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.

Screen-Shot-2017-04-02-at-145901

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.

14box1-master768

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.

_T2A2526.dng

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.”

10-annabelle-2.w710.h473

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.

Advertisements

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.

960

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.

raw-rash-fb

 

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.

landscape-1489094805-elm030117intel-movies-001-courtesy-of-focus-world

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?’”

penthouse.jpg

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.”

American-Mary-trailer

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.

 WiHM2016Girl-WhiteOnBlack-medium

Sources:

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/02/movies/jen-and-sylvia-soskas-american-mary.html?_r=1

http://www.aintitcool.com/node/62620

http://www.theguardian.com/film/2013/jan/11/soska-twins-american-mary

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.”

sherman_asherself

 

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.”

untitled153

 

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.

Office-Killer-still

 

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!”

a6082d8f-3b9f-4721-995a-10550ba31e24

 

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.

 the_dark_side_of_cindy_sherman_4_900x450

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.”

29POSSESSED-articleLarge

 

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.”

o-CINDY-SHERMAN-UNTITLED-HORRORS-570

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.”

WiHM2016Girl-WhiteOnBlack-medium

 

 

Sources:

http://www.harpersbazaar.com/culture/art-books-music/interviews/g1802/cindy-sherman-artist-interview-0212

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/29/fashion/cindy-shermans-vintage-notecard.html?_r=0

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/19/arts/design/moma-to-showcase-cindy-shermans-new-and-old-characters.html

http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2000/05/15/her-secret-identities

Ana Lily Amirpour Bends Horror Genre

Ana Lily Amirpour was born in England and moved to the United States when she was a kid. In Florida, Amirpour was teased for her accent, so she tried doing a couple of things to make herself more American. She started a fan club for General Zod from Superman II, which never really got off the ground, and dabbled in filmmaking with her dad’s camcorder.

AnaLilyAmanpourImage-e1426864485794

Her first feature was a slumber party horror movie that she filmed when she was twelve. “The movie did have a kill scene that was pretty scary,” she says. “I showed it to my friends and their parents, and everyone jumped. I was like, ‘Ahhh!’”

Her family, though, had different plans for Amirpour. Her parents are Iranian, and Amirpour says, “Iranian parents are very, they’re like, ‘You’ll either be a doctor or a lawyer,’” she says. “I was very arty in high school and my mom was like, ‘Yeah, so you can be a plastic surgeon.’”

Instead of studying textbooks, Amirpour credits Michael Jackson’s ode to monster making to helping her with her film career. “I watched the making of Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’ video thousands of times,” she says. “It taught me how to be an American.”

Other influences are too many to count. “I love James Dean, Die Antwoord, Michael Jackson, Madonna, the Bee Gees, Sergio Leone, David Lynch, Sophia Loren. I’m obsessed with this album Escape Yourself by Footprintz,” says Amirpour. And Bruce Lee. “Read Striking Thoughts, his philosophies on life and art—they’re the most gangster-ish you’ll ever read. He’s all about obstacles being in the past.” Also: “Anne Rice was my first thing. I loved—addicted loved—all of that.”

Amirpour went to film school at the University of California at Los Angeles and was pursued by Hollywood agents after that. But instead of doing the Hollywood thing, Amirpour took a sabbatical in Germany, where she got her head together. “I ended not making those [Hollywood] films, and I am so glad. They were not my pure soul matter. In Germany, I got to sit and think about the shit that I love,” says Amirpour. “I thought, I’m going to write something where everything people say and do turns me on.”

The idea for her successful first feature A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night came to Amirpour when she was directing a film short and an extra walked through the set wearing a chador. To Amirpour, it looked like a bat and she asked to try it on. That’s when she thought “Iranian vampire,” which became the core of her movie. She started using Indiegogo to crowdfund her Iranian vampire film and raised $57,000 before SpectreVision stepped in as a producer. “A vampire is so many things: serial killer, a romantic, a historian, a drug addict—they’re sort of all these things in one,” says Amirpour, who released a comic after the success of her first film.

