Saturday, October 31, 2015

Spooky Shangrila 2015 - Slasher Girls & Monster Boys

The season of fear is here, and all this month, I'll be putting up some spine-tingling Halloween-themed posts to set the stage for the 31st...

Happy Halloween everyone! If you're anything like me, you're spending the night handing out candy to trick-or-treaters, watching old slasher movies, and curling up with a spooky book. For those who want a faceful of young adult horror, look no further than "Slasher Girls & Monster Boys":

It's an anthology of horror short stories edited by April Genevieve Tucholke ("Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea").  The 14 tales mostly feature young female protagonists, and they're all explicitly inspired by other works. The story "In the Forest Dark and Deep," for example, is an unsettling take on Lewis Carroll's March Hare, while the dark exploration of the costs of fame in "Verse Chorus Verse" comes from a Nirvana song.

This is a pretty good collection - there really isn't a clunker in the bunch, and some of the best stories are impressively moody.  My personal favorite is probably "Hide-and-Seek" by Megan Shepherd, which crosses the Rube Goldberg personification of Death from "Final Destination" with the white-knuckle Appalachian survival mindset of "The Hunger Games."

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Spooky Shangrila 2015 - The Horror! The Horror! Comic Books the Government Didn't Want You To Read

The season of fear is here, and all this month, I'll be putting up some spine-tingling Halloween-themed posts to set the stage for the 31st...

It's weird to think of in these days of gritty, Frank Miller-y superhero reboots, but there was a time when the comics industry was heavily self-censored. Gore, sex, and even words like "crime" or "horror" couldn't be used in comics, all thanks to a frenzy of public concern over pulpy stories ruining America's youth.

"The Horror! The Horror!" is a retrospective and collection of some of the '50s comics that people found so objectionable back in the day. In the book, writer Jim Trombetta cracks open his personal collection and reveals a treasure trove of striking covers and twisted stories:

These comics had to stand out in a crowded newsstand, so they all feature garish art and outsized titles. You'll see faces melted off, dastardly skeletons menacing damsels in distress, and terrors from beyond the grave (and the sea, and the stars).

There's a lesson here, though - if you try to control what people are allowed to say, you'll prevent them from saying anything meaningful, too, such as Maxwell Gaines's legendary story of racial prejudice, "Judgment Day."

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Spooky Shangrila 2015: Tips and Tricks for Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios

The season of fear is here, and all this month, I'll be putting up some spine-tingling Halloween-themed posts to set the stage for the 31st...

On certain nights in October, Universal Studios Orlando turns into a macabre playground of haunted houses, "Scareactors," and dark delights...Halloween Horror Nights...

My friends and I have been hanging out at HHN for years, and we've learned quite a bit about how to make the night go smoothly. So, in celebration of HHN's 25th anniversary, here is our advice for newbies to the event:

1. Buy an Express Pass - Base HHN tickets are temptingly priced at around $50, with the Express Pass upgrade running an extra $100 or so. However, you need to buy the upgrade (unless you want to spend most of the night standing in line). The regular wait for a popular haunted house, like this year's "Freddy vs. Jason," can reach two hours; the Express Pass lines usually average 20-30 minutes. Pay the money and thank me later.

2. Eat before you enter - There are some decent places to chow down in the CityWalk area outside the park (my friends swear by The Cowfish), but once you're inside, you're relegated to the same overpriced fast-food they always serve at Universal.

3. Don't carry your gun in - For HHN, Universal sets up metal detectors at the entrance, and it's not somewhere you can tote your CCW. Unlike a lot of so-called "gun-free" zones, though, they do have armed police officers and security everywhere, so I can live with the restriction for a night.

4. Go back to front - If you're planning on doing HHN right when the gates open, you'll be best served by skipping the houses near the front of the park and marching to the back (the strip of land from "A Day in the Park with Barney" to "Men in Black"). There are usually a few houses in close proximity here, and if you're quick, you can easily knock out them out before the wait times get too crazy.

5. There's time to check out non-HHN stuff - Many of the park's normal rides are open during the night, with smaller crowds and shorter lines than a normal day. If you're not a regular visitor to Universal, it might be worth it to take 20 minutes and ride "Transformers," sample a Butterbeer in Diagon Alley, or simply enjoy the atmosphere in a walk around the park.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Spooky Shangrila 2015 - A V/H/S Vivisection

The season of fear is here, and all this month, I'll be putting up some spine-tingling Halloween-themed posts to set the stage for the 31st...

The "V/H/S" series merges two time-honored strains of horror cinema - the anthology movie, and the found footage genre. Like all anthologies, though, the quality of individual segments varies wildly. For those who are short on time, here's a "Mulliga edit" of the stories in each film, so you can skip to the good ones...


Frame Story (SKIP) - A group of thugs is hired to break into a house and steal a videotape - spooky stuff happens within. These segments, like the movie in general, run too long.

Amateur Night (SEE) - Three friends want to film their sexual exploits with a couple of women, but they get more than they bargained for. A fun mix of skin, gore, and nausea-inducing shaky-cam.

Second Honeymoon (SKIP) - A couple goes to the Grand Canyon for a second honeymoon. Honestly, I thought this one was pretty forgettable.

Tuesday the 17th (SKIP) - Campers are stalked in the woods by a mysterious killer. This short is really only notable because of the cool "VHS tracking error" visual effects.

The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger (SEE) - A girl's videochats with her boyfriend reveal a disturbing infection. This is sort of the precursor to modern "social media" films like "Unfriended" and "Open Windows." It's worth a watch.

10/31/98 (SKIP) - Friends stumble onto a haunted house on Halloween. Competently done, but lacks the intensity you might expect from a story like this.


Frame Story (SEE) - A private investigator looks into the disappearance of a college student. The moody lighting makes these interstitial segments worth viewing.

Phase I Clinical Trials (SEE) - An optic implant gives a man the ability to see beyond the grave. This short plays fast and loose with the rules of the "found" footage genre, but it has a pleasant pace and a good, unsettling climax.

A Ride in the Park (SKIP) - A first-person encounter with a zombie outbreak. I liked the birthday party bit, but otherwise, there aren't too many surprises here.

Safe Haven (MUST SEE) - A news crew investigates a cult in Indonesia. This is easily the best short in the entire "V/H/S" series - it obeys the conventions of the genre, it puts together a half-dozen indelible images, and the finale is about as nightmarish as anything you'll see on film.

Slumber Party Alien Abduction (SKIP) - Aliens invade a slumber party. Lots of random loud noises and flashing lights, but it never really goes anywhere.

V/H/S: Viral

Frame Story (SKIP) - Viral video of a high-speed pursuit threatens to overwhelm people's senses. This frame story sorta drags the whole movie down - I appreciate that it tried to go full Quatermass with the ending, but it made little sense.

Dante the Great (SEE) - A magician finds a mysterious cloak that grants incredible power...for a price. I like that they wove in real-life illusion tricks, so I thought this one was fun.

Parallel Monsters (SEE) - There's a universe parallel to ours, with some strange differences. This short is great the first time through because of the surprise factor, but it loses a lot on subsequent viewings.

Bonestorm (SKIP) - Skateboarders have a violent tangle with a Mexican cult. There are some fun action scenes, but this short is too long and doesn't develop its characters as well as something like "Safe Haven."

Gorgeous Vortex (SKIP - this short was cut from the theatrical release) - A beautiful woman tries to escape from a secret society. A little too abstract for my taste, and it deviates so far from the found footage formula that it was rightfully cut.