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.
I have been doing 31 Days of Horror on an annual basis since 2016, and most of my reviews and thoughts on all of that autumnal-tinged, horror-related material ended up as posts over on Haute Macabre blog. Which, as that blog no longer exists, means that my writings are no longer there. You’ve heard me bemoan these circumstances before, and there’s really nothing to get into and no point in getting worked up about it, that’s just the nature of the internet.
Still! I hate the thought that I can’t easily access any of those writings, so I am slowly, tediously, retrieving them from archive.org and reposting them here, at Unquiet Things. Please forgive me if some of these links still direct you to archive.org pages…it took forever to go through and change them, and I may have missed some!
Anyhow, if you have a few minutes to yourself and want to do a bit of time traveling–all the way back to 2020!– grab yourself a pumpkin spiced latte and an apple cider donut or whatever your October treats of choice might be, and dive into my entire month of 31 Days of Horror from October 2020.
Kuroneko. Adapted from folklore, Kuroneko is a ghostly tale of two women’s revenge on the cruel samurai who violated and murdered them before setting their forest hut ablaze. The slain women are transformed into avenging cat-spirits after a black cat laps at the blood from their charred remains. Dramatic and austere, eerie, and elegant, this is a chillingly poetic and utterly gorgeous film.
The Witch in the Window. Undeterred by the realization that they’re most likely living with a malicious spirit, an estranged father and son continue their work on a fixer-upper farmhouse and in the process make strides toward repairing their relationship. I thought this film had a genuinely freaky moment or two, but mostly it was sweet and a bit sad. I appreciated the thoughtfulness that went into developing the dynamic between a parent trying to reconnect with a child who is growing up too fast, and I think the film’s effectiveness, for me, was rooted more in that emotional landscape than the ghost-witch-whatever was going on there.
In Fabric.What a weird fucking film. But I guess that’s Peter Strickland for you. In this strange, quasi-comedic commentary on consumerism and commodification, a swanky red murder dress on display at an eccentric department store curses and corrupts its ill-fated victims. (But it was on sale!) I suppose there are tinges of the giallo in this film, but it just…doesn’t feel like a giallo film to me? And the humor is off-putting in that oddly queasy way you feel when someone’s joke falls flat and everyone laughs a bit uneasily, and the silence afterward is unnerving and awful. In Fabric isn’t scary so much as it is disorienting and nasty and despite all of that, totally mesmerizing.
Clown in a Cornfield This book has been on my radar since it started showing up in several “hotly anticipated horror fiction for 2020!” lists back at the end of 2019. I don’t think I realized at the time it was a YA title, but honestly, there’s nothing kid-friendly about it. I mean, I’m not critiquing it for being a violent, bloody slasher-film-in-novel-format — it was actually a great deal of fun and was a retro reminder for me of some of the books I enjoyed as a pre-teen and teen (which I’m pretty sure were in no way considered YA, whoops!) A new girl trying to make the best of her situation, prankster classmates, generational tensions, and a highly implausible killer-clown situation added up to a delightful read that I sped through over the course of an afternoon. The pace and imagery really does read like a movie, so I was not surprised to learn that the film rights have already been optioned
The Final Girls. My partner does not like horror movies. He reasons that real life is horrific enough and he doesn’t need the extra stress and bummers of celluloid brutality and monstrousness. I guess I get it, and while I don’t totally disagree, I think we are just wired differently. I feel somewhat similarly but whereas he is repulsed by horror, I am fascinated by it. At any rate, we do reach some compromises; if it’s a zombie film or a horror-comedy, I can usually talk him into sharing popcorn and a scary film with me. Our compromise this year was the 2015 The Final Girls, which we’ve actually been meaning to watch since. Well. Since 2015, probably. Even with the not-so-scary films, it takes five years of convincing with this guy!
Playing with the “final girl” trope, wherein because of the privilege of some sort of moral superiority (she’s usually a virgin), the final girl is the last girl(s) or woman alive to confront the killer, and ostensibly the one left to tell the story. I don’t love making the construct of your virginity to be your saving grace; it doesn’t change your value or your identity and I’m not really going anywhere with that but I just wanted it noted, I guess. Although I bet Alex and Andrea, whom I will be mentioning below, no doubt get into that very thing at some point!
Antiquated and problematic notions of purity aside, The Final Girls was a hoot. The plot centers on a young woman whose mother, an actress in cult-classic horror B-movie Camp Bloodbath, dies in a traumatizing car crash. Three years later on the anniversary of her mother’s death, she attends a screening of the movie, and when trying to escape an accidental fire set in the theatre, she and her friends somehow become trapped within the movie itself.
The Final Girls was a silly, stupidly gory movie with a surprisingly deeper emotional core than I expecting, weighted with grief and loss and survivor’s guilt, but resilience and catharsis, too. I wouldn’t be surprised if the writer of this film experienced the death of a parent and was attempting to exorcise their sorrow and suffering through the script. You learn to recognize that pain, I think, once you’ve experienced it on some level for yourself. Anyway, I might have had some issues some of the key ideas in play in the film, but I ultimately really enjoyed it and thought it was a lot of fun.
