Every day around 10am, I actually feel like updating my blog. This impulse will be overtaken by the concerns of the day, the week, the hour by lunch pretty easily, but still the urge persists. It seems as though the internet probably has enough content by now, to say nothing of the robot writers online, but hey, my urges are my oracle, and so I’m going to **make an effort** to do a weekly update of all the spooky and spooky adjacent content I am consuming. Because horror is self-(s)care. <3<3<3
Evil Dead Rise (2023), written and directed by Lee Cronin
I can’t claim to be a big fan of Evil Dead. I appreciate them, but they’ve never been my bag, not like Hellraiser or Halloween or even Subspecies. Plus, I was breastfeeding an infant and delirious with fatigue during the high point of the Ash Vs. Evil Dead series, and I still haven’t seen the reboot from 2013. Which I still kind of think of as “the new one.” But after watching Rise, I think I will be searching 2013 out at least, because Rise reminded me of how squicked out I get by this series and its showers of maggoty fluids, and I really need to lose about 20 pounds. #EvilDeadDiet
Rise follows guitar tech Beth (Lily Sullivan) who learns she’s pregnant (not a happy surprise), rushing to her big sister Ellie’s (Alyssa Sutherland) place to get some help and big sis hugs, only to discover her sister has serious issues of her own. Her husband has left her and their three kids, and the run-down apartment building they live in is being demolished, so in about a month, she’ll be homeless. To make it even more uncomfortable, Beth learns that Ellie tried to reach out to Beth in her moment of need, only to be ignored, her calls unanswered. That is some gorgeous fucking conflict, it has the ring of truth, and I love it.
Then demons happen. It involves kids being kids, quakes being quakes, and maybe a little more stupid than is strictly necessary for such a great scriptwriter, but to be fair, once the Deadites are out, we don’t exactly linger to bask in people being dumb. Ain’t nobody got time for that. There’s an eyeball gobbling demon out here.
I said I’m not a big fan of Evil Dead, but Cronin sure is. (Also Nightmare on Elm Street and Kubrick’s Shining get their hat tips. Maybe more that I didn’t catch.) And I know enough about the series to recognize the language even if I can’t speak it well myself–the eyeball thing, the maggots, “Dead by Dawn!” etc. A lot of the movie is told in references, like movements of a dance we all know, verses of a song we all sing. It works. I liked it. It could get stale if the series keeps this tenor for Evil Dead 6, but here…it’s satisfying.
I was most impressed by how Cronin credibly makes an apartment in a big building in a big city as isolated as a creepy cabin miles into the woods. Big metaphor, Mr. Cronin. The performances were great. Most of the effects were great. Loved the cinematography. Lots of blue and teal. …I’m not so sure about the underlying themes around Beth’s incipient motherhood, but…you know, I’m actually okay with difficult decisions being rendered uncomfortably in a way that might seem to uphold patriarchal assumptions about women’s rightful priorities in society but also might just be what this particular pair of sisters are dealing with in their lives, like actual people do every day. I do not require Beth or Ellie to make very good decisions about parenthood in the context of a Deadite invasion.
Although I am going to definitely tell my daughter never to open a wrapped up demon book she found sealed in a broken vault.
Stephen King’s Rose Red (2002), written by Stephen King, directed by Craig R. Baxley
My husband, strolling through the living room: Oh, you’re just watching this for Julian Sands. …and he wasn’t wrong.
ABC had a pretty successful run of Stephen King-based miniseries in the 1990s, featuring the 1990 It, The Shining–Steven Weber Jack Torrence > Jack Nicholson’s, come at me–The Stand, Storm of the Century, and more. The last of them was Stephen King’s Rose Red (2002), supported by a Blair Witch-style marketing campaign that pretended the events of the miniseries were drawn from history, complete with the release of The Diary of Ellen Rimbauer, giving equal time to the haunted house’s side of the story.
Unlike the majority of the King miniseries, Rose Red was an original, if derivative, story, not an adaptation of King’s earlier work. In fact, for Rose Red, King pulled the blueprints of Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House, with a little Winchester Mystery House addition on top. The setup will remind many of Dr. Montague’s ill-fated expedition to Hill House–or maybe Dr. Barrett’s survey of Hell House–but Rose Red borrows most heavily from Stephen King himself, revisiting favorite tropes like:
- Glenn Miller big band music
- Psychic kids
- Mommy Issues
- Specifically Quasi-Incestuous Fat Mommy Issues
- Formless Evil that customizes itself to your particular fear/kink
It’s not exactly a trope for King, but I can’t help but notice that the parapsychologist Dr. Joyce Reardon’s (Nancy Travis) obsession with Rose Red closely mirrors Jack Torrence’s obsession with the Overlook in the novel version of The Shining, right down to the frustrated ambition and desperation that drives them both. I have always thought that The Shining is a song played in the same key as The Haunting of Hill House.
Rose Red itself is an intensely 90s series on the edge of the 2000s, and I suspect it was the last of King’s remarkable run because audiences were changing, viewing habits were changing, the world was changing, and but for a single cell phone plot point, Rose Red could have been made in the 80s. It’s good though, even if it’s also kind of skin-peelingly stilted and hammy in parts. It has a fantastic cast, many of whom were either well-loved already (Sands, Kevin Tighe) or would be (Melanie Lynskey, Emily Deschanel). There is, of course, a Stephen King cameo as a pizza guy.
More than anything, Rose Red is the kind of horror that’s good to relax to. So, pretty much the opposite of Evil Dead. I have it on now! In fact, when it first came out, I was battling a number of mental health issues, including a stretch of insomnia that saw me going multiple days without sleep. Where Paxil and Remeron couldn’t help me, Rose Red did. It made me happy. It helped me sleep.
And it does have Julian Sands. ❤