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TV Review: Into the Badlands

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AMC’s Into the Badlands

I’ve been watching Into the Badlands, and I think I’ll categorize it under guilty pleasure. It’s like a good mix of all those classic Chinese martial arts movies (Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, any Jackie Chan film) with impossible feats using swords—Daniel Wu is amazing, like Jackie Chan who was a mentor, and it’s fun to watch. Badlands is some sort of weird world where the baron’s banned guns and people seem to use candles, mostly, but they have cars, opium and oil refineries. Lots of opium for some reason. (there will be some spoilers)

So, it doesn’t quite make sense that you have everything from vixens in skirts and high heels fighting, skintight dominatrix style outfits, steam punk clothing, weird semi-Chinese armor, and the proles in medieval castoffs. I would get tired of wearing all of one color which is what the “clippers” (warriors) wear for each baron they serve.

It’s awfully gory yet campy (think Kill Bill) and a future where violence is always the first answer, a bunch of conniving assholes as barons, and a lone warrior with honor. Yeah, part western, part martial arts, and the theme songs reflects this. I do love the clothing and the action scenes but some stuff is predictable and some is so dumb.

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Ally Ioannides plays Tilda, one of the Widow’s butterflies flown free.

Take the “Blind Cannibal Assassins” episode. Our intrepid adventurers (there is a sidekick and a man hunting them who feels he was done wrong—and made fun of because of silly “honor”) stumble upon blind cannibals. These people’s eyes were stabbed out by none other than our hero. All good conflict stuff, but for some reason, while these blind folks are so good in their blindness that they can do all sorts of crazy fighting feats and acrobatics—they can hear a breath, a concern, almost an idea, but somehow, they can’t hunt so they only hunt people. Yum yum! Because, yeah, once you’re made a monster you’re always a monster. They scrape their weapons along the walls of their underground cavern because if you’re blind you need to also live in squalor in the dark but preserve your dead babies in jars that you can’t see (I said there would be spoilers). And of course people who have been blind for a while actually already know where the walls are and can do it without touch. Oh, and these blind cannibals have an impeccable sense of color and all wear white. But they don’t wash and they don’t clean.

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Castor is a dark one, imbued with a mysterious power that only some have.

You can see some of the silliness here, used to make the show more visual, with more contrast between evil and good and downright crazy. The storyline is good enough and there are some interesting powers beside superhuman martial prowess. Who are those dark-eyed ones?

It’s absolutely unclear what happened to the world before but there seems to be a lot of space, and a lot of idiot barons running the show in their two-dimensional nastiness. Mayhem constantly ensues. Shot mostly in Ireland, there are awesome backdrops to the wars and petty intrigues. The storyline has enough twists and the acting is competent and it’s visually enthralling so I’m still watching it. And hey, the lead actor is Asian. That’s refreshing. I’ll keep watching this guilty pleasure.

 

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Women in Horror: Caitlin Marceau

WiHMX-horizontal-WhiteCanadian Caitlin Marceau talks about horror in film and a few Canadian authors of horror fiction today for Women in Horror Month.

Great Canadian Horror

When you think of great American horror authors, a myriad of names come to mind: Stephen King, Edgar Allan Poe, Anne Rice, Dean Koontz, Shirley Jackson… the list goes on and on. When we think of great British horror authors, there’s also no shortage of names: Mary Shelley, Bram Stoker, Clive Barker, M. R. James, Neil Gaiman, Susan Hill… youMarceau JulianneSnow get the picture.

But how many popular Canadian horror authors can you come up with?

It’s okay if you need a moment to think about it, most people do.

In truth, there aren’t many Canadian horror authors who are as popular or internationally renowned as those from other English language countries. Australia has the likes of Angela Slater, Kirstyn McDermott, and Greig Beck, and even New Zealand has Maurice Gee, but when you mention Canadian horror most people stare into the distance and come up empty.

Although there are a few powerhouse names that can be found here in the great white Bittennorth—like Black Christmas’ Roy Moore, Ginger Snaps’ John Fawcett, and horror twins Jen and Sylvia Soska—few of them are known for their literary contributions. Even David Cronenberg, praised internationally for his work (which includes The Fly, Dead Ringers, Scanners, and Shivers), is left out of the authorial conversation despite his reputation and having released his debut novel, Consumed, back in 2014.

But why does this matter?

Because storytelling is an invaluable tool in building a nation’s identity, an issue that Canada has struggled with since it was first formed. We’re a country with a complicated past, and an even bigger identity crisis. Summed up best in Earle Birney’s poem “Can. Lit.,” we’re a nation that’s always been at odds with ourselves, at odds with our history and origins, and at odds with what it even means to be Canadian (just ask someone from Quebec, Alberta, and Nunavut). Where other countries have fought to forge empires, to gain independence, and to find their place in the world, Canada has never really needed to. We didn’t revolt against England’s rule, our internal conflict between the French and the English never had the same violent conclusion that America’s Civil War had, and so—as Birney eloquently writes in his poem—”it’s only by our lack of ghosts/we’re haunted.”

Marceau OmensAlthough, if Canadian women in horror have anything to say about it, hopefully not for long.

Horror fiction has always been a great way of bringing people together. It gives audiences a safe space to explore their deepest fears and understand national anxieties. Horror also allows people to explore socio-political issues in a visceral, engaging, and sometimes more approachable way. While film has been especially great at this (just look at 2017’s Get Out, written and directed by Jordan Peele, which explores racial tension and problematic white liberalism in the United States or 1954’s Godzilla, by Japanese director Ishirō Honda, which explored the fear of nuclear weaponry), literary works have been effective in this too (including both Rosemary’s Baby and The Stepford Wives, by American novelist Ira Levin, or Dracula by U.K. born Bram Stoker).

While Canada has a slew of great horror films that examine everything from gender issues to sexual assault through a cinematic horror lens, more and more female authors are doing their part to build Canada’s pantheon of horror creatures.

