Why Hill House is the Greatest Place in Horror Fiction, According to Andy

Hello and Hallo-welcome to a surprise twist on our Tuesday theme–it’s Textual Analysis Tuesday, and you join your blogger, Andy, as he takes a little trip to a familiar house.

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In the list of places you wouldn’t want to spend the night, Shirley Jackson’s Hill House has got to be near the top of the list. Probably the greatest ghost story ever written, The Haunting of Hill House is not for the faint-hearted. No ghouls wander the halls rattling chains in a white sheet. There’s no elaborate backstory of lost love or evil within, no reason for a haunting given. There’s just old tragedy, and cold spots, and banging on the walls and doors, and a slow prising open of psychological wounds. In the night. In the dark.

The title is intentionally misleading: the house may not be haunted, per se. It can be the subject of the title, and not the object. That tricky little of may also be possessive: the haunting belongs to Hill House, but not something it does.

The fact that Shirley Jackson managed to pack that much ambiguity into five words speaks volumes about the rest of the novel. A dozen people can read this book and come to different conclusions about what, precisely has happened. One thing is clear, though. There’s something deeply wrong with Hill House:

“No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.”

The opening paragraph of the novel does so much in such a short space of time that anyone who writes for a living must regard it with a certain amount of awe. Hill House is “not sane”, but the implication is that it is a live organism. It exists under “conditions of absolute reality” and does not dream: it does not sleep. It’s isolated; it owns the hills that surround it, and it has agency in holding in darkness. It is, at least in some way, conscious. It is well-built; neither dilapidated or ruined by time, and will outlive almost everyone who reads the passage. It is a silent, lonely place, which very subtly implies that not even mice or other pests go near the empty house. And of course, whatever walks there does so silently, without opening any of the doors.

The fact that this paragraph also closes the novel adds a further ambiguity to the titular haunting. To a creature such as Hill House, what would four investigators (who remember don’t exist “under conditions of absolute reality”) staying for a few days be perceived as if not a haunting?

“I am like a small creature swallowed whole by a monster, she thought, and the monster feels my tiny little movements inside”

What we’re missing so far is a physical description, and that’s what we would expect when or protagonist first sees Hill House. Instead we get this:

“No human eye can isolate the unhappy coincidence of line and place which suggests evil in the face of a house, and yet somehow a maniac juxtaposition, a badly turned angle, some chance meeting of roof and sky, turned Hill House into a place of despair, more frightening because the face of Hill House seemed awake, with a watchfulness from the blank windows and a touch of glee in the eyebrow of a cornice.”

Again, there’s the idea that the house is always awake, always “not sane”; note the use of the word “maniac” instead of “manic”. It looks like “a place of despair”, and worse, it looks back at you. Houses are very rarely described this way; and the common word we do use, ugly, is never once mentioned. In some ways that makes the house even stranger: it may not even be ugly, but it is wrong.

That’s not to say as a building that Hill House isn’t strange.

“[Eleanor’s bedroom] had an unbelievably faulty design which left it chillingly wrong in all its dimensions, so that the walls seemed always in one direction a fraction longer than the eye could endure, and in another direction a fraction less than the barest possible tolerable length”

This, as Dr Montague explains later, is entirely intentional:

“Every angle is slightly wrong. Hugh Crain must have detested other people and their sensible squared-away houses, because he made his house to suit his mind. Angles which you assume are the right angles you are accustomed to, and have every right to expect are true, are actually a fraction of a degree off in one direction or another”.

The characters frequently get lost, and doors don’t lead where they expect them to. In addition, the doors are all hung to swing closed on their own if they are not propped open, and several times in the novel the doors are found shut again despite them being propped open. Mrs Dudley the housekeeper is assumed to have shut them, but then again, nobody ever asks her. A grim irony is made from the third sentence of the opening paragraph of the novel, a sentence that at face value seemed almost superfluous:

“Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut.”

What at first seems like alliteration is instead yet another insight into the wrongness of Hill House. Everything it says is literally true, and nothing else. Walls are upright but meet at strange angles, bricks meet neatly but not straight on, floors are firm but may not be level, and the doors are shut because they are designed that way. Of course, it is sensible to shut doors in a large house, but that’s not the only implication. The doors of the house shutting is both rational and reasonable: the rest of the house is neither.

This is a house that, by its very design, messes with the occupants very sense of reality. Here we have something that Lovecraft grasped towards in his writings about ‘non-euclidian geometry’ and ‘strange angles’, most famously in The Call of Cthulhu and Dreams in the Witch House. The result, according to modern psychological studies, is akin to being on a low level acid trip or another dissociative drug, in that once our minds becomes ever so slightly uncoupled from the ‘real world’, our other senses start to behave oddly as well:

“‘Could it be,’ [Luke] asked the doctor, ‘that what people have been assuming were supernatural manifestations were really only the result of a slight loss of balance in the people live here?’”

And at another point Dr Montague remarks:

“We have grown to trust blindly in our senses of balance and reason, and I can see where the mind might fight wildly to preserve its own familiar stable patterns against all evidence that it was leaning sideways.”

It is a grim irony that Hill House exists under conditions of absolute reality, while destroying the occupants’ sense of it. Then again, if it is less than absolute, how real is real?

Of course, the novel plays out to its tragic conclusion, but what has actually occurred is left up to the reader to decide. The house may just be a house after all, a place with a tragic history with a new chapter added. Poor Eleanor was already disturbed when she came to Hill House, and may have been far closer to the edge than anyone realises. And as for the strange noises and the cold spots and the odd hallucinations? Well, we all see things that aren’t there, especially in such a strange, old building after all. In the night. In the dark.

But then again, Hill House is intact at the end, in its hills, never sleeping, never dreaming. A veneer of plausible deniability does not disguise its evil face, and Eleanor still died in its grounds, either possessed by the house or her own delusions. And as Jackson’s masterpiece concludes with a reprise of its opening paragraph, a final, terrifying thought comes to mind.