A-Girl-Walks-Home-Alone-At-Night-2

 

“It’s a mash-up, but it becomes really liberating, because as a kid growing up I wanted to be American, like my white American friends, but I am Iranian and my culture is very fixed and strong and it’s been an overwhelming presence in my life,” says Amirpour about A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, which is told in Farsi. “How do you explain that is part of who you are?”

agirlwalkshomealoneatnight1

Another reason Amirpour likes vampires is because she fears death. “I hate it, I don’t want to do it,” says Amirpour. “I also don’t like old. I don’t care how many fuckin’ Ansel Adams photos you take of old people and try to tell me it’s beautiful. It smells bad and shit’s failing. You’re rotting inside yourself, inside your own body. That’s what it is, in my opinion.”

agirlwalkshomealoneatnight3

Amirpour is sure, though, that a cure lies just around the corner. “I’m extremely greedy about life. In fifteen years, there will be a nano-shot where you can live forever. I’m sure of it. I don’t think it’ll be FDA-approved and I don’t think it’ll be given to everybody. But I would fucking take it in a second,” she says.

In the meantime, she’s working on her second horror feature, which she plans to debut later in 2016 at the Cannes Film Festival: The Bad Batch. Amirpour says, “The Bad Batch is a post-apocalyptic desert cannibal love story.” Originally she wanted Jennifer Lawrence to star in her movie as bait for cannibals. “She’s so fucking dope,” Amirpour says, “she’s so gangster.” But instead Suki Waterhouse ended up being cast as her leading lady.

WiHM2016Girl-WhiteOnBlack-medium
Sources:

Ana Lily Amirpour

http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/films/features/ana-lily-amirpour-has-created-a-completely-new-film-genre-the-iranian-vampire-western-10265538.html

http://www.wired.com/2014/02/girl-walks-home-alone-at-night/

http://www.rollingstone.com/movies/features/girl-walks-home-alone-at-night-ana-lily-amirpour

http://gawker.com/the-iranian-vampire-tale-of-a-girl-walks-home-alone-at-1661607676

Jennifer Kent Makes Female Horror the Scariest

Jennifer Kent has been acting since her teens, but nobody had really heard of the Australian writer, actress, and director until she burst onto the scene with her truly frightening horror indie The Babadook. New Yorker critic Anthony Lane was so impressed by her debut that he said, “Let a law be passed, requiring all horror films to be made by female directors. The law would restore horror to its rightful place as a chamber of secrets, ripe for emotional inquisition.”

Funny enough, when Kent started out in her career, she didn’t see directing as an option open to her. “I wrote, directed, and acted in my own stories as a child. But when it came time to study in my late teens, I chose acting. I wasn’t really aware at that stage that women could direct films. After a few years of professional acting, I naturally gravitated toward writing and directing,” says Kent.

05-jennifer-kent.w1200.h630.jpg

Kent had written a few screenplays, but she was not able to direct those because the scope was so big and she wasn’t able to secure the budget for it. “I’d been working on a number of film scripts, and they were just too out there. Screen Australia supported me up to a point, but they thought these scripts were too ambitious financially,” says Kent.

“So I realized I needed to look at an idea that was contained and more intimate, and this idea…The idea of facing your shadow side is my myth, something I think is really important in life. You see people who are really messed-up by not facing stuff, and that’s what all addiction is about. People become alcoholics or drug addicts because they can’t face something inside.”

Kent was able to get the last bit of funding for her movie with a Kickstarter campaign. She said, “Kickstarter was incredible in that they gave us that house. Without Kickstarter, we’d have a pretty flimsy-looking set. The construction of the house was meticulously planned. It had real floorboards and was very large. All of that had to be created. The money went to that construction and we would have been lost without it.”

Babadook04

While writing The Babadook, Kent explored what makes a mother turn into a monster, not the nurturing ideal of motherhood usually portrayed, and she realized that few movies dealt with this subject. “Apart from We Need To Talk About Kevin, I can’t easily think of other examples [that address the subject] and it’s the great unspoken thing. We’re all, as women, educated and conditioned to think that motherhood is an easy thing that just happens. But it’s not always the case,” says Kent.

“I wanted to show a real woman who was drowning in that environment. I thought that maybe I would be criticized by women, by mothers, because I’m not a mother. The opposite has happened; I’ve experienced a collective sigh of relief that women are seeing a mother up there that’s human. Sure, it’s an extreme situation, but what I realize is that a lot of women have felt those feelings that Amelia [protagonist of The Babadook] goes through at some point along the way.”

