31 Days of Horror: Umma (2022)

I was on a JetBlue flight to California for my pick yesterday (October 6), and my choices were severely limited. You would think with the month being October, they would have come up with some Halloween-themed programming. That was not the case. After some mad texting with my sister before takeoff, we settled on Umma since neither of us had seen it. Umma was a very short movie with Sandra Oh as the lead, who I love, and I was initially excited because the JetBlue notes said Sam Raimi directed the film. How odd, I thought. That’s something that ought to have been on my radar, a new Sam Raimi horror movie. But lies! He did not direct the movie—JetBlue must not use a fact checker for their programming notes. Instead, he produced it, which I found out later when I had proper Internet access. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QQdXvvtu-iI

Somehow, sandwiched between five kids to the front and back of me, I started my movie about thirty minutes into the flight. And I was underwhelmed.

The adjectives I would apply to this movie overall are pale and thin. It’s a bit of a nothing story with Oh playing overprotective mother Amanda, who is a beekeeper making her money selling honey and doing quite well after a social media post goes viral. She has plans to expand the business with her daughter Chris (Fivel Stewart) to keep up with skyrocketing demand for the product, but Chris has other ideas for her future.

Amanda has a peculiar illness where she’s allergic to electricity, most likely stemming from abuse as there are several flashbacks with imagery of hands being electrocuted. That results in Chris and Amanda living in an old farmhouse lit by kerosene lamps, which gives the movie a beautiful, old-timey aesthetic. I’m not sure how they tend to all the other beekeeping and honey-making duties without electricity, but somehow, we’re led to believe that they get it done. Amanda does get help from her accountant and business partner Danny (Dermot Mulroney) who shoulders a good part of the work. He has a niece visiting him for the summer, River (Odeya Rush), who helps to show Chris what a normal young woman’s life looks like. Chris is socially awkward after being homeschooled by Amanda and has absorbed her fear of the outside world.

There are glimmers of real promise in Umma—some of the acting between Oh and Stewart are magical and crackled off my tiny JetBlue screen. I also appreciated the theme of filial piety and nods to Korean mythology. I got just a taste and wished there had been so much more. There just wasn’t enough story, I thought, for the whole movie to hang together. Iris K. Shim wrote and directed this film, and looking up her previous work, I’ve added her documentary The House of Suh to my list of movies to watch. I do hope she will write and direct another horror movie. She’s working with some wonderful elements, but I don’t think the big picture has been fully realized yet.

The rest of my weekend, I was fully immersed in my astrology retreat and didn’t watch any other horror movies, though I collected a lot of ideas. There was a huge contingent of horror movie fans at the event, and I’ve got a huge list of films and series on my To Be Watched list: Martyrs (2008), The Ritual, Kill List, The Dark and the Wicked, The Servant, and Trollhunter. Just when I think I’m well-versed in horror, I realize how much I still have to learn. So it looks like my 31 Days of Horror series will have to extend into November, but with the amount of titles I’m adding to my TBW list, I might have to turn this project into something larger. Maybe there’s 365 Days of Horror in me.

31 Days of Horror: The Sadness (2021)

After the twisted, delirious showing of Titane last night, my sister was on her A game trying to deliver tonight. She selected the Taiwanese zombie film The Sadness, a Shudder original that’s available to stream on that channel. Kristi was chortling because of a review posted by a horror aficionado who said this was the type of movie that people walk out of the theaters on and that even he, a gorehound, found deeply upsetting. Definitely not a  movie I would pick out for myself, but rules are rules. So I finished my dinner before we started watching and kept my yellow notebook beside me to jot down notes in if things got too extreme. www.youtube.com/watch?v=qwZMZOS_dh0

Kat (Regina Lei) and Jim (Berant Zhu), a likable couple, wake up to what will be their last normal morning, though they don’t know it. Kat and Jim have a little tiff because of the trip they’ve planned for the next week. Kat works a 9 to 5 and has to negotiate hard to take off any of her allotted ten vacation days a year; meanwhile, Jim is freelance and has to take work when he can get it. And a big job has arrived for just that week of planned vacation, and he can’t afford to turn it down. They go about their morning doing the usual mundane things—getting dressed, rustling up breakfast. In foreign movies, I’m always so jealous of what the characters are eating for breakfast: bowls of noodles, an eggroll and pork-fried rice, or in this case, a bao dumpling with hot sauce. I should try one of these variations when I get back from California next week, just for something different.

