The Dead Lands is the Māori Buddy Cop Horror You Didn’t Know You Needed [Series Review]

The Dead Lands has a brilliant premise. Waka (Te Kohe Tuhaka) is a Māori warrior, notorious for his ruthlessness. He’s lived a life without honor but has conquered much of the lands surrounding his and is feared by the neighboring communities. When he dies, he goes to the afterlife and at the gates of heaven, he’s charged by another warrior.

He pounds on the door, asking to be let in, as the other warrior gains ground. When Waka realizes no one is coming, he turns and fights. Quickly, he cuts the other man’s throat. The unnamed warrior’s head tilts back, dead. But then he begins fighting again, despite the killing blow.

Continue reading at Wicked Horror!

Difficult Light by Tomás González [Book Review]

Grappling with his son’s death, the painter David explores his grief through art and writing, etching out the rippled landscape of his loss.

Over twenty years after his son’s death, nearly blind and unable to paint, David turns to writing to examine the deep shades of his loss. Despite his acute pain, or perhaps because of it, David observes beauty in the ordinary: in the resemblance of a woman to Egyptian portraits, in the horseshoe crabs that wash up on Coney Island, in the foam gathering behind a ferry propeller; in these moments, González reveals the world through a painter’s eyes. From one of Columbia’s greatest contemporary novelists, Difficult Light is a formally daring meditation on grief, written in candid, arresting prose.

The highlight of Difficult Light by Tomás González is the way his narrator, David, describes his world. His lifetime painting has shaped the way he sees the world. He describes the painting he was working on when his son died—a ferry—by writing, “The emerald color of the painted water was pale, superficial, I thought, like a piece of spear-mint flavored candy.” His eye comes through in the way he talks about color, stacking modifiers to get the image in his reader’s mind just right before he adds the synesthesia at the end. The little taste of candy at the end adds another sense and dimension, to the description, popping it off the page. 

These descriptions are a joy, parceled throughout a book that intentionally is not one. As he writes, David is in the late stages of a particularly nasty macular degeneration that prevents him from painting. Instead, he funnels his creative energies into recording the day leading up to the death of his son Jacobo, which, he says at the end of the first chapter, “We’d scheduled for seven that night, Portland time, ten o’clock New York.” The line is a strong hook. It makes you question what kind of death would be scheduled and why. 

While his son is in Portland, David is in their New York City apartment. González captures the city’s essence, especially in a scene where David is wandering the streets alone in the night and splits a 40 with a Russian who sells records from his bicycle. 

Translator Andrea Rosenberg does excellent work, rendering this scene and González’s wonderful prose. It is impossible to say whether something was lost as the story changed languages, but if anything is missing, this story is better for it. 

Difficult Light is a powerful, concise story that shows how, “joy always, or almost always, sprouts like a piece of wood in water, no matter the depth of the horror a person has experienced.” 

Difficult Light is scheduled to be released August 11, 2020.

Tulsa Massacre 99th Anniversary

CW: Racial Violence

Today is the 99th anniversary of the Tulsa Massacre. I moved here, to Tulsa, three years ago and I’ve been studying and teaching the Massacre at Tulsa Community College for that entire time. 

It’s a big controversy here still because it was covered up, rarely spoken of for fifty years or so, but since Scott Ellsworth’s Death in a Promised Land in 1982 it’s been talked about quite a bit more. HBO’s Watchmen also did good work garnering attention. 

Here are the quick facts: 

-Greenwood, in 1921, was a mostly Black neighborhood. It was extremely affluent, in large part because the white Oklahomans had forced them to farm on land that didn’t grow crops so well. But it turned out that those crops weren’t going well because of the oil underneath. Black Wall Street, as Greenwood was called at the time, was born.  (https://web.archive.org/web/20081026071428/http://blackwallstreet.org/bwshistory/bwstulsa1830-1921.a.htm)

-Dick Rowland and Sarah Page (an elevator operator) were on an elevator alone together. When that elevator arrived on the ground floor, Page screamed. Rowland was arrested. No one knows what actually happened. Likely, it was nothing, but Page is rumored to have made a written request for the charges to be dropped. (https://www.tulsaworld.com/tulsa-race-massacre-what-happened-to-sarah-page-and-dick-rowland-following-the-massacre/article_67810913-0f34-58da-af38-f6a9ff8ea5e0.html)

