Wicked Wendesday

Wicked Wednesday: “Into the Drowning Deep” by Mira Grant (2017)

It’s the final week of Women in Horror Month. That’s a whole decade of celebrating the women who contribute to the horror genre.

For the last couple years, I’ve solely focused on contributions to film. But this week I thought I’d chat about the novel Into the Drowning Deep by Mira Grant.

Grant, who also published under her real name, Seanan McGuire, is a bit of a legend. She’s won the John W Campbell Award for Best New Writer. But she’s also won a Nebula, Hugo and Locus for her work in fantasy. Her Wayward Children series is impossibly popular on the likes of BookTube. Her names are ones I know, but somehow have never gotten around to reading. Until this month, that is.

Into the Drowning Deep is a horror novel set on a ship. But think more Jaws than Ghost Ship with added killer mermaid-like beasts. It’s about what happens when we discover that we are the prey, not the predators. “Did we really think we were the apex predators of the world?”

In 2015, the entertainment company Imagine sent a ship full of scientists and film crew to the Mariana Trench to discover mermaids. The company, headed by its very own Roger Corman-figure (weird how he keeps coming up this month), sought its next biggest hit. Imagine Entertainment thrived on cheaply-made sci fi and horror movies in the past, but found more recent success with a string of “mockmentary”-style horror films chasing mythical beasts.

But unfortunately the crew of the Atargatis, they found what they were looking for.

The boat is eventually found empty. All that Imagine Entertainment have to go on is the found footage of the incidents on the beach. When some of that footage was leaked to the public, a debate started about whether or not the footage was faked or real.

Years later in 2022, a second team sets sail to find out the entire truth of the doomed Atargatis. On board the Melusine is scientist Tory, the sister of one of the crew lost on the Atargatis. She and several other scientists seek the biggest scientific discovery of their generation.

But like the voyage before theirs, the mermaids quickly find the soft, tasty humans waiting on their tin can. When the mermaids start to attack, it’s up to Tory and both the scientists and its crew to band together and discover how to save themselves.

Much of Into the Drowning Deep focuses on the science much of the passengers are working on. But between those scenes, Grant fills the pages with eerie, slasher-movie-like scenes with the “mermaids”. The suspense is built victim by victim, growing a sense of dread and impending doom.

This is a pretty long book, and it was certainly a struggle to get through the first 200 pages or so (this comes to pretty heft 484 pages). Horror is best when it’s snappy and succinct. I found the moments of action incredibly readable. And the gore was splendidly described. I love a bit of face loss!

Like a slasher movie, you can pick out which characters are going to die first and which one’s you’d like to see have a painful death. Many of the characters do silly things, as horror characters often do. It prompts a similar reaction to when their screen counterparts do idiotic things on screen.

I personally didn’t enjoy much of the science nonsense. And unfortunately for me, it was about 80% of this book. It’s too much detail and long-winded scenes reiterating previous ones. Accord to many reviews, the science is very inaccurate anyway.

But regardless of the accuracy, Grant still manages to drive home her message: “Humans had the potential for good, although they did not always make the effort.” We are shown the what-cold-be’s of global warming and the destruction caused by changing the once-balanced ecosystem of the ocean. In fairness, killer mermaids are probably what we deserve.

In the Drowning Deep is certainly an unsettling book at the best of times. I’m certainly not in any rush to get on a cruise ship. If there’s something waiting in the ocean for us, I’d like for it to keep waiting, please.

Advertisements

Wicked Wednesday: Searching for Isabelle (2018)

February marks not only the celebration of Women in Horror Month, but also Black History Month in the US. At a quick glance, horror as a genre looks pretty white. But some of the most key players in horror’s history are black – whether that be actors or directors. So really, I think it’s a great time to celebrate both women and directors of colour this month. Diversity in writers, directors and actors allow us to have richer (and fresher) storytelling and that benefit everyone.

But, as it turns out, it’s 1.) there are disproportionately few women making horror films, and 2.) it’s even more difficult to find horror movies director by women of colour. But thanks to Ashlee Blackwell’s informative, funny and inspirational Twitter and website, I found an incredible amount of information about up-and-coming directors. I was pleased to bits to see the selection of short films that there were to choose from. (Also, if you haven’t seen Horror Noire on Shudder yet, which Blackwell co-wrote, WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?)