There’s a tense, ominous atmosphere already with news about the Alvin virus spreading, and much of the public not believing in the doctors who say it’s something akin to rabies. And though this movie is violent and disturbing, there are some shots that are just heartbreakingly beautiful, which was really jarring to my emotions. One comes while Jim takes Kat to the train station on his motorbike. In slow motion, they pass a gruesome scene with police cars, an ambulance, and the aftermath of blood and violence, and Kat touches Jim’s back, just a reassurance that they are okay during this moment of chaos. However, that just marks the beginning of the chaos.

The Alvin virus infects humans and rapidly turns them into zombies unlike any I’ve ever seen. These zombies move quickly like the ones in 28 Days Later, but they do it with a rictus of a smile on their faces and talk dirty, saying the most vile things. Once I got over that shock, I realized that these zombies were also capable of sexual violence and almost seemed to seek it out.

It’s a Grand Guignol of a movie with slaughteramas that are almost beautiful with thick sprays of blood, but then the flesh creeps when the zombies lower their suspenders or pants and you realize what’s happening off-camera.

31 Days of Horror: Titane (2021)

I was a big fan of Julia Ducournau’s Raw when it came out in 2016 and have been waiting a long time for a follow-up from her. This year her Palme d’Or-winning feature Titane is available to stream on Hulu, and so that’s how we spent our Tuesday night. www.youtube.com/watch?v=rzq-_f1fW_s

The body horror that’s part of Ducournau’s style emerges within the first twenty minutes of the film, as well as some of her commentary on the hell of being a woman. And she goes harsh. There were several scenes where I had to put my hands up in front of my face. (Always peeking through my fingers, but the hands are up just in case.)

I saw a lot of similarities between Raw and Titane right away. The protagonist of the film is named Alexia (Agatha Rousselle), just like the sister of Justine, the main character of 2016’s Raw. And Garance Marillier who played Justine in Raw appears as a Justine in Titane as well, though for a shorter period of time. It makes me wonder what the significance of these names are for Ducournau and if this will be an emerging theme in later works.

Alexia is involved in a terrible car accident when she’s younger caused by her father trying to discipline her while driving. She suffers a traumatic brain injury and has a steel plate put in her head that appears to alter her personality. When Alexia is finally discharged from the hospital, the first thing she does is hug and kiss the car involved in her accident. She has more affection for it than she does for her own parents.

Several years later, Alexia has grown up into a tattooed young woman who works as a model at car shows. Rather than just posing with the automobiles, Alexia writhes and moans Tawny Kitaen-style on her car, putting together an erotic dance that outshines all the other car models. She’s obviously the star in this niche world. Alexia’s fan base is rabid as she signs autographs, and she’s even chased by one of her overeager worshippers and lets him catch her. This is how the audience learns that she’s a serial killer. Sexual urges seem to lead Alexia into murdering her victims; she starts to engage aggressively with different partners, but then it’s almost as if something shuts off and she gets bored, leading to murder.

News programs appear in the background of early scenes detailing missing children and the recent victims of a possible serial killer, which makes me wonder if Alexia has been killing for a very long time. Alexia still lives with her parents, but after she discovers she’s pregnant with very odd symptoms, she locks them in their room and takes off. In a train station, Alexia discovers that there’s a police sketch of her likeness in connection to the recent murders, but near those are also a photo of a boy who went missing years earlier. With a horrific bathroom makeover, Alexia is able to masquerade as a skinny boy and is reunited with her “father” Vincent (Vincent Lindon), the hyper-masculine captain of a fire brigade.

The pregnancy and Alexia finding acceptance for who she is through Vincent happens in the fraternity-like atmosphere of the firehouse. When the firemen are not battling disaster simulations and situations, they hold rave parties near the firetrucks, and Alexia treats them to one of her special car dances. Some are disgusted while others love it.

