REVIEW: Grave Encounters

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grave encounters[Warning: Here there be spoilers.]

I’ve been going in and out of wanting to write a review for this movie. I’m not entirely sure what I’m afraid of. That it’s not as good as I still think it is? That the review won’t do it justice? (Entirely possible. I’m still new at this.) I mean, it’s not perfect or anything, but I do get intimidated by good horror movies more than I do by explaining what’s wrong with the not-so-good ones.

For people with found-footage fatigue, I’m sure movies like GRAVE ENCOUNTERS don’t really help that, but I first saw GRAVE ENCOUNTERS when I opened my Netflix account, so I hadn’t watched nearly enough bad found-footage at the time to make me weary of the subgenre. And frankly, I have a fondness for that kind of low-budget horror, because it usually forces the film-makers to get creative with effects or eliminate them completely.

It’s worth noting that the effects of GRAVE ENCOUNTERS are its weakest points. They reference the obviously computer-generated effects in the sequel (please, miss that one—it offers nothing new, plus a dose of juvenile humor it didn’t need). They’re disappointing on every level, because in video that’s supposed to look real—kind of the whole conceit—the worst thing you can possibly do is show something that doesn’t look real. In the slight fuzziness and filter of movies, you can get away with minor CGI effects that you simply can’t in found-footage. It doesn’t matter how good the cameras are that they’re using. The slightest whiff of CGI ends up reading as fake, which takes a viewer out of the moment. If you’re going to use CGI, you’ve got to be dead careful. And the makers of GRAVE ENCOUNTERS were not. They would have benefited much more from judicious makeup, props, and unsettling acting rather than pay a small fortune on a small budget to get bad CGI.

But when they’re not stumbling in the computer-generated arena, GRAVE ENCOUNTERS is a solid offering in the found-footage arena, and it doesn’t—in my opinion—suffer from the same ending malady as most found-footage. And frankly, most horror.

Before even starting, GRAVE ENCOUNTERS ticks off a number of boxes that guarantee I’m more likely to enjoy it. For one, it got in my queue early, which means more things get compared to it instead of the other way around. I’d already watched a ton of horror movies by this time, between my college-days movie buying and back when FearNet was streaming, so I didn’t approach it in a vacuum. But other than BLAIR WITCH PROJECT and possibly PARANORMAL ACTIVITY (can’t really remember the timing), I hadn’t seen a ton of found-footage at the time. That gives it an automatic leg-up over its competition. But it’s stood up over time in spite of everything I’ve watched since.

Another point in its favor is the setting. I’m a sucker for psych ward horror, even though it’s often bad and ableist as hell. But being a person with mental illness who processes things through fiction, I’m entitled to like what I like. There are a lot of horrifying things about mental illness and a lot of horrifying things about what people have done to people with mental illness. GRAVE ENCOUNTERS has a few problematic moments, but it’s mostly about what was done to the people who were kept there rather than the mentally ill themselves being the monsters, and the movie makes everything more about setting, the building itself more the monster that keeps haunted people.

Abandoned buildings are amazing in general. If you haven’t seen Abandoned America’s photographs, I recommend checking them out. The movie probably only uses about three hallways and changes them just enough to make it seem like the gigantic building we see it is on the outside, but they also manage to convey a sense of claustrophobia and that disorienting feeling when you get lost—or worse, when things aren’t where they should be. Probably one of the more effective scenes is where they break down the front door, and there’s just more hallway. Then when they’re trying to get to the roof, and there’s just a wall halfway up the last set of stairs. This is why I like to emphasize practical effects. All they needed was a freaking wall to creep me the fuck out. If you’ve ever been lost, you know what that panic feels like. It’s one of the worst feelings in the world. Like that feeling you left your wallet or purse somewhere, but it doesn’t go away.

I feel like the movie really used its set to its full advantage, as simple as it was. And at its best, the scares themselves were simple. In found-footage, those work because of the conceit that everything is actually happening. A window opening by itself. Someone you don’t see pushing you down the stairs. A wheelchair rolling by itself. Blood in a bathtub. Waking up to patient ID bracelets on your wrists. Fog rolling in and people disappearing when it rolls out. Keep it simple in found-footage, and you’ll get a lot more mileage than a cheap-looking eye-and-mouth effects.

