We never liked clowns – and now we know why. Erica and I talk about the recent movie IT.
Andrew Divoff has been a busy man. He recently starred in Michael Kehoe’s film The Hatred, and is in the process of launching his own brewery. Last Friday, his newest film, Demons (directed by Miles Doleac) was released in theaters and VOD. I can say without reservation that I thoroughly enjoyed Demons.
The plot bears some similarity to The Last Exorcism, insofar that a fanatical father requests that a skeptical minister exorcize his daughter, who may or may not be demon-possessed. Divoff portrays the afflicted girl’s father, and he is a scene-stealer in that role. It would be too simplistic to merely label his character, Jasper Grant, as another “bad guy.” Jasper does some awful things to his children, but with good intentions, because he is entirely sincere in his religious beliefs. This element could have come off as campy or otherwise derailed the film, but Divoff handles it beautifully. The character’s love for his children shines through enough that you can’t hate Jasper, even though his religious beliefs are destructive.
Demons runs counter to horror film tropes in its depiction of women, particularly the character Lara (Kristina Emerson). Introduced in the present-day timeline as a friend of Jasper’s surviving daughter Kayleigh, Lara initially seems like the sort of character who is written out early. That is, she spends a lot of time naked, has purple hair, and has a lot of unconventional ideas about spirituality and social norms. In fact, she is a psychologically healthy character whose spiritual views and lifestyle serve as a counterbalance to Jasper’s shame-based religious attitudes.
There is also a twist ending that I flat-out did not expect, but if fully in keeping with the fact that many characters are not what they seem. This is certainly true of Father Colin (portrayed by writer-director Miles Doleac), who is skeptical that a demon possession is actually taking place. Father Colin also goes against expectations by leaving the priesthood to marry the afflicted girl’s sister, Kayleigh (Lindsay Anne Williams).
Check out the trailer for Demons below and watch it today on Amazon Video.
My regular readers may have noticed that I haven’t been too active this past month. It’s because of a family emergency that ended up being the most horrific day of my life.
Around two weeks ago, I was going to drive my mom to a doctor’s appointment. While getting into my car, she slipped and fell, apparently twisting her leg on the way down. Because of the position of my car door, I didn’t initially see that her leg was broken. Once I did, it felt like I couldn’t respond quickly enough. Her leg wasn’t “just” broken; both bones were protruding from her skin and her foot was almost completely detached from her ankle. Quite a lot of blood was spurting out of the wound, and I was terrified that she was going to bleed to death before the paramedics arrived. To top things off, my repeated calls to 911 kept being disconnected before I could even speak to a dispatcher, making the situation seem even more like a bad dream. Even though I am Red Cross certified in First Aid and CPR, I had no first aid supplies or even a belt to use as a tourniquet, so had to squeeze the wound with one hand and dial 911 with the other. I’m not at all a squeamish person, having worked and interned in funeral homes and coroner’s offices. But it’s an entirely different feeling when someone’s life is in your hands, and that person happens to be a loved one.
I’m extremely grateful to the strangers who stopped to help my mom while the paramedics were en route. One was a first responder who was out for a walk on his day off work. Others were nurses who worked at a rehab center across the street. Their presence truly feels like divine intervention.
My mom has a long road of recovery ahead of her, and some of her immediate needs pulled me out of my daily routine, including writing for My Horrific Life. As things become more stable, I’ll make up for my absence with new interviews, reviews, and exclusive news from some of my favorite personalities in the horror genre.
Do not miss this podcast! Erica and I interview Michael Kehoe – award-winning writer, producer, and director! We talk with him about his most recent film, “The Hatred”, as well as all of his other works, including “Second Dance”, “Dominion,” and his wonderful short film “HUSH”. Michael was a joy to interview and has great stories and insights from work in the film industry.
On September 16, Michael Kehoe, Andrew Divoff, Sarah Davenport, Amanda Wyss, Gabrielle Bourne, Musetta Vander, and Gary Tunnicliffe appeared at Dark Delicacies to promote their new film, The Hatred. Michael Kehoe and Andrew Divoff were kind enough to share exclusive photos from the event.
The Hatred, (directed by Michael G. Kehoe and starring Andrew Divoff, David Naughton, Amanda Wyss, Sarah Davenport, Gabrielle Bourne, Bailey Corman, Alisha Wainwright, Nina Siemaszko, Shae Smolik, and Darby Walker) was released on DVD/Blu yesterday. I’m very excited about the upcoming podcast interview with Michael Kehoe, and Andrew Divoff’s upcoming announcement of his new business venture, Three Marm Brewing. In the meantime, I’ll share my thoughts about the film itself.
Without revealing major spoilers, the first part of the film takes place in 1968, in which former Nazi soldier Samuel Sears (Andrew Divoff) has assimilated into American society as a reclusive farmer. He receives an amulet in the mail from one of his Nazi associates, and the amulet prompts a series of violent events at the farmhouse. In the present day, a group of young women on a weekend retreat at the old farmhouse encounter the amulet’s evil influence along with the ghosts of Sears’ family.
The trailer looked massively creepy, but the scenes involving the four young women in the present-day scenes made me a bit worried that the film itself would involve a bunch of shallow, bubble-headed bimboes being terrorized in typical slasher film fashion. Fortunately, I was very wrong about this point. The young women are actually intelligent and inquisitive. One of the funniest moments that counters audience expectations is when the blonde Samantha (Bailey Corman, the niece of Roger Corman) not only recognizes a gruesome artifact as an 11th century Viking death mask, but also exclaims, “I’m in heaven!” Later, Samantha is revealed to be a scholar and serious history buff. Once the malevolent supernatural activity really kicks off, the young women react by researching the history and properties of the amulet rather than becoming hysterical.
The film’s performances are solid. Darby Walker is great as Sears’ daughter, Alice, who meets an unpleasant end early in the film. Andrew Divoff is phenomenal as the ex-Nazi Samuel Sears. He’s as menacing as you would expect, based on Andrew’s other bad-guy roles, but he also shows some sensitivity and emotional vulnerability in some of the scenes, adding complexity to his overbearing, authoritarian patriarch character. There are also some unanswered questions about this character and his relationship to the local Sheriff. It seems like the Sheriff has some skeletons in his own closet, and Sears leverages this knowledge to prevent the Sheriff from conducting any serious investigation into Alice’s disappearance, or from outing Sears as a former Nazi.
Don’t go into this movie expecting a T&A slasher film, or even blood and gore. (Though there is a flashback sequence that makes me wonder if Sears disemboweled and taxidermied Alice.) Instead, it’s a character-centric ghost story with an emphasis on atmosphere and spookiness. Pick up your copy of The Hatred on Blu-ray today! Also, those of you in Southern California can meet director Michael Kehoe, FX designer Gary Tunnicliffe, and cast members Andrew Divoff, Sarah Davenport, Amanda Wyss, Gabrielle Bourne, Musetta Vander, and Nina Siemaszko at Dark Delicacies on September 16, 2017.
You know what time it is. Time for me to give an obligatory review of IT, because every other horror film reviewer is talking about it. I even re-read the novel in preparation for seeing the 2017 film adaptation. IT was the second novel I read by Stephen King; The Shining was the first. IT stuck with me for a long time, and I tend to re-read the book every few years.
When I later saw the miniseries Stephen King’s It on TV, I was sorely disappointed. Tim Curry made a good Pennywise, but so many terrifying scenes from the book didn’t make the cut. The scenes that did were often cheesy, not scary. But before I cast more aspersion on the TV miniseries, I realize that the adaptation was hampered by budgetary limitations and network censorship. I knew then that to do the novel justice, the next adaptation would need to be an R-rated film with a bigger budget and better special effects.
Finally, Andy Muschietti has given us an adaptation that approaches King’s vision and captures the heart of the novel. This isn’t to say that the new film doesn’t differ from the novel in several significant ways.
The narrative structure is different. First, the narrative structure of the film is purely linear. King’s novel begins with the death of Georgie, and then introduces the Losers as adults. The Losers’ present-day story is interspersed with flashbacks from their childhood as they recover suppressed/repressed memories of their horrific encounters with Pennywise. The film focuses exclusively on the Losers’ childhood events, teasing a future “Chapter Two” which will focus on the characters as adults.