I’m with the latter half. Titane was gross, fun, and I completely loved it.

31 Days of Horror: Satan’s Slaves (2017)

Another rainy night in New York and tonight’s choice was the atmospheric Satan’s Slaves directed by Joko Anwar and available to watch on Shudder. Apparently, Anwar was so taken by a 1980 Indonesian movie of the same name (which inspired him to become a filmmaker) that he clamored to do a remake/prequel to the movie. Once he showed producers his vision for the film, he got financial backing and was able to shoot Satan’s Slaves in only eighteen days. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mhc0d6kYmQ8

In Satan’s Slaves, a family of six struggles to survive after their mother has fallen ill and become bedridden the last three years. The mother Mawarni (Ayu Laksmi) used to be a famous singer, but she hasn’t worked in eight years and no more royalties are coming in for the family. The father (Bront Palarae) has mortgaged the family house, which looks like it might have once been palatial, and is now bankrupt after caring for his sick wife. Mawarni rules over the family with a silver handbell that she rings whenever she needs something, and that serves as her voice throughout the movie, a rather aggressive one.

Mawarni dies and the family buries her in the Islamic tradition, with the local holy man asking the father if they ever pray since he’s never seen them in the mosque. Oldest child Rini (Tara Basro) serves as caretaker for the family when their father travels after the funeral to attend to business matters. That’s when the children begin being haunted by their mother, all but the youngest Ian (M. Adhiyat), who can only communicate using sign language. Mawarni terrorizes her children through the radio or their toys—and these moments provide some very creative, genuine scares.

The plumbing goes out in the house early on, and the family becomes dependent on water from the well, which is located in their bathroom. It’s so completely different from the Westernized bathrooms that I’m familiar with and that added a lot of creepiness for me. Something is in the well and seems to be beckoning the children, yet they can’t really avoid that area of the house. They need to get water for basic necessities, and they have to use the bathroom. So I just ended up being terrified whenever one of the kids had to pee.

Grandma (Elly D. Luthan) comes to visit and ends up dying in the family manor after writing a letter. Thereafter, her presence enters a scene every once in a while, represented by some asthmatic wheezing, which is unnerving. These two matriarchal spirits seem to be locked in battle over the family. Rini searches for the person that the letter is addressed to and finds a hippie writer named Budiman (Egy Fedly). He tells Rini that her grandmother disapproved of her mother as being a singer was not a dignified career. When her only son married Mawarni, she never gave her blessing to the couple. Mawarni was unable to get pregnant for a long time, and the grandmother believed that she asked Satan for her children. Budiman says she joined a fertility cult which will takes a member’s last child as a sacrifice on their seventh birthday. And guess whose birthday is coming up in three days? Ian’s.

 The hippie gives Rini an occult magazine that looks like the Indonesian version of the National Enquirer, and she takes it to the family home but doesn’t really believe in all that it contains. Later, though, she sets up one of her mom’s old records and discovers that when she plays it backward, she can hear chanting in an ancient language.

She asks the village holy man what she should do as the family continues to be haunted by their mother, and he tells her to pray. And pray she does, which sets up one of the most delicious scares of the movie.

The plot gets a little Scooby-Dooish after that when the hippie tries to get a revised version of the article to Rini, telling her what to do in order to save her family. But it’s done stylishly with faceless cult members surrounding the house with synchronized movements.

Anwar has followed up with a sequel to this movie after Satan’s Slaves became a huge hit in Indonesia and Malaysia: Satan’s Slaves 2—Communion. It just came out this year, but I’m unable to find yet on any streaming platforms. Perhaps it will be around for next year’s 31 Days of Horror in October.

