Author: Krista Culbertson

My most anticipated things this Autumn

Helloooo, autumn!

Today is the autumnal equinox, which means I woke up to rain and cloudy skies. In both Britain and the States, I love this season. Wisconsin is my preferred between the two, because there is more crunchy leaves and happier people. But nevertheless, this time of the year is absolute magic. And I mean ‘magic’ in both a figurative and literal sense.

This is still a time of year that feel more like renewal than death. And most importantly, this is the time of the year that I get to be queen. Horror movies become socially acceptable again. Spooky TV shows come out. Other people start talking about Halloween. It’s all happening.

But there’s plenty of amazing things coming up this autumn. These are just the handful I’m looking forward to most:

1. The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina on Netflix

The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is by far the best horror comic to come out of the Archie Horror imprint. It is absolutely brutal, and SO much fun. When this show was announced, I was infinitely more excited than the news about Riverdale. Sabrina was always my favourite Archie character as a kid (I grew up at the height of the MJH and cartoon era), and I’m excited to see another, darker version of her.

This Netflix adaptation looks fabulously cast and seems to have encapsulated the feeling of Robert Hack’s art work. This take on the classic teenage witch promises to be dark and (hopefully) terrifying. Bring it on, Salem!

Available for streaming on October 26th.

2. Halloween (2018)

Sure, everyone is sick of remakes and sequels (see numbers one and three on this list). But this latest addition to the Halloween franchise looks genuinely good. It looks like a lot of love and care went into making it, which already sets it apart from many of the other installments in the franchise. This Jamie Lee Curtis film will actually be a direct sequel to only the first film, which means it will disregard the other films. This probably angers a lot of fans, but I think it’s certainly more interesting than any other direction they could have chosen.

Plus Carpenter is doing the score, so I couldn’t ask for anything more.

In cinemas in the US and UK on October 19th.

3. The Haunting of Hill House on Netflix

Admittedly, after watching the first trailer for this show, I’m significantly less excited for this one. I was hoping for a more detailed, intricate adaptation of Shirley Jackson’s novel, but instead this looks like…well, I’m not sure what it is. The trailer bares zero resemblance to anything about the book. Though I guess I had to expect some major changes if they were going to expand a 250 page novel into 10 episodes of television.

But Netflix and Mike Flanagan have worked well in the past before, so there’s plenty to be positive about. This will be the third adaption of Shirley Jackson’s iconic novel. While I love the Robert Wise adaption, I’ve always loved the book more and was really looking forward to a contemporary take on the work. So hopes up and fingers crossed.

Available for streaming on Netflix on October 12th.

4. Reading all the books

I’m naturally a slow reader, but I like to over-stuff my TBR every autumn. It’s wishful thinking to imagine that I’ll read everything I want to this season, but I will try. This month, the paperback version of Alice Hoffman’s The Rules of Magic was released in the UK. I’m currently devouring it and crying over some of the best magical realism I’ve ever read.

Also, I do love to reread a childhood favourite of mine, Gooseberry Park. While technically set in early Spring, this book is so cozy, it always screamed autumn to me. My copy has been through a lot, so each read is nearing the book’s last.

5. Two Evil Eyes (Due occhi diabolicion Blu-Ray from 88 Films

This British film distributor KILLED IT with their release of Umberto Lenzi’s Eyeball (Gatti rossi in un labirinto di vetro). 88 Films are easily one of my favourite companies, so I was overjoyed when they announced a Blu-ray release of this 1990 film directed by my two favourites, George Romero and Dario Argento. They’re sure to do great things with this release.

You can pre-order now from 88 Films’ website for a release date of October 15th.

6. Horroctober at the Prince Charles Cinema

The PCC is my home away from home. They take 50% of my paycheck every month (sadly, that’s not much of an exaggeration). Each October, the cinema curates a fabulous selection of Halloween and horror movies to show. Horroctober pretty much offers something for everyone, so guard your wallets wisely.


