The FAFO Movies of July

After the Isolation Hot Mess Horror Film Fest, I find myself wanting to watch more horror movies, good, bad, or ugly. As a horror fan and writer, I can attest to the fact that, more often than not, horror characters suffer greatly from FAFO syndrome.  FAFO stands for Fool(or maybe it’s another four-letter F word) around and find out.  This statement stands as a warning so that people can behave appropriately. If you choose to act a fool, you will be treated as such.  This could include loss of private property or dignity, bodily harm, or even death. In other words, many of the characters in horror movies are warned long before the games begin. 

Prayer may be a good idea right about now

Incantation, now on Netflix 

This Taiwanese horror film spent some time on the streaming platform’s Top Ten(as in most streamed) and has been touted by some as the scariest Taiwanese movie of all time.  A found-footage mockumentary, the film follows a mom, Ronan, who has recently regained custody of her young daughter, Dodo, after succumbing to mental illness. Through flashbacks, we learn that prior to the little girl’s birth, Ronan, her boyfriend Dom, and his cousin Yuan were YouTube ghostbusters.  They decided they would visit Dom and Yuan’s family’s village to enter a cursed tunnel.  Six years later, Ronan is rightfully scared that the curse continues.  Possession and violent deaths ensue.  Not too many jump scares but there are some plot twists.  

I would tend to agree.

Nope, now in theaters

Jordan Peele’s highly anticipated third horror movie leans more into the sci-fi genre.  As with his previous hits, the social commentary is strong as Peele explores Hollywood’s chew it up and spit it out treatment of people and animals.  OJ(Daniel Kaluuya) and Emerald(Keke Palmer) Haywood are third-generation Hollywood horse trainers who are struggling to keep the family ranch afloat after their father’s untimely and horrific death.  They realize there may be a UFO in the area and hope to capture video proof with the help of Fry’s employee, Angel Torres(Brandon Perea.)  Ricky “Jupe” Park(Steven Yuen), the Haywoods’ neighbor and nemesis, is a child actor turned Western-themed carnival owner. Jupe has been buying the Haywoods’ beloved horses.  Like his neighbors, he hopes to make money off the UFO phenomenon. 

Though both films have received mixed reviews, I thought both of the films were solid and entertaining.  I did definitely scream questions or curse words at the screen because most of what occurs could have been prevented.  But if folks didn’t FAFO, perhaps horror wouldn’t be such a popular genre. Tune in next month.  

The Hot Mess Horror Fest

Yes there’s something in the air or the water or your immune system

After two years and a few months of avoiding the coronavirus, I was taken ill and therefore held temporarily hostage by the Omicron variant. For all the fools out there claiming this is a hoax  (which disrespects the memory of my fallen family members and friends), I can confirm this virus is real and he’s a ruthless mofo.  After attending my daughter’s dance recital, I collapsed on the couch and proceeded to dissolve into a quivering mass of heat and pain.  The following morning’s PCR test revealed what I began to suspect after a sleepless night hacking and sweating.  The Rona had kicked me down.  Anti-vaxxers, anti maskers, and other fools, be damned. To entertain myself during my isolation, I decided to host the Isolation Hot Mess Horror Film festival. (This doesn’t mean I want to host this event annually!) The films were mostly throwbacks to my traumatic childhood watching way too many scary movies.  

Uh-oh. That’s not a church girl laugh.

Abby:  The 1974 all-black possession film was new to me.(Thank you mom and dad because this was the most “adult” of my film fest selection.)  It stars the recently deceased Carol Speed as sweetie pie marriage counselor/pastor’s wife/church choir soloist Abby.  Abby is happily married to Emmett(Terry Carter), the son of Dr. Bishop Garret Williams(William Marshall).  Abby’s father in law heads to Nigeria to find artifacts related to the orishas and finds a strange box honoring Eshu. When he opens the box, the games begin back in Louisville. Abby goes from kind and warm to profane and physically violent.  In one famous scene, Abby psychologically eviscerates her mother’s friend, Mrs. Wiggins,who sadly becomes the first of Abby’s many victims.  There are a few genuinely creepy scenes despite the low budget effects. There are also some hilarious moments; I warn you that a COVID cough and cackling don’t mix. (ouch!)  Mix in a funky soundtrack and cool costumes on the gorgeous extras.  The exorcism scene alone is a must-see if you’re a horror fan, a 70s stan, or, as is my case, both.  Due to the movie’s legal troubles after Warner Brothers sued for its similarities to The Exorcist(the similarities are few and far between IMHO), the film is not available for streaming or purchase so search the interwebs for a copy.  

