Thursday, November 20, 2014

Strait-Jacket 1964


Yesterday while walking along the streets of Palo Alto I actually uttered the words "Oh no a Nerd Herd." See, a group of 8 Nerds were headed up the sidewalk directly facing me.  A Nerd Herd is no small inconvenience.  Nerd Herds do not move out of your way.  You have three options: be crushed against the wall, thrown into the street, or plow right through them.  The third option is the worst because it involves some very awkward interactions including but not limited to: total Nerd paralysis, unnecessary coughing or choking, an unhealthy sense of entitlement (on the Nerds part), and the feeling that at least one of them got a boner (on your part).  I chose to deal with this situation by diving into the bushes and waiting for them to pass.  It was traumatic.  I had to rush home and deal with it the only way I knew how: by watching a Joan Crawford movie.



I can't believe I have never talked about this film before on my blog because it is one of my favorites!  I saw it first when I was a kid, shortly after seeing and reading Mommie Dearest ( a book I would re-read about 50 times.  It is one of my favorites).  See, Strait-Jacket was the first Joan Crawford film I had ever seen, and it fit in perfectly with the narrative presented by Christina Crawford in Mommie Dearest.  I mean, Crawford didn't kill anyone with an axe as far as I know, but she certainly screwed up her daughter just like she does in this film.

Strait-Jacket is a "Psycho-biddy" or "Grande Dame Guignol" film, two terms I just learned.  William Castle didn't invent this genre, but he made the best film in it (What Ever Happened to Baby Jane is too classy).  Written by Robert Bloch (yes, that Robert Bloch),  Strait-Jacket tells the story of Lucy Harbin, a wealthy woman who catches her much younger husband (played by Lee Majors!) in bed with another woman.  She does what any woman who is Joan Crawford would do, and murders the shit out of both of them with an axe!!  Her young daughter, Carol, witnessed the whole mess.  Lucy is sent away to a psychiatric hospital for 20 years.  Pretty light sentence if you ask me.  Of course, it was just Lee Majors.


When she is released she returns to her family farm to live with her Brother and his Wife.  Carol, now a young woman, also lives there, and seems eager to accept her Mother back into her life.  She encourages Lucy to get a make-over, so that she looks just as she did 20 years ago.  These leads to some great stuff with a wig and Crawford looking like a "Real Housewife".


Lucy tries to make a fresh start, but for some reason when she puts on the wig that Carol bought her she turns into a very sad, slutty, drunken fool.  Just like a "Real Housewife."  She even makes a pass at Carol's boyfriend, which has to rank as one of the top 10 most uncomfortable scenes I have ever seen in a film.  Side note: see the product placement for Pepsi in the film still above?  Early product placement!  Crawford was on the Board of PepsiCo (watch the movie Mommie Dearest to see where they try to kick her off!) and she even hired the Vice-President of PepsiCo to act in the film!  He plays Lucy's Doctor.  He had a pretty big role and is terrible!  Even worse than Lee Majors!



By the way Carol is played by Diane Baker who had small role in Silence of the Lambs.  I love this actress because she super WASP-y and she starred in late night commercials in the Bay Area for her Acting School.  Lucy begins to think she is going crazy.  She sees severed heads in her bed, hears children singing songs about her, and really thinks it is appropriate to hit on her Daughter's boyfriend. I am sure every single one of these things also happened to Joan Crawford.  That is why her performance is so amazing!

Spoiler Alert: Long story short this is a "Gaslight" type situation. People start being killed left and right, always with an axe.  Is Lucy guilty?  Of course not!  Once you kill two people with an axe you really get that shit out of your system.  But who is trying to set Lucy up?  That I will let you find out!!  (Its Carol.)


Strait-Jacket is really an early proto-type of the slasher film.  The elements are all there- stupid back story, gore, bad special effects, jump scares, wasps, Joan Crawford.  It is also hysterical, which you would expect from a William Castle film.  Take a look at the end credit above!  I think I connected with this film as a child for many reasons.  First, I love charm bracelets (see the film.)  Second, I hope if I ever have to kill someone with an axe I hope I can do it in a totally blood free way like Crawford does (again, see the film.)  Finally, I really connect with Lucy.  I mean, not the killing part, despite the previous sentence, but with her total disdain for meeting new people and going to parties.  Lucy is a complete introvert.  I feel her pain when she is left to make "conversation" with Carol's boyfriend's parents.  When I am made to make conversation with people I don't know is also usually ends with me breaking things and running down the highway and then returning to kill them with an axe.  (Um, scratch that last part.  That rarely happens.)