Searching for Isabelle immediately appealed to me because who doesn’t love a good story of magic, strength and the defeat of creepy men?

Isabelle is a young woman with a seemingly normal life. But when she’s caught and locked up in a man’s basement, she soon discovers that she has the power to project herself in the outside world and communicate with her friends.

With her in the room is another captive, Lucy. They seek comfort and strength in each other, but Lucy is reaching her breaking point. Lucy is taken first, leaving Isabelle alone.

Isabelle reaches her friends one more time to get their help. And upon speaking to them, she hears a harsh truth she already knew: the media is only covering Lucy’s disappearance. Isabelle is seemingly all but forgotten in the basement cell.

But it’s ultimately the work of Isabelle and her friends that gain her freedom. It’s Isabelle’s inner magic (strength) that helps her survive when no other victim does.

Horror written in the frame of real-life terror is often some of the most effective. For many women, being prey to a predator is one of the most prevalent fears we have. But this short film is more than just that. In Searching for Isabelle, writer and director Stephanie Jeter taps into the reality of the disproportionate media coverage of missing people based on gender, age and skin colour. She drives straight home to her point without being tedious.

But Jeter also makes a beautiful movie. It has a dream-like quality that plays with the horror of Isabelle and Lucy’s situation really well. And for a short film, it certainly tells its story in an impactful way. She’s certainly a director and writer to await more from.

Wicked Wednesday: Humanoids From the Deep aka Monster (1980)

Have you ever wondered what The Creature From the Black Lagoon would be like if it had more violence and rape? Well, this is the movie to answer all your questions!

This Corman-produced movie was directed by Barbara Peeters, a director and write who worked with Corman on multiple occasions. And while I thought this might share some similarities to the tongue-in-cheek Slumber Party Massacre series (most of which was also produced by Corman), I couldn’t possibly be any more wrong.

One day, a group of fishermen catch something in their nets. But before they can reel it in, the captain’s son goes overboard and is killed by whatever lurks in the water. While the others try to save him, the boat blows up from a freak accident.

Witness to the explosion is Jim, another fisherman from the small Californian town. While perplexed about the probability of the accident, he’s quickly thrown another unsusual event: all of the dogs in the town are killed bar one, one belonging to a local “Indian”.

The following night, during some sort of town party, scientist Dr Susan Drake arrives. She’s boasted at being excellent at boosting healthy salmon populations, a promise that the fishermen all love. But the party is crashed by the “Indian”, Johnny Eagle, carrying his dead dog. A dog was killed in retribution for…surviving? Johnny threatens Canco owner Hank, saying he will file a suit to get back Native land back from the company, thus stopping the company’s plans to open a cannery.

Meanwhile, many of the young couples around town begin to get attacked by strange gill monsters from the deep. The boys are killed and the girls are raped (and presumably also killed). Johnny’s home is also attacked, by both the gill monsters and the human monsters from Canco.

Johnny is enlisted by Jim and Dr Susan to help them investigate the attack site. Susan tells the men that whatever did the attack is amphibious. They’re attacked by the monsters themselves later on after discovering the body of a girl in a cave.

But the monster is killed in the attack, allowing the scientists to study the monster’s corpse. Dr Susan realises that the mutations are caused by the growth hormone used in Canco’s experiments. The hormone didn’t only cause the creatures to mutate, but to develop human-like functions (which I guess includes rape).

The group soon realise that the creatures will attack at the town’s Salmon Festival that night. When they arrive, they find the place in chaos. Fishmen are killing men. Fishmen are attacking women.

Jim and Dr Susan work together to pour gasoline into the bay. They set it on fire in hopes of cutting off the monsters’ escape.

While their plan seemingly works, they have forgotten about the girl who survived. At some point in the future, Dr Susan helps her through the delivery of a…humanoid-from-the-deep baby.

And if that isn’t enough to make you throw up in your mouth.

Humanoids from the Deep is an oddly disjointed film, which is mostly due to its history. After initial filming, a second unit shot the rape scenes to make the film more exciting per Corman’s request. They are incredibly out of place, mostly due to a dramatic shift in style. They’re also pretty gross.

I like a good monster movie. Roger Corman made many of them. I enjoy many exploitation films. Roger Corman had a hand in making many of those too. But this rape subplot couldn’t feel more pointless and shoe-horned in. It actually makes the ending of the film incredibly sinister. And not in a fun way.

