The Spooky Ghost, The Spider, The Bat, And The Count

I promised you all a second Halloween post a few hours ago and so, somewhat against my better judgement, I am going to show you the first Halloween story I ever made.

And when I say the first I mean the first. I don’t know how old I was when I wrote it, but I must have been extremely young because someone had to transcribe it for me. They may have even helped guide my ideas while somehow letting me keep my child voice. I found this creased and rusted paper wedged somewhere in my old desk drawer. I can also barely remember having toys or some figures that inspired the characters. 

And no matter how much parts of this very short bit of juvenilia make me wince, no matter how many parts of it make me want to edit it and shake my head, I have to remember that we all start from somewhere. So in honour of this Halloween and all the progress I’ve made, I just want to show you a little bit of where I used to be.

Trick-or-treat my friends. Happy Halloween, Past Child Me. 

Once upon a time there was a castle and there lived a spider, a spooky ghost and a red bat. And then count was visiting the witch. The count won’t take too long.

The next day when it was nighttime it was dark in the castle. The bat was sleeping.

“Oh!” Somebody open the door. I’m getting scared!” said the count.

The candle was lighted and one candle was turned off, and one was on, and one was dead. Then the count was sleeping, the spider was sleeping, the bat was sleeping, and the ghost was sleeping.

“What was that?”

They were all afraid.

Something said, “Oww!”

It was a wolf.

“Help!” said the bat and the spider to the count.

“There’s nothing to be afraid of,” said the count, “Just go to sleep.”

The ghost said, “Boo!”

The bat said, “Eee!”

The candles burned and they chased the wolf away. They lived happily ever after.

The end

Child Me

This is Halloween

This will be the first of two posts that you will see today.

I spent a lot of weeks before and during Halloween differently. When I was a child I would be inundated with television specials, movies, school events, and trick-or-treating. As an adolescent, I spent some time with my group of friends. In my early adulthood I spent a lot of it by myself trying to remember how happy I used to be and imagining all the other people who were having fun that I did not. I spent the rest of my young adulthood, alternatively, with friends and sometimes on my own.

I almost went to a Halloween party last year but I didn’t. I was too depressed and I did what I often do in that state: sleep and work.

This past while I’ve been doing something different for Halloween. Instead of wandering around outside at night in the dark aimlessly, or watching television, or hanging out with friends and lovers I have been busy.

I have been busy.

Last week or so, I covered six films in the 2014 Toronto After Dark for GEEKPR0N. I even covered an extra day, a Wednesday, so I could watch one film that was recommended to me. Those of you that read this Blog or my work at GEEKPR0N already know about this. I wrote reviews on The Drownsman, Wolves, Late Phases, Wyrmwood, The Town That Dreaded Sundown, and Why Horror?

And it was difficult. There were many times I thought I could just watch the films, then go straight home, and write something out that night. But even though I got wiped out, it was totally worth it. The irony is that once, long ago, I was told that I should write reviews for movies — or movies like these — and I didn’t think I was qualified to do so. It’s only in relatively recent times that I’ve realized that the only way to be qualified to do anything is to make yourself so, and start to believe it.

I got some other things published in honour of Halloween as well. Not only did I write a nice short article on the end of Kris Straub’s Broodhollow Book Two, but I got to examine and see just how a creepypasta created by Eric Heisserer the subreddit no/sleep truly lures readers into fear and trepidation. If you have read my articles on creepypastas, you know something of what you might be in for when you read this particular piece of mine.

But I think there is one achievement in particular that I can really be proud of mentioning. Do you recall, that week or so ago before I went off the Mythic Bios grid again, that I was doing another interview: this one live and in-person? Well, with the help and guidance of GEEKPR0N and Toronto After Dark organization … the following actually occurred.

David Hayter Fav and Retweet

Not only did David Hayter, the screen writer of the first two X-Men films and Watchmen as well as the voice of Solid Snake favourite and retweet my review of his movie Wolves I also got to interview him before Werewolf Night at the Toronto After Dark.

You can find my interview with David Hayter right here.

So that has been my time leading up to Halloween so far. The rest of what I intend to do, however, is as follows. Later this evening I am going to the Silver Snail Halloween Party: the same one I didn’t end up attending last year. I don’t have a costume idea as of yet and I’m having some difficulty finding make-up after my last misadventure but I’m going and to anyone living in Toronto or nearby, I hope that you will join me. It’s organized by GEEKPR0N, in part, and it makes some pretty awesome parties and I don’t intend to miss this one this time around.

The next day I’m going to the Comic Book Lounge and Gallery to pay a visit to Drawing For Deb: In Support of Epilepsy Toronto. There will be signings and a 12-Hour Comics Marathon: Special Edition there to raise money to combat epilepsy which claimed the life of Debra Jane Shelly: a well-known friend of the comics community and someone that I only began to know when I first started coming to the Lounge. She was an awesome person and there will be some good people there. I’ve realized long ago that I am just not an artist with pictures, so I will be attending to pay my respects and I may not be there the entire day.

And then the next day I will be going to Horror-Rama: an all-horror convention where I want to explore and particularly meet Jovanka Vuckovic: the brilliant upcoming director of the Jacqueline Ess film adaptation.

Then somewhere, somehow I will catch up with my Doctor Who recaps and next week get back to my fiction writing and probably sleep for a few centuries as I am bloody exhausted.

So this is both what I have been doing, and what I am going to do. It’s funny. When I was reviewing Why Horror? I started thinking about just how it is effective. When I was a child I read many abridged versions of horror stories, listened to and read written down folktales and urban myths. And I would spend time in the now-defunct Hollywood Movies store reading the backs of horror film VHS tapes. I would attempt to avoid watching them, scared of being caught in the web of their details and becoming committed, but so very fascinated with what I might find.

Not much has changed. I think the reason that horror is so fascinating is the fact that when you look at all the gore, the grisliness, and the uncanny you see what you are not and you also get to see a bit of what you are. You are ultimately safe and in sensible surroundings, or so you think, and it gives you a rush of life — of vitality — in the autumn.

