Tuesday Terror: Midsommar (2019)

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Midsommar

Midsommar (aka How To Lose A Guy ‪In 9 Days) is about recognizing and letting go of bad relationships . . . while observing rituals in an isolated Swedish village. The relationships are truly awful and the villagers are sadistic murders (who wear the most angelic white).

Christian and Dani should have broken up a year ago. Honestly, they probably should have never gotten together. She is an emotional drain on him and he can’t even come close to giving her the support that she needs. He is with her out of guilt and she clings to him because he’s all she has left.

Or, at least that what is given to us as Christian’s motivation but I don’t believe that. He strikes me as the kind of person who will never break up with someone because he doesn’t want to be seen as the “bad guy”. He’d rather treat someone bad enough (inattentive, boring as hell, perhaps emotionally abusive) so that they will break up with him; nothing will be his fault. In any case, the relationship is a triple slow motion train wreck.

While the emphasis is on the couple, all of Christian’s relationships are terrible. That group of guys he hangs out with – I believe they all go to the same college – are no more than familiar acquaintances. They are supposed to be close: he complains about Dani to them, this trip to Swedish countryside was originally a “boys only” trip, etc. Scratch beneath the surface and you’ll find more jealousy than friendship. This is how the villagers are able to dispatch them one by one without any of the others becoming too concerned about the disappearances.

Outsiders allowed to observe an isolated tribe or village (usually folks of color) is an old school Hollywood plot. The explorers typically think of themselves as superior to those they are studying; there is usually more than a hint of danger and savagery.

Our happy, drug-sharing Swedish villagers don’t inspire terror at all. At least, not at first. They wear white, dance and have many feasts. The young people leave the village and even go to college. When the curtain is drawn back revealing the first bits of brutality, Christian and company can’t imagine that they themselves could be in trouble. Arrogance keeps them from recognizing that death creeps around every corner of the barn and hides under welcoming smiles.

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This is personified in Josh, the scholar without any sense of self preservation. As someone who has been studying European Midsommar rituals, why didn’t he get any inkling that something was up? Like the scientist in a sci-fi movie, he has no qualms watching others die in his pursuit of additional knowledge. If you want to do a deeper dive into the Josh character, Mary Kay McBrayer has an essay on Graveyard Shift Sisters that explores Midsommar and stereotypes.

In the end, Christian and Dani have to come to terms with their relationship. When she realizes her situation with Christian is unbearable, she does the reasonable thing and frees them both.

Now, when I’m out in about, my eye can’t help but notice couples that have that “Midsommar” look – one of them looks anxious, the other resentful. I want to pass them a note: “Break up before it’s too late!” They are one festival away from disaster.

Tips:
-Don’t ignore horrifying screams – even if you aren’t sure where they are coming from.
-End bad relationships before they end you.

Tuesday Terror: Annabelle Comes Home (2019)

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Annabelle Comes Home is like a haunted house at the carnival. There’s a lot of jump scares, creepy noises and frightened folks (kids in this case) scrambling and screaming from monster to monster. The Spook House gets the blood pumping but you’re at a carnival; the knife slicing through the air gets close but doesn’t even graze the skin.

The story is thus: The Warrens bring Annabelle to their home and add her to the cursed objects collections in the basement. The demon attached to her is such a chaotic force that they must put it inside of a glass case.

In other words, sticking Annabelle in a room with these objects is like putting a lit candle in a room full of gunpowder and dynamite. What could go wrong?

After establishing that Annabelle is a bad, bad girl, the Warrens call over a babysitter and disappear from the movie. The babysitter has a friend who has just lost her father. She wants to go to the cursed room to find a way to connect with him. That is a mistake. Before you know it, all the spooks are on the loose – led by Annabelle.

Do you remember the tv show Friday The 13th: The Series (Hey Gen Xers!!)? It was about people working to track down and take back haunted antiques. Actually, the intro explains everything. There is an episode where people are attacked by the cursed objects they have taken out of circulation.

Annabelle Comes Home reminded me of that. Many of the demonic objects that have been resting idly in the background get a few minutes to shine. It’s a set up for future Conjuring movies to explore their origins. I also wouldn’t be surprised if the Warren daughter gets another movie or two: I Was A Pre-Teenage Exorcist.

