FINAL GIRL explores the slasher flicks of the '70s and '80s...and all the other horror movies I feel like talking about, too. This is life on the EDGE, so beware yon spoilers!

Oct 2, 2023

Day 2 - "Frankly, I think we've entered a new age of madness."

Not to be too solipsistic or to have too much of a parasocial relationship with media...but sometimes it feels like certain movies were made expressly for me (or, in the case of today's movie, the one person who voted it a favorite). How else to explain the fact that Meg Tilly stars as Carmilla in the 1989 Nightmare Classics episode "Carmilla"? It's like a wink and an "I gotchu, girl" from the universe, I swear. And so it is with number 526 on the 2020 list of your favorite horror movies, writer/director David Schmoeller's The Seduction.

Side note: Is it just me or is it a bit strange that "parasocial" has become something of a buzzword lately when it's a phenomenon that's been around forever? It's like everyone just discovered it or something. Like when bacon became a fad, or folks started making sriracha a lifestyle. Sure, we all come to things or come to enjoy things at different times, but I'm always amazed when something pretty basic is suddenly everywhere. It's weird! That said, while sriracha is not a lifestyle choice for me I do love it a lot and I swear if this Huy Fong shortage doesn't end soon I cannot be held accountable for what I might do. I have tried all sorts of other brands and they are poor substitutes! I need a wink from the universe here.

Okay anyway, enough about my condiment desires. Let's talk about my cinematic desires, specifically my desire for The Seduction, which is hot and throbbing (sorry) because this movie was made for me and only me!! And like I said, the one person who voted for it!

I will prove my case. Your honor, the blog would like to enter into evidence the following:
  • The Seduction's year of birth: 1982, one of horror's best years
  • The color scheme of the opening credits...and that font!

It's wildly reminiscent of the font from the TV show Silk Stalkings, of which David Schmoeller directed six episodes. It's a small, sexy world after all!

  • The Seduction boasts a soft theme song called "Love's Hiding Place" sung by the one and only Dionne GD Warwick!
  • It's co-produced by Irwin Yablans
  • It's about an anchorwoman in peril
  • The anchorwoman in peril is Morgan effing Fairchild, just look at her delivering the news! Could you die

There is so much more, I loved this movie!

Derek (le hunk Andrew Stevens) runs a small photography studio and is completely obsessed with evening news anchor (just typing the words "evening news anchor" when talking about a horror movie really sends me!) Jaime Douglas (Fairchild). He's in love withe her, and he's convinced she's in love with him. That's right, his room--with his obligatory wall full of Jaime photos--is Parasocial's Hiding Place!

You know how it goes. Derek wages a war of constant, escalating harassment against Jaime: he surreptitiously takes photos of her, he calls her at home, he calls her at work, he calls her at her friend's house, he sends flowers, he shows up at her workplace with candy, he shows up at her house, he lurks in the background of her on the scene and Pulitzer prize-deserving reportage!

In one highly disturbing scene, Derek lurks in a closet and sweats profusely while he watches Jaime take one of those sensual movie bubble baths, you know, the kind where a woman spends a lot of time running her hands up and down her soapy calves.

The cops tell Jaime that there's really nothing they can do because "overheated fan" Derek hasn't done anything wrong. Jaime, Jaime's boyfriend, and I all disagree with this assessment, but what are you gonna do? Get a gun, as many characters suggest? Jaime says NO, she is a strong woman who will not resort to becoming a common vigilante! And yet, as Derek keeps on keepin' on...

YEAH BABY! Can you just hear the "chk chk" in that picture? Let me tell you, it's even more satisfying in the actual movie. Go figure!

These kinds of movies all play out in basically the same way, but the fun is in the getting there, and The Seduction is nothing if not fun. Well, truth be told it's perhaps a bit overlong at an hour and 45 minutes, but I don't really care. Giving me Morgan Fairchild as an anchorwoman is enough for me! But The Seduction keeps giving and giving, as Schmoeller gives a whole bunch of random characters moments to shine, including a few I need to shout out, like this kid, who is getting his portrait done at Derek's studio and refuses to smile:

This random, gravel-voiced neighbor that Jaime literally runs into one night, who is out with her dog and says "It's just me and Butch, looking for a place to poo-poo":

COLLEEN CAMP!!! As Jaime's best friend, who seems to have gone to the Patsy Kelly 1930s School for Wisecracking Gal Comedy Stylings and says things like "Boy, I'd better keep my trap clapped!" Like who is she!

There's also the salesdude in that store who tries to sell them a 50 pound silver cigarette lighter that's in the shape of an elephant? I love these random characters. And look, it's Lana's boyfriend Billy from Friday the 13th: A New Beginning!

I tells ya, I wish there were enough anchorwoman in peril movies that I could dedicate a whole SHOCKtober to 'em. Oh well. At least I'm going to dedicate a whole wall in my apartment to photos from The Seduction. I know it loves me just as much as I love it! *wipes sweat*

Oct 1, 2023

Day 1 - "You, too, can feel the joy and happiness of hating!"

