Saturday, April 7, 2018

Ultimate Fantasy: Magic, Murder & Performing Femininity in The Love Witch

I wrote about one of my favorite recent films, Anna Biller's The Love Witch (2016), over on Death & the Maiden. Please check it out by clicking on Samantha Robinson's bewitching visage in the above photo.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Happy BOO Year: Anticipating 2018

Tomorrow the slate will be wiped clean once again! Are you excited? I know I am. I love a brand new year, with all of its promise and anticipation. Here are a few things I'm looking forward to in 2018:

  • Insidious: The Last Key. The fourth (!) entry in what has become a veritable franchise, I don't have high hopes that this one will revolutionize the genre or anything; I just want a ride through the spook house. 
  • Winchester. Have you been to the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose? Legend has it that Sarah Winchester had to keep her labyrinthine mansion in a perpetual state of construction to appease the spirits of the angry dead murdered by her family's namesake rifles. True story or con perpetrated by a particularly savvy 19th-century contractor? Perhaps this movie will provide some clarity! In any case, it's a haunted house movie based on a place that I've actually visited, so I'm in.
  • Hell House LLC 2: The Abbadon Hotel. Despite the cumbersome title, I'm super excited for this follow-up to the found-footage creeper set in a seasonal haunted house. 
  • Halloween (2018). RuPaul said it best.
  • The 'Burbs Collector's Edition. Look at this glorious Blu-ray edition of ONE OF THE GREATEST MOVIES OF ALL TIME. Just look at it. Come March, it will be mine. Oh yes. It will be mine. 
  • More horror conventions and festivals! We already have good, solid dates for Spookshow 6 (April 7), Monsterpalooza (April 13-15), and Midsummer Scream (July 28 & 29). Half my year is already planned, wheeee!
  • Halloween haunts! Of course I'm already thinking about October. When am I not? Can't wait to find out what Knott's has in store this year. Plus, I'm hoping to finally check out Mable's 6 Feet Under, Coffin Creek in Corona, and whatever else the Halloween gods might throw my way.
  • Channel Zero: Butcher's Block. The third season of this creepypasta-based horror anthology series premieres on February 7th! 
  • The return of iZombie. Not sure if there's a date yet, but the fourth season of this zom-com should be making its way back to the CW in 2018. I know I say a lot of things are underrated, but um, so is this. It's so fun and funny and well-cast and clever. Please check it out, even if you're burnt out on zombies.
  • Shirley Jackson hits Netflix. At some point this year, I am going to be watching a Netflix original series based on The Haunting of Hill House. That's reason enough to be excited for that ball to drop tonight.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Best of 2017: Everything Else

Photo by Rebecca Orlandini

Despite the weirdness of the world at large, so many cool things happened this year that I feel like I need a second, non-movie-related post to recap it all. So here are a few of my non-filmic favorites of 2017:

