Hulu Horror Double Feature: The Butterfly Room and The House of Good and Evil

Welcome back to the Hulu Horror Double Feature series, and hey, I’m actually getting to do another one of these way before I thought I’d be able to, so go me! If you want to read the first installment and get your bearings, it’s right here, don’t fret.


First up, The Butterfly Room from 2014. I actually picked this one at random because the cover and blurb looked promising, but only after I started watching it did I realize that it starred Barbara Steele! BARBARA STEELE! Have I mentioned on this blog how much I love Barbara Steele? Because I fucking love Barbara Steele. And besides that, this movie is a veritable overflowing cauldron of well-known horror-type ladies, seeing as how it also features Heather Langenkamp (from A Nightmare on Elm Street, obviously), Erica Leerhsen (Blair Witch 2, the Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake), and Camille Keaton (I Spit On Your Grave, What Have You Done To Solange). There is also a cameo from PJ Soles (Halloween), and who is that turning up in a brief walk-on as a cab driver? Why, it’s Joe Dante! Even if the movie wasn’t any good, you could still turn it into a pretty rad spot-the-horror-legend drinking game, if you were so inclined.


So, IS the movie any good? That depends. It’s a weird one, that’s for sure, and mamma mia, is it Italian. This is actually not surprising, since it was directed by Jonathan Zarantonello from his own novel, Alice dalle 4 alle 5 (Alice from 4 to 5). If you approach The Butterfly Room with this in mind, and get into a sort of early-Dario-Argento-slash-Mommie-Dearest kinda headspace, then I think you’ll probably love it. It’s gorgeously shot, Barbara Steele is CREEPY AS HELL as the butterfly-collectin’ Ann, and there are some pretty fucked-up family dynamics going on all around. On the downside, the acting is a bit stilted and over-the-top, so much so that it seems like a deliberate directorial choice (again: Italian). And while the plot is mysterious enough to keep you watching, it’s pretty easy to guess where we’re going to end up. The timeline jumps back and forth a lot, which sometimes makes it hard to follow, but I don’t think the non-linear narrative was really necessary to what the movie was trying to say. I also wish they had gone with a different soundtrack, maybe classical, since the vaguely heavy-metalish score is pretty jarring and doesn’t seem to match up with the film’s aesthetic. All that said, though, I enjoyed the hell out of Barbara Steele evilling all over the screen like the witch in Snow White, and I kinda loved the “like mother, like daughter” theme that pervaded the entire enterprise. I would recommend the film to fans of Barbara Steele (BARBARA STEELE!!!) and anyone who’s into the early films of Argento and Bava, or giallos in general (although this isn’t a giallo, I hasten to add).


Next on Hulu’s movie-pickin’ agenda was House of Good and Evil (2013). This was another film on the slow-burn psychological horror tip, and as such I found myself digging it a great deal. It’s marginally a haunted house story, but it’s ambiguous enough to keep you guessing right up until the end. Briefly, it deals with a married couple who are trying to start over out in the sticks after abusive hubby Chris beats his wife Maggie into an eighth-month miscarriage. He seems contrite, and she’s willing to give him another chance, though obviously tempers are short between them. They buy a duplex with no phone service and no electricity, thinking that being forced to live with just one another will solve their problems, but it isn’t long before shit starts to go south, both in their marriage and with the house they’ve purchased.


As with the previously-discussed Soulmate, this one might be a drag for fans of more action-packed horror, but I thought its restraint and subtlety gave it great, creepy power. The manifestations of the “haunting” were so simple and understated — the frequent ringing of an old-fashioned telephone, the mysterious nature of the mostly-unseen elderly neighbors — that I was compelled to pay close attention as the eerieness ramped up. The fact that there was palpable tension between the husband and wife at the center of the story just added to the atmosphere, and I liked that the movie played with elements of paranoia (as it seems like people are conspiring against main character Maggie), á la Rosemary’s Baby. Plus the way the Andersons next door were folded into the tale reminded me pleasingly of the Allardyces in Burnt Offerings. It had touches of The Amityville Horror too, now that I think of it. I would definitely recommend this to fans of any of the three films I just mentioned, as well as to anyone who would enjoy a low-key haunted house movie with a psychological bent. Keep in mind, though, that it does have a sort of “twist” ending, and though I thought it worked, I can see how some viewers might be pissed off by it, so your mileage may vary.

Until next time, keep it creepy, my friends. Goddess out.

Scary Silents: “The Portrait”

Здравствуйте, minions! Why in the ever-loving Блядь have I reverted to Google-translate Russian, you ask? Well, it’s because today I have decided to return to my long-neglected Scary Silents series with a Russian film from 1915 called The Portrait (or Портрет, if you prefer). The only remaining fragment of this film is a bit over eight minutes long, but according to this recap, it supposedly ran about 45 minutes in its original form, though only the first few minutes have survived. Nevertheless, it’s still a cool little artifact, even though we will likely never know what happened in the lost ~37 minutes of runtime. Well, unless we read “The Mysterious Portrait,” the Nikolai Gogol novella it was based on, I suppose (which is evidently being adapted as an English-language film sometime this year). If you’d like to watch along with the Goddess, here’s your linkovitch:

We open on what looks like a hinky little antique shop, its walls festooned with crookedly-hung portraits and gobs of fake-ass cobwebs. The proprietor of said shop is doing his proprietor thang, waiting idly around for customers and sipping coffee that is likely spiked with vodka, because Russia. Soon enough, an artist named Chartkov glides into the shop and greets the proprietor. GOOD DAY, SIR, the proprietor seems to say. DO YOU HAVE A MOMENT TO BROWSE MY COLLECTION OF GARAGE SALE KNOCKOFFS AND VARIOUS SUNDRIES? Chartkov begins to poke around a bit, but the proprietor evidently hasn’t read Zig Ziglar’s Selling 101, because every time Chartkov seems interested in something, the shopkeeper is all EH, YOU DON’T WANT THAT, waving dismissively and shaking his head at the dude and sipping his coffee, getting drunker and more belligerent with each adulterated mouthful (okay, not really).

After much back and forth, with Chartkov evidently knowing what he wants and the shopkeeper trying to dissuade him with contemptuous eyerolls, the artist hands over a handful of coins and pulls up a portrait of a spooky, staring old man that is apparently just the thing to liven up that blank expanse of wall in his joyless Russian hovel. OMG, THIS WILL LOOK JUST DARLING OVER THAT SOFA I SCROUNGED FROM THE BOMB SITE! AND IT EVEN MATCHES THE CURTAINS! OR AT LEAST IT WOULD IF I HAD ANY CURTAINS BESIDES TORN BURLAP RAGS!

I would like to note here that the shop contains what appears to be a teeny Rembrandt peeking out from beside a much larger painting on the back wall. Did Chartkov consider that he probably could have snagged that for a couple rubles if he played his cards right, and then perhaps offloaded the thing on eBay for a couple mil? He does not, and hence we have a horror film and not a heartwarming rags to riches story. But hell, the dude’s an artist, maybe he recognized it was actually one of those worthless print-to-canvas jobbies for sale at every Bed Bath & Beyond, and had the good sense to steer clear.

Chartkov leaves the shop with his prize, and it is at this point that we, the viewers, get the first clear look at the thing. It’s a pretty slapdash affair, honestly, but it gets points for being uncomfortably creepy in a Disney Haunted Mansion sorta way. Chartkov carries it through snow-choked streets, glancing down at it every now and again, as if to say, YEAH, THIS WAS DEFINITELY A MUCH BETTER INVESTMENT OF MY MEAGER FUNDS THAN A BAG OF POTATOES AND A SIX-PACK WOULD HAVE BEEN. I’M LIVING THE ART COLLECTING DREAM, AND SCREW YOU, MOM AND DAD, FOR THINKING I’D NEVER AMOUNT TO ANYTHING. I’LL SHOW YOU. I’LL SHOW YOU ALL. I’LL HAVE THE MOST BADASS COLLECTION OF SKETCHY OLD MAN PAINTINGS THE WORLD HAS EVER SEEN, AND THEN YOU’LL ALL BE SORRY.

In the next scene, Chartkov is sleeping in his apartment, and the portrait is hanging above his bed and staring into our very souls. Watching. Waiting. Chartkov awakes with a start as if from a nightmare, glancing over at the painting and then laughing at himself, because he’s such a silly ass for having nightmares about some Manos-lookin’ portrait that’s clearly plotting his death.



Then, thinking that maybe the picture won’t look quite so murderous after a spot of TLC, he gets up and begins scrubbing it with a rag. This has pretty much the opposite effect of what he probably intended, for he ends up rubbing off the entire image, revealing a more realistic and EVEN CREEPIER painting of an old man that was hiding under there all along, just biding its time. Chartkov is understandably put out by this development, pacing around his room with fetching plaid trousers and furrowed brow, peeking anxiously at the painting from behind his little wooden dressing screen. I mean, sure, the portrait was ominous before, and that was just fine, but THIS?!? It’s just that one shade of sinister too far, and Chartkov isn’t sure he’s gonna stand for it, man.



But instead of chucking the blighted thing out the window, setting it on fire, or even doing the obvious thing and taking it back to the store, getting his money back, and using his returned rubles to hie to a bar and get nice and plastered, he decides the best course of action is simply to cover the hellborn canvas with a dropcloth, utilizing the same logic as a kid who believes hiding under the blankets will keep the closet monster from getting him. If I can’t see the problem, he reasons, then it magically disappears. QED. That solved, he makes a WHEW gesture, shrugs out of his overcoat, puts on his special sleeping overcoat, and climbs back into bed, because wiping at a painting and then throwing a cloth over it just plumb tuckered him out.

