The Rose Less Taken


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nature red love romantic

Photo by Pixabay on

I’ve been very busy with NaNoWriMo and the publication of Thorns was delayed, but it looks like it should be a go here within a week at most. I have a collection of Christmas songs that got this whole lyric-writing thing started, but I don’t want to start those until after Thanksgiving.

With Thorns coming out soon, I thought I’d share a song I wrote that was (very loosely) inspired by it. It’s got some themes connected to the series, but it’s not spoilerific, because it’s inspired by rather than based on.

It’s definitely got a darker rock edge to what was originally meant to be a pop sound. I’d put it in a pretty little minor key.


She illuminates the room with crimson blue light
Fills up the spaces in everyone’s sight
For every step she takes, they all walk a mile
Velvet on her lips and thorns in her smile.

She is the eye in the center of the storm
The thickest of hides always gets torn
Making them wonder if she is the one
Love potion on her skin and poison in her tongue.

A rainbow in the gray
A slither out of sight
Woman by day
Temptation by night
I know that I shouldn’t
But I never say no
Wherever she takes me
I know that I’ll go
All she does is smile
And she leaves me broken
I’ll sink in her thorns
She’s the rose less taken.

Heaven knows she sends to me to hell
She was the very last angel who fell
She seems like honey, but you suffer her sting
And worship her for the pain that she brings.

She’s the vampire they cling to
The doll they desire
They pour gasoline
She sets them on fire
I’m only one of the beasts that she tames
She does what she does
And I’m the only one to blame.


REVIEW: Silent Hill


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Silent_Hill_film_poster[Warning: Here there be spoilers]

I agonized over what movie I would review for Halloween. I wanted it to be one of my favorites, one I really liked. The Descent? A 1408/Oculus double feature (because yes, they go together)? American Mary? Candyman? I ultimately decided on Silent Hill, one of the first movies I saw during my freshman year of college, when I started watching R-rated horror and really got on the horror train. (Yes, I waited until I was seventeen. Yes, I am that person.)

In the interest of full disclosure, I’m prone to really like my early introductions to things, because that’s before I get jaded. But despite the fact it’s not a perfect film, Silent Hill was surprisingly good, especially for a video game to movie adaptation. Although from what I hear, if you’re going to do a VG2M horror adaptation, Silent Hill is the one to go to. I’ve never played the games myself. I’m too prone to habitual behavior for me to trust myself around video games. So I don’t have any expectations of someone who’s played the game, but the movie pushes so many of my personal buttons. It wasn’t a critical darling, and I can tell why. It’s monster-dense, melodramatic, and as stories go, not very original. But for me it’s less about originality (although that’s nice, too) and more about execution. It may be derivative, but is it a good story? Am I entertained for the night? Am I satisfied? Can I watch it over and over and over again and never get tired of it? Silent Hill is one of those films for me.

This is as much a contemplative retrospective as it is a review. Okay, it’s just me rewatching the movie and geeking out. Bear with me.

One of the most wonderful things about this movie is that the cast was originally so woman-heavy, they had to give Sean Bean a somewhat extraneous side plot just to make men feel included. And it’s one of those rare Sean Bean roles in which he doesn’t die, so… But the movie is a powerhouse of female roles with actresses known for genre films. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this.

Despite being a generally misogynistic genre, horror also historically has these huge, powerful roles for women, especially with the Final Girl trope. But Silent Hill and The Descent, both movies with a majority female cast, are both in my top ten list of favorite movies, with layered, nuanced characters and all different kinds of strength. What’s more, while many of these women are sexy and beautiful, because Hollywood, the movies and their strength don’t derive from those qualities. Or rather, to me, the sexiness comes from the fact their strength isn’t from sex but from character and determination, if that makes sense.

We begin with Radha Mitchell, who is a wonderful, solid leading lady. One of the things you might keep an eye on in subsequent viewings is how her main outfit changes over the course of the movie. It’s supposed to be the same outfit, but the colors subtly change from scene to scene to fit the hue and mood and transitions during the movie. Props to the costume department for coming up with so many forms of the same outfit and making it feel seamless. (Another trivia side note, this is supposed to take place in West Virginia, but it was shot in Canada, which means a certain percentage of the cast needs to be local, so there are all these Canadian accents here and there. It’s a little hilarious, especially when the script has more regional dialogue.)

Mitchell’s character, Rose, and Bean’s character, Christopher, are searching for their daughter Sharon, who’s sleepwalked far from home, screaming “Silent Hill!” when they try to wake her up. This prompts Rose’s research into her adoptive daughter’s origin in the ghost town Silent Hill–a former coal town rendered uninhabitable by a fire–and her plan to secretly take Sharon to Silent Hill to see why she has these terrible night terrors and somnambulism episodes.

Seems like a wonderful plan.

