The Cellar!

I do quick, spoiler-free reviews for The Cellar, You Won’t Be Alone, and the new Brubaker/Phillips’ Reckless graphic novel, The Ghost in You.

Mickey Keating’s Offseason

“Isolation Breeds Horror.” Indeed it does, and a recent example of this in cinema is Mickey Keating’s new film, Offseason. Starring Jocelin Donahue, Joe Swanberg, Jeremy Gardner, Richard Brake and Melora Walters, the film is an exploration of tropical southern gothic isolation Horror. Offseason hit VOD last Friday – a $6.99 rental on Prime and is playing in arthouse theatres around the country. Here’s what we thought.

Also this episode, Anthony watches monster movies with his son and finishes the Horror Space Opera game Valfaris on his Switch, and Shawn and Ray talk suggest where newcomers to New Wave French Horror begin with Shudder’s recent addition of a large part of the movements most notable films.

Cineray Vincent Price Triple-Feature!!!

Good evening horror fiends! If you did not imagine that said in the voice of the one and only iconic Vincent Price, then get ready because this Cineray is perfect for you. But this is not a double feature recommendation; no, today I have decided this is a triple feature of my three favorite Price films. The reason for this is I could not settle on just two of his movies, and I feel like three is the limit for suggestion all in one sitting. Also, it’s been a bit since I suggested an excellent triple feature, and what better excuse than to watch the films of one of the great actors of horror. So today’s recommendation is The House on Haunted Hill, The Tingler, and The Comedy of Terrors. 

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Cineray Explores Strange Connections in this literary Double-Feature

Hey there fiends, today’s Cineray recommendations are going to seem bizarre together. Both were released in the last year, and they are going to seem completely unrelated at first. And yet, therein lies the power of this double feature. You see, both films have surprise twists at their conclusions that tie them together. That’s right, today’s recommendations are Underwater and Castle Freak

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Cineray’s The Power of Women Double-Feature

Ready to get intense horror fiends? Today’s Cineray double feature recommendation is not just going to very time-consuming, but it will also be emotionally taxing. But some movies are worth it. Some films truly transcend entertainment and become emotionally courageous works of art that challenge our morals and ideas about right and wrong. Today’s two movies are Midsommar and Suspiria

Directed by Ari Aster, Midsommar stars Florence Pugh and Jack Reynor. The film is an intense exploration of grief and family and the distance that grows between people. Pugh stars as Dani, a young woman in college dating Christian played by Reynor. Christian has reached a point where he feels the relationship over, and despite the ridicule he suffers from friends, he is still too cowardly to end the relationship. Christian and his friends see Dani as needy, while she is just seeking as much attention as Christian invests in everyone else. And then Dani is destroyed emotionally when her sister and parents are killed. A strained relationship becomes even more strained when Christian now does not know how to be there for Dani in her grief. When a trip to Christian’s friend Pelle’s home village comes up, she asks to go with, more as a distraction to her suffering. Christian wants to say no but doesn’t. So with his friends and Christian, Dani heads for the Midsummer festival in Hälsingland. At first, it seems like a harmless European trip with some drugs involved, but things seem off when they arrive in the commune. They will all discover something they were all unprepared for, and for Dani, something she may need more than she realizes. 

Like Aster’s first feature, Hereditary, this is not a simple horror movie. Aster infuses his work with complex characters with real emotional trauma and fears. The film almost immediately gives one a sense of films like The Wicker Man, but this commune is not as simple as a group of pagans looking for a sacrifice. The first people we see die are suicides, as are the second, and it challenges in our cultural standard of understanding suicide versus the commune’s moral standard. The film continues in this manner, suggesting that moral concepts are a lot more fluid than we perceive. Pugh is fantastic and raw in her performance as Dani, a young woman trying to stifle her grief when its existence is real and life-changing. 

