Fiction: The Country Teacher by Zoltán Komor

The Country Teacher

by Zoltán Komor


Old-fashioned-classroom

The villagers replaced the clapper with a dead cat, so when the carillon begins to play at noon, instead of a chime you can hear a kind of dull whoop, as the animal’s body hits the cold metal bell over and over again. Blood splatters onto the church attic’s boards, oozes down between the cracks.

So it’s that special day again: the country teacher will be the dinner guest in every house of the village. The yokels feed him once a month; stuff him properly, so they can have some peace for another thirty days.

They open the door to the old school’s cellar, and lead out a grayfaced, bare-boned man—the chalk dust painting his hair all white. As he scratches the village walls with his tired eyes, the cold wind floats his leaky coat around his slim body. A few grey teeth fall from his mouth as he tries to say something.

“Oh c’mon! We don’t have all day!” the crowd shouts furiously, kicking away the bloody teeth in the snow. “We hope you are hungry enough, because we really outdid ourselves this time!”

Then they begin to laugh, and shepherd him into the first kitchen, where they sit the man down on the ground, putting the dog’s bowl in front of him, throwing some cooked nails into the slimy dish.

“Now eat!” whoops a fat, clean-faced woman, and her husband—wearing a gigantic fake moustache—grabs an old violin and screws out a few old notes from the instrument, singing: “I cooked peas, I salted them well, I also seasoned them with paprika, Abele, babble, run!”

“Thank you!” mumbles the teacher with nails in his mouth, as they help him take off his coat. They carry it out into the court and begin to beat the school’s ancient dust from the cloth. Dark mist rises, and the dogs in the street begin to cough.

Small birds perch on the teacher’s ribs, chirping happily as the man puts the nails into his mouth, one by one. When he finishes his meal, they bring back his coat, hang it on him as if he were nothing but a clothes rack. Then they kick him to another house, where a new bowl awaits him. This time a stiff fish stares from the dirty plate.

“Oh… I really love fish,” admits the teacher, and begins to eat, while a puny woman claps her hands, yelling: “Look at that, what an ugly bug crawled into my kitchen! Ugly bug, ugly bug!”

“Ugly bug” thinks the teacher. “Yeah, that’s me.” And yet he could still remember the glorious old times, when he was treated as a lord in this village. He was dined in quite another way just a few months ago. He sees himself back in those days: the reverend teacher highstepping over the streets with a giant leash in his hands, leading the naked children. Sometimes he yelled command words—sine, cosine,

and so on—and then the kids lined up and began to sing for the joy of the villagers.

“May we dust your coat, Sir?” asked the women, crawling before his feet, their breasts sweeping the dirt.

“Of course, ladies!” nodded the teacher, and he watched as woman carried away his coat on a red pillow as if it were a treasure.

The ghosts of old bell chimes still echoed in his skull. Sometimes the teacher shrank down to the size of a thumb and crawled into his pupils’ rooms in the middle of the night. There he whispered arithmetic into the youngsters’ ears, throwing small books into the canals, burning them in their skull-ovens, and when he found them naughty, he beat their smooth cheeks with a matchstick, yelling: “I’m going make a man out of you!”

“Speed it up!” burps a fat lady now, poking the teacher’s side with a fly-swatter. “I sharpened pencils all morning, just to get you some nice shavings! Gobbling them all up is the least you could do!”

The teacher stuffs the dingy wood shavings into his mouth, swallows them wildly, then shows the woman his empty dish.

“All right, get going then! I don’t want to see you till next month!” grins the lady. Then she whistles and three children appear in the kitchen.

They jump onto the teacher’s back, and begin to poke his ribs with their sharp elbows.

“Giddy up, you bastard!” they cry, while riding the teacher to the next house, snorting, neighing. Lice jump from his hair onto the snow.

Afternoon arrives. The villagers carry the teacher over the streets, holding him up and yelling: “He has had a bellyful, now he can trumpet his math! But what for? You cannot eat numbers!”

The younger ones throw snowballs at the teacher, and an old man spits at him. His saliva freezes into an ice bullet in midair. It hits the captive’s skin and leaves a bruise.

“The mind needs to be fed too!” cries the teacher. “Don’t you understand? Literature is food for the soul; mathematics is nutrition for the brain!”

“Sure, sure!” They pat his side. “Nice speech! And of course you expect us to give you food for it, don’t you?”

“Two and two makes ten, twenty and eight makes fifty-two!” guffaws a man, galloping up and down in the street, beating his own ass. Hoes dance on the string of the horizon. Somewhere in a distant classroom rats scurry around the dusty desks. A rotten apple sits on a table, cigarette stubs crawl in it as if they were worms.

Soon, the trial begins: the judge is a massive horse, with an old wig on his head. His heavy hooves knock about the room like a remorseless gavel.

“I’m waiting for your plea, dear, honored teacher sir!” the horse taunts the skinny man, who begins to stammer: “Dear fellow villagers… I suspect that you are now under some kind of evil spell; maybe the black magic of the celestial horses has affected you, because this whole procedure is more bitter than I can imagine! But please, come to your senses! Knowledge warms the soul! We’re not learning just for school, but for life! An empty head is actually heavier than one that is full of knowledge! It is so heavy: believe me, it will pull you down beneath the ground!”

But the villagers pay no attention. They just neigh, getting on all fours and racing around the bench.

“Enough! Order in the court!” the old judge brays at them. Jets of flame rise from his nose.

The teacher looks around and notices what he hadn’t seen until now.

All the villagers, all of his accusers, are just children dressed up in adult clothes. How did he not spot those glued-on moustaches, those bras stuffed with socks?

“Oh God! Where are your parents?” he whimpers. “No wonder this is such a topsy-turvy world!”

“They’re all at home!” they answer. “The celestial horses put them to sleep in their bathtubs, and they’re not gonna wake up till tomorrow!”

But they can say no more. The knocking of the hooves silences them.

The horse on the bench neighs and passes judgment. Reading from his own hooves he says: “Because you are teaching useless things, and you yourself are useless, I must treat you as a tramp! Here’s my verdict!”

“Stuff his pillow with protractors!” the crowd yells impatiently, clapping their hands, driving even more lice from the teacher. “Beat a triangle into his spine! Take down that ugly bug!”

A little girl arrives with a basket full of fly-swatters; she tosses them to the crowd, as if they were flowers.

“Oh, I’ve got a much better idea!” laughs the judge. “Let’s chime the carillon with him, I say!” His hooves knock once more, and the villagers grab the convict and carry him to the church. There they replace the dead cat with the teacher.

“You’re going regret this!” screams the skinny captive. “You’re going to miss me when you have to count the nails for your coffins! Adieu, adieu! I’m invited to a harvest in Heaven’s library!”

He can say no more. The assembly begins to ring the bell, and his skull cracks as it hits the metal lip of the bell over and over. Hollow thuds vibrate through the village. Then there’s only sullen silence. Blood and pieces of brain ooze between the church attic’s boards. After some time a few children arrive. They have hidden away from the celestial horses this morning and spent the whole day in antique closets. They have come with little knives and slices of bread in their tiny hands, catching red raindrops on their bread, greasing the bloody slush on the slices with their knives. They eat in silence, then begin to sing so loudly they scare away the bats:

So the clock is ticking, the tick-tock goes

From the little elves hammering inside,

If the clock has stopped and is not running,

The little elves are sleeping and not hammering.

