Wicked Wednesday: The Umbrella Factory (2013)

Horror stories have been around for thousands of years. The original Grimms’ Fairy Tales can be shocking and horrifying. The Bible has stories of ghosts and floating hands.

We love to be scared and always have been. Which is why The Umbrella Factory‘s simple storytelling is so effective.

One rainy night, three brothers are visited by a traveller. The cold, wet man has no money to offer the brothers in exchange for their hospitality. But he does have a talisman from India that grants wishes.

The eldest brother, the most unkind, asks for a large sum of money. The next day, the brothers go to the umbrella factory they work. Tragedy strikes when the youngest of them dies. The factory manager offers them money on behalf of the youngest brother.

That night, the second brother wishes that the youngest brother was still alive. The wish is granted, and the mutilated brother returns home. Horrified, the eldest brother wishes that none of the events had ever happened.

So again. One rainy night, three brothers are visited by a traveller.

This is a simple story, inspired by “The Monkey’s Paw” by WW Jacobs. It’s a story that many people are familiar with. And even if they’re not, it’s the ages-old moral: be careful what you wish for.

But the most effective part about The Umbrella Factory is the interesting Victorian-inspired animation. It’s use of black and white with splashes of red give this potentially child-ish story a gruesome twist. For less than four minutes, this short horror film gives you plenty of eye candy to look at.

Advertisements

Wicked Wednesday: More summer horror/thriller reads

There’s heatwave in London this week. Being a born-and-bred Wisconsinite, I can handle -30 but melt at anything above “warm-ish”. And there’s no heat quite like city heat. Plus a lot less lakes and rivers to sit by in London than in ‘sconsin.

And that’s excuse number 108 why it’s way too hot to turn on the TV and watch a movie. Our PlayStation creates a bonfire’s worth of heat just by looking at it, so sitting next to it with pen in hand is just not happening this week.

But do you know what doesn’t create heat? Books!

This week is the annual Reading Rush reading challenge (formerly BookTube-a-thon). As per the definition of a read-a-thon, I’m going to try and read as much as possible this week. I’ve lined up a selection of graphic novels, shorter books and audiobooks (which by the way, if you’re still not using Scribd you’re behind on life) to indulge in.

But the summer has always been about reading a lot. We don’t need a reading challenge for that. And now that summer is reaching the halfway point, it’s time to talk about some recent (and future) horror reads.

1. Smoke Gets in Your Eyes by Cailtin Doughty

So this non-fiction entry isn’t “horror” per se. But I guess that depends on how much you enjoy talking about cremation, corpses and death plans.

I’m late to the game when it comes to Doughty. This YouTuber/Mortician/death enthusiast/all-around-goddess first came to my attention only a few months ago. And it’s safe to say that in that short amount of time I’ve become thoroughly obsessed.

Doughty’s debut novel Smoke Gets in Your Eyes tells the story of Doughty’s first job working in a crematorium. The stories can be sweet, funny, heart-breaking and informative. She certainly gets you thinking about your own mortality and about what really happens to your fats when you burn.

I particularly recommend listening to the audiobook, which Doughty reads herself. Her voice is fantastic. Filled with great inflection and humour.

2. Shadowland by Peter Straub

For years now I’ve wanted to read something by Straub, but his work is pretty intimidating. Poor Ghost Story has been sitting unloved on my shelf for ages now. But when I was in Wisconsin this summer, I was in the mood for something a bit scary. And who better to reach for than a fellow creepy Wisconsinite?

Well, turns out Shadowland isn’t a straight-forward horror story. In fact, there’s a lot of fantasy in the pages. But if anything, this story is unsettling as all hell. Straub creates vivid dream-like scenes that (to me) are simultaneously terrifying and confusing. It’s heavy with metaphors and imagery – and not at all in a bad way.

Shadowland follows two boys over the course a year. We’re introduced to them at the beginning of their school year before they are whisked away to New England where they spend a summer with a magician. As the boys learn more magic, the power they see becomes more dangerous and surreal.

I’ve never read anything like Shadowland before. And I doubt I will ever again. But I’m so glad I took the risk.

3. We Sold Our Souls by Grady Hendrix

Last summer, I read my first Grady Hendrix novel, My Best Friend’s Exorcism. That book ticked all the boxes for me: 80s references, female friendships, demons. So when he released a new novel about a heavy metal band, I knew this one would be for me too.

