People have only just started watching The Fall of the House of Usher, Mike Flanagan’s newest offering over on Netflix, so I am hesitant to say much–or anything!–about it at all!

I watched all eight episodes this past weekend, and I will say two things. I did not love it as much as I loved Midnight Mass (I think that one was pretty divisive though, so that may not mean anything to you!) and if you are expecting an adaptation of a singular Edgar Alan Poe short story…that’s not what that is. Rather it’s a narrative in which many Poe references, characters, plot pieces, story fragments, and poetry snippets are entangled. One reviewer referred to it as taking place in the “Poe cinematic universe,” and THANKS I HATE IT. It makes me think that Flanagan’s next installment is going to be something like BRAM STOKER: ENDGAME.

Did I love this new series? I did. Did I love watching rich people wearing designer clothing? Yes! Camille’s Alexander McQueen dress in episode two! Her snake lingerie/bodysuit that we’ve seen advertised all over Instagram, you know the one! Luke Skywalker absolutely stole every scene he was in! Did I love the cheesy, overarching message? Who doesn’t love a cheesy message? There was so much to love about this show. I mean … “GUCCI CALIGULA.” Iykyk.

But did I love it as much as Midnight Mass? I did not.  Would I watch The Fall of the House of Usher over and over again? Absolutely, it was that enjoyable. Whereas I would never watch Midnight Mass again. I can’t explain that, but there you go.

 

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Stephan Mackey, “The Sandman,” As seen in The Art of Darkness

Today I’m completely knocked out by the vaccines I got 48 hours ago and I am taking it easy. Which is to say, I am cramming a whole bunch of tv and reading down my gullet today but I am not going to exhaust my brain in trying to muster up words about it.

Over on Instagram, I am participating in the OctoberChrysalis challenge, a series of creative prompts collaboratively put together by Jess of Bloodmilk and musician Chelsea Wolfe. Today’s prompt was “Landscape/Dreamscape” and I was really scratching my head for this one. I live in the Florida suburbs, there is not much landscape to speak of out here. So instead I went with a few dreamscapes I’ve included in my books. You can peek at what I’ve been coming up with over here.

What else have I got planned for Day Fifteen? I just finished up Rachel Harrison’s Cackle, which was a wonderfully cozy small-town witchy story about friendship, accepting who you are, and being happy on your own. It had real Practical Magic/Stars Hollow vibes. I feel stupid saying I “highly recommend” it because I am pretty sure I’m late to the party here, and everyone has already read it. I’ve read Rachel Harrison’s other books and really enjoyed them, but they are definitely more in the horror genre than this one. This was feel-good, but not super saccharine or extra-fluffy. Just a little sweet. A tiny bit of fluff. Perfect for a sick day. I feel like some dudes out there are rolling their eyes at “cozy horror,” but whatever. You don’t hate cozy horror. Call it what it is. You hate women.

Anyhow, I’m feeling just peachy, not at all sickly and miserable, can’t you tell?!

Today’s plans include taking the all half-empty cans of pumpkin littering my refrigerator and making this curried pumpkin soup, watching some more of The Fall of the House of Usher on Netflix, and reading a few more stories in Jordan Peele’s horror anthology, Out There Screaming–which is pretty great so far, with several stories I found myself wishing I could read a full-novel version of!

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In the first five minutes of watching The Blood Spattered Bride, I thought, “Huh, I’ve already tried to watch this once before.” A newlywed couple speeds down the highway, arriving at a hotel. The groom (unnamed throughout the film) suggests that the bride, Susan, head up to the room while he unpacks the car. Once in the room,  a stocking-faced man who looks very much like her husband emerges from the wardrobe, pins her to the bed, and violently rips her wedding dress off. In my initial experience with this movie, it was this scene that made me think, “No thanks, I’m good,” and turned it off.

But it is at this point her husband arrives with all of their luggage and finds Susan sitting on the bed, wedding dress intact, and looking upset. “I don’t want to stay here,” she says, “I don’t like this hotel.”

From there they tootle off to his country estate. In gauging their early interactions, we get the sense that Susan is quite young and inexperienced (he says as much when he refers to her later on in the film as “just a child.” Ugh.) He is an older man, and soon, we learn, aggressive, predatory, and controlling. But Susan is not easily cowed, and often either runs away, defies him, or coldly shuts him down.