The time period is different. King’s novel set the flashback scenes in the 1950s, and the adult scenes in the then-present 1980s. The new film moves the time period up three decades by having the characters as children in the late 1980s, which will allow the the adults’ story to take place in the mid-2010s. As much as I loved King’s vivid description of life in the 1950s, this change makes sense, is more relatable to most audience members, and doesn’t weaken the story in any way.
Don’t expect to see your favorite scares. Everyone who has read the novel has certain scare scenes that affected them. Check out this list from Mashable for examples. I always enjoyed Ben’s first encounter with Pennywise on the canal, and have never thought of the tune “Camptown Races” the same way after reading Stanley’s encounter at the old standpipe. Patrick Hocksetter’s death involving an old refrigerator and flying leeches was fabulously weird. That said, don’t expect to see them. You will get to see a version of Beverly’s encounter with the bathroom drain, but many of these scenes don’t appear in the new film, or have been reimagined as something else entirely. Fortunately, the re-imagined scares are pretty darn good. My favorite is Ben’s encounter in the library.
The graphic sexual content has been excised…again. The new version of IT isn’t afraid of gore, and actually had the balls to show Pennywise chewing Georgie’s arm off. But when it comes to the novel’s graphic sexual content, the filmmakers played it safe. So if you are wondering if the new film includes THAT scene in which Beverly has sex with the rest of the Losers, the answer is no. Also missing is the homosexual encounter between the bullies Patrick Hocksetter and Henry Bowers. The “leper “who terrorizes Eddie does not offer a blowjob. However, it is implied that Beverly’s father sexually abuses her. Theses scenes were effective in the novel, because the reality of children being vulnerable to sexual predators was a nice contrast to the wholesome facade of the 1950s, but certainly a PR nightmare to adapt to film, given the fact the characters are underage. We’ll see if the raunchier aspects of the novel make the cut when the adults’ story in “Chapter Two” is released.
I was pleased to see a more serious attempt at depicting the “deadlights,” and the fact that looking into them will make you lose your mind. I hope that “Chapter Two” expands on this, and includes the inter-dimensional battle between the Losers and Pennywise.
This is an interview that has been long overdue. For the past several months, I’ve chatted intermittently with Dexter Williams about his award-winning screenplays, but because of schedule conflicts, wasn’t able to work out a time to interview him on the podcast. Thankfully, Dexter was able to answer my questions by email. Dexter is an American screenwriter who has written twelve feature film screenplays and twelve short screenplays, virtually all of which being a personal reflection of his interest in the paranormal and metaphysical. He has written scripts in the genres of: comedy, drama, fantasy, horror, science fiction, and thriller.
MHL: How did you become interested in screenwriting?
DW: Well before I was interested in horror, there was this idea for a teen romantic comedy I was very passionate about. It was about a high school student who is asked to hypnotize the captain of the basketball team into being her best friend’s date for an upcoming dance. I thought that would make a great date movie. I started buying books on the art of screenwriting, and from there I wrote my very first feature film script “Under Your Spell”. And that was the beginning of my interest in writing for the screen.
MHL: What inspires you? Who or what is your muse?
DW: The better question is “what inspires me”? The motion picture industry, and movies in general. When I was growing up in Michigan, I really wasn’t into movies. The idea of sitting in a darkened theatre wasn’t that appealing to me. One film changed all that: “Altered States”, released in 1980 (on Christmas Day — of all days). When I saw the TV spot for the film, that was the first time I actually wanted to go see a movie. I have had a love affair with movies ever since. I really don’t have a regular muse as far as my scripts go, but Italian actress Monica Bellucci was my muse for one of my horror scripts “Mistresses of Sleep”. After seeing her in “The Matrix Reloaded” and “The Brothers Grimm”, I wanted to create a feature film project for her playing a hypnotist. I could find the right story for the project, so I focused on other scripts. I came back to it a couple of years later, and it turned out a whole lot different (and better) than I would have ever imagined. I would be so honored to have Monica be in the film if “Mistresses of Sleep” ever gets made.
MHL: It seems that most of what you write falls within the horror genre. What draws you to horror?
DW: I absolutely love the level of intensity when it comes to horror. The idea of having the living daylights scared out of me is a genuine rush to me, and I enjoy writing horror scripts that prey on fears of the unknown. Supernatural horror is my favorite genre because it explores things that are beyond explanation and beyond the boundaries of reality.
MHL: Your screenplays recently have achieved recognition and awards at various film festivals. Tell us more about this.
DW: I have been quite fortunate to have some of my scripts get recognition at various film festivals. In fact, I have gotten more recognition for my horror scripts than any other genre. “Demon Crystal” and “Mistresses of Sleep” were Official Selections in the Fright Night Film Fest and the Sacramento International Film Festival, and “Mistresses of Sleep” was not only an Official Selection in the Oaxaca FilmFest in Mexico, it was even nominated for three awards: Best Horror, Best Original Concept, and the big one…Best Overall Script!
MHL: On a more personal note, you’ve discussed the role of hypnosis in your creative process. How has hypnotherapy helped you as a writer?
DW: After I have written my first two scripts, I suffered from Writer’s Block. One day I met a lady who was telling someone’s fortune. I talked to her and I was surprised when she give me her business card which said she’s also a hypnotist. I told her about my writer’s block, and she agreed to help me with that (at no charge). Her name is Monica Geers-Dahl (she’s a hypnotherapist from Florida), and she is awesome! Thanks to the sessions I had with her, I haven’t had writer’s block since.
MHL:What projects are you currently working on?
DW: I’m working on my first collaboration. It’s outside of the horror genre, and it’s a fantasy-drama called “Words of the Ethereal”. It is based on an original story by my collaborator, an amazing writer/poet from the state of Washington named RaVen Marie. It is quite a challenge writing a script based on someone else’s story, but it’s a challenge I gladly welcome.
MHL: Now for questions we ask all of our interviewees: Do you have any questions you hate being asked?
DW: Thankfully, I have not had any embarrassing questions in all the interviews I have done.
MHL: What questions are never asked that you wish would be asked?
DW: One question that comes to mind is: if I could have any actress play a hypnotist in a horror film, who would it be and why? I would have to say Margot Robbie, who played Harley Quinn in “Suicide Squad”. She would make a fabulous evil hypnotist!
MHL: You are on a desert island with only two hours of battery life left on your iPad. What is the last movie you will watch?
DW: Probably “American Beauty”, the 1999 Best Picture Oscar Winner. It is my all-time favorite film (not horror, by the way).
MHL: The world is about to end in nuclear war. What will be the last album you will listen to?
DW: “Hounds of Love” by English recording artist Kate Bush. She is a phenomenal talent and one of my all-time favorites in music.
Dexter is represented by Mystical Sounds Productions, a management/production company based in Montreal, Canada.
DEMON CRYSTAL (Horror) OFFICIAL SELECTION/SEMIFINALIST – Southeastern International Film Festival
DESTINATION YESTERDAY (Thriller) GRAND JURY AWARD – L.A. Neo Noir, Novel, Film, & Script Festival
ENSLAVEMENT (Horror) (OPTIONED)
ENSLAVEMENT II (Horror) (OPTIONED)
ENSLAVEMENT III (Horror) (OPTIONED)
FLOATING TO PARADISE (Drama)
HELL FOR HIRE (Dark Comedy)
MISTRESSES OF SLEEP (Horror)
SECOND DANCE (Fantasy)
UNDER YOUR SPELL (Teen Comedy)
WISH UPON A HOLLYWOOD STAR (Comedy)
BALD GIRLS CAN HYPNOTIZE (Comedy)
DRAGON OF DESTINY (Fantasy)
FEAR THE CLOWNS (Horror)
THE GLAMOROUS SPELL (Comedy)
THE HYPNOTIC TRAP (Horror)
MEDUSA MELROSE: DRAG QUEEN HYPNOTIST (Comedy)
THE OUT-OF-THIS-WORLD DAY (Sci-Fi)
SLAVE IN THE SPOTLIGHT (Horror)
THE SLEEP STONE (Fantasy)
SWIM INTO THE UNCONSCIOUS (Drama)
A TOUCH OF SUNSHINE MAGIC (Comedy)
SCREENWRITING AWARDS AND NOMINATIONS
DEMON CRYSTAL (Horror):
Southeastern International Film Festival – Semifinalist
Fright Night Film Fest – Official Selection
Sacramento International Film Festival – Official Selection (Semifinalist)
DESTINATION YESTERDAY (Thriller):
L.A. Neo Noir Novel, Film, & Script Festival – Grand Jury Award Winner (Gold Award)
Sacramento International Film Festival – Official Selection (Semifinalist)
FLOATING TO PARADISE (Drama):
Sacramento International Film Festival – Official Selection (Semifinalist)
MISTRESSES OF SLEEP (Horror):
Oaxaca FilmFest – Official Selection (Nominated for: Best Overall Script, Best Original Concept, Best Horror)
Fright Night Film Fest – Official Selection
Sacramento International Film Festival – Official Selection (Semifinalist)
SECOND DANCE (Fantasy):
Sacramento International Film Festival – Official Selection (Semifinalist)
In honor of Stephen King’s birth month, My Horrific Life will be covering our favorite (and not-so-favorite) Stephen King books and film adaptations.
