“Uncomfortable” is a word I throw around a lot. I have a very, very low tolerance when it comes to uncomfortable, awkward, or embarrassing situations.

Speak No Evil is relentlessly, brutally uncomfortable. I think if I had read the synopsis or watched the trailer beforehand, I probably would have given this one a pass. It was recommended to me later in the day yesterday, and trusting the horror-guru implicitly, I went for it.

…and then noped out at the 45-minute mark.

Two families on vacation in Tuscany – one Danish, one Dutch – meet and become friendly. Months later, the outgoing Dutch family invites the more conservative Danes to spend a weekend at their cabin. However, it doesn’t take long before things become tense and awkward as either cultural misunderstandings or the miscommunications of people who don’t know each other very well become egregiously apparent. Too well-mannered to confront their hosts’ increasingly erratic and rude behavior, the Danes politely stick it out, until something so unsettling happens that they actually sneak out in the wee hours of the morning while their bizarre hosts are asleep.

As we were only a third of the way through the film, I knew this was too good to be true. And of course, I was right! They hadn’t driven very far before their daughter starts to panic and cry, realizing she’d left her stuffed rabbit toy behind. You can see the anxiety in her father’s eyes as he is debating their options and then, sickeningly, he turns the car around.

At that point, I shouted NOPE! Jumped out of my chair so fast that it tipped over, and ran out of the room. My heart was racing and I was shaking so hard I imagined I could taste the bitter, metallic adrenaline in my mouth. Even though I didn’t KNOW-know where this was headed, I had a solid enough idea that it was ratcheting up to something awful, and I just couldn’t subject myself to the plight of a family who was going to get themselves killed because their accommodating natures overrode their sense of self-preservation.

Honestly, it felt too relatable. Up to the point I stopped watching, nothing bad had even happened, really, it was all so innocuous. But see, that’s where I, too, have been conditioned to be obliging and understanding! Because even as I am watching and thinking “well making your guests pay for a meal you had promised to treat them to isn’t exactly a crime” I know in my gut, it’s really tacky! And while practically forcing your vegetarian guest to sample a bite of your roast pork isn’t evil, it’s outrageously disrespectful. I would certainly never do that to anyone. I know better. That’s the thing. Even if on some level it doesn’t seem all that bad, the heart of who I am, it KNOWS. But would I trust what I know to be true enough to leave that situation? I don’t know!

This October I’m finding more than a few instances where I’ve had enough and I am quick to call it. I know I say this all the time lately, but I don’t know how much time I have left on this earth and I don’t want to spend it making myself miserable, even if the thing I’m experiencing or engaging with is a purported masterpiece. That’s fine. I gave it a shot, and it wasn’t for me. Afterward, I read the entire synopsis on Wikipedia, and now, knowing what I know …I think (??) I might have been able to watch it.

Not knowing where things were heading was factoring into my anxiety, so being armed with the plot–spoilers and all–might have helped. Would I have enjoyed seeing it through? I most assuredly would not have. All in all, it reminded me of Funny Games (I think many reviewers felt the same) and if you did not love that one, you probably won’t want to watch Speak No Evil.

Instead, I watched more Deadloch. I cannot stress this enough. If you are too freaked out by what you are watching this spooky season, you need to take a little break and tune into this show!

–A. I appreciate this recommendation and any time you want to share suggestions with me! Speak No Evil wasn’t my cuppa but I love that you shared it and my ears are always open for your recommendations. Also when I went to look it up, I momentarily forgot the title and almost started the 2006 See No Evil with KANE, ha!

 

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Last October I watched X, and I promised myself that this year I would watch the prequel, Pearl (which I was able to get through my library via Kanopy, hurrah!) Pearl is the unhinged, baby-faced origin story of the horny, murderous old gal in X. And much like X, Pearl made me very, very uncomfortable

Pearl is special. She wants something more than her life on her parent’s farm, she wants something better than her mother’s dreary life and father’s invalid existence, she wants to get out of her small town and be a star. She’s married Howard, a neighbor from a nice family, with the hopes that he’ll be her ticket out of this place, but Pearl’s plans are thwarted in that regard because he actually wants to live on the farm. None of that matters anyway, because he’s been shipped overseas and Pearl is all alone in her miserable longing and loneliness. And, as it turns out, her escalating craziness. As the disappointments pile up for Pearl, she begins giving into her violent impulses in increasingly extravagant and bloody ways.

