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Batman Day 2021 Recommendations

Batman is a household name worldwide. From movies, to toys, to everything in-between…Batman is everywhere. While many lament the sheer amount of Bat content constantly coming out, there is a reason he is so popular with so many. Batman is an extremely beloved character and means so much to so many. Instead of bringing you some sort of top 10 reads list or something similar, our staff brings you a bit about their personal relationship with the characters of Gothams and a story they want you to check out that means something to them.

Dan McMahon

I don’t think my love of Batman and Gotham characters is a secret in the slightest. I grew up on a stream of Batman. Hell, we started this whole thing as a DC podcast, so my allegiances have never been a secret. Batman for me has always been a versatile character that you could use to tell any type of story. He was the character you could drop into any story and it would make sense. I’ve talked about Batman on the show at length so I wouldn’t take up space here from our other writers. Batman is a character you can always depend on to keep the lights on. Now more than ever, I appreciate the characters’ stories, family, and what he stands for.


Now I assume if you know me, you would assume my recommendation would be “Heart of Ice from Batman: The Animated Series. I do think if you haven’t seen it, it’s time to pop it on and get ready to put your heart on ice. But I wanted to recommend a story I haven’t read since I was young up until the moment before writing this. I want you to read Gotham Knights #18 “Cavernous” from Devin Grayson, Roger Robinson, John Floyd, Rob Schwager, and Bill Oakley. It’s an issue that I read multiple times when I was younger because it made me realize that Batman was depressed. That his choices and things he had done actually alienated the people he cared about. Batman didn’t have the emotional tools needed to reach out to others to tell them he just didn’t want to be alone so instead he did his normal pushing them away. But eventually he asks Aquaman to help him get his penny unlodged after the Earthquake (See No Man’s Land). But there is a moment on the last page that is very worth reading this one off issue for. You don’t need any knowledge of the stories surrounding this, it’s rather stand alone to highlight the loneliness of the bat.

Jordan

I often get very sick of Batman. I loved him as a child of course, because of all the movies, cartoons and toys. But growing older and getting into comics I start to resent his overexposure and by extension Batman himself. But then occasionally I read a great Bat story or revisit a classic episode of the animated series and I remember that Batman is just the coolest thing. Unlike a lot of characters Batman’s world could survive entirely on it’s own. Divorced from the wider DC Universe, Gotham is a living, breathing world with its own internal logic and world. Batman’s villains know each other, they have their own rivalries and relationships and that’s not something you can say for most superhero rogues. There is just something about Gotham that is so endlessly appealing, that brings out the best in its creators. With a moody atmosphere but also poppy fun. Because Batman can be anything. He’s malleable in a way other characters aren’t. That’s why despite the oversaturation of the character I will always love Batman. Because it’s a whole world of stories and characters in its own right that feels timeless and larger than life in its own way. 

Shadow of the Bat #1-4:

Up in the pantheon of Batman writers there are names like Grant Morrison, Scott Snyder and Denny O’Neil and rightfully so. But for me my favourite work with the Bat of Gotham has always been with Alan Grant. I revisit his stories a LOT, especially those with art by the late great Norm Breyfgole. Together these two created the ultimate image of Batman to me. A dark mysterious creature of the night. Breyfgole’s stylized art depicts a Gotham larger than life. It’s angular and all encompassing and within it stands Batman. Stylish and angular, a haunting shadow streaking across the night sky. It perfectly suits Grant’s dark and psychological stories. But it’s not all darkness. I’m a believer in Batman needing empathy and levity. This particular story has Batman fighting a murderous serial killer, but also walking a lost girl home. Alan Grant’s Batman is one that perfectly encapsulates all aspects of the character to me. He’s a dark vengeful spirit but a compassionate hero at the same time. 

But what’s a specific story from this run that I recommend? Really anything by Grant and Breyfgole I say is worth a read. One story stands out to me though and that’s the first arc of Shadow of the Bat. This was a new Batman title made especially for Grant to go wild, and his first arc was a real mission statement. The story here takes place over four issues and follows Batman as he tries to solve a series of serial murders around Gotham City. The catch is that he’s already sure of who it is, Victor Zsasz. This is Zsasz’s first ever appearance and Grant and Brefygole established everything about him here. His sickening need to kill people, his obsession with marking himself with tallies from his victims and his lanky visage. The only problem for Batman is that Zsasz is already in Arkham, after he caught him in a previous adventure. So Batman has to break into Arkham to try and figure out what’s going on and how he’s getting out. A super simple conceit that gives way to a brilliant story dripping in atmosphere. To me this is the definitive Arkham story. It’s a building that feels gothic and larger than life, a sickening hole where the superstitious and cowardly are thrown away and forgotten. Grant and Breyfgole are the kinds of nailing the mood of Batman. They really build up the world of Gotham in a way that lets us understand Batman even more. It’s a perfect Batman comic and one that I will cherish forever.  

José Cardenas

My Bat-Love began when I was eleven years old. It was December, between Christmas and my birthday, and my parents presented a double-whammy Birthmas present that would set me on a path to creativity and superhero fandom. 

The gift — Lego Batman: The Videogame

As children, my brother and I adored Legos, always building the sets, playing with them and inevitably breaking them because we were never the delicate type of boys. The idea of playing a video game version with Batman, who we knew from a collection of cool cartoons, was a dream come true, and I’m sure welcome salvation for my poor parents’ feet. 

That game introduced me to the meaning of “atmosphere” with the eerie music from the Burton films, dark urban environments and the Stud sound effects that will haunt me forever. It was also a really great relationship-builder with my little brother. It helped so much, we even got to a point where I would let him play Batman, a true mark of respect in our household.

That’s what Batman means to me. A dark and strange city filled with wonder, and me with my family, trying to make our way through it all. 

So in comics, my Batman recommendation is Court of Owls by Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo. Not only did the trade paperback reignite my love for Batman in high school, but it also brought back those childhood feelings of dark discovery.

The Caped Crusader, after years of experience with his villains and his city, is faced with a threat even older than him and completely unfamiliar to me. What helps him persevere are the thoughts of his family, who stay with him through the end. 

This is a Batman comic that anyone can read.

Andrew Malacarne

I was born after Batman: The Animated Series but before the era of streaming so I had to find my own connections to Batman. We’re now in an era full of kid friendly comics coming from DC and Marvel but those used to be far and few between. Cartoon Network came to my rescue in the form of Young Justice. I was three years old when Teen Titans came out and had forever wanted to fill that void after seeing heroes my age going on the adventures I could only dream of. Young Justice was the solution I needed. My connection to Batman is through his family. I never felt a strong connection to Bruce’s dark quest for vengeance but the light his family brings is what made me believe in Batman. My favorite Gothamite is Tim Drake, the third Robin, who represents what I saw in myself as a kid. He’s the one who wasn’t chosen but had to prove himself worthy of his place. It may be that constant imposter syndrome but I feel the same way. I wanted to, and still do, be seen as worthy in what I do. Tim’s my fictional brother and I wouldn’t choose another.

Young Justice is a perfect introduction to Batman and the greater DC Universe for new fans. Balancing new and established characters it gives fans their own young heroes that they can see themselves in. From energetic Kid Flash to brash Superboy or mysterious Artemis and optimistic Miss Martian there’s a hero for everyone. It explores the depths of DC with some great deep cuts that will make old fans happy while giving new fans a great look at everything DC has to offer.