Sine, cosine and cotangent

Three is thirty’s ten percent.


Zoltán Komor is from Hungary and writes surreal short stories.  Some of his works have been translated to English, and published in Caliban Online, Thrice Fiction, The Phantom Drift, Bizarro Central, etc. Komor has three short story collections published by Burning Bulb Publishing, Morbid Books and StrangeHouse Books.

30 Horror Reviews in 30 Days, Day 12: The Hunger (1983)

Gorgeous, Sexy, Confusing: A Review of The Hunger (1983)

by Amy M. Vaughn

22 October 2019

Click here for previous 30 in 30 Horror Reviews


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Imagine a movie that begins as a Bauhaus video, stops by Flashdance on roller skates, and ends up in Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart.” Got it? That’s The Hunger.

The Hunger takes place in modern day New York. It stars Catherine Deneuve as an ancient Egyptian vampire whose name is (and always has been) Miriam. David Bowie plays Miriam’s centuries-long love, John. As the movie opens, we see them hunting together at the most new wave club ever, where Bauhaus is performing “Bela Lugosi’s Dead.” They pick up a couple and go to their prey’s apartment, where the furniture and lamps are, for some reason, covered in light colored sheets. Of course, instead of sexy times with Miriam and John, arguably the most attractive couple in history, the swingers have to die so the beautiful people can feed. The kill scene is a violent strobe of hard cuts between erotic vampirism, Bauhaus vocalist Peter Murphy having a seizure, and irate monkeys in cages.

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Who’s going to turn down these two?

Before I go further, I need to say I like watching this movie. It’s gorgeous. Every set, every scene, every angle is a piece of art. And though it is quintessentially ’80s, the colors are muted rather than dayglo and, outside of the club scene, there are no oversized shoulder pads or giant hair-dos. None of it, even 36 years later, comes off as campy or tacky.

The pacing is slow, which happens a lot in vampire movies that try to show how time drags when you have more of it than you can stand. And the dialogue is frustratingly terse and oblique. But who cares? Because after the first feed, there’s an extended (in true ’80s style) scene of Miriam and John (Deneuve and Bowie) in the shower together and everything that came before is quickly forgotten.

Plot-wise, it turns out that Miriam’s promise to John that they would be together “forever and ever” in not entirely true—or at least not the way he was led to believe—and he begins to age quickly, decades per day. They seek out Susan Sarandon’s character, Dr. Sarah Roberts, a gerontologist who studies aging in monkeys. (Hence the angry monkeys in the first kill scene.) But science holds no help for the now old and enfeebled John.

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Deneuve, Bowie, and Sarandon during simpler, sexier times.

After he falls down a flight of stairs, an event that would have killed anyone else his age, we learn that John will never be able to die. Miriam carries him to the attic and mournfully entombs him with her other still alive but decaying past loves, of whom there are five or six.

Before long, Miriam sets her sights on Sarah as her new love interest. She enthralls her and within days they are in bed together. There’s a lot of good and a lot of bad about this movie, but it’s a safe bet that Deneuve and Sarandon’s lesbian sex scene is what made this movie a cult classic. There is a long tradition of bisexual and lesbian themes in vampire movies, but The Hunger is so beautiful and these characters are played so genuinely—the gorgeous and understated Miriam and the flustered and serious Sarah—that it hardly seems to fit in the same cinematic tradition as Blood and Roses (1960) or The Vampire Lovers (1970).

During their intimacies, the women drink blood from each other’s arms and Sarah becomes Miriam’s new companion, only Sarah doesn’t know it. The rest of the movie shows Sarah’s struggle against what she is becoming. Then, in the end, things get really confusing.

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Locally-sourced, small batch blood cocktails are all the rage this season.

Deciding she can’t live as a vampire, Sarah stabs herself in the neck while kissing Miriam, gushing gallons of blood into Miriam’s mouth. Miriam takes Sarah’s body to the attic to place her with her other loves. Why Sarah is unable to heal isn’t explained. While they’re in the attic something happens—maybe an earthquake or something more supernatural—that tips the living corpses from their coffins. They pitch Miriam down the center of a multi-storied staircase. She ages all of her millennia in a few minutes and decomposes. Again, why she can’t heal from the fall isn’t explained. Some have theorized that it’s because she imbibed Sarah’s blood. Whatever the reason, with Miriam gone, her loves are finally free to die. (The special effects in this scene are pretty great.) At the end of this scene we are led to believe everyone is dead.

But the movie isn’t over. There are two more scenes which were added at the request of the studio so that a sequel would be possible. No sequel ever came of it, so these scenes simply serve to make the messy climax even less coherent. In the end, we are shown Sarah enjoying a subdued and beautiful life and then a coffin, hidden away, from which Miriam’s voice calls out for Sarah.

If you go into this movie looking for something stunning, you’ll find it. The colors, the props, the lighting, the people, the sheer abundance of flowing curtains—visually, everything was planned to the minutest detail. And if you can enjoy a sparse script that could conceivably be a forerunner of Only Lovers Left Alive(2013) and A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night(2014), then The Hungercould be worth a watch. And if, like me, you hit your goth phase in the mid-80s, this movie will always hold a special place in your black crushed velvet heart.


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3 out of 5 Dead Bela Lugosis

The Hunger is available for rent from several of the major streaming services.


Amy M. Vaughn writes weird little books. Among them are Skull Nuggets (Bizarro Pulp Press) and The Shelter (Cabal Books, forthcoming). She is also serving as editor for Dog Doors to Outer Space: A Compilation of Bizarro Writing Prompts (Filthy Loot, forthcoming). Amy lives in Tucson and online wherever writers go to avoid writing.

30 Horror Reviews in 30 Days, Day 11: Bubba Ho-Tep (2003)

Swirling ’Round the Toilet Bowl of Life: A Review of Bubba Ho-Tep

By Amy M. Vaughn


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Bubba Ho-Tep (2003) is a shining example of one the best uses of horror comedy. While it might be a philosophically profound and morally strengthening act, few us willingly spend our time contemplating the fact that we are insignificant turds swirling the toilet bowl of life, but that is exactly what Bubba Ho-Tepconfronts us with. Put Bruce Campbell in old age Elvis makeup and add an ancient Egyptian mummy in cowboy gear, and it takes the sting out a bit.

Bubba Ho-Tep is the story of an elderly Elvis and his friend Jack, played by Ossie Davis, who may or may not be JFK dyed black. The two men live at the Mud Creek Shady Rest Convalescent Home, where ill omens are afoot. A situation that starts with giant and oddly anthropomorphic scarabs quickly escalates to a full-blown mummy who sucks souls out of the living through any orifice, though he seems to have a penchant for assholes.

Elvis has been wasting away, contemplating the pustule on his pecker, lamenting bad decisions, and cursing his fate. Much of the joy in this film comes from watching both him and Jack become reinvigorated, as much as their old bodies will let them, in the hunt for the mummy and the fight to protect the other residents of the home.

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Elvis’ balls aren’t going to wash themselves.