Then there’s a fade to black, and when we fade back in, Chartkov is lying awake in bed, his eyes all bugging out. There’s a partial fade, and then we notice that the dropcloth has vanished from off of the painting. DUN DUN DUUUUUUUUN. Chartkov sits up, verrrrrry slowly, pointedly NOT looking at the painting, because he evidently already knows how shit like this is gonna go down. He stands up and staggers over to the painting, getting all up in its canvas weave, and then there’s a close-up in which we see the eyes of the old man in the painting shift to look at him. And then the old man’s whole head moves, and he’s giving Chartkov a devastatingly bitchy look, even though you’d think the old man would be happy that Chartkov liberated him from that cramped antique shop, but I suppose evil ghost dudes trapped in paintings aren’t especially known for their gratitude. And maybe Painting Geezer had a thing going with the Rembrandt in the antique shop and is pissed that he was spirited away to this ghetto-ass apartment with no other paintings to hang with.



At any rate, Chartkov, not exactly a model of proactiveness, fails to do the intelligent thing and run like hell when Painting Geezer moves, but simply sinks down next to the painting, all the while making a face like he just can’t deal. Painting Geezer puts his hands on the sides of the frame and leans outward toward the cowering Chartkov, who is visibly freaking the hell out, but strangely staying within grabbing distance of the old man’s talon-like fingers.



Finally, Chartkov puts his hands on the side of his head and begins to back away, but then there’s another fade and we see that, surprise, IT WAS ALL A DREAM, and Chartkov awakes thrashing in his bed, with the dropcloth still over the painting, just like he left it. FACE! After a few seconds of relief, he settles back into his nap.

Then there’s another sequence exactly like before: a fade where Chartkov is awake and the painting is covered, then a partial fade in which the dropcloth disappears. This time, though, Painting Geezer is moving before Chartkov even gets out of bed, and the artist is just going OHHHHH SHIT FUCK ME while the old guy straight up climbs out of the picture like Samara out of a TV, using a conveniently placed step stool beneath his painting.



Chartkov frets and rolls around against his pillows while Painting Geezer casually makes his way across the apartment and sits in a chair right next to Chartkov’s bed. He reaches into the pocket of his cloak, because he’s been dying for a ciggie after being trapped in that painting since the Renaissance, I’m assuming; but no, he actually pulls out a big canvas sack, while Chartkov looks on in disbelief and hams it up like he’s gonna faint dead away.

The old man pours the contents of the sack out into his lap. It looks like a bunch of small cylinders, and I’ll admit I thought they were hot rollers and Chartkov was about to get a supernatural spiral perm, but according the the above-linked recap, they’re actually rolls of gold coins. The old guy starts unwrapping one of the rolls, presumably to count his hoard, but unbeknownst to him, he has dropped one of the rolls on the floor and Chartkov has surreptitiously snatched it up. While Chartkov frets some more and makes Mr. Bean faces, Painting Geezer puts the rolls back into the sack, stands up and then peers back down into the bag for one last check. He seems to notice that one of the rolls is missing, because then he starts looking around on the floor behind the dressing screen that serves as Chartkov’s headboard. It should be noted that the entire time Painting Geezer was fussing about with his money bag, he paid no attention to Chartkov at all, acting as if the artist wasn’t even there. Chartkov quickly wraps the coin roll up in his sleeping overcoat, but then Painting Geezer, crouched down near the floor, peeks his creepy-ass face around the dressing screen, right near Chartkov’s head, BOO! And Chartkov predictably loses his shit.

But then POOF, Money-Hoarding Painting Geezer disappears, and Chartkov wakes up again. He makes the WTF IS GOING ON HERE face again, and then opens the hand that was holding the coin roll, only to find that it is empty. No ghost gold for you, buddy. *sad trombone*

Looking bummed out that dream-money evidently can’t cross the veil to become legal tender in real life, he goes back to sleep, and that’s where the movie fragment ends.

According to the recap, the novella this film was based on had Chartkov later finding a real roll of gold coins hidden in the painting’s frame, and then went on to detail his downfall after he abandoned his artistic integrity to sell out and pursue a life of wealthy excess. Whether the original film stuck to that story is anyone’s guess, but at any rate, this remaining fragment of The Portrait is a rare and interesting glimpse into a mostly lost era of Russian film.

Until next time, keep it creepy, my friends. Goddess out.

Scary Silents: Some Modern Short Silents

Yes, I have returned at long last! Did y’all miss me? Of course you did. Again, sorry I was away for so long; it’s just that I was up to my ass-crack in design work, trying to finish up the Vegan Black Metal Chef’s rad cookbook (which made $70,000 on Kickstarter, because the internet is an awesome place sometimes). But now that’s mostly been squared away (and of course I will post the link when the book is available on Amazon), so I am returning to my patented horror ramblings (and the crowd goes wild. Yay).

I was planning to do something with my Scary Silents series, but I also wanted to write something I could cross-post in some of the other categories, just so I could feel like I was killing a couple hobos with one brick, as it were. So what I decided to do was browse YouTube for some modern, black and white, silent short films (as I did for my previous post on 1991’s Begotten) and give some of those a gander to see what people of the 21st century were doing with the silent film aesthetic. There are a few good ones floating around out there, and these were the best ones I came across, so let’s get right to it, shall we?

Directed, photographed, and edited by Tony Falcon

This one didn’t have an actual title on the video itself, but the film title came up at the end. Maybe they didn’t want to spoil what the movie was about before you watched it? If that was the case, I guess I just spoiled it, so sorry about that. But even if you know the title, this is still really nicely done, beautifully filmed, with some pretty shocking, gross imagery. It’s only a little over four minutes long, but still makes quite an impact. Disturbing in the best way.

The House In Spain
Directed by Chris Hyde

I liked this one a great deal, because it had a lot of that “horror out of the corner of your eye” thing that I dig so much. Main character Jay has flown to his father’s house in Spain after his father ostensibly committed suicide, but it turns out that the death wasn’t quite as self-inflicted as it appeared. Eerie, subtle, and effective; give it a watch if you’re into the Paranormal Activity type vibe.

Written and directed by Neil Westwood

This one was pretty straightforward and more atmosphere than plot, but still looked great; the imagery actually reminded me of the aforementioned Begotten a bit, as well as the infamous Häxan. A photographer out in the woods stumbles across a gift box with a note reading, “Do Not Open,” which of course he disregards, much to his eternal chagrin. I think. Props for nice use of a plague doctor getup.

The Unfortunate
Written and directed by Travis Dahlhauser

A decent quasi-homage to Psycho, about a burglar who REALLY breaks into the wrong house. The first half is a nice slow burn, though I thought the use of Bernard Herrmann’s famous “slashing violins” score was a tad over the top. Great little short, though, and pretty impressive that it was made entirely by one guy, and that every scene was done in one take.

Hopefully I will be back to posting on this blog as regularly as I did before, so stay tuned, and until next time, Goddess out.

Odds, Sods, Gods and Broads: The Goddess Makes Entirely Too Much Work For Herself

The cause of evil never rests, as all of you know, and as a card-carrying emissary of said evil, I work tirelessly to bring you, my minions, the most enjoyable nastiness that my fevered brain can vomit up. Yes, I bestow upon you small nuggets of nefariousness in the form of these here blog posts (and I will have a new Scary Silents up by the beginning of next week, I promise; it will either be about The Sealed Room from 1909 or Dante’s Inferno from 1911, so sit tight), but there is so much more, darklings, and perhaps you don’t realize the extent of my iniquitous empire. If you’ve read any of my previous ramblings, you’ll know that I often piss and moan about how busy I am, so for your edification, I’m gonna outline exactly what I’m doing with all my malevolent hours. So here, in handy-dandy list form with pictures and links and everything, are the ten projects the Goddess has going on right now:

1. Something Old, Something New

Like any writer, I have a fuckton of unpublished bullshit lying around on the sofa, not helping out with the rent and just generally being useless wastes of space. In order to make these shiftless little word-bums earn their keep, I’ve decided to put out a NEW print book containing a veritable gumbo of goodness: New short stories! Older short stories that appeared in anthologies years ago that you probably didn’t read! Unpublished screenplays! Even modified versions of some of my favorite posts on this very site! At the moment, the book’s working title is Salmagundi, but I might change it if I think of something better, which I probably will. It’s gonna be an epic compilation of my various brain leavings and obsessions, and you’ll all need to buy copies for everyone you know for the upcoming holiday season, or else Jesus won’t bring you any presents and Santa Claus will let his reindeer shit in your rain gutters. I will, of course, be posting the link when this literary milestone drops, so keep your eyeballs peeled.


2. Mammoth Mountain Mischief

By now you all know that the book I co-authored with the God of Hellfire, The Mammoth Mountain Poltergeist, is the best poltergeist book ever penned and will bring about world peace in our lifetimes. In my frazzled, half-assed way, I try to promote the thing, mostly through paranormal-type radio shows and podcasts (such as here, here, and here). The GoH and I will soon be appearing on yet another one of these, the UK-based Keeping the Paranormal Friendly show! Tune in on Sunday, August 9th at 4:00pm Eastern Time and watch our sexy, Skype-enabled mugs flapping our jaws about the book. Then buy a copy in print or Kindle, goddammit.