The second feature is another journey of self-discovery for a young woman, Suspiria, directed by Luca Guadagnino. This film is a remake of the Argento classic but trust me, even though the original is a masterwork of beautiful horror, this is definitely worth giving a chance. Guadagnino’s film is a moody meditation on female sexuality, power, and self-acceptance. The film centers on Susie Bannion, a young dancer who has come to study at the Markos Dance Academy in West Germany. Meanwhile, she discovers her arrival coincides with another student’s disappearance after she revealed to her psychotherapist Dr. Josef Klamperer, that she believed a coven of witches known as the Three Mothers runs the school. Susie quickly rises in favor under the tutelage of Madame Blanc, the head dance instructor. Meanwhile, the rest of the coven conspires to make Susie the new host for their aging Madam Markos. Dr. Klamperer is also approached and aided by another student, Sara, as he investigates the school. 

This reimagining of the Suspiria concept has a lot of new and thoughtful material added to the mix. The film takes place in 1977, and the backdrop of political upheaval adds to the feeling of tension in the Academy. The violence and gore are intense and memorable and very well done. And the performances are outstanding all around. Dakota Johnson is fantastic as Susie, a girl seeming very driven and innocent hiding a lot of foresight and ability. Tilda Swinton is not just one character in this film as Madame Blanc but also Dr. Klemperer and Madam Markos, giving impressive performances under a ton of effects makeup. The dances are a lot more present in this version, and they also become a ritual hidden in plain sight by the witches. The witches’ power is rooted in their gender.

Now back to the lengths of these films. Horror films generally last about 90 minutes, with only the adventurous going longer. These two films, however, are a lot longer. Midsommer in the theatrical cut is 2 hours and 18 minutes, while Suspiria is 2 hours and 32 minutes. I know that sounds like a lot, but these films do not waste scenes or characters in telling the stories of these films. The stories do not languish, and both move at a great pace and are tension-filled. 

These two together is going to be a trial but a rewarding one. It also may be a daunting challenge to anyone not ready for the level of emotional investment, especially in female-centric movies, these demands of a viewer. Then again, with our society moving towards female empowerment and battling toxic masculinity, these are movies for the times we live in now. These films can be found at various sources for rent or purchase, but your best resource is amazon prime as both films are available free, and if you have a UHD TV, they are available as both UHD and HD presentation. Oh, and stick around till the end of Suspiria for an after-credits scene. 

A Most Horrible Library

by Shawn C. Baker

Vault Comics’ The Plot

I am of the ilk that believes comic books can be literature. There are the obvious entries into that argument, graphic novels by authors like Alan Moore, Grant Morrison, Brian K. Vaughn, etc. But those iconic, high-water mark novels didn’t just change the fabric of the comic book industry; they influenced a subsequent generation of creators to follow suit. This influence is especially apparent in Horror Comics. In recent years there has been a surge in high concept Horror titles. Many of these find a home with independent publishers that don’t carry the same weight as institutional companies like Marvel or DC. Even Image and Dark Horse, as big as they are, put out titles I’m always surprised go largely unnoticed. It will be the goal of this column to try and expose some of those titles. 

I thought for this first entry in A Most Horrible Library, I would start things off with a book currently on the stands.

Title: The Plot

Author: Tim Daniel and Michael Moreci

Artist: Joshua Hixson

Publisher: Vault Comics’ Nightfall Line

Vol. 1 TPB available 7/01/20 (collects issues 1-4)

Issue 5 also available 7/01/20

During a recent re-read of Grady Hendrix and Will Erickson’s Paperbacks From Hell, I realized that Ancestral Horror had become something of a lost sub-genre. Perhaps ‘lost’ is a touch melodramatic; there have been some considerably successful examples in recent years. Crimson PeakThe Haunting of Hill House, and We Have Always Lived in the Castle are all rooted in Ancestral Horror. I’m even of the mind you could argue that Ari Aster’s Hereditary fits into the genre. But as the past has become less important to our society, the ‘sins of our fathers‘ plot device has likewise lost its power to horrify us. That said, it wasn’t all that long ago that religion’s faltering grip on our hearts and minds appeared to banish Horror’s ties to the Devil. I’ll never forget how disappointed I felt when I learned the REC remake had replaced demonic possession with terrorists making rabies. My point is, it wasn’t too long after that remake that a veritable deluge of films about possession appeared in theatres, one after the other. The lesson? 