That’s why some people have sex after watching horror. That’s why some people have an urge to create stories and study mythologies after watching horror. That’s why people gather around their friends and celebrate their grisly façades: the orange light in the darkness. That’s ultimately why I’m rambling right now.

I’ve spent my life fascinated by, and avoiding life. But it lures you in. It is the ultimate horror but it is also a spectacle, and best experienced in good company. I hope that, today in sharing all of this with you, that I got to be the latter.

Happy Halloween, my friends.

Building On Speculation: Eric Heisserer and The Door That Isn’t There

There are many kinds of doors. Some close, some remain open, some never exist, and some … remain unseen. Until it is too late.

It is the season for horror. But, for online horror, the season started early. Just three months ago My dead girlfriend keeps messaging me on Facebook was a story spread like a trail of goosebumps from the subreddit r/nosleep to creep out and outright terrify readers on the Internet.

I am very interested in these kinds of stories. They are often called creepypastas: essentially online urban myths and, for lack of a better word, folktales with elements of the uncanny copy-and-pasted across many forums and message boards. Some of these stories have no authors, or none have disclosed themselves while other writers proclaim themselves and their stories as works of fiction and horror after they have become viral. Jeff the Killer is a haphazard example of a creepypasta without named authors that’s circulated for some time, while Candle Cove is the creation of Kris Straub which got circulated and promoted as true on other sites.

But then there are the others: the ones that write their narratives as though they are true and they leave it open as to whether or not you, as the reader, should believe them. They create a door out of the corner of your perception to let your imagination inform you of what you will see if you dare to step through.

Enter Eric Heisserer and his … door.

Eric Heisserer himself is a horror writer and director but, before that, he created an online epistolary horror story called The Dionaea House: a narrative made up of a series of correspondence outlining the investigation and disappearance of friends in a particular house.  You see, I thought I knew Heisserer from his directing work but I actually remembered coming across this story in my research for creepypastas. Eric Heisserer created this work in 2004 — a piece that actually gave him the opportunity to get into screenwriting and directing — and, as such, is no stranger to the kind of writing and mentality in creating a creepypasta. So that might “solve” some questions with regards to the truth behind his current story.

Cautionary message: do not read past this point if you don’t want spoilers. You have been warned or if you’d like, I’d turn back if I were you.

His account begins as Information I’m dumping here for safe keeping on reddit. You might want to view Dread Central‘s version of the story in their article Eric Heisserer Details a Truly Horrific Account as well: not only does it seamlessly incorporate the hyperlinked images directly into the text,  it is also easier to follow.

With regards to this story, there is already some suspension of disbelief needed by that title alone, but r/nosleep has a policy for interacting with any story in its jurisdiction as true. Basically a friend of a friend named Kevin is searching for his sister who went missing in her house some time ago. You then find out that Kevin’s sister Gwen and her estranged husband Robert lost their child Dash: who simply vanished from his room in that same house.

Dash's Room Heisserer

Robert moves back into the house after Gwen’s disappearance and starts to impede any investigation on Heisserer or Kevin’s part. So we already have a few horror tropes and devices happening here: the series of derivative horror stories sent to Heisserer and the one exception, the “friend of a friend,”  a suspicious husband, and of course people going missing in a house. You can also see the similarities between this situation and the disappearances within Heisserer’s The Dionaea House along with some of the epistolary format — what with the first-person perspective and the addition of journal entries — but there are some differences.

For instance, Eric Heisserer is the primary narrator of this story as opposed to his persona and the other fictional narratives that made up The Dionaea House. And there is the nature of the epistolary format. While it’s true that in The Dionaea House Heisserer creates constant additions and updates to Mark’s investigation with links to other characters’ blogs, chat logs, text messages and the like, his subreddit account has something else.

This is in the form of Gwen’s hobby, created to deal with the obsessive compulsive disorder she apparently developed after Dash went missing, and it’s the element that expands the scope of the story and makes it both truly creepy and utterly fascinating.

Essentially, Gwen began researching and practising an obscure form of photography: branching from her fascination with its infra-red variant. This leads to the inclusion of some interesting graphic evidence and the addition of a journal written in the Philippines from 1954 by a photographer’s assistant named Salazar.

Salazar Journal Heisserer

In the initial thread of the story, we see that the scans of the journal entries are all in a dialect of Filipino which Eric Heisserer and Kevin can’t read. Instead there are some disturbing images there to entertain us in the meantime.

And then we get updates and some translations. It also gets better due to the fact that while The Dionaea House adds to its narrative through hyperlinks and blog comments, commentaries in the subreddit actually expand on what could be going on in the latter narrative. The story seems to be participatory: like an improvised collaboration around a camp fire of digital information and helpful hyperlinks. People seem to be helping Eric Heisserer build a nightmare. They are building a nightmare together. This is how viral creepypastas happen

I honestly hope that this story will continue or lead into another project despite “Robert” filing a “cease and desist order” against Eric Heisserer. But in any case, there is a very intriguing comment with which I’d like to end this article.

Salazar Ink Heisserer

In the special form of photography that Salazar creates and Gwen adopts from his journal, one of the chemical developing agents is derived from the leaves of balete or banyan trees. According to an excerpt from a Wikipedia article the commenter StudiousIdiot, among other spiritual connotations “A number of these [balate trees] are known as strangler figs wherein they start upon other trees, later entrapping them entirely and finally killing the host tree,” to which the commenter adds “That other photo we haven’t seen yet – the one with the unseen house? It chills me to read that while thinking of what might be growing there.”

The Jungian image of a new home connected to an old and decrepit old larger house that you can only see when something else points it out to you is precisely just what a creepypasta can become: a story that is linked to an ordinary reality that can turn into a viral meme, an ever-evolving horror mythos, and even a dionaea — a venus flytrap — that can capture your fascination, your fear, and swing shut behind your soul forever. And I hope I and others will get to see the process of its expansion and entrapment over the imaginations of many more.

Pleasant dreams everyone.

eric heisserer door

Kris Straub’s Broodhollow: Luring Readers In With an Angleworm

I’ve said this before in other forums, but horror and comedy have a lot in common. You start off in an innocuous or, conversely, a bizarre place and then escalate the scenario until, right at the end, you deliver the twist: or the punchline.

