Cinepocalypse 2018 Review: Satan’s Slaves is a Must See

The characters in bad horror films miss the easy opportunities to solve their problems. They stay the night in haunted houses on the anniversary of someone’s violent death when they damn well know about AirBnB. They investigate that noise in the dark attic where the killer is lurking when they could stay downstairs and finish their beer. They refuse to see that the puncture wounds on their anemic friends neck might be caused by vampires and don’t go out for Italian food. If the characters found those easy ways out, the movies wouldn’t be any fun. It puts horror storytellers in a hard place. They need the characters to do stupid things to advance the plot, but need the characters to be smart enough that the audience identifies with them. It’s a challenge that director and writer Joko Anwar navigates superbly in Satan’s Slaves.

The movie starts with Rini (Tara Basro), negotiating with a record company executive. Her mother (Ayu Laksmi) was a pop star before her illness. The family can’t afford the mother’s medical bills, but the executive won’t budge, leaving Rini to go home with next to nothing. Her brother Tony (Endy Arfian) sells his motorcycle. Her father (Bront Palarae) has mortgaged the house and can’t afford to pay the phone bill.

Read more at Wicked Horror!

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Graphic Novel Review: The Beautiful Death is Depressing and Gorgeous

Mathieu Bablet’s graphic novel The Beautiful Death combines the desolation of Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend with the bleak pessimism of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. It starts following an unnamed young man, who’s internally reciting a poem that ends each stanza with, “For I am the last man on Earth.” After fifteen or so pages, it switches to the protagonists. Wayne, Jeremiah, and Soham are young men who survived the apocalypse. They spend their days traveling an unnamed city, scavenging for supplies. Wayne points out that the expiration date on the can is their expiration date too.

His and Soham’s spirits are broken. That’s precisely why Jeremiah is such a breath of fresh air. While Wayne and Soham wax poetic on the meaning of life after the apocalypse (“Do we have a duty to survive for all those who died?” Wayne asks through tears on page 73), Jeremiah builds snowmen. He maintains a sense of play, and a story this dark needs the light of hope to see everything else that’s going on.

Continue reading at Wicked Horror!

Advance Comic Review: She Could Fly #1 Is a Realistic Portrayal of Mental Illness

Luna is beginning her sophomore year of high school and, very early on in Dark Horse’s She Could Fly #1, shows her neuroses. When her school therapist asks her if she’s excited to drive, we see Luna’s fears drawn out. “You will kill someone,” her internal monologue tells her. We see her engaging in different pattern behaviors to keep people safe. It feels very true to my experiences as someone with anxiety, and I love seeing it.

I’m not sure when I started suffering from mental illness. I know that I was diagnosed in October 2016, most of the way through grad school, though I’d been dealing with symptoms since I was kid. It’s something I’ve written about for Wicked Horror before. I love horror, but the genre frequently gets mental health wrong. There are the movies that portray the mentally ill as dangerous, which is the exact opposite of true and there are the movies that end with mentally ill characters finding a magical cure at the end. She Could Fly #1 by Christopher Cantwell and Martín Morazzo has, through one issue, avoided both of these pitfalls while doing a spectacular job portraying fifteen-year-old Luna’s anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder.

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Blu-Ray Review: The Endless Will Entertain and Challenge You For Endless Viewings

Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead are big horror fans, and it shows in their third co-directed feature film, The Endless. They also star, playing brothers Justin and Aaron, who escaped what Justin called “a UFO death cult.” They’re in deprogramming, which they’ve attended in the ten years since they got out, but their lives are a mess. They’ve got no friends. Their car’s battery is dying and they have to choose between replacing it and affording ramen for lunch. They clean other people’s houses for a living. And in the midst of this, they get a tape of Anna (Callie Hernandez) talking about the ascension arriving.

Aaron doesn’t remember as much as Justin does, but he’s had a crush on Anna since he was a teenager. He manages to convince Justin to go to the cult’s homebase, Camp Arcadia, for a day. But when they arrive, the day sprawls in more ways than one. And of course, odd things start happening. No one at the camp remembers sending them any tape. No one has aged since they left. And there’s a third-person point of view that the movie never offers a clear-cut explanation for what is watching everyone there and sending them photos of what it’s looking at.

Read more at Wicked Horror!

Review: Vidar the Vampire Reimagines Jesus as a Vampire

Vidar the Vampire is an irreverent, black comedy that reimagines Jesus as a vampire. The film plays on the obvious connections—drinking blood and rising from the dead—to highlight some of its issues with Christianity. All of this is told through the familiar frame of Vidar (Thomas Aske Berg who also wrote and co-directed the film) telling the story to his therapist (Kim Sønderholm), who asks Vidar to start from the beginning after Vidar shows him a newsclip about the satanic rituals that took place at Vidar’s farmhouse.

