Posts Tagged ‘celebrities’

A poster from a play from the Grand Guignol.

*Trigger warning: this post goes into a lot of dark and uncomfortable topics. If talk of gore, murder, sexual assault and similar subjects upset you, stop reading now. You’ve been warned.

Have you ever seen any version of Sweeney Todd? Whether you saw a stage production or watched the movie, Sweeney Todd is somewhat of an outlier among famous Broadway musicals. It’s dark, bloody, and deals with subject matter other plays don’t, such as rape and cannibalism. It’s basically a slasher story with singing.

Now, if you’re like me (and I assume most of you are, if you’re reading this blog), you not only wish there were more plays like Sweeney Todd, but that some of these plays went further in terms of gore and terror. Well, recently I found out that there was a theater dedicated to plays just like that. And it ran for nearly seventy years.

The Grand Guignol Theater was a theater set up in an old Paris chapel in 1897. To summarize its history, the theater at first performed naturalistic plays centered around prostitutes, street thieves and alcoholics. A typical evening at the Grand Guignol would feature five or six short plays, alternating between cynical slice-of-life comedies, horror shows, and more traditional comedies. However, after a change of ownership, the theater began to focus more on horror.

And as time went on, the theater became famous for it. In fact, the Grand Guignol performed over twelve-hundred plays in the course of its existence, focusing on subjects such as insanity, strangulation, rape, leprosy, hypnosis, eye gouging, stabbing, rabies, and so much more. One actress, Paula Maxa, estimated she’d been “murdered” at least ten thousand times in sixty different ways, among other things. To enhance the terror, the theater staff developed a number of techniques to make the horror onstage seem as real as possible, and actors acted as if everything onstage was actually happening.

It wasn’t uncommon for audience members to puke or faint during performances.

This was all to the delight of Andre de Lorde, one of the Guignol’s writers, who judged his plays based on how many people fainted during a show. Along with psychologist and friend Alfred Binet, he wrote over a hundred plays, all particularly gruesome.

And audiences kept coming back. Like many modern horror fans, they were seeking a thrill. And the Grand Guignol provided. At its peak, celebrities and even royalty visited for shows.

So why did it close? Well, there are a number of theories. By the 1930s, the theater had shifted away from gory shockers to psychological dramas, and attendance began to dip. The rise of movies and TV shows, some of the former being quite gory or sensational themselves, may have also played a part. Theater management even believed revelations about the Holocaust may have played a role, saying “We could never equal Buchenwald.”

Whatever the case, the Grand Guignol closed in 1962. Today it’s a theater space for a deaf acting troupe.

But while the theater closed, its legacy still exists. Many small theaters and troupes around the world have been formed to preserve the Guignol’s legacy and produce their own Guignol-style plays. The Guignol’s also made its way into popular culture, and has been referenced in music, movies, books and more.

Still, wouldn’t it be amazing if the Grand Guignol was truly revjved? If one of the groups inspired by it managed to achieve the same popularity and staying power as the original theater?

Perhaps someday it will come back. And then perhaps Mr. Sweeney Todd won’t be so lonely anymore.

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We all know I love the Addams Family, especially the 1960’s sitcom iteration. So of course, I’ve been keeping my eyes out for anything new from the franchise. And when the first trailer for this movie dropped…well, let’s just say I may have been mistaken for a banshee or a werewolf in the Columbus community.

The Addams Family shows the Addams living in New Jersey. Due to past experiences with less-than-tolerant townspeople, they’ve lived in isolation to protect themselves. However, when a new suburb crops up by the Addams’ estate, they have to deal with not only the suburb’s creator/leader, a TV interior decorator, but the temptations and dangers of having to live near people again. All as the Addams prepare for an upcoming celebration in which the whole family will be gathered under one roof.

Before I start, let me just clarify one thing: in this adaptation, Fester is Gomez’s brother again (though whether older or younger is unknown), Grandmama is Gomez and Fester’s mother, and Wednesday is the older sibling again. These relationships can vary from adaptation to adaptation.

Now that that’s out of the way, let me state this: this might be my new favorite adaptation of The Addams Family.

