Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Nightmare House and Airport '77

Episode 74: Nightmare House and Airport '77

Once again, Jack and Kate trade reviews of books from their archives. This time around, Jack explores the terrifying mystery and romance of Rae Foley’s Nightmare House (1968) and Kate plunges straight into disaster with Airport 77 (1977).

Why is dealing marijuana a worse crime than murder? Does a nightmare dude make a nightmare house into a nightmare home? Whose dick will be compared to a tiny airline bottle of booze? Is Airport 77 the disco era counterpart to Moby Dick? All these questions and more will be explored in this episode of Bad Books for Bad People. 

Sunday, February 18, 2024

The Valkyrie Heist

Mike Royal needed an extra week to prep the next Pulp Cthulhu adventure, so I offered to run a Blades in the Dark one-shot in the usual timeslot. Most of the group was new to Blades, save for one player who had been in a previous one-shot I ran of it and a player who had run the game before but never had the opportunity to play a scoundrel. People really seemed to love this one--so much so that there were requests to come back to these characters and their capers at some point. Here's what went down.

Characters

Ilya, the Lurk

Dusk, the Spider

Poppy, the Slide

Blunt, the Cutter

Miranda, the Whisper

Hawky, the Hound


Events

This was the intro to our one-shot:

This morning, the Valkyrie, the largest and most luxurious airship in the known world, docked in Brightstone. The Valkyrie will be taking on supplies during the day, but tonight it will host a banquet and ball before departing in the early hours of the morning. The Valkyrie and its passengers are bound south to Iruvia. As part of the festivities, Marist Larkin, a celebrated chef, will be preparing an exclusive tasting menu for the invited guests. 

The Valkyrie has one added attraction that your gang has learned of: Severina’s Tear, a fist-sized sapphire intended to be one of the crown jewels of the new queen of Iruvia, is secretly being transported aboard the airship. Your goal is to make your way onto the Valkyrie, steal Severina’s Tear, and fade away into the underworld before the airship departs for Iruvia.

Their first order of business was figuring out how they would gain entrance to the Valkyrie. Ilya leaned on his friend, the noblewoman Roslyn Kellis. Roslyn had a genuine ticket, but could produce counterfeits that would pass casual inspection. In return, Roslyn wanted Ilya to publicly embarrass a rival named Aisling Bennigard. Figuring that two ways in were better than one, Blunt hatched a plan to arrive at the Valkyrie before the event started in the guise of a deliveryman and then hide himself inside to scout around.

Other pre-mission preparations included figuring out the list of notables who would be aboard. They learned a bit about the ship's captain, the chef, and learned that Sergeant Dresher, an Akorosian military leader, was also seen entering the airship for unknown reasons. Miranda made a dangerous deal for supernatural back-up: she bound the demoness Sitarra to a poison ring that could be triggered for aid. However, if Sitarra was not given a soul in return for her help, she would take a chunk of Miranda's as payment.

Most of the group made their way down the red carpet leading to the Valkyrie (Blunt was already hidden inside) and were shown to a table in the airship's banquet room. Aisling Bennigard was pointing out by Roslyn and Hawky noticed that three members of the Red Sashes gang, including a swordsman called Reaper who had beef with him, were also posing as guests. The group also noticed that the chef, Marist Larkin, seemed to be in a foul mood this evening.

Feigning a fainting attack, Miranda was accompanied by Hawky and Dusk as they pretended to look for a couch upon which to rest the lady. They managed to bluster their way past the guards and made their way to the third floor. When their elevator opened, they had a moment of panic when the elevator opposite also opened--but luckily it was just Blunt, who had also made his way to the third floor of the airship's gondola. 

Operating under the theory that the chef may be in a bad mood because her kitchen had been commandeered as a place to store Severina's Tear, Poppy made her way into the kitchen--just in time to hear Marist Larkin inform her sous-chefs that "the assault will start when we serve the soup course." FLASHBACK: the group had bribed the produce supplier to provide Larkin with substandard edible lavender. So when Poppy appeared with a cachet of fresh, exquisite lavender, she had an easier way in with the chef.

