Weekly Weird Roundup

This week’s Weekly Weird Roundup is live! Come read about dead babies, killer fish, and towns for sale and be sure to visit horror-writers dot net.

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I was visiting my mom again and by now you should know what happens when I visit my mom. We go to the movies. I didn’t want to see Dracula: Untold because I hate movies that humanize Dracula and I already know the ending to Gone Girl so Annabelle it was.
Honestly, I had a problem with this movie from before it started and this is it.
When you have a killer doll that looks like that, there’s really nothing to build up to. She looks a little cleaner at the beginning but, she’s immediately incredibly threatening and creepy-looking. It’s hard to believe that anyone would find her lovable or want her in their house. You don’t really see her evolve, it’s just always “WHAM! LOOKAT THIS DOLL!” I know that James Wan likes to design creepy dolls but this is a real drawback for this movie.
The movie opens with the same scene from The Conjuring, where the nurses are telling the Warrens about the creepy doll, Annabelle. I was hoping Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson would reprise their roles as Ed and Lorraine Warren but no such luck. John R. Leonetti, the cinematographer from The Conjuring took over the role of director for this movie, while James Wan stepped back as producer. The footage from the beginning looks very distinct from the way the rest of the movie looks, that’s a very jarring way to start a movie.
Anyway, Annabelle Wallis and Ward Horton star as newlyweds Mia and John Form.
John buys Mia the Annabelle doll. She seems perfectly normal, just hideous. Mia puts Annabelle in the nursery for the baby they’re expecting because it’s never too soon to emotionally scar your child. John and Mia are woken up by a commotion from next door. It turns out the neighbor’s estranged hippie daughter (Tree O’Toole) is back and feeling murder-y. She and her boyfriend kill her parents and try to kill Mia before hippy daughter kills herself in the nursery while holding the doll.
Oh, what’s hippie daughter’s real name? Annabelle Higgins! SIGNIFICANT.
The attack leaves Mia on bed rest. Creepy things start to happen around the house. This culminates with evil doll forces setting a tin of Jiffy Pop on fire and pulling Mia towards the fire.
She escapes and gives birth to a daughter. Mia and John decide to leave the house and move into a less haunted apartment. But ghosty stuff keeps happening at the apartment too. The homicide detective investigating their neighbors’ murder tells Mia that Annabelle and her boyfriend were part of a satanic cult. Lurking neighbor Evelyn (An underutilized Alfre Woodard) and Father Perez (Tony Amendola) help Mia realize that the cultists were trying to summon a demon with the promise of a soul. There’s a minor scuffle, some heavy-handed suicide talk, and boom, the movie’s over.
I guess we should all be happy that a movie set in the sixties didn’t open with “Fortunate Son?” Let’s take a moment to be thankful for that.
This movie is just the definition of missed potential. Here’s a picture of the “real” Annabelle–I put real in quotes because Lorraine Warren seems to believe that Annabelle is really haunted by a demon but I don’t believe it’s possessed.

That’s a creepy doll. That’s a doll you can see starting off benign but becoming increasingly malevolent.
Ultimately, the movie just doesn’t have a lot of scares. The only sequence I really liked was when Mia was in the basement storage unit of her apartment. There’s genuine creepiness and tension as Mia’s stuck between something in the dark and an elevator that won’t work. Even that moment is ruined when you see that the demon looks like some guy dressed as Pan for Burning Man.
The story managed to be equal parts tedious and boring. I didn’t really care about any of the characters. There’s nothing really established about Mia and John except for their blandness. They barely even fight about the paranormal activity in their house. And Evelyn is basically a Magical Negro who exists to impart wisdom to the suffering white woman and then die.
This movie felt like a cheap grab for money, which it probably was considering that there’s the possibility for yet another Annabelle movie and The Conjuring 2: The Enfield Poltergeist.
Honestly, I’d even take Dolly Dearest over this. At least Dolly Dearest has this!

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All the News that’s Fit to Print!

Tired of the media not covering the creepy stories you care about? My second weekly weird news roundup is live!
Learn about two cases of killer fashion, angry clowns, Bulgarian vampires, and haunted house renovations.

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More Ways to Find Me!

I’ve started a weekly collaboration with Horror-Writers Dot Net. I’m writing a weekly news roundup, with the grossest and strangest news I can find on the web. Check out my first article at Scarina’s Weekly Roundup and keep an eye out for more.

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American Mary

Sometimes, you watch a movie and it just clicks with you. You understand the movie and the movie understands you. I’ve felt that with Interview with the Vampire and The Silence of the Lambs and I felt it with this week’s movie.

