Posts Tagged ‘films’

 

There’s a certain era of British history that writers write about maybe more than the medieval era. This era witnessed unprecedented growth and change for the British empire, as well as many of the greatest contributions to literature in the past three hundred years. Not to mention a whole lot of material for bodice rippers and horror stories.

I’m talking about the Victorian era. Named, rather obviously, after Queen Victoria, who sat on the British throne from June 1837 until January 1901. This has long been an era of interest to authors of a number of different genres, as well as among the general populace. Every year, hundreds of works of fiction come out set in that era: novels and short stories, movies, TV shows, comic books. We also have at least a couple of new books on any given topic of the era, and there are Victorian enthusiasts all over the world who research that age like crazy and even like to dress up as Victorians.

But what is it about the Victorian era that entrances people? Why do so many authors visit this age to write?* Well, I have a few guesses as to why that is:

  • The romance and glitz of the era. I think this is our first association with the Victorian age. I don’t know where or when this association popped up, but it’s the main reason. More than any other reason, there’s a romanticism to that age. Perhaps it might have something to do with the number of famous novels that came out during that era. A number of them have romance as an important plot or subplot. And as many of these books have endured the test of time, they’ve colored our associations of that age.
    Which brings me to the next point:

  • The literature. While I’m not the biggest fan of the Victorians’ writing style (racism aside, if he weren’t a halfway decent writer, I’d give up on Lovecraft for taking too much after them), it’s undeniable that many of the authors from that age left quite a mark on our modern literature. We still read Charles Dickens in classrooms across the world, and there are countless adaptations of A Christmas Carol out there. The Bronte sisters have all created works that have been held up as timeless romances for generations of readers. And as my good friend Angela Misri will tell you, no character has become more synonymous with the word “detective” than Sherlock Holmes. Truly the literature of the age has had an effect on our view of it.
  • An era of widespread change. Victorian Britain went through an amazing number of changes during Victoria’s reign. The most obvious, of course, was this was the age of the Industrial Revolution. Factories and manufacturing became the hub of the economy, and millions moved to the cities to find work. This change also contributed to a number of new work practices, as well as contributing to the overcrowding of cities and the widening gap between the rich and the poor that we still see today. This was also when Britain spread its empire across the world and into new territories, including parts of Africa and the Indian subcontinent.
    But there were other changes. For example, who was allowed to vote was widened, women gained many more rights, and education became available to the lower classes. And that’s just scratching the surface of the number of changes that occurred while Victoria was on the throne.

And of course, Jack the Ripper’s the perfect embodiment of the age’s dark side.

  • Victorian Britain had a dark and dirty underbelly. While most of us associate the era with glitz and romance, there’s a darker side to Queen Victoria’s age. Poverty was widespread, and many people struggled to make ends meet. Women often had to turn to prostitution just to get a bite to eat or a place to sleep for the night. Many turned to alcohol or opium to numb their troubles. This was the background that allowed Jack the Ripper to hunt down those prostitutes.
    On top of that, medicine, cosmetics, and foods were more likely to kill out of you than help you. Opium or arsenic in your gout cure, lead in your foundation, poor refrigeration and rat droppings in your meat. Hell, your clothes could choke you to death and the dyes could stain your skin for months. People bathed only once a week, and the rest of the time they used heavy perfumes to mask the smell. And if you lived in London, you could expect mud and shit to line the roads rather than bricks!
    And God help you if you had a mental illness. Or a woman who wanted anything more than being a dutiful wife and mother. You could get locked up and have cold water dumped on your head from great heights while doctors came up with all sorts of crazy reasons for why you were mad. Common reasons include not being religious enough, having faulty menstruation, or masturbating.
    Yeah, you laugh, but imagine having to live through it. Pretty nasty, right? It was even worse if you were Irish. The Irish potato famine was going on around this time, and let me tell you, the folks in Parliament could’ve done a lot more to help out with that.
  • It lends itself to many genres. This is probably the biggest reason of all: it’s adaptable to many stories. Historical fiction, obviously, but you’ll find the Victorians appearing in many different kinds of stories. Romances are often set in that world, but also science fiction (steampunk especially), horror stories (Gothic and ghost stories especially, and some cosmic horror too), fantasies (especially ones with fairies or little girls falling down rabbit holes) and of course, mysteries and thrillers.

