Monday, July 22, 2019

CRAWL Death Rolls My Phobias

Dorothy, my Florida friend, and I went to see CRAWL and I didn't tell her about my irrational fear of alligators. I'm not sure if it's their beady eyes, their snarling snouts, or my deep-seated childhood memory of a crocodile chomping off Captain Hook's hand and then later finishing him off. I can’t tell the difference between the two tailed, long snout beasts so bear with me. Alligators are powerful, mythic beasts, and to my companion they are everyday. She tells me they were in her backyard and if referring to an obnoxious squirrel. To a West Coast boy, alligators are just not a normal thing. She probably fears earthquakes more than I do.

I knew very little about CRAWL going in, like most horror movies, other than there was a storm and alligators. I didn’t realize the two lead characters where trapped in the crawlspace under a home, next to a gator farm during a category 5 hurricane. Bells, whistles and flags all went up simultaneously.

After a brief introduction to swimmer girl, the movie gets into the storm and into the crawl space. I was impressed at how quickly it got to the point and though I didn’t feel any connection to the characters, I did immediately sense the claustrophobia and the sense of being hunted. And then came the brisk alligator action. The alligator's death rolls were so well done and I shrieked giddily. Dorothy seemed nonplussed throughout the ordeal of this movie and I sunk into my seat, fists held up and ready to punch the modern day dinosaur in the snout. I was exhausted by the end.

The plot is clever and refreshingly simple and other than a few father-daughter emotional scenes, the movie’s focus really stayed in the water. The storm effects were great and I didn’t realize that water could get up past a second floor childhood bedroom so quickly. Again, West Coast boy where our annual rainfall is like 8 inches. This was a reminder that nature is and will always be in control.

CRAWL may not be the high art, but horror fans looking for a well-made, briskly paced, tense, fun summer thrill ride couldn’t do better. There is minimal gore except for one scene that looked like teenagers attacking a pizza when the lid opens. I left completely satisfied and in no need to quibble any flaws. I do however wonder why Paramount Pictures didn't do a greater marketing push given the two big horror names behind this, director Alexandre Aja (The Hills Have Eyes) and producer Sam Raimi (Evil Dead). In its second week, it has all but disappeared from theaters, and the shoebox theater it was relegated to was full in the middle of the day. Sounds like a missed opportunity.

Friday, July 19, 2019

Quick Takes: Midsommar, Starfish, Annabelle Comes Home

Midsommar is a folk horror daydream promising serenity for a pound of pulpy, red flesh. It is hypnotic, blooms with dread & drops unsettling, grisly visuals that while expected still land hard. Ambitious, unique & masterful auteur work, but it sadly does perpetuate xenophobia.

Starfish brings an arthouse apocalypse filled with stunning, hypnotic visuals, Lovecraftian monsters & a moody alt rock score. It all hangs on a captivating lead performance but is ensnarled in too much enigma, dampening the impact of this unique & somber grief piece.

Annabelle Comes Home is a surprisingly clever third installment due to the setting, strong cast, and menagerie of nasties. I enjoyed the glimpses into the Warren’s other cases & rather than being a retread, it simply dives in. A treat for fans but newbies may get lost in the fog.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Christine McConnell is Back!

I've been a big huge fan of Christine McConnell and have followed her from Instagram to her book, Deceptive Desserts, to her Netflix show, The Curious Creations of Christine McConnell. Sadly the show got the axe but you can't keep a good woman down for long.

She has just launched a new YouTube series called "From the mind of Christine McConnell" which will feature a new project every month. Each video will follow the project from beginning to end. July's video has her transforming a pullout couch she bought on Craigslist into an Edwardian masterpiece. This is absolutely a jaw-dropping transformation.

If you are like me, and can't get enough, consider becoming a Christine McConnell Patreon subscriber and get a coffin full of extras including exclusive project videos, Q&A livestreams, recipes, tools & instructions, and more, depending on your tier.

I'm so delighted to see Christine McConnell back on screens. She is such a talented and inspiring artist. It must also be noted how exquisite the production design, camera work and lighting is in her premiere video, and the music is so hauntingly beautiful. Brava!

Monday, July 8, 2019

The Horror of Food: Figs & Wasps

Fresh figs are just about in season and it's time to delve into the pulpy, sweet fruit high in vitamin A, C, potassium and fiber. Here's some great recipes from

Unfortunately, this delightfully exotic fruit was forever ruined by a post on Apple News. I cannot unlearn the following info, so if you are a fan of figs, you might want to skip this post.

