“Hemlock Grove” the new horror-flavored Netflix Original Series premiered this weekend and I was transfixed this afternoon while I watched the first five episodes. The dialogue is snappy, the acting is at times inspired, even if the setting is a bit familiar. In short: if you’ve got access to Netflix streaming, clear a good chunk of time to watch it. Sure, sure, sure, it’s probably not “snob horror” in its purest sense but dammit, if you read The Dailynightmare, I bet you’ll find it fun.
As I continue here to wax eloquent about the virtues of Hemlock Grove, I bet there will be SPOILERS GALORE. Fair warning.
“Hemlock Grove” is Netflix-only, so rage, rage against the dying of the light if all you have is cable. Yup, Netflix is now producing original content, in case you haven’t heard. “House of Cards” with Kevin Spacey premiered several weeks ago (I loved the stylish soliloquies of the main character and the heightened political storyline seemed fitting of Shakespeare) and in mere days, new episodes of “Arrested Development” (maybe the greatest contemporary sitcom) will also arrive on Netflix streaming. “Premiere” doesn’t feel like exactly the right word because Netflix releases every episode, that is, an entire season at once with its new content. An individual viewer must steel themselves to exercise more personal willpower than I did because Netflix isn’t going to dole out individual episodes like spoonfuls of methadone or old-school broadcast TV networks. Frankly, I love consuming series based narratives by “power discing” that is, waiting until they come out on DVD and then watching them in a marathon session, sometimes with eye drops and pots of coffee. Netflix with their original content allows me to indulge my habit while potentially being the first one on the street to enjoy the series.
And there’s much to enjoy in “Hemlock Grove.” Trust me. Remember, the first couple episodes of any series have to accomplish a bit of narrative heavy-lifting by establishing the settings and relationships. The flashbacks were necessary but they’re such an awkward device, IMHO. Regular readers of The Dailynightmare know that I am impatient snob but I can tell you the moment I decided I’d invest the next several hours with “Hemlock Grove.” The scene that hooked me was a simple dialogue between a young girl who described herself as “a novelist” and a young newcomer to town who she suspects of being a werewolf because his index and middle fingers are the same length. Their exchange seemed leisurely and character-driven and as the series progressed, I found many scenes that felt similarly well-composed. I am violently allergic to vacuous “TV-speak.” At the risk of speaking ill of the Glorious Dead, I think I prefer the dialogue in “Hemlock Grove” to that all-too-witty repartee of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” (Start addressing those death-threats and poison apples, all ye Whedonistas) I am very interested in tracking down the novel by Brian McGreevey to see if it contains similarly delicious prose.
Sure, the setting is familiar if not well-worn but I chose to view it in terms of homage. One way of viewing the conceit of the “Hemlock Grove” is “House of Dracula” set in a small town high school. Er, sort of. All your favorite classic “monsters” are here in more or less clever guises. My favorite is the Frankenstein’s monster clone, a handicapped girl named, appropriately “Shelley” who writes messages in a florid prose reminiscent of the style of the original, epistolary novel. The tortured Van Helsing surrogate, Clementine Chasser (from the French for “hunter” I suppose) is quite lovingly portrayed by Kandyse McClure. There’s even, sort of, a Renfield character and who doesn’t love a psychotic kook now and again?
And werewolves. I love werewolves. Watch a couple episodes to catch the nice transformation scene, one with an appropriately gross stinger. I confess I have an almost prurient interest in Romany culture so when the family of a werewolf character was depicted as “gypsy” the politically-correct bristles along my spine primed themselves to be outraged… but to be honest, there is more romanticism and exoticising fantasy applied to the oligarchic 1%-er Godfrey (god-free?) family. It might not be great werewolf culture — such products might not exist yet — but at least it’s not more mindless zombie-crap like “The Walking Dead” let alone vampire drivel like that slickly polished, soft-core soap opera that is “True Blood.” (I really AM trolling for hate-mail, aren’t I?)