It’s this “you’re not the boss of me” spirit that comes across when she demands to know why there are no women featured among the ancestral portrait gallery in the house. He admits that they are all kept down in the basement. Susan, curious, checks it out…and finds a painting of a bride with her face sheared completely away.

This is where things start to get interesting. They walk through the gorgeous autumnal landscape around the castle’s grounds as he tells her the story of the woman in the portrait. Mircala Karstein (!!) murdered her husband on their wedding night and the family found her comatose beside the dead body.

They eventually buried her in the ruins of the cathedral on the property. Susan realizes this is the ghostly woman she has seen from the corner of her eye, ever since they arrived–and even in the hotel parking lot as they were leaving. Susan then begins dreaming of Mircala. In her dreams, there is an antique dagger, and an irresistible urge to kill her husband…

The Blood Spattered Bride, which I initially thought was an exploitation film that really wasn’t in the mood for, turned out to have a bit more going on than that. Although you have to get through the first half of the film first, and I if I am being honest, I found it a bit of a slog. But there’s definitely a psychological depth that I wasn’t expecting, and there are some politics beyond the sexual involved that I wasn’t aware of, and you can read more about here.

I don’t think I can blame it on the flu vaccine/COVID booster combo that I received last night, but if I ever knew that this film was a retelling of Le Fanu’s Carmilla, I had completely forgotten it. It was a delightful surprise because honestly, I could watch a million versions of this sapphic vampire story. I’m not feeling so hot today, I’m clammy and my joints ache and I am definitely having a reaction from the shots, so I think that’s all I’ve got in me for day fourteen.

P.S. If anyone knows the artist for the film poster featured in this blog, please fill me in!

 

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For Friday the 13th, I was going to do one of the Friday the 13th movies, as I’ve never seen a single one!  But much like how when I was younger, I believed you were either in the Star Wars or the Star Trek camp because you obviously couldn’t be into both (I’ve since changed my mind) I still staunchly maintain you are either Team Freddy or Team Jason. As Freddy has my whole heart –or he may slice it out if I decide to switch things up– I’ve decided to continue leading a Jason Voorhees-free life. In the interest of neutrality, I instead opted to finish watching a film I began two months ago and got too scared to finish.

Too scared! Yes, I said it. I have become a big, stupid baby. Evil Dead Rise scared the crap out of me.

I never intended for this to be a horror 101 blog, so I won’t bother rehashing the plot/events of the other Evil Dead movies. If you’re here reading this, I’m 99% certain you already know them. If not, read about them on Wikipedia…like I did with the entire Saw franchise, ha!

So, what was so scary about this? Taking place mainly in a condemed apartment complex in the aftermath of an earthquake, it had a claustrophobic, apocalyptic aspect that I found extremely freaky. There’s this feeling of extreme, terrifying isolation which makes you wonder “are these the only people left in the whole world?”  Ellie, her children, and her visiting sister are more or less trapped inside, along with a handful of other residents–and that would probably be scary enough, but one of Ellie’s kids climbs into a chamber unearthed under the parking garage during the quake–which turns out to be an old bank vault, where he finds a creepy old book and some weird old records.

…Which he plays, and there’s an incantation and a summoning and now he’s fucked up big time because all of a sudden, his mother is possessed. Demon-possessed Ellie is the second scary thing in this movie and she is scary as hell. Not only did they make her look hideous and horrifying (here’s a full-image of what’s happening in the screencap above) but she’s menacing her own children –and spoiler, most of the kids don’t make it–and even for me, with a lifetime full of watching horror movies, that kind of feels like crossing a line.

I’m really curious about other folks who have seen this one? Am I just getting old and feeble? Or was this actually pretty scary? Let me know your experiences with Evil Dead Rise!

 

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Tonight on this 31 Days of Horror edition of Midnight Stinks is Only A Witch Cat, Pearfat Parfums ode to cult classic Japanese horror film Hausu, a kitschy, kaleidoscopic, gloriously demented, dizzying psychedelic fever dream which I chose for a first date with my now husband I am pretty sure he is still reeling from it 12 years later.

If I recall correctly this was a film wherein Toho, attempting to replicate the commercial success of American movies like Jaws, hired a renowned ad-man known for his creativity and aesthetics to make a blockbuster movie…and then this man enlisted his 12 year old daughter to help. I love that story, and it made for one of my all-time favorite films.

