May 31, 2014

LEVITY


May 30, 2014

GOING DOWN

I just got done working overtime. I was really late going home; I checked my watch and saw that it was already almost midnight.

When I arrived at my apartment building, I pushed the button and waited for the elevator to come to the first floor. After a few minutes of waiting, the elevator finally arrived.

“Huh…?”

The elevator was almost completely full despite the late hour. There were people of all ages, from elementary school students to the elderly and young adults to the middle aged.

I was dumbfounded for a moment. The girl right in front of me spoke up as if to break my trance.

“We’re going down.”

“Going… down?”

“Are you getting on or not?”

“…It looks a little crowded. I’ll wait for the next one.”

The elevator doors closed slowly, and with a clank the elevator began moving.

I couldn’t stop shaking for some time after the elevator left.

The building I live in doesn’t have a basement.


May 29, 2014

ARE YOU AFRAID OF THE DARK? 1X4: THE TALE OF THE TWISTED CLAW

If you were a budding horror misanthrope in your early teens during the ‘90s, then you not only remember, but cherish, this long-running Nickelodeon series about a group of variously ethnic kids meeting in the woods at night to trade spooky tales. Perhaps you remember President Gary's opening remarks during the first episode: "We're called The Midnight Society. Separately, we're very different. ... But one thing draws us together: the dark! Each week, we gather around this fire to share our fears and our strange and scary tales." The stories were creepy, corny, fantastic, or pretty stupid, but we all remember that nervous knot in our stomachs beginning to tighten as the legitimately eerie opening title sequence began (which includes that awful clown-doll from which I used to avert my eyes). You didn’t know if the groundwork for nightmares was being laid, but you sat, rapt, waiting to see.  So grab your weird bag of magic dust and toss it in the fire. It’s time to see if you’re still afraid of the dark.



The Tale Submitted For Approval: 

"The Tale of the Twisted Claw"

The Submitter: David

The Current Midnight Society Administration: Gary (President, Glasses); David (Vice-President, Administrator of the Useless); Kiki (Secretary of War/Ass-Kicker, Name-Taker); Eric (Director of the Office of Management and Budget/Minister of Looking Smarmy); Betty Ann (Ambassador to the United Nations/Gary’s Unspoken Mistress); Kristen (Trade Representative/Socialite); Frank (Intern/Socialite).

 

The Jist

It's Halloween (yay!), or rather, the night before...Mischief Night. Two boy chums, Kevin and Dougie, are out on the town, putting their cream all over cars. Kevin, the bigger adrenaline junkie of the two, decides it would be a really good idea to pull a prank on Miss Clove, this one particular old lady that lives in town and whom all the neighborhood kids call "the witch." Because the boys are mental defectives, they accidentally spray shaving cream all over Miss Clove's face, when all they had intended to do was leave a fine lather across her front door. The boys run off, terrified, because have you ever accidentally sprayed shaving cream on an old Canadian woman? Say goodbye to your cock and balls.

The next night, Kevin and Dougie go back to the witch's house, "disguised" in their mask-less Halloween costumes, all so they can brag about it the next day at school (even though they could have just lied about it, since that's what kids do: lie). Miss Clove is delighted to have trick-or-treaters knock on her door, so she invites them in and makes Kevin, Dougie, me, and everyone on Planet Earth pretty uncomfortable with her eccentric old woman behavior. She vanishes for a spell (pun!), promising to come back with a special treat. And that she does.

"I've got something special for two very special boys!" she says, and then out from under her dress she reveals her old, gnarled, ancient box. (And in that box is a claw.)

The boys are right to be fucking disappointed, since they instead wanted one of those gigantic half-pound Reese's cups, or at the very least a plastic paratrooper. But then she explains that the claw, from that of a vulture, will grant three wishes to each of the boys, so they decide to take it, anyway.

While back on the street, Dougie absentmindedly wishes they could be done with trick-or-treating and go home. The claw "moves," tinkles some green dust, and he drops it. Kevin waves off Dougie's claim of the claw's weird non-dead-claw-like capabilities, but then the two come across a group of masked bullies, who steal Kevin's bag of candy. The boys flee in terror and then decide to call it a night.

OMG, DON'T YOU SEE? THE WISH THING IS REAL.

Following that, the boys begin to use the claw to make a series of wishes, each of which comes true, but only after the most evil and random of events happen that make it so. For instance, Kevin wishes to win the foot race against the reigning foot-race champ (dream big, Kevin), and he does...only after a mysterious black dog runs in front of the champ, causing him to tumble and break his leg.

As you can imagine, since there are precocious boys involved, everyone dies bloody. (Just kidding, although things get pretty spooky!)

"Happy Halloween, kids!
How about a back rub for an old man?"

The Reaction

Once Midnight Society member Eric totally shits the bed with not having a completed story to tell, David pipes in and offers to tell one instead. "You haven't told a story in a while!" says Kristen, which is total bullshit, because he literally told the meeting's previous story. What is this, the David Society? Fucking bitterness over this whole David thing, I swear.

Also, I brought this up when I recounted "The Tale of Laughing in the Dark," but I swear this particular tale was another non-"AYAOTD" episode that was originally created as a one-off Halloween special, and was not attached to any one particular Nickelodeon show. I'M NOT CRAZY, I REMEMBER THIS.

I rather liked this episode, much like I did the aforementioned "Laughing in the Dark" – and for the same reason. The terror experienced by the kids in this episode are all off-screen and psychological. The ramifications of the kids concocting these wishes on impulse and selfishness rather than by particular design makes them their own worst enemy. Everything that results from their wishes sucks hardcore and makes their lives hell, and it's pretty much all their fault – well, that and the shit-starting claw.

The final act really ups the ante insofar as how crazy the episode is willing to go. A young boys' parents? Whatever, kill 'em off! A dead grandfather outside on the front porch? Let's do it!

Director D.J. MacHale does a good job wringing scares out of tension and mood, keeping in mind his young target audience. He's limited to using suggestion over image, which I'll credit to his imagination and not the show's low budget and censored level of fear for his thirteen-year-old demo. (MacHale has directed most of the show's episodes in general, but also most of the better ones.)

Is It Scary?

It's not visually scary, but thematically, this is kind of a fucked-up episode of what's essentially a show for children. Even though all the bad karma gets wished away before episode's end, still...Dougie's parents die. BOTH of them.

Also, the last "stupid" wish made of the claw before both kids wise up is Dougie's unthinking comment about he wished his grandfather were there, as he would know what to do. Uh oh, but Grandfather's dead! So who's that walking up the porch steps?

Is It Corny?

It easily could have been, but it's not. 

Is It Stupid?

Not really. It is based after all on "The Monkey's Paw," a story whose concept has been aped in all kinds of different ways for the last hundred years. (So far, "The Simpsons" have done it best.)

How Bad Is The Acting?

Not bad at all. Miss Clove kinda hams it up a little, but she was likely ordered to. (Subtlety is not the name of the game here in the land of "AYAOTD.") The kids hold their own with their performances – they're nothing to write home about, but they also could have been easily tepid.

Do The Kids Deserve Their Terror?

This one's a slippery slope. They were kinda dicks for being out on Mischief Night and creaming car windshields and doors, but they didn't mean to actually spray anything on Miss Clove directly. But then again, they were all gung-ho about going back to her house on Halloween night simply to brag about it later.

