Dead of Night: A Thin Line Between Madness and Beyond

When it comes to the various formats within which horror has been presented, the anthology format has turned up time and time again. In a way, it makes a natural sense for many works of horror to present their stories in such a format. By working in shorter story forms, it allows one to offer a variety of terrors without potentially wearing out your welcome on any particular story. Of course, there are some risks that come with that approach. For example, some horror stories work best when they are given the room to breathe and draw out their horror rather than trying to cram them in a quick burst. Other times, the anthology may have just as much of a chance to feature a dud as it might in featuring a hit. Of course, those risks can be worth the reward of offering an audience a good batch of chilling stories. Such is the case with the 1945 British anthology horror film Dead of Night, which features some good vignettes held together with a strong framing story.

Awakening from a horrible nightmare, Walter Craig tries to calm himself as he prepares for a new day. Heading out to a cottage for a small party, he realizes that he has seen all of the guests before in his dream. This fills him with dread, for though he does not remember exactly what happened in his dream, he knows that something bad is going to happen. Walter’s fears prompt a variety of responses from the other guests, from the sympathetic as they try to calm him down or the curious who try to see if his dream really is as prophetic as he claims. All the while, they share stories of their own paranormal encounters to help pass the time. These stories include the tales of a man who receives a chilling premonition of death, a woman who discovers a ghostly guest at a Christmas party, a man bewitched by a mirror whose reflection shows the room of its previous owner, a golfer haunted by the spirit of his rival who accused him of cheating in their final game, and a ventriloquist who treats his dummy as if it were alive. Once the stories are done, however, it comes time to face if reality will have the horrifying conclusion that Walter’s dream possessed.

This is a nice little slice of vintage horror and a good use of the anthology format. One of the major strengths of the film is the framing story. It offers a nice tale in and of itself, drawing out its question of whether or not Walter’s dream will turn out to be true and start down the horrific path he can only vaguely recall. It also offers a foundation from which the vignettes in the movie build upon, with many touching on or exploring notions of premonitions and madness along with supernatural threats. As for the vignettes themselves, they offer some good creepy tales of their own. The first two stories, with one about a dream of an invitation from a hearse driver and the other about a woman who encounters a ghost at a Christmas party, are solid yarns to start the film off. There may not have a lot to them, but the stories are short, sweet, and get in their chilling punch. The fourth vignette, about a golfer haunted by the ghost of his rival, is for me the weakest of the batch. Mind you, this segment isn’t even truly a horror story. It’s actually a comedy, one made as a sort of palate cleanser between the third and final vignettes. However, I felt the humor and the performances within were a little too broad. Now, those third and final stories are the strongest within the film.

Both the third and final vignettes showcase tales that suggest the thin line between madness and the supernatural, offering the strongest connection to the framing story. The third story concerns a woman who has gotten an antique mirror for her fiance. However, this mirror seems to show him a reflection of the previous owner’s room. Not only that, the fiance begins to steadily act more and more like that previous owner, a cruel and paranoid man who wound up killing his lover. The final vignette, which is probably the piece of the movie that has most endured as iconic of the whole product, tells the tale of a ventriloquist named Maxwell Frere and his dummy Hugo. Though they offer a good act, it seems clear that Maxwell treats Hugo as if he were alive. Not only that, he grows increasingly jealous of Hugo’s success and begins to fear that they might be split apart, something that Maxwell would do anything to stop. Both tales are ones that illustrate the horror of madness, though they cloud it with a haze of the paranormal. In a way, they showcase an example of the shift that was beginning to happen in horror. They present that Gothic fear of the unknown, whether in a supposed curse from a mirror or the potential life in a ventriloquist’s dummy, but couch it within the terrifying psychological truths that may hold the key. That guessing game, of horror stemming from a real-world answer or from some paranormal source, serves as a nice stepping stone between the Gothic approach of earlier horror films with the more psychologically-driven horror that would emerge in the 1950s. In fact, these two particular segments are strong examples of the overall approach to dread which Dead of Night offers.

