Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Halloween Mini-Reviews: WNUF Halloween Special and Ghostwatch

Both of these films have similar themes and execution perfect for the Halloween season.

* WNUF Halloween Special

* spoilers *

The WNUF Halloween Special replicates what it was like to tape shows off TV in the 80's. There aren't any beginning or ending credits. The aspect ratio is that of an older TV. Tracking and static are all over the place. The commercials are the high energy, colorful monstrosities. One series of commercials shows a escalating Senate smear campaign between  The news program is full of transitional puns, over the top banter, and cutesy local stories. One of the stories is pretty serious as a soldier with PTSD shot and killed a trick or treater a year ago. All of it was created in 2013. The way the 80's is perfectly captured amazed me. It was like stepping into my childhood.

The special itself involves a reporter from WNUF going to a supposedly haunted house along with his camera crew (actually filming live) and a "psychic" couple similar to the Warren's with their helpful kitty Shadow. A crowd surrounds the front of the house in costume, hoping to see something creepy. The house was the place of a gruesome murder by a disturbed boy years ago. Mysterious things happen in the house including unexplained sounds, a smashed EVP recorder, and the poor kitty being killed. The story takes quite a turn from being Halloween fun to an actual threat emerging in the house, revealing the manufactured parts of the broadcast in the process.

I absolutely love the ending. Throughout the movie, signs of the bullshit Satanic panic in calls and protests from Christian extremists called HARVEST, stating that Halloween is evil and people who celebrate it will go to hell. I was afraid that it would end in some sort of Satanic ritual, but the filmmakers turn it around. Those same Christians the ones who brutally murder everyone in the house. It's a way to acknowledge that the Satanic panic was a huge travesty that had no truth to it at all. So many innocent people were blamed for awful things because of the music they listened to or the way they dressed or just because of general hysteria. The ending is perfect and I will watch this movie every Halloween.

My rating: 4.5/5 fishmuffins

* Ghostwatch

* spoilers *

Ghostwatch is a BBC news broadcast trying to find out if ghosts are real. A news crew headed by Sarah Greene visits a family claimed to be terrorized by a ghosts including objects moving, strange sounds, temperature changes, disembodied voices, and unexplained scratches on one of the daughters. The story is clearly inspired from the Enfield haunting as both stories share many of the same details. This family is in dire straits and you can't help but feel for this single mom and her two daughters. The apparition is seen several times during the broadcast. lurking along the edges. I personally didn't see many of them since I watched it on a pretty small screen. The sordid history of the house is revealed throughout the special and two sinister figures emerge as antagonists.

Inside the studio, Michael Parkinson interviews Doctor Pascoe about the supernatural and explanations of the events going on at the house. They also take calls from the public to share their brushes with ghosts and the unexplained. The ending, like WNUF Halloween Special, is pretty bleak with the apparition seemingly escaping to the outside world in the viewers' homes and possessing the Michael Parkinson. It's amazing that this film was shown as if it were a live show with familiar faces of British news and children's TV. This method gives the public the most pause in believing the broadcast because these are the faces of people they see on TV every day. The public wasn't happy about being lied to plus some extreme cases ended in death or PTSD.

Filmed in 1992, this pre-dates found footage and ghost hunter style TV and establishes tropes that will become popular in both genres. I enjoyed the film especially how it starts as poking fun at the notion that the supernatural exists and ending with an outlandish notion of a country wide seance allowing the malevolent spirits into the outside world. It was only every aired once, but I'm surprised I never heard of it before. Ghostwatch is a bit like a modern day War of the Worlds and a film that warrants rewatching numerous times.

My rating: 5/5 fishmuffins

Monday, October 30, 2017

Halloween Mini-Reviews Classic Edition: Dracula (1931) and The Phantom of the Opera (1943)

* Dracula

Renfield goes to Transylvania as a financial advisor and leaves it in the thrall of Count Dracula, a bloodthirsty vampire. Together, they move to London so Dracula has access to a fresh crop of victims. As the first horror talkie, the film has large swathes of silence that give the film suspense and tension helped along with the deliberate closeups. Bela Lugosi plays both the charming socialite Dracula pretends to be and the powerful, inhuman creature he actually is. This is the first movie to portray vampires as seductive and show them as blending into human society. Lugosi uses his skill as a silent movie actor to make his body language effective. His mesmerizing eyes hold the camera's gaze with a small strip of light over them to show his mental power over people. His hands and movements are almost otherworldly.

Instead of Jonathan, Renfield is the person who takes us through the story and has the most pathos. His physical and emotional change from before being under Dracula's thrall and after is stark. Before, he's a professional, neat, confident financial advisor. Afterwards, his hair is in disarray. His eyes bulge crazily and he bares his teeth in an insane smile. He alternates between being completely devoted to Dracula and struggling to help Dr. Van Helsing and his daughter. Jonathan Harker in contrast is an oblivious idiot who has an overinflated sense of importance. I don't sympathize with him at all. The only problems with the film are in Dracula's nature and censorship. Dracula isn't conflicted or anything which makes him a much flatter character than all the other Universal monsters. Because of the Hayes Code, showing any sort of vampire attack and Dracula's death was banned. It unfortunately takes a lot away from the sense of danger and the impact of the ending.

My rating: 4/5 fishmuffins

* The Phantom of the Opera (1943)

Erique Claudine is fired from the Paris Opera orchestra due to the deadened nature of the fingers in his left hand. While the Opera paid well, he spent his savings on voice lessons for Christine Dubois, a talented but overlooked singer. When he thinks his music is stolen, he kills the offending man and has acid thrown in his face. Erique's madness has claimed him as he terrorizes the Paris Opera, making demands and doling out fatal consequences for noncompliance.

This version of The Phantom of the Opera is my personal cinematic favorite because of the humor, the lush sets, and the extended opera scenes. These things are largely seen as ruining the horror, but it's an odd story that is never adapted faithfully. This film fits in well with the Universal formula with its sympathetic villain. Erique Claudine can't catch a break. His life is falling apart due to failing health with his piano concerto being his last effort to keep out of poverty. There is injustice in someone stealing his music, but murder is where the sympathy stops. He lives under the opera house, stealing things so he can help Christine and intimidate the managers and the police. The actual music he creates is beautiful, believable as a folk song and lullaby, and the only original music performed in the movie.

