Post #8: Black Mountain Side–Thing Is, It Ain’t The Thing Which, As Things Go, Is A Good Thing

I. Love. Podcasts.

More often than not, I hear about something I otherwise may not have.

blackmt

Something like Black Mountain Side.

Quite a whiles back in January 2016, the folks at The What Cast interviewed Michael Dickson. An interesting discussion ensued. Dickson, it turns out, knows his Lovecraft, and it was his description of the movie in that context that had gotten me really curious.

This was compounded by seeing Jack Finch mention it on one of my favorite YouTube channels, Top 5 Scary Videos, another treasure trove of titles I may not have found otherwise.

Right up front, I gotta warn you. First, spoilers.

Second, don’t expect the plowing of virgin soil. Some archaeological/scholarly types find something better left unfound and are driven insane. In this case, that something is part of a possible altar or temple.

Pretty standard Lovecraft premise along with an infection/contamination element, ideas we’ve seen before not only in The Thing, but in X Files, 28 Days Later, hell even Planet Of The Vampires.

Also any film like this set in a frozen outpost hearkens back obviously to The Thing. That’s not necessarily problematic. Carpenter casts a heavy shadow. Trying to deny and avoid that would just be stupid. On one level, Black Mountain Side might be called The Thing without The Thing.

That would be unfair and inaccurate.

For one thing, Black Mountain Side is a fine study of group dysfunction and disintegration in its own right. The team is isolated, sleep deprived, under stress. All they have to go on is a theory. Near the end of the ice age, rising temperatures thaw an ancient bacteria. People die. The results are depicted on a piece of pottery discovered near the site.

In the What Cast interview, Dickson (who plays Professor Olsen) explains: “These resemble people, but what’s strange is that they’re disfigured. In all the other pieces, their portrayal of people is fairly accurate. They’re standing up. Arms, legs, heads. But that’s not the case in this piece. People are missing appendages. They’re slouched over. I believe this depicts an illness, a plague.”

The cold, it turns out, kept the bacteria at bay. I have to wonder if this isn’t a possible gesture by writer/director Nick Szostakiwskyj toward the perils of global warming. It also explains why the indigenous workers leave under cover of darkness and head further north into the cold versus south away from it.

The “smart” people find this baffling and, as usual, ignore the locals.

trois
Sorcerer of Trois-Freres, 13,000 BC

Usher in The Deer God (a clever hat-tip to Trois-Frères), the deity the structure is associated with. Whether or not The Deer God is actually there is anyone’s guess.

It’s a fine MacGuffin. Something (ancient bacteria, Deer God, both) renders the team insane. What causes the insanity isn’t nearly as important as the result. The reliability of anything these men see or hear is now suspect.

This vicious circle is never resolved and is one of the things that makes Black Mountain Side so very cool while distinguishing it from The Thing.

I’ve also seen a fair amount of faint praise for Black Mountain Side: terms like “homage” and “love letter to Carpenter’s The Thing.” To make such generalizations is to miss the point.

Gods, insanity, mass hallucination, these just don’t figure heavily in The Thing. This ratchets up the Black Mountain Side’s sense of cosmic dread in all its Lovecraftian glory. Couple this with the Ancient Aliens notion that beings such as Anubis, Medusa, and other hybrids could have been the results of extraterrestrial genetic experimentation, and, well, you see where this is going.

This is not to suggest there are no parallels. There are, not the least of which is the fact that, like The Thing, Black Mountain Side hinges on paranoia and isolation. Both are speculative fiction of the first order. Not “Hey, here’s what’s going to happen,” so much as, “Hey, what if this happens?”

What if indeed.

Post #7: On The Brain (Or What’s On Your Mind?)

First, minor announcement time. I’m doing NaNoWriMo this month. Except I’m not writing a novel. Instead I’m putting together a book about a very specific horror subgenre that’s near and dear to my heart. Hopefully I can make their 50,000 word goal. I’m already behind, but hey, I’m plucky. Don’t wanna get any more specific for now, but wish me luck. Onward.

