Joshua Hoffine’s Black Lullaby

Black LullabyChances are, if you’re a horror aficionado then you’ve stumbled upon the work of horror photographer Joshua Hoffine.  He’s been exploring horror through photography since 2003, but when he released a series in 2008 exploring childhood fears the internet took notice.  With good reason.  Not to downplay just how exquisite his previous series, Horror As Metaphor, is, but there’s just something so fundamentally fascinating and relatable about childhood fear.  Haven’t we all been scared of the boogeyman at some point in our lives?  Of course, Joshua Hoffine translates these fears to lenses in eloquent manner that lends beauty to nightmare.

His study recently culminated in a four minute short film, Black Lullaby, in which a young girl’s curiousity overshadows her fear.  Unlike previous shorts I’ve mentioned, Black Lullaby isn’t particularly scary.  It does compensate with artistry in measures, however, and it does invoke a sense of childlike wonderment.  As with his photography, Joshua Hoffine displays a deep attention to detail.  From set design and color filtration to sound. Make-up effects were done by previous SyFy’s Face/Off winner J. Anthony Kosar and the featured child in the film is played by Hoffine’s own daughter.  Horror must run in their genes as she fills the role well. In short, it’s gorgeous.  Released over the Thanksgiving weekend, you can find it on Vimeo Pro or here.  But I recommend you view the series first, here.

And if you find his previous series too dark for your tastes, I’ll leave you with his very cheeky Monster Prom photo shoot: here. Am I strange for wishing this was the kind of prom I attended in high school?

The Babadook Review

thebabadookSeven year old Samuel (Noah Wiseman) is borderline feral with his unchecked imagination and violent outbursts.  His mother, Amelia (Essie Davis), struggles to balance her work life and her attempts to parent her wild son on her own.  Her stress is further compounded by her continued grieving over the loss of her husband seven years prior.  When Samuel picks out the bed time tale “Mister Babadook,” an eerie pop-up book that seemed to appear from thin air, Amelia’s pushed to the end of her rope as the book’s title character becomes a menacing presence in their already dysfunctional lives.

Debut director Jennifer Kent utilizes a monochrome color palette and haunting sound to set the tone before the audience even catches a glimpse of the Babadook, which only amps up the tension.  Familiar haunted house tropes populate the first half of the film; Samuel converses with an unseen visitor, Amelia’s bed time is interrupted by footsteps outside her bedroom door, and every time she tosses out the book it reappears.  The second half delves fully into surreal psychological horror reminiscent of Roman Polanski’s Repulsion, taking on a much darker tone.

The strength of the film lies largely with the performances behind Amelia and Samuel.  The relationship between the mother and son are in constant fluctuation, alternating between loving and utter frustration.  The lack of a paternal presence features prominently at the core of the story; Amelia struggles with parenthood after the loss of her husband while Samuel is becoming more aware that his family life is not like everyone else’s.  Some moments you feel Amelia’s defeat at Samuel’s unruliness, and other moments you feel for Samuel due to his mother’s distance.  The fragility of their state of living makes the Babadook all the more upsetting. Essie Davis’ portrayal of Amelia is both heartbreaking and horrific, while maintaining that maternal love for Samuel throughout.

While the tension remains consistently palpable, and there are many terrifying moments, it just fell short of the hype machine.  Though I suspect I will be in the minority on this one.  For me, this was not the scariest movie I’ve seen in a while.  The film is well acted, beautifully shot, and emotionally investing, but much of the tension fizzled out instead of the explosive ending the film deserved.  Most excellent genre films are social metaphors, I just happen to prefer them to be a little more subtle. Realizing what exactly the Babadook is took away all of the fear, though it did succeed in creating a much richer and more fulfilling story.

Overall, the Babadook is a great entry to the horror genre by Australia and newcomer Jennifer Kent, though not as scary as most reviews would lead you to believe.  Another shining example of a successful Kickstarter campaign, the Babadook is set for release on DirectTV October 30, and wider release on November 28th.  Check out the website, and sign up on the email list to be notified on updates for the “Mister Babadook” pop-up book release.  You know, if you want to keep your children up all night.

Cannibal Dinner Party

So last night was the season five premiere of AMC’s The Walking Dead.  Did you watch?  Between last season’s finale with heavy hints of cannibalism, the Hannibal tv series, and the very excellent film We Are What We Are (2013) I’d been imspired to create a cannibal themed meal of my own.

