Philly Loves Women in Horror – films and panel

Posted: February 26, 2014 by StayFrosty in About Us, Events, Film

frostyThis past weekend, JennyD and I were asked to take part in a panel for Philly Loves Women in Horror, an event of short films and film discussion created by Ashlee Blackwell.  The event was moderated by Hannah Neurotica (whom it was incredible to meet), the creator of Women in Horror month, and it was an incredible, inspiring and exciting event that we were thrilled to be a part of!  We got to meet some awesome and creative women, see some excellent shorts, and be on a panel with other lady horror lovers like us.  What’s not to love?

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Let’s start with the films.  We got to see 10 shorts, and there were some very strong offerings.  I really loved the opening short, “The Dump”, directed by Rebekah McKendry (2012) – she seamlessly blended horror and comedy in her story about two killers who run into each other at a dump site they both want to use.  Discussion and laughter ensues.  Looking forward to more from Ms. McKendry!

We found at this event that we had more fun with horror comedy shorts than the more serious ones, which for me at least is different from normal – horror and comedy can be very tough to combine, but many of these ladies handled it with ease.  “My Mom and Other Monsters” (dir. Kate Tsang, 2011) kept it creepy until the end, “Sheeties” (dir. Paula Haifley, 2012), a mockumentary about the lives and relationship trials of those who dare to embrace their love of wearing the classic ghost sheet, had me laughing the whole time, and “OowieWanna” (dir. Bridget Palardy, 2011), takes an adventure at a laundromat to a whole new (and musical!) level.  Out of all the shorts, I definitely enjoyed these the most, but all of the films had something interesting to offer.

We also got to see two trailers, one from Lil’ Filmmakers, an organization that helps youth and teens learn to make movies and explore their love of cinema.  Their upcoming film is called “Erudition”.  For information, including how to donate, please check out http://www.lilfilmmakersinc.com/

The other trailer was for a documentary entitled “My Final Girl” by Kristina Leath-Malin, who also joined us on the panel, about the role of American black women in the Blaxploitation and horror genre, something that I can’t wait to watch.  Check out the trailer here:  http://vimeo.com/62552635

From left: JennyD, Stay Frosty, Kristina Leath-Malin, Ashlee Blackwell, Hannah Neurotica

From left: JennyD, Stay Frosty, Kristina Leath-Malin, Ashlee Blackwell, Hannah Neurotica

After the films, JennyD and I got to speak on a panel alongside Kristina Leath-Malin and Ashlee Blackwell, moderated by Hannah Neurotica!  We discussed our first encounters with the word/understanding of the final girl, how our gender has affected our experiences within the genre community (both positively and negatively), and much more!

JennyD and StayFrosty on the panel!!!!

JennyD and StayFrosty on the panel!!!!

Jenny and I were honored to be part of an event for Women in Horror Month!  We hope next year we can do even more!  But February isn’t over yet, people – get out there and support ladies in the genre community!  In fact, who cares if it’s not February?  Celebrate women in horror all year round!

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Philly Loves Women in Horror!

Posted: February 22, 2014 by Jenny Dreadful in About Us, Events, Film

Hey, Philly horror freaks! This is an important announcement!

PHILLY LOVES WOMEN IN HORROR kicks off at 3pm today at The Rotunda! See more details here:
https://www.facebook.com/events/380316498738942/
A selection of horror films from female directors will be on offer, as well as a panel featuring ladies active in the local genre scene.

PLOT TWIST:
Jenny Dreadful and Rae “StayFrosty” Winters and I are on the panel! Gasp! I bet you didn’t expect that! Come see us gush about horror. It is our favorite thing.

This will be a fantastic event, all thanks to Ashlee Blackwell, founder of Graveyard Shift Sisters; a site dedicated to celebrating the experiences and achievements of women of color in the horror community. Check it out here:
http://www.graveyardshiftsisters.com/p/mission.html

frostyIn an interiview, writer/director of The Last Will and Testament of Rosalind Leigh Rodrigo Gudino stated he wanted the film to be more like a literary experience than a cinematic one, and I believe he succeeds in this endeavor.

