial viewing. If you’ve not seen it, it’s more or less just a haunted house story with some comedy, ridiculous but fun creature effects, and I guess you could say it’s got a lot of heart. The short version of the story is that Roger Cobb is a best-selling author; he and his wife are divorced and they have lost a son, and he’s moved back into his late aunt Elizabeth’s house to focus on writing his war memoirs. Turns out the house is balls-out bonkers haunted. In an interview, the director as described this as “a tongue-in-cheek, Mad magazine-style, effects-heavy hootenanny with goofy neighbors and comical monsters.” Sure, I guess that sums it up

I do have a lot of questions because so much of this is baffling. Why did his elderly aunt kill herself at the beginning of the film? And from the flashbacks, it looks like Roger and his wife and child were living in his aunt’s home at one point? While she was still living there? I mean, he was a famous writer and she was a famous actress, so why didn’t they have their own place? And getting back to the aunt–what was the deal with the paintings? Over the course of the film, you can see how she, as an artist, was no doubt influenced and inspired by the haunted goings-on in the house, and so I think there should have been at least a tiny bit of focus and backstory about her art and practice. And it turns out the paintings were *sort of* important, at least one of them was–but I’ll not give that away, in case you, like me, were one of the handful of people who have not yet seen House.

I was able to find the actual artist behind aunt Elizabeth’s strange canvases, though unfortunately, I can’t find any larger images. Richard Hescox has created a considerable amount of horror and monster movie poster art and seems to be fairly prolific, although his official portfolio seems to mostly showcase his fantasy-inspired works.

Now this all has got me thinking that I need to see House II on the off chance that there’s more of Hescox’s paintings and maybe old aunt Elizabeth gets a bit of story? Hm! Should I continue?

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17 Oct
2021

I am up to Halloween: H20 in my Halloween marathoning and oooof. I just did not recall how bad, I mean really REALLY bad, 4, 5, and 6 are. That business with the cult (and the cloning? Is that right?) was really, really dumb. Halloween H20 wasn’t great, but at least we get Jamie Lee Curtis, and maybe it was a little scary? That could be just me though, rewatching it alone in the house, at 1am in the morning.

Anyway, I have no further thoughts on any of these films, however, a particular scene in Halloween 6: The Curse of Michael Myers, did inspire the following poem…

Reflections after a death scene in Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers

Sometimes I remind myself that
in a basement sequence
during Halloween 6,
Michael Myers demonstrates
that apparently he knows something
about how to operate a washing machine.
It’s not like those bloody linens sloshing
around during the rinse cycle
were placed there by
the dead woman, lying still,
glasses cracked and broken,
chest split by the blade of an axe.
And sure, the load was
massively unbalanced.
And Michael probably didn’t
use any pre-soak or stain remover.
It’s funny, you know, he drives?
Where did he learn that?
What else is this murderous tulpa man-child
doing when we’re not looking?
Contributing to his Roth IRA,
and hot yoga, and meditation,
and 12-step skincare?
Is Michael Myers a more capable
and competent adult
than I am?
I mean, if even the bogeyman
can get his shit together
and start a load of wash,
then what’s my problem?

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16 Oct
2021

Another horror cheat day! I am still processing some recent things I have watched and read, so while that all simmers on the back burner of my brain’s greasy stove, I thought I’d take you on a tour of some of my horror-related or generally creepy/eerie art! These are probably things I have shared before, but it may be a new sight for new friends and followers (hello to all one or two of you!)

Of course, I hope you’re okay with trio of weirdos accompanying us. These are various Halloween masks I have stolen from my brother-in-law over the years. Except for the cat, which I bought and paid for with my own money during a hurricane when I was meant to be out, procuring supplies.

On a nearby wall is a massive poster of the fabulous Lucy Westenra, by the artist Sara Deck. Honestly, she could recreate every scene in this version of the film and I would poster my whole house with them. Especially this iconic trio!

This is the back wall in my office. It used to appear a bit more finished, but we moved the day bed that was directly underneath this grouping of arts. That means…that …I can continue the arrangement down to the floor, right? Woo hooo!