We Sold Our Souls is about one woman’s desire to recollect her past. Having been thrown out of her semi-famous metal band decades earlier, Kris Pulaski is washed-up. The frontman of her band is immensely famous, but Kris hasn’t seen any royalties. She starts to suspect that he didn’t get his fame and power on his own. Kris decides traverse the country to put the band (and the puzzle pieces) back together. Though it’s a far more dangerous road than she things, there’s more than one demon along the way.

This is another horror novel that isn’t so straight-forward with its thrills. Really, it’s about how horrible humans can really be to each other in selfish pursuits. It’s about our fears and paranoias, and that’s very scary indeed.

Also, bonus for great music references.

4. Jughead: The Hunger vol. 1 by Frank Tieri

When Archie Comics released a one-shot about Jughead as a werewolf, all was magnificent. Only it wasn’t. There wasn’t enough.

Thankfully the people at Archie heard our lycanthropic prayers and made Jughead: The Hunger an ongoing series. I’m only halfway through the first volume, and it hasn’t really lived up to expectations thus far. But I do love how much fun Archie Comics have been having with their characters in recent years. This is a brand to always love.

5. Bunnicula by Deborah and James Howe

This book, much like Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, transfixed me as a young girl. Particularly that wonderful cover by Alan Daniel. Never have bunnies been more terrifying. Beware, Anya!

I sneaked this book out of my parents’ house to England wanting to reread this obvious masterpiece. And that reread is happening 100% soon…as in probably tonight.

6. The audiobook mystery thrillers

Upon discovering the Scribd app, I’ve gone a bit audiobook mad. Thankfully, because it’s easy to discard a book after starting it, I’ve been able to dabble in many different books I wouldn’t normally read. This has made create both good and bad outcomes.

I went into Riley Sager’s The Last Time I Lied with really high expectations. I’d heard great things about his other books. Unsolved murders at a summer camp? Yes please. Unfortunately, I just couldn’t care about the story. There was a fun little twist at the end, but it certainly was a lot to slog through for little reward.

Speaking of high expectations… From the summary for Magic for Liars by Sarah Gailey, I thought this would be literally everything I wanted: magic school, murders, detective noir. But this was one seriously not-for-me book. I have never not finished a murder mystery. Even if I don’t like the story, I always finish. This was one solid exception to the rule. Yikes.

On a brighter note, I listened to two YA mysteries that I enjoyed: Undead Girl Gang by Lily Anderson and Little Monsters by Kara Thomas. I highly, highly recommend Little Monsters, even if you aren’t into YA that much. Plus it’s set in Wisconsin, so…


What will you be reading for the rest of the summer? Are you taking part in the Reading Rush read-a-thon? Hopefully you read some winners this year. I know I certainly have.

Wicked Wednesday: Summer horror movie recommendations

In the summertime when the weather is hot
You can stretch right up and touch the sky

Ah. The hot and dusty days of summer. When smelly people are everywhere, and we all feel ashamed for not losing a bit more weight before squeezing back into those old shorts.

I’m not a fan of summer. I think that’s what I get extra-excited about Halloween early every year (August the 1st, thank you very much). That being said, I love summer horror movies. Give me summer camps, dying shrubbery and sweaty people running from things. It’s a very satisying asthetic.

So I’ve gathered up a few of my favourites. There’s certainly a lot missing here…and there’s a lot of “stretches” involved. But my blog, my rules.

1. The Funhouse (1981)

This little Tobe Hooper number exists in god knows what time of the year. Sometimes it feels like autumn, sometimes summer. I think we can narrow it down to Indian summer at best.

The Funhouse follows a group of teenagers who go to a seedy carnival in town. When they decide to spend the night in the funhouse, they soon find themselves being stalked and killed by the carnival workers.

I always recommend this movie to people delving deeper into slashers, as it’s a rare gem in the genre: something you can watch all the way through without getting bored. But I love the visuals as well. It reminds me of staying at the state fair late into the night, bewildered by all the strangess around me.

2. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)

This is, for me, the ultimate summer classic. Another one of Hooper’s films, Texas Chainsaw Massacre really needs no introduction. It’s truly a masterpiece.

The heat. The sweatiness… It imagery just reeks of summer. It also has a lot of rotting flesh, so I imagine it reeked of that too. We may all have seen it half-a-million times, but who’s to say we can watch it half-a-million more?

3. I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997)

Right. So this is not my favourite Lois Duncan adaptation by a long shot. This movie actually upset Duncan when she saw it, as the violence reminded her of her own daughter’s tragic murder. It was stripped of its story and turned into a straight-forward slasher film (no hook-handed fisherman in the original).

