Spookoween 2019: 31 Days of Horror, Part I

This year’s Spookoween season is redolent of Baphomet, Adrienne Barbeau, a 1980s vibe, tigers, drag, Jane Eyre-ishness, children in danger, fascists getting what they deserve, fairy tales, and both people and hurricanes named Charlie.

Oct 1:  I am beset by deadlines and preparing for impending visitations, so I am mostly starting with stuff that I am already doing that isn’t deliberately about doing 31 Days of Horror. And yet it works. I kicked off October with midnight viewing of  Landon Cider as Baphomet singing “Tear You Apart” by She Wants Revenge at the premiere party for the Boulet Brothers’ Dragula season 3. Landon Cider is the shit.

I’ve been watching season three of  Dragula and while I think that it is uneven in its frankenparts of performance, narrative frame and reality show drama, I enjoy the drag challenges and the variety of drag performance. I appreciate all that Ru Paul has done and enjoy Drag Race, but I feel much more connected to Dragula. It values a diversity of performers and identities. It has female performers and genderqueer / nonbinary folk. And it has a drag king, Landon Cider. And it’s all spooky and shit. It also reminds me a bit of Lucha Underground with its narrative frame and filmed scenes as the Boulet Brothers murder people to maintain their beauty–and probably for kicks. There is a little more contestant drama than I like and I wish they showed more of the performances and outfits, but when it is clicking, it is fantastic.

I reread Emily Carroll’s Through The Woods (2014) for a Cultural Gutter piece I’m working on. I had read a digital copy before, so it was nice to read in hard copy a friend recently gave me. Though I am nervous about the binding. It’s a lovely collection of spooky stories / fairy tales. And even manages to gross me out with its monster made of worms and human teeth.

Oct. 2: Viruses attacked me. The enemy within that makes me tired and irritable but doesn’t lay me low enough to stop doing things. Viruses are jerks. No one likes them. But I did watch the first episode of the new Creepshow anthology series on Shudder. Each episode contains two stories and there is, of course, a horror host puppet as there should be. The music reminds me of Vampire Prosecutor kind of and I like the very literal comic book framing with page turning and panels, the canted angels and the bold colors.

“Gray Matter”  has Adrienne Barbeau and Giancarlo Esposito. They always make me happy. The story is set in 1951 during Hurricane Charlie as a teen shows up at the general store to buy a case of Harrow’s Lager for his alcoholic dad, but really, there’s so much more wrong with his dad, the kind of wrong that involves becoming gross goo. I loved the ending with Adrienne Barbeau doing desperate calculations on her possibly Burroughs brand adding machine. The effects are practical and effective. We cannot escape our gooey, gross doom!

The second episode, “House of the Head,” is clever. It’s the best doll house horror since Hereditary. And it is smart enough to know it’s almost always scarier when you don’t see the dolls move. You just see they have moved.  A young girl, Evie, has a doll house and she discovers that her dolls, the Smithsmith family, are moving when she’s not around. Then she discovers there’s a creepy doll head in the house that just does not belong. And it turns out the head is terrorizing the dolls. She tries to help. But there’s only so much you can do about a creepy head. Poor Smithsmiths.

There is a part when the owner of the doll store Evie frequents suggests that while he doesn’t have a priest or rabbit doll to sell her, he does have a Native American dude. “They’re a very spiritual people, Evie. Probably more spiritual than any priest or rabbit you meet.”

And I don’t know. It’s a choice in keeping with the 1980s feel of the series. But I think maybe there could have been a better one. It relies too much on a belief in a knowing audience who chuckles at the backwards attitudes of the owner. But, you know, we’re not there yet. Racist attitudes and stereotypes are not behind us.

Oct. 3: I faced the most terrifying horror of all–having to do stuff in person at the bank!

I also posted my new article at the Cultural Gutter. You can read it here:  “Sinister Selections from the Borden Collection of Cursed, Harrowing and Chthonic Books.”