A listing of the artists, going with the top photo where you can see the whole group:
Top row, left to right: Colette St. Yves, Caryn Drexl, Beautymarkings, Caryn Drexl, Becky Munich(x2)
Second row, left to right: Adele Mildred, Alice Havens, Mon Petit Fantome, Charmaine Olivia, Mon Petit Fantome
Third row, right to left: Darla Teagarden, Tin Can Forest, Darla Teagarden, Adipocere, Maika

 

This is a view just above a small bookcase in my parlor. It’s a spot that could certainly use a bit more fiddling with, but though it’s imperfectly arranged, I really do love these pieces. The eye is from corpsehaus, the ghostly hand (“The Uninvited”) is by David Seidman, and a spooky lady from Jessica Dalva.

Who are some of your favorite illustrators of darkness and artists of the eerie and the macabre?

 

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I have been enamored of petals and blossoms and flowering things far longer than my love of ghost stories and scary things. It goes further back even than my obsession with magic and fairy tales, or pretty dresses, perfumes, and glittering gems and jewelry. Before I could turn the pages of the books that I love, before I could slice or stir or simmer or in the kitchen, before I even learned how to lose myself in daydreams…there were flowers.

(These are all of the things that make up my heart, both the shadowed corners and the illuminated spaces. But flowers were there first.)

When I first saw the lustrous blooms and kindred glooms of Alyssa of Forest Noir’s midnight floriography, my heart skipped a strange beat and breathed a soft, fluttery sigh, recognizing pieces of itself in this photographer’s exquisite arrangements. Evocative of tenebrous twilights and somber echoes of the past, as well brimming with lavish, luxuriant regeneration and reawakenings, it encompasses all of the beautiful, terrible contradictions and certainties and even the liminal gateways between life and death. Lensed through Alyssa’s dreamy, thoughtful eye, flowers are all of these things. As my own heart always instinctively knew.

I am so thrilled that Alyssa agreed to an interview and you will find our chat below, wherein we discuss the secrets and storytelling of the still life photograph, art as a powerful, jeweled sword of rebellion, and working with what you’ve got, where you are, to create things of indescribable beauty and connection.

To keep this 31 Days of Horror-related, I pressed Alyssa for a few favorite horror movies. Her response? Though she confesses she does not especially care for Rob Zombie (ha! sometimes I don’t, either!) she shares that she is a huge Wes Craven fan, with her favorite of his films being Scream. A “real sucker for good cinematography and a haunting score,” she loves The Vvitch and It Follows. But she also loves Sam Raimi’s silliness!

What is it about the still-life as a realm of artistic expression that appeals to you?

I recently spent a lot of time writing an artist statement for my current body of work, and thinking about my “why” – I don’t think I can say it any better than I did in the statement, so I will put it below:

“Still life – Meanings hidden, shown, and yet to be discovered. I want to show that an entire world can lie in a bowl of fruit, or even a vase of flowers. I hold still life sacred. It serves as a means to truly shape an image, rather than simply take a picture of what already exists. I do not just document, I conduct. I orchestrate small universes, existing among the petals and juice of spilled fruits. I find the cosmos in a single flower. I heal my wounds with dirt-caked hands, using tiny symbols as small as an apple seed. Melding parts into a whole, I create an ephemeral waypoint before the items depart to my dinner table, shelves, or back to the earth. Classical vanitas, memento mori, floral still lives – all within the dark world of my table.

With simple tools and familiar objects, I spin tales of how death has touched my life, share stories of where I come from, echo songs taught to me by the forests and hills of the land. I create from myths, folktales, and literature. I create beauty for beauty’s sake – to escape out of reality into a lush and vibrant place, bursting with life, possibility, and love. Birthing art into a cold and hard world, with no other motivation than to show beauty and connection to lost souls, is an act of rebellion. Women have been historically scorned for lack of substance when creating conventionally beautiful work. I reject this notion and weaponize it. Beauty is power. It can cut through monotony like a jeweled sword – and I intend to wield it as long as I can.”

