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Healthy Fears Podcast – Episode 21: You Are Never Seen Again

Sometimes, people disappear. There is something uniquely terrifying and captivating about the prospect of vanishing, or having someone you care about vanish. Even when there is a likely answer, the lack of absolute certainty regarding the fate of the missing can produce mysteries that puzzle us for decades or even centuries. From the Roanoke colonists, to the passengers of the Mary Celeste, to the works of Ambrose Bierce, and Joan Lindsay’s classic Picnic at Hanging Rock, our fascination with and fear of unexplained disappearances can be strong enough to encourage the confusion of fact with fiction. READ MORE

Healthy Fears Episode 18 – Depths of Hatred

Hatred is not strictly an unproductive, seemingly unnatural emotion. Sometimes hate is understandable, and even a motivation, if directed against an injustice or imbalance. Unfortunately, we too often see it deployed in service of maintaining injustices or imbalances, by powerful people who want to keep–or grow–their wealth and influence. This episode opens with the relatable hatred felt by the character Iraxi, from Zin E. Rocklyn’s novella Flowers for the Sea, and ends with prejudiced, manipulated, and ultimately violent hatred found in the 1976 film Canoa: A Shameful Memory. READ MORE

Healthy Fears Episode 17 – The Electric Chair and Three Shocking Years

The electric chair was once the go-to method of execution in the United States, and “the chair” still holds a unique position in America’s history of capital punishment. In aftermath of more than a decade of debates about how “cruel and unusual” execution may or not be, four horror movies emerged over the course three years in the 1980’s. Prison, Destroyer, The Horror Show (aka House III), and Shocker are all films about criminals who die in the chair, only to come back to life newly empowered to kill. One of those movies, however, stands apart from the others in an important way… READ MORE

Healthy Fears Episode 16 – It’s a Mad, Maddening World

Placing someone in a world that doesn’t make sense to them–that operates on its own, unpredictable form of “logic”–creates ideal conditions for comedy (Looney Tunes), absurdist fantasy (Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland)… or horror. Which can range from tales as impossible as Octavia Butler’s Kindred, to stories that are more terrifyingly plausible than some may realize, such as Kafka’s absurd nightmare The Trial.

Sources

Matt Robinson Liquefaction videos: READ MORE

My Favorites of 2021

Favorite Film

Kicking things off with a decidedly non-horror favorite before we dive deep into world of frights.

I have missed going to the movies. I love being in the theater. The pandemic has seemingly made many people realize that they in fact don’t like going out to the movies. They might even be willing to pay extra to bring the movie straight to the comfort of their living room or bedroom (or home theater, if they have it like that). And if that’s your preference, it should go without saying that there’s nothing wrong with that. I like the big screen, myself, even when there aren’t many other people in the theater. Hell, especially when the the theater is sparsely populated. I caught Summer of Soul with my significant other and it was the first time I’ve ever been “alone” (save for my partner, obviously) in a theater to see a film, and it was a fantastic experience. Of course, at least 90% of the good vibes I felt while watching it was a product of the film itself.

The movie is as full of outstanding music as you should expect, but the stories of the performers, organizers and attendees elevate it that much higher, even when they aren’t anything extraordinary. The story that gave me the widest smile was that of one man talking about seeing Sly and the Family Stone in person for the first time at this concert. Beforehand, he and his friends were more influenced by Smokey Robinson and the The Miracles, getting suited up when they would go out on the town. After seeing Sly, he and his friends, “weren’t suit-and-tie guys anymore.” When you see Sly and the band perform, you can easily understand why.

Favorite Horror Film

Some might consider Last Night in Soho more of a “supernatural thriller” or “supernatural mystery” than a horror film. I’ve mentioned here multiple times before that I tend to favor inclusivity when it comes to identifying horror fiction, as opposed to trying to find any ol’ reason to say, “That doesn’t count as horror,” or “That’s not a real horror story.” Even with that in mind, I can see why Last Night in Soho might lean farther away from the genre than into it for some.

