August Horror 2018 wrap-up

As August draws to a close, here's my list of things I actually watched, read and listened to, along with a bit about each of them. This gets... long.

Movies

Nightworld

English-language Bulgarian horror movie on Netflix. Good concept, poor execution. What was Robert Englund doing in this? (I'm told he just enjoys showing up in indie horror flicks, actually.)

A former LA cop who vacationed in Bulgaria, fell in love, and settled down there, takes a job as a security officer at a beautiful historic building in the capitol, Sofia. In the basement, which is accessible only by an ancient, key-operated elevator, is the "storage hanger". There are several cameras inside it, which appear to show only empty space, and his only job is to go down twice a day and use software to check the video feeds for anomalies, although he is assured that this "never happens". Naturally, one shows up fairly quickly. A blind "security consultant", played by Robert Englund, who is most famous for playing Freddy Krueger, shows up to go over it with him. Add in the young woman from the corner cafe, a dying old man, and footsteps in the sand, and it's mostly inevitable. But it takes more than half the movie to get to the action, and while the concept behind what makes the building scary is good, the execution is cheap and poor. Oh, well.

The Exorcist

The classic. A young girl begins acting very strangely indeed, and the doctors and psychiatrists of the 70s can't explain it. One of them suggests to her actress mother that she talk to the church about bringing in an exorcist. But first, the Catholic Church sends in a young priest who is also a psychologist... and he sees things he can't explain with science, either. They do, of course, actually call in an exorcist.

I see why it was terrifying to audiences at the time, but while I enjoyed it, it just didn't scare me.

Poltergeist

Another classic. "They're heeee-eeere" is still a well-known reference in pop culture. Little Carol Anne starts hearing things in the static of a TV tuned to a channel that's gone off the air for the night. Chairs slide across the kitchen floor of their own accord (and so does Carol Anne) or pile themselves in intricate stacks while adults' backs are briefly turned. At first, the pot-smoking parents get excited and investigate the phenomena themselves, but when everything in the house shakes and Carol Anne vanishes into the TV static, they call in paranormal researchers. The researchers have never seen anything like this before, and they call in a diminutive psychic (again, a face this movie made famous). In an epic battle to retrieve Carol Anne, the house vanishes in a vortex of spiritual energy.

Most of the effects were practical, so they held up super well, with the cell-by-cell animation looking only mildly cheesey. Not what I was expecting from pop culture osmosis. A fun movie, rather than one that scared me, although again, I see why it would be terrifying in a dark theater.

The series is supposed to have a curse associated with it, because apparently they used real skeletons from a medical supply company for the pool scene near the end. And it is true that the actress who played the older sister was murdered between movies, and the one who played Carol Anne died rather badly before the third one was released, and there were a few other deaths associated.

Poltergeist 2: The Other Side

Something has followed Carol Anne and her family to their new home with grandma. A strange, emaciated old man in old-fashioned clothing has begun following her around and singing "God In In His Holy Temple". Meanwhile, the psychic from the first movie and a Native man called Taylor have found something strange in a cave under the family's old home. Apparently at some point a church group, or possibly cult, that was being persecuted in the area found its way into the cave, and all died there. At the psychic's request, Taylor goes to help the family.

Mildly incoherent, but a fun adventure. Creepy mostly because of the preacher.

The Blair Witch Project

The original, not the remake. Three twenty-somethings head out into the Maryland woods looking for an old abandoned graveyard attached to the local legend of the Blair Witch. They find a clearing populated with small rock cairns, and think that this is it, but get out of there before dark. This is when they start to get lost, and to hear strange noises in the night...

This is the original found footage movie, and the marketing for it intentionally made it unclear if this was fiction or real found footage. The credits, of course, do say that it's a work of fiction, but a lot of people at the time believed it was real anyway.

Didn't quite scare me, but did cause me to get really tense. Maybe if I'd been sitting in the dark.

The Blackcoat's Daughter

I've been meaning to get around to this one since I saw I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives In the House by the same director, and learned that this one was supposed to be better. It certainly was.

Two girls, a senior and a freshman, are stuck at their strict Catholic boarding school at the beginning of their school holidays. The elder tells the younger that the nuns are all Satanists... and this takes root in the girl's mind. Meanwhile, an escaped mental patient starts heading in their direction...

I was paying enough attention to see the twist coming, which is a nice feeling, and it was fun and creepy.

The Conjuring

OK, good grief, this one creeped me out. Too many jump scares for my taste, by a lot, but very good creepy shit, lots of atmosphere.