What are you looking forward most to this season? Thanksgiving? Christmas nearing so you can start playing Mariah Carey?

Treasure these few months because it will be 2019 before you know it, and we’ll be entering the bleakest part of the year. Cheery thoughts, ya’ll!

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Wicked Wednesday: The Spiral Staircase (1946)

My parents instilled a great love for classic movies in me. My dad Hitchcock, and my mom the classic musicals and dance numbers of Fred Astaire.

Somehow, in this post-world war film, we manage to merge both things.

The Spiral Staircase is a classic of gothic film. It’s beautiful in its dark candle-lit scenes and period costumes. But even more interesting is it’s fantastic imagery that verges on experimental.

The story is one done many times since: Helen, a selective-mute woman must defend herself in a threatening world. When a crazed serial killer goes after women with “afflictions”, she appears to be next.

Much of the film’s plot revolves around men telling her what to do. Leave the house, don’t leave the house. But many have their own motives. The elderly woman she cares for seems to know more information than she’s unwilling to share with Helen.

The story weaves in and out of dream sequences (including a beautiful dance number) and sinister visuals of close-ups of eyes and people lurking in shadows. It’s slightly jarring, but is a great way of seeing into Helen’s psyche: isolated, threatened, and yet dreaming of having a perfectly lovely life.

The mystery unfolds beautifully, and though slightly-predictable, is still thrilling to watch.

Wicked Wednesday: The Night Dracula Saved the World (1979)

I caved into Halloween mania early this year. I say ‘early’ but really, Halloween season always begins on August 1st. But around the Brits I have to pretend to be sensible when really my whole house is decked out.

It’s been a super manic week, so watching something like The Night That Dracula Saved the World was exactly what I needed.

The made-for TV short film originally aired on ABC as The Halloween That Almost Wasn’t. It’s a much-more apt name than the VHS title, but a name will sell anything these days, right?

The story is a strange mash-up of everything you’d find at a cheesy Halloween party and a lesson about the origins of the holiday. Dracula has called a conference at his castle in Transylvania with all the other monsters. Before they arrive, he and Igor watch the news together, in which a newscaster claims that Dracula wants to end Halloween.

Dracula is offended (“Halloween is my national holiday!”), but he allows the conference to go forward anyway. When all of the guests arrive, they learn that Dracula called them together to warn them that they are no longer scary to children.

The other guests seem pretty offended, but the Witch reveals she simply doesn’t give a crap. She announces to the group that she quits, and will be refusing to fly across the moon on Halloween night – the action that sets off Halloween (apparently). She tells the others that she’s tired of the ugly girl jokes, and she really just wanted to be the leader of the monsters.

Dracula refuses, and the witch flies off to her home. Dracula and the other monsters follow her the next night, and break in believing she doesn’t have any magic.

But she’s a witch, so of course the lady has magic. She sends the others running in circles before locking herself safely in her room. Dracula tries to reason with her, offering to agree to her conditions: her face will be on the monster posters, she’ll have shared leadership of the monsters, and to go disco dancing every night.

Dracula agrees, but the Witch immediately redacts her agreement to fly over the moon. But when a pair of local children arrive, they tug at her heartstrings, reminding her of the true meaning behind Halloween: candy and costumes.

The Witch agrees to the children’s pleas and flies over the moon to mark the start of Halloween. Afterwards, the monsters all have a disco. And why? Because this short is clearly insane.

The Night Dracula Saved the World is a really cute piece of nostalgia. The costumes are a bit hokey, as if they were bought from a costume shop, but it’s all really sweet, weirdly. It’s apparently a holiday staple for a lot of kids who watched it on the original ABC run and later on the Disney Channel during the 80s and early 90s. And I can see why, the random-ass disco in the end might be my favourite thing I’ve ever seen in a Halloween movie.

This is the perfect little 25-minute movie to put anyone in the Halloween spirit. Watch it, disco, and keep on thinkin’.