Young and old Joan. Whenever I hang something on a wire hanger I always think of her.  And when I have to clean my bathroom I always destroy a can of Clorox in her honor.  I don't know if all that stuff Christina Crawford said in her book is true.  Many say it is, many, including Joan's other children, say it is a lie.  Only Joan and Christina know for sure.  The fact is, Joan was an amazing actress, who never gave up, even when it was clear to all that her career was over.  I am sure she didn't love being in camp like this, but it is because of these films that we love her.  Thanks for embracing horror Joan.  We are all the better for it.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Horror Comics: Lio

Pretty much how I feel right now.  Goodbye ghosts, goblins, and ghouls.  Till we meet again...

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Horror Comics: Luann

I never, never thought I would post a Luann comic as a Horror Comic.  I mean, it is terrifying, but in a different way.  Nevertheless I liked this one so enjoy!!

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Art Horror: The Raft of the Medusa (1818-19)

My very good friend, author and beekeeper Shoshanah Lee Marohn, is writing a book about some adventures we had together in Paris when we were 19 or 20 (I can't quite remember how old I was.)  She asked me to share some of my memories of the trip with her.  Little does she know, or maybe she does, that I have a horrible capacity for memory, and besides knowing that I went, I can't remember a whole lot.  I had a wonderful time.  I smoked a lot of cigarettes.  I was starving the whole time.  We were sexually propositioned a lot.  I forgot to bring a towel. 
 
Perhaps knowing of my shitty memory, Shoshanah asked me to write to her about only one thing: our trip to the Louvre.  Specifically, she wanted me to write about Theodore Gericault's Raft of the Medusa.  At the time of this trip, I had just begun to study Art History, due largely in part to my love of this painting.  Raft of the Medusa has everything: death, duel triangular compositions, cannibalism, and Aunt fucking.  I must of really impressed Shoshanah and her weird little friend that traveled with us with my passion for this painting.  Now, in revisiting this painting, I didn't want to write an essay and do research and blah, blah, blah.  I am only going to write about what I remember about this painting, and why I loved it.  Hope this is what she is looking for..
 
 Raft of the Medusa.  Theodore Gericault 1818-19. (also know as: some terrible shit went down on this raft.)
 
Theodore Gericault (henceforth known as Theo G) was a young French Romantic Painter.  As a Romantic, he rejected the Neoclassical school of David, which concentrated on historical settings and very rigid compositions (all of this from memory y'all!).  Theo G wanted to paint about NOW man.  So he choose one of the most controversial events of the time: the Shipwreck of the frigate Meduse and the 147 souls that were set adrift on a makeshift raft while the Captain and crew sailed away on the lifeboats.  The raft was adrift for 13 days and all but 15 perished.  Many drown, some were killed, a lot were eaten.  A really horrible time was had by all.
 
Especially horrible is that one of the 147 was a woman.  You never hear about her fate but I hope she screamed "see ya douchbags" and jumped off that raft.  I doubt anything could have been much better. This event captivated the French- not only for the cannibalism and general awfulness (the French were pretty used to awful at this point), but due to the fact that many believed the Captain of the Meduse was unqualified for the position and appointed only due to political favor.
 
 (Fuck this shit.)
 
The painting was a big success..... in London.  The French were pretty horrified, not so much by the subject matter but by the departure from the Neoclassical.  What makes this not Neoclassical?  Well, for one, contemporary subject matter, and two: its dynamic composition.  This painting is full of motion: your eye is swept along by the composition.  These figures are not statues, but dynamic living (mostly dying) beings.   Gericault depicts the moment the survivors first see the rescue ship.  Most, like our friend above, had given up.  All the horror and destruction of the event are on full display.  Perhaps it hit too close to home for the French.  Perhaps, it didn't hit close to home enough due to the fact that is was displayed very high up on the wall and viewers couldn't see the full impact, a mistake that was corrected when it was exhibited in London. 

(View in the Louvre)
 
What else can I say about this painting?  Gericault studied the dead and the insane for inspiration.  He did a full scale model of the raft in his studio.  He was fucking his Aunt and had a child with her and when he had to break it off (because of the whole incest thing) he decided to get over it by painting this depressing thing.  That last tidbit I didn't know about during our trip to Paris Shoshanah, but I thought you would like to know it.
 
This painting is powerful and horrible and fucking huge.  When you see it in person it is overwhelming.  Most people don't know the story behind it.  I was glad I could share it with Shoshanah and her weird friend.  Now, go read some good writing: check out Exhaust(ed) by Shoshanah Lee Marohn.  Click Order Me below!
 
http://www.amazon.com/Exhaust-true-story-trip-wrong-ebook/dp/B00ITYJLTA/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1409789801&sr=8-1&keywords=shoshanah+marohn
 


Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Rare Book Review: Shirley/We have always lived in the Castle

 
It has been much to long for the words "Ethan Hawke" to be the first thing you read on this blog.  Sorry about that.  I actually haven't watched a horror film in a while, what with the Simpsons marathon and my new obsession with Doctor Who.  However I have managed to read not one, but two books (and listen to a third which I will mention because it sort of relates to the two I read) and I shall now grace you with my review (what am I a fucking critic?  Here are some not very well thought out observations, typed while getting drunk on a margarita.  Enjoy).
 