Christine, on the other was hand, works hard at her craft and courts Anatole, a leading baritone in the opera, and Raoul, a policeman. Stuck in the chorus line, she aspires to star in the opera and acts as understudy for Carlotta. Both men comically snipe at each other while they garner her affection. This was probably done to fill the void of the Phantom, Raoul, Christine love triangle that wasn't done here because of the Phantom's age and his more paternal affection towards her. The opera takes on a different type of drama when Carlotta is first poisoned and then killed. The police respond by not complying with the Phantom's demands to bait him into caputre, but instead he responds with a large scale attack. The offstage drama and high stakes contrast with the beautiful operatic moments. The composer takes familiar themes from Tchaikovsky and Chopin and creates original opera music and scenes.

The Phantom of the Opera is light on horror and heavy on personal drama, but it captures the grandeur and scale of the opera with amazing music and performances. The comedic elements are well placed. The love triangle ends satisfyingly with Christine chosing her career and the adoration of the public over the affection of the either man. It's a well made film that will always be my favorite of the Universal horror films.

My rating: 5/5 fishmuffins

Sunday, October 29, 2017

The Grip of It

Julie and James are looking to relocate due to James' financial ruin and gambling problem. They find the perfect inexpensive yet large house, perfect to start over in. It's too good to be true because weird things start happening in their house and increase in severity as times go on until their lives are completely disrupted. What is causing their problems: a nosy neighbor, a ghostly presence in their house, or just them?

The Grip of It is a suspenseful novel that has elements of a haunted house but never defines what's wrong. Julie and James are a young couple reeling from James' bad decisions and struggling to trust each other. That initial fissure in their relationship makes them quick to turn on each other when things go wrong. The weird events start with a strange sound with no apparent cause. They search around for the source to no avail. Bruises appear on Julie's body more and more often, looking deep and severe with no apparent cause. The couple sees children playing in the trees that no one else can see. A terrible smell fills their home and any water from the faucets no matter how clear it looks will fill their mouths with green mold. One day, they wake up with childish drawings all of their wall and both of them denying having done it. Both disbelieve each other and attempt to go one with their day to day life.

Threats come from outside as well in an odd, elderly neigbor who watches them from his window constantly and then lets himself into their home despite rebuffing their efforts to be friendly. When they are on the cusp of calling the police due to his home invasion, he disappears. The police eventually look at the couple with suspicion for their conflict with him as well as their failure to disclose earlier problems at their home. James doesn't help things by staying home from work for weeks on end without letting anyone know and gets fired. He tries to research the history of the house and does reveal that their neighbor used to live there with his family with a tragic death and a dark secret. Sometimes when he discovers something like a hidden room with a cot obviously lived in, he seems to forget it the next day and does  nothing about it.

The Grip of It ramps up to a fever pitch and then ends perfectly. No revelation come out and the reason behind all the craziness is never defined. No psychic comes in to tell them what's wrong and they have no idea how to fix it. I believe it's a combination of the supernatural and their real life conflicts that were never resolved from before their move. The story is told in alternative points of view between Julie and James, highlighting their distrust of and frustration with each other. Although it doesn't really resolve, it feels like it doesn't have to. I enjoyed the journey through this story.

My rating: 4/5 fishmuffins

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Halloween Movie Mini-Reviews: Noroi the Curse and Jigsaw

* Noroi the Curse

This is a documentary style found footage movie about a paranormal expert named Kobayashi who disappeared after investigating a curse for his new documentary. His home was also burned down and his wife died in the fire. The film takes us through Kobayashi's journey delving into the mystery surrounding this curse that involves a quiet little boy, his offputting mother, and psychics.

Noroi the Curse is an insane movie. It has the tension and tone of The Wailing with the form of Lake Mungo. The pace is slow and deliberate, but I was on the edge of my seat for the whole thing. Kobayashi's uncertain fate and what happened to his home and wife is revealed at the beginning of the movie and then his incomplete documentary is shown. It starts with a small incident of a woman complaining of hearing odd sounds from her neighbor. The neighbor in question verbally attacks him and a small boy lives with her. However, the sounds are from babies when there aren't any babies there. The plot thickens when the neighbor moves away and the woman and her daughter die in a car crash right afterwards.

Kobayashi is dedicated to unravel this mystery and I was with him every step of the way. He, Hori (a seemingly crazy man), and Marika (a clairvoyant actress) serve as our envoys into this supernatural world beneath our own and make separate discoveries that create the full picture. The journey to discovering what is at the core of everything isn't simple. There are a lot of people involved and the plot weaves a complex web that delves into more depraved territory than expected. Noroi the Curse is much different than a lot of Japanese horror and takes a more subtle approach. The atmosphere is well built and maintained throughout. I highly recommend this unique film and it's a crime that it hasn't had a US release.

My rating: 5/5 fishmuffins

* Jigsaw

An elaborate game of death has been started and a team of medical examiners and police are trying to find out where it is before all the people die. This is another Saw movie complete with beyond shallow characters, a convoluted twist that falls apart under mild scrutiny, and mildy interesting deaths. The characters are all so badly acted that two of them may as well be interchangeable with exactly the same gruff demeanor and misogynistic comments. It killed me that the women they were talking to simply accepted the condescending treatment even in a crazy death game. Ugh. The cast feels small because somehow the suspects only include the people investigating the murders. The main suspect is Eleanor, a woman fascinated with Jigsaw and a collector of his past devices. Her whole look is one big nerd stereotype and drastically changes after her obsession is revealed.

So many things are logistical nightmares that fall apart if thought about with any focus. Like why would Jigsaw's grave be left open unattended for any time to be tampered with? Why does everyone assume in almost every movie that Jigsaw is back? Why isn't Dr. Gordon brought in at all after the final reveal in the last Saw movie? The kills are decent and the traps are ok. If the series is going to move forward, I wish they would focus more on fun, creative kills than pseudo-intelligent, convoluted twists. If you go in expecting a typical ridiculous Saw movie, you won't be disappointed. If you're expecting an actually good, coherent movie, you will be disappointed.