Sharon is played by at-the-time child actress Jodelle Ferland, who’d already dipped her toes into horror by the time she did something as mainstream and big budget as Silent Hill. She was around ten or eleven during filming, and she was still a small girl, but some of her lines suggest that she was supposed to be playing younger, and it doesn’t always land well, maybe because she’s using a little girl voice in her higher register to contrast with the lower Alessa voice. She’s a convincing kid, but there’s a maturity to her that doesn’t really fit the age I felt she was playing. It works when she’s Alessa but not always as Sharon. Still, there’s a reason this girl keeps playing the devil. She’s very good at old-young, which is part of the reason she’s one of the inspirations behind my Snow White character, though she’d now be too old for the role. Nevertheless, her work in Silent Hill has led to me watching her career, and I’m rooting for her as she transitions into adult roles.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. One semi-abduction, police car chase, and car crash later, Rose wakes up on the edge of Silent Hill, surrounded by dense fog and ash floating from the sky like snow. Since I’m not familiar with the games, a lot of these atmospheric elements are new to me, and extremely effective. It’s a beautiful, muted visual. I’m a sucker for pretty horror, and Silent Hill has a lot of pretty and ugly-pretty horror for my needy little eyes. Among all the ash, Sharon is nowhere to be found, thus beginning the scavenger hunt portion of the movie.

I’m being flippant, but it’s actually a good conflict–mother seeking daughter and willing to do anything to find her and keep her safe–and that conflict plus a lot of what follows pays plenty of homage to the video games without feeling too much like one. Finding what’s lost is a classic video game device, and it works just as well in more linear storytelling. It’s basically an ‘into the woods’ quest, with all kinds of monsters and allies along the way.

Once in Silent Hill, Rose quickly discovers that this town is not normal. In Ash Mode, it’s just haunting, unsettling. But Rose follows what she thinks is Sharon into a warehouse. That’s when the emergency siren goes off, and the Ash world flakes away to reveal a hellish interior. It’s a pretty, darn good effect, and I’m not usually a fan of CGI. In Hell Mode (or Rust Mode), that’s when the monsters really come out to play. In the warehouse, it’s the Gray Children, which look like misshapen burning babies. Here’s where the CGI loses it a bit for me. People should be people whenever possible, because anything less than the best motion capture doesn’t move like living things actually move. In the special features of the DVD, I watched the green screen where a small female contortionist donned her Gray Child costume and moved around in it, and that’s honestly creepier for me. Upon another viewing, I think it’s because the proportion of the Gray Children to Rose keeps changing, which jars me out of the suspension of disbelief. However, the Gray Child was my least favorite CGI monster in the movie. All the others are better.

(When the Gray Children scene ends with everything flaking back into Ash Mode, Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire” plays on a jukebox in the bowling alley. Everyone in the original theater laughed; good release of tension, and the only funny bit in the movie.)

After the more neutral Ash Mode (I’m sure there’s an actual name for these modes in the video game, but I don’t want to look them up at the moment) returns, Rose runs into Dahlia, a Miss Havisham-meets-Cassandra type character in the movies, although I understand she’s more of an antagonist in the games. Here, she’s the sorrowful mother, a broken woman heavy with cobwebs, dust, and regret, played by the gently altoed Deborah Kara Unger. She chews the scenery in a wonderfully maudlin way and gives us the first bit of exposition about Alessa, the child that was taken from her. When Rose shows her a locket with Sharon’s picture, Dahlia becomes agitated and insists it’s Alessa, her own child.

As Rose continues to look for Sharon and for a way out of Silent Hill, which seems completely cut off from the rest of the world–literally, with the streets out of town broken away and nothing but an abyss on every side–she runs into the cop that chased her into the town, Sybil Bennett, played by genre royalty Laurie Holden.

From what I can tell, people either love her or find her annoying. Silent Hill was my first introduction to her, and I won’t lie. When she first pulled off her helmet and started shooting at the Armless Man (much creepier than the Gray Child), I developed a serious crush on this woman, hardass cop notwithstanding. Sure, it seems ridiculous to us for Cybil to handcuff Rose with everything that’s happening, but as far as Cybil knows, she’s followed a parent kidnapper into Silent Hill, and it wouldn’t be the first (which is a nod to one of the games, apparently).

At this point, the Sean Bean side plot makes it perfectly clear that the ashy Silent Hill isn’t just cut off, it’s a completely different dimension existing parallel to the real Silent Hill, where it’s pouring down rain and police are searching for Rose, Sharon, and Cybil. Through the inspector on the case, we’re given a little more exposition about what happened to Alessa and to the town. But on their side, it’s just a normal ghost town–singed, smoky, dangerous due to the coal fires still burning and sending fumes up to the surface, but otherwise normal. When Rose is at her most distressed, Christopher senses her, which leads to a so-close-yet-so-far moment that I think played pretty well. Extraneous though it may be, I feel like the side plot does provide a much-needed atmosphere respite from the fantasy-horror Silent Hill world. The doses of reality offer enough of a contrast that the hellscape seems all the more hellish.

Rose follows the clues left behind for her by the child she keeps thinking is Sharon running away from her, all the way to a school marked by a curious-looking cross. Inside, there’s evidence that Alessa was decried as a witch even by the children and that something obscene happened to her by a janitor named Colin, given what this hell universe tends to do to the people who hurt her. Colin is dead, wrapped and contorted with barbed wire, and in his mouth is something Rose needed to find, a hotel key. But before Rose can leave, she discovers men in coal miner gear outside the bathroom. Their canary goes crazy right before the emergency siren goes off and Hell Mode returns, bringing Colin’s dead, desecrated body to life.

This is one of those cases where practical effects really paid off, and it’s no wonder that the same man who plays Colin is also the one who played Pyramid Head. He does amazing pantomime work, conveying so much with body language in roles where he doesn’t speak. Just as Pyramid Head is a pretty undeniable symbol of uniquely male violence (noticeable especially within a majority female cast), his Colin is a tortured obscenity. The artistry in his dual performances is a pleasure to watch.

