Author: Krista Culbertson

Wicked Wednesday: The Quiet Room (2018)

Well, guess who had Wednesday spring up on them again. Me. This girl. For about two months running now.

Though it’s always a good reason to squeeze in the viewing of a short film. I’ve watched so many at this point, I feel like I could be a sommelier of short films.

And The Quiet Room is certainly worth a recommendation, particularly if you love your reds with plenty of psychological messages to unpack. (Can you tell I don’t drink wine?)

Michael is a young writer on the edge. After a failed suicide attempt, he wakes up in a hospital. He’s put under evaluation and kept in the psych ward.

He soon makes friends with a group of young people in the hospital. They tell him about the legend of the demon who lives at the hospital. The demon supposedly holds suicidal men in the “quiet room” where their screams can be heard.

As Michael’s stay continues, he begins seeing visions of his dead boyfriend. And it certainly seems like something is out to get him.

The Quiet Room doesn’t really offer up a lot of scares (though it’s very gross and bloody). But it is much more about a man, plagued by guilt, as he descends into madness.

I love films that blur the lines of reality. And The Quiet Room does a successful job of entering you into a world where nothing is quite as it seems.

Wicked Wednesday: Murder by Phone/Bells (1982)

Man, what a slump these past few weeks have been. My desire to watch films has basically dwindled away to nothing. I can stomach one episode of Unsolved Mysteries a night or a weird documentary (looking at you, Tickled), and that’s about it.

This week I really wanted to put in the effort. But it had to be something exciting and fun.

And honestly, what movie has a more intriguing title than Murder by Phone? Sure, killer object slashers can be rather hit-or-miss, but a killer phone! Surely that has to be fun?

Only it really wasn’t. Weirdly, though, it has the pedigree to be something interesting. It was directed by Michael Anderson (Logan’s Run) and stars icons like Richard Chamberlain and Sara Botsford.

But Murder By Phone doesn’t really live up to it’s name. Mostly because I think it takes itself too seriously.

For one, the movie follows Nat Bridger (Chamberlain), an ecologist who is attending an ecology conference. If that doesn’t sound like a hoot…

When one of Bridger’s students mysteriously dies, he begins to look into her death. The police aren’t convinced that it’s any more than a heart attack. Strange for a young girl, but they’re not interested in digging up more.

Soon more victims pile up. Each is killed when they answer a phone call. See, now if it was the phone doing the killing, we might have something here. But instead the plot turns into a convoluted story about the control of phone companies…?

Honestly, the phone lingo had me so bored I zoned out too much. Perhaps the real plot is buried somewhere and I missed it?

Anyway. Bridger is the typical hero trying to take down The Man. We see him doing silly things like stealing his girlfriend’s ID to sneak into the phone company and beating up photographers for following him.

Movies like Murder By Phone are much more fun when they don’t take themselves too seriously. This movie could have been a slasher full of silly deaths and hide-behind-your-hands moments. But instead we’re given something more of a science fiction thriller with a few fun, but samey death scenes.

Perhaps this film would be more watchable given a good clean up in both the audio and visuals. It’s pretty unwatchable otherwise.

So the search for the perfect, fun movie continues. At this rate, I might lose the will to ever watch a movie ever again.

It’s my birthday and I’ll not write if I want to

I have been looking forward to my birthday falling on a Wednesday for a few years now. I was really planning on doing/watching something great.

But I haven’t.

In fact, I’m a bit over writing and watching movies in general. Though the voice inside my brain says to keep writing. Even if I am a bit shit and always uninspired.

Anyway. It’s my birthday and I really ought to do something. But watching/paying attention to movies while you have constant headaches is a no-go. So here’s a list of my favourite movies in absolutely no order whatsoever for no reason in particular. Watch one if you feel like worshiping me today.

  1. Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1992) dir. by Fran Rubel Kuzui

2. Slumber Party Massacre II (1987) dir. by Deborah Brock

3. Cosa avete fatto a Solange? (What Have You Done to Solange?) (1972) dir. by Massimo Dallamano

4. Profondo rosso (Deep Red) (1975) dir. by Dario Argento

5. Jackie Brown (1997) dir. by Quentin Tarantino

6. Phantom of the Paradise (1974) dir. by Brian De Palma

7. Black Christmas (1974) dir. by Bob Clark

8. Night of the Comet (1984) dir. by Thom Eberhardt

9. Gremlins (1984) dir. by Joe Dante

10. Labyrinth (1986) dir. by Jim Henson

Top 5 recent horror reads

I have always loved thrillers, mystery and horror books. But lately, it seems that I can’t devour the stories fast enough. My Audible library is teeming audiobooks from Valancourt Books and my pre-order list for this summer’s releases is maaaybe just a little too long.

