Wicked Wednesday

Wicked Wednesday: Black Christmas (2019)

Christmas is a time to spend with loved ones. And if you’re spending them with your family, it’s also a time where conversations inevitably get political and you have to leave the room.

The 2019 reimagining of one of my absolute favourite movies, 1974’s Black Christmas, was incredibly controversial when it came out. I saw a lot of anger that was overwhelmingly negative, and it scared me away from watching it. Not that it didn’t sound like something I’d maybe enjoy, but there were too many opinions flying around, and I knew my viewing experience would be affected by that.

That being said, it’s two years since its release, and that’s what I still attach most to this movie: the anger. So I’ve watched this movie, sat and thought about it and even discussed it with a queer friend of mine. I let my views have time to “ferment” if you will.

And after a few days of mulling over it, I think my issues with the film only grew.

Without the controversy surrounding the negative reviews upon its release, I don’t think there’s anything much remarkable about this film. We’d have forgotten about it if it hadn’t made a certain group Very Mad.

The 2019 version of Black Christmas strays even further from the original than the 2006 remake. But the bare bones are there: a group of sorority sisters are killed off at the start of Christmas break. This time, writers Sophia Takal (who also directed) and April Wolfe give the story a spin about being a sexual assault survivor. If the script had stopped there, I think we may have had something really special.

Instead, the movie spirals into this bizarre plot about a fraternity that discovered a bust of the university’s founder. And that bust gives them power over women? I mean, don’t they already have that without magic.

Riley (played by an uncharismatic Imogen Poots) was sexually assaulted by a fraternity member when she was younger. When she and several of her sisters perform a reworked version of “Up on the Housetop”, they publicly call out frat houses’ rape culture. Riley’s more social-conscious sister, Kris, gets the girls women into trouble when the video goes viral.

This seemingly triggers a number of attacks on sorority sisters around campus. The violence is nonexistent here. It had a PG-13 rating, which the director wanted in order to appeal to a younger crowd (which I get, but I don’t think was successful). But the ladies all win in the end because we’re badass.

And hooray. The women win. But this doesn’t feel like much of a win.

As someone who has been assaulted, like nearly every single one of my friends, this movie was nice to see, but it didn’t really feel like I took anything from it. I didn’t feel vindicated. But if it helps anyone out there, I’m so glad it did.

But by making the villains supernatural, it no longer felt like someone fighting my demons on screen. It was a fantasy no longer rooted in reality. Laurie Strode’s PTSD in Halloween (2018) felt so much more to me. That film really addressed the aftermath of trauma so well.

I felt betrayed by the messaging that this was going to be a modern, updated version of Black Christmas, which itself tackled feminist themes of abortion rights and stalking. The diversity of this film was paraded around like something to be impressed with. There weren’t any queer characters. At all! From anywhere on the spectrum! And Hollywood has an issue with never casting dark-skinned Black women. That’s 100% the case here too.

This whole movie shouted white feminism to me, and I couldn’t get past that. It centers a white woman and is about a white woman’s problems. I get it. Almost all horror is! But I’m bored of that being called “brave” and “controversial”. Nothing about it felt fresh or challenging. Maybe we’ve already changed a lot two years on.

And the film’s message takes center stage. The “horror movie” part takes a back seat. There’s no suspense or real horror. The 1974 version still makes me scream and squirm, and I’ve seen it 100 times. To be honest, though, that’s completely fine if that’s what the filmmakers wanted. I think it could have been much more effective it wasn’t trying to squeeze into the skin of another movie.

All of that being said, I thought this movie was okay. This was just a lot of fun to dissect. I wouldn’t talk anyone out of watching it. I would probably even watch this again and enjoy it still! Though I saw my low rating of the 2006 remake, and I’m wondering if that deserves a rewatch and reassessment too.

I loved the little nods to the original and the 2006 remake (the crystal unicorn, the icicle murder). And there’s even a shot paying homage to the great Exorcist 3. I also enjoyed when the plastic bag murder was turned on its head, even if it wasn’t pulled off with any great success (remember that PG-13 rating?).

And most of all: we love seeing horror created by women. There will never be too much of that.