My rating: 2/5 fishmuffins

Friday, October 27, 2017

Halloween Short Films: Light as a Feather and Sam

Bite sized Halloween treats!

* Light as a Feather

This short film captures the feel of good kid horror like Are You Afraid of the Dark? or Goosebumps. A group of girls have a sleepover and one tells a theatrical story of being abducted by ghosts if awake between 1am and 2am. The suspense is well crafted and it's a perfect bite sized ghost story for all ages. It's also unique production wise in that the actors and the above the line credits from director to writer to composer are all women.

* Sam Short Films

These short films were made for FearNet commercials to advertise the 24 hour Trick 'r Treat marathon. They capture the darkness and whimsy of Sam all year round especially with the sinister yet childish music.

~ Back to School

Sam gets ready for school and reacts to some rude kids.

~ Easter Candy

Sam tries his hand at being the Easter bunny. This one is pretty over the top and silly, but it's enjoyable.

~ Snowmen

Sam helps a friend build a macabre snowman and looks adorable in snow clothes.

~ Father's Day

This one is the sweetest of the bunch and only a little odd.

~ The Day After Halloween

This one shows the mess after Halloween and reveals Sam's life cycle.

~ Making a Friend

Sam helps a friend literally make a friend in an adorable homage to Frankenstein.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Final Girls

Quincy Carpenter survived a horrific attack right out of a slasher movie that left her the sole survivor. Her college friends were all brutally murderered. It’s no surprise that the media labeled her a final girl along with two other women who survived similar experiences. When One of the final girls Lisa is found dead and her apparent suicide labeled a murder upon closer scrutiny, Quincy is under a media microscope. Sam, the other final girl who isolated herself, comes out of hiding to connect with Quincy, creating a media frenzy, but Sam seems to half ulterior motives for being there.

Final Girls was one of my most anticipated books of the year and it proved to be a mixed bag of a book. I love the concept of the book. The author takes references and situation from slasher films and amalgamated them into the three final girl situations. Each woman deals with the aftermath of their trauma differently. Quincy tries to throw herself into normalcy, denying that her horrific experience had any effect on her at all. She’s about to marry a sweet man who works as a district attorney and works as a baking blogger who makes perfect cutesy treats. Underneath it all, she’s still rages, has blackouts, keeps people at arms’ length, suffers from depression and loneliness, and buries it all under her normalcy shield, Xanax, and wine. Sam crashes into her life and wants Quincy be to admit her anger. Sam is messy, abrasive, and most likely homeless, but she processes her past in a way Quincy refuses to. Lisa was my favorite final girl because she saw her situation as an opportunity to help other people through the darkest moment in their lives.

What follows in the book is frustrating from character actions to the way the twist is handled to the writing. Sam coaxes Quincy into playing vigilante in Central Park in the middle of the night. Not only is it incredibly stupid and dangerous, but it also takes up way too much of the book. I found it a waste of time in the book and it didn’t end up being very significant. It only served to give Sam power over Lisa. The twist at the end is unnecessarily spoon fed to the reader. The overall way of writing really bothered me because of the horrible characterizations of women and so much wrong information about them. Quincy wants everyone to read her mind and give her exactly what she wants without communicating. Of course she doesn't truly love her nice guy boyfriend because "women don't like nice guys." Sam ruins everything she touches. All are horrible female stereotypes. Small things bothered me as well like the author having absolutely no idea how bras work and claiming that true crime blogs are ran only by men because they have the time to waste??? The ID channel, Lifetime, the huge success of My Favorite Murder and podcasts like it, and all the female true crime enthusiasts would like a word with you.

Final Girls is probably the biggest let down of the year for me. I had heard such positive things, but it didn't live up to any of them. The protagonist made the most horrible decisions and the vigilante subplot just became the plot for most of the book. The obviously male author made so many generalizations about women and had no knowledge about things he should have looked up or asked about. Now I know not to read any books by Todd Ritter, the actual author of the book.

My rating: 1.5/5 fishmuffins

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Happy Death Day

Tree wakes up on a normal day in a stranger's dorm room. She goes about her day generally being rude to people and dismissive of others until she's on her way to a party. A music box is set in the middle of a tunnel surrounded by construction lights and barriers. A baby masked killer stabs her to death and then she wakes up right back in that strange dorm room on the same day. This day, she makes it to the party, but also is stabbed to death while techno music blasts and no one can hear her screams. Tree has to find out who her killer is so she can see tomorrow.

Happy Death Day takes the concept of Groundhog's Day and gives it a horror twist with emotional weight. Tree starts out as a pretty odious person who doesn't really care about anyone but herself. She goes through her day kind of like a wrecking ball, ruining people's days and putting people down left. It can be as small as refusing to smile at a sorority sister or it can be as big as refusing to acknowledge ghosting someone she dated or sleeping with her married professor. It only takes her two days to figure out that she has to do something different and it isn't just deja vu. She starts by trying to figure out who keeps killing her, but she also changes how she goes about her day. It doesn't matter where she goes or what she does; the baby masked killer always finds her. Tree makes a suspect list and marks each person off when she finds they’re innocent.

Tree has a lot going on underneath her facade especially about her birthday which she didn’t want to tell anyone about. She shares it with hr mother, who she was close to and who died. After her mother’s death, her personality changed and she became the callous and unfeeling person she is today. Repeating the day over and over made her face the awful decisions and actions that come naturally now. Over time, she decides to smile at her sorority sister, break up with her married boyfriend, stand up to her awful sorority sister, start over with her roommate, encourage the closted gay man trying to date her, and reconnect with her father. When she finally arrives at dinner with her father, Tree is honest with him instead of pretending everything is fine. Her birthday makes her sad and lost because of the loss of her mother. The scene is very sweet and emotional when Tree finally shares her feelings and acknowledges their shared loss.