For one thing, the animation really resembles the original Charles Addams cartoons, as well as allows for more crazy happenings during the course of the movie. (Not saying it’s better than any of the live-action versions, which I know a lot of people love, Just saying it looks nice and allows for more creative freedom)

And the story is decent. While it’s the sort of story we’ve seen before–people of different backgrounds learning to find common ground despite a powerful person trying to keep power–it’s done with a lot of heart and creativity here. Not only that, but it allows for a lot of character exploration, particularly with Morticia and Wednesday. The former is dealing with the fact that she can’t protect her child from the world anymore (something a lot of parents are dealing with more and more in a world where social media makes us grow up faster), while Wednesday is confronted with a world she’s unfamiliar with, and is ready to explore it despite her mother’s worries.

What took me by surprise, though, was how much this film’s themes could be applied to today’s world. I know there’s a lot of talk about refugees seeking safety in other countries,* and the Addams could stand in for refugees. In fact, the very first scene depicts them as refugees, fleeing the old country after Gomez and Morticia’s wedding is interrupted by townspeople with pitchforks and torches. The villain of the film could be seen as a stand-in for a lot of politicians or media types who use social media to comment on their issues, and sometimes inflame and direct people to action.

There’s actually a lot to unpack with these films, and it might surprise a few viewers. Granted, sometimes the way the film handles its themes hits us on the head–the new suburb is called “Assimilation,” for one–but for the most part, it’s done pretty well.

And yes, it is extremely funny. And there is an opportunity to snap your fingers and sing the theme song during the film. Trust me, everyone in the audience was doing it.

All that being said, I did have a few issues with the film. There’s a subplot revolving around Pugsley preparing for his Saber Mazurka (basically the Addams’ version of a bar mitzvah), and it feels kind of rushed compared to the other characters’ arcs. You can kind of tell that his arc is an excuse to get all the Addams in one place, and I would’ve liked to see his arc given more attention.

Also, Grandmama is barely in the film, which is a shame because she’s fun to play off other characters, especially Morticia. The villain’s fate…well, without spoilers, it leaves a bit to be desired. And was Snoop Dogg really okay playing Cousin Itt? He’s on screen for two minutes and has maybe three lines, all of which is gibberish. I’d have thought he’d want a bigger role.

But all in all, 2019’s The Addams Family is a fun family film perfect for the Halloween season. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving this one an even 4. Pack up the hellspawn, get in your favorite hearse, and check it out. You should have a blast (though not because of the grenades).

*Due to my day job, I can’t openly comment on issues like that, but anyone who knows me should have some idea of what my views are.

At seventy-two, King has told people he only intends to retire “when God tells me to.” Given his latest book, a 557-page science-thriller, I doubt God will be giving him that message anytime soon. And if he keeps writing stories like The Institute, I’m completely fine with that. Especially if I can eventually get on his radar someday.

The Institute centers on Luke Ellis, a twelve-year-old prodigy who is planning on going to Boston for college in the fall. He also has some telekinetic abilities, though he can’t do more than move an empty pizza pan when he’s excited. Still, that’s enough to put him on the radar of The Institute, a shadowy facility in the backwoods of Maine. His parents are murdered, and he is spirited away, used in experiments that are supposed to enhance the psychic abilities he and other kids and teens have. And as time goes on, Luke not only gets a better idea of what sort of things they’re doing at the Institute, but realizes with growing anxiety that he has to get away. Before he is changed permanently. At least, changed more than he already has been.

What makes this story so scary, even though it’s more science-thriller than science-horror, is its plausibility. You can totally imagine a shadowy government or shadow government organization kidnapping kids and using them for their own ends.* There are a lot of comments on or callbacks to the Nazi experiments on concentration camp victims, and as a WWII/Holocaust scholar, those comments are extremely warranted.

Aside from that, this book is good. The characters feel real, and the Institute is well thought out, adding to the feeling you could see some of this stuff happening. Luke is a likable protagonist, smart but not arrogant about it (in fact, he worries a lot about being too arrogant with his intellect), polite, and eager to help his friends. Likewise, the staff of the Institute feel real as well, particularly how they can do what they do and think of the kids as less-than-human.