During their conversation, Poppy won Larkin over by listening to her complaints about being as artist serving the pinnacle of haute cuisine to wealthy pigs who failed to appreciate the rarefied experience. Larkin warmed to Poppy and appreciated her sympathy as an artist frustrated by the whims of the rich, so much so that she warned Poppy that she and the kitchen staff were planning on poisoning the soup. Anyone who survived, or declined the soup, was to be knifed. 

Meanwhile, Ilya did a bit of subterfuge, stealing a socialite's ring, planting it on Aisling, and then calling attention to the theft. As an embarrassing tumult broke out, the soup course came out of the kitchen to be served. Poppy gathered up Ilya, tipped off Roslyn, and they exited the dining room. As they left, chef Larkin gave Poppy a knowing nod. Ilya and Poppy now made their way to the third floor of the airship.

Up on the third floor, Hawky, Dusk, Blunt, and Miranda noticed that one room in the hallway was under guard. In fact, one of the two guards approached them to escort them out of the area. Blunt attempted to push past the guards and Miranda theatrically collapsed onto the floor. The guards picked Miranda up to carry her to the infirmary, and that's when the rest of the gang struck. Dusk produced a bottle of slumber essence and held a rag full of it over one guard's mouth, while Blunt and Hawky bludgeoned the other into unconsciousness. During the struggle, Miranda made her way to the guarded room and used her spirit key to bypass the lock.

At this point they were joined by Ilya and Poppy. The room they were infiltrating was a storage room with a safe, but the safe's door hung open--someone had beat them to the punch and stolen Severina's Tear. As they looked about, they quickly deduced that the ventilation shaft leading into this chamber was just wide enough for the teenage girl who was accompanying Reaper. Ilya produced schematics of the Valkyrie and they confirmed that this ventilation shaft had an outlet in the airship's ballroom. FLASHBACK: Dusk had rigged a device on the doors of the ballroom that would hold it closed on a timer.

Knowing that they had little time to confront the Red Sashes and get their hands on Severina's Tear, the gang rushed down to the ballroom. When they disarmed their timed lock and pushed wide the door, Miranda threw in a vial of ectoplasm and opened her mind to the ghost field, causing the ectoplasm to cohere into nightmarish specters that forced the Red Sashes back into the ballroom. This was Blunt's cue; he strode in and confronted the three Red Sashes in combat, on his own.

FLASHBACK: since Hawky knew that Reaper and his crew would be gunning for the gem too, he had discovered that Reaper was superstitious and believed that only a pure maiden was fit to sharpen his dueling sword. Hawky had arranged to have a package delivered to her business, and while she was at the door he came in through the window and sabotaged Reaper's blade.

Blunt turned the faulty blade aside easily, punched Reaper in the face with a cestus, and sent him crashing to the ground. Reaper's bearded associate tried to psychically assault Blunt, but he got a punch to the face for his troubles as well. The teenage girl, who was now in a tug of war over her handbag with Ilya, merely got a backhand that sent her reeling. With the handbag now in their possession, they looked inside: they had obtained Severina's Tear.

To take care of loose ends, Hawky shot Reaper through the eye, sending blood and brains cascading across the carpet. Eager to make sure that Sitarra wouldn't consume her own soul, Miranda set it on the teenage girl (FLASHBACK: they had been seeding her mind with occult ideas that made her amenable to this!), but things didn't go according to plan. Yes, Sitarra claimed the girl's soul, but she also claimed the girl's body--which was now issuing a horrible ululating scream and hovering mid-air.

It was now time to go. They saw the soldiers who had been hidden in the airship rush down the stairs and head for the bloodbath still unfolding in the dining room. With that distraction aiding their escape, the crew made their way into the dark of a Doskvol night.

Tuesday, February 13, 2024

Through the Eyes of a Dead Man

Way back in the heady days of G+, I accepted a challenge: watch the movie version of Wild Wild West and come up with something gameable to justify the time spent watching a movie generally held in low regard. What I came up with is a piece of equipment that would be right at home in Deadlands.

