What Are You Wearing to the End of the World?

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blue and yellow flame painting

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If I keep going like this, I could have a whole album of apocalypse songs.

WHAT ARE YOU WEARING TO THE END OF THE WORLD?

Everything falling to pieces around you
The core of the apple has gone to the worms
The surface is cracked but the planet still turns
The Earth will do just fine without us.

But what will we decimate into our chaos?
How else to sully our decadent names?
Arsenic apple pie and murdering games
In prosperity and in plastic we trust.

Chorus:
On this day of our Lord, I ask only one thing
The chains are all rattling, the pendulum swings
The roses are dying and thorns are unfurled
What are you wearing to the end of the world?

Leather and lace go with shame and disgrace
The meteor falls in red fire silk
Volcanoes are flowing with honey and milk
But the milk is laced with sweet poison

Stilettos in pockets and the heels of our shoes
Pistols spin in pistoning security machines
Bad boys go worse and the good girls go mean
Here’s the handbasket to hearse into hell in.

Chorus:
On this day of our Lord, I ask only one thing
The chains are all rattling and the pendulum swings
The roses are dying and thorns are unfurled
What are you wearing to the end of the world?

They’re serving a feast speared with silver-lined spoons
The glazes look fine but taste of ash and of dust
The golden-gild cages are tarnished in rust
But we cannot break open any of our locks.

Dressed to the nines and down to the wire
The fur is all fake, blood-mined diamonds and stones
We’re dancing on shoes worn down to the bone
The servants keep turning back all of the clocks.

Bridge:
The masque of the red death holds sway over all
When the apocalypse hits, we head for the mall
The Beast has a number and our number’s come up
There are debts to be paid. On your knees, ante up
Hell is just empty and the devils all here
Amputated hands steer a carnival wheel.
We know what we’ve done, no more acts of contrition.
Lay back in the earth and think on your sin.

Chorus:
On this day of our Lord, I ask only one thing
The chains are all rattling and the pendulum swings
The roses are dying and thorns are unfurled
What are you wearing to the end of the world?

Cape May: An Introspective

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blacklistThere are a number of things that went into the creation of DEEP DOWN, the undeniably bleak horror novel that I finished last March and that should come out sometime next year. The main inspiration was my own depression, and that desire—I’m sure there’s a German word for it—to just stop one’s life and get off.

For me, I wanted to go into my closet, shut off the light, close the door, and never come out. For others, it might be to climb into bed, pull the sheets over your head, and never wake up. Sometimes, I want to just step out the door and start walking. Not to any place in particular, and with very few possessions. I’d be picked by crows in a week, I’m sure. The point is escape, but I’m not sure it’s escape with the intent to survive.

That was the premise of DEEP DOWN, the concept, but it didn’t really turn into an idea for a while. Not until the first time I saw an episode in Season 3 of THE BLACKLIST, “Cape May.”

Strangely, very little of “Cape May” actually relates to my novel at all. The flint spark comes, I think, not from the story but from James Spader’s performance in the episode. It gave me a rope to hold in the dark. From there, I went my own way, of course. But I recently resumed my effort to get through Season 3 of BLACKLIST by way of starting the whole series over again, so I was able to revisit “Cape May.”

I have trouble with serial dramas. It has to do with my emotional energy in the evenings, and the emotional requirements necessary to follow television drama. It’s why I generally don’t binge-watch shows; it’s why I prefer standard procedurals and one-off reality shows most evenings; and it’s why I sometimes get stuck in a viewing loop, because rewatches take much less energy than new viewings. I’ve yet to get through Season 2 of SUPERNATURAL, and not because I don’t like the show, whereas I’ve watched CSI:NY multiple times over. Similarly, I’ve had trouble getting past a certain point in BLACKLIST, despite my enchantment with Spader’s Raymond Reddington. It’s the two-part episodes that do it. That’s not just a 45-minute commitment. That’s a movie-length commitment, and I just can’t take the suspense.