You know how people talk about women’s movies and they mean the movies they show on Lifetime and Hallmark channel and romantic comedies? Those aren’t women’s movies, American Mary is a movie that shows what it’s like to be a woman.
The movie stars Katharine Isabelle as Mary Mason, a medical student hoping to become a surgeon.
She’s very poor and deeply in debt. Getting the scary calls from the student loan people, that kind of in debt. Mary peruses the help wanted ads and finds a job looking for strippers. Her audition is cut short when one of the club owner’s thugs is brought in, injured. Billy (Antonio Cupo) offers Mary $5,000 to fix him up. She operates on him but is scared and remorseful afterwards.
Afterwards, Beatress (Tristan Risk) approaches Mary. She’s a dancer from the club who’s spent thousands of dollars to look like Betty Boop.
BeatressAmerican Mary
Beatress wants Mary to help her friend, Ruby Realgirl (Paula Lindberg), become more doll-like and offers Mary $10,000 to perform the surgery. This draws Mary into the world of extreme body modification.
Mary continues with her residency and is invited to a party with other surgeons, including her former professor, Dr. Alan Grant (David Lovgren).
Thankfully, not this Dr. Grant.

Thankfully, not this Dr. Grant.

Dr. Grant drugs Mary and brutally rapes her. Mary pays Billy to have his enforcers kidnap Dr. Grant. She drops out of medical school and practices extreme body modification on Dr. Grant.
Mary opens an underground practice performing extreme body modifications on people, which culminates in her performing surgery on the Demon Twins of Berlin (The Soska Twins, in a cameo).
The movie is basically Mary’s journey and I’m not giving away the ending because you have to go watch this right now.
I love when horror fans make horror movies because it’s like we all speak in the code of shared movies. It’s fun to unravel this code.
The movie opens with intense closeups of Mary suturing something that we eventually realize is a turkey, with “Ave Maria” playing the background. This feels very like something you’d see in the Hannibal movie.
When Mary is at her office, she wears a black apron over a white shirt. She wears something similar when she practices on Dr. Grant. It feels very similar to Asami’s outfit in Audition.

There’s the surgical outfit that Mary wears when she operates on the Twins. It’s very reminiscent of Dead Ringers.
This movie just feels very personal, but that may reflect on my age and status in the world. i remember looking at the stripper ads in college and wondering if I should try it. What kept me from doing it is remembering that I hate absolutely everyone and I dance like Elaine Benes. I think a lot of us know the pain of being so desperately poor when we’re just trying to make the right life decisions to not be poor.
There’s definitely the pain of seeing Mary being devalued and degraded just because she’s an attractive, competent woman. She views herself as a colleague of her professors and they repay her with abuse. Billy, when he first meets Mary, is also completely vile and gross. It isn’t until Billy sees what Mary’s capable of that he treats her with any respect.
And there’s the pain as a woman where your outside doesn’t match your inside. I actually really liked Beatress and could relate a lot to her and Ruby Realgirl. We live in a world where if they had gotten mainstream plastic surgery they’d be celebrated for being so in control of their bodies, but anything alternative is laughed at. Plus, I legitimately understand being drawn to the cute aesthetic. I think I’m the only white person ever who’s tried eyelid tape to try to make their eyes look bigger.
There’s this really touching moment that I really loved, between Mary and Lance (Twan Holliday), one of Billy’s enforcers. Lance says to Mary, “Don’t you ever devalue what you do, Mary.” He then tells her about how his mom walked in on a home invasion burglary and how he wishes he knew Mary then. Mary becomes a monster but she’s a kind of benign monster. Maybe sometimes the world needs monsters, to get rid of the other monsters.
The movie is pretty much the right mix of gore and humor. The effects are practical, which I appreciate a lot, especially for an indie movie. If a practical effect goes wrong it can definitely cost you time and money, so I respect the risk they took using them. Plus, they look great and gross! Tristan Risk looks especially awesome as Beatress.
I especially liked the music. The movie starts with a simple version of “Ave Maria” and this increases in complexity as the movie proceeds. It’s like it’s reflecting the increasing complexity of Mary’s character.
“Unique” is the word that comes to mind when I think of this movie. I can’t think of any movie that’s quite like this and it has to be one of my favorite 21st century movies.

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Eyes of Laura Mars

This post has been a long time coming. I’ve been waiting for months to review this movie because Netflix doomed me to the “very long wait” section with this disc. I’m talking about the 1978 American giallo Eyes of Laura Mars.