The Final Projector

As it turns out, the commonly-held belief that the last image a person sees is burned onto their retina as the die is true. The Final Projector can be used to unlock that last image: it bores a hole into the back of the deceased person’s head and shines a light through their eyes, which projects the last image they saw.

Sunday, February 11, 2024

The Theatre Diabolique and Villa Kazmark

Two more locations in Krevborna's witch-haunted town of Hemlock Hollow:

The Theater Diabolique

The Theater Diabolique is a playhouse specializing in gory productions that dramatize crimes, murders, and supernatural terrors as ghastly spectacles for stout-stomached crowds. 

    • The artists of the Theater Diabolique are infamous for their mastery of theatrical artifice; they have pioneered techniques for creating fake blood, steaming entrails, and dismembered corpses that seem all too real. 

    • The gruesome plays performed at the theater are also supported by a few gore-obsessed illusionists who use their magic to enhance the Diabolique’s phantasmagoria of slaughter and carnage. 

    • A deformed masked madman named Erik Bercilan lives in the ancient tunnels beneath the playhouse; he is liable to abduct any starlet performing at the Theater Diabolique that catches his eye.


Villa Kazmark

Villa Kazmark is an abandoned manor house in Hemlock Hollow with a sinister reputation. It was once rented by a circle of Romantic poets as a place of collaboration—and some say for drunken orgies as well—but their tenancy ended in a bloody suicidal pact.

    • Villa Kazmark is secretly used as a place of worship for Hemlock Hollow’s remaining Church of Holy Blood adherents now that their faith has been driven underground.

    • Secret chambers in the basement of Villa Kazmark are used to store outlawed religious tracts and contraband copies of the Holy Blood Bible.

    • Villa Kazmark features a number of “priest holes”—hiding places for clerics and other members of the faith who are being hunted by the witches of the Graymalk clan and their satanic servants.

    • The manor house is also haunted; at night, the poets who met their demise within its walls reenact the violent scenes of their deaths. 

    • In recent years, the ghosts inhabiting Villa Kazmark have become more active and agitated; soon they will seek to possess those who worship clandestinely within the house.

Wednesday, February 7, 2024

Nazi Submarines and Reptile Men

We played our first session of Mike Royal's Pulp Cthulhu game last Friday. I thought I'd do a weekly write up of our adventures, at least until we all die and/or go insane, but it turns out that my notes were pretty shitty. I'll try to get the highlights down for future reference, though:

We are in the South Seas on an expedition to explore a strange temple on what is believed to be a currently uninhabited island. Before we got to the island, we spotted a drowned man floating nearby. However, when we brought the body aboard, it turned out not to be a human being at all--it was a white ape of a sort never before documented. The white ape was wearing an unusual headband, the purpose of which struck us as perhaps ritualistic. Also, the white ape wasn't actually dead, which I discovered firsthand when it sprang up and attacked my character. A combination of fisticuffs and gunfire brought it down.

With the ape problem settled, we took rowboats from our ship to the island. On the way, we found a wrecked submarine with a strange symbol on its side. (That symbol: a swastika.) We decided to take a detour and explore the submarine. At first it appeared that the submarine was abandoned, but we found a number of skeletons inside--the remains of the crew. Also, it was conspicuous that the technology level of the submarine was higher than anything we were currently aware of in our world. The truth of what was going on hit home when a newspaper (in German) was found and translated: according to the date on the newspaper, the submarine was from the future.

We also found a book written in an unrecognizable language. I'm sure taking that won't come back to bite us on the ass later on.

When we finally reached the island, we found ourselves following a golden metal road. We spotted (and hid from) more white apes gathered together in what appeared to be a hunting party. These apes were also wearing headbands like the one on the ape we killed previous. (We suspect that the headbands may be used to control the apes, but we could be barking up the wrong tree with that.) 

