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This afternoon I watched Hocus Pocus for the first time since I was ten (Hocus Pocus, 1996)

Because I was a kid for whom anything remotely scary was often borderline traumatizing, I never finished the movie. I think I noped out at the point where Bette Middler, Sarah Jessica Parker, and the woman who does the voice of Peggy Hill curse all the adults in town to “dance until they die”.

Watching it now, I actually really liked it. It seems to have everything a kids movie should have - singing, siblings looking out for each other, budding young romance, bullies getting their comeuppance, a talking cat - and still manage to be fairly suspenseful (there’s even a fakeout ending where you THINK everything is resolved and then the film goes lol nope). I’d watch it with my 13 year old sibling. They’d probably think it was cheesy, though. They’re a lot less neurotic than I was, and a lot less sentimental than I am even today.

But underneath all the fun kids’ stuff in Hocus Pocus, I still feel like there’s something darker lurking. Sure, the film has Bette Middler singing and the whole story is based on the premise of a guy doing something to impress a girl that ultimately reveals to her that he is - le gasp - a virgin, but the movie also deals with death and failure. I think it’s telling that the adults are absent for most of the movie - they either refuse to believe the kids, or they’re trapped in a curse that they remain blissfully unaware of, and there’s something legitimately creepy to me about that. Kids are taught to rely on their parents, so the idea that when something awful happens, not a single adult will believe you or be able to help, is legitimately terrifying on an “I am way too connected to my inner child” level.

Two hours of my life that I will never get back (The Lovely Bones, 2010)

The case of the movie The Lovely Bones is a good reason why you should always google the source material for a movie based on a book before you watch the movie. Because the trailer for The Lovely Bones is what might charitably be called a hot mess - but it’s a hot mess with implications of the movie being a thriller or horror film, which is the kind of movie I’m most interested in. I also liked the premise - a young girl is murdered, and then basically stalks her killer from beyond the grave. That’s cool, right? I mean, I loved Shutter, which basically functions around that premise. I like a ghost I can root for, and I especially love watching predatory dudes get the shit scared out of them and then die horribly.

Unfortunately, that’s not what The Lovely Bones is about. At all.

What is The Lovely Bones about? Honestly, I don’t really know. Death? The afterlife? Some sort of vague new-agey take on Christianity and forgiveness? Family? Peter Jackson using all that fat LOTR cash to troll movie fans? The movie waffles back and forth between suspense, weird pseudo-Christian spirituality, and feel-good family bonding movie. It’s jarring and off-putting, and makes the film seem much longer and nonsensical than it already is.

The movie has a lot of problems, not the least of which is the fact that the main character, murdered 14 year old Susie Salmon, has no personality. She likes two things: a brooding guy who writes bad poetry, and taking photos. After her murder at the hands of a serial killer who preys on young girls, she hangs around the afterlife, running through vast fields of CGI flowers and making absolutely no character development at all. For a while I wondered if this was some kind of commentary on  how after people die, they cease to develop and become little more than events in the lives of the people left behind, but I soon lost patience with that theory as the movie dragged on. And on. There’s like an hour that’s just a cute blonde girl spinning around in a field. If this is the afterlife for good people, I REALLY would rather just go to hell, to be honest.

Even the living characters don’t really get any sort of development. I guess the idea of the movie is supposed to be that they get on with their lives after a tragic loss, but really, the movie ends before we can actually see any of that - the parents reunite without any explanation as to why, the last five seconds of the movie show that Susie’s younger sister is pregnant (at, like, sixteen?), and her younger brother seems to disappear from the film entirely about 3/4ths of the way through and never come back. The characters might be said to “move on”,  but none of them really make any tangible steps towards change in their own lives, except for maybe the sister, who exposes the killer only to have him flee the state, and then ends up literally barefoot and pregnant in the closing credits.

Occasionally Susie exerts some agency and tries to contact the people she knew in life, to get them to bring her killer to justice. This only sort of works - in a move that delivers the only effective, suspenseful scene in the film, Susie’s sister breaks into the killer’s house to retrieve evidence of his involvement in her death - but then that whole plotline sort of fizzles out. When the killer does die by randomly and accidentally falling off a cliff for no reason, it feels insulting, like the bawdy limerick of poetic justice.

If you ever are in need of a fast way to tell if someone is a boring person, ask them if they saw The Lovely Bones, and if they say yes, ask them if they liked it. If they say yes again, I guarantee you you will get nothing out of any conversation with them. They are beyond help. Back away.