I admit, I took a lot of shortcuts and the end result was a hybrid of classy Hannibal and southern Texas Chain Saw Massacre.

Cannibal dinner

 

The meal itself consisted of a bbq spread complete with chopped beef stuffed into a custom made rib cage, broccoli cheese casserole, cole slaw, loaded mashed potatoes and beans.  Very southern, right?  But then I decided to amuse myself putting the potatoes in a martini glass and topping with the beef, riffing off of the loaded baked potatoes commonly found in bbq joints.  My favorite piece of the entire meal may have been the cheese tray, however.

Flayed skin skull

Take a plastic store bought skull (make sure you wash this well prior to using), smear your favorite spread evenly over the service, and layer on prosciutto.  For this one I used a cream cheese chive spread.  My particular skull wasn’t thrilled to participate so he refused to stand up, but putting a little blob of the spread on the tray and directly setting the skull on it worked well to keep him in place.  This particular “Flayed Skin” appetizer is versatile, and has the added bonus of amusing and grossing out guests.

Cannibal dinner

Of course dinner couldn’t be completed without dessert, so a fruit tray was served alongside severed finger cupcakes.  You can find the royal icing fingers on amazon here, or find them at your local Michael’s.  If I hadn’t been short on time, I might have attempted to serve intestines  for dessert.

severed finger cupcakes

 

I’m very lucky to have friends willing to entertain my strange ideas, and I enjoyed every minute of this dinner.  Not onto planning an even more creative Halloween menu.

Houston Halloween Events

It’s finally October!  My favorite month of the year.  I’ve been scouring the internet looking for festive ideas and thought I’d share some of the local events I’ve had my eye on.

Houston Halloween Festival- October 19th

HORRORFEST

The annual zombie walk for charity has now been upgraded to a full on Halloween festival held partly in Minute Maid Park.  The event features musical acts, pumpkin patch, haunted maze, makeup effects artists, vendors, horror film industry celebrities, and a zombie walk.  Tickets and more information can be found here.

Evil Dead the Musical- October 17th through November 1st

Evil dead the musical

You may remember my previous write up last year, when I visited San Antonio’s production of the bloody musical.  This year the production is making its way to Houston (Pasadena more specifically), via Stage Door Inc. Tickets are only $15, with the option of purchasing a zombie survival kit for an additional $5.  The kit contains items meant to protect clothing against the inevitable blood splattering from this very messy, very fun production.  Productions of this show are popping up across the country, so check here to find cities near you.

Dismember the Alamo- October 25th

DismemberTheAlamo_Poster-2

My favorite theater is putting on a four film mystery horror marathon.  The line up won’t be revealed until just prior to showtime, but with the Alamo Drafthouse rest assured that it will be worth it.  As if a costume contest and the Drafthouse’s trademark pre-show isn’t enough to entice you, perhaps seeing scream queen Barbara Crampton live in attendance will entice you.  Barbara Crampton (Re-Animator, From Beyond, You’re Next) isn’t just showing up as a guest, but is also assisting with the programming.  Dismember the Alamo isn’t just a Houston exclusive event- look for it at your local Alamo Drafthouse. Each venue will have their own special guest. Tickets for the Houston event can be purchased here , and information on other locations hosting Dismember the Alamo can be found here.

Being that it’s only October 2nd, I’ll share more discoveries as I find them.  What are you most looking forward to this Halloween season?

The Upper Footage (2013) Review

TheUpperFootagePosterIn 1999, The Blair Witch Project confused and enraptured audiences with its unique documentary style narrative and a realistic website that built an entire history around the film, including police evidence and photographs.  The film’s clever marketing campaign only further confused the masses, leaving a media frenzy in its wake questioning the truth.  Was this an actual account of real missing persons?  Was this valid proof of the existence of a supernatural entity?  The reveal of the truth behind the film only solidified its legacy.  More than just a film, The Blair Witch Project was an experience.  One that Justin Cole will never forget as memories of his 13 year old self sat stunned, pondering the authenticity of what he’d just watched.

