Thursday, October 31, 2019

Why Horror?

I have a complicated relationship with The Shining.  It's no secret that I had a fucked up childhood.  We all did. Trauma is relative, I get that.  For me, personally, my trauma involved having a dad who repeatedly tried to kill me and my mom.  He was a Vietnam veteran, so I'm sure he had lots of trauma of his own.  I can't imagine.

As a little boy, my trauma manifested in a stutter.  After my father broke down the door to our house and went around chasing mom with a butcher knife, I stuttered for a few months. Mom proceeded to file for divorce and take night classes, but then things escalated.  Violence at home became somewhat routine. There was the time he had all my Easter eggs lead up to his bedroom where there was a shotgun waiting for me as he calmly explained how he was going to use that gun to kill my mom.  Then there was the time he tried to run me and my nana off the highway and  I jumped in the space between the back and front seats until Nana drove us to the police station.  I probably got a Howard Johnson milkshake after that.  Worth it.

As a result of this violence, we moved a lot.  He'd always find us. Mom got restraining orders, but those don't really mean anything.  I slept with a bat next to my bed for about a year after he followed us into a screening of Ferris Bueller's Day Off and we had to be escorted home by the police.  
At six years old, I didn't really get that this wasn't normal.

In the years that followed, I read lots of books.  I watched movies.  I lost myself in stories.  I never lingered on what happened with my dad because that was the past.  I had a mom and we had some laughs.  That was alright by me.  Why would I want a dad if he was going to be such an asshole all the time?  So, aside from a couple close calls where he threatened to show up - somehow knowing where we lived,  I never gave it much thought. I had no time to stew in my trauma. I had enough on my plate trying to get myself to New York before The Fantasticks closed!

My love of horror movies was how I processed this stuff, safely detached from my own personal experience.

Watching a movie, you get scared and your imagination is triggered, but then you go home and eat pizza.  No muss, no fuss.  Horror movies were how I dealt with bullying in elementary and middle school, where I made friends with the people who ran the Gloucester movie theatre so they would let me see R-rated movies by myself.  Horror movies were there with me in high school when I finally came into myself socially and would invite my friends over to eat cheese and watch the latest VHS trash I procured from Videosmith.  And horror movies were certainly there with me in undergrad, where it became routine for me to watch a scary movie to fall asleep at night. 

But there were hiccups along the way.  There was a period in undergrad when I watched The Shining - a lot.  Like, every day.  I didn't question why.  I just liked it.  It wasn't until my roommate said "you watch this movie every night because your dad tried to kill you" that it clicked.  Oh!
I stopped watching The Shining and got a therapist.

That was twenty years ago.  In that time, I've continued to watch scary movies and I've continued to pay no mind to the brief moment in time where my real life mirrored that of a Stephen King story.  I'm forty now.  My father is dead.  He drank himself to death and was eaten by dogs (again, it is not my intention to have my life mirror a King story, if I could be the hero of a story, it would involve a summer camp and an older counselor in impossibly short shorts who wants to help teach me how to swim).  Mom died too.  Now my ghosts are all ghosts.

Maybe that's why I was so gut-punched by Doctor Sleep.

From the shaggy hair, to the big-wheel and the Mom who's barely holding on, it's hard not to see myself in little Danny Torrance.  I was him.  So much of being a grown up is stifling that little kid you once were, assuring yourself that "it's not a big deal" when you're legitimately scared or sad - leaving the past behind to be in the present.  That doesn't always work and it's not always healthy.

This is probably why I lost my mind seeing Doctor Sleep.  I cried, I laughed, I punched at the air like a crazy person.  It's a really special movie and it reminded me why horror matters.   Horror is how we can deal with the real anguish we all face every day.  You don't have to live through a haunted house or campground massacre to be a survivor.  Whether you're queer or bullied or just had a really bad breakfast burrito, we're all survivors.

