In the 1980s, the moral scolds of America were suddenly whipped into a frenzy, convinced that everything from Dungeons and Dragons to heavy metal music to Saturday morning cartoons were irrefutable proof that an organized cabal of Satanists was roaming the land, kidnapping and molesting children, sacrificing puppies, and eating juicy babies with a side of devilled eggs. On the second episode of the 13 O’Clock Podcast, Tom and Jenny break down (and make fun of) the tragicomic period of recent history known as the Satanic Panic.
Download the audio file from iProject Radio here, or watch the YouTube version here. Also, don’t forget to follow the 13 O’Clock Podcast blog, subscribe to our YouTube channel, like us on Facebook, and follow us on Twitter.
Our brand spanking new podcast is now going to be a regular weekly show on the Project iRadio network of podcasts, thanks to Armand Rosamilia and Jess Roberts. Please check out our first episode over there and listen to some of their other awesome shows too! Also, don’t forget to check us out on Facebook and Twitter, and subscribe to our YouTube channel.
If you ever wanted to listen to the God of Hellfire and I blathering away about various topics of interest to weirdos everywhere, you, my friends, are in luck. We have started a podcast called 13 O’Clock, which will feature subjects ranging from supposedly real paranormal cases to unsolved historical mysteries to bizarre religious cults to creepy serial killers to horror movies and everything in between. Some of the episodes will be just us, some of them will have awesome guests like parapsychologists, writers, musicians of a darker nature, and so forth.
On our inaugural episode, we discuss the tragic case of Doris Bither, whose alleged poltergeist attacks were the basis of the 1982 film The Entity; and on the second half, we delve into one of our favorite topics, conspiracy theories and hidden meanings in Stanley Kubrick’s horror classic The Shining.
So check it: the God of Hellfire and I met the awesome horror (and more) author and all-around cool guy Armand Rosamilia at the Gods and Monsters book signing we did a couple months back, and he asked us to be on one of his rad podcasts, Arm Cast: Dead Sexy Horror Podcast. So here it is! Also, go read some of Armand’s books because he rules. Thank you, and Goddess out.
Well, last time it was devil-babies, and this time it’s hellish teens and pre-teens of a more prosaic sort. You know the drill by now, so let’s get on with the kid-killin’.
First up, a movie I had heard quite a bit about, but had never got around to seeing until it popped up during my indecisive Hulu scrolling. Megan Is Missing (2011) caused quite a stir when it was released a few years back, with some critics hailing it as a realistically horrifying cautionary tale about today’s teens and their cavalier attitudes toward living their entire lives online, and many other critics calling the film an exploitative piece of trash with no redeeming qualities whatsoever. I’m still not really sure where I fall on the spectrum, but I will say that I wasn’t really crazy about this one, and not for the reasons you might think.
If you somehow missed all the foofaraw, Megan Is Missing was directed by Michael Goi and was another found-footage faux-documentary that was supposed to be based on a real case. The actual truth of the matter is that the film was loosely based upon the kidnapping and murder of two young Oregon girls, though aspects of other cases were also added into the mix. Director Goi is on record as saying that he made the film as a sort of public service announcement to warn parents about the dangers their children face on the internet (even though the case it was supposedly based on didn’t have anything to do with internet predators). I’m not so sure I buy that, but I’m not really going to wade too much into the larger implications of this film and what messages it might be sending; I’m just going to concentrate on whether the movie was any good.
Annnnnd…it was not. Briefly, the movie uses a mishmash of ostensibly real camcorder footage, video chats, and TV news reports to tell the story of 14-year-old Megan, a slutty and shallow “popular” teen with a terrible home life, and her best friend, the socially awkward and virginal Amy. Megan, who does drugs and whores around because Mama doesn’t love her, naively begins flirting with some rando online by the name of Josh, and because you know what the title of this movie is, I’m sure it will come as no surprise to you that Josh ends up not being who he says he is. Megan disappears, all her equally horrible popular-girl friends at school pretend like they give a shit, and the local news exploits the tragedy with all of the classlessness they can muster, which is quite a lot.
Good-girl Amy, who seems to be the only person in the movie who actually cared about Megan at all, goes to the police and tells them about “Josh.” And because this movie is kind of retarded and doesn’t know how news or police investigations work, Amy’s face is plastered all over the TV along with the revelation that she told the cops about this Josh person. Which naturally means that Josh is going to target Amy next, and yes, that is exactly what happens. Josh kidnaps Amy, and we get to see, in rather disturbing detail, what ultimately happened to Megan.