Based on the same "real life" (now debunked) events as The Amityville Horror, a family of five moves into a beautiful country house in New England. They find a boarded-up cellar, and the familiar patterns start. Cold spots, bad smells, children waking to see things hiding in the shadows... Again, researchers called in (these claiming to be demonologists, with an impressive collection of cursed, haunted, and possessed items in their home), and while this pair of them are less impressed by the extremity of the phenomena than those in Poltergeist, they soon find themselves trapped in the events unfolding.

This movie also introduces the haunted doll Annabelle, who now has two spin-off movies.

The Conjuring 2

This one is based on the Enfield Poltergeist, although it certainly takes liberties with the story, introducing a demonic nun and the Crooked Man into it, one of which has a spin-off premiering next week and the other of which has one in pre-production. This franchise really sprawls.

A family in Enfield, London, England begin to be plagued by the spirit of an old man, who insists to Janet, the second of the four children, that the house is his and not theirs. She becomes possessed by him and tells the rest of the family, and the newly arrived local paranormal investigators, that he lived and died in that house, in a chair in the corner that the family still has, having bought all the furniture when they moved in. Ed and Lorraine Warren, the demonologists from the first movie, are also called in. Lorraine has had visions of a demonic nun who impales Ed, and that seems to be connected to this haunting.

The Taking of Deborah Logan

A found-footage faux-documentary about Deb Logan, who is experiencing the early stages of dementia from Alzheimers, and her daughter Sarah. It starts in simple ways of course, with things pretty standard for such patients. She gets out of bed in the middle of the night and goes wandering in her confusion. Then the security cameras the docu crew installed show her standing in front of the stove and then standing on top of it... without any time passing between the two frames, according to the counter. From there, of course, things only get worse, and it's revealed that there's a connection with a local serial killer from Sarah's childhood, who has some connection to mother and daughter...

As is often the case with found footage, the format itself ended up obscuring some essential details of the plot, which I only picked up from reading the Wikipedia entry, although I'm sure others caught it from the movie. A number of other things bothered me about the movie, such as the "ancient ritual" with no origin except some vague connection with the local Native people. Still, pretty good, and scary.

Annabelle

A prequel to the prologue of the first Conjuring movie, which contained a possessed doll called Annabelle. The real-life doll this is inspired by was a Raggedy Ann, but the movie Annabelle is an extremely creepy porcelain-headed doll, probably about 2-1/2' tall. In the prologue, a young nurse was given the doll as a gift from her parents, but it has started acting strangely, moving around the apartment. First the nurse and her roommate (also a nurse) called in a medium, who told them the doll was haunted by the spirit of a young girl who had died in the apartment building, and the young women gave her permission to stay and tried to nurture her. Things got much worse, however, and the nurses called in the demonologist couple, the Warrens. The Warrens took the doll back home with them and put it in their office in a locked glass case.

Annabelle is the story of what happened to the doll before it got to the nurses.

A young couple named Form -- who are Catholic, and why is everyone Catholic or Episcopal/Anglican in this franchise??? -- are expecting. The husband, a doctor, finds the Annabelle doll, which the wife has been looking for for years, for the collection she's been amassing for the baby, a girl. That night, their neighbors are murdered by their own daughter, who had run away and joined a cult, and her never-named boyfriend. The girl's name is Annabelle. Annabelle and her boyfriend sneak into the Forms' house while Dr. Form is trying to help the neighbors and Mia Form (btw, the actress who played her was herself named Annabelle) is calling for emergency services. They stab Mia in the belly, but too low to harm the pregnancy. The good doctor manages to make it back in time to prevent them from doing her more harm, and the cops come in and shoot the boyfriend, while Annabelle slit her own throat in the nursery, the doll in her arms. This presumably infests the doll with Annabelle's spirit, only because this is part of the Conjuring franchise, it's actually a demon, because everything is demons here, just like everyone is Catholic. Creepy shit ensues.

Way too many jumps scares. Not very good.

Annabelle: Creation

A prequel to a prequel to a prologue? Sure, why not?

This is supposed to be a better movie than Annabelle, but honestly I couldn't hear like 2/3rds of the dialogue because the sound mix was so bad the choices were have the dialogue too soft and the scary parts at a volume that would upset others in the house, and having the dialogue audible but the scary parts unbearably loud.

A little girl, also named Annabelle, has a father who's a dollmaker. He makes the original doll, the first of the limited edition, which already looks like a creepy-ass version of the little girl. The little girl, of course, dies tragically, although not while the doll is around. Twelve years later, her parents (her mother now bed bound and scarred) invite a small orphanage's worth of girls (six), plus their nun caretaker, to stay in the big old rambling farmhouse. Naturally the girls are forbidden to go into Annabelle's old room, and naturally one of them does. Badness ensues.