Kris Straub has managed to do this, at least twice in a major way, for Broodhollow. I have been following this web comic for a while now ever since its start in 2012 and, I have to say, its level of storytelling pushes the envelope on what comics can actually portray. Unlike the other times I’ve talked about Broodhollow, I really don’t want to reveal any spoilers as suspense and reader anxiety, broken only a few times by laughter and warmth, are key to Straub’s work.

Here is what you need to know about the plot. Wadsworth Zane is a young encyclopedia salesman with a behaviour called The Pattern, something bordering on if not outright a symptom of obsessive compulsive disorder, trying to survive during the Great Depression. He gets a letter from his late great-uncle wanting him to claim his inheritance from the strange city of Broodhollow. Wadsworth encounters eccentrics, angry and suspicious citizens, strange creatures, and ghosts.

And it only gets weirder and more disturbing from there.

There is something light, airy, and innocent about the cartoon style in which Kris Straub draws the human denizens of Broodhollow and the daytime of the city itself. It is a nostalgia reminiscent of the old newspaper strips and Disney cartoons of the 1930s: a cheeriness slowly and terrifyingly subverted into warped and twisted Lovecraftian aesthetics of red and fear. Even the juxtaposition of cartoon drawings and serious dialogue, coupled with questionable memories and conflicts of dialogue and thought bubbles makes the reading experience truly jarring: in a way that truly works.

And now the second arc, Broodhollow Book Two: Angleworm, has recently come to a close. And I still don’t even know what to make of it. You can read Book One: Curious Little Thing on the Broodhollow website or purchase it and other sundry, evil things from Kris Straub’s Chainsaw Suit store. Book Two: Angleworm is only available online at the moment, but perhaps come December or so there might be a Kickstarter Campaign to make a book form possible: just as there had been for the first.

In the meantime, keep an eye out on the Broodhollow website for updates. In addition to creating comics, Kris Straub likes to create horror stories and they operate on the same principles of slowly creeping dread and “long game” punchlines as they do in his other works. For instance, he is the creator of Candle Cove.

But let me leave you with a pleasant thought for the season. While I won’t tell you what Book Two is about, I will say this. The thing you need to understand about angleworms is that they come from the soil, they feed off living and dead matter, and they are used as bait … to lure prey to a predator.

Or perhaps, in this case, an opening line bringing sleeping minds to nightmare fuel.

Oh and Kris Straub has announced that Book Three of Broodhollow will be coming out sometime in early 2015 running parallel to the Kickstarter for Book Two. It’s called A Game of Oubliette. Pleasant dreams everyone.

The Town That Dreaded Sundown At TADFF 2014

I’ll admit it: when I first came to this film I didn’t really know what to expect. I didn’t know about the 1946 Texarkana Moonlight Murders or the first 1976 The Town That Dreaded Sundown film. I learned a lot about the Phantom serial killer from the Toronto After Dark introductions and Question and Answer period with the 2014 film’s director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon.

It was made clear by Gomez-Rejon himself that The Town That Dreaded Sundown was not strictly a sequel to Charles B. Pierce’s film of the same name. And while I might go as far as to say it is something of a spiritual successor, perhaps the best way to look at it is something of a meta-sequel: not only to Pierce’s film, but the literature of rumours bordering on legend that has surrounded the Moonlight Murders ever since.

The Phantom liked to attack and kill couples.
The Phantom liked to attack and kill couples.

It’s not an uncommon phenomenon for elements of history to become something of a legend, or form even the core of a myth: especially when many of the facts still pose a mystery. Jami Lerner, the protagonist of the 2014 film, said something to the effect that this is a story about two towns: or two cities. Texarkana is a town created between the American states of Texas and Arkansas. But then you have the Texarkana that exists in reality and the one depicted in Pierce’s film. And that isn’t even taking into account the Texarkana of small town daylight and morality coexisting next to the Texarkana of moonlight murder, guilt, and collective fear.

You could make a case that Texarkana, as portrayed in Gomez-Rejon’s The Town That Dreaded Sundown is at least four towns if not more: the one from our present reality, the one from the past when the murders happened, the one from Pierce’s movie, and the one being depicted in its latest film narrative. I already knew that there was a mythos being built in this film, but what I didn’t realize was that it was created from reality: crafting from it something of a multifaceted nightmare.

This is a film that, on the surface, appears to be a slasher movie — where sex equals death — with urban legend leanings but underneath the gore and violence it is a psychological thriller steeped in the social and cultural effects that a series of murders had on a town’s collective consciousness and that age-old sense of unsolved mystery. It doesn’t attempt to solve or resolve any of the facts from the Moonlight Murders or even the identity of the Phantom from Pierce’s film. It is not a continuation to the latter’s film and it doesn’t pretend to reveal the truth of the past.

In this 2014 film, the Phantom was compared to the Bogeyman.
In this 2014 film, the Phantom was compared to the Bogeyman.

What this film does do, in my opinion, is that it taps into that place where a murderer becomes a myth — and a masked icon on the level of Guy Fawkes — and that myth is less the story of a man who was never found, but rather that of an entire town. As far as Gomez-Rejon’s Phantom is concerned and in the words of another character, everyone in that town “has blood on their hands” and it all has to do with a person named Mary. You get to watch Lerner as she is charged by the Phantom himself to “make everyone remember” what really happened and experience her journalistic journey into old newspaper clippings, hearsay, and meta-narrative: with the threat of the Phantom continuing his killings and terrorism of her as impetus.

Gomez-Rejon is a master of illustrating the resonances of history and fear through the eerie re-enactments of the murders that the Phantom perpetrated both in real life and in the first movie created about him: including one final murder that didn’t make it into the mainstream arts and media coverage. You can see that he has done his research and, like every good storyteller, understands that sometimes the best story is that which has a grain of truth in it while understanding that he has to say something new in order to maintain that balance.

A film's re-enactment of a murder scene taken from an older movie and inspired by real life murders.
A film’s re-enactment of a murder scene taken from an older movie and inspired by real life murders.

