Thursday, 2 March 2023

More Favourite Horror Movies: Basket Case

Basket Case

Dir: Frank Henenlotter. Cast: Kevin Van Hentenryck, Terri Susan Smith, Beverly Bonner. 1982

Basket Case is the tale of two brothers, Siamese twins separated against their will, who take revenge on those who’ve “put them asunder”. 

I first saw Frank Henenlotter’s feature debut during its initial VHS release by Media. If memory serves, I’d read about it in the pages of Fangoria magazine, and so, had my eyes pealed for its appearance at any of the video stores in my area. Lo and behold, one day, there it was.

I took it home, and popped it in my home player (or did I have to rent a VHS machine?). As it began, I remember being hit with these impressions: cheap, gory, outrageous. These are three of the characteristics I love about Basket Case, though in hindsight, it's much more than that. It’s also clever, a thorough snapshot of early 80s Times Square, it’s populated with unforgettable characters, and it’s utterly endearing. 

The moment early on in which a murder takes place accompanied by squeaky ballon sound effects, I was hooked. By the time, also early on, that a character is cut in half with a buzzsaw, the deal was sealed.

Henelotter has a terrific ability to covey a sense of place, to create unforgettable characters/creatures/outsiders (Belial from Basket Case, Aylmer from Brain Damage, Frankenhooker), and to bring them together under intriguing circumstances expressed with unbound outrageousness. At heart, Hennelotter works to keep classic exploitation alive, and there is no better example than here in Basket Case. 

Tuesday, 28 February 2023

More Favourite Horror Movies: Last Night in Soho

Last Night in Soho

Dir: Edgar Wright. Cast: Anya Taylor-Joy, Thomasin McKenzie, Matt Smith, Diana Rigg, Terence Stamp, Michael Ajao, Rita Tushingham. 2021.

Ellie Turner (Thomasin McKenzie) sees ghosts. Specifically, she sometimes has visions of her mother, dead by suicide. This doesn’t seem troubling to Ellie, in fact, it seems to be reassuring for her. Ellie wants nothing more than to experience whatever remains of Swinging Sixties Soho, a time and place that holds special significance to the women in her family. Accepted at the London College of Fashion, Ellie leaves both Cornwall and her grandmother behind, and travels to Soho where she begins to have visions that take her back to the 1960s and to the promising yet troubling and ultimately tragic life of a young singer named Sandie (Anya Taylor-Joy).

Last Night in Soho is a flawed movie, most noticeably in the sometimes illogical behaviour of its characters. I’m not going to argue that this adds to the dreamlike quality of the movie — it doesn’t — but I am going to state that these flaws didn't detract from what Last Night in Soho offered me, which is an experience, and a completely cinematic one at that. 

Director Edgar Wright, assisted by co-writer Kristy Wilson-Cairns and each and every one of his behind the scenes creative departments, has worked to create a decidedly appealing Soho of the 1960’s. Its colours, wardrobe, locales, soundtrack and actors inhabit a thoroughly alluring world. It’s this enticing place filled with the music of Peter and Gordon, Egyptian eyeliner and plastic raincoats that, like its twinned main characters have been, lures us in. It’s only when nightmarish reality starts to bleed into this innocent and promising world with its Argento-like colours that we understand the truth behind the glamour, and it’s here that Soho truly becomes a ghost story. 

After my initial viewing of Last Night in Soho, I left the theatre feeling fully satisfied. I’d had my thrills and my senses had been completely engaged. It was only afterward that I began to really think about the dangers of nostalgia that Soho asks us to ponder, as well as the notion of just what makes a victim, and what constitutes fitting punishment. Lofty take aways from a movie that too many have criticized for its lack of substance.

Sunday, 5 February 2023

My Gay Ass Has a Problem with Knock at the Cabin

There are two kinds of gay guys: one is the kind who doesn’t see an issue with what I’m about to type about (That’s fine. He should just move along.), the other is me.

And there’s another thing; although I’ve looked, it’s something I’ve yet to see mentioned in reviews of this film. My assumption then, rightly or wrongly, is that the reviews I’ve read were written by straight people, because it doesn’t seem to have registered with them. 

Yesterday, my husband and I took in M. Night Shyamalan’s “Knock at the Cabin”. It’s his adaptation of Paul Tremblay’s novel “The Cabin at the End of the World”, which I’ve not read. In the film, a gay couple (oddly always referred to as “same sex”) and their daughter rent a secluded cabin and are visited by four strangers who may or may not be the four horsemen of the apocalypse (sans horses). They tell their hostages that one of them must be killed by their other two family members in order to prevent the end of the world. 

Sure. Let’s just go with that for the sake of enjoying the movie. I mean, “The Rapture” and “Breaking the Waves” both did a pretty great job of selling a Christian “what if” scenario, so why not? Food for thought.

Here’s the thing, though people are chopped, shot and bludgeoned in mostly PG-rated ways, what’s the one horror that Shyamalan can’t bring himself to show onscreen? Answer: Two men kissing. 