My favorite bit is when potential boyfriend – of course, a boy shows up – is menaced by a werewolf of sorts. When it appears that all is lost, he digs down deep and summons the courage of El Kabong.

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After a while, it’s clear that there’s no real danger here. The resolution is actually sweet. It didn’t bother me, but someone looking for more horror, gore or tension will be disappointed.

Tips:
-Doors are locked for a reason.
-Demonic objects aren’t a good way to contact the dead.
-Learn the ways of El Kabong!

Tuesday Terror: Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark (2019)

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Scary Stories to Tell In The Dark is based on a book series of the same name. The books are three anthologies of spooky, chilling stories that are not related to each other. The film version is not your standard horror movie anthology; it takes a handful of stories and weaves them together as part of a larger, overarching tale.

Does it work? Mostly – you’ll maximize your enjoyment if you remember that this is a movie for kids.

It’s Halloween 1968 and a bunch of kids break into an old haunted house because what else is there to do? One of them takes a book of handwritten stories that has a few blank pages in the back. Strange things happen when they get back home. Suddenly, ink appears on those empty sheets and there are new stories-each one featuring a kid who was in the house. Even worse, these freshly written horror tales are coming true…

How is the book writing itself!
What happened in that house!
Can you escape your story?

The story that a kid gets is based on something they’ve experience or their personality. A bully full of hate gets surprised when an unlikely victim fights back. Someone who expresses a hatred of spiders has an up close and personal experience. A kid who is always warns others about unhealthy food gets in trouble when he doesn’t watch what he eats. Etc

I believe the children are all made up. So there was no reason to make one of them, Ramon, a draft dodger. It feels like it’s a weird justification for the racism he experiences. The sheriff just knew he was a criminal of some sort… Ultimately, his choices boil down to escape this monster or Vietnam.

Though not quite as gory or scary as some of the stories in the print edition – have you read Harold?! – the kids are in real danger. Some pay the ultimate price for their misdeeds.

As far as the end and sequels are concerned, the movie does set up for sequels but it doesn’t quite feel right. I’m worried that the writers have boxed themselves in. I hope they get the chance to prove me wrong.

Tips:
1) Don’t steal other people’s books! In fact, don’t break into abandoned houses.
2) If your knucklehead date shows up with two of his friends to go out with you, don’t go!

Zami Nobla Interview (So, 2 lesbians get stuck in traffic…)

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Martina and I were interviewed by the Zami Nobla Podcast to discuss the creation of Kuma (kuma2.net), the olden days of the internet, nurturing creativity and love.

What’s the Zami Nobla podcast? It’s a sound source for Black Lesbians 40 and older. Show topics include current events, LGBT affairs, Black Lesbian Herstory & Health and Wellness. Angela Denise Davis is the show’s Creator, Producer, and Host. –

You can listen to our episode here: Martina Downey and Tawanna Sullivan Talk about Artistic Ventures & Creating KUMA, the First Black Lesbian Erotica Website During a Traffic Jam.

It’s also available via iTunes and youtube.

*The portrait above is the work of artist Odera Igbokwe.

No Exchanges – No Returns (An Excerpt)

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Deadly Bargain: A Colors In Darkness Anthology – on sale Feb 14th

An Excerpt from my story:  No Exchanges – No Returns

Victor stood off to the side as Sabrina approached the strange man and his table of curiosities. The dealer swept his dreadlocks to the side and turned on the full force of his freckles and wide smile. “Good afternoon, miss. My name is Henri.” He waved his hands over the goods. “See anything you like?”

A phony French accent and olive skin, Victor thought as he picked at his nails. That’s all it takes to impress college girls.

“What do you have?” Sabrina asked.

Henri pointed to a trio of thick red candles with gold symbols carved into them. “These are from Marrakesh. You light one as you meditate, and it will help you focus your energy on healing.” He drew her attention to a gold chalice. “I acquired this in Madrid. It’s rumored to be from the treasures hoarded by the Knights Templar. And this,” he picked up a crystal spray bottle full of amber fluid, “is perfume from Cairo.”

She picked up a faceless ragdoll. “Let me guess. From Berlin? Or a nomadic tribe on the outskirts of Algeria?”

“No.” Henri’s coal black eyes sparkled. “That’s from Pennsylvania Dutch Country.” They shared a laugh. “I’m a traveling man who picks up things here and there. No one can give you a better deal.”