But we couldn’t talk about summer horror without the one where it’s literally in the title. While I’m being a bit harsh on it, this is actually entertaining pop-corn fair. Sarah Michelle Gellar is an absolute gem in this one, so really just watch for her performance.

“I don’t think we’re that powerful, Julie. You’re giving us way too much credit.”

4. Spider Baby (1967)

This Jack Hill probably isn’t the film that immediately comes to most people’s minds when it comes to summer horror. But hear me out. Spider Baby is one of the brightest, sunniest horror movies I’ve ever seen.

When a couple go to see a family mansion, they find a group of mentally-regressing children in the home. The house is always being watched by people shading their eyes. That’s probably due to the fact that it was mostly shot in August and September in sunny California.

But there’s something very brave about a bright horror movie. It doesn’t need to always hide behind shadows in order to be unnerving. Yes eventually we spiral into the darkness of both the night and the family, but I think that makes the contrast all the more powerful.

5. Gatti rossi in un labirinto di vetro aka Eyeball (1975)

Some movies feel more like a season due to their settings. Is it in Salem? It’s perfect to watch in autumn. Is it Norwegian? Put it on in winter! So when this Italian horror gem puts ‘Americans’ on a tour bus in sunny Spain? It’s a summer movie to me, kids.

Umberto Lenzi’s Eyeball is one of my favourite gialli. It’s really bizarre (I mean really). It has a banging theme tune. And there’s that one grinning guy with the bag of oranges. Watching Eyeball for the first time was an absolute blast, and it’s been a pleasure to keep re-watching it ever since.

If this doesn’t get you in the travelling-for-summer mood, then I really don’t know what will.

6. Slumber Party Massacer II (1987)

What’s that? Another chance to plug my favourite horror movie sequel? Well, I’ll take that opportunity. Again.

This (literally) dreamy movie mostly takes place during the school year, but it still has some definite end-of-the-school-year vibes. The girls walk around in shades, sing Paisley Underground songs and hang out in unfinished houses. They also get killed by a drill/guitar-wielding maniac. Really just usual plans that we all pencil into our summer schedules.

I think because I associate this movie with the word “fun” so much, I immediately relate it to summer. Because that’s ultimately why most of these movies are here: what’s really the point of summer but to enjoy yourself?

7. The Summer of 84 (2018)

There are many coming-of-age classics: Stand by MeGoonies, and new-comers like Stranger Things. They’re all rich with nostalgia. We’re a nostalgic type of species.

Which is why Summer of 84 is great. It reminds you why you loved the classics of the 80s. It has a plot line that’s well-worn, but well-loved: the person next door isn’t who you think they are. Think of The People Under the Stairs and The Burbs.

Only this book has an added punch to the gut with it’s jaw-dropping ending. It’s the end of both summer, and of naive innocence.


So what is your favourite horror movie to watch in the summer? I bet it’s Friday the 13th. It is, isn’t it?

Wicked Wednesday: The Nightmare Room ep. 1.4 “Tangled Web”

Whoo-ee. It’s been already been one heck of a week, and we’re only half-way there.

I always set out with the best of intentions with this blog. I want to watch a movie, write about my thoughts, enjoy the feeling of being slightly productive. But increasingly, it’s becoming more and more difficult to find the energy. And in a week like this week, I needed a break.

Many a weeks have I Googled random key words like “scary TV shows” or “spooky stuff for kids”. And weirdly, the second one yielded a television show I never heard of: The Nightmare Room.

This little early-millenium show was rather short lived. Only making 13 episodes, which probably explains why it passed me by (despite the fact that I was probably the target demographic at the time of its original airing). It’s a bit surprising it didn’t last longer, considering it’s based on the series of books by R.L. Stine.

Like many of Stine’s Goosebumps works, The Nightmare Room is filled with lessons for obnoxious children. In the fourth episode, “Tangled Web”, we meet Josh. He’s a serial liar and a complete tool (sorry, kid).

One day, a subsitute teacher (David Carradine) arrives at Josh’s class. He collects the children’s homework, and only Josh doesn’t have anything to turn in. Josh tells the sub that it was accidentally stolen during a robbery at his house the night before. The sub believes the boy saying, “I’m sure if he says something is true, then it must be true.”

Things begin to get strange after that for poor Josh. His lies become realities. He finds himself with a bully of an older brother, is actually robbed by clown-mask-wearing thieves, and eventually has to face a tag team of ninjas.

