Saturday, August 18, 2018

Halloween at Michaels

Michaels definitely seems to have stepped up their Halloween game this year with some really interestingly gothic merchandise perfect for an apothecary. I've been to three Michaels and each has some crossover products and some whole lines unique to each store (only one carries the "full" Martha Stewart Halloween line). I asked the manager if they were getting the other items and she said no. Each store will carry some unique lines. What?! Has that always been the case? Anyhoo, I'm waiting for that one 40% off sale that's just around the corner. Here is what made my wish list.

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Martha Stewart at Michaels

Browsing through my newly remodeled Michaels, I stumbled upon Martha Stewarts extensive NEW Halloween collection. The light up bats and wall-clinger bats are especially good (more realistic than cartoony). I counted three distinct themes/colors but the staff was still in the process of putting items out. It's great to see such a large and inspired collection after years of neglect. Is there hope for a new Halloween magazine this year as well?!?

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

100 Days

"By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes."

Saturday, July 21, 2018

American Horror Story: Apocalypse

The new season of American Horror Story was announced via Twitter this week and so far the new artwork for Apocalypse promises a devilish, chilling season. Will this the GREAT season we've been waiting for?

According to Ryan Murphy the tone is not "as real" as last season's Cult and more inline to the earlier seasons like the unhinged Asylum (season 2). It's also a crossover of Murder House (season 1) and Coven (season 3). So demonic babies, ghosts, witches and the supernatural!

Interestingly, the red and black coloring and thematic elements of the key art recalls the first season's artwork featuring the pregnant woman and the hovering Rubber Man. So once again I am excited about AHS and will anxiously await the premiere on September 12.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Scary Movie Previews

The first half on 2018 has been on fire with some great scary movies (A Quite Place, Hereditary, and for a select few Winchester). Here are the big releases to expect for the second (dark?) half of the year.

The Nun (opens September 7)
We finally get to know the origins of that creepy nun from The Conjuring 2 in this prequel set at the Carta Monastery in southern Transylvania (Romania). It stars Taissa Farmiga (younger sister of Vera Farmiga who plays Lorraine Warren in the Conjuring Universe films).

Suspiria (opens November 2)
This remake of the beloved Dario Argento classic had a tumultuous road (gaining and losing a director and cast) but has now been completed with a new cast that includes Dakato Jasckson, Tilda Swinton and Chloe Grace Moretz. The story revolves around an American joining a dance academy with a sinister history.

Down a Dark Hall (opens August 17, limited/VOD)
Based on a YA novel, this film adaptation pits the troubled girls at the Blackwood Boarding School against the paranormal. The trailer features the enchanting Uma Thurman in her gothic finery, and is directed by Spanish director Rodrigo Cortes who's has an interesting body of work (Buried, Red Lights, Grand Piano).

The House With A Clock In Its Walls (opens Septmeber 21)
This adaptation of the 1973 children's book, described as an American gothic fantasy horror film is directed by Eli Roth (uh-oh, sorry kids) and written by Eric Kripke (who created the tv show Supernatural).

The Little Stranger (opens August 31)
Set in the 1940s this adaptation of the 2009 gothic novel involves a family who holds terrible secrets in a dilapidated mansion in Warwickshire, England.

The First Purge (opens July 4)
The fourth sequel in the Purge franchise takes us way back to the beginning to show us how the night of unpunished killing started.

The Meg (opens August 10)
Jason Statham faces off a giant prehistoric shark in this perfectly timed Jaws update. Take that Shark Week!

Anna and the Apocalypse (Dec 7 limited release)
Okay sit down for this one: A Christmas Zombie Musical! I know.!!! It sounds utterly unique, crazy, and likely the best gift we'll get this year.

Also coming soon are:

Halloween (open October 19) - See my post here. YES!!

Slender Man (tentatively August 24) – Looks like the internet will win this one. A few reports suggest that distribution of the film is in limbo after many on the internet, including me, have called "too soon" for capitalizing on the real tragic event on which the movie is based.

