Horror 365 Movie 228: Antiviral

Have you ever waited an excruciating amount of time for an autograph? I never have, but I can understand it. How about spending a stupid amount of money on a hunk of memorabilia? Okay, that I have done. Well imagine combining the two, something memorable that is also a quite literally personal “piece” of your favorite celeb?

Welcome to the profoundly sick but utterly believable world of Brandon Cronenberg’s Antiviral where you can form that special bond with your idol by having an illness they carried injected into your very own blood. Kinda the gift that keeps on giving.

The always sinister, shifty looking Caleb Landry Jones plays Syd March, an employee of Lucas Clinic. The clinic buy pathogens from celebrities in order to follow this very business model. In particular, the clinic has exclusive rights to the currently all the rage Hannah Geist.

Syd, however, steals pathogens from the lab and sells them on the black market. One of his buyers is a meat market called Astral Bodies. They grow meat from celebrity cells which their clients purchase and, well, eat. That’s a whole different level of consumerism. Bet Ruggero Deodato never saw that coming.

Anyway, it’s a tidy little scam Syd’s got goin’ for himself until (there’s always an “until”)…he harvests a new batch of ickiness from Hannah. This one turns out to be lethal. Oops. Her death, coupled with the fact that deadly pathogens are highly illegal, makes their black market value (and therefore Syd’s) skyrocket. Since Hannah’s outta the picture, Syd becomes one hotly sought after commodity.

From there, we get a good number of plot twists that I won’t go into. This movie flew well under people’s radar, so I don’t wanna spoil nothin’ for anyone what ain’t gotten to it yet. You should you should you should. It’s squirmy. It’s uncomfortable. And it’s unique enough that it in no way becomes an example of Brandon Cronenberg merely following in dear ol’ dad’s footsteps.

Don’t get me wrong. Antiviral is a body horror fest, but it’s definitely not the Rabid/Videodrome/The Fly type body horror visited upon a victim by external forces, accidental circumstances, or a mix of both. Antiviral focuses more on the horror of what we are perfectly willing to do to our own bodies, especially for a price and/or a chance to be somehow special in some way.

Cronenberg The Younger also makes some fine noir gestures here. Everybody involved with this ghoulish enterprise is vile. Everybody wants something, and nobody cares how they get it. Conspiracies, corruption, strongarm tactics, red herrings, all that good noir stuff. You could totally see this taking place in the world of Transmetropolitan or Blade Runner (y’know, the first and best original theatrical version…yes I will die on this hill), or even a Tokyo Gore Police subplot.

It’s also worth looking at a few of the character names. There’s the celebrity, Hannah Geist, as in “the spirit of an individual or group.” The founder and owner of Lucas Clinic is Dorian Lucas, and pretty much nobody can see the name “Dorian” without going, ahem, Wilde. One of the customers is Edward Porris, as in porous, as in soaking up things from outside oneself (the whole point of what these fans are doing).

Finally there’s Hannah’s physician (and one of her devoted fans), Dr. Abendroth which already sounds demonic on its own. It also strikes me, at least, as an amalgamation of Abbadon (an Archangel of The Abyss) and Astaroth (The Grand Duke Of Hell). The name Astaroth itself derives from a Phoenician goddess associated with sex and fertility (which was later equated by bible-types with lasciviousness).

And whilst we’re things religious, there’s the whole celebrity worship aspect, emphasis on worship. As in communion. As in “This is my body.” Father, son, holy ghost (or geist). Just gets weirder and weirder.

Suffice to say things don’t go quite where you might expect, but they most assuredly arrive at a satisfying destination. Again, trying to avoid spoilers, but the final shot in Antiviral is a particularly shuddery one.

BODIES- I mean, technically can anyone in this world completely “die?”
Stream- AMC+, IFC Films Unlimited, Prime, Sling
Rent- Apple TV, Google Play, YouTube

Horror 365 Movie(ish) 227: Top 5 Roald Dahl Stories

As horror goes, it’s worth pointing out that I like horror fiction every bit as much as film. For one thing, some stuff just doesn’t translate well to the screen despite some noble efforts. It’s also frequently the case that the screen version does something to, well, screw up the source material. On a scale of 0-10, 0 being inconsequential, 10 being an enraged “How is this even remotely related,” most adaptations hit me at about a 6. Just high enough on the scale to be irritating.

