Saturday, October 31, 2020

Mulliga's 2020 Halloween Spectacular: Junji Ito Double Feature

Not even a seemingly endless global pandemic can cancel Halloween! As if 2020 wasn't scary enough, this year I am featuring my usual ghoulish assortment of posts.

Happy Halloween! Today, let's look at two surreal collections by Junji Ito, Japan's most prolific horror mangaka (to the point where people have to make lists of manga not created by him):

Fragments of Horror

Of the two anthologies, I liked Fragments of Horror better. While the book contains a few gonzo stories apparently designed for fans of Ito's intricate body horror artwork ("Futon" and "Dissection Girl"), there are also intricately-plotted supernatural stories like "Gentle Goodbye" and "Black Bird" that could easily be adapted into movies.

Venus in the Blindspot

The stories in Venus in the Blindspot are supposed to represent a "greatest hits" collection of Ito's short story work, but I found them a little hit and miss. My favorites are "The Enigma of Amigara Fault" and "The Licking Woman," mostly for their uncompromising refusal to explain themselves. Weird things happen in these stories and people die, but there's rarely a pat expository page about an ancient curse or spirit to wrap things up. 

Mulliga's 2020 Halloween Spectacular: Music to be Murdered By

Not even a seemingly endless global pandemic can cancel Halloween! As if 2020 wasn't scary enough, this year I am featuring my usual ghoulish assortment of posts.

Happy Halloween! Below are some recent additions to my enormous 25+ hour Spotify playlist, "Mulliga's Halloween Horrorfest":

Vampire Chick, by Shawlin Supreme & the Kick Back Boys

There are lots of songs comparing a lover to a devil, monster, or the like, but only in the metaphorical sense. These songs generally don't make my playlist, but Vampire Chick takes it a step further by describing an encounter with a vamp that turns into an encounter with, well, a vamp. The funky groove doesn't hurt either.

NIGHTMARE, by Haylee Joe

Like many artists, California pop singer Haylee Joe wrote music in quarantine, recording in her bedroom and producing through Zoom sessions. My pick of her debut EP Norman Bates is this track, which throws in the creepy nursery rhyme from the Elm Street movies (One, Two, Freddy's Coming For You) for good measure.

Dead Heart Beat, by LVCRFT

LVCRFT's 2019 horror pop album, somewhat unimaginatively titled This is Halloween, was a big hit, and their follow-up album, definitely unimaginatively titled The Sequel, is more of the same. I like this track, which includes a spoken word cameo by the CryptKeeper himself, John Kassir.

Werewolf Delight, by DBone and the Remains

I heard about DBone and the Remains from the soundtrack of Netflix's recent Adam Sandler movie, Hubie Halloween.  I like how this track balances camp and danceability - it's the perfect thing to put on for trick or treaters or at a Halloween party. And yes, there is a wolf howl at the end.

Friday, October 30, 2020

Mulliga's 2020 Halloween Spectacular: Dusk

Not even a seemingly endless global pandemic can cancel Halloween! As if 2020 wasn't scary enough, this year I am featuring my usual ghoulish assortment of posts. Let's dive into one of the best retro FPSes out there, Dusk.

It's been a couple decades since I first fired up the nailgun in Quake, but that title's run-and-gun gameplay, killer soundtrack, and Lovecraftian horror themes were obviously huge influences on Dusk:

Developed by David Szymanski, Dusk pits you against an army of deranged cultists and misshapen monsters. There's no cover system, no RPG elements, and no regenerating health - just blue/red/yellow keys and a whole lot of bullets. It's breezy nonstop action, but perhaps a little on the easy side for an old hand like me.

Rating: 86/100

Sunday, October 18, 2020

Mulliga's 2020 Halloween Spectacular: Paimon-palooza

Not even a seemingly endless global pandemic can cancel Halloween! As if 2020 wasn't scary enough, this year I am featuring my usual ghoulish assortment of posts. Today's entry looks at two Paimon-themed movies...


