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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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
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.
I had the good fortune to see The Smudging in its Bay Area premiere. The film and event was hosted by Mike Marin, who grew up at IFH, the Intertribal Friendship House, in Oakland. He began his film in 2015 inspired by his lifelong fascination with horror movies including the sleeper hit, It Follows. After seeing that film, he went to a restaurant and began to write his concept on several napkins. It is based on real-life experiences Mike and acquaintances had at the American Indian Center in Chicago which became the location of The Smudging. The film also pays tribute to stories he heard from family members and mentors. Mike Marin is quickly becoming the face of urban Native American horror.
One of my dance brothers had posted on Facebook about this film and it immediately got my attention. I have written extensively about my love for horror film and fiction. I’m always excited to support Native American artists, artists of color, and Bay-Area bred artists. While at the premiere, I met Mike Marin and Kevin Nez, of The Mac Nez podcast. I asked Mike a few questions about how long it took him to make the film and what his plans are in terms of distribution. According to Mike Marin, The Smudging is his tribute to old school horror with the goal of bringing back moments of terror in the audience and getting away from modern-day Hollywood gimmicks of gore and sex.
The Smudging follows a group of Native paranormal investigators, the Night Stalkers, who are called to investigate The Native American Cultural Center in Chicago. The building was unfortunately the scene of lurid crimes committed by a serial killer. Both staff and clients have been experiencing increased instances of paranormal activity including voices, moving objects, and general feelings of unease. The young children who attend the center are especially prone to experiences and are then unwilling to participate. Parents are pulling their kids out of the center to combat the resulting nightmares and fears. The Night Stalkers decide to spend the night filming and learning what might be happening. It’s a terrifying film. Even though the action mostly takes place in a massive four-story building, the first half of the film is claustrophobic. I was in a roomful of people yet I felt like I was crouching in a corner. The second half of the film brings in the hero figure who also happens to be a veteran and a healer.
As a horror movie aficionado, I enjoyed a film that was original and yet had an old-school feel. Despite its modest budget, this film captivated me for the 90 minutes of its entirety. My heart was racing and I held my breath for most of the film. I also enjoyed the all-Native cast; it’s refreshing to see so many people of color in a film. The relationships between the members of the Night Stalkers were relatable and often humorous. The moments of humor helped balance the genuine horror the audience was experiencing. There were several cultural references which gave a uniquely Native perspective. The film also included horror movie musts like jump scares, scary music, and a building sense of dread. An underappreciated element of horror is the life lessons the characters gain; the films that resonate with me are those which highlight the best in people and in that respect, this film did not disappoint. The Smudging met and exceeded my expectations.
After the film, Kevin moderated a Q&A session. We learned more about the process, heard some funny behind the scenes anecdotes, more about the individual cast members, and even some trivia about the props used. I liked having an insider view of the film. We were also treated to the trailer for Mike Marin’s next film, Moshego. We were then encouraged to share our thoughts via social media and I was more than happy to oblige.
I am excited for what is next for #thesmudgingmovie. There is the possibility of another Oakland screening in the next few months. This is a film we need to support. Whether you are from Oakland or a Native or a horror movie fan or a supporter of artists of color or any combination of these, please make an effort to see the film.
Mike, I wish you ashe and I’m excited to be a supporter of your film.
Run, rabbit, run, rabbit, run, run, run
Don’t give the farmer his fun, fun, fun
He’ll get by without his rabbit pie…. “Run Rabbit Run” by Flanagan and Allen
The other day at boot camp, our trainer had us outdoors several times running. At one point, I had a strangely increasing feeling of fear. I had seen the #getoutchallenge on social media and not understood it. I had avoided reading reviews or watching parodies because I wanted to see the film. Yet the image of the running had stuck with me. As I ran, different thoughts came into my mind: invisible minority/majority, the cockroach people, the sleeping giant, His Panic. I thought about Oscar Zeta Acosta and how he disappeared. I thought about Ruben Salazar and how he was killed. I picked up the pace which is unusual for me. I may be a half marathoner but I lope along at a comfortable pace. I don’t push myself for personal records; I run because it’s therapeutic. That evening, I ran faster than ever. The image of running from Get Out which I hadn’t yet seen provoked anxieties I have about racism in America.