Given the series was produced by Eli Roth, that purveyor of wholesome family entertainment, I expected a somewhat coarser sensibility. Sure, there’s a breast or two, a bit of gore and puke, intimations of incest at least in the pilot, but honestly, it’s all pretty tame. The only real shock I had was when I realized that screen hotties, Lili Taylor and Famke Jansen had both been cast as MOTHERS. Yikes, when exactly did I get old? Seriously, it’s best to view “Hemlock Grove” as perhaps a “gothic thriller” than strictly “horror.” Though I’m a snob, I think I know enough to apply the appropriate set of criteria when evaluating a cultural product. “Hemlock Grove” feels like good TV. By contrast, say, “Twin Peaks” felt a bit like David Lynch — let’s be clear here, a director whose films I revere like few others– acted like he was slumming it a bit, talking down to his TV audience. Suffice to say, Eli Roth won’t condescend to many readers of The DailyNightmare.
I can’t comment on the entire 13 part series since I’ve seen less than half of them except to say, I’m already blocking out time to watch the rest. It might fizzle into stupidity but I spent the entire afternoon in “Hemlock Grove” and I didn’t think I wasted my time.
It’s been a week now since Elsa’s “Best Date Ever” and we figured it was good time to rekindle the magic of that experience… and cast some more plaster heads. We left StudioFX101 not only with plaster casts of our faces and the original algasafe mold and “mother” but we also we able to make durable silicone molds of those faces that we could use to make a whole army of us’es.
As expected, the fragile alginate originals had shrunk and crumbled during the week in a way that looked pretty cool but which rendered them useless. Note the three inch gap between the hard plaster “mother” mold and the now-shrunken alginate head.
The guys at StudioFX101 had a several great ideas about attaching handles to the faces. One was to use large washers to anchor the handles and another was to bend the shafts of the screws to diffuse the forces caused by lifting the heads by the handles. We assembled our materials from what we had on hand.
We chose to tint the plaster with a bit of dry tempera paint. Elsa chose blue which looked a bit ghastly and I chose red which looked… frankly it looked delicious, like soft-serve strawberry ice cream. We followed directions, more or less, but our plaster was far thicker than what we used last week. We used a disposable brush to ease it into the molds’ details.
Before long, the plaster heated up which indicated it was curing. Once it cooled, we demolded.
So maybe we weren’t exactly as professional as the guys at StudioFX101 and perhaps there were a couple mistakes made, but before long we had a couple more heads that might not be perfect but were quite good. I mixed up a dab of plaster and patched the pinholes in the casts.
When, oh when will this madness end? I dare not guess. I know the next step for me, though is to start sculpting a mask on my new pink head. To be honest, I was a bit afraid of messing up the original cast. I’ll sure post my progess. In the meantime, I intend to try applying some weird paint effects on the, ah, “test” cast, the one that turned out looking less like my beloved Elsa and more like a zombie with decaying flesh.
Just this week, I complained to a co-worker about how much more exciting my life would be if I had a villain to combat. Presumably life would be SUPER exciting if I battled a SUPER villain. These gorgeous depictions of real life evil folks portrayed in the style of old school super villains snapped me back to my senses to realize that large-scale nastiness doesn’t happen only in comic books.
Brazilian graphic artist Butcher Billy has created posters for various Legion of Real Life Super Villains that are stylish and smart. My comics background, as fitting a culture snob, is mostly with underground and small presses so the subtlety of these comparisons is probably lost a bit on me. Manson as the Joker is apt, though perhaps a bit safe while Zuckerberg as Loki strikes me as fresh and quite insightful. The whole series lovingly quotes the rendering of earlier comics — is it “Silver Age?” — and pre-digital printing techniques while maintaining a clever critical edge.
These images recall that age-old question about the social utility of metaphor, of whether we tell stories about figures slightly stylized and separate from the mundane in order to cope with realities that are too horrifying to look at straight on. Good metaphors, seems to me, can be invested with social meaning from many different contexts and end up even richer. All that high-fallutin’ theory aside, these posters are quite fab.
Eyegor, Elsa and I strolled the ever-amusing Rustbelt Artists Market in fashionable Ferndale yesterday and I stumbled upon SpeedCult Detroit. Where have they been all my life? I remarked to the statuesque Betty Page behind the counter that it’s like a candy story for grownups, or at least grown up guys who are fond of wrenches, machine oil and speed. The stall presented a bewildering variety of precision cut steel, sporting logos for bands and instruments, tikis and zombies, devil-girls and man-caves and of course, hot-rods and stock cars. I particularly liked the firepit ringed as it was with pitch-fork cuties and stylized flames but I walked away with a Skull and Bones and a Beware notice for the toolshed. The photos don’t give adequte sense of scale but these chunks of awesome are about a foot across. The raw metal pieces run $10 a pound but other pieces are polished and powder coated in lusciously lurid colors. If we hadn’t been heading over to One-Eyed Betty’s to eat, I would have weighed myself down with a wrench rack. I suspect I’ll be purchasing many more items now I know my heart’s desires exist in 1/8 inch steel.