With the cockroach-like Creepers and Pyramid Head after her in the rusty, bloody hellscape, Rose finally meets up with Cybil again, who can’t deny there’s something rotten in the state of Silent Hill. As soon as Ash Mode returns and most of the monster danger is gone, they continue following the clues the girl who looks like Sharon left behind, all the way to a hotel. The music they use on their way reminds me that I love the soundtrack of the movie, which borrows themes from a number of the games. It’s a great industrial sound that translates well to the movie.

At the hotel, we finally get a good look at Alessa, who’s the spitting image of Sharon except for the dark hair and school uniform. And we meet one of the first fundamentalists left over from the fire. They’re a sect off of Christianity, with theology built around witch-burning and maintaining purity in the community. In the case of Anna and most of the other members of the congregation, this is where the story tends to turn overwrought and overly simplistic. The only grounding influence is the cult leader Christabella, played by the wonderfully hypnotic Alice Krige, another member of genre royalty. Have I mentioned how stellar this cast is?

And how unique is it that this fundamentalist cult is run by a soft-spoken, steely woman instead of a charismatic man? What could have turned into something laughable is given a more solid foundation by Christabella, who is clearly a true believer of her own religion (also unusual in cult movies, where the man is clearly a con using his charisma to gain power and respect). She may be an antagonist and an evil person, but I respect true believers more than cons, and she has no reason to believe she’s wrong–after all, their people have remained safe, and the church remains a refuge from the darkness whenever Hell Mode settles over the town.

This fact alone raises a number of questions for me that are never answered. It’s clear that if Alessa hadn’t been burned as a witch, Silent Hill would never have been sucked into a hellscape by the demon that Alessa accepted inside of her, so Christabella is clearly the author of her own people’s destruction. But it’s curious that people portrayed as evil, as those who have twisted faith into something ugly and vicious, can still keep the demon at bay in their church. It’s curious that the church is still a sanctuary from the darkness. Demon!Alessa calls it ‘blind conviction’ that keeps her from entering, but is it really? Or does their ugly faith come with enough good intentions that it affords them some protection? Why would a demon not be able to enter everywhere in her own hell? Is their illusion of protection as much a part of the hellscape as their illusion of righteousness? They certainly don’t seem to be happy with either.

So many questions unanswered, but I’m not one to think that something a plot hole just because it doesn’t have an answer. I’d like to think that things are more complicated than good and evil, even in heaven and hell.

Once in the church, Rose and Cybil are questioned by Christabella, but despite some reservations and suspicion on both sides, Christabella agrees to take them to where the demon waits and might have answers about how to find Sharon. However, when Christabella discovers that Sharon looks like Alessa, she tries to stop the two women. Cybil sacrifices herself to the fanatics to let Rose continue down into the center of the hellscape, where we encounter the sexiest of the monsters, the iconic Dark Nurses. This is one of the places where the movie feels more like a video game, but it doesn’t suffer from comparison. Instead, it helps build the tension, and the fact that all the nurses are made-up people really helps bring the realism to the moment that too much CGI would have destroyed.

Then we enter the realm of pure exposition where we learn the full story behind Alessa, Sharon, and what happened to Silent Hill. We still have questions: Why does the inspector look the same thirty years ago as today? Who’s Alessa’s father? Why was some of Silent Hill sucked into hell and not everyone? How much of what the demon says can we believe? And again, why can’t the demon enter the church without being brought in? What caused Silent Hill to become a ghost town–the fire that burned Alessa or the demon sucking most of Silent Hill down into its hell? Because I originally thought it was the fire, but Alessa was put into a Silent Hill hospital. Ghost towns don’t happen overnight, but if the fire caused the coal mines to burn, one would think it would have been pretty quick. Maybe these answers were lost in editing. They’re ultimately irrelevant to the story, but curious minds still want to know.

The story reaches the climax back at the church, where the fundamentalists–miserable, judgmental murderers that they are–receive what seems like just deserts. The only quibble I have is Christabella’s fate, which seems gratuitously sexual to me. Don’t get me wrong, the whole movie is graphically violent, sometimes beautifully so. Brutal beatings, a woman skinned alive, torture totems, the burning of Alessa and Cybil, the Dark Nurses… I just felt that Christabella’s fate could have been more poetry and less rape. Please.

The weakest parts of even good horror movies tend to fall at the end. Sometimes I like Silent Hill‘s ending and sometimes I don’t. Ambiguity is a horror movie maker’s friend, but it often leads to a frustrated audience. Then again, a solid, safe ending can hit a supernatural rather than a horror note, which can be a bit jarring, and a dark ending can be kind of despairing. It’s really difficult for horror movies to win.

TL;DR: Silent Hill is a badass, female-dominated, visually horrific and stunning movie–far from a masterpiece, but in my opinion, a solid offering and one I don’t mind rewatching on the regular. The sequel, Silent Hill: Revelation, is a hot mess. I enjoy it and it has some good moments, but it’s a mess. I feel like a good Silent Hill sequel could be made, but I doubt it ever will. The original manages to stand strong, strange, and horrifying all on its own.

Would You Rather


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light landscape sky sunset

Photo by Pixabay on

Wrote something loosely inspired by NOCTURNE for Halloween, because I love writing horror songs. It’s another rock piece that I wouldn’t know how to do myself, but it’s got a nice beat in my head.


The dark of the night doesn’t scare me
Unseen eyes stare at me
Teeth bare at me
But they don’t scare me.