But you already know where I stand on this, given I’ve got it bolded here as my favorite horror film of 2021. Part of me wonders if this edged out other contenders like The Medium, The Power, and, especially, The Vigil 1. because I saw it in the theater, and, as already established, I love and have missed theaters. I’ve also seen other “Best Horror of 2021” lists include movies from 2020 (like The Empty Man) that would otherwise be a strong contender as well.

Ultimately, for me, out of the movies I’ve seen this year that can reasonably be said to be of this year it came down to Soho and The Vigil (see above footnote for why I’m allowing for it as a 2021 release). Soho wasn’t nearly as frightening, but as others have pointed out, a horror movie doesn’t have to scare you personally to be great. The Vigil got under my skin because of a fondness / weakness I have for a particular horror trope, which I wrote about in my review of the film. As much as I love that aspect of the movie, and the film overall, Soho made me care that much more overall about its story, characters and outcome. And for any still questioning its horror bonafides, it has some memorably horrific imagery that only gets more pronounced as the film goes along. Ultimately, it makes me wish for another non-comedic horror effort from Edgar Wright that tries even harder to scare the hell out of people, and I count that as a point in the film’s favor. Sometimes you’re left wanting more because you’re less than satisfied. Other times you’re left wanting more because what you were given was just that good. Soho, for me, is an example of the latter.

Favorite Horror Novel

My favorite horror novel that I read this year was Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s Mexican Gothic, but I was a year late on that and it is not of 2021. Still, since I didn’t do one of these last year and I love Mexican Gothic that much, I wanted to at least make mention of it here, as it’s still my favorite book of the very young decade thus far.

As for horror novels released this year, my favorite was My Heart is a Chainsaw. If you’re at all familiar with the horror literature scene, you’ve probably already heard that it’s one of the year’s best from numerous other outlets and authors, and that Stephen Graham-Jones has created an exceptional, clever and thoughtful love letter to slasher cinema within it.

The interesting thing for me is that I’m not particularly fond of slasher movies. I like many of them and grew up loving and being influenced by them far more in my youth than in my adulthood, but outside of a blip of time when I was enamored with Scream and Scream 2, they’ve never been something I’m overly drawn to.

Nonetheless, My Heart is a Chainsaw captivated me, much like its lead character, Jade, is captivated by identifying who her town’s “final girl” must be, who its killer must be, and who will be next to die by following the guidelines seemingly laid out by slasher film history. Because Graham-Jones is a devious mastermind, the story ends up going both where you might expect it to, and simultaneously somewhere else entirely.

Favorite YouTube Horror-related Video

I thought about dividing this into multiple sub-topics, but figured that would dilute this category too much, especially considering I wouldn’t even be sure how to label certain topics anyway. It’s probably unfair of me to lump all of these together given the quantity and variety of YouTube videos out there directly related to horror, but you know, this is my list, which doesn’t count for anything to anyone, so I’m just gonna do what I feel.

And what I feel like doing, first of all, is making mention of the videos that were very close to being my absolute favorites of the year. Sapphire Sandolo’s “Can You Make it Through the Video,” from her Stories With Sapphire series, was the one I returned to most out of all the fun animated videos on her channel. I love when a horror story makes use of its medium in a way that wouldn’t entirely work in a different format.

On the documentary / horror-lore / legends front, The Paranormal Scholar has a long history of fascinating videos. While her most ambitious project to date, the full-length documentary In Search of the Dead, released just a month ago, was an interesting watch, it’s much more of a research endeavor into metaphysics than something even remotely meant to stir up feelings of fear. Her video titled “5 Horrifying Hellhound Encounters in History,” however, is something I’ve watched at least once a month since it came out in June. Her deliver made even the stories I was already broadly familiar with (like that of England’s Black Shuck) feel eerier than I anticipated. This was only magnified when she spoke of legends I hadn’t heard of before, like El Cadejo. I am an absolute sucker for this sort of thing. Legitimately can’t get enough of it.

