Saturday, May 23, 2020

The Cruel Prince by Holly Black

Jude used to live a normal life with her family until her parents are killed in front of her. She and her siblings are spirited away to Elfhame, the world of beautiful and cruel faeries. Jude and her twin sister Taryn are treated by society as if they are fae, which enrages the petty youngest son of the king, Cardan. He and his cronies torment Jude because she won't back down or admit defeat. When her father makes it impossible for her to ever truly be accepted by fae society, the king's most likely heir approaches her to be his spy, entrenching her further in Court of Fae drama and the underhanded fight for the throne.

I waited years to start this series and thought the hype wouldn't live up to the book. I was totally wrong. The Cruel Prince is so different than I expected. The world of Elfhame is detailed and dark. The fae view humans as temporary lovers at best and playthings or beasts of burden at worst. Jude and Taryn would never be seen as equal in this society's eyes no matter how hard Jude tries to show her abilities. The fae can't lie, but don't hesitate to skirt around the truth or lie by omission. Each creature type is varied in anatomy, behavior, and diet. Jude's stepfather is a redcap who needs to bathe his cap in blood every so often, leading to a hot temper and a love for war. Humans are fooled quite easily into slavery or being playthings until the inhuman creatures get bored or hungry. Every interaction with them puts humans in danger, making living with them inspire constant terror at doing the wrong thing. It's even worse that Cardan has decided to torment Jude and no one will do anything to help her unless it goes too far.

The first and second halves of the book are starkly different. The first half establishes Jude and her situation, not quite fitting into either Elfhame or the human world. With the way she is cruelly treated by almost everyone around her and how she will never truly fit into fae society as a mortal, you would think she would just run back to our world. Wrong. Jude loves Elfhame for everything it is. It's her home and she can never be truly satisfied living away from it knowing it's still there. Her narrative is at times very frustrating to read because I can see how her decisions will turn out so terribly, but she does what she thinks is right. Jude wants to prove that she is equal to if not better than the fae. Taryn, her twin, is perfectly happy taking whatever the fae will give her, tries to fit in wherever she can, and taking it with a smile. She will turn her back on literally anything to just keep them from tormenting her. While she is also frustrating to read, the constant torment would be hard to live with and I don't blame her for doing what she has to for survival. I thought this book would stay as a conflict between Jude and various fae, but the rest is very different.

The second half of the book is much more about the inner workings of royalty and who is going to be crowned prince. Jude has plans, but multiple other parties have their own who are more powerful, well connected, and older than her not to mention essentially immortal. I didn't expect the book to delve so deep into the politics side. This twist upends the status quo of the first half and redeems Cardan somewhat which I thought was impossible. The end is an insane series of twists and turns that I never saw coming. The Cruel Prince proves to be deeper and darker than I expected. While there is a romance (as is annoyingly required in YA), it doesn't take away from the story and adds another complication to an already touchy situation. I can't wait to read the next in the series plus the Cardan novella was just announced.

My rating: 5/5 fishmuffins

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

The Nightingale (2019)

* major spoilers *

In 1825, Clare Carroll lives in an English penal colony located in Australia working as a servant for a British military unit. Due to her beautiful singing voice, she is called upon to entertain and serve upon rowdy soldiers. While it looks to others that she gets preferential treatment, Lieutenant Hawkins treats her cruelly behind closed doors and dangles a promised letter of freedom for her and her family to keep her subservient. When his authority is threatened, Hawkins does the unthinkable, leaving an injured and enraged Clare to seek revenge.

The Nightingale is a brutal film that has several scenes of sexual assault, murders of children, and other acts of violence. Although it may not be for all audiences, the portrayals of rape are never meant to titillate. Each one is filmed to show the point of view of the woman and not to objectify her. Many claim this film isn't horror because it's a historical drama, but I argue that the horrific acts done by privileged men with bruised egos definitely classify it as horror. This also makes it incredibly relevant to modern times.

