Sunday, August 9, 2020

La Llorona is Reimagined With a Timely Message



La Llorona is a sobering look at the Mayan genocide at the hands of the Guatemalan military, infused with a keenly reimagined figure of Latin folklore. A former general is being charged with the massacre,  torture and pillaging of the villages of Mayan civilians, including women and children. This was a counterinsurgency operation that followed the Guatemalan Civil War (1960-1996) and into the "Silent Holocaust" of 1981-1983 where upwards of 166,000 people were killed. 

Holed up in a lavish mansion, the general, his wife, and daughter are fending off a large group of protestors that continue their efforts around the clock just outside their gates. The sound design is restless and unnerving with the chants, songs and shouting always present at some level. Inside, the house staff abandon their positions, and the lone housekeeper is left to manage, clean up shattered windows, prepare meals, and caretake of the ailing general. Just in a time a woman with long flowing hair, white gown, and a quiet disposition appears at their front door to offer her services. 

With a deliberate, methodical pace and shrouded, disquieting horror, the film is profound, satisfying & sorrowful. The harrowing dream sequences are brutal, and ultimately the film suggests that the crimes of men are paid by the women around them. 

This is an incredibly special film that evokes the same feelings I had after watching last year's Tigers Are Not Afraid. The horrors are very real and this is not a traditional horror film which may be disappointing to those seeking quick thrills and jump scares. But as a historical drama with fantastical elements, this is an urgent, timely exploration of the need for folklore, giving a voice to the silent, and providing justice to the disenfranchised. 

However, this film is still not the definite take on the classic Llorona lore, which I hope someone will make one day. Folklore passes down stories of a culture, gives meanings to traditions, and explains hidden historical context that may otherwise be lost. La Llorona is very personal and important figure in Latin culture and she serves as a warning and cautionary tale within a mystical, ghostly figure. I grew up with her and it was frightening, alluring, and ever-present in my back of my mind.

La Llorona is currently available exclusively on Shudder.


Thursday, August 6, 2020

Beware the Snake Oil from Cerave!

All this hand washing has left me feeling a little chaffed, and have been looking for a good hand cream. I don't post many product reviews on other sites but when I do, I have strict “brand guidelines” to adhere to. The following review was initially rejected by Amazon for not following community guidelines, but I thought it was fun. At over $10 for 3 oz, this hand cream should be a mystical elixir, right? 

Have you ever wondered to yourself, what will make me smell more like a swamp witch? Look no further. Cerave's new and worsened hand lotion is sure to dredge up the intoxicating aroma of decomposing roots and standing water. It's somehow thinner than water and yet has a standing tube design to ensure it sprays out evenly over everything the moment the cap is disengaged. After scooping the precious eau de lotionette off the sink and spreading the chalky coulis across your dry, brittle hand skin, you can remain confident that those hands will indeed remain bone dry. No pesky magic healing properties here! 


Saturday, August 1, 2020

Quick Takes: The Other Lamb, Blood Quantum, Yummy

The Other Lamb. This hypnotic film tells its simple story almost completely visually with a dreamy aesthetic and mostly sparse prattle dialogue. Set in the cold, wind-whipped countryside of Ireland, the cinematography is breathtaking. As is the performance by Raffey Cassidy who hails from the classic Norma Desmond school of "We-didn't-need-words-We-had-faces". Her eyes seethe with anger and when she does scream its almost completely muted. The blunt message being that women with opinions of their own are "broken" – because the sole patriarchal shepherd says so. Movies about cults tend to be infuriating (why don't they just leave) but this movie does not concern itself with the psychology of cult leaders or followers. It's a much more intimate story of one girl becoming a woman in a cult. And though a drama, the film is shot like horror movie with clear directions that this cult is heading towards the inevitable dark road to coven.




Blood Quantum. Zombie film are such downers and this one is no different, however it’s much more poignant told from the viewpoint of First Nations residents who are seemingly immune. It’s extremely gory, nasty, and vile but that’s to be expected in this subgenre. There’s some fantastic visuals, including some animated sequences, and some odd, unusual camera work. While the performances are uneven they’re still very engaging, and it’s vital to see people of color both in front and behind the camera. The nagging problem is the screenplay that’s much too episodic, incoherent, and meandering to be effective.