Like good found-footage, the cast doesn’t actually distinguish itself much. They’re a cast of regular people, the kind you would see on any reality TV show. The only one who feels polished is the lead, and since he’s the lead of a television show and needs a certain amount of charisma, that wouldn’t be unusual. Everyone’s slightly annoying at different times, but again, we’re watching footage of a television show that wouldn’t have actually made it onto the show.

When people get legitimately scared, they do get shrill. When people are legitimately exhausted, they do get emotional and snappish. And when they freak out, they do lash out. There wasn’t a moment in the movie when I felt the reactions weren’t real. They may not have been attractive or cultivated like in most other movies, but they were real, which is the best you can ask from found-footage.

One of my favorite moments is near the end, when Lance and Sasha are trying to look for a way out in the tunnels below the hospital. Sasha was sick, which being constantly scared, not sleeping enough, and not eating enough only exacerbated. She falls to the ground, vomiting blood, and just wails, “I want my mom!” It’s a striking scene in the movie, because the blood wasn’t CGI. You know she’s dying slowly and painfully and she’s scared and miserable, and you feel it. My heart aches every time she cries like that, because come on, if you’re honest with yourself, you’d probably say the exact same thing (unless your mom sucked, in which case I’m sorry—choose your own loved one).

Now, I said that the ending didn’t suffer from the usual dissatisfaction malady of other found-footage and horror movies, and it doesn’t. It’s vague. I’ll say that. But I didn’t find myself wanting more from it. I thought it was exactly the ending it needed. And how often do I say that about horror? (Answer: Rarely.)

So if you’re looking for some good found-footage horror in the midst of an oversaturated subgenre, GRAVE ENCOUNTERS really is worth your time. If you forgive it for the bad CGI and stay for the creepy building, you’ll likely leave satisfied.

Trouble

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I write about this theme a lot when doing lyrics, and you’d think I’d do something to change it and find another heartache, but when your problem is stagnation, it’s by definition difficult to change.

There’s a similar verse rhythm to Miranda Lambert’s “All Kinds of Kinds,” so I keep hearing it country, but I would rather do it more singer-songwriter.

TROUBLE

The world is full of metaphors
Like butterflies and open doors
But I never liked any of them anyway
I’m always running on back home
I lock all the doors and stay in alone
And every day’s like every other day.

My reflection’s always changing
While I’m busy rearranging
My life so that it’ll never change again
But mirrors crack and colors fade
With risks untaken, turns unmade
So things end up just like they’ve always been.

Things don’t get better when you’re staying the same
You don’t get to win if you don’t play the game.

Chorus:
I never go looking for
Trouble, trouble, trouble
So it never finds me
Trouble, trouble, trouble
And it reminds me
Trouble, trouble, trouble
Is meant to shine me
Like fire to gold
And oil on leather
Trouble, trouble, trouble
I always stay out of
Trouble, trouble, trouble
Ain’t got no way out of
Trouble, trouble, trouble
Helps you to grow out
And all that makes me wonder whether
If I’m not looking for any trouble
That’s the trouble that I’ve found.

The world is full of dead cocoons
And roses that refuse to bloom
And I guess that I am just another one
And sure, that means I feel no pain
No heart to break, no man to blame
Don’t have to pitch my worth to anyone.

But life was always made to live
And a frozen soul can never give
And all too soon the future’s in the past.
You can always go back home again
But when sand’s poured out, it can’t go back in
Don’t fight for first, you’ll always finish last.

Things don’t get better when you’re staying the same
You don’t get to win if you don’t play the game.

Chorus:
I never go looking for
Trouble, trouble, trouble
So it never finds me
Trouble, trouble, trouble
And it reminds me
Trouble, trouble, trouble
Is meant to shine me
Like fire to gold
And oil on leather
Trouble, trouble, trouble
I always stay out of
Trouble, trouble, trouble
Ain’t got no way out of
Trouble, trouble, trouble
Helps you to grow out
And all that makes me wonder whether
If I’m not looking for any trouble
That’s the trouble that I’ve found.

 

Am I ill?

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I started a pure horror story near the end of February (I classify NOCTURNE as horror, but it has a serious supernatural fantasy vibe in addition to the horror elements). I wrote the first ten thousand words last year, back when I had downtime at work to longhand (what is downtime?). I started out last month with transcription, then tackled new words. That’s difficult for me to do, come back to an old project, but this one hasn’t been hard to sink into. I guess it’s stayed on my mind all this time.