Rook


I think the first cartoon I ever saw was Batman: The Animated Series. I was two, so I was a little young for it — something I proved almost immediately, when I saw Batman bleed and I started crying. I don’t think I had ever seen an adult or authority brought low like that before, so it was a visceral shock.

But images of that night, the deep red skies and hostile silhouettes of Gotham City, lived in my mind from that point forward. There was always an allure to it, like a nightmare that’s so exciting you almost remember it fondly. As I grew older, some of the sharp edges became less threatening, and I enjoyed the occasional Batman comic or episode of Justice League. But I didn’t really feel like I “got” Batman on a personal level until I was eight. 

My parents didn’t get shot in an alley or anything, but I’ve had post-traumatic stress disorder ever since. And Batman, for all of his stylish visual presentation and plethora of incredible skills, is first and foremost the character built around trauma. His triumphs, his defeats, his villains and his family all reflect the singular moment that destroyed his life, and his steadfast refusal to give in to the cruelty of the world and the ragged wound at the center of his psyche means a lot to me.


On that note, the Batman story that I’m going to recommend is I Am Suicide from Tom King, Mikel Janin, June Chung, and Clayton Cowles. This is a little bit of a cheat, because it’s following up on the end of the first Batman arc of Tom King’s run, I Am Gotham — but I’m picking it anyway, because I think this story is essential. The main thrust of the story is a Suicide Squad mission to Bane’s island nation stronghold to recover a power that can heal someone’s severe psychological damage. At its core, the arc is anchored by narration from Bane, Catwoman, and Batman. It cuts right to the heart of their parallel traumas, and how both defying and accepting their pain fuels them. 

Violet 

Batman has always been a part of my life, having two older brothers, it was an inevitable escape. I used to watch Batman The Animated Series clips on YouTube with them most evenings. One character in particular caught my attention.

To be honest with you, a few months back, I was asked to write something similar about what a certain comic book character means to me, and I couldn’t type out the right words without my vision getting blurred from my own tears. I ended up backspacing everything thinking it was “too deep” for a comic book character. But now I realize it’s important to voice how you feel; especially about particular escapes such as comics and how they transport you to another world for a few blissful moments. They make you forget about the harsh, horrible reality we all share. 

Harley Quinn does exactly that for me, each time, without failure. I don’t relate to wanting to maim humans who look at me funny, trust me (well only sometimes, I’ve got a pet peeve about people staring but anyway). I relate to her highly on how she can be so conflicted with her own demons yet make someone smile. That someone being me. 

She intrigues me with how persistent she is despite the trauma she’s been through, she remains motivational but in no way glosses over the ugly. Harley never denies that; sometimes life is shitty and most definitely doesn’t always work in your favour but it’s important to make do with what you have and chase better things for yourself. I’ve said before; she’s messy and unsure, but will figure out the answers with you along the way and it’s makes you feel less dumb for not knowing the answer to every situation life. 

Harley’s individuality certainly has rubbed off of me in the best of ways. I’ve learned life is waaaaay too short to not have colourful hair and to not impulsively do the things you’ve always wanted to do. You have your entire old age to be boring! Spice up your life, manically dye your hair every month, just please use a conditioner mask!

Her charismatic, bubbly, unpredictable nature breathes life into my soul each new release. I should probably find a new source of serotonin, or maybe it’s about time I finally book in for that therapist but until then, I’m going to continue soaking up every last little frame of this joyful jester. 

Recommendations: 

Vengeance Unlimited

Harley Quinn Vol.6 Angry Bird by Frank Tieri, Inaki Miranda, Mirka Andolfo

Adam

I think there are very few people in the world who aren’t in some way aware of Batman.  They might not know much but Batman, Robin, Joker; these are some of the most recognizable brands in the world.  And that was the level of recognition I had.  I knew some names but who the characters really were?  No clue.  All that changed after the most on-brand Batman introduction I could possibly have, the LEGO Batman – The Videogame.  But unfortunately LEGO Batman gives a very skewed perception of what Gotham really is.  Apparently Killer Moth ISN’T a major player in Gotham?  There are very few Mad Hatter stories?  Disgraceful.

Years later when I began dipping my toe into comics, Batman seemed like one of the logical places to start.  And I followed a lot of the New 52 and Rebirth titles for Batman and the larger Bat-family, and liked most of what I read but it was never my favourite thing.  I was never a Batman or Nightwing FAN.  Just someone who occasionally reads them.  All that changed when I first read a book with Cassandra Cain and Stephanie Brown.  I can’t even remember which book it was, but now these two were my favourites who I’d follow anywhere (except War Games/Geoff Johns Titans).




Batgirl Volume 3

The third volume of Batgirl was part of the Batman Reborn relaunch, as Dick Grayson takes on the mantle of Batman, Damian Wayne becomes Robin and Stephanie Brown, once Spoiler, then Robin, then back to Spoiler, takes on the mantle of Batgirl.  And it’s fantastic.  Written by Bryan Q. Miller, the art team is PACKED full of future talent like Lee Garbett (Loki: Agent of Asgard), Pere Perez (Rogue & Gambit) and Dustin Nguyen (Batman: Lil’ Gotham) and stunning covers from artists like Phil Noto, Dustin Nguyen and even early Artgerm covers (which makes tracking down the single issues a nightmare).  

Only 24 issues thanks to the New 52 cutting the run short, Steph’s run as Batgirl is just unashamedly fun.  We really get to the core of how she stands out from Barbara and Cass and she gets to show why she deserves to take on the Batgirl mantle perfectly.  It’s also very tied into the Batman Reborn line as a whole and Dick!Bats, Robin and Red Robin make frequent appearances.  Stephanie’s time as Batgirl may have been much too short, but every issue was perfect and balanced really fun moments with some real heart.  I can’t recommend it enough but just be prepared to fall in love with Stephanie Brown and start to hate DC for the years of Steph erasure.

Isabel

I didn’t get into superheroes until late in life. (Late for superheroes – I was 14). It was a very gradual thing, I watched all the MCU movies, and slowly moved into Marvel comics, where I stayed for a good number of years. And then, two events coincided: my stepbrother gave me his DC Universe log in (remember that?), and on March 10th, 2019, I broke two bones in my ankle. I had to go on medical leave from college, and I spent my days lying in bed with nothing to do. Except, of course, watch everything DCU had for me to consume. I was ravenous, it was like I was a kid again – I watched Young Justice twice, I watched all of Batman: The Animated Series in about a week. At some point, I started reading comics too. I still have the excel sheet with everything on it, I read hundreds and hundreds of issues. I read the entirety of Birds of Prey (127 issues), I read Cassandra Cain’s Batgirl in two days (73 issues), I read over half of the 90s Robin run (117 issues).

