“mon mon mon MONSTERS”

A quartet of maladjusted and sociopathic high school assholes frame a fellow student with stealing class dues. Their teacher assigns community service for the framed student… and makes the asshole quartet join him. Their assignment: assist elderly folks who are living in a strange underground apartment complex that’s pretty much absolute squalor.

But the elderly don’t live here alone. Two sister monsters — a weird hybrid of vampire, zombie, and cannibal — live here as well, feasting on the elderly and sleeping in cardboard boxes in an abandoned elevator shaft.

While the students are attempting to steal a safe from one of the elderly tenants, they stumble upon the two monsters, scaring one off and chasing another into the street to be hit by a car. This monster becomes a prisoner of the students, and that imprisonment becomes the center of the film.

The framed student struggles with the moral rightness of what they’re doing. And the escaped monster moves through grief in a search for her captured sister (a narrative thread that precipitates one of the film’s best sequences, on a city bus). As her grief-fueled rampage roars through the city, the framed student tries to help the captured monster.

When things come to a head, the framed student has to decide which of the monsters he wants to align with, and what kind of justice will be served in the end.

What mon mon mon MONSTERS does so beautifully is subvert all of our expectations about monster movies. In this world, the monsters are are our sympathetic focus, and the students are the agents of the film’s real violence, cruelty, and horror. It’s a unique morality tale wrapped up in monster tropes, and it’s highly engaging and unusually smart.

The film makes us question what makes a monster. Are the monsters in our world the vampires and zombies? Or are the monsters the humans that make compromised moral choices? Our female monsters kill — and in spectacularly gory fashion — but they also exhibit kindness (one offering a heart to the other to eat) and depths of sadness. And our students are capable of theft, torture and a gory murder of their own.

Their menace and maliciousness provides more horror than our vampire zombies. And that subversion of the genre is what makes the film so interesting. When all the film’s monsters crash together in the last stretch, easy moral answers evaporate, and and the film embraces human (and monster) ambiguity in all its messy glory. And the film’s final scene is a gut punch, beautifully distilling everything that came before in one perfect image.

The answers aren’t easy here. But neither are living and dying.

“The Suckling”

THE SUCKLING is bonkers.

Playing like a horror film made on the fly by a few amateur pro-life filmmakers, this movie is one of the weirdest flicks I’ve seen in a while. It’s an anti-abortion missive wrapped up in a monster movie/exploitation film hybrid.

A teenage couple get pregnant, and they decide to get rid of the baby. They head to this dilapidated house that’s the neighborhood brothel. Abortions come cheap (and wholly unsanitary) here, and when the deed is done, the fetus is flushed down the toilet and ends up in the sewer.

Luckily, the fetus falls into some toxic waste and is transformed into a monster hell-bent on revenge. The monster fetus encases the brothel in a giant placenta (including its parents, who have been resting inside), and begins to murder the brothel staff and customers one by one.

This is a low-budget enterprise (you can tell the placenta is just painted rope), but its weirdness makes up for it. The performances are atrocious and deliciously amateur. The script is a jumble. There’s a monster fetus running around. And it tries so hard to be scary that it practically has an aneurysm from the effort. This movie is a hoot, from top to bottom.

And the film ends on such an unexpected “oh no they’re not really going to go there” note, that even if you hate it, it’s worth sticking through it.

“Alone in the Dark”

With an opening scene that plays like some community theatre production of a horror stage play adaptation of Hooper’s “Nighthawks,” ALONE IN THE DARK establishes his campy-creepy fucked up worldview with a flourish.

Hard to imagine the film going any other way, with three dedicated scenery-chewers in the mix: Donald Pleasance, Martin Landau and Jack Palance.

Pleasance runs an asylum that’s holding Landau, Palance and a handful of other extremely dangerous men. They’re kept from the public by a security system (“all run by electricity,” as Pleasance says in an early scene), but when a blackout hits their town, the system is rendered useless, and the band of maniacs hits the street.

The backbone narrative doesn’t really matter here. It’s really just there to support the homicidal shenanigans of Landau and company. So much of it strains credibility — an institution doesn’t have a backup power source for the system holding in insane murderers? — but the creeps and the kills make up for those weaknesses.