This is definitely a movie that was a target of much more hatred than it deserved. I was honestly really waiting for something shocking to happen, but it never did. It’s a fun Christmas slasher with a message about women protecting women. We love to see it.

Maybe certain people are just a bit more fragile than they think they are.

🙂

Wicked Wednesday: Crawlspace (1972)

Somehow, even weeks later, am still in a big movie slump. I have turned my mind to cotton candy by watching endless amounts of trashy television instead. But if there’s one thing I will never say no to, it’s a made-for-TV movie.

I have a big fear of people being inside my home without my knowledge. At night, I think about the Daniel LaPlante case all too much. One of my sisters lives in one of those older houses with the attic door inside the house and it terrifies me. If you stay quiet, you can hear rattling up there. It makes me run like a little girl every time.

When I saw the synopsis for Crawlspace, I was expecting something more sinister. Something that would only fuel my nightmares. But instead, this made-for-TV movie is more about the players in the tragedy.

Alice and Albert Graves are an older couple, recently moves to the countryside from the city. They’re a lonely pair, so when they meet their handyman Robert, they invite him for dinner one night.

A few nights later, they realise that Robert is living in their crawlspace below the house. The odd man initially keeps his distance, but Albert and Alice continue to try and coax him out. They begin to see him as a son they never had but always wanted.

At Christmas, Robert eventually accepts a second dinner invitation and arrives in a suit bought just for him. The Graves are pleased, and they welcome him into their home, even though he still prefers his crawlspace.

When Robert is spotted around the Graves’ homes, the locals begin to talk. The local sheriff stops by, warning the Graves that Robert isn’t to be trusted. But Alice and Albert ignore the warnings, insisting that Robert is just a misunderstood boy.

It’s unclear what exactly is wrong with Robert if anything (though he does sort of look like the Wolfman). His odd behaviour seems to be enough to fuel the locals’ distaste for him.

Things escalate with Robert and the locals as they begin to egg each other on. Robert vandalises a store. Some local boys begin harassing the Graves at their home in return.

But it’s after this that things begin to get really tragic. The movie is hardly a horror movie. It’s really just a sad tale about a group of people who make a lot of really bad choices in the name of protecting each other.

I wish we got to know a little more about Robert’s background. There are a few hints in the objects we see in his crawlspace. As he’s not much of a communicator, there’s never a real chance for him to explain his life. Despite my desire to know more, I do think that having a mystique around him does mean that it’s up to the viewer to decide whether or not Robert was acting in good faith.

This was a nice, sad little TV movie. I think it’s not very flashy by any means, but it does tell a good story and has a great cast. Arthur Kennedy as Albert and Teresa Wright as Alice were both so compelling and believable.

If you really want to ruin any holiday cheer in the air, this is a great, stark tale with a bit of a wintery feel.

Wicked Wednesday: Death Line (1972)

I love movies made in the 70s and 80s that show off the seedier sides of their cities. The Warriors, An American Werewolf in London, Basket Case. These all show a gritty, neon-lit version of either New York or London. The cities become menacing characters themselves.

Death Line shows off a beautiful, yet sick side of 1970s London. Everything here is so brown and sad, yet beautiful: and I love it.

It was a Twitter thread about favourite Donald Pleasance roles that pointed me towards this film. And really, Pleasances absolutely steals every scene he’s in as the cynical Inspector Calhoun.

One day, Calhoun gets assigned the case of a missing gentleman, an OBE last seen at Russell Square tube station. The couple to last have seen him were students Patricia and Alex. The couple had found the man unconscious on the platform steps. When they returned with help, they discovered the body missing.

Calhoun suspects the young couple of trying to rob the man and brings them in for questioning (in Alex’s case, repeatedly). During his investigation, Calhoun learns the urban legend about a group of people who were trapped in the underground during its construction. The people trapped supposedly survived, the descendants living there still.

Low and behold: they still do live. And they love human flesh.

As Calhoun continues his investigation, Alex and Patricia get separated on the underground one night. Patricia immediately gets kidnapped by the last-remaining cannibal. It’s up to Alex to save her (well, and eventually the police).