A sweet romance starts between Tree and Carter, the owner of the dorm where she wakes up every morning. Even though she’s mean to him, he always treats her with kindness and understanding. She assumes they had sex, but he reveals halfway through the movie that he let her sleep in his bed while he took his roommates’s bed because she was drunk. Every day he gives her advice and doesn’t act like her experience is totally insane. Carter even sacrifices himself to protect her from the killer. Tree thought she might beat the killer at that point, but opts to kill herself instead to make sure he’s alive when time finally moves forward. I usually hate romances in teen horror, but this one was adorable and well done.

Happy Death Day was so much better than I ever expected. The cyclical day is never explained. The killer is almost supernaturally good at tracking Tree’s movements and killing her in a variety of ways including stabbing, poisoning, and most spectacularly being blown up in a car. Their identity comes as a surprise. The reason for the killing is not great, pointed out by Tree, but people kill for dumb reasons all the time. I also didn't even notice that it was a PG-13 movie. The stakes were high and the violence didn't pull punches. It's definitely worth a watch.

My rating: 4.5/5 fishmuffins

Tuesday, October 24, 2017


Trip Yash is resigned to his life on Truog Island. He processes people coming in, makes money, and stays out of trouble. That is, until he meets Cron, a newcomer from the mainland. All of his caution goes out the window and he has sex with Cron even though it goes against every rule in the society he lives in. He's shocked when he's not dead the next morning, but he didn't get away unscathed. His arm eventually mutates into a canon of flesh that spews a corrosive, white liquid. Trip becomes a fugitive and has to choose if he wants to simply run away or try to change life on the island for good. 

Weaponized has an undeniably unique world steeped in body horror. Because of the Sex Wars and the loss of the Sexual Liberation Front, no one is allowed to have sex on Truog Island. If they do and its discovered, they will be immediately recycled, which looks like being publicly disemboweled and their body parts being repurposed to create weapons. Instead of being recycled, they can choose to become a Lich who have hardened internal organs as armor, mutilate their faces to appear more fierce, and dedicate their lives to enforcing the law. Propaganda tells the public that otherwise they'll die of the Hollow, a disease that will dissolve them from the inside. Reality shows that a variety of things can happen to them like becoming a Stalk like Trip did or gaining powers of shape or mold flesh or fusing together with a lover.

This government echoes real life situations especially with conservative states and schools who either spread misinformation about sex or flat out refuse to teach anything at all, leaving young people vulnerable to STIs and unwanted pregnancies. I also found it telling that weapons are literally made of human remains and the government was looking to find a way to kill more people to produce more weapons. When he becomes a Stalk, Trip uses his sexual drive as a literal weapon to fight against the corrupt government along with other people affected by the government's poison and disregard. These people are typically outside of the norm and seen as disposable like sexual people in general, bisexual women, and gay men. The exploitation doesn't stop at the people and extends to the island itself, which is revealed to be a living giant that poisons its inhabitants.

Weaponized is one of the weirdest books I've ever read. While the concepts are well done, some parts of the book lag. The plot and pacing lose their way in the middle of the book. I was questioning where the book was going and it lost momentum. Some processes could have been a little clear like the differences between becoming a Lich and a Stalk. There was an overabundance of ideas that sometimes weren't fully explained. Some of the descriptions grew a little monotonous. When something is described as phallic or oozing so many times, it loses its punch and doesn't seem as grotesque. Other than that, Weaponized is a bold, impressive debut novel and I look forward to more from Zac Thompson. 

My rating: 3.5/5 fishmuffins

Monday, October 23, 2017

Halloween Movie Mini-Reviews: Patchwork and Hell House LLC

* Patchwork

* spoilers *

Three women are attacked, killed, and combined to make a Frankenstein's monster-esque reanimated creature. They wake up disoriented and uncoordinated. After excaping their captors, they cooperate to figure out who did this to them and how they can go back to being three normal women. The three women couldn't be more different. Jennifer is abrasive and inconsiderate. Her boyfriend is cheating on his wife and won't give her the time of day, but she's successful in her job. Ellie is desperate for validation and will put up with so much abuse and disdain just for attention. Madeleine has a lot to hide as a serial killer.

Patchwork has a fresh, wacky concept and three fairly sympathetic protagonists. The story isn't linear and begins with  mad scientist attempting to bring the three women in one to life with a glowing syringe right out of The Re-animator. After this fails and he gives up, the women wake up and escape, trying to figure out what to do. As the action moves forward, it flashes back to get to know each of the girls and then what actually happened leading up to their creation. The way the three women communicate inside their shared head is shown by them as they used to look sitting in a room. It's starkly contrasted with how they actually look, limbs going in different directions and  twitching awkwardly. The look of them is as you would think: different skin tones and hair color put together with livid scars. The women decide to get revenge on whoever combined them and the people who have wronged them, including Jennifer's cheating boyfriend, Ellie's exploitative frat boys, and the lab workers they saw when they awakened.

Patchwork has some crazy ideas. However, some things weren't as successful as the first half of the film. A romance is forced and weird with all three women not being super into that random guy. The ending gets a bit weird. While I liked the revelation about Madeleine's involvement in the surgery, the confrontation with the mad scientist went a bit too silly even for this story, especially with the painfully bad owlcat hybrid. It's still a fun ride and worth your time if you're looking for something new.

My rating: 3/5 fishmuffins

* Hell House LLC

The Hellhouse Haunt has been succesfully delivering scares for years until 2009 when 15 people die, patrons are panicked, and the public still doesn't have specific answers about what happened. Answers from authorities are vague or intentionally misleading. A documentary crew tries to solve the mystery by interviewing survivors of the night and piecing together what happens. When a member of the Hell House crew produces tapes of everything, the truth will be revealed.

Hell House LLC is a found footage movie that combines first hand videos, interviews, and footage of the documentary investigation to tell the story of this haunt gone wrong. The company refurbished a dilapidated hotel in Abaddon, New York where terrible things are runored to have happened like suicide and satanic cults. Things seem to be going fine until weird things start happening: unexplained noises, objects moved by themselves, crew members sleepwalking, and other phenomena. The events increase in severity while the owner of the company refuses to acknowledge that anything is wrong. The scares are subtle and well built, affecting each member of the team.