My absolute favorite YouTube video(s) of the year, however, come from Dark Corners Reviews. A pair of late entry documentaries about the horror films of Val Lewton, one focused on Cat People and its sequel 2, the other on the rest of his career and output. Much of Dark Corners’ content consists of quick, amusing skewering of undeniably bad and often cheap films. Their more documentaries, however, are consistently well-made and captivating, and direct, and the Lewton double-feature is simply wonderful. Similar to the recent, excellent video covering the Grendel series on the Comic Tropes channel, Dark Corners‘ breakdown of Lewton’s output places a spotlight on work that might be reasonably well-known to certain genre devotees, yet isn’t nearly known well enough.

Favorite Horror-related Podcast

Another unfair category, because, once again, it covers a huge range of territory. Also because I spent a significant part of this year (as with, seemingly all years since podcasting has really taken off) catching up with stuff that is not of 2021. The Magnus Archives, for instance. Something millions of people were already listening to, and I’m the Johnny-Come-Lately just now getting done with the episodes that wrapped in 2017. You’ll have to forgive me. There’s just a lot of quality content out there in the world, and I wasn’t good at keeping up when there wasn’t a quarter as much of it out there as there is now.

There’s much to be lauded and enjoyed in the wide world of horror podcasting. I’m a big fan of the Dark Histories podcast, and the episode about the supernatural in warfare was not just my favorite of the year from that channel, but my favorite that the host has has ever produced, which is saying a lot.

More on the reviews front, I enjoy the Dead Meat Podcast and was particularly fond of the episode covering Lake Mungo, and the “Guess the Kill” episode where Chelsea repeatedly stumped James (to be fair, having to guess a which movie a kill takes place in solely from the audio and a handful of hints is an absurd challenge). Normally any kind of trivia game that’s so difficult you can’t imagine the contestant getting even a tenth of the answers right is frustrating to sit through, but not this time, quite the opposite.

Getting back to the bounty to be found on the horror fiction front, PseudoPod celebrated its 15th anniversary this year which more than qualifies it as a bit of an institution at this point. It’s been around for almost as long as the term podcasting has, and is one of the OG’s of horror fiction podcasting. Yes, I’m probably a bit biased seeing as to how I’ve been published there three times, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s outstanding, and has been around this long for a reason. Episode 769, released just ahead of their birthday on August 11th, featured the story “Songs in a Lesser Known Key.” A PseudoPod original written by Mjke Wood would have had to stumble backwards into a sad pit of bad writing not to be one of my favorite works of the year in any medium, given my former infatuation with the song, “Gloomy Sunday,” the subject of the story. Fortunately it does not stumble in any direction, much less backward into said sad pit, but moves deftly and effectively toward grim inevitability.

Episode 409 of the Night Light Podcast doubled up on flash fiction pieces, one by L. Marie Wood, the other by Tyhitia Green, each of which pushed a particular button for me. The last six words of Wood’s story, “Family Dinner,” are just phenomenal. You can never go wrong with a great stomach-punching closing line. Green’s story, “Date Night,” delivers on something I won’t write about here, since the story is brief enough for just about any revelation of its content could count as a spoiler. I’ll only ask that you trust me enough to go give the episode a listen for yourself.

There are too many more noteworthy stories and podcasts to mention here without this post becoming unwieldy, so I’ll just get to my my favorite horror podcast of 2021, the new anthology horror series Nighty Night with Rabia Chaudry. If forced to pick a favorite episode, I’ll go with its inaugural episode, “Rot,” an inspired, loose adaptation of “The Tell-Tale Heart” that replaces being tormented by sound with being tormented by stench.

I routinely feel like the sense of smell doesn’t get enough attention in horror fiction. Every time I see a zombie movie or series, for instance, that features decaying corpses shuffling about, it stands out to me that no one ever reacts to the smell of death. That should be a dead giveaway that zombies are about, shouldn’t it? You start approaching a building, hoping it could be a sanctuary, but you’re greeted with the funk of forty-thousand years, as Vincent Price once put it, and you immediately know that place is probably choking with zombies, and you keep it moving. That sort of thing is not what “Rot” is about, but it does take advantage of the fact that smell is the sensation tied most to our memories, be they pleasant or horrific. It is an adaptation

What, No Favorite TV Episode or Series?

