Nov 132017
 

American Horror Story is an idea that I like a lot. Every season is a brand new story and new characters. The story wraps up within the season giving you a beginning and end. They recycle a lot of their actors, giving the series the feel of a playhouse putting on new stories.

The execution of these stories can leave a lot to be desired. Even with just one season, the stories can go on too long. There is an obsession with torture and despair that drags the show out of entertainment and into just hard to watch. Some of the actors play the same damn type of character over and over again which ruins the potential freshness of a new story. Worse of all, many interesting ideas will be tossed out but never really followed up on and some arcs end too abruptly to be satisfying.  For these reasons, even though I sometimes still enjoy a season of AHS, I have never had a season that I could recommend.

That has changed with the sixth season, not available on Netflix. The season is called Roanoke and has a quite a few new gimmicks. One, the show is presented as something that is being aired on television. It is a reenactment show about two poor bastards who bought the wrong house in the North Carolina woods. We have two sets of actors for all of the characters. There are the “real” people discussing their experiences in a studio and then there is the actors playing them in the reenactment. The story unfolds and weird shit happens. There is a shit ton of ghosts, evil hillbillies and strange sightings.  In the fifth episode, the reenactment series wraps up. It is pretty much a self-contained story.

In the sixth episode, we begin a new season of the fake show. The first season was such a hit that the producers are bringing back the “real” people and their acting counterparts to spend a few days in the house as a reunion reality show with cameras. As you can imagine, terrible shit happens. The “show” is built from the footage recovered by the authorities.

This is a really neat development. None of the actors think this shit is real. The real people know it is real but they have their own reasons for coming back. When the monsters show up, they are far worse and scarier than what we have seen before because as the audience, we have only seen what has been reenacted.

The final episode of the season is made up of footage from three different shows, including a True Crime show, a live interview show and a Ghost Hunters-style show before spending the final act completely divorced from found footage and more like a normal show. If you love found footage stories like I do, this season of AHS is a true gift.

I’ve talked a lot about how the show is structured but that isn’t my favorite part. The best part about this show, without going into spoilers, is that the most important character is a black woman. The “show” vilifies her so they can have a villain and you the audience is left guessing whether she is as bad as she has been portrayed. It is a season long discussion about racism in ways I would never expect from AHS. It is also a discussion about how media creates villains out of people and who do they pick? The really dark black woman who is no angel. The last five episodes of Roanoke tackles these issues in interesting ways and I would rank this season almost as racially significant as the movie, Get Out.

The season isn’t perfect. There is still quite a bit of torture. You know if it graphic when they announce a discretion warning AFTER the scene where someone has his intestines pulled out. I feel the first five episodes could have been a bit more creative with their gimmick, but I accept it because the first five episodes are setting the table for the really excellent last five episodes.

So yeah, if you like horror and you like interesting black characters, you should really watch season six of American Horror Story: Roanoke.

Oct 272017
 

Trick ‘r Treat is a 2017 anthology movie about the horrible things that happen in a small town one Halloween. Instead of a framing story, there is a mysterious small figure who wanders from story to story until he gets his own story is revealed at the end. The body count is high but every story has a moral, even if that moral is don’t fuck around with the spirit of Halloween.

I love this movie so much. It hits everything I want in a Halloween movie.

Mysterious central figure? Check.

Anthology of short stories? Check.

A story about kids being dicks and getting what they deserve? Check.

A story with hot chicks in costumes? Check.

A story that actually embraces the holiday of Halloween as a concept and not just as a background for a typical horror movie? Check.

Bad people getting punished? Check.

Again, I love this movie too much to be objective. I also don’t want to spoil anything by going into more detail. Let’s just say that I watch this every year and it is always great. With the possible exception of John Carpetner’s Halloween, this is the quintessential Halloween horror movie in my book.

 

Oct 192017
 

A Dark Song is a 2016 Irish Horror movie. Horror might be too strong of a word though it certainly gets very dark. It is a slow burn of a movie where little happens until the third act but it is easily one of my favorite movies about the occult. Heck, it might be my favorite occult movie.

Sophia is a middle-aged woman who wants to perform a long ritual in order to get her wish. Because of the complexity of the ritual, she hires occult expert, Solomon, to help her. The ritual requires that they stay isolated inside a house for weeks, possibly months until the ritual works. During this time, they are strictly forbidden from leaving the house and they must perform all sorts of labor-intensive tasks.