As with any low budget cult classic, there are endearing goofs every once in a while—a boom mic in the bathroom mirror, the dummy Elvis’ head flying off when the wheelchair plunges down the riverbank. But the story itself is so delightfully strange that, while the interior corridors obviously won’t fit inside what is shown as the exterior of the rest home, we go along with it. Hell, at ten minutes in we’ve already bought into old Elvis, black JFK, and a cowboy mummy; we aren’t about to start scrutinizing minutia. We are securely along for the ride.

The pacing is slow in places, but how could it not be? A substantial part of this movie’s charm lies in the very elderliness of our heroes, and they stay elderly, never magically moving the action along by running or fighting or even walking that fast.

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Time for the patented, slow walk toward the camera as the song from Reservoir Dogs plays, scene.

Another element some may see as detrimental is the abundance of base and especially scatological humor. To me, this is an absolutely necessary element and crucial to what makesBubba Ho-Tepspecial. The first explanation for this reliance on potty talk comes from Elvis himself early in the film when he asks, “Is there, finally and really, anything to life other than food, shit and sex?”

In this crudeness, Don Coscarelli (Phatasm, John Dies at the End), who adapted the screenplay as well as directed and co-produced Bubba Ho-Tep, is capturing something essential to the original story by Joe Lansdale, something that may be disturbing or uncouth to those of us who wall ourselves away from the processes of death. Elvis, the novella’s narrator tells us, “could hardly think of himself or life in any context other than sewage, since so often he was too tired to do anything other than let it all fly in his sleep, wake up in an ocean of piss or shit, waiting for the nurses or the aides to come in and wipe his ass.”

Both the film and the book make humorous use of the awareness that the older we get, the more life is pared down to the most basic bodily functions: eating, sleeping, pissing, shitting. Laughing at death is the point of horror comedy, and as far as I know, no one else has nailed the juxtaposition of crass laughs and the very real physical and psychological manifestations of life wrapping itself up like Bubba Ho-Tep. It is gallows humor at its finest.

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Also, the Mummy has quiet the mouth on him.

(If there haven’t been spoilers yet, there will be now.)

The final strikingly unique feature in a film full of strikingly unique features is how the hero’s death is portrayed. (I told you there’d be spoilers.) From the beginning, this has been a movie about growing old, about losing control of our bowels and our choices, about feeling worthless and good-for-nothing. Elvis is a mummy too, in his own way, who comes back to life for one last adventure, and when his righteous undertaking consumes him, it is bittersweet. Most horror comedies (1) have young people cast as leads, making their deaths de factotragedies and (2) rarely stay with a dying character long enough for us to contemplate what significance their death may hold; but when Elvis dies, we sit with him, we hear his thoughts, and we know there is no other way he would have wanted to go.


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4 out of 5 inflamed penispustules

Bubba Ho-Tep can be streamed through Tubi, Vudu, Prime, and iTunes.


Amy M. Vaughn writes weird little books. Among them are Skull Nuggets (Bizarro Pulp Press) and The Shelter (Cabal Books, forthcoming). She is also serving as editor for Dog Doors to Outer Space: A Compilation of Bizarro Writing Prompts (Filthy Loot, forthcoming). Amy lives in Tucson and online wherever writers go to avoid writing.

30 Horror Reviews in 30 Days, Day 10: Stranger by the Lake (2013)

The High Price of Intimacy

Mateo Keegan Burbano

19 October 2019

Click here for our previous reviews.

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Stranger by the Lake (2013)

Stranger by the Lake, or L’Inconnu Du Lac, is a French language erotic slasher film written and directed by Alain Guiraudie.

The film opens with a man parking at a lake where there are a number of cars scattered about. Some men are sunning themselves on the lake’s rock shore. Some of the men are nude. The newcomer strikes up a conversation with one nudist, remarking there’s a good turnout. The turnout is important, because this side of the lake is known as a cruising site for gay and bisexual men.

A warning to anyone thinking about watching the film. There are numerous scenes of graphic, hardcore, unsimulated gay sex. Graying, distended testicles and tiny peeners can be seen in more than half of any shots in the film. If you are uncomfortable watching graphic sex scenes or uncomfortable with watching the physical expression of homosexual love, then you will want to avoid this film.

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Nonconsensual groping.

The film’s lead, Franck, is played by Pierre Deladonchamps. Franck is a recently unemployed young man in his mid-twenties who is listlessly wandering through life. He keeps returning to the lake although he isn’t impressed by the choice of hookup partners. He is content to engage is various sexual trysts with complete strangers but knows he wants something more from a partner. He is quickly drawn to an older man who is always sitting off alone by the lake, fully clothed, and sticking out as not belonging there in a popular pickup site.

The older man is Henri, played with pathos and earnestness by Patrick d’Assumçao. Henri is a local manual laborer, a logger, off work on his summer vacation. Henri tells Franck he used to go to the other side of the lake where the families go until he broke up with his girlfriend. Now he comes to the side where the men are. He readily admits to having had sex with men when he was younger, but he doesn’t identify as gay and is confounded by the idea that there are men like Franck who have never had girlfriends and never had sex with women.

“You seem like a regular guy,” he says to Franck.

Franck continues to have meaningless hookups with strangers but feels himself drawn to two men. In Henri he finds a warmth and friendship. It is easy with Henri because he is non-threatening and there is no risk of physical attraction. In one genuinely heart-warming scene Henri confesses his love for Franck and asks if two men can be lifelong partners, spending their days together, taking meals together, spending nights together in a home they share, even if they are never physically intimate.

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The other man Franck is drawn to is the mysterious Michel, played with a glowering masculine intensity by Christophe Paou. Michel is a tall, lithe, swimmer with a porn stache. When men at the lake want to hookup, they enter the tree line and trawl the woods for other men looking to hookup. Some of the men are happy to watch others fuck while they pleasure themselves. Franck follows Michel into the woods but is disappointed when he finds him fucking another man.

So far, the only horrifying thing about Stranger by the Lake is how nonchalantly everyone walks barefoot over, and lie their bare asses on, all the sharp rocks and stones on the beach. But there is something desperate and horrifying in the way Franck interacts with the men at the lake, and how he experiences sex and love. Franck feels a need for romantic intimacy, but he is also attracted to danger. The situation itself, of going to a place known for sex between strangers, is potentially dangerous. During one of Franck’s anonymous hook ups, he goes to a popular spot in the woods with a total Dad-bod stranger. The spot is littered with used condoms and condom wrappers that they have to clear away to make a spot to lie down. The man gets angry when Franck tries to go down on him without using a condom.

“I trust you,” Franck tells him.

“Do you trust everybody,” the man chides him.

The man’s warning is clear beyond just the danger of sexually transmitted disease. Franck’s desire for thrills and intimacy will place him in a danger he will not be able to extract himself from. Having no condoms, the two make do with safe mutual masturbation.

Franck returns to the lake. It is getting late and the lake is empty except for two men swimming. From behind a bush, Franck watches the two men rough housing, taking turns dunking each other under water. The horseplay becomes more aggressive. One man tries to flee while the other actively tries to drown him. The man is caught, forced underwater and held there. After painful, long moments, the surviving man swims to shore alone. It is Michel, the man Franck’s been ogling from afar. Michel casually gets dressed and leaves. It’s nighttime before Franck works up the nerve to come out of hiding and leave.