And in a strange connection with both stories in Creepshow, this week’s hospital horror-themed episode of Dragula featured guest judge Milly Shapiro, who played Charlie the girl who clicks in Ari Aster’s Hereditary (2018).

man made monster mad science

I watched a lot of movies, especially for me. For the weekly Drive-In Mob movie tweetalong, we showed a pair of short Universal horror movies I hadn’t seen before. In Man-Made Monster (1941) Poor Lon Chaney Jr. has a rough time, but the dog doesn’t die. Lon plays Dan McCormick, a man who miraculously survives being electrocuted. It’s possible that he is immune to electricity, or so mad scientist Dr. Paul Rigas (Lionel Atwill) theorizes. As is inevitable Rigas decides to super charge Lon with electricity, rendering him a glowing yet will-less–and proving Rigas’ theory that he can create a worker of the future who will obey every command a mad / Nazi stand-in scientist gives! It doesn’t work out for either Rigas or McCormick. But, again, the dog doesn’t die, so there’s that.

captive wild woman
Acquanetta is understandably uncertain about this whole damn thing.

There’s another pretty much Nazi scientist with in Captive Wild Woman (1943), but this time he’s a mad endocrinologist with eugenics theories about “improving the race.” Dr. Sigmund Walters (John Carradine) is a mad endocrinologist who transforms a man in a gorilla suit into Paula Dupree (Acquanetta / Mildred Davenport / Burnu Acquanetta), a beautiful woman with a mysterious control of lions and tigers. Unfortunately, his goal is not to bring us closer to cool panthers, which is really what it should be.

The movie is very well shot, and it should be with Edward Dmytryk directing. There’s a really nice shot of tigers traveling through barred tunnel. But there is also so much endrocrinological white supremacy, association with a probably African American but definitely racialized and exotified woman as well as hassling of animals and both tedious and distressing live lion-taming footage.  Who wouldn’t rather watch happy big cats in the Big Cat Rescue pumpkin videos instead? Or learning more about Acquanetta?

I am not sure if The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1969) counts, but it certainly has some horrifying moments and some dabbling with fascism. Though the fascism is more like Salvador Dali’s posturing and less like using science to make a more pliable worker who also glows.

There was more Adrienne Barbeau! And Jamie Lee Curtis! And Janet Leigh! That’s right. I watched John Carpenter’s The Fog (1980) at midnight, which is an excellent time to watch it.  Barbeau, as always, is fantastic as the late night dj whose radio station is atop an Antonio Bay lighthouse as the curséd fog rolls in. The fog’s secret ingredient? Vengeful ghosts with Hansen’s Disease. One hundred years ago, the city fathers of Antonio Bay had done them wrong, and now the ghosts are back to fill the streets with spooky fog and break into peoples’ boats and houses to kill them by hooks, swords and spectral drowning. The revenants will not rest until they get their gold back from Hal Holbrook’s Father Malone and his amazing hair.

Sometime I should watch The Fog and Play Misty For Me (1971) together for an evening of late night DJ thrills and horror.

Oct. 4:  There was little Spookoween done today. I had a friend visiting. But we had Indian snacks and watched She-Ra. Who knew that Hordak was basically Zim and She-Ra is his Dib? We also read comics and I caught up on Doctor Aphra, Invisible Empire and Wicked & Divine.

Oct. 5: My friend had to skedaddle on in the morning, but would be back in a week to go see The Addams Family (2019). My town had a Halloween market that included not just local artists, but local performers. And in my town, that means drag performers. The mayor was introduced by a drag queen. I am starting to think there is an ordinance stipulating that the mayor can only be introduced by a drag queen. All the times I’ve heard her speak she has been. My town is like Eugene Ionesco’s Rhinoceros but with drag performers.

Ever since watching Captive Wild Woman, I’ve been watching Big Cat Rescue videos. It is way more pleasant to watch happy big cats do things than pissed off lions and tigers do stuff a lion tamer makes them do. I also bought a t-shirt that has the cursed image from the “Jean Jacket” episode of We Bare Bears. It has a tiger on it, too.