Why did she specify live organisms?

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The Haunting of Hill House; or Full House (of Ghooooosts)

Hello and Hallo-welcome to another Mini-series Monday, where tuning in next week leads to terror! You join your bloggers, Andy and Lilly, as they try a new kind of house-flipping reality show, though this one seems a bit more scripted than others…

Today’s series offering: The Haunting of Hill House

bdf6b714ca53eb9d0e65e663b9023711b951229cLilly: The Haunting of Hill House is based off a book. It’s had two film adaptations (one had Owen Wilson, and the other was good!), so this is the third time Hill House will be haunting our screens. If you’re curious about the first two, we suggest you check them out!

Andy: Well, the first one, anyway. You are the only person who liked the second one. Also you should check out the book.

Lilly: The Haunting of Hill House approaches the tale of a house that may or may not be evil (see Andy’s discussion of this with our secondary post later!) from the angle of the Crane family, who lived in Hill House over the summer of 1992, and what happened over those months. It then jumps forwards to the lives of the children (now adults) and explores how being brought up, albeit briefly, in the ‘most haunted house in America’ can affect you. Not to mention extreme tragedy, fear, and maybe a bit of supernatural powers thrown into the mix to make it a hot mess of familial drama.

Honestly, it’s hard to approach the plot of this series without getting into detail on either end, but that is the deliciousness of the narrative sculpted. You don’t honestly learn the full story of Hill House, well, ever, but you certainly don’t learn the whole story behind the Crane’s last night in ‘92 spent in the house until the very last episode of the ten part series.

And here is where I struggle, as I want to spoil it so I can gush, but. Readers. You really got to experience this one. And watch it. Really, really watch it, because this mini-series is about forcing you to keep your eyes open and stay on edge because that is what life is–a continuous series of events that you cannot close out. The horror does not stop once it starts, it just keeps trundling along, no hope for those who cannot stand it to have any sort of reprieve.

Andy: Which for fans of the book, or of the first adaptation, may come as a bit of a surprise. It’s not a long book, and the movie is equally brief, and if we’re honest with ourselves not a great deal happens. There’s a great deal of psychological terror, and the house itself may or may not be messing with everyone’s heads, but it doesn’t come across as the kind of story that can really be stretched out.

Fans of the 1999 movie will likely be even more confused, because the house was haunted by the ghost of a child killing man who was essentially exorcised and whose name was Hugh Crain. Then again, I imagine fans of that movie are confused by a lot of things, like getting dressed in the morning.

Lilly: You can’t resist, can you. Fine, the book is unreadable and filled with unlikeable, two dimensional characters! HA!

Andy: GASP.

Anyway, where were we? This is less like an expansion on the original than a remix. There are scenes here that will be familiar, and dialogue, and voice-over snippets, but the story here is very much on the family and their struggles. Hill House, not sane, may stand by itself against its hills, holding darkness within, but by refocusing on a family that has barely survived its encounter with the house and been marked by it creates an investment in character that never really existed before.

It may tend towards the maudlin, especially before the end, but it’s been so strong up to that point that it does kind of earn it. In many ways, its extended length made this a necessity: the original story is deeply bleak and ambiguously horrifying, and attempting to keep that tone for ten episodes would have been deeply depressing.

Lilly: It has an ending you can stomach, even if you feel like your guts have been metaphorically ripped out throughout the series at various points. In an emotional way, anyway. And even in that ending that could come off as a bit sugary, I still found my innards twisting in anguish over the bitterness that it was tinged with, the darkness that couldn’t help but seep in.

Andy: Importantly, however, Mike Flanagan does not skimp on the horror, either by implication or directly. Hill House is as awfully wrong as it ever was, with its bizarre architecture not elaborated on in the same way (nobody has trouble with doors, for instance) but implied in other ways. Like, why is the upstairs so much larger than the downstairs? Why does it have two stairwells and one set of stairs?

Oh, and try and spot how many ghosts you see in scenes where nobody draws attention to them. There’s way more than you think.

Lilly: Go on. We’ll wait.

Just like they will.

Forever. At night. In the dark.

Andy: Alright, Mrs.Dudley, calm down.

Lilly: They definitely don’t walk alone.

Andy: Enough!

It also has some fun subversions for fans of the genre. In Crickley Hall, a discovery of an old ledger fills in important details about the house and its inhabitants. Here, an entire cellar is discovered, and it means nothing. There’s just another creepy room in a big old creepy house.

The whole thing hangs together much better than, frankly, it has any right to, and definitely deserves to be watched.

Lilly: So go, watch, and–is enjoy the right word here? Or is it endure?

Nah, it’s enjoy! Go, watch, and enjoy!

Halloween (2018); or #Threestrongwomen

Hello and Hallo-welcome to Sequel Sunday, where the horror feels eerily familiar! You join your bloggers, Andy and Lilly, as they head to Haddonfield, just in time for Halloween!

Today’s film offering: Halloween (2018)

Lilly: First! There WILL be spoilers! As much as I’d love to give a spoiler free review you can read then go and watch the film without any warning, to not talk about the details of this film would do a disservice to the work and thought that went into the script and performances. At least, in my opinion. And since I’m one half of the team writing this review, well! Here we are.

Andy: TL;DR it’s really good, go and see it. There.

220px-Halloween_(2018)_poster
Look how weathered both of their faces are, I just. So. Good.

Lilly: There! Halloween is the eleventh in the franchise, but it ignores nine of its predecessors, a sequel to the original 1978 film. We start off with the comically on point true crime podcasters, Aaron and Dana, as they are attempting to start some sort of Making a Murderer-esque expose on Michael Myers–Boogeyman or Sad Man (not their title, I just assume it would be since it is the obvious choice). They go to see Michael at his cozy institutional home the day before he is to be transferred to a much more institutional institution, you know, for hard core criminals who slashed five people forty years ago (why only now is he being transferred, is that suspicious, maybe it is, spoiler it is). We also meet Dr.Sartain, the protege of Dr.Loomis who has been studying Michael, wanting to know how his mind ticked. We get a taste of Michael’s other-wordly hold on the prisoners around him when the familiar mask makes an appearance on the scene, further solidifying my opinion that some true crime podcasters go way too far. That was evidence! It still is! What are you touching it for! Stop it!