In some ways, Pearl seems awfully naive and appears to be untethered from reality. But you also get the impression that she might have a canny sense about people and can see through their bullshit–even her own, as evidenced by a heartbreaking monologue near the end of the film where she admits she is not unaware that people are frightened of her, that she’s a bit scared herself of how much she enjoyed hurting people and things. How she just wants to be loved, and how she may have ruined the future of her marriage with a good man. A good man who at the end of the film, comes home to be greeted by Pearl’s carnage.

So, why did Pearl make me so uncomfortable? As someone who could be dying in the street, bleeding out all over the place–I wouldn’t make a peep about it or cry for help, for fear of the embarrassment of it all. Pearl’s a character who runs around French-kissing scarecrows, hollering her feelings at some guy she barely even knows, she isn’t fearful or the least bit self-conscious about getting up on stage and doing a silly little dance in front of strangers and also doesn’t have the least bit of a problem about having a total screaming meltdown in front of them, when they don’t pick her for the part. Afterward, she wails and sobs like a freaking banshee on the church steps (ostensibly everyone is still inside and can hear her carrying on) and that’s just, like…Pearl. No concept that it’s weird and awkward and making everyone uncomfortable. Every particle of my being shudders at all of this.

Pearl reminds me a bit of the drama kids in high school who would be loud and obnoxious and belt out songs during lunchtime, and they’d be totally oblivious to the spectacle they were creating (or maybe they didn’t care, I guess?) and I would be thinking “OMG WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU PEOPLE ARE LOOKING AT US.”

I know, that’s very much a Sarah-problem. My super repressed hangups and such. That’s fair. And hey, you might have known those kids. You might have BEEN those kids! I’m sorry for sounding intolerant. But yeah…Sarah doesn’t like being made uncomfortable, and Pearl was massive unease and discomfort on steroids, delivered at the pointy end of a pitchfork.

One reviewer summed Pearl up as “heartbreaking in the most abject way possible” and wow. Yes. Exactly.

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Due to the rules I myself am enforcing, I am contractually obligated to tell you that I watched Amazon’s Totally Killer movie, wherein our lady brat of perpetual eye-rolls Sally Draper travels back in time to prevent a returned killer from murdering her mom in the present.  This movie neither commits to being scary nor being funny. I think the only fun I had with it was watching how things being changed in the past began subtly, or otherwise, altering things in the present. But I feel like they could have leaned even further into that, too! SIGH. It was fine. Whatever.

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“Come on! What’s so precious about a monster?”

You guys. I have been waiting on this Tomie-inspired fragrance ever since Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab teased its creation way back sometime last year. And much like the feelings provoked by the malevolent, regenerative entity herself, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since that time.

…and now it’s here!

I’ve mentioned my great love for horror manga artist Junji Ito’s creations many times on this blog; just the other day I included one of the Tomie movies (there are like nine of them at this point) in my 31 Days of Horror blogs. But if you’re unfamiliar, how to describe Tomie? I feel like a monster myself (and a horrible feminist) when I try to talk about her. Tomie is an enthralling young woman whose beauty drives people mad in different ways–women want to either be her or, or are insanely jealous of her, and men become obsessed with her to the extent that they end up chopping her up and killing her–and she returns eternally to torment all of them.

What is Tomie? A succubus? A mutation?  To me, at least, it’s never really clear.  She’s an irredeemable anti-hero who’s an absolute guilty pleasure girl-power fantasy and she brings to mind the Margaret Atwood quote, “Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them.”

..and all this misogynistic violence and exploitative gendered body horror and self-flagellation on my part for even reading it at all stems from the artist’s boyhood memory of a classmate dying. In an interview, Juni Ito shared that a boy in his junior high died in a traffic accident.

He observed, “It just felt so odd to me that a classmate who was so full of life should suddenly disappear from the world, and I had a strange feeling that he would show up again innocently.” He goes on to reveal that’s how he came up with the idea of a girl who is supposed to have died but then just shows up as if nothing had happened.

In Wikipedia, it says that he was inspired by the phenomenon of lizard tail regeneration. I suppose it could be both, why not!


Anyway! Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab has taken all of our Tomie angst and terror and created a “seductive and deceptively delicate blend of rose-tinted white sandalwood, ethereal white amber, voluptuous almond blossom, coeur de jasmin, and a gasp of bourbon vanilla.”