Faculty of Horror I made an important discovery last week. A game-changer. One of those revelations that strikes you and you realize “I could have been doing it this way all along!” I learned that I can both knit a couple of fiddly repeats in a complex pattern AND listen to people talking about something! Typically I listen to instrumental music when I am knitting. Something darkly ambient and Lustmord-y or Hildegardbingen-y type monophony (which isn’t wordless I guess, but if I can’t understand the words, that amounts to the same thing.) I thought that listening to a discussion might become a distraction and screw up me and my stitches along the way.
It turns out I can do two things at once! I came to this epiphany whilst listening in to the most recent Faculty of Horror podcast, wherein hosts Alexandra West and Andrea Subissati examine the films Pyewacket and Hereditary, investigating the deepest depths of grief, despair and what we stand to lose (and gain) when we forsake our family for community.
Not only did I not drop a single stitch, I breathlessly hung on to every word of Andrea and Alex’s knowledgeable and passionate discussion of horror, through the lens of analysis and academia, along with their own individual perspective and personal reads. Before I knew it, the hour I’ve been dedicating every night to this slog of a shawl was up and I had barely aware it had passed! I will definitely be tuning into more Faculty of Horror and stay tuned in an upcoming installment of 31 Days of Horror when I dig into a more seasonally appropriate project!
Blacula I have been hearing about Blacula for what feels like my entire life, and yet somehow I had never seen it. And I guess what I mean is that while I couldn’t tell you what I’d heard about it, I was very much aware of its existence. It came across my radar again when I watched the excellent Horror Noire: A History of Black Horror just this past summer, and from the various hosts and guests insightful commentary I became increasingly aware that I must make a viewing of this film a priority.
In Blacula, Prince Mamuwalde, played with dapper dignity by Shakespearean actor and opera singer William Marshall, visits count Dracula to entreat his aid in ending the slave trade. Dracula, instead, bites Mamuwalde, cursing him to become Blacula, who is then sealed in a coffin for several lifetimes. Meanwhile, Mamuwalde’s beloved wife is imprisoned in the crypt and left to die. After his coffin is purchased by a pair of interior decorators in 1972, Blacula awakens with a thirst for blood.
I loved this film. It was campy and dated and …not visually spectacular, in that way that the effects and color in many B-movies from that era are not so great. But I thought it was such a fantastic story–a man, lonely and out of time, searching for the love of his life. There were some funny, light-hearted moments, and one genuinely freaky one, the sort of thing that you’ll see in the dark, in your mind’s eye, for many years to come. If like me, you have a great love of the horror genre and/or vampire films, but have not seen Blacula yet— do yourself a favor and watch it tonight.
Sweet, Sweet Lonely GirlSweet, Sweet Lonely Girl is a restrained, melancholy, and softly ominous drama, a sort of off-kilter romance with a gloomy, gothic 70s haunted house vibe plus a placid pace to test your patience. Adele is a quiet young woman who has the opportunity to escape her miserable home life for a time to play caregiver to her aunt, an aging recluse. Soon, she makes the acquaintance of Beth, a pretty young woman with a free-spirited and mysterious “bad girl” aura that is somehow both vague and definitive at once. Adele– isolated, friendless, vulnerable, and naïve, soon develops an intense crush on Beth and falls under her corrupting thrall to the point of neglecting her duties to her aunt. If you dig films like Let’s Scare Jessica To Death, or Burnt Offerings or some of the themes in Jean Rollin’s films, I think you’ll enjoy Sweet, Sweet, Lonely Girl.
The Color Out of Space Color Out Of Space was a film I have been waiting a long time to see, and it was ridiculous and hammy but utterly gorgeous and pretty wild and worth the wait. If you haven’t read the H.P. Lovecraft story or have not seen the other film adaptations, the story can be summed up thusly: in the wild hills west of the fictional town of Arkham, Massachusetts, many years ago a meteorite crashed there, poisoning every living thing nearby; vegetation grows large and strange and foul, animals are driven mad and deformed into grotesque shapes, and the people go insane or die one by one. Sounds trippy, right? This version of the film was particularly so (and if you’ve seen the film Mandy, then perhaps you, like me, have come to believe that these are the roles that Nicholas Cage WAS BORN FOR.)
It had a strangely amusing moment that didn’t quite fit with the rest of the film. Did anyone else see this? Remember the scene with the local news segment that referred to Nicolas Cage as a “bourbon connoisseur” (as well as “UFO Witness” and “Amateur Farmer,” ha!) You really didn’t see that humor in the rest of the film, which was kinda weird. I would have liked to have seen more of that, but then again, that might have turned it into a different movie entirely. If you enjoyed this version of the story, but have not seen the 2012 adaptation, I recommend that, as well!
The Strings I splurged and bought a weekend pass for Salem Horror Fest, which is probably nothing I’d ever go to in-person (I don’t like crowds, or …people…or crowds of people) even if they were doing an in-person version of it this year. Which they were not! So a virtual, on-demand version sounded just dandy to me.