I have to say that this is actually one of my favourite films from the entire festival. It was a nice counterpoint to The Drownsman in that while the latter film attempts to create a new mythos, The Town That Dreaded Sundown not only taps into an older mythos but adds to it and says something very intelligent about fear while maintaining the emotional depth of actual human characters. In addition to having characters that can you relate to with very human reactions that you can sympathize with, this isn’t a film about spectacle and novelty. It reminds you that people actually suffered and died through senseless murders: and while there are those who will exploit this legacy for their own purposes, there are others will continue to seek its truth out. It may well be similar to the reason why Texarkana still shows the first Town That Dreaded Sundown to this very day: out of a sense of respect for the trauma that made a part of history.

In all honesty, for someone who generally doesn’t like horror without supernatural elements I couldn’t recommend this film any higher: a movie about two towns … and more than one form of ghost.

Remember The Town That Dreaded Sundown.
Remember The Town That Dreaded Sundown.

From The Darkness Of The 2014 TADFF: Why Horror?

It’s only fitting that the last film I viewed for the 2014 Toronto After Dark dealt with the first question that exists in every horror movie viewer’s mind in some way or form: why horror?

This documentary’s debut at the festival was an event in and of itself. It got an introduction from Rue Morgue managing editor David Alexander along with the team of writer, journalist, actor and film-maker Tal Zimerman and directors Rob Lindsay and Nicolas Kleiman. Why Horror? itself focused on Tal Zimerman, an utter horror fanatic and his interviews with many prominent figures in the horror film genre along with psychological experts and scholars examining the nature of horror in human life and how that translates over into why people like horror films.

This man really likes his horror.
This man really likes his horror.

Why Horror? spans a lot of territory and cultural background in Toronto, Tokyo, Mexico City, Xochimilco, London, New York, Vancouver, and Waterloo. We got some fascinating insights into Zimerman’s childhood, with his very understanding family (and long suffering but good sport of a mother), as he experimented with makeup effects creation on his brothers along with seeing his young son play with gruesome action figures while watching Godzilla films.

We got to see if people’s brains functioned differently through immersing themselves in horror movies through some tests that Zimerman (and at one point his mother who generally avoids horror movies) underwent and we got some history lessons as to how humans in different places used art and folktales to deal with themes of horror before the creation of film. And yes, the beautifully grisly paintings of the artist Goya is definitely used as an example of the former.

Some familiar interview subjects indeed.
Some familiar interview subjects indeed.

But there were a few things in particular that caught my eye in the midst of conversations with George A. Romero, John Carpenter, and witnessing events like the Mexican Day of the Dead.

For instance, there was a discussion with some interview subjects about gender in horror. It was something of a mixed balance. On one hand you had actual dialogue with female participants in the horror genre such as the actress Barbara Crampton and directors Jen and Sylvia Soska. These conversations, if nothing else, cement the fact that women not only watch and enjoy horror, but they are definitely a part of it: and they have been a part of the horror film genre for quite some time. Indeed, there was even a fascinating segment of the documentary where women in Japanese horror are discussed: particularly in how female ghosts can embody the resentment and hatred of a life of, at least traditionally, enforced passivity bleeding into a need for vengeance even beyond the grave.

Yet on the other hand, much of the documentary was very male-centric in scope. In some ways perhaps it can’t be helped considering that the main interviewer, instigator and focus of the Why Horror? documentary is Tal Zimerman and, as such, there is a definite emphasis on how horror affected his developing years as a young male and, by extension, those of other men in the field. Perhaps that’s what led to discussions with subjects about how horror film supposedly elicits fear and sexual arousal in women. There is even a study of sorts in the film focusing on how women, again supposedly, are either impressed with a man’s stoicism in watching such a movie with them or seeking comfort in them as a protector-figure out of fear. There are definitely some gender stereotypes in some of these segments, though it does tend to highlight the presence of the ultimate assumption: that horror is a male-dominated field.

It also brings home the fact that even if horror is a universal human feeling, both perspectives of fear and lived experiences are determined by one’s cultural standards.

Indeed, I think that these segments bring up a lot of questions and thought in the viewer and they lead to other places. After all, there is the title of the documentary to consider here. Why does horror as a film genre or as any kind of genre even exist?

Each interview subject had a fascinating insight into the matter: ranging from horror films functioning as initiation rituals that we no longer have in modern society, to a mode that facilitates the safe catharsis of fear and potentially latent sadism, all the way to being a place that allows us to engage with the inevitability of our own mortality and death: of knowing and coming to terms with the trauma of death that is ultimately inherent in our lives as human beings. Really, fear itself is a force that makes us feel more alive and depictions of danger and death make us more aware of what we are not: and perhaps providing a little more closure from that truth.

One other thing that really got to me personally was another question that got posed throughout the film: what was your first horror movie? I actually had to think about this quite a bit myself based on everything I’d seen in the documentary. My first horror film was actually Gremlins. I remember being very fascinated with the story behind them, the different personalities that developed and multiplied, and being immersed into that campy 1980s night world of very specific world-building rules while wondering how Gizmo got to a point where he never tried to eat after midnight.

I wonder what happens when you review movies after midnight.
I wonder what happens when you review movies after midnight.

But I also know that some don’t consider Gremlins, or its strange sequel, to be a proper horror film: whatever that is. I think, in terms of the “coming of age” discussions that spanned throughout Why Horror? my first ever film was actually Tales From The Crypt: Demon Knight. It was at that point in my youth that I actually first witnessed sex, questionable morality, and profanity combined with the monstrous, the supernatural, and the gory. I remember almost having a panic attack over seeing it: but in retrospect it was more from my own father’s negative reaction to the swearing and graphic themes than it was to the film itself. I think that it was at that point, in my life, that I “awoke” in a fashion: and it’s apparently commonplace for that to happen with adolescents and horror movies.

