Staring Into The Darkness: A Review Of Skinamarink

Think back to when you were a kid.  You were in your room and something happened.  You don’t know what, but you feel the energy in the house shift.  You ask the adults, but they shew you off.

“Go to your room.  It’s nothing for you to worry about.”

            But shielding you that way just makes it all feel that much more terrible and confusing.

            That’s what watching Skinamarink feels like.

            I also think that’s what happens at the beginning of the movie, but I can’t tell for sure and that’s part of the problem with the whole affair.

            I’m actually going to do this review in two parts, one with spoilers and one without so readers can choose to go as deep as they like.

Part 1: In which there are no spoilers

            You can break Skinamarink into thirds.  In the first third, we get a feel for the grain, the sound and, most importantly, the fact that we’re not going to actually be seeing anything.  The entire movie is shot at low, oblique angles.  We only see a face once in the entire movie.  The light is always low and indirect.  The dialog is garbled, like everyone is pressing the microphone directly to their mouths when speaking into it.  In the first third, things move and we don’t see it.  There’s no real interaction between the characters and their environment.  The sound design is ambient and not overbearing.

            The problem with the first third is that it’s actually quite boring.  As the kids try to figure things out, nothing happens and you start to wonder if the movie is all hype.

            Then monster upstairs makes its presence known and we hit the second third of the movie.

            This is where I admit to a biased: I don’t like being scared.  I like horror as an aesthetic and as a story telling method.  The second third of this movie is the single most frightening thing I’ve ever sat through.  I seriously thought about getting up and leaving and there was a stretch where I didn’t look directly at the screen.  This is where not seeing anyone’s faces gets unsettling.  The sound design becomes even more acute, with the monster borrowing voices and other shifts in the ambient sound that set your teeth on edge.  The danger becomes palpable.

            The last third is… a problem.  Basically while there is some maintenance of tension, it is largely squandered when the plot… very… slowly… falls apart and what we’re left with is basically a piece of horror performance art.  I can’t go into any more depth without spoilers.  But the sound also becomes grating and the long shots of darkness and indistinct things start to get annoying

            The problem is compounded when you get home.  Basically, you get distance on the movie and start to analyze what you saw and it doesn’t scare you anymore and you realize that everything that did scare was nothing original.  Skinamarink has been described as experimental and I think that is a fair description.  It is an exercise in technique.  It was all de rigeur horror gimmicks done in a novel way that you found disarming in the moment.  Suddenly the whole thing isn’t that impressive unless you’re really into technique (which you may be.  And if you are, you really need to see this movie).

            It’s still a movie worth checking out if you’re a horror junkie.  I’m glad I saw it, but I’m never sitting through it again.

            Also, there’s a review going around that says that there’s only one jump scare in the movie.  Whoever wrote that is a damn liar who needs to rot in Hell.  There are many and they all scared the bajeezus out of me.

Part 2: In which I spoil the Hell out of the movie and offer some theories.

As I get more distance on Skinamarink, there’s one question that I just can’t get out over: Why?

            I’m actually not sure why any of the choices in this film were made.  There was the potential for a whole product here – like there was intended to be a whole product here – but most of the movie just seemed like things happening.  The second third edged toward having a plot, then the final third just dropped all the threads and went nowhere.

            When the movie starts, we’re given a date of 1995.  Why?  When the movie takes place means absolutely nothing.  It has no bearing on anything.  The house, frankly, looks more 80’s than anything.  Later, in the final third, there’s a mention that over 500 days have passed.  Why?  What does it matter?  There’s no sense of time, so what does it matter how many days pass?

            For me, the single most terrifying moment was when the monster told Kevin to put the knife in his eye.  He does it, we hear crying and see the blood.  Then… nothing.  500 days pass after the kid has stabbed himself in the face and has bled all over the place and the kid seems none the worse for wear.  Kaylee gets her mouth taken away, then disappears.  Kevin actually gets through to 911 in what sounds like a real call, not monster bait.  None of it means anything.  Things just keep going.  There’s no explanation, no internal logic, no meaning to what happens.

            Now, this can be an artistic choice and there are people who will like that choice.  I am not one of them.  I want a story.  I want the makers to try to convey some thing to me.  It’s really not that hard to scare people.  My niece does it to me all the time.  But you can’t disturb someone unless you have a point you’re trying to make.  And I want to be disturbed.  I also want to know why I sat through everything I just sat through.

            Pointless cruelty, particularly toward children, is exploitative and, well, real life.  I’m not sitting in a movie theater and paying money to see something I can see on the news.

            On the whole, the movie felt very self-indulgent and reminds us that, while we should support independent artists, sometimes they do need outside help to self edit.  All the choices that were made I’m fairly certain can be chalked up to “this meant something to the writer.”  I’m not averse to that, but tell us what they meant to you.  Tell us why you chose it.

            I also think that this movie is a good case in point that you have to have a certain amount of skill to do a slow burn monster story.

            The monster in this movie drove me nuts.  Not for what it was, but for how it was used.  I’ve seen this in other horror movies before (Paranormal Activity, I’m looking at you) that we have a monster that is quite powerful and they spend the whole movie doing things that a petulant tween would do when they’re angry at their parents.  In this movie, we have a thing that erases a girl’s face and makes a boy stab himself in the eye.  Then he spends the rest of the movie knocking over Legos and arranging teddy bears on the wall?  I suppose I shouldn’t judge, Legos are fun so I can understand why it would want to play with them.  But I paid to see the monster do impressive things!  Hop to!  Horror creators, please do better with your monsters.  Slow burn the monster mischief, by all means, but give us a pay off of something epic, not something that would be punished with no desert and taking away someone’s Playstation.  Don’t make promises you can’t keep.

            I have two theories as to what is happening in the movie.  The first was my initial impression when I walked out of the theater and that was that Kevin was the one who hit his head (it wasn’t clear to me that that was what happened in the beginning of the movie but I’m assured by other viewers that it was) and the movie is basically a coma dream.  That would explain why the parents are always whispering (they’re sitting by a bedside somewhere talking to him, hoping he hears them), and the stab in the eye not actually meaning anything (he hit his eye when he fell and is being treated for it so it wouldn’t kill him).  The monster could be an actual monster, or an extension of his subconscious.  I think it being an extension of his subconscious explains why the monster “wants to play” and messes with the toys but doesn’t do too much else.  Everything is does seems to be within the imagination of a small child (I wish my sister would be quiet = take her mouth away).

            The second theory, and the one I’m actually leaning toward, is that one of the parents, potentially mom, is abusive and the whole movie is Kevin disassociating.  My mom loves me (“You know your dad and I love you both very much” which absolutely sounds like a thing said before something very bad happens), it’s some monster that is hurting me and Kaylee, not her.  This would explain the line from the beginning, “I don’t want to talk about mom” and why the kids are always looking for dad, not mom.  I think it also explains why Kevin was uneasy about the monster, but never seemed truly scared (i.e. the flight instinct was never activated), and why the monster could tell him to do things like stab himself in the face and he just did it.  My mom would never tell me to do something that would hurt me (or, perhaps, by extension, mom is the one who hurt his eye, but his disassociation blamed himself for it).  I also think it’s significant that Kaylee looses her mouth and then disappears.  She’s been silenced, either by being killed outright or being finally broken by a parent who has successfully gotten the child to never speak of the abuse. Kaylee will not speak of it.  She has been dealt with.  Kevin has not, so his torment continues.

            On the whole, this movie was an experiment.  A worthwhile one, as I’m sure a lot of the techniques will be used to better effect in later productions.  But, ultimately it was the failed experiment from which better things will flourish.

Here’s My Thing: A Review of The Batman

I spent the first half of my life wanting nothing more than to write Batman comics.  I love Batman and Arkham Asylum is a blueprint for my soul.  But life gets in the way.  Inferiority complexes and other personal shit get in the way.  I bring this up because there was a time when I would have ranted about this movie or sung its praises on high and it’s very weird to me that I walked away from this movie pretty detached.  I had plenty of thoughts but no real feelings, per say.  Ultimately, I’m a former Batman junkie who, deep down, wants to get back into the thing that was such a huge part of my personality for so long.  This movie didn’t do it.  It was a big pile of meh.  Frankly, there were parts where I was kinda bored.  So, this movie wasn’t the inspirational gateway that led to me getting my fandom fire back.  It was not, however, a bad movie.  There was some good and some bad.  From here on out, there will be spoilers.  You have been warned.

Let’s be clear about one thing going into this: there is nothing new or original here.  This has the fingerprints of tons of other stuff all over it.  The look, while lovely (though this is the first time I’ve ever gaped at how fucking ugly Wayne Manor was) has touches of Gotham (the TV series), Blade 2, and Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, I even spotted a pinch of Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes in there.  People who talk about this being a fresh take on Batman have never read the comics.  Consistently the movies seem to be about ten to twenty years behind the comics conceptually and there’s nothing here that wasn’t in the comics eons ago.  The possible exception being this version of The Riddler, but we’ll get to him later.

What this movie did do that was a nice change was to keep the focus on Batman.  For the first time, we have a Batman movie not co-opted by the villains.  Now, I love my Freaks so I don’t complain when they take over, but actually watching Batman for most of the movie was kinda nice, I’m not gonna lie.

That presented a problem for me and my tastes though.  Basically, The Batman is a mafia story was a dude in a rubber suit popping up every now and then.  There is a place for this kind of story within the Batman universe.  That’s one of the things that makes Gotham so wonderful and enduring.  There are so many different kinds of stories you can tell.  But, as I’ve mentioned probably ten times already, I’m here for the Freaks so a bunch of mafia maneuvering is gonna have me counting ceiling tiles.  Frankly, I’m also not sure why we’re supposed to be so shocked that The Roman owns the police and the entire city and he turned in one of his own guys.  This must be some mafia code thing I don’t get.  So what?  He did what he had to do to remove a problem, or perceived problem at any rate, and put his people into power positions to tighten his grip.  Isn’t that what corrupt people in power do?  Why is this shocking and why didn’t everyone know it was going on the way we know it’s going on in the real world?  Frankly, it was all just a let down and felt super anti-climactic to me.  The obvious thing happened!  Who’da thunk it?

I have mixed feelings about this version of Batman.  I rather like Pattinson.  I thought he was actually a pretty good Batman.  At least he didn’t sound like he had a throat problem.  In pictures I didn’t like the Batsuit, but once I saw it in motion it won me over.  It was also a nice change that we got to see Batman be vulnerable.  He got the shit kicked out of him (which, to me, is more badass.  Can you get the crap kicked out of you and get up again?  That is strength) and he depended on and listened to people.  He didn’t just know everything right off the top of his head.  It’s easy for people to assume that Batman is all-powerful and knows everything, but the simple fact is that he depends on others all the time.  I’m glad they went with that in the movie because that way lies the Bat Family, and the Bat Family is where Batman concepts bloom.  As is typical though, an actor is either good as Batman or good as Bruce Wayne not both (with the exceptions of Kevin Conroy and Adam West), and Pattinson with a shit Bruce Wayne.  Now, this was not his fault.  I place the blame for this squarely on the writing.  Bruce Wayne was a two-by-four with a lot of eyeliner.  Like, he was so irredeemably emotionally stunted it actually scuttled any attempts at creating real emotional connections with the other characters (on the other hand, this is the perfect Bruce Wayne for a film version of Batman: R.I.P.).  After every scene between Bruce and Alfred I wanted to stop the movie and tell them to do it over again.  Other films have had Bruce and Alfred have rocky relationships, but none of them have been so… flat.  When Bruce was visiting Alfred in the hospital and was talking about his fear of losing someone else he loved, there was not a single second I believed it emotionally and it made Bruce come across as almost emotionally manipulative of a person who wanted his affection.

The other problem with this portrayal of Bruce was the whole, thoroughly cringey, situation with Catwoman.  Now, this version of Catwoman is 100% in line with most versions of the character.  Catwoman is every male sexual fetish rolled up into one character.  She’s also the lazy way writers use to humanize Batman.  This movie does not do the character any favors.  She’s sexualized from the first fight with Batman and she spends most of the time with her boobs hanging out, walking with her hips swaying so much I thought she’d fall over a couple times.  Her relationship with this Batman is weird.  She’s throwing herself at him while grieving for her girlfriend (oh! look!  a token attempt at a bisexual character by having a girlfriend she never, at any point, actually acknowledges is a girlfriend!), but she’s also throwing herself at a two-by-four that has given her no sign that he is actually interested accept some fucked up stalker shit like following her and spying on her.  As such, there is no chemistry between them and every scene where we’re supposed to be doing the will they/won’t they dance just had me shaking my head.  Why would she?  There’s nothing there for her to fall in love with.