The first film I chose, I will admit, I chose solely based on the thumbnail of a young woman’s face against a wintry backdrop. Without knowing the first thing about the story, that chilly and haunting imagery inexplicably called to me, and I don’t question these things. The Strings is the story of a young musician, Catherine (played by real-life musician, the incredibly gorgeous and talented Teagan Johnston of Little Coyote) who travels to her aunt’s remote coastal cottage on the shores of Prince Edward Island to work on new material in solitude. After visiting an abandoned and very possibly haunted farmhouse with a photographer friend-maybe-more-than-friend, eerie nighttime disturbances at the cottage begin plaguing Catherine her sense of reality begins to shift and crumble.
It’s a slow burn that might not be for everyone–also considering that while it’s not a musical, there is a fair bit of musical performance in it, and I know that’s not everyone’s cup of tea, either… but after watching The Strings, I was thoroughly satisfied that it alone was worth the price of admission for Salem Horror Fest. ALSO PLEASE MAKE A SOUNDTRACK AVAILABLE FOR THIS MOVIE!
Black Lake Black Lake was my second choice from Salem Horror Fest, again not based on anything more than the name. Oddly enough, it had quite a bit in common with The Strings. Aarya (K/XI) is a young artist who travels to the Scottish countryside for a housesitting gig that will also afford her some time away from her family to work on her paintings in solitude. A gift from a generous auntie turns out to be a cursed object in ways I’ll admit I did not entirely understand.
There was a lot to love here, though I must confess that I was watching this late at night and I may have had a couple of strong cocktails and by the end, I’d totally lost the thread of what was happening. Here is what I do know: Aarya has a fantastic collection of tee shirts (at one point she is wearing an Eraser Head tee; in the film’s opening sequence, she is wearing an Evil Dead tee shirt.) The visuals are a total sensualist’s dream: we see her digging her toes into the carpet, luxuriating in its texture; savoring a bowl of Lucky Charms, stopping to eat the marshmallows with her fingers, an extended clip of her preparing an afternoon coffee with that iconic little Moka pot–it sounds weird to say, and I don’t want to turn anyone off, but many portions of the film almost felt like a high production quality vlog. But it’s not all delicious beauty: the lens focuses with the same desire and relish on the grotesque as it does the greedy; similar hunger is shown for the delectable as it is the detestable (i.e. closeups on pulling hair from her mouth, dislodging glass shards from foot-flesh.)
I think I am discovering that the “artist traveling to an isolated spot to create in solitude; weirdness ensues” subgenre is my very favorite in horror, and it’s so strange to think that in knowing nothing about either of these Salem Horror Fest films, I chose these two specific films! Black Lake, I think, was more diverse in the themes it explored: violence against women and girls, cultural differences, sexuality, and art. But like The Strings, it had an amazing soundtrack, and this one is actually available. I was tempted to count it as a separate entry on the list, but nahh. It is very good, though!
I fell madly, deeply in love with both of the leads in both of the films–they are both incredible– and I am trying not to be weird and stalkery on social media. But also: hiiiiiiiii! I love you both!
The Return by Rachel Harrison Good golly. I tore through this book. Up until the point where I put it down and forgot about it and only finished it a few days ago (this is the other cheat I mentioned, as I actually started The Return sometime in September!) If you enjoy stories centered on female friendship and the complicated histories between friends and the secrets they share–or keep–from each other, and how sometimes a friend disappears and you give them up for dead but then they return but they’re all kinds of weird and fucked up and then you all go to a super creepy bespoke hotel in the mountains to reconnect …well, then you may enjoy The Return. I sure did!
Lovecraft Country poster by Ngabo D.Cesar aka El’Cesart Ok, so I am not yet ready to talk about Lovecraft Country, the story of weird-fiction fan and veteran Atticus Black in search of his missing father in 1950s Jim Crow America, where if the white supremacists don’t get you, the Shoggoths will. Monsters, ghosts, curses, magical treasure hunts were just a few of the pulp-noir adventures that we encountered in this bonkers HBO adaptation of the novel (which strangely enough, even though it seemed like it follows the exact same story, I could not get into at all.) As I am only four episodes into the show and have quite a bit of catching up to do, my day fourteen entry is for this dark, fantastical, emotionally-fraught poster art by Ngabo D. Cesar, aka El’Cesart, instead.
Ok ok, wait! One more thing. Earlier in this list, I mentioned the documentary Horror Noire, over the course of which a great many wonderful films are mentioned. One of them was Eve’s Bayou, which upon hearing the description, I immediately hunted down a copy and devoured it.
I’m not sure I’d call it a horror film…it’s more a southern gothic family drama, I think, threaded with themes of trauma and violence and grief and memory but also voodoo and swamp snakes. I watched this film and I fell in love with every character, every scene. Eve’s Bayou is a beautiful and sorrowful and haunting film–and wow, I know I use that word all the time, but it really applies here– and it’s the best thing I’ve watched in many, many years. (It is from 1997 though, and it definitely looks and feels like it.)
