Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Eerie Plants for Sinister Gardens

Happy Hallowspring! If you're like me, it's time to dig out last year's victims, chuck them into the green bin, and try again. Here's a few scary plants to consider in your sinister garden.

Purple plants with unusual shapes always draw questioning looks from your neighbors who only grow only pretty pink roses. The Heuchera Obsidian come in shades of violet with sharply contrasting green veins. Purple Majesty Millet looks almost like black corn leaves with long cattail flower spikes.

Huechera Obsidian
Purple Majesty Millet

For a more of ghostly pale coloring that looks great lurking in the darker corners of your landscape consider Dusty Miller with it's skeleton-like leaves, or Athyrium Ghost, a fern with silvery fronds that seem to glow.

Dusty Miller
Athyrium Ghost Fern

For a more ghastly look, try planting Japanese Blood Grass, a clumping mass of tall 18" grass whose garnet tips look as if they were sprayed with blood. The Festival Burgundy Cordyline plant has wispy, dark red leaves that look like blood fountain in a patio urn container.

Japanese Blood Grass
Festival Burgundy Cordyline

Truly black plants are a little hard to find but they add a decidedly gothic touch to any landscape. Black Mondo Grass is a little spiky plant that looks like a bowl of tarantulas in a small table container. For a larger area, the Hillside Black Beauty is leafy, tall, and in late summer sprouts white flower spikes. For more ideas, consult the book Black Plants: 75 Striking Choices for the Garden by Paul Bonine.

Black Mondo Grass
Hillside Black Beauty

Thursday, March 20, 2014

The Banshee Chapter: Review

The Banshee Chapter is a micro-budget independent film that despite it’s shortcomings manages to be unsettling, thought-provoking, and ultimately a frightening experience.

The first thing to know is while the core of the film is fictional, some of the events featured are bizarre and true. The first few minutes have actual media clips of President Clinton apologizing to the victims of secret government medical experiments. Then there’s references to “numbers stations,” mysterious shortwave radio broadcasts typically featuring female or children’s voices in a variety of languages reciting words, letters or songs. The sources of these strange broadcasts are still unknown but have been attributed to possible espionage... or perhaps otherworldly transmissions.

The movie stars Katia Winter (from Fox’s Sleepy Hollow) whose boyfriend acquires and takes the hallucinogenic drug (used in those secret medical experiments) and mysteriously disappears. She’s determined to find out what happened to him, traces the origin of the drug, and down the rabbit hole she goes.

The dread builds steadily, and every passing episode increases the eerie quotient in this stylish debut from writer/director Blair Erickson. However, the performances are uneven, the story is underdeveloped and slightly disjointed, and the characters don't fully develop – all symptoms of a writer directing his own work and lacking a clearer, external perspective. Nonetheless for independent cinema it is surprisingly polished (and apparently shot in 3D although the 3D version wasn't released on home video).

The last and most fascinating thing to know about this movie is that it’s a loose adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft's “From Beyond”. Fans of Lovecraft may know how difficult it is to faithfully adapt his vivid and grandiose vision to the screen but one has to applaud Erickson for trying. If one is going to adapt Lovecraft, this is the way to do it. Rather than attempting to write a script that features story scene-by-scene, Erickson instead injected Lovecraft's DNA into an original story and the effect is exactly what you'd want: creepy glimpses into another world.

This is a lot of lofty ambitions for a debut film, and while the film isn't perfect, the results are original, chilling, and worth a look for fans of the paranormal.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

20 Terrifying Two-Sentence Horror Stories

The following really short horror stories were posted on Tickld. Although I'm not sure who wrote these, many congratulations on the killer writing! My favorites were #2, 5, 11, 18, and 15. #13 definitely gave me shivers, and #19 is a seriously macabre masterpiece. Thanks for sharing Britta!

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Killer Legends on Chiller TV

Cable subscribers with the Chiller TV channel should make sure to tune in for the new special, Killer Legends premiering this Sunday, March 16th. The 2-hour documentary is hosted and directed by Josh Zeman (director of the fascinating horror documentary Cropsey) and takes viewers on a dark ride into urban legends and the true crime stories behind them, including "The Babysitter and the Man Upstairs" featured in the clip below. For more info, visit Chiller TV.

YouTube link

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Helix: By the Numbers

When I first heard of the new Ronald D. Moore show, Helix, my eyes lit up with fervor and anticipation. I caught onto his previous series, Battlestar Galactica, after much of the initial craze had died down (with a proper binge watch on Netflix). Being a Moore fan, and with the lack of “true sci-fi” on SyFy these days, I welcomed Helix with open arms.

However, I soon discovered that Helix was only being produced by Moore – not written or created by – a misleading fact in the show’s marketing spots. Unfortunately, that’s perhaps the show's biggest problem. The writing is clunky, downright corny, and sometimes painful. Many characters suffer from an overwhelming flatness that makes me cringe every time one of them appears on screen. Even Billy Campbell, who I loved from his stint on AMC's The Killing, can’t do much with a script that has him jumping from one plot point to another while delivering thick exposition along the way. Despite the many flaws, I’m still invested. Perhaps I’m a glutton for punishment or maybe I just want to see how it all ends.

I then decided to take a look at the Nielsen ratings numbers to chart the trajectory of the first eight episodes compared to other popular SyFy shows over the years to see where Helix stacks up:

Source: “TV by the Numbers”

While not the weakest debut, Helix quickly sank to the bottom of the pack in terms of week-to-week ratings. Bottoming out in episode five, Helix has rebounded slightly and started leveling off, but is it enough to warrant a second season?

