Monday, February 24, 2020

Quick Takes: The Boat, After Midnight, Freaks


With minimal dialogue & one character, The Boat is a clever nautical horror is a cat-&-mouse thriller that only keeps getting more mysterious. It’s a tense ride that won’t please those wanting answers but will be a bounty for those beguiled by the sea’s dark side.
⭐⭐⭐⭐




After Midnight is a dreary romance with fits of humor & peculiar music. Also, a creature pops up. It’s a tonal mishmash that rests on whether you find the two affable leads charming & buy into their wine-swirling, rural-living, karaoke-loving hangs. As horror it doesn’t satisfy.
⭐⭐



Freaks starts as a mysterious but off-putting captive child drama then frustratingly treks into spectacularly ambitious yet all too familiar sci-fi territory. There is excellent world building, a strong cast, and a forceful finish that soars in to save the day.
⭐⭐⭐

Friday, February 14, 2020

Illusions of the Passed at Winchester Mystery House


Valentine’s Day can be a horror so attending a seance at the Winchester Mystery House seems like a good fit. Master magician and apparitionist Aiden Sinclair performed what is called a “theatrical seance” which unlike the seemingly traditional seance where people sit around a table, hold hands and talk to the dead, an audience sitting in near darkness participates in demonstrations of “mentalism” such as clairvoyance, ESP, and in this case, tarot reading. Everyone in the room was asked to close their eyes, concentrate on a ghost standing beside Mr. Sinclair and accept messages from him. It’s these messages Mr. Sinclair harnesses for answers.





He did produce bewildering results in prescribing tarot cards picked at random to complete strangers. It was quite the spectacle and yet not quite what I was expecting (parlor tricks, fog machines, and projections). This felt like a much more real experience. Yes, it’s entertainment but I could not figure out the trickery involved, and it made me a believer.

Photo courtesy of Britta Peterson.


After the seance, a limited number of high-rolling guests where treated to a private investigation of the Winchester House. Various experiments were held in two rooms, including a laser matrix to detect ghostly activity in the Daisy Bedroom below, and a spirit box to listen to words hidden in the static (the Estes method) in the Seance room. Some guests participated in these experiments while listening to stories from Mr. Sinclair’s previous investigations.

Photo courtesy of Britta Peterson.


My friend Britta Peterson of Eerie Elegance pointed out the respectful and compassionate approach Mr. Sinclair has to paranormal investigations. In talking about the tourist destinations like the Winchester House many guests don't seem to respect the spirits adding, “How would you like it if so many people came through your house demanding you do tricks?” Mr. Sinclair prefers to listen, hear what they might have to say, and perhaps even help those lost souls.

Photo courtesy of Britta Peterson.


Aiden Sinclair and his Illusions of the Passed series explores other haunted places including the Queen Mary and The Stanley Hotel. For more information and tickets to upcoming events, visit illusionsofthepassed.com and follow them on Facebook, Instagram & Twitter.

Photo courtesy of Britta Peterson.


Editor's Note: Gracias to Britta Peterson for contributing photos and information to this post! And you can deduce, she was a high-roller. Please follow her on Instagram and Facebook for comprehensive recaps!

Feliz día de San Valentín


Sunday, January 19, 2020

2019 Day of the Dead at Señor Scary's House

Every year I look forward to January, primarily because it's my time to catch up physically, psychologically and even spiritually after the hustle & bustle that stretches from September through December. I've been updating the Halloween site with my 2019 photos and haven't really covered my Halloween shenanigans from 2019.

My dear friend Britta Peterson (right) and her husband Glen Simon were in a house selling/buying frenzy so as the Scream Team we decided to have Eerie Elegance do a takeover of my yard haunt! We chose a revival of the 2015 Day of the Dead display, our greatest collaboration to date, which features large colorful tombstones, 300 flickering candles, ghostly projected figures, and a full animatronic skeleton band playing and telling a story!

Many of the larger tombstones we used in 2015 had been lost, so Britta recreated them from scratch. We also remade a large portion of the candles, each hand wired & soldered. She is a very talented, tenacious woman – sometimes terrifying – and a complete inspiration to me! Her Halloween displays are legendary and feature amazing tech and builds that far exceed what I can do, so to have them at my house was a dream come true. We used the same script we wrote and performed together in 2015 but made a few edits.


My front yard is very different from hers so she made many adjustments to the layout and projections to compensate. It was an insane amount of work for one person. All these while trying to revive the skeleton band that was disassembled and refused to get back together without a lot of negotiations. Typical, right?

