Categories
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.

Categories
Television

Rita Farr and the Grotesque

Grotesque [groh-tesk]: Adjective. Odd or unnatural in shape, appearance, or character; fantastically ugly or absurd; bizarre.

Rita Farr is grotesque. She remembers when she wasn’t. Her room is filled with memorabilia and posters from her days as a Hollywood Starlet. The four walls of her bedroom envelop the few that enter in a soft, romanticized cloud of 50s and 60s nostalgia. As we, the viewer, learn more about Rita Farr, the actress, and Rita Farr, the Elasti-Girl, the more we see that perhaps the grotesque had been part of her story all along.

Media that criticizes Hollywood isn’t necessarily a new thing (Eyes Wide Shut, 1991. Mulholland Drive, 2001) or disappearing (The Neon Demon, 2016. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, 2019. Brand New Cherry Flavor, 2021) angle for film and television. Hollywood studios have had and continue to have an industry monopoly, and they often operate on very top-down, hierarchical management. As the #MeToo movement has helped uncover, this type of labor organization is often unjust to the many and discriminates against women and minorities in particular. Different elements of said industry pitfalls have made it into the aforementioned films. Although the visual approach and messaging often vary greatly in these types of films, they do generally have one thing in common- violence. Violence often leaves behind grotesque forms- Rita’s accident was horrific, her mother often inflicted emotional abuse upon her, her bosses were opportunistic and would hurt her to benefit themselves. Rita herself inflicted violence on others to maintain her place in the pecking order.

The interesting thing about portraying violence in media about media is the juxtaposition of romanticism. Films and TV make us feel things. We like to feel things. We know they’re scripted and fake, but we don’t particularly care. It’s an escape, reality cannot interfere too greatly, or the fantasy is lost. Rita Farr, the actress, was a Sweetheart, women wanted to be like her, and men wanted to be with her. At least, while she was still booking productions. Hollywood is an industry in which the idea of you is sold for profit. You are discarded when you can no longer reproduce the idea of yourself that the people want. 

Rita’s accident meant her career was over. Her physical affliction meant she could no longer produce Rita Far, the product. The oozing, grotesque lump her body occasionally turned into wasn’t what the people wanted. So, the question is, why did she get this affliction in particular? Body horror is often a visual indication of feeling “monstrous” or a mark of guilt. A way to turn something ugly on the inside outwards so it can be seen and interpreted by an audience. When Rita had her accident, she was already dissatisfied that her career was easing into stagnation. Guilt about the things she had done, and her mother had done for her, to secure the career she had up until then was creeping in. With the assistance of a rotting piece of wood and a loud splash, all these negative and ugly feelings bubbled up to the surface of her skin. 

Rita Farr is a phenomenal actress. She deserved every role and every bit of praise she got. She loved being an actress. However, the industry no longer loved her, and she had forgotten who she was without that relationship. I believe she would have become a different type of ‘monster’ had she continued on the path she was on, and the accident never happened. The ending of her story wouldn’t have been much different from the ending of The Neon Demon or Eyes Wide Shut. A single, sudden act of violence divorced her from her former life and set her on a different path, like cauterizing a wound. She initially viewed the accident as the worst possible thing to happen to her, but once she let Rita the Actress subside, she discovered Elasti-Girl.

Violence will always be a fact of life and will leave behind the grotesque parts of ourselves in its wake. What ultimately matters is how we cope and the environments we surround ourselves with.  Elasti-Girl likes living in Doom Manor, a place that might have scared Rita Farr, The Actress. Doom Manor is special because it’s a place committed to growth without judgment. Every resident unites as a victim of circumstance, but they’re working together to create better circumstances for their future selves and others. What was once a manifestation of Rita’s fears and anxieties became a source of strength and a means to connect with others like her. Although her room remains a bastion of escapism, she finds herself leaving it more and more often to venture out into the world. Parts of her still ooze and hurt, but she’s with others that understand. It’s never too late to reinvent ourselves or leave the places that do not love us to find the ones that do.

Categories
Manga

Sensor: Review

An advanced reader’s copy of this book was provided by Netgalley and Viz Media in exchange for an honest review.