I liked Mike Flanagan's Haunting of Hill House because it was the first populist entertainment to really address that ghosts are the monsters that we carry with us inside - they're the past traumas that won't go away until we confront them.  Our experiences are the real horror.  Hill House was a genre parable about wellness - the importance taking care of yourself and the people you love.

This Flanagan world-view is very much carried over into his adaptation of Doctor Sleep.  People take care of each other in this movie.  Much like The Stand, this movie posits, without passing judgement or moralizing, that humanity can be good.  The power of kindness in the face of unspeakable horror.  Can you imagine?

Awful things will always happen, they happen to us all but we still have to wake up in the morning.  Just because we each go through hell getting here, it doesn't mean we have to be miserable to people or carry that baggage as a burden.  We can move past it.  We don't have to repeat the past.

Who needs a therapist when I can process all this in the comfort of my local AMC?  Thirty plus years after sleeping with a bat, I no longer have all my curtains pulled shut.  I don't double lock the doors and windows every night and I have the luxury or revisiting my trauma in the safety of a movie theatre, stuffed with red vines and a can of beer that I snuck in.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

happy halloween!

Because some of you children aren't aware of what real cinema looks like, here's The Midnight Hour - a film in which Shari Belafonte is a closeted lesbian who gets a vampire girlfriend in a wine cellar while How Soon Is Now by the Smiths plays.  Your favs could NEVER!

Eat junk food.  Have sex with a mask on.  We have a whole month to recover before Xmas.

love u

Friday, October 25, 2019

everyone loves a list

Decades are weird, man. 

I remember sitting in front of my little 12inch TV in my bedroom in Gloucester, MA when 1989 turned into 1990.  These were dark days.  I was in catholic school at the time, so I was miserable.  Bullied and fat.

When I wasn't playing Goonies 2 ad nauseam on my NES, this was the period in which I finally saw The Exorcist and I was absolutely terrified that I was going to be possessed.   How fun!  Now I don't feel anything.

Time speeds up the older we get.
When I started this blog in '09, I didn't think I'd still be alive in '19, let alone that I would have established a stupid precedent by making a "best of" list for a decade when all art is subjective and anything that moves you is already the best.

That said, who am I to buck with tradition?

This has been a transitional decade in horror because we're living through a transitional moment in history.  From the It Follows to Midsommar, independent horror became the commercial aesthetic.  There were great things in flop movies (I like the boyfriend makeup in Warm Bodies) and there were movies that changed the world (Get Out).

From World War Z to Us, looking back on the past decade in film, the moments that stuck with me were the ones where I had significant experiences seeing them theatrically.  Each of the films below stand out as crystalline memories - these are movies that made me excited about movies.

Black Swan (2010)

When I was little, I wanted to be a ballet dancer more than anything in the world but momma wouldn't let me take class because it was "faggy" (I grew up in Boston).  Never one to take "no" for an answer, I'd follow my neighbor's little sister to her ballet classes and I'd sit in the hallway outside and watch the other kids perform while I drank grape juice and fantasized about my life as a tall and genetically-fit ballet star with a Manhattan loft, a sensible eating disorder, and fastidious boyfriend who wasn't in the arts, but was a patron of the arts.

My obsession with ballet followed me when I went off to do musicals.  By high school, I had a couple jobs and I'd use that money to take dance classes (in spite of my mother) until I finally got gay-bashed and shoved on the train tracks after class one night.  Turns out Mom wasn't the only one who thought dancing was "faggy."

Anyway,  this is what came flooding back to me when I watched Black Swan.
I remember seeing this at the Landmark and being so gutted by the end that I actually couldn't move from my seat throughout the credits.  I sat there and cried like a crazy person when the lights came back up.  That had never happened before.

Ballet is like the art world in that movies never get it right and Black Swan is certainly no exception.  But a horror movie version of Center Stage starring Natalie Portman and Hillary Whitney from Beaches wasting a perfectly good strawberry cake?  Masterpiece.


