Ladies of Horror May-hem: Carrie White

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If ever you wanted the perfect spokesperson for why you shouldn’t bully the different kids, then Carrie White could be your golden girl. The bullied will envy the powers she possesses to take care of her adversaries, and the bullies should view her as the ultimate warning: Leave the different ones alone. You never know what you might uncover.

Based on Stephen King’s first published novel, Carrie is director Brian De Palma’s stylized telling of the story of a timid young woman with a religiously fanatical mother who rants and raves against the assumed sins of her daughter’s flesh in the most upsetting ways. Her abusive, sheltered life at home gives her no ability to defend herself against the abuses of her school environment, and neither place gives poor Carrie respite from the perpetual haranguing from all around her.

But Carrie has a secret…and it’s a killer, to be sure.

I suppose some might view Carrie as a horror villain. I don’t. I view her as a caution that, even though most bullied kids might not have the same powers Carrie possesses, they are one small step away from crossing a similarly violent line. Although she might be fictional, Carrie’s tragic tale has resonated loudly and sadly through far too many schools in far too many locations.

De Palma’s 1976 movie also earns pride of place as another one of the best adaptations of a King novel (even if his concept of what a girls’ gym locker room is like is way too Playboy Playmates romp for reality), with Sissy Spacek slamming home her portrayal of this awkward, unlearned, damaged young woman. Spacek’s Carrie is unnerving in the duality of her innocence and power, and when the movie’s denouement rains down upon her, you both feel her devastation and fracturing, and…well, you bloody well root for what’s about to come.

Ladies of Horror May-hem: Asami Yamazaki

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Remember what I wrote about Annie Wilkes? Ramp that up by a million and you’ll enter the galaxy of Asami Yamazaki. But you still won’t quite be anywhere near her. Trust me when I say that’s a good thing.

Japanese director Takashi Miike’s Audition was one of the first movies I experienced at the rise in popularity of Asian horror here in the States. I’ve seen quite a few horror movies from places like Japan, China, Thailand, and South Korea since then, but Miike’s tale remains near the top of the list in terms of what has been seen can never be unseen.

Part of me feels guilty for adding Asami as a contender, because I can’t in good conscience recommend this movie for everyone. It’s one of those films I would only recommend to really serious horror fans. However, it’s for this very reason that I knew I couldn’t leave Asami out of the running, especially if I included Annie Wilkes (and I had to include Annie Wilkes). Both of these characters complement each other as prime examples of how the passage of time will inevitably lead to the “ramping up” of what we deem shocking or horrifying. You thought a hammer was bad? You’ve no idea.

Is this necessarily a good thing? I don’t really think I’m the right person to answer that question. My current personal horror preferences tend to lean toward those movies that introduce some kind of unexplainable (read: non-mortal-human) element into the storyline. I’ve learned that I don’t really enjoy movies that focus on the all-too-real ability of regular humans to be horrible to each other. I see what transpires in real life, and some of that makes horror movies look like Care Bear cartoons. We really are the disease, Agent Smith. Therefore, movies that depend upon the ramping up of realistic-looking violence as their sole source of “horror” aren’t really up my alley.

Why include Asami, then? Because, like Annie Wilkes, there’s a perverted logic to her behavior that makes her more than a pointlessly violent horror movie character. She has motivations that are understandable when examined through her warped view of reality (kind of like our lovely May from yesterday). I think this is one of the more interesting aspects of horror. When the story is told properly, even if you can’t imagine yourself responding in the same ways as these characters, you can understand them. Asami has obviously, to use layman’s vernacular, “seen some shit.” And whatever she’s gone through, be it internal or external, it’s seriously twisted her ability to behave in socially acceptable ways.

And that’s putting it mildly.

Also, Asami was definitely a “trial-by-fire” introduction to a new cultural perspective on the horror genre. She opened my eyes and sent me on my merrily terrified way, tearing through the foreign horror section on Netflix like a mouse loose in a cheese factory. For that, I hold a special place for her. A place far removed from my actual location. She does not need to know where I live.

Ladies of Horror May-hem: May Dove Canady

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Oh, I’ve been waiting to draw this name. After all, who better to represent the month of May-hem than that lovely, shy lass, May Canady?

