Netflix List Blitz: RAMS

FYI :Rules of the Netflix List Blitz

  1. I’ll watch and write about every movie currently on my list. Pretty simple first rule there.
  2. I’m not obligated to finish a movie. I can’t think of any movie I’ve ever seen that started off horribly for more than twenty minutes and then ended up being worth the watch. A slow start or lull is fine, but if I get a sense what I’m watching is truly bad–in a completely uninteresting way–I reserve the right to abandon flick.
  3. I’m only watching movies on my list, not television series. Bates Motel, you’ll have to wait.
  4. I’m going in order of the current state of the list. Which, for the purposes of any smattering of readers who may start following along, is going to make this list appear quite random.
  5. I’m strictly going to write what I feel. Some entries may be in depth, some may focus less on the movie itself than on some outside thoughts the movie planted in my head, and some may entries may be improbably brief. (Given my propensity for longwindedness, don’t bet too much on that last one.)


I used to joke that if Netflix was a store that sold household goods and you bought kitchen knives from them, the clerk would ask at checkout if you’d like to get stabbed. “Because of your interest in knives.” In short, their recommendation system had some flaws.

It’s improved somewhat over time, but it’s still imperfect. You still get some ridiculous “related” recommendations, particularly when it comes to movies or filmmakers currently not on the service (Blood and Black Lace isn’t currently available for streaming, but Black Mirror and Blacklist are apparently related, because we know all Black-titled movies look alike).

I write all of this because I’m not sure how the film Rams ended up on my list. Obviously I added it, but I can’t imagine why. Netflix’s personalized rating system gives it 4.5 stars, which means that it thinks it’s the kind of movie I would love, but the provided premise doesn’t move me one way or the other: “Two estranged sheep-farming brothers must re-open dialogue with each other if they want to save their herds.”Doesn’t sound like something I’d go out of my way to watch or avoid. I’d never heard of the film before, I’m completely unfamiliar with its Icelandic cast and director. Nordic farmer family feuds and reconciliations aren’t a subject I’m actively into. To come clean here, Rams almost made me cheat on the basic rules of this Netflix List Blitz just three entries into the series.

I primarily write horror stories, and generally read a lot of horror fiction, crime novels and historical accounts, but I’m also a sucker for a good relationship story, or even a sappy relationship story, sometimes. Love Jones is one of my favorite movies and I have a huge soft spot for improbable romance road trip indy flick Take Me Home. On the platonic side of things, I really like the quirky relationship-building of The Life Aquatic, the core friendship in Swingers sustains the film, the ending of The Straight Story breaks and warms my heart every time, and Fried Green Tomatoes hits me right in the limbic system. So while I’m at a loss for what might have made me add Rams to my queue (if I had to hazard a guess, wine is probably to blame), it’s not as if it had no chance of entertaining or engaging me.

So how did I like the film? Well… well enough. The premise alone is somewhat quirky, but also a bit darker than what Netlfix offers. One of the estranged brothers, Kiddi, is not in the best place mentally, which is emotionally taxing on the other brother, Gummi. The film has jokes, but overall it has a darker sense of humor than I expected, as well. In fact, it has a darker, bleaker everything than I initially expected. Visually, it’s deliberately wan, even during some gorgeous wide shots of the Icelandic countryside. And, similar to The Straight Story, there’s are overriding conflicts with regret and time itself, acting as an unstoppable tag team. While the former can be managed, the latter always gets the win, no matter where the movie ends, some movies just make it more apparent than others. As for how apparent Rams makes it, well, I did say the movie was bleaker than expected…

Some day down the road, I think I’ll give Rams another viewing to see if I like it more than I do now. As it stands, it’s a solid film, and I don’t regret the time I spent on it, but for the most part it didn’t do much for me. But once upon a time, I felt the same way about The Life Aquatic before re-watching it and discovering a new favorite, and Rams has planted just enough promise in my head on first watch for me to think that maybe I just didn’t come into it in the right mood.

