Friday, April 15, 2016

Eli Roth's CLOWN is headed our way

Pennywise gets a run for his money in the new film CLOWN, produced by Eli Roth and directed by Jon Watts (who's currently working on the Spiderman reboot). A father hires a clown for his kid's birthday party (because that's what kids want in 2016) but fails to show up. Luckily, he finds a clown costume in the attic and saves the day. But in the morning, he realizes he can't take it off – it's fusing to his skin, and it's changing him. Yikes. Looks like this falls under the body horror genre with an interesting coulrophobia angle, and while the premise is great, early reviews are mixed.

The original Italian poster (below left) was banned citing it was too disturbing for general audiences. Note the tagline "No child is safe" and the bloodier nose and lips. American audiences will get the revised poster below (below right).

CLOWN is headed to a limited release and VOD on June 17. Take a look at the terrifying trailer:

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Beware the Slenderman

The true crime documentary Beware the Slenderman premiered last month at the SXSW festival and is coming to HBO soon. It deals with two young girls who attempted to kill their friend to appease Slenderman, a fictional monster that arose out of an internet meme.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Sleepy Hollow: What Went Wrong

Sleepy Hollow's third and likely final season aired this weekend, and the finale perfectly captured everything that was terrible and wonderful about the show. What started as a fun, nerdy, and thrilling genre show quickly became an incoherent mess plagued with behind-the-scenes drama.

The show's two brightest assets were the charming Tom Mison as the old-school Ichabod Crane and Nicole Beharie as the likably pragmatic Lt. Abie Mills. No matter how contrived the circumstances as the two faced increasingly odd supernatural forces, the chemistry between the two actors was infectious and kept many viewers coming back. The storylines which often intertwined historical events with inventive supernatural revisionism, a trend that was popularized with Seth Grahame Smith's mash-up Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, was also a draw.

In the fantastic first season, the two faced the Headless Horseman (of the Apocalypse!!) and a twisty story that set-up a brilliant premise. Then, the underwhelming second season made a series of missteps including a complicated mythology, a focus on Crane's intolerable witch wife Katrina, an emasculating backstory for the horseman that removed all the terror, an annoying Indiana Jones-type character named Hawley that brought the show to turgid halt, and worse of all, an insignificant side story about Sheriff Frank Irving (featuring the outstanding Orlando Jones). By season three, the shark had officially been jumped and we were treated to Pandora's lackluster box, a one-note ancient god (I. DESTROY. ALL. HUMANS. And stuff.), an endless trip to the interdimensional catacombs were Mills (and the remaining audience) went mad.

Behind the scenes, the show was in turmoil (and hopefully one day we'll witness the full story right from the horseman's mouth). Orlando Jones wanted out since his role was never fully developed, there was huge fan backlash against Katrina and Hawley, ratings struggled, the show was moved from a prestigious Thursday night to a dumping ground of Friday night, and even Nicole Beharie reportedly also wanted out of her contract. And most troubling, the showrunner (the person responsible for day-to-day management, operations, and overall creative authority) quit the series. Oy.

The third season was set up for failure from the beginning and as the finale proved, it was a discordant, boring mess held together by two fine performances of Mison and Beharie. The writers gave Mills a send off in midseason winter finale (when she walked into an exploding tree portal?) but the network reconsidered and brought her back for the rest of the season for an even more abrupt finale. The connection between these two characters is what made Sleepy Hollow tolerable and the really the only reason to tune in. I've made peace with this as a fitting series finale since it wrapped up much of the dangling storylines, reconnected long lost characters, and brought a blissful end to two of my favorite characters in a long time. It's so disappointing that the promise of this series never fully materialized, but we'll always have the fun first season.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Deceptive Desserts: A Lady's Guide to Baking Bad!

Christine McConnell is one amazing talent. From her freakish baked goods to her impeccably styled photography, her brand is utterly unique and fascinating – a 1950s pin-up with a penchant for pastry and light-hearted horror. It is sublime, and I have eagerly awaited it's arrival since the announcement last year. Eight months later, Deceptive Desserts: A Lady's Guide to Baking Bad! is finally here and it is the book of the year for Halloween enthusiasts.

Granted this is not specifically a Halloween book per se, and is divided by seasons. Each glossy, full-color page reveals things like a Red Velvet Reptilian Cake with sharp teeth and red candy glass shards or Cat Lady Gelatin with floating apple chunks and a side bowl of cinnamon kibble. The Fall brings a Tarantula Cookie with caramel and prickly coconut, and a Caramel Popcorn cat with spider legs. Even Christmas gets a trick with a Serpentine Spice Cake wrapped in a peppermint fondant snake. All this monstrosity is precisely summed up by McConnell, "I prefer a world where the sweets bite back."