I suppose Why Horror? is on to something when it seems to hint on the fact that your first horror films say something about you. I’ve always been fascinated with horror from a very early age. In fact, I would go as far as to say that all human story and myth ultimately comes from trauma — from the basic trauma of realizing your own vulnerability and mortality — and that this realization will alter your consciousness and help you integrate with the rest of this strange, uncertain, arbitrary world of why. Perhaps horror is the original darkness from where we got all of our stories out sheer necessity.

Even though I’d be hard pressed at this time to attempt to describe the narrative organization of Why Horror? I would say that Zimerman begins a fascinating journey into the origin of horror as stories. In the Question and Answer period after the documentary, someone from the audience asked Zimerman if he predict horror’s future. This actually prompted Zimerman to bring up the presence of horror stories online in the form of creepypastas: how they seem to have gone back to a new kind of oral storytelling (which the scholar Walter Ong might see as products of “secondary orality”) or an online urban mythical structure. I believe he expressed an interest in perhaps making a documentary on creepypastas one day.

If so, I definitely look forward to it.

Extract That And Fuel Us: A TADFF 2014 Review of Wyrmwood

Even though the Toronto After Dark’s Zombie Appreciation Night had passed well, let’s face, since when does a zombie ever pass away short of a bullet to the head? It’s only fitting that there was one undead straggler, one more zombie film that survived the culling and threatened to spread the infection anew at the Toronto After Dark 2014’s Post-Apocalyptic Night in the form of Wyrmwood.

This is the first full-length feature of director Kiah Roache-Turner and his brother, the film’s writer, Tristan Roache-Turner and they have characterized it as something of a mix between Dawn of the Dead and Mad Max. Furthermore, Kiah Roache-Turner refers to Wyrmwood‘s genre as zombie post-apocalyptic science fiction.

It’s an apt description for the most part, but I’d like to take it even further. Imagine a zombie film drunk on a pint or more of absinthe, the traditional green fairy drink made with — fittingly enough — some wormwood, having read one part of Revelations before bed, and possessing a distorted sense of physics and ludicrously sublime perspective of time, narrative, and shots of black comedy: with a literally murderous hangover at the end when it realizes that it’s missing some body parts from its mayhem of fun.

For me, that’s Wyrmwood in a shotgun shell. If the film narrative sensibility of Wyrmwood were a zombie infection, you could trace its spiritual points of origin from the early film shorts directed by Kiah Roache-Turner: Roadrunner and Wargames. Roadrunner contains technology that doesn’t work at the worst time and seemingly arbitrary yet fitting plot developments while Wargames has the element of a protagonist dealing with renegade soldiers. Both of these shorts have violence for punchlines and the same actor playing both protagonists and one of the central characters in Wyrmwood: Jay Gallagher.

The premise of Wyrmwood is that there is a meteor shower and people begin to get infected by a disease that, well, reanimates them. The film actually starts with the main characters killing a mass of zombies while decked out in customized makeshift armour and toting guns. It really caught my eye as I generally watch movies and read books where the military can’t handle zombies or civilians have to survive them.

Then we got into something that was almost an interview section between two characters that describe something of their lives before the outbreak and what happened. I was expecting big things from this: wondering if this movie was going to be a goofy version of what World War Z should have been: if only as something of a parody of an “oral history” from Max Brooks’ novel more than the Hollywood version of it. But even though that did not happen, there is something both banally comic and horribly tragic about these accounts: especially from the perspective of Gallagher’s character Barry.

And somehow the physics of the world changed as well: and it never gets elaborated on except for how the characters actually deal with it. I’ll tell you now: it has to do with the Roache-Turner breed of zombies. Think of some bright-eyed revenants that supposedly move more slowly in the day and lightning fast at night that contain methane that can be used as fuel sources. That’s right: in a world where electricity and gasoline no longer seem to work, you can always fuel your transportation technology by hooking it up to some zombies. But this only works during the day as, apparently, it’s the only time they breathe methane. You can thank Tristan Roache-Turner’s screenwriting idea for that one.

I will mention that sometimes the rules for these new zombies are a little inconsistent, as they slow down or speed up depending on the plot, but I definitely appreciated the fact that this was a film where zombies weren’t just a threat, but they could also be used as weapons and obstacles against rival and enemy humans. We never know if the soldier antagonists the band run into are collecting people to experiment on in order to find a zombie cure, or to harness the natural energy sources of the zombie, to even somehow gain control over the mass of undead or, really, because they are just plain dicks.

But I have to admit: there is an element of Re-Animator developing throughout the film and especially towards the end that, as someone who liked to play as necromancers in D&D when I was younger, I found entertaining to watch. And if that isn’t enough for you: you do get to see an asshole of a soldier become a warm-cooked meal for the hungrily living impaired.

So there you go. Wyrmwood is some dark slapstick slaughter that veers from the ridiculous to the dead fucking serious and its zombies and characters are, if nothing else, some good entertainment fuel.

From The Wolf’s Mouth: An Interview With David Hayter – TADFF 2014

It was just before Werewolf Night at the 2014 Toronto After Dark where GEEKPR0N met with David Hayter the writer of the first two X-Men films and Watchmen as well as the voice of Solid Snake to have a chat about his new film Wolves

GEEKPR0N: What gave you the idea to make Wolves? Where did it come from? What were your inspirations?

David Hayter: Well. So people came to me wanting to do a werewolf movie. I wasn’t sure if it was something I wanted to do or something I could even pull off. I started to think about it, and I started to talk to people who wanted to see a good werewolf movie. And I started thinking about what had been done before and what makes a good creature film and I feel like the creature has to be used as a metaphor for something human: to tie it to us and make it feel real.

And I started thinking about the time in my life when I was going to high school in Canada actually, when I was about seventeen. And I was filled with rage and violence. And you’re dealing with sex for the first time: and, you know, all these crazy and roiling feelings, and you become almost a monster to yourself, or at least I did. But whereas in most werewolf films the goal is to destroy the creature, if the metaphor is this unformed sort of rage within yourself your goal is not to destroy that but to control it and to focus it into more positive aspects: so like protecting your family or the woman you love or whatever. I started thinking that’s kind of an interesting take on it I haven’t really seen before, so in a way it is sort of semi-autobiographical.