Now we’re gonna have the talk.  Pull up a chair, sport-o, we’re gonna talk about The Riddler.  The Batman is a Riddler fail, but I knew it would be.  The Riddler is one of, if not the single most, difficult Freak to write.  Here’s the thing about the character: We don’t get The Riddler.  You don’t, I don’t, nobody does except Shane McCarthy (“Riddle Me That,” Legends of the Dark Knight 185-189.  Read it.).  If you’ve ever talked Batman with me, you’ve heard me say this already but I’m gonna say it again.  In esoteric terms, The Riddler is the Ace of Swords, intellect in an airy vessel.  He is intellect that exists for its own sake and for its own amusement, zipping around above our heads and doing things we can’t comprehend for reasons we can’t comprehend.  In short, to write The Riddler well, you have to be smarter than 99% of people and on your A-game.  The thing is, we danced sooooo close to it in this movie.  When The Riddler reveals that he’s actually been manipulating Batman to do his dirty work for him the whole time – and it tracks with what actually happened in the movie – we were almost there.  The problem is that Edward, up until this point, is just a serial killer.  That’s all.  He’s off his nut and he beats people with sharp things.  Ho-hum.

The funny thing is, the treatment of The Riddler here strikes me as a good analogy for the horror genre over years.  Traditionally, The Riddler is a weirdo in a suit using gimmicks to commit crimes.  He’s very cartoony and over the top and there’s a great deal of creativity in his character.  The catch is, that seemingly silly caricature is actually full of nuance and room to maneuver.  It can shrink and expand to accommodate any point the writer wishes to make, the same way that old, over-the-top horror used to.  That woman screaming in the Gothic mansion and the giant atomic monster had something they wanted you to know.  Then the slashers came and horror became about dudes in masks, fake blood and body counts.  That’s what this Riddler is about; masks, fake blood and body counts.  Had they simply taken out The Riddler being the one doing the killing (he needed Batman to be his muscle and he ran around beating people to death with a carpet laying tool?) and it would have been much more of the character he was supposed to be.  By manipulating people into doing what he did in the movie, he would have been making a much better and more pointed argument about the corruption he was railing against.  The point the movie was trying to make about hopelessness in the face of an insurmountable problem and the radicalization of the desperate are completely valid and are worth exploring within the context of Gotham City.  The Riddler was not the villain to do it with (this whole movie is basically an Anarky story without Lonnie in it.  This also could have worked very well with the Roman Sionis Black Mask).  In character terms, Arkham Asylum has certain pillars and The Riddler is one of them.  They are Freaks who have been around forever and who pop into the head of even people who don’t care about or know Batman if the topic comes up.  These characters are fundamental for a reason and should not be used carelessly.  They are also the most likely to be used carelessly, and this movie is proof of that.  These pillars have been around longer than just about anyone writing them nowadays, respect that.

But there is something else here that I found interesting.  Now, Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy was something I loved at first, but as I get more distance from it, I like it less and less.  For all the surface details it got right, it fundamentally misunderstood the character of Batman, Gotham City, the Freaks and how they all interact.  The Batman is pretty much the reverse.  I can see myself liking it more as time goes on and with more viewings.  It had its problems (in case I didn’t make that clear enough in the proceeding hundred pages) and most of the surface details it got eye-rollingly wrong, but, in the end, the movie really got Batman on a fundamental level.  I actually really, really loved the ending and the writers taking the leap into making Batman into a sign of hope.  That’s an apt metaphor for our times.  Hope is dark and scary and seldom pans out for a lot of people, but when we do reach out, sometimes a hand reaches out and pulls us to safety.  We may not want to try, it’s hard to trust and have faith, but it can save you when you do.

Last random thoughts:

– The SINGLE best thing about this movie (which is not intended as an insult to the rest of the movie) is the score.  The music in this movie is simply stunning and I’m getting the soundtrack ASAP.  Oh my gawd.  Amazing.

–  I am actually quite in awe of the car chase in this movie.  It was, like, really cool.  Probably the best chase in a Batman movie.  It wasn’t just about who could go faster, there was actual smart driving and the characters put thought into what other cars to crash to block and get around each other.  Also, The Penguin getting stuck in traffic and screaming at the other cars to move is SO relatable.

– Can we talk about the Batmobile for a second?  Now Batman is male wish fulfillment.  I understand that, I accept it.  But the one thing that was for the chicks was the Batmobile.  It was sleek, it was sexy and it was all about how you used it.  Why do I bring this up? BECAUSE I’M TIRED OF THOSE UGLY MILITARY VEHICLES!  Batman has a gazillion other military gadgets that guys can ogle.  GIVE THE CHICKS BACK OUR SEXY ASS CAR!

– The flooding of Gotham and the murder of The Roman sets the stage brilliantly for one glorious thing: the Renaissance of The Penguin.  The flood was the movie’s version of the comic’s No Man’s Land, in which Gotham was decimated.  This led to Oswald making his move and taking control of Gotham’s underworld and very elegantly being the bridge between the Mob and the Freaks.  The end of The Batman threw the doors open for that and I look forward to a movie which pits Bruce Wayne, attempting to rebuild Gotham in a positive way, against The Penguin, who is “rebuilding” Gotham to cement his own power.  It could be such a beautiful frenemies story.

– Jeffrey Wright.  I see you, boo.  Rocking that shit as Gordon.  One of the measures of a Batman movie is how it treats Gordon and this movie does not disappoint.  I LOVE how Gordon is used here.

– The Joker at the end.  Just fuck right off with that shit.  I am so… fucking… sick of The Joker.  Get an idea.  Get another inmate of Arkham, it’s not like there aren’t twenty million of them to choose from or anything.  And that wasn’t a good Joker laugh.

– Martha Wayne is an Arkham.  AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA  That’s poetry right there.  Pure, cosmic poetry.  I raise a glass to the writers for that one.

Battle Royale: A Review of Godzilla vs. Kong

The 2019 Godzilla: King of the Monsters is my favorite Godzilla movie.  Talk shit about me for it all you want, don’t care.  G:KotM spoke to me.  It was the Kaiju movie that was all the things I wanted it to be.  I’d liked the other forms of Godzilla well enough, but G:KotM churched me, if you will, and made me a devotee.

I’m bringing this up because I knew Godzilla vs. Kong was gonna be something of a letdown for me going into it.  How do you top lightning in a bottle?

The answer is simple: you don’t try.  GvK did what it should have done and went its own way with its own aesthetic and its own goals.  It was largely successful in what it strove to be.  And I can respect that.  I can respect that a hell of a lot more than if they had just tried to remake G:KotM.

Now, I proclaimed spoilers from the getgo, so I’m not gonna give you a run down of the plot.  You should have seen it if you’re reading this.  If you haven’t I’m gonna ruin the movie for you, and you probably won’t understand much of what I’m saying.

To put it simply, I enjoyed the movie immensely.  It was fun and pretty and engaging and exciting and actually quite funny.  I found myself laughing a lot (and not in an ironic way, in a “that joke actually landed” way) which was kinda nice.  For Eddie Izzard fans will understand what I mean when I say this was me the whole time…

But I did fell like there were some issues. 

The main problem with this movie is that it is actually two movies.  It should have been broken up.  I think we can put the blame squarely on corporate expectations for that.  They announced that the big fight would be next, so the creatives had to do it.  They clearly wanted to do another Kong movie and set up an even better versus movie.  The first movie should have addressed that throw away line (which is infuriating that it was a throw away line) that actually had huge implications for the Monsterverse: the storms surrounding and hiding Skull Island had converged on the island and made it uninhabitable.  The Ewe people were wiped out in the process save for the one girl that Kong has saved.

… What the fuck?!  Why wasn’t that in a movie?  That would have been a great intro to the Hollow Earth and allowed for a Kong focused movie.  Watching Kong explore the Hollow Earth was amazing and the meaning it had for him was emotionally stunning.  It also would have given us more time to explore the history of the war between Godzilla and Kong.  Also, they throw in these hints that suggest Kong has PTSD.  Do you know what a hell of a movie that would make, exploring the consequences of a psychologically damaged Kaiju?  It’s also just one of the ways this movie does a better job of humanizing Kong than any movie in the franchise has to date.  Let those concepts breathe before the kings make war.

What makes this even more unfortunate is that it means the pitting of Godzilla and Kong against each other isn’t actually what the movie is about.  It’s a side effect of the other stuff going on.  That’s not a problem, but it is a pet peeve of mine: don’t pee on me and tell me it’s raining.  Make the movie about them fighting, or don’t (and please don’t tell me that’s how it works with marketing.  I know that.  It doesn’t mean I have to like it). With the set up they had, we could have had a perfectly good movie either way.  GvK did a shit ton of heavy lifting world building wise.  With all the work this movie did, anyone could go anywhere from here.

The focus was mostly on Kong.  I don’t think that’s a bad thing, but I am not a Kong fan.  I came for Big G, and when he didn’t show up much, I got antsy.  The Kong end of the story was great.  The Godzilla end of the story was a massive disappointment.  Godzilla is acting very, very out of character.  We’re just gonna let that go?  The people who investigate that end up not even focusing on Godzilla, but on Mechagodzilla.  This makes Godzilla basically a foil for Kong.  I’m Team Godzilla.  I’m not okay with that.  But I wouldn’t be okay with Kong being a foil for Godzilla either.  When the giants fight in the playground, respect needs to be paid to both.

Let’s talk about respect for a moment.  Because this movie does something that a lot of other movies do that really, really pisses me off.

In this movie, neither Kong nor Godzilla are the bad guys.  The bad guys are some corporate dickheads who create Mechagodzilla.  Now, I’ll give you that one.  Treat those guys as foils.  Make them cartoony and shit, whatever.  But Mechagodzilla deserves your respect.  He is the actual villain, not as a throw away punching bag to create a bromance between Kong and Big G.

Now, I’d like to ask you to take a second and think, really think, about Mechagodzilla in this movie.  Not only is he a giant robot Godzilla, which is cool enough as it is.  He is a giant robot Godzilla who gains sentience essentially through being possessed by the ghost of Ghidorah.  This is soul wrenchingly cool and I’m not sure the people who created it really comprehend what they’ve created here.  This is, like, Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker shit right here.  This is sooooo awesome and soooooo fucked up.  A giant robot Godzilla possessed by the ghost of Ghidorah.  I’m just gonna let that settle in your head for a second.

Okay, that awesomeness has washed over you sufficiently, we can move on.

I had heard people complain that the movie is stupid and empty.  There is actually an answer to people who are of that opinion.  The reason they don’t like it is because GvK is a 50’s style sci-fi movie.  There’s a lot of faux sci-fi spouting that leads to unconventional vehicles finding a lost continent with strange creatures.  The Monsterverse movies have always leaned into the “we don’t really know as much about the world as we think we do” philosophy and GvK hits you in the face with it.  Modern viewers like things that are basically realistic because they think we know everything about nature and the world.  They refuse to really suspend disbelief and follow a world’s internal logic if it doesn’t match our world’s.  If you can’t do that, the movie will be awful to them.  But it’s not the responsibility of a fantasy movie to adhere to our reality.

We also need to consider how societal themes were handled in GvK.  The message is there, but Americans are used to the very obvious, heavy handed social satire that is in our faces every second (see G:KotM).  In the original Japanese Kaiju movies, the criticism is rather cartoonish and broad and hidden with bright colors and monster fights and we often don’t realize the meaning of what we’re seeing until much later (with the exception, of course, of the Japanese cut of Gojira).  I think this movie will be like that and, in that way, this movie harkens back and honors the Japanese originals better than the rest of the Monsterverse.  That is something we’ve forgotten in the what the world has turned into.  You can learn your lessons and have fun and there’s nothing wrong with that.

That said, if you wanted to watch this movie, and/or enjoyed it, for no other reason than to see nuclear lizard and big monke fight, that is 100% okay too.

And now, for some random notes about this movie.

Things I found disappointing:

-There was no Mothra.

-The CG was not as good this time.

-Godzilla did not look the same.  He looked rougher and I’m not liking it.

-In every other movie in the history of ever Alexander Skarsgard runs around naked the whole time.  Like, he couldn’t even take his shirt off once in this movie?  Just for a minute or two?

-I mean, you couldn’t have had Mothra in it, for, like two seconds?  Not even a little bit?

-The return of generic mediocre white guy Mark Russell (Kyle Chandler).  Did we really need him for, well, anything?

-The 80’s vibe in color, lighting and music.  Just because you grew up in the 80’s doesn’t mean we all have to suffer for it.

-That thing, where we see Kong and you feel like you have to use an old pop song because that’s what they did in Skull Island?  Yeah, you can stop doing that now.

-I’m not asking for this to be a solo Mothra movie (there should be one, by the way), but you couldn’t have fit her in somewhere?

Things I loved:

-The movie actually has a nice little wink at the fandom hidden in it.  The lady doctor gets all snotty when people talk about Godzilla and Kong fighting it out because Kong is her Kaiju.  She’s worked with him, she’s studied him, he’s her life.  Of course she’s going to think he could win.  Everyone who loves a Kaiju thinks they would win in a fight.  Even if it’s patently obvious they would not.

-The first appearance of Godzilla in this movie was eeeeeppppppiiiiiicccccc.

-Shun Oguri.  I see you, boo, playing a smug piece of shit to the hilt.  *makes phone gesture with hands and mouths “call me”*

-Bernie Hayes is the best character in the movie and deserves his own crazy ass web series about his podcast.