This movie is bleak – very much a contemporary Swaney Bean story. There’s nothing pretty about it – you get some nice, lingering shots of chewed-on finger bones. The design for the cannibal character is pretty nauseating to look at. I know because I tried eating dinner while watching this.

I did find certain finer details unclear to me. So I found parts of the story disappointing. But I blame it on the quality of the video. I watched Death Line on the Plex streaming app. And I’m starting to think there’s a major issue with the app. Otherwise, I seem to only be watching movies that have the worst sound mixing ever. It was difficult to hear what was going on at times, and subtitles weren’t an option. I’d certainly watch this again with a treatment that is more kind.

The underground scenes were all filmed in Aldwych station. As long as I’ve lived here, it’s been closed. But it was a working station at the time of filming. It’s a rather creepy station to walk by these days, all gated up and graffitied. The station is the perfect place for cannibals to live.

But really, we’re all here to watch Pleasance chew the scenery. He even has a short (and maybe pointless?) scene with Christopher Lee, who plays an MI5 agent. He gives the movie a lift of comedy to stop the story from feeling one-note. He was truly one of the great, and this is definitely one of his great roles.

Wicked Wednesday: Savage Weekend (1979)

I’m still very much in a movie hangover following The Challenge. Savage Weekend is the only horror movie I watched all week. And honestly, I had to force myself to watch something.

Probably didn’t help things that I watched what felt like the world’s slowest slasher film.

Now maybe that’s not completely accurate. But this sleazy soap-opera-like movie is incredibly bloodless and boring. But it does have some intense banjo tunes.

Maria is recently separated from her husband, Greg, following a political scandal. She, her sister Maria, friend Nicky and new bf Robert head upstate to a farmhouse in the countryside.

Along the way, the group gets up to shenanigans, including beating up homophobic hicks and buying stupid masks. You know, the usual road trip must-dos!

When they arrive, Robert’s friend Jay is there. Jay gets roped into helping build Robert’s new boat, which is meant be put together by local eccentric/possible murderer Otis.

There’s not much else that happens here. Marie gets turned on by local lumberjack Mac. But she ends up rejecting his advances later. I would explain why, but I’m not exactly sure why. I think it’s because she’s with Robert, but you could have fooled me. Marie and Robert are supposedly in a relationship but barely act like it until the final act of the film.

As everyone prepares for a nice dinner one night, everyone realises that Jay has gone missing (spoiler alert: he’s dead). The group split up and yes, everyone gets attacked and eventually dies bar Marie.

It’s really unsurprising when the killer takes off his mask. It’s grumpy Greg! I think he might have explained his motive, but the audio was so incredibly bad, that I couldn’t really hear what the actor was saying (he was mumbling). And honestly, I don’t really know if I care what his motives were!

That’s probably the main issue with this movie. It was so weighed down with relationship drama, but nothing I felt invested in. So when everyone died, it didn’t seem too big of a deal.

I did appreciate that the characters were older and that Nicky was gay. I did wonder why Nicky could kick so much ass in the beginning but was taken down so easily by the killer. Seemed like one of those scenes was unnecessary.

Anyway. I’m sorry Savage Weekend. I didn’t like you. This might be an “It’s me, not you” situation. My brain is fried, and the last thing I needed was drawn-out drama and pointless scenes of intimacy. If we’re going to have this in a horror movie, you might as well cover it in blood.

Wicked Wednesday: The Demon (1979)

The Demon has to be the first South African film I’ve watch for this blog. In fact, outside of District 9, I’m not sure if I have seen any South African-made films before! Set is South Africa with foreign directors (ie Hollywood), sure, but that’s something else entirely.

This movie gave me big Day After Halloween vibes, which incidentally was also released in 1979. The Australian movie was linked to Halloween following the American slasher’s release. And here I saw many bits of publicity sayin that The Demon was a knock-off of Black Christmas. Now, Black Christmas is one of my favourite movies of all time, so any similar vibes were welcome. Alas, there isn’t much linking these two stores besides a few plastic bags.

There are nearly three entirely separate (and unfocused) threads through out this film.