I finally saw the film. It exceeded my expectations. I have always been a horror movie fan. Horror books and movies have had tremendous impact on me as a person and as an artist. (My Masters’ thesis in long fiction was a horror novel.) It’s a genre that I gravitate towards both as a fan and creator. As a horror film, it was brilliant and terrifying. I have had nightmares and strange dreams ever since I saw the movie. I can’t get the song from the opening scene out of my head.
In terms of social commentary, Get Out is daunting. I know it’s film and fiction yet so much of what was captured was real. While Latinos are absent in the film, the various scenes were relatable. The film feels like a Twilight Zone episode (or several) about racism. There was one particular scene when I finally understood what was happening. I whispered to Rambo, “I’m about to burst into tears.” I put my face in his shoulder and took a deep breath. I meant it because the conclusion I made was so overwhelming in its/my sadness, indignation, and disgust. I didn’t feel shock. None of the events in the film are shocking; Rambo says “it all seems plausible.” At the end of the movie, I turned to Rambo and said, “This is what I’ve been talking about. I’ve been telling you this about these places. I know this!” Then I made a statement which seems funny but also sad and spooky. “They are lying in wait.” That statement speaks to the fear, paranoia, and acceptance of reality.
As people of color in a racially divided and divisive society, what we experience is also what we try to deny. Like Chris, the protagonist, we are constantly having to say “it’s fine.” It is never good. We say that as a means to survive. We can sugarcoat these realities by saying the Geneva “No, no, no,” or the Chris, “It’s okay.” We can choose to stay silent when micro-aggressions occur. We can accept subtle racism without fighting back. We can act like it’s our lot in life and it’s still not right. It never was and never will be. Y ahora que?
Get Out is one artist’s take on complex, deep-seated truths. It’s an important film in what it says about the myth of post-racial America and has deservedly received critical acclaim. It has resonated with me and will likely haunt me for a long time.
The Gospel on the first Sunday of Lent describes Jesus’s temptation in the desert. Jesus is tempted by the devil. The devil is an instigator. He is manipulative especially as he constantly seeks to gain power. Going after Jesus is evidence of the arrogance, narcissism, egoism that comes with being evil. Jesus is able to resist. He is all powerful. Jesus demonstrates the strength and authority needed to resist temptations that we all experience. We all want to attend to our immediate needs. I’m starving so let’s turn these rocks into bread. We want youth, physical strength, and immortality. I’m going to drink my liver into disease because it feels good. Because I’m young, I’ma be all right. We want wealth and power. Life owes me these things. Jesus rises above those desires. He sees the ultimate goal. The 40 days have been a test. They’ve been physically hard but he has stayed faithful and strong. He is preparing for what is going to be more difficult. He is finding the discipline before he begins his ministry. Jesus does not fear the devil and sends him away like the nuisance he is.
I grew up very fearful of the devil (What I learned watching The Exorcist). I was much too young(six!) to learn about possession, that the devil was a real entity that could take over a person. It made me much more fearful than my daughter is at that age. On the other hand, I grew up as a spiritual child. I was drawn to the Bible. I was reading the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the Gospel of Luke at age 7 because I wanted to do so. One reason I haven’t exposed to her more horror movies or pop culture interpretations of the devil is I find them scary. About 15 years ago, I made a survey and asked my friends when they first saw The Exorcist and what were its long-term effects. I continued to do other readings about exorcism. Those fears stuck with me.
Now I’m older and I have had life experiences with different facets of evil. I’m not fearful because I know good prevails. I’ve done a lot of writing about my thoughts as I “exorcised “a “devil.” (My second career as an exorcist) I gained a lot of strength from those experiences. I may laugh when I say “the devil is a lie” and “not today, Satan” but those are true statements. I have been able to look at that evil, at that enemy, to look it in the face and say I’m not afraid of you. That’s powerful.