Any problems I’ve had have been because dayjob has been going through a months-long transition, and that’s required a near manic level of energy from me, but also more time than I like giving. I’m a perfectionist and pathologically terrified of disapproval, so I do what I do and don’t have enough time or energy to write as much as I’d like. Still doing it, though. Because when I don’t, my mental health plummets to dangerous places.

How strange that such a dark, bleak, sad story that I developed during the surfacing  fatalism after the last election would become a haven of sorts. So it’s moving more slowly than I’d like, but it’s moving.

I’ve hit roughly twenty-eight thousand words on the manuscript so far. And based on my outline and rough word goal of sixty thousand words, I’m about halfway through. Now, usually I give myself a word goal, then end up twenty thousand words or more above it. I’m notoriously terrible at figuring out how long things take or, in the case of novels, how long they’re going to be, even when I adjust for knowing how terrible I am at it.

But for DEEP DOWN (working title), I’m looking at fifty to sixty thousand words of a novel. As planned. Before edits. I’m actually writing a short novel, possibly a *gasp* novella.

You have to understand, in addition to being terrible at gauging how long things take, I really tend toward longer novels. I think I average around 120,000 words. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, and I’m really good at cutting my starting word count, paring a novel to its necessary words. That 120K novel was probably 140-150K to start out with. THORNS started out at a whopping 195K and ended up 155K.

A fifty-thousand-word novel is unthinkable to me. I’m literally looking at that word count and wondering whether something’s wrong with me. Or the story.

But I think it’s because it’s a single story line, no subplots, and a spare cast. I’m usually working with a more complex plot and multiple characters whose arcs need tending. DEEP DOWN has a very simple premise. A lot of good horror is minimalistic, and that’s what I wanted to try here.

I guess it’s working.

It’s still weird.

 

REVIEW: The Uninvited

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the uninvitedTHE UNINVITED is a strange animal in my collection. I saw the South Korean movie it was based on, A TALE OF TWO SISTERS, a few years before it, and I wish I hadn’t. Knowing the twist affects how you view a movie that depends on its twists. I had to watch UNINVITED again with my horror friend to determine whether the twist was sufficiently twisty. He didn’t predict the ending, by the way, which means he really wouldn’t have figured out the twist to TWO SISTERS, because TWO SISTERS is more twisted, which is why I wish I had seen it afterward. Because as a result, THE UNINVITED suffers a bit from comparison.

On the other hand, while I have a handful of Japanese and South Korean horror that I like, I’m afraid most of it leaves me rather cold. While culture shock plays a role, I think the primary reason is that they follow a different kind of storytelling and film making. To this American viewer, it feels disjointed and difficult to follow timelines. Angles and framing are different. Editing doesn’t feel like it has enough segue. The horror stories feel more dreamlike, impressional rather than literal. This isn’t a bad thing, but I don’t respond to it as well as I do American/European structures and standards, which feel less jarring in a hundred little ways. This is why I don’t mind when Hollywood remakes Asian films. When they’re bad, they’re still bad, but I tend to respond better to the method. Hard to apologize for that.

TWO SISTERS was twisted as hell, and it was R-rated for a good reason, while UNINVITED stays a pretty tame PG-13, but TWO SISTERS also had that trippy quality that’s sometimes hard for me to follow, so while I liked the movie, it’s not one that inspired repeated viewing, while I’ve watched UNINVITED multiple times over.

Here’s the thing: THE UNINVITED is perfectly serviceable horror. Do I wish it had gone a little farther and hit the R rating? Yeah, I kind of do. Because I think Emily Browning, Elizabeth Banks, and Arielle Kebbel would have had a field day going all the way with it, and the cast could have killed it, particularly Browning and Banks, on whose performances the movie really rests. I’m big fans of both of them. I think Elizabeth Banks, in particular, tends to get overlooked because she’s so reliable of an actress that she doesn’t stand out. She’s a total ensemble player, and I appreciate her work in everything she’s in because of it.

Emily Browning brought her usual china-doll delicate strength to the screen. Not going to lie, she’s almost painfully pretty, but she brings a lot of soul into her face – like Angelina Jolie with more innocence – and without it, I might not respect her as much as an actress. But even at eighteen, which was her age during filming, she’s a rock-solid, grounded performer. If the movie itself is a little weak, a good cast made it stronger than it had any right to be, because by the nature of the twist, they had to play the movie multiple ways at once – just like any good mystery, multiple possibilities need to be plausible until the ending is inevitable. That’s not an easy game to play, but they all manage to accomplish it.

