Movie Review – Hereditary (2018)

Directed by Ari Aster. Staring Toni Collette, Alex Wolff, Milly Shapiro, Ann Dowd, and Gabriel Byrne.

With all the ranting and raving I’d heard about this movie from so many different directions, I figured this has got to be awesome. Super scary, people leaving their lights on, afraid to look in the shadows, the whole nine yards.

So, to celebrate my Hubby’s birthday, he wanted to go see this movie. Of course, it’s not playing anywhere near us anymore, so the next logical choice was to hop on the motorcycle and make a whole day of it by riding to a theater 115 mile away. We decided to catch the first available show at 11:15 so headed out at 7am to give us plenty of time to stop for breakfast and get to the theater before it got too ungodly hot outside.

Four hours later with snacks and cold drinks in hand, we settled into comfy chairs and were prepared to be scared.

Annie Graham’s estranged, secretive, and controlling mother, Ellen, has passed away and quite frankly, Annie seems less than upset about it. Very soon after, Annie starts seeing what she believes to be her mother’s ghost. Her son, Peter, 17 and daughter, Charlie, 13, are also acting strangely and seeing their grandmother’s spirit. The only one seemingly immune to all of this is their father, Steve. Peter becomes plagued with nightmares and hallucinations. Charlie decapitates a dead bird for one of her strange little dolls – a foreshadowing of things to come.

Forced to take his sister to a high school party, Peter must later try and rush her to a hospital when she eats some cake with peanuts in it and goes into anaphylactic shock. Charlie opens the car window in an attempt to get some air, sticks her head out and BAM! is decapitated by a telephone pole. That moment, and her mother’s utter agony over the death of her daughter, was the most shocking and gut-wrenching part of the film for me.

The real insanity of the family comes full on after that, as little by little Annie begins to unravel the true, non-material legacy her mother has left behind. It’s bizarre and twisted and gruesome to say the least.

But, was it scary? Would I be keeping an eye on the shadows for weeks to come? Would I insist on sleeping with a light on? Would every waking moment find me haunted by images and thoughts of this alleged “…uncommonly unsettling horror film whose cold touch lingers long beyond the closing credits.” Would this “scariest movie of 2018” hunt me down even in my sleep?

Um, no. Not so much. And to rank it up there with The Exorcist and Rosemary’s Baby goes beyond the absurd.

I’m a big fan of weird stuff. I’ve dabbled in the occult since the day my grandmother decided I needed a Ouija board for my 13th birthday – yeah, you read that right. I’ve read hundreds of novels about vampires, witches, ghosts, demons, and all things that go bump in the night. I teethed on Alfred Hitchcock Presents and Outer Limits. I grew up watching Twilight Zone and Kolchak: The Night Stalker. I’ve read even more novels and non-fiction books about the subjects. I know what I find frightening and disturbing. Hereditary isn’t it.

It’s not even that I don’t ‘get’ what was going on in the third and final act. I get it. I know what old Gramma Ellen was all about. But, I was never scared. There wasn’t even a single jump scare. Actually, kids, I may have dozed off for a couple minutes at one point. Hubby wasn’t impressed either. He wondered if maybe it’s because neither of us are of the Christian persuasion. We both liked A Quiet Place better, even with its myriad of logic flaws. At least it had some real suspense and jump scares going on.

In fact, there were two far more frightening events that day than this movie. First, the very sudden, tire-squealing stop we had to make on the motorcycle and second the last half hour of the ride home through a cold and torrential thunder and lightning storm. Any idea how painful rain drops are on your bare arms and face at 50 mph?

2 out of 5 Ravens.

The Raven Scale:
1 Raven: Yuck! Don’t eat that.
2 Ravens: Bread crumbs, but it’ll keep us alive.
3 Ravens: Oh, hey! Peanuts, popcorn and cat kibble!
4 Ravens: Lunch time pizza place dumpster. Hell, yeah!
5 Ravens: Holy Shit, Fellas! Fresh Road Kill!

Movie Review – WAX (2014)

Movie Review – Wax (2014) Directed by Victor Matellano. Starring Jimmy Shaw, Jack Taylor, and Geraldine Chaplin.

Part Vincent Price’s “House of Wax”, part Hannibal Lecter, WAX invites the viewer to spend a single night inside an alleged haunted wax museum in Barcelona, Spain with journalist Mike through surveillance cameras, some strategically-placed cameras that Mike sets up, along with Mike’s personal hand-held. Mike agrees to be locked in for the night with no method of communication with the outside world other than a one-way telephone. The producer can call in, but he can’t call out.

