31 Days of Halloween, Days 3-7: Body Switches and the Devils You Don’t Know

[tunelessly] On the third day of Halloween, Sam Hain gave to me…a cool Swedish horror indie.

Anyhoo.

Skickelsen (Out of the Darkness), short film, written by Jonas Gramming and Mikael Holmström, directed by Jonas Gramming, 2020.

Skickelsen stars Lars Väringer, who you may remember as the Hårgan elder with the game show host charisma in Midsommar’s final ceremony, as a strange old man who moves into heroine Sara’s (Lova Schildt) apartment building at exactly the right time. How do we know it’s the right time? Because he’s timing himself. This short has more mood than plot, reminiscent of Oz Perkins’ work, but it’s well worth the little time it asks. The way Väringer’s features and manner slide from harmless, amiable old man next door into impassive brick of black suit is like a hologram or something.

Continuing Skickelsen’s…uncommon…justice theme, it’s time to laugh and learn again with Christopher Landon.

Freaky, film, written by Michael Kennedy and Christopher Landon, directed by Christopher Landon, HBO Max, 2020.

I absolutely loved Christopher Landon’s Happy Death Day movies, and Freaky is more of the same: clever, but not for its own sake, funny, gleefully gory, featuring genuine characters you will love having genuine moments you will want them to have. It’s a feelgood film for people who don’t want to feel good.

Just as Happy Death Day played with the Groundhog Day concept, Freaky rejiggers family classic Freaky Friday. The big difference is in this film, the body switching is between a savage serial killer (Vince Vaughn, in the roles he was born to play) and his would-be victim Millie (Kathryn Newton). As Millie struggles to evade a police manhunt and get anyone to believe scummy Vince Vaughn is a sweet, bullied teenage girl inside, Vince Vaughn does a tremendous job of making us believe he’s a sweet, bullied teenage girl inside. Meanwhile, Kathryn Newton stalks and murders Millie’s classmates with vicious aplomb that, ironically, shows Millie living her best life. It’s incredibly fun, just a perfect horror-comedy with no fat on it anywhere. I heart it.

Well, that’s quite enough feeling good. Let’s watch something that will hurt.

In the Earth, written and directed by Ben Wheatley, Hulu, 2021.

In the Earth is about humanity carrying on after a pandemic, or at least that’s how it starts. I know that about 5 minutes in, as nebbish scientist Martin (Joel Fry) demasks and submits documentation to prove he’s not contagious, I asked myself why I was watching any given Thursday. But Ellora Torchia looked really cool on the cover art, so I stuck with it. Luckily, I didn’t have to hang long before In the Earth pulled a switcheroo. As soon as Ellora’s park ranger Alma leads Martin on a seemingly routine dispatch to another scientist’s camp–a former flame of Martin’s, in fact–the movie veers from its bleak pandemic premise into a bleak weirdos in the woods are going to hurt you premise. Somewhere around the middle, I think it also briefly became Mandy (2018).

I didn’t dislike In the Earth, and I respect the hell out of the tiny cast, tasked with what was, beneath all the prog rock, technobabble, and Wheatley’s epilepsy-inducing adventures in the editing room, people just being fucked-up savages at each other, a tale as old as time and pretty cheap to film. Martin in particular gets carved on and tormented kind of a lot, and I really liked and identified with Alma, who is forced to carry Martin like an overloaded rucksack all the way to the psychedelic conclusion. Alma is every woman who has ever been in charge of an office, while Martin is the entirety of that office.

I did find it interesting as a contemporary riff on Folk Horror, something I will be obsessing on quite a bit in the coming week.

Also, enjoy one of my favorite subtitles in recent memory:

Hoo-boy, and then I binged the rest of Midnight Mass.

Midnight Mass, miniseries, written by Mike Flanagan, James Flanagan, Elan Gale, Dani Parker, and Jeff Howard, directed by Mike Flanagan, Netflix, 2021.

Midnight Mass is about what happens after a charismatic new priest brings miracles to a tiny New England fishing village on the brink of desolation. His arrival coincides with the return of one of the village’s most infamous citizens, Riley Flynn, released from prison but still serving time in his head for killing a young woman in a drunk driving accident; Riley’s unwed, pregnant love interest, Erin, back home after adventures in the wide world turned sour; and the new law in town, Sheriff Hassan, who has to take the ferry to the mainland to worship because he and his teenage son are Muslim.

I have too much to say about Midnight Mass, and almost all of it is a spoiler or spoiler adjacent, because it’s that kind of show. So what can I say?

  1. I loved it.
  2. It did things with [redacted] stories that I actually haven’t seen done before.
  3. It really felt like a Stephen King ensemble horror from go–think Needful Things or ‘Salem’s Lot–and despite having several compelling individual arcs, it never strays from that community-based perspective, which is a strength and a weakness.
  4. Does no one in this town ever watch [redacted] stories? NO ONE? No one has ever seen [redacted]?
  5. There was a Hobbs End Easter egg which was adorable. There are bound to be tons more little things to reward rewatches, because Flanagan is a careful writer and a total self-indulgent nerd. Witness that Midnight Mass was teased in Hush and Gerald’s Game.
  6. So well plotted. Everything fits together like bricks and mortar. The revelations are all prepared for and characters are consistent.
  7. I do have notes though.
  8. Who remembers Tilda Swinton’s terrible age/sex makeup in Suspiria? You will be reminded.
  9. If two characters are in a conversation, they should probably switch talking every minute or so.
  10. Or at least react.
  11. Or check their phone.
  12. Realism, Mr. Flanagan. Also pacing.
  13. Kate Siegel is amazing and she should not be referred to as Mike Flanagan’s wife. He is Kate Siegel’s husband.
  14. According to my Catholic-raised husband, the Catholicism is extremely legit up until about episode 3, but to be fair, that’s when [redacted redacted redacted].
  15. When [redacted] [redacted], my heart burst, and then [redacted] tried to [redacted] but she wouldn’t [redacted], and I have tears in my eyes remembering it, and at the end, the way they [redacted] at the little bridge she loved, I’M CRYING
  16. LOL Midnight Mass season 2 searches.