Kent’s approach to directing The Babadook was to storyboard everything like legendary horror director Alfred Hitchcock. “Every scene had a certain visual map. And I did storyboard—I did very bad stick drawings—but I always came in with a sense of how the world had to look,” says Kent. “It starts very centered, everything is framed—very centered and composed—and as the film goes on, people’s heads start to drift to other sides of the frames, and things start to become more discordant visually.”

the-babadook-book-rumble.png

A mysterious book, The Babadook, is the entryway for the monster in the movie, which harkens back to graphic stories children were told as warnings, such as in Grimm’s fairy tales. “I think some fairy tales are designed to keep kids in line and make them stay safe, and there are the other ones, the ones I’m attracted to, that point out the chaos of life to kids. Because it’s not perfect. It’s not always neatly tied up. I think that’s what horror can do as well. It can actually be a refreshing way to look at the world, when it’s not about perfection,” says Kent.

While directing the movie, Kent ran into snobbery from others when she said it was a horror film. “People would be very excited to hear that I was directing. Then when I described it as a horror film, I may as well have said I was directing a porno. They were like, Oh, that’s not a real film. It’s disgusting. And also, why would a woman want to direct that kind of stuff?” says Kent.

“People very easily forget films like The Shining and Let the Right One In, and going back further, Les Diaboliques and Eyes Without a Face. All these films that have a poetry to them, and something deeper going on.”

 

 

Since her success with The Babadook, Kent is fielding a lot of offers for directing. She says, “I’m reading a lot of scripts at the moment, and they’re all from the male perspective. Most are written by men. That’s where I think it’s difficult. It’s difficult to get the stories through that give a female perspective. That’s why I’m committed to writing more stories from my perspective. We just need more balance.”

The next project she has coming up is a film based on a U.S. true-crime story that happened in 1892 when two women fell in love—nineteen-year-old Alice Mitchell and seventeen-year-old Freda Ward. Mitchell decided to dress and pass as a man in order to marry Ward, but their love letters were discovered and the two were forbidden from seeing each other.

Ward accepted this in a cavalier manner that crushed Mitchell, and so she slashed Ward’s throat with her father’s razor. During a trial in Memphis, Tennessee, Mitchell was declared insane and sent to an asylum. She died there a few years later under mysterious circumstances. The film is based on the book Alice + Freda Forever: A Murder in Memphis and has been likened to Peter Jackson’s Heavenly Creatures.

alice-freda.jpg

Jennifer Kent’s Top Ten List of Horror Films

  1. Black Sabbath (1963)
  2. Georges Méliès Shorts / La Maison Ensorcelée (1908)
  3. The Tenant (1976)
  4. Lost Highway (1997)
  5. The Amityville Horror (1979)
  6. Halloween (1978)
  7. Vampyr (1932)
  8. Black Swan (2010)
  9. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
  10. The Innocents (1961)

WiHM2016Girl-WhiteOnBlack-medium

Sources:

http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2014/12/01/keeping-secrets-2

http://www.shutterstock.com/blog/10-movies-that-scared-jennifer-kent-into-filmmaking

https://thedissolve.com/features/emerging/834-the-babadook-director-jennifer-kent-talks-about-dr/

http://www.denofgeek.com/movies/the-babadook/32451/jennifer-kent-interview-directing-the-babadook#ixzz3zVKvLibw

Bring on Women in Horror Month 2016

I went to my first horror convention in 2007, covering it for a French magazine that I freelanced for at the time, and the event they really wanted me to focus on was a horror indie that would show in the evening. I was at the con the entire day, and though it was male dominated, I didn’t feel uncomfortable until it came time for me to do my job and watch the film. Right then, just as the lights went out, a guy who had been roving up and down the aisles with a walkie-talkie took a seat next to me, saying, “I’ve seen you sitting here all day, and you’re kind of cute.”

 

He was so close that I could smell the peanut butter on his breath, but I didn’t respond. I stared straight ahead, trying to get the gist of the story line and take notes, which miffed him, making him say next, “Now, I just want to fuck with you.”