The main character, a little girl named Eve, is the main focus of the story, and she is played by the marvelously emotive and adorable actress Jurnee Smollett…WHO NOW PLAYS LETTIE IN LOVECRAFT COUNTRY. My partner and I may have let out little shrieks of glee when we realized this was the case!
Hubie Halloween . Yes, I watched Hubie Halloween on Netflix. It was one of those evenings where more time was spent looking for something interesting to watch than having watched an actual something would have taken me, and at a certain point you’ve got to know when to say, “okay, this as good as it gets tonight.” And for what it’s worth…it wasn’t the worst Adam Sandler movie I’ve ever seen?
So…Hubie Dubois earnestly and enthusiastically loves Halloween, and every year he goes to great lengths to ensure that the townfolk of Salem enjoy it safely. Of course, this sort of pure-hearted exuberance can often make one the target of scorn and derision by mean-hearted people who don’t understand you or what you’re all about, especially if you’re…well, if you’re one of the characters Adam Sandler plays. (He’s still with this goofy shtick? Lordy.) So of course Hubie is the butt of everyone’s jokes and the focal point of all manner of cruel pranks.
A killer escapes from a local mental institution, a weird neighbor may have lycanthropic tendencies, and a number of mysterious disappearances in the town are a few horror-movie tropes that make me feel like I was justified in putting this on the list, as well as the horror I felt when I actually realized I was laughing a few times. Ugh, body, why did you betray me like that? In my defense, Maya Rudolph (who is also in this film, along with several Adam Sandler film regulars), and she is forever a high priestess of hilarity.
Braid. A sumptuous, psychotic dress-up parable of the perverse peculiarities of power; a bitter frenzy of nightmarish friendship, and the disillusionment of dreams. I don’t know what else to say about this one. I don’t know what the hell I watched and I’d surely watch that nonsense again. Also: Braid is very pretty.
Relic The not-quite-viewing of Relic was a massive failure on my part. You only have two days to watch the movies that you rent from Amazon and that presents a bit of a challenge for my distracted “ten minutes here, ten minutes there, maybe I will finish it on Wednesday of next week” film-watching habits. In the span of two evenings, I got about a half-hour into the movie…but from what I saw, I was fairly intrigued. When Edna, an elderly woman goes missing, her workaholic and somewhat neglectful daughter, Kay, and granddaughter Sam, head out to her isolated, rural home to find her.
The house itself, while at the onset somewhat mundane, became even in my short viewing, awfully unnerving. Moldy walls, rotten fruit lying around, shadowy stairs and hallways, doors slightly ajar, ominous notes tucked away in pockets (“DON’T FOLLOW IT.”) Edna reappears within a few days, disoriented, and with no explanation of where she was. A doctor’s visit suggests Edna may be unwell and this is where I stopped watching, but from the woman’s behavior and having experienced this in my own life with aging relatives, it’s clear that a diagnosis of dementia is undoubtedly forthcoming. I’ll definitely be returning to this film to see what direction it takes–will it remain an intergenerational family drama creeping with psychological horror, or is something supernatural stalking these women?
I’m seeing people whose opinions I might generally trust falling into two camps with regard to The Haunting of Bly Manor, a current Netflix series based loosely on Henry James’ 1898 novella, The Turn of the Screw, and it seems like they either think it’s outstanding or, to quote a friend, “a total snoozefest.” I thought rather than watching it and determining its merits for myself, I would instead go straight to the source material, never having read it.
…and talk about a snoozefest. A ghost story about weirdly beautiful orphan kids being haunted by malevolent spirits and the naively courageous governess vowing to protect them (or who is perhaps going mad?) should be an absolute delight to read with a cup of tea on a blustery evening. I had the tea! I had the bluster! I had the sentences that went on for three paragraphs long with no sign of stopping! But…I didn’t really need that last one, ok? Listen, I have no problem with the language of 19th-century authors. But this? This writing is nearly impenetrable. I found myself shouting after trying and failing to read the same sentence for the fifth time in a row, “what the hell HENRY JAMES, are you getting paid BY THE WORD?” Having not read the short story before, I wasn’t entirely familiar with it, but yes, as it turns out, I think he was, as The Turn of the Screw first appeared in serial format in Collier’s Weekly magazine, running in 1898 from January 27th to April 16.
I haven’t exactly finished the story yet, but now I am thinking I will just switch over To Bly Manor, instead.
“What Happened to Japanese Horror?” This video essay is exactly what it sounds like, a condensed overview at the long cinematic history of Japanese horror. It’s a fascinating look at some cultural and genre touchstones as well as a neat opportunity to familiarize yourself with and learn more regarding some of the themes and ideas that one will find throughout Japanese horror films.
EXTE Hair Extensions While I was viewing the above video essay on Japanese horror, I was reminded of a film I’d heard of a few years ago with the silliest (yet somehow intriguing?) premise I could imagine: cursed hair extensions. I never had the opportunity to watch it, and so my knowledge and the memory of that knowledge was forgotten until just this weekend. I don’t think it’s an easily unearthed cinematic nugget, but if you don’t mind a crummy copy, you can watch it on YouTube.