Yummy. Disclaimer: zombie movies are not my favorite. The plot is always the same: outbreak happens, random group bonds, they get picked off one by one, and the one you think will survive doesn’t. And then it ends with no conclusion. Yummy checks off most of these boxes but it’s also surprising funny, doesn’t take itself too seriously, and is outrageously gory. Absurdly, it’s set in a shady plastic surgery in Eastern Europe, and features a quirky cast that speaks Flemish, Polish (I think) and even English. Thankfully, the movie, whose tone reminded me a lot of Shaun of the Dead, ends before it sinks into bleak despair that ruins most zombie flicks.

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Quick Takes: Amulet, Beach House, The Siren

AMULET tells an ominous story of men, good & evil, atonement & a fascinating mythology. Stylishly shot with a languid pace unfolding in two timelines the horror suddenly explodes into an absurd, ethereal yet totally incomprehensible finish that still lingers & haunts the mind.





THE BEACH HOUSE is a steady-burn film that starts in one #horror genre & ends in another. The shift is sly with a wicked, calculated & clever plot that leaves you harrowed by the time you realize what’s truly happening. It’s a very effective, trippy, solid debut film.



In THE SIREN, tragedy begets tragedy and then you throw an innocent man from the church into the mix and see what happens. This mermaid tale is grounded in the most unfanciful fantasy with some beautiful shots on a lake, including some tricky night shots. I really appreciated the unique narrative touches, like the dude is hot but mute, the mermaid is really charming but a monster, and the central conflict told with confusing voiceovers is a gay man’s revenge tale. There’s one pivotal moment involving a near drowning that really lost me, along with a relatively  unsupported love story. It never provides much tension or suspense but perhaps that’s not the point for subgenre of horror romance. It’s also a bit too long but the solid performances keep you invested.


Friday, July 17, 2020

Target's Creepy Plants are Back! ...And Already Sold Out

Last year, Target put out a line of creepy faux Halloween plants. They were WILDLY popular and most stores never received any stock. There's another chance this year, but we'll probably not get them this year either. Apparently, there was some undisclosed presale and they're already sold out. They will be officially "released" on August 27 according to the site so maybe there will be more stock? I chatted with a Target merchandising manager, and she said seasonal items are stocked once and done. But they sometimes will shift stock from store to store if it's not selling. 

Here's what they have/had available this year:






Thursday, July 16, 2020

How to Hand Out Candy Safely This Halloween

As Covid-19 continues to rage on in our country (wear a mask!) its becoming clear that Halloween will not be saved. With 106 days to go, it's time to start planning for those kids who do come to our yard haunts and want a treat. I've been thinking about how to do this safely since reaching into a bowl or hand-to-hand handling will not be safe for everyone. 

I bought a bag of orange clothespins last fall for no reason other than the color. (Yes, I'm obsessed with the color. Guess the color of my car, home office, work office, and everything else.) I'm thinking that the safest way to give out treats is to hang them from twine and keep them apart from one another. The twine will eventually go through the center hole of the spring to keep it on the line, and the waxy paper used to wrap candy gives enough grip to stay put while also yielding easily with pressure. 

The candy will go from the bag to the clothespin, with my mask on and gloves on, of course. The tots tug the treat off the line without touching anything else, and it will be in the open air instead of coming to the front door. And yes, I'll be prepared if kids take more than one – because that's the Halloween spirit!

I've been testing this in my office and tomorrow I'll test in the backyard to see if wind, birds or other elements will knock them off. The sun will melt the chocolate so that also has to be factored into the timing. And I will need to refill the lines often but chances are that many parents won't let kids trick 'r treat this year. If they come, I will be ready!

How are you planning to hand out candy safely – or will the porch light be off this year? Message me using the form on the right column, or tweet @senorscaryjerry.


Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Relic is Beautiful, Sad, & Sinister

Relic
slow burns through the anguish, regret, and duty of three generations of women facing a haunting deterioration. The effects dementia has on the afflicted and those around them is devastating and sorrowful, and yet there seems to be something much more sinister at work, as inky shadows lurk in every corner. Our footing is never secure on any one answer. 

Filmed in cold, blue light the home itself is an unwelcoming character with walls that practically breathe, and closets that seem like throats to a dark abyss. It seems to talk through constant knocks on the walls, and yet the house itself is also deteriorating as fast as the grandmother, rapidly being infested by black mold, nauseatingly realized in every stain. 

The superb performances are raw and deeply affecting as the characters face trauma from the past, neglect and abandonment. This is one of the best elements that women screenwriters and directors bring to horror. An emotional core as transcendent as any villain that resonates deeply and universally, and isn’t easy to shake. Just as the ambiguous ghost story culminates into a labyrinthian chase of sinister shadows there is a slight-of-hand, and the emotional through-line lands the ending. A beautiful, sad, horror film and one of the best of year. 