Nancy Kilpatrick is reinventing vampire lore through her Thrones of Blood series, and Marceau Nancymade speculative fiction with erotic undertones mainstream long before Stephenie Meyer. Kelley Armstrong is a fan favourite and legendary horror author, with her thriteen-book Otherworld series inspiring the show Bitten (2014-2016). Armstrong not only caters to adult horror fans, but has written several young adult trilogies (like the Darkest Powers & Darkest Rising series) which appeal to young readers and older ones alike. Her work features a diverse range of women, and explores both the idea of what it means to be a woman and what really makes a monster. Julianne Snow’s Days with the Undead series takes a northern approach to zombies, and breathes new life into an otherwise lifeless monster.

Canadian women are creating a national horror canon, are encouraging more women to get involved in the genre, and are inspiring new readers. It’s a legacy that—unlike Canada’s complicated identity crisis—will hopefully last for years to come.

Caitlin Marceau is a Canadian author and professional editor living and working in Montreal. She holds a B.A. in Creative Writing, is a member of both the Horror Writers Association and the Quebec Writers’ Federation, and spends most of her time writing horror and experimental fiction.

Marceau_AuthorPhotoShe’s been published for journalism, poetry, as well as creative non-fiction, and has spoken about horror literature at several Canadian conventions. Her workshop “Bikinis, Brains, and Boogeymen: How To Write Realistic Women in Horror,” was acclaimed by Yell Magazine, and her first co-authored collection, Read-Only: A Collection of Digital Horror, was released in June of 2017.

As of 2018, she is the co-owner and CEO of Sanitarium, an indie publishing house dedicated to encouraging diverse voices in horror media.

If she’s not covered in ink or wading through stacks of paper, you can find her ranting about issues in pop culture or nerding out over a good book.

For more information, or just to say hi, you can reach her through infocaitlinmarceau@gmail.com, her website, or via Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

 

 

 

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Women in Horror: Halli Lilburn

WiHMX-horizontal-WhiteHalli Lilburn, author and editor, speaks about what makes horror addictive.

Halli on Horror

Horror has its perks. A rush of hormones and adrenaline is addictive. The fight or flight mechanism in our brain is activated without ever being in danger. A good jump-scare is equal to extreme sports. But if you analyze the underlying conflicts behind monster versus man, the message can continue to disturb you for months and even years.

lilburnMy parents wouldn’t allow me to go to a friend’s and watch Poltergeist, so I snuck out. I was thirteen. Curiosity and rebellion were my motivators. Mostly curiosity. I wanted to know what happened to human beings when their souls became corrupted and what kind of damage could they do to the living. I learned that it didn’t take much for a soul to cross the line from human to monster. It was the first time a show gave me nightmares. The morbidity rate on and off screen proved the truth of the rumors that demons had cursed the set. One actress was strangled to death by an ex-boyfriend, and the main character also died of mysterious health complications. I will never watch those movies again. The idea of retribution from beyond the grave will never not be scary. Thirteen is a very vulnerable time for a developing brain.

I am a vivid dreamer. Could be inherited from my dad or could be the anti-depressants Lilburn weshallbemonstersI’m taking. Probably both. When people ask me where I get my bizarre ideas the answer is usually a nightmare. And the more outlandish the better. In horror, a writer can get away with anything. In my story Hidden Twin I found a way to make one body rip apart to find another body inside it like Donna in Poltergeist III (spoilers).

Still, there are areas in the genre that I avoid: (living) serial killers and body mashing are not my cup of tea. The thrill of witnessing a murder is petrifying but once you are dead, it’s over. The stories that get to me are the hauntings; images that churn in your mind over and over for years, being trapped inside your mind, not knowing what is real, losing control of your sanity. Ghosts are especially convincing when they reach out to their families for help, but their method of communication so cryptic it fails. When the dead stick around the living are bound to get hurt. Some examples include The Others, Sixth Sense, Delirium, and Haunting of Hill House. Like I said, if it gives me nightmares, it is well written.

SKULL SPEAK

A skull is what I see through

Through my hollow eyes

A skull is what I speak through

With chattering teeth

Always smiling

With no lips it’s impossible not to

A ribcage is what I love through

It is cold here in your heart

Can you find a way to love me?

The skeleton sits on my shelf

A corpse of me

Sporting a felt hat and smiling

Always smiling

Showing teeth in a carefree, neurotic way

“You are obsessed with me” it laughs

I tap its tiny noggin

I let you take up precious space on my shelf

Precious space meant for books.

It replied, “Ah, but the stories I could tell.”

Lilburn steampunkHalli Lilburn writes speculative, sci-fi and poetry, but she always tries to spice it up with something horrific. Her most recent releases include stories in anthologies: We Shall be Monsters by Renaissance Press, Tesseracts 22: Alchemy and Artifacts by Edge Science Fiction and Fantasy. She is a freelance editor with essentialedits.ca and you can read more at her blog.

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Women in Horror: Colleen Anderson

WiHMX-horizontal-WhiteIt’s the ides of February. Well technically, that would be true possibly every four years, but it is halfway through the month and there are still many other women in horror to showcase. I would be remiss if I left myself out of the Women in Horror Month. So I too will talk about how I stumbled upon horror.

story collection, fantasy, horror, SF

Available on Amazon

Like many of the people who have already posted, The Haunting of Hill House and The Lottery were stories that stayed with me but I really don’t think I read them when I was a child. (And I have to mention the very good TV series of The Haunting of Hill House.) Most likely I watched these as a teenager. My first brush with horror was earlier with movies though. Not so much Dracula for me, though I do remember Frankenstein. When I was about six or seven my parents fought so badly that my mother would bundle us in jammies into the car and off to the drive-in we would go. The House of Seven Gables and The Fall of the House of Usher with Vincent Price, another king of horror, are forever conflated into one movie for me. I was that young and my mother certainly didn’t seemed worried about our young minds being warped.