Part family-drama, part police procedural, part bizarre genre entry, part shocking and macabre grotesquerie (let’s just say if the prospect of finding hair in your food makes you want to barf, then seeing it come out of someone’s eyeballs is really going to give you a problem) EXTE is many things and all of them add to what I thought was unhinged, brilliant fun. This is a Sion Shono film, so if that means anything to you, you’ll know what you’re getting in for. Also! It’s got Gogo Yubari in it, and I am always happy to see her in anything not related to Quentin Tarantino.
Double feature idea: I’ve just now become aware that a film called Bad Hair was just released on Hulu a few days ago and if I understand correctly, it is a horror-comedy about a killer weave? This plus EXTE would make for interesting back-to-back viewing!
Over the weekend I friend-sourced some ideas for horror shorts to fill up on when I was pressed for time, and I got so many wonderful suggestions! Thanks, friends. Feel free to check out the thread if you are interested, and share your recommendations, as well. (Thanks for this one, Kate!)
The narrator in this 1968 short, based on the M.R. James’ 1904 story, “Oh Whistle and I’ll Come To You My Lad” describes the author’s writing generally consisting of “peculiar atmosphere and cranky scholars” …and having read a great deal of Montague Rhodes James’ works, I don’t think I can argue with that summation of his measured, understated ghost stories. Nothing melodramatic or gory to startle you with, suddenly…but slowly, rather… through the subtle suggestion of fear and unsettling one’s imagination and one’s view of what is familiar — that’s the sort gentle terror that this particular author lulls you with.
“Oh Whistle and I’ll Come To You My Lad” as adapted by the BBC in 1968, is the tale of a stuffy, eccentric, and self-important academic who discovers a strange whistle while exploring a cemetery on the East Anglian coast. Inscribed with the eerie phrase, “Quis est iste qui venit” (“Who is this who is coming?”) the instrument, when blown, unleashes a supernatural force that terrorizes its discoverer–who of course, thinks he does not believe in such things.
Bonus material: Two r/nosleep stories & one blog post
The Third Day A psychological-horror drama in the form of a a six-part miniseries, in The Third Day we, along with Jude Law, are drawn to the mysterious, British island of Osea and its sinister secrets. I was originally interested in watching this because I’d heard that one of the co-creators of Punchdrunk had a hand in it (and you may know that Punchdrunk is the theatrical company responsible for our much beloved Sleep No More experiences.) I only watched two episodes this week, but it’s bizarre and gripping and I’ve seen just enough to know that I am invested in peeking back in at this place and these characters and hopefully figuring out what’s going on.
The Haunting of Bly Manor Last week I began reading The Turn of the Screw in anticipation of watching its current loosey-goosey Netflix adaptation, The Haunting of Bly Manor. Despite a friend’s reassurance that the book fucking rules (I’m paraphrasing here, but close enough) I needed a break from Henry James’ overwhelming long-windedness. I am only one episode in and I am perhaps prematurely in love with Owen and you’d better not make me regret sharing that confession, Owen! Don’t end up being some kind of asshole! I’ll watch another episode because I liked Flora’s dollhouse, but I didn’t see anything about the show to really hook me, just yet,
Dragula: Resurrection Ah, so here’s where we start watching things the whole way through! If you’ve not watched The Boulet Brothers bleeding-edge reality show wherein drag artists (including drag kings and non-binary, too!) compete for the filthy, horrifying, glamorous title of drag supermonster–well, I’ll wait. Watch seasons 1-3 and meet us back here. I’m not one for competition shows, they stress me out way too much. But I have loved Dragula since their wild and weird and wonderfully low-budget first season where I watched a challenge with the rivals getting buried alive.
“Resurrection” was a between-season special, during which they called past contestants back to compete against each other in three categories for an opportunity to be in season four. Due to the pandemic, they had to arrange things a bit differently than the typical Dragula set up in which the contestants are on camera hanging out together, designing costumes, planning performances, and being antagonistic and shitty to each other. And that’s fine with me! Those are the segments of the show that, while I am sure are good for ratings, always make me feel panic-stricken and frantic like my breath is caught in my lungs. I loathe confrontation, and while I’m sure a lot of it is manufactured in shows like this, and there’s probably much in the way of editing to create melodrama out of molehills–still. I know it’s not real but it always makes me cry, anyhow. “Resurrection” was filmed in the individual performer’s various locations, so there was none of that real-time cattiness and bad behavior (it should be noted that I am ok with all that foolishness happening behind everyone’s backs, ha!) But getting back to me crying. Oh, I cried. My heart. The winner? If you’re anything like me, it’s exactly who you want it to be.
