Movie Review: Sacrifice (2021)

I saw Sacrifice (2021) for one major reason: Barbara Crampton is the queen of Lovecraft movies and can make even an otherwise unwatchable movie enjoyable. Luckily Sacrifice wasn’t unwatchable, though it did have very telling elements of a less polished indie film. 

The film follows a couple as they return to the husband’s original home village to sell the house left to him by his mother’s will. There, he and his pregnant wife discover that his supposedly erstwhile father didn’t leave them for another family–he was murdered. This revelation and the strange urging of the villagers begins to slowly drive the husband into clear madness, all while his wife grows more desperate to escape her toxic marriage and the villagers’ strange aquatic-based religious beliefs.

The scenery and many of the shots are great for the scale of the movie this was, and the use of color where applicable was great. Special effects were used sparingly enough to be effective despite the CGI being probably not the best (but no doubt the best for budget). 

The real drawbacks of this film were some of the acting and certain weak parts of the script. Barbara Crampton, despite her utterly terrible Norwegian accent, really carried the film, with Sophie Stevens coming in a close second as the wife Emma. I felt she did a great job conveying the terror of being trapped and gaslit throughout the film in a very strong way. Ludovic Hughes, the male lead, unfortunately played the role of the increasingly mad husband with a little too much intensity from the beginning for me to believe this was a sudden change–which could be interesting to explore as a possibility, but the film just…didn’t. 

It wasn’t a particularly scary film as far as the Lovecraftian aspects, but I did feel it built good tension psychologically with genuine worry for Emma the wife and the unborn child. This film was an interesting look at gaslighting (possibly unintentionally), both from a patriarchal standard and from the perspective of a closed sectarian religious community. 

There is a twist in the end that I won’t spoil, but it absolutely made this movie better for it, which is a rare thing for me to say about twists. Usually I’m one to either enjoy a twist with a grin or roll my eyes from how bad it is, but this one genuinely had me yell happily at the screen. It’s not a happy ending by any means, but it’s a very satisfying one.

Overall, as far as Lovecraftian low budget films go, this one is very enjoyable, if nothing revolutionary. Barbara Crampton is still the queen of Lovecraft movies, and while there are some parts which bring on the cringe, it’s very worth watching for fans of cult, folk, and cosmic horror. This is a fun film for a potential watch-along with friends as well, as it offers plenty of riffing opportunities as well!

Movie Review: Men by Alex Garland

In the spirit of putting up a wordy movie review as promised prior, I have opted to review one of the films of all time, surely, which I definitely have a lot of thoughts about even if none of them are good.

Written and directed by Alex Garland (Ex Machina and Annihilation), the film stars Jessie Buckley (I’m Thinking of Ending Things) and Rory Kinnear (Our Flag Means Death, Penny Dreadful). As a huge fan of Kinnear’s work, especially his turn as Frankenstein’s creation in the otherwise beautiful trainwreck that was Penny Dreadful, I was incredibly excited. The concept sounded intriguing too and steeped in folk horror: a young widow travels to the countryside to escape her old home after her husband’s death; there she becomes haunted and tormented by the strange men of the town.

As a fan of Jessie Buckey, Rory Kinnear, and the prior works of Alex Garland, I had high hopes for this movie. As reviews came out, those hopes dimmed somewhat, but hey, it wouldn’t be the first time I’ve watched a movie that’s been panned and still enjoyed it. There are, in my estimation, a lot more “enjoyable movies” than there are “good films” out there anyway!

Men was neither enjoyable nor good. Alex Garland clearly wants to make works with feminist messages, yet this one is so overly hamfisted in showing the microaggressions faced by (white, cishet) women, that it made me physically cringe. Jessie Buckley and Rory Kinnear are trying, but they clearly weren’t given a lot to go on–Kinnear is a powerhouse of an actor when given even mediocre material, and Buckley knocks it out of the park in other roles. In this though, Buckley is floundering with not much of a character to go on, and Kinnear is given archtypes to play rather than any sort of character himself.

That said, I could still give it a reluctantly generous three stars were it not for the ending. Before this film, I was one to scoff at “ending explained” videos for certain horror films, when the ending seemed clear as day to me. This was arrogance, because now after this film, I can genuinely say I have no damn clue what that ending was supposed to be.

