The Best Horror of the Year, Volume 10, edited by Ellen Datlow (2018), is available from Night Shade books or through Amazon.
In an era of ruthless self-promotion, one should be ever wary of self-applied superlatives like “best” or “greatest.” That said, some bragging rights are more deserved than others, and when it comes to collections of horror fiction, the “Best” series from Night Shade Books has inconsistently but regularly delivered.
Jesus Christ, Rob. Was that real crack featured in this movie? I need to understand what the fuck you were on.
Here’s the thing. A lot of people complained about this movie being absolute trash. It did have its problems, but it wasn’t half bad. Most of my complaints are in singular scenes that were poorly executed, but not the over all story or cinematography.
It does go off the rails at the end. The end is comparable to Beyond the Black Rainbow. It’s freaky as hell, like an esoteric nightmare, and likely to produce a bad flashback.
The over all feel of the movie was pretty solid. The atmosphere was on point, and they wasted no efforts on set design and camera effects. They leaned heavily on practical FX which I deeply appreciate. This did lead to one scene with practical FX so bad they were cringe worthy. It was like something out of Troma Studios. That’s okay for the Toxic Avenger, but not okay if you’re trying to do serious horror.
The acting was surprisingly good. I’ve only ever seen Sheri Moon Zombie play Baby in House of 1000 Corpses and The Devil’s Rejects. Both of those roles were ridiculously over the top, so it’s hard to judge her acting capacity. And again, save one scene that was down right cringe worthy, she did a really solid job.
There’s a lot not to like about this movie, but over all it was worth the time I invested into watching it. I guess, I can only recommend this movie to hardcore horror heads. I almost want to consider it required viewing just because it’s kind of a fresh re-visitation of the 1960-70s cult horror that our culture is missing. Honestly, I feel Zombie was onto something here. Maybe this wasn’t quite it, but he should definitely keep exploring. Fuck the haters.
There’s nothing new about the idea that the witches of the Salem witch trials were real witches. Very recently I reviewed The Autopsy of Jane Doewhich delved into the same concept. What sets The Lords of Salem apart from modern day takes on witchcraft, is its exploration of the classic horror approach to fear and sensation. There are no jump scares, no really gory blood factories, none of that jerky or shaky motion nonsense. Rather, there’s just a slow build of tension, leading to a sense of helplessness, followed by a downward spiral into madness. This movie uses imagery and pace perfectly.
The story is really about the female lead (played by Sheri) being seduced by a coven of witches because she turns out to be the descendant of the Reverend Jonathan Hawthorn. That’s the guy responsible for the Salem witch trials, for the hoes at home. She’s a former addict, which makes her particularly susceptible to them, and this is apparently a part of a curse placed upon her family by the original witches of Salem a.k.a The Lords of Salem. Bound in fate, the movie simply follows her seduction and personal decay, the purpose being for her to give birth to the antichrist… I think? The ending is a little fuzzy. She spits out a fucking demonic starfish, for fuck sake!
The major cringe worthy moments are the only detractors from this movie. There’s a scene when the female lead communes with the baby she is destine to birth. The rubber mutant baby costume is laughable at best; a fucking outright embarrassment to the rest of the movie is more accurate. Sheri’s acting during this scene is the only place she truly falters, but who could blame her, I couldn’t take that scene seriously either.
Then there was the blowjob rape scene. If it was conducted as a part of the female lead’s corruption, that would have been fine. However, a priest violently assaulting and mouth fucking the female lead is only fit for trash grind house and the rest of this movie was very much above it. The only reason to stoop to that level is to be intentionally provocative, but it just doesn’t fucking impress me.
The ending is a jumble of visual takes on the corruption of the female lead. It seems to represent her giving in to the taboos of typical Anglo Christian sin. For the most part it’s fine, but some of it does kinda come off like a silly metal video, rife with demonic visual scrambles.
Over all, most of its problems are forgivable and the movie it’s self not that bad.
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If there has ever been a better real-life example of idle hands being the devil’s plaything than Archie Comics, I would be amused and delighted to hear about it. (No, really: at me.)
From 1942 through 2014, Archie may have received the occasional update or fine-tuning, but he stayed the same basic Archie: redheaded, beloved of Betty and Veronica, safe as milk. Then, recently, Archie and the gang were delivered from the idle hands of his former curators and into the hot little mitts of Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, where the devil got delightfully mixed up in things.
Aguirre-Sacasa, you see, rebooted the entire franchise from the ground up, giving it an occult twist. This included a reboot of the character Sabrina Spellman, a teenage witch who first appeared in Archie in 1962 and originally had a tween-oriented TV show that premiered in 1996 and ran for an inexplicable seven seasons.