Being a movie, not everything is straight forward. Both participants have secrets and the rituals they perform offer little in the way of showing progress. This creates tension between the two as Sophia wonders if Solomon knows what he is doing or maybe this magic stuff is bullshit. It also creates weird scenes where a flower petal is discovered in a room and both of them rejoice because they are sure it means SOMETHING is happening.

Which I got to tell you, is pretty much the most occult thing I have ever seen in a movie.  In movies, the occult is special effects, music cues and quick plot developments. In real occult practice, there is no visual special effect. There is just the doubt that you have been wasting your time doing a quirky creative project.  That doubt, that questioning of your sanity and that over-eagerness to interpret something, anything in a positive light is what dealing with the occult has been for me. This is the first movie that reflects that experience.

Being a movie, shit does eventually happen but it is a sideshow to the tension between Sophia and Solomon. This ritual requires honesty and trust and neither are saints. There is a betrayal that made me lose all sympathy for one of the characters but it is also the kind of betrayal you see too much in the occult community.

I wish I could tell you about the ending but much like the ritual they perform in the movie, it is best seen after you put in the work of watching the movie.

Aug 282017
 

In this episode of Blood Drive, the Gentleman becomes the new Master of Mayhem while Slink is demoted to janitor. The Gentlemen proceeds to over-compensate by blowing up three unnamed drivers and then trying to hold a management meeting where he emphasizes having class as well as sadism. He also gives Grace and Arthur a hard time and is annoyed to discover he just can’t murder people who are not actively racing. We are also treated to the most awkward seduction attempt of all time as Arthur tries to seduce the Gentleman so Grace can steal the control box.

Meanwhile, Slink lurks around corporate headquarters somehow managing to upstage executives while wearing a janitor’s outfit. He stabs my favorite corporate executive in the cafeteria showing once more that Heart Enterprises has a very slack employee-on-employee violence policy. Slink quickly tricks Tortured Cop into doing something stupid like opening a vault door while on camera because hey, Tortured Cop wouldn’t be Tortured Cop if he wasn’t so gullible.

Speaking of Tortured Cop, he has a subplot where he discovers that Evil Robot Woman is also fucking his former Cop Boss who I had totally forgotten about. He kills Cop Boss and Aki helps him get away with it. Is the cold robot having feelings? Probably!

Inside the Vault is a terrible monster with the best origin story ever. Dr. Vermaak, heart’s mad scientist, put all the nasty chemicals he had on hand, put them in one beaker and planned to inject it into a test subject. Before he could do that, he got startled and spilled the crap in the face of the test subject who became a Brute or Hulk depending on your mythology. A Brute that is traumatically susceptible to freaking out when something wet gets on his face.

The Brute is teleported to the Blood Drive where he fucks shit up. The Gentleman begs Grace and Arthur to stop it and they sure try in an awesome fight sequence between two heroes and an unstoppable muscle machine. My favorite part of the fight is when they slam a giant blade inside the monster who then later SHITS IT OUT of his body.

The Blood Drive executives are pissed that the Brute is killing the Blood Drive and Slink offers to fix it. They know he caused it but have no choice but to put him back in charge. Slink then uses the Gentleman’s own car to ram the Brute and after popping the hood, Grace and Barbie are able to feed the monster to the engine. Problem solved!

Oh wait, there is still the matter of the Gentleman vs Slink. Slink put it best when he said, “Oh please. You can’t out-dandy me!” As Slink whips the Gentleman’s ass, Slink also brags about how he manipulated everyone into the Blood drive with years of planning and secret scheming. That scheming includes getting Grace’s sister committed to Grace would do the Blood Drive, which I really would not have done in front of Grace. Oops!

The Gentleman ends up blowing his own head off thanks to some sabotage from the Scholar and one of the Blood Drive’s best characters comes to an end. Oh well, at least we keep the Scholar who might be the show’s most sympathetic character.

Stray thoughts,

At one point, the Heart CEO gives this speech.

“This race is the greatest sacrifice in human history. It’s a blood-stained altar. The gore-soaked peak of a Mayan temple. The smoke from an erupting volcano on Mount Olympus. And that pleasing aroma is not for a god, it’s for Heart Enterprises, the most powerful corporation in the known universe.”