I watched the Justice League Unlimited episode “Dead Reckoning” the same day a different, traumatic thing happened to me – and it all kinda clicked there. You might not even remember this episode, it’s the one with Deadman, and Gorilla Grodd tries to turn all humans into gorillas – you probably remember that. In it, Devil Ray almost shoots Wonder Woman, but Deadman stops him, by possessing Batman and shooting Devil Ray – who falls backward into some kind of electric panel, and dies. Obviously, Deadman didn’t mean to do this, but he can’t communicate this to Batman, who comes back to himself holding a gun, and looking straight at a dead body. And it was that, that sense of being trapped, the betrayal of my own body, that clicked with me. The show never follows up on it! It’s never mentioned again, beyond cursing Deadman to more time on earth as a ghost, and Batman storming off near the end of the episode. But – Batman knew how I felt. Batman understood. That’s a big part of Batman, that self identification. And after self identification is caring, because he does care – of course he does. He sees himself in the people around him, just like we see ourselves in him. How can you not care about someone you see yourself in? 

I want to recommend “Death Strikes at Midnight and Three” which is an interesting story. Denny O’Neil writes prose, with Marshall Rogers on art and page layouts. It’s a fascinating style, one that never really caught on. The story is pretty good, but the page design by Marshall Rogers was what really caught my eye, because it’s not a standard comic book, it’s much more abstract. The interaction between text and image is fascinating, the balance of prose and art switching easily between pages and propelling the story along. It’s almost like a collage, text pasted over and into the art behind it. The last page of the story made me audibly gasp, it’s incredibly striking, white text boxes standing out on the black of the page. It’s a beautiful comic.

I also want to direct people towards the gem that is Batman: Black & White. It was brought back recently, but I’m talking about the 90s stuff here. The main conceit of a short comic about Batman – written and drawn by people who haven’t necessarily worked on Batman – means it’s full of perfect little stories about all the different things Batman means to people. Brubaker & Sook’s “I’ll Be Watching” is a story about the comfort of having Batman there, always, while McKeever’s “Perpetual Mourning” is a quiet thing about Batman bringing humanity back to the dead, and Claremont, Rude & Buckingham’s “A Matter of Trust” is a heartwarming story about Bruce babysitting for a friend.

Marc Quill

Growing up consuming a fair amount of superhero fiction meant I was fully aware of who Batman was, even while I was just a kid in the Philippines. 1995’s Batman Forever may have been critically panned, but as a kid, it didn’t matter to me. I found it enjoyable and a rather entertaining first exposure to the world of Batman. Then came Batman: The Animated Series, the beloved cartoon which pretty much helped define Batman to a new generation of young kids.

Over the years, I came to realize that while Batman himself was cool, his “family” of costumed allies edged him in that regard. Whether it’s old favorites like Dick Grayson (Robin I/Nightwing) and Barbara Gordon (Batgirl/Oracle) or newer characters like Cass Cain (Black Bat/Orphan) or Harper Row (Bluebird), it’s been quite satisfying for a character often characterized as a loner to have this massive support network of Gotham-based heroes helping him out at a moment’s notice.

As such, I feel that the 52-issue Batman Eternal is a good series that helps showcase the Bat Family at their finest. These stories — largely written by Scott Snyder and a rotating group of guest writers, plus various artists, are high-stakes tales that obviously feature Batman, but also gives a good amount of page time to various characters.

Eternal shines a light on characters such as Tim Drake (Red Robin) and Stephanie Brown (who’s introduced into the New 52 continuity here), as well as Red Hood and the aforementioned Harper Row (whose transformation into Bluebird is chronicled over multiple issues). It’s an adventure that manages to maintain steam through 52 weekly issues, with Snyder being helped on writing duties by an all-star stable of writers including Tim Seeley, John Layman, Ray Fawkes, and current Bat-scribe James Tynion IV. The art throughout these issues isn’t too shabby either, with heavy hitters like Dustin Nguyen, Jason Fabok, Guillem March, and Joe Quinones all providing some well-drawn panels.

The main thing, however, that drew me to Eternal was the culmination of Harper Row’s hero’s journey. She’s been a polarizing character for some, but I think what’s made her one of my favorite Bat-Family characters is how she’s defined by resolve and refusing to falter even as the world in Gotham grows more dangerous. Despite not having any actual combat experience and only having her resourcefulness as an engineer on her side, Harper proved herself to be a hero by striving to do the right thing not only for her, but for her younger brother Cullen. That familial bond is why she even decides to be Bluebird, and her first outing in Eternal #42 is a great debut for a Gotham hero that doesn’t nearly get enough of a spotlight.

My Bluebird-based bias aside, you really can’t go wrong with Batman Eternal for an adventure that truly lives up to its title in every way imaginable.

Jimmy Gaspero

I don’t remember when I first heard about Batman. I just always knew there was a Batman. My dad was a fan of the Adam West/Burt Ward movie and television series that was on from 1966-1968 when he was between the ages of 10-12. I didn’t grow up ironically loving that version of Batman for its camp or corniness, because my dad didn’t. He genuinely loved it and I did too. It didn’t take long for me to learn about a different version of Batman though, which happened through the comics. My dad wasn’t an avid comic book collector, but he would take my brother and I to the local comic book shop. He was always interested in new number 1 issues of anything or issues he thought might be valuable one day. So I wasn’t a regular reader of Batman comics, but you better believe I still have all the issues from Batman: A Death in the Family from 1988 as well as Batman #500 from 1993. My thoughts and feelings about Batman are inextricably linked to my dad.

Since getting back into reading comics around 2008, I’ve read a lot of Batman comics, and truth be told, when I try to look at it objectively, I’m not a huge fan of the character. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve certainly read some great Batman comics, but too many times it feels like different writers giving subtle variations on a theme I don’t find that interesting. I will always love Batman though, because I can’t think of Batman without thinking of my dad, and I love my dad. 

When it comes to suggesting Batman comics, I don’t believe it gets any better than Batman: The Black Mirror. This storyline was published in Detective Comics issues #871-#881 written by Scott Snyder and artists Jock and Francesco Francavilla. Dick Grayson is the Batman and must contend with the return of James Gordon, Jr., Commissioner Gordon’s son and a psychopathic killer. This storyline begins Scott Snyder’s run and is the final arc of Detective Comics before DC’s New 52. Snyder writes as though he’s not going to be allowed to write Batman again and the result is, in my opinion, the best Batman story ever written. It’s smart, dark, full of twists and turns, and gorgeously illustrated. If you read one Batman story in your life, this should be the one. 

Categories
Film

GateBuster: Re-Animator

You get a fair amount of weird looks when you tell people one of your favorite movies is Re-Animator.

You get a lot of stuff like “Isn’t Weyoun from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine in that?”. Or maybe, “That thing is…REALLY gross, right?”. Or, my personal favorite, “Doesn’t a severed head perform a sex act on Barbara Crampton in that?”

To which I usually reply “Yes.”, “Yes, isn’t it great?!”, and “Yeah, BUT IT’S ALL PRACTICAL EFFECTS!”. Which then, ultimately, garners even weirder looks. Or just altogether abandonment. There is also the matter of its source material’s author being a huge piece of shit. Springing from a popular pulp serial from author H.P. Lovecraft, his prose version bears little resemblance to Stuart Gordon and Jeffery Combs’ filmic version but we still have to wrestle with the obvious legacy of hatred, fear of the other, and bigotry Lovecraft injected into even his most seminal of stories. Even, sadly, Herbert West, Re-Animator amongst them. 