Some observations. Firstly, the acting in this was pretty atrocious. Save for Amber Perkins, who played Amy and was actually somewhat relatable, every other “teen” in this movie was annoying as shit. Yes, teenagers in general are annoying as shit; I will concede that point, but really, the portrayals here are just extremely forced, over the top, and unrealistic. None of the characters’ emotions feel genuine, none of their conversations flow naturally. Everyone just sounds like they’re reciting their lines off of cue cards. The “news” footage that’s interspersed throughout is also ridiculously overblown, but I’m pretty sure that the director was deliberately doing that to make a point about how the media exploits tragedies of this type, especially when they involve pretty teenage white girls. So I’ll give half a point for some obvious, but depressingly accurate, media satire.
Secondly, if you’re going to make a movie with the conceit that it’s entirely composed of real footage, at least try to make it believable and technologically correct. The story is supposed to be taking place in 2007, but all the teenagers casually communicate via crystal-clear video calls on their old Motorola Razrs, which was totally not a thing that those phones did in 2007. Who the fuck video calls on their phones anyway? Everyone texts, director bro. Also, a lot of the footage that was recorded by the characters was not something that anyone in their right mind would record in real life, and it’s just really obvious how some of this stuff was ham-handedly shoehorned in to forward the plot. Probably the most egregious example of this was the notorious final 22 minutes of the movie, which — SPOILER ALERT — was recorded by Josh, on Amy’s camcorder. For some unfathomable reason, Josh records himself imprisoning, debasing, raping, and burying Amy alive, AND THEN THROWS THE CAMERA CASUALLY INTO A GARBAGE CAN NEAR WHERE HE KIDNAPPED HER FROM. The police find it, obviously, which is purportedly how the footage ended up in this movie. No, Josh never appears on camera, but how stupid is this guy? He’s not disguising his voice, we can see his shoes, and there are very clear shots of the underground dungeon where he keeps his victims. Any decent police detective would be able to track this asshole down immediately, especially since he probably left his goddamn fingerprints all over Amy’s camera. And that’s setting aside the fact that they probably would have already found the dude anyway, simply by tracking the IP address he was using to contact the girls.
Now, let’s talk about that last 22 minutes for a bit. This part of the movie was what got everyone into a lather about how “sick” this film was, and yeah, in a way I can see what people were bothered about. The footage doesn’t really show anything super graphic – this is no A Serbian Film, in other words – but it can be fairly uncomfortable to watch a girl who is supposed to be 14 standing there in her underwear pleading for her life and being forced to eat out of a bowl like a dog. And the rape scene is probably more affecting than a really graphic sequence would be, since we only see a close-up of Amy’s hopeless face as Josh pounds at her, then a brief shot of his bloody fingers, indicating that she was a virgin. This scene was actually the only effective one in the film, and was all the better for demonstrating a restraint that was notably absent in the rest of this thing. And the scene where Josh opens the barrel and we see Megan’s decomposing corpse briefly was also pretty well done. The thing is, though, had the entire movie leading up to this point made us care anything about these characters at all, then this final 22 minutes would have been DEVASTATING. As it was, it was just mildly disturbing and went on for so long that it just started to get boring, which I’m sure is definitely not what the director intended.
Thirdly, I question the decision to make the kids talk and act so frankly sexual for most of the first part of the movie. I’m not arguing whether or not real 14-year-olds talk and act like this; I know some of them do, and I know that the director was deliberately trying to be shocking and edgy by portraying them this way. But in the context of the movie, I think it made the characters less sympathetic to the audience. And the one scene in particular where Megan was describing the first time she gave a blow job when she was ten years old (in what was actually an oral rape) was supposed to make the viewer feel bad for her, but it went on so long and was so unnecessary to the story that it instead came across like the director was getting off on it, or was trying to appeal to the kind of people who would get off on it. So that was pretty icky.
All in all, I didn’t hate the movie enough to set it on fire or anything, or call for it to be banned like it was in New Zealand, but I feel like it could have been done so much better by someone with more of an idea what actual teenagers are like and a lot less tendency toward sensationalistic and pedophilic sleaze. Your mileage may vary, but I would suggest skipping it; it’s not really worth the time, and it’s not nearly as shocking as it thinks it is.