Well would you look at that, it’s time for the
SHOCKtober shenanigans to begin. This is always a weird time of year, isn’t it? Here in dotty old New England, at least, it’s like being caught in a liminal space between hot and spooky seasons (although some of us are hot and spooky year-round, amirite wink wink). The aisles of the stores smell like latex and cheap chocolate, but I’ve still got Piper’s Summer Breeze LP in regular rotation. There’s a whole endcap of pumpkin spice stuff at the grocery store, yet there is not a single bag of pumpkin spice coffee to be found and it’s irritating because it’s the only goddamn thing I want! And then, perhaps the most dissonant development of all, today begins 31 days of horror movie a-watchin’ and a-writin’ about some of your favorites, but I don’t yet feel fully ensconced in scary movie vibes, you know? Maybe it’s just that there’s too much daylight happening still, I don’t know. But I am kicking this off with a scary movie with serious scary movie vibes, so it won’t take long for the creepy crawly feelings to settle in.

Aw yeah, that’s right…I’m talking about Mario Bava’s 1960 classique Black Sunday!

This movie entered the 2020 list of your favorite horror movies at number 238, with 4 votes, a placement that is perhaps a wee bit lower than I would expect if you just pulled me aside on the street to ask for my opinion regarding the popularity of Black Sunday. (That is, if you could catch me! I’m pretty good at avoiding people on the sidewalk who have clipboards and just want to ask you a question. I can spot ‘em from at least a block away and I begin offensive maneuvers
    immediately: pick up the pace, stare at the sidewalk, etc etc. You know how it is. Lately we’ve had these people in bright pink vests taking up all four corners at intersections, trying to stop folks to talk about some children’s charity or something. That’s all fine and good but excuse me, I am on a mission to find pumpkin spice coffee! The children will have to wait.)

Anyway, what? Black Sunday! I am surprised it isn’t higher up on the list. Then again, what do I know? This was only my (GASP) first time seeing it, I have no room to talk.

But of course it’s been swishing around in my mind since I was a yoot, when I saw a picture of Barbara Steele with all those holes in her face in the pages of one of my mom’s old issues of Famous Monsters magazine. It’s the kind of image that gets burned into one’s brain, no?

Then I spent some time of my life conflating it with the 1977 terrorist flick
Black Sunday, and I wondered how a single movie could have Barbara Steele with holes in her face and a blimp. As it turns out, no single movie does! Not yet, anyway. I know that Ms Steele is no longer working and blimps are kind of passé nowadays, but with all this new AI technology, who knows what the future may hold?

Black Sunday begins as all the best movies begin, with a witch-vampire-satanist tied to a stake, swearing she’ll be back for vengeance against not only the jerks trying to burn her, but also and their ancestors and their ancestors’ ancestors and so on. The jerks then hammer a spiked mask onto her face, and if you are me you say OH WOW that’s where all those holes in her face came from and OH WOW again, that’s why the original title of this movie is The Mask of Satan. I also thought about how toe-curlingly nauseating this scene would have been if this had been directed by Lucio Fulci. But it’s Bava, baby, so it’s still a horrifying sequence, but not eye-poppingly explicit.

Two centuries and a few stray drops of blood later, Princess Asa Vajda and her lover/fellow satanist Prince Vajda are back and ready for that promised revenge. The princess plans to take the place of her descendant, sad aristocrat Katia Vajda (also played by Steele). Will she succeed? Maybe! 

Look, Black Sunday is perhaps a bit short on story but I, for one, do not care. It has the gothic vibes of all the best Hammer horror, but it’s even better than Hammer horror because, you know, stuff actually happens in it. It’s full of Bava movie magic (the scene where Asa saps Katia’s life energy is worth the price of admission alone) and the set pieces, oh honey! Gorgeous. The camera floats through castles and crypts and (c)forests as if on a cloud of evil fog. The filmmaking is all so assured, it’s insane to think this was Bava’s first directorial effort.

It also introduced Barbara Steele to the world, and it’s easy to see why she immediately became one of horror’s most enduring icons. By turns sinister and sultry (sometimes switching it up in seconds), she commands your attention every moment she’s onscreen, whether she’s out for a goth as all hell walk with her Dobermans or glaring at you with a face full of holes.

This movie feels to me like it’s 90 minutes of the Borgo Pass section of Dracula, you know? And everybody knows that along with the Demeter chunk, that’s the best part of Dracula. We get cobwebs and fog and scrabbly tree branches and eerie carriages and curses and a satanist whose manicure is still on point rising from the grave like a zombie. What more could you ask for? 