Those two movies where Vincent’s character pickaxes his sister and buries her in the walls (or under the floors) stuck with me, along with the first nightmare I remember at age six. After that, the endless recycling of The Twilight Zone and the Outer Limits coupled with reading Edgar Allan Poe and Ray Bradbury made me who I am today.

horror, dark fantasy, death, speculative fiction, Season's End.

The Beauty of Death contains “Season’s End”

While I always liked the weird I was not a fan of horror. I detested most horror and gore movies. Slasher and murderer thrillers were not and still aren’t really my cup of tea. But the strange is and always has been, and that may be reflected more in the shows I watched and books I read.

When it came to writing, I was writing fantasy and SF. I wasn’t writing horror. I was a member of SFWA for a long time before I even knew of the Horror Writers Association (HWA). But I found stories I sent to magazines of SF or fantasy would be rejected with a note that they didn’t do horror. I was confused; maybe I still am, but my stories didn’t seem scary to me. Of course, they came from my mind so I knew where they were going.

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Colleen’s launch for A Body of Work takes place Feb. 23 at The Heatley.

Somewhere along the way I started to submit to some of the darker markets and like the sun setting on the longest day, I finally figured out that I sold more stories if I went darker. I have written a few truly terrifying depictions of horror in the gore sense, such as my flash piece “Amuse Bouche,” but while it was an exercise for me, it wasn’t where my heart lay. A writer friend once asked, “What theme are you exploring? We all explore a theme.” Hers were animals. Another writer’s was children…

 

I never thought I explored one theme until I put together my first collection of fiction Embers Amongst the Fallen. At that point, it became clear that I do morality tales. Not all of them but there is often a disturbing moral dilemma that a character must face (“The Healer’s Touch,” “An Ember Amongst the Fallen,” “Season’s End,” “Hold Back the Night”). In that sense, as opposed to the “other” outside of you invading your sanctity of life or home, it is the “other” inside. What deals with the devil will a character make to save something dear? I find that extremely interesting and personal, something to which we can all relate.

SF, fantasy, horror, jabberwock, mad hatter, bandersnatch, Alice, March hare, dormouse, mock turtle

Alice Unbound contains 22 speculative stories and poems inspired by the world and character of Lewis Carroll.

As with many of the writers here, we have a fascination with vampires, or werewolves, or creepy crawlies, or disturbing dolls, or clowns, or the dark, or subterranean depths or things hidden in fog or water or space. Just a readers do. It is as old as humankind–that fear and need to conquer it, and an intense curiosity about the unknown and the strange.

I have written several stories that also explore the psychopath/sociopath (modern studies don’t really distinguish between the two) intellect. The mind encased in a human body where that the person doesn’t think like a regular human. It is alien. I’ve look at aspects of this mind in such stories as “Exegesis of the Insecta Apocrypha,” “Sins of the Father,” “The Book With No End,” and “Gingerbread People.” The first was one story that very much disturbed me in the writing, and the last was an examination of the nature of evil based off of the two Canadian serial killers Paul Bernardo and Carla Homolka, where she was given a lighter sentence because she said he made her do the terrible crimes. Can you be made to commit horrors that go against your fundamental core, and who is more evil–the person committing the crime or the one making that person do it?

And this gets down to what is the scariest thing: to many it is man/woman as monster, the feral side, the side the loses control; like Dracula, like werewolves, like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. You could say my fascination with the weird is my fascination with people and that no matter how normal all of us look there is something that makes us individual, and sometimes it is disturbing. Thankfully though, most of us are just  harmless eccentrics.

hoodieColleen Anderson is a Canadian author with over two hundreds works published including fiction and poetry. She has two fiction collections, Embers Amongst the Fallen, and A Body of Work which was published by Black Shuck Books, UK in 2018. She has been longlisted for a Stoker Award and shortlisted for the Aurora and Gaylactic Spectrum Awards, as well as having placed in several poetry contests. A recipient of a Canada Council Grant, Colleen has served on Stoker and British Fantasy Award juries, copyedited for publishers, and edited three anthologies (Alice Unbound: Beyond Wonderland, Exile Publishing 2018).

Look for some of her work in Canadian Dreadful, Tesseracts 22, Heroic Fantasy Quarterly, The Pulp Horror Book of Phobias and By the Light of Camelot. A book launch for A Body of Work will take place in Vancouver of Feb. 23, at 3pm at The Heatley. Come by and say hi and hear Colleen read. Read a review of the collection here.

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Women in Horror: Maura McHugh

WiHMX-horizontal-WhiteToday we stop in Ireland to hear from Maura McHugh for Women in Horror Month. Maura gives a thoughtful review of a movie cult classic: Ginger Snaps.

Howling for Blood: Power and Puberty in Ginger Snaps

One of my favourite werewolf films is Ginger Snaps (2000), based on a story by Karen Walton and John Fawcett, with a screenplay by Walton, and directed by Fawcett. It has developed into a cult classic for a reason: it’s a well-crafted film about the body horror of puberty and learning to deal with new and powerful urges.

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Cult classic Ginger Snaps explores werewolves and puberty.

Central to its story is the bond between two sisters, Ginger (Katharine Isabelle) and Brigitte (Emily Perkins) Fitzgerald, who don’t fit in at school due to their death obsession and Goth tendencies. Most of their peers are relentlessly replicating middle-class American attitudes exemplified by the boxy suburban landscape they inhabit. Although 16 and 15 years old, they remain on the cusp of puberty, so an interest in boys is just beginning to impinge upon their intense friendship.

Ginger is bitten by a werewolf just as she begins to menstruate, and she starts to change in literal and metaphoric ways. Brigitte tries to protect her sister as Ginger becomes more predatory and lost to her lycanthropic self. Power for Ginger is depicted as becoming more sexually aware and depending upon her ability to draw male attention. There’s the vamp walk down the High School hallway with the boys biting their fists at her attractiveness (a scene central to so many teen films), but this is not the “mousy girl becomes Prom Queen” dynamic. Ginger has always been attractive but was previously uncomfortable with the attention it brought.