Unfortunately, the film has slipped out of the public consciousness and fallen into more obscure places. As a result, it may take a bit of a hunt to find a good copy of Dead of Night. However, such a hunt is worth it for a strong slice of anthology horror.


H.P. Lovecraft: Dark Corners of the Cosmos

As I had mentioned in my review of Crimson Peak, Gothic horror is a subgenre of horror that had fallen by the wayside, overtaken by a more modern school of visceral thrills. However, the core tenets and ideas of Gothic horror have not all gone away. The fear of the unknown, of what may be lurking in the darkened corners of our world or in forbidden secrets, is still a powerful idea in the realm of horror. In fact, while Gothic horror fell away, a new form grew from that core idea and found itself a far bigger canvas to paint its terror. This new fear of the unknown arrived to literature in the form of cosmic horror, and the author who would develop and pioneer this style was H.P. Lovecraft.

Born on August 20th, 1890, Howard Philip Lovecraft had a childhood spent living with his mother and extended family after his father was put into a mental institution. Though he was frequently ill and suffered from a difficulty in mathematics, Lovecraft was able to find some enjoyment in his youth through a love of reading fostered by his grandfather and a fascination in chemistry and astronomy. After a nervous breakdown which had stopped him from graduating high school, he started a largely isolated existence as he began his writing. However, things would begin to change when he wrote a series of letters to a pulp magazine, criticizing them for their insipid love stories. His letters caught the attention of Edward F. Dass, the president of the United Amateur Press Association (UAPA), who in turn extended an invitation of membership to Lovecraft. Membership in the UAPA reinvigorated Lovecraft, who pursued his writing with more zeal. He also found himself developing a number of correspondents within the group, including such writers as Robert Bloch (who would go on to write the novel Psycho) and Robert E. Howard (a pulp writer with much to his name, most famously the Conan the Barbarian series). Such was the beginning of H.P. Lovecraft’s literary career, which would see him writing a variety of stories most commonly categorized within three types: Edgar Allan Poe-esque horror stories, tales set within a dream world, and most famously his Cthulhu Mythos stories. It is within these stories that he developed a form of horror that would be known as cosmic horror.

Cosmic horror is a style of horror that, like Gothic horror, thrives on a fear of the unknown. However, its fears are not simply of shadowy monsters lurking in darkness or a dark secret in a family history. Instead, it takes a far more bleaker view as its central tenet: that the universe is a cold, frightening place in which human emotions and ideas ultimately have no significance. The world that Lovecraft wrote for his stories was one where humanity’s existence was a small speck in a cold universe, one that was populated by all sorts of bizarre creatures and alien gods that lurk outside of our normal existence. However, these gods are not ones invested in humanity. Unless they are the rare few who actively pursue some form of malice or treat people like a kind of plaything, most of them do not even treat mankind at all. They simply do not care. Attempts to witness them and other alien creatures, much less understand them, lead people down the path of madness and death. In short, his stories evoke more than a fear of the unknown. They evoke a fear of the alien, of that which challenges our preconceived notions of life and existence. It is no wonder, then, that Lovecraft’s stories would become such an influence to horror storytellers over the years.

Thanks to his expanding on the fear of the unknown with an existentialist touch and with alien creatures whose appearances are kept vague as a result of their impossible being, Lovecraft’s notion of cosmic horror has ensured that he would become an influential figure in the world of horror. Along with being an influence to his contemporaries, plenty of other artists and storytellers have felt the draw of his chilling visions. Authors like Stephen King and Clive Barker have noted his influence, while comic book writers like Alan Moore or manga artists like Junji Ito have captured their own take on the notion of such alien terror. Even filmmakers have shown the impact of Lovecraft, whether it is through more direct tributes like John Carpenter’s In the Mouth of Madness or with seeds of influence in works like Guillermo del Toro’s adaptation of the comic book Hellboy. Of course, it is one thing to note the storytellers who have felt his influence. It is more worth it to see that source of influence for yourself.

