Archive for the ‘Scary Stuff’ Category

I wasn’t able to catch Get Out when it was in theaters, and by the time I watched it on DVD, so much time had passed I didn’t feel like writing a post with my thought. To sum up said thoughts, I thought it was a creepy, atmospheric film that openly explored racial attitudes among Americans, though I felt the main character was less a fully realized character and more of a vehicle for the audience to experience the movie through. So when I heard about Us, I was very intrigued. And then I saw that first trailer. And I knew I had to see what Jordan Peele had cooked up this time. Today, my sister and I went for an early showing, eager to see what people were talking about.

To say the least, the film was surreal. Like Peele was channeling Stephen King when he was writing The Dark Half and created a visual twist on the concept. And it works for the most part.

Us follows Adelaide, played by Lupita Nyong’o, a mother and former ballerina who goes up with her husband Gabe, daughter Zora and son Jason to a vacation home that Adelaide stayed at as a kid in 1986, when she experienced a traumatic episode. That night though, they’re attacked by the Tethered, twisted, animalistic doppelgangers of themselves that seek to murder Adelaide and her family. Thus begins a trial for the family to not only survive, but to find out why this is happening to them.

From the get-go, this is a strange and eerie film. It combines storytelling with atmosphere, music (seriously, the part music plays in this film cannot be underestimated), and action in order to create an intense experience. At some points we were so on edge, a woman sneezing a couple rows behind us caused twenty people to jump out of their seats! And that includes me and my sister.

And the amount of symbolism in this film can’t be understated. A lot of details go into this film that are meant to make you examine the imagery and ideas being presented. From actual twins, symmetry and patterns in objects and pictures, the Bible phrase Jeremiah 11:11, rabbits,* and so much more. All to get you thinking on these themes of identity, duality, being an American, socioeconomics, creative expression, and so much more. I won’t go into what it all means–I’m sure there are bloggers and YouTubers who will do a better job of that than I could–but it will leave you thinking for hours after you leave the theater.

I will take a moment just to say that I think the son character is one big reference to the Friday the 13th franchise. This is mainly because his name is Jason and he wears a mask throughout a good portion of the film for some reason, but there’s plenty in the film I could point to that backs that assertion up. I won’t because I don’t want to spoil anything.

If there’s one thing I didn’t care for, it was the humor in film. Not that it was terrible, but after the main plot of the film kicks into gear, I found how much of it there was, most of it coming from family patriarch Gabe (played with plenty of love by Nyong’o’s Black Panther costar Winston Duke) distracting. Like, there’s this one scene where the family is discussing what to do in light of what they’ve experienced, and they make a series of Home Alone jokes! Takes you right out of the tense, creepy mood.

Then again, this is from Jordan Peele, who’s still primarily known as a comedian. Humor should be expected. But at a certain point, I just would like it if was toned down a bit. That may just be my quirk, but it’s how I feel.

All in all though, Us is a true success for Peele. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving it a 4.6.  Unsettling, trippy, and memorable, Us will stay with you for hours after you see it. I have no doubt that with time, it’ll be seen as one of the best horror films of 2019, and maybe the first great one of 2019 as well. Take a breath, jump in, and see the madness yourself.

 

And while I still have your attention, I’m still looking for eARC readers for my novel Rose, about a young woman who starts turning into a plant creature (and that’s just the start of her problems). If you would like to get an advanced copy, all you have to do is send me an email at ramiungar@ramiungarthewriter.com. I only ask that you consider leaving a review on or after the release date. Thanks, and I look forward to hearing from you!

*Fun fact: rabbits are capable of a much wider range of beneficial mutations when they reproduce that cousins or even siblings can mate with each other and still produce a healthy and genetically diverse brood. Take that how you will, but I have thoughts on how that plays into the film.