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That face you make when you watch someone get murdered.

The next day, he returns to the lake and finds the dead man’s possessions still on the beach. The other men are acting like normal. No one knows what happened. He sits with Henri at Henri’s usual spot. Henri welcomes his company and says he’s always alone because no one but Franck will talk to him. Franck needles him for being unapproachable. He seems to be taking out his stress over the witnessed murder on Henri. Henri tells him he can’t approach any of the other men because of how it would be construed. That would be “cruising.”

The film is filled with beautiful shots of waves moving across the lake and the sound of the water on the shore. The natural beauty is contrasted with men’s naked bodies of all body-types. There is also a barren quality to the surroundings that seems to compliment the emptiness of most of these men’s relationships to one another. It isn’t until forty minutes into the film before any of the characters are named. The film critiques a repressive, homophobic society that pushes gay men to go to such places to find intimacy. Despite this critique, many of the men genuinely enjoy engaging in anonymous sex, and the film does not seem to judge them for doing so.

Michel and Franck soon hit it off. During their first lengthy interaction, Michel asks him if he’s come alone. Franck is both aroused and frightened by the question’s implied threat implied. Michel starts touching him. Although Franck knows Michel murdered the man, he keeps asking what happened to his boyfriend. Won’t he be mad if they see them together? He tests him because he wants Michel honest with him, but also because he’s aroused by the danger of asking such questions. Michel goes down on him, not once mentioning a need for condoms.

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Come on! Who wouldn’t gladly get murdered by that mustache?

Franck tells Henri that he thinks he’s fallen in love with Michel. He’s excited, but he’s also frightened. He goes into the woods with Michel. The Foley artist on the film earns his paycheck during a 69 sequence with some Grade-A slurping noises sound effects. Franck penetrates him without a condom, and then Michel fucks him. He begs him to be gentle. A sex scene this uncomfortably long would be too much in a porno. I had to turn down the volume for fear the evangelicals next door would overhear. The sex scenes, while graphic, are intimately shot.

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One of the least graphic sex scenes in the movie.

Franck pulls up to the lake the next day to find the parking area empty. Henri is there watching a police helicopter trawling the area. Over the next few days the other men slowly return but the police presence is still felt and has put many of the men on edge. A police inspector keeps showing up to question Michel and Franck’s relationships to the dead man and to question their alibis for the night of the man’s death.

Franck’s relationship with Michel deepens, although it is limited to their time together at the lake. Michel refuses to spend any time away from the lake with Franck and tells him it’s the limited scope of their relationship which makes it special.

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Henri watches their relationship from afar. He tries warning Franck away from him because he can see Michel for what he truly is, a sociopathic predator. Franck brushes off his warnings; he is in love.

Michel becomes more possessive of Franck, and resentful of any time he spends with the other men. Franck was all good with the murdering, but Michel’s insecurities and jealousy is a huge turnoff.

Franck is confronted by the police inspector again. He asks if Franck thinks it’s odd that, two days after finding the drowned body, everyone’s back to cruising.

“We can’t stop living,” Franck explains.

The detective asks how he can be so indifferent about the death of a fellow, young gay man. How he doesn’t care, even if it’s just to care for his own safety. In the police inspector, the film analyzes the response many police forces have to violence in the gay community, that it is largely self-inflicted due to living a supposed high-risk lifestyle.

As the police close in on Michel, Michel becomes more paranoid and more possessive. The film veers into bloodied violence that would not be out of place in the final killing spree of a slasher film. The film’s ending focuses on the animalistic predatory tendencies in some men, but also addresses issues of modern loneliness, isolation, depression, and suicide. The film ends with Michel stalking Franck in the woods at night. Anyone who could save Franck is either gone or killed by Michel. Hours pass before Franck steps out of hiding. Even though he knows he’ll be killed, he has to know if Michel is still there, and he calls out to him. In the end, in the stillness of night, regardless of our sexual orientation, there is nothing many of us would not risk to not feel alone, even if but for a moment.


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4.5 out of 5 Flaccid Penises

Stranger by the Lake is currently available to stream on Shudder.

30 Horror Reviews in 30 Days, Day 9: Murder Party (2007)

There’s No Party Like a Murder Party

Mateo Keegan Burbano

18 October 2019


 

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Murder Party (2007), is written and directed by Jeremy Saulneir. Saulneir would go on to write and direct the more successful Patrick Stewart and Anton Yelchin vehicle, The Green Room (2015). For Murder Party, Saulneir makes the most of his cast of unknowns led by Chris Sharp, playing the affable loser Christopher S. Hawley. Christopher is a schleppy parking enforcement officer who lives alone with a cat. It’s early Halloween evening, and the streets of New York are filled with kids and families in costumes. Christopher is done with his workday and picking up some shlocky VHS horror movie rentals. On the way home, he finds on the sidewalk a discarded flier for a Halloween party.

He goes back to his apartment, clears off the remains of a smashed pumpkin off his doorstep, and settles in for the evening. With a bowl filled with candy corn, he goes to sit in his La-Z-Boy lounger in front of the TV, but his cat refuses to get up from the seat. Giving up on watching movies, he looks at the flier he picked up. It’s an invite to an exclusive “Murder Party” with an address and the one directive, to come alone. Christopher constructs a medieval suit of armor out of unpacked cardboard boxes and forges a cardboard sword. He retrieves the smashed pumpkin from the trash and uses its innards to make a loaf of pumpkin bread and says goodbye to the cat. So begins a night that sees unassuming 9-to-5er Christopher descend into the hyperviolent and hilarious world of petty rivalries and jealousies of New York’s hipster art community.

The film has a grainy, retro 90s look to it, and the film’s synth soundtrack is reminiscent of the best of John Carpenter’s soundtrack work. The film has plenty of nostalgic 90s nods. Many of us remember a time before smart phones when you had to print out multiple sheets of maps and directions from MapQuest anytime you wanted to go somewhere new, which is how Christopher finds the location of the Murder Party in a derelict industrial zone. He enters a warehouse and follows the sound of music to a large central bay where a group is gathered waiting.

Everyone is dressed up. A skinny blonde in a leotard, played by Stacy Rock, is dressed like Daryl Hannah’s character from Blade Runner (1982). One of the men, tall and skinny, played to glorious degrees of apathetic sarcasm by William Lacey, is dressed as one of the Baseball Furies from the film, The Warriors (1979). The others are similarly dressed as deep cut pop culture references that are meant to one-up their artistic peers. This competitiveness and their jealousies toward each other drives most of the film’s plot and action.

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“Meh, murder.”

Christopher says hello and notices plastic tarps on the floor that littered with tools and industrial equipment. When he shows them the flier with the event invite, the group becomes excited, but annoyed that he would show up so early. Too late, he realizes the party’s title of Murder Party is literal and the group means him harm. After a sequence of Keystone Kops like slapstick, they grab him and tie him up in a chair. They then wait for a man named Alexander to show before starting the murdering.