But even despite ALL OF THIS. Even factoring in the bracing, ever evolving legacy of the author who started all this and the “video nasty” reputation the movie was greeted with upon its release. Re-Animator still will always mean a great deal to me. It will always be a movie I cherish and want to share with as many people as possible. 

Because it was the movie that finally showed me that horror could be a whole hell of a lot of fun.

I should back up. For those unaware of the blood-soaked blast that is 1985’s Re-Animator, let me first say, why do you hate fun and welcome. First conceptualized as a stage production (and then later adapted in 2011 as a stirring and screamingly entertaining musical starring George “Norm” Wendt), Re-Animator is the bloody brainchild of writer/director Stuart Gordon, a name you’ve surely seen emblazoned and respected down the isles of any self-respecting Horror section of a video store.

A veteran of the “experimental” (read: bloody-as-fuck) theatre scene of Chicago and founder of a troupe called the Organic Theatre Company, Gordon is and was a born and bred “Horror Guy”. Until his death this last year, Gordon was always either behind the camera or behind the keyboard, cooking up some new manner of practical efx-driven horror. More often than not, these works were based on the writings of Lovecraft. Though Gordon had a healthy career away from the pulps, directing a whole gamut of non-horror stuff as well (Honey, I Blew Up The Kid! Robot Jox!), you can tell from the works (and quantity of adaptations) that making Lovecraft and his labyrinthine mythos both accessible and fun for the general horror watching audience was something of a passion of his. 

Edgar Allen Poe would also take up some of his focus and attention later in his career too, bringing along frequent collaborator Jeffery Combs (more on that lovely maniac in a second), but Lovecraft always seemed to be Mr. Gordon’s true muse; both in his filmed and staged works. But it all starts here with ‘85’s Re-Animator, and holy hell is it a great fuckin’ start.

Though the original serial novellas have a somewhat stuffy and haughty tone, Gordon’s Re-Animator, from the jump, seems gleefully irreverent. We open on the idyllic University of Zurich medical center, detailed in a lush matte painting. The eminent Dr. Hans Gruber (no, not that one) has died, but suddenly screams wrack the hospital! The body has been disturbed somehow and is now…ALIVE AGAIN?! Thanks to the clandestine efforts of a little dweeb carrying a vial of Day-Glo green liquid. Gruber thrashes and moans and for a second seems to notice the dweeb when he talks to him; said dweeb being his former student. But then his eyes explode like overripe peaches and his face melts. ALL on camera and largely shot in well-lit close-ups.

“You killed him!”, the attendings scream at the dweeb.

“NO!” he retorts proudly. “I GAVE HIM LIFE!”

Smash cut to a set of immensely arresting credits and a cheeky, string-heavy score from composer Richard Brand. 

And the best part is, the rest of the movie lives up to that opening! Though a…let’s say LIBERAL adaptation of the original serial, Gordon’s Re-Animator displays a confidence you can only find in a debut movie. Honed by years of stagecraft and working directly with actors, a lot of this cast brought in from his days as a Chicago theatre director, all of Gordon’s set-pieces throughout this thing just sing. Supported by some ghoulish and medically accurate makeup effects (inspired by one of the artist’s research into the Cook County morgue and medical cadavers). 

More than that, it’s actually FUNNY too. And not just “horror movie” funny in that accidental way or grim way slasher movies kind of slap at occasionally. Gordon’s script, co-written with writers Dennis Paoli and William Norris, was originally intended to be a bleakly funny ½ hour comedy show, following the framework of the original serial, set in the 1920s. 

Obviously, that didn’t pan out, but the droll comedy of the format for sure made the transition to being a feature. Following a young couple who provide their fellow peer West a room for rent, the movie starts out as basically a comedy of errors. Our leads, played groundedly by Bruce Abbott and literal queen and genre icon Barbara Crampton, are forced to have to deal with the obvious weirdness and weaponized arrogance of West, played to the absolute hilt by Jeffery Combs. But once his resurrection experiments crash their hot-and-heavy college romance, the couple becomes a zombie-fighting throuple, fighting to both survive West’s resurrection experiments and the legions of monsters they threaten to unleash on the unsuspecting Miskatonic University.

While the makeup and cult-classic status of this movie is a major selling point, none of it would work without Jeffery Combs. An actor who always seemed one million percent dialed into whatever madness Gordon had cooked up. Whatever tone he wanted to have on the day. Re-Animator too serves as Combs’ lead debut. Though he had played a few bit parts beforehand, Herbert West is really his first time “at-bat” as it were as a major role and he absolutely nails it. From selling the terror of an undead cat to cooly facing down a villainous severed head, Combs just deftly handles every shift, every gag, like it’s the most vaunted and serious of material, which would become a hallmark of his later horror performances. And in doing so, launches a horror icon. One that sustained several sequels, a comic series, and even a whole other separate career as one of Star Trek’s hardest-working character guest stars.

But I tell y’all all this to tell you mainly that this gross, horny, and consistently hilarious movie really unlocked something in me. Something I wasn’t expecting it to be at all. You see, when I was younger, I used to be TERRIFIED of horror movies. Like, so much so, that I would have a full-on PANIC ATTACK seeing posters or seeing that my mom wanted to rent the new Halloween movie on ancient, wired Pay-Per-View. 

A shift started to happen when I discovered Joe Bob Briggs and TNT’s MonsterVision. Suddenly, I wasn’t screaming with the movies, I was laughing with them. Joe Bob’s constant stream of information and his smirking attitude toward the actual “acts” of terror happening, contained well within his “Drive-In Totals”, finally gave me an edge against the movie I was about to watch. I finally knew what to expect! Better still, a fellow Texan was walking me through it! He never showed Re-Animator on MonsterVision, but he talked about it and Gordon, often and fondly. Finally, after an episode on the equally entertaining (and gross and horny) From Beyond, I sought out Re-Animator. Renting in with a double feature alongside Evil Dead II, another I had only heard of, not seen. I was TWELVE. My parents dropped some balls, for sure.

But for the first time, seeing both those blood-soaked, but irresistible films back-to-back, I felt like I GOT IT. After all those years of being scared, of hiding from the blood, I was cheering it on (in a constructive, non-DudeBro way, I promise). Instead of hiding my eyes, I was anxiously awaiting the next scare, the next effect. I was finally and gratefully “in on the joke”. And Stuart Gordon and a bunch of other weirdos who made a weirdo movie brought me into it.

From there, a whole new world opened itself up to me. A world filled with Texas Chainsaw Massacres and the Lament Configuration and dark delights from even beyond the borders of America. That summer into the fall I discovered Fulci and Argento and the sumptuousness of Bava. I walked into The Mouth of Madness and finally turned the pages on my first read of Creepshow. I kept staring fear in the face and came out smiling. 

All because a bunch of theatre dorks spun a yarn, and spun it well.

Re-Animator isn’t for everyone. Loving it as I do, it’s one of the things I can instantly admit about it. It’s not a “casual” experience by any standards. It’s squishy and it’s mean and it has a few moments in it sure to shock a Wine Mom into a coma. But it’s a movie that will always hold a special place in my heart because it finally gave ME a special place in Horror. With irreverence, gallons of fake blood, and a truly game cast and crew, Re-Animator finally provided me my own perfect Horror experience. It showed me how and why people found this fun because it finally let ME have fun with it. I know it’s not for everybody, but it’s certainly for me.

