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"Sator" Is Unsettling Folk Horror with Otherworldly Secrets

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Described by director Jordan Graham as a “filmmaker’s film,” Sator doesn’t offer an easy narrative, jumping around a timeline at an unhurried pace. The nonlinear structure will test the patience of most horror audiences, and yet the artfully composed cinematography and undercurrent of malevolence draws you in. The lead performance is almost wordless, and the scattering of random characters are introduced without any clear connection and the least possible dialogue. Sator is folk horror, conjuring up those dark things that infest the backwoods at night. Within lies an entity fixated on a family for generations – or perhaps it's all undiagnosed mental illness, since there’s some allusion to breakdowns and trauma. The film’s tone is bleak, bewildering, creepy, and deeply unsettling. The sound design takes on a life of its own, with a constant droning mix of whispers, distant screeching, birds, growls and wails. Sator is defiantly enigmatic, but just one repeated viewing helps unrave

10 Observations About Netflix’s Cecil Hotel Documentary

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  Netflix’s oddly-titled Crime Scene: Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel premiered last week and we now have some resolution to the tragic story of Elisa Lam. Or do we? Conspiracy theories emerged because of the bizarre elevator video (below) at the center of this case, the even stranger outcome, and the inconsistent answers provided by the LAPD, an agency fraught with historical corruption and cover-ups. Also, we should question the merits of all media, especially documentaries that are purported to present facts. In many cases, facts are just conjecture in a fancy package. This is Elisa’s story and her name isn’t even in the title. The documentary feels very unbalanced tipping towards sensationalism at best, or at worst, perhaps having ulterior motives. Here are my observations and thoughts: The series is book-ended with Elisa’s carefully curated words, directly as she wrote them on her blog, intoned with a glib optimism, and yet her story is the most muted in this series. I didn’t get a

The Rise of Horror Romance Movies

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Love is in the air and it’s tainting my horror movie experience. I admit that I generally loathe romance movies and their bodice-ripping tropes. Horror tropes, though, are cool. But it’s 2021, and genre mash-up is practically a requirement at this point.  At a cursory glance, it seems that romance has always been a part of the horror genre. Frankenstein’s monster loved his bride. Norman Bates loved his mother. The Blob loved everything in sight (no shame). These are definitive horror movies with some romance elements. The curious hybrid of horror + romance  stands on its own, and it's on the rise. Perhaps a younger generation of emerging directors, with a greater sense of self-awareness and identity, feel less constrained about exploring feelings as a topic. Also, the horror genre historically has been more avant-garde, experimental, and welcoming of eccentricity. The horror romance sits pleasantly at the table alongside the horror comedy, horror musical, horror melodrama, horror f

Poe's Tell Tale Short Gets Madness Right

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  In the last few moments of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, Norman Bates sits quietly still, utterly insane, engaged in a deep inner monologue. He looks slyly at the camera and thinks to himself that he wouldn’t even harm a fly. Then a menacing, evil grin sprouts across his face. This deranged energy is where actor Sonny Grimsley starts his journey as the protagonist in the entertaining horror short film The Tell Tale Heart . He tears into this role like a man whose just been served a porterhouse steak, his teeth sinking into the meat of Edgar Allen Poe's madness. Based on Poe's short story of the same name, the flowery prose depicts an arrogant narrator recounting his presumably clever cover up of a brutal murder. The film creates a dreamlike aesthetic with a disorienting timeline, swooping camera work, and a slurry of blood, guts and madness. It’s highly theatrical and chaotic, never letting the viewer gain a sense of equilibrium, much like Poe’s evocative story. I would have pr

Netflix's "Surviving Death" Spurs Existential Wonder

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  From a young age I was exposed to death. I could understand but not process   what happened, and I asked what came after death. My father told me I could travel through the entirety of the cosmos and learn everything I didn’t learn about life. This is how my lifelong fascination about the afterlife began. After my father passed, I pictured him visiting the stars and it brought me peace. Netflix’s new series Surviving Death tackles the afterlife with six well-presented episodes of straight-forward investigation, historical review, case studies, and interviews with researchers in the fields most closely associated with the subject. There are no experts or single line of study in the afterlife, but there are practitioners that specialize in everything from mediumship to ghost hunting to doctors who study end-of-life dreams and visions. The show offers no judgment or opinions about the validity of process, but it does feel supported, avoids unnecessary spectacle, and offers some compell

How to Better Enjoy Movies... and Life!