If there’s a moral to this movie, it’s that special effects can’t make up for the complete lack of a satisfying plot or character development. And you shouldn’t necessarily trust a trailer. I thought I was getting some kind of psychological suspense/thriller movie, and instead I got sucked into a vortex of gratuitous stock footage of mountain ranges and expensive-looking special effects, tied together with what I can only ultimately call the feature-length-movie version of Glurge. Susie Salmon lost her life, but is that any reason why I should be robbed of two hours of my own life? Two wrongs don’t make a right, Peter Jennings.

when a director doesn’t realize what kind of a movie they’re directing (The Little Girl Who Lives Down The Lane, 1976)

The Little Girl Who Lives Down The Lane was one of a young Jodie Foster’s first films, and also one of Foster’s least favorite films ever, which surprised me given how promising it seemed in it’s first half.

The central premise of the movie is a young girl, much more vulnerable than she would like to believe, who is forced to be incredibly independent in order to live in a town where powerful families have circled their wagons around a serial pedophile and sexual predator. Foster’s character, 13 year old Rynn, is cool, introverted, and wise beyond her years - she’s a survivor of child abuse at the hands of her mother, and determined to protect herself from further abuse and exploitation after the death of her father, the only benevolent adult figure in her life.

Foster, for the most part, handles the role of Rynn well, but doesn’t manage to pull of the cool detachment necessary for some aspects of the character. When it’s revealed that Rynn has unintentionally murdered not only her landlord, a woman determined to protect her pedophile son at any cost, but her abusive mother, Foster struggles with the delivery of such a monumental confession. She also struggles with her character’s complex relationship with her “boyfriend” - a young man in his late teens, as emotionally immature as Rynn is wise beyond her years, who acts as her only real connection to the world outside the safe haven of her home, and her protector from people who might find out her secrets.

Martin Sheen delivers a skin-crawling performance as the well-connected sexual predator plaguing the small community - it’s revealed that he’s been arrested multiple times for assaulting young girls, but always released due to his family connections - and when he dies it’s a well-deserved death, although I felt myself wishing that he had suffered more.

But the major stumbling block for this movie, which had the potential to be a truly groundbreaking film about a young girl’s complicated resilience in the face of all-pervasive rape culture, is the fact that the director and producer don’t seem to realize what kind of a movie they’re making. Significant parts of the movie - the sexual scenes between young Rynn and her older boyfriend/protector figure (who she intentionally dresses in her father’s clothes and even, at one point, has impersonate her father in order to throw the police off her trail, in a move that might be thought-provoking and a real statement on the bargains young women are forced to strike during adolescence in order to protect themselves from potential predators) - are filmed like scenes from an exploitation movie rather than a thoughful, woman-centric psychological thriller about how rape culture endangers young girls.

Perhaps this is because, by all accounts, the producer of the movie was a sexual predator on the same level as the movie’s main antagonist. I don’t feel like this is a insignificant detail. According to IMDB, young Jodie Foster felt some degree of sexual exploitation from the producer. The fact that the producer’s pressuring a young actress to reveal more and more skin throughout the movie echoes the coercive behavior of the movie’s antagonist seems to have gone right over the director’s head, and Rynn’s intelligent - but often dangerously desperate - manipulation and self-defensiveness seems to be written as more deliberate than seems entirely believable in the context of the plot.

All told, I found The Little Girl Who Lives Down The Lane to be one of the most engaging suspense films I’ve ever watched, but probably not for the reasons the director and producers intended. As a story about a young girl defending herself from a predator, it’s a harrowing, thought-provoking film, but only if you’re willing to read well between the lines of her relationships with her older male protector(s). As a horror film, though, it’s sadly misrepresented.

The Beaver Trilogy

If you ever get a chance to watch the Beaver Trilogy, take it. Take it or you will have wasted your life.

The Beaver Trilogy is a bizarre, singular, beautiful, perfectly formed mess. It consists of three short films, back to back, the last two of which are shot-for-shot remakes of the first film. The first film is something of an accidental documentary - an aspiring director tests his camera equipment by filming the John Wayne impressions of an awkward-yet-charming 21-year-old construction worker, in a parking lot in Beaver, Colorado. The two correspond after that, which leads eventually to the aspiring director returning to Beaver to film a recital that his impersonator friend has put together. He films the kid’s preparations for the recital, and then the recital itself, which culminates in the most heartfelt, earnest, and utterly compelling Olivia Newton John impersonation you will ever see.