 

I had to get up and move away from him, but the harassment threw me, and I was off my game for the rest of the night. This con introduction came to color my experiences in the horror industry, where I wasn’t taken as seriously as my male colleagues. Once I piped up during a convention panel on horror comics, wanting to talk about Alan Moore and his revolutionary work on Swamp Thing and then perhaps segue to the wonderful work being done by horror manga writers and artists, but I was shut down and told to “go read his work and then report back.” I’ve been reading his work since I was twelve.

 

I struggled as the only woman in a theater full of men viewing Gary Sherman’s 39: A Film by Carroll McKane (2006) movie and had to leave the Q-and-A afterward, as serial killer specialists argued about how there had never been a female serial killer and Aileen Wuornos didn’t count.

 

So I was thrilled when Women in Horror Month began, where the entire month of February celebrates females working in the horror industry. To me, it’s obvious that there’s a problem—so often I open a horror short story collection and there are only men listed in the table of contents, or maybe a token woman. Caitlín R. Kiernan has shared, “It is genuinely frustrating—and somewhat bizarre and also embarrassing—how often I’ve found myself the only female author in a collection. (Note: Once would have been too often.)”

WiHM2016Girl-WhiteOnBlack-medium.png

 

With my writers’ group and others, though, I’ve heard the argument, “I don’t think we should have to divide things according to gender.” And in a perfect world, we wouldn’t have to, but the division is going on now, and I so want to be represented by fair numbers and stories. I want everybody to be represented in horror, to be able to find that one spooky story that speaks to them and scares the daylights out of them. But until that happens, we need to put in the hard work to get there, and part of that is reminding people that women write horror, very good horror.

 

I was part of New York Comic Con last year, after a several-year absence, and right before the attendees came in, I immediately got anxious, ready to be challenged on my horror cred. But things had loosened up since my last con. While behind the table for the Horror Writers Association, I saw both female and male faces, in pretty equal proportions, looking for a good scary story. But unfortunately most of what was represented on the table were male stories. When women and girls turned away, not inspired by the choices, I tried to give them recommendations of other authors that they could try. But what I really wished for was that I had those stories to give them, stories about girls who look like them and are totally badass, slaying the monsters or even being them. The audience is definitely there; now we need to give them the books.

11000033_10153040591197032_2109628706925349814_o.jpg

Listen to Fareena Samad tell you about the stories she cares about, and let’s try and get some more into her hands.

 

It Follows Freshens Up Horror with Homage to ’80s

It Follows reminded me very much of ’80s horror movies, from the neon colors to the soundtrack that sounded eerily like Tangerine Dream. I think what I saw referenced most often was Wes Craven’s Nightmare on Elm Street series, where teenagers are menaced by Freddy Krueger, the boogeyman in their dreams. It Follows opens with a damsel in distress running down the street in just a T-shirt and high heels, obviously post-coitus, trying to escape from an unknown something. She’s shown being menaced, leaving a voicemail for her dad, and then the next shot shows her in the daytime ripped to pieces. Right away it seems that the beautiful people are under attack in It Follows with ladies first.

Jay, the main character of the movie, is played by Maika Monroe, who spends a lot of time running around in underwear or swimsuits. When a person’s almost naked, they’re at their most vulnerable, and that’s what this movie plays on, the sexploitation of young women and what they can do with it. Jay is close with her sister Kelly and a group of neighborhood friends: Yara, the brainy one, who’s gaining great insight from Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot, which she reads throughout most of the movie, and Paul, the sisters’ guy friend who kissed them both when they were younger and still pines for Jay.

itfollows2

The sisters live a simple life in a suburban home, with Jay attending college classes and her younger sister working at an ice cream store. In the backyard is an aboveground pool with five-foot-tall blue plastic walls, what I’ve always seen as a symbol of lower middle class striving for something better. Jay loves the pool, to the delight of the neighborhood boys who are in lust for this dream girl, and many of the shots in the movie are from Jay’s point of view there while looking up into the open sky crabbed with a few tree branches.