  1. Halloween vow renewal in Haddonfield. My husband and I had our vows renewed by Michael Myers himself on Halloween at the SugarMynt Gallery in South Pasadena, directly behind the original Myers house from John Carpenter's 1978 masterpiece Halloween. I wore a dress from the Elvira for Pinup Girl collection. The ceremony and subsequent photo shoot at nearby locations from the film (with Michael in tow, natch) were simultaneously hilarious, romantic, and suitably spooky. Thank you to SugarMynt and Wicked Weddings! This was a dream come true.
  2. So many conventions. We made it our business to hit as many as possible this year: Halloween Club's Spookshow, Monsterpalooza, Midsummer Scream, ScareLA, Son of Monsterpalooza. I got a super sick zombie caricature of me and my husband at Son of Monsterpalooza that I will treasure forever.
  3. Podcast madness! I never really talk about podcasts on this blog, but there are so many that I love, and many of them are horror-related, or at least horror-adjacent. Allow me to give my HIGHEST RECOMMENDATION to Boys and Ghouls, the Faculty of Horror, the Purple Stuff Podcast, My Favorite Murder, Post Mortem with Mick Garris, Nightmare on Film Street, and Teen Creeps. Thanks for getting up in my ears all year long.
  4. Pilgrimage to Salem. I finally fulfilled my lifelong dream of traveling to Salem, Massachusetts this year. We visited in February, which meant that there was still snow on the ground and some of the attractions were closed for the season (catch you next time, Count Orlok's Nightmare Gallery and Witch Dungeon Museum!) - but on the plus side, there were no crowds whatsoever, and I felt like we really got to explore at our leisure. I loved the old cemeteries, the Witch Trials memorial, the Witch House, the House of the Seven Gables, and the divine pizza and Caesar salad at Bambolina.
  5. Knotts Scary Farm. I've been going since I was probably too young to be going, and this was the best year yet at the Haunt. Shoutout once again to Dark Ride, my favorite maze of all time. I can't wait to see what they have in store for 2018.
  6. Spooky site-specific interactive theater. Namely, the Willows (from the minds of Creep LA) and Wicked Lit, which I finally experienced after years of anticipation. 
  7. The return of the Griffith Park Ghost Train. I'm just really happy that it's back. 
  8. Channel Zero: No-End House. Even better than Candle Cove. This might be the most underrated horror TV show. Can't wait to see what's coming up for season 3.
  9. John Carpenter's Anthology tour. I feel so lucky to live in a world where one of my favorite directors and composers can enjoy a second career as an honest-to-god rock star, and I can't believe that I've been privileged enough to see him perform twice now. 
  10. Not with a broomstick, but a pen. Finally, I want to express my gratitude for the opportunity to contribute to the horror community myself in some small way. In 2017, I had one of my short stories featured on HelloHorror, had a piece published in a beautiful collection of poems about Salem called Entombed in Verse, and saw the micro-short Nothing Happens that I created with my husband accepted at Midsummer Scream and the inaugural Salem Horror Fest.

What were some of your favorites of 2017? What are you looking forward to in the new year? (I'll tell you some of my picks tomorrow!)

Friday, December 29, 2017

Best of 2017: Movies

JFC, what a year this was! It felt like the news never stopped in 2017, like any given day had the potential to end in either nuclear catastrophe or the dawning of a new era of awakened human consciousness - take your pick. Given the volatility in our culture right now, perhaps it's not surprising that this was an extremely interesting year at the movies, particularly for horror fans. Even some of the movies I didn't particularly care for - like The Killing of a Sacred Deer, It Comes at Night, and mother! - lingered in my mind, inspiring plenty of thought and conversation and illustrating just how far horror has come since the lean years of the late '90s and early '00s.

Without further ado, here are a few of my filmic favorites:

Best of 2017: H O R R O R 

  1. Get Out. What's left to say about Get Out at the end of 2017? This was basically the undisputed movie of the year, and I'm pretty sure you've seen it by now. Those who weren't familiar with writer-director Jordan Peele going in might have been surprised by this super inventive, intelligent, incisive horror film coming from a guy best known for sketch comedy, but I think it's totally in line with the surreal, disturbing tone of the best Key & Peele sketches. Despite the Stepford Wives-meets-Guess Who's Coming to Dinner? heaviness of the subject matter, this movie was also funny, cathartic, surprising, and the best experience I had in a crowded theater all year, thanks to the audience reactions. Get Out stands alone as a movie that could function equally well as a good group watch at a party or as part of the syllabus for any number of academic courses, from film studies to sociology. Its legacy is already cemented.
  2. It. This was the other Big One this year - the film that, along with Get Out, inspired a million think pieces on the Great Horror Revival of 2017™ and the oceans of money that said revival has generated in the past 12 months. This was a mainstream horror movie based on a well-known and previously adapted novel starring a bunch of kids, and it STILL MANAGED TO BE AWESOME. Bill Skarsgård offers a terrifying new take on Pennywise that sits comfortably alongside Tim Curry's iconic creation without stepping on any toes. The whole thing felt like Stand by Me but with a token girl and, you know, a sewer-dwelling clown that consumes children. Sick!
  3. The Shape of Water. A film that asks - and answers - the provocative question, "What if the Gill Man was hot?" In all honesty, this is my favorite from Guillermo Del Toro - sad, beautiful, and romantic, like if Amélie found herself in a Universal monster movie.
  4. The Lure. Another poignant tale of aquatic monsters in love, but this time it's fishy mermaid babes and they end up working in a Polish nightclub in the '80s, and oh yeah, this is a musical, and also there are subtitles. A fairytale with (actual, literal) teeth. I wasn't at all sure how I felt about this one at first, but it's been months since I first watched it and I still think about it from time to time, so it definitely made an impression. Personally I think it would be a great double feature with The Shape of Water
  5. Happy Death Day. What if Groundhog Day was a horror flick? That's what it looked like from the trailers, and yes, it's exactly that. But it's also exactly that much fun. This may not be a movie that's going to change anyone's life, but it's a really enjoyable way to spend 96 minutes.
  6. 78/52. A documentary about the shower scene in Hitchcock's Psycho - arguably the first proper slasher scene in film history, and inarguably one of the most stunning, innovative and influential sequences of all time. Psycho is one of my all-time favorites and I loved this deep dive into such a specific and pivotal moment. Felt like attending the film class of my dreams.
  7. The Blackcoat's Daughter. Speaking of Psycho, did you know that Anthony Perkins (Norman Bates himself) had two sons, and one of them wrote and directed this creepy AF slow-burn horror that takes the demonic possession trope in completely new and surprising directions? Oz Perkins also wrote and directed the similarly glacial-paced and ineffably eerie I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House, which is available on Netflix and would have made this list save for the fact that it came out in 2016 (even though technically The Blackcoat's Daughter was completed first, it wasn't widely distributed until this year). If you like super-slow, engrossing, atmospheric, female-led horror that would do Shirley Jackson proud, I promise you'll love the films of Oz Perkins. (Fun fact: Perkins' other son, Elvis, provided the film's haunting score.) 

