Roads Past Uncertainty: The Etheria Film Night Shorts of 2021

Here I am at the Etheria Film Festival, in spirit again. It’s hard to believe that it’s been a year since the Festival was forced to move from its physical Theatre viewing locations in the United States onto the online platform of Shudder. These have been uncertain times, and I didn’t know if I would ever cover — or even see — a similar event again.

But if I were to say that the Etheria Film Shorts of 2021 have a unifying theme or motif, it would be uncertainty: of being lost, or remaining in transition, and trying to find your way off a familiar path. 

So let’s get into it. Heidi Honeycutt, the founder and Director of Programming of Etheria introduces this round of female-directed short films across genres, and then introduces the 2021 Etheria Inspiration Award. It is presented to The Walking Dead showrunner Angela Kang by the legendary film and television producer Gale Anne Hurd: who herself had actually won the Award in 2019. One thing that Hurd mentions with regards to Kang’s work is that she is excellent at telling character-driven stories: which is fitting given how most of the cinematic stories in this current anthology are, by necessity, directed by the trajectory of their protagonists wherever they might go. 

Our viewing night begins with Kelsey Bollig’s The Fourth Wall: a film about a resentful actress who has to essentially share her next big theatre production with three other idiots while suffering from what seems to be a series of seizures, or the beginning of a nervous breakdown. The director’s statement on the Etheria website, which I’d suggest you check out as some of them provide a bit of background for their films, explains that she wanted to take the story back to the origins of cinema, and perhaps even cinematic or theatrical experimentation: which she identifies as France. As the protagonist’s nose bleeds, and her hallucinations with regards to her resentment over her peers continues, you wonder where this will go. And I have to say, when she makes her decision, when she lashes out, it is satisfying. It’s a tame Grand Guignol — a naturalistic, graphic, amoral horror show where gruesome acts like murder seem so real — within a flimsy production of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. And I have to add that there is something truly great about what she does to the American actress who is only there because her father is the director, and she doesn’t bother to learn how to speak passable French beforehand: expecting others to accommodate her. Essentially, I love the fact that the Etheria Film Festival starts itself off with a foreign language film and, after dealing with reading about several film viewers subtitles and wanting to hear English dubs — it feels like a tremendous “fuck you” to that contingent that I greatly respect. I also want to add that I appreciate the fact that English captions do not interfere with foreign subtitles on Shudder: at least for how the Etheria Film Festival is formatted. 

So we break The Fourth Wall with a commentary on Murder being the tenth muse, and wondering what the protagonist will do next after her moment of transgressive narrative effulgence is over, to find someone on another Narrow path as directed by Anna Chazelle. Like The Fourth Wall, I didn’t know what was going on at first. Is the protagonist being haunted by ghosts? Is this a dystopian death match? Will leaving the path of dirt and gravel which she can’t step around lead to the ghosts of her victims getting her? It is fairly clear that she is terrified of leaving that trail, even ignoring screams of agony and pleading. She’s surviving, and you can tell that she’s been doing this for a while. I didn’t know that this was a post-apocalyptic story, even after watching it, though Chazelle identifying it in the lens of personal stories told in after such world-ending events — about individual lives trying to make sense of a now senseless world in line with what Hurd says about Kang’s work at the introduction to the Festival. At the end though, despite all that effort, the main character has to make a choice: one that tests her faith, or her certainty. It’s like Orpheus, except there is no Eurydice, and you have to wonder if it is the promise that makes her decision: or simply being so tired of this constricting road of life? There is a reason why it turns to night when she leaves, however — into darkness — and as a viewer you are left in this haunting meditation of that fact.

Narrow isn’t the only film with a character that steps off her path. In fact, I would venture to say that so far two protagonists have done this: one ending in glorious murder, and the other being consumed by the roars of the night. You Will Never Be Back is almost an answer to the end of Narrow, but unlike its predecessor it isn’t an ending. That would be too merciful. Mónica Mateo presents us with another foreign-language film, this time in Spanish, in which her protagonist Ana leaves her partner David to go to an event, only to find a small portal in the hallway of their apartment. It only takes one moment for everything Ana knows to be stolen from her, to have never happened to begin with, and to know — as only the mentally-challenged or dying are aware of who she is — that she will never escape this place: this dim, floral, Mobius strip forever trapping her in a temporal purgatory. It’s like an episode of The Twilight Zone, but there is something even more sinister when you consider how mundane and everyday this story begins, and due to one small decision everything in one person’s life — and their relationships — is over, and they are lost. It’s … especially timely given the current climate.