Cayden Wolves

GP: Yeah. You mentioned in another interview that there were some semi-autobiographical elements in Wolves. I was curious about what those may be.

DH: When I was seventeen we took a tour of Toronto Harbour for the Prom. And I got into a fight — into an argument –with a football player and he took a swing at me and I knocked him down and then I got into a fight with pretty much the rest of the football team and they had to turn the boat around. So at the beginning of the film you see [the protagonist Cayden] beating up a football player. And there is also a scene with him in a car making out with his girlfriend and where that occurred, where we shot that, was five hundred yards from my old highschool on little lane where I used to go with girls to park and make out. There was a lot that came from my life:  from my journey, strangely enough.

GP: That’s really interesting. I actually saw an advance copy of the film, so when you started mentioning all those scenes, I just thought “Wow: this sounds very familiar.” 

DH: Yeah. I mean a lot of that stuff really happened to me and I got expelled back in the day, got yelled at by the principal and all these things. I wasn’t necessarily a wolf, but I was a fairly vicious young man: for a short period of time.

GP: Yeah. Well, I guess one part of the movie that sticks out me is the idea of what is the most vicious part of the werewolf: the animal part or the human part. If anything, the animal part is the most honest. 

DH: Yeah. That’s right. And that’s really sort of the point of the film which is wolves themselves are not inherently evil. I mean wolves are very noble creatures who mate for life, only kill for food or defence like I say in the movie. And yeah, so it’s the human side that dictates whether or not the creature is going to be evil, which, again, is something that I don’t think has been done in this genre before.

So, you know, the idea was to create a wolf who by the end is a hero and has abilities that hopefully, like in a vampire movie the audience members say “I want that,” or “you know I wish I could have that power” which you don’t typically get in movies like this: usually werewolves are just horrible, ugly, hairy lunatics.

Cayden Wolf Powers

GP: And yeah, it’s interesting that even when you look at the wolf in mythology, there are various different facets of that, but the whole idea is that the wolf is supposed to eat the sun even: while at the same the sun is supposed to come out again from the maw of the wolf. 

DH: Right. You got Romulus and Remus raised by wolves. You know, they are not an intrinsically evil creature. They are a frightening creature to have to face if you are out in the wild. But I find them very noble and very beautiful and I wanted to bring that aspect to the film.

GP: I see. You said in your San Diego Comic Con 2013 panel that you watched a lot of werewolf films to study the strengths and weaknesses of your particular wolves?

DH: Well, I feel like An American Wolf in London is the greatest werewolf film ever made. You know I think the creatures hold up to this day and the design work is just astounding and the movie itself is just a miracle. There’s the dream sequence with the Nazi wolf men who come in and shoot his family and do all these horrific things. And the design on those was so striking and spectacular and each one was different and individual and that was a great inspiration to me on how to execute the design of a wolf man.

American Werewolf In London Nazi Werewolves

And there were a number of other movies I looked at on elements for what I didn’t want in the movie: so like the long nails or the pointed up ears or the snout. These are elements which I felt altered the human body in ridiculous ways so I wanted to minimize these elements as much as possible and come up with my own.

GP: I found it interesting how you were talking about your make-up team and how they found that nice balance between the elegance and grace of a wolf and the symmetry and proportions of a human being. I think the design that best strikes me as fulfilling that is the character of Angelina. 

DH:  They made her a whole wolf body and wolf breasts. Yeah that was the goal. I wanted the first werewolf love scene to be on camera and it’s hard when you’re covering up a woman with hair to retain beauty. But wolves are beautiful and so we worked very hard to retain her femininity in the execution of that and I think that Dave and Lou Elsey, who are academy award-winning creature designers, executed that in a pretty beautiful way. But I think I wanted them to all have this beauty, with the exception of Wild Joe who’s pretty twisted, but I wanted them to have this elegance and power and beauty that I think wolves have in real life.

He wanted sleek!

GP: Certainly even in the case of Wild Joe, you can see the definite personality there and the distinction between the other ones. For instance, you can see that Wild Joe looks different from Connor.

DH: Yeah, Wild Joe has serious problems. Now the other thing we did which was very important to me was a lot of the facial effects are swept back from the face as opposed to down and pointy and swept back. And the masks are glued down where the muscles of the face are so that when they act their expressions come through. There is one point where Lucas hears something devastating, I won’t say what it is, but his face falls and you can see his expression come over him and you see it through the layers of makeup and the latex. The makeup team did that well.

Cayden Wolf Wolves

GP:  Yes, the expressions of the characters definitely came through well. There are many fans of your voice-acting: especially with regards to your role as Solid Snake in Metal Gear. So I just want to clarify. Did you actually make the wolf sounds behind the characters’ voices in Wolves

DH: I did. That’s a very good question and you’re the very first person to ask that. And yes. I do the backing growls on Lucas [Till’s] wolf dialogue and some of his snarling and growling. And there’s an incredible voice and creator actor named Dee Bradley Baker who does Connor’s — Jason Momoa’s character. And Jennifer Hale — who’s my friend and one of the top female voice actresses in the world — does Merritt [Patterson’s]. Yeah, there are a few times, and particularly, where Lucas’ girlfriend punches him in the face and he growls: and it sounds just like Solid Snake. Not only do I do that, but I play two different newscasters in the film so you hear my voice throughout.

So the wolves’ voices are made up of the actors doing their dialogue with me, Bradley, and Jennifer doing growling accents and a combination of animals that were put together. I think we used gorilla snarls for Wild Joe, a lion for Connor and actual wolf sounds for Lucas. It’s a really cool process putting together those vocals.

GP: This isn’t your first time in horror film. Last year you worked in a movie called The Devil’s Mile. At the same time, you’ve also written the first two X-Men movies, The Scorpion King, and Watchmen. What was it like switching from these other genres of film as an actor and writer to the horror genre as a director? 

DH: Well, you know, it’s funny Wolves isn’t really a horror film to me. I mean, hopefully there are scary elements to it, but I look at it more as an action film. I think one of the things I learned is if you are going to do a murder scene: more blood … like lots and lots of blood. You really can’t have enough.