This is the inspiration behind The Upper Footage.  His desire to re-create that experience that so many found footage copy cats failed to achieve in the following years resulted in one of the more interesting media experiments recent memory.  Cole began a very intricate media campaign, starting with uploading a video on Youtube of a mysterious girl tragically overdosing.  It was released under the guise of an extortion plot.  The realism caused the video to be picked up by entertainment news shows, speculating on the identity of the girl and her potential celebrity status.  For the next three years the footage snowballed into a huge Hollywood drug scandal until the film’s release last year.

Touted as genuine documented footage of an overdose cover up by young New York socialites, Justin Cole takes a meticulous approach to realism.  Upper class rich kids Blake Pennington, Will Erixon, Taylor Green and Devon Petrovsky spend the night together getting drunk in the back of a limo and bar hopping, demonstrating their character as they make sexist, racist, classist, and homophobic remarks while in pursuit of scoring drugs.  It’s this very pursuit that lands them in a lower class neighborhood bar, where Devon picks up Jackie.  A large amount of coke and Jackie in tow, they head back to Blake’s apartment to continue the festivities.  Poor Jackie can’t handle the amount of alcohol and coke her new “friends” are pumping into her system and she overdoses in the bathroom.  The four fall apart as they try to figure out how to deal, and their choices prove horrific.

It’s the camera work that gives the film its realistic quality.  With vlogger Will as the night’s documentarian, his face mostly hidden behind his handheld camera for much of the running time, the angles and shots are meticulously presented as amateurish to give that authentic aesthetic.  Shots are out of focus and some scenes stretch for minutes with the camera shooting nothing in particular while the characters converse in the background.  The haphazard style makes it all appear unplanned.

The inherent flaw, the thread that undoes such a complex undertaking, resides with the four socialites the carry the entire story.  None of them are likable. Taylor and Will combined may make up ¼ of a decent human being, though any decency is shown in fleeting glimpses.  Devon and Blake are irredeemable completely, however, and the short 90 minute running time can feel an excruciating eternity at moments while we suffer through their vile decisions and hysterics.  Their abhorrent, uncaring personalities are precisely what shove events into the horror spectrum, but to the detriment of alienating viewers.  Long stretches occur where nothing happens at all, save for yelling and shrieking, so that the only thing carrying viewers to the end becomes problematic soon.

In the end, the media storm preceding release eclipses the film itself.  Justin Cole’s clever marketing and the details behind the scenes prove far more interesting than the end product.  There’s no real story either; everything relevant was already released in that Youtube video years ago.  Poor girl tragically overdoses; asshole rich kids are to blame.  Justin Cole spends so much time crafting believability that he forgets to say anything at all. At least his successful media experiment demonstrates an intelligence and potential.

The Paris Catacombs

I crossed a major bucket list item off of my list this past week- visiting the famous Catacombs in Paris. Just what exactly is the Catacombs? It’s a very large underground ossuary that stretches for miles below Paris, deeper than the sewer and Metro tunnels, and houses six million Parisians. Only a stretch of 2 km is open for visitation to the public as so many miles are deemed unsafe for exploration.

In 1780, the largest cemetery in Paris, Saints Innocents, became engorged with the dead. To make room for more burials, bodies were exhumed and stacked within the cemetery walls. With mounds two meters high, the overflow became a huge health concern for the adjacent neighborhood, with good reason. This wasn’t the only cemetery in Paris with an overflow problem, but as the largest it was the primary focus.

Abandoned mining projects in rich limestone turned out to be the answer and in 1785, the Council of State issued a decree requiring the removal of the human remains from Saints Innocents. The bones from all city cemeteries would be stored in the limestone quarries, and this transfer of human remains continued until 1860.

Catacomb tunnels

Only 200 people are allowed in the Catacombs at a time, so plan to get there as early as possible to minimize wait times (which can be up to 3 hours).  Open daily from 10-5, last admission is 4pm.  Entrance is a tiny green shed across the street from the Denfert- Rochereau Metro and RER line access.  There are no toilets, it’s about 57F underground, and you take about 130 steep steps straight down a very narrow spiral staircase upon entrance.  The above pic is your initial view as you make your way further underground, so if you’re claustrophobic this tour is not for you.  The ceilings are very low and the pathways are narrow.

Eventually you come to the Port-Mahon corridor, which features sculptures of the Port-Mahon fortress sculpted by a quarryman who had fought alongside Louis XV, and the “Quarryman’s foothbath,” or “bain de pieds des carriers.”  This was a well of groundwater used by the quarry workers to mix cement during the construction of the Catacombs.

