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.

Our Zombie Christmas

Ellie with the zombie Christmas tree.

I love zombies because they scare me the most. I think it’s because, for the most part, they have no individuality. Once a zombie bites a person, they lose their personality, can’t talk and carry on a conversation, and look at humans as a food source. Except for certain stories where the usual zombie trope is abandoned, like in Mike Carey’s Felix Castor series, where Nicky the zombie is full of sparkling wit, a zombie is quite predictable, which is oddly comforting.


This has been a zombie year for me and my sister with the second season of The Walking Dead to look forward to every Monday night. We don’t have a TV or cable, so we bought a season pass for the series on iTunes because we couldn’t wait for the series to come out on Netflix. After each episode comes out on Sunday, I download it and then we watch it after Kristi comes home from work. The series is on hiatus right now until February, so we’ve had to further our zombie love another way. What better way than a zombie Christmas!

Usually, a few days before the holiday, we pull out a miniature light-up Christmas tree that my mother bought us during a post-Christmas sale about ten years ago. (My mother loves sales!) We set it up, unbend the branches, and then decorate the tree with a few disco ball ornaments and some old Mardi Gras beads for a garland. The tree stays up for about a week, until we get sick of the cats knocking it down, and then we pack it away in the box until next year. Our traditions had become a bit stale.


After Kristi and I decided on a zombie Christmas, we felt that our standby tree just wasn’t going to cut it. We really needed proper greenery to showcase the zombie ornaments that Kristi was planning to make. The green would make that desiccated flesh pop. We shopped along Cortelyou Road in our neighborhood, looking for something that would suit our needs, and finally found one at the second bodega we stopped at—a tiny potted pine for $25. A steal. We popped it in our cart and wheeled it home.


For the next few days, Kristi worked hard, perfecting her recipe and method for making the zombie ornaments, patting and molding eyeballs, bones, and gangrenous hands. At last she came up with some worthy pieces and set to work mixing up moldering flesh paint colors and finding bristly hairs and trims for the ornaments that needed it. Our finished tree was a wonder to behold, and the cats liked it. They haven’t knocked the tree down once.

On zombie Christmas day, we cackled while putting together our holiday dinner: “Jesus was the first zombie. He rose from the dead.” “And you eat his body and blood during Communion—that’s soooo zombie.” Our dinner was rather plain compared to usual zombie fare—duck (which I kept calling a goose), wild rice, asparagus, and pineapple upside-down cake, though we did have a thick sauce that looked like blood.


After present opening and dinner, we devoted the rest of the day to catching Kristi’s boyfriend Ed up on Walking Dead episodes. One really great thing about a zombie Christmas is that it’s hard to overeat. You never know when the guts and blood will start flying, so it’s best not to have anything in your mouth—unless you want to lose it.

The Devil You Know by Mike Carey

My latest assignment for Hachette was the third book in Mike Carey’s Felix Castor dark fantasy series, and I prepped by reading the first book, The Devil You Know, over the holidays. The main character Felix Castor is something of a paranormal sleuth based in London; he is an exorcist in a world where the newly dead constantly impinge on the living world and finds his services needed a fair amount. After the millennium, the world found itself full of ghosts, zombies, werewolves, and demons, and Felix has been able to ply a childhood talent into a livelihood.

When The Devil You Know opens, Felix has given up exorcising for the moment and tries to pay off his friend and landlord by freelancing as a magician. Felix mucks that job up, but he is offered one that he can’t refuse–to exorcise a ghost who is haunting a library archive and causing bodily injury to its employees. Felix takes on the task, and with his instrument of choice at hand, he makes contact with the ghost at the archive.

Felix’s particular way with exorcising is through music–using his tin whistle he is able to find a melody that represents the essence of the apparition and to send it away beyond the earthly dimension. Where the spirits go, Felix doesn’t know, and he doesn’t care until he takes on this job and is unexpectedly saved by the ghost whom he is supposed to be destroying.

Carey excels in describing the paranormal in his Felix Castor series. The fifth dimension comes alive in a new and fresh way, past the usual clichés of hair raising on the back of the neck and creaking floorboards. In The Devil You Know, Carey takes the reader through a blow-by-blow affair with a succubus, doing what she does best, who becomes a delightful character in the story. Carey’s zombies are sentient, and he gives a credible explanation of their decomposing flesh and what a zombie can and cannot do to prolong their life.

Though Castor battles the undead, he finds that one of the most important questions about humanity, What happens to us when we die?, is still unanswerable. Indeed, he encounters many of the undead grappling with that question still, unwilling to give up their steely grip on the earthly plane. These are weighty topics, but The Devil You Know reads almost as black comedy so witty is the main character Felix Castor. Castor has much in common with Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe right down to the highly original similes that he spouts. I’ll definitely be pursuing this series in the future.

The Walking Dead, Vol. 2

I’ve always found zombies the most terrifying of monsters; I think because what a zombie represents is a loss of individuality and that’s one of my biggest fears. Then, of course, what a zombie craves is the organ most associated with individuality: Brains!

I read the first volume of The Walking Dead last year but didn’t pursue the second volume because the graphic novel reminded me so much of the zombie film 28 Days Later. I remember looking at the copyright page of that first graphic novel because there were so many similarities between the graphic novel and movie–I wanted to make sure I was getting a fresh zombie story.

Reading the second volume of The Walking Dead, I’m beginning to reevaluate my original take. There is only so much you can do with zombies in a postapocalyptic world and pacing is different in a graphic novel compared to a movie or traditional literature. I’ve noticed that with my favorite graphic novel series, it usually takes until the second volume before I really get hooked because there’s so much setup required in the initial story. I definitely felt that way about Fables.

In the second volume I finally know the characters and the general direction of the story, so as a reader/viewer I am able to notice the details more, the nuances. What’s coming through in the second volume of The Walking Dead is what a pain in the ass a zombie apocalypse would be–how the looting and general lack of food would affect a person only used to a supermarket and the currency of cash to provide the essentials, how people pair up as mates when the population is reduced so drastically, what it’s like to sleep in the same place so much that the structure starts to smell (the last one really got me).

My friend Susan, who lent me the graphic novel, griped because they had changed artists for the second volume. I didn’t really notice since so much time has elapsed between reading the first and second volumes, but I am bothered by how the children are drawn. Their proportions are off, so they look like midgets rather than kids. Sometimes the kids appear scarier than the zombies, and I’m pretty sure the artist didn’t intend this.