We found a field of giant petrified squid; the squid were bearing runes or sigils of some sort. (They weren't swastikas, at least.) We also stumbled upon a field of dead bodies in what appeared to be, judging by the debris, the aftermath of a zeppelin crash. Each of the bodies was wearing an alien medallion. When the medallions were removed from the bodies, they ceased to be of human appearance--the medallions were disguising the fact that the corpses before us were all reptilian humanoids!

When we finally arrived at the temple, we watched the white apes enter. However, when we entered, they were nowhere to be seen. However, we did find a lever that caused part of the floor to begin to descend into the darkness as a sort of elevator. We will find out what lurks in the stygian abyss when we pick up the game later this week.

Sunday, February 4, 2024

Mordenkult, the Rackrend Estate, Streghastra Road

The following three locations might figure into adventures within Hemlock Hollow in Krevborna. Mordenkult brings black metal to the setting, kinda. The Rackrend Estate adds a creepy family standing guard over a horrible evil. Streghastra Road has its own Black Philip-inspired monster to deal with. Good luck, adventurers! 


Mordenkult

Mordenkult is the most infamous tavern in Hemlock Hollow; it is regarded as the birthplace of “black skaldism,” music best described as morbid, dark, and misanthropic. 
    • The bards who perform black skaldism music for the entertainment of rough crowds at Mordenkult paint their faces with stark black and white pigments to give themselves a startling, demonic appearance.
    • Some alarmists claim that black skaldism is corrupting and encourages blasphemy, arson, diabolism, and murder.
    • The tavern has several private rooms that can be rented on an hourly basis; these rooms are enchanted to make them safe against scrying and other forms of divination magic.


The Rackrend Estate

The Rackrend family are decrepit necromancers who own a crumbling ancestral estate on the outskirts of Hemlock Hollow. 
    • The house sits at the base of a brackish tarn, its foundations cracked and the land around it is choked with black weeds.
    • The remaining members of the Rackrend family have inherited a familial duty to maintain the magical wards keeping a “sleeping” woman imprisoned within a glass coffin in the tombs that lie under their manor house. 
    • As part of the ritual necessary to keep the woman incarcerated within her glass coffin, the Rackrends wear black garb decorated with the yellowed remnants of ancient bones and don gilded, skull-like masks. 


Streghastra Road

Streghastra Road cuts through the Kressig Woods to the south of Hemlock Hollow and ends at the northern gates of Creedhall. 

    • The road is haunted by a fiend known as Black Samael, who takes the form of a massive goat with jet-black fur, fearsome curling horns, and eyes that smolder with infernal flame. 

    • Black Samael has an especial taste for the flesh and blood of priests, clerics, and other devout followers of the Church.

Wednesday, January 31, 2024

The Broken Girls, Berbrian Sound Studio, Coop Art, and More

Things that brought me delight in January, 2024:


Simone St. James, The Broken Girls

Simone St. James's The Broken Girls was the first book I finished in 2024. With this novel, we've got dual-timeline storytelling. It's part Gothic novel about a haunted girls boarding school in the 1950s and part murder mystery about a girl who was found dead in land occupied by the now-abandoned school in the 90s. The protagonist, a journalist who is the murdered girl's sister, finds herself unburying the haunted past to make sense of her sibling's tragic death. There's got a lot going on in The Broken Girls: a Bronte-esque ghost, corrupt cops, and even Nazi war criminals. Definitely recommended if you like the idea of a crime novel mixing with your Gothic ghost stories. 


Berberian Sound Studio

It's interesting to compare Berberian Sound Studio (which I enjoyed) against something like Skinamarink (which I think rules people out from having good taste if they say they like it), as both generally fall into the category of "atmosphere is the point." Although is isn't a plot-focused movie, Berberian Sound Studio is at least anchored by Toby Jones's magnificent performance as a sound engineer who is fraying at the edges until there's nothing left of him. The film is also very attractive to look at, and more importantly, to hear. None of that tomfoolery of masking a lack of coherent ideas with murky imagery and muffled sound here.