Beasts of the night are what they are
Each tear and each scar
Each extinguished star
Just what beasts are.

It’s the liars and thieves that live in the light
That scare me at night
Keep the door locked tight
These monsters of light.

The monsters at night don’t try to pretend
Hunger for the end
But hold your hand like a friend
‘Cause they don’t have to pretend.

I live with my nightmares
I don’t close my eyes
They feed on my fears
Can’t run and can’t hide
Consuming my body
The demons inside
I’d rather live with my nightmares
Than wake up to dreams that have died.

They hide in the closet and under the bed
That’s what they said
The quick and the dead
Hide under the bed.

In shadows they creep and crawl ‘cross the floor
Desperate for more
Than daylight is for
They beg me for more.

I pull back my covers, won’t cover my head
Let them find me instead
Crawl into my bed
Might as well be dead.

But with nightmares even dead can be fun
The night’s never done
Far away from the sun
I’m always the one.


Tremble and shiver
My pulse starts to quiver
Cold skin grows warm under my hand
Tooth, nail, and claw
A cavernous maw
I’d follow them down to a dark, colder land.
But they like me alive
These beasts and their knives
They sink inside
I open my eyes
And the nightmare is always alive inside
It’s the soul that has died
As their spirits reside
In the shell I denied
For their pleasure and mine.


REVIEW: The ReZort


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The Rezort[Warning: Here there be spoilers]

THE REZORT was one of those movies I didn’t expect much from, and I ended up getting a lot more than I thought I needed. I’m not sure whether the premise of the movie is original, but if not, I’m surprised it hadn’t been done before, because it made so much sense as a concept.

Basically, JURASSIC PARK meets zombies. And it’s surprisingly decent.

Great? Not so much. There are parts of the movie that seem far-fetched, although my threshold for disbelief is a lot lower than it used to be. Whenever I tell myself there’s no way anyone’s going to let a multibillionaire build a resort on an island where people can shoot zombies, I look at the world today, and I go, “Nope. There’d be protests and marches and debates, then they’d totally let her do that.” We have game preserves and hunting trails all over the world, dead people wouldn’t legally be considered people, and it would boost a post-apocalyptic economy. You think some of the lines in the movie regarding why the ReZort was allowed to happen are kind of ridiculous until you really start to think about them. Then you realize all the rhetoric is of the kind used in a number of other controversial but totally legal practices. Zombies aren’t real, folks, but if they were, it wouldn’t be too long before something like this happened.

There are parts of the movie that play a bit rote, with a cookie-cutter selection of side characters introduced to us: the immature gamers, the long-suffering soldier who misses the war, the pacifist-activist, the loving couple, the obnoxious businessmen, the evil billionaire. And these characters are put into a predictable string of zombie situations. I mean, it’s the ReZort. It’s a zombie theme park. You know it’s going to go wrong because you’ve seen JURASSIC PARK, and you know how it’s going to go wrong because you’ve seen at least one zombie movie in your life, and with few exceptions, they’re all really similar. But the actors bite into the meat of their roles, approaching the movie as though it’s more than it is, and so they make it that way.

Our main character Melanie is played by actress Jessica de Gouw, who’s on my celebrity doppelganger list as the spitting image of Rachel McAdams. I’d call her a poor man’s Rachel McAdams, and when I first saw her in the movie, that’s what I thought I’d be getting, but her acting chops hold their own. Come on, Hollywood, there’s a long-lost twin story in there somewhere.

We come into the movie post-zombie-war, when the world has fought its way back to something approaching normal due to a policy known as Operation Brimstone. In short, they firebombed the hell out of anywhere the zombies arose, which took a lot of innocent lives along with them and left thousands upon thousands of people without homes, causing a serious refugee crisis. The movie opens with a series of maddeningly realistic news clips from partisan channels bringing us up to speed on 1) what happened and 2) where the post-zombie-war controversies are. There are a lot of traumatized people. War equals trauma, and zombies equal personal trauma. There are soldiers adjusting to civilian life, because of the aforementioned war equals trauma. There’s the refugee crisis that’s moving at a crawl.

There are also people who challenge Operation Brimstone as causing too much collateral damage and those who challenge the concept of the ReZort as being callous with the dead. As activist Sadie points out, “If this is how we treat the dead, who’s to say the living won’t be next?” It has roots in pro-life and animal rights activism, but it doesn’t firmly hang its hat with either. It’s not a stretch to imagine how dead rights activists might address the zombie issue. After all, these are people’s families and friends that they watched change, sometimes right before their eyes, and it’s a moral and ethical dilemma what to do with them (and depending on spiritual views of life after death and how to treat dead bodies, it could be a religious dilemma,too). Like I said, personal trauma.

Melanie, who’s part of a post-zombie-war grief support group, and her ex-soldier boyfriend agree to go to the ReZort, a luxury hotel and game trail for people who want revenge on the zombie virus that upended their lives and killed their family and friends. Apparently, the controlled circumstances did wonders for someone else in her group, and she thinks it might serve her PTSD to indulge in some R&R and carnage—confronting her fears, but with cocktails.

Among the other resort guests, we also have a scowly, steely-eyed Dougray Scott, who most mainstreamers know from EVER AFTER, but who’s made something of a name for himself in the horror genre as well (hello, HEMLOCK GROVE, you pretty little mess). If anyone else is a significant actor, I don’t recognize them.