Clare Carroll does what she can to survive throughout the film and stays within the realm of reality. She never becomes a killing machine or supernaturally capable. As a servant for most of her life, weaponry and self defense aren't high on her skills list. However, her sheer determination for revenge takes her extremely far beyond what is expected of her because her life is essentially over when her husband and child are murdered in front of her. Lieutenant Hawkins's word will always be taken as fact above her own no matter the evidence as she saw when she tried to report the murders. Even before the murders, Hawkins raped her whenever he wanted because he knew no one would believe her because of her status as a convict and his own privilege as an officer. The authorities are on the lookout to send her to an even worse penal colony for the rest of her life because she said no to a man in power. Clare is far from perfect and makes many mistakes along the way, including showing the racism towards the Aboriginal people of the time.

Billy is an Aboriginal man Clare hires to guide her through the Tasmanian wilderness. Through him, the audience sees how the English have treated his people, stealing their lands, murdering them indiscriminately to the point of genocide, and destroying their culture. To Clare, this man is lower than an animal and she fears for her safety in his presence until they reluctantly get to know each other. When they share about each other's experiences, they see how similar they have been treated by the English. Billy's true name is Mangana and all the men in his tribe were murdered during colonization. He is essentially homeless, pushed to the edges of society, and works when the English deign to hire him as a guide. At the end of their journey, he would have no recourse if they refused to pay him or tried to murder him. The English have taken fundamental things from both of them by dehumanizing and enslaving them. They have also created a hierarchy to pit the Irish convicts and subjugated Aboriginal people against each other. 

Lieutenant Hawkins contrasts with Clare and Billy as the only main character with societal and political power. He represents all of their problems as a high ranking colonist that perpetuates the inhuman treatment of non-English people and genocide in addition to abusing his power for selfish gains. Everything is going well for him until he's passed over for a promotion he feels he deserves. Instead of accepting gracefully and perhaps improving his leadership for next time, Hawkins decides to traverse through the dangerous wilderness at a breakneck pace to speak directly to the man in charge and make his case. This is the only situation he couldn't kill or rape someone to solve his problem because the defiant person is above him in the hierarchy. His solution is to force those lower than him to go on a treacherous journey where he rapes, murders, manipulates, on his own quest for the promotion he thinks he deserves. Unfortunately, it's at the expense of many others and the example of yet another privileged. mediocre white man who can't take no for an answer. 

At the climax of the film, both Clare and Mangana use their culture, the thing the English tried so hard to destroy, to strike back at Hawkins. At the beginning of the film, Clare is commanded to use her voice for the enjoyment of English officers and sing English folk songs. Hawkins even goes further and demands a special song of his choosing in private that precedes assault. To her child and husband as well as on her journey for revenge, she sings traditional Irish songs in Gaelic. When Clare finally confronts him right in front of the officers he hopes to gain a promotion from, she sings an impassioned song in Gaelic just after accusing him of rape and murder. Although it would be satisfying to see her kill him, this form of revenge is more realistic and more meaningful. It throws her culture in his face and weaponizes the voice he always forced her to use to please her oppressors. Mangana, on the other hand, puts on his tribe's warpaint, attacks Hawkins in the middle of the night while he sleeps, and kills him. He escapes seriously injured. He and Clare celebrate their victory such as it is. It doesn't do much to change the oppressive English force and Billy is most likely going to die, but they did what they were able to and achieved revenge.

The Nightingale proves hard to watch and isn't an enjoyable film. However, it's an important film that sheds light on the background behind racism and bigotry indigenous people are still being treated with today. All over the world, there are similar stories of genocide and enslavement. I was pleased to find out that Jennifer Kent worked closely with Aboriginal Elders of Tasmania to portray their culture in the most respectful and accurate way. Clare's story is very relatable today to women fighting against established, privileged men in power who are still given more of the benefit of the doubt by wider society. I highly recommend this film. Every aspect of it is well made and doesn't lag with the long run time. I was riveted while angry and sad throughout the ordeal.