It’s got the perfect vibes with which to kick off SHOCKtober, and the perfect vibes to end it. It’s the kind of horror movie that is the reason for the season, so if you’re like me and somehow you’ve never actually seen it before now, then hammer it to your face ASAP. And if you’re one of the four who voted it a fave in 2020, then I tip my wig to you because you obviously know what is up.

All that said, would it have been even better if there were a blimp or two in there somewhere? It certainly wouldn’t have hurt!

Sep 30, 2023

Nothing will come between you and this blu-ray...

 ...if, of course, you decide to pick it up at some point! I am of course talking about the new fancy-pants limited edition of High Tension from Second Sight Films, coming November 27th and now available for pre-order

And I do mean fancy-pants. Just look at it! It's got all sorts of interviews and features and commentaries and writing, including an essay by yours truly. Limited editions from Second Sight are always drool-worthy (I sleep with their Lake Mungo release under my pillow every night. I won't lie, it's not comfortable at all, but I can't help myself. It's so pretty.) so I'm looking forward to getting this one in my greasy, bloody clutches. It's also just plain nice to see High Tension get an upgrade! And NO I'm not interested in hearing about how "the movie is good until the twist ruins it." Save it for the next person you pass on the street! I'm getting in my truck AND in my car and I'm driving away from that 20 year old criticism. (High Tension is 20 years old, can you believe it? C'est incroyable!)

Sep 27, 2023

Who's that a-tappin' at my chamber window?

Why, it's none other than SHOCKtober!

Let me tell you, she is primed and gross and ready for action. She's got her candy corns on standby, alternating black and orange plastic spider rings on every finger, and chin putty liberally applied in many places that certainly don't qualify as chins. 

I admit, though, that I spent some time scratching my own "chins" figuring out just what to do for this year's celebration. It's not yet time to put out the call for y'allses Top 20 favorite horror films lists. Do I go in-depth on a single topic, à la the great 2019 Suspiria experiment? What topic could we all endure (and would hold up) for 31 days of posts? (I thought about doing 31 Days of Horror Movie Wigs, but honestly unless it's exceedingly obvious--like, slipping off of someone's head obvious--I never know if some coif is actually a wig. So the whole month would just be comments correcting me one way or the other. However...I'm not saying that this won't be a future SHOCKtober theme. Maybe after I take a class in Wig Recognition at The Learning Annex or something.)

After a whole lot of fussing and fretting, I took a cyber time machine back to 2005 (Can you believe it, girls? 2005!), the year this here blog emerged from my mind-womb, and dug around in the nooks and crannies of the inaugural SHOCKtober festivities. I was immediately brought back to the (pardon my nerdery) excitement of that first go at it: watching and reviewing a movie every day for a whole month! I'd never done anything like it, and lawd, I loved amassing the pile of movies I'd conquer. And I do mean "the pile." Streaming was not a thing, and while I had my Netflix queue all good to go, I was at the mercy of the postal service to shuffle the DVDs back and forth. I hit up eBay and grabbed a bunch of VHS tapes (I don't think the collector craze had hit yet, so you could still get good shit for cheap!). 

A couple of these piles consisted solely of Friday the 13th films and Halloween films because apparently in addition to the movie-a-day thing, I did the F13 and the Halloween all-in-one-day marathons that month?! GOOD LORD. What was I thinking? Ah, the folly of youth and too many Riunites on ice! Just look at this pixelated as all hell picture as I got ready to dive into the Michael Myers saga. So many Halloweens have happened since then! So many media format changes! I don't live in the state where that picture was taken anymore! I still have that Loretta Lynn's Kitchen mug though! 

It was also a real trip to get a re(peep) into ye grand olde horror blogosphere of yore. The heyday of horror blogging--if you want to call it that--was still a couple of years away, but the smaller sphere was mighty still! It was all so much more interactive than it is today, with all the cross-posting and reading each other's sites and commenting and blah blah blah. It was flashback-cool to see all kinds of blog and writer names from the ancient times, including Dark, But Shining, which a friend contributed to and which inspired me to give Final Girl a go in the first place. I clicked a lot of links on this reminiscin' journey, and Dark, But Shining is gone now, as are the vast, vast majority of the other blogs. Some have become blinking, flashing, Chinese cyber casinos. Others, the boring bot-driven page of random placeholder links (maybe you know what I mean). Others still are frozen in amber, their last few posts following the trajectory of many a blog's final days:

  • a post with actual content
  • (seven months later) a small update with a link to something
  • (16 months later) "I am sorry I haven't been updating this blog! I am back now, though"
And that was the last post, made in, like, 2008. It's understandable, and I am not judging! Seeing the graveyard filled with my earliest peers did, however, make assuage some of the guilt (yes, guilt, how silly, right) I feel over not posting here enough. Sure, Final Girl has had some fallow years, particularly when Gaylords of Darkness was running every week. Or that time I tried to retire Final Girl altogether, only to realize that I didn't actually want to. Simply, I am glad to be here, preparing for another SHOCKtober.