I’ve been thoroughly enjoying the new direction of Archie Comics. When I was first dipping a sneakered toe into the comic book ocean, Archie was considered inferior to the capes-and-tights fare that I consumed (although in the late 80s and early 90s, it would have been more accurate to refer to superhero titles as “skintight leather and refrigerator-size machine gun comics,” but I digress). The new Archieverse in the comics is dark, and often delightfully so. I’ve been particularly pleased with the artistic direction. Have a look at the cover of issue #1 of the Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (the comic), drawn by Robert Hack:
As far as comic books go, I’d recommend Sabrina (or Afterlife with Archie) if the aesthetic appeals to you as much as it does to me.
The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (the Netflix show), on the other hand, is a little more complicated. The series is a companion to 2017’s Archie adaptation Riverdale (which airs on the CW, the network for which Sabrina was initially developed). Sabrina is competently – at times beautifully — shot, and I find Kiernan Shipka’s version of Sabrina Spellman to be entirely charming. That said.
Sabrina’s corner of the live-action Archieverse can be viewed three ways. Seen one way, it’s a disjointed horror jukebox, alive with neon and noise but – in the end – little more than a product of its references, some of which are more obvious than others. Alternately, it can be viewed simply on its own terms: as an arch, self-aware little supernatural horror series. Lastly, if we cut through the rich referential fog that it inhabits, and remove the tropes it borrows from more satisfying shows, we’re left with the least appealing version of the show: Sabrina as the archetypal Good Witch, locked in a struggle with a Satanic straw man whose implications are much scarier than the generic corn-maze boogeyman conjured up in episode 1.
The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is at its most lovable when it’s glorying shamelessly in its own references and pop-horror-culture obsessions (which may explain, but does not excuse, its appropriation of some very specific real-life religious imagery – but we’ll get to that). To give you a taste of how baroque this magpie-like plucking and juxtaposition can become, I offer my favorite episode of the series, “Chapter 5: Dreams in a Witch House.” It shares the premise of my favorite episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the season four finale “Restless.” In both “Restless” and “Dreams,” the cast of regulars is trapped in a world of dreams that reveal their insecurities and fixations.
Like “Restless,” “Dreams” structures itself as a series of dreams within a dream – unlike Buffy Summers, however, Sabrina and her pals seem to inhabit a story almost entirely about stories. At one point Chance Perdonno’s Ambrose is trapped in a recursive sequence in which he quotes from Hamlet – and then “In the Desert” by Stephen Crane – while “Night of the Living Dead” plays in the background — all in an episode whose very title is an H.P. Lovecraft reference. All of the above takes place in just four minutes, while still advancing the plot in a serviceable way (and delivering gory horror chills). It can get a little dizzying, but also intoxicating – a pink-champagne neon ride through a labyrinth of mirrors, where 21st-century teens get down (ironically? We’re never really sure) to “the Monster Mash” at a literal Halloween sock hop.
The problem is that we’ve seen this show before, both literally and figuratively. When you shear away the glittering pop culture detritus, you’re left with a remarkably unoriginal story, even for a property that has been a going concern since 1962. Call me old-school, but I had a lot more fun watching Buffy Summers hit most of these plot points the last time around, and that was two very long decades and a string of lesser imitators ago. Sabrina’s sidekicks are particularly one-dimensional, considering that they’re given an entire season to develop, not just a pilot episode, and while Ross Lynch can (I suppose) be forgiven for his Harvey Kinkell, given the thin material he’s presented with, he is one of the least interesting on-screen love interests I’ve ever seen.
So: if Sabrina is one part by-the-numbers supernatural teen drama and one part a cyclone of pop culture surfaces, what is its secret sauce, the X factor that Netflix seemed to be banking on here? Satan, that’s what, and Satan with a focus on cheekiness and quantity rather than intelligence and quality.
While there have been many dubious distinctions to mark the last three years, I’d argue that there have been a few positive developments in the zeitgeist, and one of those positive developments is a clear-headed, calm, open discussion of Satan and Satanism. This is a sentiment that – when expressed out loud – usually requires a bit of explanation. “A positive development?” you might ask. “Doesn’t Satan represent evil – represent human depravity – represent everything that decent people should be against?”
Not the way I figure it – and not the way that the Satanic Temple figures it. I’ve been a member of the Temple since 2014, although my philosophical interest in Satanism goes back about a decade and a half further than that. I should make a few things clear right out of the gate. First, neither I nor the Satanic Tempe believe in a literal, magical, actual Satan. I/we honor him as a literary symbol, a representation of rebellion against arbitrary tyranny and religious irrationality and oppression.