This is the Jekyll & Hyde narrative with the girls representing both sides of the self. The werewolf is violent ID, rampaging without restraint. The more Ginger enjoys her destructive power the more alien she becomes. The physical transformation into a werewolf is slow in Ginger Snaps, it hits peak power during the full moon but it is a continuous build. As it progresses, the bond between the sisters erodes. Brigitte begins to embody the rational self that Ginger has rejected, so Ginger will eventually be driven to destroy her sister.

Brigitte attempts to figure out a way to stop her sister from becoming a beast (Ginger graduates from killing animals to killing humans with ease), but Ginger enjoys the power and has the strength to carry out her lethal impulses. “I’m a goddamn force of nature. I feel like I could do just about anything.”

The werewolf is a metaphor for the physical transformation (hair growth, strange appetites and smells) and the emotional roller coaster triggered by the onset of menstruation: mood swings, hormonal imbalances, etc. The film glories in its taboo subject and even offers a biology lesson about some of the more unpleasant aspects of monthly bleeding described in plain language. Older women encourage the girls to embrace it. Menstruation−that hidden, messy issue that usually described in euphemisms (one of the film’s taglines is “She’s got the curse”)− is central to the film.

An overlooked and under-appreciated character in Ginger Snaps is Pamela (Mimi McHugh ginger-snaps-sisters-togetherRogers), the girls’ mother. She has a calm, open and nice relationship with her children, but she doesn’t suppress or shame them. When she realises what’s happening after discovering a dead body, she tells Brigitte, “First thing tomorrow I’ll let the house fill up with gas and I’ll light a match.” The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. A mother’s instinct to protect is as strong as a werewolf’s need to devour.

When the two sisters confront their estrangement Brigitte says, “You want me? You want me, stop hurting everyone else and take me, take me!” But Ginger is too far gone, and Brigitte is unrecognisable to her.

Brigitte realises that she needs to reconcile the two parts and willingly takes the curse to demonstrate to Ginger that she will continue to have an ally who understands what she is experiencing. She has faith in a cure that will save them, as developed by the local weed grower Sam (Kris Lemche). Ginger’s earlier beau Jason (Jesse Moss) has not been a true threat to the girls, but Sam is thoughtful, smart and rejects Ginger’s advances. When he attempts to help Brigitte cure Ginger, the fully transformed Ginger attacks him with all her rage.

Brigitte shares a communion of blood with her sister (courtesy of Sam), and though she feels the draw of lycanthropic power, she cannot lose herself to it. She rejects this frightening power, doubting her ability to control it (and she’s given no sign that’s possible).

The final denouement happens in the sisters’ bedroom, place of their childhood and shared secrets. Now a symbol of their divide.

Brigitte knows what the uncontrolled monster will bring: a destruction of her ability to fit into the world rationally. “I’m not dying in this room with you!” she yells. But it is werewolf Ginger’s leap onto Brigitte’s knife that kills Ginger—a deliberate act or animal impulse? The beast cannot win against life’s sharp realities.

The girls had played at death in their earlier, staged death scenes, but truly being riven from each another is far more tragic than they ever imagined. Brigitte weeps over the corpse of her werewolf sister/self. To live in the world, she has given up something essential.

Ginger Snaps remains a rare horror film that concentrates exclusively on women’s struggles with their powerful urges and desires, and the double difficultly involved with inhabiting that power in a healthy way in a society that continues to mistrust powerful women−for at any point they might bleed, and of course, lose control…

mchugh-2018You can view a trailer to Ginger Snaps here.

Maura McHugh is a horror writer living in Galway, Ireland, who writes articles, prose, comic books, plays and screenplays. Most recently she wrote a book about David Lynch’s Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, and has a collection of fiction forthcoming from NewCon Press in the UK. Her web site is splinister.com and she tweets as @splinister.

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Women in Horror: Robyn Alezanders

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Today, Robyn Alezanders talks about acting, Dracula and the role of consent and sexuality with vampires.

Female Vampires in the Age of #MeToo

A couple of months ago I decided to challenge myself, try to check off a bucket list item, and hopefully get my creative mojo back by auditioning for a play. Not just any play either, but a community production of Dracula, and proud to say I landed it, portraying one of the vampire brides/Vixens. An absolute dream role, one I’ve coveted since I fell in love with vampires and the horror genre almost four decades ago.

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Robyn Alezanders playing the bloodthirsty Vixen

The entire theater experience thus far has been amazing and inspiring, thanks to an amazing woman director and a cast and crew who have made me, the newbie, feel entirely at home. Everyone is very open, very candid about themselves and what they bring to their roles, and as to be hoped and expected for, consent is strongly instituted. In a production where the story dictates a lot of touching and physical interaction, we have all discussed comfort levels and boundaries.

Dracula involves multiple obsessions: sex, feasting (food), faith, love, life, and death, but it’s the sexual component that has me most intrigued. It’s easy to analyze the Transylvanian count and see the flaws in his seductive dance, especially when focusing on his behavior with Lucy and Mina. He pursues who he wants and takes what he wants, and yet it’s that kind of control that many men and women find incredibly appealing about vampires. I, like many of those admirers, have a vampire fetish, extremely turned on by the neck biting, the submission, the feeling of being carried away into the depths of erotic imagination.

During these rehearsals, I’ve thought back to my goth nightclub days, where I alternated between “baby vamp,” hair pulled up in Pebbles Flintstone style, baggy white nightgown, and large wooden upside down cross, and “sexy vamp,” black lace, velvet, and fishnet stockings. Under either persona, I attracted flirtatious responses, emulating that compelling creature that’s become no pun intended, a forever classic in literary, cinematic, pop culture, music, and role-playing ventures.

The Vixens are eye candy and then some in three momentous scenes of this production. Clad in vintage flowing wedding dresses, we slither and crawl, evoking that interesting line between lust and fear−sadistic, wild, feral women ready to pounce on what (and who) they desire. It’s many a heterosexual man’s fantasy, isn’t it, to have four bewitching women all over him, despite the ultimate reveal that they bear more than just a sexual appetite?