-The next morning, The Tulsa Tribune ran an article on the front page, “ “Nab Negro for Attacking Girl in an Elevator.” (https://www.tulsaworld.com/news/tulsa-race-massacre-1921-tulsa-newspapers-fueled-racism-and-one-story-is-cited-for-sparking/article_420593ee-8090-5cfc-873e-d2dd26d2054e.html)

-White citizens, with guns, went to the courthouse demanding Rowland be handed over so they could lynch him. Black World War I veterans, having fought for freedom in their country, marched down to protect Rowland with rifles. The first time they met, the police managed to send everyone home. 

-The second time, a shot was fired. All hell broke loose. Very important to state this cleary: the massacre started because a white mob was not allowed to lynch a black man. 

-According to multiple eyewitnesses, the white mob was “deputized and handed weapons” by the police. (https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smithsonian-institution/long-lost-manuscript-contains-searing-eyewitness-account-tulsa-race-massacre-1921-180959251/

-That “by the police” part is really important.

-This is where it gets even crazier. Cuz the police didn’t stop with handing out guns to the angry white people. They requisitioned crop dusters to drop Turpentine bombs on the neighborhood. (https://www.okhistory.org/research/forms/freport.pdf). Note: That PDF is the state of Oklahoma’s report from 2001. 

-35 city blocks were destroyed. According to my friend JayCee, an Oklahoma historian, “White mobs prevented firefighters from doing their job, and in some cases, restarted fires that had been put out. I think it’s important to show that there was a concerted effort to destroy Greenwood, and this wasn’t just a mob mentality.”

-The number of people killed has long been disputed. The state itself initially said there were 38 (12 white, 26 black), but most estimates are now upward of 300 with a committee working to find mass graves now. (https://www.npr.org/2019/12/17/789015343/new-research-identifies-possible-mass-graves-from1921-tulsa-race-massacre)

-Along with the death and the destruction of property, around 6,000 Black Americans were held in unlawful captivity for days. (https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/0021934708318607)

-The event, for nearly eighty years, was called “The Tulsa Race Riot.” It’s a weird way to frame an event. When Guns N’ Roses played late, or whatever happened to set off the Pumpkin Festival Riot in New Hampshire, no one dropped turpentine bombs from planes. The police didn’t hand out guns. So why the weird name? 

The people living in Black Wall Street had insurance on their property. But guess what that insurance didn’t pay out in the event of? 

A riot. (https://www.tulsaworld.com/news/local/racemassacre/tulsa-race-massacre-in-aftermath-no-one-prosecuted-for-killings-and-insurance-claims-were-rejected/article_3ba23c3c-886d-5821-9970-02153261960a.html)

-Wyatt Tate Brady, who was at the center of Tulsa’s founding and is rumored to have masterminded the Massacre, pushed hard for the city to change its zoning laws. Instead of being able to rebuild on their land Black American property was replaced with railroad tracks, highways. In 2010 the stadium where the Tulsa Drillers and Tulsa Roughnecks play was built on that land. (https://thislandpress.com/2012/04/18/tate-brady-battle-greenwood/

-The attempts at Reparations by the state have been pitiful to this point, and a judge struck down an attempted lawsuit in 2004 (http://www.nbcnews.com/id/4588836/ns/us_news-life/t/judge-nixes-tulsa-race-riot-reparations/#.XtLg5mhKjIU). 

There are two points opponents of reparations frequently make: the first is that the government is not responsible. 

Which is completely and utterly false. At the moment the first police officer handed out the first gun the state assumed at least partial responsibility. Two groups of people were fighting. They only gave guns to one of them. The fact that they requisitioned crop dusters to drop bombs after that only adds to it. 

Tax payers (among who are the people of Greenwood, who were shot, tortured, burnt, and left homeless) paid for those guns. They paid for those officers to hand them out. They paid for those officers to get those planes off the ground, dropping bombs. 

-The second is that it was so long ago. 

First of all, the last known living survivor died in November 2018. This wasn’t generations ago. (https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/obituaries/olivia-hooker-one-of-the-last-survivors-of-the-1921-tulsa-race-massacre-dies-at-103/2018/11/22/f5c03934-ee71-11e8-8679-934a2b33be52_story.html). Olivia Hooker died less than two years ago. 