Friday, November 17, 2017

REVIEW: Escape Room L.A.'s The Pyramid

Photo by Benjamin Jet
It's been my experience that haunt fans usually love escape rooms. Whenever I meet someone new and they learn that I love haunts and Halloween, their next question is usually, "Do you like escape rooms too?" The truth is, I'd never been particularly intrigued by escape rooms. For some reason, I'd always imagined that I would find myself in a boring, sterile room where I would be forced to work out arcane logic puzzles - or, even worse, MATH PROBLEMS - until I either failed to escape or straight up died of boredom. It sounded like a worst case scenario corporate team-building exercise, and why would I put myself through that willingly? Yet when the invitation came to check out The Pyramid, the newest room at Escape Room L.A. downtown, I surprised myself by asking Mr. Spooky if he wanted to check it out with me. Maybe it was the fact that haunt season is officially over and I was hungry for a new immersive experience; maybe it's the fact that 2017 has felt borderline apocalyptic and has led me to take the leap into many new experiences (cutting bangs! my first tattoo! political activism!). In any case, I decided I was up to the challenge of finding the elusive Mask of the Jade Warrior.

Photo by Benjamin Jet
When we arrived, we were organized into a small group of a half-dozen people and ushered into the first room. As soon as we stepped inside, I knew that I had made a terrible mistake - not in accepting this invitation, but in avoiding escape rooms for so long. Spoiler alert: I LOVED IT. The theming, which evokes an ancient Mayan temple hidden deep in the jungle, was impeccable, giving me a chance to indulge all of the Indiana Jones fantasies I didn't even know I had. The puzzles were challenging but not impossible, and certainly not anything that involved sitting down with a piece of paper to work out equations (LOL, what was I thinking?). After we finished the first room, I was shocked - shocked! - and delighted when the wall slid aside, revealing a mysterious passageway. That's when I realized that this wasn't just an escape room, it was actually the first in a series of rooms. We weren't just solving puzzles, we were on an adventure.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017


One of the most effective ways to combat a post-Halloween hangover, I have found, is to have some spooky stuff lined up for at least the first week or two of November. That way you'll ensure an easier transition for yourself from the scariest time of year to the merriest. For my part, I've filled the past week with activities ranging from seeing John Carpenter play live to watching Wicked Lit performed in a cemetery under a full moon to finally finishing the book I've been reading for most of October, Chris Kullstroem's Drawn to the Dark: Explorations in Scare Tourism Around the World. If you need any more evidence that this book is ideal holiday season reading for the creepily-inclined, look no further than the leering Austrian Krampuses on the hell-red cover.