I’m not going to pretend without this tasteless addition this movie would be great. It’s still really weird. The campiness is fun (sometimes), but most of it falls flat, making less “so bad it’s good” and more just…bad. But while many of movies leave a lasting impression on me, I can’t wait to forget this one.

Wicked Wednesday: Slumber Party Massacre III (1990)

It’s February, which means it’s Women in Horror Month, where we get to celebrate all the lovely ladies who contribute to the horror industry! While I love watching films made by women (and reading books by them) throughout the year, I always look forward to February to really get into the spirit.

Also, I’ve been putting off watching SPM3 since I watched the second installment last year. All three films were directed by women, making it the first horror franchise to do so (and if you can name anymore – please let me know!).

SPM3 follows the same general formula set by the first two movies: there is a slumber party, there is a man with a power drill, and there are too many creeps.

But unlike the second installment, this movie doesn’t have any characters from the first. There’s a whole new set of teens to terrorise this time!

Jackie and her team of pals live a good life of crushes, school work and beach volleyball. Just a session at the beach, they realise that they’re being watched by a “creep” in black. When the leave the beach, Jackie accidentally drops her address book, presumably picked up by The Creep.

The girls get settled in for their slumber party at Jackie’s while her parents are away. They do the usual shenanigans: eat chocolate brownies, talk about boys and casually strip for each other! But they’re quickly interrupted by a gaggle of boys who are promptly thrown out.

One boy, Michael, goes back to beg for forgiveness, but it killed before he can be let in. Meanwhile, The Creep from the beach (good move title there) appears outside Jackie’s window, frightening all the girls. When Jackie goes to chase him, she finds her address book outside the door.

The boys (sans dead Michael) arrive back at the house with Dreamboat Ken (he’s captain of the water polo team, guys). Ken and Jackie’s friend Juliet head off upstairs to get cosy while the others enjoy pizza.

While in bed, though, Ken gets uncomfortable when Jackie tries to touch him. He instead allows her to enjoy herself. Afterwards, Juliet head to the shower where she’s later electrocuted with a plug-in dildo. What a way to die, eh?

The kids later discover Juliet’s body inside a body bag. But when Jackie goes to call the police, they ignore her believe that she is only trying to prank them.

Ken offers to get his uncle, who he claims is a cop. He heads out with another one of the boys where it’s then revealed that Ken in the driller killer. He kills his pal and heads back to Jackie’s house to terrorise the group and whittle them down to the final two. Hot Babe Ken is eventually blinded with bleach from an earlier clean up, then killed by dear Jackie.

It’s essentially standard Slumber Party Massacre affair. But it just isn’t done as well as the first two (which are more biting and clever…and better acted believe it or not).

There were bits that made me laugh, tough. I especially enjoyed the bits of dialogue that attempted to be a bit more feminist, no matter how badly they were delivered.

“Another weird guy?” “Yes.”

The story of my life.

Like SPM2, there is excellent music in this. Particularly the tracks by the director herself, Sally Mattison. It’s a solid, if basic installment in the trilogy. And now that I’ve seen all them, I demand we get more series like this with a much more cutting, satirical take on it.

While SPM3 was my least favourite of the series, I have to say that these movies now hold a special place in my heart. They’re surface-level silly, but to any woman really listening: these movies have a lot to say about women and the people who believe they have any right to us.

Now, if only we could get an excellent blu ray release of all three of these in Region 2, please!

Wicked Wednesday: Tales from the Crypt “Death of Some Salesman” (1993)

This month has been absolutely nonstop. So keeping up with writing has been a true struggle. Thankfully, though, it’s possible to squeeze lots of disturbing, hilarious horror into a thirty minute episode of Tales from The Crypt

Like most Tales from the Crypt episodes, the character at the heart of this episode is truly unlikable – and is in no way redeeming. That makes travelling cemetery plot salesman Judd Campbell an easy guy to dislike. He’s so smarmy and gross (played excellently by Ed Begley Jr), that you can’t help but root for his demise. I mean, one of his early lines is, “I said I loved you, and you dropped your little panties. It’s called salesmanship”

Gross.