My rating: 5/5 fishmuffins

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Cecilia Abate and Horror Scholar Journal Vol 2.: Hannibal

Cecilia Abate AKA Horror Scholar created a brand and magazine to make horror academia accessible, fun, and engaging. On her Facebook group, her values/methods are:

1) Media does not exist in a void.
2) Horror deserves scholarship.
3) Critical analysis is not censorship, not is it inherently negative.
4) Creators and consumers strengthen the genre through examination and discussion.
5) Horror is a community that should support and protect its own and strive for progress in terms of diversity, awareness, and inclusion
6) Both horror and scholarship are for everyone. Gatekeeping hurts the community.

Abate commits to inclusivity on all levels and opens up horror scholarship with paid work for writers and an always free magazine for readers. The magazine is an indie production completely designed and created by her. 

The first edition focused on American Horror Story and the second focused on Hannibal, which she generously offered to me in advance for review. The Hannibal magazine features 6 in-depth articles on aspects of the books, movies, and TV shows of Thomas Harris' stories (Red Dragon, The Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal, etc.). All of them brought unique perspectives to each media. 

Queerness and the Supernatural in Hannibal by Sasha Rivera focuses on the wendigo and stag figures as well as the relationship between Hannibal Lecter and Will Graham in the show Hannibal and compares them to Carmilla and The Picture of Dorian Gray. Gender and Adaptation by Mason Hawthorne tackles characters outside of gender norms in Harris' work and how they adapted in different media. While I thought they brought up valid points in terms of the portrayal of Margot Verger in Hannibal and Jame Gumb in the film Silence of the Lambs, I thought their assessment of Clarice in the latter movie reduced Jodie Foster's work and focused on one aspect of it (her physical difference to men in her field) rather than the strength and success she had. 

Abigail Hobbes and Fan Reproduction of the Victim/Survivor/Perpetratory Trichotomy by Lorraine Rumson shows how fans focus on Abigail role as victim and survivor rather than her less palatable, more complex role as both alongside perpetrator of violence. This was my favorite of the articles because women are complex and don't always fit in the boxes they are shoved into. One status doesn't cancel the others out and it's disengenuous to chalk up all of her actions to being "brainwashed by Hannibal." Abigail is one of my favorite characters and this article truly articulated why she is much more complex than most give her credit for. 

Clothing Symbolism in Hannibal by Megan McAllister focuses on Hannibal's literal tailored suits, their colors, and possible meanings as well as his person suit to put people at ease and escape notice. Gourmet Cannibalism: The Appeal of Hannibal Lecter by Ciara Ruane discusses the change of cannibalism from something base and savage (as portrayed historically, particularly towards indigenous people) to something bourgeois and motivated by his unique code of ethics where rudeness is deserving of death. Jonathan Demme's Use of Music in The Silence of the Lambs by Eric J. Lawrence was another article I loved. It analyzes not only Howard Shore's Score, but the incidental music, sounds, and silence in the film. 

The journal as a whole is amazing with a sleek design, informative articles, and a glossary in the back to define terms. Cecilia Abate truly makes these articles accessible to all and I look forward to more issues of the magazine. 

Women in Horror 2020

It's almost halfway into the month of February but I want to honor women in horror in front of the camera, behind the camera, and in the literature world as much as I can. I haven't written in a while due to work and other life stuff, so I hope to revitalize it this month and in the foreseeable future. Wish me luck!

Monday, October 7, 2019

Shibuya Goldfish 2 & 3 by Aoi Hiroumi

* Shibuya Goldfish 2

High school student Aki Touji and her little brother encounter the giant goldfish overrunning Shibuya and flee. They encounter and join up with Shibuya Sable, a homeless man with unparalleled skills and a big reputation. He plans to kill all the golfish, but doesn't care much for the humans around him.

