31 Days of Halloween 2021, 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.


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. The Clive-narrated audiobook is worth seeking out.

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).

31 Days of Halloween 2021, Days 1-2: The Incredibly Strange Creature Who Stopped Living Because She Had a Migraine

So I began October with a freaking migraine. Great Pumpkin, how have I angered ye? But did that stop my Spooktobering? …It did dial me down from a speedy Living Dead pace to Romero zombie shamble, but I made some progress. And took two Witch Baby baths. More on that later. First, MEDIA CONSUMED:

Scooby-Doo and the Witch’s Ghost, animation, Hanna-Barbera, 1999.

Having both a stellar headache and a 5YO present, I started off Spooktober with the annual family viewing of Scooby-Doo and the Witch’s Ghost, our Halloween Die Hard, if you will, in which Tim Curry, playing a ponytailed Stephen King simulacrum, invites the gang to his New England hometown. Of course, as dead bodies follow Jessica Fletcher, so must spooks follow the gang, and they quickly get caught up in busting the ghost of Tim Curry’s witchy ancestor. There’s also a fan favorite red herring in the form of the Hex Girls rock band headlining the local Autumn Fest. This is the only Scooby I have really gotten my girl child to latch onto, as misfit Goth Girls is one of her favorite subgenres of children’s entertainment, and the Hex Girls fit that bill. (I understand there’s a version of this called Scooby-Doo and the Hex Files that actually CUTS to make it more about the band. No one tell my Varmint this.) Pretty sure you can still get Hex Girls merch at Hot Topic, too.

I assume she will grow into Tim Curry appreciation naturally, as we all do.

This is one of several direct-to-video Scoobys of the era and a major reboot for the property ahead of its live-action adaptation and approximately 40,000 new versions since. Oh, I remember gathering around Cartoon Network in anticipation! I also remember it was slightly weird, but perfectly in sync with the zeitgeist, that these Scoobys tried to have it both ways with a fake monster for the gang to unmask and a real one. I think Witch’s Ghost does a great job threading that needle, but then Tim Curry makes everything 30% more believable.

I do wonder if there’s Velma/Ben Ravencroft slashfic out there. Daddy issues, Velma Dinkley got ’em.

Enjoy this original trailer that takes us back to the pre-streaming era of competing to rent one of 3 copies nested behind fat clamshell VHSes at Blockbuster. How did we survive such primative times?

Then, of course, the migraine set in pert hard, so I was driven to a dark bedroom and audio-only spookiness…

Snap Judgment Presents: Spooked, podcast.

Subscription on Luminary, but I listened to free episodes on Google podcasts.
Episodes: Green Demon, Fright at the Museum, The Watcher, The Curse, Possession, The Shadow Men, A Friend in the Forest

Now in its fourth season, Spooked gathers up stories of hauntings as told by the haunted, at least for the most part–ain’t every ghost survivor a natural storyteller. The show was recommended to me, particularly the first season, and naturally it was on my short list for this month, especially since all my traditional favorite ghost travelogues are now locked behind the Discovery Plus paywall.

Ghost Adventures GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

I probably need to absorb more to really review it, but these few episodes left me with a couple strong impressions.

Impression the First: There’s a stereotype about how all UFO encounters occur to backwoods yokels in the middle of nowhere, but listening to a few episodes of Spooked made me aware of just how affluent and white this kind of paranormal show normally is…because Spooked isn’t. The show was originally produced at WNYC, and the stories and storytellers featured on the show actually reflect a city with more than the casts of Friends and Seinfeld living in it. That’s overdue, and it’s also one of those moments where it’s just…ohai, white supremacy is entrenched in every aspect of our lives and culture and I had the privilege to only just notice it…

Impression the Second: There’s something so genuinely nice about being told a straight-up, no twist, no punchline ghost story. It’s like a romance. Journeys end in lovers meeting. You know where this is going. This isn’t high art. This is barely drama. It’s pleasurable at least partially because there are no big surprises. That it’s a nasty visitation behind that door that won’t stay shut is beside the point. Same with serial killer documentaries, prob. …Maybe it’s less romance than porn, actually. This flies in the face of how horror often, if not always, elicits a response, by jogging your marionette strings between dread and surprise until you can’t help but shudder. But maaaaaybe that’s why these kinds of stories are so popular as comfort TV/listening, too. It’s a very cozy kind of thrill, even if these stories are purportedly true…

Midnight Mass, miniseries, written (first episode) and directed by Mike Flanagan, Netflix, 2021.

Episode: Book I: Genesis.