Like I said earlier, I’m pretty bad at catching up with anything, and television series, for whatever reason, frequently tend to end up on the backburner for me. I love a good series or mini-series, but don’t think I watched anywhere near enough television content to make a declaration of a “favorite” worthwhile. So, sure, I could say it’s the penultimate episode of Midnight Mass or the finale of Squid Game, and even if I watched a ton of other series this year that’s a great chance that one of those two would end up being my favorite of the year. But I’m still way the hell behind on Them. I’ve only caught bits of Brand New Cherry Flavor. I’ve heard that You season 3 was terrific. I only ever got a few episodes into season 1, and not for lack of interest. Just, again, I never feel as motivated to go all in on a tv series–even when I like it–as I do just about anything else I watch, read or listen to. I’ve only listed a handful of examples here, there are many others I am all but hopelessly behind on. With that in mind, I’m punting on declaring a favorite television episode for 2021. Maybe I’ll feel better about claiming a favorite next year.

Okay, Well What About a Favorite Short Story Then? READ MORE

Movie Review: DAUGHTERS OF DARKNESS

Final Verdict: Mayyyyybe worth a watch if you’re curious about a fairly corny, occasionally inspired cult erotic sorta-horror flick.

When you combine being sick in bed on a Sunday with Shudder’s unique streaming alternatives, you can easily find yourself watching something you ordinarily wouldn’t. You ou see, while Shudder’s service has the familiar “watch what you want any time you want” option of every other streaming service, it also has what basically amounts to four “channels” that feature unalterable, programmed content. There’s “Slashics” which–you might guess–runs slasher movie classics. There’s “Wicked Grin” that features more comedic or lighthearted horror / thriller fare. There’s the “Psychological Thrillers” channel, which doesn’t have time for any cute name shit. And then there is the primary channel, “It Came From Shudder” which, near as I can tell, just plays whatever the hell it wants to.

It’s a pretty cool option to have, I think, as it has the potential to introduce you to flicks you’ve either never heard of or seen before, or at least wouldn’t have been searching for at that exact moment. Sometimes those flicks are little gems, like the surprising German zombie flick I’ll be writing about in the future1. Otherwise, well, let’s get into Daughters of Darkness.

First off, I was surprised at how well-received this movie was and, to some extent, still is. Admittedly, I’m not up enough on my 70’s Euro-arthouse cinema, so I can’t offer any counter to the reviews that note it as a strong example of that genre merged with horror. And to be clear, the film doesn’t have a unanimous, outstanding reputation, so much as a generally solid rep as a cult / underrated near-classic. I almost see what some of the positive reviews are getting at when they call it an “exercise in mood [and] tone” or “fairly stylish” (the latter from Roger Ebert’s curiously non-committal review that’s mostly just a rundown of plot points). Ultimately, though, no, I don’t see it. The movie has some lovely moments here and there, but not nearly enough to make up for the clunky campiness that makes up the bulk of the film

The story is very straightforward and the plot eschews any attempts at mystery. Two newlyweds–an unfortunate young woman named Valerie and her untrustworthy, murder-and-torture obsessed new hubby, Stefan–stop over at an old hotel when their planned train trip meets an unexpected roadblock. The newlyweds happen to be placed in the favored royal suite of Countess Elizabeth Bathory, a woman who hasn’t visited the hotel in 40-years, who checks in with her female companion just after the married couple arrive.

In case the Countess’s name was too much of a dead giveaway as to her true nature and eventual motives–and a glowing neon clue as to who’s behind a spate of murders committed in the area–the hotel porter tells her right to her face that he remembers her from four-decades prior, when he was but a bellboy. Only she hasn’t aged at all, he claims! She looks just as she did all those years ago. And she just sort of semi-coyly plays along and before denying she is the same woman. This all happens less than fifteen-minutes into the movie.

Not very long after–but longer than you think, given how little actually happens between scenes–Bathory introduces herself to Valerie and Stefan, and wastes little time in regaling Stefan with the sexually torturous exploits of the Countess of legend while groping him right in front of his wife, as is customary in Europe, I presume. Valerie is more horrified by the explicit descriptions of torture that are very blatantly arousing Stefan than she is upset with this woman having her hands all over her husband, and I can’t tell if that’s absurd or understandable because the scene is so bizarre you can’t expect her character to behave like a normal person.