Moreover, while some of the scares were lifted directly from TWO SISTERS, there were a handful that were legitimately creepy in spite of the rating, and gems like that are valuable in any horror movie. So much goes into a good scare that doesn’t depend on surprise or screeching violins, and even though they only last a little while, if it gets my heart racing, I gotta give them credit.

It’s a solid, respectable movie, good if you’re a fan of the PG-13 Asian horror remakes but also decent even if you aren’t. The psychological thriller/paranoia aspects make up for some of the weaknesses in the horror, and the legitimate scares make up for a somewhat weaker thriller ending than I would have liked. Even if the story gets slightly tired in places, the performances are so emotionally nuanced that you don’t mind. It doesn’t reach the quality of THE RING or even THE GRUDGE, which makes sense, because THE UNINVITED was made to try to profit off their trend, and the staleness shows. But the actors aren’t acting like it’s stale, and if you haven’t seen TWO SISTERS, UNINVITED might be a decent popcorn flick for some Saturday evening alone, and might even make better viewing the second time through. You might also follow it up with TWO SISTERS later – don’t worry, there are more than enough twists to go around.

House of Windows

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brown concrete castle

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Because I’m between major writing projects (transcription isn’t a major project), I was finally able to start THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE on Netflix. No spoilers, please, but I think it’s amazing. Episodic horror doesn’t always deliver – I think it’s a pacing thing, and in the case of what I’ve seen on AHS and other Ryan Murphy shows, a matter of being too clever to be scary.

Anyway, it seems like a good time to share my haunted house song I wrote last month, which totally has a Shirley Jackson vibe to it.

HOUSE OF WINDOWS

It’s a whole wide world out there
A fine, varied, full-bodied thoroughfare
Hundreds of thousands breathe the same air
Footsteps thunder over same streets, same stairs.

The house is gated, silent, and still
Its statues, a marble gleam atop the shadowed hill
They peer from stone eyes, listen with stone ears
Let all with eyes see, let all with ears hear.

Chorus:
The house has many windows
Curtains trembling with ghosts
Moths have made away with all the clothes
The dead inside don’t sleep but doze
It’s a house with many windows
But the windows are closed.

Statues at the gate, statues in the rooms
Inhale stale air, filter in the gloom
Every creaking floorboard, memory of previous doom
A house of many windows, a house of many tombs.

Visitors come to view the walls in awe
Priceless paintings behind drapes only the dead get to draw
Guests all leave unsure how to say what they saw
Any moment a knock on the door, any moment a monkey’s paw.

Chorus

In the deep dark garden, the roses have died
Whatever the tenants tell you, the dead likely lie
From skylights come the gray of stormier skies
A house of many windows, a house of many eyes.

Let all who wish to join us enter in
Remember all your failures, remember all your sins
Death chills the halls, creeps under your skin
The house offers rest, yet restlessness within.

Bridge:
Is life just waiting for death? Is that how it goes?
Am I a house, or am I already a ghost?

Chorus

 

All Thumbs

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I haven’t had enough mental space to write many lyrics this year, so I’ll mine from last month, my first attempt at a full-on synth pop song. It’s probably hard to hear the beat in the chorus, but have fun figuring it out. Took me multiple tries to find just the right beat.

Now it’s a freaking ear worm.

ALL THUMBS

A mysterious magician
Of cool disposition
With sleight of hand
A skillful woman on a mission
Fools every crowd
No answers allowed
I disappear
And no one can see through the cloud

But you slip through a trapdoor
Looking like do you and therefore
With your smile
See my hands
When you walk in the room

I’m all thumbs da-dum-dum dum-da-da-dum-dum dum-da-dum-dum
I’m all thumbs da-dum-dum dum-da-da-dum-dum dum-da-dum-dum
I’m all…

Prodigy extraordinaire
On piano keys like Fred Astaire
Fingers flying
Every note floating on air
A standing ovation
Such imagination
What can’t she do?
My music, the sweetest sensation

But then you play your own song
I can only follow along
With your smile
See my hands
When you walk in the room

I’m all thumbs da-dum-dum dum-da-da-dum-dum dum-da-dum-dum
I’m all thumbs da-dum-dum dum-da-da-dum-dum dum-da-dum-dum
I’m all…

I’m a stumbling
Tumbling
Fumbling mess
Don’t know who I am
Don’t know my address
Can’t get control of myself
No more or no less

With that smile
See these hands
When you walk in the room

I’m all thumbs da-dum-dum dum-da-da-dum-dum dum-da-dum-dum
I’m all thumbs da-dum-dum dum-da-da-dum-dum dum-da-dum-dum
I’m all thumbs.