Like many of our readers, I’m excited for the new film adaptation of IT, because it’s possibly my favorite King novel (in a close tie with The Shining). I revisit the novel every couple years, and I’m hoping IT finally gets the film adaptation it deserves. My massage therapist John summed it up by saying, “maybe now people can stop talking about the TV miniseries, which was AWFUL. The people who like it liked it when they were eight years old. What eight-year-old has good taste in ANYTHING?” Although Tim Curry gave a great performance as Pennywise, I have to agree with John. The other things I noticed is that people who love the miniseries have never read the book. The novel was simply too gruesome and too…adult to be adapted as a 1990s television special. Those of you who have read the novel are probably also wondering if the 2017 film adaptation will include THAT scene. You know, the one in which Beverly did not give the boys a chaste kiss on the cheek, as she did in the TV miniseries?
While I can live without the pre-teen gang-bang scene, I really hope this version includes the inter-dimensional battle between It and the young people, properly explain what the “deadlights” are, and, of course, include the gorier and more lascivious scares that made the novel so effective.
On our podcast, we will be welcoming back Justin Beahm for a roundtable discussion about Stephen King’s works and adaptations. Though not related to King’s work, I am very pleased to announce that we will be interviewing Michael Kehoe, director of The Hatred, starring our recent podcast guests Andrew Divoff and David Naughton. The Hatred is scheduled for a release on blu/DVD on September 12.
Join Erica and I for a great interview with independent filmmaker and musician Ryan Scott Weber. Ryan’s films include Mary Horror, Sheriff Tom Vs. The Zombies, Witches Blood, and Pretty Fine Things, and more. Besides being the drummer for the band Crash Romeo, he is also the creator of the New Jersey Horror Con and Film Festival! We talk about all these things with this multi-talented guy.
As my vacation continues, I am scouring the archives for more meta-horror, now focusing on more “adult” and “extreme” fare.
This Valentine’s Day, it’s only appropriate that I spend some time reflecting on the latest entry of a series that holds a special place in my heart. None other than the Guinea Pig series, of course. The first entries, The Devil’s Experiment (1985) and Flower of Flesh and Blood (1985) both continue hold a prominent place in the faux-snuff genre, in part for their superb gore effects, but also because they were believed to be genuine snuff films and were suspected to have influenced the crimes of “otaku” killer Miyazaki Tsutomo. Sadly, the subsequent entries in the series degenerated into self-referential silliness and never captured the brutality of the first two…until now.
Stephen Biro’s American Guinea Pig: Bouquet Of Guts And Gore (2014) is, as you may guess, an Americanized quasi-meta redux of the Japanese quasi-meta faux-snuff opus Guinea Pig: Flower of Flesh and Blood (1985). Both films feature the explicit real-time dismemberment and murder of drugged female victims, zero plot, and various pornographic conceits. However, there are a few thematic differences.
While Hideshi Hino’s Flower depicted the systematic disassembly of its victim as an erotic experience for the murderer and possibly for the unfortunate woman herself (due to the influence of a nondescript sedative), American Guinea Pig eschews this aspect in favor of focusing on the act of filmmaking itself. The distinctly American aspect of this film is the fact that the sadistic acts aren’t particularly enjoyable for those committing them; the most important thing is creating a product that makes a profit. This is repeatedly emphasized by the “director’s” monotone instructions to the “actors” (one of whom “doesn’t know his right from his left”) and to the cameramen, who must get the right shot at the right angle at the right time. In a move reminiscent of Circus of the Dead and A Serbian Film, one of the “actors” is a normal person forced to do terrible things against his will. And like those films, American Guinea Pig has no qualms about brutalizing children, even if the violence is largely implied. Additionally, there is quite a bit Satanic imagery and much is made of reserving the greater torture for the Christian victim. Why? Because it will make the film more popular with its target audience.
As for the faux-snuff aspect itself, all of my fellow torture-porn-gore-whores can rejoice. American Guinea Pig features not one but two victims and clocks in at roughly twice the time as Hideshi Hino’s film (perhaps this reflecting the distinctly American philosophy of “more is more”). The special effects themselves equal, if not surpass, those of Flower.
In this final post on John Carpenter’s In the Mouth of Madness, I’m going to explore the film’s take on religion in general and Christianity in particular. I’m a bit surprised that the film has not drawn fire from Christian media watchdogs. Perhaps the film flew under the radar of most Christian viewers, but my Christian friends who have watched it don’t seem to regard it as particularly offensive.
In the Mouth of Madness makes a number of overt claims that would be regarded as heretical. In the church confessional booth scene, horror author turned deity Sutter Cane informs protagonist John Trent, ” Do you want to know the problem with places like this? With religion in general? It’s never known how to convey the anatomy of horror. Religion seeks discipline through fear, yet doesn’t understand the true nature of creation. No one’s ever believed it enough to make it real. The same cannot be said of my work.” He goes onto explain that his books have been translated into 18 languages and have sold over a billion copies. “More people believe in my work than believe in the Bible… It’ll make the world ready for the change. It takes its power from new readers and new believers. That’s the point. Belief! When people begin to lose their ability to know the difference between fantasy and reality the Old Ones can begin their journey back. The more people who believe, the faster the journey.” Later, Cane informs Trent, “I’m God now.”
The idea that belief create reality is a subversive one, especially if that means that people create gods and not the other way around. It calls to mind occult theories of tulpas and thoughtforms.
What’s potentially more inflammatory than the overt text is the subtext. It became apparent to me–after many viewings–that In the Mouth of Madness is actually about Calvinism. And it presents one of the best arguments against Calvinism, at least if one has any investment in the belief in free will and in God’s inherent goodness.
For those unfamiliar with the term, it was named for the 1500’s theologian John Calvin, whose ideas were branded heretical by the Catholic Church. Calvin’s ideas still hold some weight among some Protestant denominations, though are hesitant to embrace all of its tenants. (Hence, you hear people describe themselves as four-point Calvinists as opposed to five-point Calvinists.) The big issue with Calvinism is that it opens a big can o’ worms regarding the nature of evil and whether God is good. Other forms of Christianity address these issues by stating that God is absolutely good, but evil exists because God allows his creations to have free will. Free will may be limited, because all people are born into sin and are incapable of absolute holiness, but people still have a great deal of freedom to make choices. In this model of Christianity, humans also have the free will to reject or accept the salvation offered by Jesus Christ. Therefore, God does not damn anyone to hell. Rather, some people elect to be sent there. It’s a decent explanation for why the world is so awful without besmirching God’s goodness.
In contrast, Calvinism posits that all of humanity is absolutely depraved and have no free will to avoid sinning, nor to freely accept or reject salvation. Instead, God “predestines” some for salvation and others for eternal damnation. (This is not the same as an all-knowing God knowing the outcome of every human choice before it happens.) Adherents who fail to see the nightmarishness of this have simply not followed the logic through to its natural conclusion. A belief in zero free will and in predestination cuts to the heart of any argument in God’s inherent goodness and justness. After all, how just and righteous is it to eternally damn a large segment of one’s own creation when they never had a choice to do wrong in the first place, nor the choice to reject an offer of salvation? It seems that such a God would be damning people for the lulz, or as Calvinists would prefer to say, “for the good pleasure of His will.”
