I’m probably the last person on the planet to start watching A Discovery of Witches, and I have no plans to read the book (unless you can convince me otherwise? But I’m almost certain I will find it infuriating.) And I am only two episodes in and I am pretty sure the show is going to be really dumb, too– it gives me Twilight vibes, sorry guys — but gosh. It sure is pretty.
So far from what I can tell is that Diana, an academic and historian with some sort of witchy lineage that she has probably squashed way down, uncovers an alchemical manuscript that’s supposedly been lost for years, and now all the demons and vampires want to get their hands on it. Because the powers of these supernatural creatures are fading, and they suspect there’s a cure in the manuscript.
There’s a grim, handsome vampire who is a professor? doctor? scientist? Downtown Abbey alum? definitely a stalker, who immediately becomes obsessed with Diana, probably because she smells irresistible or something–and I can already tell his is going to be a politely horny show. I don’t have a problem with that per se, but I already hate Diana, so this may be hard to watch. In the first episode, she calls her witchy aunt back in the States at 5 o’clock in the morning; weird shit is happening and Diana wants some advice. Her aunt (River Song!!) attempts to advise her, and Diana throws a tantrum and hangs up because guess what–she didn’t call for advice or anything! UGH.
I will probably keep watching, or at least have it on in the background while I am knitting; the eternal autumn Instagram filter cinematography is stunning, and if nothing else, it makes for a cozy October backdrop while I am doing other things.
It is that time of year again and I am woefully unprepared and massively unmotivated. Summer-me anticipated this problem and at least put together a list of ideas for October-me, so we’ll see what I can do. It’s Sunday and I’ve got to spend the rest of my evening dreading Monday, so I think the sharing of my movie inspo is just about all I’ve got in me for today.
I typically make a habit of reporting on my 31 Days of Horror progress on social media, but I don’t think I’ll be doing too much of that this year. Not sure I want to call attention to my lackluster efforts. Still, if you are one of maybe two people who check in around this time of year to see what I’m reading, watching, or otherwise horror-ing–hi, and hello! I am gonna do my very best (but let’s keep our expectations very low!)
Okay, so if you are searching for Barbarian on Amazon, do not accidentally search their catalog for Barbarians–plural, with an S. Because that movie does actually exist, and it’s a relatively recent release, and if you don’t know anything about either, it’s easy enough to mistake one for the other and accidentally purchase an AMC+ membership so that you can watch a film that wasn’t even the one you wanted to watch in the first place. Doh!
It’s okay though, because I was really entranced by that first free episode of Interview with the Vampire, and had resigned myself to having to pay for the service anyway!
So…just to be clear and if you need some visual cues for your brain to latch on to–Barbarian has Bill Skarsgård and Barbarians has Ramsay Bolton from GoT, and I don’t know about you, but the practices of the cruel and beastly House Bolton, Ramsay in particular, freaked me out so badly that I NEVER want to see anything else with that actor in it. I can’t even look at his face.
The Barbarian trailer, refreshingly, doesn’t give away the whole story, and I love this one reviewer’s succinct synopsis: “two strangers explore a basement.” I mean…that is accurate, I guess! As we begin to see in the trailer, Tess has come to Detroit for an interview and she arrives at her AirBnB to find it already occupied by Keith (Skarsgård.) What follows is horrifying in an awkward and uncomfortable sense, and if you are someone who cringes at these exchanges, then you will just want to crawl right out of your skin. Neither one of them are in the wrong, and both of them have the right to be pissed, but as a woman, Tess’ situation is more fraught, because she is a woman alone at night in a particularly sketchy part of town, in a situation with a man who is complete stranger. Also, that stranger is Bill Skarsgård, so I think we as viewers are already feeling tense and stressed for Tess, because when does anything good ever come from an encounter with that guy? He’s bending over backward in these scenes to come off as polite and unthreatening, and to put her at ease– and it’s really just amping up the tension and having the complete opposite effect. I typically don’t consider casting in my evaluation of these films, but he was such an excellent choice. During these scenes, I found myself having to look away from the screen even more than I might during a slasher film gore-fest, it just pushed all of my social anxiety buttons. I was actually wishing and hoping for a monster to come rampaging in and begin ripping them limb from limb!
