Bird Box

Would you blind your children if it was the only way to save their lives? This is one of the many dilemmas faced by Malorie, the protagonist of Josh Malerman’s horror/sci-fi novel Bird Box.
Malorie finds out she’s pregnant as the world goes crazy. The reports of people going mad, killing those around them, and then killing themselves start in Russia and slowly spread until they reach the U.S. via Alaska. What the stories all share in common is that the people all saw something just before they go mad. No one knows what they saw, just that it brings on madness. Soon, people are covering the windows of their houses and are too scared to go outside.
Malorie finds a group of survivors who have banded together to learn how to survive in this new world. The narrative shifts back and forth from Malorie’s past with the group and her friendship with their unofficial leader, Tom, to the present where Malorie is taking advantage of a foggy day to row a boat blindfolded down a river with two children in hopes of finding a sanctuary. We see the rules Malorie has imposed that are cruel but also necessary to keeping her children alive. They include teaching them how to wake up with their eyes closed and blindfolding them and teaching them how to hear better than any person with vision.
We never learn what precisely is making people go mad, whether it’s aliens or interdimensional creatures. We never learn what their intentions are, if they make people crazy on purpose, are horrified by what happens to humans when they see them, or are indifferent. Malerman effectively taps into a vein of horror familiar to fans of H.P. Lovecraft (Without the racism). There’s the fear of the unknown and the fear of infinity.
My real complaint with the book is that it overreaches for its length. I got the Nook edition and it’s 148 pages. We don’t really get to see how Malorie evolves from a fairly normal young woman trying to survive impossible circumstances to this Ripley-esque woman who can row a boat blindfolded and fight wolves. The book could have been twice as long and wouldn’t have suffered. I really wish some of the characters had been fleshed out better because some of the survivors tended to blend together.
That being said, the book feels unbelievably tense and I had a very hard time putting it down. It’s one of the few recent books I’ve read that I wanted to reread immediately after I finished. Malerman is good at creating horror out of what should be the mundane. It’s scary every time one of the characters steps out of the house (blindfolded). There’s the inherent fear that every person with vision has of what they can’t see combined with the fact that there’s something unknown outside. It was very easy for me to put myself in the place of the survivors and wonder if I could survive something like this. It was a very personal horror for me since I’m an artist and rely on vision so much. My hearing isn’t great but I love to see and I’m not sure I’d want to live in a scenario where I couldn’t safely look at a place unless I was sure it was free of monsters. Losing my sight is a huge, personal fear for me.
There’s also the fear of what the madness drives people to do. There are several very memorable, very gory scenes. The reader gets the picture quickly about the effects of whatever is outside.
The book feels very contemporary in its treatment of how information spreads. The first reports of the madness are based on found footage. The madness starts to take up more and more time in the 24 hour news cycle until it’s all that’s discussed on the news. Then, there’s no news at all. You definitely feel this real thirst that the survivors have for information and a desperation to see if there are other survivors.
This book is worth reading but it could definitely be more expansive. I recommend it for fan of Lovecraft and H.G. Wells.

Posted in 21st century, aliens, apocalypse, books, fantasy, psychological, sci-fi | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