I found the film lacking in quite a few places. First, it seems to take quite a bit from The Houses October Built, which was executed better. They had unlikeable characters with  some redeeming qualities. These characters didn't. Second, I do not believe for a second that whatever money earned from the event is enough to risk the lives of the entire cast and crew. Third, the scares didn't ramp up enough at the end. They stayed subtle even while people were dying and it didn't seem real enough. The ending is a bit predictable and cheesy. I would probably watch a second movie, but I had too many problems with it to enter it in my yearly Halloween rotation.

My rating: 2.5/5 fishmuffins

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Knott's Halloween Haunt 2017 Part 3

* Red Barn

Red Barn is another repeat maze, but there are a few changes from last year. It still features the redneck family worshipping horses and pigs while eating people kind of like Children of the Corn Sawyer family. The victims telling you where to go is a nice touch. Judging by the amount of severed limbs and bodies around, there would be a lot of victims running around the place. The undead horse thing never looks good. I wish they would update it with something because it looks ridiculous next to everything else. The new wooden doors and numerous cultish symbols make the rest of the maze cohesive. I was impressed by the trough in a cross shape underneath a body. It combines the cannibalism and religious aspects in one good image. The chainsaw chase at the end is good, but I didn't actually get to see it. Chainsaws always freak me out and I wish they could time it a little better. It's an overal improvement from lasty year even with the weird horse.

* Timber Mountain Log Ride Halloween Hootenany

This ride is so adorable! It's a more family friendly Halloween than the rest of the park, but I just find it delightful. Scare actors are peppered here and there, but they seem out of place with the more wholesome feel. The inside is peppered with cobwebs and black light so they glow. Projection effects have silhouettes of monsters here and there. Jack o'lanterns, aliens, bat-vampire hybrids, witches, and a band made up of horror movie monsters are added to the ride. It's all charming and adorable with fun music throughout. I love this addition to the Knott's.

* Scare Zones

The scare zones were pretty lackluster this year. The themes were fine, but there didn't seem to be enough actors. The fog is crazy as always, but the Day of the Dead themed section is never very scary. The actors were prompting people to dance and goes against the concept of the scare zone. The Carneval section wasn't as good this year and I don't even remember going through the Sleepy Hollow themed section at all. Get it together!

* Improvements!!!

Overall, Knott's Scary Farm improved so much. The makeup is on point. The sets are so much more detailed with appropriate lighting. They've started to incorporate better sound effects and soundtracks to each maze. Between rooms, they opted to have opaque barriers so what's on the other side is a true surprise. They even had those annoying strings in front of your faces that feel like spiders that Universal has used for years. The small details really make a difference. I had so much fun. In past years, the scares just wouldn't land with me. This year, almost every single one landed and there were a lot of surprises. The only downside for me was the lack of workers on the rides. It tales forever for people to put themselves in the ride on their own and it gets pretty crazy. Other than that, everything was pretty awesome. I'm so excited to go next year to see how they will change and become even better.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Knott's Halloween Haunt 2017 Part 2

* Voodoo

While much is the same from last year, the route of the maze is backwards with the swamp first and then the buildings. This one has a very unexpected scare with lighting, sound, and a good scare actor making an excellent jump scare. I'm used to seeing that at Universal, not at Knott's, so it's a sign of them changing their game and creating higher quality scares. The lighting is much more mysterious and creepy, filtering through the trees. The insde of the houses are basically the same. It's a basic culturally insensitive maze other than that. the scare actors on bungeeds are the only other impressive stunt. The snake at the end is pretty cheesy.

* Pumpkin Eater

Pumpkin Eater is a brand new maze that takes the traditional nursery rhyme and makes it creepy and murderous. He seems to skin people's faces or carve their faces like jack o'lanterns. Going inside pumpkin is an experience. The first couple encounters with the pumpkin guts hanging down from the ceiling are dry, but the last one is wet, making it feel just like real pumpkin guts. Very startling when you aren't expecting it. The pumpkin has tortured and dead people along its walls with projection effects to make it seem real. Afterwards is a creepy corn maze, a grinder full of people, and people filled pies in a smoky oven. It's the most unique concept I've seen in a while and it offered quite a few scares.

* Dark Ride

Dark Ride is also a new maze that takes you into a defunct carnival ride where something obviously went wrong what with the dead bodies. It's a fun mixture of obviously fake cheesy scares and something that feels truly wrong. The scary tree scene is pretty much stolen from the Snow White Ride. Other rooms include a haunted library, weird neon electrocultions, and a pretty impress (but damaged) giant dragon. The Danny Elfman-esque soundtrack helps as does the effect when the power briefly goes out, stalling the animatronics, the lights, and the music. It seems that ex-workers have turned it into their torture chamber. It's an interesting concept, but it's missing something.

* Shadow Lands

This lackluster maze is back as another culturally insensitive installment. Samurai aren't really scary even when they're dead. Neither are geishas with loud fans. The only interesting part is the stuttery spider walk (which is missed in the video) of a long haired ghost woman. Everything else is painfully awkward and simply not scary. It's just a step above from the cowboy mazes.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Knott's Halloween Haunt 2017 Part 1

It's that time of year again! I go to Knott's Halloween Haunt every year and it gets better and better. I always get the front of the line Fright Lane for the mazes because waiting hours in line isn't on my agenda for the night, but this time it's bundled with the Fast Lane, front of the line for rides. This year was better than ever with very few flaws.

* Trick or Treat: Lights Out

This maze was the longest to get into because people tend to walk slow when lights are low. You are handed a flashlight to go through the very low lit maze. It has a lot in common with previous incarnations of the maze, but it has an added element because it's so dark. I was more anxious going through the maze and eager to shine my flashlight on everything. The 80's inspired music truly set the stage. The first room is Halloween to me with flashing Jack o'lanterns and a spooky apparition. The room with the masks and lit eyes is so much more effective in the lower light. It's a traditional haunted house with floating books, creepy dolls, and a bathtub full of rot. The chained basement door with something pushing to get out is a particularly good touch. The music inside is right out of a movie and supports the scares. Of course the light goes out right when you need it and you walk through dark corrider. This may not seem impressive, but I haven't been anywhere else that puts anything completely in the dark. This was my favorite maze.