Speaking of Comfort Horror, oh, baby. This thing is just grab a blanket and a bevvie and settle in for a good slow burn…chill. Slow chill? Hmm. Anyway, this is Mike Flanagan (Oculus, Hush, The Haunting of Hill House, Doctor Sleep), and I’m really happy he’s doing his own thing, not only because it’s irritating when he does his own thing and wraps it in Shirley Jackson/Henry James/Stephen King wallpaper (confession: I only got one episode into Bly House and may revisit it this month, we’ll see), but he is so damn good at his own damn thing! He’s brilliant. I don’t know where this will land, although even in episode one, I think I can read the code for the ending scrolling in the background, but that’s not a bad thing. All I know is I am bitter I couldn’t binge it all with my sweet husband (who actually rewatched episode one because he didn’t know I wanted to watch it) but this is life as a parent. More deets on the show as we get deeper in. I LOVE IT RIGHT NOW THO.

Oh, yeah, and my husband and I are both atheists, so this article can go up an alley and holler fish.

The Devil Rides Out, film, directed by Terence Fisher, written by Richard Matheson (based on a novel by Dennis Wheatley), 1968.

Feeling less like the guy in the beginning of Scanners on Migraine Morning 2, I chanced to watch rather than listen and put on a perennial favorite, The Devil Rides Out, also known as The Devil’s Bride, starring Christopher Lee, the might and virtue of white Anglo-Saxon Christianity in the form of the British upper class, and Charles Grey as Basically Aleister Crowley. I got the blu-ray from Scream Factory for my birthday last year and hadn’t taken it for a spin yet. I didn’t dive into the extras, but it was a GAWJUSS print of the film. I love this movie so much, it’s weird I’ve never written about it, but Carol Borden touched on it in her excellent essay on The Wicker Man, which I love as much as this movie and with far less internal qualification.

Underneath the satanic cosplay, The Devil Rides Out really just wants to be an exciting adventure story in the Ian Fleming mold, plus it’s so British, it was actually quite difficult not to type “mould” just then. Christopher Lee, of course, was friends with Wheatley and cousins with Fleming, and it’s all too easy to imagine them all taking an evening at their club, somewhere exclusive and walnut-paneled, being served unparalleled cognac, whilst all around them peers in smart suiting, I don’t know, save the Queen, whatever they do. This story is a missive from that time and that world, and as such, it has weathered itself some age spots. But it’s still an altogether beautiful piece, pure-hearted and true.

Lee plays Nicholas, Duc de Richleau, a recurring character in Wheatley’s works, an aristocratic champion of the light who just so happens to have a pretty encyclopedic knowledge of the “Left-Hand Path,” i.e. dark and satanic maleficium. Oooh, there’s an origin story I want more than Book’s in Firefly. The Duc and the Watson to his Holmes, Rex, become concerned when their young friend Simon, the son of a deceased buddy actually, disappears from social life. They check on him, and wouldn’t you know it? He’s fallen under the thrall of a satanic cult leader, Mocata (Charles Grey), and the rest of the film is pretty much the Duc and Mocata fighting for the poor dope’s soul like Betty and Veronica over Archie. There is also a gorgeous lady, Tanith, to rescue, because it just wouldn’t be right if there weren’t, and she doubles as a love interest for Rex.

Lee brought this project to Hammer in the first place and loved the resultant movie until the end of his days, and you can tell from his marvelously subtle command of the Duc’s character how invested he was in making it. This film played not just to all of his professional strengths, but apparently personal tastes, too. Never forget Lee was a devout Christian who truly believed in the occult. Plus, with no Peter Cushing in sight, Christopher Lee gets to be the occult expert hero in the gorgeous menswear for once! #CrushingOnCushing

I think it’s interesting, too, how similar this film feels to classic interpretations of Dracula, especially when you consider how underused Lee was as Dracula in his work for Hammer and how trapped he came to feel in the role. And yet, with all his good buddy Wheatley’s works available to him, he wanted to adapt this, which fits pretty well within Dracula’s basic outline. Lee may very well be your favorite Dracula, I don’t know, and I’m not saying he wasn’t a good ‘un, but for my money, this movie makes far greater use of his powers as a Van Helsing.

More on Occult Bathing Rituals/Unsolicited Witch Baby Endorsements in another post, but that’s 2 whole days of Halloween GONE. I will have to make better use of the next 29.

Charles Gray eyes on the prize.

If you’d like to read my venomous screed hating allllll over Mike Flanagan’s Doctor Sleep, click here.

If you’d like to read my heaps of praise for Mike Flanagan’s Hush, click here. (Sorry, the images for this article were bamfed in the site migration.)

I’d also like to take a moment to thank my sponsor, Dill McKinley, purveyor of gourmet pickles in living (dead) color! IT’S SPOOKLEBERRY™ SEASON again!