The tension is eventually diffused, they spend a weird and restless night in the house, and the next day Tess does actually make it to the interview. I don’t think it’s lost on us that Tess, a black woman, has come to Detroit to interview with a white woman documentarian for a project about jazz that she is working on. That’s a sentence of things to think about. The neighborhood where the AirBnB is located is an absolute atrocity, worse than we could have imagined from our initial nocturnal glimpse of it. Yet Tess goes back to the house. She hears some noises and heads down to the basement, looking for Keith. She gets locked in, finds a secret door, and not only goes through it (NO TESS!) but finds a series of other doors and goes through them, too. And there’s some really disturbing shit down there! Panicked, she makes her way back to the main basement room, and luckily Keith is outside and is able to pull her out through a window. AND THEN THEY GO BACK DOWN TO THE BASEMENT. Oh, Keith. Oh, Tess.
I won’t say anything more than that. This was the sort of film-watching experience where I could actually hear my own heart thudding in my ribcage, it really did trigger a fight or flight response. Interestingly, at key points when things were getting really bananas, the scene would cut to something, or somewhen else entirely, from the horrors of that basement to Justin Long driving along the coast in his convertible (turns out he is the current owner of that property), to an idyllic suburban scene where we learn a bit about the previous (?) owner of the house. These changes in scenery give you a chance to breathe and gather your bearings, as you’re gathering new information and maybe piecing together what is happening.
This is the sort of film where, as you’re in the midst of watching it, you feel like you’re given just enough to think…”ok, I see the fuzzy logic in how we’re making it from point A to point B here”. But immediately after you’ve watched it, you’re like HUH?? At any rate, that’s how I felt.
Have you seen Barbarian? (Or Barbarians?) I’d love to know what you thought of this one!
HOLY CARPS! How are we practically at the end of the month already? I’ve only got three days left to watch all the movies that I wanted to fit into this month! And the thing about this that’s making it hard to pull off is that this is the last weekend before a major book deadline on Monday! And the worst part about that? A year ago, when I was signing contracts and whatnot…October 31 is the date that I CHOSE for this deadline. WHY did I do that?? Stupid, short-sighted past-me!
Ah, well. This just means that instead of packing the weekend full of back-to-back watches, I just need to be more discerning. I think I have a few ideas! Which includes today’s film: The Invitation.
Evie is a struggling artist in New York, working part-time catering jobs while going to school for her MFA. She grabs a gift back from a recent event she worked, contents which include a bottle of wine and a DNA test. You know, typical swag bag stuff. Freshly grieving the death of her mother a few months past and having no immediate family of her own, Evie is intrigued and submits a sample with the hopes of finding some kin, somewhere. And apparently, family exists! A posh, British, very, very white Oliver Alexander, who charms her over a lunch meeting and convinces her to fly to England as an all-expenses-paid guest for an extravagant family wedding.
What ensues has already been revealed by the trailers for the film, but I think even without the spoilery head’s-up, we could have figured out where this was headed, or at least the broad strokes of it. It’s all laid out right there on the poster art, isn’t it? One of the major reasons that horror movies are so much fun is the element of mystery and intrigue, and The Invitation just didn’t even bother with any of that. And while I loved the idea for this story and all of the gothic tropes of the ancestral family secrets, the atmospheric mansion, the romance with the brooding lord of the manor– somehow the particulars were just…predictable and plodding.
The upsides? The lavish costumes, the gorgeous English manor house, that sumptuous scene with the table of bounty and the guests in their masquerade finery. And it would be remiss of me not to mention Evie’s best friend, who had some of the best lines in the film.
Was it awful? No way! I’d almost call it a bit of comfort viewing, it had all of the pieces of a story that I would generally gravitate toward, and even though it wasn’t spectacular, I don’t regret the time I spent with the film. So if you’ve got a rainy evening ahead of you filled with tea and knitting (or your cozy hobby of choice) I actually think The Invitation is perfect for such an occasion.
And…a totally unrelated bonus!
Many moons ago I interviewed the inimitable Jill Tracy with regard to her long-in-the-works unprecedented project and sonic excavation, The Secret Music of Lily Dale, a rare peek into the famed little New York town that talks to the dead. Well! After much anticipation, The Secret Music of Lily Dale will materialize befittingly on All Souls Day/Day of the Dead on November 2. If you backed the project, you probably know all of this already and have received your items, but if not, you can read more about this extraordinary effort over on Jill’s blog.
