Thursday, February 22, 2018

SyFy's Channel Zero Scores 10s Across the Board

I'm not sure where my head was in October 2016, but my eyeballs completely missed SyFy's horror anthology show called Channel Zero. With thousands of streaming options on top of pay cable, it's easy to miss great shows. I'm so happy I stumbled across this show after seeing previews for the third season which started earlier this month.

Each season is based on a popular story from the Creepy Pasta site that I can't seem to shut up about. Season 1: Candle Cove, is full of dread, taut tension, and bizarre visuals that I can't seem to shake even now. At six episodes, the show is easily bingeable over the weekend, and probably better watched this way. The story and plot systematically unfold with almost no exposition. Characters jump right into the weirdness in the first episode, and immediately we're introduced to a creepy puppet tv show that only kids can see – and it's influencing them to do terrible things! It's surreal nature means that the show follows no real "horror rules" making the proceedings quite tense. You just don't know what to expect (like all that damn tooth horror). The production is lean but well filmed and the effects modest, but the fine actors really stand out and make this a stellar show (Paul Schneider and Fiona Shaw looking at you).

Comparisons to American Horror Story are inevitable but I don't think they're in the same league. AHS is brash, pulpy, gory, glam trash held together by a top notch cast and an extensive marketing budget. Channel Zero is just so damn better. The stories, characters, and the direction all work together to create a true sense of horror that AHS lost after it's second season. Perhaps I've overlooked SyFy for horror/weirdness but that's two great series (along with Happy!) I'm retroactively gagging about.

Don't believe me? The first two seasons (Season 1: Candle CoveSeason 2: No-End House) are available to stream in their entirety through March 21 on SyFy.com, and the SyFy app. And watch the new cycle, Season 3: Butcher's Block, Wednesdays at 10/9C. I'm looking forward to Season 3 although I might wait to binge on it all at once (not what the network likes to hear but it's the truth). I recommend that you do so as well.



Saturday, February 17, 2018

Unusual Decor for Your Halloween Village

It's only February and I'm already thinking about my Halloween village. I was at Petsmart looking for stuff my black cat demands, and walked through the fish section. I stumbled across this awesome aquarium decor and thought some of these pieces would be interesting accents for my village. I ended up choosing the octopus because the scale was perfect for the ghost ship I already own. The pieces are expensive because they are non-toxic and stand up to being submerged in water (but still less expensive that usual Department 56 pieces). I really loved the many rock formations and gnarled tree limbs too. Some of the plants are even blacklight reactive if you wanted to have a really surreal effect. Check them out at Petsmart.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Be My Scary Valentine

For those who love the bloody horror of love but didn't make it to Hellmark store, here are some ecards to share! Tip: send immediately.









Monday, February 5, 2018

TurboTax Horror Ads Are the Best

It's tax season and like many Americans I am terrified. TurboTax is here to save the day and assure us there's nothing to be afraid of. Their new campaign features a series of horror ads that start creepy but end cute. SEE–Taxes aren't so scary! Brava/Bravo to the Wieden + Kennedy, the Portland-based agency behind these fun ads.

"The Noise in the Attic"


"The Dark"


"The Thing in the Woods"


"The Thing Under the Bed"


"Closet"

"Chupacabra"



Saturday, February 3, 2018

"Happy!" Is the Cure for Winter Doldrums

We can talk about HAPPY! all day but let's make one thing clear: this twisted, crazy show deserves some serious love. It's based on a 2012 four-issue comic book that combines elements of crime, comedy, drama, with some very divergent things. I know I know. The premise sounds ridiculous: a former cop on the verge of suicide is befriended by – an imaginary friend! – an animated unicorn who needs help rescuing an adorable young girl. The girl was abducted by a deranged and frightening Santa Claus who seems to be collecting kids for some nefarious reason. From there things get very twisted with a sadistic torture specialist, a mob family, an odd kids TV show personality, really big bugs, and mom who dives head first into the absurd to find her missing daughter.

Christopher Meloni as Nick Sax is at his most grimiest and unhinged as a pill-popping, boozing, general lowlife and he is hysterical. However, the star of the show is Happy, blue unicorn with a dazzling pink horn. Voiced by Patton Oswalt, his disarming and charming naivety is quickly challenged by the real life on the streets of New York. Being partnered with Nick to solve this crime erodes his innocence (and ours).

As for the production, the camera work is dazzling. The characters, plot and writing are fantastic, and for those out there who like gore, there is plenty of splattered brain meat to go around. Be warned that this is a boundary pushing show with plenty of mucky, offensive, filthy unpleasantness. Yet it's remarkably watchable, absolutely fun to watch, and shocking to see this quality on SYFY.


The season ended on Wednesday but all eight episodes are available OnDemand from SYFY. The best gift of all is that SYFY has renewed it for a Season2!