Now maybe I am still buzzing from American Gods but this reinforces my idea that Heart gets their power from a supernatural source. There is a dark god in that Gap and he wants sacrifices.

Grace and Arthur’s battle with the Brute was awesome mostly because it was something happening in the background and off-screen while more important shit was happening on screen. Most shows would have made the Brute fight the centerpiece of the show but Blood Drive saved that for Slink vs the Gentleman.

It looks like Tortured cop and Evil Robot Woman might become a couple which would be my favorite wicked romance in a long time.

 

 

Jul 032017
 

Blood Drive is a television series on the SyFy channel. It is set in the far dystopian future of 1999 where everything has turned to shit and gas is now 1000$ a gallon. There are food shortages, gas shortages and a helluva morality shortage but one thing there is not a shortage of is blood because every time someone dies, there is a geyser of that stuff.

The plot of the first episode is that a super hot goody two-shoes male cop is forced to team up with a super hot not-so-good female driver in a deadly race across country where all of the cars run on blood instead of gasoline. It is an illegal race run by Julian Slink for a group of lowlifes that also seem to crop up in apocalypses. The prize is ten million dollars but at the end of every day, the last person to cross the finish line gets their heads blown off by bombs implanted in their heads. Carnage and hilarity ensues.

It is an interesting show. When Rodriguez and Tarantino did their Grindhouse Double Feature, I thought they were ushering in a new wave of genre movies. I thought that as an audience, we were smart enough and at the same time, hungry for a sort of pseduo-grindhouse style where we embrace the crazy spectacle and mock the stupidity of the genre while still creating material that would fit in the genre. It was a big inspiration for my own novel, Pusse’ and Cox and I patiently waited for the rest of the world to do the same. Other than Hobo with a Shotgun, and a few other movies, it didn’t really happen. The closest we got was Jack Shear’s excellent Planet Terror, the RPG.

Now here we are, ten years later and we have one of the true inheritors of Rodriquez and Tarantino’s vision. The plot is stupid but gloriously entertaining. The references to previous genre movies are as endless as they were in Planet Terror or Death Proof. The characters are ridiculously hot and instead of indulging in will-they or won’t-they, the two main characters fuck in the first episode to save their lives. This is a show that knows what their audience wants and it gives it to them in bucket loads of blood, gore and sex.

Having said that, I had a small problem with the show. The cars need blood to drive so all of the racers are looking for victims to kill. At one point, a car full of smiling cheerleaders gets hijacked. It was disconcerting as a viewer to watch the cheerleaders tied up, crying and screaming. The cop stops it but you know, I was taken a bit out of the show. Up until this point, with the exception of the cop, we had seen only really nasty people in a nasty world. Even the cop’s police force maintains a quota of teeth that they beat out of citizens.  It is easier to accept gore and violence when you accept that everyone is a piece of shit anyway and probably deserve what they get. The cheerleaders break that concept and get me distracted thinking about to really deserves to get fed into a hungry engine rather than sitting back and enjoying the violence.

Funny enough, I am three episodes in and a similar situation has yet to happen again. I hope the show runners learned from that.

Stray thoughts,

ContraCrime, the police force owned by a corporation has as their motto, “We kill because we care.” Fuck, that is pretty much our police in the real world, isn’t it?

Julian Slink runs the race and I didn’t say much about him because you really have to see him to appreciate how awesome he is. He has the pacing of a DJ, the humor of a horror host and the menace of a promotion broker who really just wants to make some money this time.  he is played by the amazing Colin Cummingham and he is a delight in every scene.

How weird is this world? We got engines that look like something out of Hellraiser drinking blood, androids posing as people, a Murderous Clown driver, cops who carry computers that instantly assess crime penalties and pulse bombs in the back of your necks.

Did I mention how ridiculously sexy everyone is? Christ, even the male cop is supernaturally sexy.

May 122017
 

The Houses October Built is a 2014 horror movie that feels like it has been sitting on my Netflix List for ten years longer than that. Now that I am writing a haunted house book, I am diving deep into anything creepy house related. This movie is a found footage film, which I am a complete sucker for.

Spoilers ahead because this is one of those movies I loved before the ending came. Once the ending hit, I instantly soured on the rest of the movie.

The movie is about five alleged adults who are going to tour haunted house attractions the week before Halloween. They ride an RV and for some unexplained reason, they film it all. Are they art students? Is this a documentary? Nope. No explanation is ever given for why they are filming this and why they ask documentary style questions of the scare workers they find.

