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.

Sunday, May 3, 2020

Quick Takes: Extra Ordinary, Sea Fever, The Wretched, The Turning

Extra Ordinary blends rom-com with the paranormal to produce a snort out-loud giddy #horror comedy. Between the ectoplasm collection, satanic absurdity & lampooned tropes lie great performances that ground the shenanigans. It's the best time I've had "at the movies" this year.

Sea Fever is a grim nautical horror thriller that draws heavily from The Thing, The Descent, and Alien. With themes of isolation and infection, it’s resonates but it quickly loses momentum in the second half. The characters are well-rounded but all fairly unlikeable keeping you detached. And the ambiguous creature design seems interesting but leaves you wanting much more. It’s harrowing and frustrating at the same time.

The Wretched is old-school #horror with a Fright Night template (a teen knows there's an evil witch next door but no one believes him!). It’s a witch instead of a vampire & not the pretty, pouty lipstick kind. This is a more terrifying, volatile creature. Sadly, the lore is not explored & it moves along predictably but solidly enough to entertain.

The Turning starts well-enough with a rich, gothic atmosphere, some ghostly scares & great performances. But the it rambles towards an abrupt and maddening non-ending. This was so off putting it ruined everything that came before it. The problem lies in how the director attempted to pay homage to the original novella’s debated ambiguity. Here it’s confused, clumsy, unsupported, and a serious embarrassment.

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Happy Halfway To Halloween!

We've made it through to the midpoint. It's time to start planning and building towards Halloween 2020. Sure, it may be different this year with social distancing rules, BUT the spirit of spookiness should remain undeterred. Let Halloween lift your spirits, stay home, and save Halloween!

Monday, April 13, 2020

Delve Into the Dystopian Ceramics of Laura C. Hewitt

The work of Alaskan artist Laura C. Hewitt is strikingly beautiful and startling dark and whimsical. It immediately evokes the work of H.R. Giger but upon further inspection, there’s an aesthetic that’s so completely unique and ethereal. She earned her MFA in 1998 at the Vermont College of Norwich, and her work has been exhibited from Alaska to Seattle to New York. Her Etsy shop, INAEENT or It’s Not Anything Exactly Enterprises, is now the prime location for acquiring one of her mysterious and otherworldly pieces, which include decorative vases, plates, cups and saucers, jars, and ornaments. The work must be seen to be believed. Ms. Hewitt writes,

“I’m particularly interested in exploring the intersections between technology and nature, art and craft, destruction and creation. As inspiration, I look for the magical within the mundane, provoke thoughtfulness with the practical and animate the pragmatic with mischievousness.”

For my birthday, I purchased the piece called a “Hybrid Dystopia Cappuccino Mug. On Wheels” and  it is detailed exquisitely in 22k gold. It’s heavy, solid and even a little sharp is spots.

Holding it for the first time was it’s own ephemeral experience. I felt the true artist’s energy and passion coming through, and it evoked a strange feeling like she has somehow tapped into a different consciousness and that realm was being channeled directly into her work.

Upon studying the piece, the mind reels out of time, looking for mooring, as faces, hands, teeth, tails emerge and recede. There’s a story going on from all sides, underneath, and inside. Its energy transports the imagination to the far reaches of the cosmos.

I reached out to Ms. Hewitt with a few questions, which she graciously answered.

What drew you to this kind of expression and medium? 
Pottery was the only medium I’ve worked in where I could actually make money from home. 18-hour exhibition related flights + teaching job got really old, really fast. 

Who are some of the artists that inspire you? 
Anything edgy, contemporary, trope defying, a bit of danger and a dash of science helps, too.  Currently: Cai Guo Qiang, Adrian Piper, Roberto Lugo, Tsutomu Nihei, William Gibson, Megan Thee Stallion, Carmen Maria Muchado, Augusten Burroughs, Dark Souls video game, Handmaid’s Tale (series) and those animated engineering videos on Instagram of concrete being poured underwater or bridges getting built or whatever.   

Your work evokes an otherworldliness. What is your sense on the secrets of the cosmos?  
Well, that’s certainly not a question I’ve been asked hundreds of times!  I really haven’t a clue.  Probably it’s a huge joke we’re just not getting.   