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If you’ve been on the Internet lately, you’ve probably heard of Momo and seen the photo associated with her/it. For those who haven’t, Momo is an Internet urban legend that, like Slender Man before her, has gained a sort of life on and off the Internet. Supposedly, she’s a woman or entity you contact or she contacts you online and threatens you and taunts you, predicting your death and encouraging you to do increasingly dangerous tasks and dares, including committing suicide (this latter part is known as the Momo Challenge). Most photos that pop up when you search her are of a woman with bug eyes, long stringy hair and a beaklike mouth. This is actually a 2016 statue from a Japanese artist named Keisuke Aisawa depicting an ubume, or the spirit of a woman who died in childbirth.

Over the past several months, normal people and YouTube personalities have said to have found Momo’s contact information for apps like WhatsApp and posted videos/screenshots of their conversations (not sure if those are faked, though they are creepy). Parents have also reported their children coming across videos of/about Momo on YouTube and YouTube Kids, traumatizing them and causing YouTube a lot of trouble (this is what happens when you have imperfect algorithms and AI that can’t actually examine video content for appropriateness or guideline violations). And rumors of deaths around the world supposedly caused by Momo (though no official police statements have definitively named Momo in any way to the case). This caused parent groups, celebrities, and Internet safety organizations to warn the public about Momo, saying she could pose a real threat to children and teens, and encouraging Internet safety.

Nowadays, any numbers/accounts associated with Momo are reported inactive and people are starting to realize this is just another Internet monster going around and getting a lot of attention. In other words, more hoax than horror (unless people are posing as Momo online, in which case I hope they can be traced and turned into the police). Still, parents and many others are concerned, and it’s not hard to see why.

So what made Momo so popular?

Well, a couple of factors. Like Slender Man before her, Momo is a modern, Internet incarnation of the boogeyman figures and demons that have haunted humanity’s dreams since the cave dwellings. She is an entity, a witch or demon who tempts or influences people, particularly vulnerable children, to harm. We’ve seen this before with Lilith and succubi, various demons across different cultures, and Krampus, among others. As time and technology have changed, so have our fears and the forms and ways our demons target us, the Internet being the newest way, both as a way to reach people and as a way to spread the word.

There’s also the photo of Momo, which as I said is a statue of Japanese artist Keisuke Aisawa’s conception of an ubume. However the photo itself got associated with the Momo character, it fulfills a lot of the same visual requirements to make it an effective creepypasta image. For one thing, it’s human-like, but distinctly inhuman. This matches up with the theory of the uncanny valley, which states that the further something moves away from being human, the less we are able to identify it as human. At a certain point between human and inhuman, images or objects will enter the “uncanny valley,” where we can’t identify it as human or inhuman and we react with anxiety. Momo’s exaggerated features put her squarely in that valley.

That, and she’s very meme-able. In the time she’s entered the public consciousness, Momo videos, images, artwork, and stories have popped up all over the Internet, ranging from the creepy to the funny. Hell, I even made some Momo imagery. Look.

Like it? It’s me using a filter on my phone. And it was easy to make. So imagine how easy it is for other people to take Momo’s iconic look and put their own spin on it. As I said, instantly meme-able.

But there’s one more reason why Momo’s become so popular, and in this way she’s out-paced Slender Man. You see, Slender Man is specified as an impersonal entity who mainly sticks to forests. Outside of the movie, he doesn’t really rely on the Internet to do what he does to people (though the Internet has been great for his career). Momo on the other hand, while her exact nature is up for debate, is much more human than Slender Man. Her picture has features, she uses the human tool of the Internet, and she attacks us in a personal, psychological way.

Even worse, she can be anyone, and we sense that on some level. We get that beyond the inhuman picture, there’s a human intelligence trying to traumatize and harm us. It could be the elementary school teacher, the kid delivering newspapers to the neighborhood, your local politician, your neighbor, the PTA mom, the college student looking for a thrill that doesn’t come from a needle. She’s the avatar of how you really can’t trust anyone on the Internet and can never really know what their intentions are with you. And isn’t being unable to trust your fellow humans the scariest thing of all?

Obviously, I condemn anyone using the Momo persona to cause harm to others. And I would remind everyone that Momo is a fictional character birthed on the Internet, and shouldn’t be taken seriously.