What makes this museum just a little different is that one of the main displays depicts a still-living serial killer, Dr. Knox. But, don’t worry. He’s been caught and imprisoned. Along with his wax effigy, are a series of videos recorded by the killer himself, showing in rather gruesome details how he bound, gagged, and ate his victims while they were still alive. As the night progresses, odd things start to happen, items go missing and wax effigies have moved. But, his greatest horror comes when Mike looks at the surveillance camera focused on the Dr. Knox display – and the doctor’s figure is gone.

Mike has no way of getting out of the museum or calling for help. Fortunately, the producer calls periodically and he reports what’s going on to her. She assures him she’ll notify the authorities and get him out soon. In the meantime, just sit tight. Help is on the way! I promise!

I was rather enjoying WAX until about twenty minutes from the ending, then it kind of went South and became a little too predictable. The medical torture scenes were done reasonably well without being too utterly disgusting and there are a few decent T&A shots for those who like that in their Horror movies.  For a moment, it even felt a little Freddie Kruger-ish for some reason. The ending left me feeling somewhat disappointed, but it wasn’t the most horrible thing I’ve watched by a long shot.

There are enough mannequin\wax figure scenes to be kind of creepy, enough surgical gore to make you go ‘eww’ a few times, and a very suspenseful score that keeps you wondering what bit of weirdness was going to happen next. If you’re desperate to watch some Horror and nothing else seems worth the trouble, this will do in a pinch.

2 out of 5 Ravens.

The Raven Scale:
1 Raven: Yuck! Don’t eat that.
2 Ravens: Bread crumbs, but it’ll keep us alive.
3 Ravens: Oh, hey! Peanuts, popcorn and cat kibble!
4 Ravens: Lunch time pizza place dumpster. Hell, yeah!
5 Ravens: Holy Shit, Fellas! Fresh Road Kill!

The Horrors The Grew Me – Roddy McDowall

Actors like Robert Englund who played Freddie Kruger in the A Nightmare on Elm Street movies, Kathy Bates as Annie Wilkes in Stephen King’s Misery and her various creepy roles in the American Horror Story series, Vincent Price or Lon Chaney, and Linda Blair in her unforgettable performance as the possessed Regan McNeil in The Exorcist, are well known for their roles or series of roles in classic horror movies. Someone that most people don’t think of as being a horror actor, however, is British actor, Roddy McDowall.

I can’t remember a time in my life when I wasn’t totally in love with Roddy McDowall, nor do I remember the first of his films I saw. All I really knew is that save for one, who is still my bestie to this day, most of my friends had no idea who he was other than the guy who played Cornelius in The Planet of the Apes movies. He also played Galen in the TV series, by the way. But, oh, he did so very much more than that. As a fan of horror and thrillers from a very young age, his work within those genres is what I was most drawn to. For the sake of brevity and the purpose of this blog series, that is also where my focus will be.

HeartDark The earliest film of his that I’ve seen is based on the Joseph Conrad book of the same name, Heart of Darkness written in 1899. The film was presented by Playhouse 90, a television show that ran from 1956-1961, in 1958 and starred Roddy as the lead character of Charles Marlow alongside a man whose name is nearly synonymous with Horror, Boris Karloff, as Mr. Kurtz. Eartha Kitt did an amazing job as The Queen. Though not technically labeled a horror film, Heart of Darkness does, as the name suggests, delve into the very dark corners of man’s psyche and the corruption of the soul when given a taste of power.

Roddy made numerous appearances in popular paranormal or unexplained-themed television programs as well. McDowall starred in a 1960 episode of The Twilight Zone titled People Are Alike All Over, as well as appearing on the Alfred Hitchcock Hour in 1964 in episodes The Gentleman Caller and See The Monkey Dance. In 1980 and 1981 episodes of Fantasy Island, Roddy played the ultimate entity of horror and evil, the very devil himself, Mephistopheles.

My all-time favorite, however, was his role as Jeremy Evans in another Rod Serling NightGalleryseries, Night Gallery, which first aired in 1969. In this first episode of the first season titled The Cemetery, McDowall plays a heartless and greedy nephew who’s chomping at the bit to get at the inheritance. In fact, Jeremy flawlessly orchestrates the uncle’s death and quickly steps in as heir apparent before his uncle’s body has even begun to cool. All is well and good until Jeremy realizes one of the painting his uncle did years before is different. It’s a view of the family cemetery located near the house. Suddenly, there’s a freshly dug grave in the painting that wasn’t there before and Jeremy is convinced he’s hearing footsteps from beyond the grave.