The film borrows from the understatement of mumblecore films, the profane humor of Kevin Smith films, and the absurd violence of exploitation films to skewer the snotty, self-centered privilege of supposed “struggling artists”. The group has gathered to kill someone as part of a conceptual art piece they individually hope to use to impress Alexander. He promised the person with the best idea will be awarded the thousands of grant monies he’s sitting on. The group argues about whether or not to really kill Christopher. One of the women ask Bill if he’s really willing to kill an innocent person.

“I didn’t sign up for a Second-Degree Assault Party,” Bill shrugs and goes back to playing on his PSP.

A number of absurdly violent and hilarious scenes follow. The one dissenting voice against the murder accidentally kills herself after eating Christopher’s pumpkin bread. Turns out she’s allergic to raisins. When Alexander shows up, played by Sandy Barnett, the party really kicks off. Alexander claims he’s costumed like a vampire, although he looks more like Afghan Whigs front man, Greg Dulli, from the “Somethin’ Hot” (1998) music video, with his black suit and blood red, large collared dress shirt.


Left, Barnett. Right, Dulli of Afghan Whig fame.


Seeing someone else is in vampire costume, he forces the man, at gunpoint, to strip off his vampire attire, including his “Vampire pants.” After each of the artists attempt to impress Alexander with their vision for Christopher’s death, he proclaims the murder will now be collaborative, and they will wait for the Witching Hour to collectively stab him to death.

As they wait for the appointed hour, they play party games and drink and drug and fuck the time away. When the amobarbital (truth serum) comes out for a pharmaceutically enhanced round of Truth or Dare, the party gets out of hand. One of the partiers, who’s been chugging and spilling all over himself ethyl chloride, sets himself on fire when he goes to light a cigarette. His werewolf mask melts painfully onto him, leaving his face a pulpy red mess of melted plastic and gore. All of the film’s gore and blood effects appear to be practical. None of them are amazing, but they’re effective and fit the exploitation, DIY film style of Murder Party.

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Drugs, alcohol, insecure artists and Truth or Dare. What could go wrong?

The film goes from minimal violence to nearly everyone gruesomely killed in the span of five minutes. They all turn on each other and apathetic Bill, who’s learned he has no artistic talent, has a psychotic break and starts chopping everyone down with a fire axe. In the confusion, Christopher escapes through the rooftop to the neighboring building where another artist is throwing a Halloween party and the premiere showing of a performance art piece. Bill, axe in hand, follows. After a showdown between them that leads to many more dead, including a funny scene mocking supposed intellectual art connoisseurs who mistake a room filled with numerous gore covered dead bodies for an art piece, Christopher becomes the triumphant knight he dressed up as. To become the hero he has to reluctantly turn to violence.

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Regretting not kicking the cat out of his seat.

Christopher, his cardboard armor covered in blood and gore, makes his way home on foot. Along his walk, a few obvious scenes are inserted to show William’s character growth. He’s a new man who will no longer be stepped on by the world. In recognition of his new confidence, his cat relinquishes the Barcalounger and William is able to enjoy Halloween like he planned: His legs up, some crappy horror movies on the VCR, and a bowl of candy corn in his lap. Overall, Murder Party is an inconsequential yet enjoyable homage to the 90s and exploitation films.


3.5 out of 5 flaming shots of ethyl chloride

Murder Party is currently available to stream on Netflix

30 Horror Reviews in 30 Days, Day 8: A Bucket of Blood (1959)

Walter Paisley is Born: A Review of A Bucket of Blood (1959)

Amy M. Vaughn

16 October 2019


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A Bucket of Blood is B-movie magic. Made in five days for $50,000 (roughly $450,000 in 2019 money) on the leftover sets from Diary of High School Bride (1959), it is one of three classic horror comedies written by Charles B. Griffith and directed and produced by Roger Corman. The other two are The Little Shop of Horrors (1986) and Creature from the Haunted Sea (1961).

All three of them are shlocky good fun, but A Bucket of Blood has something the others don’t: Dick  Miller playing Walter Paisley. Walter is a dimwitted busboy at The Yellow Door, a coffee house where beatniks perform and hang out, and he’s tired of being a nobody. After accidentally killing his landlady’s cat, he covers it with clay and is declared a master sculptor, gaining the attention he so desperately desires. But how to keep the attention coming? That’s the question.

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“Sorry puss-puss, you’re art now.”

Dick Miller was already well known in B-movie circles as a reliable character actor and occasional lead. With his strong Bronx accent, he was most often cast as a fast talking, no-nonsense everyman. Giving him the part of a slow and down-trodden wannabe was a stroke of genius (or possibly serendipitous convenience). It’s a heads-up from the get-go that we’re in for something off-kilter.

A Bucket of Blood opens on the pompous Maxwell H. Brock, played by Julian Burton, rapping a beat-style poem over a saxophone solo.

“I will talk to you of Art,

“For there is nothing else to talk about,

“For there is nothing else.

“Life is an obscure hobo bumming a ride on the omnibus of Art.”

 Walter is seen going about his busboy duties through this long and seemingly rambling recitation; however, we quickly discover Walter was paying close attention. He recites lines from the poem back to Brock and to a square middle-aged couple who think he’s an artist. Later, segments of the same poem give Walter the idea and permission to create his “sculptures.”

That night, Walter accidentally stabs his landlady’s cat to death while he’s trying to free it from the wall of his apartment. Does it matter that the cat he takes out of the wall is obviously taxidermied? Or that his later human sculptures are obviously mannequins hardly covered in clay? Yes it matters! Because (as I put forward in “Kensington Gore, or Why Hammer is the Hot Chocolate of Horror”) low production value played straight creates a sense of complicity in the right audience. Instead of feeling duped or annoyed or disappointed, we become willing participants in allowing ourselves to be entertained. A Bucket of Blood plays that game to the hilt.

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Beatniks throw the best hat/pants-optional parties. And nope, that’s not a mannequin.

Having gained the other artists’ approval, Walter becomes the toast of The Yellow Door. He has the admiration of his peers, the attention of women, and money—well, $50 out of the $500 the owner of the coffee house—Leonard de Santis played by Antony Carbone—expects to receive for “Dead Cat.”

“Yeah, you’re a real artist now. Now go on back and scrub down those garbage cans.”

 And so it goes. Walter tries to maintain his prestige; de Santis, who discovers Walter’s secret, tries to quell his conscience enough to make some scratch; and the hostess, who admires Walter’s work, tries to support him, deflect his advances, and finally stay alive. And all of it is played straight, to great comedic effect. But this is more than just a silly, throw-away B-movie.

A Bucket of Blood has layers. It’s completely unlike the other horror comedies of its time, which had been mostly of the Abbot and Costello Meet . . . variety. It’s a teenage, drive-in exploitation flick and a satire of the beat subculture and the art world, including all the greed, gate keeping, sycophants, and desperation for attention that come with it. In that way, it’s a forerunner of movies like Murder Party(2007) and Velvet Buzzsaw(2019). Can we say, then, that it was groundbreaking and prescient? Not without sounding snooty, but it could be true.

“His work has enormous realism. You can hardly tell it from the real thing.”

“Boy, that sounds like a real put down.”

 When Walter has a party thrown in his honor, the pompous poet recites again, and this poem has a refrain: “Walter Paisley is born.”