I thank Jeffery Combs for that. I thank Barbara Crampton for that. But most of all, I thank Stuart Gordon for that. For showing that horror didn’t have to be needlessly cruel to be scary and didn’t have to sacrifice realism or humor for any of the blood. That horror could be theatrical and still be effective. That broadness didn’t always mean badness. 

That’s why I can take weird looks when I say “Re-Animator is one of my favorite movies”. Because I know that underneath all the gore and the Day-Glo serum and casual nudity there is a movie worth more than just the sum of its parts. 

It gives me, like Dr. Hans Gruber…LIFE!

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Film

Scooby-Doo Meets Courage the Cowardly Dog – Review

Before going into the movie, it must be stated that Courage’s creator, John R. Dilworth, didn’t have any knowledge about the movie in question or the utilization of his character, finding out at the same time the public did when the trailer was released. While the creative team’s not at fault, using another artist’s creation without permission is unacceptable, even more, when dealing with a multibillion-dollar company.

Keeping up with the two direct-to-video movies a year module, Mystery Incorporated is back on our screens once again! You could say this one is a particularly special occasion since it’s not only a new Scooby-Doo movie but a crossover with the other easily frightened canine; Courage the Cowardly Dog! His show came to an end almost twenty years ago in 2002, and the last time we saw him was in a CGI special that only aired in Southeast Asia during Halloween of 2014. This movie not only marks the first time we see him since then, but the last time Thea White got to voice Muriel Bagge before her passing on July 30, 2021.

The movie starts as they often do in this era: with the gang at the end of a mystery, about to unmask another monster. However, Shaggy and Scooby decide to take a picture with the criminal, who, in this case, is a crazy clown. With the rest of the gang and the audience confused, the film takes the opportunity to slip in the central theme of the movie, which is courage, and what it means. They are trying, with the help of an app, to stop being terrified by everything. The other team members are very supportive of what they’re both attempting, but Scooby himself interrupts them, dancing uncontrollably and hallucinating, only to run off without warning. With their priorities in mind, the gang gets in the van to go look for Scoob, while Daphne says to the clown she’s sorry to not finish that properly, but there’s a family emergency, leaving him to grab the money and escape.

This is a truly great Scooby-Doo intro. It sets up the theme and conflict of the movie while characterizing our beloved teens (and dog) perfectly; they are not pseudo-mystery cops. They are a family who’s in it for the adventure and mystery.

But the presentation’s not over, as we then cross over (pun totally intended) to Courage’s home, who’s experiencing the same anomaly as Scooby, coupling that with Eustace’s torments. He runs outside, the sun already set, and finds Scooby. The two communicate in the best way two dogs with speech impediments can, but are suddenly attacked by giant cicadas. Thus, the team-up starts.

What follows is a rollercoaster of out-of-world oddities as the gang resides in the isolated house of Courage, miles away from anything at all and at the mercy of whatever dares attack them. While not nearly playing with horror as something like Zombie Island or even Camp Scare, it’s an interesting atmosphere and nice change of pace after two movies that concentrated more on the action and adventure, parodying Mad Max and telling a medieval story. It’s not an atmosphere that lasts long, but a welcome one, and what’s next is equally exciting, as the oddities continue to come their way, giving place to fun and creative set-pieces with time to shine for both sides of the crossover.

If you’re a fan of either franchise, this is a definite must-watch. It’s one of the best Scooby-Doo crossovers, managing to mix both the Scooby and Courage formula in a great, fun, and entertaining way that is easy to recommend.

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Film

Reagan’s Recs: Our Fears on Film w/ Neo

Welcome back to Guest Recs, this month’s guest is my sister Neo. Despite her occasionally questionable taste in movies (looking at you Resident Evil), she generally tends to have really great taste in movies.

Back when I started the column I asked her if she would like to be part of the first batch and she (thankfully) said yes. I’ll be honest, I didn’t fully know what to expect when she agreed to do this. Afterall, she could have done everything from bad video game movies to The Matrix power hour. Instead, she blew me away with this rumination on fear in film. As per usual all of these recs are cosigned by me but I just wanted to make very clear that I think all of these are at the very least fun movies that should be seen at least once.


Our world has always had its fears, festering up from deep inside of us at rational and irrational times alike. Whether they be primal fears founded in rationality, like fear of heights, or whether they be more modern fears of a more irrational variety such as fears based around social media. Everyone experiences a particular breed of anxiety from time to time when faced with their fears, valid or invalid as they may be, with some people experiencing it to a crippling amount. Like most media, films often reflect the fears we hold both intentionally and unintentionally, and in some cases have been shown to increase already existing fears societies hold. 

It can be important to recognize what fears that media can be showing us, even unintentionally, and to be critical of them. Films can be used to direct vitriol at different groups and cause ostracization of them by associating different people with terrible things. They can be used as a form of propaganda against groups that the writer or director doesn’t like, or ones that are easy targets to tear down if society already looks down on them. When we see a depiction in a film that scares us it is important to ask ourselves what message the film is trying to get across.

Halloween (1978) dir. John Carpenter, United States

Halloween is an all-time classic horror movie that still holds up as frightening to this day, with Michael Myers/The Shape remaining an iconic staple in slasher horror alongside other giants of the genre such as Jason Vorhees and Freddy Kreuger. It is a film that prays on many fears people in society hold, the silent killer, the home invasion, being hunted, but the specific fears I’m focusing on here are those of the fear of the other and the fear of the mentally ill. Both of these fears can be tied together as they often go hand in hand in reality. 

People fear those with ‘scary’ mental illnesses such as psychotic disorders because they are different, because they are other and because it is hard for them to understand the disorders and what they mean. People hear the word psycho in psychotic and picture Patrick Bateman, the eponymous American Psycho or Norman Bates of Psycho fame, when in reality those with psychotic disorders are nothing like the characters meant to represent them on screen. Michael Myers can be seen as another example of the archetypal Psycho Killer (qu’est-ce que c’est?) often found in horror media, a harmful stereotype representing those with psychotic disorders as brutal and unstoppable killers. When in fact they are just people with a mental illness who aren’t going to just start walking around town killing people at random. 

It is easy to see Michael Myers as The Other. He was originally called The Shape, a nebulous title that represented his obscured nature, he always wears his mask, never really revealing his face, and he is almost inhuman seeming with his impossible survival through several attempts to take him down, whether they be by a knitting needle, a gun, or a fire. Despite the fears it can represent, intentionally or not, Halloween is still an excellent horror movie that I highly recommend to those who have never seen it, and highly recommend a rewatch for those who have. 

Train to Busan (2016) dir. Yeong Sang-ho, South Korea

Train to Busan is one of the best zombie movies ever made. While I’m sure some would love to debate this opinion I will plug my ears and ignore them as someone who typically hates zombie movies but loved Train to Busan. The fears it prays on are both obvious and more metaphorical, with it having elements of fears of death and disease, but also having elements of the fear of growing distant from and losing family. 

Trapped on a train surrounded by the living dead, a businessman is forced to confront how distant he has become from his young daughter due to his workaholic nature and ignorance. The film shows how his greed for money and his choice to work instead of spending time with his daughter has pushed a wedge between them, and how it was likely the cause for his divorce. 