How about no?

The Food of the Gods:  The 1976 sci-fi monster movie may be the root of my rat-phobia. Mr. and Mrs. Skinner(legendary actress and director Ida Lupino) find a river of white goo bubbling from a rock on their farm and believe it is manna or, as they call it, food of the gods. They feed it to their chickens which causes the flock to grow into giants.  Other critters get into the food and wreak havoc. Pro football player Morgan(Marjoe Gortner) has to rally the surviving humans to battle giant wasps, grubs, and my least favorite, rats.  The old-school effects, including rubber monster costumes, may be cheesy but still unnerving at times. Available on Amazon Prime but also free on Plex(sadly not ad-free).  

This is not what an indigenous Andean looks like

Devil Dog, The Hound of Hell:  The 1978 TV movie had always intrigued me when I was young but I can’t remember seeing it.  It opens with a group of Satanists shelling out $5000 for a prize winning German Shepherd to breed. We are then introduced to Mike and Betty Barry(Richard Crenna and Yvette Mimieux), a typical upper middle class white couple in the burbs. Disguised as a fruit vendor, one of the devil worshippers gives one of the pups to the Barry siblings, Bonnie and Charlie (played by Kim Richards and Ike Eisenmann of Return to Witch Mountain fame).  Almost immediately, Lucky leaves a trail of victims, starting with the Latinx maid who called it from the get-go and even a police detective(Ken Kercheval aka Cliff Barnes on Dallas). The kids get sassy.  Mama gets sexy.  Mike gets a physical since he wonders if he is losing his mind. He heads to Ecuador where an Andean shaman(played by non-Native Canadian actor Victor Jory) provides some wisdom on defeating the demonic pooch. The effects are not great but the acting is passable.  Available on Tubi(not ad-free but less interruptions than on Plex). 

The Empire of the Ants: Produced by the same studio as The Food of the Gods, the 1977 movie takes us to the Florida Everglades where perennial scheming diva Joan Collins is peddling undeveloped swamp land to a group of marks. She has no idea the island is home to mutated ants. The ants have eaten radioactive waste and are intent on eating humans.  The ants pick off the unsuspecting group one by one. The survivors make it back to town but there’s something odd about the local police and the town sugar factory. More rubber monster props and old school film editing and frankly laughable acting.  Available on Plex.  

Bonus selections as my family joined me for the last two movies: 

Songbird: This 2020 disaster movie features Archie from Riverdale(K.J. Apa) and Descendants’ Evie(Sofia Carson) as socially distant lovers Nico and Sara.  The couple face mortal challenges during the COVID-23 pandemic including evading the “sanitation” department bent on sending everyone to the ginormous Q-Camps.   Available on Hulu

I would advise you against opening the door

Attack of the Jurassic Shark:  My daughter hand-picked this 2012 Canadian stinker about a Megalodon released into a freshwater lake during oil drilling. A group of college students face off with a group of dumb art thieves and with the horribly rendered CGI shark.  Is it possible that my 70s campy classics have better effects and were much more entertaining?  Absolutely!  Available on Tubi. 

Is it any wonder I developed a passion for horror movies and horror fiction? The 70s were a great time for horror; even the campy B-movie kind best the 21st century offerings.  While COVID is no fun and isolation can drag, some laughs and the occasional jump scare are good for the healing process. 

This is why we can’t have nice things

The blessing of butterflies

My experience with San Francisco Carnaval began as a spectator.  My best friend paraded with an award-winning comparsa. In years to follow, we would go to Carnaval to watch the parade. I first learned of Fogo Na Roupa the year they were monarch butterflies.  I was stunned into silence as I watched monarch butterflies in flight.  I asked who they were.  I declared that someday I would dance with them.