And that’s it. That’s the entire plot of the film. The whole story takes about thirty minutes to tell.

But there’s just so much packed into those thirty minutes! Part of what’s truly incredible and bizarre about the Beaver Trilogy is that the director, after having made one lovely short documentary film, just couldn’t seem to keep himself from coming back to tell this same story over and over. But watching it, you can completely understand that impulse. Every frame in the original film is loaded with raw, unpacked, unrefined significance and meaning. You never know if the Beaver Kid is queer - you suspect he might be, but it’s kind of a non-issue. The Beaver Kid clearly has no knowledge of what it means to be queer, at least not in the sense of queer-as-valid-identity or queer-as-community. He doesn’t realize that cross-dressing is something anyone else in the world does. He doesn’t know that he could drive a few hours to the nearest large city and find a club where he’d be surrounded by people who all share his love of dressing up like glamorous lady performers and singing their hearts out on stage. As far as the Beaver Kid knows, he is completely alone. He doesn’t know why he loves performing as Olivia Newton John. He’s kind of self-conscious about it. He’s knows it’s weird. He probably knows it’s “fruity”. He is afraid of what those things mean. He wants the viewers at home to know that he’s not “crazy”, and that he’s a man and he enjoys being a man (he says this about 30 times). But he loves performing as Olivia SO MUCH that the sheer enjoyment he gets from it outweighs the risks inherent in doing an earnest drag performance in a tiny rural American town. And his performance is so rooted in that enjoyment - such a pure expression of emotion - that it is absolutely stunning.

It’s something that can only be captured, and never really fully synthesized - the life of a young person whose identity doesn’t really conform to sexual and/or gender norms, in an environment where they don’t really have access to resources or a community or any kind of framework for figuring out exactly what that means in the long run, but who nonetheless lives openly and gregariously. Filmmakers, of course, exist to both capture and synthesize this kind of nuance, and it’s fascinating to see the progress of such attempts presented back to back, like they are in the Beaver Trilogy. Nothing ever really comes close to the sheer compelling honesty of the original, but they do manage to peel back and explore the layers of meaning in the Beaver Kid’s story, and flesh out more of a coherent narrative - two things which the original can’t do.

It’s weird to watch three short films in a row, especially when they’re all versions of the same film. But they’re also one singular film, together, because they show not only the progression of a kid embracing his love of Olivia Newton John, but of a storyteller trying to piece together what that kid’s story actually means, what the ending is, and ultimately, what his role as a storyteller is.

It may have changed the entire way I look at film. Time will tell.

It’s definitely changed the entire way I look at Olivia Newton John.

Here’s a game to play during Raw tonight

It’s called “Try To Guess Who The ‘It Begins’ Teasers Are For”. Here’s how you play:

1. Try to think of the most absurd, impossible person it could possibly be

2. Try to act surprised when it turns out to be Chris Jericho

I love Session 9

I’m a big horror movie fan. I love horror movies. I watch them all the time. My favorite horror movies are the ones with very few jump scares, the ones that just let the tension build. I love horror movies with a good sense of location, where the haunted house/hospital/whatever is just as much a figure in the movie as the main character(s). I love horror movies where the threat is ambiguous in some way. I love horror movies that get you deeply invested in people you know are going to die or have otherwise horrible things happen to them.

Session 9 has all of this, and it executes it, in my estimation, almost perfectly. It sets things up quickly and efficiently, it gives information without relying too much on exposition, it gives you time to figure things out on your own before sucker-punching you with gut-wrenching new information. It’s tense and desperate without being overstimulating or confusing. And it is creepy as all fuck.

It also takes place in a mental institution.

I recently told a friend of mine that Session 9 is my favorite horror movie and she was pretty startled. You see, I am myself mentally ill, and a pretty staunch advocate on behalf of other neurodivergent/mentally ill folks. Session 9 COULD have been exactly the kind of movie that I really have a hard time with. It could have pandered to society’s fear of the axe-wielding madman, or made up some history about the setting that glossed over the reality of state-run mental institutions in the 1900’s. But it does neither of those things, and as a result, it works better than it ever would have had it relied on those old tropes.

Session 9 is set in the now-demolished Danvers State Hospital, which was a sprawling psychiatric facility complex designed and built as part of the Kirkbride Plan. It’s layout is really similar to what I imagine Arkham Asylum’s layout to be like (it’s shaped like a bat! It has an intricate network of underground tunnels!), only a lot more open. The institution, like most Kirkbride plan institutions, was shut down in the 80’s, after massive funding cuts and multiple investigations of cases of patient abuse. Session 9 doesn’t dwell on this information, but it doesn’t ignore it, either. The actual patients who lived (and often died) there are humanized rather than objectified, often without being directly spoken about at all.