Glen, who is the resident engineer and makes things move, tasked me with working on what he described as a "simple" animatronic: a pop-up skull. Truth be told it was really straight-forward but being my first foray into animated props it seemed daunting. He handed me a motorized rig, a power supply, and skull. After some trial and error, I did it! You can see my handy work in the spirited ofrenda (altar) video, link below.

In the end it all worked out and we ran just under 100 shows for 8 days, with over 1000 total visitors on Halloween night alone. We also entered the City of Santa Clara Halloween Decorating contest and won the People's Choice Award. Not a bad way for Britta & Glen to end their run in Santa Clara now that they own a (HAUNTED!?) Victorian mansion in San Jose, CA home of the infamous Winchester Mystery House.

Here's a few selected pics and video from our work. Find more at:
senorscaryhalloween.com/2019dayofthedead and
eerieelegance.com

Dia de los Muertos 2019 from Señor Scary on Vimeo.


The large installation took over the entire from yard and allowed so many interesting views.


We added a tombstone photo op where guests could sit amongst the dead.

Very long and colorful papel picado banners where hung across the yard to complete the scene.

Three giant tombstones were recreated for the display and dare I say better than before.

Britta designed this jack-o-lantern –and a 3D skull– in my likeness!


The animatronic skeleton band proved to be both impressive and a fussy lot throughout the run.


Our spirited ofrenda offers some impressive ghostly activity that must be seen to be believed!


Monday, January 13, 2020

Quick Takes: Underwater, Harpoon, Little Monsters, The Dead Center


Underwater is a solid if unremarkable entry in aquatic #horror that ultimately reveals a glorious creature worth the deep dive. The pace is steady, production design is admirable & the cast is leagues above the paper thin story that has nothing to say. Fun but forgettable.



Harpoon is a nasty thriller that dares to dissect a thrupple composed of really awful caricatures & feels like an indictment of aimless youth. I didn't buy these people as friends & the dark humor wasn't as funny as it thought it was. But there's a splattering of occasional gore & whiplash reveals to keep things lively.


Little Monsters is the feel good zombie movie we've been waiting for. Lupita Nyong'o is the charismatic wonder at the center of this very funny, clever & even touching film that transcends the gimmicky set up.



The Dead Center manages an intriguing setup but keeps the story underdeveloped relying on performances & plot to move the proceedings along. It was partially successful but some mysteries are much too unexplained to be impactful.



Friday, January 3, 2020

Quick Takes: The Grudge, In Fabric, Girl on the Third Floor



The Grudge has a promising director, solid cast & interesting structure but it’s still soggy schlock that lacks clear rules, dimensional characters or compelling storytelling. It sadly meanders towards a stopping point with little suspense & predictable scares.





In Fabric weaves a hypnotic tale about a haunted dress that sways brazenly between Giallo horror & humour. It’s oddly satirical, sensually twisted & visually bewitching. A love letter to the devilish films of the 60s/70s, albeit with whispered British wit & style to burn.



Girl On The Third Floor succeeds at disrupting haunted house tropes, with style, humor & buckets of goop. But the plot fails to gel with an underdeveloped story & unclear rules. The quirky casting keeps you engaged but ultimately the film loses all its marbles by the end.

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

My Favorite Horror Movies of 2019

That's a wrap on 2019 and another wealth of horror movies have left their mark. The mash-up genre trend continues as well as the odes to the memorable if not great films of the late 70s & 80s. New indie voices continue to dominate the VOD home market as film distribution bypass the erratic theatrical runs in favor of streaming. This is definitely a victory for horror & genre fans as we are getting to see a great variety of films. Below is a list of my favorite movies for 2019, as well as a list of honorable mentions that must be seen.


1. The Lighthouse - Madness & monsters overcome two isolated men is this masterpiece.
2. In Fabric - A haunted dress arthouse horror with humor & style to burn.
3. Daniel Isn’t Real - Old-school & disturbing horror show with a serious agenda.



4. Doctor Sleep - An inspired Shining sequel that furthers the story with great new evils.
5. Tigers Are Not Afraid - Deeply moving & ghostly fantasy that is much too real for comfort.
6. Ready or Not - A funny survival movie with a brilliant ensemble and epic finale.