Anyway.

The podcasters than, of course, harass Michael’s one surviving victim, Laurie Strode, played magnificently and with a heavy poignancy by, obvs, Jamie Lee Curtis. In a beautiful sweeping indictment to ‘both-siders’ everywhere, it’s in this interview she makes the point that she is being treated in the same vein as a murderer, thought of as a nutcase due to being twice-divorced and struggling with PTSD. Hi, Halloween (2018)? I just met you, and this is crazy, but I love you forever already, and we’re only fifteen minutes in.

You can well imagine what happens on the night of the transfer. Laurie has been preparing all her life for it, and it happens–Michael escapes. Start the body counter!

No, seriously, you’ll need it, because in 2018, the body count from the original film (5) is tripled.

The film doesn’t just follow the story of Michael and Laurie, however. It also has Laurie’s daughter, Karen, and Laurie’s granddaughter, Allyson, and we get to see what being the family of Laurie Strode is like through awkward stifled emotions and anger about why Laurie just can’t ‘let it go’. Oh, and Karen has a bumbling husband, too, so there’s that. But he really is not the focus here.

Not to be cliche here, but this film is seriously a horror film for the #metoo era. On screen and off, women are standing together against looming monsters and finding strength in their ability to survive together in a world where constant vigilance is understood to be necessary but not socially acceptable to wear on your sleeve. Don’t go down dark alleys, but don’t be afraid of the dark. Don’t wear revealing clothes, but don’t wear a parka in spring. Don’t be defenseless, but don’t have an armory in your basement.

Laurie lives with PTSD. She is physically and emotionally scarred by the time she spent fighting for her life in 1978, and she is stuck there, from how she is unavailable emotionally to her daughter to how her hair is a throwback to that era of feathered fluff. Karen lives with having had a parent who suffered from mental health issues and likely an absentee father since he is literally not mentioned (we don’t even know if she is from husband one or two), on top of having been taken away from Laurie when she was twelve and never returned to her mother, which leads to her own suffering from anxiety issues, as well as fear of intimacy/trust issues that shows in lying to her loved ones. Allyson lives with the weight of the two senior women in the family and struggling to find her own place in the world when she just wants a connection to both that isn’t frayed, painful, or full of tiny lies to protect her. She wants to grow up but her two closest female role models in the female are stunted at a young age that she is about to surpass. Add on a boyfriend who, while cute(ish) is a dick, and you have a pretty messy high school life.

Over the course of the film, these three women have obstacle after obstacle thrown at them, be it something benign and ‘normal’ like a high school boyfriend being a massive dickwad to the (surprise) return of the monster who haunted their every waking moment since 1978, but it is in banding together and truly understanding each other’s strengths–Laurie’s paranoia became being prepared, Karen’s lies became tactical distractions, and Allyson wasn’t about to put up with any man or boy hurting her so would do what she had to to put it to an end–that we see them succeed. Much like in reality, women are discovering that, once we shake our internalized misogyny, we can be the greatest allies to one another. It doesn’t matter the age or the background, women can support each other against that looming, awful presence that is determined to kill them, no matter how many people it must go through.

2018’s Halloween doesn’t present you with a neat narrative that tears apart than reconstructs a Final Girl for us to see triumph at the end. Instead, it showcases what happens when those ‘final girls’, made up decades ago to personify strength through victimhood, are tossed aside in lieu of three women, hurting in different ways as a result of one force, banding together to show that women will not be picked off one by one anymore. They will stand together, and they will take down whatever Boogeyman comes their way.

Andy: So Lilly has covered a lot of what made this movie great thematically, and I’m going to talk about the cinematography, blocking, and practical effects that mean all this depth finds its way onto the screen.

The first thing to mention is that this is absolutely not a visual retread of the first movie, a mistake many of the previous sequels made. Carpenter’s original had an almost sanitized look, with a pure white mask and incredibly limited palette filled with blues and blacks at night and autumnal red during the day. This however, is infused with a dirty brown look throughout, signifying both age and decay – a contrast most marked by a kid’s bedroom being preternaturally colourful. There are almost no shots of complete darkness in this movie, showing the characters’ preparedness and understanding of Michael’s methods.

There’s also a lot more blood onscreen, and overall it’s a considerably harder watch, but avoids descending into the nasty torture porn aesthetic of a decade ago. We are spared as many shots of kills as we are shown, a brilliant denial of the voyeuristic aspect of slasher movies, and at one awful moment, we see Michael stop and listen to a baby cry. He leaves, obviously as that is several bridges too far for most movies, but it’s an important moment in making us, as the audience, reconsider our relationship with victims.

There are several callbacks to the original, in both shot composition and staging, but rather than simply referencing, these often serve to highlight the inversions at play. A classic example is a scene where Laurie falls out of a window and lands, dazed, in exactly the same position and manner as Michael did at the end of the original. There it was to add a sinister open ending to the story, a fear that a man who has taken six bullets and got away is not quite human.

Here the opposite is true. The movie’s not over, and it becomes an exercise in waiting for her return. Michael, rather than superhuman, has taken his eye off the ball. This movie will have a definite ending.

Another classic is in a fascinating pair of long Steadicam shots. These were a staple of the original, as Michael methodically stalked his prey: they were also often POV shots. Here we watch as he goes from house to house brutally slaying in quick succession as watch from the street. There’s no ‘art’ here, no thrilling hunt, just a series of almost random acts of violence inflicted upon people committing the unforgivable crime of Being In The Way. It’s part of a much wider reframing of the movie in favour of the victims, a lovely visual comment on the broader themes Lilly has already covered.