– This line:  “If there’s a corporate friendly term for a sacrifice pit.”

– Okay, there is a Godzilla Ouroboros in this movie and it’s my new favorite thing in the world and I can’t decide if I want to have a piece of jewelry made to look like it or just get it straight up tattooed.

-The fact that the Apex headquarters in Hong Kong was clearly designed to be reminiscent of Osaka Castle.

-The final fight between Kong and Godzilla was brilliantly done because it was smart.  Both Kaiju used the terrain well and learned from their mistakes.  Thought went into planning that fight and I’m impressed.

-Can we please just take a minute to acknowledge that the fight between Godzilla and Kong had a winner?  I mean, Godzilla won.  If the humans hadn’t intervened, Kong would have died.  I know that’s not the point and it takes teamwork to make the dream work and all that shit, but Godzilla did, in fact, win the fight.  He won.  So, that answers that question.  Godzilla won.

It’s the eternal question for people who partake of remakes in any capacity:  How do you balance being entertaining to modern audiences while honoring the past?  There’s debate about how well the previous Monsterverse movies handled this.  There’s very little to debate about how Godzilla vs. Kong handles it.  In terms of balancing past and present, GvK is the best of the bunch.  Does that make it the best movie of the bunch?  Not for me, but I still enjoyed the hell out of it.

Needed more Mothra though.  Here’s a Mothra picture since there weren’t any in the movie.

The Ingrid Pitt Files: The House That Dripped Blood


Finally, the Ingrid Pitt Files is back and with a movie that is extremely near and dear to my heart.   Let’s get right to it.


The House That Dripped Blood is one of those things that makes life worth living: an Amicus anthology movie. Now, in general, I’m not really a fan of Amicus. Too much imitation of Hammer for a cash grab. But Amicus is also a puzzle to me. They make a movie and I’m like, “meh, whatever.” They make an anthology movie and I’m like, “THIS IS AMAZING! NOTHING COULD BE BETTER THAN THIS!” because, frankly, a not so good Amicus anthology movie was better than 90% of what came out in the 70’s (yeah, I said it).   I don’t know what goes on in my head either.

We’ve got four stories in this movie. They’re all set in the same house (and we’re told right from the start that the house is, shall we say, an issue) and they’re all adaptations by Robert Bloch of his own works (Robert Bloch basically supported himself in the 70’s by adapting his own stuff for Amicus, right?) with a framework story about a cop investigating the disappearance of the actor featured in the last story.

Since the movie is four separate stories, I’ll look at each of them separately.


The first, “Method For Murder,” tells the story of Charles and Alice Hillyer (Denholm Elliott – whom you may know as a regular in the Indiana Jones franchise along with a bazillion other things – and Joanna Dunham – British television veteran) who move into the house (which is in the country, by the way) in hopes of clearing up his writer’s block. Charles is a horror writer (who specializes in murder, a.k.a. he writes slasher books.   Ugh. I dislike this guy already). But his new villain, Dominick, a strangler who escaped from an asylum (don’t look at me, I would never strangle people), is becoming more and more vivid.   Charles sees him and hears him while his wife claims he’s imaging the whole thing. Charles’ visions of Dominick escalate until he attacks his wife and she demands he see a psychologist. Unfortunately, during a session, Dominick arrives and strangles the psychiatrist. We cut away and it’s revealed that Dominick is very real and is actually Richard, Alice’s lover. They planned to drive Charles insane, take his money and run away together. But after the police tell Alice that Charles has been strangled too, Richard reveals that he’s snapped, thinks he is Dominick and strangles Alice.

Frankly, this story did nothing for me. It’s in that William Castle tradition of “I’m gonna say it’s supernatural until I reveal at the end that it was just normal people pulling off completely implausible things and doing it all for money” that I am not a fan of.   Only this didn’t have Castle’s charm.

This one was just a big pile of blah for me, so we’ll move on.


Because the second story, “Waxworks,” is where the money is, baby.

Philip Grayson (played by my beloved Peter Cushing, now you know why I love this one) is a retired stockbroker who moves into the house to enjoy some peace and quiet. He’ll also be enjoying some alone time as he is not married and is actively pining for someone. One day Neville (the mighty Joss Ackland who has rocked our worlds in many, many rolls), an old friend who was a rival for Philip’s intended before she passed, arrives. They bury the hatchet with no problem but a situation arises when they discover that a small wax museum in the village has a display of Salome presenting the head of John the Baptist and Salome looks exactly like their lost love. Neville becomes obsessed with it and refuses to leave town. When Philip tries to help, he discovers Neville’s head on Salome’s silver platter and the owner of the museum ready to change out the display again with Philip’s head this time around.

Now, this story has two things that mean I was gonna love it no matter what: 1.) Peter Cushing and 2) a wax museum. I’m a sucker for both. So while this, in reality, is not a very good segment, I still love it.   Peter acts the hell out of it (and is once again game for a dream sequence that is totally not a direct consequence of 1965’s The Skull), Joss Ackland doing crazy is a joy to watch.   It’s thin on plot and characterization, but don’t care.




The third story, “Sweets To The Sweet,” is the gem here.

John Reid (Sir Christopher Lee) moves into the house with his little daughter Jane (Chloe Franks, who is ridiculously cute and perfect). He refuses to allow her any interaction with other children and hires a live-in governess, Ann Norton (Nyree Dawn Porter, another prolific TV actress). Norton comes to suspect Reid is being abusive toward his daughter. She wears Reid down so he makes some nice gestures, such as allowing Anne to buy toys, but when Reid freaks out and burns a new doll right in front of Jane, the child turns from brow beaten acceptance to lashing out.   Reid reveals that Jane’s mother was a witch and he fears Jane will become one too. His attempts to isolate the child have all been in support of this.   Ann doesn’t believe any of it until John gets sick with arm, then chest, pains and Ann catches Jane with a wax doll with a pin in it. Jane chucks the doll into the fire and, in the next room, John screams in agony as he somehow burns to death in his bed.

General consensus is that this is the best story in the movie and I agree. This story is such a simple and powerful statement on how cruelty begets cruelty and how children have had to bear the brunt of the mistakes, real and perceived, that parents have made. Not to mention the whole “the path to hell is paved with good intentions” thing, and the nature vs. nurture argument.


The casting here is brilliant. Christopher Lee is the perfect choice. We tend to think of him as being imperious so the moments where the vulnerability slips through really hit home. The angelic little girl, Franks, is too saccharine sweet to do anything but be crushed by this imposing will.   There’s something almost satisfying when the tables are turned and the man so firmly in control is brought low by the tiny little thing he thought he had power over.

Now, this is the Ingrid Pitt Files, you may be thinking. So where is Ingrid?


She’s in the fourth and final story, “The Cloak.”

Paul Henderson (played by the magnificent Jon Pertwee who also was playing the third Doctor while making this movie) is a prima donna horror actor, a petty tyrant who longs for the days when horror wasn’t cheap and tawdry and who makes the lives of everyone on the set of his newest horror picture, Curse of the Bloodsuckers, hell. All except his girlfriend and co-star Carla Lind (Ingrid), who we get the feeling is a low-key diva in her own right. In a snit, Paul complains about the cloak he has to wear for the movie not looking right and decides to find one on his own. A business card mysteriously left in his dressing room leads him to a curio shop where a weirdy (the ever brilliantly cast Geoffrey Bayldon) with a black cat and nothing to hide sells Paul a cloak for 13 shillings and seems very happy about it. Paul soon discovers that it’s no ordinary cape. While wearing it he has no reflection, grows fangs, can fly, and actually bites Carla while filming a scene. During an apology dinner afterward, Carla teases Paul about the cloak before putting it on even though Paul begs her not to. The cape doesn’t effect Carla though, she’s already a vampire. She and her vampire buddies like Paul’s movies so much, they want him to become one of them!

This story is just silly.   But it’s supposed to be and that’s fine. I think this portion is hysterical and I laugh through the entire thing every time I watch it.

Also, this is the only one of the stories in this movie where I have read the source material, though it was by accident. I bought a book that had this story it in and as I’m reading it I’m thinking, “this is really familiar. Why is this familiar?” and I eventually figured it out. The short story is played straight and not for laughs so it has a different tone.

In this story as well, the casting is great. Apparently they tried to get Vincent Price to play Henderson and a lot of people say he would have been better. I love Vincent something fierce, but I could not disagree more.


Jon Pertwee is a joy to watch. He was born to ham it up.   The look he gives the real estate agent who says his name is Stoker is worth the whole movie on its own.   Pertwee also apparently based his portrayal of Henderson on Christopher Lee and Lee didn’t know that, which makes the whole set up really funny.

I also think this role frees up Ingrid. Ingrid is best when there’s a silliness to what she’s doing and this movie actually makes me wish she’d done more comedy. Watching her and Pertwee, side by side, feeding off each other’s over-the-top-ness is food for my soul and I could eat it all day.

In terms of Ingrid, what is also interesting about this movie is that she is never better put together and presented than she is here. This segment, visually, has a different look. The rest of the movie is rather drab. Nothing about the costumes stands out (except for that horrid yellow Joss Ackland always seems to be wearing. Who put him that?! STAAAAHP!).   Then we see Ingrid in the back of a Rolls Royce (probably a 20’s model) in a bright blue dress with a fur stole, the biggest white hat you’ve ever seen and a fucking cigarette holder that she is actually using to smoke.


She is consistently in that shade of blue, which is usually the brightest thing in any given scene until the end so she draws the eye.

Her hair and make up, especially the make up, are perfection. There’s nothing special to it, it’s just a basic look done really, really well. Her skin glows, her eyes are perfectly shaped and her lip liner only look, which would look trashy on anyone else (and looked trashy for the entire 1990’s when everyone did it) is actually a nice play on the eventual reveal of her vampirism, because it kept her face pale without washing her out and still made her lips look full.

And I’m not going to lie, her cleavage is admirably well arranged in every single scene she’s in.   Like, Elvira well arranged and the collars of her dresses were draped perfectly to display everything while not looking like they fit awkwardly.


Look at that. Even the pearls know their job.

Which brings us to the final scene when she’s in that black satin dress with the fur stole going for the classic femme fatale look and I am genuinely confounded as to why that dress is not a legendary horror queen dress. Ingrid looked like she was posing for a 30’s Universal press still the entire scene!


LOOK *clap* AT *clap* THAT *clap* DRESS! *clap*


This should be more famous!   Someone has been sleeping on the job here! I demand to speak to a manager about this!


Okay, back to the movie.   The framework story, which has a lot of people swearing the house is bad, the cop (John Bennett) scoffing, going to the house, staking vampire Paul Henderson then getting got by Ingrid (in one of the most famous vamp shots in film history) was unnecessary to me, though I liked its implications that the house was sentient (I’m a big fan of sentient houses).

There was one thing I did really hate about this movie and that was the music. It was overly serious at times and goofy the rest of the time and the repeated pounding on the wooden block works my nerves to the limit every time I watch this.

This movie will always be near and dear to my heart because this was the first movie I saw Ingrid in.   Seeing her looking glamorous and having fun captured my interest right away. Then I learned about her and fell in love.

I rented the movie, watched it, then went out and bought it that night, before I’d even returned the rental. I’ve watched it countless times since. It still stands as one of my favorite Ingrid performances.

Now, can we talk about the British tendency to buy houses “already furnished” (i.e. full of crap) and never get rid of anything, but somehow to never have stuff of their own? Is there one communal pool of old things all British people furnish their houses with or what?


Dancing with the Dead at the Pavilion in the Desert

(This was originally written for a project that fell through and I decided to put it here because it’s been too long since I’ve posted anything.  The Ingrid Pitt Files will return.  For real.)



The sun is slanting low over the salt marshes. It doesn’t give off a glow. The deepening shadows swallow any light.

The distance between the lake and the pavilion has grown. Fewer and fewer people have come to the amusement park. It’s as if the lake has been slowly breaking off its engagement to a dying fiancée.

But the amusement park isn’t empty. The living have abandoned the pavilion so the lake has offered up new inhabitants.

The sun disappears below the water. The highway is empty so no one sees dark figures separate themselves from the pylons standing sentinel in the sand. The figures cross the haze toward the pavilion.   Their pace is leisurely. It’s hard to tell just how many of them there are.

It doesn’t matter. There are as many or as few as there need to be. The dead are innumerable and there’s always room for one more.



That’s how I picture the lost scene of Carnival Of Souls, the one that was accidentally exposed before it was developed. That image has always been in my mind, the same way Carnival of Souls has always been in my life.

I can’t remember the first time I saw it. It soaked into my head so completely that it feels like its always been there. To borrow a line from Tolkien, it walks beside me through all the ways of my wickedness.

I see no flaws in the movie, I never have. I had to talk to people who didn’t like it and re-watch it purposely looking for their complaints to see them.

I disagree with all the complaints. You don’t get it is always what pops into my head.   I hate it when people say that.   It sounds arrogant. But I let myself think that about Carnival of Souls. I wondered why and decided that it was because I related to it. Mary Henry is probably the fictional character I relate to the most.

