Author: Krista Culbertson

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.

Wicked Wednesday: The Devil Bat (1940)

Bela Lugosi is one of horror’s greatest treasures. He was a wonderfully charismatic actor, and one was of the most iconic faces and voices of the genre. I find that even if the film is lacklustre, Lugosi brings an enormous presence to the screen (I’m look at you, Plan 9).

There are only so many men that pull off talking to a stuffed back and make it menacing. Think I’m lying? Just watch The Devil Bat.

Paul Carruthers (Lugosi) is the much-loved doctor in the village of Heathville. Unbeknown to them, the doctor is conducting horrible experiments in his laboratory. His goal? To enlarge bats to exact his revenge.

Being a successful chemist, Carruthers worked on products that made his employers millions. But Carruthers remains relatively poor, especially compared to the luxury of the men who write his checks. Though in fairness, Carruthers sounds like he doesn’t have a mind for business – he took an early payout instead of staying on as a partner in the company. Deal with your own actions, buddy!

Coincidentally, it’s a check that sends him over the edge. When he receives a check for $5,000 as a “bonus” from his boss, he decides to let one of his boss’s test his new product: a “shaving lotion”. Only the shaving lotion’s smell lures the doctor’s giant, trained bat.

Soon the boy is found murdered by something with claws. Reporters are brought in to investigate the murder, only to discover that more murders in the same fashion are occurring.

The premise for The Devil Bat is simple. A man is mad. Man becomes mad. Mad man makes killer bat. Mad man with killer bat is killed by killer bat. Such is the circle of life.

Sure, this little movie is a bit hokey. The bat is laughably fake, but I always admire a good practical effect. It’s clear that the film is at least trying, which makes it all the more endearing. This was apparently meant to be Lugosi’s comeback film. I adore him here. He comes off as a complex character despite the script being fairly standard.

The Devil Bat is now in the public domain. So there really is no excuse not to watch this.

Wicked Wednesday: Isolation and ghost stories

At the start of lockdown all those weeks ago, I really thought I’d have the motivation to be productive. I was going to watch loads of movies for this blog. I was going to come up with lots of fun ideas for content. I’d have SO much time to do everything I wanted!

Well, turns out anxiety disorder and being locked in a tiny flat isn’t a good combination. One that does not yield productivity, but does lend itself to lying in bed aimlessly for hours listening to audiobooks alone. So that’s something.

My nights are increasingly getting longer and longer as I stay up later and later. This aimlessness can be blamed on several things: daylight savings, how little energy I expend, and my newest hobby – watching supernatural mystery and cold case videos on YouTube.

I have always loved scaring myself. It is a favourite pastime.

Growing up, my family loved to tell scary stories in attempts to scare one another. We still do if the summer night is particularly hot or stormy. Being the youngest and most gullible, I was always an easiest target. My dad is the master of deadpan delivery, feeding me stories of men with hooks for hands and gangs of people trying to kidnap him from the farm as a child. Not a bit of it was true…right?

I’ve tried cultivating his skills as I grow older. I practise on my nephews, feeding ghost stories to their young minds. They can’t escape it: scary stories are in their blood.

With the current global situation, I won’t be going home this summer. It hurts to think about not seeing my family for so long. I won’t be in my room listening to the crickets outside, wondering if someone is looking through the widow, plotting to kill me. The sense of paranoia is real when you live in a place where “no one can hear you scream”.

So without being able to go home I thought: why not get scared shitless by myself!

It all started a couple weeks ago when I learned about the Max Headroom incident. I tend to see the sinister side to everything, which of course explains the love of horror movies. So when I first saw these clips of this set of famous signal hijackings, I didn’t laugh – I was unsettled.

Desperate to learn more, I fell down a rabbit hole of strange and unusual topics on YouTube. The driving force behind most of it has been the channel Top5s. The creators behind the channel make videos about the natural and supernatural world. Videos full of the unexplained. I soon found it unbearable to get out of bed in the middle of the night, terrified of the shadows. A safe, but satisfactory way of feeling afraid.

I’m getting to the point where I feel like I’m running out of content to watch. So I went into an even deeper dive and jumped onto the cold case bandwagon. This is not as ‘fun’. It feels too concrete in many ways. There are too many facts. Give me the unexplained! Plus many of the videos I’ve watched since do not have narrators as soothing as the kid from Top5s.

I also recommend watching old episodes of Unsolved Mysteries. Alone, if possible, just to drive home that feeling that someone is watching you. It’s long been a favourite of mine. The late 80s/early 90s was certainly a bizarre time, but it made for excellent television. Hell, it’s worth a gander even for that famous theme song. My best friend recommended Forensic Files years ago, and I still have yet to make it through all the seasons, but it’s good.

They say that we have to get through this pandemic sane. I guess that even includes winding yourself up on purpose.

Hope everyone is staying safe out there. Wash your hands. Stay inside if you can. Lock your doors…and look behind you.