Overlord (opens October 26) - This J.J. Abrams produced D-Day war movie may or may not have anything to do with Cloverfield saga. So far there's no real trailers, artwork or much else for the secretive project.

Goosebumps: Haunted Halloween (October 12) – Slappy the psychotic dummy will be leading this story for this sequel to the big-budget 2015 film. Jack Back is coming back, sort of, as the voice of Slappy. They must be working around the clock on the CGI for this one since there's no trailers yet.

The Predator (opens September 14, maybe) - This reboot/sequel seems to getting trashed online and it hasn't even been seen. The reschedule shuffle for the film (first opening in March, then February, then August and now September) doesn't bode well and it's creators have been pretty defensive on Twitter. Yikes.

Unfriended: Dark Web (July 20) – This found footage followup to 2014's shockingly not terrible film has surprised us all with an unnecessary sequel.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Mid-Year Scary Movie Report 2018

We’re at the halfway mark of 2018 and I'm catching up with horror films. There's already been some great and entertaining movies this year with A Quiet PlaceHereditary, Winchester, and Ghost Stories but there's so many other films released via video-on-demand and streaming services. Here's my thoughts on a few of those.

Mom and Dad
Nicolas Cage's over-the-top lunacy is finally utilized appropriately in Mom and Dad and even gives this film a chaotic charm. The unspeakable concept that parents want to kill their kids is unique and shamefully entertaining, but it quickly runs out of steam. With no third act, it feels like the filmmakers couldn’t or didn’t care to figure out an ending, ultimately making this a real disappointment. D

The Ritual
A group of men go into the woods to rekindle their bond after a tragedy separated them. Unfortunately stumble into a surreal nightmare to test them as humans. The dread builds and the moody atmosphere and darkness swallows the scenes in near darkness. But if monsters are real, can they ever be escaped? As Netflix acquisitions go, this is one of the years best for the genre. A

The Cloverfield Paradox
The follow-up to the brilliant 10 Cloverfield Lane is entertaining with some crazy metaphysical horror but an ultimately overwrought entry into the series. It’s a bit of a brain twister as it acts as both a distant sequel and prequel to the first Cloverfield. Unfortunately, it was revealed that the movie was initially called The God Particle and had nothing to do with the series until a few scenes were added in. So that’s why everything feels disjointed! D

This coming of age film deals with a young girl mad at the world. After a break up, her mother moves them to a remote cabin home deep in the woods, to be as far away from their old lives as possible. In a moment of desperation, the teenager does a dumb thing and thus starts a frightening descent into darkness. The film is shot with almost documentary feel and the horrors that await in the woods are well-staged. It’s a good film that deserves to be watched. B

This coming of age yarn from Spain has a teen raising her three siblings while her mother works round the clock. During an eclipse, a ouija board session goes awry and thus the demonic shenanigans ensue. There’s some effectively staged horror scenes, a creepy blind nun, and a committed cast of children. While not revolutionary, it’s a solid and scary film that gives the audience exactly what it wants. The bonus during the credits drives this home in a very real way. B

Killing of a Sacred Deer
The apparent domestic bliss of Dr. Murphy (Colin Farrell) and his wife (Nicole Kidman) is tested when a young man, the son of a patient who died under the doctor’s care becomes a nuisance in their lives. The unsettling film appears aimless but slowly reveals a perplexing scenario that builds into abject horror. The viewer is forced to interpret much of what happens which can be infuriating but it leaves a lasting impression. B-

Insidious: The Last Key
In this immediate prequel to the first Insidious film, Elise (Lin Shaye) travels back to her childhood home to confront the demon that set her on her path to ghost busting. This one has a lot of jump scares and a so-so story that all feels to insignificant and repetitive (once more into the further!) but the marvelous Lin Shaye, who deserves better, makes it worth the time. C

This sci-fi mind bender spent a couple weeks in theaters and then vanished. It's a fantastic, colorful sci-fi film, falling somewhere between Arrival and Under the Skin. A group of scientists headed by a somber Natalie Portman head into an mysterious anomaly occurring on the far west coast of Florida. It's a terrifying trip with definite horror beats that reminded me of Alien but on Earth. The last third of the movie is so mind boggling that it can only be experienced and not necessarily understood. A