On the other hand, it all also made me wonder what will become of this place when either blogger or I shuffle off this mortal coil? Will Final Girl become a blinking, flashing, Chinese cyber casino? I hope whatever it is is eye-catching, at least. And I hope that at least one of you will bust out a Ouija Board, get in touch, and tell me!

Perusing that first insanely overambitious go at SHOCKtober got me all jazzed, though. I've got the whole month scheduled--think of it like that pile of Halloweens, except none of them are a Halloween (spoiler) and they're all in my mind--and let me tell you, it's a very exciting lineup of movies I'll be watching and writing about. Each movie is pulled from the 2020 master list of Top 20 favorites submitted by you guys; In other words, every day I'll post about someone's favorite movie. Many will be a first-time watch for me, while others I've seen but never written about. There are even a couple I have written about in the (relatively distant) past, but I think they're due for a rewatch and reassessment. There's a big variety of subgenres, a big variety of countries of origin and years produced and more. In the words of one Wendy Torrance, we're all gonna have a real good time. So as always...

Lock your doors...bolt your windows...pull up your's time for---


PS!! If you have subscribed to my newsletter feed thingy over at Avenue X (it's free!) to get emails about Final Girl updates...first of all, thank you! Second, I think maybe during SHOCKtober I will only send out the newsletter once a week with links to the week's posts...? I will be updating/cross-posting everyday, of course, but I don't know, I feel like daily emails would clog your inboxes and be a nuisance? Or would you like that? Tell me what you think! Man I need a "gen" "z" intern who can tell me what to do or something. 

Aug 21, 2023

What would the neighbors say?

My gramma's house--that is to say the house my mother grew up in--was the sort of ordinary and unremarkable house that is becoming unattainable for the ordinary and unremarkable buyer of today. It was smack in the middle of a dead end street full of perfectly fine small-ish WWII-era houses, each with a nicely manicured, perfectly fine small-ish yard. Vinyl siding, rhododendrons, and azaleas on the outside, wood paneling and fake stone walls on the inside. The wall-to-wall carpeted kitchen had a mustard-yellow fridge and a mustard-yellow (with accents meant to look like wood paneling) stove. It goes without saying that no one in their right mind would ever dream of having wall-to-wall carpeting in the kitchen, but somehow that carpet didn't end up looking like a Jackson Pollock cast-off. That carpet never earned a single stain. No crumb settled on it for longer than the blink of an eye. This is perhaps an even greater indication that the kitchen belonged to no one in their right mind, but ultimately, I suppose that's for history to decide.

Nothing much ever changed in there, as the wood panels and mustard-yellow appliances could attest. Small things, maybe, like a toilet seat (it was clear lucite and had plastic fish embedded in it, because for my gramma, like so many others, the bathroom was a beach). Things--large things, especially--are not to be replaced on a whim. You have the things you have until they no longer function as they should. Perhaps this is residual Depression-era thinking? Or maybe it was just the way it was then, before the age of planned obsolescence and yearly upgrades of so many things we own. 

The street itself was largely unchanging as well, with the houses inhabited by the same families that inhabited them during my mom's youth. Her childhood friends grew up and left like she did, but their parents remained. Houses weren't commodities to be flipped and profited from, they were places you bought and then lived in and then maybe died in. So as time marched on, the folks living in the houses up and down the street skewed older and older. I'm an only child, and when we would go visit grams I was often the only child on the street. 

There were woods out back, just beyond the edge of the yard, but they weren't good woods for playing in. I guess they were in my mom's youth--she told me it was the place for all the neighborhood teens' first ciggies, and one time, one of her brothers found a rusty birdcage and had to get a tetanus shot because somehow he got his lip hooked on it? Kids chew on the darndest things, I guess. Or maybe I'm misremembering that story. As I said, though, by the time I got to those woods they weren't much good to be played in anymore. Worn footpaths that my mother and her brothers and their friends had trampled were long grown over. It was all too wild back there, just a mass of trees and pricker bushes. 

The yard on one side of the house simply blended into the neighbor's yard, which seems a bit weird to me now. No fences separating the two? The property lines were just honored? They never ended up on Justice with Judge Mablean, arguing over leaves landing on a side not their own and remaining unraked?? Wild.

The other side of the yard was separated from the neighbor's by a small wooded lot, also unsuitable for playing in or indulging any Nell-esque fantasies one (aka: I) might have had. I can't tell you how wide it was as I am terrible at figuring distances and heights and all that. (It's good to know one's limitations, and I know I would make a terrible eyewitness.) But it wasn't very wide at all; You could see through the trees into the neighbor's driveway on the other side. Still, it was trees.