We fondle, grope, and hold Harker down, moaning, cooing, giggling, and sniffing, exhibiting an over-excitement at hopefully satiating our hungers. And this in particular has me thinking about the role reversal of the Vixens vs Dracula−the portrayal of aggressive, overpowering, coercive women. Are we simply owning our sexuality, that which we should, that which men often already do, or are we, in the same context of dissecting Dracula, something more suggestively sinister? Harker is a perfect match for the virginal Mina−he is conservative, cautious, a by-the-rules gentleman. It is that purity that adds to Dracula’s attraction to Mina, and the obvious contradiction between her and Lucy, who has presumably not behaved as virtuously with some suitors. If Lucy is still indeed a virgin, she is at least a lot more self-aware of her beguiling wiles than Mina.

Alezanders - Dracula Vixens and Harker (002)

Harker being seduced by the Vixens

In the seduction scene between Harker and the Vixens, he is asleep, and we guess that he is most likely dreaming of his beloved. He feels the Vixens licking, nibbling, and stroking him, but is in that blurry state of applying those actions to what he’s dreaming about. He may even naturally be getting turned on, softly mumbling his fiancée’s name, before suddenly snapping awake, and realizing who is atop him. We hold him down, force against his struggles, and still try to dominate him (three Vixens at his arms and chest, me at and then between his legs), only to be cast off by Dracula entering the room and commanding us to stop. In those fleeting moments we have with Harker awake, is he solely aghast at seeing our fangs for fear of being killed, or because it hints at dangerous, unwillful sex? Were our fangs not evident, were the threat not so obvious, how far would the sexual element go? Would he even dare to touch us back? What of the metaphors between the Vixens and sex?

Our movements are animalistic, that of jungle cats on the prowl. We are also each from different centuries, and in this production, reminiscent of or inspired by historical female killers. There are multiple layers to muse on – did their inherent viciousness draw them to Dracula, or something else? What are they now, as compared to their mortal lives as rulers, forces unto themselves, formidable women not to be messed with? They have an essence of Manson Girls about them, that semblance of subservience, and what does that say? They’re trying to satisfy their lusts in the only ways they know how, but that’s quelled by Dracula−we are ordered to obey, and pacified like children. Lucy Westenra roams freely after becoming a vampire−it is her conspicuous behavior as the “Bloofer Lady” that leads to her ultimate demise. Have the Vixens just been lucky in avoiding the attention of vampire hunters, or are they kept quarantined to the castle? And if held to their home, why them, and not Lucy? What is the full extent of Dracula’s dictation, and how does it affect the Vixens’ sexual drives?

Alezanders - Vamp Vixen (002)

Robyn as Vixen

As with any centuries-old story, it’s not unusual for adaptations and variations to echo societal issues or notable distinctions of the present time period. So what to do in this age, where we are redefining boundaries, encouraging and supporting more outspoken discussions, and pushing #MeToo to the forefront of conversations? What are the obligations, if any, from horror writers, women horror writers, women horror writers who can personally relate to #MeToo?

Putting aside Dracula’s sole behavior being called into question and castigated for ignoring consent, what if the Harker seduction involved more than one male vampire pinning down a woman? Unless explicitly designed, promoted, or described as something otherwise, how would it not then seem a bit uncomfortable to watch or unseemly? Contrary to the titillation of multiple women trying to have their way with a guy, against his true will, strutting with sensual purpose, and oozing with their sense of empowerment.

Bela Lugosi in 1931 film Dracula. Creative Commons

As I said, I am loving this role simply because it’s personally awesome to portray a vampire, and because it has re-ignited a long dormant creative rut. But I’m also seeing the story in another light, and despite the still erotic components, also seeing that Dracula is not the only one with debatable actions. As horror writers, we evoke and depict that which scares and unsettles us, weaving commentary into our spooky scenes and monsters’ motivations. We create atmospheres that often have much more layers for analysis than the surface impressions and words. As writers in general, we also tend to insert our own experiences into stories, either as catharsis or as in-your-face terror.

Do I now soften the vicious women I write about? Mirroring real life, there are indeed women who are just as awful and criminal as men, so whether I keep my characters as mortal or otherworldly, they shouldn’t all be victims or the nicest gals around. At some point though, I may incorporate my own #MeToo experience into some story, which hearkening back to reality, would be in the guise of a male character. It’s all an entirely new scope to explore, in step with this recent landscape we are carving….one which may take interesting turns when (re)interpreted in creative works.

Robyn Alezanders made her horror debut with the short story, “Soul Stains,” in Des Lewis’ Alezanders Bio Pic (002)critically acclaimed Nemonymous 5, and earned an Honorable Mention in the 19th Year’s Best Fantasy & Horror. Her work has also appeared in The Mammoth Book of the Kama Sutra, Eternal Haunted Summer, and New Spirit Journal. She hopes to pursue more theatrical roles after Dracula, and to further explore the intricacy of haunting women characters.

https://nemonymous123456.wordpress.com/2013/05/11/soul-stains-robyn-alezanders/

https://www.amazon.com/Mammoth-Book-Kama-Sutra/dp/0762433930

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Movie Review: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

apes, chimps, planet of the apes, war, racism, simian virus

Copyright: 20th Century Fox

There will be massive spoilers and I realize this movie came out last year but others, like me might still be deciding if they want to watch it.

Many of us are familiar with the Planet of the Apes movie franchise. We have a secret love for the overall monkeyness of Roddy McDowall’s Cornelius in the original Planet of the Apes, and his subsequent role as Cornelius’s son, Caeser, as savior of ape and humankind. And for anyone who wonders, Caeser seems to be a chimpanzee (or possibly bonobo) in the ape family. There have been several versions of Planet of the Apes since those early years, in cinema and on TV. I haven’t seen them all.

With the great range of special effects and digital motion capture available now, any film is possible. Creating more realistic apes as well as developing great new plots should make for a lot of great cinema. And if you look at Rotten Tomatoes or other review sites Dawn of the Planet of the Apes rated high, to which I must say I’m truly stunned. Rise of the Planet of the Apes was good; it wasn’t great. And having Andy Serkis add his skills into realistic  primate movements of the ape definitely enhanced the visual richness of the film.

