Review: Horrorstör


by Grady Hendrix


2014 • 256 pages • Quirk Books

Not a secret: I am a massive weenie. I spent middle school sleeping with my front to the window in my bedroom, because this would let me see the aliens coming, and I spent high school sleeping with my front to the bedroom door, because this would let me see the zombies coming. Even as a perfectly functional adult, I still screamed at the top of my lungs during my screening of Crimson Peak at a key moment, and that’s a (marketed as) horror movie that is barely horrific.

More of a secret: I spent the bulk of October scaring myself silly with YouTube theories and Let’s Play videos of Five Nights at Freddy’s.

For those unfamiliar, let me catch you up. Five Nights at Freddy’s is a series of survival horror point-and-click games, centered around a pizzeria with animatronics. (Think Chuck E. Cheese.) You play as the security guard, trapped in their office, and have to make sure that the animatronics, which walk around at night and attack any adults they find, don’t get you. The games ultimately become a resource management game, as your generator only has so much power and locking the doors, checking your security feeds, flashing your lights at the animatronics eats up energy.

What I enjoy is that it’s both terrifying and, refreshingly, not gory at all (except, briefly, the third). It’s the tension and the atmosphere: the game became a Let’s Play staple because there’s a very high chance of it surprising the bajeesus out of the player. When I heard that Warner Brothers had picked up the movie rights, I started dreaming about the most terrifying movie ever made getting a PG rating. (And also starring Ellen Page as the security guard. Think about it.)

So while I may not be able to sleep as soundly anymore because animatronics are after my dreams, dear readers, I have, nonetheless, contracted a taste for gimmicky horror. Which brings us to Grady Hendrix’s 2014 horror novel, Horrorstör.

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Page to Screen: The Phantom of the Opera (2004)


The Phantom of the Opera
based on the musical based on the novel


2004 • 143 minutes • Warner Bros. Pictures

Crimson Peak’s box office may not be what Universal wanted, but I have been having a ball seeing it hit home with its intended audience: gothically and/or Romantically inclined women of all ages. I’ve seen (and, of course, promptly misplaced) tumblr commentary indicating that this was exactly what they yearned for as preteens when their mainstream and more current peers were focused elsewhere. All of this delighted sighing over romance and stylized frights brought me back to my own adolescence.

In 2004, back when I was a young preteen full of unspeakable urges (queer ones, not Byronic hero urges—well, not those Byronic hero urges), it was The Phantom of the Opera that captured the bloody hearts of the preteen Romantic hordes.

I mean, let’s face it: The Phantom of the Opera boasts a lot of similar elements as Crimson Peak. Beautiful, crumbling architecture, death looming in the shadows, young love, beautiful young women rising above their stations, gorgeous costumes, and brooding. Of course, there’s a Phantom in the sewers of Paris rather than [SPOILER REDACTED] in the attic, but both looming threats are surprisingly seductive. Oh, and there’s songs.

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At The Movies: Crimson Peak (2015)


Crimson Peak


2015 • 119 minutes • Universal Pictures

Selling Crimson Peak to modern audiences has proved difficult for Universal Pictures this weekend. Difficult to the tune of $26.3 million in domestic and international box offices, which is quite low. Competing against the much more accessible Bridge of Spies and The Martian, both currently in theaters, definitely doesn’t help.

How do you even effectively promote a classic Gothic romance to a marketplace unfamiliar with the genre? Universal’s solution has been to market Crimson Peak as pure horror, playing up the (damnable!) jump scares and atmosphere. And I don’t know if there’s a better solution, although I wish there was so that Guillermo Del Toro could, I dunno, make Pacific Rim 2 and Hellboy 3 with as much money as he needs. I just hope enough people take the gamble as is, because Crimson Peak is well worth it.

My exposure to Gothic romance has been limited to Mary Shelley, two-thirds of the Brontë sisters, and Austen’s supremely delightful skewering of the genre in Northanger Abbey. It’s from the latter that I have any real sense of the tropes inherent to the genre. And even that sense is a little muddled: I spent a lot of Crimson Peak banking on vampires. (I am not spoiling or ruining the film to let you know that no, there are no vampires. Just good old-fashioned wickedness.)