Of course, there are many points where you could choose to first read the work of Lovecraft. For example, there is The Call of Cthulhu, which follows a man trying to piece together his granduncle’s notes and how it relates to a mysterious being known as Cthulhu (a god-like creature who would become the iconic figure within Lovecraft’s world of cosmic horror). There is At the Mountains of Madness, a tale of archaeologists who discover the ruins of an alien city in Antarctica, which is often regarded as his strongest work. For me, however, I would recommend one of his stories that does not involve the Cthulhu Mythos. It is a short story called The Colour Out of Space.

The Colour Out of Space tells the tale of a family plagued by bizarre mutations and afflictions after a meteorite strikes their land, containing within it something from beyond the stars. Personally, I recommend this story as a good beginning point for reading Lovecraft because it offers an alien that seems truly alien. It is a semi-liquid, semi-gaseous creature, one whose color is outside of our visible spectrum and as a result appears like some kind of silvery grey. It is not clear if the alien has any kind of consciousness, or even intelligence. Not even scientists within the story are able to fully explain it. Most science fiction stories, when writing about aliens, tend to put some degree of humanity into them. Whether by giving them a humanoid form or by giving them sentiments and attitudes very familiar to human existence, it is still putting something understandable into them. Lovecraft, however, refuses to make such concessions and offers an alien that possesses none of that. The result is a creature that people cannot understand, nor fully comprehend. It is something to fear that is not simply unknown, but quite possibly unknowable. That, to me, offers a perfect encapsulation of the dread that cosmic horror offers.

Jem and the Holograms: The Outrageously Bad Film and the Outrageously Good Comic Book

Back in 1985, Hasbro had introduced a new series of dolls under the brand name of Jem. Like most toy lines in the ’80s, there was a cartoon (also known as Jem) to go along with it. The cartoon followed the adventures of Jerrica Benton, the owner and manager of Starlight Records. Thanks to Synergy, a high-end artificial intelligence and holographic projection system left to Jerrica by her deceased father, she leads a double life free from the restrictions of running a business as pop star Jem. As Jem, she rocks out with the help of her band the Holograms, made up of real sister Kimber and foster sisters Shana and Aja, and they also help to fund a foster home for girls known as Starlight House. She also gets some help from Rio Pancheco, who is in love with Jerrica but also has a crush on Jem. However, their fun life isn’t free from trouble, as they’re plagued by the Misfits (a punk group jealous of their success) and Eric Raymond (a businessman seeking to regain control of Starlight Records from Jerrica). Though the series may be dated in how it is written, there’s still a charm to the cartoon, thanks to its very ’80s designs, its story of sisterhood, and one heck of a catchy theme song. Now, a movie has been made inspired by the cartoon. However, it’s missing the charm and has stripped out the heart and substance, telling a baffling yet generic story in the form of Jem and the Holograms.

In this iteration, Jerrica Benton and her sisters are all teenagers living with Jerrica’s aunt Bailey and practicing music together. One night, Jerrica shoots a video of herself singing a song she wrote, dressed up in a costume with pink wig and calling herself Jem. Despite Jerrica’s reluctance, Kimber posts the video onto YouTube, which ends up going viral and gets a message from Erca Raymond, head of Starlight Enterprises. Jerrica is hired to perform for the company, convincing them to bring her sisters along as her band. From there, they find themselves in the spotlight as Erica begins molding them into the next big hit. However, the pressures of their newfound stardom begin to threaten their sisterhood, especially when Erica makes it clear that she wants Jem and not any of the sisters. Meanwhile, Jerrica and Kimber also find themselves left with clues from their dead father, clues which may bring his greatest project, a robot known as Synergy, to completion.