I’m exaggerating–because this personal failing sometimes amuses me–but not by much.

I was looking forward to re-watching “Cape May” again, though, so I soldiered on to get there.

I love episodes like “Cape May.” You know the kind. The one that deviates from all other episodes of the series, one where the writers and the actors really get to stretch their legs in another direction. An experimental, genre-bending episode. All the other episodes are names of Red’s blacklisters, but “Cape May” is simply a place. It’s a moment out of time, out of sequence, and it has nothing to do with Red’s list or the task force’s actions. It has none of the carefully curated music that I’ve loved about BLACKLIST from the beginning, so much that I’ve made a playlist. It stands out in a series that is essentially an action-thriller conspiracy procedural, albeit with season-long story arcs to tie them all together.

We open to Reddington quite unlike the vibrant, larger-than-life figure who can anecdote his way through every encounter. His eyes have no life, his face shows his age, his uniform is rumpled. He is a man in pain, a man dead with grief that is not mere sadness.

In that grief, he leaves everything behind and breaks into an abandoned seaside hotel that’s fallen into disrepair. There’s not a soul to be seen except for the old man with a metal detector searching the sand, then the woman at the edge of the ocean who removes her coat, her necklace, then walks straight in.

For those familiar with the BLACKLIST background, the notes of this story immediately ring a bell, but here Redddington dives into the water and drags the woman from the sea, bringing her into the parlor to warm up by the fire, his arms around her. The woman is almost catatonic, murmuring about someone with whom she spoke harsh words before his implied death. Reddington has briefly been given a purpose, but she already looks dead.

What I love most about this episode is that it is, at its heart, a ghost story. The abandoned hotel is the perfect haunted house, American gothic to the driftwood; Red is a haunted man. And ghost stories, when done right, are about human hearts, human grief, not specters and spirits, which is part of what I loved so much about THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE Netflix series. Ghost stories are so difficult to do well, but I’ve always wanted to write a good haunting.

BLACKLIST is not a supernatural show. When it feels like it treads the line of supernatural, that’s just science reaching the level of science fiction, a sense of ‘this is the future now.’ But ghosts don’t have to be supernatural fixtures. Like I said, the hotel feels like a haunted house, but in the end, it’s Red who’s haunted, his heart and mind that creates the ghosts.

The entire episode’s dialogue is spare, as is the setting—more like a play than a television show. Red and the woman speak in parallels, the exact meaning intentionally vague—Are Red and the woman talking about Red and Elizabeth or about Red and the woman herself? The answer is always yes, because history repeats itself. History haunts. Red tells so many stories of the people and places he’s encountered, outlandish experiences, but it’s the stories he doesn’t want to tell that haunt him. He is a killer, a principled sociopath. The woman is a killer, even less scrupulous, but with enough room in her killer’s heart for a daughter. They speak as killers speak to each other, ships passing in the night, a nod to each other in their respective, unique pain—the only deaths that have caused this pain, when they themselves are reapers.

Even the episode’s action sequence plays very differently than the usual BLACKLIST operations. These are people who work best alone but who ally themselves for the moment. They aren’t self-righteously blustering and bombastic like the FBI, and Red is in no state for theatrics. It’s just Red and the woman, quiet killers, quiet reapers. There’s minimal dialogue in the sequence, no headsets and walkie-talkies, no music except in the survivalist set-up. Everyone moves in silence and shadows, as though the house and the killers themselves are ghosts haunting the encroaching mercenaries, a sense enhanced by all the white-sheet-covered furniture between which they stalk each other.

Was the woman ghost or grief? Just because something isn’t there doesn’t mean it isn’t real. There was no rescue, no fight, no woman. Red was alone, yet he experienced them; they were real enough. His internal haunting remains unresolved, but there is, ultimately, catharsis—an exorcism, in acknowledging what truths he spoke to himself in the darkness.

