It’s always out there lingering. The silent creeping dread at the edge of the map of what is known. Despite your best efforts, there is absolutely nothing you can do to push it back. It’s the fear, loneliness, and the thing that comes for us all. It’s the storm. So pop a chug and run, drive, or glide to the circle. You’re a Fortnite character running from your doom as Batman reloads before Ariana Grande can toss a grenade at you. As ridiculous as it sounds, I have found so much joy in the absolute wild platypus of IPs that Fortnite has become. Even more so, I have found so much value in it as a place to hang out with my friends in a time where that seemed like something impossible. After so many people said how stupid the game was, it has become worth so much to me.
For me, it’s become a constant connection to others. It’s a way to regularly connect when connecting in person was not possible. I cannot even begin to explain everything going on that is making the world scarier every day for every person. For a long time (and still), we cannot see those we love to share a hug, a beer, or the most dear to me…sandwiches.
So things had to change. We had to figure out some new way to connect; a way for us to not feel that loneliness creep in. For my circle, it’s been Fortnite. Tell Pre-Pandemic Dan that he would be playing Fortnite more than any game on the market, his first question would be “Wait, you got Mike to play Fortnite?”. I did, I got a lot of people to play Fortnite. A freeware game where you and 150 people all leap from a school bus to duke it out. It’s so simple but it’s been a saving grace when we cannot just simply go to dinner or to the movies.
It gives my friends a chance to play a simple, fun, and colorful game as we mindlessly talk for hours. Talking from huge topics of life to arguing with each other on who the best Spider-Man is and why it’s Toby Maguire. It’s a space where we know if we’ve had a bad day, we can say “anyone playing tonight?” and most of the time someone will be free to battle the storm.
It’s allowed us to connect in a time where it’s become rare. I can give you evidence that it’s something that bridges the lack of physical connection. Over the course of the past year, my buddy Ethan has come into my life and has quickly gone from the letterboxd Welsh to someone who I cannot fathom not being a part of every major life moment for me moving forward. It’s brought someone from across the ocean into my home and family nearly every weekend for over a year. Fortnite has made our friendship go from Twitter mutual to a brother as close to me as Jake and Mike who have been with me nearly my entire life. It’s allowed me to bring my friend and former roommate Chach into another part of my life so he can be connected with everything. It’s allowed for all of my friends to blur into one mass where everyone can be friends.
Every form of media has worth. Everything is worth something to someone. Fortnite has gone from a silly game my little brothers play to something that is a huge part of my life. Never let anyone try to persuade you that something that brings you joy doesn’t have worth. You never know how you’ll connect through the storm.
Bright blues and yellow are all I can see as my saucer makes another clunky landing in a desolate strip mall. I manually slide the creaky old door open, and breathe in that stale Earth parking lot odor. I look up and see a neon sign that says, “Gatebuster.” I’m relieved as it seems close enough to a video store chain that has long been defunct on my planet. I’m exactly where I wanted to be. As I enter I see no sign of intelligent life anywhere (but what else is new). I had heard a rumor that there was a tub of tapes with the words, “Grave Robber” etched into it; a clear jab at my peoples’ attempted conquest of this stupid, stupid planet.
Undeterred, I see no tub, only a handful of tapes left, one of which is mine if I agree to fill out a review card. Despite a few options, my eyes spot Plan 9 From Outer Space. My blood ran cold — even colder than usual — thinking about renting the film that dramatized our failed takeover of Earth. I must admit this incident was a sore spot for my people. It was painful, humiliating and traumatizing. However, I cannot resist filling out review cards. I begrudgingly use my controlling ray to levitate the video towards myself and head out the door. As I board my ship for the night’s viewing, I wonder if I have made a mistake.
Despite my reservations, I am starved for entertainment. I had never seen it. Not because it has been called “The worst movie ever made,” but for personal reasons. Most of my people have avoided it like the plague. I popped the cassette in the VCR and was prepared for the worst. The name “Edward D. Wood Jr.” appeared on screen. Perhaps the worst director here on earth, but to us a slanderer of my people. After a scene of what appears to be an “Earth-style” funeral, we meet our bland and dim-witted hero, Jeff Trent. Of course, here he is, still lightyears ahead of intelligence than the real Trent. Just like that Trent, he lives on the outskirts of the cemetery where we unveiled Plan 9 (our best plan). Wood does a solid job, explaining our plan to raise their dead in order for them to march on Washington to convince them of our existence. We tried to live with them in peace, but we had to stop them before they used a world-destroying device.
But I digress, I’m here to talk about filmmaking, not one one of the most disappointing moments of my life. Luckily, since I am not portrayed in the film, it makes it easier for me to watch. Right away, I noticed the poor design of the cemetery, featuring cardboard tombs and limited trees and I know I’ll enjoy at least a few laughs. Along with Trent, we meet the poor police detectives that are trying to discover what’s going on with the spooky circumstances in the cemetery. This group is led by the gigantic Tor Johnson, whose large presence makes up for his limited acting ability.
In Wood’s film every character sounds the same; from the police to the military and the citizens. Every sentence is exposition from beginning to end. The stilted dialogue is comforting, because it is so reminiscent of our own vernacular. Once you finally see us in the film, I cringed and then had to smile, as Wood had dressed us in ridiculous outfits that look like silk pajamas, seemingly inan attempt to make us seem ridiculous. In reality we don’t wear clothes at all, but I’m sure the censors had something to say on that matter. I have to be honest here when I say that my superiors were upset with us for being seen by the humans, but apparently we didn’t make much of an impact considering they learned nothing from our visit.
At this point, I’m much more invested. We have the humans down for the count. In the film, we see Johnson and the famous TV-personality Vampira terrorizing anyone entering the cemetary. Obviously, our true methods were much too terrifying for a weak, mainstream audience. In Wood’s film we are only hovering-over-them to death. Apparently effective enough to kill, it was a little milquetoast for my taste. Ironically, Wood takes a page out of our book in a way by resurrecting his deceased friend, actor Bela Lugosi. In a beautiful tribute, he uses the last footage filmed of Laguosi to portray him as one of the risen dead. A stand-in can be seen with his face obscured most of the time, but his presence is felt.
