Monday, February 26, 2018

Women in Horror: Books in the Freezer Podcast

Books in the Freezer Podcast is hosted by booktubers Stephanie from That's What She Read and Rachel from The Shades of Orange about horror books. Each episode is based around a subject, like vampire books, audiobooks, or YA books, and give their book recommendations with a brief description of the book and their opinions about it. Their rating system is based on how scary it is, not necessarily if the book is good or not, which they will cover in their opinion portion. Room temperature is not scary. In the refrigerator is a bit scary and in the freezer is very scary. Of course, scary is subjective and they place few books in the freezer. This image is borrowed from Friends where Joey read The Shining only when he has room in the freezer to keep it safely. After the book talk, they will talk about other horror media they are enjoying in the moment such as movies or video games.

This is the first podcast I've found that is focused on horror books. Stephanie and Rachel are both very knowledgeable about the genre and suggest some classics and some that are bit off the beaten path. Their excitement about the genre is infectious and they articulate their thoughts about each book very well, giving listeners a rundown of what they like, didn't like, and identifying things that might be deal breakers or triggers. During their first full episode, they suggested my personal haunted house picks: House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski and The Grip of It by Jac Jemc. They also introduced me to new books I'd never heard of that I immediate added to my towering TBR list such as I'm Thinking of Ending Things by Iain Reed and The Graveyard Apartment by Mariko Koike.

I don't always agree with their opinions and Stephanie and Rachel don't always agree with each other. They are always respectful, making the podcast approachable, and thorough in their opinions, so listeners can easily see if they might like a book. It's only 11 episodes in and from epusode 1, the podcast had good sound quality, a solid format, and experienced hosts. Most have some growing pains at first and this one sounds amazing from the start. Their website also has all the books and other media they talk about with book covers and descriptions so their recommendations are more easily accessible. My one tiny criticism is that their favorite books (that are also my favorite) such as NOS4A2 by Joe Hill and Let the Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist make a lot of appearances on the show in various episodes. I hope in the future they dig a little deeper to recommend some lesser known books. Other than that, I highly recommend this podcast if you want to find more horror fiction.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Women in Horror: Reign of the Fallen by Sarah Glenn Marsh

Odessa is known as The Sparrow, a powerful necromancer with the ability to adeptly navigate the Deadlands. She and Evander, her boyfriend, are finally full fledged master necromancers that service the crown and the wealthy members of society who want their loved ones brought back from the dead. The same day they killed and resurrected King Wylding, her mentor Nicanor went into the Deadlands by himself, an oddity for a necromancer, and was killed by a Shade, a spirit of the dead made into a cannibal monster. They have to resurrect the King no matter what, even if a dangerous Shade stalks them. The Shade problem isn't restricted to the Deadlands. Royalty and the rich have been disappearing at alarming rates, some turning up as Shades and others gone. Odessa and the other necromancers must band together to solve the mystery before the Shades endanger the enture population.

Reign of the Fallen has a unique world and vibrant characters with realistic thoughts and decisions. Karthia has been ruled by King Wylding for over 200 years and nothing has changed. It's argued that he knows and loves Karthia more than anyone else. There have been no advancement or changes in technology, fashion, policy, or tradition ever. Even if something would improve things, it's soundly ignored due to the deeply held tradition of stagnanace. Vaia, goddess of change, has been completely removed from their pantheon of gods. It felt a little similar to the society in Mistborn, but less toxic. Most people here accept it as law and only the young and powerful subvert in small ways, hidden from public.

The big contributor to the tradition is the continued existence of people, even after they die. Ancestors from generations past can still live among their descendents and affect their decisions. They can't be seen directly and where full body shrouds because they turn to Shades if humans see them. They can also turn if left in a body for so long, hence why Wylding has to be killed and resurrected every so often. So far, this has never been a problem, but Shades are rampaging more and more along with the missing wealthy people. Necromancers go into the Deadlands with honey to reject the food of the afterlife, blood to attract the dead, and milk to pour on the dead's body. Their power is steeped in myths and legends, but also feels different than other renditions.

The magic system makes sense to me and has wide ranging capabilities. In addition to power over the dead, others have the power to heal or power over animals. All magic has a price. Necromancers can't be brought back from the dead and non-mages who go into the Deadlands are no longer fertile. Healing magic leads to temporary numbness and paralysis of the healer's body depending. Power to control animals leads to the mage being animalistic for a time, losing their humanity. All of this is equal to the power they used. I'm a little tired of magic that just appears out of nowhere with no limits instead of having some sort of natural balance.

The characters feel like real people. Odessa has confidence and power, but started out as an orphan who had nothing as a child and was raised by necromancers to be one. Without her power over the dead, she sees herself as only an orphan with nothing to offer, which starts fights with wealthy Evander when he wants to run away from his problems. Beyond this idiocy, her relationship with Evander is sweet and healthy beyond hiding it from his unsupportive mother. After he dies, she starts a self destructive path that starts with the overuse of sedatives and ends at beating the Shade who killed her loved one, probably dying right afterwards. Through her friendships, particularly with princess Valoria and Evander's sister Meredy, Odessa gets to a place where she feels the grief, returns to reality, and moves forward.

The relationships are particularly excellent, especially between women. Valoria started out as unsure of herself and content to hide in the shadows. She built inventions that she hid in her room so the king and court would never see it. Odessa helped her find her voice and see that her opinion has value, which becomes extremely important by the end of the story. Odessa and Meredy at first hate each other and are too wrapped up in their own loss to see how lashing out hurts the other. Over time, they get to know each other and bond over their grief for Evander when open and honest about it. Eventually, they feel romantic feelings for each other that they feel guilt for. It's refreshing to see a bisexual heroine in any media, but I question the choice of Evander's sister. Other than that, it's a very sweet romance.

Reign of the Fallen has wonderful world building, well drawn characters, and action packed scenes right next to quiet, emotional ones. I loved that it has elements of fantasy, horror, and mystery with realistic relationships and grounded people. I figured out the mystery early, which is a big deal for me, but I enjoyed going along on the ride. The ending still surprised me mostly because the villain wasn't really wrong, but the way he went about things was. I would love to read more books by this author and hopefully in this world.