Tempted as I am to turn this entire write-up into a plot-recap highlighting one silly moment after another, I don’t really want to do that (anymore than I already have). Hopefully what I’ve written already gives you an idea of what you might be in for if you chose to watch Daughters of Darkness. If not, I will add that it has two death scenes that are inept enough to lift an eyebrow, but not quite baffling enough to be full on laughable. They involve sharp-but-not-sharp-enough instruments falling in impossible ways to stab or cut people in fatal ways that defy what you’re seeing.

I can’t say I regret having watched Daughters of Darkness, but there’s no way in hell I could recommend it. The writing is thin, the characters may as well be aliens, the handful of lovely shots are undermined by the barrell-full of overwrought, corny moments, and the interesting score is rendered ineffective by a comical overuse of dire-strokes punctuating any moment that might be remotely seen as sinister and several moments that aren’t close to being sinister. And I suppose, once-upon-a-time, this movie was erotic, but even the “seduction” and sex in this film is rudimentary.

One of the Keys to Keeping “Unlikable” Characters Tolerable

The recent box-office disappointment Rough Night drew obvious comparisons to the movie Very Bad Things given the shared premise of “accidental killing of stripper/sex worker leads to cover-up and further criminal behavior.” In speaking of Very Bad Things, several of the film’s detractors have pointed to just how vile and insufferable the characters were. Sure, it’s a dark comedy/thriller, so at least some of its characters are expected to be criminals. And it’s far, far, far from being the first or only movie whose primary characters are unsympathetic, selfish and even murderous assholes. And while there are certain people who are just never going to be on board with watching or reading a story featuring “unlikable” unsympathetic characters, there are many others (like me) who find such stories interesting, provided that the story is, well, interesting, and provided that the unlikable characters aren’t utterly insufferable.

So what is it about the characters in a movie like Very Bad Things that pushes their vileness over the top? Are their actions simply that deplorable? Does the story just fail them to such an extreme degree that they can’t be redeemed? In my opinion, the answer to the last two questions is “no.” The problem with most of the characters in Very Bad Things is that they don’t show the capacity to care for anyone at all other than themselves. The simple solution, then, is to give them at least the smallest sign that they are capable of caring. They can still be horrible, mostly hateful people, but showing that they have even an ounce of compassion for at least one other person can go a long way toward making them more palatable.

Examples of this can be found in more stories than I can hope to count. Pulp Fiction primarily follows the happenings of two homicidal hitmen who are very casual about killing innocent people, but they also seem to have a genuine friendship even early on in the movie. It makes them easier to get along with from an audience perspective, because even though they may argue, they generally get along with each other. Sticking with Tarantino, Mr. Pink and Mr. White in Reservoir Dogs develop a bond that carries them through a botched robbery, mortal injury, distrust and conflict and betrayals, right up until the final emotional revelation.

Branching out into other crime stories starring villainous protagonists, the main trio of violent asshole gangsters in Goodfellas start off with a strong bond, and the deterioration of the bond due to greed, impulsive behavior and drug abuse is a core element of the story. O-Dog in Menace II Society is a monstrous, murderous lunatic, but he legitimately cares about his friend Cain. Scarface, of course, is focused on the rise and fall of an ambitious madman, but he does love his sister (albeit to an unhealthy and potentially unsavory degree) and his friend Manny. He even has compassion for strangers, given his personal code of not killing women or children. His care for other people and his emotional immaturity related to that caring are crucial components to his eventual downfall. Harold Shand, the bulldog bastard of a crime boss in The Long Good Friday, is a cruel, vicious hothead, but manages to muster some affection and even a sincere apology for his lady, Victoria. Going back farther, even the psychotic Cody Jarrett from White Heat loved the hell out of his mother.