“Cape May,” like a good haunting, lingers, depending on James Spader’s charisma even when Red is at his least flashy and most human—a fallen Icarus, crushed by the weight of his failure. Red himself, in shedding his previous life and living a shiftless criminal life, is a kind of a ghost himself, for all that he seems so lifelike. It is when Red stops, when the plummeting of his restless momentum reaches its inevitable, abrupt end, that Spader’s performance transcends an already brilliant role. No tricks. No gimmicks. No slick talk or stories. Just a man who can’t wrap enough layers of charm, class, and ruthlessness to protect himself from his own fallibility.

In pulling “Cape May” out of the BLACKLIST formula, stripping it down to the grain, we get something that’s not just good but might actually be great.

And we get a hell of a good ghost story.

The Smiling Man

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horror crime death psychopath

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I know it’s been quiet here for a while. I actually wrote three songs in the interim, but they were part of DRIFT, and I haven’t decided what to do with them there yet or whether to share them here before putting DRIFT out there.

But I did manage to throw together a little something over the last few days.

I love writing horror songs, because it really forces me to focus on atmosphere instead of plot, and they require a great economy of words – which is not my strength. 🙂

“The Smiling Man” is old Internet creepypasta that’s based on a number of urban legends about demons and monsters that interrupt your evening walk home.

Not the kind of thing I expected to write a song about, but the chorus kind of happened to me. I’m really pleased with the bridge, too.

THE SMILING MAN

On a starless night
Under yellow streetlights
Walking home in the cold
Shivering
Been thinking about
Lying down, getting warm
Wrapped up tight.

From a block away
A man dressed in gray
Strolling along in the dark
Whistling
A cold distant tune
Something grim and alive
Slips inside to stay.

Chorus:
He’s smiling
Smiling
Smiling
With his teeth
And no lips
With his tongue
Down to his wrists
He’s smiling
His whole head around
He’s smiling
Blinking
Sinking
Smiling you down.

You step and stumble back
But his song’s in the black
Following you and he comes
Dancing
To his music, to his smile
Closer still, close enough to attack.

No matter how you run
The man shadows the sun
Surrounding you, drowning you
Smiling
Until he opens his mouth
To feed upon what’s already gone.

Bridge:
It’s a merry old song
A gentleman’s smile
Whistle it with me
Through the night for a while.
And smile with me
Smile with me
Because everyone loves a good smile.

Chorus:
He’s smiling
Smiling
Smiling
With his teeth
And no lips
With his tongue
Down to his wrists
He’s smiling
His whole head around
He’s smiling
Blinking
Sinking
Smiling you down.

Bodies

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abstract anatomy art blur

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After seeing MIDSOMMAR in the theater, I have a few Thoughts.

Bodies don’t bother me.

Oh, my body bothers me, but that’s different. I’m not talking about attractiveness. I’m talking about the very idea that we have flesh instead of silicone and Botox.

Wrinkles. Stretch marks. Cellulite. Sagging. Freckles. Scars. Zits. Mucus. These things don’t bother me.

I don’t understand why, when someone old or fat or conventionally undesirable wears something that shows their skin or takes off their clothes for a role, people say ‘God, I did not want to see that.’ I’m noticing a lot of old men and old women going naked in horror movies, and I think it’s supposed to incite the fear of mortality, the repulsion of ageing bodies.

When I see naked bodies, I’m not scared of my own unattractiveness, nor does it trigger the fear of my own mortality. If anything, full frontal of average bodies is a relief, and the nakedness of the old is comforting. Because it’s not as bad as people say it’s going to be. A little more flesh, a little less collagen. That’s it.

It’s not like we don’t already know what bodies look like. Our own. Other people’s by the shapes under and against their clothes.

It’s not scary at all.

We need to confront the fear of our own bodies, associated with sex and separate from it. Because let’s face it, most of our experience with our own nakedness have nothing to do with sex. I think we’d be less afraid of nudity if we had more of it divorced from sex and divorced from attractiveness. It’s sad that this thing we all have is so repulsive in our own sight that we rate ourselves out of ever seeing it. The rest of what we have access to is overwhelmingly young or surgically sculpted.