I had about 500 really unkind words about Kevin Stevenson’s On The Brain (2016). Originally, I thoroughly trashed it. But some other reviews and interviews revealed some things that radically altered my perspective.

Oh sure, this movie has its flaws, and I was more than ready to write On The Brain off as another sad example of a director setting some goals then failing to attain them. Sometimes the results are spectacular on and Ed Wood, Jr. level. Other times, I’m left with the impression that everyone gave up, shrugged their shoulders, and said, “Eh. Probably good enough.”

The story is based on an unpublished manuscript, The Dangerous Season, by Ina Gay Trask. I’d really like to read this–if for no other reason, just because the infestation only affects men. Interesting.

The plot gets a little bumpy. Some events and conversations do little to advance the action. There’s a parasitic infection, supposedly from contaminated meat, although there’s also an unresolved subplot that the protagonist, a new sheriff, brought the infestation to town with him.

The parasites’ transformational effects can apparently be staved off by a makeshift mask/inhaler MacGyvered together by the local doctor (I have it on the good authority of not one but two linguists that “MacGyvered” has one “r.” Hey, I do my research. I am, after all, a total professional)

It does become a bit unclear whether or not Kelly, our beleaguered sheriff with the dark past, even is the protagonist as we start to focus on Mariama, the quick-thinking doctor. Worth pointing out is Sharon Frederickson as the pushy, gun-brandishing mayor. There’s nary a stick of scenery left once she’s done gnawing on it which is always more than fun to watch.

So, like I said, I was ready to shred this On The Brain. But again, I do my research and try to find some other opinions, evaluations, and information about whatever movie I’ve picked to review. That’s how I discovered that this modestly budgeted effort was shot in 12 days.

Yup. 12.

The amount of things I can’t get done in a month, let alone less than half a month, is staggering. That in mind, the practical and makeup effects in the movie already held up pretty damn well, but with time and budget in mind, I find myself wondering, “Okay how’d the manage that??”

Stevenson also deserves credit for not extensively showing the parasites (other than through subcutaneous slithering). Imagining how they must look is, for many of us, far more effective and terrifying than showing them–an effect that rarely comes off as terrifying even in big-budget flicks.

Similarly, there’s never any explanation for where everyone has gone. The town seems deserted, a fact that is commented on a number of times. This could be looked at as a lack of resolution, but the lack of explanation also serves to amp up the dread so, again, credit where it’s due. So, thankfully, I do find myself looking at On The Brain as an enjoyable watch with an interesting spin on the infestation/infection idea. I’m anxious to check out more Stevenson stuff.

Post #6: Five Lesser Known Horror Mockumentaries

Mockumentaries are a blast especially when they tap into that part of many of us that secretly indulges a conspiracy theory or two. Who doesn’t love catching wind of a good cover-up about to be blown? So put on your black suit and get out your neuralizer for Five Lesser Known Horror Mockumentaries.

The Landing (2017)- Of the movies on this list, The Landing is the least effective, but it’s still got an interesting premise that makes it fun. If you’ve seen Apollo 18 and/or followed the conspiracy theories surround the scrapped mission, The Landing might by right up your alley. It imagines a successful Apollo 18 mission that doesn’t go awry until returning to Earth. Their re-entry goes off course causing the astronauts to crash land in a Chinese desert. While they all survive the landing, only one is left alive when the rescue team arrives. What killed the other two becomes a topic of speculation as the surviving astronaut’s story doesn’t jibe with the evidence.

Fury Of The Demon (2012)- From Dorian Gray’s portrait to Lovecraftian tomes to The King In Yellow, the idea of cursed works of art has been around for a while. So it was only a matter of time until film and video found curses of their own in such works as Videodrome, and Halloween III: Season Of The Witch. So it is with Georges Méliès’s lost film Fury Of The Demon. As with other mythical films like La Fin Absolue du Monde in John Carpenter’s Cigarette Burns and Enrique Zozoya’s Nero’s Last Days in Sylvia Moreno-Garcia’s story, “Flash Frame,” Fury Of The Demon drives its viewers insane. The insanity in this case is temporary but extremely violent, and along with others on this list, manages to come off as uncomfortably convincing.