Victor tuned out the conversation. Passing off dollar store junk as valuable trinkets. Got to give him credit though, he’s obviously wearing every stitch of clothing he owns and isn’t breaking a sweat. Dude is wearing three or four layers.

In the middle of a story about Stonehenge, Henri raised his arms and a brief flash of gold came from inside of his coat. Now, Victor was interested.

Sabrina stepped back and wagged a finger at the dealer. “Oh no, I don’t mess with anything from Stonehenge; I’ve seen Halloween III.” Her gaze shifted back to the red candles. “I have a friend who I think will be interested in these. Is it okay if I take a picture?”

“Sure, but understand I don’t put items on hold. If someone else comes to me with cash in hand…”

“Do you have a card? If my friend is interested, I’d want to call to make sure the item was still available.”

Victor was dumbfounded. She’s getting his phone number? She’s seriously making a play for this dude, this wannabe pirate?

“What’s your name, miss?”

“I’m Sabrina.”

Henri snapped his fingers and appeared to pluck a business card from the air. When he held it out to her, she caught a glimpse of his tattoos. “Sabrina, feel free to call about the candles or anything else you may be interested in.” He smiled slyly and winked at her.

Blushing, Sabrina turned to Victor. “I’ve got to get back. Are you coming?”

Victor shook his head. “No, I’ll be along in a few minutes.” He waited until she rounded the corner to take her place in front of the table.

What will Victor buy? How will it change his life?

Get your copy of Deadly Bargain to find out!

Deadly Bargain: New Horror Anthology

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No Exchanges-No Returns, my new horror story, is one of the 13 featured tales in DEADLY BARGAIN: A Colors In Darkness Anthology. Pre-order your copy today!

About the book:

Some deals should never be struck and some dealers should never be trusted. When faced with your heart’s desire, will you ignore that tingle in your spine or the hair rising on the backs of your arms? The offer- It’s too good to be true and you can feel it. The dealer smiles with a devilish gleam in his eyes. Holding out his tantalizing wares, his eagerness adds weight to the very air around you. It’s not a lot of money at all, sometimes it’s even free, he says and yet you know that this is the costliest item you will ever own.

Inside these pages you will find thirteen tales of horror – deals that should never have been made and the horrible costs of those deadly bargains!

Tuesday Terror: Horror Potluck #1

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The Four Skulls of Jonathan Drake (1959)– a family is cursed by a Amazonian tribe. Men in the family are stalked, murdered and literally lose their heads. Their heads are shrunken and the skull returned to taunt surviving family members. Throughout the movie I had a lot of questions. For example, if the family was cursed years ago – how did these two live so long? The story did a good job explaining this and other headscratchers.

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Howling V: The Rebirth (1989) – If you are invited to another country to celebrate the reopening of a castle that was the scene of a mass murder, don’t go. This is my third favorite Howling movie. This is classic set up: a group of people who come from all walks of life are trapped in a remote place with no access to help. One of them, a werewolf, hunts down the others. It’s part horror movie, part who done it. I recommend watching it twice – the 2nd to to pay attention to the clues. (My fave Howlings in order: 2, 1 & 5)

 

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Dark Waters (1994) – Imagine being stuck in a convent on an island with weird nuns trying to kill you. That’s what happens to our protagonist here. All of the red flags say “don’t go” but she’s determined to discover the truth about her past.

Tuesday Terror: Escape From Tomorrow (2013)

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On the last day of a family trip to Disneyland, a man gets a call; he’s been fired on his day off. Rather than tell his wife or deal with this reality, he’s determined to be as normal as possible. Kids in tow, he heads out to the attractions as if nothing has happened…

Escape From Tomorrow was filmed on location at Disneyland without permission. You have actors blending in with the general crowds. Every once in a while the background looks flat; I imagine those scenes were done in front of a green screen. It’s an interesting stunt. On one hand, wow they made a secret movie under Mickey’s nose. On the other hand, the actors can’t behave too erratically in public and the story/horror elements suffer.

A lot of weird stuff happens in this film. Unfortunately, after every incident the dad just goes on as if nothing strange has happened. If you are on a happy-happy joy-joy type ride and all of the puppet and animatronics suddenly scowl at you with their best demonic faces, you might scream, run or mention it to someone. The actor can’t really do much here except look extremely uncomfortable, like he might pass out.