Still too many jump scares.

TV

Channel Zero, Season 3, Butcher's Block

Channel Zero is SyFy's creepypasta-based anthology horror show. I'd started it before, but gotten distracted and wandered off. I figured I might as well finish it while I was on horror this month.

Two sisters, Alice and Zoe, the latter of whom has schizophrenia and the former of whom is terrified of developing it as their mother also did, move to a new city, to a house adjoining its worst neighborhood, Butcher's Block. There's a city park gone wild right by the house, which the two are warned never to go into. When a child under Alice the social worker's observation vanishes, possibly into the park, things start to get strange for them. Their landlady is obsessed with finding the truth about the Peach family, whose meat empire gave Butcher's Block its name. These things collide and meet up with cannibalism, sacrifice to an ancient god, strange freestanding stairs and doors, and the question of sanity.

The creepypasta this references is the Search and Rescue series, sometimes known as the Stairs in the Woods series, in which a forest search and rescue officer sees and learns about the strange freestanding staircases that can sometimes be seen deep in a national park. Since the image of the stairs is basically the only thing that appears in the show, I was kind of annoyed. I had been hoping for more like the SAR series, only with more plot, the way the first season took Candle Cover and did much the same. The show is drifting further and further from its creepypasta roots, and I'm disappointed.

Penny Dreadful, seasons 1-2

This series is set in Victorian England, focusing on Sir Malcolm Murray, father of Mina Murray who married Jonathan Harker and subsequently went missing in Transylvania, and the people he brings together in an effort to find Mina. Her childhood best friend, Vanessa Ives, apparently a power psychic. Ethan Chandler, a marksman from a Wild West show passing through, whose birth name turns out to be Lawrence Talbot (the name of the original Wolfman on film). Dorian Gray, the unaging, who is drawn to Vanessa. Doctor Victor Frankenstein, who should need no introduction, and following him, his first creation.

Wild stuff and a good adventure, with some jump scares and a good creepy atmosphere.

I was enjoying it and got attached to the characters (and started writing this), and then I glanced ahead to see what happened to Angelique, because it could not be anything good... and was so infuriated by what it actually was that I had to stop watching right then and there. I'm extremely disappointed, as I had really gotten into Vanessa's storyline.

Graphic Stories

Behind You is actually the name of the book. I read them on his Tumblr http://thehairsonthebackofyourneck.tumblr.com/ . One-shot illustrated horror stories, in a sentence or two. Some of them are animated. Creepy stuff. Highly recommend.

The Shortest Story
https://shorteststory.tumblr.com/

Postcard-length stories, most of which are spooky in some fashion. One of my favorites is this one:

Wonderful things.

Reading

The "Footsteps" series of creepypastas, a reread, but it got my heart racing for sure, and there was one I'd never read before. A man starts talking about strange things that happened in his childhood, and remembering more and more, and putting things together that he had never realized were related. Do NOT read if things happening to kids upsets you.

The Search and Rescue series mentioned in the Channel Zero bit, also a reread. Again, do NOT read if things happening to kids upsets you.

The creepypasta series "Just bought my childhood house, am finally about to figure out what the tunnel in the attic leads to" (that's part 1), which starts out exactly what it says on the tin. Did not go where I expected, but wonderfully creepy. Same author as the SAR stories.

Listening

No Sleep Podcast

One of my year-round favorites. This year, probably the best story I listened to during August was "Full Bloom" by Tadd Mecham, from Season 11, Episode 6. A young woman is trapped alone with her sister and her sister's curious malady, in the dark of their family estate.

Tanis

Another perennial fav of mine. Not strictly horror, but creepy stuff. We're on season 4 at this point, so it's all a bit complicated to explain, but it all started with an investigative reporter in Seattle looking into the myth of a place called Tanis...

Dreams Underfoot audiobook, by Charles de Lint

I've been a de Lint fan for a long time, but somehow I always forget just how dark his work can get. Dreams Underfoot is a short story collection, and several of them are creepy to listen to in the dark as you try to fall asleep. "Uncle Dobbin's Parrot Fair" and "The Stone Drum" stand out in particular.


I got through a lot of creepy stuff this year. I feel like I ought to have played more Spot the Toys with some of these, but oh well. I can always go back if I want to.

I think the horror movies help ground me. I don't get as weird and spacey anymore, not like I did before I started doing this. I still am even more forgetful and more prone to miss stuff than usual, but I don't get as disconnected. Or maybe it's something else. I don't know.

But there it is. I've finished the last movie I'm going to watch for the month, at 10-something-pm on the 31st. August is over, September is coming in, and the world moves on.