Crimson Peak (2015)

"The horror was for makes monsters of us all."

I saw this movie about four months after it came out on a date with a really cute boy at the New Beverly after about two skinny margaritas.  It was magic.

The closest thing we have in modern times to Hammer Horror and the old Universal monster movies, at its best, Crimson Peak mirrors the aesthetic of late 70s/early 80s glow in the dark monster action figures.  In fact, no horror movie in recent memory makes me want action figure play-sets more.
I can think of no higher compliment.

A horror movie where the women have all the power and the men are all fukboiz?  We love to see it!

Hereditary (2018)

"Who's going to take care of me... when you die?"

I grew up with a mom who had borderline personality disorder who later killed herself.
This movie is a documentary.

Prometheus (2012)

God is dead.

Long live God.

Monday, October 21, 2019

no pressure...

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

fall into it

"People being bullied and hurt isn't funny.  You'd probably spend your whole life giggling at other people's hurt."

I watched a Russian torrent of the Steve Bannon Joker movie because I didn't want to support the Steve Bannon Joker movie because the endeavor of remaking King of Comedy without Sandra Bernhard is a fruitless endeavor at best.   The only thing that makes King of Comedy King of Comedy is Sandra's agency.  Without a strong woman at the center and the edges, you end up with a Steve Bannon biopic.  Who wants that?   I don't.  I'm not an incel.  

The whole debacle bums me out because I love movies that look like money, and the Steve Bannon Joker movie looks expensive!  It's got amazing costumes, a great performance from River Phoenix's brother and a New York City backdrop that actually looks like New York City, but it ultimately has nothing to say because it's a movie made for straight white men who feel persecuted by society and not a movie commenting on the their role in society because the movie is made by a straight white man who somehow still feels victimized despite being the absolute worst.

The Urban Dictionary defines incel as "involuntary celibate," a person (usually male) who has a horrible personality and treats women like sexual objects and thinks his lack of a sex life comes from being "ugly" when it's really just his blatant sexism and terrible attitude. 

From Psycho to Fade to Black (and even Texas Chainsaw), horror has had its fair share of incels - but one Canadian movie (filmed in Wisconsin) manages to rise above the faggoty fold.  Almost forty years before Joker, we had a far superior film about the clown prince of crime.  The Pit.

"I can't see anything, it's just a big hole."

The Pit is a movie about a tweenage boy named Jamie who gets bullied by an entire town so he starts to act out by sexually harassing his babysitter and by throwing his oppressors in a pit where they get eaten by monsters.

I get it.  Middle School sucks.  We all do weird shit when we're figuring out our hormones.  I once made my neighbors parents watch my rented copy of The Doors because there was a sex scene in it.  A college friend of mine used to rub herself on the swing-set for hours at a time.  We're all just animals at the end of the day.

The Pit has fun with its subject.  It's never saying "look at this - aren't we twisted - never-mind you don't even get it!" like the Joker movie does.  Even at his most unhinged and unwell, Jamie's villainy is relatable.  He's 13.  Life sucks when you're 13.  This behavior (killing your enemies, whining about being misunderstood to potential sex partners, blaming your fucked up childhood on your inability to adapt to hardship) spewing out of a 44 year old man is less charming. 

The team making The Pit understood that this story is a parable.  Jamie's inability to integrate speaks to a broken society.  Turn on the news and you'll see an America that's judgmental and ugly at its core.  Maybe people deserve to get shoved in a pit full of tra-la-logs.  

There's so much to love about The Pit.  For starters, it's set in Autumn.  For seconds, we get to see Jamie goes through puberty on camera as the movie progresses.  From it's deranged score and side characters who are obsessed with aerobics and never miss an opportunity to use the best coded-homophobic slang, it's a gift for this or any season.

Friday, October 11, 2019

everything old is new again

I love Elvira.  I don't understand why we can't stream her early, Channel 9 broadcast stuff.  I remember sneaking up late with my face pressed to the TV, the volume all the way down as not to get caught.  There was a movie about Satanic doctors played by very stuffy Brits.  Terrifying.