SpeedCult is at the RustBelt every weekend but also ship their goodies from their webstore. If you hit their website, check out the NatGeo video about SpeedCult “amusement park.” They seem like fun folks!
Heroes in Action toys have produced a series of action figures that depict various Presidents of the United States in the guise of Universal Monsters. They’re reasonably priced at $25 a piece and though they’re good for a chuckle or two, it looks like a bit of thought and artistry went into the production, from the painted concept art to the sculpt of the likenesses. My personal favorite is Barackula though Bill Clinton as a Wolf-Man is pretty delightful too.
This high-tech-ish coffin that serenades the corpse during that oh-so-boring after-life period — sparks a couple initial impressions:
• Can’t wait to see what kind of advertisements will be inserted between the tracks, given that advertising seeps into every crack;
• How will DRM handle this perpetual playlist? Given that listeners apparently “license” music instead of “purchase” it, would it be absurd to expect licensing fees to erode ones inheritance?
• The gleam and gloss of the casket is an intriguing aesthetic choice. It resembles a rocket ship more than a pine box IMHO. Are were really that freaked out by the notion of decay that we need to seal up our remains so thoroughly?
• The blond model cements the resemblance to a shiny automobile and of course, reminds me of the mind-blowing pin-up calendar I received as an Xmas gift from Polish coffin manufacturer Linder. Note that autoshow models rarely are depicted as DRIVING the vehicles they present… which makes me REALLY want to see a corpse inside the coffin, embalmed with a grin of satisfaction as it rocks out to the tunes.
It’s probably best not to say too much about “One Day” (2012), a short film by Korean director Duc Nguyen, except that if you like what we like here at the DailyNightmare, you’ll love this very visual, very moving tale. I’ll be on the look out for more by the director and his ShadowPlay Films.
A feature length adaptation of this tasty short — courtesy of one Guillermo del Toro — is popping later in January. But the integrity and craft of this original short is exactly the kind of thing we love here at the DailyNightmare.
Had enough of the Holidays yet? Does it ever feel like holiday cheer is drilling into your brain? Then this delicious little clip might be just whatcha need!
Christmas is simply a horrible time of the year for me personally, emotionally, even existentially. I survived this one by seeking solace underground to daub some paint and tinker with tools, emerging just long enough to behave monstrously. The expectations of Holiday Cheer plus the often disturbingly close proximity of loved ones rankles this mysanthropic recluse.
But the holiday was not without its joys. Like last year, a still life of the gifts I received is an apt portrait at least of whom others imagine I am. My young ones are scattered abroad so all items are imported, as fitting a horror snob. From the Great White North come a set of skull shot glasses is posed here with last year’s crystal skull of vodka and a couple creepy novels — Silver by Rhiannon Held and Something Red: A Novel by Douglas Nicholas, likely purchased at Toronto’s justly famous Bakka bookstore. My son’s family have moved temporarily to Poland so I also received a spectacular Polish language art book about Bruno Schultz and his contemporaries — the nightmarish images need little translation — and a pin-up calendar from Lindner, a Polish coffin manufacturer. Yup, sex and death, like chocolate and peanut butter, two great preoccupations that taste great together. Its imagery is NSFW so I only show the cover. I suspect it tells too much about me if I admit I am more interested in the intricate carvings on these hand-made corpse-carriers than I am in the air-brushed beauties draped across them. An unexpected bonus was the casket shaped keychain that accompanied the calendar.
All of us at the DailyNightmare hope your holidays passed with minimal bloodshed and maximal blessing.
Last Saturday night, a dozen folks from the Great Lake Association of Horror Writers gathered for our annual holiday party of eggnog, finger food (which Elsa took a bit TOO seriously) and holiday themed horror movies. There are many to choose from and this year’s selection was Rare Exports (2010), The GingerDead Man (2005) and Silent Night, Deadly Night Part Two. An awesome assemblage.