The second movie in our kid-centric double feature was far more innocuous than its controversial precursor, but it ended up not really being any better, simply because it was dull and forgettable as shit. As I was watching Playdate (2012), I caught the distinct whiff of Lifetime movie emanating off the screen like stink lines off of Pigpen, and when I Googled the movie, I saw that my hunch was correct. This movie wasn’t awful, but it wasn’t really a horror movie either; it was more like an estrogen-heavy suspense thriller featuring a series of improbable events that finally culminated in the obligatory happy ending, where the ludicrously normal suburban family who had to go through some shit come out the other end not much worse for wear.
Playdate is the story of the preciously-named Valentines (Emily and Brian), who live on a nice cul-de-sac with their adorable daughter Olive and their adorable dog Hunter. At the beginning of the movie, their adorable existence is slightly disrupted by the arrival of a new family next door, consisting of single mom Tamara and her two sons, roughhousing Billy and obviously mentally disturbed Titus. Olive and Billy hit it off, and in an attempt to be neighborly, the Valentines bring dinner over for their new neighbors, but while they are there, a strange man busts into the house. As the man is taken away by police, he tells the Valentines that “they” took his kid and that “they” would take the Valentines’ kid too. The next day, Tamara apologizes to the Valentines, saying that the man is her ex-husband, that he was abusive, and that she had been trying to get the boys away from him. Emily, of course, is sympathetic, and the Valentines offer to help their new neighbor as best they can.
Soon enough, though, Emily begins to suspect that something isn’t quite kosher over at the other end of the cul-de-sac. She discovers that the man Tamara claimed was her ex-husband had actually never been married to her at all, and in fact turned up dead in a hotel room of an apparent suicide two days after he broke into her house. What’s more, the man had a son who had died in a supposed accident two years before that he had always believed was a murder.
Other sketchy things start to happen: the dog ends up dead, Billy pushes Olive off a slide and breaks her arm, and Tamara makes vague not-quite threats toward Emily. Emily becomes convinced that Tamara is beating her kids, killed her supposed ex-husband, and poisoned their dog. Lackadaisical Lifetime-movie-dad Brian thinks Emily is overreacting to everything and poking her nose in where it doesn’t belong, but Emily is convinced that there is something exceptionally shifty about Tamara and is gonna find out what it is, goddammit.
As the movie progresses in its harmlessly dumb, PG-rated way, we find out that – SPOILER ALERT, but not really because it’s obvious from the first five minutes who the real troublemaker is – Titus was the killer all along, after he attempts to crush Brian under the vintage Mustang he’s been working on, in what is surely the most avoidable attempted murder in movie history. Tamara was only acting so sinister because she was trying to protect her whackjob son, dontcha know. So yeah, the dog is dead, and Titus gets arrested, but Brian ends up fine even though it looked like his head was squished when the car fell on him, and Emily is fine and Olive is fine, and Tamara and Billy are fine, and Emily pays to have Brian’s Mustang completely restored while he’s recovering from the head-crushing, and it’s all back to blissful normalcy in Lifetime Movie Land.
This one…meh. It wasn’t terrible, it wasn’t great. It just kind of sat there, not harming anyone, not upsetting anybody. There was obviously no gore, no real intrigue or mystery, no interesting character developments or plot twists. The acting was fine, but also just kind of there. Lifetime is nowhere to go for horror, or even for plots that aren’t formulaic and characters that aren’t bland stereotypes. As far as movies go, you could do a lot worse, but you could also do a hell of a lot better, so why bother, really?
Until next time, keep it creepy, my friends. Goddess out.
So, quite by accident, I ended up having kind of a Satan-baby theme to my Hulu watching experience today. Not that there’s anything wrong with that; I like a good demon-infant tale as much as the next girl, and this afternoon I got two for the price of one (well, the movies were free, and one of them sucked, but y’know). Oh, also, both movies had parenthetical titles, so there’s that.
By the way, speaking of demons, my new book House of Fire and Whispers: Investigating the Seattle Demon House is out in both print and ebook, in case you hadn’t heard. Pick up a copy, won’t you? And if you like it, please leave a review on Amazon; it really does help. Thank you. And now, on with the show.