The WNUF Halloween Special (2013)- A thoroughly enjoyable, superfun indie set in 1987, The WNUF Halloween Special is shot as a local TV news story (right down to the low-budget local advertisements). It follows a television reporter and crew as they enter the Webber House where accused murderer Donald Webber is suspected to have killed his parents. Webber maintains that he was ordered to do so after he accidentally summoned demons through everyone’s favorite occult family game, a Ouija board. Full marks as well for a nice little twist I didn’t see coming.

Mortal Remains (2012)- Capitalizing on the misdirection-as-publicity used for Blair Witch Project, the folks involved with Mortal Remains leave a number of informational breadcrumbs leading to “information” about this mysterious film and its equally mysterious director, Karl Atticus. Since the time I first ran across this movie, much of the “evidence” for the existence of the director, his films, and his inspirations have been yanked from Wikipedia. He still has entries on IMDB along with a lengthy chat debate concerning the veracity of the director and his films (elements of which may themselves be faked as well). I have to admit that I spent more time down this rabbit hole than I should have, and I also have to admit that I still have my doubts. What can I say? We all have our things.

Savageland (2015)- Lots of writers have stories situated in the Lovecraft mythos. If you read enough of them, you’re bound to come across some that suggest what Lovecraft wrote was all true and merely passed off as fiction. Sometimes, found footage horror will do something very similar, and this is exactly what happens with Savageland. I’m not a huge fan of the zombie subgenre, but this one certainly left a mark. Savageland concerns a zombie attack documented by a lone amateur photographer who is accused of slaughtering an entire Arizona border town. It’s presented with a straightforward, matter-of-fact tone in much the same way as Zombie Survival Guide, but rather than resulting in humor, Savageland results in tension. The film’s major selling point and most chilling feature has to be the grainy, blurry photos that suggest more than show the nature of the events. The overall effect is more than convincing enough to make you wonder.

Okay, there’s the list. Share it as you see fit, and lemme know what you think in the comments. Even better, give me some more titles, and whilst you’re at it, give us a like as well.

 

Post #5: The Curse Of Physical Media

I love DVDs. This can prove costly unless I manage to miss the 24-Hour Criterion 50% Off Sale. “Miss” is a strong word. “Abandon” may be better. For one thing, it’s just too frustrating. Seriously. Weeding movies out of my $500-plus cart is daunting and makes me sleepy.

My first edit only takes me down to $329 or so, and I just can’t justify eliminating more than that (which was fine since the method of payment I planned to max out use had $340 of available credit, and my retirement plan is to die in debt).

Naturally I proceed to Checkout where I’m prompted to login to complete my transaction. Imagine my horror when doing so empties my cart.

So this is how it’s gonna be. Sigh. Fine then.

I reconstruct my list and assume it’s fate that I forget some titles, bringing me down to $220-something. This is when I’m informed I have to update my card which I do only to find my cart empty again.

Now I’m irked.

At this point I can’t remember anything from the cart, so I take another forced march through the entire film list–1400 or so titles.

Cuz I got time.

With two exceptions I decide this time to only get movies I haven’t seen yet. I glow with the pride of financial responsibility as this knocks my total to around $165. What a good boy am I.

What’s still on this list? Well thank ya fer askin’.

  • Exterminating Angel
  • Four-movie horror set from Shochiku (cuz I want Living Skeleton)
  • Jigoku
  • Kiss Me Deadly (seen this)
  • Leave Her To Heaven (and this)
  • Onibaba
  • The Red Shoes
  • Solaris
  • Two-movie Lady Snowblood set

It’s late, I’m tired, my brain has turned to Cream Of Wheat, so I go to bed. Cuz who knows? Maybe I’ll come up with some more essential titles I gotta pick up. Somewhere in the wee hours, I hear my cat swatting stuff off my desk. One of those somethings sounds like a credit card. She’s such a pain in the ass cute little furball.

Sadly, I wake up to an empty cart. I try every way I can think of to recall said cart. This consists largely of hitting the Back arrow and muttering, “What the fuck?” Still, I quickly reconstruct the list before I have to teach my first class online, but not quickly enough to also find where the cat has swatted my card to. Cute. Little. Furball.