The Babadook

“If it’s in a word, or it’s in a look, you can’t get rid of the Babadook.” So goes the rhyme in the mysterious children’s book in the much-anticipated The Babadook. I have a whole bunch of movies piled up to watch but I’ve been kind of obsessed with the idea of The Babadook since I read the Rue Morgue magazine cover story about it. I’m going to try to keep this review somewhat spoiler free so you can be shocked and enjoy the movie too.
Essie Davis stars as Amelia and Noah Wiseman stars as her son, Samuel.
AmeliaSamuelBabadook
Samuel is a sweet child but he has behavioral problems. He’s obsessed with making weapons and gets in trouble for using them in school. Amelia is raising him alone and is clearly at her wit’s end. Her husband and Samuel’s father, Oskar (Benjamin Winspear) died in a car accident while driving Amelia to give birth to Samuel. Amelia clearly loves Samuel very much but you can also see this resentment of how her life is and the association between her husband’s death and Samuel’s birth. One night, Samuel finds a creepy mysterious book called “Mister Babadook.”
TheBabadook
The book scares Samuel deeply and their already tenuous relationship starts to fray as creepy things happen around their house. Samuel claims he can see the Babadook and his behavior problems grow along with his obsession with protecting his mother. Amelia is unraveling after sleepless nights and dealing with Samuel’s problems. The movie starts to take on a dreamlike feel that reflects Amelia’s sleep-deprived state. Is there really a monster in the house or is Amelia just using that as an excuse to take out her anger on her son?
The movie reminds me of the book The Shining. Both feature very damaged parents dealing with what happened in their past. Amelia’s descent resembles Jack Torrance’s descent into madness and they’re both haunted by ghosts from their past.
The performances by Essie Davis and Noah Wiseman are just awesome. Davis portrays someone who is deeply ambivalent very well and Wiseman is charming as a sweet but troubled boy. What really helps is how well they’re written. I like Amelia because she’s so human. Sometimes she does shitty things, like leaving work early to take care of her sick son but really going to the mall, but that makes her feel real. I don’t think I would have cared about Amelia if she were some GOOP-y Gwyneth Paltrow mom, I’d probably root for the Babadook then. Amelia’s relationship with Samuel actually reminds me of Eva’s relationship with Kevin in We Need to Talk About Kevin.
It’s interesting that the horror genre is willing to talk about these complicated family relationships and say things like sometimes parenting sucks. You can see the psychological distance between Amelia and Samuel in some key scenes in the film reflected in their physical distance.
AmeliaSamuelSleepingBabadook
AmeliaSamuelDistanceBabadook
I’ve always thought that what makes a really good horror movie is the people. You need to care about the people and be interested in their story. That’s what separates an average horror movie from an outstanding horror movie.
Aside from telling a really good story, the movie is actually very tense and scary. It manages to tap into childhood fears. First, the fear of monsters. The big one, though, is the fear that your parents don’t love you or won’t love you anymore if you’re bad.
The character design is just really superb. Writer-director Jessica Kent hired American illustrator Alex Juhasz to create the unsettling pop-up book “Mister Babadook.” I was intrigued by the movie when I read the interview in Rue Morgue with Jennifer Kent and she discussed the influence of silent movies on what the Babadook would look like.
Compare this…
GermanBabadook
With Lon Chaney in London After Midnight.


There’s something timeless and creepy about silent movies, especially German expressionism.
While I generally loved the movie, the ending felt almost anticlimactic. I liked the message about how we face our demons but I’m not sure I would have ended the movie that way. That being said, I highly recommend this and think it may be one of the best horror movies of 2014.

Posted in 21st century, creatures, foreign, monsters, possession, psychological, supernatural | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

Inferno (1980)

Hey, remember that time I wrote movie reviews? I know! Sadly, as Walker Stalker Con approaches and I deal with my new job, I’ve entered this crazy state of stress. I needed something beautiful to watch so I chose Inferno, Dario Argento’s 1980 movie. Like John Carpenter’s Apocalypse Trilogy, where the movies are thematically connected but don’t share characters, Inferno is part of Argento’s The Three Mothers series. Suspiria is the first in the series, dealing with the Mother of Sighs, Inferno is the second, and The Mother of Tears is the third movie.


I have to warn you up front that this movie doesn’t really make a lick of sense. It’s a glorious, beautiful journey, but there’s no straightforward way to describe it.
Irene Miracle stars as Rose Elliott, a poet living alone in New York City.

She purchases an old book, The Three Mothers, and learns how just like there are Three Furies, Three Graces, and Three Fates, there are Three Mothers. The Three Mothers are ancient, evil, and powerful witches. Mater Susperiorum is the Mother of Sighs from Suspiria. Mater Tenebrarum, Mother of Darkness, is the middle and most cruel sister.

Mater Lachrymarum, the Mother of Tears, is the youngest and most powerful of the sisters. Rose learns that an architect, Varelli (Feodor Chaliapin Jr.), built houses for the Three Mothers and suspects that she is living in one of them.

Rose reaches out to her brother, Mark (Leigh McCloskey). Horrible fates befall anyone who investigates the house and The Three Mothers. Mark’s friend, Sara (Eleonora Giorgi), is stabbed after reading a letter from Rose to Mark that he left behind in their class. Rose is brutally guillotined by a sheet of glass.

This is pretty much all of a summary I can give. Not a lot in this movie makes sense but it’s a very fun, beautiful journey.
There are definitely some motifs carried over from Suspiria. These include candy-colored lighting, especially pink and red, colored glass-work, and death by glass. The music is gorgeous but quite different from Suspiria. Instead of working with longtime collaborator Goblin, Argento had Keith Emerson of Emerson, Lake, and Palmer compose the music. As a result, the music is less synth-driven and more bombastic. It sounds like a crazy Verdi opera. I really liked this section;

The movie also falls back on some Dario Argento and Mario Bava themes, like the killer in the black gloves. It’s not a Bava film without some creep in black gloves. This makes sense since Bava collaborated with Argento in a number of uncredited roles for this movie.
This movie is gorgeous, tense, and dreamlike but I don’t recommend it for anyone looking for a straightforward slasher.
My last note on this is that I watched this on Hulu. Hulu sucks for taking screencaps. There have been times when I’m watching Hulu when they offered a chance to watch all the ads up front and then I can watch the rest of my program uninterrupted. I sincerely wish they’d offered me that chance with this since watching something like fifteen ads broke up the tension.

