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Entries from September 2019

Kindertrauma Funhouse

September 20th, 2019 · 20 Comments

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Traumafession:: Bigwig on an Egg Cellar Bottle Opener

September 19th, 2019 · 4 Comments

Hey Guys,

A long time ago as a kid we used to go weekly to my grandparent’s farm on the outskirts of Amish country. There wasn’t much to do inside; the majority of the afternoon adventures came from outside work or wandering outdoors or in the barns, chicken coops, sheds or fields along with the other cousins. In fact, over the years, we wound up knowing every inch of the place. 

Anyway, of the myriad of locations, there was an inherent creepiness to the “egg cellar” which was a moist dungeon of a place underneath the farmhouse accessed only from the outside and down a steep set of stone steps. It was perpetually cool like a Spring house, always had a few inches of water in it from flooding, and had to be traversed by walking on boards that sat on cinder blocks. This was where my grandfather would check and crate eggs and temporarily store them for a day or two before being sold. It was lit by a single low watt bulb dangling unceremoniously from the cord. Real “Silence of the Lambs” stuff…. But what made it a true fright fest to us little kids was this gem of a cast iron bottle opener mounted on the side wall all by itself for no apparent reason:

Lord knows where this thing came from, or what the company who made it was trying to accomplish…. but it certainly made a scary place all the scarier.  No weeked trip to The Farm was complete without at least a brief excursion to see him….and the four-eyed image would stay in my mind at nights. 

When my grandparents passed away, and the farm was eventually sold and the farmhouse razed, I managed to extract this ugly little thing beforehand, and it lives in my house today.

Bigwig

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Tags: Traumafessions

We Have Always Lived in the Castle (2018)

September 18th, 2019 · 5 Comments

Uh-oh, looks like somebody finally made a film adaptation of one of my all-time favorite books, Shirley Jackson’s WE HAVE ALWAYS LIVED IN THE CASTLE. I’m going to give all those involved a kudos for bravery right out of the gate because it couldn’t have been easy translating such an intimate character-driven piece to the screen. Plus I don’t envy anyone attempting to compete with the substantially personal world Jackson’s words created for her readers. No novel easily transfers to film but this is one of those magical books you simply live inside of as you read it and its fans are rarely casual about their appreciation. Anyway, I’m happy to report that for the most part I really enjoyed this take on the material, it’s a true visual stunner, the acting is uniformly intriguing and it represents a hoarding shut-in’s preoccupation surrounding heirlooms, found objects and memorabilia eloquently. On the minus side, I think some of the most dynamic plot points are too lightly touched upon and the climax, which should feel like a hammer falling, barely stings. Saddest of all, a rug-pull twist in the book limply plays out like a beyond obvious “ya think?” revelation here.

Wide-eyed and lumbering, Taissa Farmiga delivers a compelling performance as Merricat Blackwood, an 18-year-old outsider living with her serene older sister Constance (Alexandra Daddario of TEXAS CHAINSAW 3-D) and their semi-delusional Uncle Julian (the ALWAYS excellent Crispen Glover). The three live ostracized from their community and holed up in their splendiferous mansion ever since Constance was accused of being responsible for their parent’s poisoning death years prior. Much like THE FOX (‘67), THE LITTLE GIRL WHO LIVES DOWN THE LANE (‘76) PREY (‘77) and even JOHN CARPENTER’S THE THING (‘82), this is the tale of a blissfully cozy, harmonious existence that is turned upside down as soon as an untrustworthy dog shows up. In this case, the dog is a long lost (but not lost long enough) cousin named Charles (Sebastian Stan) who vaguely seduces Constance, threatens to hospitalize Julian and harangues Merricat for burying valuable treasures he clearly has his eyes on.