Up Next: A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night

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Netflix List Blitz: HIGH-RISE

FYI: Rules of the Netflix List Blitz

  1. I’ll watch and write about every movie currently on my list. Pretty simple first rule there.
  2. I’m not obligated to finish a movie. I can’t think of any movie I’ve ever seen that started off horribly for more than twenty minutes and then ended up being worth the watch. A slow start or lull is fine, but if I get a sense what I’m watching is truly bad–in a completely uninteresting way–I reserve the right to abandon flick.
  3. I’m only watching movies on my list, not television series. Bates Motel, you’ll have to wait.
  4. I’m going in order of the current state of the list. Which, for the purposes of any smattering of readers who may start following along, is going to make this list appear quite random.
  5. I’m strictly going to write what I feel. Some entries may be in depth, some may focus less on the movie itself than on some outside thoughts the movie planted in my head, and some may entries may be improbably brief. (Given my propensity for longwindedness, don’t bet too much on that last one.)


In the middle of the movie High-Rise, there is a montage that takes the situation from screwed-up to truly desolate. Our protagonist, Laing, undergoes what seems to be a critical mental break, and the titular high-rise luxury apartment building he lives in devolves into a wasteland. At the beginning of the montage, Laing is using the rowing machine in the still-pristine exercise room. By the end, the gymnasium is a dark ruin, and a trio of quasi-civilized men hover near the seemingly oblivious Laing and discuss whether or not they should beat and/or kill him.

This montage is well-shot and well-acted. It also blows up the pacing in an already clumsy, misshapen movie, speeding us from point C to point X. It’s a mistake, and a bit of a microcosm capturing what went wrong with the film adaptation of High-Rise.

To be fair, and to be clear, High-Rise is not a bad movie. It is, however, thoroughly underwhelming, particularly considering its potential and source material. High-Rise is a “cozy” dystopian drama about the devolution of a small contained society within a specific housing structure where the wealthy at the high-end exploit the lesser occupants at the low end until chaos and revolt become inevitable. For those who’ve seen Snowpeircer, it’s roughly similar, and in its own way not that much less improbable, although there’s nowhere near as much overt action, the gap between the haves and have-nots is considerably shorter, and the true revolt that brings down the system is essentially initiated by the elites in control. It has a very strong cast, starring Tom Hiddelston, Elisabeth Moss, Jeremy Irons, Luke Evans, and Sienna Miller. It has no excuse for being less than good other than simply suffering a failure of execution.

I’ve never been of the mind that being mediocre is somehow inherently worse than being bad. If you forced me to watch one of two movies and told me Movie A was average fare, while Movie B was atrocious, I’ll take my chances with Movie A ten times out of ten. I understand that sometimes a genuinely awful movie can be a curiosity, but I believe that some thoroughly middling movies can also rise to the level of curiosity, because many of them are squandered opportunities. Count High-Rise among those films.

As the novel begins, so does the movie, in the aftermath of the crisis that has turned a lavish tower block, so complete with amenities that you almost never have to leave, into an eerily homeostatic living hell. Things are bad, beyond bad even, but they also appear to be locked in place somewhat. That is to say, we get the impression that things at least won’t get significantly worse any time soon, so the next step for the story is to flashback to when things were decidedly less hellish. The token fidelity to the structure of the source material here is a mistake. Some things simply work much better on the page than on the screen, and when that becomes apparent, ideally, you realize you need to take a different approach. The book is able to maintain a distance and mysteriousness that the film doesn’t even try to mirror. Ballard speaks vaguely of violence and confrontation in this opening, whereas the film shows us a dead body and decrepit conditions. The novel gives us a third person narrator, whereas the film has Laing narrating. But these differences are only a problem because of the initial, half-hearted effort to follow the structure of the book when there’s no need to. This isn’t simply a case of the movie being too different or too similar to its source material: it’s a case of the people behind the film not recognizing how best to bring this story to their chosen medium.

Ballard’s novel never feels unsure of what it’s trying to be, but the High-Rise adaptation is hemorrhaging insecurity from start to hamfisted finish. The movie ends with a Margaret Thatcher quote that, in context, acts as a critique that aligns with my personal sensibilities, but simply doesn’t fit with the story that preceded it. It’s there, it seems, to spell out the movie’s themes in case the viewer still wasn’t sure of them after everything they’d seen. As a guy who thinks subtlety in fiction is sometimes overrated, I’m hesitant to complain about something being unsubtle. This, fortunately, is beyond that; it is uncertain. A truly confident adaptation of High-Rise wouldn’t be inclined to include such an afterword.