And you know, it’s like everything else. From an actor’s perspective you are always trying to avoid getting the blood in your eyes and your mouth. But beyond that a story is a story. And every story I do relies on tension: whether it’s action or horror or suspense. It’s sort of all the same tools. It’s great  fun. I mean: the freedom to do a horror movie is really fun: where you can mess people up and do terrible things and sort of check your morality at the door. That’s a very cool aspect of it.

GP: I believe, in another interview you gave, that you thought of Wolves as a hero’s journey and there was one scene in particular that caught my eye where Cayden, John, and his wife Clara are watching The Lone Ranger on the television and I thought, “Oh god: you totally went there.”

DH: Yeah well, we needed something on the TV. I’d written that something was on the TV but we couldn’t get it. Anything you show on the TV we have to clear. And then a production assistant brought me that clip and said “I think we can get the clearance on this.” I actually had to get clearance from the Lone Ranger’s daughter and Jay Silverheels’  — Tonto’s — family, to use that clip. I wrote them a really nice letter and they let me use that clip. It’s a funny clip but it also represents the idea of “I’ll shoot if I have to, but not to kill.” And that’s the hero’s dilemma. When you’re fighting a murderous group of people how do you defeat them without sacrificing your own morality? In a weird way that is kind of what Cayden’s facing.

The Lone Ranger

GP: Exactly. I mean, in addition to the reference towards the Lone Ranger’s weapon of choice, it was a very nice bit of foreshadowing with regards to Cayden’s choices: of dealing the beast inside of him and his own sense of morality when dealing with opponents who are also beasts but have no such compunctions. I mean, what do you do in those kinds of situations?

DH: Right and what do you do when it’s a life and death situation? I mean, you don’t want to kill but sometimes it’s got to be done and even the Lone Ranger had to face that. And plus I wanted the film to be funny in places and it was a fun place to put that. It’s also sort of the show that Tollerman would watch — an old farmer out in the middle of nowhere — just putting on the old Lone Ranger show.

GP: Based on how you ended the film, is there room for a sequel?

DH: I think so. Yeah. We discussed Wolves in the city and how we would bring back some of the people. At the end teeing them up to go off to the larger world and indicating to the audience that there is a larger world with these people out there. So yeah: there’s certainly room for a sequel if people are interested.

I suppose sometimes someone just knows you.

GP: If only to go further “back east,” as you put it.

DH: Yeah. Well, we haven’t even gone into the West coast wolves. We can do a battle reminiscent of the rap battles of the nineties.

GEEKPR0N would like to take this opportunity to thank David Hayter for his time as well as the Programming Manager of the Toronto After Dark Christian Burgess for arranging this interview. Wolves will have limited release in select theatres November 14, 2014. 

Wolves Poster

TADFF 2014: Late Phases

I guess it’s only fitting that I should write this review past five in the morning given the title of the movie. Adrián García Bogliano’s Late Phases was the second film shown at the Toronto After Dark’s Werewolf Night and the third and last film of the day.

What can I tell you about it? Imagine the following situation, if you will: you are a blind elderly man. You find yourself in a retirement residence surrounded by people who just want to go through a nice and steady rhythm of life. You deal with younger people patronizing: wanting to help you, but not really spend time or actually listen to you. Your only friend is your seeing-eye dog Shadow. Most of the residential people you meet generally keep to themselves, but a few are friendly.

Then one night some creature, some giant beast, comes in and starts killing. And no one knows what it is or does anything about it.

Your name is Ambrose  and you are also a former soldier: an American veteran of Vietnam. And while you did some terrible things during that war, while you might have failed to protect life and, indeed, took many lives, you just can’t sit back and do nothing. This is the premise of Late Phases. Do not expect Bubba-hotep here: aside from occasionally laughing at Ambrose’s curmudgeonly smart-ass remarks, there neither fame nor comedy in this story, though the heroism is definitely real.

The first part of the film establishes Ambrose, played by Nick Damici, along with his son Will and some of the other retirees. The werewolf is introduced relatively quickly, though never fully revealed until later. There is heartbreak almost immediately. The second part of the film, roughly, covers a month in which Ambrose finds out about the full moon the night of the attack and without any hesitation believes in and knows exactly what he is dealing with. This is a refreshing element in a werewolf or supernatural film: where it takes the protagonist a while to accept that the supernatural even exists. But Ambrose, if nothing else, is no-nonsense and right to the point.

He mostly knows his enemy. And what he doesn’t know, he slowly and circumspectly, begins to find out. It is so tempting to compare Late Phases with David Hayter’s Wolves: especially as the latter was shown right after the former. Whereas Wolves takes the trope of the werewolf movie and teenage life and subverts their forms into something else, Bogliano fits into the trope of werewolf horror and adds dramatic elements of human relationships and humanity into the mix. Ambrose is an aging man who has lost his sight but retains enough of his senses and military training to fight this werewolf. And the werewolf in this film is not something misunderstood. It is an angry, hungry, twisted thing that rips off its human flesh at a full moon. And it’s human form is not that much better. In fact, I’d say that if there is one thing Wolves and Late Phases has in common it’s the idea that sometimes the human element can be even worse than the animal element in a werewolf.

It takes a far amount time to play the who-done-it and who-is-it werewolf part of the film but after Ambrose gets some silver bullets made and figures out that someone else requested some before him, Bogliano gets right into who that werewolf is. At same time, for all of Ambrose’s careful planning he is still blind and can’t perceive everything going on around him. While his lack of sight is supplemented by improved other senses, he doesn’t always know when someone is looking at him, or if they can see something he doesn’t.

Again, what I think really brings this movie into the fore is, like Wolves, another reference to The Lone Ranger. This time Ambrose talks with a gunsmith about the character and his silver bullets. They also talk about how the ranger doesn’t shoot to kill. Ambrose is unromantic and while he might want to save lives like the Ranger he is not hesitant over doing what he’s spent his whole life doing.