My favourite is in fact beautifully simple. We have what appears to be a POV shot outside the Strode residence, but it’s far too high up. Then the camera drops to roughly normal eye level, as Michael Myers, the Boogeyman, is literally brought down to earth.

Lilly: In case you’ve not caught on yet, readers, we loved this. It was good. It was really, really good. It took something as (sorry, sorry) simple as the original Halloween and updated it, pushed and prodded at it, and molded it into something that modern audiences could be entertained by and, maybe as importantly, frightened by. I connected with Laurie, Karen, and Allyson easily, and their fear, bravery, and determination echoed the growing voice of feminism in today’s media. While there was humour throughout the film, it was never a joke that women were getting shit done.

And don’t even get me started on how pathetically the ‘Nice Guy’ was framed, or how performative masculinity in the case of Karen’s husband was a trap he built for himself, or how the female victims weren’t the ones undressed, it was the males who were found half naked and…and–just. Go watch it.

Andy: Before Thursday, I would have said Hereditary is the obvious favourite for Hallowfest’s 2018 season. But the fact that we are reconsidering shows just how strong and thematically resonant the genre is right now. I mean, this is a slasher sequel co-written by Danny McBride. Who saw that coming?

Go, watch, enjoy!

The Meg; or Screw a Bigger Boat, You Need a Bigger Ocean

Hello and Hallo-welcome to another Sharky Saturday, where the waters and the bloggers are salty! You join your bloggers, Andy and Lilly, as they buckle up for an adrenaline-riddled thrill ride, and that’s just driving over country roads to the cinema.

Today’s Film Offering: The Meg

Lilly: Sometimes, a film comes along that is a dream come true. Strangely, two of my recent dreams-brought-to-screen have featured Jason Statham (the other being Spy), but that’s not the point. What I’m trying to say is that sometimes, a film appears in theatres that is everything you could ever want in a movie going experience, and readers, The Meg was it for me.

8522_6204.jpgThe Meg kicks off with Jonas Taylor (Jason mother effing Statham) being menaced on a submarine by something that leads him to having to leave behind two of his team to save those they were rescuing in the first place and escape before the submarine exploded. The team’s physician then declares Jonas was suffering from pressure-induced psychosis, there was nothing menacing them, move on–which, as I’m sure you can guess, was hella wrong.

Cut to five years later, and stupid rich guy Jack Morris has a stupidly high-tech underwater research center which has made a discovery! The Marianas Trench, famous for being the deepest deep bit of ocean actually wasn’t even the deepest bit! What! There is some movie science about clouds and thermal layers, but the exciting part is that we’ve joined the team on Manna One on the day they are going to breach that cloud layer! And wouldn’t you know it, Jonas’ ex-wife is captaining the sub going on this adventure!

Readers, if there is anything more dangerous than swimming outside of a cage with a man-eating monster shark, it’s being the ex wife of a man who has been persecuted for supposedly seeing a giant killer shark, who could be redeemed if only someone saw or was menaced by the shark again. Just sayin’.

Anyway, you can well imagine what is found under that layer of Marianas floor gas–it’s a Megalodon! What! And other things, but we’re mainly concerned about the massive shark, though I’m pretty sure any of those animals getting above the layer might mess with an ecosystem. Anyway, with the escape of the shark, we have an issue. The Manna One is close enough for concern to, well, everywhere, since Megalodons move fast. But Sanya Bay, a crowded tourist spot, is most under threat.

We have a shark romp, people!

Andy: One thing I absolutely adore this movie for is playing this whole thing entirely straight. No nudging and winking at the camera, no ‘fun’ cameos, no instantly dated pop culture nonsense. Just a fun movie, told in a fun way, about a giant shark eating some people and a plucky band of heroes trying to stop it from eating more.

I also loved the fact that there was no “man-is-the-REAL-MONSTER” subtext here, which was like having a record you didn’t know was on and you were sick of being suddenly switched off. The megalodon existing at all is completely out of left-field as far as the scientists are concerned, and it escaping at all is an unintended side effect of a daring deep sea rescue, which, c’mon, Statham’s not leaving them behind! Not again, damn it!

Plus, as someone who doesn’t usually like jump scares, expertly setting one up involving a 75 foot long shark deserves a certain amount of respect. You know it’s coming, but still, awesome. The whole thing in fact is suffused with this kind of earnestness, and I will take a million B-movies that earnestly try to be good over any so-called “mockbusters” that are cranked out and oh my god they’re so bad it’s so funny lol.

I’m looking at you, The Asylum. No, don’t look at me like that. I have endured far too many house parties where Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus is put on and it is fucking dull. Go away.

Lilly: …You good?

Andy: I’m sorry, we were talking about The Meg?

Lilly: That was ten minutes ago.

Anyway, this has some great shark related stuff on the go. There is a bite radius moment, there is a cage dive moment, there is a ‘but where is it?’ moment somehow since the shark is HUGE. There is some sweet peril moments, there is some sweet romance moments, and like Andy ranted about, there is some sweet writing moments where you can tell that a) this is based off a novel and b) the novel was written as an adventure meant to be enjoyed like any other thriller, it just happens to have a massive prehistoric shark monster in it.

Plus, the cast was super diverse, which isn’t hard since the world has some great actors out there and they all were bringing their a-game.

Also, on the topic of movie science–it wasn’t that hard to follow. Nothing makes me angrier (and I feel like I ranted about this before, so…sorry!) but movie science which takes me completely out of the film because I’m going ‘wait, what how what?’ over some jargon and nonsense the script writer thought would sound clever. Honestly, this didn’t have much of that. It had neat little moments like whale calls being used for bait that just made sense, plus the thermal cloud layer thing, which, hey, I’ll believe it works in this universe, you don’t need to muddy up the waters with over-long explanations of how your fake thing works.