31 Days of Horror: The Blackcoat’s Daughter (2015)

Today was my choice for our daily horror movie, and I went for The Blackcoat’s Daughter, which was available to watch on Showtime. My reasons: It has Kiernan Shipka in it, who I love, and takes place in a Catholic boarding school. I’ve always been attracted to those boarding school settings that are perfect for witchcraft and covens. If I see a plaid skirt, I’m in. It’s been a dreary day in New York with lots of rain coming down from the remnants of Hurricane Ian. So with a Chinese food order on the way and my legs tucked under a leopard blanket, we started the movie. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pRc_-iK3RVE

At an upstate New York Catholic boarding school called Bramford Academy, two girls are left during the start of winter break: Kat (Kiernan Shipka), a freshman who seems disconnected from most of her classmates and staff, and Rose (Lucy Boynton), an upperclassman who believes she is pregnant and has lied to her parents about when to pick her up.

Kat (Kiernan Shipka) and Rose (Lucy Boynton).

Kat seems to have a vision about her parents dying in an accident and engages in increasingly odd behavior as the girls rattle around alone in the academy with only two older nuns to watch over them. At night, Rose hears moaning coming up through the heater vents, and when she goes down to the boiler room, she finds Kat prostrating herself in front of the furnace.

This sequence comes to an end with some disturbing contortions from Kat while sleeping, the kind I associate with demon possession. And then we cut to a new storyline where the subject switches to a third girl named Joan (Emma Roberts) who has escaped from a psychiatric hospital and is trying to put some distance between herself and it. There’s no indication whether this storyline is happening simultaneously with Kat and Rose’s or precedes or comes after it.

She’s picked up by a man named Bill and his wife in a creepy scene where I kept waiting for some sort of sexual overture to happen. Instead, Bill (James Remar) pays for Joan’s hotel room while they are on the road heading to a town that’s just past Bramford. And while visiting with her in her hotel room to get her story, he tells Joan that he believes God put her in his path. This all happens while Joan sits in a towel with a prominent puckered scar on her shoulder that matches another on her chest. Later, he shows her a picture of his daughter Rose, who’s now deceased.

There’s some more back and forth between the characters’ storylines, and the audience now knows that Kat and Rose’s story comes first. In the second section featuring Kat and Rose, Kat continues to be creepy. She tells Rose twice, “You smell pretty.” We see Kat’s calendar marked with winter break and then there’s a big heart drawn over February 14 earlier in the month. An alternate title for the movie is actually February, what I think of as the bleakest month in some parts of the United States. But the heart makes me think that maybe Kat was trying to flirt with Rose? I don’t know—there’s not much to work with here.

Through Kat’s perspective, the audience sees a black-horned shape that haunts her in nearly every scene. When she tries to call her family, she gets a disembodied voice telling her to kill everyone. The nuns, Rose, and Kat sit down for lunch, and Kat has a breakdown that ends in a murderous rampage. She turns up Ed Kemper–style in front of the furnace in the basement boiler room and is shot by a frightened cop.

After this, we’re back to Joan’s storyline, and going by the prominent bullet scar on her body, I’m guessing she’s supposed to be Kat. I’m not sure if the Joan section makes much sense to me. I can see similarities in the hair, but the two actresses appear to be around the same age so the difference in the timeline doesn’t gel for me. But I understand the impulse to try and tie the story up neatly. A lot of this movie left me cold, and I don’t think it was just the rainy day. I liked the puzzling little details that seemed to fit together neatly by the end of the movie, but I couldn’t really find much heart pumping the story along. This was the first feature film by director Oz Perkins, who comes from quite a horror pedigree as he’s the son of Anthony Perkins. He’s also directed I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House and Gretel & Hansel. I quite liked the retelling of Gretel & Hansel; it was so atmospheric and gothic and real feminist horror, I thought. But I haven’t yet seen I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House. Maybe I’ll slate it for later in the month, on the days when I’m traveling. I like it that Perkins has chosen to do horror focusing on women’s stories and want to see how he further develops.

31 Days of Horror: Hatching (2022)

Thirty-one days of horror started three years ago when we were at the height of quarantine. October has always been a favorite month with lots of events—readings and get-togethers with my chapter of the Horror Writers Association, haunted houses, and always a big Halloween party on the thirty-first. But with everything still closed at the end of 2020, we had to come up with another way to celebrate. So my sister and I decided to watch a horror movie for each night of October, where we took turns picking a film each night. The only rule was that neither of us could have seen it before. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DS1oDoElwqc

It’s become a wonderful experiment where I watch things I would never normally pick out for myself, and there’s a huge sense of competition because we always want to outdo each other with our choices. There have been a few stinkers, like The Lighthouse and Climax. But generally, it has elevated my horror game. We usually end up watching a fair amount of foreign horror films because those end up being the movies we haven’t seen yet. And a lot of times those are really scary for me because they don’t follow the American horror tropes that I know so well.