As for the Institute, it’s big and is usually good at keeping the kids within the boundaries of the facility, but it also has its issues such as faulty equipment and staff rivalries, which makes it feel real. It could almost feel like your own workplace. Just evil and incredibly cruel.

Of course, the story isn’t totally perfect. I’m not going to fault it due to the fact that it’s not one of King’s terror-inducing stories like IT, we all know he’s great at writing more than horror. Nor am I going to fault the book due to the return of psychic powers. After all, stories where psychic abilities feature prominently, like Carrie and The Shining, are why King is a household name today. But I will admit the ending does feel a little expository and may not give everyone the sense of satisfaction people are looking for. That is a criticism I’m comfortable making.

However, on the whole The Institute is a strong entry into the Stephen King bibliography, a slow-burn that will leave you uncomfortable and yet unable to put the book down. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving it a 4.2. Whether you’re using your mind or your hands, I recommend lifting up a copy and giving it a read this Halloween season.

And that reminds me, welcome to October! As a horror writer, I’ll have plenty to share with you during the most wonderful time of the year (and yes, it is the most wonderful time of the year. Read this post if you don’t believe me). We’ll have reviews, writing updates, discussions of horror, and possibly a demonic summoning. Look forward to it, my Followers of Fear. And until next time, pleasant nightmares!

*Just so you know, I’m not going to directly comment on any parallels between this novel and current events, though plenty of people, including King himself, have done that already. My current job makes doing so difficult. If I ever get the opportunity to write full-time, that’ll change. In the meantime though, I’ll just keep my mouth shut and stick to reviewing stories on their own merits.

So CBS is known more for raunchy family-based comedies and police procedurals with plenty of light and color. Outside of Supergirl, which got moved to CW, it’s not well known for speculative fiction type shows, at least not these days. And no, Star Trek: Discovery and The Twilight Zone reboot don’t count, that’s CBS All Access, which is another bill if you want to watch those shows. Anyway, Evil is outside of CBS’s normal wheelhouse, but it’s the kind of thing I love, so obviously I’d check it out. Of course, it’s on after I go to bed, so I check it out and review it the next day. Such is life, isn’t it?

Evil follows Dr. Kristen Brouchard, a forensic psychologist who gets hired on by David Acosta to help him in his assessment business. Basically, he works for the Catholic Church to discover if purported instances of the supernatural, such as miracles or demonic possession, are real. He’s a believer, she isn’t. But either way, they’re going to be walking a very fine line. Not just between the worlds of the physical and the supernatural, if that exists, but between that of good and evil.

So I’ll start off that the setup of this show is intriguing. It takes its time to play with our expectations. Are we dealing with actual demonic forces? Or is the evil in the title that of human evil? I feel that this is going to be an ongoing question throughout the first season, and if it’s done as cleverly as it was in the first episode, then I could see the first season having some decent ratings. At the very least though, there’s something everyone who’s watching the show, and perhaps who’s in the show, can agree on: that evil, whatever the source in human beings, is connected and talking to each other. And it may take a lot to stop others from encouraging evil acts in each other.

The cast is also pretty decent. Mike Colter, fresh off of Luke Cage (RIP, Marvel Netflix), plays David Acosta as this enigmatic kind of guy, wrapped up in twenty mysteries we’ve yet to pierce. He’s totally fine with his coworkers not believing in the same stuff he does, though I wonder if that will change in later episodes. At the very least, this character is holding more cards than we’ve seen. As for Dr. Kristen Brouchard, you get the sense that she’s trying her best. She’s fighting an uphill battle to make her life work, raising four daughters while her husband works abroad and dealing with loan sharks. Her one rock is her belief in science, which are going to be shaken a lot in this show.

Oh, and Aasif Mandvi is in this show as Acosta’s equipment/technical guy. I love that guy. He was always one of my favorite correspondents on The Daily Show when I watched that, so it’s cool to see him pop up here. Just thought I’d mention that.

If I have one gripe about this series, for those looking for a more Exorcism of Emily Rose-type story, where eventually the supernatural is confirmed, this show may you leave you disappointed. That being said, they’re going to play with the supernatural-or-not question for a little while longer. Though obviously, they’ll have to come to a conclusion by the end of the first season. And what that conclusion is will determine who continues watching this show.

So yeah, this show could go a couple different ways in terms of story and how long it lasts. But I’m at least willing to give it a go.

On a scale of 1 to 5, I’ll give the first episode of 4. Great setup and dramatic storytelling. I’ll be interested to see how it goes.

Until next time, my Followers of Fear, pleasant nightmares.

I did say I would announce this when we got a bit closer to November. And my intuition, which is right about eighty percent of the time when it comes to this sort of thing, says now is the time to make the announcement.

As many of you know, I’ve been planning to take part in National Novel Writing Month for the first time since college, or about seven years. For those of you who are unaware, National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, is a yearly challenge where authors try to write a novel of fifty-thousand words or more, just under seventeen-hundred words a day. This challenge is usually held in November, though sometimes authors will attempt to do it in another month when it’s more convenient for them (in which case, it’s known as Camp NaNoWriMo). I’ve been wanting to take a crack at it again for years, but college got busy, and things never quite added up in the years 2015-2018 for me to do it.

But since last November, just a few days after finishing a novel called River of Wrath at three in the morning on October 30th, I’ve been considering it. I even picked a novel out to write about. Since around early summer, I’ve been doing light research for this story. And in a little over a month, I’l be taking a bit of time off from work so I can devote as much time as possible to writing (and maybe de-stressing a bit while I’m at home). So without further ado, let me announce my next novel, a story I like to call Toyland.

Don’t let the name fool you, Toyland isn’t whimsical or cute at all. It’s a Gothic horror novel following students at a boarding school in southern Ohio. They start noticing some weird going-ons during their fall semester. A girl with dark hair, as well as strange creatures, are seen around the school. Several odd injuries, some close to fatal, fall upon students and even faculty. There even seems to be a world within the school, one in which the laws of reality have no say whatsoever. All of it seems to trace back to a children’s book discovered in the school’s library. A children’s book called Toyland.

How’s that for a setup? Granted, there’s a good chance it’ll veer away from Gothic fiction and straight into weird territory (trust me, I outlined the whole thing back at the beginning of the summer and have done subsequent drafts since). But I tend to enjoy writing stories that stray into weird territory, so it works for me.

Anyway, I’ve just about finished up the research for the book. I’ve even watched the 1961 Disney film Babes in Toyland just so I could make a comparison between that film and the kid’s book in the story.* All that’s left is to write it. And while I doubt I’ll get anywhere near the fifty-thousand word mark (I’m many things, but not a miracle worker), I do think when the first draft done, it’ll at least be a decent first draft. Maybe something worth publishing one day.

Well, that’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. There’s a bed calling me in the next room, and I so desperately want to sink into it for a few hours. Until next time, pleasant nightmares!

Are you participating in NaNoWriMo this year? Why or why not? Whatever you’re doing, what sort of story are you writing?

*By the way, that was my first time watching that film, and I didn’t like it at all. Yeah, the setting looked spectacular and the villains and side characters were enjoyable, but the plot was really unfocused and the main characters were really boring. Hell, you can see the boredom on Annette Funicello’s face as she plays the female lead! She’s like “Oh my God, someone get me out of here so I can go make beach party movies. Anything would be better than this shiny lack-of-substance.”

Also, one or two of the songs feel kind of sexist nearly fifty years after the movie’s release. Especially the one where Annette complains about being unable to do her finances. Yeah, there’s a song like that. It’s kind of cringey.

And no, I won’t watch any of the other movie or television adaptations of the Babes in Toyland operetta. I won’t even watch the operetta! I suffered enough watching the most famous adaptation, thank you very much!

Around November, stores across the world start putting out tinsel and cute little bulbs and emphasize snow and sleighs and candy canes.* At the same time, Christmas music is played from most loudspeakers and many radio stations, one of those songs being “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” by Andy Williams (yeah, I didn’t know who sang that until today, either). And many people would agree. The two months leading up to Christmas, especially December, is the most wonderful time of the year.

However, there is a segment of the population who disagrees with that sentiment. Among that segment are people, and whatever I am, who say Halloween is the most wonderful time of the year. And since I don’t have a singing voice to advocate our views, I’ll do what I do best and write out why the Halloween season, starting anywhere from late August to early September and ending when October becomes November, should be considered the most wonderful time of the year.**

1. Halloween isn’t as cold. Okay, that’s probably not true south of the equator, but at least October isn’t as freezing in most places as it is in November. In fact, in Central Ohio, it can range from the 40’s to the 60’s (we have weird-ass weather). Whereas in December, it’s usually between 30 and 40 degrees Fahrenheit. And that’s in a good year.

2. A stalker isn’t part of the central theme of Halloween. No, I’m not talking about Michael Myers. I’m talking about Santa Claus. I mean, think about it. You have an old guy in a red tracksuit watching you 24/7, but especially right before Christmas, and is judging your behavior. If you “behave,” you get gifts, but if you don’t, you get fossil fuels. Also, he can break into anyone’s home and we have no idea how well his workforce is treated. If this was any other person, they would be hit with investigations and possible criminal charges.

At least with Halloween, a little naughtiness is okay. It’s even encouraged. “Trick or treat,” after all.

3. There’s no need to be “perfect,” “well off,” or “good.” For a lot of people, Christmas is a time to show just how perfect your family is, or how pretty you can make your house look, or how deserving of gifts you are. A lot of people spend more money than they should just to show people they can have the “perfect” Christmas, or suck up their dislike of a disagreeable family member so as not to “ruin” Christmas, or give more to charity because “tis the season.” Shouldn’t the season to help the needy be all year? Not just when gifts are on the horizon?

Though if you are giving to charity during the Christmas season, good on you. Thanks for helping out the less fortunate.

At least with Halloween, you don’t have to go all out. A simple bedsheet with eye holes is a wonderful costume. A bag of penny candy is just fine. And if you gather donations to UNICEF, it’s not because “tis the season,” but just a nice thing to do.

Speaking of costumes…

4. Be whoever you want to be. Halloween is about changing who you are into who you want to be for a day. A princess, a vampire, a soldier, a superhero, it’s all up to you and what costume you buy or create. Or don’t. That’s valid as well. There’s no pressure, just as long as you’re having fun. Want to be a little macabre? Go right ahead. Want to just emphasize the pagan roots of the holiday? Perfectly fine. Just want to have a wild costume party to celebrate fun and monsters and changing your identity for one day? Go get ’em, cowboy! It’s your holiday, and as long as nobody’s getting hurt, you’re answerable to no one.

Again, during Christmas, a lot of people feel like they need to project a certain image of “perfection” or “being good.” Otherwise, your or others might believe you’ve done something wrong, or the season is ruined. I think of the mother from the movie Krampus a lot with this point. She’s dead-set on everything being “perfect” to the point she invites relatives over whom she and her own family don’t really like and comes up with all these complicated foods that nobody really asked for, just to maintain this image of a “perfect” Christmas in her mind.

Has that ever happened with Halloween? As long as you have fun, that’s all that matters.

Jack Skellington had one thing right: Santa Claus is scarier than at first glance.

5. So many reasons to get scared! Of course, for those like me, this is one of the biggest reasons. Horror movies, horror novels, haunted houses, music, costumes, parties and games. At Halloween, there’s so many reasons to get scared and have fun with it. The number of scary things to do at this time of year is endless. Whereas at Christmas, beyond either Black Christmas film, Gremlins and Krampus, there aren’t that many horror-related things associated with the holiday. Maybe a Christmas episode for a horror show, but beyond that, it’ not a holiday to indulge in anything scarier than fossil fuels from everyone’s tracksuit-wearing stalker. And to me, that’s a damn shame.

 

Now, this is just a small fraction of reasons why I prefer the Halloween season to the Christmas season. There’s probably a part two or three that could be written. But tell me, which season do you prefer? Why? Are there are any reasons I missed? Let’s discuss.

Just keep it civil in the comments, folks. Or I will delete your comment and then write you into a story.

*I think. I have no idea what Christmas looks like below the equator beyond the fact that it’s summer down there in December.

**That being said, I’m not trying to put down anyone who thinks Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year. I’m not trying to wage war on Christmas or anything like that. I’m just representing an opposing opinion. That’s not the sign of moral decay or an anti-American or anti-Christian persecution. Having a spirited but civil disagreement where both parties respect each other’s views is the sign of a healthy and thriving society. If you feel Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year, that’s okay with me. Just let me continue feeling that the Halloween season is the most wonderful time of the year in the meantime.

Once again, I am releasing my review of the first episode of AHS a day late because that show is on after ten, and I try to be in bed or getting ready for bed by that time because I get up early for work. My apologies if you were waiting with baited breath for my review or you think I’m too late to give my opinion. One day, God willing, I’ll be able to write full-time, and then I can stay up late and give my opinions on this show right after the episode airs.

AHS: 1984 takes place in California in–you guessed it–the summer of 1984. Several good-looking twenty-somethings, including the shy and sweet Brooke, played by Emma Roberts, take on jobs at a small summer camp to avoid the 1984 Summer Olympics. However, they don’t realize until they get there that the camp was the site of a horrific massacre by Mr. Jingles, a Vietnam vet who went mad and killed nine campers and counselors. Oh, and the one survivor is now the camp director. And the camp just happens to be opening the day after Mr. Jingles escapes from the hospital he’s been staying at since his trial.

So if it’s not obvious, American Horror Story is getting on the 80’s nostalgia bandwagon this season. But unlike everyone else taking up this trend, AHS is doing it not just by paying homage to the 1980s–particularly to slasher films like the Friday the 13th and Sleepaway Camp franchises, as well as the Halloween films–but satirizing it in a loving way that only AHS can deliver. One of the very first scenes takes place in a sexy aerobics class, which is then followed by discussion of the Night Stalker, Richard Ramirez, and then…well, I won’t spoil it. Let’s just say an equal mix of camp and horror, though without being as annoying as it was in Coven.

I will say though, it looks like this season is set up to be a camp slasher film told over ten episodes, during which the show will both follow and upset the normal tropes of this sort of film (looking at you, gas station attendant warning of doom trope). And so far, it’s good. The humor and horror worked well together, and you love all the 80’s music and callbacks to the culture of that decade. It’s like the show’s filmmakers are saying, “Yeah, we know 80’s is saturating everything, so we’re going to shove it in your face and have fun with it too.”

The acting isn’t too bad, either. I completely forgot Cody Fern was Michael Langdon, aka the Antichrist, last season, and totally believed he was Xavier, an aerobics teacher/aspiring actor. But really, the true stars are the female leads. Emma Roberts as Brooke is a nice change of pace from her previous roles in the series, usually bitchy characters or half-repentant con artists, and she embodies the quiet girl most likely to survive very well. Still, I’m betting there’s hidden depths to this character, possibly even bloody ones, and I look forward to seeing them. Billie Lourd and Leslie Grossman as Montana and Margaret, respectively, are also great. Lourd’s Montana is supposed to represent the party girl trope, while Grossman’s Margaret is a holier-than-thou uber-Christian type, but I can already tell, there’s more to these characters than meets the eye. Montana’s already proven that in the first half of the episode.

On a scale of 1 to 5, I’ll give the season premiere of AHS: 1984 a 4.5. There’s nothing that’s uber-scary or unsettling yet, but the premise and set up is strong and I’m looking forward to seeing what comes next. And I think you will too.

And at the very least, you’ll probably like this more than the Friday the 13th remake. Because as we all know, that was a crock of shit film out of Michael Bay’s ass and accented with the desperation of men who need to write boobs into a film in order to see them IRL. That’s right, I found another opportunity to make fun of that piece of crap film, and I won’t stop until we get a new Friday the 13th film that does the franchise justice! You’re welcome, Internet!

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. As per usual, you can expect me to review the season as a whole after the final episode airs. Until then, and until my next post, I would like to wish you a good night and pleasant nightmares.