So it’s definitely a go, watch, and enjoy from us! It’s a fun time, it’s a fun crew to be with for a few hours, and it’s a really fun shark to maybe be partially rooting for!

Oculus; Or Snow White’s Magic Mirror Goes All Weird On Us

Hello and Hallo-Welcome to Mixed-Bag Friday, where Andy and Lilly review whatever the feel! You join your blogger Andy, who has to be constantly dissuaded from taking revenge for the imagined slights of household furnishings.

Today’s film offering: Oculus  

Andy: Man, this would make one hell of a stage play.

220px-Oculus_(2013_film)_poster.jpgDirector Mike Flanagan, a man who flew under our radar for a long time mainly through his movies being horrendously mis-marketed and us not paying any attention. He finally caught our eye this year with The Haunting of Hill House on Netflix, and when we looked him up we discovered some movies we had actually reviewed and liked in his catalogue, namely Gerald’s Game and Hush!

Oops.

Still, to make up for lost time I decided to check out his first feature length movie from back in the misty days of 2013, Oculus, and what I found was not what I was expecting. The trailer makes this look like yet another jumpscare scream-a-thon, but what it actually is is a surprisingly minimalist Lovecraftian tale about a mirror that is less haunted or cursed than intrinsically evil and incomprehensible. SIGN ME UP.

Cards on the table, I am a sucker for this kind of stuff. Far too many writers want to explain, explain, explain but the best monsters, in my opinion, are those we can never hope to understand, and the mirror in Oculus certainly fits the bill. Add in a couple of potentially unreliable narrators, and what we have is a fairly solid, if slightly overlong movie.

In 2002, kids Tim and Kaylie witness their parents slow descent into psychosis, presumably at the hands of a mirror hanging in their Dad’s office. Tim eventually kills his father, and 11 years later is released from the psychiatric facility he’s been kept in, convinced that everything that happened was mental illness and delusion. Kaylie, who picks him up, is not so sure, and is still convinced the mirror was to blame.

In fact, she’s so convinced she obtains it in an auction, and has a plan to prove her theories and get revenge on it, which in the very, very long list of ‘Things not to do With Clearly Evil Artifacts’ has got to be near the top. Her plan initially seems rational and well thought out, but we ain’t in rational country here, sister. She even wants to do it in the same house that their parents died in! WHY, WOMAN. THAT IS A TERRIBLE IDEA.

The two threads, one in the past and one in the present, are told simultaneously, in a deliberately disorienting way. They appear towards the end to bleed into each other, but what precisely happens with this is up for debate. Whether its powers merely extend to making people see what isn’t there, or are more insidious than that, is also ambiguous. The movie does an excellent job of creating juuust enough doubt initially about Kaylie’s theories: Tim has clearly been through a lot of therapy and she hasn’t, so it seems plausible that she is as crazy now as he was. Karen Gillen’s absolutely bananas attempt at an American accent doesn’t help here. But some viewers may be frustrated by the complete lack of providence for the mirror’s evil, and there really isn’t a lot to go on. As the saying goes, your mileage may vary.

Like I said, the movie is perhaps a little overlong at 103 minutes, and towards the end there’s some ghost nonsense which felt weirdly out of place. But overall, it’s pretty good! I maintain this would make a hell of a stage play – there’s basically one setting, a lot of conversations and a couple of cool props. Seriously, someone adapt ths. Until then…

Go, watch, enjoy!

The Ritual; or Waheeey, Lads Trip!

Hello and Hallo-Welcome to Throw-Forward-Thursday, where the films are happening right here, right now! You join your bloggers, Andy and Lilly, as they pack for a little trip to the woods–they’ve packed snack bars, water bottles, and protective runes in case they run into anyone or anything sinister.

Today’s film offering: The Ritual

Andy I’ve never really seen the appeal of the Lad’s Holiday. Maybe it’s because the kind of people I’m friends with would always travel in gender-mixed groups, or maybe it’s because the endless dick-waving that seems to accompany any kind of physical activity with men tends to put me off.

The Ritual is here to give me another reason: you might get murdered in the woods by weird cults or unseen demons. Guess I’ll stay in, thanks.

Lilly: Same. I mean, besides the fact that I’m automatically disqualified from boy’s nights, the stereotypical waaaahey shenanigans with blow up dolls and nonsense just isn’t my scene. Also, shame on people who say ‘oh, it’s just how men are!’ because are they though. Are all men. Are they. Or do we just socialize them to be. HUH. HUH.

Sorry. Sorry, I just…I hate it.

Andy: I know.

The_Ritual_UK_posterAnyway–In The Ritual, five guys, all friends from University, are planning their next getaway when the unthinkable happens and one of them is killed in a badly botched armed robbery, witnessed by one of the others, Luke.

In honour of their friend, Luke and the other three, Phil, Dom and Hutch, all set off along the Kungsleden (Or ‘King’s Trail) in Sarek National Park in Sweden – Rob’s suggestion for their next trip. Luke, played by Rafe Spall, is still deep in grief, and mired in the toxic delusion that if he had intervened things could have turned out differently for his dead friend.

Lilly: Which of course his ‘best mates’ don’t a) care about and b) don’t believe since he ought to have saved the guy by, I don’t know, using his man muscles to man at the hopped up junkies who were waving weapons. MAN UP, LUKE. FIGHT WITH YOUR TESTICLES.

Andy: Done?

Lilly: NO.

Yes. Continue.

Andy: Dom, the most unfit of the four, then injures his leg and Hutch decides that they can take a shortcut back to the lodge by cutting through some nearby woods.

As this is a horror movie, this goes about as well as you would expect.

Lilly: Well, depends on whose side you are on, really.

Andy: There’s very little that’s new in The Ritual, and it definitely wears its influences on its sleeve. Despite the lack of the found footage conceit, The Blair Witch Project is the most obvious point of comparison, although I also caught a whiff of Dog Soldiers, particularly the opening half hour. But at the same time, The Ritual is its own beast, and very modern in its attempt to incorporate more real-world elements in terms of the group’s grief and Luke’s misplaced survivor’s guilt.