Everything old is new again, just like those generational sins that plague the characters in Ancestral Horror stories. 

If you put your ear to the ground of most film genres, you’ll hear what’s bubbling in the world of the written word. Horror films take a lot of cues from Horror literature, and thanks to those icons mentioned above, comics are now recognized as just that. This brings me to The Plot, a relatively new ongoing monthly horror comic published by Vault Comics under their Nightfall imprint.

The Plot starts, like all good Ancestral Horror stories, with the proverbial chickens coming home to roost. Charles Blaine is the successful head of Sortvand Pharmaceuticals, a company he took over after his father passed away. When we meet Charles, we see him go from enjoying the spoils of his empire on the eve of his fortieth birthday to meeting his end at the hands of something monstrous. Something that has dragged itself up out of his family’s past and come to collect. “In order to give, first you must receive,” the cryptic message that proceeds his death also echoes through each issue, taking on ominous connotations that would appear to tie into nefarious deeds perpetrated by previous Blaine family Patriarchs. Don’t worry; none of this is spoiler country. Charles’ death is the inciting incident that kicks off the story, sending his black sheep brother Chase back to the Blaine ancestral home in Cape Augusta, Maine. 

As the story progresses, we learn that, while big brother Charles’ was being groomed to take over the family business, Chase ran away. We don’t know why he ran, but there are intimations from other characters that don’t exactly paint him in the most flattering light.

Whatever drove Chase away, his return comes off as part heroic, part foolish. Certainly, his impetus to take up the mantle of raising Charles’s two adopted children, Mackenzie and Zach, is as altruistic as it gets. But there’s something else deep-seated in Chase. An impulse that ties him to the family mystery, and thus, makes him either the inevitable next target or part of the cause. 

So the three Blaines arrive in rural Maine as fish out of water. With the help of Reese, the love Chase left behind, now a local school teacher, they try to make a home. Only the town itself opposes their attempt at happiness. Bigoted locals do not appreciate Mackenzie and Zach’s Chinese heritage. The Sheriff makes no bones about telling Chase he needs to leave, that his family has always been bad news for Cape Augusta. And the house, well, the house is a horror show all its own. There are hidden tombs inside its walls, rooms that flood with phantom water, and what I can only describe as Bog Creatures that haunt every nook and cranny of the estate.  

In The Plot, Tim Daniel and Michael Moreci have conceived a story that, while clearly an homage to an outlier sub-genre, still manages to have its own unique pulse. There’s a modernity to some of the character dynamics that balances the tried-and-true ‘villagers with pitchforks’ vibe percolating in the background. Mackenzie and Zach’s heritage feels as though it will eventually come to play a more significant role, and the ties to 70s-era big Pharm adds the possibility of a conspiracy of macroscopic scope.

Likewise, Penciler Joshua Hixson and colorist Jordan Boyd employ a dark, almost gothic palette to populate the book with eerie, often earthen textures drawn directly from the Hammer philosophy of setting-as- character. Their wonderfully subtle approach to juxtaposing rotting, sepulchral entities with the visual tropes of Ancestry anchor the Blaines, both past and present, in an environment that feels perpetually unsafe. The underlying tension this creates makes each issue throb with promises that Horror lay around every corner. To me, that’s what Ancestral Horror is all about: What lies in wait.

Jon Wright’s Grabbers!

This episode we watch and react to Jon Wright’s delightful 2012 Horror/Comedy Grabbers, an Irish monster movie with a beautiful setting and a drunken cast. Our Classic Corner pick is Stuart Gordon’s Re-Animator and we don’t stop there! Locke and Key’s premiere on Netflix, Dale Fabrigar’s D-Railed, Osgood Perkins’ Gretel and Hansel, Shudder’s The Marshes, American Horror Story, David Cronenberg’s debut novel Consumed, and Vault Comics knock-out horror titles The Plot and Black Stars Above. Oh, and there’s quite a bit more where those came from. Su Nioj!