Josh eventually realises that his persistant lying is causing his problems. He eventually wishes everyone away, but it quite literally gets rid of everyone. Then the fool sets the school on fire. But eventually, the kid reaches his sub, Mr Barber, and finds the solution.

This was a fun little episode. Watching Josh’s lies get increasingly silly was entertaining. The children’s acting was pretty shocking, and it stood out more from the well-delivered roles by the adults. That being said, that is almost always the case with these sorts of shows.

I’m really sure why The Nightmare Room exists. If you told me this was a late-era Goosebumps episode, I’d probably believe you. It’s pretty similar in style and tone to the 90s episodes. Just with a bit more wrestler cameos.

This type of horror-for-children shows really hit their prime in the 90s. “Tangled Web” very much felt like the aftermath of that success. But it was definitely what I needed for a smile and a bit of well-needed brain break.

Wicked Wednesday: Dolly Dearest (1991)

I have to admit straight out: doll horror films don’t scare me*. Don’t get me wrong, I hate scary dolls. One of my sisters used to have a clown doll. Hated it. Chucky? Hate ’em. But there’s something so…silly about them. For one: why the hell can’t anyone kill them?

Well, demons for one.

Dolly Dearest was one of the many scary doll movies to come out after the success of Child’s Play. And in many ways, it rips off many of themes there. But it also rips off a number of other themes from popular horror films.

And yet, it’s strangely very watchable. That’s due to a pretty solid cast, which definitely makes this more than a mere knock-off.

Husband and wife Marilyn and Wade (Denise Crosby and Sam Bottoms) move their young family to Mexico, where Wade believes he can make a fortune manufacurting dolls. But when he arrives at his newly-bought factory, he finds only an archeological dig and a run-down shack that’s his ‘factory’. The seller tells him that it hasn’t been touched since the old doll make who owned it before died.

The family begin to explore the factory when Wade’s young daughter, Jessica, spots one of the woman’s old dolls. She asks for one, and her wish is immediately granted.

Back at their new home, the family’s maid Camilla (Lupa Ontiveros aka THAT BITCH YOLANDA!) asks the house to be blessed. This upsets Jessica, and she becomes upset. Well, less upset and more Damien at church.

Both Camilla and Marilyn become concerned as Jessica increasingly spends time in the dollhouse in th family’s backyard. Jessica acts like a brat, not her usual way. She pushes the maid. She talks back to her mom. She speaks to Camilla in an ancient language. A some-what unusual moodswing.

One night, Jessica sneaks out to do to the doll house. Only Camilla catches her first. As punishment, Jessica’s dolly lures Camilla into the cellar where she meets her death.

Unaware that anything is unusual abou the death, the family try to continue as normal. But Jessica continues to become a pint-sized Regan MacNeil. Jessica’s brother, Jimmy, spends his time scoping out the dig site near the factory. While he originally believes it to be Mayan, he later learns from a university professor (Rip Thorn) that it’s Sanzian.

Through his reading, Jimmy learns that the Sanzians were pretty Satanic people. They tried to make a devil child, and had to destroy their handywork when things spiralled out of control.

By the time Jimmy and Marilyn realise something is seriously wrong with Jessica, the little girl has gone full-on possessed. And “Dolly” has become a twisted, demonic entity.

Now. Dolls are small. Kick them. Dismantle them. Set them on fire. You do NOT need to run away from a doll. Unless it’s going to pushing you in a well and electrocute you. RIP Camilla.

That’s what makes the last act more of a comedy than a horror film. While the dolls look creepy as all hell, it’s sort of difficult to take them seriously. In the end, despite being an ancient spirit or whatever, the dolls are destroy by being blown up. That’s it. It seems simple enough. Jessica gets off scot free and all.

I won’t pretend that Dolly Dearest is a work of art. It really isn’t. But it is fun. Definitely a hidden gem in the scary doll genre. But if you’re already unafraid of dolls, this isn’t the film to change your mind.

*”The Tale of the Dollmarker” will always be the exception to the rule….and Talky Tina. Ok and that thing from Trilogy of Terror.

Wicked Wednesday: Archie’s Weird Mysteries ep 1.1 “Attack of the Killer Spuds”

I watched the premier episode of Archie’s Weird Mysteries nearly a month ago. The intention was to write about it here before I left on my annual summer trip to Wisconsin.