Lilly: Of course, as much as I’m complaining about the lad-like tones, actually, this movie also addresses the rather modern conversation of toxic masculinity (that ruins the party, so Murderinos tell me) and how it can really, really lead you down the wrong path. Literally, in the case of the men on their trip. If just one of them, just ONE, had decided to stop being Big God Damn Heroes for a second when Dom got injured, or even if they actually spoke of their issues with grieving their lost mate, than maybe, just maybe, they wouldn’t have ended up in the titular situation they found themselves in.

OR does the title have to do with the masculine rituals we watch at the very beginning, of lads nights and trips and fighting over how you could have saved the day if only given the chance, and the injury that doesn’t mean anything, whether it be emotional or physical, and pretending like you know the best way back when you already came a perfectly reasonable way already and you ought to just go back the way you came and be sensible but instead, you just go ahead on an ill-advised journey in a direction you want to be right?! And then, THEN, you end up involved in a situation that you know isn’t good but you can’t do anything to stop it because everyone is following a script and the end is tragic and horrible and terrible but you can’t stop your forward momentum because being a man doesn’t have anything to do with being an individual and everything to do with serving a purpose that all men serve which is to be walking sacrifices to the Idea of Manhood, which sucks the very life from men of all sorts, indiscriminate in the end because nothing you do really matters because everyone is taken in and destroyed by expectations of what it takes to be what you are, a MAN.

WELL?

Andy: Are…are you okay?

Lilly: NO AND I NEVER WILL BE.

Andy …One other thing that is very different is that, after honestly getting tired of a thousand of these movies that are quote-unquote ‘ambiguous’, here it is made very, very clear what is going on and who or what is causing the group to panic, disappear and reappear in several pieces/half-way up a tree with a surprised expression and no internal organs.

Lilly: And, SPOILER, for all my raving, it’s not just a metaphor.

Andy: Having said that, it’s not quite top tier for me. It’s interesting, and I certainly recommend it, but it falls short in some aspects of the execution, mostly weirdly delivered lines and script oddities. Having said that it definitely ends at the right time.

Lilly: Which cannot be said for societies expectations on men to be emotionless, fearless machines who don’t fear anything but wearing pink. That narrative definitely needs to wrap up ASAP.

Andy: Anyway.

Go, watch, why not?

Black Dragons; or Fedora Drama

Hello and Hallo-welcome to another Walmart DVD Wednesday, where the thrills are cheap and the films cheaper! You join your blogger, Lilly, as she tries to work out what tall man with a hat it is she is supposed to be rooting for.

Today’s Film Offering: Black Dragons

Aaaaah readers.

So. Let me explain. What I wanted from this film was a cathartic romp wherein rich dudes who did bad things got slowly picked off by some menacing force, masterfully portrayed by Bela Lugosi, mother effing Dracula himself!

What I got…well.

92b0bcb1798147f9a8c65e0bdf7d8735.jpgBlack Dragons came out in 1942, and boy howdy is that relevant–it was actually rushed into production after the attack on Pearl Harbour and. Well. Eeeeh.

So.The story goes that a bunch of men get together for a dinner party where they talk about the war and impress ladies in attendance by chortling over investments and so on. Suddenly, the party is crashed by a mysterious stranger, claiming to be the patient of the host, a doctor who claims he never takes patients at home but then has a treatment room off his office so I got questions, Doctor Pants-on-Fire.

Anyway, the stranger is Monsieur Colomb, and his arrival is where everything goes downhill. With a strange close-up glare and a menacing loom, he hypnotizes (maybe!) the host, taking over his life and using his home as a murder-hub, luring the other members of the dinner party gang back to the house to one by one pick them off. Or actually, he does two at a time at one point. Technically three.

Anyway.

The bodies start turning up with Japanese daggers in their grasp, and well. That’s the plot AND most of the film–it’s only a blissfully short sixty minutes. Which was good partially because I’m not really sure the writers had much more planned for the story (or any plans at all beyond ‘wouldn’t it be swell if…’). Though it did sort of wrap up in a flurry of ‘oh right, we ought to explain ourselves’ moments, including one incredibly racist bit of yellow-face action where, I shit you not, a faux-Japanese man says to a Nazi Bela Lugosi (what!) that he welcomes him to the ‘Land of the Rising Sun’. Ugh. Don’t…hide your racism until the last ten minutes of the film, please–stop the flick, I wanna get off!

This was not a good film. It just wasn’t. There was no cool shots to trick me into considering it–though some door play with Bela was hilarious, though I imagine it was meant to be suspenseful–nor was there any moments of deep philosophy in the script, unless we count the last line, which was ‘Who knows in this crazy world’ because well, legit. I didn’t know, for instance, that I would spend an hour of my life watching what turned out to be some sort of Japanese panic American propaganda film when really, I just wanted to see Bela take out some bad guys while leering from under bushy eyebrows. That’s all. Why couldn’t you have given me that, film?

Why?

So. Don’t bother, don’t go, don’t watch, don’t. Just. Don’t.

Remember Me; or Are You Going to Scarborough Fair or What?

Hello and Hallo-welcome to another Miniseries Monday, where the scares are spread out over a few episodes. You join your blogger, Lilly, as she tries to wash a shirt in yonder dry well, an impossible task but she’ll give it a go!

Today’s Miniseries Offering: Remember Me

LtX2QOT-show-poster2x3-EPnw9MD.jpg.resize.200x300.jpgLilly: Readers, if you knew the amount of times I have whined out loud about how I wanted to watch some BBC ghost story, you’d know how much I love them. High production values meet with low class trashy ghost pulp fiction and I love it dearly. I mean, that might be obvious with our pick of Crickley Hall.