The world of giant man-eating goldfish continues with an interesting character. Shibuya Sable is rumored to be cannibalistic, blood drinking, fabled to have fought off 1,000 yakuza on his own, and maybe he'll grant your wish if you bring him food. The real person is capable of killing many people and giant goldfish, but he doesn't really care about anyone other than himself. He has no moral compass and is pretty unpredictable and unstable. His life essentially hasn't changed since the goldfish came. The yakuza don't bother him much anymore and now he has to fight goldfish, but that's it. It's fun to see someone being a match for the goldfish, but you never know if he'll help someone or screw them over. Either way, he's the most dynamic character seen yet.

The cliffhanger from the first one is picked up here as well. Hajime and Alisa foin up with them as well. We get a glimpse of what the outside world is doing. The government tried to send help several times, but each was destroyed by the goldfish so they've stopped. There's also a glimpse of Shibuya before the goldfish as a place where the good is right next to the bad, schoolgirls and yakuza eating in the same place. I love places like that. The one thing I truly hate about this manga is the gratuitous upskirt shots, one being when a girl is literally being eaten alive. I'm still going to read the series, but I hope these are minimized or completely taken out later.

My rating: 3.5/5 fishmuffins

* Shibuya Goldfish 3

High schooler Hajime and pop star Alisa are still following the Shibuya Sable, a particularly unstable homeless man who is their only hope against man-eating giant goldfish. His plan to destroy all the goldfish in town instead of waiting for rescue is risky and insane, but what else can they do?

Sable identifies a new nemesis in the albino goldfish who seems to be the leader of the entire school. His plan to kill all the fish is far fetched, but who knows what would happen if he killed the leader. Everyone besides Sable is essentially dead weight who don't know what to do except for Chika Yumioka, a university professor studying the goldfish. Hajime and Alisa are too busy trying to save other people when they can't even save themselves. I'm fast losing sympathy for them and I'm way more interested in Sable even with his dubious morality.

The albino goldfish has a new ability not seen before. It marked some of the people who encountered it with a chemical that makes them develop goldfish spots and corrodes their skin as well as attracting goldfish to them. This new development is devastating and incurable. The ending has a separate comic that might have a clue to the start of the whole thing, but it's not clear yet. This volume returns to form and features some truly horrific stuff while getting rid of the gratuitous panty shots of the previous volume. I'm so excited for the fourth installment.

My rating: 4/5 fishmuffins

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Universal's Halloween Horror Nights 2019

One of my very favorite events is back with a few changes! There is no terror tram this year, but there are more mazes than ever before plus the RIP tour has changed a bit.

* Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man

While I like the presence of the original Universal Monsters, Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man felt a little stale. It was the layout of Alien vs. Predator from years ago and repurposing of last year's Universal Monsters maze. It starts out with the Wolf Man's story from gypsy curse to transformation. The coolest room is where they are both on slabs and get electrocuted with lab equipment everywhere as you try to squeeze past both of them. The jump scares were at least in different places than I expected, from behind curtains and movie screens. 

* Killer Klowns from Outer Space

The wacky color scheme and set designs along with the grotesque, giant aliens made this maze stand out from all the others. I always love feeling like I'm walking right into a beloved film and this one accomplished it amazingly. The shadow puppet scene and the bathroom attack scene in particular were fun to see and interact with. Voiceovers from the movie helped tie everything together in such a delightful way. The layout of the maze was less predictable than the others and large stature of the clowns made them pretty creepy to stand right next to. Killer Klowns was easily my favorite maze of the night.

* Ghostbusters

I didn't expect Ghostbusters to be a very good maze because it's more a comedy film than horror, but it impressed me. Many of the effects looked amazing. The room with the ghost storage had walls that faded and exposed hundreds of ghosts. Another had the transformation of the librarian ghost from normal to frightening. The whole maze had scares but also a fun sense of humor like Slimer playing rock, paper scissors with me or Ray jumping out and then saying "I thought you were someone else." Iconic scenes play out with Zuul, the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man, and Slumer and I had a blast. This is the best of the horror-comedy mazes they've ever put on. 