Written and directed by Lucky McKee, May introduces us to this eponymous young woman, in all her lonely, socially inept glory. May’s a bit of a strange bird. She lacks any skill when it comes to interacting with others, whether it’s her overly friendly coworker Polly or hunky mechanic Adam. She’d like to connect with others, but she very obviously lacks any experience when it comes to relationships. She spent most of her life ostracized by a particularly difficult-to-manage lazy eye, which caused her to grow up practically friendless. In fact, her “best friend” Suzie is a doll her mother made for her with the explanation, “If you can’t find a friend, make one.”

Great advice, Mom. Too bad your little girl’s going to hold you to that when she grows up.

An optometrist finally helps fix May’s physical problem, but the emotional damage is already done. She does try to become more social and form normal bonds with others. She doesn’t really enjoy the entirety of others, though. She quickly realizes that people are holistically imperfect…but she is a believer that everyone has something to offer her. Something that can help make the perfect friend.

Bringing May to life was the Xenaean (yeah, I just made that up to take the place of “Herculean”; what of it?) task taken on by actress Angela Bettis. I’d never seen Bettis before this movie. Now, I can’t see her as anyone other than May at first blush. For all the terrible things that we watch May do, Bettis is able to convey those broken parts of May’s psyche in such a way that I can understand why she ends up doing the things she does. Not condone them…but understand them. Thanks to Bettis’s skill and obvious respect for this role, May’s denouement, though shocking and a little heave-inducing, makes sense when viewed through the lens of May’s shattered perspective on reality.

Ultimately, May exists as a reminder that looking solely at the exterior is never a good way to choose someone for friendship. Oh, and always be careful when giving advice to little kids. Prophets help you if they take everything you say literally…

Ladies of Horror May-hem: Mrs. Ganush

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I love Sam Raimi. Whether directly or indirectly, he has brought so much joy into my geeky little world, be it in the form of horror or thriller or fantasy or radioactive spider. And Xena. Let’s not forget Xena. However, I love him most when he’s in his horror mode. Especially when said horror mode brings about wonder and grossness in the form of his most recent submission to the genre, 2009’s Drag Me to Hell.

The plot is pretty straight-forward: Loan officer Christine Brown refuses to grant elderly Mrs. Ganush a loan extension, thus paving the way for her to be evicted from her home, which is pretty horrific in a real-world, “you’re a bit of a douche” kind of way. What Brown doesn’t realize is that the woman she’s just evicted is not going to take this lightly. She’s also highly skilled at cursing, and not in the “drunken sailor” kind of way.

Hilarity? Oh, it doth ensue.

Mrs. Ganush is one of the most terrifyingly sympathetic characters to ever spring from the fertile depths of a mind as wonderfully warped as Raimi’s. She’s just a harmless old lady when we meet her, with her bad eye and questionable hygiene. But what transpires is a work of filthy, funky, frightening art. Raimi masterfully twists and turns the roles of protagonist and antagonist in unsettling yet ultimately fantastic ways, leaving us rooting for…well, maybe not even rooting for anyone…but loving the battle that takes place along the way. This movie reminded me how great he is at horror, and how I wish he’d do it more often.

Beyond Raimi’s influence is the miraculous casting of Lorna Raver as Mrs. Ganush. I love actresses who allow themselves to let go of all pretense and fully immerse themselves into a role, and, boy howdy, does she do just that. Raver will make sure that you do not forget Mrs. Ganush or her warped game of “Button, Button, Who’s Got the Button?” for a very long time.

I really don’t want to say anything else about Mrs. Ganush, because I really, desperately want you all to watch this movie. It’s disgusting as only a Sam Raimi horror movie can be, with body fluids galore…and a gumming. I just…there’s a gumming. And it’s So. Very. Awful.

Seriously, watch this. And brush your teeth. And bathe. And don’t take buttons from strangers. And don’t evict little old ladies from their homes. Those little old ladies will drag you down…

Ladies of Horror May-hem: Mary Henry

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And finally, a regular here at the lair surfaces!

I have raved about the wonder that is Carnival of Souls for quite some time now, and yet I continue to hear it described by fellow horror hounds as “the best movie never seen.” As a full-on fan of this movie, I feel that it’s my duty to continue to sing its praises and encourage as many people as possible to see it.

That being said, I almost didn’t include Mary Henry as a possible Lady of Horror May-hem. She spends a large portion of the movie being reactive rather than proactive. However, because I’m a generous soul and because I really do love this movie so much, I allowed her to attend. After all, she is the one who sets into motion the entirety of this story thanks to her actions at the beginning. That counts! Also, she does it all by drag-racing a carload of hot-rodders. Drag-racing grrls, FTW.