Their time at the ReZort begins with evening drinks by the pool, where the billionaire creator of the ReZort comes out and addresses her crowd. She’s definitely not what you expect, not least because the person who created an island retreat for zombie hunting is a woman. She’s trim, fastidiously neat and polished, like the owner of a tropical paradise hotel rather than one with a gruesome underbelly. She contrasts strongly with the zombie woman they bring out, shackled, dirty, and decayed. They stare each other down face to face (I’m pretty sure there’s enough slack on the shackles for the zombie woman to reach her if she lunges, but whatever), and it all feels exploitative as hell, especially since the zombie still has some soul in her eyes, although she acts like an animal. Everyone else is raucously cheering—”Every apocalypse deserves to have an afterparty!”—but Melanie’s clearly uncomfortable with how human the zombie still appears to be.

There’s only one other person there who seems just as ambivalent, the pink-streaked jilted fiancee supposedly there because the tickets were nonrefundable. But during the party, Sadie sneaks away to where she doesn’t belong and downloads some files in a personnel-only part of the resort. Because if everything went as planned, it wouldn’t be much of a movie.

The point at which everything goes wrong is where the movie is at its most predictable, and where it tends to falter. I would have liked to see more ReZort amenities beyond one day shooting at herds or at zombies set up in an abandoned compound like the guests are playing a real-life video game. What other sick ways do they use the dead? But there’s a twist toward the climax that I really like, because it’s just so awful and fits right into the post-Z world they’ve created, addressing an issue that you probably figured out already. I’m terrible at predicting twist endings (I’m getting better, which of course makes movies worse, so it’s a double-edged sword), and I didn’t see this one coming. Even if you do, it’s perfect enough to work.

Like I said, THE REZORT isn’t great. But when you turn it on just expecting the usual, getting the taste of a pretty darn juicy concept might just give you the popcorn evening in you’re looking for.



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tidal wave wall painring

Photo by Sean Manning on

Put this one down as ‘when you piss off a poet.’ Well, not much of a poet, but I like to rhyme now and then. Whenever I hear something from this one, I hear a power ballad, but don’t let that fool you.


The end is near
The end is nigh
Whispers in your ear
Poison in the wine

All warnings failed
All signs ignored
We lost the Grail
No cracks restored

Some people are waiting for the whole world to burn
I’m just waiting for the floodwaters to return

The rain will fall
The winds will howl
Rushing water running with rivers of blood
We can’t go back
We can’t stop what’s to come
Everything we built consumed by a raging flood.

Repent, repent
Judgment descends
Condemning us all
To an inevitable end

No peaceful God
Promises aside
Nowhere to run
Nowhere to hide

Some people are waiting for the whole world to burn
I’m just waiting for the floodwaters to return


He is not here
He won’t dry your tears
Tears that run down
From short-sighted years
The angels have flown
The devil’s in us
Did we really think
The world needed us?
We can’t wait too much longer
To do what we must.
We won’t do what we must.
We just wait for the waters
To drown us to dust.

No one to stop it
No one to save
We were given a garden
And made it a grave.

Some people are waiting for the whole world to burn
I’m just waiting for the floodwaters to return



Cover Reveal


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I just can’t keep a lid on it anymore, especially since I set up the Thorns series page and bought the domain name.

After working with Covers by Combs, she came up with an amazing custom cover for THORNS, the first book in the series. It’s just so gorgeous, I can’t stand it. Sometimes, when I’m nervous or lacking confidence or wondering what the point of this is, I just open the cover file and stare at it for a while.

THORNS will be available at the end of the month!

Thorns E Cover



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abstract art background bamboo

Photo by Suvan Chowdhury on

I’ve been saving this one for October, because it’s all about trypohobia, the fear of little holes where they shouldn’t be (see Lotus Pods, because there isn’t a photo in the free media library). There’s a theory that it arises from an atavistic fear of the visible symptoms of disease and parasites (see Delusional Parasitosis). Writing a song to invoke the discomfort of the phenomenon was a blast. I should write horror songs more often.


Thin threads hollow in the darkness
Cities and paths kept under the surface
Chewing their way through wooden bones
Insidious underneath skinful homes

Tiny pinpricks all in rows
Pulling from hundreds of little shadows
Slick long bodies and gnawing maws
The ones inside you never saw

Wriggle, squirm, scream, writhe
A pox upon the lotus eye
Itch and scratch, tearing cry
You never know what lies inside

Flowers and pods on riddled skin
Crawling and feeding deep within
Black eyes and mouths, open in wait
Death in moments, disease in their wake.

The hive mind, hive of the flesh
A soul decayed, mind in distress
Is prickling there or is it not?
Don’t you wish they’d stayed in the dark?


Patterns of sick, patterns of harm
From deep within pores, from doors unarmed
Digging holes in your perception
Dare see death in your reflection.


REVIEW: Slender Man


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slender man

I went to see SLENDER MAN with a friend, and like most people who saw it, I was extremely disappointed. Of course, it didn’t help that opening night audiences tend to be the most unpredictable. There are always rude people, but you never know where they’re going to sit. The couple sitting next to me were eating complicated food, so in the middle of a movie that’s densely dark most of the time, they had their phone lights on to see what they were eating. Bright lights. Dark theater. Dark screen. The light glared out the darkness, and this little magpie is easily distracted by bright, shiny, moving objects. Did. Not. Work. Who freaking does this?