This is a film about love, about the romantic bond between two men and their bond with their daughter. These men are tied to chairs, forced to watch murders take place before their eyes, they are asked to make a choice about which one of them will die, but they are not allowed the absolutely human, more than situationally called for act of an actual kiss. Forget about fucking. You know, like real human beings do. 

Our boys are, however, allowed flashbacks. Flashbacks that work hard to earn the couple acceptance by a hetro audience. 

See them struggle with homophonic parents. See a gay bashing. See an actual adoption. All in aid of trying to work up some sympathy from the audience. And how do we do that best? We take away the queer threat. We de-sex queer characters, because that’s where the real horror lies, isn’t it, M. Night? That’s the threat present in a simple kiss. 

While it’s true that one movie can’t (and shouldn’t) be called upon to address all ills, to show only uplifting stories about marginalized people, how long can we continue to represent gay men onscreen via handsome, buff white men of means who are busy assimilating into straight society, here with the added bonus of de-sexualizing them? 

Thursday, 5 May 2022

More Favourite Horror Movies, Alphabetically: X


Dir: Ti West. Cast: Mia Goth, Jenna Ortega, Brittany Snow, Kid Cudi, Martin Henderson, Owen Campbell, Stephen Ure. 2022.

The newest movie on this list has also become something of an obsession for me. Just what is it about this movie that I connected with so strongly?

Set in the 1970’s, X follows six Texans to a rural rental property owned by a very elderly couple. There, the sextet plans to shoot a porn movie. This, however, unleashes a killing spree fuelled by sexual frustration. 

X suggests the horror films of the 1970s (and to a lesser degree, the 1980s) without unimaginatively ‘paying homage’ to them by ripping off key scenes. For instance, the setting, both era and location, suggests The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The alligator mayhem and bayou locale suggest Tobe Hooper’s wild Eaten Alive. A scene of ocular trauma suggests the Lucio Fulci flicks of the 1980s. They bring us back to the time period in which X is set, but they don’t just ape what’s come before. 

The cast, especially Goth, Ortega, Snow and Campbell, are outstanding. They manage, with an immeasurable assist from director West’s script, to create memorable, surprising, and endearing characters. Goth, in particular, stands out by taking on two substantial roles here. 

I was really impressed with a scene in which Campbell, as the porn flick’s ‘auteur’, has a breakdown in the shower after discovering that there is more to his girlfriend than his naivety can process. That West included this scene illustrates one of the things that I love about this movie. There are characters and ideas here to care about. There is something on West’s mind, even if it’s just to let us see that there is more to people than what their archetype suggests.

And that shot of the alligator 
 if you've seen X, you know which one  sublime.

There is also more than one way to interpret the film’s treatment of the elderly. I think whatever interpretation a viewer brings to the film says more about the viewer's thoughts about sex and aging than it does about the filmmaker's take on the matter.

To some, the idea of sex between people in their 80s is grotesque, it’s black comedy, it reflects a fear of the elderly. I don’t see it that way here. I was shown a too often neglected side of aging, bloodily awakened by assumptions that sexual needs and desires disappear as we age. It’s not (always) so, and to assume so is dangerous. 

In the end, what I love about X is that, for me, it delivered. It’s a horror film with thrills, ideas, surprises, and interesting characters. It’s a film that communicates the connection between sex and death — one of horror’s key themes — without having to hit the nail on the head with lesbian vampires drooling blood down their cleavage (not that there’s anything wrong with that). 

Reportedly, West has two more X films in the works. The next, Pearl, is set before the events that unfold in X, and I’m guessing the third will take place in the present day. Whatever the case, you can be sure that I’ll be there, anxious to experience more of what West has to show us. 

Thursday, 28 April 2022

POW! ZAP! BAM! I Co-Created a Comic Book!

Why haven't I blogged about this before now?

A couple of years ago, I self-published Monster Man: Tales of the Uncanny by Dave Stewart, a collection of short horror stories I'd written. Shortly after it was released, artist Sandy Carruthers sent me a couple of quick sketches he'd done illustrating moments from two of the stories contained within. You can see them below. These illustrations set me to thinking.

I'd long had an idea for a story about a modern day mummy who, like Fagin from Oliver Twist, has assembled a gang of young criminals to do his bidding. Suddenly, this seemed like a great idea for a comic book, and so I arranged a meeting with Sandy. 

Sandy is the owner of Sandstone Comics, a comic book creator/publisher located here in Prince Edward Island. For anyone who might be unfamiliar with Sandy and his work, check out his Wikipedia page. Beyond Men in Black and Charlton NEO, Sandy was a student of my father in the Commercial Design program at Holland College - ahem - a few decades back - end ahem - and I've known him casually for years. 
Fortuitously, Sandy liked the idea; in fact, we were both excited about collaborating on this particular project, and so we set about making it happen.

Somehow, we settled on the DARK|Sanctuary title, and then I went to work on the script while Sandy went to work creating illustrated renditions of our characters. I had never written a comic book script before, and although I'm sure I don't follow proper format, the way I write seems to work for Sandy, at least in this instance. I don't like to tell the artist how many panels a scene requires, or to dictate the composition of a panel. As I see it, my job is to create story and dialogue, and Sandy's is to bring it to life on the page. DARK|Sanctuary is very much a collaboration in the purest sense. 