3. More Paranormal Hijinks

As I believe I’ve mentioned a few times before, my above-mentioned foray into paranormal nonfiction drew the attention of British parapsychologist Steve Mera of MAPIT, and I am working with him on a book about the Rochdale poltergeist case from 1996. I’ve written the bulk of the narrative, and now the first draft of it is in Steve’s hands so that he can correct details and add his own insights. I’m not sure when this will be done, but it will definitely be soon, so again, keep watching this space.

4. Dirty, Filthy Sex

Since some of my horror stories veer into erotica territory, I’ve been toying with the idea of starting a series of straight-up erotica tales (which, since it’s me, will likely have horror elements, because I just can’t seem to help myself). These will be longer short stories, published as ebook exclusives and sold for about 99 cents each. I will also probably write them under a pseudonym, just to keep everything kinda separate, but I’m not gonna make a big secret about what the pseudonym is (when I decide on one, that is), so I’m not trying to be sneaky or nothin’. I’ve written part of an erotic short story so far, and hopefully I’d like to get to the point where I’m cranking out at least one a week. Keep the lube and tissues handy for the first moist installment!


5. Ambition, Thy Name is Goddess

Christ on a cream cracker, I’m already worn out and I’m only on number five. But this here is a project I’ve been mulling over for years, and I hope to have it come to fruition fully in 2016. It’s going to be a serialized novel/interactive mystery that spans several mediums. I don’t want to go into too many details, because I’m still working everything out, but I’m very excited about this and hope I can do it without fucking it all up. I’ve already got gobs and gobs of notes, layouts, designs, video scripts, and so forth; the logistics of it are complicated, but I think it’ll either turn out super cool and make me a beloved horror sensation, or flop spectacularly into a wet diarrhea fart of insignificance. Either way, it’ll be fun for me to do, so, y’know. *shrug*

6. Cooking With Satan

Here’s something you might not know: In addition to being a writer, I am also a graphic designer. Here’s another thing you might not know: I have cool-as-shit friends. One of these friends is the motherfuckin’ Vegan Black Metal Chef, who is rad and metal as fuck and has an awesome YouTube show where he cooks delicious vegan vittles whilst he serenades you with ear-bleeding death-metal tunes that describe the recipe so that you may follow along in your own kitchen/dungeon. Subscribe to him, he rules. Anyway, I have been working with him for the past several months to design a cookbook as epic as his show is, and we’ll be coming down the home stretch in the next couple months. By the way, he has a Patreon, so throw some filthy lucre in his direction. The book is gonna be badass, and seriously, you don’t have to be a vegan to want to cook some of this shit in here, because all of it is devilishly delectable. *horned hand salute*

7. All About the Club Life

Speaking of cool-as-shit friends, I have another one known as DJ Lavidicus, and he hosts the best monthly goth-industrial night in central Florida, Memento Mori at Independent Bar in downtown Orlando. Great music, great crowd, great vibe, and if you’re in the area, you need to check it out as soon as you can. The GoH and I always make an appearance, and we also have a hand in promoting the night and the scene in general! I design all the posters and promo materials! The next one is going to be on Monday, August 17th, but go to the Facebook page to keep up with dates and make requests! (Might as well check out the Facebook page I run with the GoH too, Our Gothic Orlando, while you’re at it, and also check out Cold Therapy, the band featuring the beautiful wife of DJ Lavidicus, Jen Draven.)

Oh, and I can’t mention Memento Mori without mentioning our other beloved monthly scene night, Escape at Southern Nights! Hosted by some talented and batshit insane friends of ours, it tends more toward fetish, with outrageous costumes, monthly themes, sexy dancers, crazy game shows, and general debauchery, so kindly stop by, say hello to the GoH and myself, and maybe have a chance to go up on stage and get playfully molested by a giant bunny! Here are a few videos to whet your appetite!

8. I Know People in Bands Too, You Guys

Speaking of that graphic design work I do, a large percentage of it comes from my amazing friend Imani and her company, Valkyrie Management. She manages tons of (largely) death metal bands in the area, and she’s always got shows going all over the place, for which I design several posters, tickets and T-shirts every month. Check out her page, check out her bands, go see some of them play! Live music, motherfucker!


9. Looking for a Handout

If you have a few meager pennies left after tossing money at everything else on this list, won’t you consider dropping a few into the coffers over at my Patreon page? You can get free books and other cool shit, and I promise it’ll be a couple bucks well spent. COUGH IT UP, PEONS. Ahem. I mean, thank you in advance.


10. Oh Yeah, That Nine to Five Thing

Did I mention I also have a full-time job doing graphic design at a printing company? I’m not gonna tell y’all where it is, though, because you might stalk me. 🙂

And now, back into the fray. Until next time, keep it creepy, my friends. Goddess out.

A Sword Never Runs Out of Bullets: The Goddess Reviews “The Sky Has Fallen”

Greetings, minions! Today I’m doing something a little different on this humble blog: I’m actually reviewing a movie that came out in the 21st century! And no, before you ask, I haven’t been abducted by extraterrestrials and replaced with a replicant, so don’t worry your pretty little heads about that, carbon-based life forms. Hu-mans, I mean. Wait, did I get that right? *checks with mothership*

Anyway, what happened was that writer/director Doug Roos contacted me on my Facebook author page and very nicely asked me to review his indie horror film, The Sky Has Fallen, and gave me the super secret hookup for the screener. If you would like to see it yourself, you can buy it on Amazon right here, but obviously you’re gonna have to pay, because you’re not as cool as me. So since I know what a bitch it is out there for independent artists, and how hard it is to get anyone to pay attention to what you create, let alone write at length about it, I was happy to oblige.


Roos raised the money for The Sky Has Fallen on Kickstarter, and in his pitch he played up the fact that the film was going to be 100% practical effects, which is rad and hopefully indicative of a larger trend, because I’m frankly kinda sick of looking at copious amounts of CGI and would love a return to more traditional special effects (as evidenced by my orgasmic review of Mad Max: Fury Road). The film was actually released in 2009, and went on to win several awards, including Best Feature at both the Indie Gathering Film Festival and the Freak Show Horror Film Festival.


In the interest of trying not to post spoilers, I will just give a very basic overview of the film. It’s nominally a zombie movie, I guess, though the zombies are not your run-of-the-mill undead, but rather people who succumbed to a mysterious fast-acting virus—which wiped out most of humanity—and subsequently fell under the mind control of a group of equally mysterious black-robed figures and their faceless, white-robed leader. These shadowy figures also seem to experiment on and eat their victims for some unknown purpose. This is an interesting premise, and I actually wish it had been explored in more depth; I’m usually all for subtlety and not over-explaining things in your horror movie, but in this case I wanted to know who these figures were (aliens?), if they were the ones responsible for the killer virus, and what their endgame was with the mind-control and the experimentation and the flesh eating. Maybe these questions were answered obliquely during the course of the film, but I wasn’t astute enough to pick up on it.

The film is pretty much a one-location, two-character piece, following survivors Lance (Carey MacLaren) and Rachel (Laurel Kemper) as they traipse through the woods, periodically slash their way through groups of gore-faced shamblers, fall in love, and have nightmares, flashbacks and existential conversations as they quest to kill the white-robed leader, which they hope will bring an end to the horror. I admit this aspect of the film got a little repetitive, as it seemed as though the conversations the characters had were all of a similar nature, and the scenes of them fighting the zombies were pretty much interchangeable. I feel like it might have worked better as a short film, as some of its hour-and-twenty-minute runtime felt like filler. It actually seemed like it was structured more like an Asian horror film, with repeating patterns rather than a standard Western three-part plot arc.


That said, the faceless leader was pretty damn cool-looking, and the shadowy figures suitably creepy. The effects were also quite good, very Fulci-esque, and gorehounds should be happy with the buckets of blood, hacked limbs, severed heads, eye-gougings and oozing wounds on display. I would have liked to see more of the blades and bullets actually impacting flesh, though, as most of the kills consisted of a shot of Lance swinging his katana, swiftly followed by a shot of a bloody head or arm rolling on the ground. The editing overall, in fact, was a little strange and stylized, and there were a lot of close-ups where sometimes I wasn’t really sure what I was looking at.


The acting was decent for a low-budget indie, but I never really got the sense that these were real people dealing with a worldwide epidemic that had been going on for two months. They looked too clean, for one thing, and didn’t seem at all hardened by their experiences both during and following the apocalypse. I also thought the final revelation vis-a-vis Rachel’s identity was a little forced. The limitations of the budget are fairly obvious too, as the film’s single forest location gives no sense of scope to the cataclysm the characters are describing.

All in all, I didn’t love it, but keep in mind that other than “The Walking Dead,” which I adore, the last zombie things I really enjoyed were both horror comedies (Dead Snow and Zombieland, in case you wondered). I think in general the zombie genre is pretty burned out at this point, though The Sky Has Fallen did have a fairly original concept, and I understand that zombie films are probably the easiest horrors to make on a nothing budget. I’d be interested to see what Roos could do with more money, as long as he retained his obvious enthusiasm for the genre and for old-school gore effects.

Until next time, keep it creepy, my friends. Goddess out.