Ok. So. Let me get this out of the way first thing. I don’t think this is a surprise to anyone, but I’m a bit of a snob. There are some things I immediately dismiss out of hand because, well…because everyone else loves them. Or because they feel a bit too mainstream and therefore, dumbed-down. Stuff that feels like it is catering to the lowest common denominator. Like, if you’re a horror fan that gets excited about a new James Wan movie, or a new Conjuring universe installment, I’m not saying you’re not a “real” horror fan, whatever that even means, but I will say that I am probably not going to trust your taste very much.
And I know, we contain multitudes. You could love something dumb like Malignant AND some very cool weird avant-garde old Giallo films AND the most amazing-crazy bizarre, grotesque Junji Ito stories and a whole bunch of other stuff that I deem awesome, but as soon as I hear certain keywords, I’m shutting down and not hearing any more of it.
I do sincerely hope you don’t give a fart what I think is cool! But this is some explanation and excuses for my bad behavior, I guess.
And I know these are not the most attractive qualities; it makes me an elitist, dismissive butthole. I’m not unaware! Anyway! Sometimes I get wild hair to veer off in an unexpected direction and see what “the people” are into. And all of a sudden I wanted to watch an Annabelle movie. And you might be like “uh yeah sure, Sarah, the peasants from FIVE YEARS AGO might have been into this–not only are you snooty and rude, you are desperately behind the times.”
Well, friends, this is how–for the first time in decades– I ended up being too scared to finish watching a horror movie.
An origin story for one of the creepiest dolls in cinematic history–and why wouldn’t I want to watch this story? I am a collector of creepy dolls, I LOVE creepy dolls! Although I will say though that the Annabelle doll is singularly unlovely–it centers on a group of orphans who go to live in a large, isolated home when their orphanage closes. The home is owned by a couple whose only daughter died twelve years earlier; the wife is played by Eowyn/Miranda Otto, and I will confess that this may have factored into my reasoning for wanting to watch this movie. I am always keen to see my LotR companions showing up in other stories. Except for Orlando Bloom. I have never cared less for a character than I did that elf.
We mainly follow Janice, a young girl weakened by polio and who is the first to be preyed upon by the doll and whatever evil forces are at work here in this big, creepy house. This feels especially mean and nasty to me, to target poor, unwell Janice, who is already struggling health-wise and feeling left out from the other girls. Curious and bored, Janice can’t keep herself out of locked rooms, where she wasn’t supposed to be. And this is of course, what opens her up to everything that follows.
I watched about 40 minutes of Annabelle: Creation, spread over the course of two nights. I don’t know what it was exactly that freaked me out so badly, perhaps it was just poor, helpless Janice unable to defend herself from the inevitable. There’s lots of furtive movement in the shadows and jump-scares and just an overall feeling of horrible, intense dread. I turned it off and ended up reading about the rest of the story over at The Conjuring Universe wiki page. I should note that this is how I consumed the entirety of the Saw franchise. Sometimes you just want to know what you’re missing, but you don’t want to subject yourself to the tedium of watching nine whole movies!
I’d like to end this with “so this is how I learned my lesson about looking down my nose at things.” But …you know. No lessons have been learned.
I ended up reading more of a current title from my TBR stack: The Turnout by Megan Abbott. This is not horror, but it really does somehow feel horror-adjacent. It’s an intense story about sisters and secrets and betrayals and tragedies, set against the “hothouse of a family-run ballet studio.” This feels like the kind of book that my friend and poet Sonya Vatomsky might describe as something that came about because the author fell down a rabbit hole of research for personal reasons, but then ended up writing a niche sort of book about it. I mean…there’s definitely A LOT about ballet in this book. More than I ever thought I wanted to know. But in the context of the story, it’s fascinating! I think I am only a few chapters from the end at this point, and it’s an absolutely mesmerizing, terribly irresistible read.