In what is a world-class display of Earth propaganda, they defeat my friends Eros and Tanna in an embarrassingly simple fashion. I will not lie, it was hard not to turn the tape off at this moment, but I persisted. In a crude re-enactment of our all powerful spaceship, the protagonists square-off against the actors playing my late colleagues. In the struggle, our equipment catches on fire and the humans escape, while the flaming ship takes off. Without a doubt, watching two of my closest friends get killed and go down in flames is difficult. Seeing the shoddy special effects softens the wound.
In spite of the many, many inaccuracies, I had a blast. Far from the worst movie of all time, if you ask me. Even seeing my people defeated by these idiotic earthlings brought a smile to my face. I was so happy to see our reign of terror that I didn’t mind the downer ending. For you see we will return. There is always another plan to execute.
Reading books to most people is an escape. It’s a chance to call new and exciting worlds your home. Reading to me is a constant reminder that my brain came out of the box broken in regards to memory retention. Reading frustrates me because I cannot retain the information like other people can. It feels like someone is ramming a chainsaw into my hippocampus and I can watch the knowledge spilling out all over the floor. I always found this to be true, until I started reading modern horror novels. Books that relied on information that I already have with references to films and stories I cherish. Ones that can never be gutted from my memory. My Heart is a Chainsaw is now one of those stories.
The book follows Jade (not Jennifer, never Jennifer) who is a senior in high school on the verge of the unknown next chapter of her life. Calling Jade an outsider would be an understatement. There are some points where I had to ask myself if she was choosing to alienate herself with the pranks and activities that further pushed people away from her. If the reader wasn’t privy to Jade’s internal thoughts, she would almost seem unlikeable. But on the page, Jade was a fully realized person with her own reasons for doing the things she did (I’ll leave that for you to discover when reading). She lives in a very small lakeside town that finds itself being overrun by millionaires building across the lake. These millionaires are called the Founders, and they are even bigger outsiders than Jade in the tiny town. But there is a big difference between them and Jade. She is an ostracized outsider, they are outsiders who are separate and above the local community. Revered and god-like, these Founders are worshipped for the money and jobs they’ve brought into the struggling town. Though most people are thankful for their arrival, not everyone thinks they are there for good reasons.
What Jade lacks in friends, companionship, and a bright future, she makes up for with an encyclopedic knowledge of horror. Not just knowledge of the films or directors, but unique insights onto the structure of the slasher genre itself. There are breaks in the book’s format that go from typical prose to something resembling a book report that give more insight into Jade and her relationship with horror. It’s all so meta in a very fresh way where sometimes words are italicized as a reference to a film and used in the normal flow of a sentence structure. For example, the word Nightmare is used in the text at one point but it’s italicized to reference the film Nightmare on Elm Street without having to directly reference it. It’s a truly unique approach that kept me re-reading portions to catch all the references. I also have to note that any book that can mention both Thankskilling and Cry_Wolf, which are personal favorites, is one I will recommend forever.
I will say that the first half of the book was a little slow for me. It sometimes felt like I was just listening to this poor girl ramble on and on without much movement in the story. As I said, reading isn’t always easy for me, so I was starting to get discouraged. But before I knew it, I turned a page, and the whole story began to take off. The plot started to propel forward at breakneck speeds and it didn’t let up. All those sad everyday life things fell away as the chest of the town was torn open. Once the horror starts, it does not stop. The violence is elegantly described in a visceral way through the eyes of a character who has spent her entire life living through the slasher genre to avoid the horrors in her own life. As someone who struggles with finishing books, I grasped this one so hard after the jump that my fingerprints are etched into the cover. If you love slashers or horror, this is worth every penny.
My Heart is a Chainsaw is out today and available at your local independent bookstore or anywhere fine books are sold.
I don’t believe in the supernatural. I don’t believe that the things that go bump in the night are anything even close to a ghoul or goblin. But that doesn’t mean I don’t want them to be real. I desperately want them to be real.
What I wouldn’t give to come face to face with a swamp monster or a vampire. But it won’t happen, because those things do not exist. Now I know what you’re probably saying right now.
“What about fae, witches, and the stuff that’s been happening over and over since the dawn of storytelling began?”
To that I say, again, I wish it was real.
So I guess that’s why I’m here. I read Double Walker by Michael Conrad, Noah Bailey, and Taylor Esposito about the “real encounter” that two tourists had in Scotland. Both of them swore to me that it was real. So I decided to go. I decided to find out for myself if there is a world inside those puddles. A world that I can’t see.
Things haven’t gotten off to a great start. At every turn, the town’s locals try avoiding the journalist who wants to ask them about what happened. It’s okay though, I’d be avoidant of a US journalist too.
Outside of the town is a different story altogether. Plenty of folks tell me about the faeries and creatures that live beyond the confines of modern society, hiding in the shadows of places we’re not allowed to be. The skinwalkers and such. I think most of them agree Nessie is a myth. I did visit Loch Ness, as any good tourist does, but the thick fog rolling off the water did seem a bit more uncanny than what I’m used to.
Once I got back to the bed and breakfast I was staying at, I found out it was under new management… the former owner had been brutally murdered.
I went to bed with the bathroom light on and a sleep playlist from my phone trying desperately to lull me to sleep.
Most of my day was spent just trying to get anyone to talk to me about the recent events. Luck wasn’t on my side. There are far too many unaccounted for gruesome deaths for no one to have seen anything or have any answers.
I was getting frustratingly nowhere questioning the townsfolk, so I thought maybe it was best to clear my head with a hike and find some clean crisp air. The Old Man of Storr they call it. Something about a really large man or god or something that laid down and eventually made these vast rocky hills. They say the fae have been kept busy feasting on his flesh, which is why you don’t often see them.
Again, I didn’t believe it and so far, I’d come no closer to finding any proof. It all seemed rather made up. The air was quite thin when I finally reached the peak. I stood for some time staring at the horizon. All that I could see was a rather large bird in the distance. I don’t know bird species all that well, but whatever this one was, it looked rather sickly. I don’t know if it was the air, but it looked like its stomach was split open. It had to be the air.
On my walk back to the Bed & Breakfast, I felt as if someone was watching me.
I slept with the bathroom light on and my sleep playlist playing on my phone.