The resulting film is baffling and bad, on numerous levels. For one, the core story is a generic tale of a band made up of close individuals (in this case, sisters) who leap at the opportunity to become big-name music stars but find themselves threatening to fracture from the pressures of the business. This story has been done before, it’s been done better, and it’s a story that is ultimately handled in a way that doesn’t capture any of the core spark of Jem. Maybe it could have tried to maintain a sense of sisterhood like the source material, but sloppy writing and poor directing results in Jerrica and the others hardly feeling like natural sisters and friends. The generic story of friends in a band would be bad enough, but the attempt to justify the sci-fi elements of Jem with the treasure hunt plot just feels like a total tangent and wasted time. Nothing is truly done with holograms, and Synergy is reduced from a full intelligent AI to a pet robot that communicates only in music. It is as if they feel embarrassed about the source material, yet want to desperately sell it to a millennial audience. The result is a movie that combines two generic plots, a mixture of half-hearted callbacks to the cartoon, and bizarre directorial choices such as cramming in clips from YouTube (including a few clips of people praising Jem, when it’s clear they’re talking about the original cartoon and not the character in this movie). However, there is an alternative that people can pick instead of seeing this movie.

IDW, an independent comic book publisher, has started making its own comic book of the Jem property called Jem and the Holograms (no relation to the film, thankfully). This comic reimagines Jerrica and her sisters as young adults, seeking to submit a video of their band for the Misfits’ Battle of the Bands contest yet plagued by Jerrica’s stage fright. One night, a storm ends up causing enough power to restart Synergy, a dormant AI and holographic projection system that Jerrica’s father had invented. Realizing that Synergy’s holographic projectors can be the key to her overcoming her stage fright, Jerrica uses a pair of projection earrings to create an all-body hologram around herself and a new identity as Jem. With a video finally made and uploaded, Jem and the Holograms find themselves becoming stars overnight…along with gaining rivals in the form of the Misfits.

Now, this comic is an example of what happens when you actually respect a property as you adapt it. It maintains the heart of the source material by examining the impact of celebrity along with exploring sisterhood, which it examines not only through the camaraderie of Jem and the Holograms but also in the dysfunctional nature of the Misfits. The writing is also sharp and natural, such as in capturing both the friendliness and support of Jerrica and her sisters along with the frustrations and fights that can crop up between siblings. They’ve also done a good job of making the characters feel like modern figures without cramming in unnecessary references to social media or pop culture all of the time. As for aspects of the source material, they fully embrace it. Synergy is an active element to the comic, as her holograms not only offer the central component of Jerrica’s double life of herself and Jem, but also allow the band to make incredible videos or even offer a distraction when needed. It also embraces the over-the-top character designs from the original cartoon, offering neat character designs that capture the colorful, vibrant nature of the source material yet feel like a natural update to the modern day. Most of all, it manages to capture the feel of the music performed by the bands through text and skillful design, communicating the emotion well in a format without sound. Thus, the comic is a delight to read and really shows what can be done with an adaptation of something when you demonstrate a respect and embrace of the source material.

In short, don’t see the terrible, baffling, and generic movie. Instead, go out and read the vibrantly designed, sharply written comic book. The first volume of Jem and the Holograms is now out in stores. The comic is also still running. If you want to follow it issue by issue, I suggest you go out to your local comic book shop and support it.

Richard Matheson: I Am Authorial Legend

Sometimes, a storyteller can leave behind a multitude of stories that strike a chord with their audience. Perhaps it is the way of how the story is told that is so striking. Maybe it’s the idea that the story is centered around that is so inspired that people can’t help but take notice. Whatever it may be, a storyteller can grab the attention of people with the narratives that they leave behind. However, sometimes it may seem that while the stories are remembered, the storyteller might not. Sure, some circles will still keep that storyteller in mind, but the general public may lose sight and forget the person who gave them that story. This is a shame, for it is worth remembering the storytellers. By knowing who they are, we can explore their network of narratives beyond just the works that remain in the public eye. That is why I wish to remind readers of a particular author who I feel has fallen out of the public consciousness: Richard Matheson.