To be fair, some fiction seems like it was made to be on a screen. Richard Matheson is a good example of this. Robert Bloch and Ray Bradbury often fit into this category as well. But above them all, to me, stands Roald Dahl. The man was dark, especially in his short stories, but also in such classics as James And The Giant Peach, Matilda and Charlie And The Chocolate Factory. If you didn’t see any darkness in either of those, I’m not sure what you were reading.

Dahl has shown up on Alfred Hitchcock Presents and, of course, Tales Of The Unexpected (which often featured, of all people, Elaine Stritch). He also briefly hosted a Twilight Zone type show of his own called Way Out. Dahl is macabre and gleefully cruel in ways very much akin to the likes of Charles Addams and Gary Larson. Here then are my Top 5 Roald Dahl Stories (along with some adaptation comments here and there).

#5 Royal Jelly

This one is about as close to actual horror horror as Dahl generally gets. Mabel is worried about her newborn daughter who doesn’t seem to be thriving. Her husband Albert, a beekeeper, starts dosing the tyke with royal jelly (this being apparently what the queen bee lives on in the hive). The effect is, well let’s just say it’s, uh, “transformative.” The Tales Of The Unexpected version doesn’t portray the particularly horrifying bits, but the guy who plays Albert is creepy as hell. Also, though he’s up there in years, I’d love to see what David Cronenberg could do with this.

#4 The Landlady

This one’s also a more traditional kind of horror though not quite to the extent of “Royal Jelly.” No this time we have a young man looking for a room to rent, and he finds one, cheap, at a B&B run by a woman often described by commentators as a little old lady. The story itself describes her as 45 or 50. Hmph. Anyway, her new arrival has an uneasy feeling about the other two names in her guest register. Rightly so it turns out. Come to think of it, take away the woman’s mild manner and add some Saw type gore, and you end up with Jaume Balagueró’s To Let.

#3 Dip In The Pool

This is one of my favorites and is much more like a twisted little Charles Addams joke than a horror story. Probably why I enjoy it so. Whilst on a cruise, Mr. Botibol plays along in the nightly betting pool in which the captain estimates how far the ship will go in the next 24 hours. Closest number wins. During a stormy evening, Mr. Botibol secures a low-field number thinking the weather will work in his favor. It don’t. So he concocts a plan to force the ship to turn around and lose mileage. That plan? Jump overboard (making sure someone sees him) and wait to be rescued. What could go wrong?

#2 Man From The South

Lotsa folks are probably familiar with this one that all hinges on a simple bet. A young man bets the little finger of his left hand that he can light his lighter ten times in a row. Waiting to claim his prize should the lighter fail is an older man who has bet his car against the little finger. If you’ve never read this, that’s all I wanna say about it.

Honorable Mentions

Mr. Botibol, Mrs. Bixby And The Colonel’s Coat, My Lady Love My Dove, Skin, Taste, William And Mary

#1 Lamb To The Slaughter

This is not just my favorite Roald Dahl story. It’s also one of my favorite short stories ever. I mean seriously. Patrick Maloney tells his wife Mary he’s leaving her for another woman. Mary brains him with a frozen leg of lamb then cooks it and feeds it to the cops investigating Patrick’s murder. It’s beautiful. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents version with Barbara Bel Geddes and directed by Hitchcock himself is by far my favorite, but even that misses out on the what is by far the best part of the story which is the chilling final sentence: “And in the other room, Mary Maloney began to giggle.” Brrr…

And that’s my small helping of Dahl stories…a Dahllop if you will. How about you? What’s in your, um, Dahl house? Let me know in the Comments my Dahlings.

Horror 365 Movie(s) 226: 6 Films To Keep You Awake

Supposedly T.S. Eliot and Pablo Picasso and Oscar Wilde said something more or less to the effect of “Good writers borrow. Great writers steal.” None of them said a damn word about bitter, broken down hacks such as myself, but still, I so totally stole the idea for this post. Apropos actually that Picasso’s name shows up, as shall become clear.