When I first wore it, it seemed a simple confectionary musk. I became unnerved and overwhelmed when I thought for a second there that it was beginning to remind me of something, a sort of candied heliotrope feather boa of a perfume that when I first smelled it in 2020 I became convinced that it was a monstrously annoying YouTube celebrity’s signature scent. (She was revoltingly pink and OKAY YES I was obsessively watching her even though I hated her and found her vile and this all makes sense to me even if I can’t explain it.) I don’t want to say who because I don’t want to be a mean girl, and I also hate comparing one perfume to another when I am reviewing things, but my only point here is, that I thought I smelled this perfume for a brief second* but when I obsessively began sniffing my wrist trying to pinpoint it, the momentary phantom was already gone.  There is actually no comparing these two scents at all, but the thing is, from then on, I never stopped obsessively sniffing.

*my point, which I am having the devil of a time trying to articulate is that BPAL, in those opening notes, nailed that sort of attractive/repellent quality that this specific perfume requires; a flash of something revolting just to remind you who you’re dealing with, but then you’re immediately and utterly subsumed by how beautiful it is and you’ve forgotten that you were briefly but thoroughly appalled. It’s hard to write a sentence with the words “revolting” or appalling” when it comes to your favorite perfumer, but it feels so marvelously intentional and incredibly executed here, I can’t not talk about it!

Tomie crawls beneath your skin, a slithery jasmine-amber-flecked marzipan cotton candy ghost musk of a scent, but not a fresh, hot carnival cone of the stuff–rather, the soft, sticky filaments of floss caught in your uniquely self-scented hair at the end of the night. And maybe a bewitched and bothered someone is bizarrely compelled to snip a few of those sweet, tangled tendrils while you’re sleeping because they’re an absolute psychopath, and maybe when you wake up in the morning the scissors are gripped in your own hands, the sultry tresses are tucked into your own little etched sandalwood box, and maybe, perhaps, the psychopath is you. Utterly obsessed with yourself.

BPAL’s Tomie is both quietly haunting and all-consuming, the ghost of something you’re desperate to possess, but which is fully possessing you even as it slips through your fingers and disappears.

This is exactly it. This is Tomie. They got her perfectly right.

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Good lord. There is no one, NO ONE who writes Southern small-town nastiness like Michael McDowell. McDowell was a novelist and screenwriter whom you may or may not have heard of depending on how much into horror you are. You may have read The Elementals (that’s the last book I read that kept me up until 4 o’clock in the morning!) or Gilded Needles or his Blackwater series. Or if those don’t ring a bell, you may be familiar with the screenplay he wrote for a little movie called Beetlejuice.  He was in the midst of writing the screenplay for Tim Burton’s Nightmare Before Christmas when he died in 1999. Horror fans, I know you already know this, but this is for the people who are hearing it for the first time. Oh yeah, McDowell, also wrote the novelization of Clue!

From the first 30 or so pages, you would not think this book will go as hard as it does. Absolutely dialogue-free and exquisitely methodical in its descriptiveness, it sets the tone and the atmosphere in the town of Pine Cone, Alabama, a town “proud of its population of two thousand, and it might well be since there is nothing to keep them there except stubborn civic pride, overwhelming inertia, or a perverse moral self-discipline bordering on masochism.”

But, our narrative gleefully divulges, ” it can also be said that there is a great vitality in the mean-spiritedness of the town’s inhabitants. Sometimes they are creatively cruel to one another, and there were seasons in which Pine Cone was an exciting place to live–if you were a spectator and not a victim.”

The events of The Amulet most assuredly take place in such a season.

Sarah Howell finds herself trapped in a nightmare. Her husband, Dean, had a rifle blow up in his face during a training exercise before he shipped out to Vietnam. He’s been horribly disfigured (the extent of which we never even find out, he’s swaddled in bandages like a mummy through the entirety of the book) and more or less left a living corpse. Sarah is forced to care for him, while also enduring the scorn of her hateful mother-in-law, Jo. Jo is truly one of the most awful fictional characters you will ever encounter.

Dean’s friend Larry pays a visit, hoping that he is doing the right thing by stopping in, but is feeling terribly guilty and uncomfortable about being there. Larry was unable to secure a job for Dean at the rifle factory in town, which led to Dean ending up in the army. Jo has a laundry list of grievances about everything in general, but she especially blames the town for her son’s circumstances, and Larry in particular. Jo sends him away with an unusual amulet to take home as a gift for his wife Rachel.

That night Larry and Rachel’s house burns down, with them and their three children inside.

The amulet inexplicably passes from one hand to the next, wreaking havoc and leaving extraordinary carnage in its wake. Not even a quarter of the way through the book, the undertaker is running out of coffins! And no one is safe–while it may have started with someone linked to Dean’s accident, it doesn’t limit itself to locals with those sorts of ties…a poor woman passing through town with her husband gets her throat torn out by her own hogs when the amulet makes its way into her possession.

