Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Beyond the Walls

BEYOND THE WALLS is a French miniseries that proves horror on TV can be great (ahem, AHS). Find it on the very fun Shudder site/app.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Coco ~ Review

COCO is beautifully realized, richly emotional storytelling, and a resonate love letter to Mexican traditions. It's Pixar's tried-and-true formula of a kid on mission but set against a dazzling Dia de Muertos backdrop. It also has an acute cultural perspective, checking off the many icons of Mexican life (pushy abuelas, abundant tamales, tequila, mariachis, and the dreaded "chancla") along with cultural phrases that were never translated or explained. Will it play to non-Mexican audiences as broadly as other Pixar films? For example, the music is wonderfully authentic and while I was joyfully tapping my toes, my movie companion seemed nonplussed at eschewing recognizable tunes (The Book of Life's music is definitively pop). Yet there's more than enough ghoulish touches to satisfy the masses obsessed whimsical skeleton shenanigans. But skeletons are for Halloween right, not Thanksgiving. The release date seems puzzling but COCO soon reveals a tender core with a truly moving story of family. The tone is surprisingly solemn at times and it defiantly embraces death, which is unexpected for a family holiday film. This is one of Pixar's best and an instant classic – and their best chance for Oscar gold in a long time.

Friday, November 17, 2017

American Horror Story: Cult ~ Season Review

American Horror Story: Cult, the seventh installment of the anthology series, is thankfully behind us. It started by trudging through the misery of 2016's election night, followed by an uninspired stretch of roaming clowns, nasty murders, weird neighbors, and one cringe-worthy ugly cryer. Tedious does not cover it. But it did shift from a pointless political fever dream to an acerbic commentary on gender and power.

There was a brilliant episode with an unhinged Lena Dunham as an extreme feminist/serial killer that showed some real promise. Yet from this high point the show teetered between relevancy and repetition through the bitter end. Ultimately, it didn't add much to the discussion and preferred to be perverse than provocative.

As usual for AHS, the story veered towards the absurd (gather around for sleeping bag storytime cult henchmen) and implausible (my lesbian partner didn't vote for Hilary Clinton so I will drive her mad by exploiting her phobias and join a cult run by an angry little man). Sadly, there was no actual exploration of the characters psyches, motivations or reasons for choosing to do terrible things. If you wanted to know why people choose cults, this was not the show for any enlightenment. Everything is left at face value and unexplored and characters are reduced to histrionics. Evan Peters was supposed to be a charismatic, brilliant ringmaster of the cult but he is drawn as a blue-haired man-child, who dines on Manwich, rages foolishly, and can be easily manipulated. How exactly did he recruit so many male model henchmen? With pinky-swears? The writers confused Peters' vein-popping stare downs and shrill line readings as character development.

The reason to keep watching is Sarah Paulson, the crown jewel of this entire series (Jessica Lange notwithstanding). As annoying as her character was at the beginning, she does eventually turn a corner (albeit, completely off screen) and reemerges as the character we wanted to see. Even with Paulson's masterful work, it's too much too late. It does make you wonder what Paulson would have done if cast as the antagonist instead of the final girl – again. For all the bluster of the season's viewpoint, it certainly didn't break the mold.

Cult suffers from an overbearing, nihilistic and crass tone that made it a chore to watch. Gone was the mystery, the unsettling scares, or the wonder of the other seasons of AHS. This was the first season to completely devoid of any supernatural content, which shuts out a large segment of the fanbase who tune in for the horror (versus a crime/terror/thriller). Instead we once again superficially witness the base instincts of humanity as the worst imaginable evil without any real revelations or insight. Even with the interesting segment recreating famous cults in history, this was easily the least entertaining, scary, or dare I say fun installment yet. Yet another missed opportunity.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Halloween Village 2017

For my 2017 Hauntsville Village, I featured the Nightmare Before Christmas pieces released this year  from Department 56. I kept it to a very small footprint which has its own set of challenges. What do you think?

View below or find the album at

Monday, November 6, 2017

Halloween 2017 Post Mortem

Halloween 2017 is dead and buried (in bins in my attic)! All Hallow's Eve was another frightfully fun night with a 306 tricksters begging for treats. To thank my many minions who helped me out, I made my annual Haunt Stew, an Irish beef and stout stew that's a nod to Halloween's origins. The recipe will be posted on my soon. In the meantime, view pictures of My Scary House!

This year my fiends and I had a lot of fun at Halloween attractions. October started with a trip to Fear Overload Scream Park in San Leandro, CA which featured two mazes including a pitch black maze you had to find your way through. It was a nice appetizer to what was to come.

In Chicago, we attended the best haunted house in my life: 13th Floor. This is literally a living nightmare housed in a warehouse on the outskirts of Chicago. The walk through seems go on forever with fully realized, detailed scenes, the numerous actors in elaborate costumes, trap doors, excellent lighting and special effects and just about trick in the book guaranteed to make you scream. Add it to your bucket list and when you go make sure you get the fast pass. We skipped a line of about 300 people.

To finish off the season, my dear fiend Britta, Webmistress of the Dark treated us to a Halloween Candlelight Tour of the Winchester Mystery House. This shortened tour takes you into the pitch black, spooky house filled with lurking ghosts. Our guide, of course, keep picking on the scaredy cat in the group who jumped at every little thing (me). The tour ended with a trailer of the upcoming Winchester movie which looks fantastic, followed by a splurge in the newly renovated gift shop.

And last, but not least, was the annual pumpkin carving night with my nephew who recently started watching horror films at the young age of 7 (!). I hope he grows up loving them even though his mom is a little concerned. I reminded her that I started watching horror films at 5 years old (with The Exorcist naturally). I don't think this helped matters.

Fiends are often concerned that I'll have post-holiday blues. However, I'm pretty okay with it! I need some rest after months of planning, production in a hot workshop, troubleshooting problems, and paying for lots of stuff. The nightmare is trying to put it all away. I cleared out two large bins of stuff and still managed to not have enough storage space. I build these interesting props and then have nowhere to store them and ultimately, they either get donated or end up in the trash. Is paper mache recyclable?

I hope your Halloween was as scary as mine. Now let's go hibernate for the winter, hide from all those terrifying silver and gold merriments, await Krampus, and see what monstrous thing develops in the new year.


Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Day of the Dead Inspired Movie Artwork

Has anyone else noticed the alternative artwork being used on the iTunes Movie Store? Many of the "classic" (ahem Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter) films feature new covers that all seem to embody nuances of day of the dead flair with their focus on faces/skulls, swirly motifs, and vibrant colors. According to Bloody Disgusting the artwork was created by artist Orlando Arocena and used for reissues of 20th Century Fox & MGM Home Entertainment blu-rays in celebration of Halloween. iTunes then used the artwork in it's "Horror Through the Years" sale. I own several of these and the covers changed on my Apple TV. I wonder if they will change back after now that the season and sale are done.

Feliz Dia de los Muertos!

Happy Day of the Dead!