Wicked Wednesday: Dead of Night (1945)

I had heard a lot about Dead of Night before watching it. It is a much-loved British film that makes it on to many ‘best of horror’ lists. To be honest, I was pretty convinced I was going to love it. Tell me it’s an influence for Twilight Zone and I’m sold. But it’s the right era of film I like, and I do love a well-done anthology.

But with most things that are heavily hyped, it’s almost always a disappointment. Dead of Night is pretty entertaining in it’s separate parts, but doesn’t work completely as a whole.

The framing story revolves around a group of people at a farm a house belonging to a psychologist. An architect arrives, saying he already has seen the people and the house in his dreams. The man, Walter Craig, continues to unsettle the people by making predictions that come true.

Psychologist Elliot Foley doesn’t believe Craig, so the other guests share their own stories of the supernatural.

A race car driver tells his story of how a ‘dream’ of a man in a horse-drawn hearse saved him from getting on a bus that crashes. A young girl talks about seeing a ghost at Christmas.

There’s a story about a haunted mirror that possesses others, and one about a man who haunts his former-friend after they argue over a woman.

The last story is probably the most creepy just because it’s about a ventriloquist and his dummy. Everyone hates ventriloquist dummies, and this is probably a source of that all.

There’s a nice twist at the end, which makes watching the entire film worth it. I personally enjoyed the race car driver’s story the best. The hearse bit reminded me of Burnt Offerings, so it’s pretty easy to see how influential this film was.

The golf buddy story is pretty silly. It’s comedic tone doesn’t blend very well with the others. There is some very good atmosphere at times, but doesn’t carry through the entire movie.

It’s a classic for a reason, though. And I imagine it will impress and entertain most classic movie fans. For me, the biggest sin was failing to make me feel anything at all.

Wicked Wednesday: Down a Dark Hall (2018)

Give yourself four weeks of terrible movies, and eventually it pays off.

Down a Dark Hall is the latest attempt to adapt one of Lois Duncan’s thrillers into a film. And this is my far the most successful at capturing Duncan’s intended message and tone.

Young Kit is a “special” girl, who is probably more trouble than she’s worth. She gets into trouble, claims things no one else believes, and refuses to let her therapy work. As a last resort, her mother and step-father sent her to Blackwood Boarding School. She and four other girls (all trouble in their own ways) are introduced to a world of art, mathematics, literature and music.

Initially, they’re all as talented as most teenagers – not at all. They struggle through their complex work, but soon enough certain girls begin to show an affinity for certain subjects. Izzy suddenly becomes a math genius, despite admitting that she nearly failed algebra the previous year. Sierra takes to painting, and Ashley takes on the writing skills of Romantic poet. Kit herself becomes a bit of a piano protégé under the tutelage of the super-hottie Jules, the son of Blackwood’s headmistress Madame Duret.

Slowly the girls become obsessed with their work, but Kit senses something isn’t quite right. She begins losing large chunks of her memory, finding herself at the piano when she can’t remember how she got there.

One night, Ashley screams in her room, and when the girls find her, she’s panicking, saying “Elizabeth” wasn’t with her anymore, but a man. When going to Ashley’s aid, Kit sees a figure disappear into the shadows in a corner. She then admits to the girls that she had a vision of seeing her father on the night he died.

The girls, excluding the extra-dour Veronica, all admit to having similar paranormal experiences. And at that point, things at Blackwood only get worse.

Kit and Veronica eventually team up to research Duret’s past. They learn that the girls are being used as vessels so that long-dead artists and great-thinkers can use their bodies to continue their work.

But even when Kit confronts Madame Duret about it, some of the girls are okay with it, finding ‘fulfillment’ for the first time. Though those girls are hardly aware that their bodies and minds will be used up without their permission.

The conclusion is a bit silly (though I’ll leave that out), but I think the first three-quarters of the film are pretty great. I was still surprised by it, despite having read the book. The twist still stands up and remains a feminist allegory.