My final day in Scotland. I thought I may as well spend it in the pub. I asked my friend Cargill if he knew of one in my area, and was swiftly directed to The Mangled Stag. For a majority of the day, I sat away from the bar itself to listen to the people coming and going. Not a word was uttered about the murders.
Were they avoiding talking about it because I was here? People died and no one has even whispered about it. Everything about this is so strange.
The bar was rather unremarkable. It was clearly aged, but in a good way. As if the culture and history of these people were soaked deep into the wood. Strangely though, the bathroom was entirely redone. Brand new. The floor seemed to have been recently ripped up for some reason.
After guzzling enough pints of courage, I sat myself at the bar and asked the bartender to tell me about the area; to humor a tourist with a story about the local monsters.
I was drunk, but I could see the hesitation in his face. I could see his reluctance to tell me, but with the amount of money I dropped, maybe he began to feel sorry for me.
He told me about something called a “Trow;” a small plump and shy little miscreant that broke into homes as people slept to steal things. They live in trowie knowes, which are just like mounds of dirt. I made a joke that they were Scottish hobbits. Not sure he found it funny. I thanked him for the tale and excused myself to return to the B&B to get some sleep for my early flight.
I slept with the bathroom light on and my sleep playlist playing on my phone.
My eyes opened as I heard something scrape harshly on my bedside. I quickly ran the “there are no bumps in the night” mantra in my head as I could hear my music being muffled. A small misshapen and wrinkled hand clasped around my phone as it sang quietly to itself. I tried to keep my eyes as tightly closed as I could, but I just had to see.
From between my nearly shut eyelids, I watched as this thing used its free hand to drag itself away from my nightstand. Its face was contoured and grotesque, but it didn’t look angry. It seemed to love the music playing from the phone. The bartender had mentioned that trows loved music… that they’d often lure musicians to their dens. It started bouncing on it’s eerie legless body towards the door. This had to be a nightmare. I closed my eyes. None of this was real.
Chad’s logo appears this week with little fanfare, the logo quickly dissipating as Chad sits at a diner booth across from the camera. His leg bounces nervously as he presses his hands to his face. Chad’s outfit consists of Yeezy flip flops, floral shorts, and a pastel button up shirt. His flowing blonde hair is tied back in a headband of his most recent ex-girlfriend. If you didn’t know him, you’d assume the worst about him and his character. Most people do.
Today, Chad was having lunch with his brother; someone who thinks Chad is a disgrace to journalism. Chad is a bit rough around the edges as the audiences fully understand by this point but it is clear he means well. Dexter’s biggest concern is that Chad has had to work for nothing, he just lucks into things without the burden of fully understanding the impact his position can bring.
Chad: Hey everyone, sorry this might get a little awkward. My brother is meeting me for lunch. I’m excited to tell him some of the things I learned about Spider-Man through REAL research. This might be a BIG story that’s about to break and Chad has the big scoop. My brother has hit a rough patch and I want to help him out.
Dexter: A rough patch? This isn’t a bump in the road. The system is working as designed, CHADWICK, the system for which you manufacture consent!!
Dexter enters the video as he sits across from Chad, they are stark parallels in stature and vibes. You’ve seen his type before if you’ve ever entered an MFA program, or accidentally locked eyes with a man sitting alone in the corner of the hip new bookstore/bar co-op, then glanced away hoping he hadn’t noticed, but oh no, oh god, he’s coming over, oh god he’s asking if you’ve ever read Bukowski—
Dexter looks like a David Foster Wallace cosplayer who had never seen a photo of the man. He looks like someone who just stumbled off of a CBS backlot after working as an extra in a new multi-cam comedy about vagabond American Studies professors. His jacket says “I own several Bob Dylan albums on vinyl, and I could not name a single song of his outside of, uhhhh, The Watchtower? And…… Mr. Jones. That one about a guy named Mr. Jones?” In fact, the more you look at him, the more he comes to resemble the eponymous character of Dylan’s “Ballad of a Thin Man.” His eyes dart around the room like he expects, at any moment, for someone to jump out and declare that the past hour, day, or maybe even year of his life has been a practical joke for some obscure hidden camera show. If you look closely enough, you can see that his thumb is twitching. No, not twitching, just moving, habitually moving as if it were eternally scrolling a doom-filled feed. He hasn’t shaved, and he very much has the patchy kind of facial hair that really, really needs to be shaved. If these men were made by a video game’s robust character creation system, Dexter would have been created by moving all of Chad’s slider’s to the opposite extreme. No middle sliders for either brother. Dexter’s glasses appear to just be, well, ordinary glass. No real lenses there. Etc etc.
The viewers can see a big smile paint Chad’s face as Dexter scoots into the booth, trying to not be affected by the comment.
Chad: Glad you could make it brother! Did you want to hear about Spider-Man? Or the Spider-MEN!
Dexter: That’s what we’re going to talk about? Elon and Tony Stark just cofounded FeCoin and we’re talking about irresponsible and icky insect men? I mean, ok, if that’s what it takes to have a conversation with my brother, yeah, I guess I’d love to hear about the Spider-MEN.
Viewers who have seen Chad’s boisterous and often belligerent attitude can clearly see his spirit being drained as the excitement he had for this big break quickly begins to diminish. Chad: Do you know who Bushwacker is? Dude can turn his arm into a gun. He’s sorta like the T2 from T2 if you remember watching that when we were kids…
Dexter: Oh. Wow. Yeah. We loved that tape. We watched it so many times we wore it out….
Dexter pauses for a long time. Lost in a memory, before he remembers that he’s not just in public, but on camera.
Dexter: But I mean, whatever man, Bushwacker? Sounds like a gardening tool. So he has gun arms? Ok. Good for him.
Chad: So that guy was hired to kill some Oil execs, I mean good riddance right?
He puts his hand up for Dexter to high five him, knowing full well that it would hang there. That won’t ever stop him from trying.
Chad: Yeah, anyway, Spider-Man shows up and shows him the business. One of the execs posted the fight to his instagram story. Spidey’s new suit is made with impact-thickening foam-based polymer. I don’t know what that really means but I am glad Spider-Man felt comfortable telling everyone he was polymer.
Dexter: Ok… so Spider-Man saved the lives of the people destroying the planet and then attempted to distract from his villainous behavior by talking about… polymer. That sounds right for him.