The first follows a family whose daughter gets kidnapped from her bed one night. The parents hire Bill Carson, a psychic detective and former Navy man, to help them find their lost Emily. Or even to just learn if she’s still alive. Bill’s methods are unusual, including drawing the culprit, who has no face, and sitting in Emily’s room moaning.

The kidnapper is also a stalker, following the school teacher Mary.

Mary gets stalked, then gets stalked some more. She’s not very interesting but she’s out final girl, so just like her anyway.

Living with Mary is her younger cousin, Jo. The younger girl has a much less hesitant approach to life. She soon snaps up a wealthy American man to pamper her. Mary disapproves of the relationship, which is fine because both Jo and her boyfriend will get killed anyway.

The three stories seemingly come together when the killer attacks Emily’s dad, triggering a sequence of events including revenge killings and death by bathtub.

There isn’t much here that isn’t standard slasher fare combined with TV-movie drama. I was intrigued to see a South African film, but the shorts were so dark I couldn’t see much of anything. The cast had plenty of Americans in it, but I’m willing to allow it as one of them was Cameron Mitchell (Blood and Black Lace).

I think I would have felt less betrayed by the movie if its selling point was Black Christmas rip-off. Not that I can blame the movie itself for that.

There was one major different between the two stories. In Black Christmas, there were a lot of characters, but you knew who to care about and you cared about them! I was confused as to why so much of the screen time was dedicated to Jo’s love life in The Demon. You end the movie not knowing much about Mary at all other than she’s a teacher. She gets a surprise/convenient boy friend at the end of it, though.

Oh and there are no demons in this, by the way. Just in case you also get betrayed by this movie’s weird marketing.

Wicked Wednesday: The Mini-Munsters (1973)

Children’s spooky stuff is a treasure. Trying to get my nephews to agree with this sentiment has been a challenge. How do you get kids to watch spooky things?

I guess the answer is: you don’t. My nephews had zero interest in watching anything horror-related with me this week. I explained that, no we can’t watch Nightmare Before Christmas. And no, Vivo and Minecraft don’t count for Auntie Krista’s blog.

So I ended up watching my children’s TV movie all by myself this week. A reboot of a favourite of mine, The Munsters, in animated form.

The Mini-Munsters is set sometime after the original Munsters show. Eddie is a petulant teenager here.

When his family get a letter from a Transylvanian relative, they learn that the cousin twins Igor and Lucretia are visiting. Eddie is convinced it’s going to be a drag, until he sees that they’re his age and totally groovy (my words, not his).

The three cousins start a band. They annoy the family, especially as the kids seem to do nothing but play. Herman gets them to finally stop once he mentions that Eddie gets to get a car for his sixteenth birthday. He picked out a hearse, much to the delight of his father.

Once the kids are out in the car, they quickly realise they’re out of gas…and the car is haunted by a funeral director. They play some music (because…they’re waiting?), and the car gets rolling.

Grandpa reveals to the family that his latest invention seems to be powered by music. It allows cars to run on fresh tunes instead of gasoline.

While this is great news for the environment (and Grandpa’s pockets), but it doesn’t bring joy to a group of local gangsters who own an oil refinery. The leader, Mr Murdoch, learns of the invention and challenges the kids to a race. Because the 70s.

During the race, the usual shenanigans and hijinks ensue. Cars in lakes. Cars stuck in high places. Cars running on music.

The win gets Grandpa’s invention publicity. It becomes a hit, and soon everyone’s cars are running on the music. Murdoch begins plotting his revenge, and ends up kidnapping the Munsters’ pet, Spot, for ransom money.

The kids find Spot eventually but are locked in a shed with him. They manage to escape (with the power of jokes!), but not before Grandpa destroys his invention to stop Murdoch’s evil plan. The kids become stranded in a tugboat, heading towards a falls. It’s up to Grandpa to fix his invention in time and save the day.

The pilot TV movie for The Mini-Munsters aired on ABC in 1973 as a Saturday Superstar Movie. Its life ended there, though, as it wasn’t picked up for a series. And it’s kind of easy to see why. On the surface, this has everything: Scooby-Doo meets Josie and Archie. Crime solving with music and monsters. Sounds perfect.