But what else do I have to do with my time but consume stories? Nothing! Absolutely nothing!

And there’s certainly been a lot of crud that I’ve read. That’s for sure. But instead of talking about everything I’ve recently read, here are the shining lights from the last six months.

Top 5 Horror/Thrillers from the first six months of 2020 in no particular order because I hate ranking things:

1. I’ve gone on about this book already, so I’ll keep it short. But When Darkness Loves Us by Elizabeth Engstrom is a dark and twisted pair of novellas from Valancourt Books’ Paperbacks From Hell series. 

It’s been said in many reviews, but it’s a sin that Engstrom’s name is not mentioned more in the list of great horror writers. “When Darkness Loves Us” is a visceral and stomach-churning tale of revenge. And “Beauty Is” is the magical realism horror that tackles misogyny that we all need. 

2. So I wrote an entire short story about my love for Christopher Pike’s The Midnight Club. Magically it was deleted, and I will hate WordPress forever for it. But this is another one I’ll keep to the point.

This was my first foray into Pike’s work. I love me some early teen horror. So I really was expecting a ghoulish tale of ghosts and children up to no good (probably me just associating the title with the Midnight Society). 

Instead I was slapped in the face with a poignant story about reincarnation and accepting death. This probably shouldn’t be classified as a horror novel. There are no ghosts. There are no mysterious figures arriving to deliver punishment. Just a group of four young adults in a hospice coming to terms about the end of their lives.

I felt out ugly sobbed at the end of this book. It really just hit me in all the right places. It’s been announced that Mike Flannagan is going to be directing an adaption for Netflix. Given how he handled the themes of death in The Haunting of Hill House, I couldn’t pick a better man for the job. 

3. I struggle with anthology novels. The stories are often forgettable, surrounded by one of two memorable pieces. I’ve read a small handful this year so far, and not many of them were impressive. The one that stood head-and-shoulders above the rest was Stephen Graham Jones’ After the People Lights Have Gone Off.

First of all: THAT TITLE! 

But more importantly, Jones has a wonderful style that’s vividly descriptive. I read it via audiobook, but I bet reading it physically is something entirely more visceral (remind me to buy my physical copy). Because I don’t have the book and I read the physical book a month ago. I can’t name my favourite stories. And that, kids, is quality content! 

4. There’s something slightly shameful about admitting how much I loved revisiting Flowers in the Attic by V.C. Andrews. It’s been very difficult getting to the reason why

Is it because it’s salacious? Are stories by women more inherently less worth-while if they tackle themes of sex, guilt and desire? God knows. But if loving Flowers in the Attic is wrong, I don’t want to be right.

If you’ve been living under a rock your entire life, Flowers in the Attic follows the tragic story of the four Dollanganger siblings. Following the death of their father, their mother moves them into her parents home. Only the children are soon locked up in a room to be kept as a secret. They’re promised their release will be in a matter of days. But the nightmare emerges when the children’s stay turns from days into months and into years. 

It’s wild in the best sense of the word. But it’s more than just a story about incest. It’s about Cathy and the horrible women in her life. Gillian Flynn’s piece on the book sums it up better than I ever could. If you like her stories, you’ll certainly love the Dollangangers and their secrets. 

5. And finally. The pièce de résistance. The book I haven’t shut up about in months: The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Vampire Slaying.

It’s always intimidating starting a book you’ve been looking forward to for so long. Even if the author has impressed you time and time again, there’s always a chance that the next book will be the disappointment. 

So when my copy of Grady Hendrix’s latest novel arrived (over a month late, mind), I almost didn’t want to pick it up. But holy shit am I glad I did. Hendrix has a way of taking the most camp-sounding plots and turning them into something so worthwhile and meaningful. 