Some of your arrangements and creations recall classical vanitas paintings, works of memento mori–can you speak to these influences in your practice?

Yes! These are all incredibly important influences in my work. A little background – I have been photographing since I was 15, so about 18 years now. I began making still life work in college, where I was a photography major and art history minor. I went to The School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, as well as Massachusetts College of Art and Design. I was incredibly lucky as a student to be at these schools, especially as I was a poor kid on grants and loans. Both were on the fenway in Boston, and being a student, I was allowed free entry into all the museums. My first school was actually next door to the Boston MFA itself, and I was a short walk away from the magical, irreplaceable Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. I spent lunch breaks and days off wandering the halls of museums, staring at statues, Vermeers, and Van Eycks.

I soon specialized my art history classes and research on the Dutch masters and other great still-life artists. The sheer amount of history and the volume of work to look at drew me in and held me there. Still lives seemed magical to me, and still do. The symbolism, the luxurious colors, the dreamy, liminal qualities they all seem to share. Every still life has secrets and layers to uncover. I especially felt drawn to memento mori and vanitas. Both serve as reminders or allegories of death. My life has been colored by death and grief in so many ways from a very young age, so it’s important to me to represent this in my work. I hope history echoes a little in my pieces. I only started showing my still life about 2 years ago. For the longest time, I thought no one would like them, or even care about such traditional work, when the landscape of current popular photography is so portrait-focused. But I was wrong! I didn’t gain any type of audience online until I started posting my still life and writing.

What other influences and inspiration do you draw from in your daily art practice?

Film. Cinematography and lighting, color grading. I took a lot of elective film studies in college and I will never be able to get enough. I think my work is as reflective of this as it is of traditional painting. I learned how to use color from film. I have seen In the Mood for Love about 80 times just to study the lighting. I also really draw on seasons and the local landscape. I live in the Pacific Northwest, so the ability to forage for my work is not something I take for granted. Of course, I am heavily influenced by painting, so I look at some form of painting daily. My favorite book I have is a hefty tome, with every painting in The Vatican. It’s a lovely thing to flip through while I have my morning coffee. It might surprise you to know I avoid looking at photography altogether, and almost all the photographers I follow online are friends. I think there is enough to inform my work out there that is not related to photography at all.

When I look at your art, brimming with petals and blooms in varying stages of blossom and decay, I think of the symbolism and language of flowers, of how, for example, in the Victorian era, flowers were primarily used to deliver messages that couldn’t be spoken aloud. I also find myself contemplating the various magical properties of the various buds and leaves within your compositions and wonder if you’re not gathering the ingredients to do a bit of spellwork. I am curious as to whether there are elements of either floriography or flowerwitchery in your creations or is my imagination running away with me?

I love floriography and in most cases, my choice of flower is deliberate. I have a small collection of books on Victorian Floriography and I refer to them often. Choices are always made, whether for a traditional meaning, a color-coded to a feeling, or a secret meaning I have devised. Almost all of my work is posted alongside a lengthy artist statement where I detail my choices for the viewer to demystify the work a tiny bit, and I often talk about the flowers, or other symbols, and their meanings to me. I think this is an essential part of the work for me, imbuing these objects and blooms with new meaning.

As for spellwork, I am not the least bit involved in actual witchcraft! I am terribly sensible and not very magical at all. I am deeply fascinated by various occult practices, but unfortunately, I am just a plain old atheist and the magical properties of any of the pieces I use is quite lost on me. For me, the magic is in the storytelling I do with these materials.

Ok after that monstrously long question, a far simpler one (maybe?) What is your favorite flower, and why?

Roses! Which sounds so mundane, but I grew up outside Portland, Oregon – the City of Roses. The famous rose gardens there are one of my favorite places to be. They remind me of home, of the gardens, of my grandmother’s face powder – it was called Ombre Rose, and I used to sneak into her bathroom to smell it as a child. There are seemingly infinite variations of rose, which fascinates me to no end. The smell, the thorns, the velvet petals. Easily my favorite to look at and to work with. My daughter’s middle name is Rose for this very reason. Beauty, nostalgia, and a cure for my homesickness.