The first hour goes like this, the group find a haunted house attraction, they go through it, they talk to employees and they manage to piss off an employee with their rather demeaning questions. The attractions they visit are real attractions you can go to, which means the production values are better than most cheap movies. I also have a fondnes for haunted house attractions so it was cool to see them even in first-person video form.

Now, in between seeing the people on their road trip, we get random interviews with haunted house owners. They all talk about hard it is to scare people these days and how you always have to do something more extreme than last time to scare jaded kids. They bring this up over and over, creating a theme of shit is getting out of hand.

The other theme that these owners all discuss is the idea that some haunted house, somewhere, might be using real corpses and no one knew. It is something they talk about with a wink and  nudge, as if they don’t quite believe it but it could happen.

The third theme, repeated often, is that all of the haunted houses share special chatrooms and message boards. They talk to each other and share information.

Now, as the characters travel, they hear rumors of an extreme house that has a new location every year. This is called Blue Skeleton and you have to know a password, or know a guy or get really lucky to even find it. They specialize in extreme scary shit and they are the best of the best. Of course, some of the characters want to check it out.

During their travels, they keep seeing clowns and monsters dressed up like the first place they went to where they pissed the owner off. This is probably the best part of the movie as these reoccurring “monsters” stand in threatening manners or appear in the woods when the heroes are camping. Keeping in mind that the haunted houses talk to each other, it is not far-fetched to think that the heroes are being harassed not by the same people, but by a network of people who want to get payback on the heroes.

The harassment escalates as the heroes get closer to finding Blue Skeleton.  Being horror movie characters, these guys decide to keep going even after their RV is broken into and video of them sleeping gets uploaded to the internet. They keep going when someone leaves a heart on a platter in their fridge. They keep going when over fifty scary clowns show up outside their RV one night.

And you know, I was okay with it. This is a very slow movie. It is part road trip, part scary houses and a very small part of creepy movie shit. Most people would hate this slow pace but I thought it was perfect. The creepy-non haunted house bits are spaced out so far apart that you can almost chalk them up to random weird shit.  The heroes themselves get bored with the scary houses halfway through the movie. I felt this slow pace was a clever way of getting the viewers to be just as jaded and eager for something to happen as the jaded audiences of modern haunted houses.

The heroes eventually reach Blue Skeleton. One of them goes missing and then they receive calls from his cell phone on where to go. They go there, and then get bound, hooded and separated. We see spliced footage of them separately entering a scary house where they encounter more scary shit until they are finally stuffed into coffins and then buried alive. End credits.

Which is about the time I hated the movie. They’re dead? It was all real? So, after being told that patrons need more and more extreme shit to scare them, we just have people killing folks? How boring.

What about that network of haunted houses? Did they work together to bring down this group? Is this a parable about screwing with the people who do scary for a living? We don’t know. They never say. that means Blue Skeleton will murder anyone who finds them, which makes me wonder how word of mouth works.

Surely after discussing corpses as props, at least one of the heroes was displayed in a gruesome manner in a haunted house? Nah, they all got buried alive and the credits immediately roll.

It is always weird someone doesn’t use Chekhov’s Gun but it is even more bizarre when they don’t use Chekhov’s Armory. It is ridiculous. If all of those themes were fake outs, then you need to at least have the characters speculate on these themes and make bad decisions because of them. Instead, we get these ideas hammered into the viewer for no good reason.

So yeah, I was disappointed but it brings me back to what I am starting to realize is Shon’s #1 Rule of Writing: Let your disappointment inspire you. As a creative type, other people’s misfires encourage me to do better. Learn from the mistakes of others. Make the story or movie that you were enjoying right up until the original creators messed up.

 

 

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Nov 212016
 

It is a familiar story. A mom is having troubles with her daughter. Things get creepy and she turns to a young priest for help. The young priest has his own issues with faith and realizes he is out of his league. He turns to an older priest who has seen some shit. The two priests work together and try to get a demon out of a young woman.

So far, so good. The show feels like a modern remake of the Exorcist movie and that isn’t a bad thing.

But other elements start butting in. The Pope is coming for a visit to the city. The rich and powerful are attending seminars on all of the great things Lucifer has done for society. A gang murders every resident on a street and harvests the organs. Conspiracy nuts whisper about horrible portents.