The Curse of La Llorona The Curse of La Llorona, the legend of the weeping woman searching for the souls of her children, is such an inspired idea for a movie and a wonderful opportunity to showcase Mexican folklore, and I think in the hands of someone else, this could have been a beautifully tragic, eerie, and even terrifying film. But this…is not that. It’s too slick, too Hollywood, and with a white woman as the main character, I would also say a little white-washed– but if you can look past Linda Cardellini and the jump scares and the ridiculous ghost, I do think there are the beginnings of some wonderful explorations into Mexican culture to be found in the film.
The Wake, Perfume and Fripperies I feel a little bit awful in admitting I’ve never heard of these “masters of goth” until I just recently stumbled across their current album, Perfumes and Fripperies. Despite the fact that I don’t know them, I am convinced they somehow know me and they named this album–their first in a quarter of a century!– in my honor. Maybe just to get my attention! I know, I know. I’ve got quite the imagination. If goth rock, florid and gloomy and cloaked in velvety, doomed romanticism sounds like something you’d be into, that’s exactly what this is. And I am definitely into it. And now I wanna hear about their perfume and frippery collection…
Valancourt World Horror Stories If you follow me on Instagram, you’ll note that this book is showing up in every photo I’ve shared lately, but it’s really quite good. Valancourt has achieved something extraordinary with this marvelous collection of strange and unsettling tales from all over the world, many of them translated (in house!!) and for the very first time. If you don’t have a copy yet, you need to grab one immediately.
Night Tide Night Tide is the story of a sailor, who, while on shore leave, becomes entranced with a sideshow mermaid who believes that she really is a siren and that she is fated to murder men on nights when the moon is full.
I’ve had this on my watchlist for years now, but I am strangely cheap in that I will not spend $3.99 to watch it (and yet I will spend $399 on a much-coveted perfume? Priorities, I guess?) After using my library’s digital service for ebooks for the last 8 months, it dawned on me that they may have streaming movies as well…and they do! They offer services like Hoopla, where you can find cinematic classics like SHARKENSTEIN and FIVE-HEADED SHARK ATTACK! And one, what’s with all the sharks? But two, if you have Kanopy available to you, use that one instead. Let’s just say the selections Kanopy has to offer are more discerning and thoughtfully curated. Anyway, that’s where I found Night Tide. I want to say it was a “weird little film” but that could be just because Dennis Hopper is in it. Dennis Hopper always makes shit weird.
Beyond the Mirror’s Image by Dream Division If your ideal sonic soundscape is a traversing a long, dark nightmarish hallway that is simultaneously echoing and reverberating with the sounds of 70s Italian horror scores, 80s slashers, dark synth, and 70s prog rock, I think you are going to really dig Beyond the Mirror’s Image.
Hellraiser: The Dark Watch Vol. 1 So, it turns out that you can find comics and graphic novels in your library’s catalog of digital offerings! I don’t know why that I never thought to look, and it didn’t occur to me until late last week. The first title that caught my eye was something I recall hearing about all the way back in 2013…the reimagined story of Clive Barker’s Hellraiser series!
Now I’ll admit, I have not seen all the movies, so I am really lost with regard to what’s going on. Hell’s got a new high priest now, and there’s a Cenobite army? What? I don’t know, it all seems disjointed and odd, but then again, so did the movies. But the art is gritty and gory and there are wicked monsters and diabolical traps, and really what more do you need from a Hellraiser comic?
[EDIT: Ok this is a total cheat because I am adding this after the fact and I haven’t even watched it yet but HOLY SHIT Y’ALL there is Hellraiser ASMR! Thank you Minna, for making me aware of this–I cannot wait to experience these sensory seeds of torment!]
Stage Fright AKA Deliria I suppose it sounds ghoulish to say so, but I adored this nonsensical. bloodbath of a movie in which nearly every single character is extremely disposable and the masked killer has the most incredible mask that I’ve ever seen in any slasher/Giallo/thriller type film.
In Stage Fright, an escaped madman and notorious serial killer (and former actor!) terrorizes the cast of a musical who get locked into their rehearsal space …by their egomaniac director, in an opportunistic, irresponsible “the show must go on!” kind of move.
There is absolutely no logic to any of the story, but it is a fun story and paired with both the flamboyant neon glamour of the visuals and the aggressively hypnotic score, I had a fantastic time finally watching this film. Also, it’s on YouTube!
World of Horror I am bad at video games. I prefer to read or watch a movie, to follow where the author or director is leading me, and wherever I end up, well, that’s the way it was meant to be. That’s how it was written. And I am most likely going to get there in 90 minutes or so. At least with a movie. I wish it only took me 90 minutes to read a book! My point is that there’s no guesswork in these stories. I experience them, but I don’t interact with them. I don’t have to do anything but let them unfold.
Video games frustrate me. I am not a puzzle-solver by nature, and I am the kind of person who, if my first attempt at something fails, I will go back and try that same exact thing fifteen more times. This staunch refusal to deviate from the path I’ve set out before me is what caused me to die fifteen times in a row (but somehow in fifteen completely different ways??) while playing the retro, creepy World of Horror, an H.P. Lovecraft/Junji Ito-inspired RPG horror game set in a quiet Japanese town filled with eldritch beings, wild-eyed cultists, and impossibly twisted human forms.