7. Knife+Heart - A Giallo queer horror slasher fantasy that delivers across all fronts.
8. Little Monsters - Hilarious, clever, and full of heart which transcends gimmicky zombie set-up.
9. Midsommar - Harrowing exploration of sorrow & betrayal presented as a daytime nightmare.


10. Wounds - Hallucinogenic trip down a Cronenberg/Lovecraft road.
11. Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark - Del Torro’s loving ode to the iconic book series.
12. Horror Noire - An essential lesson on Black History with past & present significance.


The following are my honorable mentions that are incredible films and should be seen.

OUTSTANDING HORROR: WIDE RELEASES
Crawl - A stormy gator thrill ride that delivers fully on a promise.
Happy Death Day 2U - The way good sequels add to the story and don’t just rehash.
Us - A tense, baffling & bleak cultural thriller that keeps you guessing.
Black Christmas - An excellent slasher from a feminist POV, crucial message & wonky twist.
It: Chapter Two - A different monster but still showcases a master at work & epic conclusion.

OUTSTANDING HORROR: INDIES

Climax - An entrancing fever dream with a nonstop beat and chaotic madness.
One Cut of the Dead - Meta horror comedy at its finest & most unexpected.
Braid - It's oddly structured & often inscrutable but maddening visuals are a must-see.
Hagazussa - A deeply upsetting & macabre tale that ends with more questions than answers.
Head Count - A devious, clever, and genre pushing answer to teen slasher films.
I Trapped the Devil - A somber Christmas-set drama that questions loyalty & sanity.

OUTSTANDING HORROR: SCI-FI

Starfish - An apocalyptic arthouse horror with Lovecraftian echoes & visuals.
High Life - A quiet, bleak & often perverse Kubrickian sci-fi thriller.
Await Further Instructions - An eerie family survival film with a truly frightful ending.

OUTSTANDING THRILLER/DRAMAS
Piercing - Polished camera work & characters you can't quit bash each other to pieces.
Border - Compelling character piece about the beast in all of us is obtuse & melancholic.
Beast - Genre defying drama questions love & the evil at the corners of our happiness.


Have a Scary New Year!

My prediction: 2020 is going to be a frightfest.



Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Wishing You A Scary Christmas

Thank you for visiting my blog and Halloween site. May your night be a silent one and may Krampus be nowhere in sight.


via GIPHY

Saturday, December 21, 2019

FX's A Christmas Carol is Bleak & Beautiful

FX’s gritty take on A Christmas Carol is neither a holiday classic reborn, nor meant for audiences fond of the heartwarming adaptations based on Charles Dicken’s novella. This is a new story about the cost of being good. It’s relentlessly bleak & grim with problematic moments that will distress many audiences at the peak of the yuletide season. There’s also some unexpected nudity & gore including scenes with a ripped off jaw, a mouse beheading, and bloody explosion. The movie presents an unpleasant reality of life and it’s a world far away from a Norman Rockwell commemorative dinner plate.

So the question is why take a well-known story and push it to such dark corners? There’s definitely some counter programming from the FX network for those oversaturated with saccharine holiday fare. More pointedly though, is the vexing need to understand our monsters. Our world is full of them from the White House to the mall shootings. It’s not simply enough to know that someone is bad. We want to see why they are bad and how they became the villain. Perhaps as a cautionary tale or perhaps as a barometer for our own deeds.

Most of the movie focuses on Ebeneezer Scrooge's (Guy Pearce) current and past relationships including his rather mouthy clerk Bob Cratchit (a fine Joe Alwyn) and Mary Cratchit (a resolute Vinette Robinson). The machinations may be different, but the ghosts and the lesson remain the same. A damaged soul may never mend but with a commitment to work, goodness may still be possible. Don’t we all seek redemption? Here we see the beginning of one man’s journey in that work but the ending feels incredibly rushed. I feel some editing was made to the U.S. version of this BBC production which airs with no commercials. The end will placate the need to see some sort of resolution even though the final moment with a stock "magical" character is seriously unforgivable.

However grim the journey, the cast keeps the viewer engaged for the nearly three-hour ordeal, as does the production design which is absolutely beautiful to behold. There's a definitive touch of darkness with lighting and set pieces that suggest a nod towards the horror genre but ultimately this is an evocative drama with fantastical elements. It shouldn't be missed but not recommended widely to general audiences.





Editor's Note: While I love the poster artwork for the TV movie, I absolutely despise when poster elements have little to do with the actual movie. The sharp-nailed grim reaper figure featured prominently in the poster is nowhere to be seen in the final production! BOO!