Chad: Hold on, you can say whatever mean stuff to me that you want but Spider-Man is a good dude. He saved people’s lives when he stuck his own hands in Bushwackers guns. They sorta exploded and it was really sick to watch.
Dexter:HE PERMANENTLY MAIMED THE GUN GUY? HE BLEW UP THE DUDE’S HANDS?! FOR OIL EXECUTIVES? Chadwick–
Chad: I don’t care if their jobs are shitty, no one deserves to die. No one. Spider-Man puts his life on the line to save people so have a little respect, dude. Please, you know how much I care about Spidey…
Dexter raises his hand to interject— he wants to argue— but he sees something in his brother’s eye. It’s not anger, but a kind of pain. Pain that he isn’t sure if he can still talk about the things he loves with his brother, who has changed so much, who has grown so bitter, at times even, Chad thinks, (or would think if he knew the word), malevolent.
Chad: and besides… it wasn’t even the normal dude. That dude is dealing with the human centipede stuff. Check this out!
Chad pulls his phone out to show Dexter the footage he was sent by someone off the books.
Chad: It’s that other one who wore the hoodie! He got a new costume and it sounds like Spider-Man is his job which is cool. Speaking of jobs…
Dexter: The machine that binds us all in this capitalist hell, yes, go on….
Chad’s childlike smile and glee returns as he reaches into his gym bag to grab a manilla folder before handing it to Dexter. Inside is an offer of employment from GC616. Their budget has grown from the massive surge of viewers that Chad brings from his youtube fame.
Chad: I talked to my boss, Reagan, and she thought you may be a fit to follow up on what happened with that Venom dude after the whole city was taken over in goo. She said that the station is doing really well and that we can afford to bring someone else on. When I heard that, I almost kicked in her office door to get your name on her desk.
With his full heart, Chad wanted to see Dexter succeed. There was not an inkling of holding this over his head or even being owed a favor. He wanted to see Dexter do what made him happy. He knew he would be great at the job. Chad knew how much smarter Dexter was and how he would be a much better journalist. Plus a chance to see his recluse brother much more often would be really nice. They didn’t get to spend as much time together these days.
As Dexter takes the envelope, as he tries to respond, a number of emotions cross his face.
Dexter: I don’t need hel—
Shame, intense shame.
Dexter: I mean, I mean, the blog is about to really take o—
Performative arrogance, or maybe performative hope.
Dexter: I mean, I mean—
He looks into his brother’s eyes and sees, again, something there that makes him turn away. He takes his glasses off, turns away slightly as he begins to polish them. Chad recognizes this; it’s what Dexter does when he doesn’t want someone to notice that he might cry.
Dexter: I mean, thank you. Thank you so much. GC 616…. I honestly can’t believe it. Wow. This is. This is real. We’re gonna be coworkers?
Most people would respond in a normal manner, a simple yes or a nod. Chad is not most people. The audience can see as Chad nearly flips the table as he leaps across it to hug Dexter in his muscular arms as he brings him close to his chest. The table’s contents spill off and roll onto the floor as Chad holds his brother tightly before sitting back.
Chad: Sorry! I will clean that up!
Chad speaks directly to their waiter before looking back to Dexter.
Chad: Fuck yeah we are, dude!
Chad interrupts himself as he notices the time on the clock in the diner.
Chad:I hate to do this but I need to run. I gotta make a meeting with Monster Energy who wants me to slam one of their drinks in my next report. Call me later tonight!
Chad pushes himself out of the booth with his gym bag strapped over his shoulder but he has clearly forgotten his camera as the footage keeps rolling. Dexter: Ok! I’ll call you!! I need to get the details on this Goo Beat— oh, he’s, he’s gone.
Dexter looks to his right, to an empty seat.
Dexter: Yeah, given the circumstances, a good place to end up. I guess I’ll tell them all about— the new Venom, that kid? And about how Brock is going through space now, saving pirates and things, having portentous visions. I don’t know what they all mean, but it seems bad. Seems like bad things are coming his way. Loss, flame. No, no, I’m not getting sentimental. No, I’m taking this seriously! I’m not sentimental. I love my brother, but that won’t influence things. It won’t. I’ll be… I’ll be the voice, the kind of voice we talked about. The kind of voice you say people need. I mean, I mean, the kind of voice people do need. Yeah.
And just before the camera cuts out, it looks like— something, something… gooey begins to emerge from Dexter’s glasses. And it almost sounds like another voice, a harsher voice, speaks out, just as the feed cuts.
Malevolence: Yeah, it’s what they need alright. You and me, kid. That’s what they need. You and me.
Spider-Man/Venom Free Comic Book Day Special by Zeb Wells, Kelly Thompson, Saladin Ahmed, Al Ewing, Ram V., Cody Ziglar, Bryan Hitch, Patrick Gleason, Andrew Currie, Alex Sinclair
Content warning: the film this concerns contains gore, violence done to children, violence done to animals, and the implicit threat of sexual violence.
There is an aisle lined with images that used to frighten you.
In the center is a sky, and a house, and a skull.
The moment you read this, I become a voice.
Maybe you remember your local rental. Maybe you aren’t old enough; maybe you only remember things after a corporation absorbed them all, or drove them out of business. Or maybe you grew up after they died. If you can remember the aisles, if you were a child back then, think about what it felt like to walk away from your parents and wander. If you are too young, still, just try to picture it. Put yourself in the role of the young millennial. There’s a wall of new releases on your left. There’s comedies, and kids movies, and even a sparse selection of cartoons from Japan. And then there’s the aisle in the back, the one that scares you.
My family owned a house, once. They were going to build another, and a third, and then even when the children grew up we could all still be together.
For twelve years, my mother planted things on the hill next to the house, hoping to eventually find something that would grow.
And my father continued to fill potholes in the driveway, but it would never stop sinking, never settled to the point where it might be paved.
They might have succeeded eventually.
But there’s an aisle in your memory, or in your imagination, and at its center is a tape with a sky, and a house, and a skull, and I want you to pick the tape up.