No worries. I can finish up after class. Except when I come back–

Yup.

Again.

I give up and consider the relative merits of abandoning physical media.

A Small Post Script: A word to my buddy, Bob, over at A View From This Wilderness–just wanna point out that these are all good movies.

 

 

 

Post #4: Why I Shouldn’t Read Comment Sections

Why yes, I’m on Goodreads. Anyone who knows anything at all about me knows I love books almost as much as movies. It was in perfect innocence, therefore, that I stumbled across this list: 48 Books That Scared The Bejesus Out Of Readers.

It was a good list. I own and have read most of the books on it. Sadly, I made the mistake of reading the Comments. In my defense, the original post ended with, “Check out some of the best in horror below, and be sure to tell us, What’s the scariest horror novel you’ve ever read??” So, of course, I went looking for titles I may need.

Big. Mistake.

I was fine until I got to the following from Han (names altered to protect the terminally clueless): “Does that mean the Name of Jesus has to be abused again?” Normally I could just shake my head and move on, but Han wasn’t done. “If you don’t believe in God don’t abuse His Name. thanks.”

Soon this was echoed by Gracey (get it? “Grace”y? I’m a yuk tsunami): “Same goes for ‘bejesus’. Not okay” and K.T. “Hey, I’ll be frank. Can you please not use Jesus’s name in vain? I’m Christian and I was very disappointed to see such disrespect on the front page of a professional website that I trusted to be classier than that.”

Well now all bets are off, and I’m not the only one who felt that way. They were quickly deluged by needling like, “Oh my god, jesus christ these comments are funny,” and, “for christ’s sake, no Lovecraft?”

Naturally I mentioned some titles.

  • The Book Of Cthulhu– ed. Ross Lockhart
  • The Book Of Cthulhu II– ed. Ross Lockhart (collections of stories inspired/influenced by Lovecraft)
  • The Case Of Charles Dexter Ward– H.P. Lovecraft (someone commented that Lovecraft is creepy and atmospheric, not scary…not sure what Lovecraft she’s been reading besides At The Mountains Of Madness)
  • Demons By Daylight– Ramsey Campbell (criminally underrated)
  • Haunted– Chuck Palahniuk (couldn’t stop reading this…it was that bizarro)
  • Hot Zone– Richard Preston (one of the most terrifying things I’ve ever read, and it’s real)
  • The House Next Door– Anne Rivers Siddons (one of Stephen King’s favorite books)
  • Night Shift– Stephen King (never gets old…I read it every few years)

In my reply, I called it My christ-on-a-bike List. I know. I know. This doesn’t help anything, and I’m no better than the people who annoyed me. I’m just exacerbating the problem. Same kinda thing happened once at a laundromat. Someone was playing loud jeebus music and singing along. I had my laptop on hand, so I started blasting “TV Set” by The Cramps.

The last comment I read was another lament from Gracey: “Wow – there are some deeply ugly people on Goodreads.” What I didn’t say in reply (yet) was, “Maybe try that whole Matthew 7:1-3 thing–judge not, mote that is in thy brother’s eye, and all that. Forgiveness, ain’t that y’all’s shtick?” Perhaps I’ll get to that later.

And hey, I’ll be the first to admit that much of this is a character flaw on my part. I’ve been goading self-righteous religious types since, like, 1980. Probably has a great deal to do with my infantile response to authority.

What can I say? Apparently I’m 12. Oh well…

 

Post #3: Ratched (or American Horror Story: Noir)

Normally (well, for some value of normal), we don’t much traffic in recent stuff ’round Castle Blogferatu, but I can’t rave enough about Ratched. When I first heard about it, I was understandably apprehensive. Seriously, Nurse Ratched is one of the most chilling characters in cinema. When she hits the screen in One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, the temperature plummets.

Providing her backstory becomes a fantastic idea and a lofty goal, one that could end in disaster if not handled right. That said, Ratched has received a shit-ton of bad press. I’m not sure what these folks were watching, but it couldn’t possibly have been what I watched. One Mashable article listed 10 Unanswered Questions from the Season 1 finale. 8 of those were totally answered, so somebody wasn’t paying attention. As for the remaining 2, I’m perfectly willing to wait for the next season.