THORNS Playlist

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Thorns E CoverOne of the things that I need when writing is the perfect background music. I actually end up using a cultivated playlist more during edits and to psych myself up for those edits between projects. I’m an all-five-senses kind of girl. Music inspires feelings and memories; I associate feelings and character thoughts and scenes with different songs, be it from lyrics, the singers, or whole package songs.

I shared my NOCTURNE playlist two Halloweens ago. I definitely have a gothic and metal side to my music collection, but THORNS lends itself more to pop sounds, so I hope it’s a bit of an eclectic collection. If you want to know what kind of sounds introduce the Thorns series to the world and make me experience all the THORNS feels, check out the playlist below.

The rules: No more than two songs by each artist, and no song specially written or covered for a movie. My personal playlist has these things, of course, but that’s for my own edification.

“Fairytale” – Sara Bareilles
“Loverman” – Nick Cave
“Whyyawannabringmedown” – Kelly Clarkson
“Dance in the Dark” – Lady Gaga
“Wish I Had an Angel” – Nightwish
“A Girl Like You” – Edwyn Collins
“Jar of Hearts” – Christina Perri
“(Are You) The One That I’ve Been Waiting For?” – Nick Cave
“Lil’ Red Riding Hood” – Laura Gibson
“Chandelier” – Sia
“Kevlar Skin” – Kamelot
“One Night” – Christina Perri
“Covered by Roses” – Within Temptation
“Dark Horse” – Katy Perry
“Black & Silver” – Xandria
“Save Me” – Queen
“Don’t Know How to Stop” – Halestorm
“1000 Times” – Sara Bareilles
“Stay with Me” – Sam Smith
“Save You” – Kelly Clarkson

Resolute

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Looking back on 2018, I managed to reach several, if not all creative goals. I didn’t get to write my short horror novels. I made that resolution when work had a lot more downtime, but around May, that downtime disappeared, so they didn’t happen. I also didn’t manage to reboot my jewelry-making. When I had breaks at home, I generally wanted to rest rather than work.

But I did write an average of one horror review a month. Got the last one in just under the wire:

1. “The Lazarus Effect”
2. “Would You Rather”
3. “Gothika”
4. “Teeth”
5. “The Awakening”
6. “Contracted”
7. “Starry Eyes”
8. “As Above, So Below”
9. “Slender Man”
10. “The ReZort”
11. “Silent Hill”
12. “The Wolfman”

And I did write an average of one song a month. Almost an average of two:

1. “Vultures”
2. “Anything but a Diamond”
3. “Standing Water”
4. “Fools”
5. “The Valley of the Shadow”
6. “City on the Hill”
7. “Plenty of Fish”
8. “Devil in the Details”
9. “Trypophobia”
10. “Without You”
11. “Svrcina”
12. “My Captain”
13. “Sleepwalker (Anthony’s Song)”
14. “Music Box”
15. “Rest of Your Life”
16. “Red”
17. “The Rose Less Traveled”
18. “Tattoo”
19. “What Happened”
20. “For the Last Time”
21. “Floodwaters”
22. “Choice”
23. “Would You Rather”

Most importantly, I managed to publish THORNS, the first book in the series of the same name. I’d done edits in previous years and made a number of changes then, but this required an intensive double edit (with the help of my beta readers), then doing the two indie pro edits in tandem, then proofreading. It basically took all year, piece by piece. But I’m really happy with the end product, and I hope you are as well.

I plan for the same marathon in 2019 with ROSE RED, the second book in the Thorns series, to be published around the same time. Hopefully in October, because doing anything other than NaNoWriMo in November is hellish. I’ll also do a single pass through BLUEBIRDS, the third book, though it’ll go through the more intensive phase of preparation in 2020.

I don’t really do resolutions. I have goals, and most of them are ambitious but doable, and I don’t hate myself for not accomplishing them. I focus on the creative, because that’s the meaning of life to me. My writing schedule for 2019 is all set up, and while I foresee some changes, it would be awesome if I could keep to it. 2020 will have a lot more room for writing new things, but I want to get a good set done this year, too.

