Saturday, May 27, 2017

5 Atmospheric Horror Films to Watch (+ Book News!)

Sometimes being a writer feels so very incompatible with being anything else – a businessperson, a self-promoter, a social media maven. I think it’s imperative for so many writers, myself included, to carve out a fair amount of solitude in order to get into a mental state that allows for creativity. If anyone was wondering where I’ve been lately, well, I’ve been trying to make that creativity thing happen. More specifically, I’ve been trying to finish my book.

The good news? The book is done, and I’m really, really excited about it. You’ll be hearing much more about that in the near future (I swear!). The bad news is that means I’m now facing a slew of new “writer responsibilities,” many of which (like that self-promotion thing) are relatively new to me. This blog had to take a bit of a backseat while I was writing the book, and it seems like that’s a trend that’s going to continue, unfortunately. I wish I could do my day job, write a book, promote that book, and still write a blog post every week, but I’m not that writer. At least not yet.

In any case, I hope you’ll stick with me if you’ve enjoyed my writing in the past, because this blog is definitely not going anywhere. Horror is still my number one love – my book is about final girls, after all – I’m just not able to maintain the schedule that seems required these days to keep the social media machine happily fed (things move off the timeline and into the ether so dang quickly, don’t they?). But I’m in this for the long haul, and I’m hoping this blog will only become more expansive and a bigger part of my life in the future. I love writing about horror; I love the art it’s brought into my life and I love that it’s connected me with so many cool people. Y’all are awesome, truly.

Anyway, onto the real reason you came here, right? Some people call them slow, other people call them boring… but I call these movies masterpieces of ambience and suspense. And I think I’m right.

A Dark Song. This is the movie that inspired this post; it absolutely drips with eerie, unsettling atmosphere. The film plays out as a chamber piece, with a bereaved mother and a bitter occultist living in an isolated farmhouse and undergoing a grueling, months-long practice in the dark arts. If magic is real (fingers crossed), I imagine this is what it’s really like to attempt something as monumental as contacting the spirit world. It’s not a fun, spooky foray into Ouija boards and chanting for an evening – it’s methodical, arduous work and true self-sacrifice. This film captures that.

All the Boys Love Mandy Lane. I’m pretty sure I’ve written about this movie before, and its unhurried approach to the teen slasher film. There’s nothing revolutionary here, but I love that the film has this leisurely, summer-hot, hormone-soaked aura that just radiates from the screen. It gives viewers the heady feeling of being a teenager again, unsupervised and surrounded by members of the opposite sex that you’re only just beginning to figure out. Then it adds in a little murder.

Only Lovers Left Alive. Where would a depressed vampire spend an eternity making sad music and finding minimal enjoyment in things he once loved (like blood popsicles, for example)? In the bleak, under-saturated landscape of Detroit, of course. This film appeals deeply to the emo kid in me, while also being sleekly artistic and, let’s just say it, really fucking cool. This is a film that lets you indulge in the melancholy suspicion that humankind is probably ultimately doomed, while also feeling like if we’re going to go out with a whimper rather than a bang, Jim Jarmusch’s way is the way to do it.

The Innkeepers. Ti West’s film The House of the Devil rightfully gets a ton of kudos for its authentic 70s throwback style and its subtle, creeping sense of dread, but if I were pressed to pick a favorite film of his, it would be The Innkeepers. For all of Devil’s retro charm, Innkeepers has a leg up both character and story wise, and it manages to ratchet up the suspense with an even more agonizingly slow burn than its predecessor. Frankly I recommend both films, but everything is a contest these days, isn’t it?

Lords of Salem. I’ve heard it said that you either love Rob Zombie or you hate him, and I’m here to make a rebuttal. Personally, I find his films to be a mixed bag, and I often find myself enjoying some parts of his films but not others. Lords of Salem fits into this category for me, because while the story isn’t totally there, the environment and its accompanying mood act as characters – ones that I adore. This film is sinister, grungy, and neon-lit; and while the music is nothing mind-blowing, it fits the tone of the film perfectly, folding itself into the dark parts of your brain where I imagine it will stay for quite a while.

What about you? Do you like slow burns like these movies, or do you find the burn a little too slow? Any favorites? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter!

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

A Day Stained Red

This is a personal post that delves into politics. If that's not your thing and you just come here for horror, that's totally cool. Feel free to skip this, or scroll to the bottom of the post if you just want to read one of my new final girl horror poems.

Today is the International Women’s Day. Today, women across the country are striking in support of the Day Without a Woman Strike, to bring awareness to the myriad ways that women are still not equal in our society.

But not enough women.

When I planned on writing a post in honor of this day, I intended to write something full of inspiration. Something uplifting. Something to honor the women who have fought for us in the past, as well as the women still fighting for us now. I had so much hope that this day would manage to replicate the effects of the historic strikes in Iceland and Poland, where 90% of women showed up and caused real, tangible change. Finally. Because in 2017, we are still not considered equals in our patriarchal society.

We are not considered equals by our president, one of the most (rightfully) scrutinized men in the country, a man who is meant to lead our society by example. We are not considered equal within the military or the job market or the doctor’s office or the home. We are not protected, and we are not given the tools, or often even the right, to protect ourselves. We are not victims whining for handouts or special privileges, but we are victimized by this toxic culture. All we want is something that is, to my mind, fairly simple: the same rights and privileges afforded to men in every way.

And yet, so many women can’t seem to see these things like I do. They can’t see the things that so many disadvantaged, poor, minority, disabled, and trans women do. Or they’re choosing to ignore it.

Before I wrote this post, I tortured myself for far too long looking at comments on Twitter about today’s strike. Comments from women – generally white, middle- and upper-class women – proclaiming they don’t need feminism because their lives are just fine.

And you know what? They’re probably right.

If you are not a minority, if you are not poor or disabled or generally seen as “other” (i.e., the enemy) by society at large, your life probably is fine just as it is. But to ignore the lived experiences of other women who are now screaming for our recognition and aid – if you can’t even be bothered to acknowledge the struggles of those women, or worse, choose to outright deny and silence their experiences – well. That is a shocking and disturbing lack of empathy. That is cruelty. That is you becoming the oppressor.

So. I’m not writing this post with the hope and confidence I wish I had. I just don’t have it in me today, and I can’t put on false bravado in the face of so many people – my people, including white liberal women I thought I could count on – perpetuating a culture that actively harms us. I am hurt. I am hurting. And I know there are millions of women out there hurting so much worse than I am.

At the same time, I know that there are so many women doing the work of striking and marching and fighting for those of us who can’t seem to find it in ourselves right now. Not enough women, probably. But enough to give me the small glimmer of hope I need to hold on to. For some of us, it’s the tiniest wisp of a flame, and it’s always in danger of burning out. But if we help one another, if we do what we can when we can do it, I think we can keep that flame alive. We can stoke it on little by little, until we are able to pick up the torch ourselves and run with it.

Today, I’m doing what I can. I’m wearing red and abstaining from work and consumerism in honor of those who can’t afford to. I wish I were marching, but as someone with anxiety that is currently somewhat crippling, I can’t get myself out of the house. So I’m writing this. And I’m hoping that for now, it’s enough.

And one last thing: a poem from my upcoming feminist collection. It’s not the triumphant poem I wish I could post, but it’s the poem I’m feeling today, in solidarity with other women who are grasping at what little faith they can. Because if I can't be the strong woman today, at least I can write one into existence.

Under the Shadow (2016)

Separate yourself, like sliding wire through
clay. Divide your organs - heart, lungs, tongue,
and brain. You think you need them all?
You’d be shocked what a woman can live
without. We’re like roaches, we thrive,

pull our tired bodies through war, things
we never asked for, with children strapped
to our backs. Now don’t forget the smaller bits:
tonsils, gallbladder. Your ovaries, your veins.
A box for bile, another to keep you sane. Make

a plan. Mark each box with an x and let it sit.
Let it fester in the dark, grow mold, grow rabid
with disuse. Your personality is apartments,
doors that can be closed. When they come
they’ll take pieces, they can’t carry it all.

They can’t change you, too much. Can’t know
what you do at home. Just try not to howl,
or shudder, when you see: when it happens to us
it’s for the best, but when it happens to them
it’s tragedy.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Cool As Hell: Neon Demon Poster Roundup

Say what you will about The Neon Demon (personally, I thought the story was pretty thin, but unquestionably beautiful to look at), but there's no denying its gorgeous aesthetic has inspired some equally gorgeous posters. Below are some of my favorites, both from the studio and from artists found online.

I've tried to credit everyone's work, but please let me know if I missed you or if you'd rather I remove your poster, and I will remedy the situation.

studio poster
studio poster
What are your favorite movie posters? Tell me in the comments or on Twitter!

Thursday, January 26, 2017

M. Night Shyamalan Nails Dark Humor in ‘Split’

This post DOES NOT contain spoilers for Split, but it does have spoilers for The Visit.

McAvoy as the alter "Hedwig."

A grown man, speaking and acting like an oversexed nine-year-old boy while dancing spasmodically to Kanye West albums for the girl he’s just kidnapped.

A mentally ill nursing home escapee, her mouth covered in powdered sugar, screaming “Yahtzee!” at two terrified children.

A second mentally ill nursing home escapee, rubbing a dirtied diaper in a child’s face, claiming cheerfully that it’ll help him get over his fear of germs.

These are just a few of the most darkly humorous moments I’ve had the pleasure (and discomfort) of enduring while watching M. Night Shyamalan’s films Split and The Visit. If nothing else, you have to give the man credit for absolutely nailing the black humor in his two latest films. Specifically, the impeccable way Shyamalan manages to blend a near-constant sense of creeping dread and horror with some of the funniest, darkest humor I’ve seen in a while. Because it wasn’t always this way.

Deschanel's wide-eyed sense of weirdness pervaded The Happening, to its detriment.

Does anyone remember The Happening? In which Mark Wahlberg and Zooey Deschanel (odd casting to begin with) spent an entire film trying to outrun plants that made people suicidal. The film had some scary moments – an old woman cracking her head through multiple windows before dying is a particularly memorable one – but it was entirely undermined by an offbeat, wacky tone that shifted in and out of focus throughout the film’s runtime. Deschanel spent the majority of the movie with her eyes comically widened, making a bizarre “who me?” face that only confused her characterization and the plot, while Wahlberg aimlessly threw around flat jokes at strange junctures. The result was what I imagine to be an amalgam of the worst parts of a Wes Anderson film mixed with the worst parts of Hitchcock. In short, the tone was totally off.

Looking farther back, I’m inclined to believe tone may have been an issue for The Village and Lady in the Water as well, though I remember those films even less clearly than I do The Happening. But all three of those films seem to suffer in part due to an overly serious tone, muddied by sporadic bouts of off-the-wall goofiness. The uncomfortable, occasionally laughable portrayal of Adrien Brody’s mentally challenged character in The Village, for example. And Lady in the Water, while touching (Giamatti’s sweet performance is ever a knife to my heart), was always teetering on the verge of saccharine, even twee, with its cast full of quirky misfits. It just didn’t quite work.

McAvoy as the eerily calm alter, "Patricia."

The Visit, however, seems to be where Shyamalan began to get his groove back. This film did a laudable job of mixing primal, visceral horror (body horror, psych horror, bio horror) with the darkest of humor, and Split takes that even further, and improves on it in some ways. So rarely have I experienced a horror film like Split, in which I so consistently found myself laughing out loud while simultaneously feeling deeply unsettled, anxious, or scared. The Visit was wall-to-wall oddball horror that had me laughing as much as shrieking; Split is something more nuanced, more fleshed-out, and more disturbing altogether.

In Split, Shyamalan maintains an uncanny sense that something is not quite right in this world (beyond the obvious mental health issues), which fills every single scene with a sense of impending doom that stretches on and on as your nerves fray further. One minute you’re laughing at James McAvoy’s silly, innocent portrayal of a nine-year-old alter, while the next minute you’re confronted with the wide, sad eyes of Anya Taylor-Joy as the terrified abducted, looking on. We may initially laugh at McAvoy, now attired in a skirt and shawl and speaking in a high, feminine voice, but it only takes moments to realize that this new alter may be one of the most quietly dangerous of all. You’re constantly drawn into McAvoy’s creepily charismatic, often amusing presence, and then pulled back to the perspectives of the traumatized characters he seeks to harm grievously.

Taylor-Joy does wide-eyed terror right.

The film has its faults, and although this isn’t exactly a review, I’ll quickly list just a couple: 1) The film is populated with characters doing typically horror-movie-stupid stuff several times too often (honestly, I haven't felt the need to judge characters' actions so harshly in quite some time, and I watch a lot of horror); and 2) I’d love for Shyamalan to explain to me why it was necessary – really necessary – to strip the teenaged girls down to their underwear for a large portion of the movie. Dennis has OCD, sure, but he also seems to have a hell of a lot of extra clothes lying around his place. He couldn't have lent the girls some sweats? Much of the horror film industry has moved past these clich├ęs, and I think we could all endeavor to do so.

But don’t let that distract from the larger point. Split walks a tightrope of restless suspense that I suspect will be highly enjoyable for the adrenaline junkies of horror fandom, and is roundly fun entertainment. That’s far more than I could’ve said about a Shyamalan film just a few years ago.

So what did you think? Let me know here in the comments or over on Twitter!

Friday, January 20, 2017

On Trump, Art, the Horror of Real Life, and a Way Forward (Plus an Announcement)

This is how I know I am lucky: On November 9, 2016, I woke up feeling worse than I can remember feeling in my entire life.

I’ve had bad days; days when I’ve been sick, scared, and hurt. I’ve dealt with frustrating medical issues. But I’ve never had a serious bout of depression, or an obstacle that threatened my life or livelihood. I’ve always had a support system to catch me when I fall.

I’ve had anxious, scary days when a friend or family member was in pain or dealing with illness. But I’ve never had a family member become so ill that there wasn’t a sizable ray of hope illuminating the path forward.

I’ve lost loved ones, but rarely in ways tragic or unexpected.

So yes, I am so deeply lucky to be able to say that before November 9, I never had to confront the all encompassing sadness, fear, and anxiety that I felt the day after Donald Trump was elected president of the United States. The fear I still feel, and a fear that only seems to grow by the day, for myself and for those less privileged than me.

This post isn’t about whining. I passed whining, through grief, and into full-on fighting mode weeks ago.

Some of you – a huge majority of voters, in fact – know exactly what I mean. Others are sure to believe I’m nothing more than a “whiny liberal” who needs to sit down and shut up. Trump won. Get over it.

For those of you who think this election was just like any other election, and so Democrats should accept defeat quietly (despite that Republicans failed to do any such thing either time Obama won the presidency), I could point you to so many reasons why it’s not. For example, the rise in hate crimes since the election, including those perpetrated by elected officials who no longer feel the need to “be politically correct.” These crimes were and are directly incited by the sexist, racist, ableist rhetoric employed by Trump throughout his campaign. Despite calls to “give him a chance,” nothing that Trump has done thus far has inspired any optimism in those of us who value human rights, education, the overall health of our society, and myriad other issues that, before this election, seemed enshrined in and protected by U.S. law.

Add to all those concerns these issues that continue to plague me: Trump’s unethical ties to an untold number of domestic and foreign corporations, his alleged ties to Russia, and his refusal to accept legitimate news as fact.

In short, no, this election was not like any other election.

But if I can’t convince you with all of the above, I’m afraid that only time can. I’m afraid you will only see it when it’s directly affecting you, when it’s taking away your healthcare, your rights, your job. If you haven’t already felt some of those effects, you will likely very soon. I am truly sorry for that.

But this post isn’t about whining or sadness. I passed whining, through grief, and into full-on fighting mode weeks ago. I’ve subscribed to a reliable news source, attended meetings and forums with my local representatives, made the calls to my representatives. I will march in the Woman’s March in Washington this Saturday, because peaceful protest and civil disobedience are not anti-democracy – they are the heart of democracy. The very purpose of democracy itself.

Rather, I’m posting this because I’ve been seeking ways to supplement those efforts, short of changing careers (the idea of a career in politics is a sort of fresh hell to this introverted writer). I’ve searched my soul trying to think of ways I can make a difference, and do you know what came out? Poems. Lots and lots of poems.

Poems?, you might say. I know. I’ve been thinking that, too. What good is poetry in the face of all this? And yet, it was poetry shared by thousands on Twitter that brought me, and apparently many others, some small measure of comfort and consolation in the weeks after the election – poems like this one, and this one, and this one.

But it can feel pointless, even narcissistic, to embrace one’s own art in this political climate. Anything relevant or timely begins to feel like a bid for attention.

I am a poet by nature. I always have been. It’s how my feelings most often come out; it’s how I process things. I’ve tried more times than I can say to tamp down that part of me, to be a writer of something more “modern,” more accessible. But in the weeks following the election, the only thing that poured out of me was poetry. It’s how I work. Frankly, it’s the best way I work.

Yesterday I read that Trump has potential plans to kill the National Endowment for the Arts, as well as defund other programs that support the arts. Again, this will seem like whiny liberalism to some of you, but to me and to society at large, this news is devastating. Because no matter what anyone says, art is imperative to a working society.

But it can feel pointless, even narcissistic, to embrace one’s own art in this political climate. Anything relevant or timely begins to feel like a bid for attention. For example, this post by Rebecca Woolf, who is currently working on her first film and will soon be asking for crowdfunding help, encompasses everything I’m feeling about making my own art these days. In a nutshell, she says: “Raising money to make a movie suddenly felt petty considering everything that was going on – being an advocate for my project (and myself) felt inappropriate – like setting up a lemonade stand in the middle of a funeral,” but, “Sometimes it takes the rise of a villain for us all to become superheroes. And sometimes it takes writing fictional stories for us to realize our truths. If more women could tell the stories… maybe we wouldn't have to fight so fucking hard to be heard.”

Consider this quote from Lyndon Johnson, on signing into existence the National Endowment on the Arts: “Art is a nation’s most precious heritage. For it is in our works of art that we reveal to ourselves and to others the inner vision which guides us as a nation. And where there is no vision, the people perish.”

Societies require art. Art provides catharsis, solace and commiseration. It inspires empathy and expands our perspectives. It provides a way to communicate that is not only seen or heard, but felt. It incites action and helps us find new ways to progress. It gives society a vision and a soul. Without that soul, we crumble and die.

I’m writing a book of poems from the perspectives of final girls from horror cinema. A book about women who are stronger than me, women who inspire me, women who resist. Women who survive until the end.

All of this is to say, in part, that I am nearly done writing my first full collection of poetry. It’s inspired largely by the election of Donald Trump, but also by a lifetime spent dealing with sexism, as well as the last several months I’ve spent listening to other marginalized groups who say they’ve been experiencing Trump’s brand of hate for their entire lives – it just hasn’t been covered by the news until now. So I’m doing the only thing I know how to do – I’m writing. Specifically, I’m writing a book of poems from the perspectives of final girls from horror cinema. I’m writing a book of poetry about women who are stronger than me, women who inspire me, women who resist. Women who survive until the end.

I am so excited - invigorated - by this book. I will be publishing it myself, and it will be out soon, because I believe I have something to contribute. I believe this country needs every thoughtful, contemplative voice it can find right now.

As I let my own little piece of resistance into the world, I want to intensely encourage all of my writer friends, my artist friends, my filmmaker friends (the ones I know and the ones whose art I haven’t yet had the pleasure of experiencing) to continue making your art. No matter what. Make it loud, make it vital, make it important. Make it as accessible as possible. And when it comes time to promote that art, don’t be afraid to ask for your small piece of recognition. Hell, ask me. Because what you do means everything.

For now, I leave you with this – a poem of mine, and my (purely metaphorical) message to the GOP. It’s based on Amy Everson’s 2014 film Felt.

Felt (2014)

Give me muscles, or else I’ll make them
myself out of this anger rising
from my throat and bubbling to my skin
like disease I cannot contain any longer.
This is how you make me feel, like some
thing blighted, broken and abnormal.
I rear back my head, thrust my pink
tongue to the sky, make it ugly for you.
I want to hurt you. I want to offend.

I know you’ll laugh, and it will feel like
a slap to my jaw. You think I can’t, think
my strength seems soft as cotton, spongy
as exposed innards. You think I’m sweet,
candied to cloying, a thing to grab and put
in your mouth until I’m chewed to a pulp
and used up. You’re wrong.

I will adorn this body with scars, twist it
until it is sharp, maul it into weaponry.
I will become the fist and gun and bomb
that you have used against me since
the day I was born in this woman’s body.
If you find the tenor or shape of my words
unappealing, know that you have made me.
Thank you. I will use all this against you,
and you will not see it coming.

If you would like to follow the news regarding my upcoming book release (no pressure, I swear!) or see further excerpts from the book, please visit my website and sign up for my newsletter, or connect with me on social media. I will also post about my progress here from time to time.

Please don't hesitate to reach out on social media to talk to me about anything, regardless of whether you care about my poems. This is the time for creators to band together and support one another. If you make art, if you write, if you read - I'd love to talk about all of it.

TL;DR: Refuse to sit down and shut up. Always.

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