Friday, July 3, 2020

Quick Takes: Scare Package, The Hunt, Vivarium

Scare Package. This film is an ode to 80s horror movie fans, from the cover that looks like poster for the 1986 horror comedy House, to the anthology structure that evokes Creepshow, to the many sight gags that remind us of Halloween, Alien, Friday the 13th, The Fog and more. Each segment takes on a horror movie trope or two, and while amusing doesn't quite sustain the energy throughout. Cutting out the two weakest entries and the meta jokes would have helped. There's still plenty to enjoy in the first hour.

The Hunt. Horror movies as commentary on social politics run the risk of tipping into preachy territory, and The Hunt is an ill-conceived face palm. It's capitalizing on our divided country with a violent fantasy that is obnoxious and much less clever that it thinks it is. There’s plenty of bloodshed, explosive carnage, and an epic fight between two women where no clothes are torn off.

Betty Gilpin is the reason to wade into this conceptual muck of a film. Her powerhouse performance is so strong and a heel kick to the teeth that I didn't see coming (even with three glorious seasons of Netflix's GLOW). There is a deep set, emotional core to her character that toggles between skilled warrior and emotionally unstable woman on the brink of a breakdown. And in between, Gilpin adds subtle, throwaway nuances that make for some incredibly funny moments. This performance reminds me a lot of Sigourney Weaver's breakthrough performance in Aliens, and can't wait to see what Gilpin has up her sleeve.


Vivarium. Finding a home is the quest for many couples, and unfortunately this couple gets plunged into the Twilight Zone. The movie is well-crafted and acted but the narrative stalls after the good set-up but its not a deal breaker. There's enough interesting developments to keep you engaged, even if the ending doesn't quite land.



Sunday, June 28, 2020

Happy Pride 2020!



The image above is made fabulous by freelance designer Sean Sinclair, courtesy of Unsplash.com

Monday, June 22, 2020

Can Yard Haunting Save Halloween?

As more states move towards opening businesses and get some semblance of normality during this pandemic, I wonder about the lingering effects to our collective psyche. There’s a looming threat of a covid-19 resurgence in the fall or winter, and Halloween is smack down in the center of that time period.

It doesn’t take a crystal ball to foretell that our spooky traditions will be altered this fall. For starters, I can’t imagine that parents will encourage their trick ‘r treaters to go door-to-door this year. Haunted attractions may be a little less spooky six-feet apart. And parties may not feature extensive guests lists or allow for much nibbling, with masks likely being required for the foreseeable future. We must remain committed to safety for the sake of our most vulnerable populations. 

So where does that leave the yard haunter, like myself, that decks out the lawn with sinister sights?  In one regard, creating these displays may draw crowds, which is normally a good thing, but not in the age of social distancing. I also wonder if the horror of it all will make the masses (and myself) more anxious at a time when we need to find inner calmness. Or will it provide a needed distraction from the real horrors of the world and give the people an expected thrill in October? My instict is the latter. I personally want to get back to the world B.C. (before covid-19), and imagine that many others want to do so as well. Our neighborhood is very receptive to our efforts, often knocking on our front door to thank us. I want to provide a sense of frightful fun to our community, and on Halloween, everyone's entitled to one good scare, to quote Dr. Loomis in Halloween (1978).

Planning for my walk-by/drive-by display is underway with the building of new props, sourcing supplies, and creating a manageable schedule. The theme this year is inspired by the film Trick ‘r Treat, which is arguably the best Halloween movie ever made. The film's sublime production design evokes classic Halloween visuals of jack o' lanterns, ghosts, and graveyards. I hope to recreate some of that atmospheric charm with Sam as a focal point, and add adding a few nods to other iconic horror movies. I can already hear my haunter friends calling it a “haunt stew,” a term they use to define the lawns littered with an overabundance of Halloween store props mish-mashed together with no rhyme, reason, or story. Personally, I welcome any seasonal decorating – yes, even those obnoxious air-blown monstrosities – over no decorating and applaud the spirit of all yard haunters.  

I’d really like to hear from yard haunters about your plans. (Via social media links below or use the form on the right column.) How big or small will you go this year? Do you fear any backlash (or more than usual)? Are you feeling any stress about building something that few may come out to see? Or do you think it will be scary business as usual? This is going to be one hell of a year for the record books. 