Patricia is a good housewife in her town in South Carolina. She tries her best to be the good wife and mother to her family. But she’s also a member of a true-crime-loving book club. When a new neighbour moves in, Patricia is suspicious of the man. And while she’s adamant that something more is going on, the rest of her town, including her book club, turn on her. 

Sure. This is a book about a vampire and the group of housewives wanting to take him down. But it’s also about the silencing of women (particularly black women) within a community, class and the complexities of motherhood. 

Though don’t worry. There’s still plenty of gore and horrible scenes of disgusting rats!

I haven’t reread a book in years. But I think Hendrix’s last three novels have “reread” written all over them.

The work has barely begun

I have tried writing my down thoughts so many times now. Nothing I say is quite right. Everything feels wrong because it keeps missing the mark. But there comes a time where you have to let it go and just write.

It has been over a week since George Floyd was murdered. Why has there only been one arrest? Where is the justice? How many people need to take to the streets until the people WE put in power have a conversation with us?

I’m so tired.

But if I’m tired as a privileged white woman, I couldn’t possibly ever imagine how tired Black Americans must feel right now.

I’ve been too quite this last week. Sure, I signed the petitions and donated money. There were even a few retweets, but enough. I might be 4,000 miles away from home, but I will campaign, protest and FIGHT for Black Americans. Let them hide in their bunkers; they never cared about any of us to begin with.

The blog will be back to normal next week, but the world won’t. Please don’t ever let the world ever go back to that “normal” again. Please help the fight.

It will be all to easy for white people to get bored and move on. But for Black people and other people of colour, they can’t just “move on” from the systemic, institutionalised racism in their every day lives. We must actively make changes in our country, not only when a video makes the news.

So while I don’t have any answers, I do know that you can make changes politically using money and your power to vote.

I also encourage non-POC to diversify what they read and watch. Not just today. Not just while people are looking but always. Don’t do it just for the image, but because you actively enjoy what POC are creating. The more you search, the more you’ll discover.

My lists are just the tip of the iceberg. Please seek out information by better-informed voices. I just wanted to offer up my support where I can.

And to the people of colour on both sides of the Atlantic: I stand with you. Black Lives Matter.

Some places you can donate:

Minnesota Freedom Fun
ACLU
Reclaim the Block
Official George Floyd Memorial Fund
I Run With Maud” – fundraiser for Ahmaud Arbery’s family’s legal costs
Milwaukee Freedom Fund – currently on pause, but has great links to causes specific to WI

Petitions to sign:

Justice for George Floyd
Justice for Breonna Taylor
Justice for Ahmaud Arbery
Ban the use of rubber bullets
Suspend UK export of tear gas, rubber bullets and riot shields to USA
Black Lives Matter’s website is a great resource for petitions – especially if you are looking for a specific cause.

Some of the fantastic Black creators that I love:

  • Dean Atta is a poet and author of Black Flamingo, a thought-provoking and gorgeous book in prose about identity and acceptance.
  • Horror Noir: A History of Black Horror This documentary on Shudder is a must-watch for horror fans as it looks into the complex relationship between the genre and Black Americans.
  • Real Queen of Horror – Zena is hilarious and always offers a horror recommendation for something I have never heard of before.
  • Bowties & Books – Jesse currently is protesting in Minnesota. They’re documenting their stories on Instagram and Twitter. Their videos on YouTube cover a spectrum of fun and thoughtful content.
  • Chanelle is a beautiful beacon of hilarity on her channel Chanelletime.
  • Dandy Wellington is a bandleader and just an all-around sharp-dressed man. His style may be from another era, but his politics certainly aren’t.
  • Check out the short films I’ve covered in the past by black female directors like Suicide By Sunlight (Nikyatu Jusu), Searching for Isabelle (Stephenie Jeter) and Venefica (Maria Wilson). 
  • Graveyard Shift Sisters is an incredible resource. Every black-female directed short film I have found was through them.
  • Cantrip Candles makes nerdy D&D themed-candles that I just love. A seriously worth-while luxury buy.
  • Bow & Crossbones makes some of the cutest reproduction vintage jewellery. Every time I buy it’s in bulk because it’s turned into a bit of an addiction.

Wicked Wednesday: Abrakadabra (2018)

I love gialli. Stylistically, these Italian classics are everything I love; they’re moody yet vibrant, atmospheric and always glamorous. Do the mysteries always have a good pay off? No. But they sure as hell will always give you something beautiful to look at.