Confront your reactions, and look again.

Fear

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1159420_96550296I’m always afraid when I start something new. There is comfort in working on old projects, whether editing, proofreading, or even continuing an old story through a new book. In editing and proofreading, the work is already there. I just have to move it around, spruce it up, make it pretty. When continuing an established work, like the Thorns series, my characters, my backstories, my world-building, my tone and style, they’ve already been established. I have more springboards to work from, even when I’m creating new canon. That’s also what’s nice about fanfiction (and the Thorns series could be considered fanfiction, of a kind, given it’s a fairy tale mash-up).

But when I start from scratch on a completely new, standalone story, I always start afraid. I was afraid when I started horror story DEEP DOWN earlier this year (technically continued it from what I’d put down a year before, but still kind of terrified). And I’m afraid now that I’m starting American gothic fairy tale DRIFT.

Everything I write sounds like it comes from me – at least, to me it does – but the styles still shift from one kind of story to the next, because to a certain degree, form follows function. Think of it as the filter of the story. You can have the same director of photography and notice the trends, but the filter changes the impressions and moods. And it’s so important to how the story is felt and received.

New characters. People who have populated my head like ghosts quietly solidify and come to life, and they never end up quite the way I imagined them. New settings. New themes. New endings. New problems.

I’m afraid to start because I’m afraid it’s all going to come out wrong. I’m not going to get the tone right. The style won’t work with me. The ending will be weak. I’m not going to be able to get from point A to point B.

This fear is not irrational. I’ve failed before.

I succeed more often than not these days, and a lot of the problems can be fixed in editing. But NOCTURNE needed several complete rewrites, not just edits, although I salvaged much from the original drafts. The beginning of THORNS was reworked multiple times because it never felt quite right. I’m going to have to rewrite WAR HOUSE (I was actually going to do that this summer, but DRIFT felt more solid to me). I have a trilogy that I tried ten years ago that never got off the ground, and though I love the concept, I’m still not sure how to salvage it.

I really could get this wrong. And if I do, it might feel like writing the first draft was a waste of my time, since I would either have to let it go or try again later. I already feel like my writing time is strained as it is without having to write things more than once.

But God, it might go right. Or right enough. And even if it goes wrong and I have to rewrite, that’s still a solution. Not my favorite solution, but it’s something.

That’s why, no matter how scared I am to begin, I just do it. I just write the words, day after terrifying day, until I’m finished.

Until I determine it’s ready to prepare for publication, I remind myself that everything I write is just for me. No one has to see it. No one can judge it. I don’t even edit until everything’s finished, because I can’t assess details until I understand the larger picture. It’s all about getting the words down. Fear is an empty page, and as Jodi Picoult says, “You can always edit a bad page. You can’t edit a blank page.”

I can either work with what I have – which I think I’m actually quite good at doing – or I don’t work with anything at all. The story remains in my head instead of getting exorcised, and no one can judge it, but also, no one can read it. And that doesn’t serve anyone.

So yeah, I’m afraid of writing. I’m also afraid of what happens when I don’t. So I sit down in front of my fear, and I start writing anyway.

Dead Ends

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horror crime death psychopath

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I tried to write a hitchhiker ghost song a while back, but it didn’t really work, and I had to put the idea back in the box for a while.

Last month, I tried writing one again, and this time it came together into something coherent.

I’m fascinated by ghost stories, because they’re so difficult to do well. Ghost poetry’s a little different – all about atmosphere. It’s so delightfully creepy and sad and sexy all at the same time. The hitchhiker ghost urban legend is one that’s stuck visually in my mind, so it was a pleasure to find an outlet. I’m quite happy with it.

DEAD ENDS

Black leather jacket and long white dress
Silk flutters like wind through the mist
Don’t have no home, don’t have no address
Picking up the girl with a tear and a kiss.