Once I got to be too old to, I don't know, run around in circles in the backyard (or whatever it is children do), I would join my mother and her mother at the table (dining room in the colder months, the closed-in porch in the warmer months) as they drank coffee, flipped through Avon catalogs and Star magazines, and engaged in the blandest kind of gossip about the neighbors (nothing truly scandalous ever happened on that block). It's entirely possible that I was born a 70-year-old woman, but even if I hadn't been, this was the time I would have morphed into one. I contributed nothing to their conversations, but I was perfectly content to sit there, a 10-year-old 70-year-old, and soak it all in. I had never seen, say, a Bob Hope movie, but I knew who he was because there he would be, rheumy-eyed and writ large on the cover of Star with a headline proclaiming he was in his LAST DAYS! After my mom wrote down her Avon order (The Avon Lady, whom I never once met or even caught a glimpse of, would be back in a week or two for the orders), I would look through the catalogue and wonder why only men's perfumes came in cool bottles shaped like cowboy boots or cars. 

Incidentally, as an eternal 70-year-old, I still think that coming over for coffee and talking about anything and/or nothing--with or without the catalogues and shitty gossip rags--is a mighty fine way to spend some time.

Anyway, listen, this is how we want a gramma's house to be: new plastic toilet seat fish aside, it should be forever unchanging. The word "outdated" does not--can not--apply to a gramma's house. Even if you can pinpoint the era that was its time, it doesn't matter, for a gramma's decor is timeless. There is comfort in the wood paneling that went up before you were born and (because it's some kind of plastic, you see) will be around long after gramma--and you--are gone.

But of course nothing gold can stay, Ponyboy, not even a gramma's house. 

In a mind-boggling turn of events, someone bought that small wooded lot on the side, knocked down all the trees, and squeezed a new house in there. And I do mean squeezed: the space was so narrow that the house had to situated 90 degrees to what you might expect. The "side" of the new house faced the street, and the "front" faced my gramma's house. And I do mean faced: their front door was rightthere outside her kitchen window. The people who moved in were fine, but lawd, awkwardly plopping the new house in where trees had stood for...well, I'm as bad a judge of time as I am of distances and heights. But it was a long time, I know that much! Theoretically a new house in the neighborhood is fine. But in this instance, both the location and the execution of it were awful.

It was like the infamous "Slutty Island" trip to St Barts in season 5 of Real Housewives of New York, you know? When Aviva (who has a debilitating fear of heights and flying and machinery in general after losing half of one of her legs in a childhood accident involving a massive farming contraption) brought her emotional support husband Reid along with her because she could not bear to fly without him, and some of the other ladies didn't want him to stay in the house with all of them. It was a girls' trip, after all, and as Luann said, having a man stay in the house with them and hang out with them all the time would "change the dynamic."

Mind you, the dynamic was chaotic, what with Luann bringing home that French dude who kind of looked like Johnny Depp for a night of drunken foolin' around but the next day she kept insisting that everyone was wrong, she actually brought home "a group of old Italian friends" and there was no foolin' around at all. But the dynamic did change into a different kind of chaos, for Aviva lost her GD mind that she wasn't greeted with the "grace" and "elegance" she felt she and Reid deserved, which to her mind should have included a party, complete with a banner reading WELCOME AVIVA -- YOU DID IT -- RAH RAH. Long before the trip was over, Ramona would be yelling at Aviva to "Take a Xanax! CALMMM DOWWNNN!" and Aviva would tell Ramona and Sonja that they were "both white trash, quite frankly."

The point is twofold: one, I really love Real Housewives, and two, that new house next to my gramma's really changed the dynamic of the space we had all known for most of, if not all of, our lives. 

No, wait! My point is actually threefold: three, this has all been a too-long-but-I-have-no-editor-here-so-my-heart-will-go-on-for-as-long-as-I-please, meandering into to say that Anne Rivers Siddons's The House Next Door really resonated with me on several levels and boy did I love it.

Perhaps, like me, you first read about this 1978 novel in Stephen King's Danse Macabre, after which you tucked it away in a cobwebby, possibly haunted corner of your brain along with everything else he mentioned in that book that you hadn't yet seen or read. (Side note: after finishing The House Next Door I went back to see what King said about it. He quite likes it but feels that Siddons's characters don't always speak the way people actually speak. I agree to an extent, but I will raise him an "Okay, but people in your books don't always speak the way people actually speak now do they, Mr Cockadoodie Man?")

Perhaps also like me, whenever the book came up over the years you were curious but then you would put off reading it because what is this cover??

Yes yes, books and their covers and something something judging and all that. But as Siddons was not a horror writer and from the image to the fonts to the Pat friggin' Conroy quote, that cover does not say "horror" at all, I thought "Hmm, no."

But! The curiosity remained, and I'm so glad I finally caved to it because this book is all southern gothic in the broad daylight of a contemporary suburb. It's neighborhood gossip and secrets and a haunted house story unlike any I've ever read or seen. 