 In the years that passed, I danced with other teachers. Due to my challenging pregnancy, I quit samba and didn’t resume that style of dance until my daughter was in preschool. I joined the group that had taken over the Malonga Casquelord space on Sunday afternoons, SambaFunk.  I was with them for five years before I made the decision to move on. I wanted to be part of a comparsa that would embrace my child and where we would feel validated and seen.  Fogo embraced us as a family. I was embraced as a woman and a mother. My daughter was embraced as a child.

 Nearly five years have passed and we are still with Fogo.  I danced with them during the pandemic, first on Zoom and then outdoors. I never did that with my previous group; I was only involved during Carnaval prep from January to May. I stayed with Fogo because they honor us.  They have seen me through my multiple physical incarnations.  In other groups, there is pressure to be a certain size/weight; sometimes people face body shaming and harassment. It’s refreshing to be accepted and celebrated as beautiful no matter where I am on my fitness journey.  Like any teenager, my daughter has struggled with insecurity. Her dance journey has included struggles with confidence and technique. It’s powerful to have her be in a place where she feels she can soar. 

I was drawn in by Fogo’s beauty and pageantry. What I really wanted was a family with whom to winter, rest and finally to soar. We found that home.  Muito obrigada Fogo for all the gifts you have given us.  I saw joy from across the street decades ago.  Hopefully I can continue bringing that joy to someone else. I know I will continue to take flight.  

Lucky #7

I’m excited to share Episode 7 of my podcast. Two of my passions are not mutually exclusive. Dance is contemplative practice.

American Standoff

“Every day I am deluged with reminders

that this is not

my land

and this is my land…” from “Poem for the young White man…” by Lorna Dee Cervantes

The tall white man had bushy brown hair that hung to his shoulders.  His beard was full with a mustache similar to Sam Elliott in Mask.  He wore dark cargo pants, dark shoes, a black sweatshirt. The bandanna he wore over his nose and mouth bore the stars and stripes but they were colored black and blue,  His light blue eyes bore into me as soon as our eyes met. As I studied his bandanna, he studied me.  It being the Sunday before Inauguration Day, I had selected my Daughter of an Immigrant t-shirt to wear with my jeans.  He would not stop staring.  It made me uneasy.  The older woman he was with tapped his arm and asked him to do or  something.  As he walked away, he looked over his shoulder at me two or three times.  I broke eye contact and chose to study my phone. I texted my partner and my friend.  My gut told me there might be a confrontation headed my way.  

His mask. My shirt. Lines in the sand.  Guns drawn.  This town isn’t big enough for the both of us and yet it has been and will continue to be.  I’m not going anywhere.  Immigrant is a misnomer.  I’m the descendant of indigenous peoples who arrived on this continent millenia ago. 

The tension is a reality for so many people and yet when it happens, it feels surreal like you’re suddenly on a theater stage and you’re acting in a familiar scene. 

 My mouth went dry.  My stomach lurched.  My pulse quickened.  I deliberately paid attention to my breathing. I focused on my inhalations and exhalations.  I became acutely aware of the man’s height.  He towered over me.  I was grateful for the social distance between us.  Two carts away.  He and the older woman stood behind the glass partition as the cashier rang up their purchases.  I hoped the cashier would look over at me.  She was too busy scanning items with the handheld reader.  

I have a right to make a political statement with my shirt.  He has the right to make a political statement with his mask.  The statements in and of themselves are equally acceptable.  But, in combination with our personal demeanor and physical appearance, they became battle attire.  Why was I put on the defensive?  Why did he choose to be bothered by a female stranger in a black and pink tee shirt?  I was wearing my glasses that morning.  I was alone. I was quiet.  I had grabbed a few items and placed them in my cart. I did nothing to warrant those looks other than be myself.  I might have ignored him had he chosen not to stare at me.  After watching our nation’s capitol erupt in violence earlier that week, I was on edge. Perhaps he was too but it wasn’t my people disrespecting our government institutions and leaders. My presence was triggering. I can look at those blue and black stripes and think a great many things but choose not to engage with anyone.  I can judge in the quiet of my mind but I don’t often give the people a second look.  I, on the other hand, was subjected to ten to twelve hard looks, even two or three over the shoulders. As we checked out of Costco by handing our receipts to the clerks at the door, he looked towards me one last time. He and the older woman headed to the left. I headed to the right, relieved they weren’t parked anywhere near me.  I felt safe again. I was grateful there had been no confrontation.  Still, I was shaken.  I know, in my rational mind, that very little could have happened in a public setting.  Yet, in my core, I know it could have gone so much worse.  