SPOILERS AHEAD:

While I guessed from some set pieces that the Green Man figure of paganism would be a major plot point, possibly fueled by Kinnear’s various characters, there was no explanation of build up to this reveal in the slightest. The association of the Green Man with masculine energy exists of course, but isn’t even vaguely common parlance even for your fannish horror community. Even as someone who knows of it, it took me consideration long after the film to make it, and I’m still not sure I’m right. The blending of the binarist masculine and feminine in the body horror transformation is horrific and interestingly down via the effects team even as it is uncomfortable. But the ending just…makes no goddamn sense. I’m fairly sure this all connects back to her husband’s death? Dunno how but that seems to be the implication, which…is unfortunate given that the husband died in an abusive tear against Jessie Buckley’s character. Is her torture due to guilt? I sure hope not, but again, I have no clue what to make of this ending!

The effects were great in parts, which is why this is getting a reluctant 1.5 stars, when really it deserves maybe a half one. But I’m a sucker for good special effects, so there’s that.

Book Review: House of Leaves

“I still get nightmares. In fact, I get them so often I should be used to them by now. I’m not. No one ever really gets used to nightmares.”

― Mark Z. Danielewski, House of Leaves

This book is an undertaking. That’s not to say it’s too difficult for most, or that it’s too terrifying for most. I think reviews that oversell that do it a disservice and limit its audience. But, I will admit, it’s not an easy fall read to be breezed through in a few days. It’s a book you need to sit with as you read it, tracing the three different narratives and how they coalesce together.

To put it simply: Johnny discovers an older book–a film analysis of a movie that Johnny can’t find proof exists. The movie is a homemade documentary about a strange house owned by the Navidson family. The house seems to be bigger on the inside than the outside.

Seems simple enough, but in reality? It’s anything but. Don’t let that intimidate you.

This book is a masterpiece of post-modernist horror, taking you through a journey with it’s artistically printed page layouts, which only add to the terror somehow. The tension builds up slowly, but creeps in where you don’t expect it, everbuilding until it crescendos into multiple moments of terror.

If you’re intimidated by the footnotes, you can conceivably avoid the footnotes and B and C plotlines, following only the A plot of what the film contains. Then it becomes far easier to pursue the story down the rabbit hole, only missing some killer quotes and amazing thoughts on the nature of grief, but nothing that massively impacts the A plot.

Give this book, which reads as some of the most terrifying found footage ever discovered, a chance to haunt your dreams. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed!

Just remember: This house is not for you.

Book Review: Pet Sematary

How does one speak about the horror and insanity of grief? The great poet Rumi wrote: “Don’t grieve. Anything you lose comes round in another form.” But…

I don’t think Rumi predicted Pet Sematary. 

“When the Creeds move into a beautiful old house in rural Maine, it all seems too good to be true: physician father, beautiful wife, charming little daughter, adorable infant son-and now an idyllic home. As a family, they’ve got it all…right down to the friendly car. But the nearby woods hide a blood-chilling truth-more terrifying than death itself-and hideously more powerful. The Creeds are going to learn that sometimes dead is better.”

When a neighbor shows the Creeds a strange Indigenous artifact in the woods which can raise the dead, he warns them to never use it, using their now-alive-again but utterly feral cat as an example of how things can go wrong. But when the Creeds’ young son dies a violent death, the parents can’t help but be driven to desperate means to save their young child. But Gage certain comes back in another form–Gage comes back wrong.

This book is more than just a scary child story, though believe me Gage is terrifying. This is a story of the lengths that grief with push and pull and break both people as individuals and as a family unit. There ARE several trigger warnings listed here: child death, animal death, gore. Please be mindful of these warnings going in, as well as the offensive use of Native imagery and culture.

That said, this book is terrifying and very much a great read for people wanting to start the journey to more intense horror stories! If you think, based on the plot and the tws, that you can handle the book, please try! It’s classic King at his absolute best, and worth a read through especially during spooky season!

Apologies for Hiatus and Future Posts

Work has been difficult, culminating in my getting physically assaulted by someone at work. Not badly! Just. Sucks. Migraine from having cigarette smoke blown into my face was the most thing.