Instagram @senorscaryjerry



Friday, June 19, 2020

Quick Takes: Gretel & Hansel, The Boy II, This is Our Home, Housewife





GRETEL & HANSEL is a dark reimagining of the classic fairy tale told visually with sumptuous production design and theatrical imagery. Dread seeps from the screen like an icy mist and the wicked shenanigans reveal the stories of a girl becoming a woman, and a monster wanting to be a mother. We know the original story so the director instead focuses on the sinister, evocative ride. This is an art film with anachronistic dialogue, adept performers, and quiet slow burn that won’t appeal to the broad audience it aimed for in theaters. But those who can appreciate the stylized witchery and subtle wickedness will find a feast in the details.



BRAHMS: THE BOY II doesn’t undo the first film's nutty twist so much as broadens the mythology with a heavy injection of the supernatural. Katie Holmes is good as the bad parent who lets her child keep a doll buried in the woods. It's a sinister but common approach to put the child at the center of the danger. It's a good set up but unfortunately the tension is not sustained making it too much of slowburn. This is especially odd considering this doll does a lot more that sit-and stew like Annabelle. The film's structure is also hampered by a botched intro, lackluster climax, and an unnecessary coda. It looks great but the screenplay needed another pass.



THIS IS OUR HOME ends and lingers on the brain, making it itch. There is –possibly– a grand design at work by the director that creates a lasting uneasy, dreadful effect. On its own merits the storytelling is much too slight and uninteresting and the characters are equally dull. They are a couple in crisis and its that universal feeling that reels you in. And the crisis is substantial, literally making itself known and staring them in face. There's odd things that are not called out, like does that kid only have four fingers? Then there comes a moment of brutality and an honesty so devastating it made my bones ache. So much unresolved angst is what’s most intriguing.



HOUSEWIFE, from the director of BASKIN, serves up an equally bizarre second feature and it's a strange brew of 1970s Giallo pulp, witches, and Lovecraft. The story bares only minimal plot points and devolves quickly into meaninglessness. The objective is to take the viewer on an horrific visual journey through a dreamlike state. If this is your jam, you might enjoy the hell out of it, but stay until the last moments for a brief glimpse of some thing majestic.

Thursday, June 11, 2020

Quick Takes: Shirley, Blood Machines, House In Between, Defending Jacob

Shirley is an atmospheric & engrossing study of the creative process & the monsters created in its wake. Moss is brilliantly unhinged as the pioneering #horror writer, Shirley Jackson who wrote The Haunting of Hill House and The Lottery. Her provocative, seething resentment is palpable, and she is often shot in extreme close-ups with handheld cameras that add a shaky, restless energy. The film distills the dizzying madness to a singular, urgent message: "The world is too cruel to girls."




Blood Machines roars to life in a visionary spectacle that defies sci-fi & horror conventions & boldly goes forward. At a scant 40-45 minutes (& inexplicably split into three episodes by Shudder?), the pulsing synth leaves you breathless & yearning for more despite the frayed optical nerves & itchy brain stem. The perfunctory performances are almost nonessential given the conceptual nature but still its weakest link. More importantly, the gender politics give me pause, as men are ignorant buffoons but the females are all demonic ghosts within the machine – and naked. It’s a French production, so salacious sexual subtext is expected, but is this the point?




The House In Between has balls, and I will admit that I was impressed by them. Beyond that, it's clear the filmmakers don't fully grasp the structure needed to sustain a feature documentary. Specifically, this would be a multi-faceted subject, a distinct point of view, some level of education on the subject, and the ability to produce a narrative that has a beginning, middle and end. This felt more like an extended episode of a ghost hunting show without any kind of resolution. The more compelling questions were not asked: Why does this happen in small town America? What is the fascination with ghosts and ghost hunting? Why is this home owner so intent on reaching out to the media and what is her story? Ultimately, it struggles for relevancy, repeats itself, and runs out of ideas.



Defending Jacob is a tightly-paced and somber family tragedy with stellar performances that add gravitas to even the most melodramatic moments. Jaden Martell really shines in an understated performance that is both sadly endearing AND unquestionably insidious. Every moment with him is complex and excruciating. I also couldn’t believe how each episode added at least one significant reveal and yet maintained the overall mystery. This is a solid, remarkable thriller with a bleak, dark heart and at only 8 episodes is still feels a bit too long.

