Category Archives: Reviews

The Witching Season

http://www.witchingseasonfilms.com/

http://www.witchingseasonfilms.com/

Today, I am reviewing The Witching Season, an anthology-style horror web series. As you may have noticed, I do not bother reviewing big-budget horror films. There are too many talented and eloquent folks out there doing that already, and far better than I could (like this brilliant lady). Frankly, with respect to my beloved Fangoria subscription, I think too much attention is paid to feature-length films in general by horror fans. There is an incredible wealth of art, indie comics, podcasts, poetry, music, online writing communities (CreepyPasta, anyone?) and short films that are able to touch aspects of this genre that the medium of a feature film simply cannot. So, speaking of short film…

James L. Morris of Witching Season Films sent me info and links to a new horror web series called (you guessed it) The Witching Season that he and his talented team have been working on. In his own words:

“I won’t lie and say that we were trying to make a social statement, but I think the way we have created the episodes will speak volumes towards our desire not to portray the same old “Lets go see what made the noise in my panties” kind of mindset we all too often see.”

Well, after I immediately went out and had “Lets go see who made the noise in my panties” printed on 100 t-shirts (so I never run out), I snuggled in bed with my laptop to watch the first two episodes of The Witching Season. I really enjoyed them, and I think you will too. Let me tell you why.

Within your dark little heart resides the memory of Halloween, experienced as only a child can. You yearn for the glow of jack o lanterns, the sound of fall leaves crunching beneath your feet, the blustery winds chilling your small frame amidst the speckled October sunlight, and the strangle tingling mix of hopeful fear as you look for (dread) ghosts and masked slashers in every shadow. You will not admit this, of course. You’d rather impress everyone with your bootlegged Fulci collection and share gleeful and cynical laughter over craft beers while watching The Human Centipede for the tenth time with your equally iron-stomached friends.

But it all began with Goosebumps books and Tales from the Crypt, didn’t it?

The Witching Season will take you back there. The opening credits are a beautiful collage of Halloween décor dripping off of trees and hanging off of houses. Seriously, it’s fucking gorgeous.  Slasher Dave delivers a great score that is both classic and nostalgic.

Episode 1: Killer On The Loose

 

A young woman flees from some mysterious, pursuing enemy through the woods at night. As a flashlight searches the trees behind her, she comes upon a seemingly deserted house festooned with Halloween decorations. She enters the equally-Halloween-adorned interior of the house and shuts the door behind her. She looks down at her wrists and rubs at the raw skin there (from ropes? from handcuffs?). Several of the decorations seen can be recognized as being from the opening credits, which strikes me as a brilliant way to both cut set design costs and create an enduring and continuous atmosphere. Her white shirt is spattered with what looks to be blood; as it is obviously Halloween, we are left to wonder if it is real or not.

What follows is an all-too-familiar scene of “girl hides from unknown bad guy” reminiscent of Scream/Halloween/mostslashersevermade, but it is all polished up like a revered idol. The shots are pretty remarkably seamless for an indie work. The lighting and shadows are spot on. Actress Hailey Nebeker delivers a tense and believable performance. Randin Graves scores the action with music that is an effective blend of scene-centric drama and classic slasher-film homage. You start to wonder if it will all play out as expected; and of course, it doesn’t. The twist isn’t ground-breaking, but it is clever and grin-worthy. And once revealed, you find new meaning in previous scenes because the dual perspectives were handled with care.

 

Episode 2: Princess

Same great credits with another classic set-up: A mother and daughter move into a new house. Mom is full of hope for the future and kid is full of trepidation at the big change. Again, you’ve been here and seen this all before, but the Halloween atmosphere and classic/homage score (again from Randin Graves) keep it from feeling redundant. It is more like revisiting something well-known and well-loved. The little girl (very impressive performance by young actress Emily Broschinsky) hears noises in the night that draw her down to explore the basement. There she finds…of course! A creepy doll! A very creepy half-doll, half-bunny thing that looks like a promotional toy for The Island of Dr. Moreau. Predictable plot points follow, but the ending managed to be both bad-ass and hilarious. I laughed out loud at something that should have made me wince, and when a film is able to pull a reaction out of you that surprises yourself, I call that an achievement.

Last but not least, this delightful bit of entertainment is free: served fresh from their talented team and onto your plate (youtube). If you watch these episodes and enjoy them, help make sure there is more to come by taking some time to give them love via social media shares/likes and even donations if you can. The trailer for Episode 3 comes out this weekend, and the full episode should be available early-mid April.

Now go on. Gets to watching!

visit them on Facebook: www.facebook.com/witchingseasonfilms

check out their website: www.witchingseasonfilms.com

 

Mental Illness Stigma in Horror: Thoughts on loving a genre that often perpetuates an offensive stereotype

Guess what? This is not the face of Mental Illness. Like it or not, it is the face of Mental Illness Stigma.

As a woman who is a lifelong horror fan and yet also a feminist and supporter of equal cultural representation for all genders, races, sexual orientations and abilities, I have often found my values shit on by my favorite genre. Nowhere is this more evident than the historical perpetuation of mental illness stigma by lazy and offensive depictions of mental ill characters in horror. I say “lazy” because it is too often used as a convenient plot device instead of actually using creative storytelling to explain who the villain or threat is and why they do the murderous things they do. I say “offensive” because these depictions are almost always grossly inaccurate and perpetuate a view of mental illness that causes untold shame and despair for individuals already suffering an incredibly difficult condition.