* Us

Us is one of my favorite movies of the year and the maze lives up to it. The outside is a replica of the Vision Quest from the beginning of the film and the inside replicates the mirror maze, complete with creepy owl. Just hearing the score alongside the scenes gave me chills. I loved the school room scene where Red is attacked by Adelaide. The doubles are eerie as they jump out of various places. Our awesome tour guide said their red jumpsuits were used in the film and the same choreographer from the film also worked on the maze. The maze truly encompasses the film in a unique way and I had so much fun going through it. 

* Stranger Things Season 2

I honestly wasn't expecting a lot from this maze because last year's had a lot of statues and not a lot of actors due to the main characters being children. The first room was a bathroom that had walls that changed lighting to reveal tentacles all over as Will struggles with a creature on his face. The next scene had the upside down maze taped up all over with Will looking outside at the Mindflayer. It looked like he was truly looking outside at a huge monster in the distance. The rest of the maze was fine, but the same demodog is used over and over. It was better than last year and than I expected, but not amazing.

* Creepshow

The entrance to Creepshow was a comic book which interested me right away. Three of the original film's segments are portrayed: Father's Day, The Crate, and Their Creeping Up on You plus two bonus segment from the new TV show. The first segment is rather short, but gets in the crazy colors and reveal just right. The Crate focuses on the monster, which is the most compelling part. I love the first scene where a guy's feet are flailing out of the box with a pool of blood under it while Fluffy appears on top to scare you. The third segment always creeped me out and cockroaches on white surfaces always makes my skin crawl. The most stomach churning moment of the film is when cockroaches burst out of a man and it looks just as horrible (but awesome) in person. The new segments seem to be about some sort of mutant creature with plants growing into a house and a werewolf attack. The first was pretty creepy and the second felt familiar with a good werewolf design. I like that it pays homage to the original film and introduces some new stories. 

* House of 1000 Corpses

When I went through this, I was very confused about the beginning. Then I rewatched the film and found that it was Captain Spaulding's Murder Ride in his fried chicken and gasoline shop. The first few rooms have infamous murderers like Lizzie Borden, Ed Gein, Albert Fish, and of course Dr. Satan with animatronics and tableaux. Then we descend into the twisted world of the Firefly family where they torture and kill whoever comes by their home. My favorite room is the final one with Dr. Satan, his chair, and the Professor. After seeing the movie, I wish more of Firefly family had been shown. It's also ironic that Universal treated Zombie badly and passed on the movie altogether and now embrace it as part of their attraction.

* The Curse of Pandora's Box

This is the first year Horror Nights has had full mazes of original concepts. It's loosely based on a hodgepodge of various mythologies. My tour got trapped right outside for about a half hour as all the lights came on and the sounds turned off. No idea what happened but we got lost backstage because not all the guides were back in their positions. The maze was fun with lots of neon colors. I especially liked the part with speckled bright orange everywhere and demons that blend into the background with lights turning off intermittently. The whole thing has an 80's funhouse feel to it but a little updated. The skeleton rooms are what Dark Ride at Knott's tries to be. The Medusa rooms were delightful. Even though 80's and mythologies are kind of a weird mix, it works and it's fun.

* Holidayz in Hell

Holidayz in Hell takes each holiday and injects horror into it. Our tour guide let us know that each room is based on a vintage holiday card, which really shows. The maze starts with January and deranged, evil babies as the new year. The Valentine room has the most deranged heart candies along the walls and a woman being sacrificed. The leprechaun home in St. Patrick's Day is full of gold and bones and the Easter Bunny has giant eggs birthing monsters and giant bunnies terrorizing children. The Fourth of July was one of my favorites with a severely burned man who lost limbs because of fireworks and deranged Uncle Sams. The Halloween room is a bit underwhelming, but effective nonetheless. Thanksgiving has a person instead of a turkey on the table and Santa takes on a more Krampus persona for Christmas. Each holiday had a morbid, amusing twist. I'm looking forward to more original concept mazes.