“…the scent of a cool, smoky wind that clings to your hair and scarf after a walk in the waning light of a fall afternoon. Though a tussle of leaves has tumbled to the acorn-specked soil, most remain a soft serenade of green and pale, glowing yellow. Autumn Rhythm is a perfume of promise and patience as the trees slowly shed what no longer serves them, the dead and dying detritus of leaves, bark, needles, cones, and twigs, earthy, leathery, woody, and bitter. A strange melancholic verdancy–not crisp, but the tender, mossy dream of it. All of these notes, are captured in a warm woolen halo of cashmere stitches and sweet musky skin. This is autumnal perfection.”
Truly, this perfume is the olfactory version of Ray Bradbury’s “Autumn People”:
“For some, autumn comes early, stays late through life where October follows September and November touches October and then instead of December and Christ’s birth, there is no Bethlehem Star, no rejoicing, but September comes again and old October and so on down the years, with no winter, spring, or revivifying summer. For these beings, fall is the ever normal season, the only weather, there be no choice beyond. Where do they come from? The dust. Where do they go? The grave. Does blood stir their veins? No: the night wind. What ticks in their head? The worm. What speaks from their mouth? The toad. What sees from their eye? The snake. What hears with their ear? The abyss between the stars. They sift the human storm for souls, eat flesh of reason, fill tombs with sinners. They frenzy forth. In gusts they beetle-scurry, creep, thread, filter, motion, make all moons sullen, and surely cloud all clear-run waters. The spider-web hears them, trembles—breaks. Such are the autumn people. Beware of them.”
I’m several seasons behind when it comes to American Horror Story, and I guess if I am being honest, I will admit that I lost interest the second they brought the coven back, in whatever season that was. Sure, witches are great, but once you start recycling stuff on a show that’s supposed to be innovative and transgressive and boundary-pushing, it feels a little lazy and I get bored with it.
But I’ve reached the point in my 31 Days of Horror when it seems rather punitive,the thought of spending a whole two hours watching something. This sends me desperately seeking shorter and more easily digestible chunks o’horror, and hour-long episodes of random tidbits are perfect for this. And there was AHS: NYC on Hulu, so I thought, eh, why not?
This eleventh season of American Horror Story finds us in New York City, circa the early 80’s, a very specific time and subculture. Someone is brutally murdering gay men, and this seems neither innovative nor transgressive in terms of horror or in terms of anything. A detective is disturbed and wary, as he doesn’t want his colleagues to discover that he is a gay man, himself. His boyfriend, older, and a reporter, didn’t go through all he went through just to have to pretend to be something he isn’t, and is disappointed with his lover’s lack of gumption and frustrated at the city’s lack of concern regarding the murders. There is a giant, scary leather daddy reminiscent of the Rubber Man from earlier seasons. There is Zachary Quinto being a creepy pervert. There are apparently only three lesbians in the entire city. There is an entirely different storyline where Billie Lourde is a scientist analyzing a mysterious and highly contagious virus that is affecting the deer population on Fire Island. The end of this episode, the whole of which feels very much like a police procedural, sees a posse of law enforcement officials rounding up and killing the deer.
There is also Patti Lupone in a series of amazing, sparkly headdresses, singing torch songs at a bathhouse/bar.
Unlike yesterday’s Interview With the Vampire, I’m not sure how I feel about this yet. I’ll probably watch some more of this? Question mark?
If you’ve spent any time on this blog over the past decade or have ever peeked at my social medias, you will have seen frequent mentions of the monthly horror periodical, Rue Morgue magazine. I have been reading since 2007–this issue with The Host on the cover was the first copy I ever bought! I remember seeing it on the magazine stand in a Borders bookstore when I was living in New Jersey, and thinking “where have you been all of my life?” I finally began subscribing the next year, and I recall receiving the first issue on my birthday…along with an IRS notice that I owed money…but I didn’t even care, because I was so excited to start reading. And I have been an obsessed subscriber ever since. This is the only magazine I have ever subscribed to in my whole entire life. And no, I don’t count Martha Stewart Living, because that was a gift from someone. But yes–Martha Stewart AND Rue Morgue! The multitudes, I contain them!
This month when I received my issue, I let out a shriek that could probably be heard all the way up in the RM headquarters in Canada. There I am, in a two-page feature about The Art of Darkness! EEEEEEEEEEEK!