Indeed, A Bucket of Blood did give birth to Walter Paisley. During his long and varied acting career, Dick Miller would play at least four more and very different Walter Paisleys: a fast-talking casting agent in Hollywood Boulevard(1976); an occult bookstore owner in The Howling(1981); a diner owner in Twilight Zone: The Movie(1983); and a janitor in Chopping Mall(1986). But the original Walter Paisley will always be that poor sap who felt so ignored and invisible he would literally kill to be seen.


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4 out of 5 Dead Cats

A Bucket of Blood can be found on Public Domain Movies, YouTube, Tubi, and Amazon Prime.


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Amy M. Vaughn writes weird little books. Among them are Skull Nuggets (Bizarro Pulp Press) and The Shelter (Cabal Books, forthcoming). She is also serving as editor for Dog Doors to Outer Space: A Compilation of Bizarro Writing Prompts (Filthy Loot, forthcoming). Amy lives in Tucson and online wherever writers go to avoid writing.

Fiction

15 October 2019

From Shane Moritz comes the flash fiction piece, “Downturn,” an off-kilter and spooky tale about parenthood.


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Downtown I need to see an abortionist named Heinrich. An old college mate, mostly ears. He reminded me of a French bulldog. Bell dings, I enter the clinic, giving the slender crowd a wide berth. In the corner, cleaning my cuticles, I wait. The paperwork comes. I accept the clipboard from the orderly without hesitation. A pale receptionist materializes.

Where’s Heinrich? I ask mildly. He’s gone to lunch, I’m told. With sweeping fists, I grab my things and windmill out of there. I find him at City Market. He’s moving through the crowd like a whale through schools of spooked minnows.

“Heinrich, please.”

“Zartran?”

“Yes, it’s me.”

I explain my predicament.

“Where is this woman?” he asks.

“Rightio.”

I accompany him back to his chamber, our own private deli, and it is wonderful, plentiful and free. Here we will snack on cold cuts, I assume, and strategize. He occupies a papasan in the corner and looks ready to say something profound.

“Tell me, why are you still here?”

Spreading a cold cut on a brioche I halved with a knife, I say, “I suffer terrible allergies. But I have a lot of love to give.”

It is at this moment that Heinrich, hauling his haunches from the papasan, groans with colossal disgust. I tell him to cool it. I see the great fear go into his eyes.

Tossing the baloney on the floor, I lift the baby out of my satchel and thrust it at him. It’s a Cabbage Patch doll with one eye dangling from its socket.

“Now, then!”

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Photo by Ellis Fields.

Shane Moritz was born in Portland, Oregon and educated in Flagstaff, Arizona and Milledgeville, Georgia. He spent his formative years in Australia. His writing has been recognized by the Academy of American Poets and elsewhere. A prose poem about travel “Great Expectations” is forthcoming from a magazine in Uganda. He teaches writing in Baltimore, Maryland. He’ll tweet when he’s unwell.

https://twitter.com.moritzisill

30 Horror Reviews in 30 Days, Day 7: Belzebuth (2017)

Belzebuth (2017)

Mateo Keegan Burbano

11 October 2019


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Tobin Bell, is there no movie that your grizzled bald head won’t improve? Clearly, the answer is no. See Belzebuth if you need proof.

Directed by Emilio Portes, this Spanish/English language film set on the Mexican side of the U.S./Mexican border, uses a number of current hot topics to tell its terrifying tale of Satanic possession and a battle of good and evil of biblical proportions. Joaquín Cosio plays Emmanuel Ritter, a detective in Mexico’s Federal Police. Ritter is called away on police business from his wife’s side at the hospital, where she’s just given birth to their son. What follows is the gruesome murder of a maternity ward filled with infants, including Ritter’s son, by a clearly possessed nurse who also slits her own throat.

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Joaquín Cosio brings his smoldering, eye-acting A-game to Belzebuth.

Jump to 5 years later. Ritter is called to the scene of a school shooting where 33 children and teachers were killed. The dead includes the shooter, a middle school student, who blew his brains out. A young mother watches a news report of the attack. Her young son, Isa, wakes from his nap and tells her he had a dream his cousin and he were being chased by the devil at his school. His cousin turns out to be one of the school shooting victims.

Another attack occurs at a public pool where over a dozen children are taking swim lessons. An American government paranormal investigative division inserts itself in the investigate, to Ritter’s annoyance. The Americans, led by ex-seminary student, Ivan Franco (played by Tate Ellington) prove to Ritter that something supernatural and demonic is at play with the crimes, and a pattern of similar child slayings stretches back six years to the hospital attack involving Ritter’s son. Ritter and Franco also learn that a mysterious tatted-up priest was seen at each of the crime scenes.

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Belzebuth perfectly finds the sweet spot between too little shirtless Tobin Bell, and not enough shirtless Tobin Bell.

Eventually Ritter, Franco, the priest, the mother and her son, Isa, paths all converge after Isa and his mother survive a suicide bombing at a cinema. The priest is Vasilio Canetti (Tobin Bell). A grizzled man excommunicated by the Catholic Church for conducting Satanic rituals in the Vatican. At first, Father Canetti is set up as the villain behind the attacks, but it turns out Ritter and company are facing a more unholy enemy and are at ground zero for an enduring battle that stretches back to the Crusades.

According to Father Canetti, the first crusade was begun by a church that was under the enemy’s influence with the goal of killing a child born to a Muslim couple in Jerusalem, a child that was the reborn Christ. At one point, the group entertain the idea that Christ has been reborn in Mexico. Emmanuel scoffs at the idea and asks why Mexico. The priest answers, “Where else? London, Paris, Dubai? He was meant to be born in a country oppressed by an empire.”

The young boy, Isa, becomes the battle ground heavenly and hellish forces are fighting over. All the attacks, including the hospital attack where Isa had just been removed from the maternity ward, have all been attempts to kill Isa. The group work together to smuggle Isa and his mother into the U.S. using underground tunnels used by drug and human traffickers. Once underground, the chase is on and the intensity is ratcheted up. Bodies start dropping and allies turn against allies as Satan plays the group against itself.

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Don’t make Jesus angry. You wouldn’t like Jesus when he’s angry.

In a world where you can’t attend a concert, go shopping at your local Walmart, watch a film premiere in the cinema, or spend the day at a garlic festival without fear of being gunned down, the idea such violence could be blamed on some religious death cult would be reassuring. The film taps into modern anxieties about random and meaningless mass violence that seems to have become our new normal. Many parents in the U.S. started off the school year shopping for bulletproof backpacks for their kids. In cities like London, knife attacks with unclear motivations seem to have become commonplace. In countries like Afghanistan, events that should be celebrations of life, like weddings, have become targets of terrorist attacks. Films like Belzebuth can sometimes help distract us from our anxieties and fears of a violent world by ascribing the causes of violence to some larger, supernatural entity outside ourselves. The bad man, demon, or otherworldly entity responsible for our present nightmares is identified, hunted and put down. By the end of the movie, the heroes make the world somewhat safer. In this way, part of the appeal of horror movies is their placebo effect of momentarily reducing our constant state of worry.