The Satanic Temple is the subject of “Hail Satan?,” which was at the Sundance Film Festival last year and will be released more widely on Good Friday of this year. 2018 also marked efforts to bring a 3,000-pound Baphomet monument to state capitols in Arkansas and Oklahoma. These are sites where Christian activists erected massive religious idols on public land– the Temple exists, in part, to serve as a counterbalance to such efforts and to preserve separation of church and state, and part as a nontheistic religion that promotes compassion and human freedom. But I’m not here to evangelize – if you’re interested in learning about what the Temple stands for, you can read the seven tenets here and an FAQ here.
And the aforementioned real-life Baphomet monument brings us back to the Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, and to the show’s odd specificity in appropriating a symbol for its absurd and slanderous portrayal of the (real) Satanic Temple – the (fictitious) Church of Night. Below, you can see a comparison of two monuments, one from the Temple’s original monument (top) and the one representing the Church of Night in Sabrina (bottom):
Over and over in the show, the Church of Night is identified visually with the Satanic Temple, while perversely demonstrating actions that run counter to each of the Temple’s Seven Tenets. Sabrina is presented as the Good Witch, endlessly lecturing the Bad Witches (with their Baphomet monument, black clothing, and blasphemous ways) about the various ways in which they are Evil and she and – get this – the Catholic Church are Good. At one point Sabrina asks, regarding the Church of Night, “Why should they get to tell me what I do with my body?” (Satanic Temple Fundamental Tenet #3: “One’s body is inviolable, subject to one’s own will alone.”) Members of the Church of Night are portrayed as superstitious believers in magic who look askance at science. (Satanic Temple Tenet #5: “Beliefs should conform to one’s best scientific understanding of the world.”) In another scene, Sabrina says (of the head of the Church of Night): “He’s not divine. He’s flesh and blood, and can be corrupted.” (Satanic Temple Tenet #6: “People are fallible.”)
Tell me: which sounds like the organization that represents evil, by Sabrina’s supposed standards? The Satanic Temple, which the show goes far out of its way to very specifically misrepresent, or the Catholic Church, portrayed as such a generic Good that the only college ever mentioned in the course of a show about teenagers in a small-town high school is Notre Dame?
Sabrina could have been so much more. It could have gone in the direction that the Magicians (another show better than this one) did, which was to almost entirely eschew the black/white paradigm in favor of something more interesting, nuanced, and wild. You don’t need to do away with fantasy to have a morally complicated show, as any Game of Thrones fan could tell you.
How did this show go so wrong? Sabrina is a wonderful character, who represents deep progressive values that I share. Her pals are equally great, on the surface – lovable and fierce, advocates for their communities, excellent role models one and all. So why are the show’s metaphysics so maddeningly unreconstructed – so reactionary?
Part of it, I think, lies in the true source material – no, not the comic books. Sabrina makes the same mistake that its forebear, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, did when it invented the genre. Buffy was one of the all-time great TV shows, and one whose influence on Sabrina is obviously stamped in the DNA of every on-screen moment. But like Buffy, Sabrina adopts – wholesale! – the grotesque “morality” and the worldview of witch trials and witch hunters, of the Malleus Maleficarum – in short, of G(o)od versus (d)Evil.
I just found out there was a remake of this amazing classic, and I’ve never reviewed the original, so I decided to rewatch it… again.
What made this movie so amazing was how they took an old boring concept and made it new again. The idea that the dead don’t come back without consequence is as old as Merry Shelly. Actually, way older than that. We’ve always feared the dead. I think it’s primordial.
So the idea of killing yourself clinically, and using modern medicine to revive yourself was just an amazing new spin. Enticing a near death experience is something modern medicine has experimented with, but not by actually killing people temporarily. The fact that each character who attempts the flatline was legally dead makes this movie so damn exciting. More on this later in the spoilers.
But look at the fucking cast: Kiefer Sutherland, Julia Roberts, Kevin Bacon, William Baldwin, Oliver Plat, and Kimberly Scott. Even the child actors didn’t suck. The acting is flat out spectacular. The plot and story are timeless with a modern twist. It’s deep, but not so complicated you can’t follow along easily. Finally, the atmosphere is dark, gritty, and palpable.
A movie you have to watch in the dark is always a win in my book.
I don’t really give a fuck what you think about the concept. This is required viewing for horror heads and good enough for a general audience. It’s not all about fucking gore, you know.
Your own sins are out to kill you! Now that’s not even a new concept. A lot of movies have tried manifesting personal sins against the main cast. But this one made them real and deadly. Kiefer Sutherland’s character is literally being hunted down by the kid he got killed when he was a kid. That’s just kinda fucking cool man. There’s more too it, of course, as Kevin Bacon’s character discovers you have to atone for your sin in order to get it off your back. Unfortunately, the “sin” of Kiefer Sutherland and Julia Robert’s characters are fucking dead. How do you seek forgiveness from the dead?