It wasn’t an exclamation of surprise, of course. I was expecting it at some point and had answered a Q&A for it a few months ago. But …to see it in print, in front of me! Wowee. An absolute dream come true on so many levels. Though obviously, I am a huge fan of horror movies, it’s the section dedicated to forthcoming horror books, novels, comics, etc., that I have always flipped to first, and for these many years I have thoroughly enjoyed reading about the titles that Monica Kuebler singles out to feature that month. So to be interviewed by Monica was so freaking cool.
In my responses, I rambled quite a bit, but of course, there was room to include only so much. I talked about the importance of sitting with dark uncomfortable feelings instead of pretending they don’t exist, and I mentioned that as someone who hates talking about my feelings and emotions, looking at art is helpful in at least thinking about them. Another thing I talked about was the books that I stole from my mother’s bookshelf, that I was probably too young to be reading, but which were pretty formative. Dracula and Frankenstein, and The Zombies That Ate Pittsburgh, a George Romero biography!
One thing she asked me about that didn’t make it into the article, was who this book was intended for:
I think any human who has ever had a feeling about anything should flip through this book and see what speaks to them, and follow it where it takes you. It’s not a book solely intended for Debbie Downers (although I see you out there, and I love you, Debbie!) It’s for everyone, all of us. But…while I’m not saying it’s a book for children… I am also saying this is a book for all of the bookish eleven-year-old oddballs and outcasts out there, who are reaching for weirdness and wonder in whatever places they can find it. My secret goal for it, and I don’t think I’ve ever acknowledged it until just this second, was to create a book of strangeness and beauty that I would have been absolutely compelled to sneak off my mother’s shelf, and that would have served to put the plant the seeds in my head and heart that grew and guided me to become the ghoul I am today.
So, okay, maybe mentioning all of this is cheating at my 31 Days of Horror…but maybe not. When I think of all the scary movies I watched in my life, all of the demons and darkness, the monsters and madness, the frenzied, fiendish fodder in the books and stories and poetry that haunted and possessed my brain by the time I wrote The Art of Darkness–it doesn’t feel like a cheat at all. This is a celebratory moment!
But ok, if we’re strictly adhering to the rules, I will report that in Doki Doki Literature Club, things are getting dark. The girls are saying weird, concerning shit and being glitchy and a Very Bad Thing happened but I won’t say what because it could be spoilery (I don’t know if the story plays out the same way for everyone?)
I have also just started Volume Three of John Allison’s Steeple, and again, long-time readers probably know of my deep and abiding love for John Allison. Steeple is a story described thusly: “a supernatural tale of friendship, the devil, and moral gray areas. Two women with wildly different worldviews become unlikely friends as they navigate the supernatural happenings in a sleepy coastal parish—and soon find themselves forced to choose sides in the war between good and evil.” Allison’s stories have always had an element of mystery or the supernatural–though often the monsters are meant more as metaphors–but really, no matter who or what he is writing about, I love all of John Allison’s characters, how they grow, evolve & age, & how he introduces us to new generations of weirdos for us to love and root for. Change is scary but I never feel so emboldened to embrace it as when following the adventures & friendships he brings to life.
For day 22 I am feeling awfully poorly. I have a miserable headache and my think-noodles are absolute mush, so I’m afraid I’ve got to phone this one in. And I bet you think that pun was intended but after I typed it out and reread it I was like OH SARAH NO. But yes. I am phoning in my thoughts The Black Phone.
I had zero expectations for this film, and I honestly wasn’t even going to watch it, but after trying and failing to watch She Dies Tomorrow, I decided it was a night for something way less abstract and depressing. But I am determined to revisit that film, because sometimes abstract and depressing is a whole mood and you just have to go with it. It wasn’t last night, though. Is it kind of snobby to say I wanted the kind of movie that would be spoonfed to me? Probably? But that’s how I settled on The Black Phone.
So here’s the story, not in my own words, because the head that makes the words happen is waiting for the ibuprofen to kick in: “Shy and clever Finney Shaw is abducted by a sadistic killer nicknamed The Grabber. He’s trapped in a soundproofed basement where no one can hear him, but he’s not alone. A disconnected phone starts to ring and the killer’s previous victims are on the other end. They are determined to help Finney escape their fate.”
