The Return of Jenny 2: This Time it’s Personal

Posted: March 10, 2014 by Jenny Dreadful in About Us
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Photo by Rae Winters

Hello again, horror friends. Jenny Dreadful here. It’s been a long time.

Although I was never as fast or competent with writing as I wanted to be, I used to be more active on the site and within my local horror community. I miss that. I’m an artist, a game designer, a hardcore horror fan, and now… as of August… I’m working a somewhat square office job too (after a decade of freelancing). Wow, I’m tired. I truly don’t know how so many of you keep the content coming, but I admire you and I’m working to achieve that elusive work-art-horror balance again.

For a little while, I think I was content with letting my parts of the blog go dark and allowing Jenny D to disappear. I saw the way so many local cinephiles treat each other, the way they talk about each other, and it was discouraging. What do they really think of me? What do they say when I’m not looking? I didn’t feel like I was good enough to keep up. I didn’t think I would be missed. I’m happy to say that I was wrong.

This past month, I’ve attended a few events and I’ve been lucky enough to spend time with wonderful people who care about the genre and social issues like I do. I’ve learned that the people who matter care about what I have to say and about sharing our passions for the genre whether I’m actively writing and getting involved or just watching movies and geeking out with friends on someone’s couch. Whether I’m cool enough, pretty enough or if I have the “right” opinions or not. Because love is what draws us all together. Love for fear, dread, shock, love for blood and screams, but love all the same.

The folks who care more about tearing each other down, about being better and smarter than everyone else, they’ve lost that love. I hope they get it back one day, but I can’t worry about what people like that think of me. It’s exhausting and a waste of time. I need to find those people who chase the experience of being scared the way that I do, who care about the causes that I do, who are genuine and kind, and hold on tight. Between the Philly Loves Women in Horror event, a visit to Monster Mania 27, and ongoing adventures with my girl Rae “StayFrosty” Winters, I think I’ve found what I’m looking for.

Want to talk about some horror movies? Awesome. Me too.

***Coverage of Monster Mania 27 coming this week!

The Ripleys (Awards Season Part 2)

Posted: March 2, 2014 by StayFrosty in Film, Reviews

frosty In Part 2 of our awards season posts, we do horror Oscars style!  But since we’re clearly way cooler than the Oscars, we call our awards The Ripleys.  Because you can’t get much cooler than that.

Best Actress – Katharine Isabelle, American Mary - I’ve already discussed American Mary and its many merits (including Isabelle’s acting) in a review earlier in the year, but it’s worth mentioning again that Katherine Isabelle brings a whole new dimension to the slasher villain – if villain is even the right word.  Regardless, I loved seeing a woman take on a role typically played by men, and kick ass doing it.  Kudos to Isabelle and the Soska sisters for showing people that it’s not the gender of the slasher that matters.

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Best Actor – Elijah Wood, Maniac remake – Considering we barely see Wood for the entirety of the film, why give him the award?  Because even though he isn’t seen much, his presence permeates every frame of the film and when we do see him, he makes it count.  Fans of “Sin City” already knew Wood could handle seriously and creepy roles.  But he takes it to another level as Frank, creating a deeply unsettling character that still somehow elicits the viewers’ empathy.  While Wood was only booked for 8 days on this film, he came to set every day to deliver his lines off screen, and that kind of devotion helps illustrate just how much he gave for this film.  He takes this character to another level, and is mesmerizing whether you can see him or not.

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Best Supporting Actor – Patrick Wilson, Insidious Chapter 2 & The Conjuring – Wilson, originally a Broadway star, has always been terrific in whatever movie he’s in, whether playing a possible pedophile in Hard Candy or out-singing everyone in Phantom of the Opera.  But when he and James Wan teamed up, we got magic.  Wilson gives great performances in both Insidious Chapter 2 and The Conjuring this year, and while his parts may not be the most flashy, he always brings solidity and honesty to his roles.  I definitely hope he and Wan continue to work together in the future.