My sister had been thinking on her choice for a couple of days and selected HATCHING, a 2022 Finnish horror film that’s available on Hulu. I watched the trailer and was looking forward to sinking my teeth into this one. It had a Grimm fairy tales feel to it, but also included sports and modern twists. We had to restart the movie at the beginning because somehow the settings were tuned to English narration. We were getting a very creepy monotone voice saying things like “IFC logo appears with blood dripping off the I; girl appears in blue leotard; there is tickling.” Disturbing already and worth a laugh, but we prefer to hear the foreign movies in their original language with English subtitles. And sometimes I can even understand some of the words with my hodgepodge knowledge of German, Spanish, and Italian.

Once we got HATCHING properly started, I was creeped out by the perfect polish of this perfect Finnish family in their perfect house. Lots of blond hair, two children playing, and fuzzy zoom-ins of Mom and Dad kissing while their daughter looks on fondly and her brother rolls his eyes. Then the tableaux is shattered as a bird strikes the living room window.

We zoom out of this stylized family portrait in its IKEA-style setting and now see that Mom’s holding her phone on a selfie stick as she cobbles together content for her vlog. She’s an influencer using her family as props and intends for the focus to always fall on her. However, it’s her daughter Trija, her oldest child on the precipice of puberty, who steals the film. And it’s a wonder to see. Siiri Solalinna plays Trija, and the many expressions this young actress uses to portray this people-pleasing daughter are like quicksilver, portraying so many facets of her character.

My favorite is eye-of-the-tiger Trija when she’s training hard as a gymnast for her first big competition, something that Mom (Sophia Heikkilä) has been amping up on her channel. The intensity of her eyes as she jogs could burn down trees. Mom ends up being a stage mother of staggering proportions, forcing her daughter to practice routines until her hands are blistered. Trija finds an egg in the creepy woods and bonds with it while her mother is away during the weekends for “vlogging” conferences—yeah, right.

Eventually, this egg hatches into something, and I can’t say I was in love with the look of the thing when it emerged. It was giving me goofy Howard the Duck vibes, but it does morph through the course of the film becoming something deep and meaningful for Trija as this mother-daughter saga unfolds.

There are some genuine gross-out moments where I was holding my hand over my mouth, feeling my gorge rise. I thought, You’re not going down that road. But yes, director and writer Hanna Bergholm did, and I’m not mad about it.

All in all, a wonderful film to start off 31 Days of Horror.

Farmhouse Scares in Annabelle: Creation

I’ve been trying to see a movie a day, like the tagline for MoviePass says, and decided to go see Annabelle: Creation because it was the only thing that really fit into the time slot I had. Plus, I love horror. A horror film almost always dominates at the box office, but people are surprised by how well those titles do. I’m not. We live in nerve-racking times with terrorist attacks and super hurricanes, and I think people are comforted when they go to a theater and see a horror film—they’re guaranteed to see how bad it can really get, and then they emerge unscathed and think, Well, that’s not so bad. I survived that.


I saw the first Annabelle movie on DVD after it got lackluster reviews, but now, I don’t have to worry about that. A $17 ticket really makes you think about what you’re going to see because it’s more expensive than the DVD or rental, and you don’t want to throw money at crap. Plus, you usually make a movie an event with friends, meaning dinner and drinks and what-have-you, and who wants to have a bad experience and blather about what crap the movie was? No, you want to be excited and lit up about what you saw, to talk about it in rapturous tones. I’m more willing to take a chance with films using the MoviePass because all I lose is time, really. But even then, I don’t think it’s a bad loss. You’re in a two-hour experience of suspended concentration if you do a movie right and focus, not futz around on your smartphone.