That doesn’t sound as screwed up to me as it should.




We get a hint the first time we see Mary. She’s in a car with her friends and the driver agrees to a drag race with some guys in another car: There’s a flicker of annoyance on Mary’s face.

The people she’s with are her friends, but she doesn’t quite fit. Mary doesn’t enjoy dangerous, foolish things.

The cars race. The driver of the car Mary is in loses control and plunges it into the Kansas River. The silt of the fast moving water quickly buries it. The town mobilizes to find the women and get the car out. They dredge, but they don’t hope. Everyone seems strangely certain that the women are dead and the car is gone forever.

Then a figure emerges from the water, stumbling across a sandbar under the bridge.

Mary Henry has survived the crash.




There are several mentions throughout the movie of Mary not liking the things other people like.   She doesn’t enjoy drag racing.   She’s not one for dancing. She doesn’t drink. The one thing we do know she likes is the organ, an old fashioned instrument. Her interest doesn’t seem to be in the immediate world around her.

I was never a Monster Kid, but when I was little I was obsessed with history and ghosts, things not of the immediate world around me.   I liked it better then the stuff I had to look at every day. I wanted magic. And from the beginning, I wanted it to be dark magic. Glenda the Good Witch was boring and wore too much pink.

But when you live the mundane life of a suburban child, you really have to search for magic. Sometimes you have to make it yourself.

That’s a large piece of why I love this movie so much.   The filmmakers didn’t have a lot to work with. What they did have, they squeezed all the dark magic they could out of in an almost alchemical process.

Very simply put, alchemy is about taking simple things and making beauty and value of their combination. If any movie is the product of alchemy, it’s Carnival of Souls.



Mary is a professional organist who has taken a job at a church in Salt Lake City. It’s only a day or two after she emerges from the river but Mary is ready to go. She stops by a local organ factory and practices. She’s quite good, but the gentleman in charge of the factory immediately throws shade her way. He tells her not only how to do her job but that she’s not living her life right.   The first in a string of people who think Mary needs to be fixed.

When she leaves, determined to drive straight through to Utah, she stops at the bridge the car went over. A small group of men are still dredging.

Traveling through the desert at night Mary passes an amusement park near the Great Salt Lake.

A pale face materializes in the passenger window, curious and a little pathetic.

Mary has been found. The Man appears in the street causing Mary to swerve her car to avoid him. This time he’s not curious.   His smile is smug and knowing.

The game has begun.



I’ve heard a lot of complaints about the acting in this movie. I can’t say the acting isn’t weird and cartoony. But I can say, for someone who is not comfortable around people, everyone is kinda weird and cartoony.

You meet people like the man at the organ factory, who have known you for ten minutes and feel the need to tell you how to do your job. Or people like Mrs. Thomas, the landlady, who watches, gives unwelcome advice and judges. People like the priest, so caught up in appearances that the smallest transgression leads you to be labeled outcast but are ever so willing to allow you back into the fold with their guidance. People like Linden, the skeezy neighbor, who leave your skin greasy when they look at you and who think that the fact that you exist means they get to paw you. People like Dr. Samuels, who see you as a problem that needs to be fixed.

These are the people of the normal world that Mary is trying to wade her way through. Try as she might, she can’t nail it down. One moment she’s friendly and happy, the next she’s cold and distant.   She isn’t what anyone thinks she should be and no one around her can handle that. She has to have a role and she has to fit into it.

As a little girl who loved He-Man, ghosts and Batman, I can relate. I needed to be fixed so I would grow up and fit into one of the categories everyone said I should be in. But I didn’t want to. I wanted to find a place where I fit without changing. I wanted to find the desolate pavilion along the highway in the desert that drew me. I wanted to find the people in it that would accept me for who I was.



Mary’s first day at work has one minor hitch: When told there will be a reception so the church congregation can meet her, Mary asks if it’s a necessity. She has no desire to take part in any such event. She tells the priest that she should be judged on her work, nothing else. Reluctantly, the priest agrees.   Mary then practices and everyone in earshot is pleased with what they hear. The Man also seems pleased when he enters the church.

After practicing all afternoon, the priest offers to take Mary to the amusement park in the desert, but he won’t go inside.   It’s not allowed and a priest can’t be caught going where he’s not allowed to. Mary, however, won’t let it go. She’ll come back on her own.

That evening she meets her neighbor Linden for the first time when he tries to barge into her room knowing that she’s half naked after a bath. She shuts him down, but changes her mind for a split second. When she goes out into the hall, The Man is at the bottom of the stairs smiling at her.

Back in Kansas, the townspeople still dredge the river.

At the pavilion, The Man’s friends wait and dance.



I made a huge mistake once.   I had a migraine, so I took Vicodin, reached onto my DVD shelf, grabbed whatever film I touched first and watched it.   It was Carnival of Souls.

Vicodin wears off in six hours. For the next three days I was convinced The Man was after me.

There’s a lesson here. Actually a couple. First, don’t watch Carnival of Souls when you’re stoned. But mostly that finding where you belong can be a scary thing.   And when you actually discover that place, it can be even scarier.

When I watch this movie, I look at the dance macabre scenes and I think, “that looks like a fun place to be. I want to go there.” Why would I be frightened of the person who could lead me to that place, where I think I would be happy?

Think is the important word here. Throughout the movie, we see Mary try to interact with people on their level. It’s awkward and weird and Mary looks miserable the whole time. But The Man and the dead of the pavilion are unfamiliar.   She may not like the people around her, but at least they’re familiar and she knows what to expect from them.   Should she open herself up to the people she thinks will accept her? Or is she just setting herself up for more awkwardness and possibly pain?

I tried for so long to find the group I fit in.   There were false starts and utter failures. Groups I wanted to belong to.   Groups I thought I belonged to.   It didn’t take long to find out I didn’t.

Eventually, you give up. You think you’re just a singular creature destined to be in your own shell by yourself.   Worse still is when the group you want to be part of is one that everyone says is bad and should be avoided at all costs. Heavy metal heads and horror movie fans know what I’m talking about. And, in general, being dead is one of those groups.   When Mary is drawn to the pavilion where the dead dance it’s a terrible, unnatural thing and she should not be feeling it. But how can we be sure her reaction is actually fear and not just running from what everyone has programmed her to think she should run from?



Mary spends the next day shopping and while she does, she has her first disassociative spell. She becomes invisible. No one hears her, no one sees her, and she can’t hear or interact with anyone. She has become a ghost. She runs from the department store and recovers in a park. There, she sees The Man and panics. Dr. Samuels stops her and takes her to his office. He listens to her story and determines rather quickly that Mary isn’t like other people. That’s not acceptable. Mary has to fit somewhere, so he proceeds to basically gaslight her into thinking that she’s screwed up and everything she knows she’s been experiencing is in her head.

Mary’s take away from this is that she needs to go to the amusement park; see the place for herself. That will put the whole thing to rest. She does, and as soon as she enters the grounds, the music shifts. It becomes playful carnival music and as Mary walks through the empty grounds, we think we see the ghosts of the people who have come and gone. Things react as Mary passes:   Barrels clang, mattresses glide down slides.

Mary isn’t alone.



As a teenager, I got into horror movies. I didn’t watch them when I was younger because I was convinced I’d be scared of them.   I know, it’s weird. I loved ghosts, but because those were real, they weren’t scary. Fake movies were scary.

I fell in love with the old ones especially, but it never really occurred to me that other people liked them, since no one else I’d ever met did.

I wasn’t supposed to like them. They’re kid’s stuff. Or they make you a serial killer. Or they make you worship Satan. And they have no value and communicate nothing, anyway.

I felt like I needed to be fixed because what I liked wasn’t what I was supposed to like. When I decided I wanted to write fiction, I was even more wrong and needed more fixing.

I knew I wanted to write stories about dead people.   I was 100% sure about it. I wasn’t going to outgrow it and I wasn’t screwed up. I knew that deep down inside.   But the doubt only needs to creep in once. If everyone else says it’s wrong, maybe it is. Maybe I am screwed up. Maybe I just need to straighten up and force myself to be like everyone else.

In those moments, the pavilion was empty with only the ghosts and hints of what could be to haunt me. I’d pass by and something would react, my heart would be happy for a few minutes and I knew I wasn’t alone but it was fleeting. I’d go back to the rest of the world thinking I had everything worked out. But somewhere inside I knew I didn’t.



Mary practices at the church that evening and finds herself caught up in a vision. The dead are dancing at the pavilion in the desert as she plays their music, possessed to play like she never has before.

The priest interrupts her dream by telling her that what she’s playing is blasphemous and she has no soul. Mary isn’t what the priest wants her to be. He fires her, but offers to “help” her by saving her soul.

She then goes on a date with Linden that ends badly. Linden doesn’t care why Mary is upset, he is just annoyed that she isn’t what he wants her to be. She tries to be, but can’t make herself do it. When Mary sees The Man in her room, Linden high tails it out.   This isn’t what he signed up for.   He doesn’t care if Mary needs help.   She’s on her own.

In a panic Mary starts rearranging furniture to block the exits. Mrs. Thomas, for all her apparent wisdom, doesn’t try to find out what’s wrong with Mary, she just wants Mary out. Again, there is no help.

Except from Dr. Samuels who just happens by in another attempt to fix Mary. Mary rebuffs him. Needing help doesn’t mean you need to be fixed.

Mary leaves the house without a word, but her car has trouble. When she stops to get it fixed, she finds herself pursued by The Man. She runs but all avenues of escape are closed to her.

That’s just a dream though. She wakes up, drives away before her car is fixed and heads straight to the pavilion. There, she sees a pale version of herself dancing with the dead.

But she’s not yet ready to admit what she knows to be true. She runs. The dead give chase, laughing like it’s a merry game.   For them, it is. They know she won’t escape. The pavilion is where she belongs and where she’ll stay.




One of the ways you can tell how good a movie Carnival of Souls is, is the fact that there are so many interpretations.

There are grand existential threads throughout it.   There’s a discourse about lack of faith. There’s quite a bit here about social anxiety. Objectively, I think this is a movie about PTSD and survivor’s guilt.

It took me a long time to figure out why Carnival of Souls resonated with me, personally, so much. Longer then it should have.

When I watch Carnival of Souls, I see the story of a woman finding her tribe, a tribe that everyone says she should have nothing to do with but that she belongs to nevertheless.

In some ways, I am Mary Henry. Living people are a problem for me and dealing with them is weird and awkward and I don’t see the point a lot of the time.

In some ways, I want to be Mary Henry and dance with the dead at the pavilion in the desert.

I’m screwed up, I’m never going to “grow up”, and the dead – and the people who watch old movies about them – are my tribe.

I can relate to Mary Henry better than any fictional character I’ve yet come across. That’s a messed up thing to realize, but I’m perfectly okay with it.

Everyone else should be okay with it too. Every single person has their own journey.   That’s not a bad thing. It’s a good thing. Never let anyone tell you otherwise. It’s okay to be screwed up and it’s okay if your journey leads you through some weird places. The weirder the places, the better the stories.

I don’t know if your journey will bring you to the pavilion in the desert where the dead dance but you’re welcome to join us if it does, even if it’s just for a night. There’s always a pale face and a clammy hand looking for a partner.

Carnival Of Souls

A Labor Of Love: Black Sunday

It’s been a long time. Like a loooooong time. And the reason why it took a long time means this post is going to be longer and a bit different then past installments.

But let’s start at the beginning.

It’s 1960, and Mario Bava has been cleaning up everyone else’s messes for a while now. As a reward, Nello Santi, the head of Galatea Film, gave The Maestro the green light to do whatever he wanted.

The Maestro chose to adapt “Viy,” a short story by Nikolai Gogol. The movie that resulted, La Maschera del Demonio, or Black Sunday in the US, doesn’t actually have much to do with the source material but is probably more famous than the piece that inspired it.


The movie starts in epic fashion with a Moldavian noble family executing one of the their own. Princess Asa Vajda (Barbara Steele, whom we’re always glad to see) is being tied to a stake to be burned as a witch. Her lover Javutich (Arturo Dominici, whom we welcome back from Caltiki and if you’ve ever watched an Italian sword and sandal movie from this period you’ve probably seen him) has already been executed. Asa, in true badass witch fashion, puts a curse on her family before the churchmen hammer a spiked metal mask to her face and attempt to burn her, but a storm hits and douses the flames. They settle on burying her in the family crypt with the mask still on her face and a cross mounted over a glass panel in the sarcophagus to keep her quiet.

Roll titles!


Now that is how you start a movie, my friends!

200 years pass (in the movie, not since 1960, just for the record) and two doctors, Kruvajan and Gorobec (Andrea Checci and John Richardson respectively, though I will point out that the guy who dubbed Richardson’s voice in the most common release also dubbed the voice of Hercules in several sword & sandal movies so that makes me happy for some reason I can’t quite identify), are riding in a carriage through Moldavia on their way to Myrgorod (which, in reality, is in eastern Ukraine so they have quite a ways to go yet) for some doctor-ish event thing. The wheel of their carriage breaks and, to kill time while it’s fixed, they wander into the Vajda family burial plot amidst some ruins (like you do. If you’re me, anyway). They find Asa’s tomb and, while Kruvajan studies it, he gets attacked by a bat. While flailing about, he knocks over the cross, breaks the glass and cuts himself, leaving just enough blood to revive Asa.