Like many of Junji Ito’s works (Tomie and Remina in particular), Sensor is primarily about a character who is fascinated with a young woman who is herself surrounded by supernatural events that she seems to be connected to in some way. In Tomie, this takes the form of harm befalling those who the titular character encounters and harm befalling Tomie at the hands of the men who she charms. Remina meanwhile follows a girl who becomes the object of obsession with everything after having a planet named after her by her father, something which eventually leads to said planet destroying the earth in an effort to be closer to her.

Sensor, meanwhile, has Kyoko Byakuya, a young woman who feels drawn to Mount Sengoku, a dormant volcano. While there she meets a man who somehow knows everything about her. The man tells her that, thanks to the angelic hair that coats his entire village of Kiyokami, he and the other residents are granted telepathic abilities. The villagers believe that the hair (which they call “amigami”) is the hair of a Christian missionary named Miguel who long ago was put to death along with the villagers who harboured him for refusing to renounce their faith. Each night, the villagers stare up at the sky and use their powers to gaze into the cosmos in order to see Miguel. 

That night, Kyoko joins them and a large amount of amigami reigns down and enhances the villagers’ powers, causing them to sense a mysterious black entity instead of Miguel.

Hair everywhere in Sensor

60 years later, Mount Sengoku has erupted for the first time in ages and a team of scientists are investigating the area where Kiyokami was prior to being destroyed in a previous eruption. There they find Kyoko wrapped in a cocoon of golden hair. This discovery sets the rest of the story in motion and introduces the framing device of a reporter chasing after Kyoko, drawn to her much in the same way that she was originally drawn to Kiyokami.

Sensor is not my favourite of Ito’s stories, I find it hard to believe that anything will ever outdo Uzumaki though I absolutely welcome the idea that something one day could. That being said, I appreciate the big ideas Ito is bringing into this, the fact that he’s bringing in esoteric concepts like the Akashic Records (a compendium of everything ever) is awesome and I would love to see more stuff like that in a lot of media, I love esoteric stuff. In general, this book feels more in line with what I like from Ito’s work than the last story of his to be translated into English, Remina, does. Everything just clicks together for me and the imagery just works in a way that Remina didn’t for me. 

I love Ito’s books, I always have and probably always will. I’ve been told on a few occasions that I have more of his books than anyone some of my friends know. It was basically going to be a given that I had some nice things to say about Sensor. That being said, this book is a solid horror story with some great moments and some moments that just don’t work as well as others but all in all, I enjoyed it and would recommend it to anyone who is interested in reading more horror manga or would like to get into reading Junji Ito but is intimidated by his longer books like Uzumaki or Tomie.

Categories
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.

Categories
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.

Categories
Film

Mosquito State: Horror within Wall Street

Mosquito State is a film of many spinning plates. Not many of them will be left upright by the end, but the ones that director Filip Jan Rymsza keeps spinning prove to be engaging and unique, albeit a bit inert. It’s a horror film that isn’t particularly interested in scaring you, an allegory that can’t be bothered to keep a straight face, and a dark comedy that skews more dark than comedy. Mosquito State fits many genres, but the genre this reviewer found himself reaching for was tragedy; a creature feature set against the backdrop of financial and moral decay.

It’s trite and unfair at this point to compare the film to its obvious influences because while it may share space with The Fly or even Cosmopolis to some degree, Rymsza imbues the film with his own personal flourishes that give distance. It never settles on just being a mere copy, instead forging its own path on a subject that’s been dissected and torn apart in many films already. For instance, the opening sequence showing the life cycle of a mosquito is wonderful to look at and with Cezary Skubiszewski’s foreboding score gives a feeling for what’s to come, and there’s almost a fantastical element to all of this, as a follow a (rather goofy) CGI mosquito navigating through sewers and streets and eventually into our protagonist.

Oliver Martinez in Mosquito State / Source: Shudder

We meet Richard Boca (Beau Knapp) at a party filled with Wall Street suits and jock yuppie types. From the jump Richard stands out; a quiet and socially awkward man who slinks around by comparison to his boyish yuppie co-workers, even more so compared to his boss Edward Werner (played with immaculate charisma by Olivier Martinez). It is also here where Richard meets the object of his desire in Lena (Charlotte Vega), a woman who understands Richard in a way that not many at his workplace do. They head home together to Richard’s massive brutalist penthouse where the cold detachment becomes even more prevalent, almost a quasi-futuristic look. The penthouse will also be where a large majority of the film will take place, giving a sense of urban isolation, where we finally get into Richard’s head, and where the mosquito infestation begins.