My rating: 5/5 fishmuffins

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Women in Horror: Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954)

A remarkable fossil is discovered (and almost destroyed) in the Amazon, prompting an expedition to find the rest of the creature that is supposed to link land and marine animals. Dr. Carl Maia assembles a team to do this, including ichtyologist Dr. David Reed, Dr. Mark Williams the investor, and Kay Lawrence. When they arrive, Dr. Maia's assistants are killed by a living version of the fossil, who fixates on Kay while trying to kill all the other members of the party. Can the expedition trap the creature alive and escape with their lives?

The Creature from the Black Lagoon was never one of my favorite Universal monster movies, but I hadn't watched it since I was a child. However, looking at now, it's an enjoyable and complex film. First, there's the contrast between the main men in the film. David Reed and Mark Williams couldn't be more different. Reed focuses on scientific findings and breakthroughs while Williams is in it for money, fortune, and fame. In the modern "remake" The Shape of Water, he has a lot in common with Strickland while Reed has more in common with Hoffstetler, the Russian undercover agent that does what he can to make sure the unique creature lives. Unfortunately, much of this film is Reed and Williams posturing, arguing, competing, and swimming around, which gets old pretty quick.

Kay Lawrence is a much more interesting character than I remember. All of the iconic pictures of her are with the Gill-man carrying her and essentially being a damsel in distress for her boyfriend to save. While this is true of the last half of the film, the first half has her challenging men in authority and making some surprisingly modern life decisions. Kay works with Dr. Reed and although she isn't a doctor, she is educated and goes on the expedition as another scientist. When Maia says Reed doesn't look like an ichthyologist as an attractive, fit young man, Kay counters with a sassy remark. She and Reed have chosen not to marry, a controversial decision for the time, and seem to be financially independent of each other, although Reed currently makes more money. Kay doesn't sit quietly and let the men talk like other heroines of the time.  Reed supports her completely and never admonishes her. Their relationship looks healthy by todays standards and that's saying something since the same isn't true for many films today.

The Creature itself is fairly sympathetic, as most monsters are in the Universal canon. He is the last living member of a race of amphibious humans. The expedition is invading his home and he's defending it as he always has, giving rise to myths and rumors of a cursed lagoon. When he sees Kay, he develops feelings for her, swimming beneath her while she swims along the surface of the lagoon. This scene is beautiful and shows the humanity of the creature. I can see why Del Toro wanted to make a film where they end up together. Of course the Gill-man kills quite a few of the expeditions' lackeys, usually defending himself. The Gill-man design is as recognizable as Dracula or Frankenstien, which was created by Millicent Patrick and a team of designers. Unfortunately, George Westmore wasn't happy with sharing the limelight with anyone else when Patrick went on a press tour as The Beauty who Created the Beast, denying that she had anything to do with the creature design. He refused to work with her again despite her giving him credit during the tour, ending her career at Universal. She had worked there for years contributing to designs and it's such a shame that her career was ending by a jealous man.

The Creature from the Black Lagoon is an undeniably cheesy movie that has the marks of a Universal monster movie. The creature is sympathetic and the leading woman breaks social norms. The cheesy aspects had the theater laughing, especially when the Gill-man theme played so many times, an unfortunate studio decision, or when shots were obviously recycled several times. The film is impressive for the time, especially in regard to makeup. I liked it so much more than I expected. I had the wonderful opportunity to see it at the Egyptian Theater, along with a Q&A with Guillermo del Toro and Doug Jones and a double feature with The Shape of Water. Del Toro spoke at length how it inspired him as a child and how it informed not only The Shape of Water, but other of his films where monsters prove to have much more humanity than the people.

My rating: 3.5/5 fishmuffins

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Women in Horror: The Autopsy of Jane Doe

* spoilers *

The police uncover a bizarre crime scene where everyone in the house has died in a violent way and seemed to be trying to escape in addition to the dead body found half buried in the ground. The Jane Doe is taken to a local funeral home to find out where she came from. Tommy is a coroner working to train his son Austin in the trade. Together, they try to figure out how Jane Doe died with each stage of the autopsy exposing stranger and stranger injuries and artifacts. When an unexpected storm traps them in the underground lab, Jane might not be as helpless as she seems.

I first watched The Autopsy of Jane Doe with no expectations and it blew me away. The first half of the movie is completely unique and I had no idea where it was going. Tommy and Austin go through the thorough process of an autopsy from examining each part, marking down injuries and oddities, and taking samples. Tommy's style is very traditional, so he uses an old camcorder, a chalk board, reference books, a polaroid camera, and bells attached to the corpse's ankles. Through the entire procedure, both men are completely professional and treat her body as a typical part of their job and never even remark on her beauty or form beyond their scientific examination. Both seem like they've been doing this for years and have an easy routine that doesn't end where they expected. As they go deeper into the autopsy, things get more and more odd. Her exterior is perfect, but her body hides torturous injuries such as shattered wrists and ankles, her tongue cut out, burned lungs, and deep vaginal cuts. The situation starts out a little odd. progresses to sad when they think she's a victim of sex trafficking, and ends of up at bizarre and frightening.

I immediately liked Tommy and Austin. Their banter feels completely natural as well as the tension when touching upon long standing disagreements. I especially admire their dedication to doing thorough, top notch work although Tommy stops there while Austin wants to figure out more about Jane Doe's situation. Their shared history is shown in small, natural glimpses throughout the film. When Stanley the cat is found mutilated in an air duct, Tommy mercifully kills him, wraps him in scrubs, and incinerates him. This scene could easily be seen as cruel, but the emotion is all over Brian Cox's face. An offputting act is turned into one of love and sorrow. The cat was his last connection to his late wife, whose suicide he partially blames himself for. Tommy and Austin are stuck in time because of this death. Tommy keeps everything as it was, his business literally frozen, and keeps his true feelings buried. Austin doesn't want to inherit his father's business, but goes through the motions anyway while he longs to go to college and pursue something else. Both of these men are so relatable and try to protect each other every step of the way. It's hard not to really care about this father and son as things go off the rails.