Plus my adoration of Sarah Paulson started with Murder House. Huge fan of Ryan Murphy as well. His hand can be seen all over the place reinforcing a bleak AHS Freakshow tone and feel. And based on the writing, you’d think that Evan Romansky has worked with Murphy for years (he hasn’t).

Sure, Ratched has weak spots. The first half hour drags some, but if you power through it, you will not be sorry. The season finale is not much of a cliffhanger, which is fine, but it’s also less effective than the rest of the series. Also Dr. Hanover’s story arc doesn’t quite pull off its attempt at irony and becomes disappointingly anticlimactic. But overall these things remain minor and never break the spell.

Amongst the subplots that surprised me were the Bonnie & Clyde relationship of Edmund and Dolly, Sharon Stone and Brandon Flynn as Lenore and Henry Osgood (recalling Gloria and Dandy from Freakshow), and the scene-stealing Sophie Okonedo as Charlotte Wells.

The show’s most enjoyable aspect may well be the human awfulness oozing from most of the characters. We’re talking film noir levels of reprehensible that serve to heighten the straight-up horror elements. Almost everyone has something(s) to hide, some ulterior motive, someone they want dead, some delusion they will do anything to maintain.

These people are Just.

Not.

Good.

And so, having finished this first season of Ratched, I’ll likely rewatch it, then rewatch One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest and await Season 2. While I’m at it, maybe I’ll bust out Double Indemnity, Detour, and Nightmare Alley…again.

Post #2: And The Award Goes To…

Big-name movie awards, as you know if you’ve followed previous iterations of this blog, are almost always wrong about almost everything.

For example, the Motion Picture Academy (as expressed in a recent tirade to a friend of mine) has a history of shunning horror. There’s an exception here and there when something overwhelmingly can’t be ignored like Get Out. According to Hollywood Reporter, only six horror movies have been nominated for Best Picture, and only Silence Of The Lambs won.

Lotsa folks (like me) don’t even consider Silence Of The Lambs to be a horror movie so much as a police procedural with serial killers. It’s like calling the Law & Order shows horror (the corollary is folks who call Saving Private Ryan the most disturbing horror movie they’ve ever seen. They’re not wrong).

But often (not always) the award names themselves are irritating and somewhat precious.

#8 Oscar
I truly despise this story. Oscar stands for absolutely nothing. The legend goes that Academy executive secretary, Margaret Herrick, said it reminded her of her “Uncle Oscar.” So Uncle Oscar looks like a skinny, faceless dude covered in gold? Weird.

#7 Tony
At least Tony is short for something: Antoinette. As in Antoinette Perry. Great. Who the hell was that you might ask. Turns out she was a heavy hitter–actress, director, producer, industry leader. Huh. I had no idea. Indeed that’s my shortcoming, but surely I’m not the only one.

#6 Emmy
Like Tony, Emmy is short for something. Sort of. It’s named for a piece of equipment, an Immy, short for image orthicon (a camera tube). Bit of a stretch but, okay, I’ll go along.

#5 Grammy
Oh I get it. Music. Records. Old record players. Gramophone. That’s clever I guess. Better than Emmy at least.

#4 BAFTA
As multi-genre awards go, this one makes the most sense, BAFTA being an acronym for British Academy of Film and Television Arts.

#3 Saturn
Now we get into some genre- specific stuff that starts to make sense. The Saturn is awarded by the Academy Of Science Fiction, Fantasy, And Horror Films. Cuz “in space, no one can hear you scream.”

#2 Rondo Hatton Classic Horror Award
Cult horror icon Rondo Hatton was a bit actor and one-time sportswriter noted for his distinctive facial features and known for playing thugs, heavies, and in the last few years of his life, horror figures like The Creeper and The Brute Man.

 

#1 Chainsaw Award
This is #1 partly for the name, partly because they’re awarded by Fangoria, but mostly because they’re voted on by Fangoria’s readers. I look forward every year. And who doesn’t love a chainsaw?