Trent protests, “God’s not a hack horror writer.” But a purely Calvinistic God surely would be. How else could one explain the entirety of human history, which reads like a long list of atrocities? Such an account only fits in the horror genre, and is nastier than anything conceived by even the most extreme writers. God would be an like an author who develops characters and scripts their every action in advance, writing out their ultimate ends in His infallible Word. His creations can consult his Word to see how it all turns out, but have no free will to exercise in the outcome. This is exactly what happens in In the Mouth of Madness, in which Cane, the Creator, does all of this with the added sadism of giving his creations consciousness and allowing them to labor under the illusion that they are real people who have a will of their own. Which is, I guess, also the same sadism present in Calvinism and other versions of theological determinism.
Continuing the analogy of Sutter Cane as God, John Trent could be read as a perverse and inverted version of Christ, “the Word made Flesh.” This is where In the Mouth of Madness departs from Calvinism or any other form of Christianity, because Trent doesn’t deliver salvation to anyone. Rather, he is the unwitting and unwilling carrier of Cane’s “new Bible,” which will doom the entire human race. And for the people who don’t read, there’s a movie version.
Of course, not everyone takes offense at the notion of a sadistic puppeteer god who pulls the strings of creations who falsely believe they have a self, as we’ll see in my review of Thomas Ligotti’s Conspiracy Against the Human Race.
In our last post, I discussed the various literary influences apparent in In the Mouth of Madness. Today, I’m delving a bit deeper into some of the tropes and philosophies that informed Lovecraft’s work, and this film in turn.
In the Mouth of Madness opens with John Trent being admitted to an insane asylum, where he recounts his story to an investigator (David Warren). One of the most common tropes in Lovecraft’s work is the notion that some truths are so terrible as to cause the knower to go insane. Consider this noteworthy opening quote from “The Call of Cthulhu”: “The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.” In some Lovecraft stories, acquiring forbidden knowledge not only causes insanity, but forces bodily mutations upon the victim. This is apparently a trope within Sutter Cane’s fiction and also happens to unfortunate readers of his newest novel, In the Mouth of Madness. In some respects, these mutations are reminiscent of transformation scenes in John Carpenter’s earlier film The Thing.
Misanthropy was rampant in Lovecraft’s fiction. In a letter to Edwin Baird, editor of Weird Tales, Lovecraft wrote of a young writer who wished to pen a story of a mad scientist who strives to conquer the world by unleashing a plague. To Lovecraft, this vision unoriginal and simply did not go far enough. “Good and evil, teleological illusion, sugary sentiment, anthropocentric psychology–the usual stock in trade, and all shot through with the eternal and inescapable commonplace…Who ever wrote a story from the point of view that man is a blemish on the cosmos, who ought to be eradicated?…I told my friend, he should conceive of a man with a morbid, frantic, shuddering hatred of the life-principle itself, who wishes to extirpate from the planet every trace of biological organism, animal and vegetable alike, including himself…Only a cynic can create horror–for behind every masterpiece of the sort must reside a demonic force that despises the human race and its illusions, longs to pull them to pieces and mock them” (Quoted in Thomas Ligotti’s The Conspiracy against the Human Race: A Contrivance of Horror) .This attitude is rampant in Sutter Cane’s work, and John Trent offers a similar opinion at one point when he tells Linda Styles, “The sooner we’re off the planter, the better.” However, Trent is ultimately unable to maintain that stance–or perhaps it was mere posturing all along–because he tries desperately to save humanity in the film’s final act.
The last and perhaps most important Lovecraftian trope is identity-based horror. (And here I spoil the best scene in in the movie.) In “Through the Gates of the Silver Key,” Lovecraft writes, “No death, no doom, no anguish can arouse the surpassing despair which flows from a loss of identity.” Savvy viewers would know that John Trent is set up for such a fate, given his arrogance and frequent comments along the lines of “I’m my own man; nobody pulls my strings.” The revelation that he is not his own man and in fact has no free will is expected, but the specific nature of this revelation delivers a gut-punch arguably superior to similar twists penned by Lovecraft himself. In a confrontation with between Trent and Sutter Cane, Cane reveals, “This town didn’t exist before I wrote it, and neither did you…You are what I write!” Trent sputters and protests that he is not, in fact, a “piece of fiction,” Cane responds, “I think, therefore you are.” Trent is not even left with the solace of having once been human. He simply never was what he believed himself to be, and technically, was never real.
I will further discuss the notion human existence as puppet existence in our final post on In the Mouth of Madness and its religious implications, and in my review of Thomas Ligotti’s The Conspiracy Against the Human Race.
Today we discuss In the Mouth of Madness, John Carpenter’s final entry in his so-called apocalypse trilogy. It’s also my favorite of the three films. It has layers of complexity that allow for multiple viewings. As a result, I decided to break up my commentary for this film over multiple entries. Be advised that I will be spoiling every major plot point and trope in this film. But, I will be discussing aspects of the film that aren’t generally known or discussed.
In the Mouth of Madness is a 1990s meta-horror film about an insurance fraud investigator John Trent (Sam Neill) who is hired by a major publishing house to find missing author Sutter Cane, and deliver his newest manuscript, In the Mouth of Madness, for publication. It’s a big deal because Cane outsells all others.
With a name like Sutter Cane, it may seem that he is based on Stephen King. However, it’s quickly apparent that he is actually modeled primarily on H.P. Lovecraft. As you can see from the covers below, and others glimpsed in the film, the titles are derivative of Lovecraft titles, including “At the Mountains of Madness,” “The Thing on the Doorstep,” “The Whisperer in the Darkness,” “The Color out of Space,” and “The Shadow Out of Time.”
Excerpts of Cane’s writing are distinctly Lovecraftian: “Trent stood at the edge of the rip, stared into the illimitable gulf of the unknown, the Stygian world yawning blackly beyond. Trent’s eyes refused to close, he did not shriek, but the hideous unholy abominations shrieked for him, as in the same second he saw them spill and tumble upward out of an enormous carrion black pit, choked with the gleaming white bones of countless unhallowed centuries. He began to back away from the rip as the army of unspeakable figures, twilit by the glow from the bottomless pit, came pouring at him towards our world…”
That said, many viewers may not recognize that this film borrows concepts from a ’90’s meta-horror short story collection…An 1890’s meta-horror story collection, that is. Robert W. Chambers’ The King in Yellow was published in 1895 and influenced Lovecraft’s own mythos. The King in Yellow is a collection of interconnected short stories about a book called The King in Yellowwhich is a best-seller that spreads “like an infectious disease.” Consider the excerpt below from “The Repairer of Reputations”:
“When the French government seized the translated copies which had just arrived in Paris, London, of course, became eager to read it. It is well known how the book spread like an infectious disease, from city to city, from continent to continent, barred out here, confiscated there, denounced by press and pulpit, censured even by the most advanced of literary anarchists. No definite principles had been violated in those wicked pages, no doctrine promulgated, no convictions outraged. It could not be judged by any known standard, yet, although it was acknowledged that the supreme note of art had been struck in The King in Yellow, all felt that human nature could not bear the strain nor thrive on words in which the essence of purest poison lurked. The very banality and innocence of the first act only allowed the blow to fall afterwards with more awful effect.”
As with In the Mouth of Madness, characters who read The King in Yellow go insane, become convinced they are characters in the book, and meet a variety of nasty ends. One of the characters in The King in Yellow is even named J. Trent. Adding an additional layer of complexity, The King in Yellow borrows concepts and characters from Can Such Things Be? by Ambrose Bierce.
When watching this film, there are a few ways to interpret it. One is that the book is a type of mind-virus, and everyone who believes it becomes convinced that they are characters in the book. Another is that Sutter Cane has indeed been promoted to a god-role and can write reality as he wishes. Or as Cane’s editor Linda Styles states, “What scares me about Cane’s work is what might happen if reality shared his point of view…Reality is just what we tell each other it is. Sane and insane could easily switch places if the insane were to become a majority. You would find yourself locked in a padded cell, wondering what happened to the world.”