Vidar was a lonely child, growing up with his mother. The kids in his neighborhoods bullied him while he ran the family farm on his own. He has a Playboy hidden in the chicken coop, which Berg and co-director Fredrik Waldeland brilliantly transition from Vidar looking at to Vidar milking a cow. Twenty years pass this way before Vidar prays to Jesus, begging to “sample” all kinds of women who are “twenty-plus.” That night, a vampire who calls himself Jesus comes to Vidar. Rather than transfer vampirism through the traditional bite on the neck, Vidar becomes a vampire by giving Jesus a blowjob. It’s not an exaggeration when I write, this movie is fucking wild.

Read more about it at Wicked Horror!

S1, E2 “One for the Angels”

“One for the Angels” isn’t a new idea, nor was it when this Twilight Zone episode  originally aired in 1959. Lou Bookman (Ed Wynn) makes a deal with Death (Murray Hamilton). Every storytelling tradition has variations on this theme, and most end with everything crashing. So if it’s so familiar, why keep telling this story?

In 1967, John Lennon sang “There’s nothing you can sing that can’t be sung / Nothing you can say, but you can learn how to play the game.” Lennon paraphrased that from the ever quotable Mark Twain, who wrote, “There is no such thing as a new idea.” If the secrets some beginning writers are trying to sniff out do exist, one of them is that good stories, speculative or otherwise, don’t come from original ideas. The premises and plots of stories are recycled constantly. More eloquently put, “Good artists copy. Great artists steal.” The Exorcist was based on a true story, and the hundreds of movies in the possession genre follow that blueprint beat for beat. Plot is well and good, but audiences come to stories for the characters.

Lou Bookman (Ed Wynn) is a relatable character. Rod Serling’s script and Robert Parrish’s directing start winning the audience over for Bookman from the first shot. He’s hawking a suitcase full of toys and ties. Parrish starts the show with a closeup of a toy robot though. It might be cheap, but he’s shoving a toy robot in the face of an audience who presumably loves scifi. From there, Bookman goes home where he gives free toys to the children who are eagerly waiting for him on the stoop of his building. It’s not a good business strategy, but for getting an audience to like a character, it works.

Rod Serling’s opening monologue also points out Mr. Death (Murray Hamilton) and who he’s come for, which is of course Lou Bookman. The episode needs this because a likable character isn’t enough, nor is it necessary. It’s more important for the protagonist to be in peril. This is especially true in speculative fiction, where the worlds tend to be more dangerous. Star Wars wouldn’t have succeeded if it followed Luke Skywalker as he stayed to help Uncle Owen for another season on the moisture farm.

The other way “One for the Angels” really makes the deal with Death feel original is how it characterizes Mr. Death. He’s not the grim reaper with a black cloak beckoning with his boney finger. In this Twilight Zone rendition, Mr. Death is a businessman, who’s interested in “efficiency.” He’s visibly annoyed that Bookman can’t figure out what’s happening soon, complaining that no one ever understands. Mr. Death as this big company hatchetman is more comical than scary, and when Bookman persuades Mr. Death not to take him because he’s never made a “pitch for the angels,” it feels like a big win. In large part, it feels so good because Mr. Death is so familiar as a representative of the major corporations strangling our country.

Of course, nothing works out the way Bookman wants it to. Mr. Death needs a life at midnight, whether it’s Bookman or neighborhood girl Maggie (Dana Dillway). But Mr. Death refuses to let Bookman take his spot back in line.

I’m hard-pressed to believe that a single viewer doesn’t know what’s coming, but Serling isn’t trying to trick anyone though. Good stories don’t need to trick their audiences. It’s fun to watch Lou Bookman pitch Mr. Death. Death’s hair is rumpled. He’s draped an armful of ties over his arm and he buys every spool of thread that Bookman has. It’s funny. It satisfies Bookman’s request to “make a pitch for the angels” better than the episode lets on, given that Death is frequently represented as an angel. And best of all, it seems like Mr. Death might be playing along because he’d rather spare the little girl. None of it is particularly original, and it doesn’t have to be. Neither do your stories if you write them well enough.  

Casual Diversity in The Good Place, Experimental Film, and Your Writing

Really excited to be working with A Murder of Storytellers on their new blog. They’ll be running a few blog posts a month on a topic and I’ll be contributing to most (if not all) of them.

I’m also happy to be writing about Casual Diversity this month. While I love The Twilight Zone, which I’m writing about every two weeks in The Real Consorts with Shadows, it has serious representation issues.

Check out my first post “Casual Diversity in The Good Place, Experimental Film, and Your Writing.”