This was…actually pretty fantastic. The kids were great, just the right combination of sassy and smart and sensitive…and of course, sad, living with a grieving alcoholic father with a tendency to use his belt rather than his words. Ethan Hawke as The Grabber was queasy and nightmarish, and the story was taut and immersive…and the story had a lot of heart, while the heart of it was still, absolutely, horror. I also appreciated that it was not bloated, screentime-wise, or with any unnecessary story bits. Although…I would like to know a bit more about the whys of The Grabber, but maybe that backstory is to be found in Joe Hill’s source material.
But of course, the best part of the movie? I think you guys all know what I am going to say. And when I finally find the perfect occasion to use this line, it’s all over for you dumb fucking fart knockers.
Society is one of those movies that have been on my radar for as long as I’ve remembered seeing it on the horror movie shelf at Blockbuster, but I’d never really been intrigued enough to watch it in those days, and as time went on, it was just forgotten. A friend messaged me about it on Instagram the other day, asking if I’d heard of it or seen it, and all of a sudden, I was brought back to those Friday evenings, scouring the shelves for the most lurid VHS covers, and I reflected on all the times I had passed it over. Now’s the time, I thought!
Many horror blogs on the internet will have you believe that Society is a MUST-SEE for a “true horror movie fan.” I don’t know about that.
The long and short of it is that rich, privileged Billy is plagued with strange fears and paranoia with regard to his well-to-do Beverly Hills family; despite the fact that he seems to have everything going for him, he feels increasingly alienated and a deep unease that under the glossy veneer of the respectable folk in his family and their well-bred connections, something terrible lurks in wait. There’s a lot of typical 80s humor and gratuitous boobage and for the most part, it seems like an overly drawn-out joke that’s getting old before it’s getting funny…but then you get to the last ten minutes of the film. Then the squelching begins.
This is a bizarre offering that has garnered cult-movie status and reviewers often note its surreal nature and the element of satire that runs through, and while I don’t disagree, I also think that those aspects (which we may tend to think of in terms of “elevating” the story being told) are squashed by a really poorly written story and characters that don’t make a damn bit of sense. There’s a scene in which Billy is hanging out with his new romantic interest and she asks “How do you like your tea? Cream? Sugar? Or do you want me to pee in it?” WHAT! And what is even UP with that girl’s MOTHER? She’s cuckoo bananas and looks, as several other folks have observed, like she wandered in from a nearby John Waters set.
What I do find extra funny is that casting people from all five of the major mainstream daytime soaps (AND Baywatch) saw Billy Warlock in this strange little low-budget b-movie and thought “yeah, that’s our guy! Yessir, that’s our A.J. Quartermain right there.”
While I did not love this film, of course it goes without saying that I loved everything about this background character and her high volume, towering tresses. Alas, this goddess and her shocking locks were not assigned a single line. Someone on Twitter suggested that her companion in this scene was the Encyclopedia Britannica kid, hee hee!
A few years ago I was chatting online with a friend and I recall something they said that fucked with my head a little. A lot, if I’m honest. That wasn’t their intent, and they weren’t trying to do anything other than talk about their own personal style and preferences, but for some reason it really impacted me. They said something to the effect that they didn’t tend to go for things that were “too on the nose.”
I thought about that in terms of the 50 million plastic sparkly skulls lying around my house and the halloween decorations up year round and all of the ways that darkness and weirdness took shape in my home and the way I dressed, and I got really embarrassed. Thinking maybe I was too dorky and kitschy and lowbrow and too obvious or something. Again, I know they didn’t intend this, but I really overthink things and I tend to grab on to things people say about themselves and somehow make it all about me and that’s no one’s fault but my own.
Anyway, over the years, I’ve internalized that conversation, trying to make my dark and strange aesthetic inclinations more posh or abstract or avant garde or whatever. I don’t know why I’m so influenced by what people think and say, but I am, and that’s what happened.
I’ve been trying to let that go recently. It’s okay to be a little on the nose, I think. It doesn’t mean you’re a dumb-dumb and you have no depths. And it’s a lot of fun, sometimes. And you should just like what you like and not worry about making it palatable for anyone else.
SO… here is my How To Wear a very on-the-nose Halloween.