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At The Movies: Ravenous (1999)




1999 • 100 minutes • 20th Century Fox

Says The A.V. Club’s Ignatiy Vishnevetsky of Ravenous:

Part allegorical period horror, part black comedy, and dosed with satirical and homoerotic overtones, the film—a troubled project that swapped directors early on, and opened to indifferent audiences and reviews—remains one of the genuine studio-backed curios of the 1990s.

So, you know, SOLD, especially after completing my summer of Hannibal and wailing in its wake. (Will I ever stop wailing into the floorboards about Hannibal? Not as long as The Hazards of Love is on my iPhone.)

Ravenous is a strange and largely forgotten film, despite being part of Fox 2000 Pictures’ 1999 output, which included cult classic Fight Club. And that makes sense: it’s easier to market disaffected white guys hitting each other than a period cannibal movie far less interested in gore than in damning westward expansion.

But that’s a shame, because Ravenous is just as worthy a cult classic as Fight Club is. It’s moody and atmospheric and deeply weird. It’s a quiet movie in a very minor chord that doesn’t ever succumb to the grand theatrical potential inherent in its subject matter. Cannibals and wendigos are real in the world of Ravenous, but they’re just men trying to survive, no matter how they try (and fail) to frame it.

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Page to Screen: Hannibal — Season 3 (2015)


Hannibal: Season 3
based on
Red Dragon by Thomas Harris


2015 • 13 episodes • NBC

It only really occurred to me on Sunday that I have spent this entire summer drowning in Hannibal. Despite declaring that binge watching was just not the way I, personally, should be consuming television, Hannibal’s circumstances and quality endeavored to make a hypocrite of me and succeeded. My appetite for Hannibal was insatiable; forty-five minutes never went so fast in my life before.

Now that I’ve returned to my other television projects (Sailor Moon and Xena: Warrior Princess, for the curious), it almost feels like I’ve just wandered, dazed, out of a dark forest and, looking back, have only just now realized how vast it was. When it comes to television, I am well-trained in the art of being completely out of the loop when it comes to television: see previous sentence, where I have somehow managed to grow to full adulthood as a queer lady geek without the power of Sailor Moon and Xena: Warrior Princess. So the experience of not only being in the loop but being in the loop with a show that has radically challenged what network television and television can do has felt like a rare honor.

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Page to Screen: Hannibal — Season 2 (2014)


Hannibal: Season 2
based on
Red Dragon by Thomas Harris


2014 • 13 episodes • NBC

What a time to be alive.

Maybe it’s because I binge-watched much of this season while out of my mind with a head cold that rendered me largely unable to string human words together, but few shows have energized my mind like Hannibal. Despite my previously mentioned distaste for binge-watching, Hannibal is surviving this method (I’m trying to catch up so I can finish the third season with the rest of the civilized world) and giving me plenty to chew on and wail over as I listen to Mediaeval Baebes. It’s a revitalizing experience.

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Page to Screen: Hannibal – Season 1 (2013)


Hannibal: Season 1
based on
Red Dragon by Thomas Harris


2013 • 13 episodes • NBC

The only tragedy of the written word is that I cannot wordlessly scream a single note at you for the equivalent of 700+ words to convey how good Hannibal is. I mean, I am capable of recording myself wordlessly screaming, but there is no way that will accurately convey the intended message to you. You win again, the written word!

Ever the Johnnie-come-lately, I of course finally decided to put Hannibal‘s first season on hold a few days before the show was canceled. (Fuller and company are still searching for a home; Netflix and Amazon have passed.) Captain Cinema, tumblr (sweet Bowie, does tumblr love Hannibal), and the entire world have been talking up Hannibal a storm ever since the show began airing. Showrunner Bryan Fuller describing the show as not television, but “a pretentious art film from the 80s” was the only thing I needed to push myself off the edge.

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At The Movies: What We Do In the Shadows (2014)


What We Do In the Shadows


2014 • 85 minutes • Madman Entertainment

I never watched The Office while it was on. Or Parks and Recreation (it’s on my list! After 30 Rock!). Or the films of Christopher Guest. I mean, I’ve seen the original British Office, which is actually a terrifying portrait of awful human beings, and I’ve seen The Thick of It and In The Loop during the dawn of my Peter Capaldi obsession last fall. Oh, and I’ve seen Spinal Tap, for… I imagine it was eighties-related reasons? That’s a pretty good assumption to make. But that’s not my point.