The second half of the film is a little more typical and falls into home invasion and supernatural tropes, but I was already to invested and clueless as to where it was going that it didn't really matter. The first indication of something not right is an eerie but catchy song that comes on the radio called Let the Sun Shine In. The lyrics warn of letting the devil in and something simply seems off with it. The radio weather announcers first describe beautiful weather, then a huge storm coming in, and finally directly warning that they don't want to get caught in it. Then things go off the deep end. Even though it's more typically horror, the film is still restrained, focusing more on tension and atmosphere over gore or jump scares. The scary moments are in bells tinkling softly and quiet moments of confusion with a few contrasting moments. These men are woefully outmatched against a supernatural foe they know next to nothing about.

Jane Doe herself is a fascinating character who moves very little and lays silent for the entire film. She is portrayed by Olwen Kelly, who emotes so well through this static role. A film where an actress lays naked for the whole film could have been very exploitative or crass, but this is quite the opposite. The way she is filmed and treated by the characters is full of respect and professionalism. During the first half of the film, her face gives a melancholy air as we process the horror of this tortured young woman. As the film goes on, the shape of her eyes and mouth as well as the tilt of her head change her demeanor drastically even though she doesn't really move. As her power is shown in the second half of the film, her face appears more shrewd and sinister. Tommy hypothesizes that she was a normal woman that was tortured and turned into a witch as a result. Even though it comes a little out of nowhere, I love this idea that the so called pious people creating a witch out of their own evil actions.

The Autopsy of Jane Doe blew my mind when I watched it the first time. No matter how many times I watch, the eerie and tense atmosphere makes me want to hide behind something. It's simply well crafted all around with a few small flaws here and there. Jane Doe is so overpowered and able to manipulate every one of her victim's senses like the mirror in Oculus. Like that film, the people didn't have very much of a chance to survive. All of the performances are excellent and I believe their relationships right away, allowing the plot to move forward more quickly than usual. I would love to see more from all involved. This film is simply a work of art.

My rating: 4.5/5 fishmuffins

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Upcoming Women in Horror Projects

More women in horror upcoming films!

* Hereditary

Hereditary looks like one of the most unnerving films to come out in a while. The trailer alone made my skin crawl and I've heard nothing but good things. Toni Colette plays a woman who recently lost her mother. During the funeral, she gives a rather odd, much more honest than usual eulogy. It seems to be the anxiety about the horrible things that family passes down. I can't wait for this one. I especially love that it's about a mother's anxiety about her own mother and her daughter. Watch out for this one on June 8.

* Santa Clarita Diet

The first season of this show was simply a delight with Drew Barrymore playing Sheila, a repressed real estate agent. Contracting a zombie virus unleashes her true desires for sex, fulfillment, and human flesh. The second season looks just as good with Sheila refusing to be locked up and wanting to live her unlife to its fullest. Problems still follow them with other zombies, a conspicuous murder room, and Sheila falling apart. It's set to air March 23 on Netflix.

* Bird Box

I absolutely loved Josh Malerman's tale of a mother struggling to take care of her children in a time where some mysterious thing is driving people mad or outright killing them. To me it seems unfilmable, but Susanne Bier, the director, might have a unique perspective. I'm wondering if the mystery will be seen or if it will be left the imagination as it is in the book. Sandra Bullock is set to play the main character and I'm a little more excited to see Sarah Paulson as another survivor. The film is set to release on December 21 on Netflix.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Women in Horror: The Final Girls (2015)

Amanda and her daughter Max are having a hard time financially. Amanda goes to audition after audition, but can't escape her past as a one time scream queen in the 1986 slasher Camp Bloodbath. On the way home, they get into a car accident, killing Amanda. Three years later, Max's friend Duncan convinces her to be a guest at a screening of Camp Bloodbath through bribery. She is overcome with emotion seeing her mother and stands to leave, but through a series of coincidences, the theater is set on fire. Max and her friends Duncan, Gertie, and Chris plus her former best friend Vicki escape through the movie screen to safety. Things seem a bit weird since they end up in a forest and they realize they are in the movie when the car with Tina and the other counselors pull up to ask for direction. How can they escape this slasher movie alive?

The Final Girls is a charming, meta slasher that has the characters trying to survive the slasher with their knowledge of the film and the genre's tropes. Camp Bloodbath is closely modeled after Friday the 13th Part II, so it feels familiar and nostalgic to the audience. The film cycles through over and over if they do nothing, so Max and her crew decide to participate in the story. Their initial plan is to stick to the sardonic final girl to survive, but their involvement causes the characters to panic and she dies in a fiery blaze. The group has to come up with a new plan and navigate the world that transports them to the past for flashbacks and text on the screen as physical form. Billy is this world's version of Jason Vorhees who gets revenge on camp counselors with a machete for tormenting and physically and emotionally scarring him.

The characters in the film are very flat and generally badly written. Tina is super chipper and flirtatious. Her whole reason for being is doing a striptease and being killed by Billy. Her innocent question asking why her boobs make him so mad is hilarious. Kurt is similarly oversexed, but with an undercurrent of mocking and insults for everyone around him. Nancy lives the longest and has the biggest transformation of any of the movie characters. Her initial purpose is to have sex with Kurt and die, but her interactions with the real people change her. At first, Max tries to steer Nancy away from sex with lies and peer pressure. The change takes place after they really talk and explain the entire situation. Nancy now has aspirations to go to college and realizes that she doesn't have to be what the script says she should.

At its core, the female friendships and relationships are in the forefront with focus on support and getting at underlying conflicts. Max is obviously upset about her mother's death and keeps people at arm's length. She becomes closer to Gertie, Nancy (as her own person, not just her mom), and even Vicki. Vicki confesses that she's been cruel because she was hurt when Max pushed her away after her mom died. Once they are honest with each other, their facades come down and they are on their way to fixing their friendship. Max forms a friendship with Nancy similar that the one with her mom and gets some extra time plus the opportunity to say goodbye. When she realizes there can only be one final girl, Nancy sacrifices herself in a dance for herself and Max, filled with love and fun despite the horror movie trappings. Her death is heartbreaking and it imbues Max with Final Girl power in addition to resolving some of her feelings about her mom.