Despite the penthouse giving a sense of a distant future, Rymsza makes sure the audience is aware through the use of news and sports clips that this is the past. When Richard’s algorithm detects a warning of the market crash only for it to be ignored and exploited, he takes matters into his own hands, enacting his own form of justice leading him on a surreal path towards redemption. While his character may lack a bit as a character, only a vessel to transport ideas, Knapp more than makes up for it with his transformative performance, selling the idea wonderfully of a man wanting to be heard and understood. When a coworker asks “Do you really think anything we do can affect the overall market?” Knapps exasperation at his disregard is palpable. “Do you think we’re too small,” he cries out, with a sense of anger and desperation.

A later scene between Richard and his secretary Sally (Audrey Wasilewski) highlights the immediate changes the mosquitos have taken on his psyche with him ranting and raving about mosquitos communicating with him, hunched over as if he were a mad scientist In this moment he is both Dr. Frankenstein and Frankenstein’s monster; a man created by emotionless Wall Street bankers, yet rebelling against his creator. Knapp understands the nuance and utilizes perfect body language to convey all of these emotions in such a short span of time. Truly compelling stuff.

Beau Knapp in Mosquito State / Source: Shudder

The analogy of mosquitos and Wall Street however is a bit on the nose but more than that a lot of Mosquito State just feels… ridiculous? An office party with coworkers dancing in crowns and playing the Trump board game, dream sequences involving his boss in full matador gear, and some music choices that feel more at home within Mr. Robot than they do here all serve to make Mosquito State stand out, but feel too far out and weird for it to really have any real substance outside of its style. It never takes itself too seriously which is a good thing, but as a result a lot of the films lighter moments, like the aforementioned office party, feel ripped from another film entirely.

It was previously mentioned that it was hard to look away from this film and while a lot of that has to do with Knapp’s performance, special mention has to be thrown towards Eric Koretz’s absolutely stunning cinematography, where Richard’s penthouse view of Central Park glows with various shades and hues of reds, purples, and greens. Even exterior scenes within limos, office spaces, and parks render a feeling of a different world entirely, inviting you in, like a fly to sunlight. The comparison to Cronenberg is still unfair and one that I’m hesitant to make, but for these moments, they bring to mind Brandon Cronenberg more so than his father. The films slick presentation within Richard’s apartment and work place feels far more comfortable sharing space with sibling Possessor, another film that focuses on the metamorphosis of the body and psyche during a time of global transition (Possessor‘s focus on technology versus Mosquito States‘s focus on finance).

Mosquito State isn’t a bad film, but it never reaches the heights it aims for. While there are far better films that examine the effects the financial crisis has caused, they never go full tilt in the way this film does which is a credit to Rymsza’s creative vision and directing. While it may be on the nose to a somewhat annoying degree and far sillier than one would hope, the film still provides a lot of great imagery thanks to its cinematography and production design, not to mention its unnerving atmosphere. There’s a lot to like about Mosquito State, it’s just a shame that in spite of all of these qualities the film fumbles towards the finish line, unable to maintain the same energy that propelled us towards it.

Categories
Film

GateBuster: The Blob (1988)

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.

I’m here to digest. 

Categories
Film

Kandisha is a Brutal Take on Urban Legends

CW:  Kandisha contains gore, abuse, animal death, and suicide.

Kandisha, a new Shudder Original Film that premieres July 22nd only on Shudder is a female-led horror film that acts as an especially brutal take on the urban legend subgenre.