So Judd spends his time roaming the countryside, preying on the bereaved via the obits in the newspaper. He cons an elderly woman (Yvonne De Carlo) out of everything that remains of her money after her husband’s funeral.

After pocketing the cash, Judd goes to a second farm where he meets the less-than-gorgeous Ma and Pa Brackett (both played by Tim Curry). Both are seemingly smitten with travelling salesmen. Despite arriving at the wrong address, Judd is invited into the Brackett family to sell them plots in a (probably fake but most likely shitty) cemetery. The couple seem very willing (and rich), but they need to see the land first.

Judd somehow manages to convince them to pay upfront, so Pa goes into the basement with Ma for their money. When left alone, Judd soon discovers the body parts of other men – other salesmen.

After being knocked out, Judd wakes up handcuffed and on the Brackett’s couch. Ma and Pa disagree on how to best deal with their latest victim, but ultimately leave the decision of Judd’s fate in the hands of their daughter, Winona (also played by Curry).

When Judd awakens, he finally gets to meet Winona. She’s…not super cute. Certainly not to the “standards” that Judd holds himself to with women. But he tries to win over Winona and ultimately win his freedom.

Winona takes Judd to her bedroom where she arouses him. They then have sex (which Judd claims to be the most incredible he’s ever had). When Winona suggests marriage, Judd seems pretty smitten, but he’s completely won over when he hears the word “dowry”. A dowry that just happens to be buried in the Brackett’s basement.

Judd and Winona ask Pa (a priest, apparently) to marry them. The wedding goes forward, but when it comes to the vows, Pa refuses to take Judd’s handcuffs off him.

After an argument between Pa and Winona, Pa seemingly dies when his neck is snapped. Winona makes into the basement for her dowry, soon followed by Judd with a gun. With a hole in the floor of the basement, Judd assumes that the dowry is near. He shoots Winona and hops in the hole, only to find a cemetery plot certificate with his name on it.

“Death of Some Saleman” is a pretty comic episode. The sex scene is…a bit too much for me (it oddly verges on rape but…who am I to judge?). Curry is, as always, a maverick. While you can only tell that it’s the same actor by similar facial features, the make-up and Curry’s acting makes each character to different and vibrant.

It’s funny. It’s quotable. And it’s one hell of a way to spend 30 minutes if you haven’t the time for Motel Hell.

Wicked Wednesday: I Bought a Vampire Motorcycle (1990)

I Bought a Vampire Motorcycle is a weird movie. It has a weird title, for one, and stars Bob the Builder. It has the unbelievable Hells Angels-style Birmingham biker gang, and the world’s most enthusiastic Catholic priest.

Another weird thing about this week, was realising that I live in a country know where people can actually name the actor who voiced ol’ Bob. So there’s also that.

This little gem, though, is about as bonkers as you’d expect it to be. A satanic cult are murdered by a biker gang in the middle of a ritual. A few bodies of the dead rise again, one of them pouring their blood into one of the nearby bikes. This magic brings the bike to life.

Sometime later, a young idiot named “Noddy” (which I can only assume is the name on his baptismal name) buys the bike at the (unassumingly) extortionate price of £1,100. When he takes it home to show off to his friend and girlfriend, they quickly point out all of the bike’s flaws like the damage done by a crossbow.

Noddy’s friend Buzzer (also his Christian name, just guessing) plays a ‘joke’ on Noddy by stealing the cap to the gas tank. But Noddy later finds it in the bike shed that following morning. He and his girlfriend, Kim, get a call at their offices that Buzzer had been killed in some sort of accident.

Noddy goes to Buzzer’s flat where he was killed. He speaks to the inspector and finds that there are tyre tracks everywhere, and a rather motorcycle-shaped hole in Buzzer’s front door.

Later the motorcycle gets to stretch its wheels when Noddy takes it out for a ride. The bike takes over and nearly crashes into a biker gang (the cult killer one), making Noddy the gang’s biggest target. They later harass Noddy and Kim in a pub in a scene that literally looks like a Tenpole Tudor music video.

After escaping the gang, the young couple go to grab Chinese. The bike becomes upset when Kim wants garlic prawns and drives off with only her on the back. The bike attacks her, leaving her in the hospital. The bike goes on a bit of a bender, killing off most of the gang and filling its tank with blood.