This is the first full-length feature for the founding editor and president of Rue Morgue magazine – he created four well-received shorts before TLW&ToRL – and while I haven’t seen the shorts yet, if they are anywhere near as thoughtful and intelligent as this film, I’m sure they will be a treat.

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Writer/Director Rodrigo Gudino

A very basic plot summary (and it’s staying basic so as not to give anything away):  Leon (Aaron Poole), an antiques collector, inherits a house from his estranged mother only to discover that she had been living in a shrine devoted to a mysterious cult.  At first he’s skeptical (aren’t they all?), but as time goes on he begins to suspect he may not be alone in the house.

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Aaron Poole as Leon. Also, a terrifying angel. Don’t blink!

Let’s start at the very beginning – the first line of the film.  Taking a page (GET IT???) from Shirley Jackson and The Haunting, the opening line is just killer (that one wasn’t a pun.  It’s a really good line, really good opening scene).  In fact, the opening reminded me very much of films like The Uninvited and The Haunting, but I thought it suited his intentions for the film.  And it’s spoken with the lovely, fragile, emotion-filled voice of Vanessa Redgrave, rarely seen but felt throughout.  Gudino keeps the beginning subtle, using long tracking shots and Redgrave’s voice to establish both the character of the house and the film as a whole.

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Speaking of The Haunting, in TLW&ToRL, much like the 1963 classic, the house here is also a character, and it is perfect – lovely architecture, loads of creepy stuff, odd hallways and dark corners.  Everything one could want from a haunted house.  Gudiono gives the house its own gaze, like it’s the eyes of the film itself, and that is an excellent choice.  And we, the viewers, look through the perspective of the house, leaving us a little off-center and disjointed – how can we be a house and not with the main character?  Leon leaves and returns, but we are always in the house.  But it totally works.  Points to the production design team, because the whole thing is lovely.  And creepy.  Lovely/creepy.

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I can’t find a great shot of the house, but trust me, it’s awesome.

Gudino doesn’t telegraph much either; in fact, most information must be overheard or observed.  Not much is freely given to the viewer, but that kept me engaged – you gotta work for it in this one.  Gudino makes very intelligent choices about what not to show – he lets our imaginations fill in what goes on, who is behind the voices, etc.

There are some awesome standout scenes (one with a journal comes to mind), and on the whole the film really works.  It has a very 60s/70s feel to it but I’m betting that was purposeful, because many of the films from that era were allowed to breathe a little more, take more time to create an atmosphere before jumping into the crazy shit.  And I must admit, I did not see the twist coming at all.  So of course I loved that.

Before I wrap up, I want to talk about the poster for this film.   Much like the super excellent Absentia, TLW&ToRL‘s poster does not help the movie at all.  There’s more than one version, but instead of sticking with this nice subtle version:

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We got this:

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Which is NOTHING like the film!!!  Sheesh movie poster people, can you TRY to make something that remotely conveys the atmosphere and flavor of the movie you’re advertising?  Just a thought.  You’re not doing these films any favors here. People are missing out on great movies because of these posters!  Knock it off!

Okay, now that that’s done, I totally recommend TLW&ToRL, but you have to ignore the poster and allow the film to unspool in its own way.  If you can do that, you will not be disappointed.

4 More Days til Halloween – presenting Kathe Koja

Posted: October 27, 2013 by StayFrosty in Books, Reviews

frostyKathe Koja is the author of The Cipher (1991), one of the books I read on random internet recommendation.  I am very glad I did, because it’s one of the weirdest, most interesting books I’ve devoured in a long time.  Koja won the Bram Stoker Award and the Locus Award for her first novel The Cipher, which was also nominated for the Philip K Dick Award.  It hasn’t been available for a long time, but is now available on e-book with a new forward by the author.