* Jurassic World the Ride

I prefer the original Jurassic Park ride, but this update is pretty fun. The mosasaurus and a small dip before the huge one completely soaked my boat. There are videos throughout the ride of Jurassic World characters telling us about the dinosaurs getting out of their cages and what to do to stay safe. Before the final plunge, the T-Rex literally swings in to battle the Indominus Rex. It's fun, but prepared to be completely soaked. 

* RIP Tour

The RIP Tour is shown to be completely worth the price tag year after year. My group of around 15 people stuck together the whole time and were led through a backlot tour, each maze, a buffet, and a show (that nobody wanted to see) and then we were set loose the rest of the night. The backlot tour was fun and focuses on horror films. We saw Norman Bates in front of the Bates Motel and got an exclusive photo op that usually has a huge line. We also got to see Amity beach and the house from House of 1000 Corpses plus were treated to some ghost stories. Our tour took the express lane to each maze and never had to wait more than 20 minutes. By the end of the night, each maze was over an hour and Killer Klowns was almost at 3 hours. The buffet was delicious as usual. There was plenty of time to shop and redo some mazes plus access to some rest areas with fun photo op sets. I highly recommend at least getting the express lane tickets because you may not be able to see all the mazes. Keep in mind I went in late September and crowds get worse into October.

Saturday, October 5, 2019

Horror Movie Mini-Reviews: Blood and Black Lace (1964) and Magic (1978)

* Blood and Black Lace (1964)

Models in a fashion house are murdered by a masked assailant. Everyone involved is suspicious of each other, but all have secrets and ulterior motives. There are secret abortions, drug addictions, affairs, sex work, blackmails, and a growing stack of bodies. This is the first giallo film I've seen with an ensemble cast. No one person has more precendence than another. Each of their stories are woven together seamlessly. The cinematography supports the writing in this way with the camera tracking each main character through the dressing room of the fashion house. Everything just works together perfectly despite the many suspects and victims.

Much of the film feels like a thriller or murder mystery, but the aspects that take it to giallo are the color and composition of scenes as well as the kills. Each scene is so artfully directed and staged with pops of bright pink to contrast the dark colors. Even though the dubbed over dialogue can make the actors seem a bit stiff, the direction distracts from that a bit. The kills of mostly beautiful women are incredibly stylized and surprisingly brutal for the time with some biting commentary. The ending feels nihilistic rather than triumphant. Blood and Black Lace is an early giallo film that was a financial flop, but is cited as one of the first to create the formula. It's a beautiful watch, but not as developed or complex is later giallo films.

My rating: 3.5/5 fishmuffins

* Magic (1978)

Corky has been trying to break into the magic scene, but is continually frazzled by hecklers and bored audience members. He spices up his act with Fats, a ventriloquist dummy who irreverently makes fun of everyone with baudy jokes and biting commentary. His act catches the attention of  a TV station that wants to give him his own show, contingent on a psych evaluation Corky knows he will fail as Fats' persona threatens to take over. Corky then retreats to the Catskills to recoup only to run into his high school crush Peggy.

I hadn't heard of this film until it came up on Shudder and I don't know why people don't talk about it more. Anthony Hopkins takes on a dual performance of Corky and Fats. One is intorverted, unsure of himself, and bumbling while the other is confident but biting and cruel. As the film goes on, the Fats persona takes over Corky more and more until he's threatens to take over entirely. Hopkins embodies both personas convincingly. Corky is conflicted because he realizes that Fats is a problem, but Fats can also be his ticket to fame and fortune. Getting help or exposing the problem might dash his dreams forever, so he escapes to postpone the inevitable. It's a sad world we live in that he sees this as his only choice and it's even more impressive that it was made in the 70's.

The horror elements don't truly get rolling until the last third of the film, but establishing the background and dynamic of Corky and Fats is important to set up. Corky (through Fats) grows increasingly more deranged while he reconnects with his high school crush, giving rise to more drama as she's married with a jealous, borderline abusive husband. The ending has some unexpected twists and is completely worth your time. I would honestly love to see this remade because the themes are completely relevant to today.

My rating: 4/5 fishmuffins