Port-Mahon fortress Port-Mahon

Quarryman's footbath well Quarryman's footbath

Then, you reach two pillars marking the entrance to the ossuary with a sign that reads, “Stop! This is the empire of death!”  From this point on, you’re surrounded by the bones of six million Parisians.

Bones Heart

As no flash photography is allowed, some of my pics ended up a bit too dark.  It’s difficult to tell, but in the second photo above, the skulls were arranged in a heart.  To say it’s a surreal experience is a bit of an understatement.  The bones are stacked so elegantly, and the sheer amount of remains is overwhelming.  It’s one thing to read that there are six million bodies, but to see them is a totally different experience.  Sections of remains are labeled with the date of cemetery transfer as well as the name of the cemetery.  Artfully arranged columns of bones and an empty sarcophagus were instilled specifically to mask structural support, though you’d never know just by looking.

Sarcophagus Catacombs

The end of the ossuary is marked by high arches and wet limestone.

You end your tour by climbing up another narrow, steep wet-stoned spiral staircase that leads straight into a side street.  The same, unaltered steps from when the Catacombs was first constructed with a very rusted, thin handrail on one side.   A bit scary.

Paris, and its Catacombs, was such an amazing experience, and I’m so lucky to have the memory.

Ouija Board Coffee Table

Sometime around last Halloween I found this coffee table on Instructables.com and decided I needed one.  But I have no experience in building furniture outside of simple Ikea assembly, and I’m far too clumsy to start trying.  So instead months were spent scouring thrift shops for a coffee table large enough for the dimensions listed on the Instructable page, which is 24″x48″.  The one I ended up with was a bit longer, but I’m OK with that.

Unfortunately I dove right into the project and forgot about taking a before picture.  So instead, here’s the table after the dark stain has already been sanded away and I spray painted a couple of coats of primer.  While I like the aesthetic of the Instructable’s table better, I decided it didn’t match my living room and chose white instead of the stained wood.  I follow directions oh so well.

Still wet

Still wet

After painting, I brushed on the acrylic gel medium and tried to work quickly at laying down the Ouija Board print.  Tip # 1: Have someone help you with this step.  I wrestled with a poster sized sheet that didn’t feel like cooperating and if I’d had someone help me lay this on I probably would have had far less creases in the paper when trying to work out all of the air bubbles.

3 hours in..

3 hours in..

The acrylic gel medium has to dry overnight before you dampen the paper and wipe it away with your fingers and/or a sponge.  Tip # 2: What the Instructables how-to doesn’t tell you is that this takes foreverand you will want to commit murder long before it’s done. Also, this step is very, very messy.  Please note my pile of paper pulp on the floor.  If you scrub too hard, the black rubs off as well.  So you have to maintain the right pressure the entire time.  If there were any bubbles or creases, that will likely peel right off as well.  So, my end product is a very rustic or distressed ouija table.

The perfectionist in me is a bit disappointed in the flaws, but I put a lot of work into it and I learned a lot.

Finished Table

All that’s left is one or two additional coats of polycrylic after the current coat dries, and likely a sanding to make sure the surface is even.

Now that we’re two months away from October, Halloween planning is about to take over.

The Purge: Anarchy Review

The Purge: AnarchyI want to preface my take on The Purge: Anarchy by stating how much the first film annoyed me.  The concept of an annual 12 hour time period in which all crime is given a free pass ended up serving as a plot device for a rather weak home invasion flick.  The idea of the purge felt like a mere afterthought simply conjured up to justify daft characters chasing each other around in a dark house.

But the sequel wisely forgoes the home invasion aspect and expands on what should have been the focal point to begin with- the annual purge.  The Purge: Anarchy opens just a few hours before the commencement of the annual purge.  Our leads are introduced amidst the unrest of a city scrambling to prepare for chaos when time is running short.  Waitress Eva is struggling to support her daughter, Cali, and her terminal father.  Liz and Shane are driving home when their car breaks down just on the edge of downtown.  Another man bent on revenge suits up and heads out into the city to join the purge.  These characters converge and must band together if they hope to survive the night.

In this outing, viewers witness the purge from the lower class perspective; the poor who can’t afford the extravagant security system seen in the first film.  The poor who are tired of falling victim to the rich on purge night.  The divide in social classes plays prominently in both social commentary as well as a larger plot thread interwoven throughout but always manages to cut away to a thrilling action sequence before it risks feeling too heavy handed.