This gorgeous hardcover book is exquisitely designed and features pictures of every recipe, as well as assembly and presentation directions. I honestly don't have the talent to make "pretty food", but the step-by-step directions certainly makes me feel like I could. And at 280 pages it's no light endeavor. This is a serious book that rivals the quality of the best Martha Stewart's Halloween book.

McConnell has revealed every trick to her treats in Deceptive Desserts – all designed on a shoestring budget! – easily earning her the title of "Queen of Creepy Cookies". And she does it all! She's a photographer, a stylist, a baker, creates much of the costumes, crafts the sets, and even models in her pictures. Make sure to follow her on Facebook, or revel in her gorgeous photography on Instagram and Flicker. And most importantly get Deceptive Desserts immediately (order from her website directly and get a signed copy).

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

The Witch ~ Review

Mainstream horror movies go for the easy startle scare. It's cheap, universally accepted, and ultimately expected. Dread, however, is another matter and an effect that is much more difficult to create, and almost impossible to suspend over any period of time especially with desensitized audiences. This fear of the unknown is crafted through a careful balance of tone, committed actors, and a hyper-realistic atmosphere that is both familiar and jarringly foreign. Then throw in a few shocking visuals, a devilish angle, and unrelenting anguish that leaves the viewers exhausted. This is the wicked formula that The Witch has mastered. It is a symphony of dread so consuming, so well executed, and pristinely captured in bleak, desaturated tones, that it hails the wildest creature of all – the imagination – to run rampant. 

It is best to go into this film unprepared as the story is rather simple and straight-forward. (Hopefully you have not studied the trailer since it features many of the film's evocative scenes.) Like much art house fare, this is a slow, steady burn that will tax many unsuspecting audiences. After all, the marketing buzz has cast a wide net to lure in mainstream ticket buyers. What they'll find is an intelligent, even scholarly film, focused on the rough chore of early settlement living. The filmmakers have gone to great lengths to recreate the historical details of the period, the often unintelligible English dialects, and the plain hand sewn costumes. Layered on top is coming-of-age story with subtle supernatural inclinations fulfilling promises of its tagline, "A New-England Folk Tale." 

The Witch leaves a lasting impression, especially if you've had even a slight faith-based upbringing. Thoughts of the devil are not something to ever entertain, and here it is a palpable, formidable, and identifiable antagonist. Add to this a chilling aural landscape that echoes the wailing score of The Shining, or the lyrical cinematography that frames even an innocuous bunny rabbit as something darkly sinister, and the film resonates on a deeper, almost subconscious level. It is terrifying, and a categorical accomplishment. Easily one of the best horror films of the last decade.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Kubo and the Two Strings

Laika Films, the masterminds behind Coraline, Paranorman, and The Boxtrolls, is celebrating it's 10th anniversary this year with the release of Kubo and the Two Strings. Stop-motion films are definitely a favorite of mine and this one is looks stunning (the trailer features a few glimpses of the monsters and some familiar looking witches).  Here's a description of the story from IMDB:

Kubo lives a quiet, normal life in a small shoreside village until a spirit from the past turns his life upside down by re-igniting an age-old vendetta. This causes all sorts of havoc as gods and monsters chase Kubo who, in order to survive, must locate a magical suit of armor once worn by his late father, a legendary Samurai warrior.

Kubo and the Two Strings arrives in theaters on August 19, 2016 (in 3D) and features the voices of Art Parkinson, Charlize Theron, Matthew McConaughey, Rooney Mara, George Takei and Ralph Fiennes. Watch the trailer below.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Department 56 ~ Halloween 2016 Introductions

Since being bought by Enesco in 2009, Department 56, the manufacturer of fine collectibles that includes a wicked Halloween village, has gone through a striking evolution leaving behind much of its niche antiquity. Their website which felt like it was trapped in the early 90s for the better part of two decades relaunched in April 2015 with a modern overhaul aimed at a sophisticated (and younger) audience. Suddenly the site is airy, responsive, and their once hard-to-find merchandise is sold directly to the public (to the chagrin of many third party sellers).

Their 2016 Halloween Introductions have a decidedly updated air as well. The folksy and cutesy elements have been replaced with a more mischievous (creepy candy house), humorous (a plump black widow), and even scary tone (skull tree and angel of death). Take a look at some of my favorite pieces this year:

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

America's Most Haunted Village Collection

Halloween village collectors take note: the Bradford Exchange, purveyors of fine collectibles, is considering offering a series of infamous haunted houses. Sign up now to reserve the Amityville House for a rather modest price of $59.99 (most Department 56 buildings start at $70). If they get enough orders they will proceed with the series, and the second issue will be the exquisite Franklin Castle. Why has no one thought of making replicas of famous haunted houses until now?