Momo has given me an idea for a story. I look forward to getting it written.

But all that being said, it’s no wonder she went viral like she did. She embodies several types of fears in one persona and image, horrifying and fascinating us all at once. It’s fascinated me to the point that I’ve been inspired to write a story. Not about Momo, but a character like her, one born on the Internet that becomes so viral it takes on a life of its own. I think Slender Man and Momo are only the first of a long line of these sort of entities, and I would like to give my own thoughts on the character type through the best medium at my disposal. I hope it turns out well.

 

And while I still have your attention, I’m still looking for eARC readers for my novel Rose. For those unaware, this is the story of a young woman who starts turning into a plant creature (and that’s just the start of her problems). If you would like to get an advanced electronic copy, send an email to ramiungar@ramiungarthewriter.com and I’ll put you on the list. All I ask is you consider posting a review on or after the release date. Thanks, and I look forward to hearing from you.

Good night, my Followers of Fear. Pleasant (possibly Momo-filled) nightmares.

Greta follows Chloe Grace Moretz as Frankie, a young woman living in New York who finds a handbag on the subway on the way home from work. She brings the bag to its owner, Greta Hadig (Isabelle Huppert), a French widow living alone. The two women strike up an unlikely friendship and find comfort in each other’s company. That is, until Frankie finds out Greta is hiding some terrible secrets, and her relationship with the older woman takes a very dark turn.

The best part of this film is its lead actresses. I’ve always loved Chloe Grace Moretz. She’s a great actress who truly embodies whatever role she inhabits, be it a vigilante or Carrie White in the better movie adaptation of Stephen King’s Carrie (don’t @ me, Sissy Spacek/Piper Laurie fans). Greta is no exception, with Moretz really coming across as this young woman who’s kind and a little vulnerable, but also at the same time has a bit of fight in her. And Isabelle Huppert’s Greta is plenty creepy. She’s no Annie Wilkes, but she can go from sweet and grandmotherly to cruel and sociopathic at the flip of a switch. it’s a great change.

And Maika Monroe from It Follows has a supporting role in the film! Good to see her again, I haven’t seen her in anything since that film (probably my fault more than hers). She’s great as the best friend who’s seems shallow on the surface but has a deeper, badass side to her.

However, the film isn’t exactly a thrilling psychological slow burn. We’ve seen this sort of story before, and that makes it predictable. By the last third or so, I could predict what was going to happen minutes before it occurred. And while there are some tense moments, they’re too few and far-between to create a gripping atmosphere. Couple that with an unnecessary and boring dream sequence, and the film’s quality really goes down.

On the whole, I’m giving Greta a 2.8 on a scale of 1 to 5. The talent is there, and God do they try to make it work, but an obvious plot and lack of actual terror make this a forgettable entry into the thriller genre. Which is a shame, as the director was the guy who gave us Interview with the Vampire in 1994 and as I said, Moretz is the superior Carrie in the superior adaptation. But hey, every now and then you strike out, am I right?

Good morning, everyone! It’s about one in the morning, but I can’t sleep yet. Not until I update you on the latest with Rose!

Now for those of you who’ve joined the Followers of Fear since my last update (Hi, by the way. Pleasure to have you), Rose is a novel that I started in college as my thesis project and which is being published by Castrum Press. The story follows a young woman who turns into a plant creature (and that’s just the start of her problems). Yes, I wrote a horror novel around that bonkers concept, an it’s just bonkers enough to work.

Honestly, I worried it was too bonkers. But based on this latest edit, I think it’s just bonkers enough to work.

So if you read my last update on the novel, you know Castrum wanted me to take a look at word choice and do some touch-ups with the text. Thanks to a couple of thesauruses and plenty of motivation, I was able to go through the entire novel within the space of a couple of weeks and get rid of the unnecessary and repetitive words. The result is that the novel is a few thousand words shorter, but still a decent length of 57,051 words (for context, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone was about twenty-thousand words longer). And I think it may be the best version of the novel yet.