First, there are male figs that are inedible and female figs that we eat. Second, a fig wasp that's no bigger than a gnat enters the base of the male fig to lay her eggs and DIES. Males hatch, breed with the females, chew tunnels out of the fig and DIE. But female wasps use those tunnels to emerge and start the process all over again. If the fig she enters is a female fig, the wasp DIES, and is absorbed by the fig eventually resulting in a juicy, plump fig. Coincidentally, for this reason, many vegans and vegetarians refuse to eat figs.

The following video from BrainStuff gives you the full explanation:

YouTube Link

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Quick Takes: Knife+Heart, Nightmare Cinema, Man Who Killed Hitler...

Knife+Heart is expressionist film at its dandiest, indulging in titillating & giallo color-saturated imagery. Vanessa Paradis is stunning as an obsessed porn producer in the 70s being stalked why a leather-faced baddie. Its roots are firmly embedded in the horror of gay trauma.

Nightmare Cinema gives the horror anthology a fresh take with segments that take on slashers, body horror, possession & in the most impressive turn, mental health anguish. The cast and the production are superb & shows #Shudder is really stepping up their game as producers.

The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then Bigfoot is a surprising & often touching drama, thanks to Sam Elliot, with a kooky & original premise. It stumbles with tonal/genre shifts but exciting as a hybrid experiment. Ultimately it’s too syrupy for genre fans & too weird for drama fans.

Monday, July 1, 2019

Los Espookys is Offbeat, Genius & Hilarious

Los Espookys is the show that I didn’t know I needed and absolutely love. I’ve laughed to the point of having a white outs, and find it fascinating that these wacky characters are all too similar to weird people I know in real life. The situations they put themselves are surreal and I imagine humorless home haunters rolling their eyes at the implausibility of the effects they create, but that’s not the point.

A reluctant entrepreneur Reynaldo (Bernado Velasco), teams with his friends, the droll tech whiz Úrsula (Cassandra Ciangherrotti) and the orphan chocolate prince Andrés (Julio Torres) to use their horror proclivity for pay. Whether boosting the demon-fighting allure of a parish priest being replaced by a younger, handsome, and glossy-lipped priest, or an heiress who wants to ensure her family’s fortune doesn’t fall into the wrong hands, Los Espookys are called to set up scenes of terror to fool the superstitiously-inclined dummies while managing their escalating personal problems.

I’d like to call out Ana Fabrega who plays the quirky, soap-licking Tati who goes from an illustrious job of fan-spinning to possessed girl. She’s also one of the two writers of this show (along with Julio Torres). Those familiar with the irreverent At Home with Amy Sedaris will recognize her as Esther who lives with the lady in the woods. Fabrega has impeccable comic timing as well as a gift of highly expressive face acting. Face acting, of course, is the rare skill to communicate boatloads of character with zero spoken dialogue and one look. Just ask Norma Desmond. Julio Torres who plays Andrés has written some of the more unusual skits on Saturday Night Live and is also a standup comic with an unusual show. His HBO special, My Favorite Shapes, airs August 10.

Between Torres and Fabrega, they have birthed something truly unique with Los Espookys. The show is created in the kindred spirit of shows like 30 Rock (this show is also executive produced by Lorne Michaels) and Arrested Development where quick line deliveries, absurd situations, and extremely clever wit swirl into comedy gold. It’s mostly in Spanish, and yes, there are subtitles but don’t be afraid. I will admit that as a bilingual, the show seems somewhat funnier in Spanish. I'm not sure if its the colloquialism or sensibility of Latin America, but the jokes land harder in my native Mexican tongue. Of course most of the humor is universal, like Andrés' vapid Instagram boy toy Juan Carlos, a hypnotized news anchor who seeks the truth because the public demands it, or the telenovela-like mysterious dame dressed in red and running around a mansion looking perplexed. Guest stars like Fred Armisen as Tico, and Carol Kane add to the crossover appeal.

With only six 30-minute episodes, this will be a very quick binge when it hopefully makes its way out of HBO and onto other streaming platforms, which I hope it does for the sake of a second season. Los Espookys is a tough sell of horror, comedy and Spanish that may limit its broader appeal stateside but I admire HBO’s commitment to diversity. Putting Mexicans at the forefront of the show, setting the show in Mexico, and having the actors actually speak Spanish (because that's what it should be) is exactly the kind of representation needed on American TV.