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Best Gore – Evil Dead remake – There’s really no competition here.  If you’ve seen the Evil Dead remake, you know the gore was elevated to Grand Guignol levels of insanity, especially in the last 15 minutes of the film.  It goes beyond just gore to an art form.  A gross, wonderful art form.

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Best Cinematography – Maniac

Best Short – “Safe Haven” from V/H/S 2  - It’s no secret that I love a good cultist movie (or short, as the case may be), but making an effective cult is no easy task.  From the opening minutes of “Safe Haven”, directors Timo Tjahjanto and Gareth Huw Evans create a deeply unsettling atmosphere, even during scenes that seem innocuous.  And once this thing gets going, it does not disappoint.  The ending might be a little divisive (it was clearly a choice by the directors, one I understood better the second time around), but this short takes the madness of the last day of a cult and drags you right into the terrifying middle of it.  When I say all hell breaks loose, I really mean it.  So worth your time.

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Best Poster – You’re Next – In this case, I think the poster can speak for itself:

You're Next poster

frostyJust in time for the Oscars, FGSG presents our two part awards season posts!  We begin with the best 13 films we experienced in 2013.  Usually we tackle this together, but life is really busy for JennyD right now, so this is mainly my list.  I freely admit there were some great movies playing at festivals this year that I wasn’t able to see, so this list reflects all the films I was able to see during 2013.  I probably missed a few excellent ones, but hey, what can I do?  I won’t pretend money and time aren’t a factor, but I/we did the best we could to see as much as possible.  So here they are, the top 13 of 2013:

1.  American Mary – I wrote about American Mary earlier this year – http://finalgirlsupportgroup.wordpress.com/2013/10/22/9-more-days-til-halloween-presenting-american-mary/

2.  The Bay – Found footage might seem like it’s on the way out, but clever movies like Chronicle and The Bay show us that there’s still life in it yet – and in the case of The Bay, that life is parasitic and gross.  Directed by Barry Levinson (who created such classic as Rain Man, Good Morning Vietnam and Bugsy) originally wanted to create a documentary about the pollution invading the Chesapeake Bay but, in his own words, “nobody cares­—people say, ‘It’s polluted, so what?’ I said no. But a few months later, I thought, ‘We’ve gathered all this research; why don’t we tweak it for a theatrical release? We can scare an audience with a story that is 80 to 85 percent science and facts.’”  And it works – knowing this movie was based mainly on fact added to its intensity for me.  Utilizing all different types of found footage such as cell phone cameras and security videos, the main source comes from a small time news broadcast whose anchor (Kether Donohue) is on the island to cover the town’s Fourth of July celebration.  And that makes perfect sense because if there’s one thing I learned from the movies, it’s that when there’s danger happening close on some kind of holiday, you must never, NEVER close the beaches!

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3.  Berberian Sound Studio – A giallo that isn’t (sort of), BSS stars Tobey Jones as Gilderoy, a sound engineer who travels to Italy to work on what he thinks is a documentary about horses, but turns out to be something more sinister. Or is Gilderoy’s mind deteriorating and nothing is what it seems?  That BSS gives no clear answers might be frustrating to some, but those who are willing to go with it will find themselves sucked into a strange, beautiful mind-whammy of a movie.  And considering the title, do I even need to tell you that the sound is just divine?

4.  The Conjuring – I don’t know if it was the best of the year, but it was definitely one of my favorites to watch this year.  Wan knows how to create a roller coaster ride of a film without resorting to cheap stings and crappy CGI.  It’s classic haunted house filmmaking at its most enjoyable.  Sit back, leave your cynicism at the door, and enjoy the ride.

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5.  Europa Report

6.  Evil Dead remake – JennyD and I covered the Evil Dead remake earlier in the year.  http://finalgirlsupportgroup.wordpress.com/2013/10/23/8-more-days-til-halloween-presenting-evil-dead-2013/

7.  Insidious Chapter 2 – While not as strong as the original Insidious, Chapter 2 still offers some great classic scares and excellent acting.  Wan is on a roll.