For those unfamiliar with Richard Matheson, let me offer a little backstory. Back in 1950, Matheson wrote a short story that was published in “The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction”. It was a story called Born of Man and Woman, about a deformed child chained up in its parents’ basement. Weaving a chilling tale of abuse written from the point of view of the child’s diary entries, it caught people’s attention. From there, he continued to write short stories, but he didn’t limit himself to just that format. He also wrote full-length novels, along with writing scripts for television and movies. In fact, one series that he wrote for was The Twilight Zone, a classic science fiction anthology series for which he adapted several of his own short stories. His work was not just limited to the ’50s and ’60s, however. He kept on writing through the years, until his death on June 23rd, 2013. He left behind a large body of work, covering a wide variety of genres. It’s really impressive the sheer expanse of what he could write. Even more impressive is all the interesting ideas he could come up with for stories.

It almost seemed like there was no genre from with Matheson could approach with an interesting story. For example, plenty can be said of his work with science fiction, whether through short stories like Third from the Sun or in full novels like The Shrinking Man. He delivered horror of all kinds, from short stories like The Likeness of Julie which deliver quick jolts of fear and paranoia to full-length works like Hell House which allow the horror to build and simmer across the pages. He could craft a comedy, such as with stories like The Splendid Source (about a millionaire seeking the origin of dirty jokes) or The Creeping Terror (a parody of horror, presenting a story of Los Angeles spreading across the U.S. and infecting people with self-absorbed attitudes among other symptoms). He could offer romance, such as with the novel Bid Time Return, which concerns a man who travels back in time and falls in love with the subject of a beautiful portrait. Even Westerns were a genre he could find a sharp tale in, such as with his short story The Conqueror, about a city slicker who tries to act the part of a skilled gunman only to face the consequences of it. It’s so striking how much he could tackle with his considerable skill, yet the average person will probably not be familiar with his work. It’s even more incredible when you consider how many films or television shows have been based on his work.

As it was mentioned before, Richard Matheson did work for The Twilight Zone. He adapted a few of his own short stories for the series, some of which would become classic episodes. These include such episodes as Nightmare at 20,000 Feet, about a man who finds a gremlin on the wing of his plane, and Little Girl Lost, about a young girl who slips through a portal to another dimension and her parents’ desperate bid to find her. Of course, this show was not the only avenue in which his writing was brought to the screen. Numerous films have been based on his stories, whether by taking one of his novels and adapting it or expanding on one of his short stories. Bid Time Return was brought to the big screen as Somewhere in Time back in 1980, with Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour as its leads. In 1957, The Shrinking Man became a classic sci-fi picture as The Incredible Shrinking ManSteel, a short story about a struggling manager in a world of robotic boxing, was reimagined back in 2011 as Real Steel with Hugh Jackman starring in the film. In fact, one novel that seems to have gained a particular focus for film is I Am Legend. It tells the tale of Dr. Robert Neville, a scientist living in a world where humanity was been struck by a virus that turns people into vampire-like creatures. He spends his nights researching and looking for a cure, while his days are spent hunting down vampires and killing them. This chilling story has not been adapted to the big screen before, it’s been adapted four times. Whether it is called The Last Man on Earth, The Omega Man, I Am Omega, or simply I Am Legend, all take their core inspiration from Richard Matheson’s novel.

Truly, Matheson’s mark has been left in the world of media thanks to his gripping narratives and fascinating story ideas. Sadly, though the stories may be remembered, I fear that most may not know of the skilled writer behind such stories. I recommend an easy and simply remedy for that: go out and pick up a copy of one of his books. There are plenty of classic novels of his to explore, but for first-time readers of his work I suggest starting with one of his short story collections to sample his writing. I’m sure you’ll find a story from Richard Matheson that grips your attention.

