Sunday, June 28, 2020

Happy Pride 2020!

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

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. 

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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