Bingo Hell, film, written by Perry Blackshear, Shane McKenzie, and Gigi Saul Guerrero, directed by Gigi Saul Guerrero, Amazon Prime, 2021.

I wanted to watch something different. Something new. Something I don’t have 16 permutations of in my various queues. So I turned to Gigi Saul Guerrero’s Bingo Hell, with its badass grandmas taking on the devil in a fatal game of…bingo.

Bingo Hell brings joyfulness and heart to its gory Creepshow-y story of found families in the scrimpy ghost town barrio of Oak Springs. With all the younger people moving up and out, it’s up to Lupita (Adriana Barraza) to protect her neighborhood–not just from encroaching gangs, poverty, and despair, but a demon offering glitzy cash payouts at the usual eternal interest rates. Bingo Hell reminded me a lot of Bubba Ho-Tep (2002) because fanciful and gross with dynamic senior citizen (ok, Bruce Campbell wasn’t ACTUALLY, but) leads, but I loved this so much more because…I don’t know. It’s more authentic? Grounded? I’ve just never been that into Elvis? They’d make a great double bill though.

Next up, October 7 is Clive Barker’s birthday, and I kept it as I traditionally do: by listening to him read me the audiobook of The Hellbound Heart.

The Hellbound Heart, audiobook, written and read by Clive Barker, 1986.

The Hellbound Heart joins The Shining and The Haunting of Hill House as novels I curl into like a favorite duvet about once a year, and it has more in common with the other two than it might seem. It is, in its hellbound heart, also a haunted house story, on very much the same psychological and psychosexual terms as King and Jackson’s novels, only so much more situated in the flesh. As the basis for the Hellraiser franchise–which I’ve written and talked about A LOT–the original story dwells more on blighted passion and lovelessness than butchery, but there’s still plenty of blunt violence and corrugated flesh. It’s amazing to think 35 years after it was published that Clive Barker created an entirely new monster with the Cenobites: angels to some, demons to others.

You should buy or borrow a copy, but [cough] here’s a taste from the YouTubes. Clive’s narration is superb.

…okay, the Cenobite voices are a little Doctor Who. (I LOVE YOU CLIVE)

Oh, and here’s a couple Hellraiser articles at the Cultural Gutter I’m not ashamed of, about Julia and the franchise up through 2018’s Hellraiser: Judgment. I’m looking forward to our new Hell Priestess, Jamie Clayton, in the upcoming Hulu series, too; it’s clear from the lead Cenobite’s description in the novella, gender is as fluid as everything else once these angels get their hooks into you.

The Horror Stories of Robert E. Howard, audiobook, written by Robert E. Howard, read by Robertson Dean, published 2010, stories from the 1920s and 30s.

In-between stuff, I am also listening to the audiobook The Horror Stories of Robert E. Howard, and will be for a while because it’s 36 hours. Pro-lif-ic mfer. Today, Howard is best remembered for creating Conan the Barbarian, but in his too-brief life, he turned out amazing weird tales, too, the kind of stuff that I listen to and marvel at the dynamism of his narrative, the clarity of his images, the precision of his language. Unlike Big Daddy Lovecraft, he’s quite happy to show, don’t tell, and I’m just sitting there, listening, thinking…he wrote all this beautiful, arterial prose without even being able to backspace.

It should be noted–and it is, strenuously, in the introduction–that Howard sometimes uses the racist language of his day. I wouldn’t be reading him if I thought he was malicious with it, but just like Uncle John at dinner after he’s been bathing in Tucker Carlson, it happens and when it does, you have to drop your fork and confront it. Howard likes to write about distant times and fantastic places, and in those flights of the imagination, melanin tends to travel with adjectives and stereotypes no one outside a Trump rally would use today. To take an example, in “The Spirit of Tom Molyneaux,” he tells the story of a black boxer who exhorts his long-dead hero (an actual historical figure, kids!) for help in a fight against an undefeated opponent who might well kill him on the mat. Howard’s portrait of the fighter, Jessel, lavishes him with masculine virtues, and he clearly thinks Jessel is super cool, BUT, filtered as it is through the voice of his rich white manager, all that praise comes off as patronizing, and you can justifiably ask if Jessel’s obsequiousness to his manager is a racist stereotype or not. I still like the story, but I think Jessel’s character must resonate and be appreciated in a way his author might not have entertained.

Here’s a reading, not from the audiobook, but a story included in the audiobook, from Horrorbabble, “In the Forest of Villefére.” It’s kind of a bicep flexing “Little Red Riding Hood” with even more coded sexual tension because cis het manliness, but.

(Man, I’d love to read what Clive Barker could do with this…)

Okay, so thank you for joining me for another post! This next whole week, I’m covering the Nightstream Festival for The Cultural Gutter, so you can check out more there or, naturally, here, as press embargos lift and I have more to see and say. And you can go to the festival for yourself! It’s virtual!

Speaking of which, my eyeballs have an appointment with an exorcism gone wrong. Peace be with you!

Midnight Mass Easter egg in Flangan’s Gerald’s Game (2017).

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