I’m not somebody to call people on their bullshit, because I’m short and meek and not prepared to follow through if the other people get aggressive. But man, I just kept getting more and more annoyed. Then the guy next to me kept checking his phone even after they finished eating, and when he stopped, he eventually started snoring. Just… *choking gestures*

Even without nightmarish neighbors, SLENDER MAN fell far short of its potential. After the theatrical viewing, I was a bit confused, because I’d had the sense after watching the trailer a few months earlier that the movie would go in a much different direction. I re-watched the trailer again, and it definitely telegraphs a different storyline and some more violent moments.

It makes me think that the backlash to the trailer because of the ‘based on true events’ exploitative nature of the movie caused the showrunners to take their movie in a different direction–changing in edits, perhaps some script rewriting and reshooting. I’m not sure where they were in production at the time of the trailer, and I’m not sure whether the original story would have been more than a decent but forgettable movie. But from what I can tell, if they did significantly change the film, they changed it into something not as good.

Slender Man has been Internet creepypasta for roughly a decade, created out of nothing to become something of a meme. That’s not a long life for a viral monster of this kind, but he’ll probably stick around much longer, because he’s an amalgam of several iconic, creepy images and references similar creatures through history–from the Tall Man who was supposed to be the devil, to the faceless Bogeyman, to the Gentlemen from BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, to the Men in Black (not the comics/movie, but the archetype), and perhaps the closest analog for me, the Terrible Trivium from THE PHANTOM TOLLBOOTH. Too-long limbs and facelessness are creepy and there’s really nothing new about him, hence Slender Man will probably stick around the Collective.

He was ripe for a movie of his own eventually. The problem, it seems, is with the timing.

The controversy of this movie comes from the fact that just four years ago, two twelve-year-old girls stabbed their friend (who fortunately survived). They claimed they did so to impress Slender Man and were sentenced to a mental facility. By violent, personal tragedy standpoint, there was probably never a good time to make a movie off of this, but since Hollywood is no stranger to exploiting tragedy for a dollar, I think a general rule of thumb is waiting at least ten years out of respect. But they would have started filming SLENDER MAN within two to three years of the attack, and it was put out four years later, which goes under the heading of Too Soon.

And technically, the concept of SLENDER MAN has been around pretty long in a netscape, so it might have actually been too late to capitalize on the viral nature of this particular creepypasta. Too late for viral, too early for tragedy.

The problem with having to weigh the real tragedy with what they were able to do in the fiction was that something a little closer to actual events, which is what the trailer hinted at, would have been a much better story. What’s creepier, a standard supernatural stalker film where you barely see the haunting? Or Slender Man actually inciting violence, both against the teens’ will and/or in accordance with it, and causing genuine insanity, not some poor imitation? (True, we learn something about one of the characters at the end, but it was a case of too little, too late, and too confusing.) In other words, if SLENDER MAN had been a bit closer to SINISTER or THE PULSE, it might have been salvageable.

As the movie ended up, it’s a mash-up of the supernatural-Bogeyman-stalking-friends element of the NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET remake and the ghost-in-the-machine element of THE RING, while falling short of both. I’m actually a fan of the NIGHTMARE remake, which is a bit verboten to say, although I don’t like it more than the original. And THE RING is one of the best modern horror films (wasn’t a fan of RINGU, so I probably deserve to be drawn and quartered again).

If you’re going to put a creepy video in your movie that triggers the whole haunting like a net version of THE RING video, maybe you should make it actually, um, creepy. THE RING video benefited from being truly unsettling in its simplicity, with something as plain and stark as a wooden ladder on a wall alone giving a serious American Gothic vibe. The SLENDER MAN video is just a series of subliminal images, none of which are creepy on their own, and some of which go by so fast you don’t have time to get unsettled. If you’re going to invite comparison, you better make sure yours measures up.

As a concept, I feel like they had something that could have been interesting to work with even within the story they created. In their flimsy mythology that expanded upon the creepypasta, SLENDER MAN was an other-dimensional entity so strange to our dimension that to come into contact with him could change your perception, even cause a person to go mad. And they kept hinting at it happening, but aside from a few trippy moments (the library scene stands out as a respectable perception distortion, although I wish they would have done something less trippy and more creepy), they missed so many opportunities to play on paranoia and hallucination and instead got too attached to character denial and ineffectual effects. No madness. Not enough violence. Not enough paranoia. Not enough unsettling. You want an excellent example of slipping into madness that may or may not be real? Look no further than a movie that came out earlier this year, HEREDITARY.

Instead, there were a lot of plot details that padded the middle but never went anywhere. Cuts, edits, and rewrites obscured the original momentum and arc of the story to the point of meandering pointlessness.

There was proof that Annalise Basso’s character was obsessed with SLENDER MAN. And Basso is wonderfully disquieting in an unfortunately brief role. I wish the movie had used that sociopathic gleam and little smile more, perhaps as a proxy that Slender Man used to haunt them and convince them to do things, maybe even as the ultimately primary antagonist, with Slender Man as the instrument of her destruction. I feel like it was a big missed opportunity, especially since being willingly used by Slender Man would have been right up the character’s alley. Nothing ever happened with the revelation of that obsession, except that the Joey King character, Wren, starts researching more. But THE RING’s journalist Rachel, Wren is not. Industrious for a teen, but there’s only so much a girl can do.