All these and more are why the Victorians enjoy such staying power in our media. It’s a perfect storm of factors for making a time period not only endure in literature, but give it a special cast that makes it interesting to the writer and average person alike.

I actually first fell in love with the Victorians while in college. I read a manga set in Victorian England, and while it was heavy on the romance and glitz, it got me interested. I’ve kept reading since then, and found out quite a bit more. And seeing as during my research, I’ve come up with more than a few ideas for stories, all that research will definitely come in handy.

If you would like to dive into the Victorian world and learn a bit about it, here are my recommendations:

If you want a good intro to Victorian England, this might be a good gateway drug for it.

  • Emma by Kaoru Mori. In no way related to the novel by Jane Austen, this historical romance manga was my first real introduction to the Victorian period. Beautiful art and a simple yet engaging story.
  • Victorian Britain from The Great Courses. Narrated by Professor Allitt of Emory University, this series of lectures is a great overview of the period for the average visitor.
  • The Complete Jack the Ripper by Donald Rumbelow. You want to know the most about the most notorious serial killer in history and cut through all the rumor and bullshit? This is the book for you.
  • How to Be a Victorian by Ruth Goodman. You want to know what the average life of a Victorian was like? From rich to poor, this is the book for you.
  • Victoria: A Life by A.N. Wilson. A friend from college sent this to me as a birthday present. It’s a rather eye-opening look at Queen Victoria’s life and reign.
  • Unmentionable by Therese O’Neill. Want to know all about Victorian bathroom habits, and the stuff they don’t talk about in the bodice rippers or polite society? You will laugh yourself silly with this one. Trust me, I just finished it yesterday, I would know.

Well, I’ve about talked your ear off on this age. But can you see why? It’s a fascinating era, and it’s one that’s going to continue to show up in fiction for years to come (especially if I can write a good story or two in it). And it’s amazing how just one woman’s reign, the first in centuries in her country that nearly never happened (seriously, read how she became heir to the throne. It’s insane!), has endured as much as it had. Whether romantic and shiny or dark and seedy, there’s a story in this era just for you.

Do you enjoy or write about Victorian England? Why? Why do you think it’s so popular?

What media do you recommend for anyone wanting to learn about the era?

*I’m not suggesting, by the by, that this age is visited more than any other. One needs only look at the breadth of literature to see that storytellers are drawing from all of known history and even from dark prehistory to tell stories. I just chose Victoria’s reign because that one has special importance to me, as you can tell.

Advertisements

I heard about this film a few months ago, and thought the trailer looked promising. Even when the reviews came in and said the film was terrible (one review I saw called it a “soulless possession flick”), I was still interested. So today I got in the car and went to see it, thinking it would either be as terrible as advertised, or I might like it more than others had.

Well, you can’t live on caviar alone, can you?

The Possession of Hannah Grace follows Megan, a former cop and recovering addict who gets a job on the night shift at a hospital morgue. On her second night, a body gets dropped off with extensive damage, the result of a botched exorcism, and immediately weird things start happening around Megan. Machines won’t work, someone breaks into the morgue, and the body seems to change in very odd ways. Soon Megan realizes the corpse, the human formerly known as Hannah Grace, may be more than just a dead body. It may be the vessel for something much worse.

This film was rife with problems. I mean, it had a great set, and the actors put their all into their roles. Shay Mitchell as Megan does a great job as vulnerable, and it was a nice surprise seeing Stana Katic from Castle as Megan’s friend/AA sponsor (I miss that show sometimes). And there are a couple of good jump scares here and there, plus some pretty brutal death scenes. There’s a good horror film trying to break out of here.