* The Tooth Fairy

This maze has been there for at least 3 years and it's always amazing. It starts with floss hanging from the ceiling that brushes across your face. The high pitched whine of dental drills sings through the air throughout the maze. Right after the inky black Cthulhu doorway is a pitch dark room. Subtle things like this are what strike fear in my heart. You have no idea if anyone else is in the room and I feel unease in the pit of my stomach. The set is incredibly detailed with blood spattered missing posters, children's toys, mutilated children, filthy medical equipment, and piles of teeth and coins. The room with the giant mouths is quite effective and the ending scare is awesome. This maze has a defined tone and atmosphere that I love. They layout is a bit different this year and the end scare is a bit of a surprise.

*  Parnormal Inc.

This maze has such a large story for one maze. It starts in the videos outside with a charlatan medium who breaks character to scream at a creditor. Everything about it seems like the ghosts are fake and the equipment will never work. It's weird to have an insane asylum of abused people paired with demons and hell, but it somehow works so well here. There are two slightly different routes and everyone meets where hell opens up. It can have a bit of traffic there, but the rest of the maze is well done. The room with blinding red light has scare actors in it, which isn't usually done. You can't see anything in the room, so the people could be anywhere and it's unnerving. The giant creatures look amazing and the last scare is epic. I love turning around and seeing other people's reactions to it. Not a lot changed since last year, but the small details make a big difference.

* Special Ops: Infected

It's back! I love this maze because it's the only one where you fight the monsters. You get a gun with unlimited ammo and try to hit the collar around the zombies neck. I'm terrible at this because I panic and I have terrible aim. It's fun anyway. Where else do I get to shoot zombies outside of a video game? Military people guide you through the maze and tell you what to look for, where to aim, and where to stop. I go through each section faster than I really should. The room with zombies tearing into it surprised me and I didn't know where to shoot. The subway sation is even worse with disorienting light. The big monster is pretty cool. The maze is like playing real life Resident Evil. If it's still there in a year, I should go on it more than once so I can actually hit some zombies.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

The Babysitter

Timid Cole is infatuated with his babysitter Bee, who treats him like a person, gives him good advice, and makes their time together all around fun. When a neighbor girl wonders what she does at night, Cole decides to stay up past his bedtime to spy on her and is shocked when he witnesses a human sacrifice. Bee and her friends want him dead for interrupting their dark magic ritual. Can he get over his irrational fears long enough to stand up for himself and survive?

Cole is bullied everywhere he goes, avoids anything remotely fun, and generally fears everything. His babysitter Bee is everything he isn't: confident, cool, and fun. Their relationship is heaertwarming to watch as they recite films, act out movie fights, think of the best intergalactic teams, and dance together. She really seems like the perfect babysitter. He has a huge crush on her until he sees her double stab a guy in the head. What follows is a fun, campy horror film where the laws of physics don't matter. Geysers of blood come out of the victims' head and then somehow they're still alive. People shot with guns are launched across the room. A bugbomb and a big firework create a huge explosion that somehow leaves the majority of the house unscathed. Even though it's ridiculous, I have absolutely no problem with this because it's a stylistic choice that is consistent throughout the film.

The characters are all fairly flat and stereotypical, but the vast majority of them die in spectacular fashion. My favorite character besides Bee is Max. He is equally objectified as female characters often are and spends almost all of the film with no shirt on. I find this refreshing. He weirdly alternates between trying to kill Cole for fun and encouraging Cole like a big brother. The only reason he signed on for the human sacrifice was to kill people which he relishes with pleasure. On the other hand, he wants Cole to stand up for himself and not be such a doormat. It's an odd mix, but well played by Robbie Amell. The other characters didn't stand out as much. A comedic African American character is stereotypically killed quickly. A cheerleader only cares about her appearance. There isn't much new or interesting about the bunch beyond Bee and Max.

The Babysitter is a campy, fun movie that portrays the friendship between a boy and his babysitter well. The ending was kind of sad since he felt betrayed when she was clearly using him. There is something missing to this movie. Once in a while, graphics pop up like in Zombieland, but it's not throughout the film so it seems more like an afterthought. Some scenes went on for too long and it's a problem that none of the other characters were really memorable at all. Cole as a character wasn't likeable enough to hold the film for me. I didn't care about his survival and honestly liked Bee better than him. It's still a fun watch if you don't mind over the top kills.

My rating: 3.5/5 fishmuffins

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Halloween Goodies: Adam Ellis’ Ghost, Monster Therapy, and The IT Department

* Adam Ellis’ Ghost

Adam Ellis is an artist that has gained a lot of popularity online with his comics about relatable situations, cats, RuPaul’s Drag Race, and many other things. Now, hundreds of people are subscribed to his Twitter account to be notified whenever he posts about Dear David, the ghost of a dead child trying to kill him. At first, I was uninterested, but as he kept posting, it grew into an intense ghost story. It started as a creepy sleep paralysis episode and a few dreams. The story of Dear David was laid out in a dream and the stuff of urban legend like Bloody Mary. He slips up, asking the ghost 3 questions which dooms him to death. What ensues are a variety of Paranormal Activity-esque videos and pictures with shadowy figures resembling David, cats acting strange, and objects falling or moving on their own. I don’t think it’s real at all, but it’s a damn good ghost story that sends chills up my spine. Check it out on his Storify where he compiles all the Dear David posts.

* Monster Therapy

Monster Therapy has movie monsters going to couples or family therapy to get through their issues. My favorites are Jason Voorhees whose wife is tired of his ratty old hockey mask, Freddy Krueger whose wife is jealous that he terrorizes teenage girl's dreams, and Bella whose husband Edward is put off by her werewolf erotica collection. The issues are always solved in an unexpected way and the therapist takes their issues seriously, even in the most ridiculous of situations. I thought the Twilight episode would be terrible because of the source material, but it was one of the funniest episodes. Each episode is only 2 or 3 minutes long and hilarious. Check out the channel here.