Before I started this book, I expected a somewhat scholarly examination of how various cultures celebrate the macabre in all of its many forms. I thought it would be meticulously researched, painstakingly annotated, and maybe even a little dry, in the way that non-fiction books can sometimes be. Turns out I was all wrong about this book in both tone and content. Instead, Drawn to the Dark reads more like a first-person travelogue, as author Chris Kullstroem sells off her possessions and travels around the world via connections made on the Couchsurfing website, all in the name of seeking what's spooky at home and abroad.

While some of the locations she visits were what I was expecting, such as a jaunt to Mexico for the Day of the Dead or a trip to Transylvania to unravel the myth behind the Dracula legend, many others were totally unexpected, including the Hungarian Busójárás  festival, a mountaintop concert in Germany to honor Walpurgisnacht, and the "Ghostbus Tour" she takes in Ireland. Even the more standard chapters took unexpected turns: Her stay in Oaxaca for Dia de los Muertos ends in a trip to a haunt situated in an old auto junkyard, while the Krampus chapter surprised me simply because I had no idea authentic Austrian Krampus laufs were so brutal (hot tip - if you find yourself in Salzburg during the holiday season, consider investing in shin guards).

Brief descriptions of each event are provided before Kullstroem dives headfirst into celebrating with the locals, but you won't find a definitive history of any particular festival or tradition here. Rather, this book is about one American haunt enthusiast's experience of chasing spookiness all over the globe. Her Couchsurfing hosts, who tend to participate in the haunts, tours, and festivals with her, range from enthusiastic to reluctant, and it's always fun to read their perceptions of their own country's more macabre traditions. For her part, Kullstroem seems to be an incredibly good sport with an unwavering appetite for adventure, and her openness toward new experiences, from performing in haunts to hunting down zombies in a simulated battle to weathering blows from whip-wielding Krampuses, may even inspire you to step out of your own creepy comfort zone.

In her chapter on Transylvania, Kullstroem does a masterful job of balancing the lurid tale of Dracula - and the area's own Drac-centric tourist industry - with the fact that Vlad Tepes, brutal though his methods were, is regarded by many as a folk hero who protected his people from invasion by any means necessary. She visits historical sites and haunts alike, taking them both in stride and enjoying them for what they have to offer, concluding:
There was room for both, I supposed: The reality and the spectacle. One could always lead to appreciating the other - regardless of which we had been originally drawn to.
This lack of distinction between highbrow and lowbrow, between culture and kitsch, is the true crux of the book in my opinion, and what truly sets Drawn to the Dark apart from more academic tomes. Whether you're learning in a museum, paying your respects in a mausoleum, or screaming your head off in a maze, all of these experiences are facets of the same fascination with death, life, and the mysteries of mortality. All have value for those of us who delight in the darkness.

So if you need to recapture that Halloween feeling even as winter is setting in, or you're looking for a great holiday gift for that spooky someone, check out Drawn to the Dark for a unique travel diary that will delight any haunt fan.

Disclosure: I was provided with a complimentary copy of this book for review.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

REVIEW: Knott's Scary Farm 2017

Honestly, I had no intention of writing about Knott's Scary Farm this year. It will forever hold a special place in my heart, as the oldest and best of the southern California theme park haunts, but I also think lots of other websites, blogs, and publications offer much more in-depth coverage than I do. Plus, I thought it was just going to be another standard year at the Haunt, that I wouldn't have much to say beyond a cursory, "That was cool."

Dude. I was wrong. Because Knott's wasn't just cool this year. It was SUPER FUCKING COOL.

I had so much fun that it totally reified my love for Knott's, haunts, and even Halloween itself. If I had to point to just one reason why this happened, I could do it in two words: Dark Ride.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

REVIEW: Creep LA 2017

Our evening begins on a nondescript loading dock outside of a building in a part of downtown Los Angeles that feels miles away from the trendy bars and restaurants that have started to spring up in the area. This section of town is all concrete and asphalt and sickly yellow-green streetlights. We are herded into groups of 8 and given black bandannas to cover our mouths shortly before we enter a sparsely decorated room illuminated only by candlelight, where we wait. And wait.

And then...she enters.

I'm uncomfortable and nervous and titillated and disoriented. This can only be Creep.