Do you keep a flower garden as part of your artistry? Do you grow any of the gorgeous posies that find their way in front of your lens?

I have not a single plant in my home, nor a garden, just a revolving collection of cut florals. I live in a tiny 895 sq ft apartment with my partner, child, and rabbit, so there is a bit of a space issue. In the future, when we find our forever house, I would absolutely love to (and plan to) have a garden to work out of. My love affair with flowers began way before my beginning with still life. I grew up gardening with my grandmother and kept my own flowers as a small child. I spent a lot of time outside and in the forest, so I have held onto a deep attachment to trees, flowers, and plants of all kinds. Much of my very early, awkward teenage photography consisted of black and whites of the neighborhood gardens, printed in the void of my high school darkroom. For now, I source flowers from local farms and markets, as well as responsible foraging in our area.

What is your space like where you compose and shoot these lovely arrangements? And with regard to space in general, I’m wondering if we peeked in your home, would we find a house-sized version of one of your photos, or is your interior decor style totally different from your work? I’m sorry if that’s an obnoxious question, I’m really nosy!

This answer is for some reason, very astounding to most people. I guess most expect me to have some kind of gigantic studio or fancy lighting setup. As I mentioned above, my apartment is miniscule, so I actually shoot all my still life on a very small end table with a backdrop, next to my living room sliding glass door. I do not use studio lighting by choice, but there is plenty of sun there and I can shape the light however I want using many pieces of $2 black poster board from Staples. It is very utilitarian and not romantic at all as far as space goes. It’s next to my couch and my rabbit is always lurking under the table, hoping I will drop a rose petal for him to eat.

I am actually really proud of this weird little space in my apartment, and that I can churn out my best work from my living room end table with nothing but my subject, a camera, and some poster board. I post a lot of reels of my process with this decidedly boring area on full display, because I really want the young photographers or people just starting to know that you can create ANYWHERE, and with anything. You do not need expensive equipment or an aesthetically pleasing studio to make high-quality work. Art is for everyone, not just people with money. It’s really a mission of mine to spread that message because of the recent influx of aesthetic obsession on social media. It’s easy to think everyone has it better or easier than you, you know?

As for my decor, it’s not too nosy! I love decor. I am very proud of my work, but I am just not compelled to hang my own art. 98% of the work in my house is in my bedroom/office space, and it is almost all prints of classical work. I have a lot of still life paintings, transportive landscapes from the Hudson River School, any painting of rabbits I can find, and my all-time favorite portrait – Sargent’s Madame X. All my modern art, and pieces from friends and other independent contemporaries, is in the kitchen.

Do you have any rituals or practices that accompany the act of creation? And conversely, I suppose, what inspires you when you find yourself blocked or in a rut?
I do a lot of planning, so pieces may be conceived months before they appear on my page. With all pieces, I spend a really long time getting to know the flowers or food before I use them. I need to know how something will bend, flow, move. Will it snap or break? Does it need supports? Can I pin it? This is ritualistic in nature I suppose, as I go into deep, almost meditative thinking when I spend time with my subjects. It can become trancelike, and my partner has to shout at me if he needs something! haha.

When I am in a rut, that only signals to me I need a break. I simply take time off making work if I can allow it with commitments and such. I work two jobs and have a small child running around, so it’s easy to get burnt out. Taking a small break from creation allows my brain and heart a rest. It offers a slow-down, and lets the stream of ideas begin to flow again.

Find Alyssa & Forest Noir: website // instagram

This final photo, as you can tell from the change in quality and arrangement, and well, everything, was one that I took last night. Of a cocktail that I created in celebration of this interview and inspired by Alyssa’s work, “Flowers from the Underworld.” We both agree that despite some contemporary reframing by poets and writers, the myth of Persephone’s captivity in the underworld is very much not a love story. It’s gross and it’s terribly, profoundly sad.  In “Flowers from the Underworld” Alyssa does not discount or dismiss the tragedy, but instead, imbues it with a sense of hope, and of healing. Capturing and conveying the sentiment of how even in the midst of hell, roses may grow. I love that.