 
 
 I've been flung down the Shirley Jackson rabbit hole, which, if you are a horror fan, is not a bad place to be.  It started with an impulse purchase of Shirley: a novel by Susan Scarf Merrell.  An interesting blend of fact and fiction, Shirley tells the story of a young woman, Rose, who, with her husband Fred, moves in to the Jackson/Hyman household in 1964 (didn't really happen).  Rose, who is all of 19 and pregnant, is naive, ambitious, and seriously lacking a Mother figure.  Her husband, is Stanley Hyman's teaching assistant (Jackson's husband).  While the men navigate the halls of academia, Shirley and Rose circle around each other.  Rose becomes obsessed with Shirley, to the point of hating Shirley's four children, because they pose a "threat".  She becomes to believe that she could be a writer like Shirley, despite having no discernible talent.  She is a lost little girl who dangerously latches herself to another, much like anti-heroine Eleanor in The Haunting of Hill House.  As with Eleanor, everyone can see how childish and needy Rose is, except herself.  Rose becomes fixated on the plight of one Paula Weldon, a local college student who had gone missing (really happened).  She starts to suspect Shirley had something to do with it.  Shirley Jackson in real life was somewhat obsessed with this case, writing about it twice (Hangsaman and The Missing Girl). 

And this is what is so lovely about this novel.  I felt I actually learned something about Shirley Jackson, although this is a fictionalized account of her life.  Merrell's research is immaculate, and she pays homage to Jackson with the very structure of the novel.  It is a tribute, even though it does not paint the best picture of Jackson.  I don't think she would mind.

So after reading Shirley I had to read something by Jackson, so I picked We have always lived in the Castle, otherwise know as the book that has been on my Amazon wish list for 5 years.


God I love this first edition cover!  That is Jonas the cat, and I swear to God my next cat will be named Jonas.  I apologize for the following names for not being chosen: Cthulhu, Frankenstein, Satan, James Franco, Dracula, Eraserhead, and Ash.  Better luck next time.


So I am embarrassed I have not read this till now, so for penance I will re-read The Lottery until I am sure I can tell it word for word by a camp fire.  This novel has everything:
  1. Cats
  2. Sociopaths
  3. Asshole Villagers
  4. Family killing
  5. arsenic
  6. fire
  7. a non-homicidal family member from out of town named Charlie (shout out to homicidal Uncle Charlie from out of town ala Shadow of a Doubt)
  8. an oddball adult woman
  9. an even more oddball adult woman
  10. a crazy Uncle not named Charlie
  11. rioting villagers
  12. contrite villagers
  13. table cloths worn as clothes
  14. coffee
  15. cookies
  16. preserves
  17. implied incest (Charlie and Constance)
  18. sympathetic magic
  19. woods
  20. marbles
Wow, I could go on and on, but the tequila is really starting to kick in now.  Let's just say I couldn't put this shit down!  The narrator, Mary Katherine Blackwood, also known as "Merricat", is a sociopath, but you got to love her.  Yes, spoiler alert, she killed her family, but she is really trying to be good to her remaining sister Constance and her invalid Uncle Julian (who she tried to kill.)  I recently listened to the audiobook of The Sociopath Next Door by Martha Stout, and our dear Merricat fits the description to a T-except for the fact that she is kind of likable.  No, you don't find out she killed the whole family until the end, but you kind of suspect it the whole time.  Yet, she loves her sister and her cat, and what more could you ask for in a totally fucking crazy person.  Plus, she wants to kill everyone in the village, and they all deserve it (see above list # 3). 

We have always lived in the Castle was Jackson's last completed novel.  She died three years after finishing it.  Much of it reminds me of the fictional Shirley, especially the sociopathic teenager and the asshole villagers.  I love how things tie together.  Let me finish with some choice passages from Castle, in case you are not inclined to read it thanks to my drunken ramblings.  Enjoy!

“My name is Mary Katherine Blackwood. I am eighteen years old, and I live with my sister Constance. I have often thought that with any luck at all, I could have been born a werewolf, because the two middle fingers on both my hands are the same length, but I have had to be content with what I had. I dislike washing myself, and dogs, and noise. I like my sister Constance, and Richard Plantagenet, and Amanita phalloides, the death-cup mushroom. Everyone else in our family is dead.”  
 
 
“I wonder if I could eat a child if I had the chance.'
'I doubt if I could cook one,' said Constance.”
  