The problem is, it’s just not scary. It starts off showing Hannah Grace’s failed exorcism and how she dies, and that takes out much of the mystery and suspense of the film. I feel if the film had been given a different name and the knowledge that Hannah’s botched exorcism until two-thirds through the film as a twist reveal, it would’ve been more effective. As it is though, we know too much, and see where it’s going much too soon. That wouldn’t be a problem (that’s usually how films in the Conjuring series or some of Blumhouse’s films operate, and those are often very good), but the lack of atmosphere and the poor attempts at jump scares don’t do the film any favors.

Also, the ending gave me so many questions. Not the good kind of questions, like the ones that make you return to the film to look for Easter eggs or hidden meanings. The kind that make you scratch your head and wonder what the filmmakers were thinking when they made these decisions. I won’t say what they were in case you don’t want to be spoiled, but let’s just say they left me a little disappointed, and I’d be more than happy to vent in the comments.

And oh my God, you can hear every breath Megan makes! And while that’s normal for characters in a scary movie to breathe hard, here it’s just distracting for some reason.

On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving The Possession of Hannah Grace a 1.5. It’s a crappy possession film that’s trying to market itself as a B-grade popcorn muncher but not doing any of the work to get that distinction.

On the bright side, based on the ticket sales for this film, we won’t have to worry about a sequel or prequel. That’s something to be thankful for.

You know, sometimes you come across movies in the weirdest ways. Sometimes they’re just on while flipping channels, or someone makes a reference to it and you want to know the interest. I heard about Down a Dark Hall because I heard AnnaSophia Robb (aka the kid from Because of Winn-Dixie) was in it. I remember she used to slay in anything I saw her in (especially The Reaping, another horror film she was in), and the fact that this was a horror film got me interested. I asked my local library to order it, they said yes, and I picked it up this weekend, not sure what I was going to get but looking forward to finding out.

This turned out to be a decent example of modern Gothic horror.

Based on the Gothic YA novel by Lois Duncan, Down a Dark Hall follows Kit, a troubled teenager whose mother sends her to an elite academy with the hopes of straightening her out. There with only four other similarly-troubled girls, Kit finds that the school’s very unique and focused program starts to have results. Weird results. Results that devolve into obsession, addiction, neurosis and trauma. On top of that, Kit has been seeing things in the hallways and in the dark. Faces, people, movement. All this collides to lead Kit to a terrifying realization about the school, and what its staff is doing to the students.

For starters, the actors in this film all do a very good job in their roles. AnnaSophia Robb as Kit slays again, inhabiting this very angry girl who slowly finds herself actually liking the school and then distrusting it as things get weird like a second skin or as if she’s done this a hundred times before. The same goes for Victoria Moroles as Veronica, who hides her own tragedies in a badass attitude. And Uma Thurman does a great job as the aristocratic and charismatic Madame Duret.

The film’s story is also very compelling. It checks all four of the boxes I mention in my article on Gothic fiction, all in a very pretty set, and you definitely find yourself caught up in the mystery of the story. Some of the most disturbing moments of the film are when you see these girls falling under the spell of the school, becoming obsessed with math or music or painting or whatever and how badly it affects them. And the special effects aren’t half bad either, more subtle than garish or distracting.

However, the film isn’t without its issues. I never felt very scared, and there wasn’t much of an atmosphere or sense of threat. Outside of the moments of obsession, that is. In addition, a few things in the film felt a little extraneous. There was a certain bald-headed and scarred ghost that really didn’t serve any purpose beyond a few extra scares, and the romantic tension between Kit and her music teacher was inserted, but nothing was really done with it. Seriously, the question of how to portray those relationships in fiction aside, either use it or cut it out and just show them as close student and teacher!

Finally, I also thought that the ending was wrapped up in too sweet a bow and maybe a few minutes too long. In some ways, it felt a little too hopeful compared to the rest of the film, which jars the viewer and takes away from the experience.

Still, Down a Dark Hall was a good Gothic horror film. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving it a 3.8. It’s no Kill Creek (which I highly recommend by the way, check out my review as to why), but if you turn off the lights in your living room and put this on the Blu-Ray player, you probably won’t regret it. Check it out and see for yourself.

As many of you know and as the below video demonstrates, I’m a huge Friday the 13th fan.