Yeah, fuck these kids. They totally deserve it.

Why Does That One Kid Look Familiar?

He doesn't, trust me. It's all in your head.

How Canadian Does Everyone Sound?

Only minor allusions to the Canadian double-O sound to offend the ear; nothing really worth mentioning.

Final Thoughts

After the episode, the Midnight Society has a David Parade, where David is carried on a throne all through the woods while the girls lay palms in his path and the men look on in awe at this magical specimen that is David.

"Thanks for saving the night!" Kristen said, while flashing Eric her finger in the middle.

Hopefully David will be modest enough to let another Midnight Society member have the floor for their next story session.

Die screaming, motherfucker.



On the Official Gary Creeper-Shot Rating Scale...



I Award "The Tale of the Twisted Claw..."

 

4 Gary Creeper Shots

 


I declare this meeting of the Midnight Society closed. (Splash sound.)

May 28, 2014

REFLECTION

One cold winter night, sixteen-year-old Kelly Sanders was home alone, as her parents had gone out to a dinner party at a friend's house. It had been snowing all afternoon, but had just recently stopped. After studying for a while, she decides to relax a little - after all, she finally had the house to herself. She makes some popcorn, gets a nice warm, fuzzy blanket, and snuggles under it to watch one of her favorite movies. 

In their lounge room, the television is positioned a few feet in front of the glass sliding door that leads to the patio and backyard. 

By midnight, Kelly's parents are still not home, and she begins to feel uneasy, but refuses to call them, for risk of sounding like she couldn't take care of herself. 

Suddenly, her eye catches a glint of light from behind the TV, and right there, just outside the glass door, was a crazy-eyed man, grinning maliciously at her, and holding a long, narrow blade in his left hand. Terrified, the girl panics, pulls the blanket up over her head and grabs the cordless phone by her side. Kelly calls the police, and as luck would have it, there was a patrol car less than a block from her house. In a matter of seconds, two officers are on the scene and Kelly tells them about the armed man staring through the glass. 

The first officer opens the sliding door and looks around the area. After a few moments, she turns and explains to Kelly that there couldn't have been anyone standing out there, as there would have been footprints in the snow. The second officer tells her that she is probably just tired and her imagination was playing tricks on her. He beckoned at the TV where the horror movie she had been watching was still playing. 

"Stuff like that didn't help matters, either,'' he said smiling. 

Kelly smiled too, more at her own immaturity than the officer's remark, still a little shaken. 

As the police are about to leave, the male officer stops and looks behind the sofa that Kelly had been sitting on. His jaw drops and eyes widen in shock. Kelly and the other officer notice his reaction and follow his gaze; they both gasp. There were wet footprints and a discarded knife on the carpet behind the couch. 

Kelly hadn't seen the man outside he door; she'd seen his reflection when he was standing behind her.

May 26, 2014

THE HORRIBLE MAN

I’d actually seen him on our way home from school. He looked dirty and disturbed, and stared straight at us as our bus went by. We even made jokes about him, probably as our way of pretending we weren’t afraid. He was incredibly out of place in our middle class suburb, so his mere presence felt threatening… thus our panic when the three of us got off at our stop and saw him at the corner, about to look in our direction.

He was between us and our houses, and the bus had already pulled away, so we bolted for the bushes of a nearby yard. We weren’t sure if he had seen us, but we peered through the leaves and saw him stalking our way, muttering randomly. Tim, my neighbor, insisted that he’d seen a large knife in the man’s ragged clothing. Danny, a kid I hardly knew who had just moved into the neighborhood, insisted that he was imagining it – that Tim’s glasses must have reflected the sun wrong or something. Still, we were terrified, and the sidewalk was going to bring him right by us.

It was Tim that broke and ran first, keeping low. I followed, my heart pounding, as we dove into the darkness underneath the porch of the unfamiliar house we’d been hiding near. As we squeezed our bodies against the dirt, the grimy wood pressed into our backs, barely giving us enough room to breathe. From our hiding place, we could see the disturbed man turn into the yard in front of us and begin searching around, hitting the bushes and muttering angrily.

I realized then that Danny wasn’t with us, but I hadn’t seen where he’d gone. Tim had lost his glasses back at the bushes, and he just huddled in the shadows next to me in near-blind terror. We stayed there in silence, waiting. Every so often, whenever I almost thought it was safe to come out, footsteps would creep across the wooden porch above us. Tim almost sneezed, once, but I covered his mouth and nose in stark fear.

We waited there so long that the tone of the sunlight began to change. We hadn’t heard the man searching about in awhile, and I was just getting ready to peek out, when footsteps clattered and a thud hit the wood directly above us. A split second later, Danny’s face appeared in front of us upside down, and he looked at us through the lattice. A look of shock and surprise crossed his features at finally finding us. He whispered something, but I couldn’t hear anything. He seemed to be saying “come closer,” so I figured the horrible man was still around and we had to be quiet, and I inched forward.

Danny’s features grew fearful, and he kept indicating something above us. Strangely, I still couldn’t hear him… his eyes seemed to dim then, and I inched forward a little bit more. I froze for a moment in horror, then backed up. Tim mouthed to me: “What did he say?” and I just shook my head, completely in shock. Danny hadn’t conveyed “come closer,” he had mimed “he’s up there.” The drifter was unknowingly sitting right above us, waiting, because he knew we had to be somewhere in that yard.

There was nothing to do but wait in silence, trying not to scream. I was glad Tim had lost his glasses. I lay there as darkness descended, waiting in unwavering terror and trying not to feel the glassy stare of
Danny’s severed head as it rested in the grass a foot away.

Story source.

May 25, 2014

MUSIC FOR FILM: EXIT HUMANITY

Except to a cineaste, the musical score might be one of the most important aspects of film that is consistently taken for granted. Tasked with both complementing the action on-screen as well as manipulating your emotions, film scoring is essential to creating an effective tone and generating the appropriate response from its audience, whether that response is fear, melancholy, excitement, or jubilation. Regardless of the actual film’s quality – whether great or ghastly – the score is the only component of the film that will live on in perpetuity in a separate form. Some of these scores stand head and shoulders above others and deserve to be recognized. This is one of them. 

 

I can't shut the fuck up about Exit Humanity. I mean...I really can't. Sorry? (Although I'm not – I really really dug this film.) I can't help but heap praise on and enthusiasm for genre films that come completely out of nowhere and sucker-punch me with their awesome. Such is the case with this Canadian-lensed zombies-meet-the-Civil-War epic, narrated by Brian Cox and containing brief segments of hand-drawn animation. That's about where my review portion of the film ends – you can check out the above link for more on that.

I find that one of the major pitfalls of low-budget film-making is a supreme lack of resources when it comes to the musical score. Stuff composed on a synthesizer, and by someone who isn't quire ballsy enough to establish their own sound – you can hear that from a mile away. So when it comes to low-budget horror, I really only ask that the music just be serviceable. If I'm wanting for the actual film to be of decent quality – the story, the acting, and the directing – then I wouldn't allow myself to be so picky about the music. The way I figure: don't push your luck.