In addition to ROSE RED, I’m putting those two short novels back on the docket, and I hope to do a rewrite of WAR HOUSE, because it’s also a fairly short (for me) novel, but odds are that these will be the first to be sacrificed if time becomes an issue.

What’s not optional is the fourth Thorns book, PUPPETEER. I haven’t written a new Thorns novel since 2015, and I really want to get the next three tackled. But considering their lengths, that can sometimes be like climbing Everest. I enjoy it, but it’s a lot of time required. I predict three months, but it may end up being three and a half or four. Yikes.

I really would like to reboot my jewelry making. I have pendant components ready to be put together, but I just need to commit to the time to create and take pictures (because I have an actual camera, not a smartphone, it’s a longer process.

This year I’m not going to be as focused on writing songs, but I’d still like to write an average of one a month. I may or may not try to write the music to one.

I’m also continuing my goal of an average of one full horror review a month. It’s a good amount to commit to.

I’d also like to engage in one new creative thing. I keep going from calligraphy to sketching to painting. I’ve done all at one time, calligraphy least of all, but they all intimidate me.

On the non-creative side of life, a few things changed in 2018. I took on more responsibility at work, which filled up that time I used to have too much of. Of course, the business itself had major changes as well that challenged my writing schedule mightily, but I don’t like talking about dayjob work.

Our house underwent drastic renovation, and I basically got rid of my old bedroom and replaced it with furniture fully of my choosing and funding. It was the first time I really got to do that. My old furniture was perfectly respectable and not young-looking or anything (antiques and a sweet daybed), but it was the same furniture I’d had all my life, and it wasn’t stuff I chose. I’m really happy with the furniture I chose, built around a completely awesome drawer unit. And I and the cat love my new bed (I think she’s convinced it’s the best cat bed in the world). I’m still in the process of making my room my own, and for all the clutter I cleared out, there’s more left to get rid of.

I also started improving my diet, although I still have an unhealthy attachment to bottled Frappuccinos and tortillas. I’ve lost some weight and hope to lose some more, but I don’t expect too much.

The real accomplishments are in the realm of my writing. That’s the life I chose, and I’m mostly happy with that. It’s my favorite thing to do, spending time with all these amazing people and having adventures with them. Looking forward to doing so much more of that in 2019, even if the rest of the world seems to be falling apart. This much I can do.

REVIEW: The Wolfman (2010)

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wolfman coverWOLFMAN, the remake with Benicio del Toro, is one of those movies I keep watching in hopes that I’ll like it more. And to be honest, I do like it better than the first viewing, which is often the case for movies I enter into with expectations. There are certain things I want from a werewolf movie, and I’ve thus far been pretty disappointed with most of them.

Perhaps because werewolves don’t really seem to translate well on screen. I think the best I’ve seen so far were from UNDERWORLD, which in itself is a fun and pretty but not very good movie. But the werewolves were ones I believed, and in my opinion they were appropriately bestial and intimidating. In movies I’ve seen where the wolves were just giant wolves (like the TWILIGHT series), they suffer from being noticeably CGI or noticeably puppets. In movies where they’ve been more anthropomorphic and built around a human form, they just aren’t that frightening to look at. I’m not sure what it is. Is it the wet nose? I’m just not sure what it takes to make werewolves frightening to me, so maybe the answer to that is they should stop trying. As werewolf movies go, THE HOWLING is probably best, disjointed though the editing is. It really encapsulates the horror of the transformation and animalistic nature of the beast, and it covers how becoming a werewolf might bleed into the human life.

But I suspect that, despite all the fairly standard sex that seems to fill our screens in R-rated movies, we’re still quite shy about sex, and a person giving into their id just makes our Puritan little hearts nervous. You can’t turn a man into a beast and then cut his balls off and expect us to be intimidated by what he’s become–and more importantly, what’s in all of us. Which is supposed to be the real horror, I suspect: the Beast in us all. But where most books seem happy to detail the daily depravity we’re capable of in werebeast and human form, movies skirt around the worst of it whenever the id has to take shape. I think they worry we’ll be too shocked, I tell you, shocked, and they want a broader audience to make a broader amount of money. But that’s neutering the beast, and it just ends up not working quite the way it should.