Thumbs up to all humans involved for their generally compelling work (although it could be said that Farmiga is a tad too oafish, Daddario is a smidge too simple, Stan is a bit too conspicuous and Glover could possibly let his freak flag fly higher) but one of CASTLE’s greatest characters, Merricat’s ebony feline Jonas, is sinfully underrepresented and it’s probably my biggest qualm. People are able to make houses and cities into characters in movies but somehow a cat character is a reach? Really all they’d have to do is show him more and speak his name more often for him to stick but for some reason, he’s treated as one of the home’s tchotchkes instead. That cool dude should be present and accounted for in every single scene where Merricat is casting and conjuring in her garden alcove.

Appalling cat representation failures aside, much like Sheena Easton in a Prince video, this movie has got “the look.” Poor me went to grab a few screenshots to illustrate this post and ended up with about fifty (truly, you could make a coffee table book out of nearly every frame). Director Stacie Passon, cinematographer Piers McGrail, production designer Anna Rackard and art director Louise Mathews all deserve kudos for this handsome devil of a flick. Even if it doesn’t quite hit all the emotional notes of the book (and really, how could it?), I think I can appreciate it as a visual companion piece of sorts. The near-constant blue/green color palette alone puts me where I want to be but I also can’t help but dig the fetishistic attention to detail regarding the hoarded bobbles and scattered random ephemera the dollhouse-like manor is nested with.

Overall, I’d say this a respectable salute that should appeal to patient viewers who are attracted to light Goth and the darker side of Martha Stewart. I know I wouldn’t mind watching it again in the future but I’m guessing I’ll always lament that Merricat’s relationship with her beloved bestie Jonas was so foolishly neglected. Cat erasure is a crime and the punishment is your movie is not as good as it so easily could have been.

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Tags: General Horror

Kindertrauma Funhouse

September 13th, 2019 · 14 Comments

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It: Chapter Two (2019)

September 9th, 2019 · 11 Comments

Since the release of the first segment of Stephen King’s IT in 2017, horror fans have been pretty much spoiled with back to back better than average genre fare. The crop has been so high caliber it’s hard to believe there was ever a time when weeks and weeks would go by without any worthwhile releases. We’ve had it so good lately that a movie that emotionally resonates and is chuck full of visionary images of horror can somehow be shrugged off and deemed simply passable or even disappointing. I don’t get it. I loved the ever so epic IT: Chapter 2 and can’t imagine the source material being handled much better. Yeah, I guess it is a little long with its somewhat flabby and redundant midway section but you know the tome it’s based on weighs twenty pounds and features a giant space turtle right? I think director Andy Muschietti has accomplished the nearly impossible and then some. Really, the fact that another interpretation of Pennywise the clown can exist in the same universe as Tim Curry’s beyond iconic take is a feat in itself. Sorry, I’m just feeling kind of grateful that this two-part horror bonanza occurred in my lifetime and that it blessedly takes place in a time frame perfect for me to relate to. I do wish Chapter 2 was wise enough to take advantage of another song by The Cure but whatayagonnado? I can’t pretend I don’t love Cameo’s “Word Up” too.

And hip-hip halleluiah, Chapter 2 has the admirable audacity to jump right into the deep end opening its curtains to the deadly homophobic hate crime that haunted the hell out of me when I first read the book. I don’t care what anyone says, this scene (which is based on a real incident that took place in Bangor, Maine in 1984, two years before IT was published) is crucial to me; it sets the tone of the entire tale and pretty succinctly tells you everything thing you need to know about the not as friendly as it looks town of Derry (I’m sure they thought of including the incident in the 1990 miniseries for exactly zero point zero seconds). There’s admittedly a bit of a risk that such a realistic act of violence would feel abruptly out of place opening what is essentially a horror fantasy but the way it bookends with a revelation concerning Richie Tozier (Bill Hader) balances things out quite well. I’m sure Richie’s newfound direction is not going to go over well with everyone but I think it fits in as snuggly as a missing puzzle piece and besides, King himself has granted his seal of approval. (That reminds me- King has a cameo in this movie as a shopkeeper and it’s by far my favorite he’s ever done as he blasts authors who aren’t particularly good at providing satisfying conclusions to their books, it’s mucho hilarious).