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And then I watched Issa López’ Tigers Are Not Afraid / Vuelven (2017) and not just because of tigers, but I can see that tigers are a theme this year. I will not be surprised Tigers Are Not Afraid turns out to be the best movie I watch during 31 Days of Horror. There is almost always a break-out hit–I Am The Pretty Thing That Lives In The House or Cold Hell / Die Hölle, for example. It is definitely one of the best movies I’ve seen this year.  I love the animation and the kids’ graffiti.

It is a sad fairy tale about children whose parents have been murdered by a cartel in Mexico. The film opens with Estrella (Paola Lara) and her class writing their own fairy tales. They are horrifically interrupted by a shooting outside the school. As Estrella is lying on the floor with the other students, she is given three pieces of chalk by her teacher, who tells her that they are wishes. Estrella’s school is indefinitely closed. And as she walks home, she passes a dead body. A line of blood from the body begins to follow her home, where she discovers her mother has disappeared, likely murdered by a local cartel, the Huascas. Sad, lonely and hunger, Estrella wishes her mother were there. And she begins to be haunted by her mother.

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When she catches a kid in a tiger mask, Shine (Juan Ramón López), taking things from her house, she follows him back to his camp with other children, Pop (Rodrigo Cortes), Tucsi (Hanssel Casillas) and Morro (Nery Arredondo), a young child who never speaks but who carried his stuffed tiger with him everywhere. Shine has stolen a gun and a phone from one of the Huascas. And it has video on it that proves terrible things. The Huascas call and threaten the children. Meanwhile, Estrella’s mother implores Estrella to “bring him to me.”

I have many things to say about the movie. It is lovely and sad in so many ways. It’s being compared to Pan’s Labyrinth, but I think that is more a matter of them being Magical Realism than straight influence. The writing is beautiful. Here are a few lines:

“But the prince couldn’t become a tiger because he had forgotten how to be a prince.”

“We forget who we are, when the things from outside come to get us”

“How did you kill him?” “I made a wish.”

Oct. 6: Some might say that Hajime Sato’s The Golden Bat / Ogun Batto (1966) does not belong here because Golden Bat is a caped superhero. In fact, a superhero who predates Superman. But he is also a 10,000 year old rehydrated Atlantean mummy-skeleton. And if a 10,000 year old rehydrated Atlantean mummy-skeleton isn’t horror, I don’t know what is. I mean, in The Keep (1983), Molasar fights Nazis and he is some kind of ancient thing that is reconstituted for killing Nazis. That is heroic. But no one claims Molasar isn’t also horror.

Screen Shot 2019-10-06 at 10.07.18 PM

When Atlantis rises from the deep at the same time that aliens are slinging another planet at Earth, scientist Dr. Yamatone (Sonny Fucking Chiba) makes the connection and travels to Atlantis. Luckily he brings a kid along with him because that kid helpfully rehydrates Golden Bat. And Golden Bat bonks evil aliens on the noggin with his cane until everything’s alright. Or at least until Dr. Yamatone can use the Super Destruction Beam to destroy Icarus, the planet hurtling towards Earth.

I would like to say that I really appreciate that Nazo, the leader of the aliens, has a plush velour-ness that reminds me a bit of tardigrades. But his costume really is velour. I also like his evil squid ship. And I think it is interesting that one of his henchmen has facial scarring and is called, “Keloid,” a kind of scarring associated with radiation.

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Oct. 7: I really wanted to like Sweet, Sweet Lonely Girl (2016) more than I do. And it’s not like it doesn’t have things I do like. Or that it isn’t well-made. But I can’t tell if I can only handle the particular conventions of 1970s Gothic Lesbian movies in 1970s movies or if this just relies too heavily on them. Is it bringing the baggage along from a time when Lesbians were really either frigid or sexually damaged and definitely in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual? Or would I, as my friend Sara Century suggests, like it better if there had been more queer women behind the camera–and writing the script?