Directors, Alexandre Bastille and Julien Maury (A L’intérieur, Leatherface) have a background in New French Extremity; a film movement characterized by, amongst other things, extreme violence. While not as intense as other films that have been attached to the movement (take, for example, Martyrs), Kandisha is still violent to a further extent than most horror movies, especially most urban legend movies.

the film follows three girls, Amélie (Mathilde Lamusse), Bintou (Suzy Bemba), and Morjana (Samarcande Saadi) as they face off against an evil spirit that is killing the men they love one by one. Part slasher film and part ghost story, Kandisha incorporates both elements by tying them together with an urban legend type story based on the Moroccan legend of Aïsha Kandisha, a beautiful woman with goat legs who lives near water sources and preys on men. The legend of Kandisha is first introduced while the protagonists are painting a mural of one of the girls’, Morjana’s parents who had died before the movie’s beginning. While painting, they find the word “Kandisha” written on one of the walls in the abandoned building they’re using for the mural. Morjana explains to Amélie and Bintou who Kandisha is and the girls begin to make fun of the idea of a spirit who comes when you perform a specific ritual.

L-R: Morjana (Samarcande Saadi), Amélie (Mathilde Lamusse), and Bintou (Suzy Bemba) / Photo Credit: Shudder

Eventually, after a harrowing encounter with her ex-boyfriend leads to a physical altercation, Amélie summons Kandisha, resulting in the death of her ex and leading to further deaths as all of the men in the girls’ lives are killed one by one until only Amélie’s younger brother remains.

Aside from the level of gore, Kandisha has few characteristics that distinguish it from other urban legend-inspired movies. It’s far from being counted among the worst like The Bye Bye Man and Slender Man but it’s also not a standout like Candyman. At the same time, however, Kandisha isn’t trying to be more than what it is; it understands that it isn’t “elevated horror” (a term I loathe for reasons I won’t be getting into here), it’s a popcorn movie, something fun to see with friends, albeit with a bit more bite than one might expect. 

Amelie (Mathlide Lamusse) / Photo Credit: Shudder

One of the most interesting aspects of Kandisha is the way it escalates, slowly easing you in as the deaths get progressively more gruesome, only to show little of the final death; nothing more than a single shot from far away. While there are many gross moments, Kandisha never feels especially gratuitous. In fact, in a scene that shares similarities to a scene in Suspiria (2018) far less is shown in this version than in Suspiria’s. However, it’s still heard, and we do still see the blood from the kill as well as the reaction of an onlooker. Despite that, while time is spent lingering on the body of the victim, it isn’t an especially long time. None of the deaths are greeted with long shots of the aftermath, for most, it’s quick cuts after showing us just enough.

But that isn’t to say there’s not an aftermath of another kind shown on screen. Rather than spending long on the gore, Kandisha shows us the mourners. A shot of a memorial to one of the victims is shown, Amélie, Bintou, and Morjana discuss their grief with each other. There’s a focus on the toll that these deaths are taking more so than there is on the actual deaths themselves.

Kandisha succeeds in almost every respect up until the ending which, if I’m being entirely honest, feels a little bit like a sequel hook for a movie that decidedly doesn’t need a sequel. Kandisha is strong enough to stand on its own and I hope it continues to be standalone for that reason.

Categories
Books

IMing about Horror in the Digital Age with Eric LaRocca

I am normally not one to read prose but something about Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke by Eric LaRocca that forced me to pick it up. I devoured it entirely in a sitting. I quickly jumped on Al Gore’s World Wide Web and instant messaged Eric to learn more about their horror novella that lives rent free inside me now. That conversation transcript is below.

gateCRASHERS202: What’s your favorite sandwich?

eric_larocca: I’m not huge on eating meat; however, there’s something so appealing to me about a pastrami Reuben sandwich. I usually feel disgusted after consuming it, but the cheese and the thousand island dressing are *chef’s kiss* magical.

gateCRASHERS202: What attracts you to horror as a genre?

eric_larocca: I think what has always attracted me to the horror genre was that it’s a heavily maligned and misunderstood genre. Growing up, I often felt like I was on the outside looking in at the rest of my peers. I never felt like I fit into any special social circle. Therefore, I think I inherently gravitated toward horror because I saw myself reflected in the characters.

gateCRASHERS202: What in horror do you find yourself most often looking to explore?

eric_larocca: I find myself often exploring themes of abandonment in my horror fiction. Although I was raised by two loving and doting parents, I’ve always been fearful of being left out or being left behind. I think horror is a unique genre because it allows us to confront our fears and anxieties in a safe space. There’s something decidedly comforting about horror and I know others reading this interview feel the same way.