Throughout the film, he is forced to reflect on his own nature and his fear of becoming separated from his daughter, both in an abstract and literal sense, as he traverses the train with a group of survivors attempting to reach the other group. The film also shows the fear of disease, with the character of the greedy COO fearing the group trying to connect with his group could be infected and attempting to keep them locked out to save his own skin while ignoring their insistence that they are not infected. Everyone fears disease, and many people fear driving a wedge between themselves and others. Often these fears are rational and irrational alike, and they are ones the film doesn’t use to stigmatize anything but greed and ignorance. Train to Busan is a film I’d recommend even if zombie films aren’t typically your cup of tea.

The Strangers (2008) dir. Bryan Bertino, United States

The Strangers is a film that preys on our fears of stalking and home invasion, similar to the original The Purge but preceding it by a number of years. It tells the story of a couple who are attacked in the night by three masked strangers who invade their home and attempt to hunt them down, simply because they can. Many people have anxiety around these particular fears. Is that bang outside a raccoon or is someone trying to smash a window and get in? Was that creak on the floorboard the house settling or is someone creeping down the hall? Is that shadow in the corner of my eye a shirt hanging on a chair or is it a person trying to hide? 

These are fears further exacerbated by the real home invasions, stalkings, and killings that happen in our real world. They are fears very much based in reality, but ones that are often irrational. While The Strangers isn’t a perfect horror film it is one that I love and recommend to anyone who doesn’t have intense anxiety around home invasions.

Resident Evil (2002) dir. Paul W. S. Andersen, United States

Resident Evil is a film series I will admit is not very good. However, it is incredibly fun to watch, and I recommend at least watching the battle against Wesker from Resident Evil: Afterlife. Both the films and the games explore our fears of disease and our fears of corporations. The T-Virus and its variants across the franchise seem nigh-unstoppable, even when Raccoon City is hit with a nuclear bomb the T-Virus continues to spread across the world. Fear of disease is one that is incredibly prevalent, especially today. Everyone is worried about becoming sick from something, even more, so something that could kill you or that could remove your autonomy. 

Resident Evil also represents our often justified fear of corporations, as the incredibly shady Umbrella Corporation is directly responsible for the outbreak either by incompetence or purposeful infection in an attempt to experiment on an unwilling populace. We often fear what corporations are doing behind the curtain, whether it’s an invasion of privacy, destruction of the environment, or simply causing problems for everyone via sheer incompetence. I highly recommend the Resident Evil series for anyone looking for a good time, at least not critically.

The Matrix (1999) dir. Lana and Lilly Wachowski, United States

The Matrix is a classic sci-fi film and one that I knew would be on this list for certain as soon as I knew I was doing this. It’s my favorite film of all time, and despite not being a horror movie like the others, it still explores some of our societal fears, such as the fear of becoming complacent and the fear of reality not being what we perceive it as. Within the Matrix itself, people are expected to conform to the computer-generated fantasy. Conformity means the computers can keep using the human race as batteries and soylent green. When people don’t conform, such as the characters that teach Neo about the truth of the Matrix, it poses a threat directly to society and the way things are done. The systematic issues are ones the robots don’t want to be challenged as it would threaten their position of power. Sounds a little familiar, even today. 

It can be scary as well to think of the Matrix conceptually. It is scary to imagine the world we know is not real but is instead lines of code on a computer telling us things are a certain way, that things are good when they very much are not. I highly recommend the Matrix to everyone who watches movies. It is a classic and a pioneer for sci-fi visual effects, and an excellent franchise all around. It’s also a good time to watch considering the fourth film in the series comes out this holiday season.

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Film

TIFF: ‘Dashcam’ Brings the Scares but Lacks Substance

In 2020, during the height of the first lockdown, director Rob Savage, and a small team of actors and crew made the Zoom-produced film Host. If you saw it, you’ll know it was something truly unique and got to the heart of some fears we’ve all experienced during the pandemic. To top it all off, it was actually scary, something a lot of modern horror fails to achieve.

So, does Savage’s follow-up, Dashcam, similarly filmed during the pandemic, achieve the same heights? Partially. From a production standpoint, it is clear Savage has evolved his style as a director, bringing a firm hand to what he wants the film to be. The scares are just as good as they were in Host, with shocks you won’t see coming perfectly placed to lull you into a false sense of security before making you jump out of your chair.

However, its protagonist leaves much to be desired. Annie Hardy plays a fictionalized version of herself which is where the film’s problems and lack of substance rears its head. A cursory glance of Hardy’s Twitter will let you know their politics aren’t the most left-leaning. In the film itself, Annie the character is a Trump-supporting, anti-mask, constant annoyance, for lack of a better word. Even after watching a Q&A with Savage, it’s hard to tell if the film is showing the protagonist’s views for the idiocy it is, or whether it’s just a character facet that the film is avoiding commenting on.

Unfortunately, the issues with Hardy’s character detract a lot from what is good. The supporting cast is all great. You’ll even spot a couple of faces returning to work with Savage from Host. Stretch (Amar Chadha-Patel) is a standout as a former member of Hardy’s band who gets caught up in the supernatural events occurring throughout. And then there’s the mysterious Angela (Angela Enahoro), whose role in the plot I won’t spoil but is integral to keeping the scares coming.

I do recommend you check this film out, especially if you were a fan of Host, as you’ll get a lot out of seeing Rob Savage further flex at directing a found-footage horror story. But be warned you will likely face some major issues in trying to understand what he, the writers, and Annie Hardy were trying to achieve with its protagonist.

One last thing, Dashcam definitely receives the crown for most unique end credits I’ve ever watched. Is that a good thing? I’ll leave you to decide.

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Film

Martyrs Lane Review: The Horrors of Tragedy from a Child’s POV

Have you ever watched a horror movie and ended up feeling more sad than scared? Well, that’s exactly what happened to me after watching Ruth Platt’s new movie, Martyrs Lane  (and I mean this in the best way possible). 

Martrys Lane tells the story of Leah, the daughter of a pastor who lives in a vicarage where people are always going when looking for help. One night, after losing something important to her mother, Leah is visited by a girl, just around her age, that might help her find that which she lost. As Leah and her new friend start to get to know each other, things start to go wrong in Leah’s household, and she starts learning some very dangerous information. 

Kiera Thompson as Leah – Martyr’s Lane, Photo Credit: Shudder

At first glance, Martyrs Lane might seem like just another movie about creepy children, but it’s more than that. At its core, this is the story of Leah, and the movie does a fantastic job of showing this. Every scene is told through Leah’s point of view which makes the viewer see the story through the eyes of childhood curiosity, fear and (maybe most importantly) intelligence. Unlike most horror movies, this film doesn’t reduce Leah to the dumb kid archetype, instead we see in Leah a smart and curious kid who is somewhat aware of what is happening around her. This decision works really well because it makes the flow of the narrative a lot more believable, and therefore enjoyable.

One thing that sure makes Leah a great character is Kiera Thompson’s acting which is pleasantly surprising. Throughout the movie, she gives a performance that makes Leah a relatable character, especially through her reactions to each of the different events that transpire through the movie . Her interactions with Sienna Sayer (who plays the mysterious visitor) are some of the best things in the movie. 