In the next posts, I’ll discuss the film’s relationship to other Lovecraft tropes and its religious implications.
Wes Craven’s New Nightmare was the first meta-horror I had ever seen. My young self found the concept mind-warping. Instead of being a sequel or even a remake, the film had the main actors from the original film, along with New Line Cinema executive/producer Bob Shaye, and Wes Craven all portraying themselves. This movie acknowledged that all of the preceding films in the franchise were fiction, but that somehow Freddy Krueger is now real and is terrorizing his creators. An especially mind-bending moment occurred when Heather Langenkamp meets with Craven to discuss his new film script. At the and of the conversation, a close up of his computer screen reveals that their entire conversation was already part of the script.
I still like this core concept very much, even though it turns out that Lucio Fulci had done something very similar years earlier with Cat In The Brain. There are other good things about New Nightmare. Freddy has a new look and is no longer cracking bad jokes with each kill–something that Craven despised about the other sequels.
However, in some respects, this movie hasn’t aged well for me. There are many aspects I view very differently now, and maybe adulthood has poisoned my perceptions. I now find the acting cringe-inducing in some scenes. And to some extent, I find the characters less sympathetic, which is especially weird since most of the people involved played themselves. I wonder if Craven made a deliberate decision to troll his own industry by portraying filmmakers as a bit bitchy, superficial, and flakey. Am I projecting my own experiences on to these characters? Most of the filmmakers I know are decent people, but I’ve met all types at this point. Then again, Craven took those stereotypes to an extreme in Scream 3, in which filmmakers were not only overly bitchy, superficial, and flakey, but rapists and murderers to boot. Many of the non-filmmaker/actor characters in New Nightmare were downright awful and creepy, especially the medical personnel who are ostensibly concerned for the welfare of Langenkamp’s son.
Some aspects of the film are just odd in retrospect because societal attitudes have changed. While rewatching it, I had to remind myself of the stigma horror films carried in the 1990s. As bizarre as it seems now to watch a scene in which a doctor threatens to have child protective services take Langenkamp’s son away because mayyyybe he was exposed to horror films, there was a lot of hand-wringing on the part of so-called “experts” along these lines. As someone who openly liked the horror genre, I felt stigmatized back then too. On one occasion, a virtual stranger scolded me (during a Bible study of all things) that people like me were responsible for the Columbine massacre. Of course, Craven returned to the issue of movies influencing real-life violence in the Scream franchise , but I never hear that issue discussed these days. Thankfully. If there is a moral to this film, it’s the idea that the the act of telling stories can keep real monsters at bay.
Despite my issues with the film, I appreciate the fact that Craven was one of very few directors of that decade who took his subject matter seriously.
In the video below, Andrew and other brewers receive awards and special recognition for their participation in the Brewfest. Andrew also talks about his charity fundraiser, the Mountain Film and Theater Arts Committee, which provides scholarships to individuals who wish to pursue a career in the performing arts. Andrew’s work for charity over the years has been inspiring, with 100% of the proceeds from his beer and event merchandise supporting non-profits such as Smile Train and Operation Provider. We are happy to announce that Andrew met his fundraising goal for MFTAC this year!
For this last day of November, it seems fitting to wrap up Boris Karloff Month by discussing Karloff’s last great film, Targets (1968), directed by Peter Bogdanovich.
Targets follows the story of two very different characters whose lives intersect by chance. The hero is Byron Orlok, portrayed by Karloff and clearly based on Karloff’s real-life persona. Orlok is an elderly horror star who is on the verge of retirement because he feels his brand of gothic horror is outdated, being replaced by the all-too-real horror of serial killers and mass murderers.
The other is Bobby Thompson, a young Vietnam veteran who superficially appears to be a clean-cut, productive suburban citizen (portrayed by Tim O’Kelly). Modeled after real-life University of Texas sniper Charles Whitman, Thompson buys several guns and large quantities of ammunition, murders his wife and mother, and then kills several strangers in sniper attacks. Thompson’s final shooting spree takes place at a drive-in theater where Byron Orlok is scheduled to give a final public appearance before retiring from acting.
The final confrontation between Orlok and Thompson is satisfying on a number of levels (beware of spoilers in this paragraph), beyond the simple enjoyment of seeing Karloff bitch-slap the young villain until he’s reduced to sniveling in fetal position. An optical illusion in which Thompson cannot differentiate between the two-dimensional screen image of Orlok and the real man advancing to disarm him may symbolize Thompson’s inability to differentiate his own twisted fantasies from reality. Orlok’s triumph may also signify that fictional horrors can serve as a protective factor against real-life horrors by exposing them for what they are. Having subdued Thompson, Orlok muses, “Is this what I was afraid of?”
While we can gain some insight into Charles Whitman’s motives through his journals, Thompson is a frustrating character because his motives are never explained. However, the contrast between Orlok and Thompson can also be examined in light of psychological theories of the time. In The Mask of Sanity: An Attempt to Clarify Some Issues about the So-Called Psychopathic Personality (1941) and its subsequent editions, Harvey M. Checkley argues that whereas many openly neurotic people are deeply good and loving at their core, psychopaths cause tremendous harm because they are able to effectively fit into societal norms. This argument perfectly parallels these characters. Orlok has made a career by nurturing the appearance of evil, albeit on a superficial level. In his personal life, he’s plagued by insecurity. Yet, at his core, he’s a kind and heroic person. In contrast, Thompson has only the appearance of goodness, trustworthiness, and normalcy masking terrifying schemes of destruction.
Erich Fromm’s theory of the necrophilous personality, first introduced in The Heart of Man: its Genius for Good and Evil (1964) and further detailed later in The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness , is also pertinent in explaining Thompson’s character. Fromm’s definition of necrophilia is not simply a sexual attraction to corpses, but an attraction to death and destruction for their own sake. Some of the features of character-rooted necrophilia include authoritarianism, the desire to tear apart living things, and fascination with all things mechanical (in this film evidenced by Thompson’s fetishization of guns). As with his inability to differentiate the two-dimensional screen image of Orlok with the man himself, it seems that Thompson doesn’t view his victims as real, or at least not as human. At one point he tells the gun store clerk that he’s going to “hunt some pigs.” Thompson’s use of firearms to dispatch his victims is cold, distant, clinical, and impersonal. This is visually represented by the icy hues and sterile surroundings in Thompson’s scenes. In contrast, Orlok fits within Fromm’s description of the biophilous (life-loving) personality, reflected by the warm, earthy hues in his scenes. Orlok’s home is a bit more ornate, messy, and flawed…as he is. Extrapolate Orlok’s characteristics to the genre he represents, and again, there is an indication that the horror genre is on the side of life.
While many people credit Wes Craven with inventing the meta-horror film, it’s been around for quite some time. In some cases, the meta elements of early films were cut or rewritten, likely because they were too confusing. For example, the original ending of The Black Cat (1934) depicted the “final couple” meeting the film’s director, who tells them he spent the last week filming (As described by Jon Towlson in his excellent book, The Turn to Gruesomeness in American Horror Films, 1931-1936.)
In 1958, American International Pictures decided to satirize its own image and reputation. AIP had attempted to put its own unique spin on Universal-style monsters by making them into teenage monsters. It’s debatable as to how successful it was. How to Make a Monster was certainly the best of this cycle, precisely because of its penchant for self-mockery.
The villain is Pete Drummond, an FX makeup artist who will soon be fired because studio executives have decided that teen monster movies are waning in popularity and are a black mark on the reputation of the studio. Instead, they want to be known for rock and roll musicals.
So Drummond decides to teach the studio executives a lesson in fear. With the help of a mind control drug and a lot of bullshit philosophizing, Drummond uses his FX skills to transform two teenage actors into teen monsters and have them kill the studio head and others who threaten his livelihood. In an especially nice meta touch, Gary Conway, the actor from I Was a Teenage Frankenstein, portrays the young man whom Drummond transforms into the teenage Frankenstein monster. After the mind control drug wears off, the young men have no recollection that they committed murder.
in the final scenes, the film shifts from black-and-white to full color, as Drummond invites the teen actors into his private shrine where he introduces them to his “children,” the wax busts of movie monsters used in previous AIP films. At this point we find out that Drummond doesn’t view these horror films as a mere means to a paycheck, but as an actual religion.