gateCRASHERS202: I often find that a lot of horror films and stories explore queer themes in the stories. Do you think Horror needs more queer stories? Do you think there are areas where the genre excels or fails this?

eric_larocca: Horror absolutely needs more queer stories. I’ve said this a million times before in countless interviews, but horror is an inherently queer genre to begin with. Though queer characters haven’t existed in the classics of our genre (or perhaps they were coded, insinuated, etc.), horror has always been a genre that explores the idea of “the other” — the maligned, the misrepresented. Horror is, therefore, a supremely queer genre.

gateCRASHERS202: With your story exploring some of the sexual themes of power dynamics, do you find that horror is a genre that has the ability to explore these themes in different perspectives? 

eric_larocca: Yes and no. I think almost any genre can deftly explore these themes in different perspectives. I just so happen to write horror, so my creative process works in a way that’s specific to the genre I love. That being said, I think this kind of sexual power dynamics could work just as well in a comedy or a drama depending how skilled the writer is at presenting these themes.

gateCRASHERS202: With the story dealing with manipulation heavily, did you always plan to flip the expectations of where the story seemed to be going?

I definitely always had an idea of where the story was going because I usually outline heavily before approaching any writing project. I actually typically outline long-hand, and I think I still have the papers I wrote the outline for Things Have Gotten Worse We Last Spoke somewhere in my house. Regardless, I had outlined each section of the manuscript and I knew I wanted to reach certain beats at certain points in the narrative. There were a few unplanned deviations in the narrative when I got carried away or wanted to explore some peripheral themes further. But the narrative you read is essentially what the outline covered.

gateCRASHERS202: The cover art by Kim Jakobsson… wow. Did you have any input on this piece or was it something you saw from the artist and said “That’s it”?

eric_larocca: Yes, the cover art by Kim Jakobsson is definitely one of the reasons the book has sold so well. In my estimation, at least. The publisher (Sam Richard) and I were discussing different cover art options and I decided to scroll through Instagram in search of artists with a surreal or supernatural bent. I immediately came across Jakobsson’s work and fell in love with this particular print. I believe it’s titled “Passing Oxygen.” I showed it to Sam and he agreed it would make a visually arresting cover.

gateCRASHERS202: When did the initial idea for Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke?

eric_larocca: The initial idea for the book really stemmed from my fascination with the internet and potentially coming across information that you shouldn’t normally have access to. I’ve explored this concept in other works of short fiction like, “miss_vertebrae” and “The Strange Thing We Become.” But I saw this novella as an opportunity to further explore my fears associated with the internet and how dangerous it can be when in unstable hands.

gateCRASHERS202: The novella itself is written in an instant messaging format… just like this actually. Why’d you write it this way?

eric_larocca: I’m a fan of any piece of fiction that employs unconventional methods of storytelling. For the longest time I wanted to attempt to write a book entirely in Instant Messenger chats but I worried readers might get bored with the formatting. So this book seemed like an excellent compromise.

gateCRASHERS202: The phrase “What have you done today to deserve your eyes?” Where did that come from? Is this something from your own life?

eric_larocca: I honestly don’t quite recall where the origin of that phrase began. It was something I invented to suit the narrative and thankfully it has resonated with readers. I wish I had this compelling origin story for the phrase, but it’s something I invented while writing without much explanation.

gateCRASHERS202: What has the response been to the novella? Do you feel like people have interpreted the story in the way you hoped?

eric_larocca: Although I didn’t expect the book to blow up the way it has, I definitely expected mixed reviews. Some people love it. Others vehemently despise it. That’s totally fine. It’s not my place to police other people’s interpretations of the book. They’re entitled to react however they wish to react to the book. Of course, I try to not read reviews unless I’m tagged. But curiosity often gets the better of me sometimes.

gateCRASHERS202: Bud. Why the rotten meat? The way you described it was so visceral to the point I could smell it so really thanks for that.

eric_larocca: Thank you! As I said before, I’m not huge on consuming meat. I don’t consider myself a vegetarian, but I definitely don’t consume meat regularly. There’s nothing worse than rotted meat, right? It definitely conjures a visceral reaction. That’s exactly what I was going for when writing the piece.

You can buy Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke from Weird Punk Books!