I have to say, it didn’t disappoint. This movie is a really neat, distinctly American take on the giallo genre.
Faye Dunaway stars as successful photographer Laura Mars.
She’s known for her violent and sexual images. This is no surprise, as Laura has been having increasingly violent visions of murder and they’ve been influencing her photography. In fact, at the opening of her exhibit in SoHo, she finds out that her publisher, Doris (Meg Mundy) has been murdered. The killer is starting to target those close to Laura.
A young, unibrowed, Tommy Lee Jones costars as the police lieutenant John Neville.
There’s something Carl Sagan-y about young Tommy Lee Jones, maybe it’s because he wears a turtleneck later in the movie. Anyway, he shows Laura some unreleased crime scene photos that bear an uncanny resemblance to her photographs. Laura continues to have visions when she tries to take pictures and Neville eventually believes her. They begin a relationship as Laura’s friends are picked off.
I consider this an American giallo film. There are some stylistic choices that keep this from being a standard slasher. First, there’s the lack of teens and the setting is professional. This has more in common with Argento’s Tenebrae and Opera than it does with Friday the 13th. It follows the killer’s POV trope and includes the obligatory shot of a hand with a stiletto.
The score alternates between disco and a Goblin-esque synth score mixed with some orchestral music. What makes this movie distinctly American is that it’s very bloodless compared to its European counterparts of the time. You can tell that they were going more for art than slasher. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, just don’t expect gallons of the red stuff like it’s an Italian movie.
What I like about this movie is the way it plays with what’s real. You know that Neville believes in Laura but her friends are worried that she’s having some kind of breakdown. She isn’t really a reliable source. So we get these shots of her reflected multiple times in mirrors and we wonder if she’s the killer.
Laura’s career is devoted to creating a fake reality. She’s not a documentary photographer, she films fashion campaigns (Fun fact, prop photographs were supplied by Helmut Newton and Rebecca Blake. They all have a very eighties Vogue feel). So the audience is watching an actress playing a photographer creating a photo set and doesn’t that just break your brain a little?
The movie is full of red herrings galore, including Raul Julia playing Laura’s ex-husband, Michael.
I’m not telling you the ending because I really liked the twist and it actually made me a little sad. So now you have to watch it for yourself to find out what happens.
Fun fact; I really love when I recognize places in movies. A lot of movies are filmed in NYC now but that wasn’t always the case. So I shrieked when I recognized Greene St. and Canal St. This website has some fun comparison pictures.
Another fun fact, this was directed by Irvin Kershner, the guy most responsible for making The Empire Strikes Back not suck.

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Nosferatu (1922)

I’m back! And since I’m back, I thought we’d go way back to the oldest movie I’ve ever seen. This is F.W. Murnau’s 1922 silent classic, Nosferatu.

The book, Dracula came out in 1897 and was crazy popular. Just like Twilight, but good. People gobbled up the story that touched on fears that are still relevant today, like sexuality, the role of women in society, and post-colonialism. Stage adaptations came out pretty quickly after the book was published, so it was only a matter of time before a movie was made. The German studio, Prana Film, decided it wanted a vampire movie and wanted an edition of Bram Stoker’s work. Sadly, they didn’t have the rights to Dracula. They plowed ahead, changing details, but it wasn’t enough. Stoker’s heirs sued and the studio went bankrupt. The judge ordered that all copies be destroyed and we only know Nosferatu today because a print escaped the fire.
The movie follows the basic plot of Dracula. Jonathon (Gustav Von Wangenheim) and Nina (Greta Schröder) are a young couple who are deeply in love. It should be noted here that the names differ depending on the edition of the movie you have. I’ve seen this at the Landmark Loews in Jersey City and on DVD and both of those editions call the couple Jonathon and Nina. But there are also editions where they’re called Ellen and Thomas Hutter.
Jonathon works as a clerk for Renfield (Alexander Granach). He’s sent to Count Orlock’s castle in Transylvania to deliver some real estate papers. Orlock wants to move to their city, Bremen. There are some red flags on the trip. Villagers near the castle warn Jonathon to stay away from the castle, especially after dark. Count Orlock (Max Schreck) looks like a more robust Mr. Burns and gets very excited when Jonathon cuts his finger. Jonathon wakes up with fang marks on his neck that he attributes to spiders or mosquitoes. Jonathon reads a book that he took from the inn and realizes that Orlock is a vampire.
The next day, Jonathon finds Orlock’s coffin. He finally escapes the castle but is knocked unconscious. He wakes up in the hospital, with Orlock gone to claim the mansion right across the street from his own home.
An empty ship arrives in Bremen. Its hold is full of rats and the captain is dead, tied to the wheel.
People assume it’s the plague and it kind of is. Orlock is in town and, unlike his other incarnations, he doesn’t make more vampires, he just kills. He has his sights set on Nina as his next victim.
I really like this Dracula incarnation. Don’t get me wrong, I love me some Anne Rice vampires (Mega-excited for her new book), but I like that Orlock is ugly. He brings death and destruction with him. Orlock isn’t looking for friends or lovers, he just wants dinner. A classic monster.
This movie suffers on the small screen. It was made before any director even considered that there’d be home entertainment. I originally saw it at the Landmark Loew’s in Jersey City. It was played on a huge screen with a live organist playing the music. The shots look so striking when they’re huge and the music was nice and creepy. The DVD I’m basing this review on came with an orchestral score but I think the organ music was better. Most of the music for Nosferatu was lost and the soundtrack is usually based on reconstructions. I’m not sure where the organist got the music he used from but it was definitely spooky. If you have access to an event like this, I recommend taking advantage of it. It’s a way of supporting cool indie events and a way of saying “Fuck you” to the movie studios that insist on giving us Transformers 17.
This movie isn’t scary to my modern sensibilities. What it does well is establish tension and atmosphere. This is the perfect movie to project on a wall if you’re throwing a Halloween party and then blast Bauhaus as the soundtrack. Nosferatu is the only silent movie I’ve ever seen but it makes me want to see more. It falls in the category of German Expressionism and I’ve heard these movies–without sound and with sound–can be very creepy, like The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, The Student of Prague, The Golem: How He Came into the World, and M.

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