There was suggestion that both the girls’ friend Chloe, played by Jaz Sinclair, and the protagonist’s boy toy started experiencing the madness. There was a scene in the trailer where Chloe was supposed to stab herself with a scalpel during science class. The actual science class scenes were dreadfully dull. We saw a burn/bruise of a hand on the boyfriend after he’d promised not to watch the video (another element cribbed from THE RING). But neither of those elements went anywhere. In HEREDITARY, the question you the viewer always asked yourself was “Is this real or just insanity?” If you can tell which one it is in a horror movie about madness, then that horror movie isn’t doing its job. We know Slender Man is doing it, so you’ve got to be creepier about the ‘it’ he’s doing.

Then there’s Slender Man himself, played by Javier Botet. Like Doug Jones, Botet has made a career of being tall, slender, bony, and flexible. But in the movies I’ve seen him in, like CRIMSON PEAK, MAMA, THE CONJURING 2, and here in SLENDER MAN, a heavy hand with CGI renders his physique and performance little more than poor motion capture. There might as well have never been a man there at all. I wish they’d taken a page from Doug Jones’ repertoire, which involves far more prosthetic work (although he’s no stranger to bad CGI, see LEGION). What they created could have been something taken from a video game. As I’ve said before, if I see the CGI-ness of it, I don’t believe it. And if I don’t believe it, you’ve failed. I understand CGI-ing the tentacles, but Slender Man is such a simple, iconic image, there was literally no reason they had to over-CGI the man himself. Isn’t a real man with no face creepier than creating a man with no face?

The really frustrating part is that the central female cast was actually fantastic. Annalise Basso (OCULUS) and Joey King (THE CONJURING, WISH UPON) are no strangers to the genre. Jaz Sinclair was decent. Julia Telles was our protagonist, and she and Joey King carry the movie. Telles has a radiance I remember from her BUNHEAD days that’s just begging for the right vehicle now that she’s grown up. She would be a helluva main girl in a good horror film. She has all of Katie Holmes’ freshness but more charm.

However, with the incoherent plot, the twist at the end that I still don’t quite get (would probably need to rewatch the movie to see if I understand, but I kinda don’t want to see it again), and the movie’s excessive caution that led to too toothless of a story, SLENDER MAN was just such a profound failure that, in my opinion, sinks even beneath ONE MISSED CALL. I’d rather watch THE RING 2. At least it’s pretty, and it has Simon Baker’s smile, one of my favorite horror soundtracks, and Naomi Watts, which forgives a multitude of sins.


What Happened


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close up photography of hand near window

Photo by Renato Mu on

This was an interesting little piece. I like the ones that feel more freestyle with the rhyming structure.

It’s a more conventional sad song than I’m used to doing, but there’s something about it that’s more poignant than I expected I’d be able to put together. So warning, break-up song ahead.

I can see it going any number of ways, from a quiet country song to a soft singer-songwriter type thing to a rock ballad. I guess it depends on emphasis.


It came from nowhere
This news that you found someone
And that you’re going somewhere
Somewhere that isn’t here.

I couldn’t see the signs
The excuses and the empty lies
Sweet nothing lines and wandering eyes
Were all invisible whenever you came near.

Did I cling too close to you before
Or let you wander too freely?
Or was I just a port where you could harbor
Until you found your sweeter shore?

Did you love me just to watch me fall?
When you left, did you mean to take my heart with you?
Did you laugh knowing how I would break down and cry?
Did you ever even love me at all?

It’s like you can’t feel
I run through our years of movie film reels
The dust in your attic won’t dry my tears
Everything I didn’t give, you had to steal.

I check myself every day
Lists of my faults, of mistakes that I made
Ways I pushed you too far to stay
And all the heartless things you had to say.

You put me in the dark alone
Forgot me like your shirts and your heart
You decided you needed a brand new start
Without finishing the story you left back at home.


I’m only paper
To fold and to tear
Your love is water
I need more than air
You leave me for dead
It’s only fair
True love is misery
You’re too happy to share.

And I don’t know what happened
I don’t understand
How you could just walk away
Without looking behind you
Taking something to remind you
That we were what happened
were what happened
And you threw it all away.



REVIEW: As Above, So Below


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As_Above,_So_Below_Poster[Here there be spoilers]

Because AS ABOVE, SO BELOW showed up unexpectedly on Netflix, I had the pleasure of watching it again to make sure it was as good as I remembered.

The closest analog I can think of is THE DESCENT, which is a tight, conventionally made horror film and one of my favorites, so the fact that AS ABOVE, SO BELOW shares some beats with it in a few conspicuous ways docks a few points, even if the similarities were unintentional and/or unconscious. But THE DESCENT is so good at ramping up the conflict and the obstacles; the similarities between the movies may just have to do with storytelling leading in the same directions. Even so, if I notice, I dock, and THE DESCENT came first.

Other than that, AS ABOVE, SO BELOW is one of the best found-footage horror movies I’ve seen, and other filmmakers should take note. The found-footage subgenre suffers from a few common foibles—too much shaky cam, bad special effects, an improvisational script that sometimes leads to ridiculousness and repetition, and the usual horror problem of an unsatisfying ending. Like most subgenres, once you start watching a whole bunch at once, they start to seem increasingly similar.

For instance, most found-footage depends on the unseen monster, which allows for a lot of simpler practical tricks (see PARANORMAL ACTIVITY) that are nonetheless effective…for a time. The longer the monster remains unseen, the more tension you generally have, but you eventually have to show something (I’m looking at you, BLAIR WITCH, wonderful though you are). It’s a delicate balance, because you eventually need to see something, at which point horror tension tends to plummet. Or the budget limitations mean that the monster isn’t believable. That shifting face effect and blobby eyes and mouth effect are fooling no one.