Walter and Colquitt "Col" Kennedy are a working, well-to-do, (w)childless by choice couple enjoying a loving, quiet existence in their upper middle class Atlanta suburb. When they find out that someone has bought the wooded lot next door with the intention of building a new house in their historic neighborhood, Col in particular is worried that it will, you know. Change the dynamic. 

And of course it does, though not in the way Col or any of her friends might think. The house itself is stunning, designed by a brilliant new architect who has crafted something that looks like it was always there, sprung up from the Earth itself. While they are not excited about having new neighbors, good breeding and manners dictate that the Kennedys are warm and cordial to whomever moves in, welcoming them with open arms and making them a part of the local dinner party circuit.

The newlyweds who commissioned the house in the first place, Buddy and Pie Harralson, are but the first of several couples to move into the house next door. Because as Col comes to realize, the house is...hungry. It takes from those who live there and even from those who spend too much time there, and it ruins them. To spoil all the ways the house destroys lives and, ultimately, the entire neighborhood as it becomes more gluttonous and its evil spreads, well, I don't want to do that even though I have a lot to say about the specifics! I think it's About a Few Things! Maybe we can spoil in the comments?

I will say again that this is unlike any other haunted house story I've come across. This is the birth of a house born bad, so to speak; imagine we saw the story of, say, Hill House and all the tragedies that unfolded within as they happened and not had them relayed to us by characters as a scary story from the past. 

There is no cursed ground under the house. There are no red rooms and purple pig demons and projectile-vomiting nuns here--nothing so carnival "spook house" to be found in this book's pages, that's for sure--but it's still interesting to see The House Next Door as a kind of genteel, moneyed take on The Amityville Horror. "People like us don't appear in People magazine," Col, our narrator, says in the first line of the book. Eventually, however, the Kennedys destroy their reputations and turn to People to tell the story of the house next door because People is the only place that will listen. Col and Walter aren't out to make a buck, they simply want to warn away prospective buyers--but does intention matter when they end up right where the Lutzes did?

(Side note, fuck Clint Eastwood forever for destroying Sondra Locke's career.)

As effective and unsettling as The House Next Door is, it's not likely to leave you awake all night, peeking out from under your covers wondering what that shadow in the corner is. It's a very, very slow burn that is as much neighborhood chit-chat as it is about any kind of hauntings or horror. If you don't think that coming over for coffee and talking about anything and/or nothing is a mighty fine way to spend some time, you won't want to read about characters doing just that--and you may not enjoy this book nearly as much as I did. 

There is a lot of "tell, don't show" at play here, but I think it works with the gossipy nature of the novel. Sometimes it's "Did you hear? Mrs So-and-So is pregnant again" and sometimes it's "Did you hear? Some truly messed up evil shit went down at the house next door!" What can I say, it works for me. We don't often get to feel like voyeurs in a haunted house story, you know what I mean? We, too, are the neighbors wondering at just what is going on over there? And while I certainly don't find the well-to-do denizens of this neighborhood personally relatable, I love that it's not your typical cast of horror characters. It's fascinating to watch them withhold fears and endure the evil in their midst, all in the name of good manners.

Sure, sure, the idea of the house next door being dangerous and evil and the evil spreading and consuming you is a terrifying one. But just imagine, sitting at the table, drinking coffee a flipping through an Avon catalogue while you talk about it! The House Next Door checked so many personal boxes for me, I really didn't want it to end. Who could have guessed I'd feel so strongly about a horror book from a non-horror writer? A horror book with that cover? Stephen King and all the people who have recommended it over the years, I guess. But look, I'm on board now. In fact, after I'm done typing this I'm gonna hang up a banner that says WELCOME ANNE RIVERS SIDDONS -- YOU DID IT -- RAH RAH.

Aug 8, 2023

Possession is nine-tenths of this post

If you were to look up "What seeing The Exorcist at a formative age does to a motherfucker" in the dictionary, you might pause a moment to think "Wow, the OED is really just adding anything at all these days, huh?" But you might also see a picture of me there, waving a large foam finger that says "I can't help it, I love possession movies even though they're nearly all terrible, generally very samey-samey, and they likely don't deserve the love I have for them." (Yes, the text on the foam finger is very small.)

It's true! Lately I have had possession movie fever and it's manifesting in all sorts of ways. Why, just the other night, the words POSSESSION MOVIEZ RULE appeared in raised letters on my stomach! Eerie, right? This recent flare-up of feelings was triggered by a few...triggers. To wit:

1) I am (still) playing Diablo IV and there is a cool possession-flavored sidequest chain.

2) Playing Diablo IV has had me in the mood for some Diablo IV-esque horror movies, though I'm not sure any exist that will scratch that particular itch. (Feel free to recommend some if you can!) But! This mood led me to rewatch the 2010 film The Shrine, which I remembered quite enjoying. Turns out, I still quite enjoy it! Sure, the moments of 2010 CGI haven't aged very well (the green screen fog looks very much like...well, green screen fog). Yeah, a lot of the acting is a bit dodgy. I agree, it's another in the long line of movies that think the thing we really enjoyed about The Blair Witch Project was seeing a "bossy" woman get what was coming to her because she was so bossy!!! And yes, The Shrine literally wraps up with a limp "Oh that? It's a curse" excuse for a resolution. 