From the screenwriter of The Orphanage comes this very artful family drama about four siblings to hide their mother’s passing to stay together as a family. It’s almost a fascinating character piece thats long on the drama and very short on the horror with an excellent cast led by George MacKay and Anya Taylor-Joy. But it’s also very underdeveloped while being tediously long, making the central mystery not as effective as it could have been. C

Black Hollow Cage
With an interesting premise, stylish cinematography, and modern setting, this futuristic  film about a father and daughter and mysterious cube that can bend time sounds great on paper. Unfortunately the script is absolutely atrocious, the acting amateurish, the pace is languid, and the cinematic style is a Lars von Trier knockoff (the film is even divided into chapters). It’s a thoroughly pretentious, silly bore. The Spanish movie Timecrimes did this so much better. F

The Cleanse
Imagine if you could drink four glasses of murky juice and purge all your negativity down the drain. The Cleanse is an icky-whimsical horror dramedy starring Johnny Galecki (The Big Bang Theory) and the incomparable Anjelica Huston. The concept is strong but fails to follow through with a supportive narrative or significant character development. However I did appreciate the extensive practical effects and the bittersweet tone that serves as a cautionary fairy tale: be careful of the monsters you try to confront. B

Having a baby can be brutal and this movie makes sure to give all first-time mothers serious jitters. While I found the story uninspired, the execution at times rises above it's B-movie schlock thanks to some better than usual performances and solid production. However holding it all together is a rather murky paranormal through-line that never quite gels to be truly scary. I thought of a several different ways it go but always followed the expected path. Just one surprise would have been great. C–

Still on my 2018 mid-year horror queue are The Endless, Upgrade, Ravenous, Terrifier, Wildling, Unsane, Caught, Us and Them, The Lodgers, and Demon House.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

"Hereditary" Is a Modern Classic

I’ve been thinking – no, obsessing – about Hereditary to no end. It's a transgressive experience that echoes the best horror of all time, and defiantly proceeds at changing or rather eliminating the formula. Yes, it’s overworked at times and the pacing makes it feel like a film from another generation, but there has not been a film so deeply disturbing, unsettling, or effective at breaking down the mechanics of fear on both conscious and subconscious levels. This is a horror movie for thinking adults that doesn't pander to the audience, demands investment, and defies conventions.

At face value, Hereditary is a melancholy drama that primarily deals with grief of a disconnected family that can’t escape tragedy. The mother (a sensational performance by Toni Collette) is a detached artist who works on creepy miniature replicas of her house and family. The son is emotionally battered and floundering. The younger daughter appears to have has some some developmental challenges and some dark interests. And the father walks around like a ghost trying to hold everyone together.

For the first hour, we delve deeply into their emotional family issues that are instantly relatable and yet in the periphery is something much more sinister at work. Scene by scene you wonder where and when this thing will suddenly explode.  But it doesn’t. The immensely smart narrative does not follow the beats of a conventional horror movie (build up, release, repeat). What it creates is long, sustained dread and tension along with a subtle persistent aural soundtrack that affect the viewer with impending doom. And then the giant walloping begins.

I sat breathlessly and at a complete loss when it does proceed into wickedness. Scene by scene follow chaotically in discordant quiet intervals, adding bits and pieces of information, never letting anything settle and the battering continues. This arthouse film delivers on its promise and nothing remains ambiguous, for better or worse.  The visuals it creates are unnerving and remain seared into your brain. The artful cinematography makes it impossible to look away as scenes transition with effortless, lyrical ease into non sequitur edits that heighten the anxiety. The film forces your eye away from the focus, a character in the bed for example, and makes you look deeply in the dark corners of the frame. Even when those things don’t register immediately, your mind certainly sees them. It’s impossible to explain how it works on the level that it does.