Photo by Hatbox Photography

Creep LA - perhaps the most exciting new haunt I experienced during last year's haunt season - has done it again with their new iteration, a partnership with the popular podcast/Amazon Prime series Lore.  In a world full of jump scares and gore, Creep brings the slow-burn, lingering terror. This experience is not about horrific set pieces and chainsaw chase-outs; rather, it's about catching something out of the corner of your eye, connecting with an actor who is inhabiting a character so fully that you're not even sure if they're acting anymore, losing yourself in the story and surrendering completely to the darkness.

Photo by Hatbox Photography

In fact, Creep isn't really a haunt or a maze at all - it's fully immersive, interactive theater, closer in spirit to New York's Sleep No More than it is to Knott's Scary Farm or Halloween Horror Nights. You become part of the action, moving from room to room, meeting new characters, and yes, even being touched by them from time to time. (Rest assured you won't be harmed or antagonized.)

Photo by Hatbox Photography 

The fairy tales, myths and legends of Lore are a natural fit for Creep, which always prioritizes storytelling above cheap scares. While I think it's best to head in knowing as little as possible about what to expect, I'll gladly tantalize you with a few keywords: Forest. Coffin. Asylum. Seance. Lobotomy. Doll. Wolf. (And as with most of life's best experiences, the whole thing wraps up with cocktails.)

Intrigued? Don't sleep, creeps: Creep LA: Lore runs through November 12, and many dates are already sold out. Grab your tickets now before they fade into the fog.

Disclosure: I was provided with complimentary passes to review this event.

Friday, September 29, 2017

REVIEW: The Queen Mary's Dark Harbor 2017

Let's get this out of the way: I was totally taco-blocked at the Queen Mary last night.

After standing in line for the better part of an hour, my haunt companion and I were super stoked for our turn at the taco bar. We were downing cocktails and rubbing elbows with the Captain. Those tacos were ours and we knew it. We were sure of it.

Alas, our taco dreams were dashed when we were unceremoniously denied in no uncertain terms. Why? Who knows! Did we ask? You bet! But no one seemed to have any information on this diabolical taco moratorium - only that it was to be strictly and immediately enforced. All I know for sure is that when we were mere steps away from our treats, we were tricked instead.

Deprived of my promised Mexican feast, I let out an insane roar of pure hanger and flipped the table, sending beans and tortillas sailing over the railing and into the inky black of the harbor below before leading my fellow Halloween bloggers on an anarchic rampage through the RIP Lounge, which we left in smoldering tatters, our final act of revenge.

Just kidding. My friend and I went and paid for food at the Muertos Morsels booth.

Spotted when we first entered the haunt, when we still believed we lived in a just and fair world in which "free tacos" were more than just an empty promise.

The "I Scream" booth. Absolutely adorable, but they were sold out of chocolate soft serve! And it was like 8:30 on opening night!

These swings from Michael Jackson's Neverland Ranch certainly have stories to tell.

With the great Taco Debacle safely in our rearview, our bellies blessedly full of nachos and quesadillas, we could finally begin our evening in earnest.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Get Your Tickets for Creep LA: Lore NOW

Creep Los Angeles, now in its third year, is still pretty new to the LA haunt scene, but they've certainly carved out a niche with their uniquely cinematic, elegantly terrifying immersive events. Last Halloween, Creep was one of the absolute highlights of my haunt season. I had never experienced anything quite like it. Then, this spring, the creeps of Creep emerged with an interactive theater production called The Willows - another deliciously deranged and haunting entry in their singular body of work. But what would the autumn bring? Surely they were planning a proper October haunt, yes?

Yes, indeed they had something suitably sinister up their creepy sleeves: This year, Creep LA is partnering with the popular podcast-turned-Amazon-show Lore to bring Los Angeles a "fully interactive, multi-sensory, walk-through experience" that draws on the subject matter of the show to take guests on a unique descent into their "darkest nightmares."

Grab your tickets ASAP - Creep has a nasty habit of selling out fast - by visiting their website tomorrow, September 15 at 10 AM PT. Creep LA: Lore will take place in downtown Los Angeles on select dates from October 5 thru November 12, 2017. Tickets start at $65 for a 1-hour walkthrough experience. ADULTS ONLY.

See you creeps there!


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