Posted in 1980's, foreign, slasher, supernatural | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Prince Lestat

I remember when I heard that Anne Rice was coming out with a new book in The Vampire Chronicles series. This was my reaction.

Why aren't you dancing like Ben Horne right now?

Why aren’t you dancing like Ben Horne right now?


On one of her Facebook posts, Anne Rice asked her readers when we discovered her books. This is my story. I was twelve or thirteen. I had mostly outgrown all the Christopher Pike and R.L. Stine books that I used to read. The stories were good but they didn’t challenge me. I was also a serious misfit in my small-town school. I was goth way before it was as accepted as it is now. I see business women with spiky purses and shoes but, once upon a time in the nineties, people freaked out if you wore stuff like that. If you wore spikes to school you could pretty much guarantee a trip to the guidance counselor. I was a sophomore in high school when Columbine happened and that’s when the media was blasting the Trench Coat Mafia and that made the ostracism worse since goths were officially being blamed for a school massacre. The only massacres I participated in were butchering the English language with terrible, mopey short stories and poetry. Anyway, this was back in 1995 or 1996, before Facebook existed. My family had its first computer and I spent a huge amount of time online on the Yahoo goth groups. I had maybe three friends at school but I could talk to people all over the world that liked what I liked and made me feel accepted. I’m still in touch with some of these people, actually, so that’s enduring friendships spanning sixteen years. The top book recommendations in these groups were always Anne Rice books. I picked up Interview with the Vampire and I was hooked. Louis’ theological problems were way deeper than anything I had ever encountered before but here was a story about a whole group of people who lived within society but not as a part of it.
The funny part was that I was in accelerated classes, I had been since I was eight-years-old. It was a small town so I was with people I had known since I was young and I wasn’t friends with most of them. Part of why I didn’t like them was because every single class was like a competition to see who could be the best. They were the kind of people who would snatch a test out of your hand to see your grade. I really hated the competitiveness and how people would read books not because they liked them but because they were considered advanced. Reading The Vampire Lestat gave me new insight and made me wonder why I was playing a game I hated and obeying rules made by other people. I kept doing the assigned reading but whenever I had a chance to write about books of my choice, I started turning in reports about contemporary horror, mostly books by Stephen King, Poppy Z. Brite, and I actually did turn in reports about Interview with the Vampire and The Silence of the Lambs. My own, small Lestat moment.
Hearing that there was going to be a new Vampire Chronicles book after something like eleven years was like hearing that a dear old friend was coming back. I grew up with these characters. I have a hard time reading fiction sometimes, since I’m so close to the Asperger spectrum. I have feelings, I understand feelings, but if you want me to interpret other people’s feelings then you may as well put me in the corner with a bucket over my head because I’ll have no clue what’s happening. I’ve never really had a problem understanding Anne Rice’s characters, though.
This introduction has been way too long so on to the book. Prince Lestat takes place after the events of Memnoch the Devil. Lestat is melancholy and living a life of isolation while contemplating his past adventures. He’s also having trouble coming to terms with today’s technology, regularly forgetting to keep his phone charged or how to use email. There are more fledglings than ever who stalk the elder, “celebrity” vampires, in between fighting each other. Some fledglings, including Benji (Made by Marius for Armand in The Vampire Armand, along with Sybelle) demand leadership within the vampire community that Maharet and Mekare seem unwilling to provide. An external crisis finally forces the elder vampires and those they care about to pay attention. That’s really all I can say without entering spoiler territory and I really want people to read this so I hope this summary is tantalizing enough to get you to pick up a copy.
Do not read this book if you have stuff to do. I had a very hard time putting it down. It just happened to be published during the convergence of my History of Funeral Service final, my last-minute preparations for Walker Stalker Con, and starting a new job. My lead pointer EXPLODED all over my Mucha-inspired portrait of Michonne. Just, exploded. Lead shavings all over a picture I’d been working on for weeks. So I’ve been furiously drawing and studying and reading in five-minute-portions.
This is the face of procrastination!

This is the face of procrastination!