My thoughts on the delightful Rare Exports are already known and it was fun to watch the film again. Notable highlights for this crowd were our horrifying ignorance of world geography, the revelation that folks above the Arctic Circle subsist entirely on reindeer meat and gingerbread and of course, the anatomically correct monsters. Ah yes, the Europeans. Rare Exports is hardly a “bad” movie so it was somewhat difficult to ridicule — but this crowd certainly rose to the challenge.
The GingerDead Man was far easier to supplement with witty commentary. From what I was able to figure out, it is a heart warming tale of a family-owned bakery threatened by a chain store… and then more directly threatened by an animated gingerbread man. SPOILER: it sucks — but in that charming bad movie kind of suckage. Our refrain became: And exactly why aren’t you leaving the bakery right now? This tale of baked goods gone bad, er, evil was a perfect stinker.
But the highlight of the evening, for me at least, was Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2. By this point in the evening, the crowd was warmed up and raucous so the actual dialogue was difficult to piece out. Assessed as a purely visual document, the work is superb experimental cinema if for no other reasons that the bold acting choices of the spree killer protagonist and the work’s extremely avant-garde story structure. Actor Eric Freeman brilliantly interprets the rigorously non-psychological lead character in an act of pure performance. In particular, Freeman punctuates his lines with a highly mannered, post-semiotic semaphore of eyebrow gestures, often animating every syllable with a separate flick of his brow. The effect is unnerving and erects a portrayal of the unhinged murderer in a way that never resorts to simplistic realism. I checked wikipedia for Freeman’s later work but his whereabouts is listed as unknown. A pity.
Even surpassing Eric Freeman’s tour de force performance is the daring narrative structure of Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2. The work forsakes a pedestrian linear narrative, going beyond traditional non-linear tropes to what I would dub an “anti-linear” story structure. This brief post can hardly do adequate justice to its innovation. For the first 50 minutes of the film, the younger brother of the original spree killer recounts the events of the first movie to a psychologist. These incidents are illustrated through scenes purporting to be flashbacks to the first film. If this was a work of psychological realism, we might be tempted to ask why Billy is able to have such detailed memories of events he didn’t witness. This apparent conundrum can only be resolved when these “flashbacks” are read as purely dissociated psychotic fantasies; that is, read Part 2 as is Part 1 didn’t exist. The key to this interpretation involves a sequence where two policemen are called in to apprehend a man dressed like Santa, presumably the Santa killer but who turns out to be a father dressing up for his kids. The only possible explanation for this scene given the wrap-around situation of Billy narrating to a psychologist, is that this whole event is a deranged fantasy, specifically a psychotic power projection. Step aside, Hitchcock; Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2 is truly psycho.
Elsa and I left warmed as much by the fond friendship and clever repartee as by the glow of the plasma TV — but I’ve come to expect such merriment from the Great Lakes Association of Horror Writers. Given the staggering number of scary films with holiday themes, I can only wonder what horrors will await us at next year’s party.
If you are scrounging to find reasons to be happy, remember that at least there isn’t a centuries old vampire lurking in yur neighborhood… that is, unless you live in Bajina Bašta, Serbia. A mill that once belonged to a notorious vampire suffered damage due to renovations and now locals fear Sava Savanovic is loosed upon the populace. Sava is the first Serbian vampire, and some experts argue the first vampire. His feeding strategy was to attack those who came to grind grain at the mill, hence the concern that he is homeless now that the mill has collapsed.
I refrain from commenting about matters with which I have no direct experience, in this case, vampires. We Americans certainly find a fair number of things to be afraid of that folks in other cultures find silly, from serial killers to socialized medicine.
What I learned from this story is that the figure Sava Savanovic is the subject of Leptirica (1973), considered the first Serbian horror movie. A photo of the DVD cover appears above. I have to see if it’s available from Netflix.
In the articles, a rivalry emerges about whose vampire is considered “first” and though I can’t comment on that question, I am struck by the geography of monsters. Island nations seems particularly prone to ghosts (Ireland, England, Japan) while other seem susceptible to demonic possession (Poland, Italy) Certainly different regions of North America seem to favor different malefactors (British Columbia’s Ogopogo, Washington State’s Sasquatch, Texas’ Chupacabra, Pittsburgh’s zombies…) There is a weird cultural alchemy whereby a curse transmutes into a tourist trap. So though you might not have to stock up on garlic and holy crosses like the folks of Bajina Bašta, it’s possible you might want to take other, more regionally appropriate precautions… or explore other folklore to exploit.