So when I hear music that's as beautiful as the score to Exit Humanity, composed by Nate Kreiswirth, Jeff Graville, and Ben Nudds, I just can't help but love it all the more. And I really do love this score – it might just be up there with Phantasm and The Fog as my most played. And that's pretty surprising, because so much of this score would sound right at home in a dramatic sweeping epic about war-torn lovers or some such mother movies, not a film in which faces get bitten off and zombs are shot full of holes. Naturally, since Exit Humanity does feature scenes of zombie attacks and other undead carnage, there are some tracks in there to jar and unsettle you, but the majority of these are something well beyond that. In a way, the score is genre-less – you can place any one track against any one scene in any one movie and they would work – and elevate – the actions and/or emotions on screen.


Listen carefully to "A Fresh Grave." You will hear this theme occur throughout the entirety of the score; a mixture of strings and harp get things going before it all takes a backseat to a pretty and sad piano melody. That pretty much sums up Exit Humanity the film and Exit Humanity the score: pretty and sad. (Plus ghouls.)

"Searching for Answers" is a foreboding track pulsing with heavy low piano that soon meshes with distorted and shrieking pulls on an instrument that I couldn't even decipher. Hands on cat-skin tom-toms back everything up and keep things moving while electronic warbling in the background fill in the eerie gaps. It's a pretty appropriate track to play alongside the film's protagonist waking up to discover his wife is dead and his son is missing.

"Seeking Family" dials down the horror and ups that gorgeous harp, which will drive this particular track, along with those sustained strings. With 45 seconds left in the track, it all falls silent, allowing the harp to solo before bringing it all back together again. (I sincerely hope that is a harp I am hearing, or else I am going to feel like an asshole every time I bring it up.)

With "Bitter Reunion," I hope by now you're noticing the vast collection of instruments that comprise this score, with a flute leading the charge this go-round. Unless you're writing background music for a fairy tale, or you're the feature film Titanic, the flute is very rarely relied on front-and-center when it comes to film music, and yet, here it is all the same. Once again, it's pretty, but also somewhat feverish at the same time.


Both "Looking Back" and "Moving On" revisit those same stirring strings and harp established in "A Fresh Grave." Once again, we're nowhere near horror territory here. The score exists not to give you the creeps or get your pulse going, but instead make you feel. I know! It's crazy! And in a zombie movie!

"Edward and Isaac Bond" is a superb fucking track, and the filmmakers must know it, because it appears mid-way through the film as well as a reprise during the cut-to-black end credits. This track sounds like no other in the film, driven by a banjo, of all fucking things, and it's one that builds and builds, layering in more and more instruments. It's a damn shame it's under two minutes, as I'd listen to an entire score based just on what's going on here. You can tell the second it begins that it's going in a direction completely opposite to where we'd been heading up to this point. If I were to listen to any one track on repeat, it's this one. Simply awesome.

The score takes a darker turn with "Enter the General," "Emma's Escape," and "The Witch." At this point, we're now facing our antagonists for the first time – a sort of Day of the Dead-ish band of military outlaws kidnapping the uninfected and exposing each of them to the zombie virus in hopes of finding a bloodline immune to the "scourge." Since we're in unfamiliar territory here, not only does the score get darker, but it adds some unorthodox approaches. Small trap instruments rattle in the background and make you think of small, scurrying rodents in the corners behind you. In fact, this is largely a percussive-driven series of tracks, along with those screeching strings, and all of it comes together to sound nightmarish and unnerving.

"Looking Forward" – there's nothing I can even say. To even try would make me sound like some kind of douche bag, and since I've been kind of straddling that line with this entire post, I guess I'll have to refrain. But...just gorgeous. A chorus of voices, those strings, the harp, the piano. Beauty personified. It's the stuff happy tears are made of.


Parts One and Two of "Ashes on Waterfall" bring back that melancholy feeling in a big way. I suppose that's inevitable, since this sequence has our hero traveling to Ellis Falls to disperse his son's ashes, after remembering a promise to him that he would take him there...while he was still alive, that is. Still, this father wanted to make good on that promise, and so off he goes. This track and the next are likely the most beautiful, because it's here where the narration by Brian Cox is at its most poignant and uplifting. And you take all that and marry it to the pink and purple sun-skewed sky and the billowing landscapes filled with green trees and brown wheat, and yeah: film boner.

After a few more tracks that lend themselves to the dark and deranged, our heroes break free from their prison and take back to the zombie-infested forest. "Chase" sounds like something nearly out of Batman Begins. It's relentless, though it does break every so often for what could only be described as film-score improvisation. Great stuff, and yes, perfect chase music.

"Reunion/Ending" revisits all the themes previously established, and is again bolstered by the powerfully affecting voice of your narrator Brian Cox. I even have this track ripped from the blu-ray and it appears dead last in the album. The music by itself is amazing enough, but the "farewell" of sorts using Mr. Cox's voice-over transforms it into something else entirely. I actually wish they'd release a version of the score that contains the film's voice-over. Even without the visual components of the film, the voice-over tells one complete story – like listening to an audiobook that happens to have exceptional music.

Much like the film itself, the score to Exit Humanity kinda comes out of nowhere. It's easy to read a one-sentence synopsis for the film and based on that, deduce what kind of garish death metal or keyboard-slamming music you're about to receive alongside it, but you'd be wrong. So pleasantly horribly wrong.

Grab the complete score (and how often does that happen?) for Exit Humanity right now from the composers' bandcamp page. And tell Nate I said, "hey, man."

May 22, 2014

THE LAUGHING

I'd already been out there for about four days, doing some off trail hiking, and I had a great time. I used to love going out in the woods by myself; I liked the solitude. I must have gotten turned around; I didn't end up back where I wanted to be at what was supposed to be the end of my trip. I later found out that I had been going in the almost complete opposite direction of my car. It was about three days after I was supposed to be home. I was just trying to get out of there, when it started with seeing things.

Just on the edge of my vision; shadows. I'd look, but then there'd be nothing there. At night, I would hear noises outside my tent. At first I thought it was just animals, and I'm sure some of the sounds were, but others...I heard scratching, and sometimes late at night, I'd wake up and hear breathing, not like any animal. I'd call out, thinking maybe someone was there, but I'd never get an answer.

This went on for a few days; I thought maybe it was just the woods getting to me. You hear horror stories about hunters who get lost and start hallucinating, or who die of thirst with water in their packs. The forest can mess with you. But about a week after I got lost, I saw her off in the distance, maybe 200 ft. away, hands at her sides, and she was tall. Six or seven feet, with her head craned downward, like she was deformed or something. But she was still looking at me.

She wore this dirty dress that hung down to the ground. I called out, but she didn't do or say anything. I started running towards her. I was scared, but by then I was worried that I wasn't going to make it out of those woods. I got within maybe 100 ft, but she stepped behind a tree, and when I got up there, I was just alone. I don't know where she could have gone.

The next couple days I didn't see anything, and the nights were quiet. I just kept following this creek, hoping I'd find something, anything. I ran out of food on the tenth day, and that night I woke up, not sure what time it was, to this laughing from outside; a low giggling, it lasted for a few seconds. Had I dreamt it? I opened the flap of my tent and called out, but all I could hear was the sound of running water, which was strange. There should have been bugs, deer, wind, something...but it was just so quiet.