But you know what? It matters not to moi! While the movie's ideas might be better than the movie itself, I find that I'm so into those ideas that I still dig the movie as a whole. (Does that word salad make any sense?) The Shrine leaves you guessing as to what's actually up with that cult operating out in the Polish countryside, and when you find out, phew! The third act lets loose and it's an over-the top, pretty gory reminder that possession movies can be great, scary fun.

3) Talk to Me is my favorite thing I've seen in a hot minute. (Side note, how absolutely GD delightful it was to go see an Australian horror movie in a thee-ay-tur!) I am loath to go too deep in on it at the moment as it's still pretty new and maybe you haven't checked it out yet and it shouldn't be spoiled. But I will say, I can't remember the last time teenagers--especially horror movie teenagers--were treated with such respect in a film. It's refreshing that they do the dumb, flip shit that teens do, but they are also written as, you know, people. In other words, they don't sound like screenwriters trying to sound like cool teens, talking about their hashtags and apps and vapes and you see why I don't write teen characters! They simply exist. Crazy, right?

Despite all the literal hand-holding in the film, the film does not hold your hand. It doesn't go to great lengths to explain away every little thing, and boy oh boy is it stronger for it. It fills in enough blanks so you don't walk away dissatisfied or confused, but it leaves the wizard behind the curtain trapped behind the curtain. A horror movie that respects its characters and its audience? Crazy, right?

A sequel was just announced today, and in typical A24 style, announced as "coming soon" at that. Now, maybe that sequel will explain everything and tell we would-be Eleanors just whose hands we're holding. That's okay, I suppose, as at least that'd be telling the story as its own story. It's telling the story as a five minute narrative dump squeezed into proceedings that's the clunker idea: It isn't always necessary, and it certainly doesn't always work--and such a sequence would have brought down Talk to Me's property values immensely. It's a sad tale of the lingering effects of unresolved grief, the lonely ache of the desire to fit in, and the myriad ways we unintentionally hurt one another. All this in a teen-centered possession movie? Crazy, right?

Anyway, bring 'em on, I say:

Talk 2 Me

Talk to M3

T4lk to Me

Talk to Me 5 

4) Okay, the biggest  culprit in all of this is also the least likely, and that is the trailer for The Exorcist: Believer

It's possible that in the past you have heard me yell about The Halloween Bangs Trilogy, aka The Lindsey Wallace Saga (2018-2022) (named such because Kyle Richards cut her bangs for her portrayal of the iconique (and gay) Lindsey Wallace because Kyle Richards was com-mit-ted to the role, thank you very much).  I yelled bad things because Lindsey Wallace aside, phew honey I do not like those films (or "films," rather) one single bit! Each installment was worse than the one that preceded it, which is perhaps the most notable thing about the whole shebang. 

So when it was announced that the duo behind The Halloween Bangs Trilogy (David Gordon Green and Danny McBride) would be reuniting and getting their filthy mitts all over another sequel trilogy (sequelilogy), this time to The fucking Exorcist, you can imagine my reaction! If you can't imagine it, I will just tell you that my reaction was "no."

Okay, now imagine my reaction when I watched that trailer and came away from it hyped for the movie! If you can't imagine it, I will just tell you that I was shocked, honey. I was in tears almost.

Of course, I realize that my hype is due in large part to the gas leak in my apartment. It's also due to the fact that the trailer simply recreates some of the best tidbits from the original film and the trailer for the original film, such as the dogs fighting and the stark black and white images. And then there's Maude my feelings about possession movies, the feelings that ignited this whole post. I am simple! Give me a practical FX possessed face with weird yellow or green eyes, crusty cracked skin, and some corn teeth and I'm good! Yeah, I know the person with the weird yellow or green eyes, crusty cracked skin, and corn teeth will probably just toss and turn in bed and cuss a lot before spicing it up with a bit of levitation or elbows and knees bending in all the wrong ways. The Exorcist is almost half a century old: the same old tricks are tired as heck and truth be told, they're not the most interesting aspects of that film anyway.

But lawd I don't care, I love that shit! And I always will, I'm sure, because that is what seeing The Exorcist at a formative age does to a motherfucker. 

Now, what will seeing The Exorcist: Believer at a not-remotely-formative age do to a motherfucker? It rattles me to my core to say it, but say it I must: I can't wait to find out! My foam finger is already on.

Oh hey! FYI, this here post is going to be cross-posted at my new catch-all blog-site-thing Avenue X. I tell you this because you can subscribe over there (it is free) and get whatever I post delivered right to your ol' inbox. Final Girl isn't going away, so you are welcome to not subscribe over there and simply check this site whenever you might fancy. But if you want to be in the know whenever this place updates, that's a way to do it! Cutting edge technology, I tells ya, wow.