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Comics

Fun-Size Roundtable: Razorblades #4

A figure stands just at the corner of your line of sight, in the special area that lingers at the edge of your periphery. It’s never easy to tell if the creatures that linger there mean you malice but the flys sputtering under the hood that hides his face make the scales lean towards yes.

I don’t often receive requests for guest appearances. Be it the fact I spend most of my time amongst the dead or my less than savory attitude, I was caught a bit off guard when Daniel reached out again.

I am the Grave Robber. I am not going to explain my origins here because I hear we are discussing a horror magazine. Where would the fun of horror be if you truly knew what my intentions were? You didn’t think I would know that it was on your mind, did you? I can tell you I am not here to take you back with me to the freshly loosened dirt.

We are here to discuss Razorblades, a magazine co-created by Steve Foxe and James Tynion IV that has recently unleashed it’s fourth edition. These two brave souls seek to bring these stories to you through comics, prose, interviews, and so much more. It’s a testament to their creativity and medium. These magazines collect the ghoulish stories, conversations, and depictions of the things you fear. But you still seek them out. You sometimes yearn to come face to face with the thing scratching at the basement door…don’t you?

Don’t wait any longer then. Razorblades is a pay what you want anthology so anyone can enjoy feeling the fear grip their throat like a tourniquet. I will let the critics give you their thoughts. I am far too close to the subjects to give a fair shake. While you call them horrors, I call them friends.

Will be seeing you soon.

The Grave Robber

Gabrielle Cazeaux (@gabrielle_doo)

I sometimes feel that people doubt the capability of the comic medium to do horror because it’s probably not able to make you jump out of your seat as a movie or game does. But with the methodical organization of everything you’re showing and narrating that the medium offers, you can focus even more on another type of horror that I even prefer; it can make you feel unsettled. A comic can show you a picture that you’re not expecting to see in a way that can stick with you for days, weeks, or even more. Not every story here was my cup of tea, although I can perfectly understand that they are for other people. But there is more than one that did that for me, a story that unsettled me more and more as I went through the pages, and I liked that. There are plenty of approaches to horror in this, and I think all of them are worth at least giving a try. Even with the stories that didn’t particularly upset me, I think they’re still interesting to read. 


Rodrigo ArGo (@Ro1Argo)

Horror is a difficult genre to manage, you need to play with the audience and use their intuition and senses to your advantage, I’m happy to say that the fourth issue of Razorblades understands this. 

While all the stories in this issue are worth talking about, my favorite has to be Dermaverse by Daniel Kraus, Jenna Cha and Has Otsmane-Elhou. Stories about obsessions mix really well with horror stories, seeing how far someone can go to achieve their goal can be unnerving. I especially love how this story brings cosmic horror to a more corporeal level, and the way it uses body horror to visualize the obsession of the character.

Other stories that are worthwhile are Price of Entry by Aditya Bidikar and Rosh and the prose story The Dog in my Neighborhood by Adam Cesare with an illustration by AaRon Campbell. Another huge shout out to all the pin-ups and their artists, achieving a sense of fear or unnerving is hard with just one image, but these pin-ups  achieve just that. 

I might be a newcomer to horror content, but I do believe that nobody is doing it like Razorblades.


Ozzy Olsen (@punkzundead)

I was shocked when saw how much content was in this magazine. Razorblades is packed to the brim with delectable horror content of all shapes and colours, whatever sub-genre you’re looking for is probably represented in at least one of the works.

The first tale, Whiteout, got me set up for what turned out to be a delightful read-through of a collection of gorgeous comics, art and legitimately horrifying and unsettling tales. The mixture of styles is incredible, it’s a love letter to the genre that lets the creations and their creators shine. The addition of adding a short comic where the cover artist Becky Cloonan has a chance to explain her inspiration was so informative and refreshing to see. 

My personal favourite was ‘Origin of Man’ by Vita Ayala & Kelly Williams. I found the story, and it’s twists very engaging. The mix of mediums was very effective at selling the atmosphere of their story.

While definitely not for someone incredibly faint of heart or squeamish. I would totally recommend this to any horror lover! It made me a fan, and purchasing the next issue is definitely in my future. 