Reflecting on this incident has caused me anguish.  No matter how many professional  or personal milestones I accomplish, I can be reduced, judged, labeled, hated.  Before you argue that the same could be said for any person, I will snap back that a lot of folks won’t have reached out to their emergency contacts in a supermarket checkout line for fear for their physical safety.  I was scared.  My heart and mind went into flight mode.  Should I abandon my cart of groceries and leave the store?  Would he follow me to my car?  Would the woman with him intervene?  Even if the worst that happened was being called a racial slur or told to go back to my country, it would have hurt.  Not like an owie, now I’m sad.  It’s the pain of knowing in my physical body that I am considered an enemy or a problem.  It’s a lifetime of pain from being considered foreign, invasive, wrong.  Miss me with all the “we are all alike” platitudes to gloss over my reality.  Accept me at my word.  Accept me.  

My dear feathery friend

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –

That perches in the soul –

And sings the tune without the words –

And never stops – at all – 

Emily Dickinson 

Starting in October 2019, my staff mourned the untimely deaths of three young people.  We lost two young men to gunfire.  We lost a young woman to violence; her family has not wanted to mourn this loss publicly as the investigation has been pending.  It was terribly hurtful to see a mother give a eulogy for her child who will never reach 18. It has been awful to speak to mothers as they sob for their children who have been robbed of time.  I am fortunate to still have the ability to make memories and change traditions.  I still have time, that luxury that my friends who have lost parents and grandparents desire.  

Losing my Mama Chelia was sad but it also deepened my gratitude. She lived 102 years and she inspired her children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren with her tenacity, willfulness, brassy sense of humor, candor, and strength. Mama Chelia left us with many memories and gratitude at leaving us after a long full life.  

In December, we lost my Tia Nery to cancer.  She was the quintessential bon vivant. At family gatherings, she was always the first to dance and never one to shy away from taking shots, whether they were of tequila or pisco.   She never resorted to the bad habits of other aunties who body shame and pry as if they are owed these uncomfortable moments. I was always “mamita” to her. I always received hugs, kisses, and compliments.  My auntie stood out.  She dressed in animal prints and glittery tops and held parties with live bands in the middle of chemo and a pandemic. She was unapologetically going to keep living so long as she could.  Losing her means losing the spark of many a family gathering.  However what an example she set of being a woman who loved and lived to the fullest.  

Even in my grief and that of my friends, I can’t negate the blessings of 2020.  2020 revealed my priorities and my loyal support network.  I decided who was worth seeing, what was worth doing, why I and we are worth protecting and building up.  While getting through the challenging months was an accomplishment in and of itself, there were small yet immense moments of success and joy.  Friends welcomed beautiful and healthy new babies. I watched a beautiful Zoom wedding of a young couple as they began their life together.  I have so many friends who   reached deep down and started running, continued graduate school, moved home, or left toxic relationships.  It took these losses, this isolation, the frustration of building the damn plane as it careens out of control at times, to push me to embrace my vocation as a writer again.  Wrist tendinitis be damned, I am writing this book.  I’m dreaming my dream again, that my words might reach other eyes, minds, hearts.  

2020 was full of loss.  I can’t write that year, or any year, off as a complete waste.   When I was young, I had a nervous breakdown.  At that time, I thought it was the worst year of my life. I had to build myself back up.  I built a new mindset and ultimately, a new life free of misery.  I will experience grief and pain but I learned how to be mindful, grateful, and whole. I learned to never surrender to despair.   Our world has broken down but it will rebuild itself.  When it does, there will be greater joys.  All is blessing.  There is nothing we can experience that does not make us better.