When Noddy notices the bloody bike, he decides that the bike is possessed and needs help from god. He seeks help from a priest, and together they take on the bike. It’s already a wacky film, but it goes full-on British at this point. It falls victim to a repetitive ending, a bit, losing the film a little steam. But it is still pretty amusing nevertheless.

With I Bought a Vampire Motorcycle, you pretty much get what you’re asking for. It’s zany, stupid, and very, very British. It’s like Cornetto Trilogy version of Death Bed: The Bed that Eats but less psychedelic and with more puns.

There are certainly weak points here, like the never-ending ending. The biggest issue is probably the writing of the characters – which is at least passable because the actors are rather likable. They aren’t very well fleshed out in general and we sort of take for granted that they’re just there. But I want to know: Are they in a biker gang too? Do they have real jobs? What’s this office they keep arriving at and not doing any work in? Do they really think ponytails are a good idea? I don’t know. It could have been explained. Maybe I just didn’t understand the accents.

Wicked Wednesday: Return to Horror High (1986)

The holidays have seemingly sapped all my creativity out of me. I can’t read. I can’t write. I really don’t feel like watching anything. I even gave myself a two week break – the longest in years. And yet…nothing. The brain in mush.

So when it came to choose this week’s movie, I had to think long and hard. And I really, really thought for a long time (hard, not so much). I literally did nothing all Monday night but take “What horror movie should you watch?” quizzes. Seems like I need to check out this movie called The Exorcist. Might give it a go.

Ultimately we landed here with the 1986 mind-bender Return to Horror High. I first saw this little gem back in high school, and I was smitten. I’ve somehow avoided a re-watch ever since then.

Return to Horror High follows a film crew as they make a movie about a series of murders that happened at Crippin High School a few years prior. From the opening scene, it’s clear that things haven’t gone well, as supposedly everyone from the movie has been murdered (according to the movie’s screenwriter).

While the movie (the move within this movie, that is) sets out to “tell the true story”, producer Harry Sleerik does his best to make the movie a sleazy horror film. He’s also super cheap. Part of his cheapness includes forcing the whole cast and crew to both work and sleep at Crippin High School.

When one of the actors quits for a better-paying TV gig, he’s promptly axed by an unseen person. The rest of the crew go on as normal, completely unaware of the death. Joining the oblivious is the young cop Steve, who worked on the original murder case in 1982 and was once a student at Crippin.

The movie continues to be made, but lead actress Callie becomes more suspicious as time goes on. Together with Steve’s help, she begins to investigate the disappearances of her fellow actors and crew.

Steve slowly filters in new information to Callie. He shows her his locker where there’s a heart with his name and his old girlfriend Cathy’s scratched inside. He tells her that Cathy disappeared shortly after they first had sex together.

Cathy’s disappearance is ultimately the key to solving the murders. One day during production, Steve sees a framed photo of Cathy. He realises that she was the daughter of the high school’s principal, who also happens to be work on the movie’s set as the technical adviser.

Callie and Steve crack the mystery wide open when they discover a trail of blood one night leading to a tunnel in the shop room. They follow the tunnel where they find a room full of corpses dressed as Cathy.

The janitor arrives, but after an altercation, it’s revealed that the janitor was Principal Kastleman all along. Kastleman admits that Cathy became pregnant after her time with Steve, so her father locked her in the basement of the school where she eventually died.

Steve and Callie manage to impale the principal and flee the school. But as they leave, it’s revealed that all the corpses outside the school (which the police were investigating) are not in fact corpses. The entire thing was a publicity stunt by the crew, and the solving of the murder was only a bonus.

It takes a real stretch of the imagination to believe in this twist – but that’s half the fun of Return to Horror High. It’s an absolutely insane movie that is more fun than it ought to be.

Trying to decide what’s real and what’s the movie is half the fun here. Having so many years since I first watched this probably makes this count as a “first viewing” as I hardly remembered the twist at the end.

A young George Clooney makes an early appearance here as the smug actor who is killed off first. While it’s fun to see Clooney ham it up, I actually think it harms the film’s legacy in a way. Many of his fan hate this movie. Couldn’t possibly tell you why… But Clooney’s early death works in modern day. Think of it as Psycho or Scream where we axe off the fan favourite straight away.

Watching Return to Horror High probably didn’t solve my creativity-drain, but it did get me writing again, and it certainly made me laugh.