Down a Dark Hall is easily the best adaptation of a Lois Duncan novel (yes, perhaps even dethroning Summer of Fear). It manages to update Duncan’s 1974 novel without sacrificing anything the story was truly about. Yes there are ghostly things occurring here, but this is ultimately about a girl learning she deserves to have full autonomy over her body.

Yes it can be a bit silly (it does come off as Twilight-era at times). I certainly wouldn’t call it perfect, but it does work with it’s own magic. Director Rodrigo Cortés does a wonderful job of creating a gothic atmosphere inside Blackwood. Much of this can be attributed to the absolutely stunning piano numbers from Víctor Reyes. Like nearly all of these adaptations of Lois Duncan’s novels, It throws in a higher body count than its source material. But it does make every death have some sort of weight, and it actually works.

This might fall into the “guilty pleasures” category. That is, if I believed in such a thing as that.

I finally made it to FrightFest – and it was glorious

I have been wanting to go to the London FrightFest for years. Each year I add tickets to the cart, and every year, my anxiety kicks in and I never follow through. Last year, though, I had enough of missing out. I remember standing outside the Prince Charles Cinema, promising myself I had to go in 2018.

I finally did make it this year. And boy, am I happy I went.

The Arrow Video FrightFest is the largest genre film festival in the UK. Over the course of five days, two cinemas screen the best of horror’s new offerings (and a couple of classics for good measure). From documentaries, to sequels, to short films, and wholly original feature-lengths, FrightFest offers something for anyone who is a fan of the genre.

I could only afford to grab tickets for two screenings this year, but judging by people’s reactions on Twitter, I missed a fair amount of excellent films. You can check out the full line-up on the FrightFest website.

Thursday night, my husband and I went to see the fabulous Summer of 84directed by the same trio behind the much-loved cult film Turbo Kid. 

Summer of 84 is a clever play on the current 80’s nostalgia boom seen in things like Stranger Things. It’s one part Goonies, another part Stand By Me with a large helping of movies like The ‘Burbs and Hitchcock’s classic Rear Window.

During the summer of 1984, a boy and his three friends work together to track down the local serial killer who targets teenage boys. But they soon begin to suspect that the killer may be their own neighbour, a much-loved and respected policeman.

While the film might sound like something you’ve already seen, don’t worry. The ending makes sure to destroy you and any hopes and dreams you had left. It’s pretty rare that my husband and I leave the cinema with the same reactions, but we both absolutely loved it.

It was fun to see actress Tiera Skovbye in another role. I generally dislike her on Riverdale as Betty’s crazy sister Polly Cooper, but the girl proved she has some good acting chops here. Rich Sommer, who plays the suspect local cop, does a magnificent job of being both likable and suspiciously creepy. The rest of the cast (especially those core four boys) do a fantastic job of being compelling, which is so crucial to films like these.

It’s funny, it’s horrifying, and it’s really fucking good. Summer of 84 is definitely a film to check out.

On the Friday night, I dragged my friend along to the film Dead Night. Star Barbara Crampton herself was in attendance to introduce the film (she was in a number of movies shown across the weekend). She comes off as engaging and sweet as you’d expect her to be.

Dead Night is sort of on the opposite side of the spectrum from Summer of 84, which was very much grounded in horrors from our own reality. This film, on the other hand, was mind-bending and incredibly strange.

A family go to a cabin in the woods for a retreat for the father, who is ill with cancer. Everything seems fine as they settle in until they find a woman (Crampton) asleep in the snow. Soon after they try to get her help, they realise that they’ve made a grave mistake by letting her into the cabin.

In Crampton’s introduction to the film, she warned that viewers would have to pay close attention to details. This, apparently, meant to me that I should go to the bathroom in the first 40 minutes. When I asked my friend what I had missed, he said “not much.” But nonetheless, I understood absolutely nothing. It wasn’t until after the movie that my friend informed me that I indeed did miss some things.

Thanks.