Denise Gough as Sarah, Kiera Thompson as Leah – Martyr’s Lane, Photo Credit: Shudder

What I liked most about the movie was the fact that the movie completely understood what type of movie it is. Most horror movies that have a tragedy in the center of them shy away from the sadness and the emotional beats, but Martrys Lane doesn’t. It keeps its emotions at the center of it, giving the characters space to grow and develop. The ending (of which I will try to say the least amount possible) really hits you with the sadness of it all, instead of a few jumpscares and some shocking scenes, making the experience feel unique. 

I really liked this movie, but unfortunately it still falls into some of the cliches of the modern horror movie, especially with Sienna Sayer’s character. At times, this mysterious kid feels like a good and interesting character, but other times it feels like your generic yellow eye creepy child, especially in scenes the movie is trying to be “shocking” scary, and not “slow burn” scary, which works better for the tone and the story. Also, this might be a personal pet peeve, but I’m so tired of children having unspecific health problems just to raise the tension and the stakes (to be fair this movie justifies it a bit, but still). It just feels lazy and unoriginal. 

Denise Gough as Sarah – Martyr’s Lane: Photo Credit: Shudder


All and all, I enjoyed Martyrs Lane a lot more than what I expected. Instead of the creepy kid jump scare fest I thought I was going to get, I got a slow burn horror movie with a creepy atmosphere and a story of grief at its core, which made me feel a lot more feelings than a ghost story has any right to. I heartily recommend this movie, especially for those who want a more emotional and tragic horror story this fall.

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Film

GateBuster: Event Horizon

As a spooky little kid I was fortunate enough to have a TV and a VCR in my bedroom. My family wasn’t wealthy but this little luxury wasn’t expensive and my mom knew how much I liked movies, especially horror movies. The first film I ever saw, due to a flakey babysitter, was James Cameron’s Aliens. According to my mother, 3 year old me thought Aliens was hilarious, a stark contrast to my vehement anger after witnessing the murder of Bambi’s mother in Bambi

Having my own personal TV (covered in X-Men stickers of course) also just made sense because that meant I was able to watch horror movies on my own in case my mom wanted to use the living room TV for something other than a 50th viewing of the original A Nightmare On Elm Street. I was a bit obsessed, but I was rarely “a problem child” and so my mom didn’t really mind. After all, she was the neighborhood “Halloween Lady,” known for her over the top decorations and nightmare tableaus, so it all had to come from somewhere. 

My collection of VHS tapes was formidable, it blossomed with what in my purview were the most important films like Halloween, Night Of The Living Dead, Clueless, The Long Kiss Goodnight, Friday The 13th Part II, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. When it came to what my collection lacked, I loved going to the local video store and perusing the aisles searching for the perfect three rental combination: a tried and true classic that I had already seen but not yet purchased, a new release with cool enough box art, and a random horror film that I grabbed exclusively based on my intuition. This is how I first watched Event Horizon.

Event Horizon, some might call a “bad movie” and to that I say, let’s leave behind this “good” and “bad” binary folks. Like its Paul W. S. Anderson predecessor, Mortal Kombat, and everything Anderson has directed since, Horizon is an exercise in genre camp. Anderson doesn’t make subtle films, I’m not sure he can, and honestly I appreciate that. We’re in an era where horror films are often expected to be a cerebral, deeply nuanced experience and sometimes I just want to watch a bloody mess that doesn’t ask me to consider… well, much of anything. 

The premise, boiled down, is essentially “y’all, what if we did Hellraiser in space? A concept that is executed considerably less well in the film Hellraiser: Bloodlines, where spoiler alert, a space station folds in on itself to become a massive anti-hell puzzle box full of light that traps and destroys demons. 

The film opens with a series of intertitle texts that imagines a much more advanced history for humanity. Rewatching this film with my 35 year old brain, I cackled when I read “2015 – First Permanent Colony Established On The Moon.” I love the unbridled hubris of science fiction compared to our own stunted growth. We always imagine we’ll accomplish more than we do. 

After further scene setting, we get our first shot of the Event Horizon, arguably the main character of the film. The ship is drastically phallic, or uterine? Dealers’ choice really. Perhaps it’s a matter of perspective. 

Various objects float inside the ship’s compromised gravity, a water bottle, a paperback book, a paper cup,  and a standard wrist watch. It all makes one question how we have established space colonies but never updated the design of watches or plastic bottles. The camera settles on the image of nude floating body, arms spread wide, in front of a window shaped like a cross. The camera enters the man’s screaming mouth and exits Sam Neil’s open eye as he wakes in terror. Daddy is being called home. 

Does Event Horizon make sense? Well, no, not really. The “Gravity Drive” or Einstein Rosen bridge inadvertently detours the ship through hell, and now the ship… is Hell? Is Hell’s avatar? The ship sent out a distress call to summon more victims like I might order DoorDash while nursing a hangover on a Sunday?

That said, Event Horizon doesn’t NEED to make sense to be a lot of fun. When did you ever love a piece of art specifically because it made sense? If you go into this film expecting iron-clad science and grounded characters, you’re at the wrong dance, honey. 

The characters are all fairly thinly drawn, their motivations and choices aren’t nuanced and serve simply to move the plot forward. In the moments that we do get character backstory, as with the suicide of Dr. Weir’s wife, or the illness Technician Peters’ son suffers from, it’s all very vague and piecemeal. Other characters seem to have little to no interior lives whatsoever. Who cares, want to watch the ship eat them? 

Fortunately, the film doesn’t look quite as dated as some of its CGI filled contemporaries, the Event Horizon “herself” is filled with impressive practical effects and beautiful gothic sets inspired by the photographs of Joel-Peter Witkin, the paintings of Hieronymus Bosch, Pieter Bruegel, and the Notre Dame Cathedral. The production design on this film is gorgeous, internal spires, spikes, oscillating hallways, and bizarre textures cover every surface. Does it make sense for a spaceship to be designed like a gothic cathedral? Of course not, but is it a cooky fun concept? Absolutely. 

Event Horizon, like all of Paul W. S. Anderson’s work, is ridiculous and best enjoyed a bit stoned if that’s your thing or at the very least with a rowdy group of friends who don’t mind both screaming and laughing at a goofy drama queen of a movie. It’s the perfect movie for a riffy kiki night. Ridicule the dialogue, point out the plot holes, and gag over Sam Neil’s full-body make-up moment. Category is: Spiral Cut Ham Honey.

Highly recommended for fans of Hellraiser, Alien, Solaris, Sunshine, and the Dead Space game series.

Micheal Foulk.

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Film

GateBuster: Plan 9 From Outer Space

Review delivered by Sean Keister

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 in an 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.  

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Film

The Night House is a Quiet Horror Story with a Deep Mythology

The Night House, the new feature film from director David Bruckner (The Ritual) is, at its most simple, a movie about grief. Grief is not a foreign subject to the horror genre, a fact which is becoming more true in recent years with movies like Midsommar and Mandy placing grief front and centre. The Night House after all, follows Beth (Rebecca Hall) as she recovers from her husband’s unexpected suicide; it has all the trappings of a ghost story — a recent widow, a mostly empty house, strange happenings. But much like the titular house, The Night House is so much more than what it seems.