Roddy also starred as comic-book villain The Bookworm in the Batman series in 1966 and was the voice of The Mad Hatter in the Batman cartoon series. Not exactly horror, but another example of the actor’s versatility as playing the bad guy. In 1964 Roddy appeared as Martin Ashely, a murderous gardener, in Shock Treatment and had the leading role as Arthur Primm in the creature-feature IT! (1967). Both of which I have already reviewed.

HellHouse One of my all-time favorite Roddy McDowall movies is The Legend of Hell House (1973) based on the novel Hell House by Richard Matheson. Here Roddy plays the role of physical medium Benjamin Franklin Fischer, the sole survivor of a previous group of investigators into the house of Emeric Belasco, a sexual deviant of Satanic proportions. Fischer and three others are hired by millionaire William Deutche, the home’s current owner, to investigate the house and prove or disprove life after death. Known as Hell House, the Belasco home got its name from the various perversions that took place there during Emeric’s lifetime and lays claim to the title as most haunted house in the world. Amazing, amazing movie!

You can’t discuss the subject of horror movies and Roddy McDowall without mentioning his portrayal of vampire slayer, Peter Vincent in Fright Night (1985) and Fright Night II (1988). In all honesty, the world probably could have done without the sequel, but the first movie is another huge favorite of mine. I mentioned it last month when I discussed that other horror that grew me, vampires. If you missed that post, here’s a quick link back to it – The Horrors That Grew Me – Vampires.

DeadWinter In 1987 the movie Dead of Winter came out. It starred Mary Steenburgen as Katie McGovern, a struggling actress who answers an ad placed for open-call auditions. When Katie walks into the room, the man conducting the interviews, Mr. Murray played by McDowall, pays her little mind until he looks up. She’s hired instantly. The role will involve Katie traveling with Murray to an isolated location where she will study the role and replace another actress who suffered a nervous breakdown some time earlier. Katie was hired because of her striking resemblance to this other woman, Julie Rose. However, there’s a lot more to all this than just replacing a fellow actress. A lose remake of the 1945 film My Name Is Julia Rose, Dead of Winter takes some remarkably dark twists and turns, not the least of which involves Katie finding a notebook full of Polaroids of Julie’s corpse!

On October 3, 1998 Roderick Andrew Anthony Jude McDowall died of cancer at the age of 70. I was devastated and heartbroken. Maybe he wasn’t a heart throb actor to the rest of the world, but for me, he was a huge and deeply loved part of my childhood. He was the one and only actor I ever wrote to requesting from, and later receiving, an autographed picture of. That picture is now safely tucked away with other important papers like my marriage license and property survey, in a locked, fireproof box. It’s simply that precious to me.

To end on a light note, I can’t help but share this wonderful video put together by fellow Roddy McDowall fan, Melanie Hall called Roddy Gets His Sexy On. Again, not horror at all, but a wonderful tribute to a man who acted and smiled his way into my Horror-loving heart.

Movie Review – Hunger (2009)

Movie Review – Hunger (2009) – Rated R – Directed by Steven Hentges. Starring: Lori Heuring, Linden Ashby, Joe Egander, Lea Kohl, Julian Rojas, and Bjorn Johnson

Five strangers wake up in an isolated cave with no memories of how they got there. With the discovery of large barrels of water, a makeshift toilet, and a scalpel but absolutely no food, they soon realize they are part of an experiment in survival, murder, and cannibalism.  Their captor watches from a series of hidden cameras, taking notes on every move they make. Through flashbacks we learn he survived an automobile accident as a child by eating the flesh from his mother’s corpse. This seems to be his motivation.

With the exception of the cave’s stone walls, that reminded me of one of my favorite childhood shows, Land Of The Lost, this movie was surprisingly good. The acting was decent and the plot kept me more than interested with some twists popping up that I didn’t see coming. Suspense built slowly but surely, in pace with the rising tension between the characters, their environment, and their kidnapper all the way to the very end.

The five hostage characters, three men and two women, were somewhat generic; Doctor, Voice of Reason, Paranoid-Whiner, Trouble Maker, and Outsider.  Their psychopathic captor remains calm, cool, and totally enthralled in the suffering of his subjects, like a cat watching the half dead mice its caught, but isn’t quite ready to put out of their misery just yet.