Mary, as portrayed by Candace Hilligoss, also stands as the first bad-ass lady to go up against the modern cinema’s take on zombies (no, they aren’t really zombies…then again, most “zombies” we see in movies aren’t zombies either…they’re simply plays on this prototype). She stands at the pinnacle, even above George Romero’s Barbara from Night of the Living Dead. Romero even states that director Herk Harvey and writer John Clifford inspired his perennial zombie favorites.

Carnival of Souls is not your typical horror. It’s not burdened by special effects that would have aged in noticeably awkward ways. It’s streamlined and stunning, a firm and fit tale presented in the most delicious black and white shots imaginable. Harvey knew how to work that monochromatic palette. And Hilligoss’s portrayal of Mary’s downward spiral into terrified confusion is such that even when she tipples over into campiness, you never feel like she’s insincere. Just really overwhelmed by all that’s happening around her.

Another aspect that marks Mary as unique among early horror movie heroines is her unexpected hardened edge, especially regarding her take on religion. One assumes that a woman who has made church organist her profession would have a profound respect for the religion that employs her. Not so, Bob. She’s just in it for the Benjamins. In fact, she really doesn’t give much of a damn for anything other than her work and being left alone. Is this a side effect of the events of the movie, or is this her true personality? Regardless, it’s who we meet, who we observe, and who we ultimately follow to that penultimate dance that keeps luring her closer and closer as the dusk descends upon the carnival.

Ladies of Horror May-hem: India Stoker

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I honestly couldn’t be happier with the first name I’ve drawn to kick off this month of May-hem. She’s new to the block here at the lair and she just so happens to be one of my favorite recent horror movie discoveries from one of my favorite recent horror director discoveries.

Meet India Stoker, star of Korean director Chan-wook Park’s English-language debut Stoker. Now, mind you, I’m not going to give reviews of the movies from which these characters derive, nor am I going to reveal any spoilers in what I write about them. I’ve chosen these characters for reasons that I believe make them worth discovering on your own, denizens. It’s up to you to find out if you agree with my choices.

That being said, I will let you know that this film definitely falls into the “coming of age” category. Every genre has them. Horror just makes them more enjoyable (putting the “fun” in “dysfunctional” never felt so right…if by “right,” you mean traumatizing and wrong). The movie starts out with a life-altering event for India that introduces an even more powerful altering agent into her rather staid, controlled world. However, there’s a reason why those in India’s life maintained such standards of control and ritual over her up to this point. Now that those standards have vanished…well, India’s got a whole world of opportunity ahead of her that she never considered before.

To his credit, Park directed a brilliant first entry into English-language horror. Best known among genre fans for his “Vengeance” trilogy, he once again shows his affinity for exploring humanity’s bleakness in visually stunning ways. Here, he shows us a steadily, carefully paced story wrapped in the finery of beautifully crafted shots.

He also did quite well by casting Mia Wasikowska as India. Probably most familiar to American audiences as Alice from Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, she possesses features of porcelain delicacy, a gaze of ethereal inscrutability, and the ability to slip in and out of indifference as easily as one slips into a pair of shoes (and, mind you, shoes play quite a role in this movie).

India is a complexity that urges understanding, but be careful of the reward for your curiosity.

Unleashing the May-hem…

So here’s the deal: Last month, I came across this list of “50 Most Bad-Ass Female Horror Leads.” You all know me. I love horror. I also love bad-ass women.

That being said, I have to say that this list sorely misses the mark in many ways. First, the originators of the list need a lesson in the difference between horror, science fiction, and fantasy. Second, they need to make a good list rather than a list littered with characters added just to rile people rather than provide a satisfying user experience. This is the only reason I can come up with as to why Buffy is listed as third on this list. Also, they need to learn a little respect. Some of the characters they placed high on the list wouldn’t have existed without some of the characters they ranked embarrassingly low (or not at all).

That all being said, I decided that I would come up with my own list. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that a true list wouldn’t really be fair. Sometimes, a character is really awesome because of what she’s doing throughout the movie. Sometimes, she’s awesome simply because she’s the lead and holding her own for the most part. One character is a hell raiser and one is a ground breaker. One might not have existed without the other, even though the latter might be stronger than the former. Basically, it’s apples and blood oranges.

But never fear, denizens! I have come up with a solution. I have created a list (I love lists) of all the female characters I think deserve the title of “Horror Bad Ass.” That means that the women on my list come from actual horror movies (sorry, Selene, Alice, and Buffy). They come from modern movies and classics. They come from American movies and foreign films. I even collected recommendations, just to make sure that I wasn’t missing any main characters. My only rules for considering these characters is that I have to have seen the movie from which they came and they have to have played a central proactive role in said movie.