What works here is the balance of campy excess and more restrained horror. A scene mid-film where one of the maniacs stumbles upon a house with a girl and her boyfriend plays like a perfectly contained short film in itself, tense and terrifying. It’s a sharp counterpoint to the cheesy bar band and Pleasance’s completely bonkers psychiatrist. The film is tonally all over the place, in the best possible way, and it’s a lot more fun than horror films that take their scares more seriously.

It’s a delicious little movie.

“Flavor” Issue 2.

Two issues in to FLAVOR, and I’m already eager to see where Joseph Keatinge will take this world.

This second issue doesn’t have quite the propulsive force of the first, but it introduces a few new narrative wrinkles — a new character, a secret past for Geof, and the secret black market of Fishmongers.

Xoo Lim continues to be a badass (can’t wait to see the fight coming at Fishmongers in the next issue), and the delicate moment she has with Geof in their scene around the middle of the book adds another layer of sweetness and depth to her. She’s a really compelling central character, and I’m eager to see how her story unfolds.

The art remains beautiful, particularly the gorgeous nighttime colors as Xoo heads to Fishmongers.

I dig where this is going. And I hope Keatinge and Clark keep expanding this canvas. It’s an intriguing world that I want to know more about.

Slashers are resiliency stories. So is queerness.

The first horror movies I fell in love with were slashers.

I don’t get many genuine scares from a slasher film (although the first time I watched Halloween, it legit scared the shit out of me), so I never went to them for that. The really lazy ones can be campy fun, but the ones that rise to that level of awfulness are rare. Most slashers are blazingly mediocre, the ones people point to when they talk about how shitty horror can be as a film genre, but I still enjoy those, too.

I love slashers because their stories are reliable: a band of innocents wander into the dangerous dark and encounter the Big Bad, and the Big Bad knocks them off (hopefully creatively) one by one, until there’s only one. Our final girl. And she’s got to pull her shit together, use whatever she’s got left now that all of her friends are dead, and stop the Big Bad. Temporarily. Until the next sequel.

Continue reading “Slashers are resiliency stories. So is queerness.”

Stop apologizing for success.

Yesterday, I got my first “Hey! We wanna publish your short story!” email.

First moment response: “FUCK YEAH! This is awesome! Feels pretty good. Validating. I must be a pretty good writer!”

Second moment response: “But it’s probably not a big deal, really. I don’t think a lot of people know this magazine. And getting published in one publication isn’t going to really matter in the long run. It’s really nothing. I should probably just shut up about it and pretend it didn’t happen.”

I’m not unfamiliar with this interior dialogue. I’ve had it from the first moment I got produced as a playwright. Every reading I ever scored. Every production that went up. Every award I won. Every conference I got accepted to.

Every. Single. Time.

I spent so much of my playwriting life apologizing for my success, downplaying the moments when my work mattered to other people. It was unfair to me. It was unfair to the people who were supporting my work. And it was buying into a very dangerous and limited idea of what success really is.

Success is your work connecting with other people. That’s it. The whole shebang.

If you’re brave enough to share your work, and someone experiences it and connects to it, you’ve succeeded. If it’s an international bestseller, a story published in a small indie digital magazine, or just a Google Docs file you share with a friend, if someone finds something of value in it, you’ve succeeded. 

Make it weird.

I’ve been thinking about HEREDITARY all weekend.

I really admire its ambition. It’s bonkers and it’s over the top and it sort of throws everything at the screen. Some of it succeeds brilliantly. Some of it doesn’t.

I like that.

It takes confidence to allow failure to be a part of your storytelling. To commit to the thing that just night not work is ballsy. To commit to the thing that’s gonna sharply divide audiences is ballsy. To let that potential for failure be a part of the mechanism of your story is a kind of narrative swagger I can dig.

4:59

She slammed into the train car at 4:58.

He knew, because he was on his phone, texting Claire that he’d made it on the 4:59 train from New Haven and would be in New York by 6:40. Claire wouldn’t answer. She would still be asleep. But she’d wake up and wonder, so he’d save her the worry.

Safe. On the train. Love you.

He hit send, and there was a clink!, metal against metal, echoing loudly in the car that was, until her, mercifully empty.  He looked up. The clink! was due to the keys dangling off the ring she’d slid down her left hand;s index finger. This was the hand that was clutching the metal pole near the doors to the train car. The rest of her — of which there wasn’t much, she was uncomfortably thin, chest pulsing with uneven shallow breaths, faded pink hair plastered to her temples with sweat — leaned against the first row of seats in the car.

Their eyes met.

Continue reading “4:59”