But I have a few things coming down the pipeline including, more book reviews, some film reviews, deep dives, and listicles. The following are currently in progress!

  • Book reviews of a few new releases including some short story collections edited by Ellen Datlow, the new Brian Evenson, and a handful of others.
  • Series review of Queer for Fear!
  • Listicles including “Most Disturbing Movies” and more
  • A deep dive into queer horror, neurodivergence in horror, and more.

Hopefully I’ll be up for the challenge of more regular writing since I’ve got PTO this week!

Movie Review: The Munsters (2022)

I want to say I went into The Munsters movie with low expectations. I’d heard the reviews panning it, though mostly nebulously and nothing exact. And while I do understand why folks may not like it….

I loved it? It was bright and colorful in a way that it absolutely would have been back in the day if that tech were commonly available. It was pun-filled and corny and a little cringe. Richard Brake will have the scenery he chewed as Dr. Wolfgang in his teeth for years regardless of whether he flosses regularly! And, to me, that’s precisely what a Munsters movie should be.

If you don’t like cringe humor, maybe? I can understand disliking this. But it’s such honest and earnest cute lil cheese based humor that generally might get a normal and not over-the-top second-hand embarrassment reaction that I wasn’t bothered by that one bit, and I can’t even make it through The Office due to cringe pain. So while cringe existed, it was earnest and not done to hurt anyone, which is what hurts me as a neurodivergent viewer.

The story follows the romance of Herman and Lily, as she looks for love in the wrong places as meets a hip young comedian and musician Herman who just came off the slab. Whirlwind romance and wacky hijinks ensue as one might expect from a Munsters story, and it all ends up with the young family moving to the iconic house on Mockingbird Lane. While the ending is slightly abrupt for a movie that admittedly drags slightly in a few places, it’s a sweet story that matches the spirit of the original TV show in my estimation.

Everything was so delightfully over the top! The romance was sugar coated, the costumes were out-there, and everything was referential in Zombie’s quintessential style, but made for a family audience–which is another aspect I thought it did well! While there were a few minor bits of adult-oriented humor, it wasn’t too edgy and I enjoyed that. Controversially perhaps, I really thought Sherri Moon Zombie was a delightful Lily!

Ultimately as someone who watched the original show, I think this definitely had the heart and spirit that it should as a remake. Do I think this movie was made for fans of Rob’s edgier work? No, probably not! But I think it was a fun all ages movie that gave a lot of cute nods to the original show, which is precisely what I was hoping for from it.

Book Review: Fear Street!….sort of

Nostalgia is powerful, and as Fear Street has been adapted for a successful direct-to-streaming movie franchise, it may be time to take a dive into the series! RL Stine, known for his middle grade and young adult horror writing, is sometimes called the Stephen King of kid lit, and it’s not difficult to see why. While many are written with assistance, the man has over 1,100 titles to his name, almost all of the horror directed at a younger audience.

I personally recall loving book fair days, as that meant having new RL Stine books in stock that weren’t in the library. Whether it was Goosebumps or Fear Street, I was immediately drawn to the garish colors, the oozing slimy font or scary spiky type, and the promise of a safe scare.

As times change too, so did the books, and Fear Street the films have become iconic for representing queer youth, which I love to see even as I sorta missed out due to age!

My favorite Fear Street book will surprise no one who knows me: the 45th entry, Cats. 

Marty is both allergic to and afraid of cats. He despises the companion animal in all forms, especially the feral stray that lives on the basketball court he and his friends practice on. Still…its death was an accident, happening when Marty tries to keep it from attacking him and his friends again. However, cats don’t take such things lightly. Marty finds himself followed, discovering he’s been cursed by the colony of feral cats that the aggressive stray was from.

He also becomes the target of bullying and disdain for the accidental death. The Student Court even conspires to put him to trial, and in a middle grade version of Kafka, we get an idea of the ridiculousness of a trial driven by public mob justice.

While not the best of Fear Street, it’s a solid entry which I remember enjoying a lot as a young person! If you can get hold of old Fear Street books after the popularity resurgence, I highly recommend you be on the lookout for grab Cats!