Scary Silents: “The Monster”

So…I thought it was about time to do another Scary Silents, but because I’m under pretty much the same time constraints as before, I had to pick another short one. Luckily there are a lot of great short horror silents floating around on YouTube, many of them directed by the groundbreaking Georges Méliès, who was responsible for the well-known film A Trip To The Moon, as well as what’s considered the first-ever horror movie, The Haunted Castle from 1896 (which I wrote about here). He’s also the director behind today’s entry, a two-minute-seven-second movie from 1903 called Le Monstre (The Monster, duh), so let’s get right to it! Here’s the link:

We open on a shot of exotic Egypt, or at least a painted backdrop thereof. You know, sand, pyramids, temples, the whole deal. In the foreground is the Sphinx, bearing a hilariously eye-rolling facial expression like he just can’t deal with this shit anymore. A man and woman enter stage right. They’re both wearing long robes, and the guy looks like a sheik and has a huge fuck-off beard. He’s gesturing to the woman as if to say AND ALL THIS COULD BE YOURS IF THE PRICE IS RIGHT, and then he bows to her and she sits on a convenient stack of boxes nearby while he waves his arms grandly, all JUST SIT RIGHT THERE LITTLE LADY, I’M ABOUT TO BLOW YOUR MIND.

He drags a coffin into the center of the frame, because apparently he’s the kind of guy who just has coffins lying about the place. The woman is all OH MY, and then the sheik opens the coffin and pulls out a skeleton. BEHOLD THE BONES OF MINE ENEMIES, I imagine him saying, glancing over at his lady to see whether she’s impressed. She just seems more confused than anything, and who can blame her? Is this a first date? Were they originally just supposed to go to Starbucks and get to know each other? Is the sheik a serial killer she met on Craigslist? Has she made a terrible mistake?

The sheik gingerly lays the skeleton on the ground and drags the coffin back to where it came from. Then he’s all CHECK THIS SHIT OUT and starts waving his arms again. The skeleton has become animated! It starts to rise up into the air! The woman is like OH HELL NO and jumps up from her boxes with her hands over her mouth. After a moment she reconsiders, because I guess she just wants to give this blind date one last chance, even though things are starting to get weird, what with all the necromancy and what not. She sits down again. Then the sheik sits the skeleton on another stack of boxes, and hilarity ensues as the skeleton keeps floating up from the seat and the sheik has to keep shoving him back down. YOU SIT YOUR BONY ASS RIGHT DOWN, MISTER.

Then the sheik brings over some foofy white fabric and places some of it primly in the skeleton’s lap like the skelly is the latest bridezilla on Say Yes to the Dress, and then he puts some around the shoulders and on the skull like a veil. And then HEY PRESTO, the skeleton spontaneously fleshes out into a mummy-looking person with a wedding dress type getup on. Marry Me Mummy stands up at the sheik’s command and then begins to dance around in the spazziest way possible. The sheik is waving his arms again like he’s controlling the mummy’s movements, and then there’s a cool shot where it looks like the mummy is sinking into the ground like the Wicked Witch of the West, but then comes sprouting back out of the sand before it sinks in all the way. Then it floats up into the air a bit and makes like your standard mysterious hand gestures and what not. Then just the neck gets really long and the head dances around, and this actually looks pretty freaky, so good job there. Then the mummy normalizes again and does more of that crazy-ass dancing. The sheik grabs the mummy’s arm and drags it toward the woman, who has been watching this whole situation with astonishment and wonder. The sheik’s all COOL, YEAH? and the woman is like NOOOOO, GET IT AWAAAAAAYYYY and the sheik’s all AW MAN, I THOUGHT YOU’D LOVE THAT, WAIT A SECOND, THERE’S MORE and then he brings another length of white fabric and enshrouds the mummy in it. And then he takes this fabric away and VOILA! There’s another hot Egyptian princess under there! Why the sheik thought his first lady friend would be happy about this development is anyone’s guess, but the lady friend kinda rolls her eyes, probably thinking, OH, I SEE, I’M NOT ENOUGH FOR YOU ANYMORE AND YOU’D BETTER NOT REQUEST THAT THREESOME YOU WANTED AND ALSO SHE HAS A DOUBLE CHIN AND CANKLES, SO FUCK YOU AND YOUR SHEIKY PERVERSIONS, JACK. But then the lady bows and crosses herself (in ancient Egypt? Okay) and kisses the mummy lady’s hand, and I realize that the lady isn’t a lady at all, but a dude! Hey, cut me some slack, everyone’s wearing voluminous robes and long headpieces, so I can’t tell which gender is which. So I guess the whole point of this is that the lady-dude asked the sheik fella to bring his girlfriend back from the dead, which I would have known if I had checked the Wikipedia page before writing this. Also, the sheik is a dervish. So there’s that.


So then the dervish wraps the hot girlfriend in the shroud again and picks her up, and then he’s all HERE, CATCH to the lady-dude, and lady-dude is all I GOT HER, I GOT HER and grabs for her feet, but when he grabs the fabric the girlfriend is gone and just a skeleton falls out! The dervish is all HAHA, SUCKER and takes off with the fabric while the lady-dude is like OMG I JUST PAID THAT GUY SEVENTY CAMELS AND A MAGIC LAMP AND HE FUCKED ME, and then he runs off stage left after the absconding holy man. Dervishes are dicks, is the lesson there. And that’s the end.

Please stay tuned for more fun, same bat time, same bat blog. I’m hoping to get a couple movies watched this weekend to post about next week (Seance on a Wet Afternoon from 1964 and a new indie film called The Sky Has Fallen, which I was sent with a request to review it), so keep reading, and until next time, keep it creepy, my friends. Goddess out.

The Goddess’s Top Ten Horror Movies Based on True Stories

Time for more list-based goodness from The Goddess, and I promise I’m not really gonna make this an ongoing thing; these are just easier for me to do when I’m pressed for time, you dig? I thought you could. When things calm down around here I swear I’ll get back to my more in-depth content.

Similar to my last post, where I picked my favorite horror films adapted from novels, this time around I’m picking my ten favorite horror films based on true events. Now, here’s where it gets a tad sticky, so I had to make a few loose rules for myself. What constitutes “true,” after all? There are a shit-ton of movies based on supposed “real-life” haunted house cases, alien abductions, poltergeist infestations, and demon possession, for example; any self-respecting list would include The Amityville Horror, A Haunting In Connecticut, Fire in the Sky, The Mothman Prophecies, The Exorcism of Emily Rose, and many, many others. I’m disqualifying those because I don’t think most of them are “true” in the sense that they really happened; in other words, I don’t believe in ghosts or demons, so for me, these movies are not based on reality at all. I’m also avoiding films that were based on novels that were in turn based on true stories (for instance, 2007’s The Girl Next Door, which was based on Jack Ketchum’s fictionalized novel of a true event, doesn’t qualify, and I wrote about it last time anyway). Rule of thumb, the movie can be based on a book, as long as the book is non-fiction. I’m also discounting films that so drastically veered away from the stories that inspired them that they are no longer recognizable as the original event, and ones that were sorta loosely based on a particular person, but didn’t have much else to do with a true account of said person (the villains in both Psycho and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, for example, were inspired by serial killer Ed Gein, but both took so many liberties with the guy’s real biography that it no longer counts as anything but fiction; plus Psycho was based on Robert Bloch’s novel, so). I realize that by their very nature, movies are fictional entities, so there’s a lot of gray area here, and I’m sure I might break a few of my own rules with the movies I picked, but those are my standards and I’ll try to stick to them. I also realize that a few of these aren’t strictly horror films per se, so don’t bust my balls. They’re horror friendly, bitches. So here we go.


10. Dahmer (2002)

I wasn’t expecting much from this one, to be honest, since it came out right around the same time as a bunch of other direct-to-video serial killer flicks that weren’t much shakes, but I have to admit it really surprised me. Jeremy Renner is great in his complex, nuanced portrayal of rapist, murderer and cannibal Jeffrey Dahmer; he’s pitiful and vomit-inducing by turns.


9. From Hell (2001)

Kind of a cheat, since it’s loosely adapted from Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell’s graphic novel, but it’s also based on real theories surrounding the Jack the Ripper case, and I really liked it, so I’m gonna give it a pass. The thing looks great, drenched in gothic atmosphere, and Johnny Depp is his usual rad self as real-life Ripper investigator Frederick Abberline.


8. Ravenous (1999)

This blackly comic horror film, a sadly underrated one, takes aspects of the Donner Party and the case of cannibalistic gold prospector Alfred Packer and mashes them together into a grimly hilarious tale of man-eat-man during the Mexican-American War of the 1840s. Directed by Antonia Bird and featuring great performances from Guy Pearce and Robert Carlyle, this one’s not for all tastes (sorry), but it has a large cult following for a reason, and I thought it was terrific.


7. The Serpent and the Rainbow (1988)

This one obviously takes some liberties with the source material to ramp up the horror factor, but it’s rooted enough in non-fiction to qualify for the list. Based on anthropologist Wade Davis’s 1985 book of the same name, in which he described the practices of Haitian Vodou and specifically the case of real-life “zombie” Clairvius Narcisse, the film veers into the supernatural, but retains the scientific trappings of the real events.


6. In Cold Blood (1967)

Nominated for four Oscars and starring the suspected real-life wife-killer Robert Blake, this one stays pretty faithful to Truman Capote’s classic non-fiction work about the 1959 murders of the Clutter family in Kansas. It’s another film that uses a stark, documentary-style feel to make the horrific crime as chilling as possible, and Blake and Scott Wilson (who portray the killers) are eerily believable.