This story is a bit half-baked. Adorable animation (reminded me of Schoolhouse Rock on Halloween), definitely, but I found myself bored throughout most of this.

Also, where was Marilyn? A mistake to leave her off, for sure! But I was glad that Al Lewis’s likeness and voice was used here. He lifted everything. That man was seriously a treasure and already has an animated face in real life.

The Mini-Munsters will probably only be really interesting to completionists who want to watch all-things Munsters. This is definitely a cute idea, and it would be great to see it tried again. We can ax the band and focus on what makes us love this IP to begin with: the family.

Wicked Wednesday: The Lamp/The Outing (1987)

Howdy from Texas, ya’ll!

This is my second time visiting the Lone Star State. Man. It’s really it’s own country. Culturally feels so different to anywhere else I’ve been to the US (and absolutely not a toot like Wisconsin).

I haven’t spent much time here, so I can tell you only two things that are true about Texas. 1) Texans really do love being from Texas. There are reminders everywhere. 2) They really do say “ya’ll” a lot.

And both of these are very much true in this 1987 paranormal slasher movie The Lamp. Especially that first point. This movie reminds you that this is set in Texas a lot.

The Lamp is similar to a lot of slasher movies of this decade. A group of kids spend the night in X place and end up killed. Just like in The Initiation, The Funhouse, Chopping Mall, Sorority Babes… – even the first Night of the Demons would count. Kids just love breaking into places! This is a subgenre I love.

However, we get a fun supernatural twist with the introduction of a jinn.

In 1893, a group of passengers are all killed aboard a ship from Iraq to Galveston. But one little girl escapes with a lamp and a bracelet. In the present day, the woman is very elderly and bedridden. A trio of criminals break into her house, looking for her money.

But when they discover the lamp and bracelet hidden in the wall, one of the criminals awakens the jinn. They kill the elderly woman, but in turn are murdered viciously by the jinn.

The lamp and bracelet are discovered by police, who turn it over to a local museum to be studied. Alex is the daughter of the archeologist involved with the study. She immediately becomes intrigued by the lamp. When she puts on the matching bracelet, she finds she can’t take it off.

When Alex’s class visit the museum for a class trip, she can’t help but visit the lamp again. But with the bracelet on, she becomes possessed by the jinn. She convinces her friends to spend the night in the museum.

And, of course, this is the time for killing! The third act is fairly predictable, but the deaths are inventive and fun (and can be really brutal). The death of the two creepy bullies is particularly satisfying. And the design of the jinn is fun – pays off to wait to see him until the very end. The “be careful what you wish for” theme is pretty standard with jinn territory, but I think it plays out well in a heart-breaking way.

I was pleasantly surprised by The Lamp. It’s story is quirky, and the museum setting is interesting. The middle, where we’re setting up Alex and her father’s story, gets kind of slow, but it clips along nice and fast in when the jinn finally lets loose.

Yee-haw and all of that to Texas movies. Thanks for keeping it weird.

Wicked Wednesday: 100 Horror Films in 92 days, wrap-up #1

Earlier this month, I mentioned I was participating in the Letterboxd challenge “100 Horror Movies in 92 Days“, created by Sarah Stubbs. The premise is simple: watch 100 horror movies in the months of August, September and October that you’ve never seen before.

Now I am an outfit repeater. I’ll watch one or two new movies a week (if that), but I love rewatching old favourites more than anything. So watching 100 new-to-me movies is 100% a challenge for someone like me. So I’m pleased that I haven’t fallen at any hurdles yet! That being said, we’re only one month in…

So here is a list of the first films I’ve watched. We’ve hit the 33% mark, which I don’t think is too shabby. Though I have to admit a lot of these movies were shabby. But a small handful have become new favourites.

Are there any titles here that you’re surprised I’ve never seen before? I think most people would say #32 would be surprising. But shhhh… I’ve at least seen #4 multiple times over the last decade.

My goal is to watch more foreign films in September. I watched a small handful, but they were all European still. Let me know if you have any recommendations! Asian cinema (outside of the cornerstones) is always a blind spot for me.