But those are all dramatic films. What of a dark comedy, like Very Bad Things? The best contemporary example I can think of is It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, a television show centered on a group of awful people being consistently awful to one another and to anyone else unfortunate enough to cross their paths. Granted, humor is subjective, and part of Sunny‘s success hinges on whether or not you find the show funny, but even with that in mind, the show’s writers and creators are aware of the importance of showing that even despicable people need show signs of caring for others once every blue moon. Sunny has multiple examples throughout its long run of the gang rallying to actually do something nice or to be there for one their own (“Charlie Kelly: King of the Rats”, “Dee Gives Birth”) or simply enjoying each other’s company (“A Very Sunny Christmas”, “Mac and Charlie: White Trash”).  To be sure, they are still all manipulative, selfish, horrible assholes who are frighteningly proficient at ruining lives, and none of the examples of them being temporarily decent human beings redeems them in any way, but it does make them tolerable and show that they at least have the capacity–however limited–to be selfless and, dare I say, even loving.

All of this to make one simple point: if your protagonist is a horrible person, they needn’t be thoroughly horrible. And perhaps the easiest way to keep an unlikable character from being too intolerably irritating to bother with is to simply show that there’s at least one person in their world that they care about as much as they care about themselves.

Perfect Rivals: Doc Holliday and Johnny Ringo – TOMBSTONE

Some rivalries are built and strengthened by the opponents being perfect opposites, but others are memorable because the enemies reflect each other a little too closely for comfort. Doc Holliday spells it out for us during the famous first encounter he has with Johnny Ringo in Tombstone; here is a man who reminds him of himself, and for that reason alone, a drunken Holliday decides to despise him. When Ringo exhibits a knowledge of Latin that matches Holliday’s, Doc declares, “Now I really hate him.”

The men are very similar and it shows up on screen. Sometimes we’re simply told that two characters are or were similar in some fashion, but we’re given scant evidence of it. In Carlito’s Way, for example, one character scolds the older Carlito that brash, upstart Bennie Blanco (from the Bronx) is just a younger version of Carlito, to which the more seasoned gangster responds, “Never me.” It’s an example of how sometimes telling isn’t always necessarily worse than showing (a flashback would be cumbersome and disrupt the movie’s momentum), but it’s still something that we never get to visualize. Not so with Tombstone. The confrontation in the video above efficiently illustrates how Ringo and Holliday mirror one another. It also shows us where they differ.

One reason why Val Kilmer is rightly praised for his magnetic turn as Holliday is that he makes a murderous, borderline-psychopathic asshole likable. He almost certainly cheats at cards (“twelve hands in a row”? Ike’s right, nobody’s that lucky), taunts you for losing your money to his cheating ways, baits you into reacting and shivs you for it, nonchalantly robs the place on his way out, then skips town with his lady (who prepared for their getaway ahead of time). He’s a scoundrel at best, a bloodthirsty, opportunistic murderer at worst. “Bloodthirsty murderer” is also an apt description of Michael Biehn’s Johnny Ringo. But Doc is also charming and witty, and he’s friends with the hero, so we like him. He’s also more confident, so he doesn’t have to posture aggressively the same way Ringo does (you can take “posture aggressively” literally in the scene above, where Ringo stands ready to draw, and Holliday remains calm with a drink in his hand).

Doc is a casual gardener of trouble, sowing it and inviting it to grow just to give himself something to do. Johnny Ringo is a compulsive carpenter of trouble. If he’s not building it to his exact specifications, he feels lost.

Holliday also has a twisted sense of humor, whereas Ringo has none at all. Kilmer’s Holliday appears to see life and death as a bit of a joke. He knows he’s quick and great with a gun, and that his skills still won’t help him combat the brutal illness that’s consuming his life day by day. So he’s carefree about life-and-death matters in a way other men aren’t. He’s willing to “play for blood” in a shootout with a thoroughly drunken Ringo, but he doesn’t care about playing fair; he already has his gun drawn and hidden behind his back. Not only does he cheat at cards, he cheats at duels when he sees fit. Notice Doc’s slight grin as he tries to lure Ringo into a rash decision and hasty death.