5. Shadow of the Vampire (2000)

A sort-of realistic retelling of the making of the 1921 silent classic Nosferatu, this stylish film (directed by E. Elias Merhige, also responsible for the disturbing 1991 silent film Begotten, which I covered here) uses many techniques from the silent film era to great effectiveness. John Malkovich is fantastic as driven director F.W. Murnau, who will stop at nothing to get his vision on celluloid, and Willem Dafoe turns in a skin-crawling performance as Max Schreck, who may just be a REALLY hardcore method actor or may be an actual vampire. Totally meta and wonderful.


4. Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986)

Probably one of the most uncomfortable films I’ve ever watched, simply because the crimes are so unflinchingly presented. Michael Rooker is skeezy perfection as real-life drifter and serial killer Henry Lee Lucas, and the scenes of him unemotionally watching videos of his killings with scumbag partner in crime Otis (based on Henry’s real-life sidekick Ottis Toole and played by Tom Towles) are intensely disturbing. One of the ickiest films ever made, but also one of the best.


3. Zodiac (2007)

David Fincher’s chilling thriller is based on the famous series of random murders that took place in the San Francisco area in the 60s and 70s. He chose to focus on the police investigation of the case rather than the killer (which I guess he had to, since Zodiac was never caught, heh heh), but that only serves to make the film even creepier, since the identity and motivations of the murderer remain unknown. The scenes of the actual killings are matter-of-fact and completely horrifying, striking from out of the blue and giving the viewer the visceral feeling that no one is safe, ever. Brrrrr.


2. Dead Ringers (1988)

I’ve written about this film before, as it’s my favorite of all of Cronenberg’s body-horror epics. As disturbing as this movie is, it’s made even more so by the fact that the creepy Mantle twins were based on real dudes, specifically twin gynecologists Stewart and Cyril Marcus, who practiced together in their New York City clinic and were both found dead in the apartment they shared, presumably from barbiturate withdrawal.


1. Monster (2003)

A brutal, gritty take on the crimes and trial of female serial killer Aileen Wuornos, this one is a twisted masterpiece, elevated to classic status by Charlize Theron’s unbelievable turn as Aileen. I saw this in the theater, and had to keep reminding myself that Aileen Wuornos was actually dead and not appearing in this movie; Theron embodied the character in a way I don’t think I’ve ever seen in another film (except maybe for Martin Landau portraying Bela Lugosi in Tim Burton’s Ed Wood). A complex film that dares you to sympathize with its protagonist even as you revile her. Astonishing.

And ten more, just for the hell of it:

The Hills Have Eyes (1977)
Based on a real family of cannibals in 15th-century Scotland, headed by Alexander “Sawney” Bean.

The Elephant Man (1980)
David Lynch’s fictionalized biography of deformed Englishman Joseph Carey Merrick.

Rope (1948)
Based on a 1929 play that was in turn based on the famous 1924 Leopold and Loeb murders.

The Lodger (1944)
Somewhat fictionalized retelling of the Jack the Ripper case, based on a novel by Marie Belloc Lowndes.

Jaws (1975)
Adapted from Peter Benchley’s novel, but inspired by a real 1964 story about fisherman Frank Mundus catching a monster great white shark off the coast of Long Island.

Helter Skelter (1976)
Based on Vincent Bugliosi’s 1974 account of the Charles Manson murders.

The Black Dahlia (2006)
Brian de Palma’s histrionic film was based on the real-life, grisly murder of actress Elizabeth Short in 1947.

Hollywoodland (2006)
More a detective thriller than a horror film, this is a speculative adaptation of the mysteries surrounding the death of Superman actor George Reeves in 1959.

Ed Wood (1994)
Definitely not a horror film, but one of my favorites, this loving film sort-of-accurately eulogizes famed terrible horror and sci-fi film director Edward D. Wood, Jr.

Heavenly Creatures (1994)
Also not a horror film, but a great account of the real 1954 Parker-Holme murder case in New Zealand.

The Goddess’s Top Ten Horror Novel Adaptations

I can’t believe it’s been a week since my last post! Sorry about that. I really do try to keep up with this thing, but sometimes I get busy with all my other endeavors (writing, book promotion, graphic design work) and run out of hours in the day. When it finally came time to do a new post, I was scrabbling for a subject, so I just decided to do something fairly pedestrian by discussing my ten best horror films based on novels. I’m not dropping my nuts here and proclaiming that these are the BEST ADAPTATIONS EVAR, but they’re certainly my favorites, and before anyone argues, YES, I know there are lots of other great horror films that were based on books, but I wanted to showcase great movies that were made from novels that were themselves fantastic and familiar to me (for example, while John Carpenter’s The Thing is one of my favorite horror movies of all time, I’ve never read the book it was based on, and as far as The Exorcist goes, I actually thought the movie was light years better than the novel). So now that we’ve got all that out of the way, allons-y.


10. The Girl Next Door (2007)
Based on Jack Ketchum’s horrific, you’ll-need-a-shower-afterwards novel (made all the more squicky by the fact that it was based on a true story), this 2007 adaptation mostly doesn’t shy away from the more terrible aspects of the book, and is all the more powerful for it. While I admit I found the novel a great deal more disturbing, the film is a worthy addition to the evil-that-humans-do canon. Some of it is a little too aw-shucks, fifties-stereotypical, but Blanche Baker is chilling as Aunt Ruth, and the mostly young actors are great, particularly 21-year-old Blythe Auffarth as the doomed Meg.


9. Hellraiser (1987)
Adaptations of Clive Barker’s infernal works are generally hit or miss, but I think we can all agree that this is the best by a mile (though I have to say that Candyman is also in the running). Based on his 1986 novella The Hellbound Heart, and directed by Barker himself, Hellraiser is filled to the brim with sadomasochism, buckets of gore, that genius puzzle box conceit, and one of the most recognizable horror baddies of all time. While the sequels couldn’t begin to approach the original classic, it’s easy to see how the detailed world Barker created in his short work demanded much more screen time. Jesus wept, indeed.


8. Ghost Story (1981)
As much as I adored the spooky, low-key adaptation of Peter Straub’s 1975 novel Julia (known as The Haunting of Julia in the US and Full Circle in the UK; you can find my analysis here), I find that Ghost Story, based on his 1979 book of the same name, just barely edges it out. The novel is so rich, complex, and over the top that the film couldn’t help but streamline the thing and leave several plot tendrils out, but I love it anyway, and I think director John Irvin was wise to focus solely on the central conflict of the book, that of the men of the Chowder Society battling the shapeshifting she-demon known by different names through the years. Some fantastically eerie scenes, and it was nice to see a band of dignified old codgers playing the heroes.


7. Stir of Echoes (1999)
I’ve talked about this criminally underrated film before, but I try to pimp it at every opportunity, because it’s so great and I’m still pretty bummed that it sorta got lost in the shuffle due to its simultaneous release with The Sixth Sense. Somewhat based on Richard Matheson’s short 1958 novel A Stir of Echoes, the film takes the basic plot of the book and builds an intensely frightening tale of hypnosis, psychic visions, and murder upon it. I’m not scared easily, but seeing this film in theaters gave me the heebie-jeebies big time, and it holds up remarkably well. Props also for the very Lynchian sound design, which ramps up the scare factor considerably.


6. The Innocents (1961)
Directed by Jack Clayton and starring Deborah Kerr as governess Miss Giddens, The Innocents is one of those rare films that wrings the scares from subtle atmosphere. Based on Henry James’s classic 1898 novella The Turn of the Screw, with a screenplay co-written by Truman Capote, the movie is chock full of spooky children, secrets, ghosts, and eerie goings-on, amplified into skin-crawling terror by the use of music, lighting, and ambiguity.


5. The Other (1972)
Based on former actor Thomas Tryon’s 1971 debut novel (and if you’d like to read a rundown of the lackluster adaptation of another of his fabulous novels, Harvest Home, I’ve got you covered), this Robert Mulligan-directed film is one of the best examples of the good/evil twin trope. Set in 1935 and starring Chris and Martin Udvarnoky as the conflicted Holland twins, the movie is a golden-drenched slab of uncanny mystery and horror, painted in hues of perverse nostalgia. Tryon, who wrote the screenplay, was reportedly not happy with the adaptation, but for my money the film more than did the novel justice.


4. The Legend of Hell House (1973)
Another Richard Matheson adaptation (this time of his 1971 novel Hell House), this one takes obvious cues from The Haunting, but goes in a splashier direction with much effectiveness. Directed by John Hough and featuring great performances from Roddy McDowall and the impossibly adorable Pamela Franklin, the story takes the standard horror-movie plot of a group of ghostbusters investigating a scary house and does all kinds of weird shit with it. Baroque, overwrought, and lots of creepy fun.


3. Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
Capturing the sly, blackly comic edge of Ira Levin’s 1967 book while maintaining a sense of slowly building tension and paranoia, there’s a reason this Roman Polanski-directed classic ends up on so many “best horror films” lists. I absolutely love Ruth Gordon as the lovably terrifying Minnie Castavet, and Mia Farrow is perfect as the fragile, waifish Rosemary, a protagonist you can’t help but sympathize with and be afraid for as everyone in her life seems to turn against her. If you’re a fan of Polanski’s films, check out my previous writeup on his deliciously creepy 1976 movie The Tenant.


2. The Shining (1981)
What can I say about this masterpiece that hasn’t already been said? (Well, I said this and this, but y’know.) Taking what is arguably Stephen King’s best novel and using it as a springboard to explore universal themes, myths, and existential terror, Stanley Kubrick created a timeless, iconic piece of art that still has the capacity to enthrall and horrify, more than three decades later. Easily one of the five best horror films ever made.