If you couldn’t tell from my lack of posting this month, that 100% didn’t happen. But despite all the time apart from each other, I can recall “Attack of the Killer Spuds” pretty well. Mostly because it really lives up to it’s name: this show is really weird.

Archie’s Weird Mysteries was a US/French co-production originally airing from 1999-2000. It took Archie and the gang through a mystery-of-the-week-style romp. Clearly a soft predecessor to later Archie releases (Archie vs Predator, Riverdale). From the episode title alone, it’s pretty clear that an admiration for 50s b-movies is in every aspect of this show. “Attack of the Killer Spuds” was one part Attack of the Killer Tomatoes with a side of Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

After Jughead wins a radio contest, he receives a curious-looking potato trophy from the radio DJ. Soon the spud somes to life and makes a clone of Juggie. This evil clone leaves Jughead in a vegetated state. He spreads the spuds around, slowly creating clones and turning everyone else into mindless beings.

So it’s up to Archie to defeat the evil spuds when they take over all of Riverdale. He and Dilton Doiley team up to take down the radio tower that’s sending microwave transmissions to the spud army. After climbing the tower, Archie is able to defeat the giant spud leader. The town of Riverdale returns to normal and the spaceship carrying the potato aliens flies away.

This show wears its inspiration on its sleeves, and clearly has a lot of fun doing so. It’s pretty strange seeing Archie reimagined as a hero. He’s usually such a hopeless buffoon. But everyone else here is pretty by-the-numbers classic Archie Comics. Just throw in a dash of Scooby Doo and I guess you’re halfway to a show.

I had intended to watch all the episodes of Archie’s Weird Mysteries (there’s fourty of them). But I…don’t think that will happen anymore. While this is a cute show, it felt really long for something with a 20-minute run time. Perhaps this wasn’t the best episode to start with? If anyone is a mega fan, hit me up.

This certainly won’t do the job for anyone looking to fill the Riverdale void until October. And it’s definitely not better than The Archie Show. But I think anyone who watched this show as a child will find revisiting it fun. For the rest of us, we can watch for the references.

Wicked Wednesday: Within (2016)

I rarely read reviews before I watch movies for this blog. I didn’t make an exception for Within, but I really wish I had. This was truly one of the more confounding films I’ve watched in a long, long time.

At the surface, this is very the set-up for typical haunted house trope fest. A family move into a new home in suburbia. There’s the oblivious dad, the hot new mom, and the irrtated “bad girl” daughter. They immediately begin noticing strange things in the house, particularly the daughter Hannah. And of course they eventually discover that a family died there by murder-suicide. They very much are like the new family: two parents and a daughter.

Hannah is sentenced by her father, John, to cleaning out the pervious family’s things out of their garage. She begins to unpack their lives and learn more things about them. She learns from a neighbour that the previous family had simply disappeared.

Meanwhile, she’s also battling creep ‘neighbour’ Ray, a locksmith. He offers to change the locks on the family’s house, but instantly creeps out mother Melanie too much.

Ray is eventually outseted as a squater in the next-door house. As revenge, he perves on Hannah (who is VERY much underage). But before he can do anything, Ray is killed off by a ghoul-ish like boy. Imagine the cavemen from those old Geico commercials.

While Hannah’s boyfriend visits, he studies the photos of murdered family. In one of the family outside the house, he notices unusual: a boy in one of the windows. As he’s being killed off, Hannah goes back to the family’s things to do more research. She eventually learns that the first family had a son.

This son had agoraphobia. So obviously, he’s crazy and LIVES IN THE CRAWL SPACE OF THE WALLS. The family attempt to take on the man, and the police eventually shoot someone. Of course it isn’t the agoraphobic caveman, but one of his prisoners.

He then gleefully picks off all the family members. Even Hannah, who is also creeped on repeatedly.

I mean, makes sense to me. Agoraphobia = crazy people who live in walls. Crazy people who look like drowned, drooling ghouls!

Horror movies aren’t always the most…represntitve of mental illness. But this is not a 1970s shocker. This was made in 2016. But it’s not its idiotic grip on mental health that’s the most eye-roll inducing about htis movie.

This is a story you’ve seen a million times. And it hasn’t been done well here. There’s no suspense. It’s by-the-numbers, pervy and just…boring. What’s the point of creating something when you refuse to bring anything new to the table?

But I would have known all of this if I would have just checked IMDB first. Not sure if that’s a lesson to really take away. Though I’m not really sure I can stomach another one of these.