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A year ago I joined Letterboxd ,   a social networking site where users log the movies they watch, add reviews, and follow others with similar interests to discover films. It’s a haven for movie geeks with a calling for making lists, and I imagined users would express their joys about movies with complete abandon. But spoiler alert: so much of the commentary is snark, complaints, and outright bitchery. These are people who supposedly  love movies  and use their time to write trash about them. Like friends, family and life, movies aren’t perfect but there’s usually something to enjoy, and it's said that every film made is someone's favorite.  I'm currently in a film studies program and I've begun to experience movies is a new, more thoughtful and artful way. My entire personal journey is marked by the movie watching experience, from childhood where I watched movies with my father and brothers, through adolescence where they showed me a world I was about to start explorin

Shock Docs on Trvl & Discovery+

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While I looked away, The Travel Channel delightfully morphed into an exciting outlet for all things paranormal and weird (also its now called TRVL?). This past summer they announced a new series of documentaries called Shock Docs and after the first one aired, I didn’t hear anything else. It’s not surprising since they don’t seem to market their specials well, have an elusive social/blogger presence, and their website appears hopelessly out-of-date most of the time. (Update: Found a page on Facebook dedicated to ShockDocs .) Perhaps their efforts have been spent on launching the new Discovery+ premium streaming service launching today, January 4. My guess is that they've saved up these documentaries as exclusive original  content for the streaming service.  Here are the one’s I’ve read about so far, including two unaired documentaries that both have (hidden) pages on the Discovery+ site. (FYI: Verizon Unlimited customers get a free subscription, otherwise you'll have to sign

Feliz Año Nuevo!

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One year is dead and buried (screw you 2020 for so many awful things including ruining Halloween), and another kicks off with a fresh new blog design (to make it much easier to read) and like Miss Patti LaBelle sings, ooh-oh ooh-oh I got a new attitude.  I've reopened Comments section after last year's onslaught of spam (over 3900 spam comments). If you haven't ever commented or connected with me, please do. I've met some great people online to chat about Halloween, horror and everything in between and now more than ever we need a sense of community. I'm always looking for contributing writers, so please let me know if you're interested! Get new posts delivered to your email inbox! Click the three lines on the upper left corner of the site to open the sidebar and find the "Subscribe" section. Enter your email and hit the button. You will immediately get an email to confirm your subscription. New posts are delivered as they are published.  There's

Best Horror Films of 2020

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While 2020 will go down as the worst year ever, at least it has been a great year for horror movies. Here are my picks for the best of the best with everything from grim trauma to lighthearted comedy to visual sci-fi madness. I normally pick 13 favorite movies but this year deserves a bonus 7, plus plenty of honorable mentions to round out the list.  1. The Dark and the Wicked - bleak, grim and terrifying haunted house film 2. Relic - family tragedy that is well-acted with an unexpected ending 3. His House - chilling haunted house tale with a unique refugee setting 4. Color Out of Space - bizarre Lovecraftian nightmare 5. Extra Ordinary - hilarious, goofy fun abroad with ghost busters 6. Gretel & Hansel - the classic story gets a beautiful and dark artistic makeover 7. Host - a surprisingly effective and timely ghost story 8. La Llorona - urgent storytelling with deeply resonate themes 9. The Invisible Man - big budget thrills done right with a great lead performance 10. An

It's Krampustime!

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Krampusnacht is Upon Us

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Before there was light, there was dark and thus begins the folklore of Krampus celebrated throughout Central Europe and now spreading throughout America’s horror-obsessed fandom. It’s simple. If you are good, Saint Nicholas will reward you with gifts. If you are bad, Krampus will come and take you away.  Some anthropologists date the horned half-man, half-goat demon to pre-Christian times, and like-visages appeared in various cultural holidays alongside the then-emerging Saint Nicholas figure. As Christianity spread, chains appeared on Krampus as a way to bind the devil. He was a fearsome symbol of warning, made more humorous over time and completely absent from America’s holiday celebrations, represented now only by the coal Santa leaves to misbehaved children. Krampusnacht is celebrated on the night of December 5, prior to the Feast of Saint Nicholas which is celebrated in several European countries on December 6. In modern times, citizens dress up in the furry Krampus costumes, nois

Quick Takes: Mortuary Collection, Scare Me, Spiral, 32 Malasana St., Cleansing Hour

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Most of movie watching time is spent on  SHUDDER , the horror movie streaming channel by AMC that has finally found the right mix of rotating catalog classics, fun original programming, exclusive movies, and adequate corporate support to ensure it doesn't collapse like Fearnet or Chiller (R.I.P.). With the continued growth, they've been able to but better and more interesting horror movies, many of which are international and indie films you'd otherwise never see. The following five films are all Shudder originals.  The Mortuary Collection  is one bad-ass movie and probably the most fun I've had with horror movies all year. It's tone is all over the place, at times wickedly whimsical & humorous and then gory & horribly fiendish – but it all works. The acting and storytelling is exceptional. An almost unrecognizable Clancy Brown, as Mr. Dark, delivers his witty lines with a deeply resonate droll that reminded me of all the best TV horror hosts: "This h

Sam Saves Halloween!

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Happy Halloween! What a long, long road to get to the darkest night of the year. This time of year certainly helps raise my spirits and this was especially needed now. Very few people decorated this year and my best guess is that they didn't want to invite little hands to their front door. But we refused to go dark. Halloween is more than just candy and trick 'r treating, and we wanted to ensure that our neighborhood had at least one gleaming house of horror.  After debating how to hand out candy safely, all the experts said to avoid it. I made the brutal decision to declare: Sorry, No Candy. While this benefits our own household safety, it was really more for the kids and families that congregate in-front of our house every year. Last year we handed out candy to 423 trick 'r treaters, and each was accompanied by at least 2 parents or friends with each trick 'r treater so we estimated at least 1200 people on our driveway Halloween night. Even if we get a fraction of th