Then a loud snap from about twenty feet away I shined my flashlight and I saw her there, half-hidden, poking out from behind a tree, grinning at me. I got a better look at her than before. She was old, her hair done up in a bun. And her face was...distorted. Her nose was too long, crooked. Her eyes were too close together, too big. Black. We stared at each other for a long time, and when I called out to her, her grin just got wider. I just sat there, frozen, looking at her. I yelled again; I asked her what she wanted. And she just laughed, this scratchy, painful laugh. Then she stepped out of the light and I couldn't find her again.

The rest of the night, I heard...things outside. Even the constant bubbling of the creek scared me. I wanted out; I was hungry, exhausted, and scared for my life. I truly believed that I was going to die in those woods. At first light I set out, walking as fast as I could away from my campsite. Sometime in the late afternoon, I came across an old logging road. It didn't look like it had been used in years, and I knew that it didn't mean that I was safe yet, but still, seeing that sign of humanity was happiest moment of life.

It was getting dark and I felt like I was going to pass out, but I didn't want to stop. I don't think that I could have slept anyway. Somehow I found the energy to keep going. About two hours after I started following the road, it was pitch black out, and it started to rain. I'd been lucky enough to have good enough weather for my trip, but within a few minutes it was pouring. I was plodding along as fast as I could when I heard the footsteps behind me. I'd stop and listen, and they would stop, too. I'd start walking and I'd hear them again. A few times I thought that I could see her, stopped not too far behind me. And more than once I heard her laughing, that disgusting laugh.

It was almost dawn when I came to the top of a hill and saw lights. Lights! Mankind! Civilization! I practically fell down the hill, stumbling to the door of the small house, I must have looked like some kind of monster; dirty, wet, exhausted. They took me inl it was an old couple; they gave me some food and a bed to sleep in. I woke up and they told me that I slept for 15 hours. I told them about the woman I saw, and nice as they were, I could tell that I was making them uncomfortable. They told me it was just the hunger, but I know what I saw. Out there, deep in the woods. And I'll never forget the laughing.


Story source.

May 21, 2014

WATCHING ME

"Couple months ago, my parents had a problem with their gas water heater. Gas company sends a guy out, as they have some kind of warranty. He goes down the basement, comes up later and says to my parents, 'I fixed it and it works fine. If you have any problems just call and they'll send another tech out. It won't be me because there was an old guy standing down there watching me the whole time. Bye.'"

May 19, 2014

THE MIRRORS

Normally you sleep soundly, but the thunderstorm raging outside is stirring you from your sleep. You begin to doze, then another crash jolts you awake. The cycle lasts most of the night. So you lay there, eyes open and outward, looking at your room stretching out before you in oblong shadows. Your eyes move from nameless object, to object, until you reach your mirror, sitting adjacent to you across the room.

Suddenly a flash of lighting, and the mirror flickers in illumination. For a scant second the mirror revels to you dozens of faces, silhouettes within its frame, mouths open and eyes blackened. They stare out at you, their black pupils fixed upon your face.

Then it is done. Are you sure of what you have seen? Unsettled, you don’t sleep for the rest of the evening. The next morning you remove the mirror from your wall and toss it in the trash. It didn’t matter if the vision you had seen was of truth or falsehood, you wanted to be rid of that mirror. In fact, you scrap every mirror in your house.

Weeks pass and the event of that night falls into passive memory. You are spending the day at a friend’s house and it’s time to use the bathroom. While you are in there the faucet starts to run without you prompting it. Taken aback by this, you do not yet act, trying to reason with your paranoia in your mind. The water starts to steam and a skin of moisture covers the mirror up above. You’re watching intently as words form:

“Please return the mirrors. We miss watching you sleep at night.”

May 16, 2014

SURVIVORS

In the 19th century, the famous horror writer Egdar Allan Poe wrote a book called ‘The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym.’ It was about four survivors of a shipwreck who were in an open boat for many days before they decided to kill and eat the cabin boy whose name was Richard Parker. Some years later, in 1884, the yawl, Mignonette, foundered, with only four survivors, who were in an open boat for many days. Eventually the three senior members of the crew killed and ate the cabin boy. The name of the cabin boy was Richard Parker.

May 15, 2014

THE ONE MAN WHO WILL ALWAYS BE AROUND

 The Strange Case of Jeremy Bentham: At his request, he was taxidermied after his death. Supposedly, the process to preserve the head went terribly wrong and left his face showing lack of expression therefore, unattractive. So, his head was replaced with the wax substitute and for a time was placed on the floor between his legs. It now sits in storage, safe and sound.

May 14, 2014

SHITTY FLICKS: SHARKS IN VENICE

Shitty Flicks is an ongoing column that celebrates the most hilariously incompetent, amusingly pedestrian, and mind-bogglingly stupid movies ever made by people with a bit of money, some prior porn-directing experience, and no clue whatsoever. It is here you will find unrestrained joy in movies meant to terrify and thrill, but instead poke at your funny bone with their weird, mutant, camp-girl penis. 

WARNING: I tend to give away major plot points and twist endings in my reviews because, whatever. Shut up.


I went to Venice once. It was beautiful. The canals smelled of rainwater. Bistros perfumed with the scent of fresh garlic and spicy meat-a-ball-as. 

"Hey-a, Giuseppe!" called the dude operating the gondola. "Ciao, bella!"

It was my favorite day.

And then a shark bit my fucking neck off. 

I was never the same after that.

Because I was neckless.

Of all the sub-genres previously featured on Shitty Flicks, killer shark seems to be leading the pack. Is that because I gravitate toward them, since I find sharks to be genuinely captivating creatures? Or is it because there are so many bad movies made about them?

You might could ask director Danny Lerner, because he's not only made three killer shark movies, he's also made three of the worst killer shark movies of all time.

America's got talent!

Sharks in Venice begins with brilliance; after showing some stock shots of Venice, we cut immediately to Bulgaria, where Bulgarian actors sport the absolute worst Italian accents since Lady and the Tramp. A crew of who-fucking-knows sit behind computer screens in the most archaic looking command center since North Korea's nuclear missile tests. Turns out these dudes are looking for artifacts from the expeditions of Marco Polo (Italian!) within the canals of Venice. They locate some kind of buried plaque, leaving one of the command-center guys to call out "Grazie!" (Italian!) for no reason. Then things go very poorly very quickly.

Before I can wonder if composer John Debney was paid for the use of his score from End of Days, a shark comes up quickly from nowhere and makes all these divers sleep with the fishes.

Cut to: Professor (of diving!) Stephen Baldwin giving a presentation on the S.S. Andrea Doria (Italian!), a real ship that sank in the mid-1900s. When he air-quotes the word "unsinkable," try not to notice how fat he's gotten.

"I miss you, chalupas..."

Because there's never been a scene in a movie before in which an esteemed professor is giving a presentation to his class when he is interrupted by a school official, and must leave the class to confer with this official, well, that happens. The official tells him that is father – one of the divers in the film's intro – has gone missing. Professor Baldwin almost looks like he might react to this news, but then doesn't. He might as well have looked directly into the camera and said, "Well, off to Venice, then."

And off he goes, with his girlfriend who works at the same university and apparently knew the bad news before he did.