In between the misbegotten beginning and ending, and all around the similarly ill-advised montage, we get scenes from a would-be thriller, a would-be drama, a would-be satire, and a would-be psychedelic art flick. Such a hodgepodge can be effective in some cases, when backed by sound ideas, but in High-Rise it contributes to pacing issues that bloat the movie. The film ends up feeling longer than its two-hour runtime, and it’s all the more noticeable given how lean Ballard’s novel is.

Again, courtesy of a great cast and the general, mechanical competency and professionalism of all involved, High-Rise isn’t a bad picture. But a film that fails to be even above average when it could have been great, well, as I said before, that’s not worse than being bad, but it’s still, in its own way, somewhat painful to watch.

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Netflix List Blitz: The Man From Nowhere

New Year’s resolutions are, of course, arbitrary. That doesn’t mean the start of a new year is any worse starting point for making a change or doing something you’ve been meaning / wanting / needing to do. I told myself I would write much, much more in 2017, and writing in my long neglected blog is going to be part of that increased writing output. That said, blogging doesn’t always come so easily to me. Sometimes it’s not a matter of procrastination, sometimes I just don’t feel like I have anything to write about. So, to help ensure that I will write frequently, I’ve decided to employ a ringer. I’m going to blog about my attempt to power through my never-ending unwatched Netflix queue.

I don’t have a DVD account anymore (does that even need to be said at this point?), so this is strictly a streaming queue. Like so many other people, I’ve let the Netflix list get unwieldy, to the point that I’m sort of relieved when something I’ve been meaning to gets dropped from Netflix’s streaming service. Well, starting today, I’m setting myself a benchmark. I will try to get through at least a couple of these per week, and will write something about each flick after I finish watching. I’m giving myself a couple of outs and setting up a couple of rules for this as I go along.

  1. I’m not obligated to finish a movie. I can’t, off the top of my head, think of any movie I’ve ever seen where at some point I thought, “Wow, this is awful,” and then later thought, “Glad I stuck it out through the awful parts to get to the fantastic stuff.” It’s okay for a movie to start slow, or have a lull or dip or three, but if I get a sense at any time that what I’m watching is truly bad–in a completely uninteresting way–I reserve the right to abandon flick.
  2. I’m only watching movies on my list, not television series. Bates Motel, you’ll have to wait.
  3. I’m going in order of the current state of the list. Which, for the purposes of any smattering of readers who may start following along, is going to make this list appear quite random. And I suppose it essentially is.
  4. I’m strictly going to write what I feel. Meaning that some entries may be in depth, some may focus less on the movie itself than on some outside thoughts the movie planted in my head, and some may entries may be improbably brief. Given my propensity for tangents and long-windedness, if we set the wordcount over/under at 400, the safe money would definitely be on the over. But there’ll probably be some occasions where I’ll keep things to a few paragraphs and move on.

With all of that established, let’s get to it. First up…

THE MAN FROM NOWHERE

There was a time in my life  when I went out of my way to watch any remotely notable Asian gunplay movie. I spent a couple of years fawning over John Woo, then I saw Tsui Hark’s Time and Tide and chased any movie that could come close to giving me the feeling it gave me upon first watch. Then I spent a few years catching up to solid flicks such as Fulltime Killer and Shiri, appreciating them for what they were while part of me thought, “Nice, but you’re no Time and Tide.

At some point, my wild affinity for Asian action flicks completely subsided. The movies still looked relatively appealing to me, but I didn’t feel so compelled to watch them. I’ve added and subtracted (and re-added) The Man From Nowhere to and from (and to) my Netflix list two or three times. I add it because it looks good, and comes highly recommended. I subtract it because it feels like one of those movies I’m never going to be in the mood to commit to viewing. The solid 2-hour runtime didn’t help. Remember when action movies seemed to get right to the point, got in and out in90-minutes or so, an hour-forty-five tops? The Terminator is 107-minutes long and it has to establish a premise involving time travel and futuristic murder-droids and shit.

“But Johnny, what about Die Hard, and Terminator 2, and other rather long action movies from the 80’s and early 90’s.”

Bah. Begone with you and your facts.