Zachary Jenkins

There’s an essay by Razorblades co-creator and editor Steve Foxe opening this issue that deftly defines how effective horror works in comics; how it differs from prose or film. Comics must show something and it’s up to the reader how long they stare into that abyss. This theory is given form in Daniel Kraus, Jenna Cha and Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou’s “Dermaverse.” It’s a short that preys on a relatable, pedestrian experience. There’s something on your skin that should not be. Cha’s messy blacks and whites add chaos as you try to comprehend the imperfection. Watching someone pure fall deeper and deeper into a disturbing obsession that crosses beyond absurdity, beyond mortality, into a realm where logic and human instinct dictates that man ought not go, and in the moment where you believe you understand it all, that the cosmic awareness of this unsettling and upsetting atmosphere has stopped spiraling, they push yet again, into the fathomless madness.

And you are left to gaze. You think “she shouldn’t look like that.” You run your fingers across your skin with the knowledge of every scar. Every blemish. Every corruption of your flesh. Dear reader, horror isn’t what is contained in these few pages. Horror is the hole in the deepest recesses of your soul that this story will fill for all time.


Jessica Scott (@WeWhoWalkHere)

Horror comics face unique challenges in both their chosen genre and medium, and the opening essay from Razorblades editor Steve Foxe lays out exactly how hard it is for horror comics to elicit actual scares. The pieces in this issue, which range from illustrated prose to standalone illustrations to conventionally structured comics, won’t all scare you in the same way. If you read them with an open mind and all the lights off, though, you will likely get at least some of the terror you’re craving. Whether body horror gets under your skin or religious horror disturbs your soul or some other subgenre keeps you awake at night, these horror stories have something to offer most horror fans. My favorites were Trevor Henderson’s “The Cursed Painting” and Erika Price’s “Drag Me to the Confessional,” which both feature disturbing, expressionistic images but combine them with text in very different ways to achieve similar results: frightening and disturbing horror comics that will likely pop into my head at the least opportune moments to make me question faith, reality, and my place in the world. That’s all I can ask for from horror. 


J. Michael Donohue (@jmichaeldonohue)

‘Origin of Man” by Vita Ayala and Kelly Williams is a breathtaking example of horror that beautifully interweaves pros and comics. Ayala set the stage for this world with the opening pages and then Williams’s art instantly sucked me into this ancient world of monsters and men, perfectly capturing the feel of an old campfire tale. I could almost smell the embers as each page finished. Not only that but Ayala perfectly played on my love of perspective in stories. When we tell the tales of our lives we can’t help but see ourselves as the heroes, bravely fighting off the monster lurking in the dark. But the truth of the matter is that maybe, just maybe, we’re actually the villains. Bravo to this creative team. This is the perfect example of how “Razorblades” is still as sharp as ever and thirsty for blood. 


Reagan Anick (@rhymeswpicard)

From the very beginning, Razorblades has been one of my favourite pieces of horror media. If you know me, you’ll understand just what that means. I love horror, I have since before I was even allowed to watch horror movies; some of my clearest childhood memories are of reading books like Haunted Canada or Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. As the opening essay by Steve Foxe says, horror is a genre that when well-executed is usually that way because of restraint on the end of the creators; movies like Jaws live on so well in our memory because of its dedication to showing as little as possible for as long as possible. As Foxe points out, comics can’t make use of this strategy; if someone wants to elicit fear, they can’t rely on suspense the same way they would be able to with a movie. There’s no music cue, no slow zoom into a dark corner, comics can’t use the same tricks film does. So writers and artists make their own strategies, they use their own tricks. Razorblades shows that even without jumpscares and spooky music it’s still very possible for comics to scare you. 


Issue #4 features comic book stories by James Tynion IV, Fernando Blanco, Vita Ayala, Kelly Williams, Josh Simmons, Alex Paknadel, Jason Loo, Erika Price, Daniel Kraus, Jenna Cha, Rich Douek, Alex Cormack, Aditya Bidikar, Rosh, Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou, and more.

Illustrations by Maria Llovet, Daryl Toh, Trevor Henderson, Wipor Mont, Hannah Comstock, Aaron Campbell, and Ricardo Lopez Ortiz.


Razorblades also features a nonfiction comic by Becky Cloonan detailing the inspirations behind her cover, and a short prose story by Adam Cesare. Cover by Becky Cloonan. Design by Dylan Todd.