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.