The Man From Nowhere has one of those classic action movie premises where the bad guys mess with the wrong man. I love movies with that plot, if for no other reason than they remind me of the end of the 1991 Patrick Dempsey movie Run. After Dempsey’s bumbling character lucks into killing one last villain, the cop who’s spent the whole movie one step behind being helpful all night finally catches up to Dempsey, smiles at him and says, “They sure fucked with the wrong guy.” Uh, nah, Detective, sir, that’s not an accurate assessment of the way things went down. Dempsey’s character spends the whole movie accidentally surviving and accidentally taking out the criminals chasing him. It’s a surprisingly fun flick, but his success leaves his enemies relatively blameless, tactically speaking. You can’t fault the bad guys in Run for thinking that a guy who looks and acts exactly like the guy from Can’t Buy Me Love should be an easy kill.

The bad guys in The Man From Nowhere, on the other hand, have legitimately eff’d with the wrongest of wrong men to eff with. The primary villains of the film, two psychotic brothers with promising futures in the murder/narcotics/exploitation/evildoer business, don’t have direct run-ins with the hero initially, and are dismissive of a lackey who tries to tell them about how quickly and casually our hero, Cha Tae-sik, snatched a knife out of said lackey’s hand. Okay, fair enough, no bad guy ever takes a cowardly bastard lackey’s word for it when he tries to warn them that the hero is more dangerous than he initially appears to be. But then their chief lieutenant / hitman doesn’t dispute the lackey’s story, and also goes out of his way to comment about how calm Tae-sik was when the hitman shot someone else right in front of him.

I’ve never run a criminal enterprise myself, so I don’t want to be too judgmental about it, but I like to think that if I did run one, and the highest ranking murderer under my employment even hinted at warning me about some seemingly innocuous guy I may have made into an enemy, I’d have some follow-up questions. “Did he say he was coming after us? Did he mention anything about having ‘a particular set of skills’? Should we maybe not kidnap the little kid who’s the only person to befriend him and make him feel remotely human again?”

The movie has some similarities to John Wick, which means it has some similarities to Taken, which means it has some similarities to Man on Fire, which means it has some similarities to The Professional and probably several other movies and stories that predate all of the aforementioned. Hell, viewed from a high enough altitude, it has some very basic things in common with The Searchers. Tae-sik is a warrior with some disturbing things in his past–things he’s done and had done to him–and So-mi, the abducted girl, is his lone tether to humanity.

The big difference between The Man From Nowhere and the other movies I’ve mentioned is just how much more emotionally unashamed it is, and I say this as a compliment. As I watched the film, I realized just how much I had missed the naked melodrama of so many Asian action / crime thrillers that just doesn’t come naturally to most American/”Hollywood” flicks in the same genres. Those who’ve seen Infernal Affairs and its remake The Departed should know exactly what I’m getting at. For those who haven’t, or who’ve seen the latter but not the original, here’s a video that does a great job of highlighting the very different approaches to the same scene.

Naked, unashamed manipulation and emotion. I forgot how much I enjoyed that sort of thing in my action thrillers. The Man From Nowhere is a film very much in that same vein. It comes through in the stories and characters. Unlike his American counterparts John Creasy or Bryan Mills, Tae-sik, is apt to cry or tremble with fury or shock when the moment calls for it. When he sets up a villain to die with a timed explosive, somewhat reminiscent of Creasy’s actions in Man on Fire, he doesn’t preface it with a cool one-liner and then walk off without looking at the explosion. Instead he gives the villain a rundown of exactly why the horrible things he’s doing are may be even more horrible than they already appear to be. And he is seething. I like Man on Fire well enough, but outside of Christopher Walken’s “masterpiece” mini-logue, it’s got nothing on this flick.

By the way, about that horrible stuff that the villains are up to. So-Mi is one of many children who’ve been sold to the Chinese Mafia operating in Korea as “ants”–child slave laborers. They’re forced to act as drug couriers, money couriers and meth-lab workers, and when any of them eventually collapse from the exhaustion of running around town doing drop-offs and pick-ups and, you know, working nonstop around all of those horrible meth chemicals, they’re killed and harvested for organs to be sold on the black market. Which is already fucking appalling and leaves any action flick fan eager to see these bad guys get the shit killed out of them. Then Tae-Sik briefly takes things up to the border of horror story territory while lecturing the villain; he notes that with the children’s organs being involuntarily harvested and sold to different people in different parts of the country, their souls can never rest, and they’re forced to wander without peace or respite in death. With that in mind, it almost feels like the villains merely getting shot, stabbed and/or blown up to death are getting off a bit easy.