Just to be clear, there are no cheap scares here. Audiences looking for a traditional horror may be disappointed by the pace, but those who embrace the experience will find it absolutely chilling. To say any more would be to ruin the experience and I recommend going into this without studying trailers too closely. This is arthouse horror at it’s absolute best with nods to everything from Rosemary’s Baby to The Shinning to The Exorcist. In other words, Hereditary is a modern classic.

Friday, June 8, 2018

The Halloween Trailer is Here!

The Halloween (2018) trailer has premiered today after much teasing on social media. It looks absolutely fun and may finally wash out the rancid taste of Rob Zombie's reimagining. It stars Jamie Lee Curtis reprising her role as Laurie Store and Nick Castle as Michael as a direct sequel to the first two films (ignoring all the sequels that came after). Director Davis Gordon Green and writer Danny McBride met with John Carpenter prior to film being greenlit, got his approval on the script, and Carpenter even agreed to score the movie. Here's the official site and the movie opens October 19.


Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Monster Horns

Memorial Day marks the start of my Halloween build and I'm happy to report that my work is coming along. As I've mentioned before, this year's theme – Monster House – is a completely new build in a scale that I'm not used to working it. It'll be HUGE so basically taking over the entire garage. I started with the horns that will be sitting on the roof. After some measuring and feedback, I decided these horns will be about 45" tall and about 85" in circumference to be just noticeable on the house. They'll stand out in the darkness with a little fluorescent paint and complementary lighting.

The horns will sit on a gabled roof but we often have very high winds. So I engineered a sectional wood frame (easier to carry in sections to the roof) that would use gravity, a non-skid backing, a few bricks and some rope to stay put on the roof. Plus horns have a rather aerodynamic shape.

To build, I used chicken wire frame along with PVC pipe to support the shape. I covered the whole thing with a crosshatch of masking tape (to help attach the plaster medium) and then laid a plaster cloth as a based instead of my usual paper mache. The process went much faster and easier and resulted in a rather stiff shape with only 1 coating.

The Active brand plaster cloth (available on Amazon for about $16) is new to me but I would highly recommend it. The cloth is embedded with plaster and comes in a giant roll. You easily trim it to any size or shape, dip it in water, and immediately lay it onto your shape. You can them smooth it out, shape it, or give it texture. It sets quickly so you have to work fairly fast. It takes paint very well.

So here is where I am now. I still need to add a few more layers, add the finishing texture, paint them, and then seal them with spar urethane to ensure they stand up to weather (which for us in Northern CA is just light to medium rain in October). I'm not sure where I will store these for next year but that's a November problem.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

"Ghost Stories" is a (Mostly) Fun Romp

The mind sees what it wants to see. This is the premise of the UK film Ghost Stories, a highly anticipated and classically-minded horror film. With a structure that resembles an anthology, three short tales strung together, the film’s focus is really its substantial wrap around story that forms its main narrative.  In it, Professor Goodman (played nimbly by Andy Nyman) makes it his life’s work to debunk ghost-obsessed charlatans via a reality show.  Three cases however lead him down a rabbit hole that push the boundaries of what he accepts to be truth.

It’s a classic spook show that touches on all the tropes of the genre: a night watchman in an abandoned asylum, a careless youngster on a joy ride through desolate woods, and a haunted stranger with an unimaginable secret. For fans of the ghost genre this will be an absolutely fun romp with a straightforward approach that is somehow refreshing. The production values show the care that went into making the film and there’s so much attention to detail with the elaborate sets, the moody theatrical lighting, and strong performances from a spooked Paul Whitehouse, a deranged Alex Lawther, and Martin Freeman at his serious-wacky best. Yes this is a man’s movie with nary a (living) female in sight, which is unusual for a horror movie. Where is the final girl or the scream queen?

However, the final destination may be a sticking point for many viewers. The source material is a stage play and sorrowful endings are all too common in theatre. The movie is a gleeful, frightful fun for most of  its running time and the abrupt tonal shift is jarring and unnecessary. It harkens to the obnoxious twists found in M.  Night Shyamalan’s movies and this too, lands with dud. It’s not enough to ruin the movie but still brings the fun to a halt.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Happy Halfway to Halloween

April 30 is the official kick off for Halloween enthusiasts, Halloween purveyors, and yard haunters to start getting their wicked wheels turning on their 2018 season.