1. The Haunting (1963)
You just knew this was gonna be my number one, didn’t you? I admit I talk about this book and film a lot (such as here and here, for example), but that’s only because I am in awe of the subtle dread and psychological depths this story plumbs in both mediums. Based, of course, on the hands-down best haunted house novel ever penned, 1959’s The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson, the casting in Robert Wise’s masterful adaptation is spot-on, and he deftly drenches the film in chills and atmosphere while essentially showing nothing, an astounding feat and one that is right in line with the source material. I really can’t recommend book or film enough, in case you hadn’t noticed. Oh, and I mentioned this before, but skip the lame-ass remake.

And just because I can, here are twenty more that were eliminated for the sake of brevity:

The Exorcist (1973, based on the 1971 novel by William Peter Blatty)
The Hunger (1983, based on the 1981 novel by Whitley Strieber)
The Birds (1963, based on the 1952 short story by Daphne du Maurier)
Nosferatu (1922, based on Bram Stoker’s Dracula, 1897)
Frankenstein (1931, based on Mary Shelley’s 1818 novel)
The Phantom of the Opera (1925, based on the 1910 novel by Gaston Leroux)
The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945, based on Oscar Wilde’s 1890 novel)
House of Usher (1960, based on Edgar Allan Poe’s short story “The Fall of the House of Usher,” 1839)
Duel (1971, based on Richard Matheson’s 1971 short story)
Something Wicked This Way Comes (1983, based on Ray Bradbury’s 1962 novel)
The Entity (1981, based on the 1978 novel by Frank De Felitta)
Village of the Damned (1960, based on John Wyndham’s The Midwich Cuckoos, 1957)
Masque of the Red Death (1964, loosely based on Edgar Allan Poe’s short story, 1842)
Re-Animator (1985, based on the H.P. Lovecraft novella Herbert West—Reanimator, 1922)
Cemetery Man (1994, based on the 1991 novel Dellamorte Dellamore by Tiziano Sclavi)
Misery (1990, based on Stephen King’s 1987 novel)
Carrie (1976, based on Stephen King’s 1974 novel)
The Prestige (2006, based on the 1995 novel by Christopher Priest)
The Lair of the White Worm (1988, loosely based on Bram Stoker’s 1911 novel)
Horns (2014, based on Joe Hill’s 2010 novel)

Keep it creepy, my friends, and until next time, Goddess out.

Scary Silents: “The Haunted Castle”

The Goddess is a busy hellspawn, as I’m sure you all know by now. For the past couple weeks, I’ve been running my little cloven hooves off, doing promotional radio shows for The Mammoth Mountain Poltergeist (such as here and here), researching and writing an upcoming book I’m collaborating on with parapsychologist Steve Mera about one of his poltergeist cases, formatting and uploading ebook versions of some of my other books (here, here, here, and here), as well as doing my regular full time job and all the other freelance graphic design and club promotion stuff I do. In short, minions, I’m tired, and I’m very much looking forward to the upcoming three-day weekend, over which I have ambitious plans to simply lie around like a slug, eat copious amounts of food that’s bad for me, and occasionally rouse myself, put on pants, and go out to dance and drink myself silly until the wee hours. I’m going for the gusto here, folks.

But I didn’t want to go into the long weekend before posting a little something something on this here blog, and since it’s been a week or two since I did a “Scary Silents,” that seemed the logical choice. However, since it is also Friday and I’m really antsy to get the party started but also kinda bummed out that the air conditioning in the Hellfire home busted last night and won’t be fixed until Thursday (and we live in central Florida, y’all, so this is a horrible tragedy and even though you’d think that I’d be all about the heat, being a minion of hell and all, you’d be WRONG, I’m a motherfuckin’ COLD demon, dammit, so don’t question me), I wanted to choose a silent film that would fulfill the requirements for the series but wouldn’t be too taxing on my overworked and overheated brain. Enter The Haunted Castle.

Released in 1896 (!!!), directed by the über-famous George Méliès, and considered the first horror film ever made (even though it’s more funny than scary), The Haunted Castle (French title Le Manoir du diable, ooh la la) was a massive influence on early horror films, particularly the German expressionist classics and the subsequent Universal films in the 1930’s. Even though audiences of the time had probably seen similar effects performed live on a stage, I’m thinking that seeing the same thing in a moving picture must have blown their minds in an OMG MAGIC TECHNOLOGY kinda way. The fact that the movie is only a little over three minutes long doesn’t lessen its importance or influence, and here I’d like to give a shout-out to the New Zealand Film Archive, which located a copy of this film in 1988 after it had been presumed lost for decades.

The film opens, obviously, on a static set of the cavernous halls of a haunted house. A huge bat comes sailing into the frame and flaps around a bit before poofing into a fabulous caped figure, who has a cool top hat kinda thing and some wicked Peter Pan shoes and a sweet Van Dyke beard. This is Hipster Mephistopheles, bitches. With a wave of his eeeevil hand, he materializes a big-ass cauldron at center stage. Then he produces a wand from somewhere in his dance belt, draws some Satanic-ass shit on the floor, and another poof reveals his sidekick, Imp Boy, who proceeds to stoke the flames under the cauldron, causing smoke to pour out the pot.

Drink me in, sinners.

Drink me in, sinners.

And from the smoke emerges: VOILA! A LADY! She has a flowy white outfit on like a Greek cauldron bitch, and she’s all TA DA, and then Mephy (that’s what I call him, we’re tight) magically edits her to the floor. Then he puts his hand on her shoulder and tells her some shit, and kinda pushes her into the closet so she doesn’t embarrass the guests he has coming over or something. Greek Cauldron Bitch has a tendency to get handsy when she drinks, that’s all I’m saying.

Then he goes to the imp and sorta pets him on the head like he’s a faithful bull terrier, and Mephy’s all DO THAT THING, so then an open book appears in the imp’s hands, and Mephy writes in it. “Dear Diary: Today I made a cauldron and my imp appear in a puff of smoke, and then materialized a Greek goddess out of the cauldron and shoved her ass in a broom closet. LOL. Productive day.”

Then the imp disappears again, because he’s an imp so he has to go chill in another dimension when his services aren’t required, and then Mephy prances a bit and HUZZAH makes the cauldron disappear again. Then he’s like listening for something, and seems to hear what he expected, because he puts his cape back on and disappears. And then, sure enough, two of the three musketeers come sashaying into the castle, pointing around the place and talking between themselves like they’re assessing the property for “Flip This House,” all OOOOH, GIRL, CHECK OUT THAT WAINSCOTING, OOPS, SORRY I BEANED YOU WITH MY BITCHIN’ BELL SLEEVES THERE and then the imp poofs back with a big forked stick and starts poking them in their fey asses. They’re both looking around like WTF but the imp keeps disappearing before the musketeers can see him, so presumably they’re each thinking that the other musketeer has butt-poking feelings for him that he has not revealed until this point. I ONLY LIKE YOU AS A FRIEND, PORTHOS, GOD.

The musketeers quibble and argue and shove each other, and I may be imagining some sexual tension here (BOW CHICKA WOW), until finally one of them is all FUCK THIS SHIT, I’M OUT and the other one’s like GO THEN, YOU ASS-POKING FREAK, THE HELL WITH YOU. And then the remaining musketeer is all OOH, LOOKIT THIS BENCH, IMMA TAKE THIS FANCY SHIT ON ANTIQUES ROADSHOW, and then it disappears because Mephy doesn’t want his furniture turning up on PBS for everyone to gawk at, for heaven’s sake. Musketeer is all K THEN, I’LL JUST PARK MY ASS ON THIS OTHER BENCH OVER HERE but then POOF that one disappears too! Mephy is all about spreading evil through minor inconvenience, you see, all de-apparating the chairs you were just about to sit on. Dick.

Musketeer is all exasperated, but then he turns around and the first bench is back, and he doesn’t even find this particularly strange, he’s just OH THERE YOU ARE, GET READY BENCH, YOU’RE FIXING TO GET GRACED BY ATHOS ASS, and before he sits he points at the bench like NOW DON’T YOU GO ANYWHERE, and it doesn’t go anywhere this time, but just as Athos settles his legging-clad shanks on the bench, a skeleton appears there and he scoots booty right into a bony pelvis. FACE!

'Sup, flesh sack.

‘Sup, flesh sack.

And then, because Athos is clearly a paragon of rationality, he whips his sword out of its scabbard, all IMMA SLICE THAT SKULL LIKE BUTTA, but when he swings the sword, the skeleton turns into the giant bat and flaps at him while he puts his sword back into its sheath all like K, I’M DONE WITH THIS WEIRD ACTION, but then he reconsiders and grabs the bat, and POOF, it’s Mephy again! Athos is all SHIIIIIIIT and backs away, and then Mephy conjures up more smoke in which the imp makes a repeat appearance. And Athos seems like he’s scared, but also kinda like HUH, WOULD YOU LOOK AT THAT.

They see me impin', they hatin'.

They see me impin’, they hatin’.

Mephy points the imp to the floor, where he does a kinda tumble and disappears YET AGAIN, in a way that kinda makes it look like an accident. OH, THAT’S RIGHT, I FORGOT I CAN’T TUMBLE THAT WAY, THAT SENDS ME RIGHT TO THE OTHER DIMENSION. DAMN.