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4 out of 5 swimming pools full of dead children

Belzebuth is currently available to stream on Shudder

 

 

30 Horror Reviews in 30 Days, Day 6: The Company of Wolves

The Company of Wolves (1984)

Mateo Keegan Burbano

8 October 2019


company_of_wolves_UK1sht-1The Company of Wolves is an erotic gothic fantasy film directed by Neil Jordan and cowritten by Jordan and author Angela Carter based on a Carter short story from her collection, The Bloody Chamber. The film’s stars include Sarah Patterson, Angela Lansbury, Stephen Rea and David Warner.

The film begins in the modern English countryside. Rosaleen, a teenaged girl played by Sarah Patterson, has locked herself away in her room for most of the summer. She drifts into a dream of her older sister, Alice, being chased through the woods filled with oversized, hostile children’s toys. In the dream, both girls wear flowing, lacey white nightgowns. The images have a dreamy haziness reminiscent of films like The Labyrinth (1986). The sister is beset by a pack of red-eyed wolves who fall upon her with fanged, slathering jaws and kill her.

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Overly-friendly bear provides plenty of nightmare fuel.

Most of the film’s action takes place in the dream, around an English village in an unspecified time period, hundreds of years past. The villagers eke out a meager existence as farmers and hunters. Occasional modern-day anachronisms appear, such as the devil himself (played by Terrence Stamp), pulling up in a white limousine. These temporal intrusions do not phase the villagers. The film has a gothic, magical realist style that readers of Angela Carter’s works will find familiar.

After the shock of Rosaleen’s death, her parents send her away to spend some time with her no-nonsense Granny, played by Angela Lansbury of Murder She Wrote fame. To entertain her granddaughter, and impart important moral lessons and warnings, Granny tells her stories and allegories involving dangerous wolves. The wolves of these stories are often disguised as dangerous men. Granny seeks to warn Rosaleen of the many dangers she’ll face from inside and outside the village from such wolves and men. The granny claims all of these stories are true, as do the other storytellers in the film. All of the stories are told by women, but each woman tells their stories for different purposes. The film is told as a teenage girl’s dream of the telling of stories, and the significance of not just the stories themselves, but the roles stories have in shaping our worldview, and the differing reasons why, and ways of, telling stories.

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Red cape in a wolf-infested forrest? Granny might as well be knitting a death shroud.

The film’s focuses on women and the stories women tell other women and their daughters. Most of the stories focus on heroines navigating a world of savage, lustful beasts that are men, and men that are beasts. Granny begins her first story to Rosaleen with the following exchange:

“Your poor only sister, alone in the wood with no one to save her,” says Granny.

“Why couldn’t she save herself?” Rosaleen asks.

“You’re only a child. You don’t know anything. Don’t stray from the path, girl. Once you stray from the path, you’re lost forever.”

Granny’s warning is a repeated refrain through many of the stories told to Rosaleen. She has entered her sexual maturity. The men and teenage boys of the village have started to notice and leer lustfully at her. Granny and Rosaleen’s mother’s stories warn of a world filled with dangers, of predators on four legs and two legs. She is repeatedly admonished, when going through the woods, to stick to the safety of the path, but Rosaleen is curious and aroused by the dangers and the adventures possible off the beaten path.

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It’s a nice day to start again
It’s a nice day for a wolf wedding

The film uses many fleshy and bloody symbols and images representing fertility, femininity, masculinity, and sexuality. The shiny skin of a plump red apple hides a core filled with worms. An abandoned bird’s nest is filled with lipsticks, mirrors, and eggs that crack open to reveal figurines of human fetuses. Love potions put hair on your chest but open you up to the maliciousness of the natural world. Rosaleen, in the bright red shawl her granny has made her, is an obvious subversion of Red Riding Hood. And the worse kind of wolves, like the worst kind of men, are also hairy on the inside.

Granny tells the story of one such man who is hairy on the outside and the inside is named only Young Groom. Young Groom is played by the star of a number of Neil Jordan films, Stephen Rea. Men like Young Groom are never to be trusted, and you know not to trust them because they have eyebrows that meet in the middle. Young Groom is a wolf hiding in a man’s body. On his wedding night, a night with a full moon, his Young Bride asks him to make love to her. The Young Groom’s sexual passions give way to his wolf hungers. Resisting his transformation into the wolf, he excuses himself from the cottage to collect water and, giving in to the transformation, runs off with a pack of wolves waiting for him outside.

Years later, the Young Bride is young no longer. She remarries and has three children with her new husband. Her wedded life is not the romantic adventure she envisioned when younger. Her days are consumed with grueling, tedious domestic work and the constant presence of mewling children. On a night when her husband is away, her first husband returns. He’s been living rough, his hair cascades down his shoulders and his clothes are in tatters. He pushes his way into the cottage uninvited, sits at the table, and demands food. When he sees the crying children, he angers and accuses Young Bride of adultery. He peels off his face and slowly transforms into the wolf. The transformation is detailed and gruesome, achieved effectively with the use of practical effects. The wolf attacks the Young Bride, but she is saved when her husband returns and lops off the wolf’s head with an ax. The head flies through the air and lands with a splash into a milk bucket. The milk turns red and the head that floats to the surface is human once again.  The wife is overcome by the death of the only man she truly loved and cries out. Thinking his wife is being irrationally emotional, her husband gives her a hard slap.

“I’d never let a man strike me,” says Rosaleen when Granny’s story is over.

“They’re (men) nice as pie until they’ve had their way with you, but once the bloom is gone, the beast comes out,” Granny tells her.

Granny’s meaning is clear. All men are beasts, and if Rosaleen wants to avoid the beastly violence of men, she must avoid all men. Rosaleen’s mother, played by Tusse Silberg views the world differently than Granny. She tells Rosaleen that the beast in men “meets its match in women, too.” These conflicting world views confuse Rosaleen. She does not know how she is meant to interact with the men and boys who express interest in her. Her confusion is compounded by her father’s, played by David Warner, argument that there is nothing unnatural or wrong with a girl of Rosaleen’s age spending time in the woods with boys.

The Company of Wolves can be seen as a feminine companion to David Lynch’s Eraserhead (1977). Both films address anxieties young people face as they mature into adulthood. Both films explore young people’s fears about the uncertainties surrounding sex acts, childbirth, parenting, and the potential death of one’s child. Jordan and Carter’s film argues that most of these fears in young people are unnecessarily fomented by adults seeking to protect their children.

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Seems legit, that’s where babies come from.

The film concludes with a revamped retelling of the Red Riding Hood story. In this version of the story, the Huntsman, played by Micha Bergese, one of the type of men Granny warned Rosaleen about. His eyebrows meet in the middle and he definitely has hair growing on the inside. Rosaleen and the Huntsman meet when Rosaleen strays from the path as she walks through the woods to her Granny’s house. The Huntsman makes a bet with her that he can reach Granny’s house before her. If she should win, he offers to reward her with whatever her heart desires. If the Huntsman wins, he wants a kiss as his reward. Rosaleen is wary of the Huntsman, but also attracted to him, so she agrees.