Sparkling eyes and pale blue lips
Can’t help but tear your gaze from the road
A corsage goes dry on another girl’s wrist
But whispers remind you that you’ll soon grow old

I offer you a moment
I offer you a chance
I know it’s not allowed, sir
But would you like to have this dance?

Chorus:
I wander a long and lonely highway
Can’t stay in one place, can’t linger in one town
Hitching rides without a destination
Legs are tired but feet never touch the ground
You’ll see me in the rearview mirror
But I’m not there when you turn around.
Ride with you until the moon descends
And I’ll be wandering until the road dead-ends.

Never had my moment in the sun
Cold gray steel and headlights stained with blood
Silk dress still white as winter for so long
I touch your hand, just looking for some love

Back seat steams, my skin’s as cold as ice
Ghosts from your lips as you bring your heat inside
Steal your breath to remember my own life
That someone like you stole in a car like the one you ride

I offered you a moment
In the dark you heard my voice
You know it’s not allowed, sir
But remember, you made the choice.

Chorus:
I wander a long and lonely highway
Can’t stay in one place, can’t linger in one town
Hitching rides without a destination
Legs are tired but feet never touch the ground
You’ll see me in the rearview mirror
But I’m never there when you turn around.
Ride with you until the moon descends
And I’ll be wandering until the road dead-ends.

Bridge:
They find your body in the back seat
Of your wayward hitcher car
Don’t you know not to pick up strangers?
You never know who they are
Now you’re cold as your ghostly lover
Your journey ends, but mine’s still so far
I’m still cold, your ghostly lover
God, why does it have to be so far?

[whisper] I want to feel alive

I offer you a moment
Die a little more each night
I know it’s not allowed, sir
But I don’t want to do what’s right.

Chorus:
I wander a long and lonely highway
Can’t stay in one place, can’t linger in one town
Hitching rides without a destination
Legs are tired but feet never touch the ground
You’ll see me in the rearview mirror
But I’m never there when you turn around.
Ride with you until the moon descends
And I’ll be wandering until the road dead-ends.

How to Love

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aerial photography of pine trees

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This is the sad song I wrote. I just had a moment and didn’t want to feel it, so I wrote it instead. It’s just a soft little thing.

HOW TO LOVE

I don’t understand all the songs
I don’t understand the days they set aside to celebrate
I don’t understand the flowers, the cards, the doves
My heart doesn’t know how to love

I don’t enjoy the romance, the games
A rose would smell as sweet by any other name.
Don’t know that loneliness will ever be enough
But my heart doesn’t know how to love.

Wandering alone in the wilderness
No one ever at my side
And when the beasts come a-roaming
They tear my skin, but nothing’s underneath inside
No meat, no heart, a mannequin,
Nothing to hide with nothing inside.

The stars are just fire, the moon is just stone
And ice only wanders the cosmos alone
There’s never been any magic above
My heart doesn’t know how to love.

I don’t believe in miracles, flying off to heaven
But I walk the line with ghosts in my head
It’s not exactly what I was dreaming of
My heart doesn’t know how to love.

It’s not exactly what I was dreaming of
My heart doesn’t know how to love.

DOUBLE REVIEW: Cabin Fever/Cabin Fever remake

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Cabin Fever 2002[SPOILER ALERT: There isn’t much, but there are a few later scenes referenced.]

I’m going to say it, and everyone is going to hate me.

The remake is better than the original.

Some of the shots are framed the exact same way, except flipped around. Some of the script is exactly the same. They didn’t even do anything new or reimagined with the remake. They literally remade the original CABIN FEVER. And it’s better.

Let me give you some context.

In college, I went a little horror-movie crazy (and I haven’t stopped). I bought all kinds of eighties slashes, cult classics, all the movies I’d wanted to see when I was too young or too high-strung for it. I’d been attracted by the cover for CABIN FEVER a number of times before I finally bought it, because it was a contagion movie, and that’s one of the things I’m legitimately afraid of in real life. When I watch ghost movies and supernatural villain movies, I can go to sleep afterward just fine because I don’t believe in ghosts or the supernatural (open-minded but skeptical). But diseases are real. They happen. And necrotizing fasciitis is a real, terrifying thing. So what a great premise for a horror movie, right?