Outside, Kruvajan and Gorobec are meeting Katia Vajda, daughter of the current Prince Vajda and the spitting image of Asa (and, thus, also played by Barbara Steele). Gorobec becomes smitten with her, but he and Kruvajan head out to a village to stay the night.

At the Vajda castle that night, Prince Vajda (Ivo Garrani, another Bava returnee from The Giant of Marathon and whose next movie would be Atom Age Vampire) has a run in with the resurrected Javutich that makes him ill and leads Katia to send for Kruvajan. Kruvajan’s subsequent disappearance draws Gorobec to the castle, where he must foil Asa’s plans to drain Katia’s life to restore her own and save the whole Vajda family Asa and Javutich are threatening to destroy.


I’m pretty sure everyone reading this knows that this film is a stone cold classic whose tentacles reach far and wide in the genre.

That ended up being part of my problem when approaching this as a piece for my Bava gown. Black Sunday looms so large, not just for me, but in terms of Bava-ness, that reducing it down to one or two symbols was daunting. That is part of the reason that I started this project in the summer of 2018… and finished it last week.

This is where this post differs from the others in this series, because the shawl I ended up creating became emblematic of the depression that hit me last year.

I bought the blu-ray of Black Sunday at Monster Bash in June 2018. I was excited to start the project but daunted because I already knew what a task it would be.

I spent the rest of 2018 trying to decide what to do. When I decided on the entire venture of the Bava gown, some ideas just jumped out at me immediately, like the ones for Planet of the Vampires or Caltiki. Not Black Sunday.

I watched the movie. And I watched it again. And I watched it again.


My initial reaction was to both the image of the silver griffon that is the Vajda family crest.


And to the painting of Asa (which I am obsessed with, so if anyone sees reproductions of it for sale tell me because I need one).


The mask would be the most recognizable, but I couldn’t picture it as anything but a piece of jewelry, which made it unfeasible for me.

2019 dawned and I decided I would need a small purse for the ensemble so I would make a simple black velvet drawstring bag that I could cross stitch a silver griffin on. Black velvet is always a win and I have some laying around (because of course I have black velvet laying around), I can cross stitch and I have metallic silver thread. We can do this.

But that was when I shut down. It is well within the realm of possibility that I could have made a little bag. But I didn’t. I didn’t even try. Because I convinced myself that I couldn’t do it.

In 2019, I was running on empty. I was unemployed and the luck that had kept me in cash in 2018 was running out. I was basically having a mid-life crisis and I was sure I was never going to make my life better.

I’m a loser. Losers don’t get to have nice things. They can’t make nice things. They’re just going to be losers no matter why they do. Why try?

So I didn’t. I let the little pile of griffin pictures and velvet and silver thread gather dust.

Eventually, I determined the idea was a stupid one and I shouldn’t have even entertained it. Even if I pulled it off it would be ugly and useless. I put the velvet and thread away and burned the reference pictures. It was done. I’d have to think of another idea, if I even wanted to continue the entire concept.

For awhile I toyed with the idea of just getting two little stuffed Dobermans and putting them on leashes. That shot of Katia in the cemetery with the dogs is one of the most famous in all of horror cinema. I still think it would have worked if I hadn’t come up with something better. I still may do it.

August of 2019 saw a bunch of local theaters in Portland showing Bava movies in one day, so Derek Koch, Chris McMillan and I had a Bava day. We ended it with Black Sunday at the Portland Art Museum. For whatever reason, these things never make sense, this image hit me.


This was the image I would use and I would make a shawl. I could keep warm and have bones on my back. There it was. Boom.

At this point, money was still an issue, but I scrapped some together and I know how to work coupons so I bought some lovely poly rayon twill, a fabric used to make suits that is heavy and floppy so it will look nice when it hangs.


I knew I wanted to do the bones and attempt the mask, but what about other design elements?


I had fallen in love with the huge drop beads on the funeral hangings in the movie.


Watching it again, I could tell not a lot of money was put into the costumes. They have almost no decoration except for rickrack (that zigzag stuff you see on the Barbara’s lapel, collar and cuffs) and I cringed because that always makes me think of baby blankets.

That is, until I found the most goofy metallic silver rickrack. Okay, maybe this will work after all.


I folded the chunk of fabric in half into a giant triangle and tried it on like a shawl. It was just the size I wanted, so I cut the fabric in half diagonally and hemmed it.

Then I had to determine how I would get the bones on the fabric. Sewing is my safe method, but the shawl was 85″ long and 37″ wide. With a sternum and 6 ribs on each side that need to cover most of the surface. That would be a lot of sewing. So I decided to try fabric paint.

My stenciling pattern process would have probably driven anyone else to insanity but I’m already fucking crazy so I didn’t notice. It took five days of me with a roll of craft paper and some taped together poster board cutting and laying out and re-cutting until I was okay with the way it was balanced.

But then I started doubting myself again. What was I even doing? This wasn’t any better an idea then the purse. The bones were misshapen and I couldn’t get them to lay even because my hand isn’t that steady and my eye isn’t that good. Fuck this shit.


I distracted myself by making fringe. The drops in the movie were actually quite large and I couldn’t find any pre-made beads that size, so I decided to make them. So I sat down one night, watched Witchboard, rolled silver clay and baked it.


That brought me even further down. The beads kinda suck. I don’t work with clay, so they’re lopsided, bumpy and not consistent. On top of that, the fucking silver clay was some of the messiest stuff I’ve ever used (beware if you ever work with it). Couldn’t I do anything right?

Well, it turns out I could make Tinglers right, so I made a bunch of Tinglers and avoided working on the shawl again.

Round about Thanksgiving I had the wherewithal to go for it. I set up the fabric on the ping-pong table in the garage and started.


I got a tiny bit into the top rib and realized what a mistake I’d made. If you’re doing something small, fabric paint is brilliant. If you’re doing something big, turn back while you still can.


When I sew, I pull the thread too hard. It’s just a thing I do. That makes the fabric pucker slightly at the edges. Fabric paint works best when the fabric is absolutely flat. So the paint was shifting as the fabric wrinkled and it bled under the edges of the stencil. I also quickly determined that, not only would I need multiple coats for each rib (potentially creating a crusty feel to the fabric I had been hoping to avoid), but the bottle of paint was not going to last nearly as long as I thought it would. Who knew how many bottles I’d need at this rate. 4? 5? 6?

That’s when the fateful thought crossed my mind: For what that would cost, I could just get some velvet.

Now, for those of you who don’t know, velvet to a Goth is like carrots to Bugs Bunny. If we can use velvet for something, we will.

And, as if by magic, as if it were meant to be, something else happened: I got a job. I could afford a hunk of velvet.

So, we’d scrap the idea of paint and make velvet bones (velvet bones, I just love those two words together).


Now I’d gotten it in my head to save the bone shapes I’d cut out of my stencil so I used those now as pattern pieces for the velvet. I also used the stencil itself to pin the bones in place. I had already done the lay out, no reason to waste all that work.

I did a test with scraps of velvet and fabric glue, but it’s no so good for velvet. It soaked through, made a dark spot and felt slightly crusty.


So I was down to the sewing. And I did. A sternum and 12 ribs, pinned and sewn. Stabbed the hell out of my fingers. Even had to pause at one point to clean blood out of the velvet. The last rib had to be specially cut and placed to cover where I had already tried to paint (I worked from the bottom up).

But, in the end, I got them on.

I used to have a co-worker who ran marathons. He told me about the runner’s high. How, when you train for a marathon, you push yourself and it hurts and it sucks and you don’t think it’s worth it. Then you finish that marathon and you met your goal and you’re rightly proud of yourself and you’d do it again because you fucking made it.

When I finished that last rib, I had a runner’s high. I’d done it. I’d gotten over the big hurdle. Everything else was easy in comparison. There was no excuse not to finish it from here.

Of course, next up came the replicating of the mask, which, really was probably harder than the ribs.


I used this image of the mask reflected in liquid and decided to go with red velvet for a punch of color. I drew up the pattern best I could and used an xacto knife to cut up the velvet. It was rough, and by the time I got it sewn on it was no longer recognizable as La Maschera del Demonio, but it’s still kinda cute.


As soon as I got that on I realized I had big open spaces next to the mask (the area above the mask, at the widest point of the shawl, I’d decided to leave alone. I actually meant the shawl to be for warmth so it would need to sit high on my neck and shoulders. That would scrunch up the top so you couldn’t see a design on it if one was put there). I decided on some red jewel beads I had laying around and some pearls since the portrait of Asa has pearls in her hair. The larger statement jewels on the ends are beads I’d had my eye on for awhile, so I went for it.


I was sewing the loops along the edge for the fringe beads when I realized something: all the stitching on the back was visible and this was a piece where you would be able to see at least part of the back while I was wearing it. I’d have to line it.



Once again we hear the Goth battle cry…



I chose a stretch velvet to retain the drape of the rayon twill (*cough*itscheaper*cough*) and sewed it in. I also realized, while sewing the velvet in that is not only gave the entire piece a lovely cushiony feel, but it actually made the twill feel a little smooth. Texture win!


Then I put the fringe on. I only went part way up. I actually don’t like fringe on shawls, but I wanted to try it here, even if the beads are misshapen. So I only put the beads part of the way up the two pointed edges so they would be present but not annoying.

It was while working on that that House of Silent Graves shop supervisor Keba realized I was working with velvet and had to quality test the piece for me.


Frankly, but this point, I was done working on this thing. I was tired and I wanted to put it behind me. But I still had that silver rickrack. Did I really want to use it? It was pretty tacky and shiny so it may not even match. I laid it out on the edges and stood back.

Oh, it was tacky It was tacky as fuck…


So I decided to sew it on. One last finishing touch, right? But the shawl had its claws in me and was not about to let go so easily.

It turns out metallic rickrack isn’t soft like fabric. It’s crusty like dragon scales. And the only thread that didn’t look hideous with it was the metallic cross stitch floss I had originally pulled out when I’d wanted to make a bag.

That crap had its revenge now.


Metallic cross stitch floss sucks. In hell, there is a circle that is nothing but sewing with metallic cross stitch floss. It catches every two seconds and after about four stitches the metallic parts start to peel back, which makes it knot on you. It took me all night to do one pass along the edge of the shawl. I usually do two passes over a seam for security but by the end of the first pass I was so ready to fucking kill someone I decided to stop. Besides, that thread knotted so badly I don’t think I could get that shit off if I wanted to, so the rickrack stays, come what may.

In the end, I actually rather like it. It’s not what I pictured in my head and I screwed up the lining so it’s hard to make it sit right. But, by god, I fucking finished it. And after 2019, that counts for something.

While I was working on the ribs, I came across this article that struck me because it sums up my entire 2019 and is something I hadn’t really thought of.

Finishing this shawl is one of the little things that have made me feel better about life. I got over that hump that seemed insurmountable in 2019. I can move forward with other projects now, including the next part of the gown. Though it’ll be awhile before I start that.

I’ve noticed though, Bava always seems to come up when I’m feeling shitty. Now, this may be because I’m watching some Bava movie or another all the time, but The Maestro’s work is a good reminder that, even if you don’t have money or if people dump their crap all over you or no one will give you a chance, you’ll still come out ahead if you just stick with it. And you may just look damn good doing it too.

Next up: Esther and the King


It Never Lets Go: A Review Of The Grudge In Two Parts

When people think of J-Horror, the first thing that pops into their heads is usually The Ring.   It’s America’s touchstone for Japanese horror.

It shouldn’t be. I like The Ring just fine, but if anything represents J-Horror, the power it has, the meaning it holds and the unabashed way it can get out of control and larger than life, it’s The Grudge.   There are something like 16 Grudge movies in various formats (give or take a few, it’s hard to keep track of all of them sometimes). I adore The Grudge movies for a number of reasons and firmly believe that they are the pinnacle of J-Horror and represent the best and brightest of its glories.

That said, my reaction to seeing that there was a new American Grudge movie vacillated.   When I first heard I was super excited.   Yeah, there shouldn’t be any more remakes. They’re lazy money grabs.   But in this case you’re being lazy in a grab specifically for my money (why the hell else would you make The Grudge part 2,548? My $20 must be special somehow) so I’m okay with it. The trailers started coming and my hopes started to ebb. There was still hope. It looked like they were trying to translate the concepts into an American format. Yes, that means some parts of it were gonna end up stupid (I have an extremely low opinion of American horror), I can deal with that.

Then I saw the movie.   In general, I think less and less of it the more I contemplate it. The reasons vary from simply what the movie is to the more complex comparison of this movie with the core Grudge films of Takashi Shimizu. So, I’ll be breaking my discussion up into two parts, the first a spoiler free review of only this movie on its own merits. The second, a super spoilery discussion of this movie as a product of the movies and culture it came from.