 
 
“And we held each other in the dark hall and laughed, with the tears running down our cheeks and echoes of our laughter going up the ruined stairway to the sky.
'I am so happy,' Constance said at last, gasping. 'Merricat, I am so happy.'
'I told you that you would like it on the moon.”
   

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Ethan Hawke Double Feature: The Purge

So everyone is saying I must go see Boyhood.  NPR is saying it and whatever NPR says I pretty much go with (I am now 40 so I have to obey NPR.)  Boyhood stars Ethan Hawke.  This fact made me wonder "why are the Gods pushing Ethan Hawke into my life right now?"  I just watched Sinister, I finally saw The Purge, and now this "it took 12 years to make" epic about a little boy.  Why movie Gods?  Why are you making me acknowledge Ethan Hawke??

 
I really have nothing against Hawke per se.  I like Gattaca and the Before films.  Don't even fucking bring up Reality Bites though.  I was of that generation and even I was offended.  Fuck, Singles was a better reflection of my generation than that piece of shit.  And yes, she picked the wrong guy.  There, I said it.  Winona picked the wrong guy.  Hawke was going to turn out to be some shitty True Crime writer or "Home Security Expert" like he is in The Purge.  Hope you are happy now Winona.
 

The Purge is a "great idea, horrible execution" film.  So it's the future, and they have reduced overall crime down to 1% by having one night a year be a "Purge" night, meaning all crime is legal.  Hawke plays a guy who has made a fortune selling Purge home security systems to other rich assholes.  He is married to the insanely hot Lena Headey, and I can only assume she married him for the money. 


Hawke and Headey have some messed up kids, as you would assume, and they cause all sorts of problems on Purge night.  Basically the bad guys, who happen to also be rich assholes, break into their fortress home and try to "purge" themselves on the family.  Yes, you end up rooting for everyone to die.


It's a home invasion flick, but not a very good one.  I basically couldn't care less who lived or died.  I was hoping a group of pissed off homeless people would purge the shit out of all of them, but that doesn't happen.  ****Spoiler Alert****


The only good thing is that the Hawke character dies, much like he does in Sinister.  Now if he dies in Boyhood we will be 3 for 3, but I kind of doubt it.  I mean, maybe he dies of Cancer or something. I haven't seen it yet.  He probably dies of Cancer. 

Sinister


Usually the only thing that keeps me up at night are thoughts of work and the general horribleness of work and how much I hate my work.  This is pretty much a nightly "keep me up" occurrence.  Not that I am complaining.  So happy to be gainfully employed.  So happy to be helping rich people fulfill their need for more shit.  It's really fulfilling.

So, I get pretty excited when it is something other than work that keeps me up.  I'm talking horror people!!!  The last film that kept me up all night was The Ring.  God, that was many, many years ago.  But I didn't sleep a wink.  And I don't even think that The Ring is an especially great horror film.  It makes no fucking sense.  It stars Naomi Watts and some other Australian.  It "insists" upon itself.

 
 So I was visiting my parents and popped into their local video store and found Sinister on sale for $3.00.  I had heard this was a decent film when it came out, but because I am locked into some kind of "it better be an epic fucking movie for me to pay to see it" spiral I passed.  I couldn't spend $15.00 on Sinister but I sure as hell could spend $3.00. 


Sinister was directed by Scott Derrickson.  Derrickson directed The Exorcism of Emily Rose, which was the little movie that could.  Then, as the story usually goes, he got offered a chance at the big leagues.  The Day the Earth Stood Still was his next film.  Yes, that one you never saw with Keanu Reeves.  I only mention this because after that shitty experience, Derrickson bounced back with this little gem.  Sinister is the tale of an asshole "True Crime" author played by Ethan Hawke.  If anyone was ever born to play an asshole True Crime author it is Hawke. 


Hawke is desperate for a hit.  He moves his family into a house where a terrible murder took place.  A family was hung from the tree in the backyard.  The only survivor, a little girl, has gone missing.  Hawke moves his family into this fucking place to write his book and he doesn't even tell them the shit went down there!  What an asshole.


Of course freaky deaky shit starts to happen.  Hawke finds a box of Super 8 videos in the attic.  The videos show the backyard murders, as well as some other horrible home invasion murders.  Hawke, being the dick that he is, doesn't report this to the yokel police.  Instead, he launches his own investigation.  And when Ethan Hawke launches his own investigation, you things are going to get weird.

The home invasion genre is one of my favorites.  It is also one of my biggest fears (besides Zombies).  This film has some great creepy imagery, and some effective jump scares.  The image of the family being hung in the back yard is hard to get out of your mind, which is why I was probably up for a few hours more than I should have been after seeing a film starring Ethan Hawke.  Sinister is not the best horror film I have ever seen, but at least it is somewhat original.  And that is all you can ask for now a days.