Hereditary is one of those horror flicks that has a clear family tree (no pun intended). The basic plot - a young girl starts acting strangely after the death of her grandmother - recalls The Exorcist and The Omen, and the film's combination of family drama with the paranormal is not particularly original after a half dozen Conjuring and Insidious installments. Perhaps the biggest influence is Rosemary's Baby, in the way the story focuses on the mental breakdown of the protagonist mother played by Toni Collette.

Novelty aside, execution still counts for a lot, and Hereditary nails it. Collette is one of my favorite actresses because of the way she commits to material. Here, she's aided by some fine supporting performances (mild spoiler: Gabriel Byrne plays a straight man for once in a horror movie) and sharp directing from Ari Aster, in his debut (!) feature.

Rating: 8/10

Last Shift

As I said, execution counts for a lot in horror, and Last Shift shows what can happen when dedicated, well-intentioned filmmakers mishandle a familiar premise. In the movie, a rookie cop takes the last shift in a defunct police station, and before you can say "Assault on Precinct 13," spooky things start happening to her.

Is she being stalked from beyond the grave by sadistic serial killers? Is a nefarious otherworldly entity behind her torment? You won't care, because the tiresome, constant jump scares and meandering plot meant I was ready to turn this one off about 40 minutes in. It's a shame, because Juliana Harkavy does well playing the beleaguered officer, and everyone on the crew obviously worked hard.

Rating: 4/10

Sunday, October 04, 2020

Books: Oenophile Quadruple Feature

My managing partner is a wine connoisseur, so I've been reading up on all things viticulture to keep up. Here are some of the best wine-related books I've found: 

A History of the World in 6 Glasses

In this book, Tom Standage explains the surprising ways in which human civilization has been intertwined with 6 beverages, from beer in ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt, all the way to the 20th century march of Coca-Cola. It turns out that drinks like coffee and tea were not merely the products of world history, they also influenced history themselves (coffee fueled some of the Enlightenment's greatest thinkers, and demand for tea drove the Opium Wars, among other things). Wine is the second drink featured in the book, and wine's dual nature - as the favored libation for both hoity-toity Greek symposia and hedonistic Roman Bacchanalia - persists to this day.

The Road to Burgundy

Ray Walker did what so many of us dream about - he quit his boring desk job to follow his real passion, winemaking. And not just any winemaking, but the terroir-specific wines of Burgundy, France. Starting from the literal bottom (cleaning vats and packing bottles in California wineries), Walker eventually decides to move to France with little money and speaking almost no French. The Road to Burgundy has some insights into California and French winemaking, but it's mostly a memoir of a bold man. That the gamble apparently didn't pay off in the long run is no matter - dreams seldom come true, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't chase them.

Secrets of the Sommeliers

While researching wine, I came across Belinda Chang, an amiable wine expert who mentioned Secrets of the Sommeliers as a good resource. The book looks at wine from the perspective of elite sommeliers, wine directors, and producers, with a mix of candid interviews and a nifty appendix of major wines by co-author Rajat Parr (himself a top wine director). This is about as far from your $9.99 supermarket bottle of Barefoot Merlot as you can get, but it's good to see that in the end, wine boils down to the basics - smell, taste, and memory.

Cork Dork

Wide-ranging, often funny, and very personal, Bianca Bosker's Cork Dork details her year and a half of experiential journalism in the world of wine. Starting from never having worked in a restaurant and not being able to tell a Chablis from a Chardonnay, Bosker investigates everything from the secretive world of New York City's "somms," the wine and dining habits of the ultra-rich, and brain researchers looking into the neural activity of wine drinkers. Her transformation - from "civilian" to a "cork dork" - climaxes with the Court of Master Sommeliers "Certified Sommelier" Examination, a grueling test of wine knowledge, blind tasting, and wine service that many fail. How'd the author do? Well, you'll just have to read the book and find out.