Deliver Us

Often, the idea of religious horror is better than the execution, but I think Deliver Us rates higher than most. When a nun gives miraculous birth to twins--one of which is the messiah, the other the antichrist--a shadowy organization moves to kill the children to prevent the End of Days. The nun comes under the protection of a priest who is questioning his faith; in fact, one of the things I like about Deliver Us is its variation on "priest suffering a crisis of faith": this guy know he has to leave the church because he's knocked a woman up. Admittedly, Deliver Us is light on horror and plays out more like a religious morality play with supernatural elements, but I'm fine with that over another Exorcist clone.


Sara A. Mueller, The Bone Orchard

The Bone Orchard is a strikingly original dark fantasy novel right out of the gate: our central location is a brothel where the clients are served by "ghosts" inhabiting vat grown bodies. Spoiler territory: those "ghosts" being put into vat grown bodies at the brothel are actually bits of the main character's fractured sense of self. Each one is meant to serve as a means to keep the central personality safe from harm. The premise of having a brothel madame entrusted with figuring out which of the emperor's sons killed him is pretty interesting; it feels like a different flavor of machinations than we usually get. The stakes feel nice and high too: we've got the politics of trade, the nation losing their colonial war, and a revolution threatening the imperial center as the army tries to impress citizens into service. All of this and a masquerade ball full of intrigues too!


Coop, Devil's Advocate and Idle Hands

There's more PLANET MOTHERFUCKER stuff coming in 2024, so to get pumped up to finish my drafts I've been dipping into Coop's art again for inspiration. Both Devil's Advocate and Idle Hands are great collections of his style of overheated, lowbrow trash culture art. If you like buxom devil women, hot rods, and all the good shit like that, look no further.


Garrett Cook, Charcoal

In Garrett Cook's Charcoal a promising art student is given a set of charcoals by her lecherous professor that may have the ashes of a decadent 19th century libertine mixed into their composition. Now she's drawing terrifying crows that want to be fed on her trauma, and that's the least horrific thing she's experiencing as a result of experimenting with these forbidden art supplies. You can be sure this won't end well. There's a bit of Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray in Charcoal, but I'd recommend this especially to people looking for something in the nexus of A24's better films, Clive Barker, and Kathe Koja.


In This Moment, Godmode

On Godmode, In This Moment have evolved into a throbbing beast of industrial metal and dark pop grandeur. While the original tracks are great, it's pretty ballsy that they not only did a cover of Bjork's "Army of Me," but that they made that the third track on the album. Impossible to compete with Bjork, but this is pretty solid. Lots of emo, teenage reprobate moments to savor on this one.


Ai Jiang, Linghun

Ai Jiang's Linghun is a grief-heavy novel about a family who moves to a neighborhood where families are known to be visited by the ghosts of their lost loved ones. Meanwhile, those who hope to one day have a home in the neighborhood--but are currently unable to afford it--camp out on the lawns and forlornly wait their turn. Well, they wait their turn until the unearthly spectacle of a house auction, which routinely turns into blood sport. It's easy to say that a novel is a "meditation on grief," but there's no way around it: that's exactly what Linghun is.


Suitable Flesh

Nominally an adaptation of H. P. Lovecraft's "The Thing on the Doorstep," Suitable Flesh is a difficult movie to figure out what exactly you appreciated about it. I found it hard to tell which elements were intentional homages to 80s/90s horror and which parts were just plain bad filmmaking; truly, this is a film that has no idea about how psychiatrists operate, despite placing psychiatrists at the center of the narrative. For me, Heather Graham and Barbara Crampton saved it; they both seemed like they were having a lot of fun. Also, the use of billowing curtains and sultry saxophone in the sex scenes was A+ throwback work.



Kaori Yuki, Beauty and the Beast of Paradise Lost, vols. 1-5

Kaori Yuki is my favorite mangaka, so I'll pretty much read anything of hers that gets translated into English. Although she isn't the most startling artist, I love the themes she works with throughout her many series of manga. Beauty and the Beast of Paradise Lost is no different. On the surface, it's a retelling of Beauty and the Beast (and to be honest, the "Paradise Lost" bit doesn't factor in literally), but the manga excavates the inherent Gothic romance of the source story and turns it into something surprising and, in places, monstrous.