Abrakadabra is the latest giallo from the Argentinian Onetti brothers. Like other homage-style films like House of the Devil and The Love Witch, this movie perfectly emulates a time in cinema history. In barely over an hour’s running time, we’re given a glimpse back into the beautiful and brutal world of giallo. But this time there’s magic!

Lorenzo Mancini is a magician. He’s also the son of a murdered magician. Bad luck seems to follow him everywhere. Most clearly exemplified when a woman is found murdered on stage just before his debut.

Mancini is insistent that he doesn’t know the deceased. Though her unusual abracadabra amulet catches his eye.

That night, Mancini performs for his audience. Despite a strong start, things begin to go awry when he brings his assistant on stage. The crowd quickly become disinterested when he pulls off a trick.

The following morning, Mancini realises his assistant Antonella is missing. He sets off to find her. But along the way, he quickly realises something is not right.

When more women are murdered, more fingers are pointed at Mancini as the culprit. But what’s really going on? Who, exactly, is trying to frame him?

The story begins to weave it’s convoluted web of fact and fiction, dreams and reality.

The film’s ending can give you whiplash if you don’t keep up. The twists come in thick and the imagery is quick. But the pay off is truly in the giallo style.

I had a blast watching this movie just for the images alone. There’s some really strong moments of cinematography. It makes each death worth remembering just for the sheer art on screen.

The style reminded me of early gialli like Sei donne per l’assassino (from which it heavily borrows its lighting’s colour pallet) and Argento’s Tenebrae. I don’t make these comparisons lightly, Abrakadabra clearly wants us to be looking for these homages.

While I really enjoyed the film. There’s one thing that really lets it down: the English dub. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a wacky dub (I’m looking at you, 30-year-old man who gave Giovanni Frezza a voice). Most gialli have a mixture of actors delivering lines in various languages, so they’re all inevitably dubbed at some point.

But I found the dub here to be very distracting. Lead actor Germán Baudino’s real voice is smooth and wonderful to listen to. I feel robbed from not being able to hear his delivery. I’d certainly seek out the blu-ray once it’s released in June just to hear it in it’s original language.

So I say for anyone outside of the US (where it’s currently streaming on Amazon), hold out until you can watch it without the dub. Abrakadabra deserves to be watched in its full, glamorous glory.

Wicked Wednesday: The Hitchhiker s3e1 “Nightshift” (1985)

I’m a bit obsessed at the moment with finding the perfect ‘old’ horror, sci fi or true crime show. It started with Unsolved Mysteries and Forensic Files and has moved on to hunting down the likes of Night Gallery and Beyond Belief. It’s amazing how much there is to discover once you open that can of worms.

My latest “discovery” is the 1980s anthology series The Hitchhiker, which first aired on HBO in 1983. Like most anthology series, there’s a mythical, seemingly omnipresent host – the Hitchhiker. He introduces us to each episode as he wanders the dark corners of the world.

Jane Renyolds is a crooked nurse who governs her care home with an iron fist. One night her boyfriend, Johnny, stops by to assess the jewellery she’s stolen from her patients. Though she’s disappointed when nothing seems to be of value.

During Johnny’s visit, a new patient is brought in who had been discovered in a burned-out building. Jane immediately spots the man’s massive ring. She attempts to slip it off his finger but cannot.

Johnny later returns, and the couple start to get frisky. It’s then that they’re interrupted by crashing sounds. Afterwards, Jane hears the angry shouts of her patients. She discovers that a cat has been murdered in the halls. They immediately blame their horrible nurse.

Suspicious of the new arrival, Jane straps him down to his hospital bed and finally gets his ring. Showing incredible strength, the man breaks free from his bindings and chases after the nurse. Unsurprisingly, the receives no help from anyone else in the building.

I always think short stories of horrible people getting their comeuppance are the most fun. “Nightshift” is no exception.

The cast in this is very good: Margot Kidder in the lead with Stephen McHattie and Darren McGavin in supporting roles. The quality is fantastic in it, I’m fairly surprised I’ve never heard of this show before. Being on HBO and not network television, we get a story with much edgier imagery. The gore alone certainly sets it apart from earlier counterparts.