The first time I saw this, I watched it with a now-ex of mine, who said that the real main character was the Danvers State Hospital itself. I’ve watched it a few times since then, and I’ve come to disagree with that assessment. It’s not the building that’s the central figure of Session 9 - it’s the history of the building, all the unspoken stories of the patients, the abuse they suffered, the trauma that took place. It’s omnipresent, seeping in to every single shot of the movie. You can see the gradual understanding of it creep into the main characters’ minds and eat away at them. They want to run from the knowledge of the things that happened there. They start talking about quitting, about “exit plans”, but they all know, ultimately, that they’re not going anywhere, because even if they did they’d never really get away from it, just like they’d never get away from their class status, their real life responsibilities, their personal failures.

And each day they go back to the hospital to try to renovate it. They drape plastic sheeting over everything and try to clear it of asbestos as though that would erase everything that the hospital itself represents. And while they can, they explore the place privately, individually, each obsessed with different aspects of it, each trying to come to some kind of terms with all the things that took place there and in their own lives. But you know from the start of the movie that they’re never going to succeed.

You might not understand how deeply, how tragically, and how violently they will fail. Have already failed.

But on some level, you know. Just like they do.

And that is what makes Session 9 not only terrifying, but utterly emotionally devastating as well.

So, you know. Perfect holiday movie-watching fare. Merry christmas!

Oh dear. (TW: rape/rape culture, implied child sexual abuse)

Tonight my partner and I settled in to watch an old X-Files episode, as we are wont to do on miserable, rainy nights. We picked the second season episode Red Museum because neither of us had seen it.

I remember the X-Files being genuinely terrifying to me when I was a kid. My best friend and I would watch it together when we were probably about 9 or 10, and we’d turn off all the lights and get totally freaked out. It was like watching a series of hour-long horror movies, and I loved it.

Sadly, this is not something that seems to have translated as I’ve aged, because now every time I watch old X-Files episodes, I find them more funny than anything else.

There’s a moment in Red Museum where an old cattle rancher (hilariously played by Relic) is explaining to Mulder and Scully that some mysterious force has changed his town for the worse. People are more aggressive, angrier, more competitive.

"Did you know we had SEVEN RAPES last year?" he says, horrified.

My immediate reaction was to just burst out laughing. Yeah, who would have thought there’d be SEVEN RAPES in a town of about 5-10,000 people? Seven seems pretty astronomically low, when you consider actual rates of sexual assault in North America - not to mention that one of the key characters in the episode was a voyeuristic pedophile who had until recently been in charge of a daycare.

It was supposed to be a sobering moment, but instead it just seemed absurd. I felt mildly irritated that the writers thought that this statistic would be shocking to anyone over the age of twelve. I mean, it’s one thing to ask me to buy into the idea of aliens, vampires, demons, various different types of monsters, and cyborg cockroaches from outer space, but come on, that’s just insulting to my intelligence.

Ethan vomits out his unoriginal thoughts on Dexter

ethanology:

whaaat! EXPLAIN YOURSELF.

Oh gosh, for reasons? I have them, I’m not sure if they’re good/I can articulate them well but here it is behind a cut so no one gets spoiled… Also Tw for mild graphic imagery in the beginning?

Read More

Putting this here ‘cause it got a little lengthly.

This is really interesting, because for the most part I’ve been so. frustrated. with this season of Dexter.

The Doomsday Killer had really, really great potential. I loved the snakes coming out of the guy’s belly, too! And I loved the obsessive attention paid to small details of scripture. And I feel like the serial-killer-who-believes-themself-to-be-chosen-by-god thing is probably a little overdone, but I actually find it to be a generally really interesting and compelling concept.

So I felt like the season had potential.

I mean, one of my biggest pet television peeves is when a show doesn’t live up to it’s potential, so I think that’s actually a big part of why I had a really hard time getting into this season. It set things up really well and then… meh. And that wasn’t just this season; I was really nonplussed at how many of last season’s revelations just failed to carry over into this season at all. I mean, LaGuerta and Batista’s marriage was ended off-screen between the seasons, talk about a cop-out. And there wasn’t even a mention of Astor and Cody all this season. Or of the many personal epiphanies that Dexter came to while working with Lumen - rather, he seemed to have forgotten about all of that entirely, especially when Bryan showed up.