We all know about tombstones used as markers as to the location of dead bodies, but the Smithsonian tells the tale of bodies themselves used as location markers. Several stories in fact. How does this make sense? In the rarefied conditions of Mt Everest, many climbers have died. Over 200 during the twentieth century, come to find out. The same conditions that made life difficult make decomposition difficult so some of these corpses have endured to become landmarks for further climbers. “Green Boots” is the name of one of these human way-markers. More interesting and poignant tales of the after life of frozen adventurers over here at the Smithsonian blog.
I’ve said it before but it bears repeating: I think humor mixed with horror should be in the same proportion as vermouth to vodka in a perfect martini, that is, just the barest hint. HOWEVER, this adorable profile of a daycare for supernaturally afflicted children left me with the perfect wry grin.
Thanks to io9 for tipping me off to Bloody Cuts, a producer of high quality, short horror films. They’ve got a good handful of films created and posted so far and thematically they run the gamut from urban folk-horror to zombie apocalypse to, well, my personal favorite is the supernatural child-terror of “Suckablood.” The camera work is sharp and the special effects are for the most part effective. In perusing the credits, there seems an oddly large number of folks with the last name “Franklin” involved — maybe they’re like the Ramones…
Bloody Cuts have run an Indie-Go-Go fundraiser but if you enjoy quality short horror as much as I do, feel free to use the “Donate” button to slip ‘em a bit of cash.
Double plus good, eh? Classy AND creepy.
The character design is great even on its own as it whimiscally re-imagines the inner structures of various creatures as if they all possessed human-like skeletal structures. Then there’s the effective choice to depict these designs in monochrome to give an old-timey x-ray feel. Then there is the clever narrative about a day in the life of this bizarre little world, one that is portrayed through very effective shots and pacing. But my absolute FAVORITE part of this lovely little clip is the fact that it features all the credits at the very end! By the time I’ve been wowed by the animation, I WANT to keep watching just to see who was responsible.
Last night, Elsa, Eyegore and myself settled into the seats of a community theatre and were treated to an evening of flesh-eating ghouls. I, for one, had an ABSOLUTE BLAST! The Dearborn Heights Civic Theatre just finished their run of Romero’s “Night of the Living Dead” live onstage and we caught the last performance. The evening was emotional for the three of us because we first met up several decades ago at a community theatre. The unmistakeable ambience provided by scavenged props, hastily constucted sets, awkward lighting cues and actors with more zeal than acting talent brought us back to our pre-snob days, a heavy dose of bittersweet nostalgia.
You know the script, or at least if you’re a devoted reader of DailyNightmare.com you *should* know the script. DHCT used a pretty faithful adaptation of Romero’s classic. It’s in the public domain afterall, right? just like Shakespeare.
Adapting a screenplay for the stage is tricky business even for skilled professionals and to be honest, some elements worked better than others. The opening was particularly effective, with Johnny and Barbara winding their way through a row of the theatre as if it was a cemetery. The line “Which row is it?” was particularly charming and I think they could have camped this moment up a bit, examining theatre goers as if they were headstones. The zombies also made their entrance through the auditorium as well which gave a nice sense of theatre in the round.
But screenplays tend to have lots of short scenes and different sets which are a problem for the stage. In particular, the scenes in the basement were often too short to warrant the scene change — a cool bit of stagecraft as a wall of the set pivoted around to reveal the staircase, a rather involved transformation that the crew handled generally quite well. No way around it short of a re-write, however.
What I really enjoyed was the opportunity to witness the script in a different setting from the original production. The part played by Barbara, for instance, is very problematic in the original since a realistic depiction of someone going into shock is an odd spectacle to say the least. Intriguing at best but not exactly interesting. Barbara in this production made different choices and though I can’t claim she brought the character to life — an impossible task, IMHO — she successfully presented “Barbara” without looking like a babbling idiot, even though the script verges on such a depiction.