Rebecca Hall is brilliant the entire time, feeling reminiscent of Toni Collette in Hereditary. She carries the entire film which is by design. This is Beth’s story, her recovery in the face of tragedy. As a result, Beth is alone for most of the movie as she attempts to uncover the mystery of just who her late husband (Evan Jonigkeit) really was. It’s an uncomfortable film at times made more so by Hall’s quiet but intense portrayal of a grieving widow struggling with the realization that she didn’t really know her husband in the first place and that he was not who he seemed in more than just the typical “cheating husband” or “husband hiding a dark secret” ways. Like the hints of a denser, more complicated mythology that we see scattered throughout the film, Owen’s secret is more complicated than either of those options.

Beth (Rebecca Hall) in The Night House / Photo Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures. © 2021 20th Century Studios All Rights Reserved

Beth’s realization of her lack of awareness is compounded by the scenes in which she views her husband’s secret life from the outside, watching the impressions of previous nights unfolding all at once from outside of a mirrored version of the lake house which she has been living in alone since her husband’s death. There’s both an eeriness and a deep sadness to it. It’s difficult not to mourn for the lack of awareness Beth is losing as she uncovers the mystery. It’s a terrible thing to love someone and to find out that you didn’t know them at all. Thankfully most of us don’t have the “joy” of finding out that our loved ones are actually dark forces intent on killing us who have caused our loved ones to kill women with similar appearances to us in order to trick the spirit into being appeased. 

Parts of The Night House hint at a deeper mythology than what is textually there; Beth finds books on the occult and a book on caerdroia, Welsh turf mazes. While they weren’t used for these purposes in real life, the prop book features a briefly visible paragraph that details that, within the fictional setting of the film, caerdroia were used to confuse and/or weaken dark forces and distract them with false sacrifices. I’m sure you can connect the dots between this and the last sentence of the previous paragraph. But caerdroia are not where the occult aspects of The Night House end; at one point in the movie, Beth finds a voodoo doll in the mirror house. The doll in question is modeled after a real voodoo doll that was found in Egypt and is now held in the Louvre. I’ve seen it in person and I promise you it is just as creepy as the movie’s version of it. Not much is said about the doll beyond the fact that Owen had one of his would-be victims hold it before he attempted to kill her. 

Beth (Rebecca Hall) holds a voodoo doll in The Night House / Photo Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures. © 2021 20th Century Studios All Rights Reserved

A final point before we conclude our brief dive into the occult aspects of The Night House. The book on caerdroia contains on one of the end papers a seal from the Ars Goetia, one of the five books in the Lesser Key of Solomon, an anonymous grimoire on demonology. The Ars Goetia is essentially a guide to summoning demons; all of the usual suspects are in there, Baal, Paimon, Asmodeus. You name it and it is probably in there. The demon of most import to this entire tangent is Andras, a Great Marquis of Hell who sows discord among people. He’s pretty cool for a demon, rides a wolf, carries a sword, has the head of an owl and the body of a winged angel. His seal appears in the book that Beth finds and while he’s never mentioned by name (and God was I waiting for that moment), it’s still unlikely that the appearance of his seal is a coincidence when one considers all of the other work that was put into the occult aspects of the film. Again, feel free to discount this as meaning nothing and just being me going off on a tangent about one of the weird things I happen to know a lot about.

Beth (Rebecca Hall) in The Night House / Photo Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures. © 2021 20th Century Studios All Rights Reserved

Like Prano Bailey-Bond’s Censor and many other recent horror movies, The Night House is a quiet character-driven story that goes off the rails in the last fifteen or so minutes. While I tend to love when a movie does that I felt a bit of fatigue with that trend while watching it. The ending here works and it does so well but it’s impossible for me not to feel that the other shoe is going to drop soon and I will find myself completely tired of these slow horror movies that devolve into chaos just before the end credits roll. In all genres the shiny new concept that becomes a hit ends up driven into the ground, forced down the throats of viewers until eventually we’ve had enough and we just want it to end. I find it highly likely that if the trend continues at the pace it’s been going we will very soon see the fatigue set in to a wider extent. But despite the creeping fatigue I felt from what is steadily becoming an overused concept in horror, The Night House was really good. It was well-done with a creepy atmosphere free from all but one (well-done and well-earned) jumpscare and a stellar performance from Rebecca Hall at it’s centre.

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Film

GateBuster: Multiple Maniacs

It was the night. I was going to watch a film. I didn’t know what I wanted to watch first until I heard something. It was a voice, but it wasn’t that of my parents or my sister. And it wasn’t a voice inside my head either. The voice kept saying “but Bobby, what about John Waters?” And the name was familiar. This was the man who directed Pink Flamingos, the film that made film critic Mark Kermode leave the cinema (he said it was one of the few films he ever walked out of). It was billed as “an exercise in poor taste.” And that led to me look at the rest of his filmography.

I was intrigued. And I would have wanted to watch one of his films, but I don’t think I was ready. I thought I would wait. Many months passed and I was just minding my own business until I saw a tweet by the GateCrashers. They said that for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, I could watch a film of my own choosing from a list and talk about it.

John Waters has made a name for himself with his filmography of films that are transgressive. Some viewers think of his films as rather shocking. There’s no artistic value to them and to watch one of his films and to enjoy it would mean that one has bad taste in film. And I am sure, there were similar sentiments around Multiple Maniacs. It is a film that wears its identity proudly on its sleeve. It’s a film that asks us to embrace the garbage and the burning down of that garbage. From the beginning until the end, it is a film of absurd extremes. The premise of the film follows a traveling troupe of performers who rob their audience members after the end of a show. There’s a sensibility to the premise as it does sound normal, but the fact that this is a traveling troupe adds a zaniness to it, and that leads to the shock, or in this case, the schlock.

I could have tried to be analytical and viewed Multiple Maniacs through a rational lens, but where’s the fun in that? It’s a film that reminds me of why I love trash and all that comes to it. It may be disgusting and there may be a stench that still lingers, but you can’t forget it. You can look away, but that stench follows you and in the case of this film, there’s a memorability to it that made me consider it to be a masterpiece. It’s the film that I know can make someone squirm and cover their mouth in horror, yet it’s also deeply funny, especially when Divine is involved.

Speaking of Divine, this is the film’s crowning achievement. The character of Lady Divine is a delight to view on screen, especially when she’s interacting with the rest of the cast. She faces horrifying ordeals that inform Waters’ brand of trashy filmmaking, yet she also plays a role in some of the film’s most schlocky moments. Scenes that might play out differently in another film have a stench to them, which can be attributed to Waters’ style, but Divine is the person who gives them an identity. There’s a clear presence to the character that I appreciated.

So, in busting the gates of transgressive filmmaking and John Waters, is Multiple Maniacs a good introduction? Yes, but not in the conventional sense; it is a disgusting introduction that is horrifying and funny, yet one can’t help but look away. Some may claim that this is a pathetic excuse for a film and that it’s the sick fantasy of a warped man and his friends. But I think differently.

I call it cinema in the artistic meaning of the word that is used by cinephiles. And if one were to say that I have bad taste in film, then I will own it.