Some folks will tell you IT Chapter 2 goes a little overboard with the CGI and borderline cartoonish special effects and I guess that’s just a matter of personal taste. I personally appreciate that you never know when a rubbery looking, eight-foot-tall funhouse denizen is going to jump out of nowhere and chase someone with arms flailing about and slimy drool pouring from its lips. If there is a reason such an abomination might vomit all over a character to the tune of Juice Newton’s “Angel of the Morning,” I have no idea what it is, but it certainly adds unpredictability to the bonkers phantasmagorical swirling smorgasbord, which is right in line with King’s hallucinatory original intentions. Yep, there’s an absolutely shameless tribute to JOHN CARPENTER’s THE THING plopped down in the middle of this flick and it’s almost way too on the nose and yet, King himself referenced Universal horror icons (Wolf Man, Mummy, Gill-Man) of the original time period in the book so I guess it’s fair game. It’s a little gimmicky, a little cheap but what the hell kind of horror fan is going to complain about such a thing? Pennywise’s ultimate boss battle form saves his big expressive head and tacks it onto some kind of part scorpion/part spider/part Beetlejuice creature that’s a little trying on my too-slow peepers but hey, I’m old enough to remember when rendering such a monstrosity would be impossible so I’m here to happily digest it. It probably all looks a little too visually similar to the climax of the first film (maybe a contrasting color scheme may have helped?) but I still think it looks better than any attempt to faithfully create how things go down in the book ever would. Thankfully Muschietti seems to understand what’s translatable and what’s not and his shorthand saves the day. There are a couple cringe moments I guess, I found lil’ Georgie’s “You lied and I died” mantra tired at best but since it leads to Bill (JAMES McAVOY)’s realization that self-forgiveness is the key to moving forward, I’m more than happy to let it slide.

It’s not often we get a horror movie with such a vibrant romantic element either. I know I’m a sucker but I’m still shocked this movie was able to get me to ship a Beverly (JESSICA CHASTAIN) and Ben (JAY RYAN) union so hard. Which brings me to another strong element- if ever there was ever an Oscar award given out for casting this baby would be a shoe-in. Many times the blending of the character traits and features is damn eerie. Muschietti even goes so far at one point as to superimpose young and older Eddie’s (JACK DYLAN GRAZER, JAMES RANSOME respectively) faces on top of each other and uncanny doesn’t even begin to cover it. I guess at the end of the day, much like KING’s book, what really matters is how much you connect with the characters. I love all of these guys and somehow that even includes the returning bullies (though one of them is now just a rotting corpse). Mileage may vary but I think it’s likely to vary based on how much empathy you have toward those on screen. IT’s red balloon is always going to float higher for those of us who have experienced bullying, smothering parents, domestic abuse, gay-bashing, psychosomatic asthma, speech impediments, alienating birthmarks, familial deaths, advanced leprosy, horrible customer service at the pharmacy, etc., etc., etc.. Truly, if you’ve ever been chased down the street by a murderous, twenty-foot tall lumberjack this is basically the ONLY movie that understands your pain. I may be biased though, if there’s a story that better illustrated the importance of calling out and facing childhood traumas rather than running from and repressing them, I just don’t know what IT is.

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Tags: General Horror

Kindertrauma Funhouse

September 6th, 2019 · 18 Comments

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Ready or Not (2019)

September 5th, 2019 · 4 Comments

Believe it or not, READY OR NOT is about as satisfying as thrillers get. It’s all kinds of suspenseful, hits you with tasty blasts of true horror and the pitch-black humor that weaves throughout is exactly the right effortless tone that never ventures into the too broad and annoying zone. The unremarkable trailer misled me to believe I was in for the standard, been-there, done-that affair but R.O.N. cleverly plays against genre expectations, guides you into areas you’d never assume existed and ultimately pulls off a completely unexpected (literally) explosive conclusion. It’s kind of an irresistible combination of old school parlor room mind game mixed up with survival horror and smothered in satanic cynicism. Plus it all takes place in a sprawling mansion complete with secret doors, dumbwaiters and shadowy alcoves so even on the most basic level, it offers a cozy joint to wander around in for a while. Maybe I’m partial as I’m a giant fan of the board game CLUE which I have to assume was an inspiration even though nobody gets clobbered with a candlestick.