In Venice, Professor Baldwin is forced to identify the bodies of the two divers.

"Is either of these men your father?" asks the Bulgtalian police detective, as a coroner insensitively whips off one of the sheets concealing the dead men, which they love to do in movies for some reason, and I have to tell you, if someone did that to me in real life, I would say, "What the fuck kind of horrid monster are you?" and I would probably stick that coroner's head directly into a pile of human man poop, which is probably somewhere in every coroner's office, no matter how well hidden.

Anyway, based on Professor Baldwin's non-reaction, it's hard to say whether or not his father lies upon the corpse bed.

"This was not a propeller accident," he says, stealing a line from a better film about sharks. Music sting. "It was a shark."

We meet some more "Italian" characters, one of whom is named Captain "Bonasera." I shit you not and fucking seriously: his name is Captain "Good Evening."

While speaking with Captain Good Evening, Professor Baldwin asks to help with the investigation. Captain Good Evening agrees, but forbids him from speaking to the press. He also tells him:

"Venice has no sharks. Capisci?"

My ancestry has never been prouder.

If animals were given royalty payments, this specific fucking shark
would be rich, given how many times the SciFi Channel have used him.

At his missing father's flat, Professor Baldwin finds a hidden briefcase that contains a notebook, which brings with it a chorus of soprano voices whenever one looks upon it with immense intrigue. The notebook provides a lot more back story on Italian conflicts than a killer shark movie has ever needed. All you need to know is, one group of Italians sacked another group of Italians, stole a bunch of treasures, and then fucking lost that same treasure instantly. 

Wait a minute – missing father? Venice? Historical conspiracies? Hidden treasure? A father's notebook of clues?

I guess it is time to rip off The Last Crusade.

Professor Baldwin and a couple other prepackaged shark dinners go diving...to locate the treasure, I guess? Or find his missing father? Both?

It doesn't matter, because a shark comes along and says hi to everyone with its teeth. Professor Baldwin survives the attack and finds himself in an underground tunnel, out of the water, and discovers a whole mess of treasures.

AND skeletons!

Professor Baldwin takes a step further into this tunnel and sets off a series of booby-traps that nearly kill him.

Seriously, people – you may have well just called your film Fat Indiana Baldwin and the Last Mysterious Mystery of Marco Polo OMG Sharks.

He finds some kind of handsome rhinestone, gets back in the water, and is instantly attacked by the shark again, and somehow miraculously survives, even though there's no way he could have. Honestly, the only thing that saved his life was the film cutting to the next scene of him waking up in a hospital bed, where even he looks irritated at how cheap this is.

"Someone's in my butt!"

Later, Professor Baldwin and his girlfriend have dinner with Vito Clemenza (yep; Puzo/Ford Coppola were truly honored), and the film is finally blessed with its sole actually-Italian actor playing an Italian. Clemenza offers Professor Baldwin a buttload of money to help him find the rest of the treasure, but he declines, because of pride or something.

Idiots.

Meanwhile, some Bulgarian teens are pretending to be both Italian and drunk...right next to the canal. If you guessed what happened next – an unsurprising shark attack married to the worst CGI you have ever seen – well, no one's proud of you.

Professor Baldwin and his girlfriend walk the streets of "Venice," as the poorest Dean Martin imitation the filmmakers could find croons on the soundtrack and soothes the savage soul. Watch as Girlfriend wears an orange scarf and looks at all the surroundings. Then, watch as Professor Baldwin buys that same orange scarf for her later in the scene. (?)

And then watch as Girlfriend gets kidnapped by Clemenza's henchmen.

Mi amore!

Oh, 49 minutes in and Girlfriend has a name. It's Laura.

Another shark attack occurs in the canal; a poor unfortunate gondola driver is mercilessly attacked by a bunch of Animal Planet footage, and his black-and-white striped pajamas are torn to shreds.

Back with Professor Baldwin, he looks nearly as bored as I feel. As he attempts to sleep, a bunch of dudes in ski masks attack him in his hotel room and try to kill him, but because Professor Baldwin is the hero in this film, he covers his head with his hands and flees down the hotel corridor, bellowing, "He's got a gun!" and a bunch of hotel security lose their lives.

Heroism.

The longest chase scene ever filmed in Bulgaria then unfolds, where Professor Baldwin manages to take out his pursuers one by one. He threatens the last man with a buzz saw into spilling the beans on where Laura has been taken. It works until he is attacked by a bunch of bikers, and even MORE security is killed in the process.

Yo, but P. Baldwin don't care, 'cuz he steals a boat and he's out of there, his man-boobs pressing against his tight shirt as he looks majestic under the Bulgarian moon.

His evasion of Clemenza's men is short-lived, as he's kidnapped a few minutes later.

I'm exhausted.

So, it turns out Clemenza has purposely been putting baby sharks into the canals to keep people from diving there. He wants the treasure THAT badly. 

With Laura still being held hostage, P. Bald has no choice but to dive into the shark-invested waters to recover the treasure he'd earlier discovered. 

It plays out pretty much the way you'd expect: the sharks eat everyone but P. Bald and one of Clemenza's henchmen, who have a slap/punch/gun fight in the treasure room, which is so beyond thrilling that Stephen Baldwin manages to look awake for most of it. Baldwin literally kills the henchman with laughter by telling him several behind-the-scene anecdotes about the filming of Bio-Dome.

P. Bald demands that Clemenza trade Laura for the treasure, which he doesn't go for, and then the police randomly show up, leading to the longest shoot-out ever filmed in Bulgaria. Clemenza falls into the water and gets eaten by sharks, and if you didn't see that coming, I've got a bridge I can sell you.

"I stole this from that fat Goonie."

In full view of everyone, P. Bald takes out a huge piece of stolen treasure and proposes to Laura with it.

"As long as we don't honeymoon in Venice!" she replies.

Might I recommend Bulgaria?








































































May 11, 2014

May 10, 2014

BASEMENT ROOM

Years ago, my family went on a vacation in Cape Cod and we rented a small old house to stay in for two weeks. On the main floor was the kitchen, the living room and a bathroom. The bedrooms were on the second floor. There was a basement room downstairs, with a washer and dryer, a sofa and a television.

On the fist night, we were all awakened by a terrible scream from my sister’s bedroom. When my dad burst into her room and turned on the light, he found her sitting up in bed, screaming and crying. My parents sat with her and comforted her until she finally calmed down enough to tell them what had scared her.

She said that she had been awakened in the middle of the night by a horrible stench. When she opened her eyes, she had seen the entire bedroom soaked in blood from top to bottom. There was blood all over the floor, bloody handprints on the walls and blood spatter all over the ceiling.

We all thought that she had just been having a nightmare, but she refused to go back into her bedroom and stayed in our parents’ room for the remainder of the holiday.

One evening, my mother was cooking dinner in the kitchen upstairs and my father had gone out on an errand in a nearby town. My sister and I were in the basement room, watching TV, when all of a sudden, the lightbulb popped and the TV went off, leaving us in complete darkness. The basement was unfinished and had old stone walls, making it a bit of a creepy place. For a few seconds, we just froze, not knowing what to do. Then we started to smell something horrible.