And then Athos, looking very put out, attempts to stomp like a manly man away from these devilish shenanigans, but ALAKAZAM! The way out is blocked by four white-clad babes! Instead of being all LLLLLADIES, Athos falls to his knees and begs them not to touch him with their ovary cooties, but they just push into him like an impenetrable wall of vampitude, and Athos JUST CAN’T EVEN and passes out. The ladies, their job done, disappear.

Mephy jumps over the prone Athos and then wafts his hands at the guy, and Athos acts all histrionic like he’s been blinded maybe, and then Mephy reaches into the closet and brings out Greek Cauldron Bitch. Athos is all WELL HELLO THERE and sorta bows to her and takes her hand, then gets down on one knee and kisses the hand, the whole schtick. But as soon as he kisses her hand, ABRACADABRA, she turns into…um…someone else? Another lady in a long white gown and maybe white angel wings, and she seems to be holding a staff. Athos is perturbed about this for some reason, and is all LET’S GO, ANGEL HO and he draws his sword again, but angel-woman raises her staff, and then a bunch more ladies appear beside her. Athos is all UH OH, but then apparently Porthos has recovered from his butthurt because he returns and starts helping his fellow musketeer fight the woman-wall. And I guess they’re supposed to be witches, because a bunch of them have brooms. The witches run around in a circle and then go out the door, but then troop back into the room through another entrance, like some kind of Wiccan conga line. Porthos has had enough and runs from the room and leaps over a railing with a hearty WHEEEEEE while Athos is back there all WTF MAN YOU’RE SUPPOSED TO BE HELPING ME, BROTHERS IN ARMS MY ASS.

Away with your foul womaniness, temptresses! My ass is not yours for the poking!

Away with your foul womaniness, temptresses! My ass is not yours for the poking!

The ladies kinda feint at Athos, and he just doesn’t know what to do, but then the witches kinda circle again and crouch down to the floor and disappear. I feel like Mephy is just messing with the musketeers at this point, and all because Athos and Porthos were considering renovating Mephy’s sweet infernal castle into a charming bed and breakfast. (Lake views, full buffet meals, and just a hint of Stygian atmosphere, all for very reasonable rates.)

Athos searches the ground where the witches disappeared as if to say WELL, I CAN’T FIGURE IT OUT, even though all he’s seen so far in this joint is magical appearances and disappearances of various non-human entities, so at this point you’d think he’d just be going with the flow. Finally he’s like WELL, I’M DONE and makes to leave, but of course Mephy is still there in the doorway and makes laser-finger gestures at Athos while Athos cowers and chews scenery. Then Athos pulls the old HEY, LOOK AT THAT DISTRACTING THING UP THERE and he climbs up on the bench and pulls down a big wooden cross that was conveniently hanging over a doorway. Now, not to judge, Mephy, but why on earth would you decorate your house with crosses when crosses are anathema to a diabolical being such as yourself? Maybe it isn’t Mephy’s castle after all. Maybe he’s just house-sitting for Cotton Mather or something.

Predictably, Athos wields the cross at poor Mephy, Mephy does the old OH WHAT A WORLD, WHO ARE YOU TO DESTROY MY BEAUTIFUL WICKEDNESS routine, and then the movie abruptly stops. Christianity wins, Mephy scampers back to Heck, and Athos buys the haunted castle for a song and razes the whole thing to the ground to build a Super WalMart. The end.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this installment of Scary Silents, and I hope you have a lovely Memorial Day weekend. Don’t forget to grill a nice rare steak for the Goddess, and keep it creepy, my friends.

Houses Next Door: Novel vs. Lifetime Movie

At this point I almost feel like I should start a separate series called “Book To Movie” or something instead of just cramming these types of posts into my “Favorite Horror Scenes” series, but fuck it. Maybe I’ll get around to it; it doesn’t make much difference, I guess, but my anal-retentiveness really likes to have everything categorized neatly and correctly. The Goddess is nothing if not fastidious.

EDIT: Okay, I went ahead and did it. Not that anyone cares, but there are a couple new categories called “From Parchment to Pixel: Great Horror Books on Screen” to encompass these kinds of posts, and a “General Genre Musings” category as a catch-all for stuff that didn’t fit in any of the other classifications. Everything is correctly categorized, and I feel better now.

All that aside, here’s another discussion about a great horror novel that got turned into a mildly disappointing TV movie! If you’ll recall, I’ve done similar posts on Thomas Tryon’s Harvest Home and Stephen King’s miniseries version of The Shining. And if you’ll further recall, I highlighted today’s book in an earlier post about my favorite horror novels written by women. As you might have guessed, the subject of this post is Anne Rivers Siddons’s stellar 1978 novel The House Next Door and the surprisingly-not-terrible 2006 Lifetime TV adaptation of same. Into the breach!

Because this was made for Lifetime, the shoe-buying, chocolate-scarfing menstrual cycle of TV networks, I was expecting this adaptation to be far more cheeseball than it turned out, particularly because the source novel contains such sordid, over-the-top plot points (albeit presented in an oddly toned-down sort of way). But the movie—starring Lara Flynn Boyle and her surgically unfortunate upper lip as Col Kennedy, Zack from “Saved by the Bell” as Kim the architect, and a few other familiar faces—is actually relatively restrained, which was kind of nice to see. The book handily pulled off its ridiculously melodramatic incidents because of Siddons’s matter-of-fact delivery and pacing, but I’m not sure some of the crazier, modern-Southern-Gothic stuff would have flown in the movie; it could have easily slipped into camp. So points to Lifetime for tamping down on the more lurid aspects of the novel (although I admit I did enjoy those on the page).

The story has been modernized, obviously, to reflect the twenty-eight years between page and screen. The suburb in the movie is just presented as a generic yuppie enclave, so the more specific “old South vs. new South” themes of the book (which was set in a fancy suburb of Atlanta) are no longer in evidence. I feel like main protagonist Col Kennedy (never referred to in the movie by her full book name of Colquitt) is a bit younger than in the book, as is her husband Walker (who was named Walter in the book, which I guess seemed like an old-fashioned name, so okay), but that’s pretty standard as adaptations go. The horribly class-conscious, shallow and backbiting characters of the novel actually make pretty good fodder for a Lifetime movie, so I’m awarding more points there; some of the characters in the movie, in fact, were more likable than their novel counterparts.

The plot follows that of the novel pretty closely (and by the way, if you haven’t read the book, I’m gonna spoil it for you, so go read it real quick and then come back, okay? It’s pretty short; I’ll wait). scan0008 Done? Okay, moving on. The House Next Door is basically a frame story, with the Kennedys watching a succession of three families moving into the gorgeous, newly-built house next door, and slowly coming to the realization that the house is evil and destroys everyone who lives within it by pinpointing what the residents value or fear most and then dismantling their lives in the most spectacular ways possible. The movie is only an hour and a half long, so obviously the plot had to be substantially compressed, with incidents being combined, or one horror coming quickly on the heels of the last one. Characterization suffers, of course, and to someone who’s read the book it will seem as though shit is happening at lightning speed, but that’s a failure of the medium, really, so I’m not going to fault the movie for that. It seems they did okay within the time constraints.

The novel is told from Col’s point of view, but despite this, she remains on the periphery of the action for a good part of the book, mostly hearing things about the house next door second hand, and not witnessing anything herself until quite late in the story. In the movie, though, Col is the main character, so this outsider status wouldn’t really work. However, the screenwriter came up with what I thought was a fairly elegant solution: as in the book, Col is an interior decorator, and in the movie she gets to spend a lot of time with the families next door because they hire her to help them decorate. A totally believable approach, and a good way to get her more directly involved in the shenanigans.

As in the book, there’s a short flash-forward introduction where Col and Walker are shown leaving copies of their wills conspicuously at their house before heading over to the house next door, with Col’s voice-over explaining that they know what they’re going to do is terrible, but that it won’t matter because they probably won’t live long enough to get into trouble for their actions. Then we cut to eighteen months earlier, as Col, Walker and the neighbors express their understandable displeasure that a house is being built on the beautiful wooded lot next to the Kennedy house, and then there’s the same change of heart as they meet the hot-shit, tormented genius architect Kim (a shockingly well-cast Mark-Paul Gosselaar) and the couple that will be moving into the house, Pie and Buddy Harrelson.

The Harrelson family section of the movie was the most different from the novel, and I think most of the changes made were probably the right ones (though I’ll have more to say on that in a minute). In the book, Pie was a very young, naïve, perky cheerleader type with a bizarre, quasi-sexual relationship-cum-competition with her old-fashioned father; in the movie, only the competitiveness and spite are highlighted, with Pie telling Col that she’s basically basing her whole life around showing her father up, since Daddy never thought her husband was good enough. Movie Pie is actually much less annoying than Book Pie, which I thought was a good decision, as portraying Pie on screen exactly as she was in the book may have made her not only less realistic, but also much less sympathetic.

We've got spirits, yes we do; we've got spirits, how 'bout you?

We’ve got spirits, yes we do; we’ve got spirits, how ’bout you?

As in the book, Pie is happily pregnant and unable to believe her luck at how her life is progressing. Also as in the book, Buddy buys her an adorable puppy that you just know something bad is going to happen to (especially as we’ve earlier seen Col finding a torn-up animal in her garden). Shortly afterward, the puppy is found ripped to pieces (RIP puppy), and though Pie is heartbroken, she goes ahead with a planned housewarming party, so that she can schmooze with her neighbors and show Daddy how high up the social ladder his little girl has climbed.