Seriously, this book is a joy to read. It has a tension and an urgency that I really didn’t feel with the other books, maybe that’s why I couldn’t put it down. Plus, instead of following one point of view, there are lots and lots of points of view. It’s good hearing from characters that we haven’t heard from in a while and there are some new characters to get to know. Not a lot, it isn’t like Battle Royale which I also liked but every chapter had a new narrator. It got to the point that you were numbed to what was happening to the characters and it was hard to care since there were just so many of them.
The writing feels very lush, decadent, and sensuous. That’s why you read a book by Anne Rice and that’s why I ignore most contemporary fiction. What’s currently popular feels very sterile so I avoid it. If you don’t like that style then you might not like this book. Some of Ms. Rice’s writing reminds me of Arthur Machen, especially his work The Great God Pan.
You don’t necessarily have to read The Vampire Chronicles to read this book but I honestly wish I had reread them more recently. It would have been helpful to have a refresher in whether or not they had agreed to not make any more fledglings and what Marius’ advice for making fledglings were.
I’ve heard people criticize Ms. Rice’s writing for being too theological. I have to say that as an atheist there isn’t anything in particular to be offended by. It’s more like gentle spiritual undertones that even a heathen like me can accept. There’s this kind of optimism in some of the characters that reminds me of Carl Sagan. There’s no “Believe in Jesus or you’re going to heeeeeeeellllllllllllllll.” You’ll hear so much worse at Thanksgiving with my extended family.
Science played an interesting role in this book. It’s always irked me that none of the characters in the past tried a scientific study of themselves. I’ve always wondered, aren’t you curious about yourself? And it’s not like Marius or Lestat couldn’t afford an MRI machine, although I’m not sure if they could figure out how to use it. I think Marius could but I’m not sure Lestat would have the patience and he admits that he’s hopeless with science. Happily, this is addressed.
The only problem I really had with the novel was the branding within. Phones aren’t smartphones in the book, they’re iPhones and speakers are by Bose. As a culture jammer that tags every single ad I get a chance to, I really hate the way companies have lodged themselves in my brain. I dislike living and working in a world where free space isn’t for art or quiet contemplation, it’s for ad space. That’s why I love the work of Jillyballistic so much. So it’s really jarring in this beautiful narrative to suddenly see Apple products mentioned. These vampires are so rich that I can pretty much assume they’re using all Apple products, even if they may not know how to use Illustrator, so why bother naming them? I don’t have this issue with the clothing, though, because each brand of clothing has a different artist behind it. You say Armani blazer and your mind conjures up an image that’s different from say, Alexander Wang or Commes des Garcons.
I think my favorite part of the book is when Marius is painting flowers in an abandoned house in Brazil. There’s something so lonely about that image. (As an artist, I was happily surprised to see Marius using acrylics. I thought he’d be oils or go home. I’d love to give him some spray paint and see what he makes with that). That sums up the series for me, living on the outside of the human world but not being able to let people in because bad things happen to mortals that linger in the vampire world. Being a vampire doesn’t mean these characters need love any less than a human, it also doesn’t mean they have any more insight into what it means to be alive or how we choose to make our way in the world. I guess that in the end you have the choice of either creating or destroying but, regardless of what you choose, do it whole-heartedly. Also, we don’t get to choose the families we’re born into and share genes with but we can choose our friends and allies. That’s a good lesson for vampires and for humans.
Recommended Music: I listen to music while I read because my neighborhood is loud and I rarely ever have silence. These pieces went well with the reading. “Montage From Twin Peaks–Girl Talk/Birds in Hell/Laura Palmer’s Theme/Falling” from the Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me soundtrack. “Patria Opressa” from Verdi’s Macbeth. Requiem in D Minor by Mozart. Anything by Bat for Lashes, especially off of the Two Suns album. The song “Daniel” also seems oddly suitable. An amazing person put most of the music played on Hannibal on Spotify and that goes really well. Pretty much anything by The Decemberists. “The Infanta” really captures the grandeur of the lives of the elder vampires. I also respect any songwriter that rhymes “folderol” with “chaparral” and actually makes it work in a song. The Crane Wife album also goes very well. Old goth music like Sisters of Mercy. “Motherless Child” by Ghostface Killah.
Moderately edited on 11/12/2014

Posted in 21st century, books, things involving me, vampires | Tagged , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

SOON!

Walker Stalker Con 2014 is coming to the Meadowlands the weekend of December 13th and 14th. I’m urging my Northeast readers to attend. Cast members from The Walking Dead will be there, plus the original casts from Night of the Living Dead and Day of the Dead. I’m very excited for this!
More importantly, for me, I’ll be there selling original artwork that’s From the Vault, my companion Etsy shop. I just ordered prints of my sketch cards, I’ll be selling original sketch cards, and there will be larger works, like my Soviet propaganda poster of the Governor.
safetyposterpicture
There will be prints of that picture too, so if you think you can’t afford a piece of art that’s a couple of hundred dollars, well now you can afford a version of it.
Come visit, meet the stars of your favorite show, and get a chance to help a local artist.

Posted in announcements, art, things involving me, zombies | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in announcements, horror-writers dot net, media, things involving me | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Annabelle

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.
Annabelle-poster
AnnabelleCollection
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.
AnnabelleCouple
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.
AnnabelleSummoning
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!
evilface

Posted in 21st century, cults, demons, satanism, supernatural | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment