Posts Tagged ‘celebrities’

The original Black Christmas from 1974 is a beloved, if kind of weird, early member of the slasher subgenre. The senseless nature of the killer “Billy,” for whom we never get any sort of explanation, as well as the helplessness of the characters, still makes it terrifying forty-five years later. A 2006 remake tried to capture that terror, but it failed miserably, mired in too much exposition and cliches. So, of course, everyone was skeptical when Blumhouse decided to make another remake. But the trailers promised a new angle, so who knows? It could be good.

2019’s Black Christmas again follows sorority sisters trapped on campus and in their sorority house with a killer who appears to taunt them through messaging apps. But there’s more at play here, and it all leads back to a particular fraternity on campus and the university’s controversial founder.

Um…how do I even talk about this one?

As far as storytelling and scares go, this is pretty run of the mill for a slasher, especially ones where a lot of stuff is given away in trailers. Granted, a couple members of the audience did get freaked (one audience member did yell out “that ****er is smart!” when an antagonist did something pretty sneaky), but if you’re familiar with slashers, it all feels standard and a little pulpy. A bit more exciting near the late middle and the last third, but still pretty standard.

The one thing that sets this movie apart is its incorporation of feminism into the plot. And this is where I have to really think about what I type, lest readers get the wrong idea.

Now, let me say this outright. I identify as a feminist. I get upset when I read stories in the news where women are subjected to harassment and misogyny and they are the ones blamed or called into question rather than the men attacking them. I also work in an office whose job is partly to deal with harassment, misogyny, and assault in our organization’s workforce. So I support women breaking barriers and creating more equal places for them in society.

Black Christmas tries to explore these issues in what, considering some of our current events, could be considered timely. And unlike Countdown, which felt gimmicky with its use of the #MeToo movement (see my review here), there was no gimmick here. The film’s handling of feminist issues is well-done at times. There is a lot of discussion of campus rape culture and how we as a society should approach it. Two characters have opposing views on the subject: one says everything must be done to stop the systemic problem, including by survivors, while the other says that not every survivor is willing to be a warrior and may just want to move on. And both bring up good points.

Another scene where the theme is handled well is when one of the protagonists goes to report her friend missing, and the male cop is apathetic, even acting dismissive. Like he thinks the protagonist is making a huge fuss because she’s a woman, not because there might be an actual problem.

Still, there were some moments where I wondered if the inclusion of these themes, as well as some exaggerated aspects, were meant to check some boxes and make this a “woke” sort of film, not really explore the subject matter and allow for enlightening discussion. But then, as I got home, I remembered something that put the film in a new light.

Back in 2018, Jason Blum, owner of Blumhouse Productions which produced the film, made comments about women directors, especially in horror, that drew a lot of ire from the horror community. Blum apologized for the comments and promised to do better. Fast-forward to 2019, and Black Christmas is the company’s first film with a female director, Sophia Takal. Takal also served as a writer with another woman, April Wolfe.

So this film could’ve been Blum’s way of apologizing for his comments and showing that he’s progressive. Or, and I like this scenario more, Takal and Wolfe were given the freedom to make their own horror movie, they were very much aware of what Blum said and they made a film not just to talk about their own issues with the film industry, but also to remind Blum that he, along with a lot of other people and segments in society have to go to really make things equal between men and women. And if that’s true, I can imagine how much Blum squirmed in his seat.

On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving 2019’s Black Christmas an even 3. While not as bad as the 2006 remake and a nice comeback to Blum’s comments, it still has areas that could’ve been better.

Thus ends the horror films of 2019, which, with a few exceptions, were either average or just bad. Here’s hoping 2020 is A LOT better. Until then, pleasant nightmares!

Last year’s premiere of Castle Rock on streaming service Hulu garnered lots of attention and love from critics and from viewers, both longtime Constant Readers and folks unfamiliar with King’s work. When word of a second season reached fans’ ears, we got excited. Which Stephen King stories would they draw on? Would the showrunners make every season different, like early American Horror Story? Would the different stories be connected by more than just a common location, like later American Horror Story? Or would it be a continuing story with the same actors and characters, like every other TV series out there?

We sat down and watched ten episodes over the course of eight weeks. And while I can’t vouch for the rest of the fandom, I can say this season far surpassed season one.

Season 2 follows Annie Wilkes–yes, that Annie Wilkes–as she and her teen daughter Joy find themselves stranded in Castle Rock after a horrific car accident. They’ve come at an interesting time, as Castle Rock and Jerusalem’s Lot–yes, that Jerusalem’s Lot–are about to celebrate the latter’s four-hundredth anniversary, and the Lot’s growing Somali population are facing discrimination and threats of violence from the likes of Ace Merrill, nephew of pawnbroker and loan shark Reginald “Pop” Merrill. Annie just wants to have her car repaired and leave town before her past comes for her and Joy. But when someone finds out about who she used to be, events are set in motion that will bring not just Annie, but the whole town to the edge of sanity.

While Season 1 was more influenced by newer, weirder Stephen King, Season 2 was definitely more old-school King: visceral, terrifying, and at times very explosive. Drawing on elements from mainly Misery and Salem’s Lot, the storytelling is mixed with terrifying scares and fun twists (episode 7, am I right?). And even the things you see coming from a mile away (and there are a few) are told in such a way that you don’t mind seeing them coming. And you gotta love all the homages to and Easter eggs referencing King’s works, including a heartfelt tribute to The Body (aka Stand by Me) in episode 3.

Probably the best episode was episode 5, “The Laughing Place,” which gives Annie a new backstory. Honestly, I was a little unsure at first, but as the episode goes on, it just hits you with the weight of the story and the emotion behind it as Annie becomes the person she meets. Sure, Annie is changed from a metaphor for toxic fandom to a painful example of what untreated mental illness can do to a person, but here it works.

“The Laughing Place;” best episode this season.

The actors were also great. Lizzy Caplan’s Annie Wilkes is a wonderful forerunner to the character we meet in Misery, a woman trying to do right by her daughter even as she wrestles with demons that not even medication can fully contain. Tim Robbins (aka Andy Dufresne of The Shawshank Redemption) gives the character of Pop Merrill, in the books a greedy and scheming man, a human side with guilt and a history he’s trying to make amends for. Yusra Warsama is excellent as Dr. Nadia Omar, Pop’s adoptive daughter dealing with her world basically imploding due to what’s going on around her. And Barkhad Abdi and Elsie Fisher as Nadia’s brother Abdi Omar and Annie’s daughter Joy, respectively, give great performances as people trying to deal with their upbringing and at the same time move away from it towards something positive.

If there’s one thing I’m going to ntipick, it’s that I wanted to see more of John “Ace” Merrill. It’s not easy to explain this without spoiling anything, but basically we only get to see one side of the character for a single episode, and then it’s a different side for the next nine. And I kind of wanted to see more of that first side (though the second side is an excellent villain). Did that make sense? I hope it does.

Overall though, Castle Rock season 2 is a scary and tense thrill ride drawing from some of the best of King’s earlier works and then some. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving the season a 4.8. Sit down and buckle up, you’re going places you never imagined going before.

And while no season 3 has been announced, I feel it’s only a matter of time before we get word on that, so let’s start speculating. Which characters will come back? What stories will be drawn on?* And can I please get a commission to write an episode for the show? Only time will tell.

*I’m hoping The Library Policeman, Needful Things and maybe Apt Pupil.

What did you think of Season 2? What do you hope to see in Season 3?

Today’s interview is a really special one. For over thirty years, this man has been making a name for himself through his publishing company, Cemetery Dance, as well as his stories and collaborations with other writers (including a certain Royal Scariness we all know and love). He’s got two new books out, The Girl on the Porch and Gwendy’s Magic Feather (the sequel to 2017’s Gwendy’s Button Box with said Royal Scariness). I can’t believe he’s here to talk with us! Ladies and Gentlemen, Followers of Fear, let me introduce Richard Chizmar!

Rami Ungar: Mr. Chizmar, welcome to my blog. Please tell us who you are, about your writing, and about Cemetery Dance Publications.

Richard Chizmar: I’m an old dude (early 50s) who lives with his wife and two sons in Maryland and has been really fortunate in life. I started a nuts-and-bolts small press magazine called Cemetery Dance while I was still in college. The magazine found a growing readership with each issue, and I never had to go out and get a real job. A few years later, I started publishing horror and dark suspense books. The rest is history. All the while, I was writing my own stories of horror and suspense, and a few years back in 2017, I co-wrote a book called Gwendy’s Button Box with my longtime friend Stephen King and became a thirty year, overnight success.

RU: Tell us about The Girl on the Porch and Gwendy’s Magic Feather. How did those projects come about?

RC: The Girl on the Porch was inspired by a real-life incident where a doorbell camera in a suburban neighborhood recorded a terrified woman with shackles on her wrists in the middle of the night. Once the homeowner’s discovered the footage, the woman was long gone and no one knew what had become of her. I saw the video footage online a number of times and it haunted me. I knew early on that I needed to write my own version of the story and furnish my own version of an ending.

Gwendy’s Magic Feather is a direct sequel to Gwendy’s Button Box, which I wrote with Steve King. I woke up one morning with a very clear picture in my mind of what Gwendy had been up to since the ending of the first book. I emailed Steve the idea early that day, with no real plan to pursue it, but he responded very favorably and encouraged me to write it. So I did. It’s due to be published in hardcover on November 19.

RU: You’ve worked with other authors before, including Stephen King, as we’ve both mentioned. How does that process work?

RC: The process differs for many writers, but in my case, in each instance, it’s just been a matter of emailing the manuscript back and forth until one of us typed THE END. Allowing complete freedom for both authors to rewrite each other, layering and blending the work until it becomes a third, unique voice. That’s the only way I know how to collaborate.

RU: What about horror and dark fiction draws you in and makes you want to write and publish those sorts of stories?

RC: I’ve always been drawn to the darker side of things. It’s strange. In real life, I’m a happy and optimistic person, but when it comes to entertainment (books, movies, comics), I’ve always liked the fantastic and scary stories. Despite my outward cheeriness, I tend to see most clearly in the shadows. I might be walking down a Main Street sidewalk on a sunny July afternoon, but it’s not the smiling mother holding her daughter’s hand or the laughing elderly couple waiting at the corner I see; instead, it’s the dark alley across the way that looks like it could be hiding a monster. In fact, are those eyes I see glowing in the shadows? It’s just the way my imagination works.

RU: Oh crap, he spotted me! *cough* I mean, as a writer and the editor/owner of Cemetery Dance Publications, do you see yourself as someone who’s significantly helping to shape the horror genre and its future?

RC: I’ve never really given much thought to that kind of big question. We’ve always been too busy hustling to stop and ponder whether we were having a large-scale effect on the genre. We’ve been around for over 30 years now and that’s what is most important—that we continue to survive and thrive and keep bringing readers entertaining stories.

RU: What are some upcoming projects you have in the works?

RC: After publishing four books in 2019 (the trade paperback of The Long Way Home, The Vault, The Girl on the Porch, and Gwendy’s Magic Feather), 2020 will be a bit of a break for me. I should have one of those nifty “Little Books” out from Borderlands Press and hopefully the sequel to Widow’s Point, co-written with my son, Billy. Not sure what else might pop up.

RU: When you’re not writing, publishing, or reading horror, what are you up to?

RC: Fishing, exercising, working around the house, fantasy football. Mainly just spending as much time with my wife and sons as I can. I’m fortunate to do the majority of my work at home, so my days and nights are interwoven with family lunches and dinners, attending the boys’ sporting events, movie and game nights, and whatever other adventures life throws at us.

RU: What is some advice you would give other writers, regardless of background or experience?

RC: Read as much as you can. Write as much as you can. Don’t tailor your work for the market; write about what moves you, scares you, excites you. No matter how small the story is. Don’t feel like you have to invent the wheel or write a high concept story to make your mark. Readers respond to a writer’s honesty and voice. Expect a long road ahead. Accept rejection and speed bumps as part of the process, almost like badges of honor.

RU: And what is some advice for writers who want to be published in Cemetery Dance? Asking for a friend, I swear.

RC: Read the type of stories and books we publish. Capture our attention in your synopsis and tell a story that is difficult to put down. Be persistent.

RU: Final question: if you were stuck on a desert island for a while and could only bring three books with you until you were rescued, which would you pick?

RC: IT by Stephen King, Lord of the Flies by William Golding, and Boy’s Life by Robert McCammon.

RU: I’ve read two out of three of those, and I really have to get on the third. Anyway, thank you for joining us, Mr. Chizmar. It’s been a pleasure.

If you would like to learn more about Richard Chizmar, you can check him out on his website and on Cemetery Dance’s website. If you want to read The Girl on the Porch or Gwendy’s Magic Feather, you can find both books on Amazon.

If you’re curious about other authors I’ve interviewed, you can check out my Interview page. And if you’re an author with something new out you’d like to broadcast, you can hit me up at ramiungar@ramiungarthewriter.com. I usually have time for an interview or two, so let me know.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. Until next time, pleasant nightmares!

Now let’s get one thing out of the way: the Doctor Sleep movie is based on the novel Doctor Sleep by Stephen King, which is a sequel to King’s previous novel, The Shining. The movie is also an attempt to reconcile the novels and Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of The Shining, which King hates (and which I kind of agree with). And apparently King loved the script for this movie, as well as the final product. Everybody got that? Good.

Doctor Sleep follows Danny Torrance post-Overlook. He’s grown up to inherit his father’s issues with anger and alcohol, though once he arrives in a small New Hampshire town, he does sober up. At the same time, he makes a psychic connection with a young girl in a neighboring town named Abra Stone and who shines way more powerful than Dan does.* Which is good, because there’s a group of people known as the True Knot roaming around America in RVs, kidnapping kids with shine abilities and killing them to extract their power in the form of steam. In order to defeat the True Knot, as well as their leader, Rose the Hat, Dan and Abra will have to go someplace special to defeat them. A place Dan never wanted to revisit.

Well, I’m going to say this: it does feel like a Stephen King novel brought to film. In a good way.

So there are a lot of callbacks to the source material, as well as to King’s works in general. I had a private laugh at shots meant to pay homage to the Kubrick film, as well as to a field of corn and the number “19” showing up (folks who know King get it). And it’s really awesome to see the theatrical Overlook brought back to life (though degraded with age). And the novel does a great job of hybridizing the books and the Kubrick film in a way that would satisfy most King fans.

And the actors also do their jobs very well. I should mention that. The True Knot actors are particularly creepy when they’re sucking up steam or doing something else freaky, inhuman and cult-like.

That being said, there are some issues. For one thing, there is a lot of exposition, which in a novel we can get away with (especially in a King novel), but in a film it can slow things down. There are some things from the original novel that never made it to the movie that I would’ve liked to see, and there were some changes I didn’t care for.

And I didn’t find it that scary. I mean, there were a couple of moments where I jumped or was a little freaked out, but they weren’t enough to scare me. My criticisms of the Kubrick film aside, at least it’s unnerving to watch. But while the intent is there, Doctor Sleep can’t bring that unnerving feeling to life.

On the whole, I’m giving the Doctor Sleep film adaptation a 3.5 on a scale of 1 to 5. If you’re a big fan of the Kubrick Shining film, you’ll be disappointed. If you’re here for a horror movie, you’ll find it so-so. And if you’re a fan of King and the original novel, as well as interested to see how the film version can reconcile all the books and films, you’ll walk away satisfied.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I’m going to bed and getting into writing tomorrow. Until next time, pleasant nightmares!

*Fun fact, I named a character Abra in my NaNoWriMo project Toyland after reading Doctor Sleep. No psychic powers though. Not a spoiler, just a statement of fact.

 

The Lighthouse is the latest film by Robert Eggers, the same director who brought us The Witch. I went in hoping for two things: to be scared and that it would be easier to understand what everyone was saying than in The Witch.

On both counts, I can say it was a success.

The Lighthouse follows Robert Pattinson as a young man who signs up to be an assistant lighthouse keeper at a remote island. There, he works under Willem Dafoe, an irascible lighthouse keeper who forbids his assistant from going up to the light at night for some reason. As time goes on though, both men, particularly Pattinson’s character, start seeing strange sights and creatures. Madness and isolation begin to set in the longer they stay together, leading to an irreversible outcome.

This is the first horror movie I’ve seen in theaters since Us where I’ve been truly terrified (I enjoyed Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, but I wasn’t that terrified). There’s a very claustrophobic feel to the film, which is helped by the fact that there are only two characters with speaking roles, and the film is filmed in black and white. Shadows seem bigger than they are, and the occasional blaring of a horn has almost a psychological effect on the viewer. The use of dialogue, which is only at times is slightly difficult to understand, is never excessive, instead deepening the feelings of madness and our inability to trust the characters and what they say.

It’s a very Lovecraftian sort of film: while it doesn’t involve space gods or giant monsters from the depths, the ocean, as well as what’s in it, do have a negative effect on the characters. They’re dealing with madness, isolation, claustrophobia, forces they can’t understand, secrets, questions without answers, and each other. And there’s this sense, especially near the end of the film, where what’s behind the curtain will only appear to be what you’re seeking. In reality, it’s going to ruin you.

Also, speaking of the characters, Dafoe and Pattinson are great! You can hardly recognize them as actors, they just totally envelop themselves in these characters. Granted, Pattinson’s accent changes quite a bit (is he Irish? Brooklyn? I can’t tell). But you actually start wondering if these actors are going as crazy as their characters may or may not be.

I can’t really think of anything negative about the film without being nitpicky. It’s a great film, technically well done and psychologically unsettling. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving The Lighthouse a 4.7. It’s a vast improvement from The Witch, weird and disturbing, and I think it’ll be an instant Halloween classic. Dive in and check it out for yourself.

As many of you are aware, I am a member of the disabled community, having autism, ADHD, anxiety, and more things than I can name. What many of you might not be aware is that October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM for short) in the United States. And this year’s theme (which I think is decided by the Department of Labor) is, “The Right Talent, Right Now.”

And at work today, we had an observance of NDEAM which included a panel of employees with disabilities and a video showing the audition of this year’s winner of America’s Got Talent, Kodie Lee, who is blind and autistic. You can watch the video down below.

I am crying, and so are you. You can’t help it.

And what this video demonstrates is that, despite certain issues and centuries worth of stigma, people with disabilities do have plenty to contribute to the world. In fact, they contribute every day. At my workplace, my main job duties involve helping employees with disabilities get accommodations so they can continue their jobs. This doesn’t just include disabilities from genetics and brain chemistry, like mine, but people who gain health problems like back issues or vision problems as they grow older, among others. And despite their disabilities–or sometimes because–they do amazing things at their workstations. They just need a few accommodations and an accepting environment to do so.

And you know what? This isn’t a new phenomena: people with disabilities have been contributing to the world for years. Beethoven, like Kodie Lee, made the world a better place with his music. Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein changed our understanding of the universe in their lifetimes. Harriet Tubman had a head injury that caused headaches, seizures and hypersomnia. John F. Kennedy may have had Addison’s or a similar condition.

Despite all these famous examples though, there are still a lot of barriers to people with disabilities getting work and living full lives. A recent article from Phys.org showed that many blind people face unemployment or underemployment, even though they can be just as capable as able-bodied people of doing job-related tasks. And it wouldn’t surprise me to see similar numbers to that quoted in the article from other groups in the disabled community.

So let me take a moment to address anyone in a position to hire someone with disabilities: we are capable of basic tasks. Hell, sometimes we do very complex tasks too, like write programs or design skyscrapers or perform surgeries or defend clients in court. I’ve even been known to write a decent story from time to time, and that’s not the easiest task. All we need to do our jobs is a few accommodations, which usually don’t cost that much, and an accepting atmosphere.

And remember, this is a group anyone can join at any time. Including maybe you, if you’re not already there. Life has a way of making that possible. So in a way, by encouraging hiring peoples with disabilities, you’re not only helping them, you’re helping yourself.

As well as your employer by ensuring they get the most talented people from the most diverse workforce. Let’s not forget that.

So this October, while we’re all enjoying the season of fear and screams, let’s also remember that there is an entire pool of untapped talent out there. One that has been subjected to and overcome stigmas multiple times to prove us wrong. So why not let them show you what they’re made of?

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.