The claim that it was so long ago also belies a complete misunderstanding in how wealth creation and reproduction works. Every conservative I know (except maybe one?) went to a private high school. I did too. 

We were taught how to tie a tie and make eye contact when we shook hands. We were coached on how to game the SATs (Did you know that in 2007 not answering a question doesn’t cause a deduction, while a wrong answer takes off a ¼ of a point so it’s better not to guess unless you can eliminate two options to make it 50/50?). And most importantly, we were put into a smaller class of people who because of their wealth, intelligence, and connections are now small business owners, doctors, and lawyers who are now willing to do favors for each other. To interview each other’s friends and kids for jobs. It’s how the upper-crust stays the upper-crust. 

(And I know they worked hard. Having privilege doesn’t mean that you didn’t work hard and no one ever said it did. It means that there were more doors you could go through that led to better results because of wealth and family connections.) 

Those are privileges the children of small business owners, doctors, and lawyers in Black Wall Street would’ve had. 

Then there are the emotional effects. Take a minute and imagine that everything you owned was destroyed by men with guns and planes dropping bombs. The bank where you had your savings was destroyed. The grocery store where you got your food? Cinders. The barbershop? Gone. Your doctor’s office? Rubble. 

What are you going to tell your kid about it? Your grandkid? 

-How does this play into what’s happening now? 

It’s everything. So much of our political divide now comes from a massive difference in the way people see the world. It should not come as a surprise that many of the college freshmen I teach in Tulsa, Oklahoma are conservatives and most of my friends are liberals. I get a look at both sides. 

Conservatives view the world as a set of individual actions. It’s integral to their philosophy. We need small government because individual freedom is the highest attainable goal. Those actions might look like something else that happened before, but each is a unique set of actions, individual courses chosen by individuals who are above influence. 

Liberals view the world in a larger context. 

When George Floyd is murdered by a police officer kneeling on his neck for nine minutes (Do you remember when all the memes were about how long twenty seconds was when we were relearning to wash our hands for COVID-19 a month or two ago? Twenty-seven of those), conservatives and liberals seem to agree, the officer was in the wrong. There is no conscionable argument that George Floyd’s murder was justified or warranted. 

But to conservatives it’s an isolated incident. A mistake, made by an individual. It might look like what happened to Eric Garner or Trayvon Martin or Ahmaud Aubrey or any of the other young Black people who have been murdered, but it’s all individual incidents. 

When you think about it that way, destroying a Target makes very little sense. 

Liberals can see the line straight back to the Tulsa Massacre. Straight back to slavery. In that context, taking needed supplies from a Target after yet another member of the Black Community is lynched makes a lot of sense. 

-Please don’t take this as a both-sider thing. Every event happens within a context, and to pretend that it doesn’t so you can feel, I don’t know the word, free?, is ridiculous. It’s childish and arrogant. 

Skull: The Mask is Nasty B-Movie Fun [Chattanooga Film Festival Review]

In the scene that best captures the essence of Brazilian slasher film Skull: The Mask, a monster (Rurik Jr.) stalks toward a priest (Ricardo Gelli). The priest backs toward a crucifix. He takes Christ’s hand, at first it seems, for comfort. But the hand comes out and reveals itself to actually be a sword hidden in Jesus’s arm. The priest and monster proceed to have an epic sword fight in front of a stained glass background.

The movie starts long before that fight in 2021. Skull: The Mask opens in 1944, with soldiers that look a lot like Nazis conducting a ritual to summon Anhangá, a Brazilian god. They cut a man’s stomach open and bathe the titular mask—which looks like the skull of one of the pig things from the rancor pit in Return of the Jedi—in blood and entrails. One of the maybe-Nazis puts the mask on. The mask doesn’t like that. The maybe-Nazi’s head explodes.

Continue reading at Wicked Horror!

Tigers Are Not Afraid Returns Fairy Tales to Their Gory Glory [Steelbook Review]

Issa López’s Tigers Are Not Afraid opens with a shocking set of juxtapositions. White text on a black background tells audiences that, “Since the beginning of the drug war in 2006, 160,000 have been killed and 53,000 have disappeared in Mexico… There are no numbers for the children.” From there, López takes her audience into a classroom where they’re discussing the nature of fairy tales. The children are wearing pristine white uniforms. Their symbolic innocence crashes against the sobering statistics.