8.  The Last Will and Testament of Rosalind Leigh – I covered TLWaToRL during the Halloween season this year – check out my review – http://finalgirlsupportgroup.wordpress.com/2013/10/28/3-more-days-til-halloween-presenting-the-last-will-and-testament-of-rosalind-leigh/

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9.  Maniac remake – Choosing to remake a film like Maniac takes bravery – the original is famous not just for its immense amounts of disturbing gore and content, but also for the creepy/yucky yet somehow sympathetic presence of Joe Spinell in the main role.  Any attempt to redo this film was going to be a tough sell to genre fans.  Thankfully, director Frank Khalfoun found a whole new direction in which to take the story of Frank, a dangerously repressed man for whom violence is the norm.  By choosing to shot the film entirely in first person POV, Khalfoun gives us no choice but to identify/empathize with Frank, something that many audience members found difficult to handle.  I found it an extremely effective decision, and not the only good one this guy made.  Elijah Wood (Frodo from Lord of the Rings) was cast as Frank, an extreme departure from Joe Spinell’s intimidating presence .  Having a talented actor and horror fan in the first person perspective instead of just anyone creates a whole difference experience while watching the film.  I was pleased the studio didn’t force Khalfoun to choose based on the rationale that since you won’t see the actor for most of the film, it won’t matter who you put in the shoes.   The film is beautifully shot – the first person POV never feels like a gimmick and the slick neons on the rain make a beautiful backdrop for Frank’s brutal business.  Not for the faint of heart, but definitely worth it for those who think they can handle it.

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10.  Stoker

11.  V/H/S 2

12.  You’re Next – Sharni Vincent leads You’re Next as a new type of Final Girl – the one you don’t see coming.  You’re Next boasts an excellent cast, including Vincent, Barbara Crampton and Ti West (among others), as a family (along with some significant others) meeting up in a remote house for an incredibly awkward gathering that turns deadly when strangers in animal masks target them all for death.  Or is there more going on than meets the eye???? I don’t want to give anything away, but Sharni Vincent plays an excellent cross between Ripley and Sally Hardesty – she’s tough as nails but is still scared and damaged by the horrible experience she goes through.  One of the better home invasion efforts in recent memory.

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13.  The World’s End – Hilarous!  Of course, when you combine the skills of Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, it’s pretty hard for a film to be bad.  The last of the “Cornetto” trilogy (which also includes Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz), The World’s End follows a group of school friends (led by Pegg and Frost) as they reunite in their hometown to finish the epic pub crawl they never completed in their youth.  Unbeknownst to them, however, their town has changed a bit since they were younger, and they find themselves overrun by villainy as they try to both save the world and get a drunk as possible.  Many laughs and even a few touching moments occur.  It was tough to choose between this and This is the End, but the combo of Wright, Pegg and Frost is hard to beat.

The World's End

Philly Loves Women in Horror – films and panel

Posted: February 26, 2014 by StayFrosty in About Us, Events, Film

frostyThis past weekend, JennyD and I were asked to take part in a panel for Philly Loves Women in Horror, an event of short films and film discussion created by Ashlee Blackwell.  The event was moderated by Hannah Neurotica (whom it was incredible to meet), the creator of Women in Horror month, and it was an incredible, inspiring and exciting event that we were thrilled to be a part of!  We got to meet some awesome and creative women, see some excellent shorts, and be on a panel with other lady horror lovers like us.  What’s not to love?

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Let’s start with the films.  We got to see 10 shorts, and there were some very strong offerings.  I really loved the opening short, “The Dump”, directed by Rebekah McKendry (2012) – she seamlessly blended horror and comedy in her story about two killers who run into each other at a dump site they both want to use.  Discussion and laughter ensues.  Looking forward to more from Ms. McKendry!