I have my plans ready to go and now it's all about execution! My challenge this year seems easy but I'm working on a very large scale which I've never done. It even involves roof work. EEK! I'm eager to head to the garage and start making giant 2 foot teeth! Inspired by both the movie and Christine McConnell's brilliant work, my theme this year is Monster House. The last piece of the puzzle fell into place last year (thanks AtmosFX) so I'm ready to do this!

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Rotten Tomatoes Lists the Best Horror Movies

Rotten Tomatoes, the movie review aggregate site you either love or hate, compiled it's list of the 100 Best Reviewed Horror Films. This is based on what they call an "Adjusted Score" on eligible titles which stipulates at least 40 reviews and the number of reviews skewing the list (using some statistics thing called a Bayesian formula). Some of these are my favorite films of all times (#2, 17, 18, 23, 34, 41, 45, 58, 73, 90) and others I'm surprised to see on this list (#32, 44-really?, 51, 71), and some I'd never heard of (#72, 84, 93, 94). Anyhoo, my spring/summer project is to watch the remaining 23 films (marked in dead skin blue) on this list that I haven't seen.

1 Get Out (2017)
2 The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)
3 Psycho (1960)
4 Nosferatu, a Symphony of Horror (1922)
5 King Kong (1933)
6 Repulsion (1965)
7 The Bride of Frankenstein (1935)
8 The Babadook (2014)
9 Rosemary's Baby (1968)
10 Frankenstein (1931)
11 It Follows (2015)
12 Let the Right One In (2008)
13 Aliens (1986)
14 Freaks (1932)
15 Night of the Living Dead (1968)
16 Eyes Without a Face (1962)
17 Pan's Labyrinth (2006)
18 Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn (1987)
19 The Witch (2016)
20 The Birds (1963)
21 Gojira (1956)
22 The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
23 The Cabin in the Woods (2012)
24 Don't Look Now (1973)
25 The Vanishing (1988)
26 The Innocents (1961)
27 A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014)
28 Drag Me to Hell (2009)
29 The Evil Dead (1981)
30 Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)
31 Carrie (1976)
32 The Loved Ones (2012)
33 Young Frankenstein (1974)
34 Halloween (1978)
35 Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht (1979)
36 Room 237 (2013)
37 Re-Animator (1985)
38 Train to Busan (2016)
39 A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
40 The Host (2007)
41 Shaun of the Dead (2004)
42 Dracula (1931)
43 Zombieland (2009)
44 It Comes At Night (2017)
45 What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962)
46 Suspiria (1977)
47 Eraserhead (1977)
48 The Fly (1986)
49 Dawn of the Dead (1979)
50 Phantom Of The Opera (1925)
51 We Are Still Here (2015)
52 Don't Breathe (2016)
53 The Wicker Man (1973)
54 Little Shop of Horrors (1986)
55 The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
56 Frankenweenie (2012)
57 The Blair Witch Project (1999)
58 The Shining (1980)
59 The Exorcist (1973)
60 An American Werewolf in London (1981)
61 The Conjuring (2013)
62 The Dead Zone (1983)
63 Misery (1990)
64 Let Me In (2010)
65 Cronos (1994)
66 Gerald's Game (2017)
67 Bone Tomahawk (2015)
68 The Orphanage (2007)
69 28 Days Later (2003)
70 Near Dark (1987)
71 Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986)
72 Russian Ark (2002)
73 Poltergeist (1982)
74 Donnie Darko: The Director's Cut (2004)
75 The Devil's Candy (2017)
76 Chronicle (2012)
77 Goodnight Mommy (2015)
78 The Descent (2006)
79 The Omen (1976)
80 Slither (2006)
81 Ginger Snaps (2001)
82 This Is the End (2013)
83 Altered States (1980)
84 A Field in England (2014)
85 Spring (2015)
86 The Autopsy of Jane Doe (2016)
87 Gremlins (1984)
88 Backcountry (2015)
89 Paranormal Activity (2009)
90 The Thing (1982)
91 We Are What We Are (2013)
92 The House of the Devil (2009)
93 Save the Green Planet (2004)
94 Dracula: Pages From a Virgin's Diary (2003)
95 Dressed to Kill (1980)
96 The Others (2001)
97 The Conjuring 2 (2016)
98 Santa Sangre (1989)
99 Willow Creek (2014)
100 Split (2017)