In the realm of found-footage, even more so than in traditional film, practical effects are king. Found-footage works within a very narrow suspension of disbelief, because the images seem more realistic than traditional film—but it’s totally worth it, because if you operate within that narrow suspension of disbelief, you can create entirely believable magic, and found-footage horror works by capitalizing on that believability and realism. But cameras that make things look more real are completely unforgiving, and so is your audience if they don’t believe what they’re seeing in a medium that looks spontaneously filmed. We’re more programmed to see fake in something that looks more real. Fortunately, AS ABOVE, SO BELOW depends almost entirely upon practical effects. Considering how ambitious they were, the fact they did the almost the entire movie old-school (makeup, set design, prosthetics, and good old-fashioned unsettlement) deserves mad props.

And then there’s the issue that every found-footage film needs to address, and most of them do so poorly: Why are people still filming? The blood and shit has hit the fucking fan. Why are you still lugging around a camera and not running like hell? There’s a point where almost everyone in the audience says, This is where I’d jump ship. I’m out. Even when the horror would have continued, there’s just a point where you’d put down the camera. One of the found-footage movies that addresses the unrealistic tendency of camera people to continue filming well is THE TAKING OF DEBORAH LOGAN.

AS ABOVE, SO BELOW does one better, because it never has to address the continued filming. There’s one camera person and three cams attached to headlamps. The main camera is discarded at one point, but when the protagonist picks it up again, her reasons for doing it at the time make sense without threatening the suspension of disbelief, especially since she doesn’t actually end up using it—keeping it for posterity, but without bogging down a scene. Three personal cameras and a main camera make for all the angles an audience could ask for, and you don’t lose any of the intimacy and immediacy that found-footage is so damn good at.

I love good found-footage because of that intimacy and immediacy, and I’m not the biggest fan of CGI. I don’t think we’re at a place yet where CGI is indistinguishable from reality, at least in my eyes. In animation films when everything moves in the same animated way, I’m fine, but when they’re used for special effects in live-action films, it works much better as an accessory to practical effects than the entirety of the effect itself. The minute I see too much CGI moving the way reality doesn’t and lit the way reality isn’t, I notice, and it takes me out of the immersive moment. I don’t believe it, and that’s the cardinal sin of film-making.

Found-footage is more than old-school. If done right, it feels real, like something that could really happen. You may not open your closet door tonight and see a wriggling tentacle monster, but some of my most unsettling moments at night are when I turn off my bedroom light and the closet light is on…and I don’t remember turning it on. Until I open my closet door and confirm no one’s waiting inside, the tension is incredible. (Despite my thanatophobia and sometimes intrusive thoughts, I’m actually pretty grounded and skeptical in real life, so supernatural forces are not my go-to explanation for things. Makes watching horror at night a little more doable.)

Like I said, AS ABOVE, SO BELOW was ambitious in what it wanted you to believe. It was a bit of INDIANA JONES meets THE DESCENT, with searching for Flamel’s Philosopher’s Stone (Harry Potter fans will thrill at that) in the delightfully macabre Paris catacombs, scenes inside the (implied) Notre Dame clock tower, the elaborate caves beneath the catacombs. I’m reminded also of MR. JONES, another ambitious found-footage film that didn’t quite land with the same conviction but still earned my serious respect for what it was attempting to do. AS ABOVE, SO BELOW makes you question your reality, but you never question the reality of what you’re watching, and that’s not an easy line to walk.

The main characters, played by Perdita Weeks and Ben Feldman aren’t complete unknowns, and that throws off some people’s suspension of disbelief within found-footage, but they weren’t familiar to me. I found them engaging, intelligent, just enough reckless without being totally foolish, and if the rest of the characters don’t feel as fleshed out, they nevertheless feel real. The movie benefits from being more thoroughly scripted, so although you get pockets of improv, you don’t feel like you’re losing time to it. In reality, the brain processes out all the extraneous bits in conversation, but in fiction, written and watched, you don’t, and the repetition and doubling back can become extremely annoying.

I’m a big fan of religious elements in my horror, elements that make you question your own understanding of religion. They tend to leave me shaken in the best kind of way, and they’re usually better than the kind of grandiose efforts you get in action/thriller films (see THE DA VINCI CODE). Nothing’s ever hard-confirmed, but AS ABOVE, SO BELOW takes a decidedly Danteian turn, and I find hell scarier when it feels real. Not overblown or overdone or lots of fire, not a Dore drawing, but real. Like a physical place I could be. And AS ABOVE, SO BELOW disquieted me. Not quite as much as THE DARK SONG, but it also had a different intention than that film.

Fans of alchemical history and INFERNO will probably enjoy AS ABOVE, SO BELOW and recognize all the little references that they don’t make too obvious. I like a film that trusts its audience and doesn’t have to explain everything along the way.

In general, I really like AS ABOVE, SO BELOW as found-footage and a bit of horror-slash-supernatural-slash-adventure. Genre mashups usually do pretty well, because they don’t feel as beholden to trope standards, and there’s more room to be surprised. Based off of the trailer, I found AS ABOVE, SO BELOW entirely unexpected. I was transfixed during the first viewing, and it held up just as well after the second.