I was also struck by the relevance of the piece’s political subtext as I watched it mere days away from the 2012 election. Cooper, the reactionary middle-aged white guy who exhorts everyone to go back down in the cellar, could very well have worn a Romney mask, in my opionion. And Ben, the take-charge pro-active yet doomed token black character could have worn an Obama mask… or at least those characteristic ears.
The ending was changed slightly so the zombies kill and eat ALL the human characters, including the police, before casting their ravenous gaze upon the audience. A nice moment.
I could raise criticisms about the piece, but dammit, “Night of the Living Dead” was something fresh for a community theatre to do, and from my perspective, they pulled it off. It wasn’t just another production of “The Music Man” so they couldn’t just re-cycle the standard bag of tricks. Dearborn Heights Civic Theatre at least attempted a work of horror / supernatural drama, something far outside the typical box of musical comedy. That fact alone lured the three of us DailyNightmare.com snobs back to a suburban black-box theatre to re-live a bit of our shared past. An enjoyable excuse for an excursion and a quite entertaining evening.
I was left asking myself, Why didn’t WE ever think of doing this?
“Stake Land” hit me like a hammer of wonderful. I was not expecting to love it. Any hopes I had for the end of the world soured months ago and I officially declared the apocalypse so “yesterday” However, this indie horror flick makes me add an exception. What first struck me were the visuals. The film felt like film both due to image quality and the thoughtful establishing shots that plumped out the locations. The milieu felt really familiar, really rust belt and post industrial. It wasn’t shot in the Midwest technically but except for a few mountains, it felt like home.
The main characters were all strongly conceived and portrayed. Obviously the heroic “Mister” is the defining core — yeah, yeah, structurally speaking the kid he saves is the protagonist– and yeah, the overall thrust of the movie is a bildungsroman for this youngun, complete with separation from natal household, learned independence, sexual awakening and (spoiler) re-establishment of a new household. The kid character is good, central even but damn, Mister is da MAN. Supporting characters are excellent. There’s a rescued nun, a pregnant singer, an ex-marine… and what compelling narrative would be complete without an ape-shit bad guy?
Religion and its bizarre perversions formed an essential thematic strata of Stake Land a detail that made it particularly vivid. America is daft already when it comes to the variety and ingenuity of our faith-based practices. The end of normal society could only make those oddities accelerate outward. I particularly enjoyed the suggestion of a suicide cult during one scene since it was nicely understated, not to mention that it goes in a completely different direction than I’d expected.
“Stake Land” compares favorably to the film version of “The Road.” Both are beautiful to look at. Both chronicle the decay of American civilisation and the desperate attempts to retain a sense of family in the face of such devastation. Both films end on at least a whisper of optimism. But I’ll take “Stake Land” over “The Road.” It comes down to something that I believe Nick Mamatas noted when explaining the difference between genre and literary fiction: in genre stories, something happens. Too often “literary” writing and “auteurist” cinema specifically repress story and plot as they focus on the elements of mood, character, theme. A film like “Stake Land,” modest though it may be, is a strong reminder that movies can be both poetic AND entertaining.
And if all that weren’t enough already, there were no zombies. Aren’t we over zombies yet? The vampires in “Stake Land” provided different levels of threat. They weren’t quite the über-beasts of “30 Days of Night” but they were happily far from the urbane and decadent artistocrats of “Interview with a Vampire.” I loved the sense that there was a taxonomy of vampire types known to the hunters; “scamps” were young ones, “berserkers” were older, more dangerous. Perhaps my favorite touch was how Mister collected the fangs from his kills and better, how those fangs functioned as currency.
I have no idea what angel of dark cinema spirited “Stake Land” to me but I am deeply grateful. I had been wallowing in a morass of joke-ridden, childish home movies masquerading as horror. “Stake Land” reminded me that mature and reflective grown ups make scary movies too.
This little video gem popped up around the web (io9.com, boingboing.net, etc) but I loved it so much I just had to share it here too. Double plus good, eh? It’s the proper length, not too long, not too short. The animation effect is smooth enough. The frame composition is nice to have the face AND an item in the background. And it goes beyond being a simple makeup test. About the only thing I can say of a critical nature is that there aren’t anywhere near enough maggots and that there would have been a great “bloom” of them long before our hero turned to bones. But quibbles. Enjoy!