The films is available for purchase as the double feature, How to Make a Monster/Blood of Dracula, but is also currently available to watch on Youtube.
Metafiction is nothing new. Some scholars argue that even ancient texts such as The Odyssey have meta elements. I noticed meta elements in other classic works such as Tom Jones and Tristam Shandy.
In what will be the first and probably last time I mention Jane Austen in this blog, it should be noted that her first novel, Northanger Abbey, was a metafiction satire of horror’s ancestor, the gothic novel. Within the first page, Austen tells us that the protagonist, Catherine, is a fictional character, and that she is determined to be the heroine of her own gothic fiction story. Catherine spends her free time reading books such as Ann Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho, and all of her decisions are made through the lens of genre convention.
I’m always discovering new things, so there may be other precedents in horror fiction proper, but the first metafiction horror novel I discovered was The King in Yellow. Prompted by reference to the book in Lovecraft’s essay Supernatural Horror in Literature, I hunted down a pricey copy in the 1990’s, and it was quite a challenge. Now, The King in Yellow is readily available in both print and ebook editions, and has inspired tribute anthologies such as A Season in Carcosa. Perhaps you can thank the popularity of True Detective for bringing it into more mainstream popularity.
Robert W. Chambers’ The King in Yellow was published in 1895 and borrowed concepts from Ambrose Bierce’s Can Such Things Be?: An Inhabitant of Carcosa & Other Stories. In turn, it influenced Lovecraft’s own mythos and films such as John Carpenter’s In the Mouth of Madness. The King in Yellow is a collection of interconnected short stories about a book called The King in Yellow which is a best-seller that spreads “like an infectious disease” across Europe. People who read the book go insane, believe that they are characters within the book, and in some cases are driven to acts of extreme violence. Although the final stories in the collection lose their way, the first few are effective and disturbing, making this a worthwhile read for fans of horror and weird fiction.
First, let me confirm that the new film The Dark Tower differs significantly with the sprawling series written by Stephen King. Major plot points are truncated, and key characters are left out entirely. Rolan’s ka-tet doesn’t exist. The story is told primarily from Jake’s perspective, not Roland’s. Purists may be driven crazy by these omissions and changes. As someone who has read the entire series, I think that aspects of the film adaptation may not be friendly to outsiders, perhaps not relatable.
That said, I don’t understand the negative reviews this film is getting. Again, I’m glad that I don’t allow such reviews to influence my decision to see movies. The Dark Tower has a mere 18% positive meta-critic rating on Rotten Tomatoes, yet has a 63% positive rating from audience members. This is a big discrepancy. But more importantly, Stephen King liked the adaptation. Keep in mind that King disliked the Stanley Kubrick adaptation of The Shining, which earned near-universal praise from critics. The Dark Tower is true to the spirit of King’s work while The Shining was not.
In the linked article above, King also discusses his approval of casting Idris Elba as Roland. predictably, some fans in the dark corners of the internet disapproved of casting a black actor as a character who is understood to be white. In the book illustrations, Roland is portrayed as white, and this is further reinforced in dialogue in which Detta Walker calls Roland a “honky” and other racist slurs (The Drawing of the Three). However, Roland’s race really isn’t an important factor. The fact is that Idris Elba did a phenomenal job in this film, and I hope he will be in the TV series as rumored.
Matthew McConaughey is also terrific as the Man in Black. I remember when McConaughey used to be considered conventionally sexy, but gradually transitioned into creepy. I like it. He’s perfectly cruel in this role.
Although I had hoped that there would be a film adaptation for each novel, similar to the Harry Potter film series, The Dark Tower included the most essential concepts from the series. If there is to be a TV series, I hope it includes Eddie Dean and Susannah (a.k.a. Detta/Odetta Walker), because the the relationship between Roland and his ka-tet really is the soul of the series.
So yes, I do recommend the movie to anyone with an open mind.
And since we are reviewing “meta” works this month, I have to recommend the Dark Tower novels as well. The film adaptation is not truly meta (although it does give a nod to Pennywise from IT), but the books became increasingly so. In The Dark Tower III: The Wastelands, we learn that fictional works are windows into very real worlds. One such work is an unsettling children’s book called Charlie the Choo Choo by Beryl Evans, featuring nightmare-fuel illustrations and a story about a sentient train. The Dark Tower VI: Song of Susannah takes things further by having Roland as his friends meet Stephen King himself. In an especially self-deprecating touch, King gives Roland a copy of his novel Insomnia and Roland promptly throws it in the trash.
Until next time, long days and pleasant nights…
Please join Erica and I for our Kansas City Crypticon 2017 interview with author Crystal Connor! Crystal specializes in Urban Fantasy, Science Fiction, and Horror. Her debut novel The Darkness has been selected as a two time Award-Winning Finalist in the 2011 International Book Awards in the fiction categories of Cross Genre Fiction and Multicultural Fiction. She is so much fun to interview!
Also check out Crystal at her blog: http://wordsmithcrystalconnor.blogspot.com
Today we wrap up Final Girls Week with my favorite meta-horror film about the subject, Todd Strauss-Schulson’s The Final Girls, starring Taissa Farmiga, Malin Ackerman, and Adam DeVine. I had the pleasure of seeing this movie in early 2015 at the Stanley Film Festival, where it won the audience choice award for best film. The Final Girls surprised the audience because it was so unexpectedly funny and sweet, and actually left many viewers openly weepy.
The film is about Max Cartwright, a young woman who lost her mother, Amanda, in a car accident. Amanda Cartwright was an actress best known for her appearance in a Friday the 13th-style slasher film called Camp Bloodbath. As bad as that film was, it’s a primary way for Max to feel connected to to her late mother. When Max agrees to be the guest of honor at a Camp Bloodbath screening, a strange turn of events causes Max and her school friends to be sucked into the film itself. Max relives her grief when she meets the doomed character played by her mother. Other tear-jerking moments occur when that character realizes she is a fictional character and that she will never accomplish her dreams because she will be “written out.”
Another commendable thing about The Final Girls is that it acknowledges the inherent awfulness of 1980’s slasher films without displaying the typical snarky contempt common of most meta-horror films, which tend to show disgust for both the films they parody and for the fans who watch them. Instead, the filmmakers of The Final Girls just get it. As a good friend of mine observed, some films (especially campy horror films) are so bad that they transcend their badness and become something else entirely. In The Final Girls, fans are portrayed as intelligent cinephiles, and the bad writing and acting in Camp Bloodbath are simply more reasons to love it.
Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (2006) was possibly the first slasher films to engage with Carol Clover’s theories. I actually do not view the Scream series as having this honor. The Scream films were savvy about the “rules” of surviving slasher films, but these rules amounted to acknowledging what Thomas Ligotti called the “kindergarten moral code” of such films in his excellent essay “The Consolations of Horror” (as published in The Nightmare Factory) Everyone who watches slasher films knows that kids who drink, do drugs, or have premarital sex are going to die.
Behind the Mask is smarter and goes deeper, delving into the psychoanalytic elements of the genre as outlined by Clover. To some extent, it does examine the “rules” of slasher films as they apply to the killer. For example, the killer cannot kill a person while they are hiding in a closet, because the closet is a symbolic womb and therefore a sacred space. (To which the protagonist quips, “Does that mean you’re pro-life?”) He has to allow the “survivor girl” access to an appropriately phallic weapon. As he puts it, “she’s arming herself with cock.” The discussion isn’t limited to Freudian concepts as discussed in Clover’s book. There’s also discussion of the practical aspects of being an effective killer. One needs to do a lot of cardio and be insanely fit to make it look like he’s walking while everyone else is running.
We are privy to this information because the soon-to-be killer Leslie Vernon allows a crew of documentary filmmakers observe stalk his intended victims for months. This film occurs in a universe in which the events of Halloween, Friday the 13th, and A Nightmare on Elm Street are all entirely true. The lead filmmaker wants to understand the perspective of the next infamous killer. As an added bonus, Robert Englund has a small role as Dr. Halloran, filling the role of the “Ahab” archetype.