Now it feels like a remake with elements of other movies thrown in. There is some Rosemary’s Baby. There is some Omen. There is bits and pieces of every story of the satanic panic of the 70’s and 80’s.

Then some familiar music plays and an old character appears and you find out that the Exorcist TV show is not a remake, it is a sequel.

As you might guess, I like this show a lot. It goes big. It escalates. The best compliment I can give it is that it feels like the show is written by role-players from the horror rpg community. It has conspiracies. It has mysteries. It has interesting demons that feel like someone has a monster manual somewhere. There are some themes of the lack of women in the Catholic church and how that colors their perceptions.

In short, you need to see it.

Sep 242016
 

My brother and I never had much in common. Even when we liked the same things we liked them for entirely different reasons. he was rarely intellectually curious and didn’t like to read. In a lot of ways I felt like he was my complete opposite.

But one day he came over and wanted to tell me about this weird thing he found. It was a movie that might be real, and there was all sorts f evidence on the internet that said it was real and a bunch that said it wasn’t. It was called the Blair Witch Project and he was fascinated by it.

I too liked the Blair Witch Project. I liked the mystery and I loved the attempt to create an authentic artifact of a fictional horror movie. I wasn’t as enamored of the internet clues and ambiguity of whether it was real or not like my brother, but I related to his thirst for answers. As a kid that grew up with In Search Of, UFO books and Bigfoot sightings, I understood my brother’s passion. On this one subject, I felt like me and him were alike.

So when Blair Witch came out, there was no doubt that I would see it. I saw it because I am a fan of the original but I also saw it for him since he passed away a few years ago.  I wanted to see if he would have liked it.

I think he would. The new movie is good. A  video is uploaded to the internet that maybe shows one of the characters from the first movie. The character’s brother gets a group together to go into the woods to see if his sister is still there. Creepy things happen. The stick figure art installations are back. Strange sounds haunt the group. They get fucking lost. They find the house. Things get terribly, inevitably worse.

My brother knew a lot of the fan theories about the first movie. There was a theory on time travel that my brother loved that I thought was unlikely. No spoilers but time becomes a big part of the story and I smiled because my brother would have felt so redeemed to see his theory validated.

My wife and I saw the movie on a Thursday afternoon in an empty theater. At  first it was great because we could make jokes without fear of annoying anyone. As the horror escalated though, that big empty theater became less friendly. Shadows moved in the corner of my eyes. My wife got closer and closer to me. Near the end, my heart was thumping and I was genuinely scared in that delicious rare way that you get from haunted fun houses. Even though the movies follows most of the beats of the first film, the inevitability becomes part of the terror and despair. You know what is going to happen because you have seen it before but it is innovative and interesting enough that the familiarity doesn’t become boring.

 

Aug 222016
 

watchingThey’re Watching is a found footage horror movie about a cable home improvement show doing a followup on a pottery artist who bought a decrepit house in Moldovia. Did I mention that the house used to belong to a witch who was burned at the stake less than a hundred years ago? Did I mention that the villagers are superstitious and unfriendly? Did I mention that the home improvement show crew pretty much hates each other? As you can imagine, scary things ensue.

A lot of people don’t like Found Footage movies so I feel compelled to tell you upfront that there is a welcome lack of shaky cameras and a lot of stable shots as we see things from the cameras set up around the former witch’s house. I also need to tell you that unlike most movies of this genre, this movie has a REALLY conclusive ending.

I enjoyed this movie a lot. It is one big long tease of making the viewer wonder if there really is a witch, or if the villager’s hostile fear will get people murdered with or without a witch. Someone’s getting murdered and though it take awhile to get the first body, once the bodies start dropping, things go quick. Even if you get bored with the movie, stick around for the last thirty minutes because holy crap, that is thirty minutes of holy crap.

My wife hated the film crew more than I did but they do have their issues. The host of the show if a self-centered drama queen, the sound guy is a wise-cracking asshole, the camera guy is a Handsome Guy with a Troubled Past and the POV character is a college graduate who can almost be likable if she didn’t engage so much in making fun of the villagers. Luckily we have the real-estate agent who is a lovable criminal conman who you have seen a thousand times on real travel shows. Him and the mysterious homeowner are a hundred times more interesting and really save the movie when they appear.

It is currently on Netflix in America and I suggest you check it out.