And I will admit, “Flowers from the Underworld” is a better name for this cocktail than my original name, which was “Poisoning that fucker, Hades!” I don’t have measurements, just use your pre-booze eyeballs and good sense.

Ingredients and loose recipe
-gin (1 oz? 2?)
-unsweetened pomegranate juice, fresh or bottled (2 tbsp?)
-half a lime, juiced (but lemon is okay in a pinch)
-a bit of orgeat (2 tsp? a drizzle?)
-spicy ginger beer

Shake pomegranate juice, citrus, gin, and orgeat with ice in a shaker until well chilled. Strain into coupe glass (or whatever you want). Top with the spicy fizzes of your favorite ginger beer. Heal your wounds, love yourself, and grow some roses.

 

 

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14 Oct
2021

You may recall that I mentioned early in the month that this year’s version of 31 Days of Horror may be a cheat. So far, I think I’ve done pretty well, but I think I’m calling in a cheat day today because I don’t think I have anything I am quite ready to talk about just yet.

So instead, here is a list of the horror movies I have watched this year. Some of them might be horror-ish, or horror-adjacent, but I’ve kept them all on the list. This is actually from an ongoing Google doc that I continually update throughout the year. Does anyone else do this? I’ve marked the ones that I’d actually recommend to people with asterisks and yes, I did like the really dumb Disturbing Behavior. There’s something about stories that take place on isolated island communities that are just an immediate win for me.

Some definite standouts for me this year were the ghostly eerieness of Lake Mungo, the batshit insanity of Queen of Black Magic, and the quiet, freaky dread of The Wind. And the final .02 seconds of Saint Maude was the most horrifying thing I have ever seen. Noroi and Pulse are two Japanese horror film staples of the early-mid 2000s and I can’t believe it’s taken me so long to watch them. They are both so very deeply unsettling.

Old or new, or new-to-you, what are some of your favorite horror films that you’ve watched this year?

1/27 Perfect Blue (rewatch) ***
2/12 Vivarium
2/14 His House***
(?) Interview with the Vampire (rewatch)
(?) Impetigore
3/18 Queen of Black Magic***
4/2 Noroi***
4/14 Pulse***
(?) Seance on a Wet Afternoon***
4/19 Unfriended

4/26 Lake Mungo***
(?)Saint Maud
6/24 Sator
7/4 Fear Street ***
7/5 La Llorona (not the Linda Cardellini one)***
7/10 Fear Street II ***
7/17 Fear Street III***
7/28 Pandorum
7/29 Slice
7/30 Disturbing Behavior***
(?) When a Stranger Calls
8/8 Scream 3 (rewatch)
8/10 The Binding***
8/12 Werewolves Within ***
(?) Brand New Cherry Flavor***
(?) Los Espookys***
9/5 The Old Ways***
9/6 The Wind ***
9/12 Malignant
9/13 Halloween (rewatch)
9/14 Halloween 2 (rewatch)
9/15 Halloween 3
9/18 Halloween 4 (rewatch)
9/24 The Abyss
10/2 Candyman (the new one) ***
10/4-10/7 Midnight Mass ***
10/7 Things Heard and Seen
10/08 Halloween 5 (rewatch)
10/9 Nightmare on Elm Street 3&4 (rewatch)
10/10 Blood Red Sky***
10/12 Dolls***
10/13 Halloween VI: The Curse of Michael Myers (rewatch)

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If I am being honest, I have been fixated on DOLLS ever since I first passed by its lurid half doll/half skull cover art on the shelf in a Blockbuster Video seventy kajillion moons ago. But that was back in the days where between you and your sisters you could only pick ONE movie to take home on a Friday night, and no one could ever agree on anything and certainly, no one else but me wanted to watch this one.

But I am an adult now and I can do whatever I want and no one even has to agree with it!