The Final Girls is a refreshing movie that both critiques and elevates the tropes of the slasher genre. Virginity is only valued because of the outdated genre, not because any of the modern characters actually find significance in it. There are so many touches of feminism and progressive views that contrast well with the reactionary views within the outdated slasher. While this film does lose a little bit on the second viewing, it's still an enjoyable, fun, and emotional film that I would love to see a sequel to.

My rating: 4.5/5 fishmuffins

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Women in Horror: Final Girls Horrorcast

The Final Girls Horrorcast is hosted by Aimee and Carly, focusing on the horror and science fiction movies streaming online. Their format starts with Trailer Trashtalk where they talk about an upcoming horror film's trailer, their first impressions, and if they would see it in the theater. They choose two films to review from some sort of streaming service that have a common theme, director, vibe, or subgenre. Their Social Media Question of the Week follows where they ask questions related to the films in the episode to their listeners. They read and comment on responses, give their own answers, and then close with what they're watching or doing. A few times, they brought in a friend unfamiliar with or uneasy about horror to introduce a film they might like in the Making a Monster episodes.

I love this podcast. It started with their very first episode where they covered It Follows and The Guest before their format was solid. Two women unabashedly drooling over shirtless Dan Stevens was what I needed to hear. So many horror podcasts are male dominated and actively objectify women so frequently that it feels alienating. I've stopped listening to multiple podcasts because of this and it's so refreshing to even have one or two episodes where women comment on men's looks ever. It's also nice to hear women's perspectives on horror that still seem to be pretty rare in the podcast community. For Women in Horror Month, they spoke with the women writers for the Modern Horrors website in a special featured episode.

Aimee and Carly talk about two movies an episode (with some theme to tie them together) and talk about what worked for them, what didn't, and just discuss together. Their commentaries can be serious or utterly hilarious or even drunken. One of their silliest discussions was on The Greasy Strangler involving merkins and fake penises that had me laughing uncontrollably on my way to work. They give their opinions honestly and I often do not agree with them. They look for different things in film than I do and have different perspectives. They also talk about Gilmore Girls (one of my favorite shows!), Downton Abbey, and Grey's Anatomy (in Carly's case) alongside the horror.

The Final Girls Horrorcast is one of my favorite podcasts and I eagerly listen every single week. Their Social Media Question of the Week and listener responses were the first thing that made me laugh after my father passed away, so they hold a special place in my podcast list. The only negative thing about their podcast is their association with the Modern Horrors podcast members who occasionally guest on their show. I don't enjoy them because they are insensitive and have awful opinions. Other than that, this podcast is amazing and I can't wait for their next month where they are taking listener requests.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Women in Horror: Perfect Sense (2011)

Susan and Michael have both given up on love. It just doesn't seem to work for either of them, so both focus on their work. Susan is a epidemiologist and her lab just discovered an bizarre epidemic spanning all of Europe. Michael is a chef whose boss wants to create art through food. They meet each other in the alley between her apartment and his work, sharing cigarettes and flirting. Their relationship blossoms as the world loses sense after sense to this epidemic with no known origin.

Perfect Sense looks a typical romance from its cover, but it has an epidemic of epic proportions. No one knows what causes it or how it's transmitted. Eventually everyone is affected by each stage of the disease. The first sign is a moment of deep sorrow followed by losing the sense of smell permanently. The second is a moment of ravenous hunger where the person eats whatever is within arm's reach followed by the loss of taste. The third is a moment of rage and hatred preceding hearing loss. The last is a desire for connection and love before losing sight. This unknown plague is a unique idea because it attacks people's connection to the world, setting it in contrast with Susan and Michael's relationship and what it means in this uncertain, chaotic time.

The way the public reacts to each stage of the disease feels realistic. After the first stage, people tend to avoid public spaces for a while until things go back to normal. The world adapts and serves spicier, more flavorful food. Musicians describe smells with words and music for those who have lost it. Life goes on. After the second stage, people panic a bit more, but life goes on as normal with people going to work and going about their daily lives. Dining is more about temperature, texture, and being waited on instead of about taste. After hearing is gone, their lives shut down as they are quarantined  inside their homes. The later stages have more profound effects and two movements emerge: people who go to work as normal and people who loot and reject normal society. Complete chaos follows the final stage seen. The progression of the effects on society is gradual and increases in severity with each stage.

Susan has given up on love after her last boyfriend cheated on her while Michael is incapable of emotional intimacy after his wife died. Both are focused on careers and friendship when they meet and have an instant connection. While the world is falling apart around them, their relationship grows closer and more intense. The development of their relationship is While everything is so uncertain, they fall into each other, get drunk, dance, and enjoy their lives when it's so easy to fall into hopelessness. Then the rage part of plague hits. Michael is in her presence during this time and rages at her, reducing her to body parts and cruelly saying that there's nothing special about her. Hearing such horrible things spew from him greatly affects Susan and she leaves to stay with her family. Once it hits her, she's alone and uses that rage to process her feelings about Michael.

The mysterious disease is representative of events in our lives. Anything can happen in this life and earth shattering events happen every single day to individuals. Finding love where the future is uncertain and awful things happen every day is special. Connection to other people is beautiful and what makes life worth living through all of this craziness. On the other hand, the people closest to you can also hurt you the most, shown in Michael's moment of rage. The ending of the film has Susan and Michael looking for each other when the last stage hits. It's a euphoric, sweet moment enhanced by the fact that afterwards, they will never be able to see. The film ends with their one sense left with no indication if it will stay with them. The logical end of the disease represents death, which is presumably nothingness without sensation or communication. The film posits that love and life are fleeting yet hold significance.

Perfect Sense is not what I expected at all and the story sucked me in. The familiar love story contrasts with the insane events worldwide in a lovely way. The overall film is surprisingly positive with such a catastrophe at the center of it all. The love story doesn't have any of the toxic tropes seen in romantic comedies. Eva Green does a phenomenal job as Susan, who isn't afraid to make hard decisions for her benefit. Her strength isn't dampened by her emotions and her job as a scientist and a doctor is refreshing to see. I stumbled upon this gem on Shudder, so if you haven't, give it a watch.