Next step? I cut up the list, folded each name, and put all the slips of paper into a box. Now, every day throughout the month of May, I’m going to shake up these names and draw a random one to feature here. See? Random chance will be my ranking tool. Also, there are more than 31 names in this box, so that means that not every character I’ve chosen will make the cut. But the bottom line is that every character I put up here throughout May is going to be a character I think deserves to be included in my “Ladies of Horror May-hem” series.

Yes, this is how my brain works. Welcome to the horror show, denizens…

Flashback Friday: Double Trouble

Okay, this is going to be a really weird entry, but I learned a bunch of stuff yesterday that I wanted to share…it kind of relates to the show listed in this post’s title…kind of not. Just follow along. It’s all cool, in a nerdy pop culture way.

So, does anyone remember a show from the mid-80s called Double Trouble? It was an 80s-era update of The Patty Duke Show that was barely on for a minute, but this time, they sprang for actual twins:

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Meet Jean and Liz Sagal. Or Liz and Jean Sagal. Meet the Sagal twins. You might have seen them in other 80s-era shows and movies, either together or on their own. You might have missed the fact that they were twins and thought that this was one busy actress. Between the two of them, they covered the gamut of big 80s viewing, including Cagney & Lacey, Trapper John, M.D., Highway to Heaven, 21 Jump Street, Quantum Leap, Simon & Simon…I’m not saying which one, but one of them even appeared in that classically awful Lucasian misstep Howard the Duck, as Ronnette, the dummer for Beverly Switzler’s band Cherry Bomb:

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Sweet traumatizing prophets, WTAF were these actors thinking? Look at the names in this clip: Tim Robbins, Lea Thompson, Holly Robinson…wow. That’s some big pull for such a little duck.

And now I feel the need to self-abuse myself by revisiting this abomination from my youth.

Anyway, back on point. Since their debut, the Sagal twins have made their way from in front of the camera to behind the camera. One directs and one edits. However…their older sister Katey continues to wow the crowds with her ability to switch gears through all kinds of characters. That’s right, their sister is Peg Bundy:

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Or the Cyclopean Leela for those of us who never really enjoyed Married With Children:

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Truth be told, Katey Sagal has played a very impressive array of characters throughout her career, including a recurring character on the current series Sons of Anarchy. She does terrible characters really well, but she seems to comes across as quite a lovely person in real life [insert Jon Lovitz “Acting!” meme here].

I’m always fascinated by people who are nice in reality but excel at playing creeps on-screen. Like Louise Fletcher. If you don’t fear her as Kai Winn on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, then you will surely want to run away from her Nurse Ratched or risk being lobotomized for being too slow. And yet, have you ever seen her acceptance speech when she won for Nurse Ratched?

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That ending. That. Ending. Even Nurse Ratched has a heart.

Well then. Talk about wandering off-topic. Anyway, the point of all this is that I always find it interesting when I learn about family connections throughout Hollywood.

This connection goes even deeper, in fact. The family patriarch, Boris Sagal, became a director and writer after he came to this country from Ukraine. He directed quite a few things throughout his career, including several episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, an episode of Mrs. Columbo (which starred pre-spaceflight Kate Mulgrew), and Omega Man, the Charlton Heston ruination translation of Richard Matheson’s novella I Am Legend.

[Loba Tangent: Still waiting for Hollywood to get that story right in a movie.]

Sadly, Sagal died while filming the miniseries World War III. He had just finished shooting aerial shots and when he climbed out of the helicopter (which had landed in the parking lot of the hotel used for exterior shots in The Shining, of all movies), he turned the wrong way and walked right into the tail rotor. I don’t think you really want any additional details there.

And there you have it. This is all what I learned yesterday. Oh, and as for the show in the title? I can’t remember anything about it. How’s that for burying the lede?

BookBin2014: Locke & Key: Clockworks

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Remember back when I reviewed volumes 2-4 of Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez’s Locke & Key graphic novel series and stated that I loved those volumes so much that I had already added myself to the library wait list for the fifth volume, Clockworks?

Finally.

That’s right, it took almost 8 months to finally receive the fifth volume…and it subsequently took me less than a day to consume it and still be left starving for more.