Sarah begins seeing a connection in the string of bizarre deaths and becomes convinced that somehow, the trinket is involved. As the body count rises, Sarah realizes that she must somehow stop the amulet before it’s too late. But how can she defeat an evil she can’t understand or even hands on–especially when no one believes her?

I literally exclaimed OOOOOOF aloud when I finished this book. GOOD LORD.

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Hello, friends! The Art of Fantasy: A Visual Sourcebook Of All That Is Unreal has been out in the world for a little over two months now! Let’s mark the occasion with a giveaway!

Let’s also gaze upon these glorious glamour shots that Alyssa Thorne created in celebration of the book! A fantastical floral woodland scene wherein one may stumble upon a strange tome, brimming with magical, wondrous art and imagery, offered up in the arms of a bewitched tree.


Here is a lovely page, frilled by a fairy wing breeze, featuring the art of dear Brett Manning, whose captivating creatures fiddle, strum, and tootle through the twilight!

If you would like to win a signed copy of The Art of Fantasy, please follow this link and do what it says to do!

One winner –US ONLY– will be chosen and contacted on Friday, October 27

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I haven’t even been able to bring myself to watch David Cronenberg’s original Dead Ringers (1988) so I almost feel like I don’t even have any business watching something inspired by it. But what convinced me is A. it’s on Amazon Prime, which maybe it has been all along and I didn’t realize it, and B. I thought Alice Lowe was involved– and I loved her movie Prevenge, about a pregnant widow who believes her unborn baby is guiding her to exact murderous revenge on those who may have been responsible for her husband’s death.

Well, joke’s on me. It’s Alice Birch, not Alice Lowe. I don’t even know who that is! And furthermore, I am squeamish as hell when it comes to gynecological stuff and things related to pregnancy and birth. That makes me feel like a terrible feminist and also maybe a terrible ally and support system to all of my family members and friends who are also mamas. I am sorry! I’m grossed out by all of it! Out of all of the horror in the world, this is some of the stuff I find most horrifying. Which sucks for me, because I have a body containing all of these bits that must be invasively poked and prodded and examined on an annual (or more frequent basis) and so even walking around in this flesh is a constant fucking horror story.

…so why did I think I wanted to watch a movie, let alone a whole television series about Beverly and Elliot, a pair of famous gynecologists planning to open a high-tech birthing center? I DON’T KNOW. I watched the first episode last night, and I will be honest with you, I had to look away for about 40% of it.

I was ten years old when I got my first period. I had said period for 3 months straight. It was our male family doctor who did my first exam, and it hurt so badly that, terrified, in pain, and not understanding a single thing that was being done to me, I sobbed the entire way through. He basically told me to calm down and chill out. I was ten fucking years old, man. Have a little care, a little patience!  How I’d love to go back in time and just punch that guy in the dick.

Anyway, thirty-seven years later, every cervical exam or pap smear is an absolute nightmare for me, and I am taken straight back to that day, feeling completely alone in the world, my body not my own, my pain a thing does apparently doesn’t really exist. Sitting home in my office now, my knees locked tightly together, even the thought of a speculum so shiny you can see your pores in it makes me feel like fainting dead away.

I really wanted to watch Rachel Weisz in this duo role of brilliant but menacing twins, but I don’t think I can go back for more. I have two dear friends that have been recommending to me a show called Deadloch for the past few months, it looks like a sort of noir-mystery-comedy, which I have also heard referenced as “Broadchurch, but make it funny.”

So I am peacing out on Dead Ringers and headed over to Deadloch and I am not looking back. Life is too short to torture myself!

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I finally watched Talk to Me, and it was an extremely uncomfortable, disturbing, upsetting, and brilliant film. I never want to see it again and I definitely don’t want to talk about it.

I’ll sum up in one sentence, just so I can say I did my due diligence: Teens are getting high on possession as a party trick/for social media likes, with the aid of an old, severed hand, encased in ceramic and covered in creepy symbols and graffiti.

Teenagers are already susceptible to suggestion and stupidity and grief can leave you open, yearning, and raw. Talk To Me takes those feelings and behaviors and twists them to its own purposes for a relentlessly terrifying story.

I’m done now. I literally cannot think about this film a second more.

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Image credit: Don Maitz artwork featured in Worlds Beyond Time: Sci-fi Art of the 1970s

I am currently reading Worlds Beyond Time: Sci-fi Art of the 1970s by Adam Rowe and I am enjoying it immensely. Aside from being stuffed to the gills with phenomenal science fiction art–from the abstract and avant-garde to the trippy and surreal, from the murky and lurid to the vivid, vibrant, and hyperrealistic–on top of all that, it is written in exactly the way I want to read about art.