Nick Medina, Sisters of the Lost Nation

Nick Medina's Sisters of the Lost Nation, a novel in which a young Native American woman grapples with the sudden and ominous disappearance of her little sister, plays off the epidemic of Native women who go missing in North America. I was expecting something more folk horror from the description I read of it, but it was really good nonetheless. In particular, the tense feeling engendered by the novel's structure--it moves backwards and forwards along a timeline of events related to the sister's disappearance--really kept me on the edge of my seat and kept me turning pages to find out what had happened and how the novel would resolve.



The Fall of the House of Usher

When Mike Flanagan's The Fall of the House of Usher series was announced, I was very excited...until I found out it was a Mike Flanagan joint. Despite minor triumphs like Oculus and his adaptation of Gerald's Game, I really didn't like his take on The Haunting of Hill House; I felt like it mined the surface details of Shirley Jackson's novel for very little reward.

I expected The Fall of the House of Usher to follow suit. Though it's a mixed bag, and again really doesn't evidence a deeper understanding of Poe's work than a Wikipedia dive could give, it is buoyed by strong performances from Mark Hammill and Carla Gugino. Though I'm still not convinced that the show benefits from all the "Easter egging" and doesn't do much with Poe's corpus, there were some nice moments strewn about the dross.


Grindhouse

It's been many, many years since I last watched Grindhouse--Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez's joint love letter to the sleazy films of yesteryear--but god-damn I still think this is an under-rated good time. Planet Terror is prime Rose McGowan, has some insane ultraviolence, and also features some great visual gags. I was surprised that the car chase in Death Proof still makes me feel incredibly tense even though I've seen it a ton of times. Throw in those great fake movie trailers--several of which have since gone on to become full films in their own right--and you have an absolutely winning combination.


Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obara, Death Note Short Stories

I read all of Death Note last year and was surprised to find that it actually is an incredibly well put-together manga series. Death Note Short Stories is exactly what it says on the tin: a collection of shorter works connected to the main story. One of the stories is a long "sequel" of sorts about the next person to get their hands on the death note; others are jokey four-panel comics or shorter vignette-like stories. Overall, this is a nice companion volume to the main series, though it probably isn't essential to the enjoyment of Death Note as a whole. One hilarious thing: it's canon that Donald Trump almost got his hands on the death note.


Richard Swan, The Justice of Kings

Richard Swan's The Justice of Kings follows the exploits and travails of Konrad Vonvalt, a "Justice" of the Emperor--essentially a traveling magistrate entrusted with occult powers to ferret out the truth and make sound judgements on legal matters in accordance with secular law. 

Although the story concerns Vonvalt's character arc, it is told to us by his clerk, a woman named Helena. In the narrative she is relating, she is a young and petulant woman of nineteen. She's had a difficult life of hardscrabble survival, and at this point in her life she is unsure whether she wants to pursue the path to becoming a Justice herself or if she'd like to leave Vonvalt's service. Of course, Helena scarcely has time to consider her options as a seemingly routine murder investigation involves the protagonists in a conspiracy with ramifications that threaten to shake the Empire's stability. Want to know more? Check out my full review over at Bad Books for Bad People.


Kill List

I watched Kill List at the urging of one of my friends on Discord. It was a great recommendation too because I love this slow-burn style of horror that features a big left-hand turn in the narrative. At the start, Kill List appears to be a crime thriller about two ex-military men who have turned assassins-for-hire. They receive a list of three people they are being paid to kill, but with each murder things get a little stranger and more unsettling. We also see that there is something going on with the woman who has befriended one of the men's wives by being a ready ear for the strain their relationship has been under. Of course, by the third killing all hell breaks loose; the assassins interrupt a bizarre cult ritual and things culminate in an unexpectedly folk horror direction. 