Out of necessity, the focus of the story shifted somewhat, but more often than not, I find that this opens up an idea in ways the original concept never could. Our mummy, an ancient evil that moves from body to body as the old one crumbles, got a name - Pharaoh - and as all villains worth their salt need a sidekick, Pharaoh was given Suma, a hairless Egyptian cat.

What was missing was an accessible way into Pharaoh's world, and so Cassie was born. Cassie is a 14-year-old runaway whose father, ostensibly, has a hard time accepting that she is a lesbian. Cassie has made contact with Sanctuary, the dorm/centre of operations that Pharaoh has built, and it's her story that is the throughline of our series.
Key to Sandy's and my ability to collaborate, I think, is that we trust each other to do our jobs, and leave each other alone to do them, with only the occasional but absolutely necessary suggestion for each other. Another key to our successful collaboration is that we both share a love of Warren Publishing's CreepyEerie, and Vampirella magazines, as well as the horror comics of the 1960s and 70s. This gives us a sort of reference shorthand when discussing the look and feel of a scene or a character. Perhaps the latter makes the former easier to do. There's an innate trust there. I assume that's why Sandy lets me surprise him with the twists and turns that I present for each issue, and it's why I leave the artwork and comic book business decisions to him; he knows his stuff. 

To that end, Sandy landed on a 20-page per issue, four-issue run plan for DARK|Sanctuary, and it's been really fun working to the beats that each issue requires, and cutting out all the fat that doesn't get us where we need to be, story-wise, by the end of each issue. Believe me, each issue is thoroughly thought out before the final artwork is ready to go to print. 

So far, two issues have seen the light of day. You can pick them up at your local comic shop, and if they're not there, you can order directly from Sandstone Comics, where you can check out all the comics in their roster, including other work from Sandy, Robert Doan, Gregory Webster, and Brad Seymour.

Presently, I've written the script for the third issue, and Sandy is at work on its thumbnails and layout. We know where issue four is going, we just hope we get to complete this story and get it out there. To that end, we'll be hosting another Kickstarter campaign when issue three is ready to go. Please consider supporting our work when we do. This is truly a labour of love. Stay tuned!

A favourite moment from DARK|Sanctuary #1.

Thursday, 25 November 2021

More Favourite Horror Movies, Alphabetically: The Witch

The Witch

Dir: Robert Eggers. Cast: Anya Taylor-Joy, Ralph Ineson, Kate Dickie, Harvey Scrimshaw. 2015.

”Wouldst thou like the taste of butter… wouldst thou like to live deliciously?”

If you haven’t seen The Witch, please don’t read what follows, as it’s spoiler laden. 

The Witch is a movie that divides audiences. The major complaint its detractors seems to have against it is that ‘it’s not scary’. Whatever that means. 

When I hear that complaint, my first thought is, “I wonder how they watched this movie? Did they watch it on a computer monitor or some little screen? Were they absent of distractions? Did they have excessive expectations of what they were about to see?”

Regardless of the answer to the above, I honestly believe that The Witch is a movie best seen in the theatre where the image and sound overtake you, where the experience is bigger than anything else around you. Regardless, I get that The Witch isn’t a movie to everyone's tastes. No movie is. 

From my perspective, The Witch illustrates how a belief system forces someone to become what its adherents believe her to be. I can relate to that, and the notion, to me, is scary.

The Witch is, first, a horror movie that is propelled by a sense of isolation and fate, heading, with moments of false hope, towards its seemingly predestined conclusion. Though this was director Robert Eggers first feature film, he has such a command of what he’s doing that it’s hard to believe.

It is also a film with extraordinary performances, unnerving music by Mark Korven, and intense attention to detail. Its dialogue is written and spoken in Olde English, and its language is as dense as the forest that surrounds the farm of the outcast family, and hides not just one witch, but perhaps a coven. In that regard, the dialogue can sometimes be difficult to discern, but that rarely detracts for long.   

And Poor Thomasin; she gets it from all sides. As the family begins to lose, first, hope and then their grip on reality, we fear for what is in store for her. Whether her ending is a release or a role she’s forced to take on is open for interpretation. 

More Favourite Horror Movies, Alphabetically: Videodrome


Dir: David Cronenberg. Cast: James Woods, Deborah Harry, Sonja Smits, Peter Dvorsky. 1983.

I saw Videodrome when it was first released to theatres in 1983. I was (and am) a fan of both Cronenberg and Debbie Harry. When I walked out of theatre after that first viewing, however, all I could think was, ‘What the hell was that?’ 

The fact is, Videodrome was years ahead of its time. It’s a metaphor-heavy movie that uses body horror to expand upon Marshall McLuhan’s notion that ‘The medium is the message’, and in this case, we become the medium.

Max Renn manages an adult content cable TV station. His tech guy introduces him to Videodrome, a show comprised of only sex and torture that he’s discovered via short bursts of glitchy transmissions. Max becomes obsessed with tracking the show down for his network, and along the way becomes ‘the new flesh’. 

Gory, surreal, visceral and intelligent, Videodrome is a brilliant piece of work that becomes more and more prescient as time passes.