Yes, that was me with my Jason Voorhees hockey mask. Shouldn’t surprise any of you that I have that.

And as many of you know, I HATE the remake that came out nine years ago. Seriously, what was that film? It was like the director and writer started making a porno because they hadn’t gotten any action lately, added a bunch of swearing and dirty humor to hide it as a raunchy comedy, and then added Jason just because they couldn’t get studio support for the comedy. But what do you expect, when Michael Bay is producing?

Obviously, I would like for a better Friday the 13th film to come out. So I was intrigued when a friend told me about Never Hike Alone, a Friday the 13th fan film that has gotten some good press. And with the day off from work (we’re observing Veteran’s Day today), I decided to watch it and see if it was as good as said.*

Holy shit, why haven’t I heard of this before? That was great!

Never Hike Alone follows Kyle McCloud, a vlogger who records his hikes on his GoPro and then uploads it to YouTube. He goes hiking in the Catskills and comes across Camp Crystal Lake, abandoned and dilapidated due to years of neglect. Exploring the ruins of the camp, Kyle expects only to find some pieces of history that have expanded into a famous ghost story. What he ends up finding is that some legends are very grounded in reality. Especially when they involve Camp Crystal Lake.

First off, I love how much this looks like a professional production from a major studio. From the camera work to the buildings around Camp Crystal Lake, it’s so well done. I also thought the storytelling in this film was par excellence. Using a minimalist approach to focus exclusively on Kyle’s experience, it creates this suspenseful cat-and-mouse mood. For the first half of the film, you’re on the edge of your seat, expecting Jason to appear in frame at any moment. When he finally does make a move, the film smoothly transitions to this thrill-fest as Kyle tries to survive Jason. And while there is plenty of violence, it’s never overly sensational or stupid, but just enough to give the necessary scare. There’s also only a little swearing, and absolutely no sexual or drug content, which I was thankful for.

I guess Womp Stomp Films, the studio who produced Never Hike Alone, also took one look at how those elements were misused in the remake, and decided to go the opposite route. Good call.

The only major issue I have was that the last scene, which goes on about seven minutes, could’ve been cut a bit shorter. I mean yeah, there’s a cool little cameo at the end, but other than that I would’ve preferred five minutes of it be cut so that it didn’t drag.

Other than that though, Never Hike Alone is a great tribute to the Friday the 13th franchise and a possible view as to where the series could go in the future. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving it a well-deserved 4.5. Atmospheric and suspenseful, you’ll find this satisfies you until we get an actual good film from the franchise, should that ever happen.**

If you’re still unsure, take a look at the trailer below before going to check out the full film on YouTube. Trust me, it’s an hour well-spent.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I’m not sure when I’ll be posting again, but until I do, I wish you all some wonderfully pleasant nightmares.

*I would’ve waited till the next Friday the 13th, but that’s not till September next year, so I’ll have to settle for Monday the 12th.

**And if that ever does happen, with or without Lebron James, I hope they take example from this film on how to make a good Friday the 13th film. And maybe let me help write the new one. I’ve a few ideas on how to bring back my boy Jason, and none of them involves bringing him to Manhattan.

“It’s a movie about Nazi zombies.” From that description alone, you’d think you’d know Overlord inside and out. After all, this subject’s been done before, and it’s usually pretty silly, overly gory, and focuses on some buff action-hero types who cut through the zombies with guns and on as many cheesy deaths as possible. But then you hear JJ Abrams is involved. And that it’s gotten a 81% score on Rotten Tomatoes. And His Royal Scariness Stephen King praises it on Twitter, comparing it to the early work of Stephen Spielberg.

I went to go see it with my cousin today, expecting it to be just as predictable as the movies that came before. What we got instead, to our surprise and delight, was an above average and atmospheric horror film.

Overlord follows Ed Boyce, an African American soldier who is part of a special mission to facilitate the D-Day landings in France in WWII. His unit has to destroy a Nazi radio tower in a converted church in Normandy so the Germans can’t radio for support during the D-Day invasions. However, when they get to the town, they find something weird is happening there. Civilians are being dragged into the church, and those that do come out seem to be changed, and not for the better. Boyce and his unit soon realize they’ve discovered a dark plot that could change the course of the war. Unless they stop it.