My rating: 4.5/5 fishmuffins

Friday, February 16, 2018

Women in Horror: Baby Teeth by Koje Stage

Baby Teeth is a look into the dysfunctional family that includes Suzette, Alex, and Hanna. Suzette is a stay at home mother who is overwhelmed and at her wit's end. She spends every waking moment with her daughter Hanna, who at 6 years old has not said a word and seems to take pleasure in doing the opposite of anything she asks. Schools won't keep Hanna since she is usually kicked out for behavior issues within weeks, so Suzette schools her at home. When her husband Alex comes home, Suzette is expected to have dinner ready on the table and a cheery demeanor. She is determined to be a better mother than her own, who was abusive and neglectful, and is obsessed with appearing to be the perfect mom. Her other main concern is her health as her Crohn's disease was left undiagnosed for years, leading to invasive surgeries, festering wounds, fistulas, and ugly scars. It only fed more and more into her obsession with cleanliness and the appearance of perfection that is leading to the loss of her sense of self.

Even with all of her legitimate issues, it's hard for me to sympathize with Suzette. First, the whole experience of being pregnant was torturous due to her Crohn's disease. It's clear that part of her frustration towards Hanna is resentment for that experience when she had to go without her medication for the sake of her baby. I know she probably through aborting and adopting was giving up and not what a perfect mom would do, but it's a valid question. Second, she gives Hanna anything she wants to placate her, rendering any sort of lecture useless. Hanna only learns that she can get away with anything, especially when she plays her mother and father against each other. Third, Suzette has treated Hanna as an equal rival in a war, competing for Alex's attention and affection as if she were another child. It's a weird dynamic that gives Hanna too much power and makes Suzette a terrible parent. Lastly, no wonder Hanna hates her. As a three year old, Hanna was misbehaving and throwing chewed up food. Suzette's response was to stuff it all in Hanna's mouth and force her to swallow it to the point of choking. This made Suzette more monstrous than her child and so hard to feel sorry for.

Alex, Suzette's husband, is oblivious in all of this and has his own issues. Whenever Suzette or anyone else comes to him with stories of Hanna's awful behavior, he dismisses it as others not being able to handle Hanna's spirited behavior. He sees intelligence and playfulness where Suzette sees conniving and sinister. It gets to the point where Suzette will keep quiet about Hanna's bad behavior to keep the peace, so it's allowed to get much worse. He spends his days working at his office and leaving all of the child rearing to Suzette. Whenever she calls for help, he makes excuse after excuse to not interrupt his day. His job isn't easy, but dumping all of Hanna's care on Suzette is awful and not parenting. Alex loves that Hanna favors him and treats him like she doesn't treat her mother. Father and daughter isolate themselves from Suzette when together and treat her like an outsider and an annoyance. Alex gave Hanna the pieces to make an under the bed friend from one of her books that Suzette threw away as a voodoo doll at best and trash at worst. Hanna was crushed, but how was Suzette supposed to know it had any significance when they literally box her out. Alex is happy to stay oblivious and also feeds into the practice that not acknowledging problems means they don't exist. 

This brings us to Hanna herself. The novel alternates between Suzette and Hanna's point of view, so we hear her voice despite her mute nature. Hanna doesn't want to go to school and finds other people in general useless. Her intelligence shows itself in chilling ways as she calculates how to get kicked out of schools or how to make her mother look bad. She hates her mother and wants to expose Suzette's bad behavior to Alex so he will reject her and only spend time with Hanna. This goes as expected in a horror novel as Hanna eventually settles on killing Suzette. On one hand, I feel for Hanna because her parents are obviously not the greatest. They succeeded in trying to one up each other that Hanna adapted to their battle and became better at it. She obviously has sociopathic tendencies where people don't mean much to her outside of Alex. Her curiosity leads to some disturbing scenes and her imagination crosses the line into possible psychosis. She adopts the personality of a teen burned as witch in history to speak threats to her mother and brings her imaginary friends to life who tell her that getting rid of her mom is a great idea.  

Baby Teeth captured my attention and held it like a trainwreck. I wanted to see how far Hanna would go to achieve her goal and how horrible her parents could be. This has been compared to Lionel Shriver's We Need to Talk About Kevin. That story worked as a nature veruses nurture study with no definitive answer and because the mother Eva is a sympathetic character despite her mistakes. Suzette is no Eva and makes so many moronic mistakes before the book is over. It also seems pretty clear why Hanna is the way she is. I felt that for a thriller or horror book, it didn't go as far as I would have liked. There are some disturbing scenes, but family drama takes up most of the novel. The ending seems clearly open for a sequel, which I would read out of curiousity, but Stage wants to leave it up to the imagination.  

My rating: 3/5 fishmuffins

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Women in Horror: The Housemaid (2016)

* spoilers *

In 1953 French occupied Vietnam, Linh walks from her village to the Sa-Cat rubber plantation for employment. Few people work there due its bloody history and rumors of ghosts haunting the property. Mrs. Han takes her in on a trial basis and she works in the eerily empty house, serving French Captain Sebastien Laurent. As time goes on, Linh uncovers a dark secret: the Captain's wife Camille killed her baby and then herself while the Captain was at war. Linh and her mentor Bao suspect that Camille's spirit has been awakened as eerie incidents and unexplained deaths happen all over the property.

The Housemaid is a gothic romance that centers around the French occupation of Vietnam in an unexpected way. Linh has no family and no other prospects around her village. She walked for miles for this job opportunity that she could have easily been turned away from. This illustrates the difficult life of the typical Vietnamese person at the time and contrasts it with life on the plantation with technology (cars and electricity), plentiful food, rich clothing, and power over others. Mrs. Han runs the house with an iron fist and expects to be obeyed, an atypical role for a Vietnamese woman during this era. Bao has a lower rank in the household, so she opts to keep quiet and do her job despite her differing opinions. Mr. Chau oversees the plantation workers, using intimidation and violence to keep them in line. It seems like cutting off a limb and throwing out a clumsy or slow worker is just a typical day. Mrs. Han and Mr. Chau in particular adopt the French view of other Vietmanese people, especially if they are poor, that they are disposable. All of their everyday lives are thrown into chaos after Bao performs a ritual to save Captain Laurent from a gunshot wound.