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Quite the Quiet Place

John Krasinski's directorial debut A Quiet Place is truly terrifying, tense and terrific. It's a creature feature that makes the genre feel fresh again, not by its plot contrivance (be quiet or be killed) but by the solid nearly wordless script, a cast that includes the ever-versatile Emily Blunt and the astounding work of Millicent Simmonds as her deaf daughter, and the pitch perfect direction that builds dread, releases havoc and reloads. There are no cheap startle scares. And it's also a smart, staying just ahead of the audience, and then a surprisingly moving film. The world we are dropped into has no clear explication and yet feels full realized, completed with lush swooping hills of the family's otherwise idyllic farm. The most mesmerizing thing about watching this film in a packed theater is how silent and attentive the audience was – no candy wrappers, no cell phones. I've never seen anything like it. This will likely be the year's best horror film and a must-see for movie lovers of all walks.

ADDENDUM: By now most horror fans have heard the news that A Quiet Place is breaking box office records with a huge $50 million opening weekend. And it's holding a steady at 95% on the Rotten Tomato aggregate. So naturally, Film School Rejects reports that the screenwriters are hopeful for a sequel and have some great ideas of where to take the story. Please note there are spoilers, so don't read the article if you haven't seen the film!

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Yes, But Is It "Prestige Horror"?

The horror genre is back in a big way and with the recent attention and wins of The Shape of Water and Get Out, there's no doubt prestige horror will be making a huge comeback in the year(s) to come. But what is prestige horror? Basically, it's a serious, dramatic film with a high pedigree that dips into genre themes, such as the supernatural, unnatural monsters, or serial killers. These movies are usually not blockbusters (like The Conjuring or IT) but tend to be indies or lower budget films that get quite a bit of love on the festival circuit and lots of praise from critics (although their marketing campaigns are usually very misleading). Below is my litmus test to determine whether a horror movie is a prestige horror film.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Department 56 Adds to "Nightmare" Village

Department 56's has added a few pieces to their Nightmare Before Christmas line (available June 25). So far this series has replicated what's been available through Disney and Bradford Exchange although with much better detail, larger size, and much better quality. This year we get Lock, Shock & Barrel's Treehouse, the Town Square Fountain, and Zero's doghouse. I hope they keep going and give us some more odd buildings like the round monster building, the witch hat buildings, the cat building, the octopus tower, or maybe even the spiral hill.

Town Square Fountain, #6001202, $40

Lock, Shock & Barrel Treehouse, #6001201, $130

Zero And His Dog House, #6001203, $20

Elsewhere, Department 56's Halloween Village series adds another interesting witch building (Emeralda's Shoe Shop) and a few less inspired buildings that don't scream out to me. I'm not sure what happened since Enesco bought the company but it feels like Halloween has veered towards the dull and stodgy (and enough with the train cars!). Perhaps they've realigned to their target demo (which skews older based on the the village organizations I've met with) and they want to be inoffensive as possible? 

Esmeralda's Shoe Shop, #6000660, $115

The Bone Grinder Mill, #6000663, $140

The Black Cat Flat, #6000661, $160

Last Laugh Asylum, #6000659, $155

Monster Mash Party House, #6000659, $160

But all is not lost when I saw two accessories: Tree of Terror and Row of Skulls. Both of these are actually pretty scary and maybe even disturbing. I wish they would bring this kind of sinister feel to a couple buildings. Where is black and sinister gothic mansion/monster house like the one from Stephen King's IT? Department 56, please create a focus group with a few of us younger village collectors and let us be your Halloween consultants!

Row of Skulls Curved, #6001747, $18.50

Tree of Terror, #6001754, $30

All photos in this post are from