Leslie himself is a likeable, funny guy. Perhaps even a Nice Guy. This makes things more difficult for the filmmakers to decide whether or not to intervene when he finally tries to kill people. Of course, Leslie may have already planned for such an event.
Come back tomorrow for the final entry in Final Girls Week, in which I save my favorite for last.
Tyler Shields’ 2015 meta-horror film Final Girl seems to be rather divisive among horror fans, likely because it does not follow the typical slasher film narrative at all. In some ways, it inverts it. What it does is offer a fresh interpretation of the “final girl” character as described by Carol Clover.
Whereas the classic slasher film features a masked misfit who dispatches several disposable victims before being vanquished by the final girl, this movie has four well-dressed Nice Guys who make a sport of hunting and killing young women as a sport. The setup is a lot more like The Most Dangerous Game than Friday the 13th, for instance.
Unlike the typical slasher film final girl who discovers her inner strength under duress and then and fights back, protagonist Veronica was always strong. She was trained as an assassin from childhood by a mysterious shadow organization, and assigned to kill the four murderers. Much of the film becomes her stalking them, not the other way around. As a nice touch, she doses each of the men with hallucinogenic drugs so that they can experience their own worst fears before they die.
The look of the film is also very different from that of the classic slasher film. The lighting and color scheme is deliberately artificial and stylized, and the characters dress and behave as though they were transported from the 1950s.
This is not a film for those who want a conventional slasher film, but I will recommend it to fans of women’s revenge films.
Today, I am covering the Stephen Graham Jones novel, The Last Final Girl, which bears some resemblance to the new Riley Sager novel Final Girls, but is just plain weird.
What both novels have in common is that several “final girls” are thrown together and have to respond to a new series of murders, and perhaps one or more final girl is a murderer or collaborating with the killer.
Beyond that they are very different books. The Last Final Girl is just plain bonkers, and is written in an equally bonkers style. Stephen Graham Jones wrote the entire novel in screenplay format, and this is something that readers will either love or hate. I find it a bit distracting at times, but does help one imagine the story in a cinematic way and almost begs someone to adapt the novel into an actual film.
The story itself is even weirder. The final girls all have names that reference real slasher movies, such as Crystal Blake and Mandy Kane. Jones even invents new genre-savvy verbs, such as the killer “Hoddering” after an intended victim. The fact that the killer is named Billy Jean and wears a Michael Jackson mask is a nice, absurd touch. The plot itself takes place in that strange liminal space between a film and its sequel. What happens to a final girl and her community after the killer is vanquished but before he miraculously recovers and kills again. Hint: one of the final girls nurses him back to health by feeding him burritos.
Slasher film fans will appreciate film references and jokes, but everyone else risks being left in the dark.
We are kicking off Final Girls Week with a review of Final Girls: A Novel by Riley Sager.
Final Girls caught my attention because Stephen King praised the novel as “the first great thriller of 2017” and compared it favorably to Gone Girl. Riley Sager is actually a pseudonym for an author previously published under a different name, Todd Ritter. The name “Riley Sager” seems like a perfect final girl name.
The novel’s protagonist, Quincy Carpenter, is the sole survivor of a massacre in a cabin. She suffers from amnesia regarding the events of that night, and is later mentored by another “final girl,” Lisa Milner, a survivor of a sorority house massacre. When Lisa is found dead with her wrists slit, Quincy is approached by a third final girl named Sam, who goads Quincy into vigilante justice and other problematic behaviors.
I won’t spoil any major plot points on a novel this recent. I will say that some plot twists are fully expected. It’s fairly obvious early on that one or more of the Final Girls is a murderer. That’s also become a typical device in several postmodern or meta slasher films, such as Scream 4, High Tension, and All the Boys Love Mandy Lane. That said, there are several, fully unexpected twists. Sager’s prose is straightforward, and some reviewers have complained about his writing style. However, he’s definitely an engaging storyteller. He uses an interesting narrative device of telling most of the story from Quincey’s point of view, and other sections in a detached third-person style. The audiobook version even uses two different narrators for these passages. In part, this format serves the purpose of filling in gaps in Quincy’s memory. The other reason is…rather surprising.
This is great beach read as summer winds down.
We kick off Meta-Horror Month with Final Girls week, or technically films and novels which deliberately reference Carol Clover’s concept of the Final Girl.
Clover’s 1992 book Men, Women, and Chainsaws is considered a landmark work in film criticism and is largely responsible for rehabilitating the reputation of the horror genre as more than an expression of misogyny. Naturally, horror writers and directors love her for it. S&Man (2006), a faux documentary on faux snuff films, features extensive interviews with Clover regarding the popularity of the subgenre. Another film, the horror-comedy Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (2006), repeatedly refers to her theories. Slam poet Daphne Gottlieb converted Clover’s theory into poetry in her Final Girl collection.
And yet, there has been a virtual explosion of films and novels in the last two years that use the phrase “final girl” or a close variant in the title. With Clover’s book being 25 years old, why did this take so long?
Perhaps more writers and filmmakers are familiar with Clover’s work now than when it was fresh and timely. Let’s face it, post 9-11 horror, and torture films in particular, blew most of the tropes discussed by Clover out of the water.
Another reason for this resurgence is that the classic 1980’s-style slasher film is dead. The story has been mined from every angle, until is has absolutely nothing new to offer. Sure, people in my age bracket have a certain nostalgia for the slasher film. But these films just aren’t scary anymore. While many people saw Wes Craven’s Scream series as a revitalization of the genre, I saw it as a sign that the genre was in serious trouble. As smart as that series was, it chose to parody and mock the slasher film rather than add something new to it. We are now at a point in time in which Clover’s theories are more interesting than the films themselves. So why play with the remains of a dead genre in an act of cinematic necrophilia when one can make a film about the genre’s analysis instead?
Come back soon for a review of the new Riley Sager novel, Final GIrls. In the meantime, read my review of Clover’s book here.
This month, Todd and I celebrate our birthdays. It is also the birth month of one of our horror heroes, H.P. Lovecraft!
What better way to celebrate our birth month than to make it all about ourselves, and by extension, celebrate meta horror films and novels, and a bit of Lovecraftian horror too!
“Meta” is a term that is thrown around a lot, but many people don’t know the proper definition. Dictionary.com helpfully offers the following definitions:
I have a quick announcement and endorsement! For the past several months, I have been a member of Horror Amino. And I’m proud to announce that I have recently been added as a verified member representing My Horrific Life.
What is Horror Amino, you ask?
Horror Amino is a social media platform connecting over 100,000 horror fans from across the globe. If you want to connect with people who love horror, or read posts about horror without having to sift through a ton of unrelated material (as you would on Facebook, for instance), this is the place for you. Best yet, the admins do a great job at keeping the community troll free and DRAMA FREE.
What Horror Amino is not: It is no longer a place for roleplay and posts about Creepypasta. If you dig Creepypasta, there are other Amino communities for that. In fact, there seem to be Amino communities for everything under the sun.
It is not a dating app. It is definitely not a sexting app. I am beyond happy to say that there is a strict “no creep” policy in which people who send or request nude selfies , dick pics, etc. will have screenshots of their creepy messages posted for the whole community to see. After 24 hours of public shaming, they will be banned entirely from the community. Even though some idiot tried to argue with me about this policy (which I did not create), saying that it was a conspiracy on the part of the MAN HATERS and THE GAYS to keep straight people from finding “love,” Horror Amino members who want to engage in sexting can move that action to Snapchat.
In short, the community is set up to limit discussions ONLY to horror. No B.S. attention-seeking. No selfie’s (except for FX work). No weed memes. No posts about depression or suicide. No illegal or just gross “dark web” images. And best yet, no political arguments. It’s like an oasis for horror lovers.