We found at this event that we had more fun with horror comedy shorts than the more serious ones, which for me at least is different from normal – horror and comedy can be very tough to combine, but many of these ladies handled it with ease.  “My Mom and Other Monsters” (dir. Kate Tsang, 2011) kept it creepy until the end, “Sheeties” (dir. Paula Haifley, 2012), a mockumentary about the lives and relationship trials of those who dare to embrace their love of wearing the classic ghost sheet, had me laughing the whole time, and “OowieWanna” (dir. Bridget Palardy, 2011), takes an adventure at a laundromat to a whole new (and musical!) level.  Out of all the shorts, I definitely enjoyed these the most, but all of the films had something interesting to offer.

We also got to see two trailers, one from Lil’ Filmmakers, an organization that helps youth and teens learn to make movies and explore their love of cinema.  Their upcoming film is called “Erudition”.  For information, including how to donate, please check out http://www.lilfilmmakersinc.com/

The other trailer was for a documentary entitled “My Final Girl” by Kristina Leath-Malin, who also joined us on the panel, about the role of American black women in the Blaxploitation and horror genre, something that I can’t wait to watch.  Check out the trailer here:  http://vimeo.com/62552635

From left: JennyD, Stay Frosty, Kristina Leath-Malin, Ashlee Blackwell, Hannah Neurotica

From left: JennyD, Stay Frosty, Kristina Leath-Malin, Ashlee Blackwell, Hannah Neurotica

After the films, JennyD and I got to speak on a panel alongside Kristina Leath-Malin and Ashlee Blackwell, moderated by Hannah Neurotica!  We discussed our first encounters with the word/understanding of the final girl, how our gender has affected our experiences within the genre community (both positively and negatively), and much more!

JennyD and StayFrosty on the panel!!!!

JennyD and StayFrosty on the panel!!!!

Jenny and I were honored to be part of an event for Women in Horror Month!  We hope next year we can do even more!  But February isn’t over yet, people – get out there and support ladies in the genre community!  In fact, who cares if it’s not February?  Celebrate women in horror all year round!

Philly Loves Women in Horror!

Posted: February 22, 2014 by Jenny Dreadful in About Us, Events, Film

Hey, Philly horror freaks! This is an important announcement!

PHILLY LOVES WOMEN IN HORROR kicks off at 3pm today at The Rotunda! See more details here:
https://www.facebook.com/events/380316498738942/
A selection of horror films from female directors will be on offer, as well as a panel featuring ladies active in the local genre scene.

PLOT TWIST:
Jenny Dreadful and Rae “StayFrosty” Winters and I are on the panel! Gasp! I bet you didn’t expect that! Come see us gush about horror. It is our favorite thing.

This will be a fantastic event, all thanks to Ashlee Blackwell, founder of Graveyard Shift Sisters; a site dedicated to celebrating the experiences and achievements of women of color in the horror community. Check it out here:
http://www.graveyardshiftsisters.com/p/mission.html

frostyIn an interiview, writer/director of The Last Will and Testament of Rosalind Leigh Rodrigo Gudino stated he wanted the film to be more like a literary experience than a cinematic one, and I believe he succeeds in this endeavor.

This is the first full-length feature for the founding editor and president of Rue Morgue magazine – he created four well-received shorts before TLW&ToRL – and while I haven’t seen the shorts yet, if they are anywhere near as thoughtful and intelligent as this film, I’m sure they will be a treat.

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Writer/Director Rodrigo Gudino

A very basic plot summary (and it’s staying basic so as not to give anything away):  Leon (Aaron Poole), an antiques collector, inherits a house from his estranged mother only to discover that she had been living in a shrine devoted to a mysterious cult.  At first he’s skeptical (aren’t they all?), but as time goes on he begins to suspect he may not be alone in the house.

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Aaron Poole as Leon. Also, a terrifying angel. Don’t blink!