Your work feels deeply spiritual and meaningful. What is your message?
Think Dangerously.  Embrace everything, even the icky stuff. Take care of yourself because no one else can do that for you. When life feels pointless and meaningless, we can create meaning for ourselves, we’re responsible for creating meaning for ourselves (those of us who have the privilege, of course, the time and resources) and it can start with small personal rituals, as simple as using a thoughtfully chosen cup for the day’s first coffee.

How do your family and friends perceive the work?
Not much different to what you, and others, have written about it, but they’ve always seen sardonic humor as well.  It’s been said to me, and they’ve heard many times, “It looks like it was created by several different people.” And they’re like “Oh no.  That’s all her alright.”

Follow CyborgWidow on Instagram to keep up with her latest works. They truly are one-of-a-kind artwork that you can own!

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Stay Home. Watch Horror.

For those new to home quarantine, welcome. We're all in this together. Now let the #horror movie marathon begin!

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Quick Takes: The Platform, Zombieland: Double Tap, Child's Play

The Platform bristles with a vexing, timely message & social commentary on class, resources & the penal system. Exquisite direction & a fascinating dystopian/alternate reality plot thrills, but leaves you hungry for more exposition, resolution & character development.

Zombieland: Double Tap sadly proves again that lighting doesn't strike twice. It's great to see this cast again but unfortunately the paper-thin plot doesn't add much to the original. There are some great moments & a few chuckles but there's just no reason for this sequel, released 10 years after the original, to exist.

Child’s Play is a smart remake that lives in a mighty big shadow. This film was created for a new generation that depends on tech to live & the horror lies in grounded fears of runaway A.I. Some of  it is beyond the limits of plausibility and I didn’t buy Aubrey Plaza as a mom, but still a dumb, fun popcorn movie.

Monday, March 2, 2020

Quick Takes: Invisible Man, Color Out of Space, The Lodge, Come to Daddy

The Invisible Man updates the classic mad scientist story with a domestic violence angle. Elizabeth Moss commands our empathy & anchors a slapdash & often surprising plot. It’s effective, thrilling horror with stellar effects but its final reveal is problematic. If you make a message film, be sure its a good message through to the end. Clearly they were trying to set up a sequel regardless of the cost.

Color Out of Space attempts the unimaginable task of adapting H.P. Lovecraft & succeeds with a new familial narrative. The dreadful tone & creeping mayhem explode into colorful cosmic horror that evokes absolute hopelessness. Nicholas Cage is presumably loony but the rest of cast grounds the madness. This is one stellar movie.

The Lodge is unrepented, psychological torment about the inner devil within that awakens to wreck havoc. This cerebral, gloomy & exceptionally tragic horror drama gives up the ghost midway through to agonize us with the weight of choices made by those with deep grief & anger. It's a pleasant watch but it's an essential film.

Come To Daddy puts a Beverly Hills poser with daddy issues in the middle of an oddly amusing feud. It’s nutty, tonally loopy, and carving forks will be forever tainted. Elijah Wood is made for straight-faced dark comedy but this is not quite the horror as the marketing implies. It's still highly recommended.

Monday, February 24, 2020

Quick Takes: The Boat, After Midnight, Freaks

With minimal dialogue & one character, The Boat is a clever nautical horror is a cat-&-mouse thriller that only keeps getting more mysterious. It’s a tense ride that won’t please those wanting answers but will be a bounty for those beguiled by the sea’s dark side.

After Midnight is a dreary romance with fits of humor & peculiar music. Also, a creature pops up. It’s a tonal mishmash that rests on whether you find the two affable leads charming & buy into their wine-swirling, rural-living, karaoke-loving hangs. As horror it doesn’t satisfy.

Freaks starts as a mysterious but off-putting captive child drama then frustratingly treks into spectacularly ambitious yet all too familiar sci-fi territory. There is excellent world building, a strong cast, and a forceful finish that soars in to save the day.

Friday, February 14, 2020

Illusions of the Passed at Winchester Mystery House

Valentine’s Day can be a horror so attending a seance at the Winchester Mystery House seems like a good fit. Master magician and apparitionist Aiden Sinclair performed what is called a “theatrical seance” which unlike the seemingly traditional seance where people sit around a table, hold hands and talk to the dead, an audience sitting in near darkness participates in demonstrations of “mentalism” such as clairvoyance, ESP, and in this case, tarot reading. Everyone in the room was asked to close their eyes, concentrate on a ghost standing beside Mr. Sinclair and accept messages from him. It’s these messages Mr. Sinclair harnesses for answers.