Now, I did see The Conjuring in a theater, where Annabelle was introduced as a brilliant prologue to the film. Well done. And it was an exciting experience, everything you want from a horror film. Unexpected scares and heavy audience participation. When I saw my fellow audience members for Annabelle: Creation (mostly teens), I figured I’d hear a lot from them. But no, they completely surprised me. I was the one laughing at heavy foreshadowing and stuck in a creaky seat that made noise no matter how I positioned my legs. The rest of the audience was silent, like in a French movie theater.

Annabelle Creation3

Annabelle: Creation explains how the evil doll became so in the first place, and it’s a period piece like all the movies in the Conjuring franchise, though there are some bits of dialogue that struck me as post-2000 psychobabble. I loved seeing a farmhouse that looks like it’s straight out of Grant Wood’s American Gothic with fields, a barn, a well—settings that are so scary and thoroughly wrung in this picture for full horror potential. Here, the characters are a passel of orphans—the most tragic of tragic—who descend on a doll maker’s home. The main character Janice is struck with polio and starts in a heavy leg brace, then moves to an old-fashioned wheelchair à la The Changeling. All the actors in this film did a fine job, especially Talitha Eliana Bateman, who can be winsomely sweet and vulnerable or Bad Seed evil.


The only time I was really drawn out of the movie is when the origin of Annabelle is summed up in a two-minute voiceover by one of the characters, who wears a painted face plate over half her face, kind of like a dolly-painted version of what the Phantom of the Opera wears. It was a great visual since she’s married to the doll maker and it’s Annabelle the doll who’s the manifestation of evil. But rather than having all the information delivered so quickly, I’d rather have had hints as to what was going on throughout the movie. But Annabelle: Creation was rather ambitious, attempting to pull together elements from The Conjuring, The Conjuring 2, and Annabelle. I was thoroughly confused by the ending scene, though I heard some of the kids say, “Oh, I get it.”


Afterward, a woman asked me, “Excuse me, Miss. Do you understand what happened?,” explaining that she had seen all the Conjuring films but didn’t get the ending scene. I told her I had, too, and didn’t get it. Later, I googled the ending, and maybe someday I’ll view the franchise entries all at once and try to piece the information together, but I prefer it when a movie can stand alone. I think the writers and director were just really excited and wanted to cram as much as they could into one film. Maybe that’s a product of the moviemakers realizing how expensive films are now for audience members, and they just wanted to guarantee as much bang for our buck as possible.

Sister Love Grows Rancid in Raw

I blundered into Raw not even knowing it was a horror film, which was the most delicious surprise. Buried under deadlines early in the week, I depended on my friends to pick the movie and didn’t check reviews, summaries, or anything. We went to see the eight o’clock showing of Raw at the Angelika on Houston Street, and luckily, I didn’t get anything at the snack bar. This is not the type of movie where you want to have nibbles by your side.

In the French horror film Raw, studious, square Justine (played by Garance Marillier) is taken to veterinary school by her parents, and early on, it’s established that they are strict vegetarians. She’s dropped off in the parking lot of what looks like a sad, gray industrial complex, where her older sister is supposed to meet her. Justine’s parents aren’t surprised when the older sister’s a no-show, and Justine trudges off alone, dragging her red suitcase, to find her dorm—quite different, I think, from how American parents would be portrayed, dropping off their progeny at college.


Justine finds out that she’s rooming with a male instead of a female, but he tells her he’s gay so the school counts him as a woman. Not sure what to do with herself, Justine goes to bed, only to be woken in the darkest hours of the night by a team of screaming people dressed in graffiti-covered lab coats with masks covering their faces. They toss all the rookies’ beds, clothes, and other belongings out the windows, trashing their rooms, and Justine and fellow first years are made to crawl through some underground complex until they arrive at a raging party, where Justine is finally reunited with her much cooler older sister Alexia (played by Swiss actress Ella Rumpf). This is just the first part of a hazing ritual that all the rookies have to go through.