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With a 19% positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes, the new teen horror-thriller Wish Upon is one many theatrically-released horror films to get (unfairly) trounced by critics. I rather enjoyed Apollo 18 and Sinister 2, both of which had abysmal meta-critic scores. Even the severely reviled The Bye Bye Man had a lot of effective scenes. I’m not even counting the 2017 reboot of The Mummy (2017), b ecause it was more of an action film/ superhero movie in disguise than a true horror film. Even that was admittedly shallow, but more fun than expected. I’m glad I don’t let these scores dissuade me from watching films. I’ve learned to take critics’ opinions with a grain of salt because the movie reviewer at my hometown’s newspaper gave one-star ratings to virtually every horror film.
While Wish Upon may not be destined to become a classic, I found it enjoyable. There’s a good concept, the performances are solid, and there are some genuinely creepy moments–even if the PG-13 rating doesn’t allow it to become the gorefest it ought to be. There’s even a bit of well-placed humor, particularly in the film’s references to image-crafting on social media. One of the best bits is when mean girl Darcie Chapman gets a bad case of necrotizing fasciitis, and her supposed best friend snaps a photo of her rotting skin before helping her.
Spoilers ahead here…
As is apparent from the trailer, unpopular teen Joey is gifted a magic box that grants seven wishes, but with a price. It doesn’t twist the wish-maker’s intent as in the W.W. Jacobs short story The Monkey’s Paw , or the Wishmaster franchise, or the comedy Bedazzled and its remake. Instead, it grants the wishes perfectly (even if the wish is poorly-worded), but the current owner of the box loses a loved one as a “blood price” after each wish is granted. These scenes play about a bit like the death scenes in the Final Destination films, minus the excessive gore. The price of the final wish is that the wish-maker will lose his/her own soul. Joey ends up in a bind and uses her seventh wish in a manner that borrows heavily from the original Wishmaster film in that it would create a time paradox. Let’s just say it ultimately doesn’t have the effect she wanted.
Since I’m recovering from post-convention fever (that is, laziness), I felt like rewatching some old favorites. Pre-Code films are awesome, because they are just as fixated on torture, mutilation, and sexual deviance as so-called “torture porn” and “hardcore horror” films.
Animal cruelty and sexual perversion collide in The Most Dangerous Game (1932), when big game hunter Rainsford and his lover Eve (Fay Wray) are shipwrecked on an island owned by a wealthy foreigner. The antagonist, Count Zaroff, is himself a big game hunter who has become bored with hunting animals, and and is now a hunter of humans. This film, based on the novella by Richard Connell is still relevant today given the connections between big game trophy hunting and serial murder. This psychological connection was also recognized by Erich Fromm in The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness in his brief discussion of “elite hunting” (note this phrase was borrowed by Eli Roth in the Hostel franchise), which is differentiated from hunting in which the objective is to consume the animal’s meat.
In true serial killer fashion, Zaroff keeps a trophy room fillled with the heads of his victims, and confesses that a successful “hunt” makes him desire physical “love.” Following the “hunt,” he believes the Rainsford to be dead, he plans to rape Eve as a means to celebrate his conquest. Rainsford saves her and kills the Zaroff, who is then torn apart by his own dogs. Having survived the ordeal, the protagonist is able to empathize with the animals he himself hunted, and renounces his hobby.
Join us for an an exclusive interview with Wishmaster star Andrew Divoff! Andrew met with us at Crypticon 2017 to discuss his charity, Mountain Film and Theater Arts Committee, his new Djinn rings (soon to be available on his official website), and his new line of beer. We love this interview!
Stay tuned for future updates about Andrew’s charity fundraising efforts and his upcoming beer pour at the Lake Arrowhead Brewfest.
Join us as we review our time at Kansas City Crypticon 2017!
We are so thrilled to interview An American Werewolf in London star David Naughton, who recently was a celebrity guest at Kansas City Crypticon 2017. David discusses his upcoming projects, including a role in Sharknado 5: Global Swarming airing on August 6, The Hatred, currently scheduled for release on September 12, and Do It or Die! set for release later in 2017. David co-stars with one of our favorite horror actors, Andrew Divoff, in The Hatred.
We were also able to discuss his top 10 hit “Makin’ It”and his series of the same name, his take on conventions, and other fun stuff. Don’t miss this interview! Plus – I remember David’s Love Boat appearance.
Crypticon KC 2014 was the first convention I ever attended. This year, I went on a road trip with my podcast cohost Todd and his wife Colleen. Oddly, Crypticon Kansas City was actually held in St. Joe, which is roughly an hour away from Kansas City itself. I assumed that the move from the Howard Johnson Plaza in KC to the St. Joe Civic Center was merely for economic reasons. I found out later that it was because of a very real-life horror story.
For those of you who prefer your horror in film and culture, Crypticon did not disappoint. It was great seeing my friend Andrew Divoff (Wishmaster, Lost, Toy Soldiers), who sweetly agreed to chat with my mom on the phone before things got too busy.
I also enjoyed seeing Jeffrey Combs (Re-Animator, Star Trek) again. He kicked off the convention Q&A session with several fascinating stories and a great sense of humor.
Another fun session was the panel with X-Files stars Mitch Pileggi and William B. Davis. The most interesting aspect of this panel was their discussion about paranormal activity and the existence of extraterrestrial life. Pileggi is a believer and Davis is not.
Battlestar Galactica and A-Team star Dirk Benedict gave a lively talk about his personal life, past romantic relationships, political views, and love for his children. I didn’t always agree with his opinions (for example, he had many positive things to say about Donald Trump), but it was refreshing to listen to someone who was unafraid to share his unfiltered views.
We met a lot of new people too, a few of whom will be future podcast guests. African-American horror-fantasy author Crystal Connor shared a bracing story about a collision with a swastica-tattooed skinhead, only to be surprised that he was more concerned for her well-being. Felissa Rose (Sleepaway Camp) and Mark Patton (A Nightmare on Elm St. 2) have passionate opinions on depictions of gender and sexual orientation in horror films, and I can’t wait to talk to them further. Later, über-sweetheart David Naughton (An American Werewolf in London) chatted with us about his upcoming projects, Sharknado 5: Global Swarming and The Hatred.
On the final day, Andrew Divoff shared information about his upcoming charity pour and new hand-sculpted Djinn rings. We talked about the new convention venue, and he asked how it compared to the old one. I explained that I stayed in the Howard Johnson Plaza in Kansas City during Crypticon 2014, and while my room was clean, there were definite problems with the facility. One elevator bounced sickeningly before stopping at the correct floor, and another was broken entirely. I opted to take the stairs instead, and found the dismal concrete stairwell to be littered with broken glass and used needles. The convention hall itself looked decent, but occasionally I would notice a foul stench waft through, as though a particularly flatulent convention-goer had walked by and cropdusted the aisle. It turns out that the old plumbing system perpetually leaked sewer gas during the summer months. As unsavory as that was, I speculated that Crypticon simply moved because they found a cleaner, bigger, or cheaper venue.
But then, Andrew said, “No, it was closed down because of the bodies in the elevator shaft.”
It was like American Horror Story: Hotel, minus the glamor. Maybe more like Bentley Little’s novel The Resort. This took me down a rabbit hole of research of the Howard Johnson Plaza/Ramada Inn, beginning with reviews from hotel guests who had far worse experiences than I did. (See select photos above from TripAdvisor.) There were tales of mildewed coffee pots, filthy bedding, broken windows, televisions “ghetto-wired” directly into the electrical outlet, cockroach and rat infestations, bedbugs, and entire sections left abandoned, with unmade rooms potentially occupied by homeless people. It seems that the Howard Johnson Plaza was like a ghost town by September 2016 and abandoned entirely by December.
As for dead bodies, I found evidence of only one in the elevator shaft. According to Fox 4 News and the Kansas City Star, a homeless man who frequently sheltered in the hotel reported to police that he had found a body in one of the elevator shafts, and that it had been there for quite awhile. So long that it was not immediately obvious whether the body was male or female. While I have not found much follow-up information about this, it seems that the death was accidental. The victim was apparently stealing copper pipes and fell to his death.
Stay classy, KC.
Please join Erica and I for a fun interview with Nate Coulombe – indie film director, writer, producer and actor! We talk about his many projects and his team at Splitsville Productions, where he has written and directed two short films. Nate has lots of exciting stuff coming up. Don’t miss this interview!