“Hunger” is one of the better low-budget (at only $625,000) movies I’ve seen on Chiller. It was part of the Fangoria FrightFest series which tend to be not so frightening and all too often, not so good. All things considered, not bad, not bad at all. Not GREAT, but certainly a nice little bite of horror to keep a person entertained on a dark and stormy October night.

3 out of 5 Ravens

Movie Review – The VVitch

Movie Review – The VVitch (2015) Directed by Robert Eggers – Rated R – Starring Anya Taylor-Joy, Ralph Ineson, and Kate Dickie.

As the 7x-great grand niece of Rebecca (Towne) Nurse, the 71-year-old woman accused and executed in Salem Village for witchcraft in 1692, movies and books dealing with the topic of witchcraft in New England hold a certain appeal to me.  The trailer looked promising anyway.

We begin with William (no surname), his wife Katherine, and their four children being banned from their Puritan village for reasons I was completely unclear about. They leave the village and go off and set up their own homestead some miles away. Their 5th child, a son named Samuel, is born shortly after and while under their daughter Thomasin’s watch, goes missing. It’s assumed instantly that the Witch of the Woods had taken him though William insists it was a wolf despite the unusual circumstances.  Next, their eldest son, Caleb, also gets lost in the woods only to return ‘bewitched’. The blame turns towards Thomasin when her youngest siblings, twins Mercy and Jonas, accuse her of being a witch. Thomasin returns the favor by accusing them based on the way they talk to and play with the family’s black Billy goat, Black Phillip.

This film is a very dark, both literally and figuratively. In that way it works well to convey an authentic atmosphere of what it may have been like to live during these earliest days of American history. You really feel that sense of doom, gloom, poverty, hardship, and religious fear. During the all too brief hours of daylight, hope tries to return, but with little success. The darkness comes again, night after night, and the light simply can’t penetrate the curse that hangs over the heads of this family and the evil lurking in the woods nearby.

What did not work was the use of the Old English dialogue and the tendencies of the characters to mumble their lines. It made the conversations difficult to follow and that’s why I was so unclear about why the family had been banned in the first place. There is indeed a witch in the woods, but there’s no kind of back story or understanding or rumors expressed by anyone along with way to indicate where she came from or who she is or why the family thinks she’s there to begin with; at least none that I caught perhaps due to the aforementioned dialogue. A lot of what happens goes unexplained like what happened to Caleb while he was with The Witch, why or how the twins communicate with Black Phillip, and Katherine’s encounter (dream??) involving a baby turned raven. At least Thomasin’s transformation at the end sort of made sense. Sort of.

It all left me scratching my head, feeling like I’d missed some sort of vital element to what was going on.

It wasn’t horrible. It wasn’t great. It was entertaining and atmospheric.

3 out of 5 Ravens

What Scares You? Reading, Writing, & Watching Horror

As some of you may know, I’ve been reading Stephen King’s Dark Tower series almost exclusively since last August. I’m over halfway through the final book of seven. Yesterday, the damn thing had me crying into my Ramen noodles at lunch time. Seriously, tears fell into my bowl of Ramen. I mentioned this to one of my fellow car poolers, Jean, who has also read the series and she smiled and nodded. As I’m still not done with the series, I’m going to hold off on a lengthy review just a little while longer, but at the mention of Stephen King the other car pool lady, Irene, piped up about King being scary. We explained that these particular King novels aren’t really all that scary. They are more adventure-scifi-western-weird creature-fantasy-love story type things. Irene then asked if King, in general, scared me. After a moment’s pause I said, “No, not particularly. I’m pretty hard core.”

There has only been ONE book that ever truly scared me to the point I had to stop reading it at night before bedtime. That book was The Owlsfane Horror by Duffy Stein. I’ve been reading all sorts or mysteries and thrillers and horror for as long as I can remember, so it’s not like reading a ghost story novel was anything new to me while I was in high school. I still have that very same book sitting on my bookshelf. I really should read it again after all these years to see if it’s as frightening as it was 30+ years ago. The only other book that has left a long-lasting creepy impression on me was Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House. I’d read the book before I saw the movie and, well, damn. The original adaption, The Haunting made in 1963, is just downright insane and ranks as my #1 favorite horror movie of all time. Seriously, don’t bother with the 1999 remake. It blows. It blows hard and in a very bad way.