Of course, that’s my bias. But given that with every draft of this novel I’ve had to change major aspects of the story every time–characters, plot points, locations, etc.–it’s nice to see Rose is finally getting into a shape worth publishing. Perhaps this might be the draft that goes to press. We’ll see. We may have more work to do before all is said and done.

Done. You know, my high school English teacher once said something that’s stuck with me through the years. He said that a story is never “perfect.” You can only get it “done,” i.e. edited and polished up to the point where doing anything else to it would be a disservice to the story. You’re done with it, and that’s that. And I think Rose has taken a few more steps to being done.

I hope, anyway.

So what’s next? Well, I’ve already sent the new draft off to Castrum. I’m way ahead of the scheduled deadline of March 31st, so that means they’ll either get through it that much quicker or it’ll wait for a little bit until the end of March, when they carved out time in the calendar to review the manuscript. Either way, I think after this draft things should speed along.

Well, in the meantime, I think it’s time I hit the hay. Tomorrow’s another day to write and edit and come up with concepts to scare people down to their cores. Good night, Followers of Fear. Thanks for your continued support as I work hard to get this novel out.

Until next time, pleasant nightmares!

Today I went to the movies for a double feature. The first film was the new Alita: Battle Angel (for my thoughts on that, check my Twitter feed). The other was the sequel to 2017’s hit horror film Happy Death Day (see my review of that here). Plenty of people who liked the first film, including myself, wondered if the sequel could live up to the fun and batshit insanity of the original. And I think they did a decent job.

Happy Death Day 2U picks up almost immediately after the end of the first film, with protagonist Tree and boyfriend Carter finding out Carter’s roommate Ryan is now in a murder-filled time loop of his own. They discover the source of the time loop, but in the process of trying to fix it, Tree is sent into an alternate timeline where things are quite different, and where she’s stuck in the loop again. And if she doesn’t solve this loop and find a way back to her timeline, things will get really messy.

As one would expect, this film does take a lot of cues from the first film, which takes a lot of cues from Groundhog Day and other time-loop stories. So people who were expecting something different will be disappointed (though how they could expect something different is beyond me). The stakes are raised this time though, because Tree has to protect not just her own life, but has to save other lives along with other tasks in order to get back to her life as she knows it. There’s also the added dilemma of whether Tree wants to go back to her original timeline, as the new one has some perks along with some downsides (you’ll see what I mean if you decide to see the film). The sequel is also more comedic than the original, which I was able to deal with even though I prefer more horror in my films. And if you wanted an explanation of why the time loops are occurring, this film does provide it.

That being said, the decreased amount of horror may turn off some viewers. And the sci-fi explanations for why the time loops are occurring may confuse some people, especially those who barely passed high school physics. Hell, even I was confused by the explanations, and I’m usually good with this stuff. I understood Inception and Donnie Darko on the first go-rounds, so you know they must’ve really made it confusing here!

But if you look at the whole package, Happy Death Day 2U is, while not as good as the original, a good successor. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’ll give it a 4.2. It’s a funny, crazy, bloody movie and if they made a third film (which, based on a mid-credits sequence, I think they will), I’d check it out.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. If you need me, I’ll be editing. Until next time, pleasant nightmares!

I know some of you have been waiting for an update on Rose. And I’m happy to say that I received word today from my publisher, Castrum Press, regarding the last draft I sent to them.

Now if you’re new here and haven’t heard me mention Rose a billion times by now, this is a novel I wrote as my senior thesis in college. It follows a young woman named Rose Taggert who starts turning into a plant creature. Yes, that’s what it’s about. I wrote that novel, and it’s being published. And believe me, what I just described is only the beginning of Rose’s troubles.

Anyway, Castrum Press accepted the novel back in March 2018, and I’ve been doing a lot of work on it since. Actually, I’ve been doing work on it and changing things up since the first attempts to write it. This story’s been written and rewritten more times than I care to mention. I was telling my dad earlier today, every draft has featured almost alchemical changes to the story. Trust me, that amount of change every draft is exhausting!