But…I just am not sure about the rest. Plot. We open with an idyllic scene of apes in the woods, then they move into the great hunt (even though apes are herbivores!). From this we understand their complex society and that they use mostly sign language. Pan to the lovely ape village and Caeser becoming a proud papa to a second son while the first, injured from a stupid move, looks on with doe eyes. The mother is thrown in as a later heart-string to pull, and isn’t even named; pretty much a token female if I ever saw one. But that’s not important. Caeser sits with a buddy overlooking his land and they speculate: Do you think they’re all gone? Haven’t seen one in ten years. We know what’s coming next. Enter the humans. This is called foreshadowing and is an acceptable plot device but gee, was it really needed?

Here’s where the blatant plot devices jumped up and shot me in the face. Dumb guy walking through the woods encounters two apes, Caeser’s son, Blue Eyes and friend Ash. Outnumbered, even though they’re standing there stunned, the guy shoots one which brings all apedom down on his ass, so that he and his compatriots are evicted by Caeser from the garden of Eden. The apes follow them back to their home (San Francisco).

Gary Oldman looks like he’s not the bad guy (for once), but the nominal leader of the little band of humans that have survived the simian virus that wiped out most of earth. But while everyone assures the humans that they are immune to the virus or they would already be dead, Gary, as Dreyfus, lives up to morally ambiguous bad buy status by believing the apes will come to kill humans because they are “animals.” Those of us with primate brains realize we’re all animals. Thankfully we’re not hit over the head with this comparison.

Malcolm (Jason Clarke) is the feeling guy who believes the apes are okay but they need to get to the dam and see if they can start the generators because San Fran is almost out of power. Really? It takes people 10 years to get off their butts to check this out? They’ve been getting by on what, frozen vegetables in all this time and nobody thought to look to the future until they have less than a month of power remaining? And neither the apes (in swinging distance) or the humans (in proximal driving distance) were aware of each other in all this time? Good lord. The humans deserve to die off if they’re this stupid. And somehow the apes didn’t know there is a dam nearby.

apes, chimpanzees, Dawn of Planet of the Apes

The noble ape rides up to the palisade of the humans. Copyright 20th Century Fox

So let’s back up a minute to the apes, who like to wear white warpaint across their ribs and faces. The female apes like to wear some sort of flower fringe over their mouths (why?) or on their brows as Caeser’s spouse does, because you know, apes have to follow human characteristics of gender differentiation. They also ride horses, though earlier they swung with ease and swiftness into the San Fran precincts. Did no one else notice the blatant comparison to the American Indians in the days of white settlers and the army? They ride their horses the same. They have spears whereas the humans have greater fire power, and eventually lay siege to the palisades of San Francisco. They fit the trope of the noble savage. But one caveat here: no matter how science fictional or fantastical our tales are, if there is war or aggressors they will always, always look like one cultural group or another; because we are human and only have our cultures for perspective.

Apes are noble…except for the bad guys. Dumb guy who shot the apes may as well be called Doubting Thomas and naysays everything, as a suspicious dude and isn’t moved by Caeser’s baby crawling all over them in cuteness. (By the way, what ape mother would allow her baby away from her side at such a young age, as in just born?) Of course Doubting Thomas is the only guy who can turn on the generators (really?) so he must come along and they know he’s skittish so no one searches him even though he’s a liability for violence. You know it’s going to go bad, right? Well it does but he’s not the initiator after the first shot.

baby ape, apes, Caeser, Planet of the Apes

Who doesn’t like an icebreaker moment with a little baby…that discovers a hidden gun? Copyright 20th Century Fox

Enter Koba, the ugly ape, scarred by human testing, hateful and distrustful and Caeser’s right-hand chimp. Koba wants to kill all the humans while back in the human camp Dreyfus wants to kill all the apes because, by god, they’re animals! We already know that ugly people/creatures are never the good guys. Blue Eyes loses faith with his human loving dad and joins Koba who goes to the human stockade and searches, to turn up their arsenal and folks doing target practice. Koba is so hateful, he mimics a happy chimp to cause homicide, and then arrives back in the ape lands to shoot Caeser, which of course no one sees. None of this was a surprise to me. I knew how almost all of it would play out from the first shot fired in the first 10 minutes. Koba or Doubting Thomas were going to start the inevitable war.

Caeser and Malcolm represent the calmer, peace lovers when everyone else is an over-the-top, two-dimensional hate monger. Things go bad, because you know they must, as Koba goes on a killing rampage, after locking up the good apes. But oh no, the leader is dead and only he can stop this madness. But guess what, he’s not dead. When the killing rampage began I tuned partly out and started playing solitaire. (Queue predictable killing sequence.)

Koba, apes, Dawn of Planet of the Apes, simian virus

Koba plays coy before becoming murderous. Copyright 20th Century Fox

Koba ends us killing Ash, Blue Eyes’ friend while Blue Eyes stands and watches with those big sad doe eyes. And Ash doesn’t really fight back at all. It’s the same thing that Frodo did in LOTR and it drove me nuts. Too much standing around and emoting with big, liquidy eyes. Do something!

Dreyfus has his last rally and is willing to kill all the humans (like Koba killing the apes) because of some weirdness that’s never clear. The apes can’t have the tower. So what? So he blows it sky high, along with himself. But while the good guys rally, the end is near and war will ensue, and away we go. Next, more Planet of the Apes remakes. Please please please, try to get a plot that’s half way original and not so predictable.

Overall, besides the awesome special effects, the plot was snoresville. I give this only two slippery banana peels.

 

 

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The Dark Side of Writing for the Dark Crystal

Dark Crystal, writing contests, skeksis, film, books

“I’ve got a great idea,” says the Skeksis. “Let’s rip off unsuspecting writers.” Copyright, The Jim Henson Company.

