Sunday, October 11, 2015

Weekly Buffet: I Do Believe In Spooks

It was a dark and stormy Saturday afternoon in the Pacific Northwest.

Listening to the wind thrash through the trees, knocking some red leaves free and causing branches to scrape against my bedroom window, created the perfect atmosphere to ruminate on some entertainment from the creepier end of the spectrum. (Even if the soundtrack currently spinning in my room is a beautifully melancholy John Denver covers album, instead of the intense score to The Exorcist or say, the soundtrack to The Nightmare Before Christmas and having a sing-along to "The Monster Mash".)

We are in October after all, with Halloween just around the corner. This is the time of year when even the biggest wimps on the planet (me included) want to unabashedly be forced into spine chilling situations, even if it is just watching a horror movie through the little spaces between your fingers. 

Since I have a very vivid imagination, scary things I watch or read tend to stick with me forever. I had trouble falling asleep for several weeks after seeing the final minutes of Paranormal Activity. It's an invisible threat!

Much to the chagrin of my internal nature, I still insist on indulging, year round, in all kinds of entertainment involving serial killers, ghosts, aliens, creepy houses, and anything else that people with scary minds will create. Well, at least when it's light outside. Once darkness falls, not even a completely lit up room can protect me from the dangers introduced in a frightening tale.

Over the last couple months I have found a few new exciting treats that are guaranteed to fulfill anyone's spooky quota.

The Battle Of The Screams

There has been a lot of buzz over the new Ryan Murphy television series, Scream Queens. It will reinvent the genre of comedy horror, they said! 

Being a fan of Murphy's creativity, but VERY critical of his lack of follow through when it comes to story telling, I too was excited about giving this show a chance. The verdict is in and I, once again, shudder at the huge missed opportunity. Why do I keep putting myself through this frustration? The vision is there, but a nonsensical story is still unnerving. Why include a huge scene in the middle of an episode where the new school mascot (an ice cream cone!) gets murdered with a chainsaw in a dorm room, with the door wide open, and then have none of the characters talk about it? I give up people!

Anyone looking for a TV show that plays with the idea of combining horror with humor, should instead check out a series that aired during the summer on MTV - Scream. 

The original Scream movies were my introduction into the horror genre, so I originally felt like a TV version was unnecessary. Would they just repeat the same story? That isn't the case after all. The writers were able to take the same vibe of the movies and branch it out into a new intriguing tale.

Just when you think nothing fresh can come from an old idea, something surprises you. It is actually impressive  how successfully they were in bringing this type of story into the modern world. There was definitely extra time spent figuring out how a serial killer could believably get to teens who are always attached to their mobile devices and interacting on social media. There's even a podcaster on the scene filling in for reporters. This may be somewhat hard to believe, since the traditional news would still be all over a murder story, but hey, the writers are at least attempting to introduce a nod at current culture.

Many of the story pieces will look familiar though - there's still a teenage girl hunted by a masked killer in a small town and she must deal with the people around her being murdered. One horrifying scene took me so much by surprise that I couldn't help but gasp and sit in disbelief long after the episode ended. Each of the characters handle all the drama with lots of witty banter and sarcasm, as, just like the movies, there is still that blend of mixing a little bit of lightness in to balance some seriously gruesome scenes.

Much of this element of fun is tied back to the original Wes Craven/Kevin Williamson vision and how many of the characters are intelligent and experts on all things pop-culture and horror. They put all their knowledge to good use while attempting to solve the mystery behind the killer. Part of which is tied to a truly spooky tale at the center of the town's past.

So, who is terrorizing the lives of these teens? Just like the best horror movies, there are red herrings everywhere. Try to crack the case while watching all 10 episodes on either, Hulu, or through On Demand services.

Just A Locke & Key

Movie and TV fans always say there's too much to consume, but the same goes for readers. Where to even begin? There's romance novels, science fiction, crime, celebrity tell-all's, mysteries, picture books, YA, and classic literature, just to name a few of the endless amounts of genres.

People who enjoy one type of book might not feel as overwhelmed, but those out there who like to absorb a little bit of everything might just find themselves caught in a tough cycle of decisions about what to read. Instead of making a choice, you could just end up spinning crazily around in a circle while in the aisles of a bookshop/library (or a living rooms with a digital reader in hand). What to choose next?!

Over the last year, I've decided to lose my mind and purposely inundate myself with even more options by branching out into the wild world of comic books/graphic novels. All of that enthusiasm hasn't projected me too far into the medium yet. However, I hope to get to the highly lauded Ms. Marvel asap.