The Man From Nowhere performs one hell of a balancing act; it’s gruesome, it’s melodramatic yet affecting, it’s thrilling despite dour and largely humorless, it’s predictable but still builds anticipation. Save for one knife-fight near the climax that features some exhilarating first-person POV camerawork, the action is unexceptional, but it’s very well-executed, and worth your time if you’re an action-thriller fan. Had I not just committed myself to this “Netflix list blitz” idea, I’d be in the mood to spend a week or two catching up on all the Asian action flicks I’ve been neglecting. Instead, the next movie will steer me into somewhat surreal world of a “cozy”-dystopian drama.

Next up: High-Rise

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Today’s Short Story: “The Four-Fingered Hand”

Barry Pain’s short story “The Four-Fingered Hand,” initially published in 1911’s Here and Hereafter, is a great, swift tale that can be read on Project Gutenberg for free. You should, perhaps, read the story first, then come back to read this post because I’m going to dive into story details, including the ending.

Ready now? Let’s get to it.

If you read enough ghost stories, you know that supernatural omens and phantom harbingers are plentiful in ghostlore; banshees, La Llorona, black dogs, death coaches, The Flying Dutchman, and a host of others that I’m not naming and plenty more that I’m sure I’ve never heard of. These entities and their freshly imagined stand-ins often pop up in horror fiction, because a being whose mere presence foretells death is ripe for producing frights. Given the familiarity of this character type, stories often add some twist to try to keep the audience on its toes, often utilizing dramatic irony that suggests predestination (the cursed person tries to avoid their death, only to accidentally cause their death through very actions meant to prevent it), or a plot turn involving a false presumption (the banshee appears, but the person sick in bed recovers, and someone else in the house ends up dead instead).

“The Four-Fingered Hand” has a simple, smart and horrifying twist on such a being. For any who didn’t take a moment to read the story, here’s a rundown: The titular, phantom four-fingered is a heriditary haint that used to appear to the forebears of a man named Brackley. Any sighting of the spectral hand was a sign to “stop anything on which he was engaged.” Brackley’s now-deceased grandfather, a wealthy man, would cease specific business dealings or cancel planned journeys whenever he saw the hand. In the story, Brackley spies the hand, but is persuaded by his skeptical acquaintance, Yarrow, to ignore the hand’s warning, which on this night seems particularly mundane and silly. The hand appears to be warning Brackley not to continue playing a game of cards. Brackley disregards the warning, plays cards with Yarrow and another man named Blake, and nothing horrible befalls him while playing.

And then Brackley excuses himself to his room, where he’s promptly strangled to death. An imprint of the hand that choked the life out of him remains on his neck for his friends to see, and that handprint is missing a finger.

It’s simple and, I’ll go ahead and gush here, brilliant. A warning and a threat may not quite be synonyms, but they’re very close cousins, and one very can easily be mistaken for the other. Take the following sentence: “Do as I tell you, or you will be killed by me.” Shave the “by me” off the end and you’re still essentially saying the same thing, but that omission can lead someone to misinterpret your intent.

As Yarrow tells another man at the end of the story, there’s no reason to believe that an apparition that seemingly appears to caution people against danger or give advance notice of impending, possibly avoidable danger is actually doing anything of the sort. It could be in business for itself, showing up for “unfathomable reasons” that they don’t bother to explain. We read and write often about such specters and treat them as though they must be stuck on rails, set on a path leading to a destination everyone has marked on their map. I love this story for providing the simple reminder that even a ghostly, maimed hand might be more than just a plot device. It might have a motive, and might not care to share that motive with the reader, or any other characters.

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DON’T KNOCK TWICE Trailer Checks Off a Few of My Boxes

Spindly-limbed creature? Check.

Title that doubles as a warning? Check.

Black-and-white ink illustrations that look like they could be pulled from a fake grimoire? Pretty damn specific, and yet, that’s a check.

This isn’t a particularly great trailer. Pretty by the numbers, in fact. But I’m a sucker for the things that I am a sucker for, so it’s a given that I’ll be at least slightly interested in Don’t Knock Twice based just the small sample of it shown here.