* The IT Department

A guy asks for the IT department but It shows up instead, apparently a common problem. I don't usually like talk show skits, but this one is so funny. Scary Mary and the real IT guy pull the whole thing together.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

The Boys in the Trees

The Boys in the Trees is a surprising film with a dark fairy tale atmosphere. It's Halloween in Australia, 1997. Corey and Jonah used to be friends as children and their lives couldn't be more different on the cusp of adulthood. Corey hangs out with a group of bullies who have no aspirations except to be bullies that rule their small town as adults. They intimidate children and adults alike, smoking, drinking, and taking whatever they like. Jonah is more of a loner and is consistantly tormented by Corey and his friends. Halloween night gives the two teens a surreal journey through their memories.

From the beginning, Corey seems to have already chosen to follow in his groups' footsteps, terrorizing the locals and living it up for his adult life when he truly wants to go off to college for photography. Things change when he causes Jonah to fall and hit his head skateboarding. Everything is so different when it's just the two of them so they can be simply themselves instead of filling their roles. It starts out with Jonah telling Corey ghost stories and later seeing them come to life in chilling ways. A girl's sister was lured away by wolves, leaving the smaller girl to fend for herself and got lost. Now, she only realizes she's dead in the light where she stays, leaving the living with her shrieks echoing in their ears.

Then, Jonah goes through some memories, framing the bullies as werewolves hunting for the weak and the bullied as still human, hiding from the monsters. This contrasts with what Corey's friend said, that you have to kill a few sheep to hang with the wolves, giving Corey a view of what life has been like for Jonah and others like him. While there are fantastical elements, harsh realities are seen right alongside them. The truth about what happened to Jonah (as a teen and a child) and why their friendship ended is heartwrenching. This is all framed with Jonah and Corey in a tree with their childhood belongings, switching between teen and child versions of themselves playing and reciting children's rhymes.

The 90's setting is nostalgic and realistic. The nostalgia comes in the clothes and the music. The soundtrack is amazing with songs from Pearl Jam, Rammstein, and Marilyn Manson perfectly completing scenes. The realistic parts come with the jarring homophobic comments from Corey's friends and the violence in the film. It's a touch that some would avoid, but it's a part of 80's and 90's film that is painful to watch now. Overall, The Boys in the Trees is a wonderful movie that proves to be fantastic and whimsical while still exposing harsh truths. The ending seemed to be getting to idyllic and then soundly grounds itself in reality.

My rating: 4.5/5 fishmuffins

Monday, October 16, 2017


Annie Kramer vows to have no regrets the summer before going off to college. She has no idea if she and her boyfriend Jack will be together in a few months, but she'll enjoy it while she can despite the fact that his ex Frankie will not leave them alone. To go with her newfound philosphy, she and her friends decide to have a boat party and explore the abandoned mines for some fun and mischief. Things go a little more serious than planned when Annie is attacked by a delirious man, the cops come by, and everyone gets lost in the mines. Everyone makes it out and leaves, chalking it up to disorientation, but the next day, a mummified man is discovered that wasn't there the night before. Something is seriously wrong and Annie and her friends need to find out what before it catches up to them.

Relic is a dark horror teen novel that goes darker than I thought it would venture. The book excels in its characters, the mythology of the creature, and the mystery. All of the characters are well rounded. Annie lost her mother and has to deal with her oppressive father cheating and self medicating with alcohol. Being a cop, he has high standards for her behavior, disapproves of Jack for basically racist reasons. All of this makes her rebellious behavior make sense especially on the cusp of leaving her childhood home. Her insecurity bothered me, especially when she blamed her own shortcomings on Frankie instead of working on seeing her own self worth. Frankie herself is a catty, jealous person who is also intelligent and discerning, able to keep a cool head in tough situations. She's obnoxious and obviously wants to get back with Jack, but everyone except Annie puts their personal drama aside when people start dying. This is especially refreshing because the romantic rival can be reduced to a flat character with no other motivation.

The monster released from the disorienting caves isn't a vampire or werewolf. It's called the Amanet, an ancient Wintu mythological creature come for revenge. The Amanet goes after those who disturbed its resting place, eating their organs and attempting to cover its tracks. It's only real weakness seems to be salt. The mythology should have been more fleshed out. Salt is a typical weakness of supernatural creatures, but why with this one? Why were the caves changing so drastically? I like the concept of a human housing the creature, but it's a bit too similar to both 90's Mummy movies and I Am Not a Serial Killer. The kills are surprisingly gruesome for a teen book and everything plays out very similar to a slasher film with a twist at the end. I found the book a little too steeped in horror tropes when it could have been something really special with the rarely seen creature.

Relic is a fast teen thriller that pushes the envelope with its violence and stays rooted in horror tropes. While the characters are engaging and the kills are well done, the book is missing quite a few elements I would have wanted, like a fleshed out mythology and aspects that are less typical to the genre. It was a fast and enjoyable read, but I don't see myself revisiting it.

My rating: 3/5

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Halloween Mini-Reviews: Dracula's Daughter and Murder Party

* Dracula's Daughter

Dr. Von Helsing has killed Dracula once and for all. Countess Marya Zeleska and her servant Sandor burn his body to free her of his influence. Unfortunately, the ritual didn't work, leaving her unable to see the sun or go without blood. She turns to psychiatry to resist her urges, but can it be as powerful as the influence of the one who made her?

The story is a direct continuation of the 1931 film Dracula. I had read the kids novelization so many times in my childhood but had never seen the movie. It's a decent Universal monster movie. Like so many of them, there is over the top drama, ornate dialogue, romance, and a tragic figure. Marya is a much more interesting character than Dracula. She has been a vampire for hundreds of years and longs to be human, have normal relationships, and get away from death. After the ritual with Dracula's body, Marya tries to convince herself while playing the piano that she's human, but Sandor speaks the harsh truth that she's still a vampire in ornate language as the music she plays gets darker.

Afterwards she approaches Dr. Jeffrey Garth to help her. He gives a speech about putting tempting things in front of her and being strong enough to resist it. Sandor brings Marya a woman to paing, something she's obviously done before. In a charged scene, the woman takes off her shirt and drinks wine, making conversation. Marya gives into her urges and attacks her offscreen. This scene plus the psychiatric advice heavily implies that Marya is a lesbian, also playing into the lesbian vampire trope. It's unfortunately framed in a predatory fashion and a negative portrayal, but it's pretty exciting that homosexuality was even shown at the time and in a sympathetic character.