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On to the story… Dad has lot his job. His relationship with his wife is strained. What does he want to do on his last day at Disney? Follow a couple of French girls around the park like a boy with a crush. The teens – and they look young – notice this middle aged dude with a kid following them around and giggle a lot.

No matter what happens to Dad, he shakes it off and goes back out in search of the French girls. Even when a woman hypnotizes him and he wakes up in her hotel room, tied to the bed and being ridden by her, he can hardly wait to find/follow his crush again.

There’s another story/plot concerning whether or not Dad is a subject in a bizarre experiment but it looses steam.

The ending is not really one that you’ll see coming. It doesn’t quite come out of blue, but the film does have to remind you that it gave you a clue earlier.

Tip: If you are really interested in a more macabre history of Disney, keep an eye out for Murder Can Be Fun #13: Death at Disneyland or Murder Can Be Fun #20: Waiting In Line To Die. (#20 is a reprint and updated edition of #13. Both of these zines may be out of print, but you never know what you’ll come across at a used bookstore, etc)

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Tuesday Terror: The Nun (2018)

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A priest, a not-quite nun and a Frenchman walk into a bar – um – a convent to investigate the suicide of a nun. What waits for them beyond the fog is an evil that wants a way out.

The Nun has a great, old school atmosphere and the soundtrack is good. The story that we get doesn’t quite fit this set up. Jumpscares galore but you don’t learn too much about our demon in residence. Why would someone summon this thing in the first place? What were the perks supposed to be?

Now, let’s talk about our heroes. The priest feels guilty, so the demon gets to torment him with that. The not-quite a nun has visions she doesn’t understand that reference the Virgin Mary. The Frenchman is worldly; he uses a shotgun, not the Bible.

In essence, the priest is the Scarecrow (he’s doesn’t think things through), our not-quite nun is Dorothy (she finds her purpose), the Frenchman is the Tin Man (his heart is in the right place) and The Nun is the Wicked Witch of the West. The Cowardly Lion? That’s the audience – BOO!

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Because The Nun appeared in The Conjuring 2, you walk into this film knowing that this trio is not going to destroy the demon. Desite the jumpscares, the suspense is tamped down some. Also, the way they “defeat” the evil…Jada Pinkett did it better.

However, The Nun is full of great tips:
-if your horse refuses to get near a building rumored to be haunted/cursed, go home.
-if you are invited to spend the night at the cursed place, decline – go back to the village while you still have a ride.
-if you survive a hellish night, run to the village as soon as daylight hits.

It’s an okay movie that shows how The Nun is linked to the Conjuring Universe. On the other hand, let’s hope that The Nun gets a sequel (that’s really a story-strong prequel).

Tuesday Terror: Attack Of The Killer Donuts (2016)

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Dubious donut employee Johnny inadvertently infects the day’s delicacies with a chemical created by his mad scientist uncle which animates the sweat treats and transforms them into killers.

The Good: The actual killer donuts are cute and fun. They have teeth. They can be deadly on their own or attack victims in swarm. Their greatest strengths are size and, of course, taking unsuspecting eaters by surprise. If you manage to eat one, he’ll get you too – and turn all of your insides to goo.

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The Bad: Everything else. Attack of The Killer Donuts, a horror comedy that feels old. The freshness date on this type of comedy expired at least a decade ago. Our hero Johnny is  an unmotivated slacker who lives with his mom, has a “girlfriend” that’s uses him as an ATM, and can’t see that girl he works with is the one who is “right” for him. The money that he gives to his girlfriend is whatever he can beg from his mother. Did I mention that he doesn’t do any chores? I think the writers were going for lovable goof but ended up with clueless blandman.

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As a character, the “do nothing / be nothing” guy – without an ounce of charm – is passable as friend of the main character but it makes for a dull lead. For example, the girlfriend is blatantly using Johnny. When she stops by to pick up money, her real boyfriend is with her. Later on, when our “hero” catches the couple in the act of making out, he still doesn’t understand what’s happening. She has to spell it out for him. It’s supposed to be funny; it’s tedious.

Unfortunately, when your hero is flat, the other characters – even the campy ones – can’t save him.  Won’t someone rescue these homicidal treats and put them in a movie worthy of their sweet, glazed anger?

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Tip: Have a pot of coffee on hand.

 

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