Looking historically at these shows, Face Off debuted with the lowest numbers but grew steadily (its smaller reality show budget also ensures more profitability for the network). Battlestar faced low ratings to 1.1 million viewers in its season 3, and season 4 would soon be its last.  The same holds true for Warehouse 13, which recently dropped to 1.3 million and has announced its end date. Alphas only lasted two seasons with relatively higher numbers than Helix before it got canned.

Source: “TV by the Numbers”

Comparing the overall average ratings for the first eight episodes reveals a grimmer story. Helix just isn’t fairing well. With just a slight edge over Face Off (again a much cheaper show to produce), Helix seems prime for the ousting by a network that seems to value profitability. (The controversial rebranding several years ago in an attempt to become more mainstream that alienated much of SyFy's core audience still stings.)

With the finale of Helix's inaugural season at the end of the month, a renewal seems unlikely. Other SyFy programs that didn't maintain solid ratings didn’t last very long. It seems that even the heavy mentioning of the show's association with Ronald D. Moore in its marketing campaigns wasn’t enough to bring in enough viewers this time around.


Chad Gingrich is a Syfy enthusiast and pop culture geek hosting a weekly podcast called “Epic Geek Out.”  Chad writes on behalf of Dish Systems, a great source for the best Dish Network deals and promotions.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

"Drawn to the Dark" Travel Update

Chris Kullstroem has been traveling and researching "dark-themed" events and celebrations around the world for her latest book project: Drawn to the Dark. She dropped My Scary Blog a line to share some fascinating stories and places she’s been to in the last few months. Read on for more.

The journey began in September with New Orleans. For one month, I researched several themed tours based on Voodoo beliefs, vampire myths, local cemeteries and tales of the supernatural. I learned that two of the city's tourism companies donate a portion of their cemetery tour proceeds to restoration and preservation projects of the city's cemeteries. It was inspiring to see these tour owners understand the importance of maintaining these important aspects of the city's culture, lest they become deteriorated beyond repair over time.

However, the most memorable experience in New Orleans actually took place outside the city. I met a guide, Jennifer, who gives vampire and ghost tours in the city and owned and operated a small haunted attraction in Mississippi called "Nightmare Hollow." During an interview with Jen, I learned that she had a very interesting method for organizing Nightmare Hollow's crew. She invited a group of young people who had chosen to live on the streets of New Orleans to spend the weekend up at the haunt. I worked at Nightmare Hollow with Mad Max, Space Man, Voodoo and Pop Tart, and witnessed their transformation from unmotivated so-called "gutter punks" to professional actors, set designers and builders with the opportunity to use their talents and creativity that Jennifer had given them.

Next, I flew to Oaxaca, Mexico for their Dia de los Muertos celebrations. I witnessed countless pieces of sand art in which artists expressed their personal connections with life and death through skulls, skeletons and coffins, flowers and sunlight in brightly colored sands. With new friends I danced into the night in camparsas: lively parades in which the crowd dances with costumed Katrinas, the Mexican skeletal icon who represents the inevitability and natural process of death. Visiting Oaxaca's cemetery, however, was what really blew my mind. I not only witnessed families sharing food, drinks and stories by gravesites, but mariachi bands also played music for the dead, stilt walker Katrinas and other costumed characters walked among the stones. Outside the cemetery gates carnival rides lit up the night with stands selling foods and drinks.

I then flew to Salzburg, Austria where I experienced several events based on Krampus: the infamous winter demon that, legend has it, accompanies Saint Nicolas on the night of December 5th. Traditionally, Krampus punishes wicked children by beating them or even stealing them while Saint Nicolas rewards the good with treats. However, in Salzburg, hordes of Krampuses take to the streets in "laufs," or runs, in which they parade and playfully attack spectators with cow tails, horse tails or branch bundles. For one month I attended fifteen laufs in Austria and Balvaria, ranging from one to three hours and sometimes dozens of Krampus groups, or "passes." In freezing temperatures I stood with hundreds of other Krampus fans who had come out to enjoy these free events with their friends.

Chris' travels this year will take her to Italy, Japan, China, Hungary, Germany and Singapore. 
Please contact her with questions or comments or for more information, visit her website www.MonstersAndBooks.com, and follow the many wonderful pictures like the ones above on her up-to-the-minute Facebook page.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

We Are What We Are (2013): Review

Remakes of foreign films often fail to bring their gritty elements with them, and ultimately the horror gets lost in translation. The middling 2010 Mexican horror film We Are What We Are caused a stir with its frank depiction of cannibalism. This remake keeps only a few bare concepts from the original, creates an incredibly resonant  atmosphere, and manages to categorically improve upon its predecessor with very competent and engrossing filmmaking.

After the death of their mother, the eldest daughter must continue the family ways under the oppressive control of their father. It’s not a highly original story, but it’s well told, cleverly framed, and doesn’t rely on any cheap gimmicks. But it requires patience with it’s a slow, lurid pace, and bleak, joyless tone. Ultimately, the ripe, gutsy, and sobering performances make this movie a compelling tragedy.

This is only the third film from Jim Mickle (director of Stake Land and Mulberry Street) and it screened at both the Sundance and Cannes Film Festivals, and holds an 85% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. It appears his strength lies in transcending straight-forward horror and examining the horror of the human condition. (Look for the upcoming revenge drama Cold in July starring Michael C. Hall and Sam Shepard this summer from IFC Midnight.)