And it really doesn’t end there, does it? We come to Katy Erin’s Bootstrapped. A casual movie night between two lesbian partners turns weird when one of the partners, a physicist, comes back from the future begging her partner not to break up with her. As she explains to her partner, it is because she broke up with her this particular night that made her obsessed with her work, and discover time travel. The problem is that corporations and the rich took advantage of her work and abused this power, leaving masses of people in war and fear in order to colonize the future: where they wouldn’t have to deal with any of it. It’s only she apparently learned that she could travel to the past. Of course, the reason the breakup happens is revealed by this future incarnation, and it makes it happen. It figures that the end of the human species would be the result of a failed relationship, although you realize just how self-serving the time-traveler had really been. Hell, the other protagonist even asks her why she wouldn’t talk with her past self, and seems like less an issue of paradox, and more the fact that she is afraid of “affecting her own memory.” So perhaps the end of human civilization, or existence is more of the result of human pettiness and selfishness more than anything. It’s funny too, as I just rediscovered Jeremy Lalonde’s James Vs. His Future Self, in which this film is a nice counterpoint. I guess the traveler, in this case, bootstrapped herself, in more ways than one. 

And then, we go from supreme selfishness to the opposite in a serious situation. In Ciani Rey Walker’s Misfits, it is 1960s America and we find ourselves in a chapter house of the Black Panthers. Everyone there seems to be Black university students and activists. There are two leaders: a young woman who studies law, or a book of law, and another who understands that sometimes you have to take physical action in order to do what needs to be done. We have scenes of comradery. There is even a White student who is friends with this chapter. I’m ashamed to say that I didn’t know, or I wasn’t sure that the Black Panthers had white allies though I know the Freedom Rides definitely had Black and White participants. But the scene starts off, not with mobilizing, but just young people surviving daily life, and kidding around with each other until the news comes on: Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. has been assassinated. 

Misfits is a film that can, and should, have an entire article or review dedicated to it. Suffice to say, the chapter house organizes to protest, but one of their own gets beaten nearly to death by a police officer: who is shot by the White student. And then, these Black students and activists, they have to make a choice in a system that would destroy — and has destroyed — them. There is so much I want to say about this film. It is easily, along with last year’s Conversion Therapy one of my favourites, and it is unfortunately timely. The fact that the movie begins with a young woman attempting to memorize a legal text, and ends with another holding the barrel of a gun says a lot and what might be criminal to one person, at one time in history — or just — is explored here. And the film ends with a list of names “In Loving Memory:” Eric Garner, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and so many Black lives taken by police brutality. It is a powerful, sombre ending to a film that takes place in the 1960s, but whose violence and injustice it depicts continues to this very day.

Myra Aquino’s The Gray also has a police officer, or at least a former one. And he is also dead. However, this former officer is in Purgatory: in an office place processing people to Heaven, and Hell based on his own black and white ideals. He’s been there for a while, and his contemporaries are attempting to get him to retire: to choose where he needs to pass on. This character is different in a lot of ways from the wounded cop in Misfits. He has a strong sense of justice and morality, to a point where it ruled both his life and his afterlife. He had also been in a mixed race relationship with his Filipino wife before his death. And, up until the events of this madcap weird fantasy afterlife comedy, he’s never compromised: until he sees his son in Purgatory. I’d like to think that, based on what happens and the decisions he makes, that God or whatever powers exist in that afterlife arranged a situation that challenges this man’s thinking — and he finally decides to truly let go of the rules to do what he thinks in his heart is right. It’s both a light-hearted, and moving film as the former officer seems to sacrifice himself to hell in order to give his son another chance to live, and take care of his mother. And while we don’t need the clarification of what happens from Aquino, it is nice to have it nonetheless. Also, can I say that the threat of the bureaucracy taking away the protagonist’s “subtitle privileges” reminds me of The Fourth Wall, feels like another hilarious jibe at subtitle haters?

While love helps someone leave their narrow path of bureaucratic certainty to make their own “leap of faith” such as it is, another protagonist finds it — or the beginning of loneliness’ end — in Silvia Conesa’s Spanish language film POLVOTRON 500. A man in the future attempts to sleep in an old automated sex booth, but accidentally activates one of its sapient hologram sex workers. And while he first wants nothing to do with her, and she just desires to provide her function, they actually begin a conversation together and he realizes that they both have something in common: they are both lonely, and they want company. It could have easily ended in a cynical transactional manner, or something saccharine but I like the fact that she is still a sex worker artificial intelligence, and he is a paying credits-customer, but that human connection between them outside the beaten path feels incredibly real in a time of great disconnection.

I’d like to say that Aislinn Clarke’s Eye Exam is the weird film of the nine. It is essentially about a protagonist who goes to an optometrist who is looking for … eyes. She ends up lying in her exam, just to get away, like a man before her who runs out of the room, and the building. It’s hard for me to fit this into the thematic structure I’m identifying. Perhaps, in that dark room the danger is staying the course and telling the truth so that the monstrous voice and Cyclopean visions around the protagonist can get her eyes, as they tried to with the man before her, and it’s only through looking away, through lying, through deciding to veer away from this path, that she can save herself. It is a counterpoint to POLVOTRON 500 for sure in that holograms are visual constructs, and while the protagonist attempts to also ignore what he sees, to wait it out, or eventually leave, he accepts the more positive situation. The character in Eye Exam, however, seems to have dodged being taken by something worse in deciding not to accept it.