Remember Me is the story of an elderly gentleman who wants to be moved out of his home, but there is something from his past life that he just can’t shake. It’s also the story of a young careworker who has enough problems as is, raising her younger brother while her distant mother struggles with her husband abandoning the family, and her involvement in the old man’s story. Plus, it has Mark Addy as a tired old cop, my favourite!

But Remember Me brings more than just grim British drama to the table. Oh no. It brings Michael Palin. Michael. Effing. Palin! A Python and excellent actor of his own accord, it’s what I’ve spoken of before–where a talented actor outside the genre is brought in and you forget you even watching horror because they take it so seriously. Which is what you need in your film, I’m here to tell you–you can really tell in any film category when an actor is acting versus when they are telling the story, and man, did Palin tell the story!

And it was unique! It wasn’t another crumbling manor with horrible memories tied to it (sorry, Crickley), it was a row house with bad carpeting and old photographs. It featured a folk song I literally hadn’t thought of for years. And while the whole storyline of ‘having to grow up too fast’ is used a lot in horror (and in British drama), it was at least treated with moments of childish panic and parenting pantomime that you would see in a young woman who was forced into the role. 

Honestly, the one criticism I have for the miniseries is that it was a bit intense at times for a BBC ghost story. It originally aired on Sunday evenings, and it was rightfully pointed out by a loved one that it was a ‘bit much’ for a Sunday night–the ghost was intensely shot, and eerie in its movement, definitely nightmare fuel before your work week kicked off. It also had cases of assumed suicides that were taken a bit too in-stride not to be taken note of–I mean, the NHS runs its workers ragged, but it was almost a given that those who died of mysterious causes likely just offed themselves.

Oh, and another criticism (maybe I lied about the ‘one’ part) was the treatment of Mark Addy’s tired policeman storyline. He wasn’t just tired, he was out and out depressed, and it sort of felt like his depression was painted as pathetic, while the struggles of the young female careworker were worth our sympathies. Plus, his depression and her struggles were sort of wrapped up in a neat little bow at the end because aw, he just needs a daughter to fuss over and aw, she just needs a father figure, and aw. And I hate that. It just feels out-dated and tired. 

I’m skirting the plot a bit because I honestly want everyone to go watch it. Spoilers aren’t going to be a-plenty in this one because it was so atmospheric, so interesting, and so well acted, that I just want you to go, watch, and enjoy!

Hotel Transylvania 3; or Monsters on a Boat

Hello and Hallo-welcome to another Sequel Saturday, where monsters get another chance to menace! You join your bloggers, Lilly and Andy, as they embark upon their exotic cruise full of their favourite fearsome fiends–er, friends!

Today’s Film Offering: Hotel Transylvania 3

Lilly: Eeeeeeeeee

Andy: Lilly, you need to calm down. We need to write a review.

Lilly: EeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeEEeee

Andy: Lilly.

Lilly: Eee.

Andy: …You don–

Lilly: Eeeeee.

I’m done.

Andy: Good. I–

91QltsyjqNL._SY445_.jpgLilly: Shut up, it’s Hotel Transylvania 3 day, everyone! Finally!

So, in this third installment of the Hotel Transylvania franchise, we start in Transylvania, 1897–the year mother effin’ Bram Stoker’s Dracula was published because these films are surprisingly thoughtful and reverential to their source materials–where we finally get this universe’s version of Van Helsing introduced. He is a bit more bumbling, and way more high-tech than even Hugh Jackman’s go at the character, and we watch as he fails to kill Dracula multiple times, much to the detriment of his own health. The last we see of him in 1897 is when he falls off a cliff into the sea and screams with dismay at yet again being beaten by his adversary.

Then it’s modern day!

Life is hectic at the Hotel, so it’s decided by Mavis that it’s time for a family vacay–which of course includes all the gang! The destination? Why, a Monster Cruise heading to Atlantis! Dracula rightfully makes the point that a cruise is just a hotel on the ocean, but his mood quickly changes when he lays eyes on the enthusiastic/gymnastically talented captain, Erica. With a secret being hidden by the alluring captain, we’ve got our plot!

Readers, I love these movies. We know this. I think it is a fun and campy way to introduce kids to characters that we take for granted as adults as being two-dimensional due to a long history of seeing them on film.  They are funny, they are witty (two different things, believe you me) and they are a decent way to spend an afternoon with a child that won’t bore you to tears.

It’s also surprising how big of a world these films can build. From the monster’s way of falling in love (via a sensation known as a ‘zing’) to the effects of garlic on vampires (it’s compared to lactose intolerance, flatulence included), the Dracula and Wolfman and Frankenstein’s monster of this film are set apart from those Universal Monster Magnates. Add in delightful human characters Jonathan and Dennis (or Denisovich, an adorable nickname given to his grandson by Dracula), and you got a great mixture of characters to bounce off each other.

I want to look at two different storylines, then I’ll leave the rest for you to go and enjoy, but SPOILERS. Spoilers. You’ve been warned.

One, I absolutely loved: Dracula in love. For those of you haven’t seen the first film, go and watch that dummy, this is the third in the series! But yes, when you hear about what happened to Dracula’s wife, you completely understand his reluctance to deal with humans. You also come to realize, within the mythos of the film, that he could not possibly expect another ‘zing’ to come along, so he threw himself into work and, of course, loving Mavis, Dennis, and maybe even Jonathan at times. The extra pep in the Count’s step when he finds his second ‘zing’ is adorable and relatable, from his dance moves on the ship deck to his inability to form words around her. It’s a simple act of humanization that again breathes new life into him.

And I hear what you’re saying–but Dracula fell in love in Bram Stoker’s Dracula! And to that I say fair point, but it’s not nearly as adorable! I mean, Dracula’s falling in love in Monster Family was better, even if I have huge, angry opinions about that film that might come out at a later date. In fact, Dracula has fallen in love in roughly a million films (approximately), but has he wore support socks and gotten a goofy Charlie Brown-esque smile in those films? No. Nope.