So here is where the movie parts ways with the book rather significantly. In the movie, everything bad that happens to the Harrelsons comes crashing down all at once; the party seems to be going swimmingly, but partway through, Pie can’t find Buddy and goes to look for him. As she is standing at the top of the basement stairs, Buddy pushes her to the bottom, possessed by some evil within the house. Col finds her and rallies the troops, Pie is carried off in an ambulance (she ends up having a miscarriage, naturally), Buddy is carted off in handcuffs and charged with attempted murder, Pie’s Daddy screams at him that he always knew Buddy was a piece of shit, and that’s the end of the Harrelsons.

In the book, however, the events had a darker and much more batshit quality. Pie actually does fall down the stairs and lose her baby at one point, but it happens earlier in the story, and she is alone in the house at the time. She is found by neighbor Virginia (if I recall correctly), and Col is summoned to help. Despite the miscarriage, Pie decides to go on with the party, since displaying her status to her Daddy is of utmost importance to her. At the party, she loses track of Buddy, but she finds him in a much less murderous frame of mind; in short, he’s indulging in some intensely ass-slapping gay sex with his law partner on the bed where all the guests have been leaving their coats. Not only that, but Pie’s Daddy has found the fuckers first, and is in the process of dying from a shock-induced stroke on the bedroom floor. Now, I can see why the movie chose to downplay the novel’s scenario; public infidelity aside, homosexuality is not shocking or immoral to anyone anymore (aside from a few knuckle-draggers), so the scene would not have played out the same in 2006 as it did in 1978. Additionally, the screenwriter likely thought that the incidents portrayed in the book would have just been too much for audiences to swallow. A caveat, though. The whole M.O. of the house, both in the book and in the film, was that it systematically took away everything that was most important to the people who lived there or came in close contact with it. In the book, the house was very specific in how it chose to destroy the Harrelsons: It took their beloved puppy, then it took Pie’s baby, then it shit all over Buddy’s professional reputation by involving him in a sex scandal with his law partner (which everyone at the party saw, by the way), then it not only had Pie’s Daddy see Buddy in such a compromising position, but it killed Daddy off too, thereby leaving Pie with her life in complete and utter shambles. So while I can see why the movie went in the direction it did, it also seemed to soften the blow for Pie somewhat, as her father didn’t die in the movie, leaving her with something of her old life left to cling to. The book left her no such consolation.

Crabgrass! My life is over! #firstworldproblems

Crabgrass! My life is over! #firstworldproblems

Anyway, as in the book, after the Harrelsons beat cheeks, a new couple called the Sheehans (Anita and Buck) move in. Buck seems pretty similar to how he did in the book, but the character of Anita is quite different. In the book, Anita was a delicate, dark-haired beauty who seemed haunted by something unspoken in her past, but was eager to make friends in the neighborhood despite her still-fragile mental state. During the course of the story, we discover that the Sheehans’ son Toby was killed in a helicopter crash in Vietnam, and Anita had to be institutionalized to deal with her grief. Buck, unable to deal with what had happened, had an affair, which Anita found out about. Through counseling, the couple had reconciled and were well on their way to getting their shit together; Anita was in a much better mental place, Buck had made his amends and had newly committed to their marriage, and things seemed to be looking up when they moved into the house next door, looking for a fresh start.

In the movie, Anita was an average-looking, matronly type with short mom hair and nothing of the ethereal or mysterious about her; in fact, she seemed completely open and friendly when Col and a couple of the other neighbor ladies showed up with flowers and cake to welcome the couple to the neighborhood. Immediately, though, things start going to shit; Anita orders a pizza for the ladies, and when the pizza guy comes to the door, she freaks out, thinking her dead son (killed in Iraq in the movie) is standing on the doorstep. As in the book, she begins to receive mysterious phone calls where she thinks she hears Toby calling to her, and she eventually starts to see the helicopter accident which killed him playing on the television in the living room; unlike in the book, Col is actually a witness to one of these horrific telecasts from beyond. As I said, the plot had to be substantially speeded up due to time constraints, but it was still jarring that Anita flipped out so quickly; in the book it was a much slower progression. And in the book, this was the point where Col only started to suspect that maybe something was wrong with the house; Book Col didn’t actually see the helicopter crash on the TV, but after Buck told her about it, she checked the TV listings and saw that no war movie had been on TV at the time when Anita had seen the vision, thereby making her wonder if something more sinister was going on over there. The rest of the Movie Sheehans’ arc plays out similarly to the book; Anita keeps seeing visions of Toby and loses her marbles, then is pushed over the edge when she sees Buck and Virginia in flagrante delicto. Anita kills herself, Buck moves away, and Virginia flees the neighborhood in shame at what the house made her do.

Part three, with the Greenes, is also fairly similar. Norman Greene is a self-important, tight-assed, abusive asshole with OCD issues, his cowed wife Susan vainly tries to be perfect for him while attempting to maintain a pleasant social face, and their daughter Belinda (who I think was named Melissa or Missy in the book) suffers from some unspecified illness that causes her to have stomachaches and vomit at times inconvenient for her jackwad father. (In the book, Norman is her stepfather, and the girl’s gastrointestinal disease is a source of intense embarrassment for him, so much so that he denies that she has it, claiming that she is simply faking illness for attention. This is touched on in the movie, though it is never explicitly stated that Belinda is anything other than his biological daughter.) As in the book, the Greenes have a party which few people attend because the invitations mysteriously never get mailed, even though Susan is shown getting ready to mail them; also as in the book, Susan is blamed for her “stupidity” in not getting the invitations out. Norman makes the most of the awkward vibe at the party, though, and pontificates at length to his captive audience about how awesome he is and how put-upon he feels at being burdened with such a sub-par and useless family. In the film, the party comes to a screeching halt when Belinda pees herself in front of the party guests (shades of The Exorcist), horrifying her father’s sense of neat-freak propriety. This scene is also substantially toned down from the book, but that’s probably for the best, because it would have been pretty gross to portray as written. In the novel, everyone at the party is alerted by a scream from the kitchen. When they go to investigate, they find Melissa-or-Missy cramped up in a fetal position on the floor, spraying diarrhea all over her white dress, the floor, and her mother, as the illness her father frightened her into ignoring comes to a spectacular head. If I recall correctly, the capper on the evening is the power going out (ruining the “perfect” party Norman had planned), and then coming back on just at the moment when Norman is standing over the blender, which Susan has conveniently left the top off of. Norman is drenched by whatever was in the blender, filthifying him and making his public embarrassment complete. In the book, he furiously runs everyone out of the party, and it comes to light later that after everyone left, there was a blistering argument between Norman and Susan which resulted in Susan finally flipping her shit, and shooting him, her daughter, and then herself. In the movie, this is also toned way down; Susan does end up shooting Norman and herself, but Belinda escapes, fleeing to the Kennedys’ house for help. Lifetime didn’t want to kill off the cute little girl, I guess.

So, what are your qualifications for becoming my new mommy?

So, what are your qualifications for becoming my new mommy?

The rest of the movie plays out in pretty much the same way; architect Kim returns from the trip to Italy he took to get his mojo back, and he buys “his” now-empty house. When he and Col are in there alone, the insidious evil of the house causes them to uncharacteristically act on their previous light flirtations and start going at it, Walter/Walker witnesses the infidelity and attempts to kill them both, but Walker and Col manage to drag themselves out of the house before anything too horrible happens. As in the book, it is this shattering event that finally shows Walter/Walker how evil the house is, and cements his decision to join with his wife and destroy the thing. In the book, Col and Walter actually went to the press to warn people about the house and subsequently had the entire neighborhood shun them; in the movie they never go to the press, but are kinda given slight pariah status just the same because of their theories about the house next door. In the movie, they destroy the house by blowing it up (which I think is pretty much the same thing that happened in the book) and making it look like an accident. Kim is killed in the explosion, which I think also happened in the book, though I’m not entirely sure and don’t have the book with me to check. Similar to the book, the movie ends with Pie and Buddy’s contractor from the beginning of the movie talking to an idealistic new couple about these fantastic house plans he still has from some hot-shit but now deceased architect, and he tells them that he can build the house for them if they want it, because the house on the plans looks “magical and alive.” And thus the cycle of evil continues, even after its emissary is dead. I think the movie was a lot less subtle in its portrayal of Kim as the definite agent of the evil, making him almost seem a willing participant. In the book, it is understood that there is something inside of Kim, a curse of some kind, that causes everything he designs to cause misery and death, but he doesn’t seem complicit in the evil, simply an innocent conduit (though I could have been misreading the text on this score). As in the book, Col and Walter eventually leave their house and move permanently to their beach house to escape the sneers of their neighbors (in the book they also escaped a substantial media frenzy surrounding the haunting; this isn’t really touched on in the movie); unlike in the book, they seem to adopt the surviving Belinda Greene, neatly tying up the several hints in the movie that the Kennedys (or at least Walker) were somewhat bothered by their childlessness. End film.

As I said, not really a bad adaptation at all, especially considering it was a Lifetime movie. It never got too eye-rollingly silly, and moved along at a pretty good clip. Some of the changes made from the novel I agreed with, and some I didn’t, but I can understand why certain changes were made, even though I might not have liked them. Worth checking out if you’re bored and have ninety minutes to kill, but as always, the book is light years better and would obviously be a much more satisfying investment of your time.

Until we meet again, keep it creepy, my friends. Goddess out.