Six travelers stranded in a sudden thunderstorm– a trio consisting of a shitty father, a wretched stepmother and an imaginative young girl, and another group of two awful (but awesomely attired) hitchhiking punkettes and the well-intentioned but derpy guy who picked them up– seek shelter in a nearby mansion. An elegant old doll-maker and his wife live in this creepy, wonderfully atmospheric place full of gorgeous old dolls, and they offer to put the group up for the evening. The charming elderly couple is very welcoming and hospitable to this group of very rude assholes. Too welcoming, one might say.

Over the course of the evening, all the baddies get what’s coming to them and by the closing credits, the doll-maker’s collection has mysteriously grown. I LOVED THIS MOVIE.

Most of all, I loved this doll in the right-hand corner in its little pig costume! Rabbit costume? I don’t actually know what’s going on there, but I love it more than anything in the world! But I’m fairly certain that no matter what happened over the course of this film, I was going to adore it. I love old dolls. I love any kind of doll. If I had more space and more money, I would totally be an unhinged doll collector, filling every room in my house with their ruffles and lace little staring eyeballs. Here’s a controversial thing: I even love clown dolls! (Heck, I also love clowns!)

The creature effects in this film were a lot of fun (Teddy in an early scene was fantastic!) and the menacing, mischievous stop-motion movements of the dolls, their frowning expressions, and devious grins with those tiny demonic teeth, were wonderful. I would have liked to have seen more of that, but I think it was probably *just* enough.

This is maybe the only time in my life where, upon finishing a movie, I immediately wanted to watch it again. Is it a “good” movie? I don’t know about that.  But it was extremely satisfying on a visually appealing level, and its messages of both appreciating the imagination and the stuff that keeps you young at heart really spoke to me. Plus…I loved Ralph. I know he was awkward and weird, but I really want to be friends with that character! So…again. A good movie? Probably not by the standards that a lot of people might measure such things. But I think it is! And even more than that, it’s a “feel good” movie. I never really had a feel good movie in my arsenal, but I think DOLLS has become my go-to.

What other creepy doll movies do I need to watch? I don’t really care about Chucky or Annabelle, I’ll just go ahead and put that out there. I’ve seen Pin and maybe Dead Silence, but I might be getting that mixed up with something else.And I just learned that there’s an Amityville Dollhouse movie! It’s probably awful, right? But…I should watch it anyway, right?

Speaking of dollhouses, one of my favorite books when I was a little girl was The Dollhouse Murders by Betty Ren Wright. I wonder how that holds up? Author of the weird and eerie, Robert Aickman wrote a story about a dollhouse if I recall. Ah, here it is: The Inner Room.

I guess I understand why people are freaked out by their little uncanny, almost-human faces, their imagined movements from the periphery of your vision, and why the creepy doll is a long-standing horror trope. Here’s an interesting article that goes into more of an explanation, with a bit of history as well. But me, well. I’m scared of lots of stuff. I mean…A LOT. But dolls just aren’t one of them.

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[EDIT: A GIVEAWAY WINNER HAS BEEN CHOSEN AND CONTACTED! THANKS, EVERYONE!]

Happy birthday, The Art of the Occult! You, my first published book, are now officially a year old!

Is there anything horror-related within its pages? Well…not really. Not in a spooky, Halloween season way. We could argue that esoteric knowledge and arcane philosophies form the backbone of quite a few horror stories. Ceremonial magics gone wrong, demons conjured and gone amuck. That sort of thing. And of course witches and witchcraft–you can’t have 31 Days of Halloween with at least one witchy film, right? I mean, as far as I am concerned, you can barely have a story of any sort without a witchy character moving things along.

Here’s what I write in the Potions, Persecution, and Power portion of The Art of the Occult, wherein I begin by quoting another favorite and famous witch that you may know….

‘Witches have always walked among us, populating societies and storyscapes across the globe for thousands of years,’ writes Pam Grossman in Waking the Witch, a reflection on women, magic, and power. And it’s true – can you conjure forth a single folk or fairytale, myth or legend worth its salt circle that doesn’t contain a witch or some witchy archetype stirring up trouble and sowing supersensory seeds of discontent? The witch provides the element that surprises, startles, and scares, provides struggle and strife, a snag in the story, a shift in the narrative.