SAMARA WEAVING (THE BABYSITTER) portrays Grace, a woman about to dive into marriage who finds herself intimidated and weary of her fiancé’s aggressively off-putting and obnoxiously wealthy family. Soon after vows are exchanged her milquetoast hubby informs her that the clan has but one request and that is for her to indulge them in the family’s ritual of playing a picked at random game together. It might be checkers, it might be chess, it could be Ker-plunk or Don’t Break the Ice but as luck would have it, Grace picks “Hide and Seek” which amounts to her running for her life as everyone involved tries to kill her. As you can probably guess, Grace is a far greater opponent than anyone in the family is prepared for and soon it’s not quite clear exactly who might survive the night. As someone who finds themselves filled with a crimson rage every time they see a photo of a rich douchebag posing with an innocent dead animal they hunted for sport (steam is coming out of my ears as I type this), I deeply and cathartically relish every damn painful comeuppance Grace inflicts throughout this fine film. It’s the feel-good movie of the summer.   

WEAVING owns this movie (although I gotta give props to ANDIE MACDOWELL as the menacing matriarch as well). Grace is such an appealing and relatable horror heroine. She bumbles and fumbles and makes bad judgment calls and succumbs to her own vices and is, in general, a beautifully flawed, exquisite mess. She doesn’t secretly know karate or build elaborate Rube Goldberg booby traps on the fly either. What makes Grace even more relevant is her well-earned ferocious anger. It’s glorious. At some point, she’s just plain exhausted and royally pissed and so rightfully incredulous as she asks the sky, “What the fuck is wrong with rich people?” There’s something so authentic about the fury that WEAVING emboldens Grace with, her every scream, curse and frazzled wail rings true and feels legit. As the character enjoys a congratulatory exhale from a cigarette at the end of the film (which strongly echoes Veronica (WINONA RYDER)’s casual smoke at the end of HEATHERS) it’s almost difficult to believe she is the same character we started out with. The emotional journey she endures (through optimism, doubt, passivity, paranoia, anger, rage, profound exasperation and finally shrugging blasé victory) is one harrowing yet richly rewarding (and sometimes hilarious) haul.

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Tags: General Horror

Sunday Streaming:: The Evil (1978)

September 1st, 2019 · 7 Comments

Who doesn’t love a haunted house flick? The problem is some reach for subtlety and grab uneventful and long-winded instead. THE EVIL seems to know that it doesn’t have the mastery required to go the suggestive route so it pulls out all the stops and puts on a real show. This is a haunted house movie where things go down and they go down in your face (utilizing old school effects, thankfully.) It flirts with silliness and plays with many a cliché but you can’t accuse it of not delivering. RICHARD CRENNA stars as a psychologist who along with his wife and a merry band of victims decide to restore an old house with a troubled past. The group are separated and dispensed of one by one with the clockwork of a slasher movie and a man-eating lawn makes attempts of escape appear hopelessly futile.

THE EVIL was filmed in a real castle in Montezuma, New Mexico and, per usual, the utilizing of an actual space with authentic history pays off. Frankly, the location alone is more than enough to recommend this movie. THE EVIL is more frivolous fun than under the skin unsettling, but it’s not completely brain dead either. Unlike many a haunted house flick, it comes off as generally interested in the supernatural. An eleventh hour, from left field, appearance of VICTOR BUONO as Satan himself may leave a campy taste in some mouths but I refuse to throw stones at something so unexpected and idiosyncratic (the questionable reveal was reportedly excised from some theatrical versions). If you dig non-stop seventies era atmosphere or just have a taste for old houses in general then this is a must see that, despite its hoary nature, still throws some truly original creative curves. Watch it on TubiTV HERE.

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