Monday, September 16, 2019

Quick Takes: Tigers Are Not Afraid, High Life, Head Count

Tigers Are Not Afraid is devastating. The horror across the border in Mexico is very real and this fantasia captures the spirit of children left to defend themselves against monsters in all forms. Director Issa Lopez has a remarkable vision, imagination, and restraint that narrows the focus to a pinpoint of pain and sorrow, and her incredible young actors fulfill the mission. This a masterpiece. Currently on Shudder.

High Life is a quietly bleak, psychosexual, sci-fi anomaly that tackles themes of isolation, redemption and the inevitable surrender to the horror of deep space. It will be challenging for some audiences with its strangely assertive sexual overtones and undefined ending but it stands alongside some of Stanley Kubrick's best work. Robert Pattinson’s stellar performance embodies the weary lost soul and the results are a transcendental meditation on hope.

Head Count is deviously clever & creepy, making you second guess what you’ve seen. The set-up might seem trite, but it follows in the new wave of #horror that pushes genre expectations. The ride is relentless & dreadful, the payoff is satisfying, but the coda was unnecessary. Currently on Netflix.

Friday, September 13, 2019

Ghoulish Garden Blooms at Target

Target stores are dropping their Halloween goods this week, and by far my favorite items are the Ghoulish Garden monster plants. They are all teeth, tongues, and eyeballs and so darn eerie and delightful. They remind me somewhat of the singing flowers in the Enchanted Tiki Room at Disneyland, or Audrey II from The Little Shop of Horrors. Sadly, they are all out stock around my stores and online so not sure if I'll get one this season but my stems are crossed and rooting for good luck.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

IT Chapter Two Is A Completely Different Monster

IT Chapter Two leaves the optimism & scary wonder of youth behind to focus on downbeat adult trauma. This tonal shift is necessary for the story of the adult Losers Club to fully come full circle but like the book, it becomes less enjoyable, more tedious. It meanders more often than it amuses and takes full advantage of its long running time to flesh out lots of details. So we’re left with a brilliant cast who are suddenly but sporadically thrust into fantastical set pieces. There’s truly no lack of horror, and when it happens it’s bizarre & unsettling movie magic!

Yet all this drama also strangely also upstages Pennywise – and Bill Skarsgard – who seems to have a really small role. When the clown does show up, it's in the form of some larger than life but clearly CGI creature. Enhanced practical effects would have helped sell some of these moments. Greater emphasis still is given to the monster's Deadlights, three glowing orbs that are possibly its truest form, that don't have much character at all. But I did appreciated that they dove into the mythos, origins of IT, and the Ritual of Chud.

Perhaps the episodic nature would lend itself better to another medium, but nothing here feels unnecessary. It folds in some needed scenes of their  younger counterparts to ensure the current narrative gels. This is a clunky, repetitive structure with some laggy pacing, and then we get to the end. Stephen King is notorious for failing to end his massive works with satisfying endings, and here again, the ending feels somewhat anti-climatic. I admit it wasn’t as bad a the tv mini-series and a vast improvement on the book. Perhaps expectations got in the way, considering the great choices director Andy Muschietti and writer Gary Dauberman have made in adapting this massive book and changing the story to fit the films.

IT Chapter Two is an engrossing, good film that is very, very long. I still preferred Chapter One since it's dripping with nostalgia, but this one stays true to its central thesis. Fearing IT gives IT power and likewise believing you can destroy IT has the same effect. This is how the kids defeated Pennywise in Chapter One. But Pennywise is 27 years older, wiser, and has a grudge to settle. He knows adults struggle with believing in anything and thus are easy targets. It's a good lesson to remember that the imagination of your childhood could possibly save you as an adult.

Monday, September 9, 2019

Charred Tree Lamp

Since as long as I can remember, or at least since watching Poltergeist, I've been infatuated with spooky trees. If I'm driving somewhere and see the perfectly haunted tree, I must stop and take a picture. It's as annoying as it sounds.

Last year, there was a devastating and deadly wildfire that wiped Paradise, CA off the map (where my parents-in-law used to live–they have since relocated). Houses completely disappeared leaving behind only foundation slabs, yet strangely, charred remains of blackened trees remained standing. the visuals were all so eerie and sad. This stuck in my mind for a long time, and I'd been looking for a project to expunge it and create something good from it. So I made a lamp as a kind of remembrance piece.

1.  I first traced an existing lamp onto paper and then sketched what I would build over the existing structure. I wasn't sure how intricate I could get with my chosen materials. My friend Britta reminded me that I should use a lamp in working order. Check. And, after watching a video by Christine McConnell, I felt encouraged to confidently use a Dremel tool to reshape the metal structure of the original lamp.

2. Using balled up paper and tape, I started building a structure of the branches. Some of the branches required more structure so I added 16 gauge wire armature to ensure the branches remained upright. 

3. I kept adding branches, refining detail and thickening the base. This was an iterative process of adding and removing. 

4. I wanted a rough, bumpy texture so I made "Monster Mud" – a mix of Celluclay, water, Elmer's white glue, and joint compound – to create modeling clay. I sculpted over my existing structure in stages, letting inner layers dry before adding more clay. After several coats and sculptural detail, I let it dry thoroughly for week in the sun. I sanded it lightly to allow any loose bits to come off. 

5. Finally, I added a base coat of Krylon spray paint + primer, and added some highlights/lowlights with contrasting grey colors (which are impossible to capture in a pic). This burlap sack lamp shade seems to go well with the theme. 

Sunday, September 1, 2019

Terrified (2017) Film Explained

Terrified (Aterrados) premiered quietly on Shudder and landed on many top 10 lists for 2018 (including mine!). Since then it has evolved a small cult following with many scratching their heads. It's a truly scary film that deserves wider acclaim and to that end, I have watched it repeatedly and have the following explanation of the confusing film. Obviously, the following is filled with MAJOR SPOILERS, so watch the movie then come back here.

The film has an oddly non-linear first half and a linear second half. The plot jumps around in time and is missing some interstitial scenes to pave a clear path. There's also many characters with minimal development and locations to keep track off. Two characters even have a similar appearance: tall, tousled hair, dark deep-set eyes, and beards. And there's a steady, non-stop pace that doesn't give you periods of rest to reflect. All this causes disorientation and unease, on top of the mounting dread and creepy visuals. By the time the true horror is unleashed, the viewer is quite discombobulated and helpless.

The story takes place in and around three homes and what appears to be a hospital. The homes are nondescript and colored similarly so its difficult to tell them apart. There are many characters to keep straight and you will know none of them well. There are three main locations for the events of the film: Walter's house, Juan's house next door and Alicia's house across the street.

THE STORY  (Explained linearly instead of how it was shown in the film)
Walter's house has been haunted for several months for unknown reasons and the activity is escalating. At first furniture moves or shakes. He is not sleeping and has spoken to several people, presumably doctors and then perhaps clergy, and is eventually directly to Dr. Albreck. Her assistant says she only investigates cases with physical proof, so he sets up a video camera to document the activity. He sees creatures that enter his bedroom via an armoire or from beneath his bed. Presumably he sends her the footage.

Meanwhile his next door neighbor, Juan, complains about their adjoining wall being cracked in half. Walter says he is remodeling and that's the reason for the loud noises and bangs. That night Walter is again visited by the creatures and he screams, presumably finally captured by the creatures.

The next morning, Niño, Alicia's son from across the street, drinks water from a spigot at Walter’s house. Walter's glowing eyes appear in the window and he tells the boy to get as far from the house as possible. He does and backs up into the street, getting hit by a bus. A funeral happens off screen and is attended by Juan, his girlfriend Clara, and Funes, a cop who used to date Alicia. 

Meanwhile, Clara then begins hearing noises emanating from the sink in her home. Juan is awaken in the middle of the night by loud banging to find Clara being violently smashed into the walls by an unseen figure as he watches in horror unable to stop it. He is presumably taken to a psychiatric hospital.

After the funeral, Alicia starts hearing noises in the pipes. Off screen, her dead son then climbs out his grave and ends up sitting at the kitchen table. A routine police patrol finds Alicia's front door open, they go inside and discover the boy's body. The detective Funes is called to the scene, and then Funes calls Jano, a former forensics expert and writer, for help. The boy sits frozen motionless, but when Jano turns off the lights, Niño corpse moves spilling a glass of milk. 

It's no early next morning, Jano sees Dr. Albreck taking pictures outside of Walter's house across the street. He knows her from the paranormal conferences she's presented at. Albreck asks about Walter's whereabouts. Jano takes her over to Alicia's house to see the boy's corpse. While telling her stories of times dead corpses moved or talked to him, like he wrote in his book, Niño moves again, so they pick him up and put hims a freezer outside. When Funes gets there, the boy cries and bangs against the lid. They make a plan to rebury the body and cover the tomb with cement.

Albreck & Jano are joined by Rosentock who visit Juan at the hospital. They tell him of a very similar case in 1998 and do not believe Juan was responsible for the death of his girlfriend. They ask for permission to enter Juan's house, and prepare to investigate the paranormal events at the three houses: Alicia's, Walter's and Juan's.

From here the plot moves linearly. Each investigates a separate house, setting up instruments, taking photos and discovering various anomalies. Rosentock tells Funes that fear is contagious and it is not the place for someone who has health issues like Funes has. Rosentock then discovers a magnetic field in the kitchen, a knife pierces Rosentock’s hand and is pinned to a cupboard. Something unseen inside the cupboard seems to be sucking his blood.

Rosentock is explains to Funes that time is different inside the nest, or epicenter, of this paranormal disturbance. It looks like there is a strong magnetic fields that causes furniture and decor to be pulled against walls. Rosentock tells him to clean up the blood quickly. Funes is increasingly agitated and calls Jano. Jano looking at Funes from across the street says there's a figure standing next to Funes. The figure suddenly teleports to Jano and a struggle can be briefly heard.

Albreck continues to fuss with a contraption that seems to be measuring shifting magnetic fields and hears gurgling at the kitchen sink, and then at a large, dark crack on the wall. She moves closer to it to examine it.

Back at Walter's house, Funes is about to leave when Rosentock says he found "him". He madly explains that dimensions of darkness and light are coexisting on the same plane at the same time, so you can only see the creatures from certain perspectives. Funes runs in terror to find Jano. Rosentock calls Albreck to tell her this is what they have been looking for, but don't know what to do about it other than document it.

Funes runs in terror to find Jano who is screaming from within a glass filled cabinet, seemingly trapped in some inner dimension of the furniture screaming that he has shards of glass in his eyes.

Funes goes to see Albreck who is sitting at the crack in wall which sounds cavernous. Inside is a crouched figure with two peering eyes. Albreck tells Funes to clean his hands since the creatures thrive on blood. She explains that they have theory that dimensions are like segments of an orange, each with their own beings and physics. Somehow one world crossed into the next. Water is their conduit. They can reproduce and travel in water at a microscopic level, and since humans are also made of water they can use us as conduits. Suddenly a hand reaches out from the crack and breaks her neck. Funes has a heart attack, falls to the floor, and a misshapen creature emerges from the wall moving towards him. Back at Walter's house, the same being that took Walter appears to take Rosentock.

Funes awakens and he is alone. Alicia suddenly appears in the doorway, and he begs her to take him to a hospital. She angry at him for taking her boy away and burying him again with a concrete slab over him. She helps him up and out, and the go to her car. Niño is in the back seat. Funes backs away and goes to his own car, and suddenly, the corpse of Albreck runs toward his car, and tell hims to help them, that there is still time, and they are being tortured. Funes speeds away.

Now away from the house, Funes pulls over and has a smoke, his heart attack seemingly subsided. Another cop radios-in saying he’s at the house and Funes is nowhere to be seen. Funes orders him to leave the premises immediately. Funes drives back to the house and pours gasoline over Alicia's house. Niño is back in his room, and Alicia has hung herself from a doorway. Funes trails the gasoline outside and tries to light a match but it  keeps being blown out. The camera swings around to reveal Jano who is blowing the match out. Funes fires his gun and successfully burns the house down with Alicia & Niño.

Back at the psychiatric hospital, three new cops, one who witnessed Funes burn down the house, question Juan if he’s heard from the paranormal investigators or Funes. Everyone we’ve seen so far has gone missing. Juan says no but asks who the guy sitting at the back of the room is. He says it looks like Rosentock but with a burned face. The policeman turnaround and see nothing then suddenly a chair moves, is picked up and is thrown at them.

At the end, it's clear the area of influence has spread beyond the three houses where it started. We don't know what caused this or how it came about but the Albreck and Rosentock had been studying coexisting dimension sor parallel universes. The paranormal here is treated almost as a contagion that’s spread from person to person, through water, or through proximity to the epicenter. The contagion slowly spreads from the residential neighborhood to wherever the hospital is, presumably attached to anyone who traveled into the affected zone. This happened before in 1998 according to Albreck and Rosentock, and then questioned, Juan seemed to recognize the bloody woman in the photo. Juan was at the epicenter, drank water, and is the only one not directly affected by the creatures. I feel he is somehow culpable in having started all of this, hence the chair thrown at him by what may have been Rosentock. A prequel is definitely set up, as well as sequel to the events that followed these. Will get more of the story from writer/director Demián Rugna?!?

Sunday, August 25, 2019

READY OR NOT... for Date Day!

I somehow managed to pry Professor O'Evil off his iPad for a Date Day with the promise of a World Burrito bowl, which just happened to be next to a theater. After incessant whining (I won’t mention who did the whining), we went to see Ready Or Not. Is it me or did this movie come out of no where? There was no advance buzz, no ostentatious festival debut, and film just dropped into theaters with little fanfare.

Ready Or Not puts the eccentric rich on notice about bizarre family traditions. We all know they live privileged lives in fancy mansions and apparently can get away with murder. In the film, a new bride on her wedding night must defend herself in a brutal game of hide and seek where the stakes are life or death – literally. Professor O'Evil asked why the dumbwaiter is the first place everyone hides in fancy mansion movies. I assume it’s because screenwriters like for actors to say “dumbwaiter” since most actors were once waiters in L.A.

The cast here is perfect and embodies both dimwitted buffoonery and vile savagery very well. This helps bobble the tone from horror to comedy seamlessly. And, yes, it is bloody awful at times and earns its R rating. The tone really reminded me a lot of the movie CLUE (1985) with its confined set and whimsy but with the clear horror edge of a film like You're Next (2011). Professor O'Evil said it reminded him of that movie with the clowns or that other movie with the girl and the gun. Needless to say he doesn’t watch a lot of horror movies but I really like that he tries to relate to my weirdness. I should make the same effort and like listen to… a jazz?

The ensemble here works very well together as a dysfunctional family and they all have a familiar, lived-in feeling that’s often difficult to achieve in ensembles. First, I should mention that Adam Brody is in this film, he is a delightful, and he is always my favorite. BUT it’s Samara Weaving, as the bride, who steals the show instantly becoming an iconic final girl. If you are not familiar with her, she was in a fun Netflix horror comedy called The Babysitter (2017), where she played the nanny from hell. Samara knows how to throw down fear, agony and distress with these guttural howls that literally made my bones ache. Professor O'Evil said she reminded him of less persnickety Nicole Kidman. They are both Australian and blond so I can see the resemblance but Samara has no air of aristocracy, seems approachable, and doesn't leave a trail of frost behind her. I can see her getting an Oscar in the next 3-5 years but then we’ll lose her to those damn prestige films.

Ready Or Not was directed with a good amount of polish by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin & Tyler Gillettt, the duo behind segments in both Southbound (2015) and V/H/S (2012). For a low-budget $6 million film, the money is clearly all on the screen with the lavish well-appointed finery, although that one hall started to look quite familiar. The] team knows how to deliver comedic beats and manages to keep the suspense tight with a quickly moving pace. Even the emotional scenes between family members are kept brief and to the point. This was a ride and they knew not to interrupt the momentum. The surprising and hilarious finale was such a satisfying end. Many times screenwriters come up with a great premise but struggle to wrap things up. This is not the case and we loved the full tilt. 

Horror comedies are a tough sell and they don't seem to satisfy neither horror hounds nor comedy fans. Ready Or Not is absurd fun, quite gory, and the perfect date movie. It almost doubled its budget at the box office this opening weekend and currently holds an 87% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes so audiences and strangely critics are enjoying this bizarre blend. I personally love the horror comedy subgenre and much like that World Burrito bowl Professor O'Evil is enjoying, it's a complex mishmash of the best parts of the genre, topped with a fair amount of flair.

Friday, August 23, 2019

Home Depot Wins Halloween...AGAIN!!!

Someone at Home Depot really loves Halloween. The last three years they have put out some really inspired decor that Spirit Halloween can't even touch. Be aware that the brick-and-mortar stores carry only a fraction of the items available on their website. But they have great sales and free shipping quite often throughout the season.

This year they have a full side pirate ship (well just the tip, bit still), a full size Headless Horseman, some great looking tombstones, a fairy colored dragon, and some cool inflatables. Check it out!

Monday, August 19, 2019

Knitted Dissected Bat Specimen by Emily Stoneking

Emily Stoneking
While visiting Portland last week I made a point to visit the exquisite museum-like store of natural wonders called Paxton Gate. On my bucket list was a taxidermy bat, but the staff members educated me on the rarity of ethically sourced bat bodies. Most bats sold by vendors are killed solely for collectors. The store rightfully refuses to sell something that might have been destroyed rather than gathered, so I removed a bat from my bucket list permanently.

As if by fate, I was directed to the artwork of Emily Stoneking, a knitter from Burlington, Vermont whose creations "explore the places where art and science intersect" – also available at her aKNITomy Etsy shop. From frogs to human brains to aliens, Emily knits whimsical objects that are meant to be be appreciated by those who are typically squeamish of such things. I immediately purchased the Knitted Dissected Bat Specimen (below) which is pinned to a board and splayed open with felted internal organs on display. It’s icky science art made adorable, and no bats where hurt in the process!

I had to learn more about Emily and her curiously wonderful art pieces.

Señor Scary: Some may consider your art macabre, but I think it’s whimsical and even educational. What drew you to such subject matter?

Emily Stoneking: I'm not sure what drew me to macabre art in the first place because I kinda feel like I've loved creepy stuff my entire life. I loved reading about diseases and stuff in my parents' encyclopedias as a kid. I then grew up to study medieval history, and have a deep interest in historical epidemics, as well as medieval and early modern anatomical art. I love how in the eras before photography, the only way to learn about the body was to study illustrations done by master artists showing the inner workings of anatomy.

Señor: Did you study biology or physical sciences, and how accurate do you feel your artwork represents the internal workings of these creatures?

Emily: No, like I said, I studied medieval history and German! My knitted animal dissections are not very anatomically correct, I'm afraid. I took a little artistic license with the shapes and colors of the organs, and sometimes real scientists get cross with me about it! My human illustrations (which are newer works), I do try for some accuracy. I'll study anatomical illustrations of the subject I'm tackling and go from there. But they're definitely more art than science.

Señor: Where do you draw your inspiration and do you sometimes look at a thing and think, hmm, what does that look like on the inside?

Emily: I draw inspiration from everywhere! Conversations with friends will spark ideas, trips to museums, walking around the lake, all over the place! When I do think about what could the inside of a creature look like, I often end up going in a joke direction in my brain. Like, I make an Easter Bunny whose guts are that pink plastic grass you put in your easter basket, and his organs are all easter eggs. I have a plan to make a dissected shark and the contents of his stomach will be things like a spare tire, human leg, stop sign, etc...

Señor: I don’t know much about knitting, but I imagine there are no patterns for such creations (other than on your Etsy page). Is it trial and error or how do you approach the process?

Emily: Yeah, I make the patterns up myself, which is a definite trial and error process. I usually have an idea in my head of what shape I want to create, and a rough idea of the technique I want to use to achieve that. Then I'll give it a try, and usually my numbers are off a bit, so I rip it out and start again. It's normally little tweaks to get it right. I take tons of cryptic notes that probably only make sense to me, and then when I'm happy with it, I'll write it up into a pattern that other people will understand and can use to make their own!

Señor: What has been your favorite project?

Emily: My favorite project was a set of fish that I was commissioned to make by Parcs Canada. They wanted a knitted walleye and a common pike, each about 20 inches long, each 3 dimensional, with very detailed realism. They were going to use them to teach kids how to clean their catch when fishing! So they wanted gills, and a zipper pocket in the stomach, where the kids could open the fish and remove the organs. That was a really cool project. I ended up having to knit the pieces and then hand dye the stripes on the fish to make them as realistic as possible.

Señor: Is there a dream project you’d like to tackle someday? Perhaps a full size dragon or dinosaur dissection?

Emily: Hahaha full sized dino sounds amazing!! I honestly wouldn't know how to store such a beast, but heck yeah, that'd be wild! But yeah, up next on my wish list is to make a full sized bisected human collage. I'm not sure yet how I want to piece it together, which has been holding me back. But I hope to get started on it this fall.

You can purchase your own knit dissection on her Etsy site, aKNITomy and follow her Facebook.

Friday, August 9, 2019

Quick Takes: Scary Stories, Climax, Under the Silver Lake, Lake Mungo

Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark may be aimed at teens but it’s still a well-made & effective horror movie. Creepy tales impressively interweave into a cohesive, dark narrative. The strong cast, period nostalgia & Burton-esque atmosphere add to the chilling charm perfect for a Halloween night.

Climax moves you with intense dance then compels you watch helplessly as the frailty of the artistic psyche plummets into darkness. The debauchery & nastiness flip the world upside-down, defying convention, pushing narrative structure to the grueling last act of carnage.

Under the Silver Lake offers a confused mystery wrapped in a cloak of conspiracy doused in skunk spray. This L.A. story is a slow, long slog that intermittently introduces oddly striking visuals & genuine moments of noir inspiration. But absurdity can only go so far. The anachronistic soundtrack & indifferent performances don’t entice much fanfare. This either points to a genius or overly indulgent filmmaker. I can't decide.

Lake Mungo is a faux documentary that explores family trauma and loss, and its wretched repercussions. Highly realistic interviews divulge unexpected twists & turns to a perplexing story. Then either photos or videos supply proof of ghostly phenomena to add to the confusion. It's well-made and absorbing, with effective performances that ground the film. Yet on the fringe just off camera lies a very dark dread that unnoticeably floods the room.