What’s your favorite horror film, tv show, or book that involves evil animals? Or do you avoid the subgenre all together because seeing our innocent friends in danger hurts, even when they are fake props for storytelling? Let us know in the comments below!

Parasitical Horror: Where do we go in post-Roe America?

There’s something inside you that you didn’t want there. It might kill you. You know you can’t live with the fall out of it, and the very existence of it inside you is traumatizing.

You’re watching Alien, of course. Or The Thing. Or Slither, or The Bay, or Viral, or Malignant, or–

….where does parasitical horror stand now, really in a post-Roe America? Because while of course, a human fetus isn’t a parasite in the scientific or traditional sense, it’s still an intrusion into the body that not everyone wants there or is happy about, let alone safe with.

My state has now banned abortion even in the cases of situations such as ectopic or molar pregnancy. For anyone unfamiliar with these terms: a molar pregnancy is when the fetus becomes a tumor. Not a potential child, to be entirely and crystalline clear: a tumor. And an ectopic pregnancy is in which the fetus develops outside the womb. Neither are viable. Both will kill the pregnant parent. 

When Roe was overturned, I flashed back to the scene in Prometheus where Noomi Rapace’s character had to have the alien parasite removed. She sat in the medical machine, demanding an abortion for the inhuman creature which had taken residence in her uterus.

But just like the system which she found herself in, our system was also not designed for women and others with uteruses. It took reifying the situation to one a cis man might face for her to receive treatment. It’s not the most delicate metaphor in Prometheus, nor the most impactful at the time, but…now in the shadow of the SCOTUS decision and various trigger laws going into effect throughout the states? It’s horrifyingly real, in ways we thought were behind us.

Allow me to get a bit personal.

I grew up a fan of horror. I always get looks outside the South or even in the South by the younger crowd when I tell them the first movie I remember wanting to watch over and over with childish glee wasn’t a Disney film, but was Ernest Scared Stupid. And as I grew up and consumed more horror media, I noticed it, like all media, reflected a lot of what society had to say about itself. It’s very telling really.

Alien. The Fly. The Exorcist. Rosemary’s Baby.

There’s something inside you that you didn’t (necessarily) want there. It might kill you. You know you can’t live with the fall out of it, and the very existence of it inside you is traumatizing.

Even in horror, the scariest thing we can all imagine, even cis men, is the loss of autonomy of our own bodies.

This isn’t to discount the countless valid stories of parents of wanted pregnancies, who lose what would have become a beloved child to tragedy beyond their circumstances–who are then victimized more by a system that holds no grounds for nuance. I cannot imagine the pain, the suffering that causes, the sheer mental fortitude and bravery required to go on. I remember the far off pained look and the quiet embarrassment of my mother telling me about her miscarriages quietly during my adolescence, as if speaking of them as more than a whisper would be enough to invite more shame. 

But that isn’t my story and I feel it might ring hollow or disingenuous, even though I want to stand and scream for them as well.

So here’s my story:

I was born in the late 80s in Nashville to a biological mother who already had teenage children, and a biological father who already had a different wife and possibly children of their own. From what little I know, they knew each other from work. He had a position of power over her, which he abused. We won’t go into more detail–no more is known by me, and no more is needed. My biological mother made the choice, or was perhaps cajoled, I truly do not know, into giving me up for adoption through a Christian adoption agency.

I was adopted by a couple in rural TN, who–for all our fussing and fighting at times–do love me very much. I can’t fault them there. And due to this I grew up, like one might imagine, thinking the only choice–adoption–was as clear and easy as day.

And then I started getting sick. As I got older I got sicker. Needed surgery in my late teens to fix problems usually relegated to 50+ year old alcoholics even though I never drank more than a glass of white wine my whole life up till that point. Took till my twenties to figure out I had a genetic disorder that affects every system of my body–reproductive included.

I’d wanted to be a parent, up to that point, even though pregnancy sounded kinda scary. I’d realized by that age that not evrything was black and white, and I was nominally pro-choice, but still somehow in my mind, I guess I thought abortions were for other people. And I’d done everything “right”–never acted on being bi, and never questioned why the label “girl or woman” had chafed my whole life.

But then the doctor was saying words like “rupture” and “hemorrhage.” “Growth restriction” and “collapse.”

“Fifty percent chance of heritability.”