Feb 28, 2023

A Bava by any other name

Anybody who's into Italian horror movies at all knows that figuring out how "franchises" work can be, to put it mildly, an experience on par with falling into a room full of razor wire. Every movie has 85 different titles in Italy alone, many of which insert them into any old series for whatever reason. Of course, the Zombie films are notorious for this, so much so that two people discussing the same movie will come off looking like they're in an Abbott and Costello skit as directed by Erwin Schrödinger.

"Do you like Zombie?"

"You mean Zombi 2?"

"I mean Zombie, like Zombie 1, I guess."

"Zombie 1 is Zombi 2."

That's only scratching the surface of the fuckery behind that film alone. I mean, let's not forget Zombi/e 3, a title that has been given to Let Sleeping Corpses Lie, Nightmare City, Burial Ground: The Nights of Terror, and Zombie Flesh Eaters 2. Then we have The Church, which is also sometimes called Demons 3...but then there's also Demons 3, which is also called Black Demons, and there's Demons III: The Ogre, which has nothing to do with the Demons series. You need a fucking Rosetta Stone and a PhD in quantum physics to sort this shit out!

My point is, Beyond the Door II isn't a sequel to Beyond the Door whatsoever. They merely share an actor, who isn't even playing the same character in both films. Yes, that is akin to calling Little Women "Midsommar II" because Florence Pugh appears in each. Then you go see Little Women and you're like "Okay, this is a sequel, so when do the little women jump off of cliffs and/or set their boyfriends on fire...?" 

(To be fair, maybe they do that in Greta Gerwig's Little Women, I don't know, I've never seen it.)

So! Since Mario Bava's Beyond the Door II (1977) is not actually, you know, Beyond the Door II, I'll be using its Italian title, Shock. I'm sure you already know it by that title, since 1) I think it's the preferred title nowadays, even in these here United States, and 2) only the hippest, most in-the-know people read this blog. 

And because you are therefore hip and in-the-know, I bet you're also well aware that


Seven years after her drug-addict husband's suicide and her subsequent nervous breakdown, Dora (Daria Nicolodi) moves back to the home they shared with her son Marco (David Colin Jr, your link to Beyond the Door!) and new husband Bruno (John Steiner). It's not long before everyone starts acting a bit weird: Dora gets increasingly paranoid, Marco gets increasingly hostile towards his mother, and Bruno hides the key to the locked basement. Is Dora headed for another breakdown? What's going on in this house? And as Aretha Franklin might ask, who, exactly, is zoomin' who?

Early on in the proceedings, as the family settles into their new-old digs, the score by I Libra (featuring ex-Goblin member Maurizio Guarini) does much of the heavy lifting in establishing some kind of mood or atmosphere, letting us know that, say, a Slinky coming down the stairs or a shot of a bookcase should be considered scary. As you begin to wonder what this movie is getting at, however, the happenings get trippier and trippier, the requisite chunky and painful-looking white contacts appear, and the blood starts flowing through a series of twists and turns that lead to a wholly satisfying payoff. A payoff that makes sense! In an Italian horror movie! Can you believe it?

this is some Amityville shit

Shock doesn't have the candy-colored aesthetics and obvious location trappings that those familiar with Bava's work might expect, which makes it all the more astonishing that the film's contemporary 70s Italian country home comes to feel ten kinds of spooky and gothic all the same. Why...maybe bookcases and Slinkies are scary!

There's no shortage of the in-camera tricks and effects that the director is famous for, though, particularly when the film takes on a kind of dream-logic state. This includes this famous shot, one of the absolute coolest, most iconic jump scares in horror (and which was aped to far, far lesser effect in...sigh...Annabelle):

More than anything else, Shock is an incredible vehicle for Daria Nicolodi, her personal favorite performance and one rivaled only, perhaps, by her turn in Deep Red. Her slow transformation from doting mother and wife to fraught Woman on the Edge plays to all of her strengths as an actress, particularly her expressiveness and physicality. Her vibe in this--with her long hair, wide eyes, and flowing dresses and nightgowns--adds to the unexpected gothic atmosphere and brings to mind Isabelle Adjani in Herzog's Nosferatu, which rose from the grave two years after Shock.

This is Bava's last film and something of a torch-passing to his son Lamberto, who is credited as assistant director but widely regarded as co-director, ostensibly making this his first film. I'm not sure how well Shock is regarded in pater Bava's filmography; it's certainly not cited as a great by horror fans as often as A Bay of Blood, Black Sabbath, or Black Sunday are. But who cares! This was my long LONG overdue first viewing and I frigging loved this. It's part haunted house movie, part possession movie, part mystery, part psychological thriller and ALL parts wicked cool as hell. Everyone who's hip and in-the-know knows!