Sunday, June 7, 2020

Black Lives Matter

There are no words more important than these: BLACK LIVES MATTER. The horrors of America are all too real to ignore and silence is complicity. I stand with you. Learn more and donate at blacklivesmatter.com.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

A Plea to Reconsider the Timely IT COMES AT NIGHT

In 2017, It Comes At Night was royally screwed by A24 (the studio behind The Witch, Hereditary, Midsommar, and The Lighthouse) when it issued a horror-packed trailer, lauded soundbites, and released the movie alongside the summer blockbusters. The studio was likely trying to capitalize on the prestige horror wave aimed at adult audiences clamoring for mature horror films (most mainstream wide-release horror films are targeted to teens). Audiences, myself included, hated the movie and walked away incredibly disappointed. Expectations are the death bell of a horror movie experience.

The director, Trey Edward Shults, had previously worked on a stylish, intimate character piece called Krisha, and It Comes at Night follows further down that dark path. It seems Shults set out to make a grounded, atmospheric, psychosis-driven horror movie without conventional horror elements – a sinister drama, perhaps. And just to be clear there are several very frightening moments, and a tense, gruesome sequence. 

The story revolves around a highly-infectious viral outbreak that possibly turns people into zombies and this plague decimated a nearby city. That’s it. We know only tidbits about the characters as they treat each other with suspicion and distrust so there’s not much exposition. The rest is an exercise is harrowing paranoia, bleak terror, horrible dreams, and a savage, emotional climax. It’s all presented vaguely but it’s not too difficult to decipher what’s going on.

I’m fortunate to have waited 3 years to revisit this film, and it’s especially timely and almost prescient now during this pandemic when our kind neighbors are met with cautious uncertainty. It Comes at Night is very well-made, exquisitely shot, and effectively ominous. The cast honestly portrays the madness of claustrophobia, the anguish of life-and-death decision-making, and the brutality of scared humans. 

It's a shame that I, and so many other horror fans, dismissed this film for not living up to the expectations that A24 set up (The Lodge met a similar fate earlier this year). The studio could have treated It Comes At Night better, promoted it more honestly, and given it a modest rollout to see if audiences responded. Word of mouth with limited availability is a solid, time-tested strategy. Now is the time to revisit this shunned gem and give it another chance. Perhaps my home isolation prompted the new sentiments, but I was surprised at how effective the film is and how genuinely real it feels. The resolution is unequivocally haunting.

Coincidentally, as a result of the way A24 markets its films, I made the decision in 2017 to NEVER watch trailers again, and unsurprisingly, I haven’t had a movie ruined since then (The Invisible Man trailer gave up many of its jawdropping moments). It's tough to avoid them, especially if you watch network TV or subscribe to the cheaper tier of Hulu, but I've embraced an awkward trailer stance (eyes shut tight, finger-plugged ears) to combat terrible marketing.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Quick Takes: Z, Porno, Why Don't You Just Die, The Droving

When this works it has some great tension, well-staged scares and overall eeriness. Eyes staring back from the darkness of a child’s bedroom is particularly effective, as is one vicious moment that I had to rewind to accept. The third act completely drops the ball, becomes repetitive, and it’s clear they didn’t know where to go from the premature climax. Just for once I’d like to see both parents on the same side. The level-headed, doubting man, hysterical woman routine is such a tired, insulting trope. As Shudder originals go, this is above average.




Admittedly, there is some juvenile fun to be had in the tawdry PORNO, but it’s just not a grower. The pace is clunky and the action spurts out in fits and drabs. Thankfully, the likable ensemble cast holds the film firmly together, and they help us through an intolerably gratuitous scene that would burst any man’s bubble. But things wither the moment you realize the big bad is nothing more than boobs and a mask. It’s supposed to be a sleaze-fest and it’s more of an uninspired snooze-fest.



WHY DON'T YOU JUST DIE! is a gleefully vicious little film that is so damn bloody, implausible and action-filled. I loved every minute of it! It's dark humor coupled with brutish performances and even a little bit of heart make it all work, even though the majority of the film takes place in one room. There's some very vibrant artistry on display with impeccable production design, colorful lighting, and fun, energetic camerawork. You can clearly see the Quentin Tarantino, Martin Scorsese, and Park Chan-wook influences. I'm very excited to see what director Kirill Sokolo has coming next!



THE DROVING upholds its bargain, promising a woeful tale of loss & revenge entwined with a regional folktale. Beautifully shot against stunning U.K. vistas with dynamic sound, wind practically whips around you. Adept performances with surprising character developments & a chilling ending land the devilry of this indie horror.