It was a terrible stench and when it hit our noses, we felt nauseous. It smelled like rotting flesh. The smell quickly grew worse and worse and then we just heard a scratching in the darkness. Something seemed to be scratching at the floor or the walls. We screamed and began scrambling around in the pitch black, trying to find the door. Eventually, we managed to open the door and ran upstairs screaming to our mother.

We kept telling her about the disgusting smell and we heard something scratching and scraping around down there. My mother eventually agreed to go down to the basement, replace the bulb and check out the source of the horrible smell. She took a flashlight and a new bulb and disappeared into the darkened basement, as we waited for her at the top of the stairs. We expected her to return quickly but she seemed to be down there for an eternity.

Suddenly, we saw her emerge out of the darkness and come running up the stairs. She slammed the basement door behind her and bolted it as fast as she could. She turned to us and we could see her face had completely drained of color. Her eyes were wide with fear and she just said “I don’t want you going down there again.” Then she went into the kitchen and called the police.

We overheard her conversation on the phone and managed to figure out that she’d seen someone down in the basement room. As we waited for the police to come, we huddled together in the living room, staring at the basement door. At any moment, we expected to hear someone banging on it or trying to break it down. My mother refused to tell us what she had seen.

When the police arrived, my mother greeted them at the front door and ushered them inside. She unbolted the basement door and they went down into the darkness with their flashlights out and their guns drawn. They searched the entire basement room, but found nothing. There was no other way out of the basement, no windows, no doors. Whatever was down there would have had to come up through the basement door.

After the police left, my mother finally revealed what she had seen down there in the pitch black basement room. As she spoke, she became very still and quiet. She said that she had been changing the lightbulb downstairs, when she began to smell the horrible stench we had described to her. Then she started to hear a faint scratching noise. She shone her flashlight around the room and suddenly caught sight of something crouched between the washer and dryer.

It was a man, crouched on all fours. His clothes were tattered, his hair was wild and tangled, and his face didn’t look human. It was twisted in an expression of pure hatred. In that split second, he looked up at my mother, his eyes reflecting the beam from her flashlight.
 
Then he suddenly crawled forward and disappeared through a wall.
 


May 9, 2014

UNSUNG HORRORS: SPLINTER

Every once in a while, a genuinely great horror movie—one that would rightfully be considered a classic, had it gotten more exposure and love at the box office—makes an appearance. It comes, no one notices, and it goes. But movies like this are important. They need to be treasured and remembered. If intelligent, original horror is supported, then that's what we'll begin to receive, in droves. We need to make these movies a part of the legendary genre we hold so dear. Because these are the unsung horrors. These are the movies that should have been successful, but were instead ignored. They should be rightfully praised for the freshness and intelligence and craft that they have contributed to our genre. 

 So, better late than never, we’re going to celebrate them now…one at a time.

Dir. Toby Wilkins
2008
United States
Magnet Releasing

"Make it count."

Low budget filmmaking is tough, especially when it comes to horror. If we're taking on just the low budget medium, a lack of financing can affect the final output. Lesser money can only afford the lesser actors, cinematographers, editors, composers, production designers, etc., and a weakness apart of any of these individuals can severely handicap a project. In the horror genre, you have all of these risky areas, but then in addition, you have the inherent prejudice against the genre for the years and years of cheap imitators, exploitation romps, depictions of "glorified" violence, and on and on. Lord knows I certainly feel this way, and I'm supposed to love this shit. Because they were grandfathered in, it's easy to forget that watermarks in the genre – Halloween, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Hellraiser, Night of the Living Dead – were made on the amount of money you found beneath your car seat the last time you dropped your iPhone. Even today, Hollywood approaches to the horror genre – unless of course they're greenlighting a dripping CGI mess of an extravaganza – are apt to keep the budget low. In case you haven't noticed, Hollywood's track record in giving us decent quality horror films (the recent Insidious and Sinister don't count, as they were both made independently) are about on par with those low budget filmmakers who are either genuinely trying to make something good or simply trying to create something stupid they know they can sell for the bottom shelf at the video store. (Oh shit, I just totally dated myself.)

Enter Splinter, a little backwoods monster movie that nearly came out of nowhere and personified how so much could be done with so little.


Polly (Jill Wagner) and Seth (Paulo Costanzo, aka the stoner from Road Trip who believed he was destined for great things) are celebrating their anniversary of sorts in a far less glamorous place than Cancun or Aruba. Instead they're jeeping into the heart of the wilderness with nothing but dufflebags of clothes and some camping gear. Her idea more than his, he attempts to play the role of outdoorsman, but it becomes increasingly obvious he's meant for motel beds and flourescent lighting rather than tent assembly and gazing up at the stars.

Meanwhile, a mile down the road and standing outside a broken-down car, Dennis (the immeasurably cool Shea Whigham) and Lacey (Rachel Kerbs) are on a rendezvous of their own – one that has them fleeing from the law. Tensions run high between them, but Dennis has his sights on getting out of dodge, pronto, and Lacey has her sights on something else – anything else, desperately – as long as it comes in pill form.

Eventually, these two couples run afoul of each other, and at gunpoint, Dennis and Lacey force themselves into the car – and lives – of Polly and Seth. With one half of our on-screen couples taken hostage by the other, the new foursome simply drive down the desolate wilderness-surrounded road...until they run over something strange and suffer a flat tire because of it. Seth and Lacey find the thing they ran over...something covered in unnaturally large splinters...something that most assuredly be dead, but attacks them anyway.

The couples speed off in the repaired jeep, unsure of what they had seen, but Seth, who is currently in the process of obtaining his PhD in biology, attempts to make sense of the very dead thing covered in a blanket of splinters, which seemed to multiply across the ruined piece of roadkill, keeping it alive.

A hissing and smoking radiator has them pulling over at a gas station, where they encounter a former splinter creature victim, and one of their numbers becomes infected. Locking themselves into the gas station to hide from the strange things stalking them, they're forced to rely on their wits, a healthy array of convenience store items, and each other, if they want to survive.

And things get awfully bloody.


What we have with Splinter is a loving homage to creature features that came before it, mixed with zombie films that have directly inspired it. Clearly in love with John Carpenter's Assault on Precinct 13 and The Thing, George Romero's Dead series, and holy crap, even TremorsSplinter takes the "rules" of the zombie film, marries them to the absurdity of the nature/science run amok sub-genre, and creates a wonderfully clever and at times disturbing resurrection-gone-bad grimy gore fest.

You will find no CGI here; nothing but a collection of unique and imaginative practical effects. A dismembered hand covered in needles crawling across the floor like a spider recalls The Thing (and perhaps Evil Dead II), and the ruined bodies of anyone unfortunate to become infected send-up Peter Jackson's early kiwi splatter romps. Added to this are a collection of camera tricks nearing one hundred years old in their construction and are still just as effective.

The best part of all this? Taking a page out of Night of the Living Dead, there is no explanation – no why – for the events unfolding. A brief, one-second shot of a sign – something about keeping away from an oil company's experimental extraction site – is all we're provided, and we've seen enough of these flicks before to let our imaginations fill in the gaps.