As I said, this isn’t what you’d expect with a movie involving Nazi zombies. In fact, the zombies don’t feature as heavily as they might’ve in another film. Rather, director Julius Avery decided to focus more on the horrors of war and the creepy atmosphere, rather than sensationalized gore and violence. And it is effective. Everything, from the war-torn town to the blood and gore, look incredibly realistic. Very little CGI is used, which only makes things more authentic and visceral. I especially liked the Nazi base of operations underneath the church. It’s use of shadow, space and overabundance of creepy and bloody medical equipment reminded me of some of the scariest parts of the video game Outlast.* And as I said, there is an attention to the horrors and privations of war and atmosphere that you really do feel without the zombies being present.

And when the zombies do show up, God are they scary! They’re slimy and bloody, they move spasmodically and growl like animals. The fact that they aren’t overused especially helps.

I also found the cast very believable. True, I couldn’t help but think “It’s Fitz from Agents of SHIELD” every time Iain De Caestrecker’s character was on screen, flawless American accent or not. But other than that, you really do believe these actors are these characters. Jovan Adepo is especially good as Private Boyce, who is affected every time he sees someone die or has to kill someone. You believe this guy is going to be haunted for years to come.

One critique I do have for Overlord is that it does get a bit predictable at the end. I mean that’s fine, it’s a great finale, but you could still see where the film was going to go at that point.

All in all though, Overlord is a good horror film and a much better film than you’d expect. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving it a 4.4. Unnerving and powerful, it’ll stay with you for a while after you’ve left the theater. Take a look and see for yourself.

*BTW, if you haven’t played or watch someone play Outlast, I highly recommend you try it. Just be careful though, because that game is enough to leave me shaking.

I’ve mentioned things like “Lovecraftian horror’ or “cosmic horror” before on this blog, but I’ve never really gone into what those terms mean. And given that someone on the Internet is probably wondering what those terms mean and I need a break from trying to figure out how to end a short story, I thought I’d take a moment to look over what it means when horror fans call something “cosmic horror.”

I actually summed up cosmic horror pretty well last month with a little joke that I shared on my social media. Here’s how it goes:

Knock knock!

Who’s there?

Yog-sothoth.

Yog-sothtoth who?

Your mind couldn’t handle the answer.

Now you’re probably confused by that joke. But in actuality, it summarizes what cosmic horror is pretty well. Namely, there are answers and truths to questions that the human mind can’t handle. And not just answers, but even beings, beings that don’t fit into any sort of recognizable mythology or concept of good and evil. In this sort of horror, humanity is the equivalent of ants in the grand scheme of things, and if they come across any of the things that they shouldn’t–beings of unimaginable size and power, truths that go against everything we’ve ever believed, abilities and technologies that seem blasphemous to human viewpoints–the very contact could kill us or drive us insane. And even if our minds survived in some recognizable state, we would be forever changed. And probably not for the better.

If you haven’t grasped why that’s so scary, let me use an analogy: imagine you’re a farmer living in England in 1066, and a man from the year 2166* comes by and tells you that the world isn’t flat, but round; that the Earth flies around the sun and not the other way around; and that space is a cold and mostly empty void rather than a sphere surrounded by God’s Heaven and angels. Well, you’d obviously think the man from 2166 was crazy. But then he takes you back to his time, and he lives on a ship orbiting the Earth. You see the round Earth below while you float weightless in space and see the dark void beyond Earth. And things like science, gravity, etc. mean absolutely nothing to you. And everything’s new and strange to you, lights too bright and shadows too dark, and the sounds you hear make no sense.

Can you start to see how this could tear at someone’s mind? That someone could be afraid of this?

A universe of incomprehensible beings and terrible secrets is the basis of cosmic horror.

And that’s why cosmic horror has been so popular since HP Lovecraft basically created it back in the early 20th century (which is why it’s also known as Lovecraftian horror). It basically takes the old Judeo-Christian concept of good vs. evil, God versus the Devil, etc, which is essentially a closed and somewhat understandable system, and throws it wide open to a universe where there are multiple forces, none of which are easy to grasp or empathize with, let alone categorize into good vs. evil.