Linh nurses Captain Laurent back to health. Predictably, they fall in love and have a torrid romance only half heartedly hidden from the rest of the household. The Captain is shockingly not a horrible person. He saves her from being raped by a colleague who views her as an object despite the repercussions at his job and from society in general. I thought his nice guy act would end when his English fiancee came to stay, but he rejected her and treated his relationship with Linh as something real and sustainging. Because their relationship upends social norms, people from all levels of society treat Linh badly. The upper class see her as passing fancy or sex worker while the lower class see her as conniving, trading sex for better treatment. Bao is the only one who clearly disapproves, but seems to be the only one to care about Linh getting hurt and being exploited in this unequal power dynamic. This part of the film could be right out of a steamy historical romance film rather than a horror film.

The ending of the film is my favorite part. While Linh and the Captain's romance is going on, all characters except Bao are either attacked or killed by a ghostly figure (presumably Camille) and her army of zombies made up of dead plantation workers. Linh uncovers the real cruelty behind the plantation's past, where people treated even worse than the present. People were enslaved and then executed if found trying to run away. Mrs. Han, Mr. Chau, the Captain's fiancee, and finally the Captain are killed. All (except the fiancee) directly profited from and contributed to the death's of plantation workers. However, if Camille is the figure, it simply doesn't make sense. Why would she care about Vietnamese slaves? Linh came to the plantation to get revenge for her parents' deaths. Chau was their overseer while Han exposed their secret to runaway and the Captain signed off on their execution. I love that she comes in as an avenging force and doesn't even let her real feelings for the Captain get in the way of her revenge. Despite his nice actions, he still was a significant part of a society that systematically murdered and enslaved her people. Her life, and by extension the lives of many others, were considered disposable and ruined by the loss of the her parents.

The Housemaid is an enjoyable movie that works better as a drama than a horror movie. The dramatic elements are all well done. The acting, the sets, the score, and the sound design are all amazing. However, the supernatural elements come off as silly and cartoonish, mostly because of the digital effects. The ending, while incredibly satisfying, is a bit clunky. The story is told from Linh's point of view as she tells it to the police, so it kind of makes sense why things don't line up. It does come off a bit as poor planning. This film surprised me as I didn't really know what I was getting into. I love the use of supernatural horror to critique colonization and punish the colonizers and their lackeys. It's also a more accessible horror movie that's light on gore and heavy on romance and ghosts.

My rating: 4/5 fishmuffins

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Women in Horror: Winchester (2018)

Sarah Winchester inherited her husband's hugely successful gun manufacturing company after the deaths of her husband and her child. In her grief and with the influence of psychics and spiritualists, she believes that she's being haunted by the deaths of the people killed by the guns her company made. She purchases a home in San Jose and keeps it constantly under construction, addition more and more rooms, hallways, chimneys, and stairwells that create chaos. The Winchester Mystery House has stairways to nowhere, chimneys without enough fireplaces, and even sealed off rooms that have collapsed. The company sees her constant use of Winchester funds and seeks to find her incompetent to lead the company with the help of Eric Price, a disgraced doctor hooked on the drugs he is supposed to administer.

Winchester, the film, is based on a story so fascinating and bizarre that it's impressive how dull and unimpressive it turned out to be. There are some good aspects, but the film as a whole falls short. Helen Mirren is good as always as Sarah Winchester, grieving widow and strong as steel against everything. She has seen so much and doesn't let anyone push her around despite the treatment of women at the time. With the company, she pushes to produce things that don't kill people and succeeds. Her household is run very specifically and everyone follows her every word without question. They seem to like and appreciate her as well as respect her whether because of money or they actually believe in her supernatural crusade. When Eric comes in, he tries to circumvent her rules, but she pushes right back as those around her support her completely. Sarah has his drugs confiscated and doesn't let him upset her house.

Eric Price is a drug addict who seeks the company of sex workers whenever he can to escape the pain of his deceased wife. Sarah chose him specifically to rate her mental state because of his connection to the dead. I hated Eric because of his rudeness and need to break every rule imaginable. He had little respect for Sarah and calls her aggressive at one point for not adhering to his commands. At the end of the film, he interacts with the supernatural as Sarah can't and essentially saves the day. I find this annoying because it reflects what already happens during that time where women, especially older women, had to defer to men in practically all aspects of society. I would love to a see a film where Sarah Winchester saves everyone herself. Her knowledge is the key to this whole thing at its core, but the writers decided she still needed a man to come in and save her.

Plotwise, Winchester is very typical for a supernatural horror. The rules for the ghosts are a little different than usual and there are both benevolent and malevolent ghosts present. Many of the dead are indigenous people, slaves, or poor which was a refreshingly honest inclusion of the horrors of history. The jump scares are the only source of horror, the cheapest of scares. The atmosphere is flat and wasted on the unique house depicted. Overall, Winchester is a disappointment that doesn't bring much new to the supernatural genre and whose plot doesn't justify using the compelling true story behind it.

My rating: 2/5 fishmuffins

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Women in Horror: Raid by K.S. Merbeth

Clementine lost her family and her town due to tyrannical Jedediah, who demands increasing tithes from those who live in his lands. Now, she works as a bounty hunter, making ends meet in a solitary existence. Longing for vengeance but seeing it as impossible, she goes about her life being rebuffed by townies for her scarred face and violent job. One day, a strangers gives her a tip on how to get into Jedediah's mansion undetected which amazingly turns out to be true and not a trap. Clementine binds and gags him and runs into a problem. No one knows what he looks like, so it's hard to convince anyone to pay her for his bounty. Her journey takes her into the wild wastes full of danger and possibilities.

Raid wasn't exactly what I expected in the follow-up to Bite. It follows a separate set of characters that intersect with the oddly heartwarming cannibal crew at the end of the events of the first book and beyond. The characters are very different and expand the view of this post-apocalyptic world. Clementine is a competent bounty hunter that misses her role as town hero. As a child, she killed raiders to save her town and family, but when she kills a stranger, her parents set firm rules that she still carries with her to keep calm and stay controlled. Underneath all her anger and cynicism, Clementine has a childish fantasy of being a hero recognized by people again. The townies view her as a necessary evil and won't hesitate to try to shortchange her pay at every opportunity, squarely leaving her as an outsider.