This fascination for witches has long gripped artists, both of the classical and contemporary ilk– the witchly archetype being an evocative canvas onto which some of the greatest artists have projected their most intensely bizarre imaginings. Many continue to draw inspiration from the dark and cruel origins of the classic image of the witch, and the tragic history of the witch continues to instill fear and provoke anxieties in contemporary creators today.

Here’s a handful of my favorite witches on canvas, inspiring and powerful artworks steeped in magic and superstition. What are some of your favorite visual representations of the witch?

And sneaking this in here, which means you had to read this whole post in order get to this point: wouldst thou like to win a delicious, signed copy of The Art of the Occult in celebration of its one-year anniversary inhabiting our earthly realm? If so, leave a comment! Tell me about your favorite witches! Artful, literary, cinematic or otherwise. A winner will be chosen and contact one week from today!

The Witch Barry Windsor-Smith, 1978.

 

Circe Invidiosa John William Waterhouse 1892

 

Les Sorcières Leonor Fini, 1959

 

La Sorcière, Lucien Lévy-Dhurmer, 1897

 

Morgan-le-Fay Frederick Sandys, 1863

 

Witches Sabbath Rik Garrett, from Earth Magic (Fulgur Press, 2014).

 

From Songs For The Witch Woman, Marjorie Cameron, undated

 

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11 Oct
2021

I was doing a Google search just now to find something striking to use as the feature image for this blog post and apparently one of the most frequently asked questions about this film is “is Blood Red Sky a horror movie?”

Well, if you can’t tell from the trailer, or from this German version of the movie poster, yes, yes–Blood Red Sky is very much a horror movie. If you’re one of the horror fans constantly griping and moaning about how there are no scary vampires anymore, and it’s all sparkles and romance and you’re looking at these befanged, velvet-clad dandies wondering “what kind of interview is this, anyway?” Well, first off, quit your bitching, there’s room in the world for all kinds of vampires. But secondly, the monsters in Blood Red Sky are on par, fright-and-terror-wise, with those in 30 Days of Night. They might even be scarier! I am still trying to decide.

Blood Red Sky is an intense and emotional, dark and savage horror-action spectacle, and follows a woman with a mysterious illness and her son, on board an overnight transatlantic flight that gets highjacked by terrorists. You can look at the poster and figure out the woman’s illness and its terrifying nature, but what you don’t see there is her struggle to reign it in, how her concern for her son’s safety overrides the brutal, vicious nature of her vampirism. And the bad guy that she faces off with in one portion of the film? Hoo boy. That guy is gonna give me nightmares.

Vampires have been scaring me since I first saw a Dracula in Scooby-Doo so many years ago, and it was awesome to stumble upon a vampire film that was still able to freak me out. Typically, my own bloodthirsty tastes for celluloid creatures of the night, run to the strange and surreal, like the dreamy gothic poetry of Jean Rollin’s films. Or…stories of people who are suffering delusions that they are vampires, when in fact, they’re just lonely and confused (or are they??) Good examples of this would be George Romero’s Martin, or the more recent Transfiguration. And certainly, the slick, stylish glamourous vampiric gems like The Hunger or Only Lovers Left Alive. And of course the thoroughly weird and difficult to classify, like Let’s Scare Jessica To Death and Lair of the White Worm!

I’m leaving quite a few off of those lists. The 1992 Bram Stoker’s Dracula is a favorite. I enjoyed the vampire-noir of A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night. And you know…oddly, Let The Right One In didn’t really do anything for me, both the book and the film left me a little unenthused.

I think what I probably need more of is classic vampires or Hammer vampires. There are quite a few of these movies that I haven’t seen. Also, I just learned of a Larry Fessenden film called Habit, which sounds interesting, and even if it’s not, well, I will get to see that beautiful weirdo, Larry Fessenden!

What am I missing? What are some of your favorite cinematic vampires?

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