A Cure for Wellness

A Cure for Wellness was another recommendation I got from the folks on my Discord. (Sorry, it was so long ago that I've forgotten who actually mentioned it, but it was a good rec!) In A Cure for Wellness, an up-and-coming financial executive is sent to a wellness center in the Swiss Alps to retrieve his corporation's missing-in-action CEO. Of course, he arrives and discovers that there is something sinister going on at the center and he becomes embroiled in an extremely Gothic plot. Though the plot doesn't make a ton of sense and the film is admittedly a bit overlong, A Cure for Wellness is a beautifully shot film with some truly disturbing scenes. 


Scott Snyder and Francesco Francavilla, Night of the Ghoul

Night of the Ghoul is a pretty cool horror comic from Scott Snyder and Francesco Francavilla. It's very cinematic; the story starts with a horror film fanatic dragging his teenage son to visit a dying man he believes is the director of a lost "classic" horror flick in a secretive hospital. Of course, not all is what it seems--the film, the director's life, and now this father and son duo are deeply embroiled with the monstrous ghoul. One thing I really enjoyed about Night of the Ghoul is the way it leverages the structural possibilities of comics to enable its storytelling: we cut from the main action in the present, back to World War II, and also bits from the lost film. 



The Doctor and the Devils

The Doctor and the Devils is a pretty straightforward retelling of Burke & Hare's crimes, but with a surprisingly hefty bit of talent behind it: Timothy Dalton, Patrick Stewart, Twiggy (!!!), and Julian Sands. (Seriously, did anyone else know there was a movie where Twiggy plays a nineteenth-century prostitute?) To be clear, this really isn't a horror movie as such; The Doctor and the Devils is definitely more in the realm of dark historical reenactment, should that matter to you.


Cullen Bunn, Arjuna Susini, Hilary Jenkins, Lamentation

In Lamentation, a young woman shows up to audition for a play and suddenly finds herself cast in the lead role. The catch is that the theater seems to exist in its own shadowy dimension; the players are all trapped within it until they successfully perform the violent Gothic melodrama they've been given as a script. Which is easier said than done, since murder, jealousy, a maze-like interior, and supernatural horrors all provide obstacles to seeing the play through and finding freedom. 


Consecration

I really loved Christopher Smith's Black Death, so when I heard he had a recent "religious horror" film out I had to make time to watch it. Although it didn't thrill me as much as Black Death, Consecration is a really interesting movie that puts an unique spin of the subgenre of Catholic horror. When her brother dies under mysterious circumstances, a woman travels to a remote convent to uncover the truth of his death--and along the way uncovers some massive secrets about her own past. 


Kate Heartfield, The Chatelaine

I had been interested in reading Kate Heartfield's The Chatelaine back when it was originally released under the more compelling name Armed in Her Fashion with a much more compelling cover. I've seen it compared to Christopher Buehlman's Between Two Fires, and while I can see some similarities, such as the presence of demons and a medieval setting, The Chatelaine is not nearly as brutal. It is quite good, though; in the wake of a demonic invasion of Bruges, a middle-aged mother with a sharp tongue, her romantic daughter, and an unusual mercenary march into Hell in pursuit of money and treasure that is legally due to them. Interesting, The Chatelaine addresses the themes that a book I read in January and didn't like, Anna Biller's Bluebeard's Castle tried to work with, namely the ways in which women have to navigate a patriarchal world, with much more nuance and intelligence.


Nightmare Alley

I snuck in one more movie before we rolled over into February. Prior to this, I had only seen Guillermo del Toro's adaptation of Nightmare Alley, but now I've seen Edmund Goulding's take on the novel. It's a quite good film noir, though I do think its run time doesn't really do it any favors. This is probably going to sound wildly out of pocket in some corners, but I preferred del Toro's version! As is typical of the era in which it was filmed, this version has a lot of shots that are simply framed around two characters embroiled in a close-up conversation; the additional sense of movement in del Toro's film really does add some interest that I found myself missing.