Part 1 – In Which I Review This Very Short Season Of True Detective

2020’s The Grudge is a reboot of the series. They’re starting at the beginning. Kind of.   They link this movie to the 2004 American Grudge that Takashi Shimizu directed (it’s possible they’re trying to link it to the 2002 Ju-On, but they failed if they did try) by inserting an American care worker before Sarah Michelle Gellar. I don’t wholly disagree with this decision. I’m a big fan of the spreading of the Grudge, but the connection really wasn’t necessary. And The Grudge continuity is nothing if not messy.

The first problem presented itself right away: We see the ghost in first freaking scene of the movie. I hope you don’t think this is a spoiler, because, I repeat, the first scene of the movie. So, as a horror fan, I’ve already got my hackles up. Why would you show us the ghost that quickly? (there is also a tangent rant about the ghost itself, but that will be discussed below in the nerd out section) If they directing this movie at people who have already seen and enjoyed The Grudge films, that move would make sense (though I still don’t like it). But then you need to move into new territory and give the nerds you clearly made this movie for something we haven’t seen before. But the makers of this film didn’t do that. They remade Ju-On pretty much scene for scene, just putting them in slightly different order and in a more obviously American context.

The context they chose was cops investigating a murder. This is not a bad choice. The problem is, that choice, coupled with the long shots in the beginning of people driving in cars through fields and the pervasiveness of the color yellow in the art design made you think of True Detective. You have people sitting around, smoking and talking about how terrible their lives are, contemplating the bad things going on at the scary house, and explaining them over and over while living in ratty houses and driving crappy cars (seriously, the movie clearly says we’re in the mid-2000’s.   Why is everyone, including the hot shot real estate agent driving a huge, ratty 70’s piece of shit car? And why do all the houses look like they’re from the 60’s?) and “trying to put the pieces together.” The problem with it here is the same as the problem with the first season of True Detective: We’re promised something supernatural and because of all this “contemplative” hullabaloo, we never get it. For True Detective you can debate whether or not the supernatural was all that important. In The Grudge, you cannot. The Grudge is a movie about ghosts in a haunted house. End of story.

And it is here that I will say it again, because Americans have a legitimate problem with this:


If you have ghosts in your story, make them a part of your story. They were people, which means they are characters. They have stories, they have reasons for doing what they do.   Respect that by exploring it and allowing your audience to as well.

As for the rest, I thought the performances were fine. Basically no one had much to work with, so it’s hard to judge the actors in this film.   The art direction was rather blah, but did have some nice spots. There was one pretty corpse, but that’s it.

The biggest problem for this as a horror movie was the singular lack of tension. There were no stakes for the characters in the movie.   Muldoon never seemed to realize that she was on the ghost’s radar, even when it was toying with her (aided by the fact that the Landers seemed to dick around a lot when haunting people.   Kayako had shit to do. If she was gonna kill you, she was gonna kill you now. Also, the Landers needed to stop screaming at people. With all those flies around you can’t leave your mouth hanging open like that). This led to there being basically no dread built up in the movie. Everything was based on jump scares which were telephoned in (I predicted every single one of them, and that’s not bragging about how smart I am.   That’s saying they were that obvious), and most of them were just slight twists of scares from the original so if you’ve seen Ju-On or The Grudge enough times, you’ll see them coming too. Add to this the fact that we see a ghost every two seconds (and those stupid flies! Who thought that was a good idea?!) and there’s nothing to look forward to either. The only scare I give them credit for was their version of the surveillance video incident. That was pretty cool.

The original Grudge films are a mess, and they aren’t very popular outside a group of American horror fans with certain tastes because of it. But those of us who love them watch them and see the magic. We see the curse that Shimizu unleashed when he created Kayako and we love it all the more because it is so messy.   Nicolas Pesce loves that mess as much as the rest of us Ju-On fans, I believe this movie makes that abundantly clear. He’s reaching for the magic with this movie. He’s reaching for the curse so he can spread it. But this movie is nothing more than fan fiction trying to imitate what someone else did. He took no chances and because of that very un-Shimizu like decision, The Grudge reboot fails. And not even gloriously.

Part 2 – In Which I Prattle About J-Horror Minutiae Like The Nerd I Am

WARNING: This is where the spoilers will be and where I will end up sounding bat shit crazy quite a bit.

I have quite a few little tin gods that I set up on the altar in my head. Takashi Shimizu is one of those I hold most dear. His films are borderline incoherent at times, and many would call him a one trick pony, they do tend to follow the same threads.   But his films are also works of beauty and heartbreak that show how tragedy can swallow whole communities.   Shimizu films may fail, but they fail trying to express more than a typical studio horror movie does and because of that I love them.

For me, there are three hallmarks in Shimizu’s work: 1.) non-linear storytelling, 2.) the way his ghosts move and 3.) an extremely keen eye for detail and As The Grudge is basically fan fiction that seeks to recreate Ju-On, it’s fair to judge them based on these three criteria.

This newest version of The Grudge fully embraces the non-linear storytelling Shimizu loves to use.   This is risky because it is so… so easy to screw up. Shimizu himself doesn’t actually do it well, despite the fact that he keeps trying.   In this respect, this version of The Grudge actually succeeds better than the original Ju-On.   It is much clearer how everything connects together.

Shimizu’s ghosts, most famously Kayako, have a distinct way they move. Shimizu wasn’t the first one to have his ghosts move all herky-jerky like their bodies were broken, but he was the one who made it an art. There is actually a specific reason Kayako moves like that, the things Takeo did to her before he killed her, and that didn’t happen to the Landers in this version, so I can let that go. Though I would have liked to see it.

The extremely keen eye for detail is where Pesce’s problems with imitation really become glaring.   There are many shots held for no reason. Pans are slow and the camera lingers. Shimizu does this as well.   The difference is that Shimizu lingers for a reason. The long shot of the front of the Grudge house gives you a glimpse of Toshio in the window. Mar the cat runs across a room.   Kayako’s reflection flits across a mirror. There is no emptiness in Shimizu’s long shots. They’re full, and you’ll see that when he wants you to. That’s his eye for detail. The stories, though messily told, are quite tightly plotted and everything means something. It often gets lost in the non-linear storytelling though. The tension is created in the twitch at the corner of our eye, in the shadows we know hold something but we can’t see what. Not in staring at an empty facade. This shows the fundamental problem with this version of The Grudge: Pesce and his team knew what worked, they didn’t understand why it worked so they can’t recreate it properly.

This lack of understanding become the mostly painfully clear in dealing with the supernatural elements of the movie.

I’m going to go on a tangent here that bugs me personally, but ties in to the lack of understanding.   In the first scene of this movie, when Fiona is leaving the original Grudge House and we see Kayako (the scene where we see the ghost too early I was complaining about above). I instantly got annoyed by something that was pretty innocuous but pretty telling as well. Kayako was standing behind Fiona.

Kayako doesn’t stand.   Her body was broken before she died.   This actually became a distinctive feature of her as we see her crawling. She floats sometimes, she’s a ghost, ghosts can do that if they want.   We can see why this is important when she does stand because then she just looks like the other big Japanese ghost Sadako (Samara) from The Ring. This has to do with the uniformity Kabuki theater created in how a ghost is represented (white white face and clothes, the hair in the face), but it makes those small differences that much more important in recognizing who we’re dealing with. The portrayal of Melinda the child bothered me as well. She’s always wet. Well, she was drowned, that’s understandable. However, Toshio, her equal in the original, was drowned as well and he wasn’t wet.   That’s because, while there are water-based ghosts in Japanese folklore, the wet ghost is actually a specific reference to The Ring. Koji Suzuki, in his novel, sets up very specific parameters for the creation of his ghost and water is one of them (his take on ghosts is actually really interesting and I would recommend reading Ring if you haven’t yet). In short, Pesce didn’t understand that the ghost he was borrowing was not the ghost designed to inhabit his world.

This may not seem like a big deal, but it is a small part of a larger issue. To get to that, I’m going to have to go over some folklore.

American horror and Japanese horror, philosophically, can be seen as opposites. Japanese horror is about chaos being imposed on order: things are going fine, then something happens to knock everything out of whack and everyone suffers accordingly. American horror is order imposed on chaos: people are doing/have done something they should not, they need to pay for it, the agent of “evil” punishes/scares them straight, everything is corrected.

Because of that fundamental difference, it can be hard to translate Japanese horror into something the American palette can handle.

Now, Kayako is an onryou. An onryou is a revenge ghost that is basically the most badass of Japanese ghosts. They are extremely dangerous and extremely difficult to defeat. One of the reasons they are so dangerous is the chaos they create. An onryou, and a Grudge like the one that rules the Saeki and Landers houses, are indiscriminate. One Japanese folklorist compared them to a boulder that gets pushed down a hill. Maybe it will strike the people who made it fall, maybe it won’t. The boulder itself doesn’t care, it’s just going to crush everything in its path. The best example of this is the legendary Japanese ghost story Yotsuya Kaidan, where a murdered wife comes back as an onryou and proceeds to kill a ridiculous amount of people who may or may not have had anything to do with her death (in one version she impales a 4-year-old girl on a bamboo fence) before killing the husband who killed her. This is one of the reasons the original Grudge films are so messy.   Revenge is messy is goes on and on until, like in the end of the original Ju-On, the entire community has been sucked into the cycle and is wiped out.

This indiscriminate and pointless chain of killing is something American just can’t fathom.   We don’t know what it is, how it functions. Revenge is a straight line, for us. You find the person who did the bad thing and punish them, happy ending.

This leads to the way the ghosts were treated in this movie and, in what I think is a very interesting turn, the way Americans deal with difficult problems we don’t fully understand:   We deal with the symptoms, not the disease. Muldoon spends the whole movie investigating all the deaths that are linked to the ghosts of the Landers, but never the Landers themselves. She doesn’t go to the root of the problem and try to understand it and figure out a solution from there. She simply goes and burns the house down, not sure that that will solve the problem.   There isn’t even a good showdown between her and the ghosts. She has a small exchange with Melinda and that’s that. But Melinda isn’t even the ghost that is the issue. Fiona was the person who killed her family and created the Grudge. She’s the one who needed to be faced. To be fair, burning the house down will solve the problem at least in part. If the house isn’t there, you can’t go in it and get cursed.   But it lacks the emotional punch of the original Ju-On, when Rika goes to burn the house down and stomping down the stairs comes Takeo. Not Toshio, not Kayako, Takeo. The big boss just arrived, and your stomach tightens because you know Rika is in for it even if we don’t see what happens.

Of course, having just said all that, I have to admit to thinking repeatedly during the movie, “that’s not how a Grudge house works.” Again, the philosophical difference rears its head. Japanese ghosts stem from selfish actions that don’t align with the good of the whole, creating a ripple effect that destroys a community. By tying the events of this movie to the events of the 2004 movie, the makers are essentially saying this outside thing came in and screwed up our community. These nice American people were affected by some scary foreign thing that made them crazy and different (I’m not trying to accuse anyone of xenophobia here, I don’t think that was the intent, but it seems an accidental by product). The simple tweak of setting the story entirely in America (you want to give it a specifically American flavor? Make the Grudge house a building where a mass shooting took place and the curse spreads its tendrils from there) would have improved the story immensely. It’s also a very American thing to do, blaming our problems on someone else, rather then admitting to them and saying that we’re screwed up.

My point in all this is that when you attempt to translate a story for a culturally different audience the spirit is what matters, not the motions. Understanding what the onryou, the Grudge house, Kayako and Toshio are meant to represent means you can take those same ideas and rephrase them so Americans really feel what these tropes are meant to tell us. It’s not going to get you something you can instantly market, but it’s going to get you a better movie, or, at the very least, a movie where you fail as gloriously as Shimizu often does. Because when you try and fail gloriously, there will be someone out there who loves you for it as much as I love Shimizu-Sensei.

The Ingrid Pitt Files: Countess Dracula


After an interminable amount of time, the Ingrid Pitt files is back and do we have a doozy for you.

My dislike of 70’s Hammer is not something I’m shy about. But every once in awhile I have to be reminded not to speak in absolutes.   Because I LOVE Countess Dracula madly and unequivocally. It’s my favorite Ingrid performance and I’m gonna gush over it now. You have been warned.


Let’s start at the beginning.

The old Count has died and a young and handsome Hussar, Imre Toth (Sandor Eles, a quite good looking dude who did a bunch of British TV), arrives in the middle of the funeral.   He gets ogled right away by the widowed Countess Elizabeth (Ingrid in A LOT of make up), who is super old.

The funeral party moves to the castle. On the way, a peasant begs the Countess for a job. She doesn’t even look at him, but castle steward Captain Dobi (the formidable Nigel Greene) beats the man, resulting in the peasant being run over by the carriage.

This is the first example we will see of how shitty life was in Eastern Europe back in the day.   Because Eastern European nobles were special breed of not nice and the oppressiveness of living as a serf (not a peasant) where you were only slightly different then a slave (there is a scene where people are bought and sold) is always just on the edges of life and ends up being actively exploited by the wealthy by the end of the story.