Johnny Ringo lacks Holliday’s self-awareness. When Holliday says that a man like Ringo “has got a great big hole right in the middle of him,” he’s speaking of himself as well. Granted, we spend more time with Holliday, but we get enough time with Ringo to understand that he doesn’t understand himself nearly as well as Holliday does, doesn’t grasp what makes him so miserable and prone to violence. Holliday, conversely, knows and speaks of his own hypocrisy, he knows that Kate is using him and may be “the Antichrist,” and, in a heartbreaking, wonderful moment, he knows that he frankly hasn’t led a life that’s won him many friends.

Ringo is equally loyal to his few friends, even though he isn’t emotionally capable of articulating it even in the simple way Doc does. In the scene where he calls for the blood and souls of the Earps, he’s drunk for the only time in the movie. This is on the heels of his friends in the Cowboys gang dying during the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. At no other time in the film is Johnny up for the Cowboys’ drunken debauchery. In fact, Ringo abstains from any vices besides killing. He’ll shoot a priest dead, to the shock of his fellow Cowboys, but he never chases women, doesn’t play cards and almost never drinks. Only when his friends have been killed–when he wasn’t there to use his expertise to help them–does Ringo seek solace in liquor.

The “hole” in Ringo’s life isn’t that much bigger than Holliday’s, Doc just realizes something is missing and therefore does something about it. While Ringo “can never kill enough, or steal enough, or inflict enough pain” to fill that space, Doc can at least partially quell his emptiness through booze, gambling, women, and an undying devotion to his one true friend. Ringo, intelligent but ignorant of himself and utterly joyless, avoids pleasure and seeks only death, but that can’t come close to evening him out.

Ringo is also too reliant on having others see him as a man who’s too dangerous to be stood up to. Even Wyatt, brave as he is, conceded to Doc that he couldn’t beat Ringo in a gunfight, which is what prompted Doc to intervene. When Doc–a man who does not see Ringo as a Reaper, but just as a dead man walking, same as himself–shows up and says he wants to finish their game of “playing for blood,” Ringo says he was only joking.

“I wasn’t,” Doc says. And Ringo’s face turns from stone to this…

 

 

He’s afraid and confused. While Ringo chases death and wants “revenge [for] being born,” he doesn’t really want to die, and he really doesn’t want to be in this situation that he cannot control. Holliday, meanwhile, sports the same relaxed grin prior to their duel that he was wearing when telling Wyatt he was “rolling” with success, or observing that Kate wasn’t wearing a bustle, or when he proudly proclaimed to Ringo in their first meeting that he is in his prime.

When Holliday lands the fatal shot in their duel, he goads Ringo into getting a shot off of his own, and you get the sense that he’s sincere. Doc’s illness has condemned him to an early grave regardless of how he lives, and he’s well aware of this. When he senses his time is coming, he’s only distressed at the thought of Wyatt watching him pass. When Wyatt leaves the room, Holliday makes a final, calm comment observing that he’s dying with his boots off, and then he dies without much stress.

In the end, the result of this rivalry–predictable as it may be for a crowd-pleasing Western–is foreshadowed by that first confrontation. There is Doc Holliday, the casual gardener, and Johnny Ringo, the compulsive builder. The cool improviser, and the controller. Two men with similar talents and a similar blood lust, but a few crucial differences. Ringo instigates trouble because he must be in control–or at least feel that he is in control–and must keep up appearances as the baddest man in the room. He needs others to see him a certain way. Doc invites trouble and simply takes things as they come, and doesn’t much care what most others think of him. Ringo shows off his (probably rehearsed) gun-twirling tricks for the crowd to show everyone he’s a bad, bad man, and Doc makes a joke of it, because he’s savvy and wants to deescalate the situation for the sake of his friends, but also because he doesn’t care if anyone else thinks he’s a bad, bad man. He knows who and what he is.

And when the insecure man who must control trouble is confronted by an uncontrollable variable he wasn’t prepared for–Doc showing up for a duel before Wyatt could arrive–well, his fear is so apparent that his rival can see the ghost in him, and truthfully tells him that he looks as though someone’s walked over his soon-to-be-dug grave.

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 Fearphile 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 won’t hold that against the movie just yet.

44-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 hotlines blatantly targeted children, with their commercials often closing with, “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.

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 Lights Out, The 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.