Let’s start at the very beginning – the first line of the film.  Taking a page (GET IT???) from Shirley Jackson and The Haunting, the opening line is just killer (that one wasn’t a pun.  It’s a really good line, really good opening scene).  In fact, the opening reminded me very much of films like The Uninvited and The Haunting, but I thought it suited his intentions for the film.  And it’s spoken with the lovely, fragile, emotion-filled voice of Vanessa Redgrave, rarely seen but felt throughout.  Gudino keeps the beginning subtle, using long tracking shots and Redgrave’s voice to establish both the character of the house and the film as a whole.

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Speaking of The Haunting, in TLW&ToRL, much like the 1963 classic, the house here is also a character, and it is perfect – lovely architecture, loads of creepy stuff, odd hallways and dark corners.  Everything one could want from a haunted house.  Gudiono gives the house its own gaze, like it’s the eyes of the film itself, and that is an excellent choice.  And we, the viewers, look through the perspective of the house, leaving us a little off-center and disjointed – how can we be a house and not with the main character?  Leon leaves and returns, but we are always in the house.  But it totally works.  Points to the production design team, because the whole thing is lovely.  And creepy.  Lovely/creepy.

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I can’t find a great shot of the house, but trust me, it’s awesome.

Gudino doesn’t telegraph much either; in fact, most information must be overheard or observed.  Not much is freely given to the viewer, but that kept me engaged – you gotta work for it in this one.  Gudino makes very intelligent choices about what not to show – he lets our imaginations fill in what goes on, who is behind the voices, etc.

There are some awesome standout scenes (one with a journal comes to mind), and on the whole the film really works.  It has a very 60s/70s feel to it but I’m betting that was purposeful, because many of the films from that era were allowed to breathe a little more, take more time to create an atmosphere before jumping into the crazy shit.  And I must admit, I did not see the twist coming at all.  So of course I loved that.

Before I wrap up, I want to talk about the poster for this film.   Much like the super excellent Absentia, TLW&ToRL‘s poster does not help the movie at all.  There’s more than one version, but instead of sticking with this nice subtle version:

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We got this:

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Which is NOTHING like the film!!!  Sheesh movie poster people, can you TRY to make something that remotely conveys the atmosphere and flavor of the movie you’re advertising?  Just a thought.  You’re not doing these films any favors here. People are missing out on great movies because of these posters!  Knock it off!

Okay, now that that’s done, I totally recommend TLW&ToRL, but you have to ignore the poster and allow the film to unspool in its own way.  If you can do that, you will not be disappointed.

4 More Days til Halloween – presenting Kathe Koja

Posted: October 27, 2013 by StayFrosty in Books, Reviews

frostyKathe Koja is the author of The Cipher (1991), one of the books I read on random internet recommendation.  I am very glad I did, because it’s one of the weirdest, most interesting books I’ve devoured in a long time.  Koja won the Bram Stoker Award and the Locus Award for her first novel The Cipher, which was also nominated for the Philip K Dick Award.  It hasn’t been available for a long time, but is now available on e-book with a new forward by the author.

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Trust me when I tell you that The Cipher is difficult to explain.  See, there’s this hole in an apartment building, where would-be poet Nicholas lives, which has fascinated both him and his sometimes lover (and super-strange lady) Nakota.  The hole, which is dubbed “The Funhole”, is not living but alive all the same.  Whoever comes into contact with it is changed, has already lost their control.  It attracts more people, things get weirder.  I really can’t say much more than that.

Koja isn’t a straightforward horror author – many people say she isn’t a horror author at all.  But whatever she is, it’s exciting and interesting.  She’s been compared to a poet, and I can see where those comparisons are coming from.  The language in The Cipher isn’t straightforward, and there is a lyrical sense/nonsense to it.  But it’s such beautiful, terrifying lyrics.

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Kathe Koja

Koja’s works are divisive – I’ve seen glowing and scathing reviews for the same novel right next to each other, which only makes me want to read her work more.  We are lucky that Koja’s older works are coming back in e-book editions.  Her 1993 novel, Skin, was just released last month.  I am downloading it right now.  Books not yet in digital format can be purchased used on Amazon.

It’s not an easy read, but The Cipher – and Koja – are worth your time.