But how do you write it? Well, it’s more than including big, powerful beings that drive people mad (though that is often a feature). They’re more a vehicle for the broader theme: a sense of helplessness, that the universe is big and dark and full of awful things, that humanity is inconsequential and our dealings with the big players never lead to anything good. That, and a sense of untapped mystery can’t hurt. Think the first two Alien films or a dark version of 2001: A Space Odyssey‘s aliens, and you might get the idea.

If you want a better grasp of cosmic horror, I’d suggest looking at some of Lovecraft’s stories.** I recommend The Temple, The Call of Cthulhu, and The Dunwich Horror. I also recommend checking out other writers who use cosmic horror, including Stephen King, Guillermo del Toro, and so many more. Heck, I’ve got a few stories that have some cosmic horror in them. If they ever get published, I’ll let you know.

Cosmic horror can be hard to wrap your mind around sometimes, but once you do, it can open you to all sorts of terrible worlds. And if you can stand what you find, perhaps you will delve deeper. Just be careful when you do. You might not be the same when you come up, after all.

Do you like cosmic horror? What cosmic horror works would you recommend to the unitiated?

*Assuming humanity lives that long, what with global warming and a rising population. You know it’s true!

**If you can stomach his racism. Yeah, I love his work and contribution to horror, but I hate what he believed. If he were around today, I’d either punch him, ignore him for being an asshole, or recommend he take some anti-anxiety medication, get some therapy and maybe some exposure to other communities.

This film was recommended to me by Netflix after I finished watching Apostle the other day, a Spanish fantasy-horror flick based on folklore from the Basque region of Spain. And since Halloween isn’t complete without a horror film, I thought I’d watch and review this one. After all, it’s a film about demons. What could go wrong?

Errementari: The Devil and the Blacksmith takes place in a small town in 19th-century Spain. The local blacksmith lives alone in the woods and is said to be anything from a madman to a devil-worshiping murderer and is avoided by the general populace. A young orphan goes into his land to retrieve her doll, and discovers a terrible secret within the smithy. At the same time, a government official appears into town to investigate the possible location of a cache of missing gold, and believes the blacksmith might be connected to it. All these factors come to collide in one horrific night that will go into history and lore for years to come.

I cant say this film is boring. It’s very visually appealing, with plenty of attention paid to the dress and architecture of the time, as well as to the make-up and practical effects. Yeah, those demons look grotesquely real, and I love it. I also find two of the main characters, the blacksmith Patxi and the orphan Usue, very sympathetic. The former, who has gone through quite a bit in his life, finds himself forging the unlikeliest bond with the latter, who I have to say is the highlight of the film. She’s a normal but spunky girl who at the same time is questioning a lot of what she’s been taught because of what that means for those she’s connected to.

The plot is pretty decent as well. There’s more of an emphasis on character-building than on actual scares and an unnerving atmosphere and the storytelling doesn’t entirely conform to standard movie storytelling arcs, but given this film is more of a fantasy with heavy horror elements than an outright horror film, that’s understandable. And hey, there were even a few interesting twists along the way.

All that being said, the film does have some issues. The main demon Sartael is a little too comedic at times, especially for this particular movie. Pardon me, but if a demon is in a movie this dark, then please don’t have it be at times silly and groveling. I should be terrified of it at all times. Also, the way the story’s told makes it a bit of a drag at times. How bad were those moments? I pulled out my phone to check my notifications. That bad.

Still, it’s overall an engaging film and I can’t say I regret watching it. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving Errementari: The Devil and the Blacksmith a 3.5 out of 5. If you enjoyed Pan’s Labyrinth, this should be right up your alley. Just make sure to watch it in the original Spanish with subtitles. Trust me, the English dub is jarringly bad.

That’s all for this Halloween, my Followers of Fear. I’ll be back sometime this weekend, at the latest. Until next time, pleasant nightmares and HAPPY HALLOWEEN! MWA HA HA HA!