Similar events happen after that, including one where Justine has to eat a rabbit kidney. She balks at this after being a vegetarian for so long, but her older sister bullies her into doing it. The kidney makes her ill, giving her the dry heaves, but that’s nothing compared to the bloody rash she wakes up with. Watching Justine’s itching reminded me of what happens when I go camping and forget the super-DEET bug spray. Just the sound of her fingernails on skin made me cringe. I get baseball-sized welts after mosquitos bite me, and sometimes the itching is so bad that I’ll go after the bites with a hairbrush, resulting in hamburger skin. But that just happens in an isolated patch. Poor Justine has hamburger skin all over her body once she’s done itching.



Shortly after that, she starts having cravings for meat. They start out mild, with her stealing a hamburger patty from the lunch line and then wolfing down shawarmas with her roommate. But they soon progress to cannibalism, where she experiments with human flesh after an unfortunate waxing incident. It was gag-inducing to watch Justine snacking on a dismembered digit like a chicken wing and hard to look at the screen. I panned across the audience and saw people rolling in their seats, covering their eyes or hiding their faces against their partners. After a few seconds of the eating, though, you do get desensitized. I kept telling myself, it’s just a hot dog, it’s just a hot dog, and it turns out the actress playing Justine had to do something similar to psych herself up for the scene. Marillier told W Magazine, “You know, it was sugar. I was eating candy. If there was any difficulty, it was finding the reality in the scene so I wasn’t thinking, I’m just eating sugar.


For showings in Los Angeles, staff handed out barf bags to the audience after fainting was reported from Canadian moviegoers. I’m not sure how the two correlate or if that was a marketing scheme, but the gore isn’t gratuitous. Some of the body horror is uncomfortable, but I think that’s because it’s woven in with some gruesome rituals that females engage in for the sake of beauty.


My favorite part of Raw is the intense sister relationship between Justine and Alex. It’s well portrayed with moments of extreme tenderness and thuggish brutality. At one moment, Justine and Alex are getting drunk together and laughing, and in the next, they’re trading bite for bite in a parking lot fight, with one bite in particular reminding me of a hellish scene in Cape Fear. There’s jealousy and competition—the essence of a sister relationship. I wish Raw was around years ago when I compiled “Top Five Sister Horror Movies” because it’s definitely a contender. I might have to revise my list.

Twisted Twins Jen and Sylvia Soska Join the Boys Horror Club

Twin sisters Jen and Sylvia Soska attribute different reasons for the reason why they got into horror. Sylvia Soska says, “Mom eventually caved in and let us watch Poltergeist when we were ten. We were like, ‘We can handle it, Mom.’ Then bedtime came and we were scared…fucking…shitless. And my mother did something that would forever change the way we look at horror movies. She sat Jen and me down and explained what we had actually seen. She explained the director, the actors, the prosthetics, the sets, everything. And she told us how these were very talented artists who collaborated with the intention of scaring the audience. We were like, ‘Wait a minute. It can be your job to scare people for a living?’”


But Jen Soska says they got into horror because of traumatic childhood experiences at the hands of others. “We were bullied growing up. We were nerdy and dark and liked horror movies and drama club and comic books. I’m grateful we were bullied because it made us want to stick up for other people being bullied. It’s funny to hear from girls who make horror movies that our message is one of support, but that’s at the heart of American Mary. I think if you look normal, you’re hiding something. But if you wear your Cannibal Holocaust T-shirt, you know what you’re expecting from someone. You know they’re a horror fan.”

The twins directed and wrote their first horror movie in 2009, Dead Hooker in a Trunk, and then went on to their larger production American Mary. “It was one of the strangest experiences of our lives, especially because with Dead Hooker in a Trunk, we were just running around with our friends and cameras and just hoping to god that it would work out and on this one we had a full crew and a cast of some really amazing people,” says Sylvia Soska. “It was still really ambitious, though we did have a modest budget.”


As far as twin directors, Jen and Sylvia Soska believe they’re the only ones out there. “I know of only us. I know of identical twin actresses and models. We started out wanting to be actors. Nobody ever told me I could be the chairman of my own production company and a director and producer. I always tell girls if you want to be storytellers, don’t chase roles you don’t want to do, just to work,” says Jen Soska.