She goes on a date with a guy she likes but doesn’t know very well yet. The date starts off normally, but when they go to see a movie that’s where things start to go off-kilter. While playing a game involving the people around them, Hugh, her date, is freaked out that Jay can’t see what’s clear as day to him. He gets so upset by this that they have to leave the movie theater. Later, Jay and Hugh take it to the next level and have backseat car sex and Hugh kidnaps her, bringing Jay to an abandoned parking garage where he schools her on what will happen next in a truly terrifying scene.

itfollows613x463

Hugh’s got a terrible curse where he sees people that aren’t there—people whom he seems to love mostly—and they’re going to kill him unless he gets rid of “it” by having sex with another person and passing the curse on to them. Traumatized, Jay isn’t sure what he means after she’s returned home, abandoned at her house like a date rape victim. An STD? But soon after she starts seeing people who aren’t there, such as an old woman with knee and ankle braces who stalks her through her school, a figure that only Jay can see and react to while her behavior strikes others as that of a crazy person. This reminded me again of some of the Nightmare on Elm Street movies, when characters are locked in a nightmare but nobody else can see what they are battling, just their bizarre actions. There’s even a Johnny Depp lookalike, Greg (played by Daniel Zovatto), whose family looks down on Jay’s, similar to the first installment of the Nightmare on Elm Street series.

The movie’s scares come from not knowing who is after the infected. Sometimes a person is there and everybody can see them, or it morphs into one of the group of friends and it’s hard to tell the real apart from the threatening.

I like that the movie plays with the trope of virgins being the survivors in a horror movie, while those who have sex are goners. I think I first saw this exploited in another Wes Craven film, Scream, which had those candy colors in it as well. In It Follows, the virgins are safe unless they get caught in the crossfire of the sexually active who are duking it out with the menacing spirits out to get them.

The premise gets muddy, though, and I found myself puzzling about how the curse works during the last part of the movie rather than watching it. Hugh, the last victim who infects Jay, says that there is a chain that can’t be broken or he’ll be gone, too, but the origin is never revealed. There’s no Krueger or Samara of the Ring series to explain the how and why of the curse. It’s also hard to believe that young adults are going to explain the rules of the sex curse to their hookups when they don’t really know them, either. But maybe that’s playing on certain sexual myths that I’ve heard directly from guys’ mouths in the past, like you can’t pregnant when you’re having your period or a woman’s fertility shuts down when she’s raped.

bp76ax3vviw2gjrtt27j

Not knowing where the curse is coming from just left me with a lot of questions, and then some of the original “rules” are broken. I like that the women in horror cliché is turned upside-down and the ladies in their skimpy outfits actually hold the position of real power in the story. As the lovely Jay is told by her infector, “It should be easy for you. You’re a girl.” But I still want to know the how’s and why’s of the curse, even if this is a horror movie where not everything has to make sense.

I’ve already looked up the plotline of Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot on Wikipedia to see if there’s a clue there, since Yara’s reading it obsessively on her clamshell e-reader and quotes from it, but that didn’t help. And I don’t have room on my reading list to fit that book in, especially if it’s not going to help me solve the mystery of the curse. I always swore I was saving the heavy-duty Russian authors for when I was near death.

Hannibal Degrades in His Earlier Years

I just finished Silence of the Lambs, a reread for me, but it was a read that came after the movie—my absolute favorite. For a long time, I thought the novel by Thomas Harris was one of those rare cases where the movie surpassed the book, but it’s probably because the movie is filtered through the female viewpoint, psychological horror where the female protagonist solves the mystery and is the hero. I enjoyed the novel, but it was nowhere near the level of the movie with its two famous portraits of evil (Anthony Hopkins’s Hannibal Lecter and Ted Levine’s Jame Gumb) and the two strong ladies who are determined to overcome it (Jodie Foster’s Clarice Starling and Brooke Smith’s Catherine Martin). The movie version condenses events, rearranges them, and makes Lecter like Jaws—a menace getting about ten minutes of actual screen time, but the one who also underpins the entire story.

 

Lecter’s scary, but there are so many other elements that work in the story, making it transcend the horror genre. One of the biggies are strong female characters who aren’t accessories for men. Clarice Starling is presented in both the book and movie as a steely recruit for the FBI. She’s ambitious but also vulnerable because of her inexperience and a difficult past. Foster says that Clarice Starling is still the best role she’s ever had and that’s something, coming from a woman who’s spent her whole life in the film industry. In the book, Starling is what puts the plot into motion after spurning the advances of Dr. Chilton, the man in charge of Hannibal Lecter. Harris captures Starling’s quick perceptions but also her awareness of herself as a woman and how she can use that in her career:

“She saw his bleak refrigerator, the crumbs on the TV tray where he ate alone, the still piles his things stayed in for months until he moved them—she felt the ache of his whole yellow-smiling Sen-Sen lonesome life—and switchblade-quick she knew not to spare him, not to talk on or look away. She stared into his face, and with the smallest tilt of her head, she gave him her good looks and bored her knowledge in, speared him with it, knowing he couldn’t stand for the conversation to go on.”

jodie-foster-clarice-starling

This is glossed over quickly in the scene where Dr. Chilton is introduced in the movie Silence of the Lambs, and instead the movie’s heart lies in the twisted mentoring relationship that exists between Clarice and Hannibal Lecter. Lecter also can’t abide Chilton, who doesn’t have a medical degree and uses his proximity to the cannibal psychiatrist to further his own career (this first comes up in Red Dragon).

silence-of-the-lambs1

Recently I started watching the TV series Hannibal with my sister, and I liked the first few episodes. It was interesting to see the period of time when Hannibal was practicing as a psychiatrist and perhaps committing the first few kills that would eventually land him in Chilton’s psychiatric hospital. But now the series is really starting to piss me off because it’s screwing around with the Hannibal Lecter canon and destroying the original character that Harris built.

At first, I was annoyed because each episode dealt with a new serial killer, and I found that completely unrealistic. If a story is set in a zombie apocalypse, I expect there to be a lot of zombies. But Hannibal is set in contemporary times where there are only supposed to be about forty or so active serial killers at any time in the United States. Yet every episode I’ve watched of Hannibal features a new serial killer that the FBI and Will Graham (Hugh Dancy) are dealing with. And these serial killers borrow heavily from the imagery associated with Hannibal’s later crimes; unless there is a plot twist from hell coming up, this pretty much makes Lecter look like a copycat.

SilenceOfTheLambs_1_20_03_RachaelG1

What Lecter does in Silence of the Lambs.

Another serial killer's work in prequel series Hannibal.

Another serial killer’s work in prequel series Hannibal.

 

The series also takes the great lines from Silence of the Lambs and repurposes them for the current story, saving nothing for later. Dr. Chilton has been brought in to work with the FBI when authorities would never have dealt with this bozo in the first place, according to the original canon. A pseudo Clarice has also been produced and almost immediately catches Lecter out through his sloppiness. All of these plot lines aren’t true to the characters as I know them, and I’m just barely halfway through the first season of Hannibal. I don’t see how the series can sustain itself much longer, and I know I’ve got to quit watching these episodes because I just get madder and madder with each one, turning into one of those comic book purists.

Hannibal’s creator Thomas Harris is one of those rare reclusive writers who doesn’t like to give interviews, but at some point he sold the film rights of Hannibal Lecter to Hollywood maven Dino De Laurentiss. Later, after Manhunter, Silence of the Lambs, and Red Dragon, De Laurentiss supposedly threatened to film a prequel to Hannibal’s story with or without Harris’s help, which spurred the writer to write Hannibal Rising.

 

I guess that wasn’t enough background for the character because now we have Hannibal the TV series. Dino De Laurentiss died a few years ago, but I see that his wife Martha De Laurentiis is attached as executive producer to the series. I don’t know if these film rights transfer or if Harris sold them again. Either way, I hope he’s getting good money for it. A writer’s got to eat, but I really don’t care for what’s been done to his characters.

2013’s Carrie Tries a Cyber Version of Stephen King’s Story

I’ve been jonesing to see Carrie since watching the previews in the movie theater early last year. The shower room scene in Stephen King’s novel and the original movie is a classic of how mean and out of control bullying can get, but the preview showed cyberbullying being introduced in the new version, and that’s something that excited me. Bullying has evolved, like everything else with the Internet, and where a kid might once have been able to get a little peace at home after a school day of harassment, they can now be haunted in cyberspace through Twitter, Facebook, or what have you.