Well-informed, brimming with details, and powerfully engrossing sure, but Rowe’s voice is chatty, warm, and irreverent–like you’re being regaled by one of your smartest, funniest, nerdiest friends. You no doubt know of Adam Rowe from his Twitter and Tumblr accounts, where he shares otherworldly, alien retro sci-fi art on an almost daily basis…but while those are both awesome places to peek in at, it’s not the same as having this outstanding book at your fingertips.

Of course, the imagery he has curated is tremendous, but what makes this such a special collection is the enthusiasm, fondness, and overall spirit of curiosity and wonder that infuses every single word in this book. You never doubt even for a second that Adam Rowe is absolutely jazzed about these artworks–and he wants you to be, too.

I will probably write a longer review once I finish the book, and if I do a year-end round-up of gift book ideas, Worlds Beyond Time is going to be right up at the very top.

What does any of this have to do with 31 Days of Horror? Well, I just today finished the Monsters chapter in a section of the book, wherein artists “blend fiction and arguable fact, looking at how artists and illustrators reinterpreted old science-fiction tropes like creepy creatures and alien priests to represent the latest cryptid or mystic vision.”

I thought I might share two of my favorite works from this chapter, the first being Don Maitz’s 1977 cover for Eerie #91, and the second, Richard Hescox’s 1985 cover for Alan Burt Akers’s Omens of Kregen, featuring a final confrontation from the book, in which a bestiary of googly-eyed, wriggly-tentacled monsters have assembled to protect their queen. I know these guys are meant to be scary, but there’s something about this menagerie that tickles my fancy. The “weird and gross but adorable” fancy!

P.S. If you follow me and maybe you’re not a huge sci-fi art fan, but the name Don Maitz rings a bell, it’s because I am always sharing this image.

Image credit: Richard Hescox artwork featured in Worlds Beyond Time: Sci-fi Art of the 1970s

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Cat People has been on my 31 Days list every year for the past 7 years. Better late than never!

Irena is absorbed in her sketchbook at the zoo when she meets neat and tidy and well-behaved Oliver Reed, who teases her when her frustrated, crumpled-up drawings don’t quite make it into the trash bin. They chat and leave together, and as they stroll away, we catch a glimpse at what she’s been doodling: a sleek panther with a dagger plunged through its heart.

Oliver walks Irina home to her fabulously beautiful apartment, and she asks him in for tea. During this sort-of-first-date, as Oliver is meandering about her space, he seems particularly struck–and a mite disturbed by–a certain statue, and Irina explains. In her village in Serbia, there was the belief that it sheltered satanic cultists who could take the form of cats.

Good King John tried to kill these cat people, but some fled into the mountains, where they are said to live to this day. We soon learn that Irena secretly fears she is one of those cat people.

In the way of cinematic whirlwind romances, Oliver and Irina declare their love for each other and are married and living together within the next five minutes of screen time. It’s very clear right from the start that this relationship will be tested because Irina, uncomfortable with physical affection,  dreads getting close to Oliver. Forget about consummating the marriage–she won’t even kiss him. She is terrified that once her passions are aroused, she will transform into a panther and kill and eat her husband

Oliver promises patience and time, but when his long-time coworker, the very swell and pretty Alice, confesses her love for him, Oliver is not so supportive anymore.

As Irena’s fear and jealousy grow, she begins to stalk Alice; there is a genuinely creepy scene in which Alice is hiding in a swimming pool while something prowls and growls from the shadows. Has Irena metamorphosed? Is it Alice’s heightened terror and imagination? Things eventually escalate, there is an attack, and things don’t end well for precisely the person that they wouldn’t have a hope of ending well for, considering the era during which this film was made.

Cat People was a gorgeous movie with all its atmospheric cinematography and wonderful cat motifs, but I think what I felt more than anything from it was a deep melancholy and loneliness.

Irena says at one point, when she is attempting to explain her apprehension about the intimate nature of marriage:  “I’ve lived in dread of this moment. I’ve never wanted to love you. I’ve stayed away from people … I’ve fled from the past. Some things you could never know, or understand — evil things.” She reflects to Oliver, in a later scene, “You’re the only friend I’ve ever had.”

An immigrant, an outsider, a possibly cursed individual, a cat person who cats apparently don’t even like, whose only friend is that fickle fucker of a husband–Irina’s story is impossibly sad.

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