I’m not going to go into details other than to say that this volume finally provides the full back story for how Rendell Locke and his friends ended up unleashing the demon that has been plaguing his children. More captivating Hill storytelling set off by beautiful Rodriguez artwork. I cannot reiterate enough that if you love well-crafted horror and stunning illustrations, then these books are a must-read for you.

I’m also going to skip the “Final Verdict” section, because I’m getting these novels. No ifs, ands, or buts. IDW has released the final volume already, so technically, I can go ahead and start stacking up now. I’m torn, though. Do I wait to see if they release a packaged set of all six books? Maybe a special edition set with bonus materials? Or do I just start buying the separate books now?

Decisions, decisions. Mayhaps it’s time to e-mail IDW directly to find out if they have anything planned. To the lair inbox, stat!

BookBin2014: Selected Stories of Philip K. Dick

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Okay, let’s just get the puerile moment out of the way now. Loba loves Dick.

Go on. Giggle. I’ll wait.

All right, wrap it up! Honestly.

As I was saying, I do lurves me some Philip K. Dick. I also recently immersed myself in the joys of putting holds on books from other local libraries. I went a little crazy with that one, actually. But that’s a different story. So, thanks to book hold miracles, I was able finally to read Selected Stories of Philip K. Dick. I must have picked up this collection 20 times if I picked it up once at the Borders that used to be near my work. Sadly, though, I didn’t get a chance to get over for the store closing sales, so I never acquired this for my collection.

First, here are the stories included:

  • “Beyond Lies the Wub”
  • “Roog”
  • “Paycheck”
  • “Second Variety”
  • “Imposter”
  • “The King of the Elves”
  • “Adjustment Team”
  • “Foster, You’re Dead”
  • “Upon the Dull Earth”
  • “Autofac”
  • “The Minority Report”
  • “The Days of Perky Pat”
  • “Precious Artifact”
  • “A Game of Unchance”
  • “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale”
  • “Faith of Our Fathers”
  • “The Electric Ant”
  • “A Little Something for Us Tempunauts”
  • “The Exit Door Leads In”
  • “Rautavaara’s Case”
  • “I Hope I Shall Arrive Soon”

Quite a nice selection, indeed, including the short stories that inspired movies Total Recall, Minority Report, Paycheck, Impostor, The Adjustment Bureau, and Screamers. I’ve not seen all of these movies, but of the ones that I have seen, I enjoyed finally seeing them in their original (always different, sometimes better) forms. I enjoyed the entire collection, but I think the caveat is that “enjoy” means something entirely different when applied to the writings of this particular author. Dick’s stories epitomize dystopic futurism. Whether bleak and chaotic or sterile and despondent, his future rarely conjures the warm fuzzies. His characters are beleaguered and all-too-often seconds away from incarceration for events either beyond their knowledge or beyond their control. Sometimes, they face alien enemies. Sometimes, their enemies come from within their own ranks. Sometimes, they come from within their own minds.

Hardly does sunshine fall upon Dick’s worlds. They are battle-damaged, time-ravaged, alien landscapes (sometimes figuratively and sometimes literally). Same with his characters. “Happy ending” sometimes computes to a character ending his own existence rather than someone else doing it for him. Dick is dark.

So why do I love him so much? I like dark. I like dystopic. I think imperfection adds complexity and chaos instigates intrigue. I don’t inherently trust people who think that everything is perfect and wonderful. Those are the people who are one day going to have a massive mental fissure and start chucking kittens into rush-hour traffic. Dick’s stories are reminders to dark-souled individuals like me that life is bleak and unforgiving and we must go about to spark our own light where we can. Also, we should expect the neighbor’s dog to be in cahoots with aliens and the grocery checker to be an android. Or alien. Or alien android.

However, Dick is a bit much to take in one consolidated collection like this one. My enjoyment definitely waned toward the end. After a while, you do kind of want a bit of the warm fuzzies. It’s kind of like how I’ve been on a horror movie kick lately, but every now and then I’ll take a break for something like WALL-E or The Blob (okay, so that last one is a horror movie, too, but it still counts as a break, dammit). Still, I’m glad that I was able to track down and finally read this collection. I actually found a nice selection of some of Dick’s novels at a used bookstore. Reading this reminded me of their presence in my library and that I really need a little more Dick in my life.

Go on, giggle away. That was a freebie.

Final Verdict: If you are looking for an entry point into the world of Philip K. Dick, then I would probably recommend you start with one of his full novels or a smaller collection of short stories. I think this one might overload the novice if they read it all at once. However, I definitely see the value of having a book like this in a sci-fi collection. It would make an excellent rainy-day diversion.