Finding episodes of The Hitchhiker isn’t very easy beyond crap quality uploads on YouTube. I imagine things are probably easier in the US. If a streaming service in the UK could step-up and carry older television shows, that would be fantastic. If I can find more episodes to watch, I certainly will. I love the gleeful darkness.

Also, that hitchhiker is pretty hot.

Lockdown highlights (so far)

It feels unreal to finally be reaching the end of the strict stay-at-home orders. Sure, we have a long way to go. Living in London means my life won’t be running as usual for a long time. But we can see glimpses of “normalcy” seem to be breaking through.

Exhibit A: My friend brought me flour over this morning. FLOUR! The first bag I’ve been in three months.

I’ve been at home for 10 weeks. I wish I could look back on these past few months and take pride in the things I accomplished. But like most of us, I haven’t done anything. Instead I lay around listening to audiobooks and watching videos with titles like “5 most shocking murders with household appliances!”

That’s not to say that there haven’t been good things. So as we begin to step back out into this world, I’d like to doff my cap to the things that got me through Rona Times (so far).

Do share what’s been entertaining you and make you happy!

Movies

I’ve had a shocking time with movies lately. Almost all of them have been forgettable.

In the early days of March, my husband and I paid to watch The Hunt, which was definitely a mess, but a fun mess. More than anything it was interesting to partake in this new VOD-style release of brand new films. Going to the cinema in London is incredibly pricey, so this was a great middle ground. It was a way of paying to see a movie I wouldn’t have otherwise paid to see in cinemas. So I get to be relevant and cheap!

One of my better viewing choices was Candyman. I haven’t seen it in aeons, and thought it would be worth revisiting in preparation for the new film. Well, that release for Nia DaCosta’s sequel has been pushed back to September, but hey – plenty of time to watch the rest of the series.

For something more mind-opening, I can’t recommend Netflix’s Crip Camp more highly. This documentary chronicles the lives of key players in the disabilities rights movement in the US. It begins with their summer together at Camp Jened, a space that allowed them to be inspired by others like themselves. It’s an eye-opening piece of work that is so moving and impactful. You’ve already watched Tiger King twice, so just watch this next.

Hands-down the best movie I’ve seen call lockdown has been The Muppet Movie. There isn’t even a close second. Give me puppets, puns and Paul Williams and I need nothing else. It’s wholesome, but not in any sort of sickening way. A bright spot in what was certainly a dark time.

“Turn left at the fork in the road.”

Books 

One of the saving graces of the lockdown has been discovering Valancourt Books. This indie publisher specialises in rare and out-of-print fiction. They publish a wide variety of genres, but I’m here for one thing: horror.

From icons like J.B. Priestly and Robert Marasco to the hidden gems in the Paperbacks from Hell series, there’s a lot to discover from their selection.

My audiobook library is currently heavy with their titles. So far, the highlight has been Elizabeth Engstrom’s When Darkness Loves Us. This book is made up of two quiet, haunting novellas. The audiobook narrator, Karly Hutchins, does an incredible job bringing the stories to life.

My copy of The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires FINALLY arrived this morning. Over a month after I was supposed to meet Grady Hendrix in person for a signing. Just the delivery of the book itself has been a highlight.

Let me tell you, the publishing industry has been absolutely ravaged by the coronavirus. So please support local bookshops and authors as much as possible.

Music

I rarely write about music anymore. Frankly, I find it dull work. And even more honestly, my music tastes haven’t exactly extended beyond the familiar in the last few years.

Early in the days of lockdown, I decided to start a playlist of the songs that I’d been listening to the most. Some are songs that I’ve only just discovered by accident through shows (and TickTock videos stolen and uploaded onto Twitter). The tracks don’t necessarily sounds good together, but it is what it is. A reflection of the chaos that is Rona Times.

So I guess if you like Ghanaian disco and early Meixcan rock ‘n’ roll…this playlist is for you?

Quick-fire “Misc” round

The Meyer Dancers‘ for their 60s go-go dancing videos that make at-home workouts fun again.

Enchanted Living Magazine for filling my dull life with stories and images of fantasy, magic and beauty.

RuPaul’s Drag Race and Schitt’s Creek for making me laugh and cry and being the only TV shows I can stomach.

