Every horror movie I was trying to watch was stressing me out tremendously. I find when that happens, maybe I need to switch to watching a non-English film. There is something about a foreign film–maybe it’s a bit of disconnect because of subtle (or wild) cultural differences, maybe a slight distance because of the buffer of subtitles–whatever it is, it works for me.
Dead & Beautiful is a film I stumbled upon when trying to find something that was technically horror but that wouldn’t jangle my nerves. A group of five fashionable friends from insanely wealthy families treat each other to fabulous adventures– because they are bored and have lots of money, and because they can. They have become so jaded that these experiences have become increasingly extravagant and exotic, and oftentimes cruel, and dangerous, and this is where the film opens. After a woozy, weird visit to a shaman in the middle of a jungle, the group regains consciousness to realize they have all suddenly become vampires. Or, perhaps, this transformation merely reveals the vicious, selfish things they have been all along?
If you’re in the mood for a horror film that feels more like a supernatural Chinese soap opera, I think you could do worse than this one. Is it great? Nope. Is everybody gorgeous? Heck yeah. And sometimes that’s enough.
I had never even heard of I Like Bats(Polish, Lubie Nietoperze, 1986) until I ordered Kier-La Janisse’s expanded edition of House of Psychotic Women, and the book was part of a pre-order bundle that came with, along with other things, a massive glossy poster for the film (below.) I still have not found room for it on any wall in our home, but I’ve been intrigued ever since.
The bundle also came with a box set of Blu-rays which included this movie and I totally forgot about this crucial piece of information …and ended up watching it on Shudder instead.
It did not come with the Polish version of the poster, but I included an image of it as well because it’s pretty wild.
Izabella sells her one-of-a-kind pottery at her eccentric aunt’s curio shop. She has a little bat sanctuary on her roof. She’s single and gorgeous and also a vampire who preys on local sleazebags and sex murderers and she is basically living her best life. Her aunt, between passing along messages from hideous antique portraits and casually levitating in her velvet housedresses, harangues Isabelle about getting a man, but Isabelle isn’t interested.
…Until one afternoon, a handsome psychotherapist visits the shop and purchases one of Izabella’s bat-wing tea sets, and upon gazing upon him, Izabella falls singularly, absurdly in love. Unfortunately, much like she had spurned the advances of the local men pursuing her, this stranger coldly rejects her overtures. Undeterred and inflamed with this newfound passion, Izabella checks herself into the asylum where the doctor works, and confesses her vampirism, declaring that she wants to be cured. Hilariously, she shares with the other patients that she is being treated for nymphomania, and speaking of lots of sex, there are some wildly ridiculous sex scenes between a studly handyman and a horny nurse–their activities looked more like charades than coitus–and I was cackling so hard I couldn’t breathe.
Obviously there’s more to it, but that’s it for my rambling synopsis, so here are a few screencaps that caught my eye. I Like Bats was weird and fun and an absolute hoot.
Anyhow, I heard of it somewhere, and I’ve been meaning to watch this slightly surreal, somewhat silly ~but very pretty~ vampire film for some time now. Well, it’s kind of a vampire film. They’re playing a bit fast and loose with that part.
Free-spirited couple Lee and Susan meet up with the enigmatic Diane Le Fanu at an art gallery function and she invites them to come hang out for a few days at her estate deep in the desert. The guests begin having strange erotic dreams about their host and, along with her flirty attention to Lee, it is driving a bit of a jealous wedge between them. Sexy dune buggy metaphors, haunted mine shafts, sun tan snake bites, midnight mind control, mummified husbands, and some dated, uncomfortable treatment of indigenous people ensue.
That dune buggy scene, though! Plowing through the desert sands, flying over the hills, screeching to a stop where Lee and Susan’s car has broken down on the highway on their way to her home – I am LIVING for Diane and her dune buggy! I am also living for her fabulous ensembles, all sorts of silk and sparkles! In one scene she is dressed just like Velma from Scooby Doo, and in the film’s final moment, a crowd tears off her pristine cream-colored cape to reveal a highly-impractical-for-traveling Zatanna-esque little get-up. Unfortunately, she doesn’t stand still enough to get a good screencap of it, so you’ll just have to watch it and see for yourself.
Abby and Hope’s father disappeared several years back and their mom hasn’t been quite right ever since. It’s safe to say almost everyone who lives in Doubtful has suffered a similar tragedy, whether it’s a family member or friend, most residents of this haunted town know someone who has been taken by The Stitcher. Or worse, who has been returned by The Stitcher, chopped and mangled and sewn back together, hideously mutilated and utterly unrecognizable. More often than not, these grotesquely damaged corpses are missing several parts.
Things go weird before The Stitcher strikes. Technology becomes unreliable and stops working altogether. The animals begin acting in odd, disturbing ways. In their homes, many folks have increasingly horrific nightmares. This is when following the rules becomes especially important. Never be outside after dark. Never walk through town alone. And keep far, far away from Charles Vickers, a bizarre and unpleasant man who most suspect of being behind the murders, and who seems to obscenely revel in the accusations. Vickers always has an alibi and the police haven’t got anything on him, though–so maybe there really is a supernatural, monstrous entity behind the killings, after all?
Abby and Hope aren’t alone, though; along with loyal friends Rhys, Riya, Connor, and Jen, the new girl who refuses to believe in town conspiracies or things that go bump in the night–they comprise The Jackrabbits. A jackrabbit never drops its guard, it’s always ready to run–and run fast. And most importantly, it survives.
And then Hope gets taken. From her bedroom, in the middle of the night, without a sound. Desperate to find her sister and to find answers, Abby will stop at nothing to get Hope back–and her friends are with her every step of the way.
This book was freaky as hell! I worried though; in stories like this, I feel that freakiness is unsustainable because it massively hinges on the unknown. When we’re left to our own devices to fill in the blanks in a horror story, almost everything we come up with is going to be scarier than the actual answer, whenever the author reveals it. Even if it’s tremendously horrific! Because as soon as we know it, the power of that fear is taken away.
I will say that even though that may be the case in Where He Can’t Find You, when the story pivots in that direction it becomes something else entirely: a high-stakes adventure where everything–the lives of friends, family, even the fate of the town of Doubtful– is on the line.
Where He Can’t Find You by Darcy Coates is available on November 7, 2023. I grabbed an ARC from NetGalley and got to read it a bit early–and it really was a great read for Spooky Season.
Last night we had company and the likelihood of talking Yvan and his brothers into watching The Velvet Vampire seemed very slim, so Meg 2: The Trench it was.
While I do have a fondness for the unknowable abyss and claustrophobic isolation horrors of both deep sea and deep space cinema, the Meg movies are basically like a bigger, goofier Jaws plus the cast and attitude of the Fast & Furious movies (Jason Statham and Vin Diesel are kinda interchangeable), and I don’t know if I can actually call it them horror movies. But if people being swallowed whole by a prehistoric “apex predator” isn’t horrific, then what is, right? Also “apex predator,” ugh. This dialogue. What is the collective noun for a group of bros? Whatever that is, the dialogue was written by this bunch of bros. Brundle of bros?
Is Meg 2: The Trench a great movie? No, it is not. Is it a good movie? It is not that, either. And if you got excited about it because you heard that Ben Wheatley directed it and you were maybe hoping for the artsy-fartsy vibes of A Field In England or Kill List or High Rise–ha! Sucker! Nope.
Was it at least good enough mindless fun to accompany a greasy meat-lovers pizza and several beers? Technically yes. And I literally have nothing else to say for it.
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.”