At the reading of the will we have our group character introduction. We meet Captain Balogh (Peter Jeffrey in another of his “how the hell did they get that accomplished of an actor in THIS movie? Whatever. I’m glad they did” roles) who is basically our police detective. We also meet Master Fabio (Maurice Denham, clearly enjoying himself), the keeper of the old Count’s impressive library, and Julie (Patience Collier), nurse to the Countess’s daughter. Mentioned, but not present, is said daughter, Ilona. She has been living in Vienna to keep her safe from the Turks. As the story starts we learn the old Count sent for her and she is on the way back to the castle.

The reading of the will is where we first see the cracks in the household. Dobi, who has been castle steward forever, gets some weapons and armor and laughs bitterly about it. The stables and horses he’d been hoping to inherit were willed to Imre, the son of an old friend of the Count. Elizabeth is bequeathed half the estate, with the other half going to Ilona as Countess (which just gets my history nerd hackles up. Splitting the estate between two women? Do you WANT the demesne to collapse? Because that’s how demesnes collapse).


Elizabeth is not happy and in the ensuing kvetch-fest between she and Dobi in her bedroom we learn that Elizabeth and Dobi have been lovers for a very long time. But when Dobi suggests they can finally be together, Elizabeth rebuffs him in favor of Imre.

Then comes the infamous moment that recreates the legends: In the course of pushing around a servant girl, the Countess gets blood on her face and the part that was splashed gets younger. Elizabeth demands that the servant be brought in. We don’t see what happens, but we do see the equally famous shot of the young, beautiful Elizabeth in the blue robe as the virgin blood works its magic.


Elizabeth introduces herself to the household as Ilona (whom she has had kidnapped and locked in a cabin in the forest). Fabio is instantly suspicious and begins prodding around for information.

Elizabeth throws herself into romancing Imre, expecting Dobi and Julie to just clean up the messes she makes. The problem is, they do.   Dobi does so begrudgedly, Julie with a motherly but vacant smile.

The bodies pile up. Dobi is starting to lose patience. Julie is fretting over the real Ilona (who almost manages to escape multiple times in the most emotionally frustrating part of the movie. She’s… so… CLOSE), Fabio gets closer to the truth and Elizabeth puts it all on the line by asking Imre to marry her. He agrees.


But Elizabeth won’t have much happiness. The body of one of her victims is discovered, which starts an investigation.   Dobi has finally reached his breaking point and sets up Imre to look like he slept with a tavern wench.   Unfortunately, Imre was too drunk and couldn’t perform. On top of that Fabio has figured out what Elizabeth is doing and offers to tell Imre, only to be found dead in the library.


Dobi shows Imre Elizabeth bathing in blood and Elizabeth twists the situation to force Imre to marry her a.s.a.p. Elizabeth demands Dobi find her a virgin. He agrees in a very resigned way and brings Ilona to the castle.   Julie’s loyalty instantly sways to the girl and she tries to help Ilona and Imre escape the castle. Imre refuses to go but agrees to help Ilona leave.

The wedding of the Countess and Imre is happening when Ilona insists on looking in before she escapes (she is a female in a horror movies, you can’t expect her to use her brain 100% of the time). At that moment, Elizabeth turns old and rushes at Ilona with a knife. Elizabeth is stopped and arrested and she and Julie are thrown in prison.

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Countess Dracula is unique in the Hammer annals for a number of reasons. First and foremost among them is that it was made by a Hungarian director who wanted to tell a Hungarian story. Hammer was a British company, as anyone reading this probably knows, so their movies ended up very British: conservative and structured almost to the point of stiffness.

But their Eastern European movies (this one through and through and to a lesser extent Rasputin) feels much livelier and has more energy.

Multiple things bolster that feeling. The music is lighter and has an exotic feel. The sets, leftovers from the film Anne of the Thousand Days that Hammer bought cheap, are bigger, accommodate more light and are more ornate. The costumes and jewels are some of the finest in a Hammer film, period. Director Peter Sasdy could make them so impressive so inexpensively because of his connections at the BBC. They stuck to the styles portrayed in Medieval Hungarian artwork and this gave the film a very distinct look.

But the life comes out the most in the performances.


Ingrid is loving the hell out of making this movie. She does best when her characters are allowed to be playful. Her joy becomes infectious. I love the scene where Elizabeth and Imre bounce down the hallway looking at portraits of her ancestors. She titters, she flits, she’s in love and she’s enjoying every moment of the new life she’s stolen. I pair this movie in my head with The Gorgon for a couple reasons, one of which is that the leading ladies in both are radiant because they love what they’re doing.


Sandor Eles matches her beat for beat as, basically, a good-natured Medieval Bro who can’t believe his luck and isn’t smart enough to question it. His naiveté as he navigates court life feeds Elizabeth’s vigor as much as virgin blood does.

But this isn’t a happy go lucky love story, and the *ahem* young lovers need to be anchored to reality by Dobi and Julie. These two are both victims of what life can do to a person.


I’m hard pressed to think of an actor who fits a role better than Nigel Greene fits Dobi. Dobi has long served nobility. He has witnessed their cruelty, enabled it and taken part in it. When Imre sees a serf being treated cruelly, it gives him pause. Dobi strides by as if it was part of the scenery. His complaints about the situation he’s in are essentially that he’s not getting what he wants out of the deal because after years and years in these circles you learn to take care of yourself. His is a traditional male part. He is bellicose, no bull shit, no tact, soldier for life, the man who gets things done. He is the machinery that keeps the ruling elites comfortable.


In a situation like the one in the movie, you can become Dobi – a cog in a machine – or you become like Julie. She is also an enabler but more of a doormat who has mentally and emotionally shut down so she doesn’t have to face the things she’s done to make others happy.

But Elizabeth is also part of both worlds and this juxtaposition makes for a very interesting character. There’s a lot of Ingrid’s interpretation of Carmilla from The Vampire Lovers in the Countess.   There’s irrational euphoria that turns on a dime into bloody rage in a very childlike way. When Elizabeth grows old she throws a temper tantrum and Julie has to comfort her. The Countess is a brat who wants what she wants when she wants it even if people have to die. This gives the violence in the movie a jarring quality that makes it more shocking than a bucket of blood would.


The other way I would compare this with The Gorgon, and probably the #2 reason I love this movie so much (Ingrid is the first, in case you haven’t figured that out), is because all these characters are broken people. They are shades of gray. The typical Hammer Horror film has its characters definitely divided into the good and evil columns. Not so here. Imre is a good dude who is kind of a dumb ass with no spine and he lets his sex drive put him in a heap of trouble. Elizabeth’s marriage was crappy (yeah, she may have been bad, but we don’t know how much her husband contributed to that. The fact that he contributed to it is a sure bet though). She wanted some joy in her life but she could only think of harmful ways to gain it. As much as he hated every second of it, Dobi just wanted the woman he loved to be happy.   He was a hard, cruel man but a surprisingly devoted lover. Julie wanted her baby back and allowed herself to be treated like a dog for vague promises that she accepted as passively as orders to kill.

This movie is also fascinating because of the gender swap it entails. In this story, the woman is the one chasing tail and the men are long suffering and knowingly doing bad things for a person they irrationally love to the detriment of themselves and others. They let themselves be trapped for reasons known only to themselves.   Also, even when Imre shows nothing but disgust and despair after finding out Elizabeth’s secret, she still forces him to go through with the wedding thinking that the marriage will be okay.   Shades of men in scores of movies uttering, “you’ll learn to love me.”


Before I finish I’ll address the elephant in the room: Ingrid was dubbed. For whatever reason, they dubbed over Ingrid’s voice in this movie. It makes no sense for a variety of reasons. We already knew what her voice sounded like so it’s just weird that she doesn’t sound like her. Not to mention the story is Eastern European and she has an Eastern European accent.   I, personally, don’t like dubbing to begin with and I really hate it here. It distracts from the performances. It especially bugs me when I know the actor well (I have the same problem with Christopher Lee in Hercules in the Haunted World). It took me a few watches to not get distracted by it.   Whatever the story around it is, I hate it.

Anyway, Countess Dracula is a fun and unique Hammer entry that showcases Ingrid at her best.

And I totally just realized that this movie has the same plot as The Leech Woman. Only with significantly less racism. And better production value. And no Ingrid, of course.


The Gorgon, The Witch’s Mirror and the Monstrous Feminine


The representation of women in horror is a thorny issue. Typically they’re either victims or monsters. Since it seems to me that the whole women as victims thing is pretty self-evident as to its meaning, I’m going to be addressing what I think is far more interesting: The female as monster. Even in the most negative, sexist ways, the female monster can be a symbol of a woman’s power and the ways it is misunderstood or embraced.


Misunderstood is why I’m starting with Hammer Film’s The Gorgon.


As a refresher, The Gorgon is about a series of murders that have taken place in the city-state of Vandorf. Each victim, killed at the full moon, was turned to stone. Namaroff, doctor of the city’s hospital (played by my boo Peter Cushing), and Inspector Kanof, head police officer in the area (played by future second Doctor Patrick Troughton), have conspired to cover up the murders:   Kanof because he knows how five years worth of unsolved murders will look for him, Namaroff because he knows more about them than he’s telling anyone. When the Heitz family starts falling victim – first son Bruno, then father Jules – the remaining son Paul (Richard Pasco) won’t be dissuaded from finding out what happened, even as he falls in love with confusing nurse Carla Hoffman (the ethereal Barbara Shelley, who, because of this movie was my Hammer Glamour love until I discovered Ingrid Pitt). The answer to the whole puzzle leads Paul and friend Professor Meister (the delightfully bellicose Christopher Lee whose voice tends to enter most scenes he’s in a few seconds before he himself does) down a road that leads to the Greece of 2,000 years ago and heartbreak all around.


If there is any thread I would say unites Hammer’s horror output, it’s conservatism. Now, before you all shout at me about any Hammer film in the 70’s (and The Vampire Lovers in particular) I will point out that the hotter the chick, the more thoroughly evil she was and the more she needed to be killed by whatever old white guy was in that particular movie. The Quatermass and Dracula films are magnum opuses of xenophobia and the Frankenstein films do their damndest to warn us against academic curiosity (and, in one case, transvestism).

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It should come as no surprise that The Gorgon is, on the surface, an ode to keeping the little woman under control because she is irrational and dangerous. A woman can’t prosper if she doesn’t have a man who will take her by the hand and tame her and who is willing to risk their lives to do it.


I do not deny that all this is true and probably on some level the intention of the movie. But that’s not what I see when I watch The Gorgon. The surprising depth the story achieves is the reason it’s my favorite Hammer film.


Bluntly put, when I watch The Gorgon, I see two men actively taking away one woman’s right to personal autonomy. They perceive it to be for the right reasons. It may even actually be for the right reasons; Carla does freaking kill people once a month. Setting aside the moral issues here, we have two men who are actively keeping a woman from learning about how her body functions because they think it will protect her. Namaroff knows she transforms and Paul just thinks her head is in a weird place before discovering she transforms. Neither of them include her in the decisions they make about her.


One of the reasons I think this is one of the best of Hammer films is that, aside from Lee’s Professor Meister, the characters in this movie are all shades of gray. Everyone is doing the wrong thing for the right reason – or what they perceive to be the right reason – and everything goes to Hell because of it.

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It’s of ultimate importance that when Megaera takes over, Carla faffs off and does whatever she wants.   Take the train to Leipzig? Nah, I’m gonna go hang out at the abandoned castle.   Stay locked in my room because Namaroff says so? Nah, gonna go see my boyfriend.


There are a couple points where Carla begs Namaroff to explain to her what he obviously knows about her and he flat refuses. She realizes something is wrong and everyone but her knows it but none of them will tell her so she begins to get erratic and lash out.


Paradoxically, the more agitated Carla gets, the closer she gets to being under the sway of Magaera and the more calm and in control she is. This is exemplified by the scene in which Paul enters Castle Borsky in the early morning for a planned rendezvous with Carla. He enters and finds her on a raised dais, sitting on a throne, cape spread over the whole chair, hands on both arms, chin tilted up so that she is looking down on Paul in every respect. She is taking up more space than is necessary, making herself look bigger (it put me in mind of ancient Egyptian art, where you always know Pharaoh because he is in the middle of a wide stride, taking up twice as much space as the other figures). She is calm and her tone is direct and imperious. Megaera is the one ruling here. She tells Paul if they leave now she’ll go with him. Paul refuses and she tells him it’ll be too late if they wait.   Carla regains control long enough to run.

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She can’t say why it will be too late because the men who know why haven’t bothered to explain it to her. Had they talked to her they might have come up with a solution that didn’t involve, you know, everyone dying.


The Gorgon gives us the images of Carla, who is pushed to conform in order to be granted the love she wants, and Megaera who fits every stereotype of a woman with power:   Terrifying, murderous, irrational and deceptively beautiful so that men suffer for her whims. She must be stripped of her power (or have the knowledge that she can wield it actively blocked) because she will just use it to kill people. Power in the hands of a woman only leads to death and suffering.