First up, Delivery: The Beast Within (2013) was directed by Brian Netto and fuses two overplayed horror tropes—the aforementioned “devil’s child” angle with the ubiquitous found-footage platform—into something that turned out quite creepy, compelling, and far, far better than I expected.
In brief, the movie is a sort of mockumentary about the filming of a reality show that went tragically, and perhaps demonically, awry. Rachel (Laurel Vail) and Kyle (Danny Barclay) are a perky young married couple who have been trying to conceive for quite some time. Rachel suffered a miscarriage at some point in the recent past, but now she’s pregnant again and everything seems to be going well this time, at least at first. Rachel and Kyle have agreed to be the subject of a reality show called “Delivery,” that documents the lives of couples who are expecting their first child. And in fact, this is something the movie gets spot-on: the parts of the film that are supposed to be edited episodes of the series that never aired look exactly like a real reality show, complete with title credits, happy theme song, and even the little rating thingie in the upper left corner of the screen.
Intercut with this sunny and sanitized footage are interview snippets with show producer Rick (Rob Cobuzio), who explains how the show had to be scrapped after Rachel’s death, and that what we are going to be seeing is footage the crew took over the course of Rachel’s pregnancy that hadn’t yet seen the light of day. This juxtaposition between the almost impossibly treacly reality-show bits and the steadily darkening tone of the other footage is really well-done, and gives the viewer a really intense feeling of being on edge, wondering what exactly is going to go wrong, and when. The fact that you know from the beginning that Rachel is going to die gives the film an unsettling patina of dread throughout.
The thing I liked best about this movie, and I say this kind of thing a lot, is how restrained it was. All of the eerie shit that begins to happen to the couple is kept very, very subtle, and the realism of it is what makes it so frightening. We really don’t see much of anything, special-effects-wise; the haunting, if that’s what it is, consists of things like knocks on the front door when nobody is there, Kyle’s dog suddenly acting aggressively toward Rachel, doors slamming shut by themselves, and weird noises and interference turning up on the camera whenever the crew is filming Rachel. There is also palpable tension growing between the couple, as lapsed Catholic Rachel starts becoming convinced that a demon named Alastor is in the house and wants her baby, and the increasingly frustrated Kyle refuses to believe her, thinking she is losing her mind and that the film crew are encouraging her fancies by letting her listen to the audio anomalies they’re capturing. The escalating arguments they have about the supposed phenomena and Kyle’s cynicism and lack of emotional support are well-acted and uncomfortably realistic.
From here on out, this might get very spoilery, so don’t read further if you’re planning on watching. As the pregnancy and the movie progress, Rachel seems to get crazier and crazier: walking and talking in her sleep, eating raw meat, wandering around the house at all hours. Her artwork is getting increasingly disturbing, and at one point later in the film, she stabs and kills Kyle’s dog, saying that it attacked her, though this alleged attack is not captured on the film crew’s footage, so there is no way of knowing if this is true. In fact, I loved this ambiguity in the movie, because even after it’s over, we have no idea whether something paranormal was actually going on, or whether Rachel was simply going insane and doing all the stuff herself. It hinted toward the former, but everything that happened could also have been explained in the context of the latter, and there were some hints in that direction as well (for example, in one of the “documentary” interstitials, Rachel’s former psychiatrist says that Rachel had once been on medication for manic depression). And the end, while not exactly a surprise, was still an effective and affecting shock.
All in all, a pretty great little film, and one that shows that you can still do something terrific with seemingly overdone themes. Recommended.
The second film on Hulu’s demonic agenda actually utilized similar tropes to Delivery, but was much, much less successful in its execution. 666: The Devil’s Child (2014) was also done in found-footage style, but despite its title, had pretty much zero to do with the devil, and was probably just given that name and cover art to lure in people looking for something along the lines of Rosemary’s Baby or The Omen. (Note: it was also released under the even more baffling alternate title, Millennium.) Don’t be fooled, though: there is no devil and no child, and just so you know, this movie was lame as hell and a total waste of time, so y’know, caveat emptor.