Cindy Sherman’s Horror Imagery Helps Her Confront Fears

Cindy Sherman grew up in Long Island, New York, the youngest of five children. She always felt that she had to do something to be noticed since her siblings were so much older and established compared to her. Sherman thinks that’s what led to her dressing up. “There are pictures of me dressed up as an old lady,” she says. “I was more interested in being different from other little girls who would dress up as princesses or fairies or a pretty witch. I would be the ugly old witch or the monster.”



This continued in her adult life, too. Sherman lived in New York working as a secretary at Artists Space and would sometimes arrive to work dressed as a nurse or Jackie Kennedy. “I’d be home, fooling around with makeup and a costume, maybe picked up at a thrift store, and suddenly I’d look at my watch and go: Oh, wow, I have to get to work. Well, okay, I’ll just go like this,” says Sherman.


Her first successful photographs, called Untitled Film Stills, involved Sherman using herself as a model dressed up and posing as screen stars in noirish scenes. This work caused artist Andy Warhol to say, “She’s good enough to be a real actress.”


In the late 1980s, Sherman started doing more disturbing photographs of vomit, synthetic pimples, and sex dolls. “Initially, I started that work as a reaction to feeling a little nervous that I was getting successful,” says Sherman. “Do people really like my work, or is it that they’re told to like it as the flavor of the month? So I decided to make these pieces. ‘Well, here you go, collectors. If you want to buy this picture of vomit, I dare you to buy it.’ In a way, it was successful. Those are some of my favorite pieces.”



These darker photos prompted producer Christine Vachon to ask Sherman if she would ever consider directing a horror film. At first Sherman wasn’t interested because her boyfriend had such a horrible time with the sci-fi flop Johnny Mnemonic, but eventually she was swayed. “The money people wanted to do a series of horror films for an art-house crowd, so they were willing to be experimental,” says Sherman.

This led to Sherman developing the story and then directing Office Killer about a copy editor Dorine (played by Carol Kane) who gets murderous when layoffs happen at the magazine  she works for. Now a cult classic, the movie got terrible reviews when it first came out. “The good thing about horror films…is that nobody expects them to be any good,” says Sherman.



Other work in the late 1990s after she divorced her husband of sixteen years involved a series of mutilated dolls, which Sherman is particularly proud of. “I was so happy when I was making those pieces. Taking knives to Barbie dolls!”



Sherman finds herself so attracted to horror because it’s a way for her to confront her deepest, darkest fears. “My biggest fear is a horrible, horrible death, and I think this fascination with the grotesque and with horror is a way to prepare yourself physically if, god forbid, you have to experience something like that,” she says.


But along with horror she always sees humor, as in her horror comedy Office Killer, and she tries to portray this in her work. “I see humor in almost everything, in even the grotesque things, because I don’t want people to believe in them as if they were a documentary that really does show true horror. I want them to be artificial, so you can laugh or giggle at them, as I do when I watch horror movies,” says Sherman.



The photographer’s studio is littered with odd things. Photographs of amputees, circus performers, wigs, costumes, and a vintage notecard she found in an old junk shop in the late 1990s. She estimates it’s about a century old and has it pinned up in the studio—it reads: “Fair Deceiver: I did not know until last night that you had a glass eye. Woman you have deceived me and our engagement is off! If I had married you, perhaps I would have found out that you had a cork leg, wore a wig and chewed your gum with false teeth — Anyway, I don’t think you could boil water without burning it. I want a girl that can do several things besides rubbing lip rouge on my cheek. Chase around girlie and get another guy.”



It provides Sherman with a lot of material to think about. “It is just so sad,” she said. “That this person would say what he’s saying, but also that someone kept it all those years. The poor woman.”


Except for her one foray in directing, Sherman always works alone. “Briefly in the ’80s I tried using friends and family and even hired an assistant to pose, and I felt like I just had to entertain them, be conscious of “Do you need coffee now? Are you tired? Do you want a break?” And they’d be kind of giggly because they were being made up to look funny. I push myself but I don’t push other people, or if I do, I’m apologizing because we’re going too late or whatever. Even having an assistant around, I’d feel self-conscious at times, like I’d better look busy now, rather than just spacing out, looking at images online or in magazines, or whatever I might do.”