It could be that this season was supposed to be a direct answer to last season - last season had Dexter getting closer to the “light”, as it were, than he’s ever been before, helping Lumen to reclaim her life and eventually actually falling in love with her, whereas in this season he can see the “light” and makes a deliberate decision to avoid it, delving into the darkness until his behavior starts to verge on risky, impulsive, and psychotic.

But it just didn’t read (watch?) that way to me. Instead, it felt like everyone on the show had amnesia. Quinn is an asshole, yeah, but he seemed like an entirely different guy this season, and god damn am I tired of Deb and LaGuerta reaching a truce only to have the writers roll that back whenever it’s convenient.

Plot-wise, watching the writers desperately pretend that no one figured out by Travis’s second appearance that Gellar had been dead to begin with got really old really fast. It was a weak point that could have been forgiven if it hadn’t dragged on just so. Long. Sooooooooooo looooooooonnnngggg. And the creepiness of the tableaus seemed to sharply fall off as the season went on. (I mean, the Lake of Fire? Travis just dumped a bunch of gasoline into the ocean. COME ON. HE SEWED CORPSES TO MANEQUINS AND RIGGED THEM UP TO LIVE HORSES JUST A FEW EPISODES AGO. SHOW US THAT CREEPY CREATIVE FLAIR.) And the b-plots seemed to drag on as well - too little material spread out over too long a season, padded out with weirdly moralistic writing and in the case of the thing with Mos Def’s character, verging into some really uncomfortable territory.

Oh! And speaking of b-plots, I totally disagree that Debra realizing that she’s in love with Dexter was out of the blue! I called that shit in the first season. Or rather, I called that Dexter would announce his love for Debra - I’m a little surprised that it happened the other way around, because I always figured that Dexter would be the one with unspoken ~romantic feelings~ and Debra would be the oblivious one, but I guess this does fit with their well-established dynamic of Debra having really intense feelings and reactions to things and Dexter just being kind of in the dark re: what to do about/for his emotional-train-wreck sister.

But yeah. I mean, it had some really enjoyable moments, all of that aside. I liked the introduction of Angel’s sister, I liked seeing Deb unravel the train wreck of her life in therapy, and I did really like the finale, mostly because it felt like the show was FINALLY getting some of it’s old sense of pacing and high-stakes drama back. And the very final reveal - talk about ending on a cliff hanger. THAT’S gonna be a game changer, and honestly, it’s what’s going to make me turn in next season (I’ve been waiting for them to bring Deb in on Dexter’s secret life as a serial killer pretty much since the show began - and it will be nice for her to have to wear the idiot hat so much when it comes to concealing Dexter’s dark passenger from the people in his life). That and the promising set-up with the creepy intern. Hopefully they don’t end up rolling that back, because I found just the set-up of that more compelling than anything Travis did in the last several episodes.

Anyway, yeah. Thanks for prompting me to think/write about this - I’d been meaning to jot some thoughts down for a while. Ultimately, I felt like this was one of the weaker seasons of Dexter that I’d seen, but that it at least set things up to be better next season. So, yeah.

Hornswaggle is offensive on every possible level

He constantly harasses and assaults the WWE Divas - and when your misogyny STANDS OUT in that environment, well, uh, yeah - his character is a running joke the punchline of which is “he’s a midget lol”, and until very recently he couldn’t even talk - I am fucking serious, he communicated in weird grunts and gestures, like a little animal, because, I don’t know, WWE execs thought that that was an accurate way of portraying someone who is a dwarf? I DON’T KNOW. I guess originally he was supposed to be a leprechaun or something. I mean, at least he can talk now, but the bad news is that everything he has to say is just as fucked up as you’d guess it would be.

ALSO, if they replay that clip with the “Cena’s ladyparts” gag on Smackdown or RAW one more fucking time I swear to god I will riot. Come on, y’all, didn’t Cena’s own homophobia prompt all the superstars to have to do some kind of mandatory sensitivity training, like, LAST MONTH?

It’s bad enough that I enjoy watching a show that is basically a bunch of nearly naked dudes and ladies throwing each other around and grunting. The least they could do is not load the show with so much bullshit that I feel AS GUILTY AS POSSIBLE for seeing this as a viable source of entertainment. It’s like I’m being punished, by the WWE, for enjoying the WWE.

The suffering I go through for escapist television, I swear. I’m like Jesus in this way. (It’s a little known fact that Jesus also loved terrible television. I read it somewhere.)



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