I remembered dislocated ribs on the playground. Fainting just standing up after a long lecture because my veins are too fragile to regulate blood pressure some days. Throwing up pure stomach acid before tests, not because of anxiety, but because my esophagus won’t function properly on the bad days.

There’s something inside you that isn’t you. You didn’t invite it in. It might kill you.

And I knew that even despite what I’d thought I wanted most of my life, I couldn’t let it kill anyone else either. I knew in that moment, if birth control failed, I’d get an abortion without hesitating. And in that moment, I knew whatever little judgment I may have held onto for others didn’t have a leg to stand on.

No one’s judgment really does.

Because they know it’s a horrifying situation to be in. Frankly I’m tired of pretending they don’t. Art reflects life, and since the dawn of the genre of horror, its many male authors have known the same thing:

The horror isn’t the whispers in the woods at night. Not always.

Much much more often, it’s the loss of autonomy. The loss of feeling full personhood. The gaslighting by society telling you you’re crazy for not being happy about it. The complete and total lack of help by anyone around you capable of giving any significant aid.

It’s interesting to think of where horror might go from this point in regards to parasitical elements. Even prior to the overturn of Roe, directors of such films did seem to have an inkling of what such horror reflected in our culture and how it might be received differently by roughly half the populace. With the advent of a new more socially aware generation of horror directors and films thereof, it seems impossible to avoid as a subject going forward.

There’s something inside you that you didn’t want there. It might kill you. You know you can’t live with the fall out of it, and the very existence of it inside you is traumatizing.

Don’t let them make excuses. Don’t believe the lies. They’ve told us this whole time they know.

We don’t have to make them know.

We have to make them afraid too, somehow.

Afraid to be voted out, afraid to be the bad guys of history, afraid to lose every ounce of the credibility that they’ve tried to make for themselves.

They are the monsters of these stories. It’s time we fight back. 

There’s something outside you that isn’t you. You didn’t invite it in, but it’s trying to take your choices. 

Don’t you dare let it.

Book Review: Tomie by Junji Ito

Between the line of the literary terror of horror books and the visual horror of scary movies lies an important but oft overlooked genre: the horror graphic novel, comic, manga, etc. The foundational works of many great artist and writer teams of the horror comic community–Wrightson, Wein, Mignola, McKean, Niles, Templesmith–have crafted incredible works of literary-visual terror.

But none are quite the master craftsman of the art combined with storytelling like Junji Ito.

While we will surely eventually discuss some of his one shots works, which pack terror into less than 200 pages, his series work is what he’s most famous for: Uzumaki in particular but also the subject of today’s review: Tomie.

The manga centers on the titular character: a mysterious, beautiful woman named Tomie Kawakami, identified by her sleek black hair and a beauty mark below her left eye.

Tomie acts like a succubus, possessing an undisclosed power to make any man fall in love with her. Through her mere presence, or through psychological and emotional manipulation, she drives these people into jealous rages that often lead to brutal acts of violence. Men kill each other over her, and women are driven to insanity as well — though there are some who are strong enough to resist her. Tomie is inevitably killed time and time again, only to regenerate and spread her curse to other victims, making her effectively immortal, not unlike Sadako, Kayako, or even American horror icons. And how can one defeat something permanently when one can never truly die?

The art of Tomie is in Ito’s distinctive early style, combining a sense of eerie not-quite-right-looking humans with the outright body horror of many of his more monstrous beings. Nowhere are these combined quite as well as Tomie who takes many spine-chilling (and cracking!) forms throughout the manga–as well as the decently spooky Japanese film adaptations of the volumes. 

To put it simply, Tomie is one of Ito’s most iconic works for a reason. The splash pages alone are astounding and stomach-churning, but the level of detail he puts into all of his work is more than most. It is also helped instead of hindered by it unlike many types of art. Images of Tomie are second most popular on Ito merchandise after images from Uzumaki, though quite frankly I find much of Tomie more striking.

TRIGGER WARNING:

 Tomie does deal with sexist violence and femicide, as well as gross out and body horror. Please be aware of this before picking up the book.

That said, it’s a set of books I adore. If you think you can handle it based on warnings and summaries, give it a shot! Just don’t catch Tomie’s gaze.