See, I read a post just this morning over at The Glorious House Of Film Miasma about an HBO España series called 30 Coins. It sounds supercool, and he included a shot of this great 70s giallo-looking promo pic for it. And it was on that very image where I saw the name Álex De La Iglesia. Like Quasimodo, that rang a bell. So I looked, and I was right.

See, back in 2005 there was a Spanish series called Peliculas Para No Dormir or 6 Films To Keep You Awake. A kinda Masters Of Horror type thing. My point is, Álex De La Iglesia did one of those films, The Baby’s Room, and I thought to myself, “Self, you should review that whole series.” And here we are.

The Baby’s Room (Álex De La Iglesia)

This one’s pretty damn creepy in a Paranormal Activity sense. Juan and Sonia and their baby move into an old house for which they got a phenomenal (i.e. highly questionable) price. Obviously it has a past, and its sinister nature is of course tapped into by an old baby monitor from Juan’s sister. Soon Juan sees a man next to the baby’s crib. Naturally nobody else ever sees anything, and Juan starts going to pieces. It’s an effective if not kinda familiar tale, but well worth a look.

   SKULLS- 8

Blame (Narciso Ibáñez Serrador)

This is another one of those movies where it could be something supernatural, or it could just as convincingly be all in the main character’s head. Ana is an obstetrician, and Gloria, one of the nurses she works with at the hospital, has some financial difficulties. Ana invites Gloria and her daughter to live with her and become her assistant in her private practice. Turns out Ana provides abortions which is problematic in the story’s post-Franco but still repressed setting.

   SKULLS- 9

A Christmas Tale (Paco Plaza)

Yep, Veronica director (and one of the helmsmen for the REC franchise) put together this love letter to all things 80s. I mean, this coulda fit right in as a subplot in the the first couple seasons of Stranger Things, especially if the kids on Stranger Things went all Lord Of The Flies. Specifically, a group of yutes finds a woman in a Santa suit unconscious at the bottom of a pit in the woods. They find out she’s wanted for a bank job and decide to keep her in the pit unless she splits the take. They then proceed to basically abuse and degrade her. On the other hand…Red suit? In a pit? Is it really Santa?

   SKULLS- 9

A Real Friend (Enrique Urbizu)

In the course of lashing together a few raw facts for today’s post, I read up on what other folks had to say about this Sinister Six. Obviously everyone has their faves. Meagan Navarro over at Bloody Disgusting, for instance, really digs A Christmas Tale (Pit! Digs! I crack myself up). For me though, this one clicks neatly into place like a block in the bizarro Lego-scape of my childhood. For some of us, not all of us, but some of us who were bullied, vengeance became our Holy Grail. Even better if that vengeance could carry a certain amount of abject terror. I mean, I just wanted to be left alone and live in a Lovecraftian world all my own. My point is, watch out for the weird kids.

   SKULLS- 12

Spectre (Mateo Gil)

For me, this one was the least effective of the lot. Again, there’s an undefined post-Franco setting, but one that hasn’t yet caught up to the rest of the Western world. Like Blame, everything could be linked to whatever is going on in Tomás’s head concerning the guilt over his erstwhile love affair with Moira. So it’s the eternal question of what’s haunting you–the person or the shame? Plus Tomás is a writer, and we already know that rarely ends well.

   SKULLS- 6

To Let (Jaume Balagueró)

Tough call between To Let and A Real Friend for my pick as the series high water mark. That’s complicated even further by the fact that this one was helmed by the other mastermind of the REC movies. My overdeveloped sense of vengeance tips the scale ever so slightly to A Real Friend, but it ain’t by much. Balagueró dispenses with the supernatural and flies nonstop to Crazytown. So we’ve got a young, apartment-hunting couple. Well y’know what they say, whoever the hell they are, “If it’s too good to be true, it probably is.” But our youngsters don’t wake up to this fact until the traps have been sprung–and what vicious little traps they are.

   SKULLS- 12

And that’s the series. I tried my damnedest not to let slip any spoilers because these have flown under a bunch of radars and deserve to be seen.

Kinda like this one more