THE WOLFMAN is no exception, although the cast is fantastic and the devotion to detail in setting, costume, and atmosphere admirable. The movie is awash in fur coats and stuffed beasts from the elder Talbot’s hunting days. The Blackmoor manor is strewn with leaves and shadows as though the wilderness is slowly taking over its palatial splendor. The palate runs a respectable moorland gray, and the movie isn’t lacking in bright red for the R rating.

But the movie suffers from a lack of identity, although del Toro takes on the Talbot role with the same bushy-browed, soft-featured intensity of Lon Chaney, Jr., in the original that would likely have made him proud. Anthony Hopkins is a delight in every mediocre role he takes. The first few viewings, I was sure he was phoning it in like he did in THE RITE, but subsequent viewings give me a chance to take in his more subtle choices. He latches onto every line with a sometimes quiet and sometimes growling ferocity. He commands every scene he’s in, which is why the man is an international treasure, despite the less than adequate meat in this movie to chew off the bone.

Emily Blunt, I believe, is the actor most ill used by a movie that doesn’t know whether it wants to be tragedy or horror. (WOLFMAN mostly goes with tragedy with bloody dashes of horror, but the joke’s on them, because good horror makes tragedy all the more intense.) Blunt is too good for the role, put into the movie as a shining beacon of perfect Victorian femininity, a bastion of purity that no beast should sully, a love more romantic from afar, an ideal rather than a woman. It’s disgusting in such a male-heavy movie to make the only woman such a representation of an abstract. Ideals are all well and good, but what people in a society ever really live up to them, especially in private? We wouldn’t need such strict rules and chaperones if people weren’t trying to break those rules at every turn.

At the beginning, Talbot calls a man’s character “a shiftable thing,” a statement clearly intended for the dramatic irony, but the sheer fact of the matter is that THE WOLFMAN doesn’t work because Talbot’s character doesn’t shift enough. It barely seems challenged by new appetites. He’s briefly distracted by Blunt’s bare neck (honestly, who wouldn’t be?), and dreams about a naked back. So salty. So animalistic. So…tame. Talbot mostly remains the mild-mannered man except when he is beast, when the point is supposed to be that Edward Hyde is Dr. Jekyll. Jekyll/Hyde stories tend to do werewolf better than werewolf movies – the Spencer Tracy version is superb and is one of the movies to better show Hyde’s glee, but it really plays up the good vs. evil that isn’t what the original story set out to tell. Instead, for an excellent werewolf tale, I actually recommend Jekyll/Hyde movie MARY REILLY with Julia Roberts and John Malkovich, which is a criminally underrated movie, if not necessarily a masterpiece (really, if you ignore the bad accents, it’s quite good). Like Bruce Banner said, he’s the Hulk because he’s always angry.

If the beast doesn’t exact the worst impulses of the man and if the man doesn’t exhibit the worst impulses of the beast, what’s the point of a werewolf movie? What the point of the blood and drama and confusion? If the presence of a werewolf doesn’t strip away the patina of respectability of all around him, you’ve missed the point.

I’m not saying I needed a Talbot/Conliffe sex scene to satisfy my own worst impulses (although I wouldn’t say no). But Talbot shows early nods to resentments, a festering anger from his childhood against the town, against his father, and a desire for his brother’s fiancee, none of which I feel come to a head in any real way once the transformation occurs. Was he supposed to seem virtuous for retaining his self-control? Is it to contrast with his father, who is, in his own words, more comfortable in the skin he is in, while Lawrence makes a living pretending to be other people? We get the glimpse of the wicked in Lawrence’s father, his willingness to allow himself to feel his baser nature rather than repress it, although he still retains some self-control while a man.

I just wish there was some transformation on the character level for Talbot to parallel the transformation on a supernatural level, that he didn’t only give in to the beast when the moon was full, that it infected his personal life in more interesting ways. Instead of the beast being an extension of him made manifest, it remains distant, the actions that of an animal rather than an id. I don’t think he would have seemed less tragic for the loss of control of his impulses–after all, he didn’t choose to be bitten, to have to fight harder against those impulses. He was paying for the sins of the father, which is never fair. Del Toro is perfectly capable of treading that line. In the one moment where the beast threatens to overtake Talbot in the presence of Conliffe, though he doesn’t do much, he’s frightening and alluring at the same time, wonderfully intimidating, and Blunt plays off that with a quintessentially Victorian response belied by the scared intrigue in her eyes. That moment is the closest I have to what I want from their dynamic, and it’s delicious. But it pulls away too quickly and never again treads near the same level of tension between man/woman and the beast in both, though brought to shallower waters in the man.