But based on Castrum’s latest feedback, I have reason to hope the story’s nearing its final stage. The suggestions I got were mainly of the word choice and grammar type. These are mainly problems I’ve been told about before in the past: using words like “that,” “which” or “just” too often, or too many adverbs. At least they were able to give me some visual aids that I can use to help me during the next draft (number 6, if you can believe it). I’ll take some notes, and then get to work.

I won’t say this is the last draft before publication. It depends on what Castrum says, and they have a lot more experience than I do and the suggestions they’ve given so far has worked out for me so far, so I’m willing to listen to their advice. I will say that we are nearing that stage, and both Castrum Press and I are looking forward to getting this story out there for all of you to read. We’re just taking our time to make sure it’s the best product it can be before it’s released.

I mean, it would really suck if we released a sub-standard novel, wouldn’t it?

Well anyway, it’s getting late and I was feeling really tired for most of today, even with caffeine, so I’ll call it a night and start on the work after I get home tomorrow.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I’ll keep you guys updated as news comes in. Until next time, pleasant nightmares!

This new film got some buzz after its trailer was released, with lots of people saying it could be scary as all get-out. That, and there aren’t many movies revolving around haunted artwork and/or the art world, so we thought it could be breaking some new ground. So I tuned in this evening. And I’m glad I had wine in the fridge, after what I just saw.

Velvet Buzzsaw follows tough art critic Mort Vandewalt, art agent Josephina, and her boss Rhodora Haze, who are considered the creme de la creme of the art elite circles or working on making that happen. One day, Josephina discovers her elderly neighbor has died, and then discovers he’s an artist of amazing talent, who also wanted all his artwork destroyed after his death. Jospehina decides to take the artwork and sell it alongside Rhodora, making them all very rich. However, several suspicious accidents and deaths occur, all occurring around the dead man’s art. Soon Mort, who has become obsessed with the dead man and his work, discovers some dark secrets around it. Secrets that are deadly in their power.

I’ve heard it said that contemporary art is about the idea behind the piece and its execution, rather than what the work portrays. If so, I think the idea here was a searing indictment of the elite art world in the form of a horror movie, but ooh, was the execution horribly botched.

Velvet Buzzsaw is only really a horror movie a third of the time. The other two-thirds, it seems to be either a slow-burn thriller about the dark side of the art world, or the film equivalent of those literary stories where characters go on personal journeys through their hundrum lives to find themselves/meaning in their lives/happiness. When it’s the third type, it’s actually pretty decent. If it were that kind of film, then we might get something Oscar-worthy. But then the film switches to slow-burn thriller, which is just kind of sub-par, all talk about cut-rate deals and how to screw everybody over (in more senses than one). And when it switches to horror, the rest of the movie has been so diluted that there’s no atmosphere or scares that the audience can be picked up.

I also found John Malkovich’s role in this film to be a total waste. He’s this tortured artist who kind of exits the film halfway through, and then we only see him in the credits, and it’s like…what? What was the point of this character? Along with Natalia Dyer’s Coco, which would’ve been a great perspective to see these events play out from if the character had been given more screen time, I’m just peeved.

If there was something about this film I liked, it was the cast. Jake Gyllenhaal, Zawe Ashton and Rene Russo do excellent jobs as the three main characters, Daveed Diggs of Hamilton fame has a role as an up-and-coming artist, which was cool. And there are some cool art pieces in the film, as well as some great bits of cinematography.

But taken all together, Velvet Buzzsaw is a 2 out of 5 at best. It’s inconsistent in tone, wastes some of its talent, and ultimately creates a film that’s stylistically memorable but otherwise forgettable. If the film had maybe found a tone to focus on and, if that chosen tone had been horror or horror-thriller, given the character of Coco more screen time instead of just using her as a sort of tragic comic relief, and had devoted time to building an atmosphere, then we might’ve had something here. But since the filmmakers didn’t go that route, it’s just a damn shame.