Once she kidnaps Jedediah, everything changes. No one will take him, so Clementine decides to see the Saint out in the wastes who will take any raider. Together, they encounter rival bounty hunters, a huge wave of raiders, townies, and the barren, dangerous wastes. Jedediah seems a lot less imposing than his reputation and he later reveals himself to be Jedediah's son. Jed is Clementine's opposite in almost every way. Social situations are easy for him as he knows how to tell a good story and get almost anyone on his side with his affable nature and easy going attitude that mask a masterfully manipulative mind. He's also surprisingly capable with a firearm in battle and makes coolheaded decisions. Over the course of their journey, Clementine grows to trust and even like him because he treats her as a capable person, not a monster, and gets to know her despite her spiky demeanor.

Raid is a fun, adventurous read from a different perspective. The story has twists and turns that I didn't see coming and familiar characters popping up here and there. I loved the ending so much. Some may find it too abrupt, but I felt it reflects reality that doesn't wait for a stirring speech. The only aspect I didn't like was Clementine easily turning against her ideals. I felt they were too deeply ingrained to turn so easily even with her loathing for others and need for acceptance. Other than that, Raid is a good follow-up to Bite and I'd love to see at least another few books in this series.

My rating: 4/5 fishmuffins

Monday, February 12, 2018

Upcoming Women in Horror Projects: Directors

TThese are the upcoming projects of women directors that I can't wait for.

* Tigers Are Not Afraid, Issa Lopez

I have heard nothing but good things about this indie feature from every podcast that has covered it in addition to accolades from Guillermo del Toro and Stephen King. This dark fairy tale feature is about a gang of five children surviving on the streets amidst brutal gang violence and the resulting ghosts. It sounds so much like The Devil's Backbone or Pan's Labyrinth and I love the mixture of fantasy and brutal reality. I can't wait until the film gets distribution because I will be first in line to see it in the theater.

* Revenge, Coralie Fargeat

I'm not normally into rape revenge movies because they tend to be incredibly exploitative under the guise of being empowering. However, Jen and Dawn from the Women in Caskets podcast loved it and admitted it isn't their usual fare. As far as I can tell, the plot follows the typical rape revenge model and I'm curious to see what makes it so different from others in the genre. It looks incredibly bloody and brutal plus people keep talking about Fargeat's point of view. It's supposed to release theatrically in early 2018, but I haven't heard anything about it. Look for it's release on Shudder.

* The Nightingale, Jennifer Kent

Jennifer Kent's debut film The Babadook made a huge impression and I'm eager to see The Nightingale, an 1820's Austrialian period film about a woman who witnessed the brutal deaths of her family and seeks revenge against the British soldier responsible. It takes place in a penal colony in Tasmania and I expect it has lots to say about colonization. I hope it emotionally resonates as The Babadook did and I have high expectations for it. It's set to release August 10.

* Rabid, Jen and Sylvia Soska

This remake was announced in 2016, but it's finally being made due to Shout! Studios. The film is set to follow Rose who undergoes experimental stem cell treatment after being in a horrific accident. The treatment heals her and makes her beautiful with a horrific side effect. I'm wondering if that side effect will still be a phallic stinger under her arm with death hugs like the original. I am so excited to see their version of this flawed Cronenberg classic.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Women in Horror: Hostel II (2007)

* spoilers *

A group of college students travels across Europe for art and fun. Beth is sensible as only a final girl is. She acts as the voice of reason to her group and fights to protect them. Her wealth seems to embarrass her as she wants to experience Europe as a college student would. Her best friend is Whitney, a wild, free spirited woman who is looking for a good time whether it's drugs, men, or parties. Both temper each other's demeanor and they look out for each other. Lorna is the idealistic, childish woman who guilted Beth into letting her travel with them. She is extremely innocent and inexperienced, but sees the wonder in the world. Axelle joins them in Rome, where she modeled for their art class, and followed them on their train to Prague, where she recovered Lorna's stolen iPod and rerouted their course to Slovakia and their luxurious hot springs.

On the train and for their rest of the trip, the women experience harassment from men. On the train, flirty men lure them with promises of drugs and turn mean when rejected. These men harass them, grab Whitney to keep her from leaving, tell lewd and sinister jokes, call them a tease and a cunt, and then threaten to hurt them on the long ride to Prague. Beth yells and curses back, a rare instance of uncontrolled anger, and the men follow through by searching the cars for them. While they were gone, a man also steals Lorna's iPod and ransacks their car. It felt realistic, especially the guys going from flirty to insulting, and shows the difference of experience traveling between men and women. The incident also made Axelle's suggestion to pamper themselves instead of spend more time with disgusting guys seem much more appealing.

Once they arrive in Slovakia, they settle into their hostel and hang out while their passports are being scanned and sent to rich bidders. The juxtaposition of their relaxed conversations and while their lives are literally being sold to some rich person is chilling. It's more comparative to human trafficking and it's the first time we see the other side to Elite Hunting. The rich bidders look relatively normal and pause in their golf game, meeting, or lunch to buy someone to kill. Todd wins the bid for Whitney and Beth for himself and his friend Stuart. Todd is a brash man, full of himself and eager to do more and more extreme things to prove his manhood. Stuart is his reluctant friend who feels emasculated by his successful wife who seems to have no respect for him. Together, they do everything from taking drugs to hiring sex workers.

Once the women settle in, Beth, Lorna, Whitney, and Axelle attend a harvest festival where they drink, dance, and have fun. Beth is on guard the whole time, politely rejecting men, throwing out booze handed to her by someone she doesn't know, and making Lorna promise to run off with some guy she just met. Her goal is to have fun and stay safe by staying together and aware. Unfortunately, Lorna doesn't listen and goes off by herself anyway. This could be because she drank alcohol when Whitney told her it was safe. It's horrible to do this to a friend, especially one as inexperienced in a public place that is shown to be unsafe. It's unfortunately portrayed as a good way to get her to relax. A local man asks Beth to dance and when she politely says no, he says "I could have saved you." He basically refused to safe her from Elite Hunting because she wasn't interested in him. Later, he's painted as a victim because he was beaten, but he's just as much a villain to me to bargain her life like that.