I also don't understand why Shudder doesn't compliment their Joe-Bob Briggs marathons with Elvira counter-programming, but that's a discussion for another day.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

return to camp blood

"Doesn't it bother you that he's a fag?"

Queer Horror is a genre.  There are podcasts about it and books about it and Shudder has a curated queer section and Fangoria even did an ugly gay pride shirt this summer.  Eight-four years after Bride of Frankenstein, fags are having a moment in the mainstream of a subset. Good for us. This wasn't the case when I started this blog ten years ago, but I was hardly a pioneer.

They say you always remember your first and for me, as a twenty-something struggling at a day job and desperate for community, my first exposure to the musty caverns of queer horror came from 

It's thanks to Brian Jeurgens at CampBlood that I learned about a lot of movies - foremost among them, Night Warning - aka: Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker - a movie so queer that it defies language.  This was a film so gay that I had to buy a VHS copy on ebay because it was otherwise out of print.

"Keep your queer hands off me!"

Night Warning is about a sad boy named Jimmy McNichol (brother to Kristy McNichol and best friend to Kim Richards who is the sister of Kyle Richards from Halloween and the “fuck all of you” gif I like).  As a toddler, Jimmy’s parents die in a horrific car crash and he’s left to be raised by character actress Susan Tyrell.

Actresses need a lot of attention, so it’s tough to be Jimmy McNichol.  At school, he's got Julia Duffy constantly trying to get in his pants.  Then he comes home and Susan is crawling into bed with him, licking milk off his chest and purring like a kitten in his ear every morning.  Their unhealthy co-dependent single-parent-only-child dynamic is only exacerbated by the fact that he’s on the precipice of going off to college.  Susan is getting more and more manic as the college offers start coming through.

"Do you know that homosexuals are very very sick?"

One night, with a few minutes to herself before Jimmy gets home from school, feeling stressed and lonely, Susan murders the TV repairman for refusing to have sex with her because he’s gay.

Normally, a middle-aged character actress continually trying to have sex with her nephew and murdering a gay repair man would be enough to classify a movie as “queer,” but there’s absolutely nothing normal about Night Warning.

You see, there’s a police detective in town whose defining characteristic is his violent contempt for gay people and, it turns out the TV repairman refused Susan's advances because he was married to Jimmy's basketball coach.  

"The victim was a fag.  The coach was a fag. And the kid is a fag."

The bigot detective is sure that Jimmy murdered the TV Repairman because he was having a secret affair with him behind his coach’s back and proceeds to call them both "faggot" all over town.  LOTS of homophobia ensues.

This sounds like an insane soap opera, but this stuff happens!  I had a good friend who was caught hooking up with a married guy in a public restroom when he was in high school and he got harassed by the police for weeks.  It was too horrible.  They'd call his parent’s house at all hours of the night.  Even twenty years later, he would start to shake at the thought.  That's pretty much what happens to poor sad Jimmy. 

To get much deeper into the bonkers plot of Night Warning would spoil the surprises of truly deranged film but know that every twist and turn is secondary to the fact that Susan Tyrell gives THE camp performance of all time. 

Susan woke up one day, saw Whatever Happened to Baby Jane and decided that Bette Davis played it way too naturalistically – she could do better.  And thank god she did!  Her character in Night Warning is scarier than Freddy - she's more horrific than Michael Myers – she's more manic than Leatherface. In John Water's new book, he says Susan Tyrell was the most difficult actress he ever worked with and, to me, that's weakness.  Because of her performance, this movie is gay horror gold.  So what if you have to have an EMT on set because she's always blackout drunk and keeps giving your leading man a black eye?  Film lasts forever!  She deserved an Oscar.

I salute you, Brian.  Thank you for CampBlood.  
It's not easy being a trail-blazer.  Just ask Susan Tyrell!