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Trust me when I tell you that The Cipher is difficult to explain.  See, there’s this hole in an apartment building, where would-be poet Nicholas lives, which has fascinated both him and his sometimes lover (and super-strange lady) Nakota.  The hole, which is dubbed “The Funhole”, is not living but alive all the same.  Whoever comes into contact with it is changed, has already lost their control.  It attracts more people, things get weirder.  I really can’t say much more than that.

Koja isn’t a straightforward horror author – many people say she isn’t a horror author at all.  But whatever she is, it’s exciting and interesting.  She’s been compared to a poet, and I can see where those comparisons are coming from.  The language in The Cipher isn’t straightforward, and there is a lyrical sense/nonsense to it.  But it’s such beautiful, terrifying lyrics.

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Kathe Koja

Koja’s works are divisive – I’ve seen glowing and scathing reviews for the same novel right next to each other, which only makes me want to read her work more.  We are lucky that Koja’s older works are coming back in e-book editions.  Her 1993 novel, Skin, was just released last month.  I am downloading it right now.  Books not yet in digital format can be purchased used on Amazon.

It’s not an easy read, but The Cipher – and Koja – are worth your time.

frosty         Mary SanGiovanni’s works are a fast read, and I mean that as a compliment.  They’re like a roller coaster, the one that shoots you out at 60 mph – strong starts, fast, intense ride, sometimes ends too soon, but looking forward to the next one.  As I haven’t read everything by SanGiovanni and am currently reading her novel Thrall (set in Jersey!), I’ll concentrate most of my attention on her Hollower trilogy, which encompasses The Hollower, Found You, and The Triumvirate, respectively.

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The works of Mary SanGiovanni

In the Hollower, something alien is stalking residents of Lakehaven, New Jersey. It can’t see them, hear them, or touch them, but it knows them — their fears, their insecurities, and their secrets. It knows how to destroy them from the inside out. And it won’t stop until each of them is dead. Dave Kohlar has never felt like he was good for anything. But when his sanity, his life, and the safety of his only family and friends is in danger, he has to look inside himself for a strength that his otherwordly enemy can’t touch — strength that can hopefully save them all. (plot synopsis shamelessly borrowed from Amazon).

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One of SanGiovanni’s strengths is that she’s not afraid to put her characters through the wringer – and what a wringer it is.  She doesn’t pull punches on the red stuff, the monsters, or in describing the mental and emotional toll fighting evil can take on normal people.  And that’s one of the things that make these novels so interesting to read.  These people pay a price, they suffer, they die to fight this thing.  Some of the characters return for the sequel(s), and I remember feeling so bad for them – haven’t they been through enough?!?!  But that’s the sign that the writer is doing their job, and she does it very well.  By book three I felt exhausted for some of these poor people, but I still wanted to keep reading.

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Mary SanGiovanni

She’s also not afraid to kill off major characters, which keeps the reader engaged, since they have no idea who may or may not be around by the end of the chapter, let alone the end of the series.  With so many books and movies telegraphing their every move, SanGiovanni keeps us guessing.

Mary SanGiovanni’s official website:  http://www.marysangiovanni.com/ (you can purchase all of her available novels and short stories here)

frosty       I remember the first time I saw Lewis Allen’s excellent 1944 ghost story The Uninvited – I was a young kid, around 10, I watched it on VHS and it scared the shit out of me.  Other than The Spiral Staircase (which scared me more than any other film ever, with the possible exception of Jaws, but that had extenuating circumstances…) I was so unsettled even long after the credits rolled.  And while the memory of that fear kept me from rewatching The Spiral Staircase until after college, I didn’t have the choice to rewatch The Uninvited – the movie vanished and was only available overseas.  It’s a crime that it took this long for such a quality film to make its way to the States, but I am so glad that it did.

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The story of The Uninvited (based on Dorothy Macardle’s novel “Uneasy Freehold”) starts in 1937, when London composer/music critic Roderick “Rick” Fitzgerald (Ray Milland, Dial M for Murder, The Premature Burial) and his sister Pamela (Ruth Hussey, The Philadelphia Story) fall in love with Windward House, an abandoned seaside house. They purchase it for an unusually low price from Commander Beech (Donald Crisp).