As Estrella (Paola Lara) writes a fairy tale about a prince who has forgotten that he’s a prince, the scene changes again. Now the camera is following Shine (Juan Ramón López), a boy around the same age as Estrella. Instead of going to school, he’s stalking two gangsters through an alleyway. When Caco (Ianis Guerrero) steps into a corner to pee, Shine steals his phone and his wallet. It’s a wonderfully tense moment because as López shows again and again throughout the film, she knows how to milk a scene for all it’s worth.

Continue reading at Wicked Horror!

The Only Good Indians is Phenomenal [Book Review]

Stephen Graham Jones is prolific. According to his website, he’s “the author of 23 or 25 or so books, +300 stories, some comic books, and all this stuff here.” The Only Good Indians is the 5th of those 20 plus books I’ve read, and it’s by far the best.

The Only Good Indians opens with “Ricky Boss Ribs,” a member of the Blackfeet tribe, hanging out in a bar. He’s working with “a drilling crew over in North Dakota.” His work is so dangerous that “Each time he came back with all his fingers he would flash thumbs-up all around the platform to show how he was lucky.” He has no illusions about how dangerous the bar is for a Native American man. When he slips outside to pee, there’s an elk in the parking lot, destroying vehicles.

Continue reading at Wicked Horror!

William Friedkin: Interview Peeks into Director’s Mind [Book Review]

William Friedkin was one of the biggest directors of the 1970s. He struck it big in 1971 with the crime thriller The French Connection and had other hits throughout his fifty year career in film. Undoubtedly, horror fans will know him from his 1973 genre-defining film The Exorcist.

Along with the University Press of Mississippi, who also published an excellent book of interviews with horror luminary Wes Craven, Christopher Lane has compiled fifteen interviews with Friedkin, spanning from the height of his success in 1974 all the way until the release of his latest film, The Devil and Father Amorth, which Friedkin was promoting in 2018.

Continue reading at Wicked Horror!

Infection is a Science Heavy Zombie Flick [DVD Review]

The ending of George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead is iconic. Ben, as brilliantly played by Duane Jones, goes to the window while an all-white militia is sweeping toward the farmhouse, head-shotting as many zombies as they can. One of them spots Ben, a black man, in the window and shoots him. It’s never clear whether they mistook Ben for a zombie or they saw an opportunity to kill a black man and took it. Romero never intended that moment to be read in this way, and Venezuelan writer-director Flavio Pedota finds himself in a similar situation with his zombie flick Infection.

In Romero’s introduction to the collection of zombie short fiction, Nights of the Living Dead: An Anthology, he admitted, Jones got the part because he was “hands down, the best, within our puny budget, to play it” (xvi). I quoted that same line in my review of Day of the Dead: Bloodline, and I still believe, “The thing with allegories and politics in film: They’re there whether the creators intended them or not.” Pedota, unlike Bloodline director Hèctor Hernández Vicens, lucked into the best part of his film.

Continue reading at Wicked Horror!

The Other Lamb is a Righteous Takedown of Christian Cults [Review]

My parents sent me to a Catholic all boys high school to “avoid distractions.” What “distractions” means, if you haven’t been indoctrinated into the bizarre sexist code of America, is “healthy relationships with women.” At that Catholic all boys high school, I was taught that when Eve ate the apple she committed the “Original Sin.” All of humanity would be punished, but women especially. They would have to have periods every month and painfully birth children. (Forgive me if I’m fuzzy on the details. It’s been ten years.) Malgorzata Szumowska’s first English language feature, The Other Lamb, demonstrates the way the concept of “Original Sin” has been and can be used to other and denigrate women.

The main character, Selah (Raffey Cassidy from The Killing of a Sacred Deer), is born into a Christian cult. The leader, known only as Shepherd (Game of Throne’s Michiel Huisman) for most of the film, is her father. In fact, he’s the father of many of the other young women in this cult. The rest of the women are his wives. There are no other men. “Only one ram in a flock, child,” Sarah (Denise Gough) explains to Selah late in the film.

Continue reading at Wicked Horror!