Wes Craven is a name that probably sounds familiar to you, even if you can’t place it right away. And if you can place it, you know it’s all over that aisle. He’s responsible for at least two franchises: A Nightmare on Elm Street and Scream. You know their antagonists; you’ve seen Freddy and Ghostface. They’re on t-shirts. They have action figures. They’re like Jason, or Chucky, or Jigsaw; if you’ve never seen a slasher movie, you can probably still pick them out of a lineup.
But the thing is, these aren’t just franchises with surreal and metafictional gimmicks. They’re both series with an actual point of view: the society of white, middle-class suburbia that has come into being is dangerous. Mom & Pop might try to keep their community safe and unleash something monstrous. Their bored and malevolent children might torture you for fun. And dreams and fictions, movies themselves, might not be real escapes. They might be part of the trap. They might contribute to the rot.
The tape is called The People Under the Stairs. Don’t walk away from it. Pick it up. Take it to the counter. In this version of events it doesn’t matter if your mother gets it for you, or if the teenager behind the counter just doesn’t care enough about his job to deny you its rental. What’s important is that you take it home, and you wait until your family is asleep, sneak down to the TV room, turn down the volume, load the film into the VHS player, and push play. And watch it all. And think about what you see. And think about the world.
The People Under the Stairs is Home Alone as directed by Guillermo Del Toro after reading both volumes of Capital.
The People Under the Stairs is the story of modern America as told through a dark fairy tale and the major arcana of the tarot.
The People Under the Stairs is a haunted house movie where the ghosts are landlords who have made us all into the monsters lurking in the dark.
Practitioners of Chaos Magic create sigils that represent the things they desire to come to pass, and they charge those sigils with some kind of emotional ecstasy or agony, and they sometimes even work to create hypersigils, sigils that exist not only in space but in time, and thus are often expressed as a narrative. And they are charged with the audience’s orgasms, or maybe the sharp intake of breath as they react to a jump scare, or a death, or a revelation. And there’s a number of folks that, regardless of how you feel about magic and energy and whatever, that the art we admire has a real power over us. In a certain school of thought you can bring to an audience the grace of God through a startling picture. In another, the great factories of the Culture Industry churn out art that homogenizes the populace.
Art might make magic, or it might make a saint, or a revolutionary, or a willing victim of the state.
Or it might be, according to a different school of thought, quite useless.
The People Under the Stairs is a horror-comedy about late stage capitalism, but not about capitalism in the abstract; no, it’s a movie about the horrors of capitalism and gentrification, capitalism and the inner city, capitalism and the suburbs, capitalism and the nuclear family, capitalism and racism, capitalism and purity culture, and so on and so forth. It’s a movie that begins with a boy learning both that his mother is dying because she cannot afford treatment for her cancer and that his family is going to be evicted on the same day. The movie cuts from this scene to the incestuous, child-abusing, cop-wooing landlords, who are consuming flesh from a human corpse.
And one of the oldest traditions concerning the usefulness of fiction comes to us from Aristotle. Tragedy provides a catharsis, a safe purging of the negative emotions associated with whatever is depicted in the fiction. But this poses a problem for those who think that art might be revolutionary. If your anger, your despair, your rage at the status quo is all worked out safely on screen, if you take your emotions and place them in the gaps between each of the 24 frames you see per second, what will you do when you leave the theater? Sleep peacefully, this train of thought imagines.
Does the anti-capitalist film perpetuate capitalism?
Sorry To Bother You made Comcast, the notorious Worst Company In America, millions of dollars. This is, of course, a very minor dollar amount as far as that company is concerned, but it remains a dollar amount.
The People Under the Stairs argues that capitalism is unsustainable, that the infinite growth required by the model will only lead to its own self-destruction, as the same people who carefully designed this prison, this haunted structure, show no regard for it; they allow flies and dust and human feces to pile up, they shoot through its walls, they load it with explosives.
The People Under the Stairs argues that resistance is possible as long as you remember that, regardless of what those with power over you would say, you are human, you have dignity, you have the capacity to love.
The People Under the Stairs argues that revolution can be imagined if we remember that we are in community, that we are not alone.
And while I’m giving you information, we should talk about the Death Card in tarot, which signifies, above all other things, transformation and change.
The People Under the Stairs shows us the wealth of America as a dragon’s horde and a rat’s nest, a prize we may seize and a keg that might at any moment explode.
And I occasionally walk around the neighborhood in the cool air of night, and sometimes I see the local fox, and suspect he has begun to follow me, or pace beside me in the brush.I worry, of course, about the neighbors I have now, and what they would think of a strange man and a fox in the dark.
The People Under the Stairs is so packed with ideas and images that it does not dwell on the Secret Chapel that appears in a single scene, in which Jesus and Ronald Reagan are placed in opposition to the portraits of the hundreds of children that these landlords have abducted or murdered. The chapel is just, in one scene, there.
The Nine of Swords. The Page of Pentacles. The Nine of Staves. Judgement. Death. The Devil. The Fool.
A boy reading DuBois. His sister attending to his sick mother. A friend, a thief, not a good man, but a man who has chosen the right enemies.
Another man, gnawing on flesh in a room that looks like a dungeon. A woman with an innocent child. Screams in the distance.
The masses of the lost and downtrodden. A plan. An honest-to-god treasure map.
The innocent. A grotesque hand, uncut nails, emerging from a grate in the wall. A belt in the hands of someone who enjoys what he is about to do.
And more, so much more; the shifting stairs, the lockdown protocols, the bombing of Baghdad on an old tv, the lake of refuse, guard dogs and bayonetts, pens of the forgotten, dolls for ghosts and bowls for buckshot, a hunter in a gimp suit, candles and coins, chapels and armories, skeletons, dungeons, dynamite, a house, a skull, the sky.
The People Under the Stairs is the kind of movie where a landlord gets punched in the dick. It is also the kind of movie that names its main character “Fool,” and tells you explicitly in the first lines of dialogue that yes, he is named for the Fool of the tarot, and that, as in the tarot, this is going to be a coming of age story, that this child will, through his confrontations with death and suffering, become an adult ready to face the world. Given everything else said above, then, it’s also a movie about how, in the modern age, one can only truly leave childhood behind when one is ready to die for liberation, when one is ready to plunge a knife into a capitalist’s guts.