Dracula's Daughter is a decent Universal horror movie with a conflicted monster, lesbian overtones, and drama. The "romance" with Dr. Garth felt hollow and desperate, not fitting in with her character at all. All of the human characters are pretty annoying, paling in comparison to Marya and Sandor. The ending is otherwise good and teaches Marya to make promises she doesn't intend to keep.

My rating: 3.5/5

* Murder Party

Christopher settles in for a fairly boring Halloween at home alone. He finds an ornate invitation to a murder party and decides to go after his cat won't get out of his seat. Dressed in his cardboard armor costume with a pumpkin raisin bread loaf, he goes to the party without knowing what to expect. What he finds is a group of art school college students who tie him up and kill him for their art.

Murder Party is Jeremy Saulnier's very first, super low budget movie. It has impressive effects and unexpected humor. Christopher is an unimpressive, boring looking man who uncharacteristically decided to go to a random party. The art students didn't actually expect anyone to show up and don't have a clear plan about how to murder him. They are driven by the promise of an art grant by a rich patron named Alexander. Each of them thinks their art is superior to everyone else's and are actually deeply insecure. Most of the movie is their drama, their ineptitude, and weird party games, which are all pretty hilarious.

At first, the art students start dying due to unfortunate accidents and then later by killing each other. The most unlikely of them goes on a rampage killing the remaining ones and chasing Christopher through the city. One of the funniest moments is when a performance art installation in all white is turned into a bloodbath, people walk through and judge the piece as if it was intentional. Christopher navigates this unfamiliar world and in comparison shows how ridiculous the art community can be. It's a bloody, fun movie that had me laughing throughout.

My rating: 4/5 fishmuffins

Saturday, October 14, 2017

The Doll House

Corinne and Ashley are sisters who lost their father almost a year ago. Both went on with their daily lives, but are still emotionally affected by the loss as they were always close to him. Corinne is also trying to have a baby and down to their last round of IVF (paid for by Ashley). She starts finding pieces of her childhood dollhouse at first thinking it's a good omen for the future, but they seem threatening after while, appearing and disappearing so others don't take her seriously. Ashley feels her husband pulling further and further away from her while she cares for their three children on her own. As she grows frustrated at being on her own most of the time, her infant never sleeps through the night and her oldest seems to be getting more and more in trouble. Do their problems have perfectly reasonable explanations or is something more sinister afoot?

The Doll House is a psychological thriller with some twists and turns. It's told mainly from three different voices: Corrine, Ashley, and a third unnamed girl in the past. Corrine is kind of fragile. From the very beginning, she's easily startled, still reeling from the death of her father, and devastated that she might never become a mother. I found her story the most frustrating because pretty much everyone in her life dismissed her very real concerns of her home being invaded. I found Ashley the most sympathetic because she is trying to a run a household and take care of three kids at very different stages while her husband spends more and more time at work (if that's what he's actually doing). She expected to have help and having everything thrown in her lap is only making her feel resentful and incredibly stressed as her children's problems worsen over time.

The third woman remains unnamed for most of the novel. Hints are dropped here and there to make her relationship to the other girls more clear. Her mother mistreated her growing up, forcing her out at all hours to spy on another family. Over time, her mother's obsession became her obsession. I felt sorry for her, but only up to a point. The identity of this woman and her mother came as a huge surprise to me. By the end of the book, I was puzzled as to why they would choose to plan as they did. It seems like they would be easily caught by the end, successful or not, so why bother to be so secretive and perfectly planned only to give a stereotypical villain monologue revealing everything.

The Doll House is an overall enjoyable book. My main problems with it are in the villains and the horror aspects. Based on the cover, I thought it would be more horror  I also thought there was an inkling of supernatural that would grow into something more, but everything stayed squarely in reality. Other than that, it's a decent thriller that's well plotted and interwoven between the three main characters.

My rating: 3.5/5 fishmuffins

Friday, October 13, 2017

Podcast Friday: Test Pattern and Lore

* Test Pattern

Test Pattern is hosted by Jacob and Tab (of one of my favorite podcasts The Girls in the Back Row). Together, they host a show that focuses on horror films, cult classics, and other things that go bump in the night. Their episodes are well crafted with deep discussions and quite a bit of research. They start the show with their horror origins, what got them interested in horror as kids. My favorite of their series so far is their Universal Monsters series where they go through each Universal movie paired with a more modern remake, starting with The Phantom of the Opera silent film paired with Phantom of the Paradise. These film are near and dear to my heart so I love the new information about the making of the films, how the Hayes' Code affected what could be shown in the films, and of course their personal opinions on them. Their Cautionary Tales episode goes through different fairy tales and children stories with harsh consequences along with movie and TV adaptations of them, detailing their exposure to them as children and adults. The Nightmare Before Christmas episode gave me a new appreciation for my favorite Halloween movie and the amount of detail that went into making it. I can't recommend this podcast enough. 

* Lore

Aaron Mahnke hosts and writes the Lore podcast that mixes history and the supernatural backed by beautiful piano music. Each episode goes into depth about a certain subject like vampirism, witches, varieties of different creatures, and more. He details why people might believe what they did, some possible logic explanations, and always leaves it open for the supernatural to be out there. Everything is connected in a seamless narrative that sometimes goes to unexpected places. Some episodes don't interest me as much, but others gave me chills. I have two favorites: the very first episode about called They Made a Tonic and the 12th episode Half-Hanged. The first is about how in the late 19th century, the odd effects of tuberculosis on the body after death had people believing in vampires and mutilating bodies to safeguard against them. The dead person in question was Mercy Brown who was found to be in a suspiciously fresh state with blood still in her heart. It's a remarkable case that caused a panic and led to some unnecessary, grisly actions. The latter episode is about Mary Webster, an accused witch who was found innocent by the courts. Her neighbors didn't agree due to the strange circumstances surrounding a prominent man's death and hanged her anyway, but she survived. Both bizarre stories simply fascinate me. If you like weird tales with some basis of truth, I would highly recommend this podcast.