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Adele is young blond woman enamored with the band Bread. Hoping to inherit a fortune, Adele’s mom sends her to take care of her reclusive aunt Dora in an beautiful Victorian home in a small, walkable town that is probably on location in Canada and one of those towns that is also the setting of many a Hallmark movie. But Adele’s Hallmark movie is more like Burnt Offerings (1976) or really any woman is absorbed into the house but also damned by Beth, probably bisexual succubus wild woman who wears dark lipstick and velvet dresses and does grave rubbings. Which is basically any bi or pan woman if you go by the movies. Honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if Michael Douglas were Beth’s next victim. Bearded late-1970s/early 1980s Michael Douglas.

“She’s not like the girls back home.” Adele writes about Beth in her journal. Beth buys a pomegranate at the grocery store and this impresses Adele. She apparently runs in knee socks. But Beth has read Edith Hamilton’s Greek Myths and declines when Adele offers her some “Just water’s fine.” Beth has read a lot of books, telling Beth, “Adele, I’m jealous. You’re whole life is so Jane Eyre-ish.” And it kind of is. She’s dealing with forbidden love and a sick woman who is locked in her room and a woman she loves leading he to do worse and worse things that seem small, but have terrible consequences.Which is not really Jane Eyre at all, unless you see Mr. Rochester’s temptation of Jane as similar. It leads to the death of a woman, too.

But again it’s more Burnt Offerings than Jane Eyre–or   a more recent movie, I Am The Pretty Thing That Lives In The House (2016). I Am The Pretty Thing That Lives In The House is definitely the better film, but there are things I appreciate in Sweet Sweet Lonely Girl. I like the title. The leads are great. I liked the statue of what appeared to be Pazuzu by Beth’s bed. The cinematography is 1970s influenced, but still its own thing. Beth is fantastic at eating a pomegranate in a frightening manner–and that is definitely well shot. All chiaroscuro.

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A.D. Calvo’s earlier film, Missing Girl (2015), left me similarly cold, but I was also never the audience for that movie about a lonely comic book store owner and the clerk / graphic novelist (Robert Longstreet) who works for him and then disappears. (Ellen in that was played by Alexia Rasmussen from Proxy, btw). But I am the audience for moody 1970s movies where women are haunted by houses or their lives or other women. There are arresting visuals, but the film needed something more. So much relies on references to other films and the conventions of the mad lesbian genre. I wish it had been what it wanted to be, but there was still a lot of cool things about it and not everything can be Tigers Are Not Afraid.

Oct. 8: The American Experience: The Poisoner’s Handbook (2014) expands on Deborah Blum’s The Poisoner’s Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York (Penguin, 2010). It even keeps her handy narrative divisions based on a particular poison and its place in both the history of poisons and in the development of forensic science. Both follow the development of the coroner’s office in New York City as Charles Norris attempts to create a scientific method of determining cause of death with the help of the Alexander Gettler, the newly created chief toxicologist. Gettler pioneered many ways of isolating poisons that are still used today and made it much more difficult for individuals and captains of industry to get away with murder. In the documentary, it’s fun to see re-enactments of the lab discoveries and all the old timey lab equipment.

Oct. 9: I finished watching The Poisoner’s Handbook (2014) and watched another episode of Creepshow. I’m going to start with “The Finger” because I want to end on a positive note and I really enjoyed “Bad Wolf Down.”

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I do like this panel shot.