And there used to be a picture of Jesus in the upper window of our house, and I haven’t driven past in some time, but a google car recorded it for their maps in 2020, and you can see the window stands empty, I think the whole house is empty, I think there’s nothing and no one there, just land and structure taken to be held, held like my funds, so would you please donate to my ko-fi, and while you’re here let’s talk about piracy, what you would and wouldn’t download, and the importance of Intellectual Property, all your favorite franchises, playing now at a theater near you once more, theaters with Disney Distribution deals that push out any movie not backed by a billion dollar budget, and let’s talk about the message that you must go, you simply must go, theaters are struggling, and it’s your duty to make sure they survive this pandemic, or else they’ll be yet another industry the millennials killed, so go today, and go all Summer, and keep going in the Fall, because yes, cases will certainly uptick, and variants will spread, and vaccines will become less effective, and we have no real plan for boosters yet, but think of the economy, won’t you, we can’t risk another quarantine, we’re told, so we’ll be keeping our theaters as open as our schools, now that those teachers unions lost, and they’re going to teach our masses of unvaccinated children, and listen, here’s the news with a special report on what your governor thinks you should be really concerned about, not death tolls, not extrajudicial murders, not children in Gaza, no, the governor wants to talk to you about CRT, he says it’s warping children’s minds, making them think America might be racist, and at no point does he define CRT, or trace exactly how it made its way, in his mind, from a complex area of legal study to grade school pedagogy, and at no point does he address how the parents who he has successfully made panic have begun to object to teaching major swathes of history in their entirety, have begun to label any mention of Ruby Bridges as an example of CRT, and at no point will he go over actual state curricula standards, nor review how Texas has an incredible influence on our nation’s textbooks, nor describe the revisionist conservative slant that results, and he will not speak of Henry Adams, who found no education, but I sat once where Henry Adams sat on the steps of Ara Coeli, and I thought of Henry Adams thinking of Edward Gibbons thinking of the fall of the Roman empire, and I can see from my bed a deck of tarot cards, which I never had as a child, which I was scared of as a child, because I read stories of demonic possession, and I can imagine an unseen army in the desert at night, silently moving towards us, bayonets at the ready, ready to drain our blood to slake the thirst of Moloch, and I see the blood turn to rivers, and even now I am shocked that death had undone so many, which of course reminds me, I saw Cats in theaters, the 2.0 version, I think, the update that had been rushed to theaters with a CGI patch, so that we might only witness the finest in digital fur technology, and I saw Cats immediately before I saw Little Women, a strange double feature, and particularly strange because I saw them on Christmas, after I had seen my sister, and my father, and his wife, and my mother, and her husband, not knowing how strange Christmas would be just a year later, and I still dream sometimes of the house my family built and lost, I dream that I’m still there, two floors above a concrete foundation where we buried various holy objects we had acquired, objects that would ensure our peace and prosperity. We completed the ritual according to all specifications, but something else soon inhabited our home. Now it dreams there alone.
You’ve put the tape into the player, remember, and begun to watch. Think about the movie. Think about the world. Shudder from the terror and rejoice in the triumph.
Who is your narrator this evening? Who am I?
The moment you read this, I become a voice.
Where is that voice? Where do you imagine it?
Am I in your head? Am I contained? Is this voice one you’re imagining, creating, or is it from outside of you? Did you give me my tone, my timbre?
Picture a woman slowly walking towards the girl she raised. Picture a glinting knife..
Picture a torso hung for the butchering. Bones scattered on the floor. Viscera smeared on a mouth.
Where is the knife? Where is the blood?
I am a voice in your head, but I’m also text on a screen. I’m in the signal beaming to your cell phone or from your router. I’m being broadcast through your air.
I am being broadcast through your walls.
And even if I’m dead by the time you read this, as long as coal-powered turbines continue to turn, as long as the electric grid holds fast, as long as you pay your bills, the servers keep running, satellites continue to orbit and oceanic cables go unperturbed by the things in the deep, as long as all these things go on, the voice remains.
So watch it again, and again, until you notice that the sun is up, and you’re in danger of your mother realizing that you’ve stayed up the night again. Remember to rewind the tape; it’s common courtesy. Go to school and drift through algebra, or King Lear, or whatever it was you were learning that year, some time after the local rentals had been killed, some time before the rise of the stream. Look around you, at the school, and the hierarchies. Drop off the tape on the way home. Look out the window as you pass businesses, restaurants, office buildings; look at your home and those around it. Then go inside. Turn on the news. Pay attention.
Is anything different now?
Does anything diverge in the years ahead of you?
So many people remember a horror movie, seen far too young, as a formative experience. But what if this was your formative experience? What if you had the hilariously and horrifyingly grotesque structures of everything around you presented so strikingly, in shadows and blood? Would you learn anything from it? Would you remember? Would you be prepared for all that would follow? Would have some hermeneutic key for the wars, recessions, and bankruptcies? For your own failures, dead ends, and mountains of debt? Would you see the evil? Would you still end up like this?
Of course we can’t know. We can guess where you’d be; but in the end it’s just a movie. You can watch it now if you’d like. I think you’d enjoy it.
And who knows; if you watch it now, maybe you’d take something away from it. Maybe you’d end the stream and look to your stairs to see who has been imprisoned under them. Or maybe you’d look to the walls, and start to think of a way out. Or maybe, your anxieties purged, you’d just settle down again, and sleep without worry for another night.
Maybe the Fool will step off the cliff. Maybe the Fool will turn towards the Sun.
When I was a child dreaming of a galaxy far far away, I would have never imagined that in the future I would still be living and breathing Star Wars. I wish I could go back and tell this kid that one day you’d watch the sun rise over the Falcon in person with one of your closest friends. That Star Wars would help him get through some of the toughest times. That Star Wars would guide him to friendships that would be with him forever. That Star Wars would lead him to the love of his life. That Star Wars would make his life so much better than he could have ever hoped.
Star Wars has been with me from the very beginning of my life. My father was a huge fan as a child as well, so luckily he had me young so my grandparents still had all of the toys he grew up with. My father has never had time for hobbies, his only one being sports which I have no interest in. So Star Wars was always the one thing we had until adulthood where you begin to see your parents for who they are rather than in your head. My father is more of a Galen than a Vader to me as an adult. Our relationship has changed dramatically to something where I now call him for advice and guidance. I just wish he would finally watch season 2 of Mandolorian
My relationship with Star Wars has been a constant in my life. It’s only now as an adult, on the verge of the next chapter of life that I have started to reflect on why.