Father Tomas is played by Rebelde cutie Alfonso Herrera
On a related note, while dealing with real-life drama, the TV show, The Exorcist, premiered on Fox. While it wasn’t a ratings hit, it was a critical hit and a hit in my household. We watched it every week and analyzed it. I connected it back to what I was living. I found parts of it hilarious. I would argue it is better than the original novel and original film. Those were good but the TV show’s acting and writing took it to another level. Geena Davis was brilliant. The show explored what is happening in the church regarding the role of lay people, the role of women, and the behind the scenes politics which you may not know about if you haven’t been involved in ministry. I like that the show spoke to the power of family and faith. As I wait along with other fans to learn if the show will get renewed, I would recommend binge-watching on Hulu or Fox. Don’t be too scared. Y’all know who wins and who always will.
“Especially important is the warning to avoid conversations with the demon. We may ask what is relevant. Anything beyond that is dangerous. He’s a liar. The demon is a liar. He would like to confuse us. But he will also mix lies with the truth to attack us. The attack is psychological, powerful. So don’t listen. Remember that. Do not listen.” Father Merrin to Father Karras, The Exorcist
For most of my life, my fear of evil understandably overwhelmed me. From my childhood ponderings about good and evil to my adulthood grappling with evil in the people I encountered in my personal life, I often felt passive and powerless. I often felt as if I had barely escaped a terrible fate. Working as a teacher and administrator in environments where violence was a harsh reality, I began to realize that societal evil could be battled through strength of mind and heart. If I could be stable, focused, and compassionate, I might be able to reach those affected by the negativity and hatred in the world. An incident with a particularly memorable student helped me reframe my thinking and lessen my fears. (Half-hour with the Devil, 2006) Changes in my personal life helped build my strength.
But evil ain’t goin’ nowhere. It’s everywhere. In Ferguson. In Oakland. It might even sit across the table from you at work. I come to the table, both literal and figurative, with all kinds of experience and training. But some people and the situations they create require a different set of skills and more importantly, a unique mindset. So I go back, way back, to a moment that shaped me. I go back to the movie that has had a strong impact on me, The Exorcist.
Lately I have realized that the horror film offers some practical advice. In preparing themselves to face a monstrous demon, the two priests must strategize. The veteran exorcist(for y’all who haven’t watched and dissected this movie dozens of times like I have, the title refers to the man with a tough job, not the poor girl victim)mentors his younger helper. He points out that even conversation can kill.
Y alli lo tienes. Because if you’ve read this far, you know I’m not talking about the movie. The advice given can apply to any situation in which you meet with someone who takes actions that purposefully hurt you or others and whose words are weapons. Speak your truth and shut out their negative energy.
This morning, I came very close to buying myself a designer handbag. Thankfully I didn’t give in to this craving; I am minding my budget and cannot afford big ticket treats. So I turned to a tried and true outlet: scary movies. Two horror movie trailers later, I feel recharged.
Horror movies have fascinated me for most of my life. As a child, like many Bay Area natives, I stayed up late to watch Creature Features, Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits, and Night Gallery. An avid reader of many different genres of books, I became a fan of Stephen King and H.P. Lovecraft. Having watched The Exorcist at the age of 6 may have inspired me to sleep with a nightlight until my teens but it did not cause me to forever avoid horror films.If anything, it made me seek out more scares.
Horror movies are like roller coaster rides. They can be funny, exhilarating, intimidating, shocking, and stomach churning all at once. Some are the kiddie versions, predictable and tame. Others are for the daring and require you to woman up and face your fears. While I can be a horror movie snob and boycott the Hollywood blockbuster versions in local theaters (I still have never seen any of the Saw movies), I also enjoy camp and cult classics as seen on local favorite Creepy KOFY Movie Time.
The bag would have been cute. But it couldn’t have raised my heart rate in quite the same way.
Sera hoy la quinta noche que duermo con la luz prendida?
I’ve been sleeping with my light on since Thursday. La Peruana’s hubby showed me an email forward on his new high-tech phone. It was supposed to be funny but I didn’t laugh as the nasty face of a possessed Regan from The Exorcist glared at me to the awful tune of the movie theme song. I didn’t laugh at the threat of pubic lice if the message wasn’t forwarded. Instead, I wondered if I wouldn’t have nightmares.
Those images and that music always cause old fears to surface. I go back to what worked when I was six(and until I was 11), the comfort of a bright light bulb and my ability to sleep, despite brightness and heat.
I’ve had no nightmares. My dreams are lucid. But I have been too exhausted to grab the tape recorder. Or maybe I am afraid to remember.