Top5s and Rachel Maksy for being my go-to YouTube channels despite having nothing in common.

Filmageddon for hosting the best-damn film quiz, making me feel like I’m at the Prince Charles Cinema again and for filling my Wednesday nights with cheer.

Wicked Wednesday: Fatale Collective: Bleed (2019)

If there’s any upside to our current situation, it’s the sheer volume of wonderful things being given to us as treats. Free trials. Downloads of the newest cinema releases. We have proven, if anything, that humans are inventive when push comes to shove.

If you’ve been asleep these past few years, you’ll have missed Fangoria’s relaunch, which included many new ventures and a foray back into film production. If you sign up during these Rona Times you can get two free months and scans of the first 14 issues of Fango Vol 1. So why not? What else are you doing? 

Hopefully nothing else because you need to stop whatever that is and watch the Fatale Collective’s short film Bleed

Bleed is a marathon of short films within a short film. Six stories by six directors in less than 14 minutes. The pace is relentless enough to make you lose your breath.

With such a short running time, there isn’t that much time to deliver full stories. Instead you get a one-two punch with each segment. But each director makes sure to make her distinctive mark.

Fatale Collective is a group of female directors working together to “raise women-identifying voices in horror”. So it’s not really surprising that the themes here are, unsurprisingly, very specific to women’s experiences. 

That’s not to say, of course, that it’s only made for women. Trust me, there’s plenty of quick scares that will please anyone. Stories of identity and social pressures are particularly prevalent. It’s interesting to see theses themes manipulated every few minutes under a different lens from the next director.

My personal favourite was Linda Chen’s stylish and surreal animation in “Panoptia”. I’ve never seen anything quite like it in an anthology, which tend to take more traditional routes in storytelling.

I’m not lying when I say I’m loading up the video now to rewatch it. I can’t wait for some feature-length work from these directors, but I’d gladly accept more shorts. And to think, without Ms Rona, this short might have passed me by. 

Wicked Wednesday: The Next Step Beyond S1E19 “The Haunted Inn” (1978)

I’ve said it before, and I’ll remind you again: The Twilight Zone has been a constant in my life. A favourite of both mine and my dad’s. Every holiday when there’s a marathon it’s on. It doesn’t matter how many times we’ve seen each episode. It’s a treasured part of the family culture.

So when I learned there was a 70s show nearly identical in style and format, I knew I had to give it a whirl. The Next Step Beyond was a revival of its 1950s counterpart, One Step Beyond, with many of the episodes remakes of the originals. The revival apparently wasn’t very successful and met its demise within the year.

Unlike The Twilight Zone, many of the stories in the “stepping beyond” cannon claim to be based on real events. “The Haunted Inn” doesn’t attempt to make that claim, but it could easily be a ghost story claimed by any historical inn’s free pamphlet.

Chris Stabler is an artist. On his journey to a town, he soon realises he’s lost. He stops when he sees a young in woman in white, and she directs him to a nearby inn to stay in. But she refuses his help when he offers her a life.

When Chris finds the inn, he discovers it’s charming and historical. The only other guest is Miss Argus, a writer who pens ghost stories. The only employee of the place, Peter Combs, warns Chris not to take anything Miss Argus says seriously because of her imagination.

But Peter soon discovers on his own that the inn is unusual. He hears the noise of people talking and a party, but never seems to be able to find the source of the sounds. then he meets Lucianne, the woman who gave him directions. Only Lucianne can’t remember him at all.

As Peter’s stay continues, the circumstances get stranger. His painting styles keep changing. He keeps hearing the sounds. Finally he decides to leave with Lucianne, who surprisingly agrees. Miss Argus, though, decides to stay behind, happy to have finally found the ghosts she’s sought for so many years.

The night before Peter’s exit, he wakes to find Lucianne in his bed. Only it turns out she isn’t quite what he thought she was.

“The Haunted Inn” is pretty cute with its simple premise. There’s nothing wrong with this episode. It’s pretty entertaining. But it does lack clarity and style, which makes it nothing to write home about. By playing to the rules of a typical haunting, there really aren’t many surprises here.

I’d certainly be willing to give the show another try and watch a few more episodes. Though hunting down quality videos seems to be an issue. Overshadowed by the original and The Twilight Zone, it appears as though The Next Step Beyond has been neglected by time.