The Flash: Quick Pace and Fast Fun

In the realm of movies based upon DC Comics properties, it seems that there is a dark cloud on the horizon. Man of Steel, which presented a dour and dark view of Superman, was the warning shot. The trailers have rolled out for Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice and the aesthetic that they look to be going for is dark and gritty. In fact, it seems as if they may be trying to plaster this same style over their whole DC Cinematic Universe, which they’re trying to quickly build up since Marvel had successfully made their own. To me, it suggests that some of the higher-ups may have seen how Christopher Nolan’s Batman series were a success and leapt to the conclusion that they were a success because they were dark. However, not all adaptations of DC Comics properties look to be stuck in the same “grimdark” fate. Their live-action TV programming on the CW looks to be doing a better job of allowing characters to have shows that fit their style. For example, while Arrow does have some darkness to it, the darker tone fits more of the spirit of Green Arrow, who has frequently dealt with more brutal villains in his comics. In the case of today’s post, the CW also offers a more optimistic series in the form of The Flash.

Ever since his mother was murdered and his father was sent to prison when he was still a child, Barry Allen sought to prove that his father was not the killer. This thought comes to guide him through his life, as he pursues a career as a forensics scientist and becomes a member of the Central City Police Department. Though he is brilliant, his obsession with this case leads him to investigate all sorts of cold cases and paranormal reports in truth of some glimmer of truth. One night, as he is reviewing some possible leads in his lab, a particle accelerator at S.T.A.R. Labs explodes, releasing a new form of radiation within a thunderstorm. Barry is struck by a lightning bolt from that storm, sending him flying into a rack of chemicals. The result is a nine-month coma and, after Barry awakens, he finds that he has gained the ability to move at superhuman speed. Thanks to information provided by Harrison Wells, the disgraced scientist who had made the particle accelerator, Barry finds that his powers emerged from the particle accelerator and that he is not the only one to become a metahuman (a person who has gained super powers). Realizing the potential of a criminal wielding such powers, Barry vows to use his newfound gifts as the Flash to stop such criminals and maybe even find the truth behind his mother’s murder.

This series has been a strong watch. Now currently in its second season, the show pretty much hit the ground running. It has had good writing that delivers on the fun of superheroics along with the drama, along with moving quickly through plot problems that would get dragged out on other shows. Performances have been strong, from its lead stars like Grant Gustin to even side characters or guest appearances. What has been most striking is how willing it is to embrace its source material. I do not only mean how the show carries a hopeful and optimistic spirit in its core, in a way presenting the Flash as the “Superman” to Green Arrow’s “Batman”. Rather, I speak of how the show has been willing to embrace the more ridiculous elements and capture them in sincerity. For example, most of the villains who appear in Arrow are psychopaths or killers, most of whom are only armed with weapons and deadly skills. The Flash, meanwhile, runs with a colorful collection of villains. Not only are most of them metahumans with a variety of different powers, but even the non-powered villains utilize fantastic tech such as cold guns or robotic bees. To me, this willingness to embrace such out-there elements is best summed up with the fact that Gorilla Grodd ends up appearing on the show.

For those unfamiliar with Gorilla Grodd, he is a classic Flash villain. In this case, he is a gorilla with psychic powers and a major hatred for humans. Now, most shows would probably back away from featuring such a villain. Besides the potential logistics on how you feature a psychic gorilla on a TV show and make it look good, some might consider the idea of a psychic gorilla ridiculous for a live-action TV show and not feature him. The Flash, however, not only uses him but even does so effectively. They capture the impact of his psychic powers and his rage at humanity for experimenting on him. More than that, they bring the character to the screen with a good dose of CG that allows the character to feel natural within a live-action show format. The fact that they are willing to not only feature Gorilla Grodd, but actually capture the proper threat of the character, suggests to me of how willing they are to embrace the source material and spirit of the comics. They’re not just trying to slap on the same style that they seem to be using for their films. They’re willing to craft not only a well-done series of the Flash, but craft one that captures the right tone for the character and runs with all that goes with it.

The Flash airs on the CW, showing at 8 PM EST on Tuesdays. It is available on both Netflix and Hulu, with Hulu being up to date on current episodes.