But Megaera also tried to pull Carla away from the men attempting to control her (I don’t think it was merely plot convenience that drove Megaera to go after Paul at the first sign of affection between he and Carla – though there was some plot convenience) and give her an excuse to control her own actions. It’s simply assumed that a woman’s actions when she is left on her own are sinister and destructive.


So, we see a case where a woman’s self-autonomy it ugly and can destroy everyone around her. Can it ever help people?


The Witch’s Mirror gives a resounding yes.


The Witch’s Mirror (El Espejo de la Bruja) is something of a puzzle at first glance.   The movies starts with an opening narration describing the Satan worshipping practices of witches and occultists, the most devout of which are women, and how they eat babies and do all sorts of evil, nasty shit.


Cut to Elena (Dina de Marco, who did mostly television) and her godmother Sara (Isabela Corona) standing before a mirror that is not reflecting the room around them. Sara pronounces that the omens say Elena will be murdered by her husband Eduardo (Armando Calvo, who was also in Hell Of Frankenstein) and that another woman will be indirectly involved.


Right from the beginning, we know Sara is a witch. She invokes the spirits of Hell and uses a flaming pentagram in the first scene.   When the panicked Elena begs for help, Sara promises she’ll do what she can. Sara, in turn, begs the evil spirits to help and they refuse.   Elena’s death is destined and if Sara interferes, she will be punished and nothing will change. Sara is forced to stand by as her goddaughter is poisoned then bides her time until Eduardo brings home his new wife, Deborah (Rosita Arenas, familiar to fans of The Robot Vs. The Aztec Mummy), the woman Sara saw in the mirror the night Elena died, and the woman whom Eduardo killed his wife to marry. Sara decides her time has come and she begins her revenge.


This is a Mexican film and it seems weird to have a bunch of people from a Catholic country invoking Satan’s generals the way another person would invoke saints.


But then I remembered the Onryou, the revenge ghost of Japanese lore (most commonly known to us in America as your girl with the hair in her face from The Ring). Most Onryou were women because, in a society as traditionally restrictive as Japan, the only way for a woman to fight back is to die and, therefore, be able to work outside the rigid system.


In a similar way, Catholicism traditionally hasn’t been the best at protecting and supporting women, especially from their husbands, so the fact that Elena has to die, and Sara has to call on Satan for assistance makes sense.


Elena’s death scene is very uncomfortable to watch. Eduardo brings her poisoned milk, and her hesitation in drinking it shows she knows exactly what he’s doing. But she’s the obedient wife who is marked by fate. In other words, she has no control over her life, which she acknowledges by drinking the milk and demanding to know why her husband poisoned her before she drops dead.

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It’s interesting to note that Sara is Elena’s godmother. Traditionally, the godparents don’t look after a child’s life – that is what the parents are for – they look after the child’s soul and make sure they stay on the religious path. On that level, it makes perfect sense that Sara can do nothing to save Elena’s life, but as soon as Elena has passed, Sara can guide Elena’s soul to fuck up all the shit it wants to.


It is also of note that this woman, who does some very monstrous things and would be considered a monster by people of a certain temperament, does not appear monstrous.   She is a dignified, authoritative woman.


As is the case with the Onryou, this ghost’s revenge is not a straight line. It starts with Deborah, Eduardo’s new wife. There’s a discussion that tells us she didn’t have anything directly to do with Elena’s murder, so the revenge that comes her way is actually unfair – another example of a woman with power being irrational (though the filmmakers do ease our guilt by making Deborah one of the nastiest, most selfish, insensitive people ever. There were points when I was thinking she should have been the wife in a William Castle movie she was such a raging bitch).


But Sara did admit the point of the exercise was to force Eduardo to dig his own grave. She could never prove that Elena had been murdered.   Uselessly stealing dead bodies and cutting the hands off women who had been buried alive to fix his disfigured wife who wasn’t really disfigured could be proven.


With the help of Satan and his minions, Sara and Elena got justice and Sara dissolved into the night, her work complete. For her, there are no consequences to her evil magic, because she was using her evil magic to correct an injustice.


The Gorgon gives us a conservative picture of the traditional place of women and what happens when men can’t reign them in.


El Espejo de la Bruja gives us a realistic picture of what a woman’s traditional place can cost her and the sometimes unsavory avenues of escape available to her.


The Gorgon says outside power is destructive and dangerous. El Espejo de la Bruja says outside power is the only alternative of the oppressed and, in the right hands, can be a weapon for justice.


Neither portrayal is clear-cut. Megaera only wants the chance to live her life her own way, not be tied to anyone. She longs for Sara’s freedom. But Sara destroys an unnecessarily large number of lives just so Eduardo can keep damning himself, mirroring Megaera’s irrational killing spree.


The point of these characters may not be to represent a nuanced approach to female power, but they unintentionally do. A fresh pair of eyes reveals that these characters mark the progress of women’s struggle for justice autonomy, and the sometimes unconventional routes we have to take to get there. Embracing and exploring the monster can lead to new understandings of ourselves and our world, and, in that respect, women are no different than men.

A Labor Of Love: The Giant Of Marathon

It’s been awhile, but don’t for a second think my Bava obsession has waned!

The next movie on the list of my epic Bava-inspired gown was kind of a weird one and actually proved a bit of an unexpected struggle: La Battaglia di Maratona, released in the US as The Giant of Marathon.


This movie is pretty basic sword and sandal fare, and anyone who has seen more than one of those movies will recognize everything. It even has Steve Reeves, though he doesn’t have a beard in this movie and for some reason that REALLY weirds me out. Also present is Daniela Rocca, whom The Maestro also directed in Caltiki.

The movie goes like this: It starts in Olympia in 490 BCE, where the games are being held and Phillippides (our man Steve) wins everything because he’s freakishly strong. Now, in this movie, he’s just freakishly strong. There’s no real reason, he’s not the child of a god or anything. There’s no supernatural presence in this movie at all. Upon returning to Athens, the city-state he was representing, he is named Captain of the Sacred Guard, which is the elite guard of the city.


Now, going on behind all this is some political intrigue, some guy who used to rule Athens that everyone hates named Hippias is planning to return and seize control of the city. The problem is, when they kicked him out of Athens he ran to Persia and got on the good side of the king there.

I’m gonna make an aside here for something I love talking about: Darayavaus I. He’s typically known by the Latin version of his name, Darius. He was the third (maybe fourth depending on whose version of the story you side with) king of the Achaemenid Dynastry founded by Kurus II (Cyrus the Great). Basically, he had no right to the throne of Persia and at 30 years old, he stole it and spent years successfully putting down rebellions before expanding the Persian Empire to the biggest it would go. In short, he was a stud monkey.

Gratuitous stone relief of Darayavaus!


And he was a stud monkey who set his sights on Greece when they helped part of his empire unsuccessfully rebel. He gathered up his navy and sailed for Greece, where his forces, who were better prepared, better trained and should have won by any reasonable measurement were defeated by the Greeks. Darayavaus ended up so bitter and hateful toward the Greeks afterward that the story goes he had a servant whose sole job it was, until the great king died, to bend over and whisper in his ear, “my lord, remember the Athenians” at intervals.

Darayavaus does make a few appearances in the film (played by Daniele Vargas), but the movie is mostly about the Greek jerks who sided with him. And make no mistake, the Greeks in this movie who would go against their city-state are earnestly portrayed as the worst sort of scum on the earth.

There’s a really strong, pro-democracy strain in this movie that actually it reminiscent of Frank Miller’s 300. The Greeks are right-thinking people who value freedom and democracy whereas those nasty Persians want to rule the world with an iron fist.

The political aspects of this film center around Theocritus (played by Sergio Fantoni), who is manipulating Creuso (Ivo Garrani), an elder member of the senate, and his daughter Andromeda (Mylene Demongeot). In the mix is Charis (Daniela Rocca) who is said to be Theocritus’s servant, but the implication that she’s a prostitute in his employ is pretty clear. Theocritus forces Charis to try to seduce Phillippedes but she fails as Phillippedes has already fallen in love with Andromeda. Theocritus uses this to his own advantage by convincing Phillippedes that Androdema is a traitor to Athens. Phillippedes leaves Athens in disillusionment, leaving the moral of the Sacred Guard in tatters. A plea from a fellow soldier draws Phillipedes back to organize the effort to fight off the Persians. The movie does include Phillipedes’s legendary run to Sparta, though it lacks Pan so it doesn’t quite have the flavor it could.


The American title, I think, comes from a speech on of the soldiers gives before the senate about how any man will be a giant when he’s depending his homeland.

This film was a French/Italian co-production and, when it began was being directed by the wonderful Jacques Tourneur. Tourneur didn’t like the film and didn’t want to do it, but he was under contract. Partway through the movie, his contract ran out and he just left. Galatea Film then turned to the man who had proven himself adept at cleaning up other people’s messes, Mario Bava.

This leads to a very weird quandry. This film was directed by two people who are quite well known for their visual style. But this movie is quite bland and ordinary to look at. There’s one scene where I can confidently say, “yeah, The Maestro did that” and no scenes at all where I can tell Tourneur did it.

This led me to a crafting quandry as well. In making my piece for I Vampiri, I had to work a little bit to find the image I wanted to go with. No image grabbed me, but I was able to find something I liked and expand on it.

In this movie, there are no striking images. There were a couple nice pieces of jewelry, but they didn’t really hit me and, frankly, working them in would have taken up accessory space I had in mind for other movies that were visually strong and that I enjoyed so much more.

I figure, this is a military movie, so what can I work with that was in the battle scenes? Then I notice the shoulder armor they’re wearing.


Okay, I can work with this.


I have some leather cuffs I bought at a Renaissance Faire ages ago. They’re suede, and the shoulder armor doesn’t look suede, but there is a contrast between the inset squares and the outer edges, so if I stick with the suede and find a smooth faux leather for the inset squares, I’ll get a similar look. I cut the squares of smooth pleather out, but quickly discovered that, with the shape of the cuff, squares wasn’t happening. So I settled with rectangles.


I think, by this point, anyone reading realizes that I wasn’t that into it when I was making this piece. I thought of gluing the smooth rectangles to the suede, but I haven’t had good luck with glue and suede in the past, so I decided to use some cross stitch thread to sew the rectangles to the cuffs. I had some DMC Satin cross stitch floss that was a brilliant blue laying around, so I thought I’d use that.  By the way, leather thimbles are GREAT.


THAT was a mistake. That stuff is terrible. It knots like you would not believe, and it actually frays as you’re working. As soon as I was done sewing the squares on, I had to go over it with the micro-tip scissors and cut off all the little fly-aways. I have a deep seated hatred of that stuff now. But the blue popped, and given how closely I associated blue and The Maestro I’ll leave it be.


At this point, the whole thing looked pretty plain. It needed a little pizazz. I remembered in the movie they had the Persians catapulting skulls into Athens as a fright tactic. I raised an eyebrow when I saw this and I don’t remember hearing that the Persians ever did this (it was an Assyrian thing), but, hey, skulls! I’ll always add skulls to things!


I found some iron on skull studs at the craft store and decided that super glue would serve me better than setting up the iron. I sewed the x’s in the middle of the rectangles (And managed to get them completely not centered), then glued the little skulls to the center.

I looked at the bottom now and realized I had the chance to fix the one thing about the cuffs I really hated, and the thing that kept me from wearing them. The ties. I don’t like jewelry that requires another person to put on you. Too much effort.

What I did have was some left over snaps and a whole bunch of ribbon that was the same color blue as the thread I used. So I sewed the snaps to the ends of some chunks of ribbon. This was done almost entirely while I was wearing the cuff. The way the cuff fits is that the edges are closer at the wrist because your wrist is smaller than the rest of your arm. So the ribbon at each pair of grommets had to be fitted to where it sat on my arm, and the only way to make sure it wasn’t too tight or too loose and to not have to remake it a bajillion times was to measure it while it was on.


This was an annoying process, but a lot shorter in the long run, and now I know the the cuff fits properly.

Then to cover up the ugly stitches required to sew the snaps to the ribbon, I glued on little skulls (MORE SKULLS!!!).

I let the piece sit overnight to make sure the glue dried uninterrupted.

The next day I put it on and wore it all day to make sure stuff wouldn’t pop off and it didn’t, so we call it good.

Frankly, I’m pretty ambivilent about the piece. It doesn’t suck. It’s not very good either. Kinda blah and ordinary. But I also think that’s a pretty good summation of the movie. So, it works? Maybe?

For me and my Bava gown enterprise, this movie is the calm before the storm. As much as I wasn’t into this project, and as simple and easy as it turned out to be, the next piece of the gown is going to be that difficult and I am dreading it a bit.

Tying up Tourneur’s loose ends with The Giant of Marathon meant that Galatea trusted Bava enough to let him write his own ticket for his next movie.  And the movie The Maestro wanted to make was a horror movie based on a story by Nikolai Gogol.

A little movie called La Maschera del Demonio. It would arrive on US shores with the title Black Sunday. This is where the cult of Mario Bava would really begin.

Next up: Black Sunday.