With notes of shiso leaf and climbing vines, melon and coriander, and powdered compact, this is a fragrance of melancholic breezes tangling gorgeous powdery citrus shampoo-perfumed hair, fraught with a crisp, crushed oppressive green tension. It’s a scent of loss, lost love, lost youth, and ghosts and spectres shadowed by generations of loss. For all that, it’s not a dense or heavy scent, it’s light and flimmering, but you can feel its presence–like the gaze on the back of your neck, like movement from the corner of your eye, like a past that you can’t escape.

This review was originally posted to my Midnight Stinks TikTok on October 12, 2023.

 

@midnightstinks Midnight Stinks, episode 407: Only a Witch Cat from Pearfat Parfum. 

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Like many folks with a lifelong fondness for horror, Shirley Jackson’s elegant, unnerving The Haunting of Hill House holds an extra-special place in my heart. Not just scary for the unknowable motivations of the notorious house and the intense atmosphere of personal terrors it conjures for each of its inhabitants, but there’s also the soul-crushing psychic soup of mental disintegration that it encourages as the house takes further hold. It’s heady, intense stuff, and one of my favorite haunted house stories.

I never necessarily thought that we needed a return to Hill House but when I learned that Elizabeth Hand was authorized by Shirley Jackson’s estate to write such a story, I’ll admit, I was pretty excited. Her short stories are incredible–“Near Zennor” (found here) being a particular favorite of mine. A weird, supernatural mystery wherein a grieving widow is driven to learn more about a secret part of his wife’s past, it affected me to such a degree that I made a creepy little playlist for it. Wyldling Hall, a book about a folk band recording in a strange, remote house and the tragedies that happened there, is another favorite of mine from this author. If anyone is to be working with Hill House material, I would trust Elizabeth Hand implicitly–she knows a thing or two about creating immersive, eerie atmospheres and disturbingly uncanny happenings.

In A Haunting On The Hill, Holly is a struggling playwright who has been awarded a grant, and, being in the area and happening upon the expansive opulence of Hill House, she immediately falls under its spell. She becomes convinced that it would be a grand idea to rent it out for a few weeks and invite a group of her actors and collaborators to work on her current project together. The intimate gathering, sequestered away from the bothers of the world for a time, would afford everyone the opportunity to appreciate the material and put their own spin on it and sink into their roles, etc. Along for the ride is Nisa, Holly’s girlfriend, a singer with a beautiful voice that Holly doesn’t want to give too much of the limelight to; Amanda, a prickly older actress with a bit of a cult following and a reputation because of an on-stage tragedy she is linked to; and Stevie, Holly’s best friend, a sensitive and vulnerable individual who is going to do sound design and play the part of a demon-dog. A demon-dog! Yes, this is a play about witchcraft!

Once ensconced in its oppressive walls, the group begins to realize that the space is not as luxurious as it might have initially appeared. Rooms are dimly lit, dusty, and damp. There are more rooms and twisting hallways than would seem possible, and it is easly to become lost, alone, and open to the awful energies of the place. All of the members of the troupe begin to encounter varying degrees of strange and terrifying weirdness inside Hill House but because of their various agendas and commitments, they each have their own reasons for looking the other way (or in some cases, leaning into it) and seeing it through.

They are warned repeatedly to leave the house by people who live locally and who know its history and what always happens there. The realtor who owns the house, the woman who occasionally cleans the house and who drops off meals for Holly and her guests, as well as the eccentric individual who lives in a trailer down the road and who initially chased Holly with an axe on the first day she saw the house. As it happens, this trio all knows each other, and they may be witches, too! Although I am not sure how much that actually figures into the story.

Did Elizabeth Hand do the Hill House material justice? I didn’t go into this book with this question in mind because I wanted an Elizabeth Hand story, not another story by Shirley Jackson. But I’m sure that will be on the minds of a lot of people who are interested in reading the book. She did an outstanding job of evoking the house’s sickening nature, and how it affects/infects each individual so differently depending on the neuroses and trauma that they bring with them into the house. I thrilled to the way that we got to experience Hill House’s terrible corridors again through contemporary eyes and modern sensibilities. And while I did find some of the characters absolutely insufferable, I think all of the personalities worked within the context of the story, and also, that’s just people, right? There’s one or two in every friend group that are annoying and unbearable. And if you care about such things, the whole story is absolutely bewitched with gorgeously golden autumnal vibes and haunting harvest-filtered imagery–which makes it an incredibly perfect October afternoon read.