Crimson Peak: A Return to Dark and Shadowy Corridors

Of all of the horror subgenres that exist, the oldest of all of them is Gothic horror. Named in honor of an architectural style from the Middle Ages, Gothic horror was born in the late 18th century by writers such as Horace Wadpole and Ann Radcliffe. Within the pages of stories such as The Castle of Otranto and The Mysteries of Udolpho, they presented a world that thrives upon the fear of the unknown. Even as critics derided the genre, other writers such as Mary Shelley, Edgar Allen Poe, and the Bronte sisters added to the genre, helping to solidify how the public saw it. With the skilled stories of such writers, Gothic horror became a world of dark and shadowy corridors, lurking with brooding noblemen and cursed secrets. Not only that, but the Gothic horror genre would also feature plenty of works infused with other genres, such as romance, fantasy, and even science fiction. However, the genre has fallen away in recent decades, having become supplanted by modern horror. Of course, it is not completely forgotten. Universal Studios and Hammer Studios are two production companies whose films brought Gothic horror to the silver screen, with Universal ruling in the ’30s and ’40s while Hammer Studios dominated in the ’50s and ’60s. Now, film director Guillermo del Toro has come to bring his own tale of Gothic horror to the movie screen, in the form of Crimson Peak.

Set in the Victorian Era, Crimson Peak follows Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska), a young woman who seeks to write ghost stories. Her life is changed, however, when she meets the mysterious Sir Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston), a penniless baronet seeking capital for an invention of his. Warmed by his appreciation for her writing, Edith ends up falling in love with Thomas and eventually the two become married. Once they do, they move back to Thomas’ home in England, a crumbling mansion estate known as Allerdale Hall. Also living at Allerdale Hall with them is Thomas’ tight-lipped and tightly-wound sister, Lady Lucille Sharpe (Jessica Chastain). Things begin to take a darker turn, however, as Edith finds they are not the only ones in the crumbling mansion. Lying within its halls are ghosts, spectres of the past who bare a warning to Edith: Beware of Crimson Peak.

I really liked what Guillermo del Toro went for with this film. He went full force on capturing the feel of Gothic horror, building up a foreboding atmosphere as the tale unfolds. He embraced the genre’s tropes, recapturing their classic spark with a modern touch. It is also a visually stunning film. Allerdale Hall looks like the quintessential haunted house, with its worn walls and darkened corridors. The architecture is stunning, yet also haunting. There is even the inspired touch of red clay seeping up through the floorboards, causing anyone walking through to leave what appears like bloody footprints. The ghosts also look incredible, presented as floating spectres who bare the marks of their death and whose bodies are at varying degrees of visibility. As always, Guillermo del Toro brings his unique viewpoint to the screen with his visual flourish. The performances are also strong, working well for this unraveling tale of horror and madness. Now, there is something that might turn away some viewers: it is not that scary of a film.

Now, this is an issue that I do not hold completely against the movie. To most of the public and with how the movie has been sold in trailers and commercials, it would look as if the style of film is that of a haunted house horror movie. Honestly, that’s not the sort of story that this is. It would be far better to treat this film as what it is, which is a Gothic romance. While there are ghosts in the story, they are not the focal point of it. The true focus of the film is on Edith, the Sharpe siblings, and the dark secrets that lurk within the past of Allerdale Hall. Also, the horror that does unfold in the film is very much from the same style as Gothic horror. This means that the film takes a slow burn approach in its story, leaning on atmosphere and tension to build up the scares before its grand climax. However, such an approach might sour some moviegoers, more used to the quicker pace and action-filled sequences that are more of a thing in modern horror. Thus, it may seem as if the film isn’t that scary. To tell the truth, it is a strong slice of Gothic horror. Sadly, Gothic horror is a form that has fallen out of fashion in the face of modern horror movies which can deliver a visceral punch as they deliver their scares. Basically, this means that Crimson Peak is a well-skilled take on a form of horror that might not chill as many people to the bone these days.