My point is that I am not as immured to mockumentaries as most people are. They just largely don’t interest me, as a genre, so I don’t seek them out. And If I don’t seek them out, then I can’t get bored with them. And I only seek them out when there’s something else to interest me. Like, say, the talents of Flight of the Conchords’ Jemaine Clement and Boy’s Taika Waititi. And vampires attempting to navigate modern life with all the success of, say, Sleepy Hollow’s Ichabod Crane. (Although I imagine he’s been doing better as of late, right? I stopped watching it because I’m a busy lady and Agent Carter exists.)

What We Do in the Shadows, presented as a New Zealand documentary via the hilarious use of a vintage New Zealand Film Board logo, follows a quartet of vampire flatmates—sweet, prissy Viago, lusty, violent Vladislav, brooding, mean-spirited Deacon, and basically Count Orlok Petyr—in the months leading up to the Unholy Masquerade, the biggest social event of the undead calendar. Like most mockumentaries, it wanders, despite its fleet eighty-five minute running time. The closest thing to a plot the film produces is the story of Nick, a young man Petyr sires, whose fratty behavior and allegiance to his human friend Stu starts getting the flatmates in trouble. Instead, it’s much more interested in simply pitting vampires against the modern world.

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Review: Publish and Perish


Publish and Perish
by James Hynes


1998 (originally published 1997) • 338 pages • Picador

The more I read about the peculiar, insular world of higher academia, the more I think of it as a horror show. It’s an obviously biased perspective, especially since I respond to my mother’s repeated queries about the possibility of grad school by braying “NOOOO” at the top of my lungs. I mean, I have friends from college who are attending graduate school with the elegance, grace, and ferocity I expect out of my fellow Valkyries (look, your college wasn’t as cool as mine, it’s okay, we can move on together). They seem to be managing just fine! But reading about why Our Lady of Gossip Anne Helen Petersen left academia for BuzzFeed last December sent me leaping from article to article about both the poor employment prospects facing would-be academics and the poor treatment those academics receive if they do get hired.

With that atmosphere firmly planted in my headspace, out of the depths of my reading list emerged Publish and Perish, a trilogy of three horror novellas set in academia. Long time readers may remember that the unnameable behemoth that is my reading list was birthed in 2009 out of a copy of Nancy Pearl’s Book Lust in my high school library. Publish and Perish is, if I recall correctly, one of the first recommendations in Book Lust (or More Book Lust, which I also heartily raided). I bring this up because Publish and Perish feels like a blast from the past—both my personal past, when I gobbled up recommendations essentially sight unseen (…like, way more than I do now) and the past of 1997, when Publish and Perish was published.

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Page to Screen: The Bride of Frankenstein (1935)


The Bride of Frankenstein
based on 
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley


1935 • 75 minutes • Universal Pictures

In recent months, Captain Cinema and I had a week long Robert Downey, Jr film festival. It was a career view, by and large, starting with Less Than Zero and ending with The Soloist. (I mean, the good Captain did trot off to go see The Judge, a film I only ever refer to on the subway as “So which one of them has cancer?”, but that wasn’t part of the festival.) We were tracking several elements of Downey’s career, but we were looking for the moment, if it even existed, when Robert Downey, Jr’s current star image was codified into being. (It’s between Gothika and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. You’re welcome.) Everything is weird until it isn’t, as we say at the Church of Bowie, and that turn is both a fascinating and powerful force in our culture.

The Bride of Frankenstein is such a turn. While the original novel still exerts a powerful pull all its own, it’s this film—in concert with its predecessor, Frankenstein—that codifies so much of what we think of Frankenstein in pop culture. Even the title may have contributed to the much-despaired over nominal confusion between Frankenstein the doctor and Frankenstein’s Monster by teenage intellectuals. (The much more interesting and engaging answer, of course, is that we, as a culture, prefer our monsters easily identifiable and are timid of rebuking authority.) Here is a film so utterly recognizable as part of the Frankenstein ouevre that it supersedes the original. It teems with vaguely Eastern European mobs, torches, and mad scientists. It gives the monster his voice. And, most importantly, it gives us the Bride.

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