There are some elements present here that I’ve come to  be wary of over the years, in particular the whole “incredibly powerful supernatural being is summoned by the most mundane action” thing. On one hand, I have a soft spot for such summoning, since Bloody Mary might be the first major fear I can remember in my life, and probably should be a subject of a future Confessions of a Fear Junkie entry. On the other hand, for many stories it makes very little sense, particularly when the supernatural creature is summoned to do someone’s specific bidding.  That said, the act of knocking on a door may not be what actually summons our supernatural antagonist at all, so I’ll won’t hold that against the movie just yet.

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45-minutes of Horror Stories From the Freddy Krueger Hotline

For a relatively brief period in the 80’s and early 90’s, back before every entertainment enterprise had a dedicated website, 1-900 numbers were ubiquitous. While some people might remember the 1-900 numbers being associated with phone sex operations, R&B singerspop stars, teen idols and cartoon characters had their own hotlines as well. This latter group of hotlinesd blatantly targeted children, with their commercials often closing with a quickly uttered, “Kids, get your parents’ permission before you dial.” One of the other hotlines for fictional characters that targeted children, somewhat inexplicably, belonged to Freddy Krueger.

And now, courtesy of Dwayne Cathey’s Soundcloud account and the adolescence of actor/director Taylor Basinger, we have a 45-minute long archive of Freddy’s phone nightmares, recorded by a 14-year-old on his Darth Vader speakerphone.

Freddy doesn’t feature at all in any of these stories and for the most part only provides canned, repetitive introductions.  The stories themselves play out very much like super-condensed old-time radio horror stories. Just as gruesome as the darkest that Lights OutThe Witch’s Tale or Quiet, Please used to be, but with more swearing than you could get away with on the radio. The voice actors are all committed and once you get used to the rushed performances you might find the material more charming and entertaining than you’d expect.

Given the decidedly R-rated nature of the Elm Street movies, it might seem odd for Freddy to have a phone line that kids would be eager to call, but the Krueger character was always more popular with kids than with adults. Likewise, the character was bigger than the movies that spawned him, which paying adults made reasonably successful, but didn’t turn into breakout hits. Even adjusting for ticket-price inflation, none of the movies in the original Elm Street run come close to touching Scream, the original Halloween, or even Friday the 13th or I Know What You Did Last Summer when you’re looking strictly at the numbers. Many of the kids who thought Freddy looked scary and “cool,” and who dressed up in a hat, sweater and rubber-bladed glove for Halloween, often had to wait for the movies to come to home video or HBO to see their preferred horror icon in action.

Or they could dial a 900-number to get their Freddy fix, and hope that their parents wouldn’t notice those extra charges on the phone bill.

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Ellie Kemper Could’ve Been a Good Pennywise (At Least on Paper)

The title of this blog post just occurred to me after I saw an image of Ellie Kemper on an AV Club article today. Expressive, toothy grin. Proven ability to play a character who’s so impossibly cheerful it seems as if they’re from another world. She even has the red hair. Just let her play up the gleefulness until it’s unsettling, throw in some Kubrick stares, and I’m confident she could come off as perfectly menacing Pennywise the Clown.

I’m not one to suggest “gender swapping” characters at random, or just because it seems like the thing to say. I am, however, one to believe that certain characters needn’t be gender exclusive. There’s nothing particularly male about Pennywise. “It,” after all, is very much an “it.” Psycho clown, abominable pregnant spider, wolfman, mummy, incomprehensible eldritch being from another dimension. It can be anything It cares to be.

Pennywise being a man is, at absolute most, secondary to it being a creepy clown. And a big part of It being a “creepy clown” is that It looks a lot like a genuinely happy, friendly clown, who’s getting a kick out of doing horrible things.

pennywise-laughing

Some years ago, in my article about The Blair Witch project, I called out the fact that It and Poltergeist seemed to make adult coulrophobia sort of trendy. I’m not saying that it doesn’t exist, or that people who legitimately have this phobia should be ridiculed for it, but I do think it’s one of those things that other people commandeer because it somehow sounds cool nowadays to say, “Clowns are so creepy.” No, they’re not, at least not inherently, and sometimes the more deliberately “frightening” they are, the sillier and, well, more clownish they end up being.