He did produce bewildering results in prescribing tarot cards picked at random to complete strangers. It was quite the spectacle and yet not quite what I was expecting (parlor tricks, fog machines, and projections). This felt like a much more real experience. Yes, it’s entertainment but I could not figure out the trickery involved, and it made me a believer.

Photo courtesy of Britta Peterson.

After the seance, a limited number of high-rolling guests where treated to a private investigation of the Winchester House. Various experiments were held in two rooms, including a laser matrix to detect ghostly activity in the Daisy Bedroom below, and a spirit box to listen to words hidden in the static (the Estes method) in the Seance room. Some guests participated in these experiments while listening to stories from Mr. Sinclair’s previous investigations.

Photo courtesy of Britta Peterson.

My friend Britta Peterson of Eerie Elegance pointed out the respectful and compassionate approach Mr. Sinclair has to paranormal investigations. In talking about the tourist destinations like the Winchester House many guests don't seem to respect the spirits adding, “How would you like it if so many people came through your house demanding you do tricks?” Mr. Sinclair prefers to listen, hear what they might have to say, and perhaps even help those lost souls.

Photo courtesy of Britta Peterson.

Aiden Sinclair and his Illusions of the Passed series explores other haunted places including the Queen Mary and The Stanley Hotel. For more information and tickets to upcoming events, visit and follow them on Facebook, Instagram & Twitter.

Photo courtesy of Britta Peterson.

Editor's Note: Gracias to Britta Peterson for contributing photos and information to this post! And you can deduce, she was a high-roller. Please follow her on Instagram and Facebook for comprehensive recaps!

Feliz día de San Valentín

Sunday, January 19, 2020

2019 Day of the Dead at Señor Scary's House

Every year I look forward to January, primarily because it's my time to catch up physically, psychologically and even spiritually after the hustle & bustle that stretches from September through December. I've been updating the Halloween site with my 2019 photos and haven't really covered my Halloween shenanigans from 2019.

My dear friend Britta Peterson (right) and her husband Glen Simon were in a house selling/buying frenzy so as the Scream Team we decided to have Eerie Elegance do a takeover of my yard haunt! We chose a revival of the 2015 Day of the Dead display, our greatest collaboration to date, which features large colorful tombstones, 300 flickering candles, ghostly projected figures, and a full animatronic skeleton band playing and telling a story!

Many of the larger tombstones we used in 2015 had been lost, so Britta recreated them from scratch. We also remade a large portion of the candles, each hand wired & soldered. She is a very talented, tenacious woman – sometimes terrifying – and a complete inspiration to me! Her Halloween displays are legendary and feature amazing tech and builds that far exceed what I can do, so to have them at my house was a dream come true. We used the same script we wrote and performed together in 2015 but made a few edits.

My front yard is very different from hers so she made many adjustments to the layout and projections to compensate. It was an insane amount of work for one person. All these while trying to revive the skeleton band that was disassembled and refused to get back together without a lot of negotiations. Typical, right?

Glen, who is the resident engineer and makes things move, tasked me with working on what he described as a "simple" animatronic: a pop-up skull. Truth be told it was really straight-forward but being my first foray into animated props it seemed daunting. He handed me a motorized rig, a power supply, and skull. After some trial and error, I did it! You can see my handy work in the spirited ofrenda (altar) video, link below.

In the end it all worked out and we ran just under 100 shows for 8 days, with over 1000 total visitors on Halloween night alone. We also entered the City of Santa Clara Halloween Decorating contest and won the People's Choice Award. Not a bad way for Britta & Glen to end their run in Santa Clara now that they own a (HAUNTED!?) Victorian mansion in San Jose, CA home of the infamous Winchester Mystery House.

Here's a few selected pics and video from our work. Find more at: and

Dia de los Muertos 2019 from Señor Scary on Vimeo.

The large installation took over the entire from yard and allowed so many interesting views.

We added a tombstone photo op where guests could sit amongst the dead.

Very long and colorful papel picado banners where hung across the yard to complete the scene.

Three giant tombstones were recreated for the display and dare I say better than before.

Britta designed this jack-o-lantern –and a 3D skull– in my likeness!

The animatronic skeleton band proved to be both impressive and a fussy lot throughout the run.

Our spirited ofrenda offers some impressive ghostly activity that must be seen to be believed!