Before I get too far off track though, my first stop in comic land happened over the summer and was something quite chilling. That should be no surprise since the comic book series, Locke and Key, was created by the mind of a dude who happens to be the offspring of, dare I say, the "King" of horror fiction. Yeah, it's Stephen King's son, Joe Hill.

This is another situation where having a brother comes in handy. He suggested this series when I insinuated that I wanted to read something completely outside of my norm. And he was right, this is absolutely something I never would have picked without being pushed towards its general direction. I mentioned I spent a long time during the summer reading The Andy Cohen Diaries, right?

The elaborate and visually staggering illustrations by Gabriel Rodriguez might be a little too gruesome at times for the squeamish, but the general story could be entirely absorbing for anyone.

After their father is murdered, three kids and their mom (who all witnessed the brutal killing and barely escaped alive), travel across the country to move in with the father's brother who lives in the family estate. This isn't just your run of the mill mansion either. Keyhouse is a mysterious estate that is full of supernatural forces. Completely disturbed by their father's death, the family tries to move on, even as some of the kids discover creepy elements of Keyhouse, like a door that, once walked through, will turn you into a ghost. Don't worry, just fly your spirit through the door again and your life is restored. Woosh! That was a close one.

Their impending doom is also threatened once the murderer escapes from prison and tracks the family to Keyhouse.

This all seems rather grim, but large parts of story also examine how to deal with grief, and can be quite powerful. The writing isn't completely dreary either, especially the parts where it is written from the point of view of the the wacky youngest sibling, who is just a young kid. It's a good mix of everything, which especially worked well for me, a person who isn't well versed in this type of fiction.

Even if I didn't think this would interest me, after I started, the story was enrapturing. So much so,  I couldn't stop turning the pages. Comics can also be a lot faster read than a thick novel, so that sense of accomplishment is felt quickly. Comic fans who want a thrill or anyone looking to branch out, should definitely seek out this series.

Crimson Peak

Speaking of scary houses...

The oldest trick in the scary movie book is being reinvented again. After seeing one moment of the trailer for Crimson Peak, it makes you think that we may have only just touched the surface of stories to do with haunted houses.

Although, this sense of a new creativity might just be because this film is from the brilliant mind of Guillermo del Toro, the visionary director behind Pan's Labyrinth, Pacific Rim, and Cronos.

Every detail, from the costumes to set design, is seriously mind blowing. How successful the story will be is still to be proven, but it will be hard to be a total miss, especially for anyone who appreciates impeccable visuals. Not to mention that it appears most of the terror will be done through slow building tension and old school jump frights, a throwback to brilliant scary flicks like, The Innocents and The Haunting (the original from 1963 though, that is thankfully very much Zeta-Jones less). 

This is exactly the kind of thrilling movie that hits me to my core. Toss aside gruesome torture horror - I want to be scared with ghosts popping out of corners instead of grossed out by blood and guts. Crimson Peak is one to be excited about this holiday season.

Gremlins 2: The New Batch

Let's end this on a lighter note, shall we?

Anyone out there who doesn't like being scared, but appreciates a good monster oriented flick, should get their hands on a copy of Gremlins 2 immediately. It's playing on cable almost every day right now too, so just tune in! It is, shockingly, a witty and hilarious movie.

This was surprising for me to discover recently, especially after spending most of my childhood frightened by everything, but still insisting on watching both Gremlins flicks with my brother because Gizmo was outrageously adorable (a cuteness factor that remains to this day).

Instead of trying to top the scares or semi-dark nature of the original, Gremlins 2 completely commits to being an outrageous satirical comedy. There are brilliantly meta moments, like when the gremlins break through the fourth wall by "eating" the movie film, causing a break in the story, or when someones mentions that Gizmo would make a great suction cup car decoration (a product that in reality was very popular).  Plus, every character is an over the top caricature mocking the uppercrest, business society of NYC, including the sky-scraper where the whole movie takes place, that has been dubbed as the first "fully automated office tower". The voice that runs the entire building is a comedic jem, delivering numerous jokes that will make you laugh out loud. It also can't be forgotten that Gizmo shows up to save the day dressed like Rambo. There's only one word - amazing.

However, the most brilliant slapstick comedy is awarded to one fuzzy star - Daffy. This little fella has wandering googly eyes, shoots cream filling out of a Twinkie, has really great technique for eating corn on the cob, and is just generally bouncing off the walls. In short summation - he is one of the greatest characters in film history. I keep a photo of him on my phone just to look at whenever my day needs a boost. Enjoy the clips of Daffy in all his glory. I've already watched it five times.

Watch and read all those Halloween favorites, but don't get too scared out there folks. After all, you never know what is lurking in a dark corner.

Until next time.

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