Some bonus material, related to books and reading: Elizabeth over at Reading Wryly chats about the Autumnal/Winter horror releases she’s most excited about!

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I’m pretty sure I watched the original Tomie film sometime in the mid-2000s but I don’t remember anything about it other than ~typical Tomie things~ and I did not realize that there were eight additional films released after that! Not all of them are easy to find, which limits my options quite a bit, so last night I watched what I could find on Tubi. Tomie: Beginning

This 2005 straight-to-video release was actually a great place to jump back in because it is based on the first Tomie manga by Junji Ito, and as I am presently rereading the entire Tomie omnibus, it’s all pretty fresh in my mind. The events of Tomie: Beginning apparently contend with everything that occurred right before the first film takes place.

Told in a dual timeline in which two former students reminisce in their dilapidated school rooms about what happened to their former classmates, alongside the past events as they unfolded, it’s standard business-as-usual stuff as far as Tomie is concerned. Tomie is the beautiful new girl who shows up at school, the boys are driven mad with desire for her, the girls are insane with jealousy, and Tomie’s out there making friends, influencing people, and getting chopped to pieces, as per usual.

This film takes aspects from the first story, where the entire class hacks her to bits and hides the disparate body parts around town, as well as the story about the photography club, where Tomie recruits goons to do her bidding for her, in addition to how we see her blood soak into things and spawn more Tomies. There is a marvelous (good? bad? I don’t know, it’s just silly!) scene where Tomie’s chopped-off ear sprouts wriggling little tendrils and tentacles, and slithers off into the underbrush. If that’s specific to any of the stories I don’t recall, but it was fun to watch.

I didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about it when I was younger, but Tomie’s is a complicated narrative. She’s presented as selfish and manipulative and generally just horrible in every way that a human can be, but she perpetually and seemingly inescapably experiences horrible trauma herself, in her eternal cycle of murder and rebirth.

Further, her story isn’t hers at all, it’s always told through of eyes of the people who are reacting to her–and over and over, framed as an evil succubus “who gets what she deserves–” never mind the misogyny and violence of the men who “can’t control themselves.” A lot of folks have written about this in a more savvier manner than I have, but whether you delve further into it or not, these are reflections and observations worth spending some time with.

…and I do believe that Tubi has at least two more Tomie movies if you want to spend even more time on it.

 

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I first learned of Images (1972) around this time last year, after I had finished watching The Eyes of Laura Mars and had fallen down a bit of a rabbit hole. It also happens to be another film listed in Kier-La Janisse’s House of Psychotic Women, and honestly, I should probably just devote one of these Octobers to watching films from the book, because they are all fantastic.

Cathryn is a children’s book author (played by Susannah Yorke, who actually wrote the book, In Search of Unicorns, which is dreamily quoted throughout the movie–very cool!) and she is experiencing some dizzying hallucinatory weirdness. This begins in her bedroom as the film opens and she is chatting with her friend Joan in a phone call sequence; suddenly another woman’s voice is on the line, cruelly informing Cathryn that her husband Hugh is sleeping with another woman. And then as if nothing happened, Joan is on the line again.

Cathryn’s husband (it’s DS9’s Odo!!) arrives home and she weepingly confronts him about the stranger’s phone call. As he is comforting her, she glances up, and it’s another man’s face! Understandably, she becomes hysterical, curling into herself on the bathroom floor, but next thing you know, it’s just Hugh again.

Cathryn and Hugh head out to their country home and things continue to morph and change for Cathryn. At one point they pull their car up on a cliff overlooking the house, and when Cathryn looks down below, she sees their car pull up to the house’s front door, with both her and Hugh getting out of it and starting to unpack their things. As this happens more and more frequently, Cathryn’s reactions become dulled to the fluctuating realities, and at times amused. It’s this detachment, that, in the end, leads to the film’s tragic ending, but along the way, it’s a fascinating and terrible trainwreck to watch unfold.

I mentioned the other day that a lot of recent horror movies are too stressful for me, but these hazy 70s-era gems, as strange and surreal as they might be, feel like a cozy comfort watches for me. Plus the vibe is off the charts, as per the two screencaps I grabbed, below. I mean, I would have watched this film based on these alone. I’ve also included a whole slew of the film’s promotional posters because there are in fact quite a few of them.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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