Support Andrew Divoff’s fundraiser!

 

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Andrew Divoff and I at the 2016 Lake Arrowhead Brewfest.

It’s about time for the Lake Arrowhead Brewfest again! As some My Horrific Life readers know, I’ve attended the Brewfest every year since 2015 as a volunteer at Andrew Divoff’s table, and I’ll be present this year as well. I met Andrew at a charity fundraiser in 2014, and have since met all kinds of celebrity guests with all kinds of personalities (a few of them contenders for their own horror stories). I’ll tell you this: Andrew is the real deal. He’s one of the truest, kindest, and most genuine people I know. He’s always giving someone a hand and looking for ways to improve his community.

As with previous years, Andrew is donating 100% of this week’s sales of merchandise on his website to benefit the Mountain Film and Theater Arts Committee (MFTAC), which provides scholarships to young people who want to pursue careers in the performing arts. This online fundraiser will run until the day of the 2018 Brewfest on August 11.

If you are lucky enough to be able to attend the Brewfest in person, Andrew is requesting a $5 donation to try his beer (with unlimited refills). In addition to his Djinn’s HellaBrew, Andrew’s brewery Three Marm Brewing will de debuting two new flavors, the Trugger’s Logger Lager and Cowboy IPA. In addition to donating 100% beer sold at the Brewfest to charity, Andrew will also sell autographs, T-shirts, barware, and other merchandise to benefit MFTAC. Buy your tickets to the Lake Arrowhead Brewfest here.

I will be there as well to help with bartending and other tasks, and will follow up with news about Andrew’s other community efforts, which include maintaining healthy forests in the San Bernardino mountains.

 

 

Hereditary (2018): Ancestral demons manifested

Hereditary poster

Hereditary is perhaps the greatest horror film of 2018. Perhaps the greatest film of 2018, period. It has the conspiracy element and paranoia of Rosemary’s Baby, but surpasses that film. I was fortunate enough to attend an advance screening at the Alamo Drafthouse in La Vista, Nebraska, followed by a live-streamed Q&A with writer/director Ari Aster and two cast members, Alex Wolff and Milly Shapiro. The Alamo staff were kind enough to drop off a complementary desert early during the screening, warning us to avoid eating it if we have nut allergies. You”ll get the joke if you see Hereditary.

It’s difficult to do a proper analysis of the film without giving away major spoilers. However, it would be a disservice to spoil any significant aspect of a new film that is destined to become a classic, and will possibly win major awards. Instead, I will provide an analysis of themes and motifs prevalent in the film, avoiding major plot points that aren’t featured in the official trailers. That said, if you assume you know what will happen based on the trailers, nothing will prepare you for the onslaught of violence and insanity that is the film itself.

If you haven’t already seen them, take the time to view the trailers below, and then read my discussion of motifs and themes in the film itself.

And trailer #2:

Now to get on with a relatively spoiler-free analysis…I will tell you what the film isn’t. It’s not cliched, and it doesn’t follow common horror tropes. It doesn’t take a lazy or cliched approach along the lines of “It was all a dream,” or “It all happened inside one character’s head.” It teases us with those concepts, especially when we see the characters inside a dollhouse, or (early in the film) when Annie (Toni Collette) discusses her family’s history of mental illness. But to my relief, it’s not that kind of film. The ghosts and demons are as real as the mental illness itself.

Power of the ancestors

In the film, Annie carefully hand-crafts miniature homes. One such model is a modern home built on top of increasingly older homes hidden under the foundation, ending in a medieval castle. The implication is that the modern lifestyle we take for granted is built on the foundation of everything our ancestors did before us.

Nature vs. Nurture

With a title like “Hereditary,” you know this theme has to come up. We can inherit a lot of things from our parents: certain forms of mental illness (as Annie discusses), and physical illnesses such as heart disease and diabetes. On a less tangible level, we may “inherit” their biases, likes and dislikes.

Some religions and spiritual traditions believe we can inherit generational curses too. Generational curses are mentioned throughout the Bible. One such passage is Deuteronomy 5:9, which states “Thou shalt not bow down thyself unto them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God [am] a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth [generation] of them that hate me.” The “them” we are not to bow down to are the gods and venerated spirits of pagan religions. This is relevant to Hereditary, as the trailer implies the deceased grandmother practiced a form of occultism and had strange “private rituals.” You’ve also seen this concept played out in the Paranormal Activity franchise.

Similarly, there’s the modern New Age concept of “generational contracts” (ask any Akashic Records reader), meaning your ancestors can make major decisions for you, without your knowledge.