There’s a certain kind of character that I can’t be sure is a stand in for a writer, but really seems like a stand in for a writer, particularly one who feels his bitterness, resentment and assholishness is relatable and the human condition. They often seem to be novelists written by screenwriters. And they often live in California, though they are not necessarily originally from there. Often they wrestle with some kind of success they feel is shallow and meaningless and want more. And they often have dysfunctional families who are supposed to be relatable, too. I do not find these characters relatable. I find them exhausting. The male writer character was especially obnoxious in The Haunting of Hill House (2018) series. They almost always have a long monolog and it’s a relief when it’s a soliloquy because I don’t have to stare at characters looking rapt as the protagonist waxes eloquent. There is a similar protagonist in “The Finger,” though he takes the form of a web designer. I haven’t even finished watching “The Finger” before I started writing this. I’m not even just taking a few notes. Nope, I have been negatively inspired as Clark (DJ Qualls) is in the middle of a rant about how you never really run out of people who annoy you in life and other people exist in the world and, god forbid, speak to you in a supermarket line. And, yeah, I suppose it’s true there is always another irritation down the line, but it’s not the horrifying self-revelation it is supposed to be. Because I am not that guy and I am tired of stories that assume that his angry, resentful entitlement is inherently “relatable” and this petty, bitter misanthropic rage is the truth we all carry in our hearts.

However, I do like the little critter, Bob, who loves Clark with its purring, creepy demonic love that leads it to kill anyone who annoys him. I really hope Bob is real and not a figment of Clark’s imagination. Because I like Bob a lot more than Clark.

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Sleep tight, Bob.

But the other story in this issue of Creepshow is “Bad Wolf Down” and it has  Jeffrey Combs!

JEFFREY COMBS!

AS AN SS OFFICER!

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It is delightful to hear Jeffrey Combs declare in lousy German,”Mein Gott, Wolfmänner!”

It is everything you think it would be!

American GI’s are caught behind enemy lines in France. They take shelter from the Nazis in a French jail and discover a French woman locked up in a cell. She is a werewolf and wants to die before she kills again. I won’t say much more but I will say two things. Yes, there is werewolf vs. Nazi action.

creepshow bad wolf down werewolf and nazi

And it just makes me so happy that there is some little bit of werewolf history here. Because the place in Europe with the most werewolves? The place that had actual werewolf trials while other people were trying witches? France. In fact, when the French came to America, they understood windigo as werewolves.

“Bad Wolf Down” does a lot with a little. There is Mario Bava lighting and canting shots and strawberry jam innards and corn syrup blood and excellent fun fur werewolves who transform in comics panels. It’s charming and gory and fun but also thoughtfully written and performed. And I was delighted by the whole damn thing.

I was so pleased by “Bad Wolf Down,” that I decided to watch something else, but didn’t know what I was in the mood for. So I thought, “Why don’t I watch whatever is on Shudder TV?” and I did. And it was Na Hong-jin’s The Wailing (2016).

the wailing poster

The Wailing is not charming. It is gorgeous and amazing, thoughtful and well-done. And humane in its way. But it is bleak as hell. And you should know it really looks like animals are really killed in it. Police man Jong-hoo (Kwak Do-won) investigates a wave of murders, or possibly illness that causes the victim to murder, or spirit possessions that lead to murder in his own village. He’s told that it is caused by a Japanese man (Jun Kunimura) who has recently moved into a house in the area. He’s told the man is a demon. But the woman who tells him (Chun Woo-hee) disappears. And her name, Moo-myeong means, “No Name.”

But then Jong-hoo’s daughter (Kim Hwan-hee) develops the rash that’s the first sign of the illness–or possession. Doctors don’t know what’s wrong. The local Catholic priest tells him that if he won’t listen to the doctors, the church can’t help. A shaman (Hwang Jung-min) brought in to help tells Jong-hoo, it’s not even personal. It’s like fishing. The demon, “Just threw out the bait and your daughter took it.”  Jong-hoo tries to help his daughter, but doesn’t know what to do or who to trust. And there is probably no right thing to do. And it’s impossible for Jong-hoo to know who or what is to blame or who to trust.

Like I said, bleak as hell.

 

Look forward to more werewolves, mad scientists, cats and tigers as Spookoween 2019: 31 Days of Horror continues in Parts II and III!

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