Then I sit down to watch it.

The necrotizing fasciitis parts were suitably gory and effective. I think the opening credits are one of the best in the business. And that scene where the girl is shaving her legs and starts shaving off her legs is probably in my top twenty-five horror moments.

But that’s it. Those are the only good things I can say about the Eli Roth-directed CABIN FEVER. The man needs to stick with producing, because he’s decent at that. The whole film, though, from script to direction, just felt so…juvenile. The humor wasn’t funny. The weirdness didn’t have a point. And CABIN FEVER is filled with an unsympathetic cast of jerks. We root for precisely no one to survive–except maybe Winston, strangely enough.

A man is killed by a harmonica, and as a white girl in the suburbs, I literally can’t even.

It’s one thing to tell a story about juvenile people. It’s another for the director to be just as juvenile–you can feel it in all his immature choices. I can watch and even enjoy bad horror. I can enjoy campy horror. I can enjoy young people horror. But for Pete’s sake, I only enjoyed about three consecutive minutes of CABIN FEVER, and the rest was trash. I gave the movie away because I hated it so much.

About six months ago, all the CABIN FEVER movies were on Netflix at once, and I thought, Hey, I’m more tolerant of all kinds of horror these days. Maybe the original CABIN FEVER isn’t as bad as I thought it was. Maybe I’ve grown as a horror aficionado and can appreciate CABIN FEVER as the cult classic that it is. So I watched it again.

I still hate it. Totally my opinion. I feel like it was made by an emotionally stunted manchild for other emotionally stunted manchildren, and I have no place in its audience. So maybe it’s just not meant for me, although I seem to enjoy other horror movies obviously made for male audiences (the PIRANHA remake and THE BABYSITTER come to mind).

Seriously, when I get more out of the spectacularly gross, misogynistic, shallow CABIN FEVER: SPRING FEVER (yay, Marc Senter) and CABIN FEVER: PATIENT ZERO (yay, Currie Graham and Sean Astin) than the original movie, maybe the problem isn’t me?

cabin-fever-poster remakeEnter the remake–taking a good concept and bad execution and trying to execute it better.

The characters are still juvenile, but they aren’t as unlikable as the first set. They’re not completely lacking in redeemable qualities. When they make bad decisions, you get why they make them. Even when the least likeable of the group starts to show symptoms, I felt bad for him, because it’s a horrible way to die–unlike Jason, it’s not a villain you can outrun. It’s something that’s already inside of you, and it’s too fast-acting to treat even if they get to a hospital. The rash and the blood are more realistic. The claustrophobia is more intense. It’s as though a grown-ass man took Eli Roth’s original movie and shot it like a grown-ass director would. It’s a more mature film in every way.

The only real misstep they might have made was recasting Winston as a scarred Barbie doll whose obsession with partying seemed more creepy-coy than the original sex, drugs, rock-and-roll simple Winston. It was an interesting direction, but I’m not sure whether it worked with the more coherent tone of the rest of the movie. Sometimes I like it and sometimes I don’t.

My favorite bit of irony about this movie (both of them) was that it turned some of the slasher tropes on their head–probably why it’s a cult classic. In the old eighties slashers, sex, drugs, and drinking would have gotten them killed. But in CABIN FEVER, it’s drinking water instead of beer that gets them sick. It’s eating off of dishes cleaned with the bad water that gets them sick instead of being a dirty slob. Being bad doesn’t get you killed. The villain’s in the safe places, and there’s no saving you after that. I feel they play that up more in the remake.

Even if it’s not necessarily the best horror movie ever, I’d go so far as to call the remake a decent horror film, and I enjoy rewatching it when I need another dose of contagion fear and rereading The Stand just seems like it’ll take too long.

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.