Our band of survivors develop into fully realized characters in between thrilling moments of imminent peril as the brushes with death slowly chip away to expose their motivations and desires.  While impressive, the characterization is not perfect.  Cali is meant as the bridge between the story and the audience, but her constant barrage of questions comes across as grating and idiotic despite being necessary.

The editing for the Purge: Anarchy should be given high praise as well.  With so much crammed into a short one hour and forty minute run time, it somehow never feels overcrowded.  Each component is entwined in perfect balance, from the reflections on society, character development, to the survival horror aspect.  Scenes of horrific pandemonium in the streets are shot and cut in a way that avoids being overly gratuitous while still retaining a sense of terror.

For fans of the first film, and there are many, one character does carry over into the sequel.  As this character isn’t revealed in the previews I won’t spoil it other than to say keep your eyes open during the second half of the film.

The people behind last year’s sleeper hit became attuned to audience complaints and took notes. Now, they present us with a sequel that easily erases the bad memories of its predecessor; a sequel that dumps the home invasion angle in favor of a fun action horror story.  The sequel has also given me some appreciation for the Purge, as I now see the two as a complementary pair.  The first presents the purge from the perspective of the upper class, whereas the Purge: Anarchy shows the purge from the opposite spectrum. Writer Jim DeMonaco accomplished something very rare: creating a sequel far superior to its predecessor.   As I’m sure the Purge: Anarchy will do well in the box office, I suspect we’ll see more sequels in the future.  But the question is, will they be as fun as this one?

Mizfit Tha Menace

MizfitThaMenace

Horrorcore is defined as a sub-genre of hip hop that focuses primarily on horror related topics like satanism, cannibalism, supernatural, and so on. While Mizfit Tha Menace would fit under the horrorcore umbrella, it feels wrong to place his style in a tidy box simply because his sound is so different from others in the horrorcore sub-genre. Also because his music is so clearly intertwined with and inspired by horror films. He was kind enough to answer a few questions about his music:

How did you get your start, or rather what are your major influences (both in film and music)?
My influences musically are Eminem and Marilyn Manson, in terms of film its less specific. I honestly can’t pinpoint a single director/movie that had a major impact on my art, it’s more of the genre as a whole.

What are your favorite horror movies?
It’s hard to list favorite horror movies when there are scenes in almost every one of them that I enjoy, I can say that I favor the “Slasher” sub-genre of horror though. If I absolutely had to name a few that were special to me they would be: Psycho(1960), American Psycho(2000), Carrie(1976), and Hellraiser(1987).

Do you sell your music or is it only available on your youtube channel?
My current catalog of music is free to listen/download. You can listen free on my Youtube channel, downloads are located in the discography section on my website. Official albums will be sold online in the near future.

In addition to subscribing to your Youtube channel, do you have social media or a newsletter to keep fans updated on your music?
My website has buttons for all of my social media sites on it. For news specifically I use my Facebook, my twitter is a mix of news and rants.
Facebook:MizfitThaMenace
Follow Mizfit on twitter
Youtube Channel: Horror Himself
www.horrorhimself.com/

 Did you catch that?  His music is currently free on Youtube.  Free.  So it costs you nothing to try.  Let me know what you think.

 

 

Clown Motel?

Clown Motel

Between Reno and Las Vegas lays the small town of Tonopah, Nevada. In the 2010 census the population was 2,478. The discovery of silver in the early 1900 lead to the founding this small mining town. Being in the middle of a desert, you can imagine the list of things to do runs on the small end.

Um..no thanks. I pass.

Um..no thanks. I pass.

But maybe you’re a mining history fanatic? Or maybe you’d just like to test your bravery? Want to face your coulrophobia head on? If you answered yes to any of these, then make sure you book a stay at Tonopah’s Clown Motel. A motel smack dab in the middle of the desert, decked head to toe in clowns. As if that’s not enough nightmare fuel, the motel’s direct next door neighbor is a century old cemetery.

Clown Motel cemeterToponah Cemetery

I’d love to add this to my bucket list, but I have to be honest- deserts scare me. Maybe I’ve watched too many horror movies, but the isolation just gives me the willies.

Are you brave enough to visit?