Women are seen on all side of the Elite Hunting organization. Previously, they were only seductresses to lure men. Here, Axelle takes on that role, but has befriend the women, get to know them, and stay with them for days to lure them. A woman wins the bid for Lorna and enacts an Elizabeth Bathory type fantasy where she bathes in Lorna's blood in one of the most memorable kill scenes in recent history. The older woman is taking the life and beauty of the younger one to stave off aging and death, contrary to nature and the norms of society. A woman puts on Whitney's makeup to Todd's specifications as she probably prepares many other people for their deaths as well. Finally, women are the majority of the victims we see as Lorna, Whitney, and Beth are all restrained for their buyers to do whatever they like.

Todd is eager to murder someone with immature reasoning. He thinks others will sense that he's killed someone like teens can sense when a guy has had sex. Outwardly, he's completely into the whole situation and mocks Stuart for being reticent. Stuart seems to be ready to quit the whole thing. Both of their demeanors change when in that kill room. Todd starts out calling Whitney a slut and mocking her for screaming at a saw in her face. When that saw accidentally slices into her face, he sickens at the reality of the situation and refuses to continue, leading to his death. Stuart, on the other hand, unleashes all the repressed rage at his wife on Beth. He's frustrated at the lack of respect and sex. Although it was surprising the first time I watched it in the theater 11 years ago, it's not surprising anymore because of how many "nice guys" turn out to be skeevy creeps.

The ending of the film is satisfying to a degree. Beth slices Stuart's penis off for calling her a cunt and also kills Axelle in revenge. However, Beth only survives because of her extreme wealth. Any other person without it would have died. It makes sense within the world, but I wish she had outsmarted them instead. Hostel II is a bit of a rehash of the first film with key changes. I was always on the women's side in this film while the men in the first were the most insufferable people. I wanted them to die and watching them have sex with attractive women for the first half of the film wasn't entertaining. This film had friendship and genuine caring between the main characters. We get to know the characters much better and spend more time with them. While this film isn't perfect, I found it to be superior to the first in every way.

My rating: 4/5 fishmuffins

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Women in Horror: Whispering Corridors (1998)

* spoilers *

At Jookran High School for Girls, Ms. Park, a teacher, is convinced that there is a ghost before she appears to hang herself. The students are obviously shocked and saddened when they find her body. The school administration threatens them into staying quiet and life goes on as usual with a cruel teacher taking her place. The three students who found her, Ji-Oh, Jae-Yi, and Jung-Sook are drawn into the mystery of the teacher's death and the supposed ghost Jin-Ju along with So-Young and a young teacher named Eun-Young. Is there a ghost or is it simply the sins of the past repeating in the present?

Whispering Corridors is a well crafted supernatural horror that has volumes to say about female friendship and how society treats teens. The film starts with these teens in the same class, but estranged. Some used to have friendships and others never really spoke to each other. Ji-Oh is a bit of an outcast because of her faith in the supernatural and abrasive nature. Jae-Yi is timid while Jung-Sook is disinterested, mean, and obsessed with her grades. So-Young has the highest grade in the class but only aspires to have a college degree to get ahead in life. Jae-Yi tries to connect with Ji-Oh over their shared role of class monitor, but Ji-Oh rebuffs her. All of the girls are isolated from others due to how the teachers and administration treats them.

The teachers almost all practice corporal punishment (that could include a literal beating) on top of cruel comments, humiliation, and overtly comparing students to one another. Obedient, "good" students are praised and used to degrade other "bad" students who in turn resent the "good" students. Most of the teachers are men who abuse their power to punish students they don't like unjustly and spend extra time with students they find attractive. "Mad Dog" or Mr. Oh, Ms. Park's replacement is one of the worst offenders who uses homophobic slurs to humiliate the girls, gets uncomfortably close to So-Young, and cuts off Ji-Oh's only emotional outlet. Even the principal treats both the school and its students with disrespect. No wonder the students try to keep to themselves and keep their heads down. The only outlier is Eun-Young, a former student who is objectified and verbally attacked just like the students. She quietly rebels against them behind their backs and connects with students, but does nothing overt to rebel against or change the current system.

After the harrowing experience of finding Ms. Park's body, most of the students eventually join together due to the increased abuse of the teachers. Ji-Oh paints a picture of Ms. Park's body to express her feelings and it's found by Mr. Oh and destroyed. He bars her from ever painting again, but Jae-Yi offers to teach Ji-Oh to paint. They meet in a defunct school building said to be haunted where So-Young also goes to smoke alone. The three girls become friends in a place no one wants to go and where authority will never venture. The only one that continues to be out in the cold is Jung-Sook, whose antisocial, odd behavior becomes more and more offputting. All of her time is spent studying and still she lags behind So-Young, loudly proclaimed by Mr. Oh followed by a biting insult towards her. Jung-Sook seems to hang herself, reflecting Ms. Park's death.

History is repeating itself. After the students are sent reeling from this new loss, Eun-Young realizes that So-Young and Jung-Sook's relationship reflects her own with Jin-Ju, a girl who died when she was in school. Both pairs of girls used to be close friends until school pressures and teacher's treatment tore them apart. Both relationships ended with death. Jin-Ju has been posing as various students throughout the years (presently as Jae-Yi) and perpetuates this cycle, symbolizing the sins of the administration that have never been acknowledged and whose behavior refuses to change despite the recurrence. She wanted someone to love her despite the adversity. The cycle breaks only when Ji-Oh and Eun-Young vow to fix the problems and let Jin-Ju rest in piece. It's not the best resolution, but I enjoy a ghost motivated by love (whether romantic or platonic) and acceptance who goes away rather peacefully after so much violence.

Whispering Corridors is atmospheric and a surprisingly sad movie. It substitutes society with an oppressive, patriarchal school that has obvious reflections of real life to show how women and girls are treated. They often respond by cutting themselves off emotionally and enduring in silence to survive. Although it isn't specified, it might also be a reflection of how queer relationships are treated as well, since homophobic comments meant to hurt and mock are thrown by the teachers. I'm not usually a fan of ghost films, but if it's done really well like this one, I can't help but like it.

My rating: 4.5/5 fishmuffins