Second one I absolutely had winces for: the coupling of Dennis and Winnie. Remember how they were adorable friends in Hotel Transylvania 2? Well, in another ‘so human like us’ move, the pair are made out to be that weird ‘awww, they are so cute together, they are dating’ friends that I haaaaate in real life with kids and moreso in films since those at least have a choice to not pull that shit.

Pro tip: Stop pretending like little kids are dating. Stop it. It’s weird. When she leans to give him a kiss and Dennis yells ‘I’m only six!’ and is flustered and runs off, I know it’s played for a laugh but shit, didn’t he hit the nail on the head! Why is it we are so keen at putting that bit of adult behaviour on children? Gross gross gross.

And it is heteronormative bullshit playing houses or else little boys and little girls who hang out with their little boy and little girl friends would get the same nonsense. Also, what sort of weird nonsense standards does it set when we’re like ‘aww they are nice to each other, they are dating’. I’ll tell you what it sets, it sets a world where men and women thinking being nice to each other = dating, and if you aren’t dating, why bother being nice, and whoops, if you are too nice, they’ll think you want to date them, so better be a jackass and fuck. That. Shit.

Sorry. Sorry, this is a review for a kids film, but like. Seriously? Seriously.

Hotel Transylvania 3 is a fun film. Rant aside, I love the tone of it, the plot of it hitting home when it comes to a parent dating and what it feels like as a child watching that really rang true to me. Being torn between familial responsibilities and true love is another fantastic theme that is treated thoughtfully. Plus, there is loads of dance scenes, one of which involves so many injuries being sustained by Dracula but yet somehow is romantic.

I highly, highly suggest these films. It’s as simple as that. Go, watch, and enjoy!

Andy: Sorry, had to pop to the kitchen, are you ready to start the revie–oh.

The only thing I wanted to add was something I noticed about these movies generally that I really really like. A group of main characters are essentially middle-aged men who have a variety of family and work situations yet despite that, they all really like each other and respect each other’s choices, and none of those choices are treated as more or less legitimate. When Dracula ‘zing’s, for instance, they encourage him out of a sincere belief that he will be happier, not because they need him to pair off.  Heck, one of their number, Blobby, apparently even reproduces asexually. It’s a really nice undercurrent of passive tolerance in a group of men that you just don’t see that often.

So yes. Go, watch and–

Lilly: Shut up and let them go watch the film already! Go! Go!

Jaws; or Cello Music Cue!

Hello and Hallo-welcome to another Sharky Saturday, where the films feature actors who chew the scenery and animals that chew the actors! You join your bloggers, Andy and Lilly, who will find it for three, but catch and kill it for ten.

Today’s film offering: Jaws

268x0w.pngAndy: You may have seen Jaws a hundred times (I know I have), but if you ever get to experience it on the big screen, do it without hesitation. It remains the summer blockbuster, an impossible standard to which all others must be measured. It’s still the most effortless movie I have ever watched, an editorial masterpiece and a fascinating character study into the ways men interact with each other in the world. It’s really, really good.

Lilly: Readers, he married that film.

Andy: I’m setting a mood! Shoo!

Lilly: Of course, of course–back in a bit!

Andy: Anyway. It was really good. But I was not prepared for the difference watching it on the big screen.

Consider the opening scene. A girl swims out to sea in the middle of the night. She swims out as far as a buoy, looking back to see if anyone else will join her. The legendary score kicks in.

Lilly: Nuuuhna.

Andy: Suddenly, something grabs her.

Lilly: Nuuuuuuuuuuuhna.

Andy: The music gets louder.

Lilly: Nuhnanuhnanuhnanuhna–

Andy: She screams and screams for help that will never come, before suddenly

Lilly: NUUUHNA

Andy: … silence.

This is how it starts, one of the most famous in film history, and I settled into my seat with a massive grin on my face and waited for the lights to dim.

The difference a theatre’s speaker system can make is one that should never be underestimated. Her screams are harrowing enough through the tiny speakers of an old CRT television, which was how I first experienced Jaws at the age of 8. Here, her screams bounced off the inside of my skull, and my grin at the title was replaced by an almost panicked reaction, as those two terrible chords got louder and louder and LOUDER like an ICE PICK in my CHEST before suddenly … silence. And a small, child-like part of me was filled with relief that the shark had got her, and not me, as he had done every time before.  

I finally understood why people had been afraid to go back into the water. Holy shit.

Lilly: It really was a wholly different experience, seeing a classic film in a room with strangers, who all are there for different reasons. Some had seen it before when it first hit the big screen, some where there with their film junkie friends, and some were kids whose parents thought why not scare the bejesus out of our kids just as beach season is at its height. It was fantastic.

Obviously we love this film. It’s silly to even wonder our opinion on that. It’s a fantastic narrative with a mixture of gravitas and comedic relief (the mayor’s suits alone deserve a love letter), practical effects and brilliant acting.The fear Brody feels is relatable, and the joy of the sea Quint exhibits is palpable. Watching the three men compare scars is one of the best bit of characterization I’ve seen in any film, and you can feel the fear Brody and Ellen have building as main-landers just getting their heads around the reality of the situation of a man-eating shark in their backyard (which happens to be the ocean). The shots are atmospheric, the score is atmospheric, and anyone can get emotionally invested in the hunt Quint, Hooper, and Brody end up on together because there is something for everyone–the rugged adventure-seeking hunter/drunk who sings at random, the nerdy rich guy who has a passion for the sea and a chip in his shoulder about authority, and the earnest, honest water-fearing man of the law who is worried about the town he is serving and his sons. Heck, you can even relate to the shark, an intimidating force that plays with its prey! There’s something for everyone.

Which might explain the audience we got to share the experience of seeing it on the big screen with. Everyone was there, and it was something.

Go, watch, and obviously, we enjoyed!