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

Friday, October 4, 2019

Tunnel of Bones by Victoria Schwab

Cassidy Blake and her ghost best friend Jacob follow her parents once again on their TV show about the world's most haunted sites. This time, they travel to Paris, France where the food is delicious and the Catacombs are full of ghosts. When she is pushed through the Veil into the ghost world there, she accidentally allows a strong, malicious ghost to resurface in the human world. Its antics start out small and then eventually threaten the city at large. Cassidy has to remind the ghost who it was before she can send it on and delve into the mystery with old friends and new while keeping her family in the dark about her abilities.

Tunnel of Bones is the second book in the Cassidy Blake series. She survived the Red Raven but not unscathed. Cassidy is still exploring her powers and their purpose that has put a bit of a rift between her and Jacob. She releases ghosts stuck in memory loops to go wherever they go after here. Jacob obviously feels uncomfortable with this and the only other person with these powers (Lara) keeps saying he will grow more and more powerful and dangerous. It's never far from her mind that she might have to do eventually free a dangerous Jacob since he's getting stronger all the time. The rift between them grows as they both keep their true feelings from each other. This aspect felt so real because friendships suffer when secrets and grudges are kept. Their relationship is most of what keeps the story grounded beneath the supernatural elements.

This new ghost threatens not only Cass and Jacob like the last book, but all of Paris. As its power grows, bigger and bigger catastrophes happen. It feeds off of chaos and causes more and more violence. The ghost Cass loosed has forgotten who he was in life and the normal methods of freeing him won't work unless they remind him, forcing them to investigate this poor little boy who died in the Catacombs. Cass is forced to make new French friends in order to help her out. The Parisian setting is rich with dark aspects of history such as the creation of the Catacombs, the bodies moved there, and the people who subsequently died there plus other various disasters and battles. The Catacombs is a place that is so incredibly creepy, dangerous, and mysterious which is captured so well in Schwab's prose.

Tunnel of Bones is a wonderfully dark middle grade that centers Cass and Jacob's friendship. I do think the first book was a bit better because she was exploring this world and establishing everything. This book is more of a straight forward action book. The problem between Jacob and Cass simmers for most of the story until they have a breakthrough in the very end. It didn't feel as deep as the first book and it felt pushed to the side until the main action was done. I still very much enjoyed it, but a tiny bit was missing from the first to the second book. I am still so excited for the third book and anxious to find out what's going to happen to Jacob!

My rating: 4.5/5 fishmuffins

Thursday, October 3, 2019

The Furies (2019)

Kayla and Maddie are school friends and have a blowout argument only to be kidnapped right afterwards by mysterious men. Kayla wakes up alone without her belongings in a box labeled "Beauty 6." She finds herself entrenched in a death game where the rules have to be learned as it goes along. Whether she encounters other beauties or beasts, figuring out who to trust may not be as clearcut as you might think.

The Furies is a fun, fresh, gory reframing of the slasher genre centered around Kayla, a timid college student who never breaks the rules or rocks the boat. She also has epilepsy that leaves her vulnerable and unable to move at the most inopportune moments. When she wakes up in a black box, everything has been taken from her and the stress of the situation aggravates her condition. Her main goal is to find Maddie, leaving behind their trivial but hurtful squabble. As the film goes on, Kayla finds herself doing unimaginable things in order to survive. Even though it's a well worn trope to have the weakest turn around and become the strongest, it's always gratifying to see a badass, disabled woman challenging others' views about her.

The beasts and beauties seem to be paired and the beast will attack everyone except his beauty. The designs for each beast is varied and inspired. One has a whole outfit and mask made from the skins of presumed victims. Another has a deranged baby doll mask and another has a mask that looks like a disgusting mass of sores. None of them seems able to speak but they know who to fight and who to protect. They are all incredibly strong and brutal in their violence with a unique melee weapon. (My favorite was the scythe.) The practical effects are amazing to behold, especially in the face slicing scene in particular. It feels so refreshing after seeing so many horror films rely on CGI blood.

I assumed most of the conflict would be between the beasts and beauties, but I was proven wrong. One beauty takes on a different tactic than sticking together and leaves the weak for slaughter so she can survive. Kayla accidentally kills another beauty, sowing seeds of distrust with the others, and yet another has clingy tendencies that prove fatal in the end. These beauties are not weaklings nor homogenous. Although it's selfish, killing the others or setting them up to die is a valid survival tactic in an extreme situation where it seems you have to play by a sadist's rules. 

The Furies has such a unique and fun view. I know a lot of people didn't like the whole thing being streamed to paying customers, but for me, it was more about the visuals and Kayla's journey. The whole thing takes place in a eucalyptus forest, which gives such a haunting look with the white trees. Kayla, played by Airlie Dodds, has a well developed character arc and she's a wonderful addition to the final girl pantheon. I thoroughly enjoyed the movie, hung on every twist and turn.

My rating: 4.5/5 fishmuffins