I don’t think Star Wars has such an important part because of the Force, the Jedi, or even the scum and villainy. I think it’s so important to me because of the relationships that have been started because of it and have been made stronger through it. As the one with my father, Star Wars has been something that has connected me with so many important people in my life.
Star Wars isn’t about a lone person going against the odds alone. Each of the trilogies has their “chosen one” but they would be absolutely nothing without their friends. Success in Star Wars comes from a group of people uniting against unstoppable odds. Success comes from fully giving yourself to taking chances in hopes that it makes something in the universe better for others. Luke doesn’t destroy the Death Star without Han. Rey doesn’t defeat Palpatine without all of the Jedi behind her. Jyn Erso doesn’t get the plans to the Death Star off Scarif without everyones sacrifice to spark the flame that freed the galaxy from the Empire. And none of any of this happens without every single person at GateCrashers just wanting to share their passions in the hopes it makes someone else’s lives better.
When GateCrashers started, it was Jake, Mike, and I. Jake and I are blood but Star Wars has always been there for us. I remember the piles of figures we had growing up and how much we would play Star Wars games. Mike and I’s friendship started because he saw my goofy ass playing with a lightsaber in my yard. Now we have made our own Star Wars story with Wild Space. When Scarlett graduated college, we went to Disney World. It was around the 4th ride of Star Tours and her just constantly repeating that she wanted to see Gunga when I realized that I wanted to be with this person forever. Star Wars has made these bonds life long.
Now all of this is so much bigger. GateCrashers is so much bigger than I could have ever imagined. Every day I am amazed at the talents spotlighted on this website. Through their passion, people are connected to things that could bring them as much joy as the voice that spoke about them.
Now, sure Star Wars may be pretty accessible because of the Mouse and the sheer amount of content. But for so many, it’s not approachable because of the toxicity of so many of the fans. It’s been gatekept hard by white dudes who think it belongs to them and them alone. That’s why Star Wars was episode 100. Sure, we wanted to do it because as you can tell, we love it. But we wanted to show that anyone can talk about Star Wars. We put our hearts into everything we do even if it seems silly. We want to put our hearts on our sleeves so maybe we inspire someone to do something they wouldn’t before. We have your back. Anyone should be able to share their feelings on it. Everyone should be free to build relationships that include the galaxy far far away.
I was supposed to write a piece about the Clones and the humanity they possess which I may still get to. But instead I wrote this, a letter to you. A letter to tell you that sometimes I cry when I hear John Williams scores. A letter to say thank you for reading. A letter to say thank you for supporting my friends, their passions, and letting us take up some of your time.
Having something like GateCrashers in my life has made my life worth living even when my brain tells me otherwise. I cannot write a thank you to each of our members personally because there are a lot. I do want to take a second to thank Ethan for putting in so much time and effort for the site, for editing so many articles, and helping people find their voice to talk about all of this. Ethan has been a constant source of friendship and joy that came to us through twitter but I do not know what my life would be like without him at this point. I have thanked Mike on multiple occasions for all the work he did for the episodes but again, go listen because WOW. Thank you to Ashley for putting together the Originals this month and showcasing some fantastic art. Thank you to our wonderful Wild Space cast, especially happy to rope in Dan Avola and Nolan Hennelly into the GateCrashers.
Thank you to every single person who has contributed.
I try to make it clear that this platform is as much mine as it is theirs. I will always support passion and do everything I can to nurture it. If you need a gate crashed through, give us a call. Don’t forget that rebellions are build on hope.
Despite only first appearing in 2015 during the “Convergence” event Jonathan Kent, son of Clark Kent and Lois Lane, has been pulling a speed-run to steal Cable’s title of “most ridiculously complicated backstory in comics”. From being delivered by Thomas Wayne as Batman from the Flashpoint timeline to his lost years held captive on Earth 3, it’s A LOT.
Tom Taylor has taken the best possible approach to this backstory you possibly could with Superman: Son of Kal-El #1, and just slapped a big “Don’t worry about it” on it. Taylor takes advantage of DC’s latest of many reality changing reboots during Death Metal and retells the story of Jon’s birth, focusing not on sentient planet but instead centering the story on Clark, Lois, and Jon. Now it’s still far from a normal birth as Batman and Wonder Woman watch over Lois as she gives birth in the Fortress of Solitude while an (attempted) alien invasion rages above, but it’s straightforward. Understanding the backstory of Jon Kent no longer takes a trip to his wikipedia page.
Whether this is your introduction to Jon Kent or you’ve been there from his beginning, understanding this book is as simple as reading it. There are still some friendly faces to reward those longtime Jon fans but nothing is buried in continuity. This is a perfect jumping on point for Superman fans old and new.
Whilst the issue itself isn’t too plot heavy, it has a clear focus on defining Jon and who he is. Instead of falling into the easy trap of making Jon a clone of his father (not literally, that’s Conner), it sets a clear distinction on what makes Jon different from Clark and how he will function differently as Superman. By placing the focus as much on Jon’s human heritage as his Kryptonian. By showing the influence that having Lois Lane as a mother just as much as having Superman as a father, Taylor is able to instantly set Jon apart from Clark.
That’s not to say his Super-influences aren’t present. Taylor shows how Jon embodies the kindness that really defines Superman perfectly, and makes it abundantly clear he’s a worthy successor to the Superman role. Jon’s mission statement reminds me a lot of Grant Morrison’s take on Superman, especially in All-Star Superman and Action Comics. Both in what drives Superman to be a hero and having him deal with issues proactively instead of reactively, their Superman has always been my favorite and I look forward to Taylor taking a similar approach to the character.
Superman #1 frames Jon’s role in the DC universe in the way I’ve always wanted to see Dick Grayson framed. He’s the son of one of the universe’s biggest heroes and is so connected to the universe as a whole, and that should be celebrated not shied away from. Jon is destined for greatness from the beginning, and I will always love seeing him thrust into bigger and bigger roles. With the Super Sons we saw the beginning of that, and I hope that Taylor continues to focus on Jon’s place in the wider universe as Superman as the series progresses.