More than anything, the restraint shown by the script and the direction seems more a product of the idealization of the love interest, the sole female presence in the film–although the ghost of Talbot’s mother seems to hover over everything. As though a woman’s own red tides of anger, frustration, fear, grief, and lust would somehow mar her if it cracked her pretty portrait of a face. Moreover, I believe there’s a genuine fear underneath most werewolf movies of the beast that exists within women as well. Not just the female villains (most masculinized or hypersexualized or both into unrecognizability of what women experience every day). Not just the disposable, nameless, dehumanized prostitutes that we keep killing off like so many victims of so many Jack the Rippers. The Beast in us all.

I’ve seen one movie that didn’t seem afraid of freed, unfettered female sexuality. The remake of DRACULA (also with Hopkins, in a role he seemed to have much more fun in) may have just been Francis Ford Coppola’s feverish wet dream for most of it, but it’s one of the few movies I know of that seem to unapologetically acknowledge women’s lust in supernatural situations. Yes, much of it is downright shocking for this generations-removed Puritan, but quite refreshing as well when set against a slew of horror movies that are unapologetic in the amount of boobs they show yet somehow afraid of a woman actually enjoying herself in the midst of a fairly rigid social expectation that they don’t. If that’s the excuse why they kept Miss Conliffe the Victorian ideal, I’m pretty sure Lucy Westenra spits on that. If the point of werewolves is that there’s a beast in us all, the refusal to believe there’s a beast in Miss Conliffe seems the worst kind of oversight. It may have been unintentional, but it’s frustrating nonetheless.

If THE WOLFMAN is soft on sex, it certainly isn’t on violence, which is one of the movie’s only saving graces, although I would have preferred more substance and less flash to the chase scene in London. CGI is supposed to be a friend, not a lover, and it doesn’t work nearly as well as studios depend it will. But I have to say, the level of detail applied to the transformation scenes was professional as hell and believable, even if the final product loses some of that believability they put into the shifting. Still, the werewolf’s attacks are vicious, merciless, that of an angry mother grizzly, and it’s pretty spectacular as it’s happening.

But in the places between the transformations, the movie just seems unsure what it wants to do and where it wants to go. It’s the movie version of telling rather than showing, and though I’m inexcusably fond of asylum horror, THE WOLFMAN doesn’t linger there long enough for me to care as much as I want to about the hubris of doctors. It brings to mind DRACULA again (see Jack Seward’s asylum). WOLFMAN fails in almost every comparison with its classic Universal monster movie counterpart, even that of the beasts that the eponymous monsters become. The only place where it seems to shine more than DRACULA is in the sets and the cinematography, which is more a product of when the movies were made than a failing on Coppola’s part in his DRACULA.

It’s really a shame, because I want to like this movie, and like THE LAZARUS EFFECT, I think I keep watching it for the movie it could have been. It’s occasionally a decent script, and del Toro, Hopkins, Blunt, and a somewhat typecast but still devoted Hugo Weaving make the best of where the script weakens.

I just have Thoughts about what werewolves are in the pantheon of horror monsters, and I feel like the movie makers really missed the boat on this one, as they usually do with this particular monster. Almost as though they’re afraid to look into a mirror and really see themselves. They tend to do well with vampires, but with vampires, they don’t have to see their reflections.

A Night Witch’s Eve

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black metal balustrade with string lights

Photo by Francesco Paggiaro on Pexels.com

I’m actually quite happy with this one. I don’t do simple very well (all of you know I’m a wordy mf’er), but when it happens, I’m pleased with how clean it can be.

The musical style should be somewhat close to “Silent Night,” but with more of a minor key, and actually meant for a soprano sound, the classical diva you might sometimes have in a symphonic metal song. Merry Christmas Eve, all!

A NIGHT WITCH’S EVE

Silent night
Silent cold
Everyone’s sleeping
The season grows old

Silent night
Silent snow
Concealing the traces
Where night witches go

Silent night
Silent dreams
Awake and aware
Through sobs and through screams

The midnight is anything but holy
Magic pierces the sky too bright and too boldly

Silent night
Silent sighs
We place silver coins
In everyone’s eyes

Silent night
Silent snow
Concealing the traces
Where night witches go