Shea Whigham's presence here is the smartest casting decision. With Denny, Whigham plays a total bastard, but one you know from the start you're going to end up rooting for. Yeah, he's a thief, and he and Lacey are on the run from the law, but his main want for freedom is not to avoid an indeterminate amount of time behind bars, but so he can get his drug-addict girlfriend out of the country and into Mexico, where he'll focus on trying to get her clean. Whigham plays this incredibly well; he is a bastard, but he's also the kind of bastard you'd hope to have around when shit hits the fan. He's got both a cowboy's balls and a thief's unscrupulousness, both of which come in handy as our characters find themselves confined to one place and warding off attacks from the slowly growing numbersof splinter creatures. And wouldn't you know it? Turns out he's a big ol' softy, too, just like the rest of us.

Whigham has done nothing but expand his increasingly impressive career. (Motherfucker's only been in three films nominated for Best Picture over the last two years, as well as appeared in both "Boardwalk Empire" and "True Detective.") Splinter was not one of his first major roles, but rather an interesting stepping stone for him along the way. He was far enough along in his career that he could have easily not taken part, but I'm glad he did, as the film is all the better for it. And despite all the bad-asses he'd already played, and all the bad-asses he'd yet to play, I guarantee he'll never do anything as bad-ass as shooting a shotgun one-handed, since his other arm has long been torn off, tossing it in the air to load another shell, and shooting it again. (Don't get me wrong, Wagner and Costanzo as the kidnapped couple forced to align with a "bad guy" in order to survive do just fine with their roles. But this is Shea Whigham's film.)

Speaking of smart casting, enjoy the appearance of the opening gas station victim, played by Charles Baker. Perhaps you know him by another name: Skinny Pete, from the pop culture phenomenon that is "Breaking Bad."

"That's Kafkaesque."

Toby Wilkins' direction over Splinter is just fantastic. The chaotic camera does a nice job of masking the assuredly cheap and simple creatures while also creating a deep frustration within his audience, because we just want to see this thing – every ugly nook and cranny. And among the many great set-pieces on hand, one in particular – which has one main character, er, let's say impaired, and making his way toward a getaway car – which will literally have you screaming at the screen for him to move his fucking ass. It's a sequence designed explicitly to have you wondering if he'll make it, and it works like gangbusters.

Toby Wilkins, where the fuck did you go? I mean, okay – The Grudge 3 didn't work out, and I don't at all blame you for hopping on board that franchise and working alongside Hollywood heavyweight Sam Raimi, even if the film was always fated to go direct-to-video. And I don't at all fault you for The Grudge 3 turning out kind of...well...shitty. Let's just pretend it didn't even happen. I don't look at such a film and even remotely think "a Toby Wilkins film." At best, I consider it a minor diversion on the road that will eventually lead you back to the world of horror features, where I know you'll once again give us something worth a damn.

May 8, 2014

COUGHING DOG

Kristin had always been the “black sheep” of her family. She came from a rural and very conservative Middle Georgia clan, and had fought constantly with her parents since she was a child. Kristin wanted no part of the settled and routine life her parents had lead – she was an impulsive free-spirit who would travel to the far corners of the earth at a moment’s notice, sometimes not even knowing where she was headed, or why.

So it came as no surprise when, a few weeks shy of her 30th birthday, Kristin announced that she was leaving her high-paying job at a major corporation to fulfill her life’s dream – to become a professional sculptor. She sold her expensive suburban apartment and moved into an abandoned mill in one of the rougher areas of Atlanta. She planned on converting part of the space into a full-time studio and living area.

Her parents were horrified, especially when they learned that her studio was just a few miles down the road from the county jail. And Kristin didn’t see the need to rig her studio with an expensive alarm system, for her neighbors seemed nice enough. But like every other discussion Kristin had with her father, his words of warning went in one ear and out the other.

So on her 30th birthday, her father took matters into his own hands and bought Kristin a guard dog – a Doberman named Bishop from the local humane society. The dog had been abused by his former owners, and had become mean and distrustful of humans. But Kristin always had a strong love for animals, and she took the poor dog into her care. In a matter of weeks, Bishop became very attached to Kristin, and extremely protective whenever anyone else would approach her.

One morning, Kristin came home from a trip to the hardware store to find Bishop lying in the middle of the floor, coughing and wheezing uncontrollably. She immediately rushed him to the local veterinarian, who performed a series of tests. After a while, the vet was satisfied that Bishop wasn’t dangerously sick, but he couldn’t figure out why the dog was still coughing.

“Don’t worry,” he told Kristin in his calm and soothing voice, “Bishop looks perfectly healthy. But I’d like to run some additional tests on him this afternoon. Why don’t you go home and I’ll call you when we know something. There’s no sense in sitting in the waiting room all day.”

So Kristin got back in her car, made a trip to the health food store, then returned home. As she walked through the door, she could hear the phone ringing in her bedroom. Loaded down with shopping bags, she decided to let her voice-mail catch the call. But no sooner had the phone stopped ringing then it started ringing again. Thinking it may be an emergency – or perhaps an annoying telemarketer who needed to be yelled at – Kristin dropped her bags and ran to the phone, catching it on its last ring.

“Hello?” she breathlessly answered.

She was surprised to find her veterinarian on the other end. “Kristin, we have some results on Bishop. We need you to come back to the office.”

“Okay. I’ll be there in an hour or so…”

“…No, Kristin,” interrupted the vet in a barely controlled voice. “We need you to come down now.”

Kristin was taken aback by the sound of his voice. She could hear the tension lurking behind his words. There was something he wasn’t telling her. “What’s wrong?” she asked. “Is Bishop okay?”

“We’ll talk about that when you get here,” answered the vet, his voice growing louder and more agitated. “Just get in the car now.”

“Why can’t you tell me over the phone?” asked Kristin.

The vet suddenly blurted out, “Are you in the house alone?”

A chill ran through Kristin’s blood. She slowly sat on her bed and replied, “Yes. Why?”

She could hear the vet taking a deep breath on the other end of the phone. Then, barely able to contain the tremor in his throat, he said in a hushed voice, “Listen to me carefully. We found out why Bishop was coughing.”

It was then that Kristin noticed her bedroom window. A hole had been punched through the glass, and it was unlocked.

“Kristin, are you there?”

“Yes,” Kristin answered, her voice starting to shake.

She then noticed drops of blood on her carpet. They stretched across the room and underneath her closet door. “I don’t know how to tell you this, but what we found in your dog’s throat were fingers. Human fingers.”

As the vet spoke, Kristin sat frozen as she watched the closet door slowly creak open on its rusted hinges. “Did you hear what I said? He bit the fingers off somebody’s hand!”

Kristin still didn’t answer. In the darkness of the closet, she swore she could see the hand of a large man, blood dripping from where his fingers had been gnawed off. And on his arm was the orange sleeve of a prison uniform.

May 5, 2014

ARE YOU AFRAID OF THE DARK? 1x3: THE TALE OF THE LONELY GHOST

If you were a budding horror misanthrope in your early teens during the ‘90s, then you not only remember, but cherish, this long-running Nickelodeon series about a group of variously ethnic kids meeting in the woods at night to trade spooky tales. Perhaps you remember President Gary's opening remarks during the first episode: "We're called The Midnight Society. Separately, we're very different. ... But one thing draws us together: the dark! Each week, we gather around this fire to share our fears and our strange and scary tales." The stories were creepy, corny, fantastic, or pretty stupid, but we all remember that nervous knot in our stomachs beginning to tighten as the legitimately eerie opening title sequence began (which includes that awful clown-doll from which I used to avert my eyes). You didn’t know if the groundwork for nightmares was being laid, but you sat, rapt, waiting to see.  So grab your weird bag of magic dust and toss it in the fire. It’s time to see if you’re still afraid of the dark.