Here’s another one in the giant ripoff department. I blogged recently about Prada’s writing contest, which turned out not to be such a deal. Now, what’s even worse is that publisher Penguin Group is in cahoots with The Jim Henson Company to have a contest, which is actually a thin veneer for highway robbery. The contest is to write a story in the Dark Crystal world. The original concepts were by Brian Froud and Jim Henson brought it to life.

Entrants will be judged on different components from originality, characterization, storytelling, and overall writing ability. Five entrants will be chosen for the second round, which involves rewriting with input and editing from the judges. The winner will have a contract for a YA (young adult) novel in the Dark Crystal world. http://darkcrystal.com/authorquest/

Sounds good so far, right? It is, until you read the fine print. One, the contract is for $10,000. Twenty years ago, a first-time author could expect to get between $7,000 and $10,000 for a book. Not much increase in rate for twenty years, is it? None at all. A sad state of publishing and the way authors are treated. Charles Dickens could live on what he made as a writer. Most writers these days are making the same amount.

While that is a sad statement on the world of writing and making a living, it’s not the major issue with this “contest.” Guess what? By entering this contest, just entering your story, you lose the right to it, whether you win or not. That means you can’t ever try to sell it elsewhere. Now the fact is that Dark Crystal characters are copyrighted so you wouldn’t be able to take those characters but if you had a good story you could change the characters and world and still go with it. But you lose the story to the sponsors and they have the right to take your ideas and make a film or a book or anything else they want. Here’s the offensive passage:

gelfling, writing contests, Dark Crystal, Jim Henson

Mourn the gelflings, for they’re losing this war. Copyright, The Jim Henson Company

Each entry will be the sole property of the Sponsors. By competing in the Contest and/or accepting a prize, each entrant (including the prize winner) grants to Sponsors the right to edit, adapt, publish, copy, display, reproduce and otherwise use their entry in connection with this Contest and in any other way, in any and all forms of media now known or hereafter devised, throughout the world, in perpetuity, including publication on http://www.darkcrystal.com. Further, each entrant (including the prize winner) grants to Sponsors the right to use each entry and the winner’s name, likeness, and biographical information in advertising, trade and promotional materials, without notice, review or approval, or further compensation or permission, except as set forth herein, and except where prohibited by law. Sponsors are not obligated to use, publish, display or reproduce any entry.

Buyer beware and always always read the fine print before you sell your soul. Somehow I’d expect this of the Hollywood or Henson end (though I feel that Jim Henson might be turning in his grave over this thievery), but for a publisher to be part of this is even worse. It’s bad enough that writers usually get the short end of the monetary stick, but downright greed and blindsiding is reprehensible. Shame on you, Penguin Group and The Jim Henson Company.

For those who remember the Dark Crystal the bad guys were the Skeksis, always out to get the cute Gelflings. Well, guess what, the Skesis are winning. If I could I’d post on the contest a big DO NOT ENTER sign. You’ve been warned.

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Movie Review: Man of Steel Nothing More Than a Hard Body

Superman, Henry Cavill, movies, General Zod, Clark Kent

Superman is really nothing but a hard body.

I had the misfortune of wasting time watching Man of Steel. I don’t know if the producers and director thought they were being edgy by having dark and tornadoey vignettes of Clark’s childhood but seriously, it made little difference. Of course, before we get to those little blips of what is a condensed first five seasons of Smallville, we see a woman in birth sounding more like she’s being tortured than popping out a baby (and yes, I have attended live births and unless they’re doing a C-section without any anesthetic, no one sounds like that). And there is concerned dad Russel Crowe watching over the first natural birth in centuries, little Kal El. And then along comes Zod.

Damn that Zod, he’s just a megalomaniac out to destroy. Except, yep, Krypton is already dying. But Russell, or should I say Jor El, dies first at Zod’s hand. Though considering the wooden dialogue, it was probably a mercy killing and I’m not sure why an actor of Crowe’s caliber got caught in the trap. We have to suffer Zod a while longer, of course. Sound familiar? I’m sure most people born in North America in the last 40 years or more have read the comics or seen one of umpteen Superman spinoffs,  such as the above mentioned Smallville, Clark and Lois, or one of the many  movies.

When we drop onto an ocean trawler, the “greenhorn” is getting in the way, until they see an oil rig going down and he saves the day. Tender short moments of Mom Kent and Pa, before he dies, are shown. In this case Kevin Costner has few lines and gives the adages of truth and justice but is afraid Earth ain’t ready for a mighty alien. Lois Lane comes along as well and a few of the other tried and trues.

Clark or Kal El spends half the movie finding himself…again. Good god, is there no original material out there? Sure,they updated Supes’ outfit but they did that in Smallville too.  Played by Henry Cavill, who definitely has the Superman body of steel to drool over, Clark is big on fighting naughty Zod. And that’s all this film is; massive fight scenes with Zod and his crew, who of course, coming from Krypton, have the same powers. I gotta say, I like their armor and the air filter masks they wear. Lois Lane is a damsel as usual, albeit she’s always been played with brains, and she helps solve how to get rid of those bad Kryptonians who want to terraform Earth. (It’s a good thing the nerdy scientist explains to us dumb viewers what terraform means…duh!) She also tracks Clark down like any good stalker or reporter, and convinces him to do good. Etc. When Zod asks for Kal El to give himself up, Clark does, to save Earth. But Zod also asks for Lois, for no apparent reason but to add some meat to a worn-out plot and have the damsel on hand for threats and rescues.

Superman, heroes, movies,, Man of Steel, Henry Cavill

Henry Cavill is pretty yummy under the new outfit. Too bad they didn’t lose the dorky cape. DC Comics

There is no great dialogue in this movie, and while Clark battles his own people there’s a touching scene of Perry rescuing a co-worker, just so you know that humans can be all helpful and caring as well. But having seen this just two nights ago I’m already forgetting most of it because it was indeed Smallville all over again (and actually not as good) but condensed into one movie with a massive budget for special effects and smashing up all, and I mean all, of Metropolis. It’s always interesting how these movies never mention all the people that get killed and while Clark saves Lois several times, there are countless others who no doubt die, but like any good military tactical double-speak, the collateral damage is never mentioned.