Friday, February 2, 2018

"Winchester" is Worthwhile Visit

I lived in San Jose, California for five years and when I drove to the grocery store I would see the Winchester Mystery House. This infamous house with its history of ghosts and madness stood just a few blocks from my house! I've been on the tours many times, walking the weird corridors, dark rooms, and even the cold basement – and love taking visitors there, especially for the candlelit tours in complete darkness. Naturally when I heard there was a movie starring Helen Mirren, I was positively giddy.

Thankfully, WINCHESTER does not completely disappoint fans. It melds the house's history (as told by the docent's carefully crafted scripts) with an original story that conjures up a frightful villain. The first act gets straight to the point with ghosts but panders to the audience with many startle scares. Once the movie settles into the second act, it shifts gears and slowly builds the greater mysteries. Then the third act amps up the action but stumbles a bit instead of hitting us with both barrels. At the center is a confused message that seems to contradict itself – the remedy for violence is... more violence!

At least the movie documents the eccentric charm, perplexing history, and enduring lore of the fabled house. More importantly, it introduces the world to the reclusive and endlessly fascinating Sarah Winchester*. As Sarah, Helen Mirren commands every second of screen time and brings out Sarah's strength, sharp mind, and resilience. Jason Clarke does a marvelous job as the drug-addled doctor sent to assess Sarah's mental health. Both actors bestow needed gravitas to the film and show how good actors can elevate any material. I could have easily watched Helen talk about windows treatments and her choice of doorknobs for another half-hour.

At the core is the infamous house with its odd architecture and illogical luxury. With a few external shots of the actual house, the budget clearly ended up on the screen with beautifully realized sets complete with intricate recreations of the woodwork, jeweled lighting, and period details. The atmosphere is dark and oppressive, and the lighting is theatrical and rich with just a few eerie wisps of light piercing long dark corridors. As a haunted house, the posturing is classic, ornate, and terrifying. The movie happens to capture one of the strangest mysteries about the real house itself: once inside its walls, you don't want to leave.

Truth be told, I would have preferred a more sophisticated take on the Winchester House but realize there's an intended audience here. Ultimately this movie is destined to be a souvenir for the Winchester Mystery House gift shop so it aims for an unoffensive middle ground. Unfortunately, the Victorian-like restraint shows and keeps it from being a truly satisfying terror. I also wonder if it will resonate with viewers who don't have an emotional attachment to the house like I do. Perhaps it will pique the interest of movie goers to visit the house. Now there's a strategy!




*NOTE: I recommend the book "Captive of the Labyrinth" by Mary Jo Ignoffo for an exhaustive look at the looooong history of Sarah Winchester, the house, and the lore. Spoiler alert: There's a lot of buzzkill in the book. 







by Daniel Danger


Thursday, February 1, 2018

Bentley Little is the "Best Outright Horror Novelist"

You may not know American horror writer Bentley Little by name but his work is on par, if not even better, than many of his contemporaries in the genre. He has written 27 novels, most recently The Handyman, published in October 2017, and unlike some gothic, suspense or thriller writers, he is best categorized as the "Best Outright Horror Novelist" (according to Stephen King on EW.com). This is a pretty bold declaration in the literary world that perhaps doesn't give true horror its due.


Without any movie or tv show adaptations, or really any hoopla surrounding Little, his works were completely unknown to me until Audible recommended The Haunted. The haunted house story is riveting with terrifying visuals and the tormented family in the middle react reasonably and smartly and unlike their movie counterparts (sure lets follow that weird moan into the dark attic where the one hanging light bulb is not working).

Next, I devoured The Influence which is a deep dive into a surreal nightmare where reversals of fortune and nature is remixed by some giant unseen force. It's lurid and horrifying in that Clive Barker way, but more epic in tone like King's work.

In The Handyman, a man must come to face the truth about that friendly man down the street. It's emotionally resonant work about loss and revenge intermixed with an unexpected supernatural angle. This is one of his most cinematic works with broad visuals – you can almost see the sweeping camera work! 


Little gets right to the point in his books and there is little flowery prose or excessive exposition to prolong what horror readers want: terror, mayhem and monsters! They are not plot heavy and usually written in a straight-forward fashion without much use of gimmicky plot devices (flash backs, flash forwards, red herrings, holdbacks). He tells his stories with confidence and allows his fully realized characters to stand on two feet. The settings are so common that you hardly notice that the horror has creeped in and the atmosphere of dread permeates every page. It's the kind of tense horror that is unpredictable, wildly surreal, and often really dark. It's like those quiet nightmares you dare not even acknowledge in the light of day. This all makes for a terrifying, fun and entertaining read.

The next time you need a palate cleanser after reading one of King's mercilessly long tomes, consider Bentley Little. He is definitely a hidden gem that will please horror readers and deserves a wider audience.