Films #1-35

1 Horror Hotel (The City of the Dead) (1960) dir. by John Llewellyn Moxey

2 Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (2006) dir. by Scott Glosserman

3 Freaky (2020) dir. by Christopher Landon

A hilarious and fun return to teen slashers. I love it and was so pleased that this finally got it’s UK release date!

4 Scare Me (2020) dir. by Josh Ruben

Easily one of my favourites. Was absolutely shocked how much I loved this one!

5 Llamageddon (2015) dir. by Howie Dewin

And this one… 0% shocked by how much I hated this one.

6 Attack the Block (2011) dir. by Joe Cornish

7 Four Flies on Grey Velvet (4 mosche di velluto grigio) (1971) dir. by Dario Argento

8 The Flesh and Blood Show (1972) dir. by Pete Walker

9 The Screaming Skull (1958) dir. by Alex Nicol

10 Macabre (1980) dir. by Lamberto Bava

Honestly, I hate myself for not having watched this batshit-crazy giallo earlier. A completely bonkers film worth going into blind.

11 Witchcraft II: The Temptress (1990) dir. by Mark Woods

12 C.H.U.D. (1984) dir. by Douglas Cheek

13 The Funhouse Massacre (2015) dir. by Andy Palmer

14 Fade to Black (1980) dir. by Vernon Zimmerman

15 X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes (1963) dir. by Roger Corman

16 Urban Legends: Bloody Mary (2005) dir. by Mary Lambert

17 Verónica (2017) dir. by Paco Plaza

18 Eaten Alive (1976) dir. by Tobe Hooper

Another Hooper movie that will be added to my favourites list.

19 Dark Water (2005) dir. by Walter Salles

20 Invisible Ghost (1941) dir. by Joseph H. Lewis

21 Piranha (1978) dir. by Joe Dante

22 The Haunted Palace (1963) dir. by Roger Corman

23 Bowery at Midnight (1942) dir. by Wallace Fox

24 The Dead Pit (1989) dir. by Brett Leonard

25 The Reef (2010) dir. by Andrew Traucki

26 Friday the 13th (2009) dir. by Marcus Nispel

This one took me by complete surprise. As someone who was never a major fan of the originals, I think this is a fun addition.

27 Nightmare Beach (1989) dir. by Umberto Lenzi, James Justice

28 Phantom of the Megaplex (2000) dir. by Blair Treu

29 Hell House LLC III: Lake of Fire (2019) dir. by Stephen Cognetti

30 The Raven (1963) dir. by Roger Corman

31 The Little Shop of Horrors (1960) dir. by Roger Corman

32 Scream 3 (2000) dir. by Wes Craven

33 Mom’s Got a Date with a Vampire (2000) dir. by Steve Boyum

34 The Found Footage Phenomenon (2021) dir. by Phillip Escott, Sarah Appleton

This was the only film I went to see at FrightFest in person this year. This documentary is a fairly in-depth look at the found footage subgenre, filled with the directors who created the iconic titles like Deodato, Øvredal, Sánchez among others.

There will be a wider release in the future, and I think anyone who is a fan of the subgenre will take something away from it.

35 Wishmaster (1997) dir. by Robert Kurtzman

Wicked Wednesday: Summer 2021 Horror reads

Since the start of all this pandemic business, I’ve been reading less than I have in previous year. I have no motivation and no boring, 1-hour commute on the train. But I still tried to squeeze in some horror novels over the summer. Now that September is drawing ever closer (!), I’ve made a brief wrap-up of the horror titles (and true crime) I’ve read in the last three months.

Pleased to say that all of these are good enough to recommend!

Adult fiction:

The Final Girl Support Group by Grady Hendrix

Lynette Tarkington is a real-life final girl, a woman who survived a massacre over two decades ago. She and the other final girls make up a support group, relying on each other while trying to overcome their trauma. But when Lynette realises that a new killer is targeting the final girls, she must do everything she can to keep them all alive.