And this brings us to the final film in the Etheria Film Festival: Astrid Thorvaldsen’s Who Goes There. I’m almost surprised that the Festival ended with this movie. This isn’t because it is a bad film: far from it. Three Norwegian sisters live in a remote cabin on the American frontier. Their parents seem to have died of a fever, while one of the sisters is slowly being consumed by it. Then, a mysterious man finds them, and after Ingrid — the oldest sister — saves him from dying of thirst, he offers his services as a doctor for their dying sister: for a price. It is a film about survival, being afraid of death and possible treachery, of caution, and the price of letting something in: be it having a prayer answered, or simply opening a door. In the end, unlike the protagonist from Eye Exam, someone gets what she prayed for, another gets what she asks, others die, and perhaps it’s survival — and living — that is the final punishment. When I think about it, perhaps Who Goes There is appropriate in that it ends off with an uncertainty of both identity, and of what the future holds. 

It is my opinion that it is no coincidence that the Etheria Film Festival of 2021 ends with a film that tangentially deals with sickness, but also infection of a more infernal kind. I always wondered, when thinking about many other events such as the Toronto After Dark Film Festival, if a group of judges had already chosen a few film entries before the Pandemic. And while the After Dark might not have had the opportunity, I feel like the Etheria Film Festival might have had all of their entries, and chosen them accordingly. At the Film Festival’s introduction, we are told — half-jokingly — that nine great films had been chosen but didn’t make it due to “distribution problems” or something to that effect. While last year’s Etheria theme, to me, was about interconnection is a disconnected world, I feel like this year’s verges from going behind the scenes of a trite situation, to teetering off a slim line of reality and getting lost in time, sabotaging yourself and others in a cycle, to hard choices in impossible, enclosed situations, to selfishness and selflessness, and knowing when to run, or let something inside.

As of right now, even though I know Etheria is publishing their past films through Amazon in its own series, I don’t know if — even in a year — we will see this Festival online anymore. That is a path branching from uncertainty as well. It is a new time, beginning, and while it is still dangerous, the potential is there too, and I’m glad that whatever else happens, I got to see one more Etheria Film Festival.

And please check out the Etheria Film Festival website. There are more Director’s Statements there, and they are worth checking out: as is this event, which ends on July 25, 2021. 

And This Hole Leads to Another Hell: Takashi Miike’s Masters of Horror Imprint

This Dissection and Speculative specimen contains extreme subject matter, and Trigger Potential. As with its predecessor, Reader’s Discretion is advised. 

I know how I opened up with my first article on Takashi Miike’s Imprint. I said a lot of things, and I explained why I reacted and said the things that I did. However, it wasn’t entirely accurate. You see, while I did write those words first on Twitter, what actually got me to truly look at Imprint, beyond my visceral reaction, was the following I wrote afterwards on Facebook: which goes into more detail:

I just watched Masters of Horror‘s Imprint.

I don’t say this lightly, you understand, but Takashi Miike, you suck. You suck so much. You use folklore brilliantly, you are excellent at illustrating human cruelty, and genuinely making a viewer feel really bad. Seriously, the amount of horror, pathos, and what-the-fuck I felt in this one episode that — surprises of all surprises — wasn’t released on North American television has been the most I’ve felt in a while.

I mean, damn. Granted, it wasn’t as disgusting as that one scene in Audition. *That* fucking scene.

But still, Takashi Miike … you suck. You suck hard. And not a horror director, my ass.

There isn’t much of a difference. Takashi Miike has claimed he isn’t a horror director, but I disagree: even though I know now that he’s created a wide variety of films across different genres. But I will say this. On Facebook, I was called out on my reaction, and some people didn’t understand that I was reacting strongly to one particular scene, and aspects after that. And then, I looked over what I wrote and realized that while most of it is venting, there are two aspects of this film that my mind began to digest in addition to, and beyond, the torture scene: mythology, and narrative.

It really all comes back to the character of the Woman as played by Youki Kudoh. She tells Christopher, and by extension the audience — us — three stories. One is about her poor, but idyllic childhood before she is sold to the brothels so she can make a living. Then there is Komomo’s suicide. Then we find out that the Woman stole the jade ring, and framed Komomo for it. In the screenplay, she goes as far as to help the other girls torture Komomo, but in the film she mostly watches in absolute horror as they do so. Then after that we find out that she strangles Komomo with the rope from which she hung. And then we see that her tale of her family and her relationship with a kindly Buddhist Priest was all a lie: that her father was an abusive drunk, and her mother an abortionist for a struggling peasant village. We even see her dispose of the fetuses, her Mother and herself: the late-term aborted lives looking nothing less than gangly human jellyfish. 