Dead Night is one of those films that probably appeals more to people who like their films more open-ended. I like mystery, but this was a bit too unexplained for my liking. Crampton was as fun as ever, though, delivering all of her lines with absolute glee.

Movies aside, I loved FrightFest. There’s something about being around others with the same interests as you. Walking into the festival felt like going home. I’m glad I finally went, as I’m now convinced this is something I need to go to every year of my life. 

 

Wicked Wednesday: I’ll Always Know What You Did Last Summer (2006)

This, ladies and gentlemen, is what we call ‘a bit of a reach’. But when it comes to Lois Duncan adaptations, I pretty much refuse to watch I Know What You Did Last Summer ever again. I’ve been that movie too many times, especially for something I don’t even like.

But we’ll skip I Still Know… and jump to this direct-to-DVD sequel that’s essentially a reboot/rehash of the first film. To begin with, I Know What You Did Last Summer isn’t very true to the source material. The use of the Fisherman urban myth and the slasher-style is completely unique to the film. Well, I say unique but this is a kindness to the film, but you get what I mean.

Since Lois Duncan month has gone as badly as it could have gone, why not watch a film with a 0% rating on Rotten Tomatoes? Is it possible to enjoy watching yourself burn?

I’ll Always Know What You Did Last Summer is exactly what you’d expect. I mean, exactly. No surprises here. There are even less surprises considering it plays so much into the previous films’ formula so much.

A group of kids spend their last summer together before some go off to college. Yes they’re all irritating. No they don’t have personalities beyond their stereotype’s calling card. The group all go to the local carnival, where local idiot Colby tells the legend of the Fisherman. As the group of friends walk around the carnival, they’re attacked by a man with a hook in a slicker.

On of the friends, PJ, manages to get cornered by the Fisherman on the roof. He dives off, seemingly dead.

ONLY IT’S A PRANK, GUYS! And the five friends are all in on it. Hilarious! Only not so hilarious when they realise that the prank has gone wrong. Instead of landing on the stack of mattresses, PJ lands right on a pipe. Some sort of convoluted thinking leads the remaining four to all agree never to tell anyone about the prank! Even though it would obviously be ok. They wouldn’t get manslaughter or anything. They’re apparently all worried that the whole town will hate them but they hate the town so what does it even fucking matter!?

The film jumps to a year later. And we all know that means every one will be dead before the end of the week. Amber is our head girl. She receives the obligatory “I know what you did last summer” text, and runs around the gather up the gang. But the gang aren’t so chummy anymore. The death of their friend and their secret have come between them.

And then, you basically know how this is going to go. They all get picked off one-by-one in vaguely interesting ways. Leaving just the final girl and her boy. But in a kind of weird twist, the Fisherman is revealed to just be the Fisherman from the other movies. And he’s supernatural now – literally becoming the legend. So he’s Michael Myers level of invincible, which is such a bad choice.

The film is even lazy enough to wrap up the same way as the other films. A “oh god she’s not going to live” jump scare at the end. Definitely didn’t see that one coming…

Anyway, I’ll Always Know What You Did Last Summer is bad but at least it meets expectations. It’s more boring than anything. It tries so hard to find into the formula that it makes itself pretty much redundant. It also commits the usual sins – namely filling in those plot holes. Like why is the Fisherman in Colorado? There isn’t even a lake!

I won’t even bring poor Lois Duncan into this. But I can say I’m pretty happy to be reaching the end of this ‘Lois Duncan month’. It’s been terrible. Really terrible. 

On a different note. My favourite thing about this movie is probably the DVD cover. For one, it weirdly admits one of the main actors. Was he really that embarrassed that he didn’t want to be seen? There’s just some random chick instead. I assume she’s some girl who appears in the beginning of the film? Either way, she really serves no purpose in the film and really shouldn’t be on the cover.

And clearly, who ever did the photo editing really hated Torrey DeVitto. Poor girl. But at least she’s so unrecognizable that she can just keep claiming that she was never in this film to be begin with.