 

At this point, I don’t think there are any spoilers in Carrie. It’s a Cinderella story that the brothers Grimm would approve of. Carrie White is the daughter of single mother Margaret White, a religious fanatic who chooses to keep her daughter ignorant about the facts of life, thinking she’ll remain pure that way. Carrie gets her period while showering after gym, and her classmates throw tampons and maxipads at her, yelling for her to plug it up. With the onset of her period, Carrie rediscovers her telekinetic powers. One of the shower room bullies feels bad about her role and, as compensation, makes her boyfriend ask Carrie to the prom. Carrie accepts and sees this as her chance to be normal, making and wearing a pretty dress, dancing. Another of the bullies, though, won’t let her get away with this and hatches a plan to drench Carrie with blood onstage. She doesn’t know about Carrie’s newfound powers and what she’ll do for sweet revenge.

carrie-book-cover-image-179x300

The original Carrie is iconic. When friends and I are feeling insecure, we’ll jeer, “They’re all going to laugh at you,” imitating Piper Laurie’s over-the-top performance as Carrie White’s mother, and laughter almost always results. But it is a different world now, and I’m okay with that line going to Julianne Moore, with a more understated tone of voice, who’s able to convey ultimate love for her daughter alongside crazy, masochistic religious beliefs. I don’t think I ever really saw that mother-daughter love in Piper Laurie’s version of Mrs. White. Carrie just seemed to serve as an audience for her ravings.

piper-laurie-carrie

The girl picked to be Carrie in this version, Chloë Grace Moretz, is very pretty. She doesn’t have the unusual looks of Sissy Spacek (the original Carrie), which made it easy to see how such cruel taunts started, but plenty of beautiful people are bullied. I’m thinking of the stories of Phoebe Prince, who was bullied until she committed suicide, and Daisy Coleman, a popular freshman cheerleader until she accused an upperclassman of rape and eventually had her house burned down by bullies.

Moretz plays Carrie White as a sweetheart who only wants to be a good girl, and it comes across as a little wishy-washy. Spacek’s Carrie had a witchy streak at times, so the ultimate destruction at the end of the movie didn’t come off as incongruous. Where Moretz might be a little more believable, though, is as a high schooler who hasn’t hit puberty yet. She looks very young and unformed in her plaid shirt and jumper next to sophisticated classmates in full makeup and hair, toting their iPhones. And her ignorance of the changes that a girl goes through as she becomes a woman is explained away with home schooling. I don’t think anybody could have bought Carrie having no knowledge of a period without this update.

Chloe-Grace-Moretz-and-Julianne-Moore-in-Carrie-2013-Movie-Image-2

One thing I like in this movie is Judy Greer (Jawbreaker) as Ms. Desjardin. She brings a little something different to the character that King envisioned, I think, who is a former teen queen now teaching gym. Ms. Desjardin understands what motivates her students to humiliate Carrie White in the locker room because she’s closer in age to them than the rest of the teachers. And Greer brings a zany, goofball quality to the character that I haven’t seen before, making the role a surprise—one of the few in the movie. I’ve seen Brian De Palma’s Carrie so many times, that it ran like a loop in the back of my brain as I watched this recent remake of Carrie, and almost all of the performances in the 2013 movie came off as paler versions, except for the character of Ms. Desjardin.

Carrie-29

A big part of King’s Carrie, which carried through in the original movie, is the theme of how random events can quickly accumulate and snowball into something awful. The bullying, the late period, even Carrie’s conception—these small things all build to the ultimate showdown, and each fresh piece keeps the story rolling. This version of Carrie felt choreographed to me; there was a slickness to it like a Broadway production. The brutal shower room scene is videotaped and posted online, and it’s shown again and again and again, even played on big screens when the prom queen and king are announced and the bloodbath begins. The repetition takes away from the initial cruelty, and the scene just doesn’t seem that shocking by the time Act III rolls around.

The cyberbullying that I thought would add a fresh element to the movie ends up being clunky. I have a hard time believing the big baddie Chris Hargensen (Portia Doubleday) would be so stupid as to leave evidence of the taped shower room scene on her phone, which screws up an important plot point. (She’s supposed to be whip smart, torturing others for her own entertainment.) Also, such a contrast is set up between the tech-savvy, sophisticated high schoolers and the rube Carrie that one of the most important scenes comes off badly. Chris Hargensen’s boyfriend, Billy Nolan, is supposed to kill a pig for blood. The modern version shows Chris and Billy menacing pigs in a sty, and it comes off as silly. The characters haven’t looked or acted like farm kids through the entire story, so just when did they learn how to kill a pig? YouTube? If only that had been shown.