The Tale Submitted For Approval: 

"The Tale of the Lonely Ghost"

The Submitter: David

The Current Midnight Society Administration: Gary (President, Glasses); David (Vice-President, Administrator of the Useless); Kiki (Secretary of War/Ass-Kicker, Name-Taker); Eric (Director of the Office of Management and Budget/Minister of Looking Smarmy); Betty Ann (Ambassador to the United Nations/Gary’s Unspoken Mistress); Kristen (Trade Representative/Socialite); Frank (Intern/Socialite).

 

The Jist

Because her parents are forced to travel in support of their jobs, boy-clothes-wearing Amanda Cameron has no choice but to spend the summer with her goofy Aunt Dottie and her bitch cousin, Beth. Upon arriving at their house, Amanda hears eerie banging coming from the house next door, which, according to realtor Aunt Dottie, has been vacant for years. It's also immediately apparent, with Beth's first appearance, that she is a total asshole. She makes it pretty clear she's going to turn the cunt up to eleven and refuse to cut Amanda any breaks for the entire summer. She even forces upon her a bunch of bitch rules, like to literally clean up after Beth, making sure everything she touches ends up back in its original place, or to tie down Beth's gigantic elephant ears at night when the winds come, or else the sheer power of the storms will rip her entire head off. Last, if Amanda wants to be friends with Beth and her friends, she has to spend the night alone in the house next door which, oh yeah, is full-on haunted. Amanda agrees because she's desperate to put her hair in a side ponytail just like Beth and her turd friends. 

That night, Beth tells Amanda the entire story of the house next door: a young girl died there, accidentally, when a bunch of mean neighborhood kids chased her inside while she was on her way to stay with her grandmother. She'd apparently been mercilessly picked on because she was a deaf-mute, which I guess is enough of a reason to pick on a young girl.

Man, kids are dickheads.

Beth gives Amanda the house keys and dares her to go inside and shine a light in the dead girl's bedroom window to prove she'd made it all the way inside. She does, and while there she hears the sounds of disembodied laughter (which is weird, because, mute?) and mysterious banging noises. And then, in a nice nod to The Shining, she sees EMPLEH appear on the wall out of nowhere, just before the dead girl appears in the mirror.

And then countless twelve-year-olds shit, in brick form, their pants.

Amanda peaces out of that place pronto, taking off her suspenders and golf shoes and slipping into her favorite giant-necked flannel shirt.

Meanwhile you've got "Nanny" (Name? Title? Both?) walking around doing laundry and looking sad and old, and of course this pisses off Beth, because one day the devil sliced off some weird growth that was forming between his ass cheeks and it fell into a pile of red hair and he named it Beth. But it would seem Nanny isn't just sad and old because she's stuck working for Beth's family; turns out she's the mother of the girl next door who died long ago and who has been haunting her home ever since. That would ruin anyone's mood.

"(scoffs) EVERYONE knows the purpose of Kafka's Metamorphosis
is to shine a light on the absurdity of life as addressed by Gregor Samsa's
inability to co-exist peacefully with his family and friends, IDIOT."

 

The Reaction

Before I even begin to approach this tale, let me just say: I love that tale-teller David's justification for Amanda having to spend the summer with her cousin was because her traveling parents were "some kind of scientists." You know what, David, this is your story. You can make them any kind of scientists you want. Seriously, you could call them Pilate-Monkey scientists if you so chose. You just have to PICK ONE.

Anyway...

While not as good, creepy, or even well-directed as the previous episode, "The Tale of Laughing in the Dark," this first season of "AYAOTD" is still so-far/so-good. This episode is another iconic offering from our creative show runners, and I like that this time around it dials down the creepiness and ups the human emotion. Amanda remains a static character; there's really no lesson she ends up learning. She starts off the episode a good person, and ends it the same. Perhaps she learns to face her fears? Although that's kind of trite and lazy bullshit, because I face my fears every day when I head into my office job, and no one's putting me on a low-budget Canadian show.

Additionally, the framing device of the Midnight Society's David presenting Kristen with a gift for her birthday really eats into the episode's 30-minute block that would have been better spent on the actual tale David was telling. Unless this birthday gift ended with off-screen finger banging in the woods, I'd've rather spent more time with the ghost.

Is It Scary?

Mildly. The scene with the dead girl in the mirror holding out her hand toward Amanda is pretty creepy for a show geared toward kids still at mitten-wearing age. But that's really the only part that goes for scare. Halfway through the episode you find out that the ghost isn't really scary or angry at all, but instead just might be the saddest specter in the United States of America.

Is It Corny?

Not too corny, since I genuinely appreciate the intent of the episode. It's trying to be less scary and more emotional, and since I'm an emotionally unstable fool, I fall for this shit hardcore.

Is It Stupid?

Not especially.

How Bad Is The Acting?

Pretty bad. Young Amanda appears to be on lithium for her entire performance, while offering (either intentionally or unintentionally) a character tic in that she is constantly poking, pulling, and adjusting her clothes, as if she's uncomfortable in her own skin. Beth, however, simply comes off as being from North Jersey, which means she's full on obnoxious. In fact, the only person not filling the scenes with the smell of thespian excrement is Sheena Larkin as the very sad Nanny, who seems to be trying more than everyone else put together. In fact, she's so good that she makes appearances in three other "AYAOTD" episodes between now and Season 7.

Do The Kids Deserve Their Terror?

Amanda doesn't at all, but she's at least existentially rewarded by having freed the dead girl's trapped spirit while also getting the upper-hand on her a-hole cousin. Speaking of, Beth not only deserved her terror, but also deserved to be run over by ten Amtrak trains. 

Why Does That One Kid Look Familiar?

Laura Bertram as Amanda has had an okay career, though her most high-profile project may have been her appearance in the cancer-com 50/50, starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, but considering you have to "click more" on that film's IMDB main page to see her name, it probably wasn't a terribly large role.

If Laura Levin as Beth looks familiar, it's because she's actually Michael C. Maronna, aka Big Pete from "The Adventures of Pete & Pete."

How Canadian Does Everyone Sound?

Honestly, not that Canadian. It's a little disappointing. There's even a Brit! What gives!

Final Thoughts

At the end, when Amanda forces Nanny back into the house to prove the existence/presence of her long-dead daughter, and Nanny goes into the mirror with her, and, I guess, dies, and becomes reunited with her in death, I really hope Amanda gets to keep Nanny's purse, because with Nanny's regular salary plus the social security she MUST be collecting by that point, that could make for a decent chunk of change, and Amanda could use that money to hire someone to poke and pull at her clothes full-time, freeing her up to ingest more lithium.

Fearful symmetry.



On the Official Gary Creeper-Shot Rating Scale...



I Award "The Tale of the Lonely Ghost:"

 

4 Gary Creeper Shots

 

I declare this meeting of the Midnight Society closed. (Splash sound.)