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Annie ponders one of her creations

 

Knowing that you don’t have free will won’t save you

One common horror trop that Hereditary does follow is that of a high school or college classroom as a vehicle to explain pertinent concepts to the student character and to the audience alike. We’ve seen it in the Nightmare on Elm Street series, Final Destination, and It Follows, to name just a few. Relatively early in Hereditary, a teacher discusses a Greek tragedy in which it seems that the characters have no free will, and this makes their misfortune seem even more tragic. One main character attends this lecture, but this knowledge doesn’t save him, or even mitigate the horrors to come.

This is alluded to again with Annie’s world of miniature homes and figures. The dolls she creates, however lifelike and realistic, have no say in the role they play in the little world she’s created. The same is true for the main characters. Someone or something is pulling their strings and scripting their every move.

Hereditary dead bird

Headless

There is a recurring decapitation motif, both literal and figurative, in Hereditary. In the trailers, we see young Charlie cutting the head off of a dead bird. We also see a brief glimpse of one of Annie’s miniature figures, presumable her son Peter, without his head. There are a lot of other gory things that could have been done just for shocks. Since Ari Aster didn’t get to my tweeted question during the Q&A, I don’t know the answer for certain. I assume the decapitation motif alludes to the characters’ lack of free will. They have literally been severed from their decision-making abilities.

Transplantation of a foreign intelligence

Now that you’ve seen the trailer, you’ve probably guessed that this is some sort of demon possession movie. Again, you will see the symbolism in benign places throughout the film. Just as Annie is obsessed with creating a miniature world, her daughter Charlie builds dolls from found objects. You can see glimpses of these dolls in the trailers, and you will notice that they are “off” in a number of ways, most noticeably that the doll heads don’t correspond with the doll bodies. Not only are the characters separated from their decision-making faculties, it stands to reason that something else is making decisions for them.

Hereditary-Charlie

My biggest spoiler so far:

Even the demon itself, allegedly powerful in Hell, doesn’t seem to have free will. When you view its manifestation while within a human host, it seems that the demon doesn’t want to be there. It’s socially awkward, withdrawn, full of nervous tics, and seems bewildered by the humans around it, even by the human cultists who “worship” it. It’s been taken from its natural habitat, and doesn’t seem to know what to think of the strange, sometimes barbaric, behavior of the humans around it. This is my interpretation, and not explicitly stated. If you were a majestic “King of Hell,” would you want to be bothered with mundane and demeaning human responsibilities such as taking an exam at school or working a menial job? Perhaps being trapped in a human body comes with a degree of powerlessness and confusion.

Hereditary is an atypical horror film with atypical tropes, atypical demons, and atypical occultism. You owe it to yourself to see this wildly original, inventive, and cruel film in theaters.

Demons (2017): Southern Gothic

Demons poster

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, in part because it runs counter to common horror film tropes.

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.

Andrew Divoff as Jasper Grant

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).

You won’t find many jump-scares in Demons, but you will find solid psychological and religious horror.

Check out the trailer for Demons below and order your copy today.

Exclusive photos: The Hatred Signing at Dark Delicacies

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.

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Left to right: Sarah Davenport, Dark Del, Amanda Wyss, and Michael Kehoe.
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Cast and crew of The Hatred had a fun and busy evening of signing copies of the DVD for fans.
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Sarah Davenport portrayed Regan in the film.
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Left to right: Amanda Wyss, Andrew Divoff, Musetta Vander, and Michael Kehoe.
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Andrew Divoff is hanging out with leading ladies Gabrielle Bourne and Sarah Davenport.

 

The Hatred (2017): "In death we are free"

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.

Andrew Divoff as the Nazi Samuel Sears

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.

 

IT (2017): Movie vs. Book

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.

Bill Skarsgård is fantastic as the new Pennywise.

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.

Beverly encounters an unusual clog in the bathroom drain.

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 creepy house on Neibolt Street is prominently featured in the new film.

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.

Interview with Screenwriter Dexter Williams

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.  

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Dexter is represented by Mystical Sounds Productions, a management/production company based in Montreal, Canada.

FEATURE SCREENPLAYS:

DEMON CRYSTAL (Horror) OFFICIAL SELECTION/SEMIFINALIST – Southeastern International Film Festival

DESTINATION YESTERDAY (Thriller) GRAND JURY AWARD – L.A. Neo Noir, Novel, Film, & Script Festival

ENCHANTRESS (Fantasy)

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)

 

SHORT SCREENPLAYS:

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)

MESMERINA (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)