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Pamela (Ruth Hussey) and Rick (Ray Milland)

Rick and Pamela meet Beech’s 20-year-old granddaughter, Stella Meredith (Gail Russell), who lives with her grandfather a nearby town. Despite the fact that her mother died within its confines and her grandfather forbids her to enter it, Stella is deeply attached to the house and the sale of it upsets her greatly.  However, when Rick begins to fall for her, she finds her way into Windward House.

The Fitzgeralds’ are initially excited by the house and enjoy exploring all its nooks and crannies.  But it doesn’t take long to ruin their joy when they find an artist’s studio that’s much colder than the rest of the house and hear the heart-wrenching sobs of an unseen woman.  Though skeptical at first, Rick and Pamela soon accept that Windward House is haunted.

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I won’t reveal any more of the plot here, I want you to experience it for yourself.  What makes The Uninvited so different from the other ghost movies of its era is that it’s among the first Hollywood movies to show a haunting a supernatural event.  In this era ghosts were usually played for comedy or as misdirection for very human crimes.  Director Allen chooses to bring the ghosts out into the light – Pamela and Rick meet the ghost(s) head on.  There’s no doubt that the house is haunted.  It was an innovative choice for that time, and it still works today.

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The Uninvited retains the beautiful long shadows and dark contrast lighting common to the films of that era – DP Charles Lang was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Black and White Lighting in 1945.  Also much like the films of that period, the gore is essentially nonexistent.  But that doesn’t lessen the beauty or the quality of the film in any way.

I can’t overstate how excited I am that everyone can finally see this film!  And with Criterion behind the DVD and Blu-ray release, what a way to see it for the first time – or even the 10th time!  You need to see this movie, and you need to see it now.  You won’t be disappointed.

7 More Days til Halloween – presenting Joe Hill

Posted: October 24, 2013 by StayFrosty in Books, Reviews

frosty         At this point I assume most people in the horror field know about Joe Hill, and I hope everyone appreciates just how good he is at his craft.  The man knows how to write a story.  Short, long, graphic novel, whatever, he can do it all.  Hill currently has one short story collection (entitled 20th Century Ghosts) and three novels: Heart-Shaped Box (the first book of his I read), Horns and the recent release N0S4A2.   And I can say each one is worth reading.  I’d even go so far as to say they are all required reading for horror lovers.  I admit I didn’t think Horns was as incredible as the others, but it’s definitely still worth a read.   Hill can create such well-developed characters and stories, but it wasn’t until N0S4A2 when I saw he could create worlds with such scope and depth.

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Joe Hill, rocking the wind

So listen – I read a lot.  A lot.  And I’ve read tons of terrific stuff, but I can’t remember the last time I actually exclaimed aloud while reading a book.  Until N0S4A2.  As I neared the end of the novel, I reached a certain part (which I won’t reveal here, it’s too good to spoil) where I was so tense that when this particular event ended I gasped out loud with relief.  I didn’t even realize I was saying anything (or that I was so damned tense in the first place).  This sounds like nothing, but for me that’s huge.  And that’s the kind of novel this is.  One that makes you gasp aloud even when you’ve read so many things.  Hill isn’t afraid to make characters with major flaws, and yet you still want them to succeed, despite some unlikable/questionable choices they make.  But unlike other books and movies, I don’t feel that Hill used the plot hammer to say “EMPATHIZE WITH THIS CHARACTER”!  I just did.  Each character has so many complexities, and the places they’re taken to (both physically and emotionally) are devastating, beautiful, terrifying.

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READ. THIS. BOOK.

It’s no secret anymore that Hill is the son of Stephen King, and I’m calling shenanigans on the level of talent within that family.  That is ridiculous in the best way.  As JennyD wisely stated, this might be the first family where the lineage of literary terror can be passed down by bloodline and is totally legit.

Regardless of lineage, Hill is a kickass author in his own right and should be read as soon as possible.