All this got me to thinking about why I read, write, and enjoy horror, thrillers, and mysteries so much. Obviously it’s not as cut and dry as liking to be frightened because if there are only two novels that have done that, why do I keep reading it if it doesn’t truly scare me? It’s not for the gore because I’m not a fan of slasher stuff at all. It’s much more subtle than that. It’s the build-up of events, the leading me into a darker and darker place as far as the human psyche goes. Scary things can happen in broad daylight just as well as in a dark, hidden back alley. Show me what is normal and then twist it around and show me what happens when things start going horribly wrong. And, as if we humans aren’t cruel enough to each other, add some element of the paranormal in there to drag me even deeper. When I finish a chapter, make me lean back and think, “Damn, now what are they going to do? How are they going to get out of this mess? What exactly is going on here?” Those are the questions that make me want to keep reading! And because those are MY questions, they are also the ones I try and leave my readers with as I wrap up each chapter.

As I work my way through the first draft of DARK HOLLOW ROAD, I’m finding and exploring some very dark elements of what it means to be human. This is why I call it Taboo Horror. When people are raised under terrible, abusive circumstances, to what lengths will they go to survive? What happens when everything they have done to try and keep their sanity intact is taken away? What if people, completely oblivious and innocent, find themselves in the cross hairs of that sanity no longer kept in check?  My kind of Horror happens, that’s what.

I ask myself a lot what scares me. If it scares me, surely it will scare someone else, right? I can’t be alone in my fears so that’s what I try to write about. SECRETS OF THE SCARECROW MOON takes on scarecrows. Yeah, I’m not a fan of those at all. THAT’S WHAT SHADOWS ARE MADE OF deals with a paranormal entity that has freaked me out, not to mention fascinated me, for decades, Shadow People or The Hat Man. This fall will see the release of NO REST FOR THE WICKED which explores my love of the classic haunted house and the story behind what generated the hauntings to begin with. You’ll get a look inside the minds of the ghosts themselves as some try and tell their stories while others work like hell not to be ratted out. With DARK HOLLOW ROAD I am trying to take that concept a little bit further and a little bit darker.

I’d love to know what scares you. What draws you to read horror or watch horror movies? If you’re a horror writer, what attracts you to the process?  Do you actually enjoy being scared or is it something else?

The A-B-C’s of Sweet Dreams, Horror Style!

Sometimes it’s hard to fall asleep at night. You lie there with your mind running a mile a minute with, what a friend of mine calls, Hamster Brain. I could never get into the whole counting sheep thing. Sometimes I’ll turn the TV on to our local ads channel and turn the volume down just low enough so I can hear the soft elevator music they play. That works pretty well. My fiancé counts backwards from 100. I’ve tried that, but usually start at 200-300. Sometimes that works, too. For some reason I lose track of the numbers around 287 or 187 or 87, get confused and restart at 290, 190, or 90. Now my little hamster brain is trying to do math which is not always conducive to the goal of falling asleep.

In the past couple months I’ve devised my own method to induce sleep using the alphabet. I’m a person of letters and words, not numbers. First, I select a theme; a types of food, wild animals, movie stars, friends, songs, band names, professions, and the like, whatever floats your boat. Last night it was Horror Movies. Don’t give it a lot of thought, just use the first thing that pops to mind and move on to the next letter. The point is to keep your mind focused on one somewhat meaningless and monotonous task. I fell asleep around the letter O or maybe it was N. In either case, it works like a charm for me. I seldom make it through the whole alphabet before I’m out. Here’s what I came up with last night, at least as well as I can remember.

A – Amityville Horror

B – Beetlejuice (Technically not a horror movie, but that’s what came to mind first.)

C – Carrie

D – Dracula

E – Evil Dead

F – Frankenstein

G – Godzilla

H – (The) Haunting (original version, of course..)

I – I Spit On Your Grave

J – (had to pass on this one, nothing came to mind)

K – Killer Klowns from Outer Space

L – Let’s Scare Jessica To Death

This is where things start to get fuzzy. I’m sure I had a movie for M but I can’t really remember what it was.

M – ??

N – Night of the Living Dead

O – (The) Omen

And that was it. I was snoring by the time young Damien was shoving his mom over the upstairs railing. Sweet dreams are made of this.

I’m curious. What would your Horror Movie Dream List look like? What methods of sleep induction have you tried? I’d like to hear if one of you actually tries this and if it works as well for you as it does for me.