The success of this issue is as much a work of John Timms and Gabe Eltaeb as it is of Taylor. Timms work is dynamic as ever, and Eltaeb enhances that in every way. There are some great layouts throughout the issue and some stunning splash pages which show how suited this creative team is to showing the full extent of a character like Superman’s abilities. Dave Sharpe’s letters add a lot of personality to the book too and perfectly compliment the rest of the creative team’s work in every way. His sound effects are used brilliantly and without spoiling it, some were genuinely hilarious.
Overall, Superman: Son of Kal-El feels like the beginning of a bold new era for Superman that aims to use Jon to bring something new, yet familiar, to the character and his history. It’s a perfect place for fans of the character to jump back in with, and it’s set up for characters who know nothing about either Jon or even Clark Kent to start here. With what has been set up in this debut issue, I can’t wait to see what’s next.
I knew I shouldn’t have rented this movie. I told myself, “Don’t do it. It’s only going to make you mad, Aloysius.” That’s my name, you know. Aloysius. Not “the Blob.” Not “that malignant alien goo” or whatever they call me. Aloysius.
Did you know that those jerks Frank Darabont and Chuck Russell didn’t even approach me for my side of the story? I haven’t seen a single royalty from that damn movie. That’s one reason I didn’t pay for the rental. I don’t want them to profit off my life any more than they already have. So I just digested the video store clerk instead.
Anyway. “Aloysius,” I said to myself, “this movie is only going to piss you off, and then those people who are already brainwashed by Hollywood into thinking you’re this mindless carnivorous slime mold are going to look at you in all your quivering pissed-off glory and say, ‘See? We told you it was a monster.’” My curiosity got the better of me, though. It’s insatiable. At least they got that much right.
So I finally sat down to watch the movie…well, “sat down.” They actually nailed my physiology, so you probably know that I don’t sit or walk or do whatever weird things you humans do. But I arranged my slimy pink mass into a comfortable position and then watched The Blob. And honestly? It wasn’t as bad as I was expecting! They actually kept a lot of my most heroic moments in the movie!
You might be asking yourself right about now how I qualify as a hero. Well, let me break it down for you:
The guy who kept talking through slasher classic Garden Tool Massacre? I digested him.
Deputy Briggs, who enjoys threatening minors and mocking them for not knowing their fathers? Digested him, too.
Scott Jeskey, who was clearly a serial date rapist? Digested the hell out of him, with an extra dose of gooey comeuppance for being such a terrible person. You’re welcome, movie fans.
Now, did I also digest some perfectly decent people? Sure. That Paul kid seemed nice enough. And Fran the waitress was a sweet lady, as humans go. But I was probably doing them a favor. What kind of a town has a football field right next to a cemetery? I’ll tell you what kind: a town where your only two options are to live out your high school glory days and then die. Fran was doomed to a life of dating that busybody sheriff, and Paul had probably already hit his prime. They’re better off becoming one with my acidic juices than limping along until the end of their long, boring lives.
And okay, yes, fine, let’s talk about the elephant in the room. I killed a kid. Okay? Big deal. You’ve gotta remember: I only did what I was created to do. That’s another thing the movie gets right. I’m not some evil alien goop that flew in from Pluto, you know. The United States government created me as a weapon. You want to know why I’m aggressive and invasive and prone to eating people rather than trying to communicate with them? Because of you, alright? I learned it by watching you!
Speaking of communicating…that was pretty damn rude to have the captions label all of my monologues as “slimy gurgling.” They’re really showing their ignorance there. Just because you don’t understand a language doesn’t mean it’s unintelligible. They really missed out on some prime character development, too. I truly found myself that summer while I digested my way through that small town, but did Darabont and Russell care? Of course not. They wanted less of my hero’s journey and more of Kevin Dillon’s mullet.
Still, as insulting as The Blob is — I mean, what is with that title? Was The Big Ugly Monster That Everyone Hates too long? — it does get a lot of my story right. It puts the blame where it actually belongs, and you and I both know it ain’t with me. Plus it does make me look like the badass that I am. I mean, admit it. That phone booth kill is pretty sweet. It’s okay, you can tell me you loved it. I’m not here to judge.
My entire knowledge of Moon Knight is second hand from either friends talking about him or memes. More so, most of my Moon Knight knowledge comes from memes. I’ve built this wild image of the character in my head thanks to those memes. To me, Moon Knight is a violent Dracula hating man with a lot of baggage, dissociative identity disorder, and a proclivity to peel off people’s faces like a fruit roll up.
When I read the announcement that Jed Mackay was launching the character with a new #1 issue, I decided it was finally time to jump on the train to moon town. Jed has a way of balancing violence, humor, and humility in a lot of the comics he writes. I saw a lot of people saying it was an odd choice but as Issue #1 proves, it was the perfect choice.
Even with the limited knowledge of this characters convoluted past, Moon Knight #1 by Jed Mackay, Alessandro Cappuccio, Rachelle Rosenberg, and Cory Petit is a very approachable first issue for new readers wanting to follow the character. I am giving it the full GateCrashers seal of approachability ribbon. I never felt lost or that I was missing major parts of context that discouraged me from reading further. With a character who has appeared in multiple tv shows, games, and now has his own Disney + show coming, this serves as a perfect gateway into Moon Knight for new readers.
Moon Knight, named Marc Spector, is serving as the Fist of Khonshu. While that title may sound far out there, the story gives you as much as you need to follow the story properly without getting too far into the weeds. Moon Knight has set up Midnight Mission which serves to protect the community of those who travel at night. We are also introduced to a new ensemble cast that gives the reader their own sense of community from the jump which is important to not feeling like you need to read 100 back issues to just enjoy a new #1.
The issue’s art is incredible and the use of white for his costume is a distinct parallel of the often dark situations he is in. The lettering is easy to read and guide’s the story along with ease. All of the parts together make for a great debut issue.
My real apprehension for picking up a Moon Knight title was how writers would handle his mental illness. This issue doesn’t dig too far into it but there is a running story of Moon Knight in therapy which serves to inform the reader of his backstory, current life, and a bit about who he is. With Jed’s push for representation in Black Cat, I do think he will handle the subject with care which is highly important.
So is Moon Knight #1 a good jumping on point for the character for new readers such as myself? Absolutely.