It’s no secret that Hendrix is one of my favourite authors of all time. He writes with a beautiful balance of humour and scares that I love – all with great poignancy. Alas, this might be one of the weaker titles from him. I think that for me, it’s because this is more of a thriller than true horror – no supernatural elements this time. It clips along at a great pace with great characters, but the plot was lacking in some respects. Namely in the relationship-building of the support group.

But that being said, there’s still great messaging about survival and trauma. Everything Hendrix writes is gold. Seek out interviews with him about the origins of this story idea if you’re in the mood for a cry.

Bonus points that the audiobook is narrated by final girl Adrienne King!

Ring Shout by P. Djèlí Clark

Part fantasy. Part horror. This novella is a supernatural twist on American history during the height of the KKK’s reign. Maryse Boudreaux is a smuggler and fighter with a magical sword. With that sword, she can kill the “Ku Kluxes”, a type of demon. The demons are a creation of a hexed version of the film Birth of a Nation.

Clark fills a lot of action, folklore and mythos into the short page count. Easily a book you could consume in one night. One worth going into without knowing too much!

Fevre Dream by George R.R. Martin

This was my first foray into Martin’s work. Incredible, really, considering just how prolific this man is. Fevre Dream is what happens when you mix Dracula with Mark Twain.

A steamboat captain and his unusual new business partner begin travelling down the Mississippi River in a steam boat in the year 1857. Unbeknownst to the captain, his new partner is on the look out for vampires.

This is a great, atmospheric version of the vampire story. It’s heavy and full of gothic air. Martin is terrific at building suspense, I was pleasantly surprised! Will certainly be looking at which horror novel (or short story) to read by him next.

Children’s

Hide and Seeker by Daka Hermon

Daka Hermon’s novel is one of the best children’s books I’ve read in a long while. She manages to perfectly encapsulate children’s imaginations when they become a little dark and twisted.

When Justin’s friend Zee returns after going missing for a year, he knows something isn’t right. Zee isn’t himself. At Zee’s welcome home party, the children all play hide-and-seek. Only the game isn’t as innocent as they may think, especially when one of them breaks the rules.

This book reminded me of playing games with my multitude of cousins when I was younger. The games were always a bit morbid. It’s certainly a creepy story, though, about abductions and missing children. Thrilling, but within the comfort zone for Middle Grade readers.

One Day at HorrorLand by R.L. Stine

A classic in Stine’s repertoire. I decided this summer to revisit some classic children’s horror, and where better to start than with the master himself?

When a family accidentally wind up at the HorrorLand theme park, they decide to try out a few of the rides. But not everything is as it seems in the park.

This is some classic Goosebumps. There’s a twist…then another twist! Gleeful and quick to read. There are more in a spin-off series to read that I might get to…one day. There’s also an adaption for the original Goosebumps TV show that I’ll need to hunt down ASAP!

DeadEndia: The Watcher’s Test by Hamish Steele

Rarely do I get to read “nice” things at work. But this graphic novel written and illustrated by Hamish Steele was an absolute treat.

When Barney gets a job at the Dead End theme park, he’s in for more supernatural hijinks than he expects! His dog gets possessed, he meets plenty of ghosts, and he faces literal demons.

This is a really fun LGBTQ+ graphic novel with rep that feels natural. I really want to visit Dead End one day. Even if there is a chance my soul will be sucked by a Dolly Parton knock off.

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark by Alvin Schwartz

A classic of children’s horror fiction. This collection of short stories, urban legends and poems has been haunting children since it was first published in 1981. My eldest sister had copies of all three collections, and my sisters and I would always look at the haunting illustrations like they were taboo.

These stories are meant for very young children, so don’t expect to be terrified by them as an adult. But Stephen Gammell’s illustrations are still perfection. I recommend reading these aloud at story time, as they were meant to be told.

Don’t Turn Out the Lights: A Tribute to Alvin Schwartz’s Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark edited by Jonathan Maberry

This is a collection of short stories inspired by Alvin Schwartz’s books. While many of these stories were good at the time, I can’t say I recall any of them now. It was also difficult to tell what age group this was aiming for. Some were very dark, while others were silly enough for 9-year-olds. But there are so great names attached, and well worth seeking out if you love an old-school spook tale.