How can I reconcile this with my sincere enjoyment of such films like Psycho, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Maniac, or The Crazies? I don’t know that I can. Furthermore, I don’t ascribe to the idea that in order to be able to enjoy a work of art, it must strictly adhere to my personal values. However, I try the following things:

I call myself on it. I question my own view of the mentally ill character and try to separate the metaphor from reality. I recognize that such depictions are never literal to me; they are representative of some societal big bad and not transferable to any individual human walking around on earth.

I listen to the objections of the community and take their views seriously. I may continue to support said work (or not), but I don’t seek to silence those that question it. There is this pissy sort of entitlement that comes out, often in the comments section of any article that points out that some aspect of an “entertainment” work (film, videogame, book, etc) hurts and offends some people. Something like this sarcastic piece of shit found in the comments section of this excellent article on mental illness depictions in videogames: “I can’t wait for the day when video games have no plots or artwork or mechanics or other elements that could possibly offend anyone in any way. Now those are going to be some fun games. Also, I won’t have to worry about forming my own perception of the world anymore because I’ll have those nice developers doing it for me.” (Sound familiar? How dare anyone get offended by anything and ruin your fun, dude.)

I actively seek out artists who are using the incredible potential of the horror genre to challenge this stigma, and when I find them, I support them. How do I do this? Well, I blog about it. I share it via social media. I tell people about it. I give money when I can to their crowd-funding campaigns. I volunteer my time and skills. I go out of my way to let them know that I appreciate their efforts.

So, in keeping with my pledge to share such stigma-challenging work in horror, I’d like to highlight two articles that explore some independent horror videogames that are specifically motivated by a desire to engage the gamer in an empathic (ethical) relationship to the struggles of a mentally ill protagonist:

 

Fans of Edward Gorey will love the pen and ink graphics of this beautiful game. Go here to play: http://www.neverendingnightmares.com/

Sarah Leboeuf writes from The Escapist: Neverending Nightmares Fights the Stigma of Mental Illness Through Psychological Horror. She had a chance to interview Neverending Nightmares  developer Matt Gilgenbach at an Indiecade convention:

“In Neverending Nightmares, you take the role of a young man named Thomas who keeps waking up in his bedroom from a series of ever-more-disturbing dreams. “I want to capture the fear, anxiety, uncertainty, and horror that I’ve faced in my own experience and channel it into the game,” Gilgenbach told me in an email after the convention. He finds it “tough to communicate what struggling with those issues is like to others,” and Neverending Nightmares is his way of doing just that.”

 

 

Knock-Knock, from developer Icepick Lodge, features a protagonist who spends much of the game rationalizing his hallucinations as an effect of his diminished emotional and mental state. Go here to play: http://knock.ice-pick.com/index.html

 

Patrick Lindsey wrote this excellent article for Polygon: Gaming’s Favorite Villain is Mental Illness, and it Needs to Stop where he offers insightful criticism of current “crazy is scary”trends in horror games, as well as some examples of games that challenge such trends (such as this gorgeously illustrated game Knock, Knock).

 

I encourage you to check these articles out and let them lead you to some innovative and entertaining horror games that offer a more nuanced perspective on the role of mental illness in horror narratives.

splatter2

 

Prime Cuts: Horror Comic Takes A Slice Out Of Sweeney Todd

While the horror community tends to generally dismiss remakes as lazy writing–viewing the retellings of old stories as tired recyclables that are best left in the bin–there are certain historical tales that transcend redundancy precisely because of their generations of iterations. Since 1846, the story of Sweeney Todd has evolved from its penny dreadful origins into an ever-shifting tale that seems to greedily consume each new narrative and grow like a macabre, literary version of Telephone.

PRIME CUTS is a graphic novel that offers a modern incarnation of the Sweeney Todd mythos. Written by the experienced horror-writing team of John Franklin and Tim Sulka, it is packed full of sardonic twists on familiar elements of the Demon Barber of Fleet Street.

As screenwriters, Tim Sulka and John Franklin are no strangers to the horror genre. Their film, “Children of the Corn 666” was produced and distributed by Miramax/Dimension. You may recognize John Franklin as the talented actor who played ‘Isaac‘ in both the first “Children of the Corn” and again in “Children of the Corn 666”.

In PRIME CUTS, Todd is a sullen young man who gets out of cosmetology prison with the agenda of avenging his family. He navigates a degenerate setting that could have sprung from the mind of John Waters. In this world, mad cow disease has wiped out all the cattle in the USA, and everyone is obsessed with meat. Everyone is also some sort of sex-crazed, drugged-up bucket of human filth. Most everyone Todd comes into contact with seems to want to fuck, humiliate, or hurt him until he meets Electra Love, the Goth Princess of Pizza. Electra takes the role of Mrs. Lovett, and pizza replaces meat pies. With pepperoni at $32.99 a pound, Electra has been using dog food as a mystery meat topping, but when she meets Todd, we all know that will soon change…

PRIME CUTS is illustrated by Rob Gutman, an artist/graphic designer and musician out of Austin, TX. The art is unique: scratchy, exaggerated and almost juvenile–it’s like you’re looking over the shoulder of an angry kid in a Slayer shirt drawing this stuff in his tattered notebook in detention–and it works perfectly with the story.

prime cuts

If you’d like to get your hands on this sweet slice of Sweeney Todd homage (I think you do), PRIME CUTS Volume 1 can be purchased at IndyPlanet.com. You can also visit www.primecutsnovel.com for more information.