Well, as it turns out, for Roberts, it’s really her dead dad that wants forgiveness from her, and for Sutherland, he’s got to die to make the little prick happy. This leads to a really tender moment between Robert’s character and her dead dad, and Sutherland going flatline for 12 whole minutes. My only complaint here is brain death occurs six minutes after the heart stops, so Sutherland should have come back brain damaged.
While one character totally has his life ruined when his sin catches him out as a cheater, everybody survives… now, there’s a problem with that.
I don’t remember this movie ending with everyone surviving. Is there a director’s cut alternative ending I’m not aware of? In my memory, the cheater and Sutherland’s character both died. I very vividly remember a scene with Kevin Bacon trying to talk Kiefer Sutherland down from suicide, right before the the ghost kid fucking kills Sutherland by pushing him out of a very real tree. Not a dream tree from the movie I just watched.
I digress, it feels like a copout that nobody died. There should have been very serious consequences for the hubris of the experiment in order to make the story seem complete. The only person who actually suffered any consequences was the cheater when his fiancee dumped his ass. Is that all? I feel like him and Sutherland should have bit the bullet the way I described. Maybe I made the ending up in my head because I desperately wanted it to end that way.
Anyway, even though the ending is a total copout, the movie is amazing.
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Again, not sure why this installment of the Friday the 13th (F13) franchise was so universally hated on. In my review of Jason X (aka Jason in Space!) I mentioned fans of the franchise placed the original run on WAY too fucking high a pedestal. Five, in my opinion, is really the worst and it’s more about what it wasn’t than what it was.
You can see my review of Jason X at the link below…
But let’s go over the basics. Every single F13 movie had shit acting, shit plot, shit practical FX, shit story arch concepts (like the fucking psyonic chick, or the fact that number five was just a fucking copy cat), leaned desperately on gratuitous T&A, and save the first one, existed as a shameless excuse for a cash grab. And I loved every fucking one! I’m not going to fanboy about it all fucking day, I’ve beat that dead horse back to life and dead again in my last fucking reviews.
Anywho, let’s talk about what makes this movie special. It tried to establish what the fuck Jason is, to begin with. Is he a zombie? A construct, like a flesh golem? Recently, the Evil Dead people said Jason was a Deadite. However, this tries to sort of explain it as more demonic than anything else. I guess that also plays into the Deadite explanation. Either way, it gives us an interesting concept as to how Jason work, more of which I’ll get into in the Spoilers…
But yeah, there was nothing wrong with this movie as another installment of the same ol’ wacky F13. It’s got the entertainment value every single one of the other movies had (save number five. Fuck number five. Fucking copy cat).
So pull your purist head out of your fucking ass and enjoy the shit out of this F13.
So they start off by blowing Jason to smithereens. Kind of a fun start. The usual scantily clad beach bimbo turns out to be a plant for a sting operation. Jason goes after the bate and gets blown up. This is important because it answers the important question of what would happen if Jason was shredded to pieces. This is how we find out about the worm and the Voorhees curse. Now, we have to admit to ourselves at this point, that we’re looooosly stringing together a stream of shameless cash grabs, so coming up with a story arch that ties them all together is gonna be silly as all fuck.
Jason, in some sense, is a supernatural construct driven by a demonic worm due to the Voorhees curse. The only thing we can theorize is that grief-stricken Ms. Voorhees tried to resurrect her dead son, with black magic, or a deal with a demon, or some shit like that. Like the Deadites from the Necronomicon ex-mortis, they come back, but not the same, and completely fucking twisted.
So Jason has to be something along that line. When the worm thingy finally gets into the body of someone along the Voorhees line, it doesn’t make that particular relative become their own super-powered, undead, murderer. No, he turns back into an identical copy of the original Jason Voorhees, hockey mask included. That’s *jazz hands* magic! This is some straight up necromancy.
The only way to kill him? Some more fucking necromancy. Take special dagger, place in hand of Voorhees’ relative, stab Jason in the heart.
But we, as horror heads, all know what we got out of this movie more than another F13. We got a set up for the true final chapter in F13. Freddy vs. Jason! Right at the end, that special clawed glove comes out of the ground and grabs the hockey mask. You KNOW you squeed like the little fucking fan bitch you are! I know I did.
So yeah, you can’t claim to be a lover of the franchise and hate on Jason Goes to Hell. It’s every bit as good as the rest (and better than number five. Fuck number five.)
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