This, for instance, is not at all scary.

clowns-are-not-scary

And neither, really, is this.

clown-trying-to-be-scary

The most recent high-profile “scary clown” in pop culture came from American Horror Story: Freak Show, and “Twisty the Clown” has a design trying so hard to be scary he looks more like some sort of “edgy” Juggalo cosplayer. A hulking maniac wearing a human scalp over his head and a fake giant mouth to cover his shotgun-erased jaw doesn’t need the clown motif to be ostensibly menacing. It’s like giving Leatherface a clown outfit and face paint, as if the human-skin-headgear, chainsaw and homicidal childishness didn’t make him threatening enough.

Similarly, the new Jared Leto take on The Joker for the upcoming Suicide Squad isn’t even a clown anymore. He looks like the leader of some goth-metal-worshiping, heroin-freak street gang from the movie The Warriors.

I point all of this out because people seem to forget that what made Tim Curry’s turn as Pennywise so iconic is that he often looked like this.

Pennywise_shower

If you were unfamiliar with the miniseries or novel, you might think he was delivering a harmless, misguided PSA about wearing shower shoes or something. He looks like the host of an 80’s Saturday morning kids show: Pennywise’s Playhouse. This picture of Pennywise has a lot more in common with the three goofy, mugging, Seussian clowns two pics up than that picture of the snaggletoothed fang monster with a colorful ‘fro. I can absolutely see Ellie Kemper exuding this kind of affability onscreen.

This guy that they actually picked for the part, meanwhile…

Bill-skarsgard

bill-skarsgard2

…look, hell, Bill Skarsgard might knock it out of the park, but on first sight he gives me that Leto Joker vibe. Like he’s going to show up as Pennywise with “Deadlights” tattooed in cursive on his forehead.

I’d rather have the Tim Curry / Ellie Kemper type. Someone whose smile seems a little too big when you look at it for a few seconds. A little too friendly. Someone who appears sincerely happy, yet also looks like they’re up to something.

ellie-kemper-1

Yeah. That’s the face of someone who’s genuinely thrilled to be giving out a bunch of blood-filled balloons.

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New Short Story Published in Devolution Z

The July 2016 edition of Devolution Z is available on Amazon now, either in Kindle format or paperback. My short story “TMI” appears second. It’s a story about the voices of history and the dead–specifically the ones located under and around a long bridge in Louisiana–and the modern outlets they can find in order to be heard.

Thanks to the Devolution Z staff for publishing the story.

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‘Baskin’ May be as Close as We’ll Get to a Good Silent Hill Movie

While the pull-quotes in the trailer for the Turkish horror film Baskin compare it to Hellraiser, the actual content of the trailer is more reminiscent of the best of the Silent Hill games. It appears to be a story about location that is damnation incarnate, and the story kicks off due to a car accident involving someone suddenly appearing in the middle of the road. Check out the IFC Midnight trailer and the shorter, TIFF trailer below. Neither is graphic enough to enter red-band territory, but if you’re on the squeamish side of things, you may want to brace yourself.

Of course, comparing Baskin to either Silent Hill or Hellraiser simultaneously pays it a compliment and–at least potentially–does it a disservice. After all, who’s to say that this slice of cinematic Hell won’t edge the other two as a genre classic? Unlikely, of course, but it’s worth rooting for just the same.

The alternative is that the movie lands in Event Horizon territory: horrifically splendid visuals, but otherwise a missed opportunity. Based on the trailer, that also strikes me as unlikely. This looks inventive and brutal. I’ve seen a couple of blogs refer to this as an “extreme” horror film, at least based on initial impression, but I’m hoping this deserves a better description. Granted, it’s probably a product of my own bias, but when I think of “extreme” horror films, I think of unimaginative flicks that set out to be gore-fests, as opposed to clever, creative works that just so happen to be gory. Plenty of silly slasher flicks could qualify as “extreme” given the blood and guts on display, for instance, whereas the aforementioned Hellraiser is brutally, disturbingly graphic, but the gruesome images are in service of the film; they aren’t the point of the film.

Some reviews from the film’s showing at the Toronto Independent Film Festival are less than enthusiastic, and even one of the positive reviews that provided a pull-quote isn’t exactly effusive1 Still, I can’t help but keep this on my radar.

EDIT: By the by, these posters for the movie are terrific. The keyhole poster up top is the better of the two–and will likely be among the best movie posters I’ll see all year–but I appreciate the retro appearance of the one below.

 

Baskin-Movie-Poster-Can-Evrenol

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