In World of Horror, one invokes dark rituals, uncovers disturbing clues, and solves puzzles across multiple randomized mysteries. It’s unsettling –especially playing in the dark, with headphones on–and frustrating, and oddly enough, I can’t stop thinking about. I find that most disturbing of all.
The Craft: Legacy It’s unfair to add The Craft: Legacy to this list, considering that at this point I really don’t think I am ready to talk about it yet. I will say this. Obviously the original is a classic and a feminist horror touchstoneand I know we all have all kinds of attachments to it for all kinds of reasons. But it’s not unimpeachable. It had some problems. So it was heartening to see the original bones of the story fleshed out with entirely new weirdos and witches, who had more aspirational priorities. I loved the strengthened sense of sisterhood in this version of The Craft, but I feel like the characters, as individuals, needed and deserved so much more depth and story. I’m not sure I can say anything else right now, I am still mulling it over! [Edit: two years later, as I am reading this, I realize I was being very diplomatic. In hindsight I did not love this film, and I am not sure I even liked it very much.]
Speaking of enchiladas…
“Hello, I’m Stevie Nicks. Do you like the music of my band, Fleetwood Mac? And do you like fajitas, flautas, quesadillas, and other Tex-Mex specialties? Then come on down to my new restaurant in Sedona, Arizona – Stevie Nicks’ Fajita Roundup. In the seventies, I dedicated myself to witchcraft, Lindsay Buckingham, and cocaine. But now I use that same energy and dedication to bring you an affordable dining experience you’ll never forget.”
Yes, I dressed up as Lucy Lawless channeling Stevie Nicks in SNL’s most flawless and magnificent skit: Stevie Nicks Fajita Round-Up. I even sang a song for you and everything! But I chickened out and I am not going to post it.
“Now, there you go again, you say you want burritos.
I sure hope that you can keep ’em down.
It’s only a flour tortilla, used to wrap around your meat now.
Have you any beans you’d like to share with the loneliness?”
Woven throughout this week was a common thread, an entire midnight-dyed alpaca skein of them, as it happens. I took this opportunity to begin knitting up Our Widow’s lovely Widow’s Web stole pattern! Knit on size 17 needles (for non-knitters, this means they are BIG ASS NEEDLES) this is a gorgeous and satifying knit that comes together very quickly, and it is a pattern that is fairly easy to memorize–which makes it nice to work on while you are watching scary movies! I am about 3/4 through with it, so by the time I go to post up next week’s picks for 31 Days of Horror, I should have a finished object to show off!
Notes April Carter, proprietress of Our Widow, when I asked if there are any spooky movies or such that she likes to have in the background while working on a project:
“I’ve been on an Addams Family binge lately! Of course, I enjoy the whole kooky bunch, but I especially love seeing Morticia knit, it’s something that seems so against her nature, but she’s perfectly comfortable doing it. I think I mentioned something in our interview about the attitudes towards knitting being a homemaker/crafty type past time, and how I wanted to help change those beliefs. I think Morticia personifies that– she’s strange, she’s goth, she’s anti-cutesy, she hates traditional family standards, and she looks incredible while doing it of course!”
And finally! Behold the Widow’s Web wrap, its fuzzy tendrils and dangling loops completed just before midnight on Halloween. I hope the recipient doesn’t mind, I felt compelled to cocoon myself in its spidery stitches and take a few photos to commemorate our time together, before sending it to its new home.
Also: Soul cakes, also known as “soulmass-cakes”, are small spiced, round cakes traditionally made for Halloween, All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day to commemorate the dead in the Christian tradition. The practice of giving soul cakes was celebrated in Britain or Ireland during the Middle Ages, although according to Wikipedia similar practices for the souls of the dead were found as far south as Italy.
Typically flavored with allspice, nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger or other sweet spices, along with raisins or currants, I found a recipe on NPR that didn’t seem too tricky, and baked them up on Halloween night while I ordered out for enchiladas. I had a lot of movies to watch and had only so much time to devote to cooking!
Late on Halloween night, sitting alone and in silence, I explored a confessional ritual in Lisa Marie Basile’s The Magical Writing Grimoire.
In this exercise, we make a sacred confession: we name our shadows and call them out by the name we have given them. “When we validate and honor our darkness,” Lisa writes, “we can begin to heal it.” By naming our shadows and meditating on them, we have taken that dark energy and transformed it into potential.
And so with my box and my string, my paper and my pen, my will, and my intention, I set out to make that change.
Yesterday was one of those days where the things that went wrong were a series of stupid, inconvenient dominoes that wobbled and tumbled continuously, completely blocking up and ruining the path I’d prepared for myself. Just one lousy AAA call …for a car battery that’s been dead for two weeks now, le whoopsie…turned into a whole ridiculous production and before I knew it, it was 9 o’clock in the evening. I’d gotten no day job work-work done, no personal project work done, and because I am a granny who is in bed most nights by 10 pm, I had no time to watch a movie.