True crime:

Chase Darkness With Me: How One True-Crime Writer Started Solving Murders by Billy Jensen

Deep down, many true crime fans think they have what it takes to solve an unsolved mystery. Billy Jensen has proved that you can.

Jensen takes readers through his career from a small-time reporter at the New York Times to piecing together evidence with Michelle McNamara to his innovative way of using social media to solve crimes. It’s a fascinating and quick read. And if you’re really interested, he also provides a guide on how to solve mysteries yourself on the internet.

Green River, Running Red: the Real Story of the Green River Killer – America’s Deadliest Serial Murderer by Ann Rule

My first-ever book from the master of true crime herself, Ann Rule.

I have to admit, I didn’t really know much about the Green River Killer before going into this book. As far as serial killers go, he lacks “pizzazz”. And as Rule points out, it’s because he largely targeted sex workers – making his victims nearly invisible outside of those who loved them or were working to solve the case.

Rule gives a lot of the spotlight to Gary Ridgway’s 49 victims and beyond. She clearly is passionate about the case, but she does sometimes get a bit redundant in the way that she tells the stories of the victims. I did enjoy this one, even if it did feel dated already. And will gladly pick up more of the master’s work.

Wicked Wednesday: Eaten Alive (1970)

This month, I’ve opted myself into a Letterboxd challenge to watch 100 new-to-me horror movies by the end of October. Now, even though I mostly write about movies these days…I don’t actually watch that many movies. (I have other hobbies, you know!) But even though I’m only two and a half weeks in, the challenge has me getting to movies that I’ve been putting off for too long.

Tobe Hooper’s Eaten Alive has called out to me many times and for many reasons. But biggest of all? Killer crocodiles!

Eaten Alive was released between not only what are two of my favourite Hooper movies but two of my most favourite horror movies ever: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Funhouse. So there was certainly a bit of anticipation going into this one for the first time.

Thankfully, for me, this scuzzy little movie didn’t disappoint.

Judd is a lonely old man who runs a rundown hotel in the swamps of Texas. One night, his peace is disturbed by Clara, a sex worker who has been kicked out of the town brothel for refusing to have sex with a client. While he takes her up to her room, he decides to attack her.

Clara tries to protect herself, but she’s soon killed by Judd and is fed to his crocodile.

Days later, Judd’s peace is disturbed yet again by the arrival of a rather-whacky family. Shortly after the family’s arrival, their dog Snoopy is eaten by the croc. The young daughter, Angie, begins to have a meltdown. It doesn’t help that her parents begin to argue in the meantime.

To make Judd’s situation even worse, his other new guests are the father and sister of a missing young woman…who just happens to be the sex worker he fed to a crocodile.

The story alternates between the young family being attacked and chased by Judd, Clara’s family’s attempts to find her, and Robert Englund generally being a creep.

I seem to have the opposite opinion to many people. Some of the criticisms of the film include the lighting. But for me, I adore the red-saturated Argento-style lights. It feels so seedy and gross. Really, I loved the way everything looked. Unlike The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, which has the vast emptiness of Texas, Eaten Alive feels very closed in. A very 1960s shot on-sets kind of vibe. It’s difficult to see what’s going on beyond the mists. And for me, that makes everything all the more unsettling.

There’s also a very good cast in this. Ranging from Hollywood icons like Neville Brand, Carolyn Jones and Mel Ferrer to future-icons of the genre like Englund, Marilyn Burns and William Finley (“SWAAAAAAN!!!”). Everyone is seemingly loosing their minds to perfection. It’s a joy to watch. I particularly enjoyed Brand’s performance as Judd. Completely unhinged, yet was pathetic enough to almost make you feel sorry for him.

Almost.

But even more, Eaten Alive was loosely based around the true story and myths of Joe Ball. In Texas folklore, Ball fed his enemies and ex-wives to his gator. In reality, most of this is probably not true – as there was never any evidence of it. Though I do think Hooper does a great job of spinning this tall tale into a truly horrific story.

I’m so glad I finally took the plunge and watched Eaten Alive. A fun movie that I can’t wait to watch again.