On arriving at the cottage, Rosaleen discovers the Huntsman has beaten her there and her Granny is nowhere to be seen. She spots a lock of her Granny’s hair burning in the fireplace. Her suspicions are confirmed. The Huntsman is both a man and a wolf. He lives in the world of men and in the world of wolves, belonging to neither. The Huntsman attacks her, his manly desire for her kiss giving way to a wolfen hunger for her flesh. She fends him off with a shot from his own hunting rifle. Fully transformed into a wolf, he whimpers at his gunshot wound. At the sound of his cries the rest of his pack outside abandon him. To comfort him, she tells him a story about wounded wolf.

Rosaleen tells a story of a female wolf journeying up from her home underground to visit the village above. She is looking to make a connection with the humans she’s spied in the past but is attacked immediately and shot. The wolf runs into the woods until she reaches a church. The priest comes out to find a naked, wounded girl. He bandages her wound, showing her kindness despite saying he doesn’t know whether she is an innocent young girl or a demon. The wolf girl wanders the woods for a time, but never finds a place to belong. Restored to her wolf form, she sneaks into the village and returns below to the world from whence she came.

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The worst men are hairy on the inside.

Fearing the worst has happened to Rosaleen her parents lead an armed militia of villagers to Granny’s cabin, where they burst in. They do not find their innocent young daughter there. Instead, they find a proud female wolf wearing their daughter’s crucifix around her neck. The wolf breaks through a window to escape and joins a pack of wolves waiting in the woods nearby. The pack runs in wild abandon, tearing through the woods, through decaying buildings, into the real world of the still dreaming modern-day Rosaleen. She wakes with a scream as the wolf Rosaleen bursts out from her mirror, her open jaws aimed at her throat. If you take one lesson from Jordan and Carter’s The Company of Wolves, it should be to give your daughters a little latitude to forge their own paths unless you want them to run wild with the wolves.


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4.5 out of 5 Wolves in Men’s Clothes

The Company of Wolves is now available on HBO GO.

 

 

 

30 Horror Reviews in 30 Days, Day 5


In Fabric (2019)

Mateo Keegan Burbano

6 October 2019


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I was lucky enough to catch a preview showing of In Fabric during Arthouse Cinema Day at the Normal Theater, ahead of its wide U.S. release on December 6th. In Fabric is directed by Peter Strickland, director of Berberian Sound Studio (2012) and is a joint production of A24 and BBC Studios. If you’re a fan of off kilter, thought provoking horror, then you must catch this beautiful, hilarious film on the big screen.

Imagine a film about the witch coven from Dario Argento’s Suspiria (1977) staffing a frock shop in Thames Valley, in which an anthropomorphized, cursed red dress operates in a similar fashion to the murderous tire from Rubber (2010), directed with Lynchian moments of traumatic dissociation, punctuated by Pythonesque absurdism, and you’re about 50% on the way to understanding the type of film In Fabric is. The film is split into two overlapping stories, tracking the destruction caused to anyone who crosses paths with a cursed red dress.

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The dress is one of those creepers that watches you while you sleep.

The first half of the film follows Sheila, played with amazing earnestness by Marianne Jean-Baptiste, a woman in her fifties, recently separated mother of a teenage boy, who works as a bank teller. The second half of the film follows Clive, played to everyman perfection by Steve Oram. The film is rounded out by an amazing supporting cast. Sidse Babett Knudsen plays the model who first wears the malevolent dress for a catalogue photo shoot and is killed in a zebra-crossing before the film even starts. Julian Barrett of The Mighty Boosh fame, plays Stash, one of Sheila’s branch managers obsessed with absurdist management styles like dream analysis. Game of Thrones fans will love Gwendoline Christie’s role in the film. She plays the vamping, sadistic older woman, Gwen, who is having an affair with Sheila’s teenage son.

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Sometimes, mortality be damned, you want a dress that will make you feel nice about yourself until it gnaws your face off.

The film is hyper-stylized. Frames are awash in vibrant, deep reds: red paint, red fabrics, red painted fingernails, all foretelling the bloodletting to come under the dress’s malicious influence. There are eerie scenes of intense focus on a characters’ illuminated faces as discordant music jangles in the background. One disturbing scene, involving the pleasuring of an anatomically correct female mannequin’s menstruating vagina, will have you laughing despite your repulsion.

In Fabric has plenty of frightening moments, but the film also has plenty of laugh-out-loud moments. Clive, a washer repair man who only wants to provide a comfortable life for his fiancé and himself, has the special ability to send anyone within earshot into near erotic euphoria as he lists all the possible disruptions to a washing machine’s inner workings. Sheila’s bosses give her a dressing down over the efficacy of her handshake and keep trying to get her to participate in workplace role playing scenarios, costumes included. The film’s absurdist moments are rooted in real corporate management and consumer manipulation philosophies, so the film never completely breaks from credulity.

The film takes place in an unspecified everytime that is both current and retro. The location is only ever called Thames, so the film could take place anywhere from a large city to London, to some midsized city in the heart of England. What’s familiar is its High Street with its frock shop, Oxfam-like secondhand store, its regional bank branch, and the restaurant that serves everything from a vindaloo to a nice bit of fish. This is Everytown England, populated with its everymen and everywomen who just want to make their lives easier for themselves and their loved ones, and to feel a genuine connection to another person.

Sheila and Clive, and those closest to them, all meet bloodied, dreadful ends. Despite the inevitability of their fates, director Strickland treats his characters with a genuine tenderness and respect you’d expect from a more understated indie drama. The lives led by the film’s characters could be judged as small and sad by some. Sheila is struggling with her recent marital separation and the weight of responsibility for a son who is on the verge of adulthood. The isolation and loneliness Sheila feels are exasperated by having to hear her son bang whichever random witchy goth girls he’s brought home that day.

Clive is anxious about his impending wedding. His friends, and even his fiancé’s father, endlessly roast him for marrying the same dominating woman he’s dated since secondary school, the only sexual partner he’s ever had. Clive doesn’t care; all he worries about is providing a comfortable life for his wife-to-be. Both of these characters lives may seem pedestrian and meaningless to some viewers but, to Sheila and Clive, it’s the only lives they’ve ever known, and their lives are precious to them. Unlike many horror films, the tragic violent ends these characters meet have impact because you grow to care for these characters as people.

InFabric

Alright, you might not care too much for the bald, pushy department store saleswoman who is definitely a witch.

In Fabric makes a number of pointed critiques of modern culture, including the validness of fashion, the cruelty of corporate management styles based on unfounded pop psychology that seek to dehumanize employees into commodities, and the insidiousness of inescapable advertising. These themes are woven throughout the film, but Strickland never loses focus on the significance of the film’s main characters everyday struggles. In Fabric asks viewers, when selecting a shiny dress or swanky blazer off the rack of a department store or secondhand shop, to consider the history already imbued in that piece of fabric. Whose hands guided the fabric under a sewing machine needle? Who dressed the mannequin that first caught our eye? Who has already modeled or worn that item of clothing, and what kind of life have they led? The film asks you to do more than just consider the cycle a product makes from creation to shelf to purchase, it asks us to reconsider all the infinitesimal small, unseen ways we might be connected to each other.

sewing

Sometimes you sew the dress, and sometimes the dress sews you.

5 out of 5 Menstruating Mannequins

In Fabric is released 6 December 2019 in the U.S.