But that’s ok! I plan for one or two of these days every Halloween season, so I give myself a bit of leeway. As long as I do something horror-adjacent, or even October-adjacent, it counts toward my 31 Days of Horror.
I watched two brief horror shorts, one more satisfying than the other. Worry Dolls, above, centered on a traumatized SA survivor employing alternative methods to get her nightmares to stop. I enjoyed this one very much. Platform, about a man’s encounter at an isolated train station, was a bit creepy, but just didn’t do it for me.
I peeked in on the nosleep subreddit and read Maria On The Moon, which while I think it told a poignant story of grappling with the profound grief and desperation that descends with the inevitability of loss, I’m not so sure it was a very effective horror story.
I finally started playing another game I bought ages ago: Doki Doki Literature Club, where “a terrifying world of romance and poetry awaits!” I didn’t get very far into it, and it’s more like a visual story than an actual game, but I think this is supposed to be a dating sim with a psychological horror element. So far it seems like a harem anime; I am some high school dude who, at my cute longtime friend’s request, has joined her after-school club, which is also filled with cute girls. We read books and write poetry and I was only at it for about 20 minutes or so, but I did notice a slight shift in tone from cutesy-wacky to…a subtle bordering-on-unsettling weirdness. I’m not sure where it’s going to go, and I am not sure that I have the patience to find out, but if I make any progress by the end of the month, I shall report back.
Ok, so all you need to know about The Eyes of Laura Mars, a 1978 John Carpenter film released the same year as Halloween, is that there are a lot of people in here with fabulous hair. Okay, maybe that’s all you need to know, according to me, but in case you want the teeniest bit of this paper-thin plot, (if you’re one of the ten people on the planet, who like me, hadn’t already seen it yet) is that avant-garde fashion photographer Laura Mars begins having disturbing visions of people close to her being murdered–and these visions are through the eyes of the killer. There are fabulous parties, and fabulous fashion shoots, and Tommy Lee Jones, Raul Julia, René Auberjonois, and Brad Dourif, all looking extremely fabulous.
Speaking of Brad Dourif, as we are now more than halfway into 31 days of horror, if there is one motif that keeps popping up, I’d say that would be ol’ Gríma Wormtongue. If you recall, he was also in Wildling, which I watched earlier this month on Day Seven.
I loved this movie even though the visions are never explained even the slightest bit and even if the shoehorned-in romance was extremely dumb and stupid. I actually don’t own many films, but I would absolutely purchase a Blu-ray of this one and watch it over and over again. You’d think they’d have it in the Criterion collection shop, but I guess they don’t. Huh. Anyway, I watched it for free on Tubi.
I think my favorite moment in Bodies Bodies Bodies was when Lee Pace’s 40-something character Greg, after breaking from the 20-year-olds that he’s hanging out with and slipping away to fall asleep in the gym with his light therapy mask on, wakes up and says, “Are you guys still playing Werewolf?”
At this hurricane party in a remote mansion full of insufferable, spoiled, stupid kids, they are at one point early on playing “Bodies Bodies Bodies”–a murder mystery game, that, as far as I can tell, is exactly like Werewolf (which in turn I think was inspired by a game called Mafia?) One person is secretly designated the Werewolf, or the Murderer, or the bad guy, and I think the whole point is to figure out who is lying and who is telling the truth–before they get “killed.” At no point does anyone ever call this game anything other than “Bodies Bodies Bodies,” so when Greg who is Old and Feeble-Minded and probably recognizes Bodies Bodies Bodies as some other Jurassic-era game he has played in his ancient life, disappeared mid-game and has no clue that people have begun dying in earnest, wakes up and says “Are you guys still playing Werewolf?” I for some reason found that endearing and hilarious and so relatable on an “I see you, fellow old person” level.
And I know I called these characters stupid, but the interesting thing about this film is that despite the fact that the dialogue makes them look like Gen-Z stereotypes spouting buzzwordy language, both as barbs meant to insult each other but also I think genuinely meant to excuse some of their awful behavior and personalities–anyway, as terrible as the characters are meant to appear, I didn’t actually hate any of them. I actually liked all of them. And that’s kind of wild how you can take this group of characters who are already pretty unbearable and obnoxious, ramp up the tension and the stakes, and make it clear that everyone hates everybody–and yet, me, the viewer, I don’t actually hate any of them.
Well, except Pete Davidson. I hate that guy. I hate everything out of his mouth, and I hate his stupid face most of all. Thankfully, he is the first to die, and the twist is that it couldn’t have happened in a more satisfying way.
I actually paid full price for this on Amazon. I’d say it was worth it. Bodies Bodies Bodies was a lot of fun and I enjoyed it; it may not be for everyone (especially if you find yourself frequently raging at “kids these days”) but it scratched a very particular slashery itch for me. Also and maybe I am the last one to know this–the initial spec script was written by Kristen Roupenian of Cat Person fame. Or as I tend to think of it, “the Discourse surrounding Cat Person” fame.