The film ends much like Ambrose has lived a good portion of his life. There is gore, and blood, and ubiquitous evil and animal rage, hypocrisy, and ultimately honour. You get to see a widower put on his ring, a man honouring his dog, and a soldier shooting some motherfucking werewolf monsters with silver bullets, and a rare and heartfelt message left on an answering machine for his son.

Perhaps Ambrose becomes a hero late in his life. But he does his best to save his fellow retired neighbours from a fate worse than death, and he does what he has to do. I couldn’t recommend this movie highly enough. The full moon always rises, but it won’t always be night.

The Beginnings of a Mythology: The Drownsman At The Toronto After Dark 2014

Before the Toronto After Dark’s Werewolf Night, we got to see the emergence of a myth. A myth is less a lie and more of a creation story: a narrative that tells us why things are the way they are. Folktales and urban legends are also made to explain the mysteries and dangers of the world and, sometimes, they come with rhymes and rituals in which the listeners participate. To some cultures, myths are why they have their current reality just as specific individual make their own stories to cope with, or control their environment.

In some ways, horror stories and films — and works similar to such — are extensions of myth-making and ritual. They create the monster or the danger that operates on its own laws: showing you how they can be defeated, or how they are essentially unkillable. This is definitely clear in Chad Archibald’s The Drownsman.

Serial killers can also have their own rituals. They do so in order either justify their murders or out of some kind of warped longing to possess an object. The Drownsman starts off with a story that is pretty much ending. A serial killer drowns his victims in warm water as he embraces them. However, Sebastian Donner — the aforementioned Drownsman — is deceived and drowned himself by his erstwhile victim Isabella.

So here we have the story of a serial killer which, in itself, can be something of a fictional urban myth or legend. But then Archibald does something else. He starts off the story many years after this event. A group of stereotypically depicted young girls in horror, with the feel of being a sorority, are having a party until one of them, a girl named Madison falls, hits her head, falls off a pier and nearly drowns. She begins to have visions of a twisted, green, rot and sea-weed covered man always stalking her. Eventually, she sees him even when she is awake and always in the presence of water.

So now the serial killer becomes a murderous ghost or a monster. This is no new thing. In the Q & A period after the film, Archibald even explains that movies such as Friday The 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street inspired elements of The Drownsman. I mean, you can see the myth of a ghost or a monster coming from someone that was once human in many horror films and stories. I mean, look at The Candyman. Or Bloody Mary.

The Drownsman
Reach for me three times.

But the idea of linking the figure of The Drownsman to water has two elements involved.

First, there is the fear factor. Archibald himself stated that he utilized his fear of swimming or, perhaps more accurately, drowning in tandem with the creation of a monster coming for you in the water to create the twisted, green, pale mouldering heart of The Drownsman. Aquaphobia itself is terrifying enough as a debilitating mental illness. Unfortunately, Madison’s close group of friends tend to take neither mental illness or the possibility of the supernatural seriously. It’s actually very frustrating to watch especially when you consider that most of her friends are genuinely concerned for her and their solution is to stage a fake seance and use ultimatums to get her to obey them: for her “own good” of course.

How many awful things throughout history have happened because people have wanted to do something, supposedly, for someone else’s “own good?”

I mean, this film could be horrifying for that in and of itself. You could, if you’d like, even look at it as a metaphor for mental illness and people’s attitudes towards it. Certainly, sufferers can form rituals and patterns from it. But then we have the supernatural element.

Water is a natural medium in some traditional interpretations of magical practise. It can be seen as an intermediary between worlds: between the mundane and the supernatural. Water is life. Some cultures even use it in baptisms to symbolically rebirth their members. Most of the world is made of it and we also come from it. So what happens when someone drowns people, over and again in the same place, the same bath tub, for the same reason time and again. What happens when that person is seeking essentially the origin of life — seeking to reunite himself with his mother’s heartbeat in the womb or, barring that, some other woman’s — and gets drowned in his own ritual tub?

And that others cannot see?
And then only his victims can see him.

Now consider the age-old phrase from Star Trek in which we, as humans, are described as “ugly bags of mostly water.” We evolved from it, we come from wombs, and we need a lot of it to survive because we are made of it. So what happens if a spirit made from the above process is tied by blood to someone else who has a traumatic experience: a shamanic nearly dying and crossing over (or in this case experiencing your last breath) experience? Doesn’t that give them a tie back to the world somehow? Doesn’t also prove that they can play the long-game to get what they truly want?

This spirit knows that patience and persistence pay off.
This spirit knows that patience and persistence pay off.

It’s funny how one of my gripes with this film is also something that fascinates me. Someone at the After Dark asked how Madison cleans herself if she is afraid of water for attracting The Drownsman. Yet I have two questions. First, wouldn’t someone who gets their water intravenously for a year have some serious medical issues and look a lot rougher as a result? And second: if The Drownsman can manifest through water: why can’t he simply manifest through their bodily fluids? I suppose I’m being rather pedantic at this point and maybe he needs pure uncontained water to do so: or this might have been a whole other kind of horror movie.

I also have to admit that The Drownsman going after Madison’s friends after their failed seance really didn’t surprise me. But what did surprise me was the fact that I didn’t feel the satisfaction of watching, essentially, some gaslighting shallow people die by the very thing they were mocking. There was an even a neo-pagan, Wiccan, or New Age “Fluffy Bunny” stereotype in the form of Cathryn: whose attempt at a seance and a naive overestimation of her supernatural knowledge leads to an inevitable conclusion.

A crystal on a necklace verses the grand medium of water. I mean, what did you think was going to happen?

Yes, for the most part the girls come across as stereotypical but their love and care for each other is unquestioned. And Madison’s friend Hannah, the one whose marriage Madison misses due to her phobia, actually begins to go along with Madison in her own investigation of The Drownsman’s origins. I even enjoyed watching Madison’s character (played by the actress Michelle Mylett) transform from carefree girl to traumatized victim and all the way to reluctant bad-ass.

Water can also show you your own reflection.
Water can also show you your own reflection.

This was an excellent beginning to a new horror mythology. The problem is: can there be any stories after this one based on how it ends? I am curious to see if anything can be done and I really admire the story that Chad Archibald and his team took the time to craft.