Considering how many Superman movies there have been and the fact that everyone knows the story and genesis of Clark’s powers, I wonder why director Zack Snyder even bothered to go there yet again, ad nauseum. The movie was so boring, and so much smash em up fighting just went on and on, to the point that I was falling asleep. Save yourself from being weakened by the green kryptonite and give this one a miss. The Man of Steel is as interesting as watching lead melt.

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Movie Review: Sinister

movies, horror, Sinister, thrillers, mysteries, supernatural films, Scott Derrickson

Sinister, directed by Scott Derrickson

Last night I got a chance to see a preview (for Canada at least) of Sinister. I hadn’t a clue what it was about but my friend said it was a horror and my first thought was, “Oh god, I hope it’s not gory.” I don’t like gratuitous gore and found Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs too graphic for me, while Silence of the Lambs, which should have been worse, didn’t linger on the truly horrific aspects.

So, what about Sinister? Is it like Saw, which I’ve never seen (but have been told is gory) or is it like a well-conducted symphony? I should mention that we had to sit right at the front of the theater so there was a weird distortion with the characters looking huge on our side and tiny on the other, and everything as if in a funhouse mirror due to the curvature of the screen (why do they put seats that close). Oh and there will be spoilers but I’ll announce when.

Starring Ethan Hawke and Juliet Rylance, this grainy and dark film is directed by Scott Derrickson who seems fairly new to directing. He directed The Day the Earth Stood Still and The Exorcism of Emily Rose, and definitely likes the horror/thriller genre. I’ve not seen any of his previous works so I have no preconceptions.

True crime writer Elison Oswalt hasn’t had a hit in a long time and needs one so his family can keep a roof over their heads. The movie starts with them moving into a neighborhood where a grisly murder took place, so that Elison can research close at hand. Of course, what he doesn’t reveal is that they’ve moved into the house where the family was murdered, except for the one little girl who disappeared. And would you believe, gosh, no one even bothered to remove the tree limb in the back yard that was cut and used as a counterweight to hang four people. Right away, even as they’re moving boxes into the house, creepy heavy music and sounds begin. Scrapes, thunks, crackles, pops and indiscernible whispers/voices pervade the soundtrack of this film so much that it is contrived and heavy-handed. Really? You need scary music just because someone walks into a room?

Ethan Hawke, Sinister, thrillers, horror films, movies, supernatural

Ethan Hawke ponders if his furrowed brow can keep the suspense going in Sinister.

After smashing a scorpion in the attic, Elison discovers an old projector and super 8 film reels that depict several mass murders of families since the 60s. Later on a snake appears under a lid in the attic, which Elison narrowly avoids yet he never bothers to kill it or have it removed. As he watches the horrific reels more terrible noises accompany them, but they don’t differ enough from all the atmospheric background of Sinister so I’m not sure if they’re part of the super 8 films. This annoyed me a great deal and while I don’t watch many of these movies perhaps it inured me for the cheap trick scares that were to come.

Not so everyone in the audience since there were some pretty good shrieks from some younger girls, but early on before the really creepy stuff begins. And here’s your warning; from hereon in I’m giving spoilers, though I have to say the poster for the film does that. Elison, with the aid of the terrible films, pieces together a serial murder that happens once per decade, where a family is killed but one child is always missing. It didn’t take me long at this point, especially when he starts to notice a creepy face in each film, that it is the children who are the perpetrators. The face introduces the supernatural element, taking this away from a regular crime. Thankfully, as the murders are revealed, the more bloody ones are usually cut or there is a pull away at the crucial instant. I give kudos to Derrickson for not wallowing in the gore and letting the suspense dwell more on the tale than the horrid imagery.

However, though the movie is filmed to be shadowy, every time there is a thunk or rustle or some other movement–in the house–at night, does Elison ever turn on a light? Noooo. That would be like, what, smart?Much better to crap your pants with creepy  shadows in every corner. The first time he goes hunting about after the power is cut he uses his cellphone because no one has ever heard of flashlights. Too many of these cheap tricks and obvious manipulations irked me so that the sudden reveals were never a surprise.

Eventually the audience is pulled in to see more than what Elison sees. Why the switch, but only halfway through the film? Because we need more thrills as we see these creepy dead or transformed children that killed their families. And we find out about some old Babylonian god who was the eater of children (either flesh or souls), yet when you see ole Bughuul he does not look that Babylonian, nor will you or I have ever heard of him. Though he’s obscure he’s managed to keep the ritual alive to eat souls every decade.

Elison finally freaks out, dumps the project and takes his family back to the old home, after burning the films and the projector. Oh, you think, if you’re naive, a film that lets the protagonist escape the dire ending. But this is horror and horror is about the fight of the little guy and the inevitable descent or succumbing to the forces of evil. The deputy (who was the comic relief for the relentless darkness of the film) keeps calling him but Elison ignores the calls, because, you know, it’s the call you ignore that could save your life. When Elison goes up into the attic of his home, guess what he discovers, the films and the projector, and a new little envelope says “extended cut edits.” You know he can’t resist watching them, late at night, in the dark, where all is revealed. Why yes, indeed, the little monsters killed their families. But it’s too late because his sweet little daughter has drugged the family (where she got these drugs, who knows) and then happily chops them up with a big axe. Not that a little girl would ever have problems wielding such a big axe, nor chopping through the human body, which thankfully, is only depicted in the pictures she adds to the macabre images on the projector box lid.

I don’t go to movies to have the crap scared out of me, but good suspense and tension can be handled deftly like a conductor with his wand rather than a woodcutter with an axe. Unfortunately, the axe was swung too far and wide, with Derrickson succumbing to the tried and tired tropes of the genre. The acting was competent, the story could have been creepier and the suspense was contrived. I give this 4.5 axe whacks out of 10.

 

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