In the end, I think Crimson Peak is worth checking out. Though it may not be as scary as some horror movies in recent years, it is still a stunning film to watch in terms of its visuals and its ability to recreate one of the classic forms of horror. In a way, it is like some of Guillermo del Toro’s other horror movies, like Cronos or The Devil’s Backbone. These are horror films that offer chilling tales, with an atmosphere that builds to unnerve and a reminder of how even those creatures that seem terrifying, whether it is ghosts who roam dark halls or vampires who feast on blood, are not the real monsters to fear.

Goosebumps: Viewer, Beware, You’re In for a Fun Watch

Back in the 1990s, a series of books arose that caught the attention of young people everywhere. It was a series known as Goosebumps. Created by R. L. Stine, the series caught so much attention because it was something quite rare: a series of horror books aimed at children. With their striking covers and accessible stories, Goosebumps became a gateway to scares for a younger generation. It also became a pop culture force, with numerous spin-offs within the book series, a TV show, and even video games along with all sorts of merchandise. Though the books themselves may sometimes seem a little cheesy, there’s no denying it left a mark on a generation of young readers. Now, as time has passed, that series has now made its arrival to the big screen. Though it’s not based on any one specific book, the film is a fun mixture of monsters from throughout the series, with the film simply known as Goosebumps.

The film is centered around Zach Cooper, a teenager who has moved with his mom from New York City to the small town of Madison, Delaware. Though he is frustrated with this change of scenery, he finds some friendship from a girl next door named Hannah despite the protests of her mysterious and abrasive father (played by Jack Black). When Zach hears the sound of a scream come from Hannah’s home, he heads over to investigate with his friend Champ and fears Hannah may be in trouble at the hands of her dad. When they head over, they discovers two surprising truths: her father is actually author R. L. Stine and all the monsters from his Goosebumps books are real, kept contained within their manuscripts. However, due to a mishap, the manuscripts are opened, freeing such horrors as the Abominable Snowman, villainous lawn gnomes, and a living ventriloquist’s dummy named Slappy. As the monsters wreak havoc in Madison and set their sights on destroying R. L. Stine, our heroes set out in search of a way to recapture all of the monsters back onto the page.

This film actually turned out to be a lot of fun. Firstly, the plot is a clever approach to adapting the series of books to film. Rather than adapting one book or attempting an anthology, this meta approach allows them to pull inspiration from the whole series in terms of plot and in terms of monsters who show up over the course of the film. The performances in the movie also work well, helping to deliver a quick sense of humor along with the thrills. Particularly of note is Jack Black, who not only plays R. L. Stine but also voices Slappy, reimagined here as being Stine’s raging id. Along with that, there are plenty of fun action sequences throughout the movie, such as when our heroes are attacked by a whole horde of villainous lawn gnomes. Helping out these sequences is a fun music score by Danny Elfman, which captures a macabre but playful tone. Now, not everything in this film quite works.

When it comes to the humor, I do feel that the film does get a little too goofy at points. Now, I do understand that this is a family film, but the fact of the matter is that the appeal of the Goosebumps books was that they were horror stories for kids. True, they tended to have humor to go along with the scares, but they did also have attempts at scares. Personally, I would have appreciated if they had found a way to include some scares in this film. Maybe not something major, but moments that could offer a good spine-tingling chill to kids along with the laughs. That way, you have a good mixture of funny and scary, something that would be appropriate for the feel of Goosebumps.

This movie may not be a great film, but for what it is, it’s a delight. It’s a fun, breezy trip, capturing a mix of goofy humor and familiar monsters in what feels like the cinematic equivalent to a carnival dark ride. I think it will make for a good watch for the family this Halloween season, along with maybe striking a chord for nostalgic readers of the original Goosebumps series. In fact, the style and feel of the film overall reminds me of movies from the ’90s like Hocus Pocus or Small Soldiers. I suppose it’s rather fitting, then, that a movie based on a popular series of books from the ’90s should have a similar feel to movies from that time as well. For me, I’d suggest giving Goosebumps a try.