Directed by Manzie Jones, 666 stars famed “Octomom” Nadya Suleman as Vanessa, a plain jane film student who is doing a school project on some vague paranormal something or other. Supposedly helping her in this endeavor is her douchebro womanizer of a friend, Brad (Jeff Kongs). Brad had already made plans with a fresh new ho on the same weekend he was supposed to be helping Vanessa with her project, but when he contacts said ho Jessica (Chanon Finley) in order to cancel their tryst, she says it’s all good, because her house is built over the site of an infamous Native American massacre and is haunted as shit, so why don’t they both come and do the film project out there? So that’s what they do; Brad expects to spend the entire weekend banging the sultry and obvious-wig-wearing Jessica (who he had only just met over the internet), while third-wheel Vanessa will ostensibly film some paranormal shit for her project. Everybody wins, except for the viewers.
Once Brad and Vanessa get to Jessica’s isolated showplace of a house, the movie starts to get even more boring than it was before. Vanessa films around the house, she films the three of them endlessly playing stupid drinking games, she films Brad and Jessica making out while her voice can be heard on the camera tsking and sighing at their shameless PDA. Nothing much happens to suggest that the house is haunted, except for there’s a weird portrait of Jessica’s great-great grandmother in which the woman appears to be kissing a baby really intensely on the mouth. Also, a camera left on the pool table records a martini glass moving across the bar by itself. Oh, and there’s a little gold statue of a woman on the mantel that suddenly develops a pregger belly with unexplained blood on it. Vanessa herself has started to notice some weird sores on her stomach that kinda look like bug bites. Amid all of this, the three leads drink a lot and film themselves doing dumb shit, and roughly every five minutes, Jessica and Brad go into the bedroom to fuck, very loudly.
Finally, after eighty hours or so of this, Vanessa starts rewatching footage she’s been taking of herself sleeping to find out where the sores on her abdomen are coming from. And there on the video, she very clearly sees a cheesy-looking ghost hag floating above her bed. She seems much less disturbed by this than you’d think, apparently not even thinking of getting the fuck out of the house until much later in the movie. Her relative lack of alarm at seeing what is very obviously a demonic apparition is quite puzzling to say the least, but it could just be that the Octomom isn’t that great of an actress.
Anyway, Brad and Jessica fuck some more, Brad starts to look ill and exhausted, and finally Vanessa figures out that Jessica is a succubus and is draining his life energy or stealing his sperm or something; it’s never really explained sufficiently. Vanessa tries to get him to leave, but he doesn’t want to, and then she can’t even find the car keys, and apparently nobody has a phone to call for help, and the whole situation just seemed like it could have been resolved pretty easily if Brad and Vanessa weren’t such idiots. If I was Vanessa, I would have just left Brad’s useless ass there and split, but I guess the movie is trying to imply that maybe Vanessa is secretly in love with him, because she sure as hell seems to care a lot more about him than he really deserves, even bodily dragging him out of the house and into the car at one point.
So, spoiler alert, Jessica is finally done draining all of Brad’s virile man-juices, and she kills him by tearing out his intestines or something, and then she tells Vanessa that her role in all this is just beginning, and then in the next scene, we see Vanessa crying at Brad’s grave and apologizing to him for not trying harder to get him out of the house. And then she turns to the side, and we see that, surprise, she’s super pregnant. So what exactly happened here? Jessica succubused all over Brad and then transferred his sperm into Vanessa, for some reason? Is the baby a demon? What was Jessica’s endgame? Why did Jessica tell Vanessa that she would see her again, but not in this lifetime? Is Vanessa’s child going to be the next succubus, because there can be only one, like a Highlander? And since Vanessa did figure out what Jessica was and probably twigged to the fact that Jessica had somehow inserted a devil-baby in her womb, why on earth didn’t she get an abortion? And do I even care? No. No, I do not.
So yeah, in case you’re wondering, I really wouldn’t recommend this one, unless you’re a masochist. It wasn’t even “so bad it’s good,” it was just dull and repetitive and kind of stupid and pointless, and as I mentioned before, the fact that its title and cover art were completely misleading really pissed me off. Weaksauce.
Until next time, keep it creepy, my friends. Goddess out.
Here it is, paranormal pals: the book you’ve all been waiting for. Both the print version and the Kindle version of House of Fire and Whispers: Investigating the Seattle Demon House are available for purchase, so knock yourselves out, and if you like it, please leave a glowing review! The audio book will also be coming shortly (though that takes a lot longer, obviously, so be patient if you want that one). Also, go LIKE the official book Facebook page and peruse a bunch of photos from the investigation. Thank you, and Goddess out.