And the Woman is raped. She is molested her entire life. First, by the Buddhist Priest who shows her depictions of Heaven and Hell, and tells her she will obey him or she will go to Hell. Then, by her father after he beats her mother within an inch of her life. And then, as we saw before, by customers. She tells Christopher that “I had nothing. Only this hole bound for hell. Trading it to make my living was only natural.” 

All of this would be horrifying in, and of itself, right? From a very young age, the Woman is taught that her hole — her vagina — is a conduit to Hell, that just by living, by making a living with it, by giving birth, she is a sinner, and she will go to Hell. It doesn’t matter if she’s obedient, or not. She even tells Christopher: “Men don’t like our holes, they yearn for the hell behind them. The hell they were in before being born.” It is a cycle of samsara, or maya: of the mind being clouded by the senses, and pain. In a way, she is basically saying that everyone — this whole world — already is Hell: on that perpetuates itself.

But there is another layer. There is another level, or realm, of Hell. A lot of Far Eastern philosophy and theology posits that there are several hells. So, at the start of Imprint we see that the Woman has a pinwheel in her room. This pinwheel begins to spin without so much as a breeze. And then, when we see that the Woman’s Mother isn’t a midwife, but is an abortionist, we see a multitude of pinwheels blowing on the riverside: the same river where she and her daughter dump the aborted fetuses of the women that come to them … who are too poor to have other mouths to feed, but whose husbands or men continue to impregnate them nonetheless. The pinwheels are placed there by the Mother to commemorate the lives of those dead children, before they are even children. It is a Japanese custom to plant these pinwheels at the site of miscarried and stillborn children, for the deity Jizō to protect and guide their souls to the afterlife. 

Yet for a pinwheel to turn on its own in a brothel is probably an inauspicious sign, especially as we know the souls of the dead are all around Christopher and the Woman. There is another Japanese custom, or rather a myth. It’s said that if a wife of a miserly man rarely eats, a second mouth will form on the back of her head, eating twice what she would, and screeching obscenities if it doesn’t get what it wants. This mouth can also form if a miserly man accidentally hits his wife in the back of the head with a wood axe. But, more tellingly, a woman can develop this second mouth, complete with moving snake-like hair if they let a stepchild — perhaps a child — starve to death. This is the myth of the Futakuchi-onna.

The Woman herself resembles Kuchisake-onna, or the folkloric Slit Mouth Woman, but she is really a Futakuchi-onna. The reason for this, as we see a hand-like creature with teeth form from the side of her skull — her parasitic twin “Sis,” like a female version of Basket Case’s Belial still attached to their sibling — is that, in her final story, we find out that her Mother and Father were actually Brother and Sister. They were forced out of their town  as a result of their incestuous affair, and forced to wander and eventually settle in this peasant village. The Woman is cursed as a result of this incest taboo. But there are other folkloric elements. Her Father is a miserly individual that takes most of her Mother’s money from abortions to feed his alcoholism. In addition, the Mother has aborted many children, possibly many of her own before the Woman, and perhaps those spirits have cursed the Woman by extension. In the script, the Woman says the reason her Mother saved her after leaving her to drown was that she survived in the river for two days: the Mother realizing what she was earlier, and not wanting to be cursed by letting her die, or perhaps starve to death. An interesting fact is another way a Futakuchi-onna is created is when a mother starves her stepchild in favour of her biological child, and her daughter can also become possessed as a result. It isn’t precise, but most myths aren’t.. Most folklore is dirty, and bloody stuff.

The Woman is no exception to this, and neither is what the Futakuchi-onna presents. William Leung says it best in his article in his work Misogyny as radical commentary — Rashomon retold in Takashi Miike’s Masters of Horror: Imprint. That second mouth is all about repression, about the resentment and bitterness inside a woman buried deep down, and manifesting as this other being. In the Woman’s case it is her sister that she all but absorbed in the womb, but it serves that purpose. After all, the Woman is raped by her Father, her Mother’s Brother, and her Sister gets her to kill him: smashing his head open, making a wound in the back of his skull, with a rock. We see a scene in the draft of her Mother looking expressionlessly on as the trader takes her away after this, but it’s not included in the film. But “Sis,” which is a great nickname as it sounds almost like “cyst,” even if it’s not intentional, also makes the Woman take the jade ring, and frame Komomo for the theft: as she likes “shiny things.” It makes sense. In the screenplay, the Woman’s Mother even mentions that they had once come from a family of affluence, with rice and Western candy abound. This didn’t make it into the film, but it makes sense that if “Sis” is that feminine rage of being violated, that she is also that greed for the food she barely got growing up, and jealousy for a life of riches she will never have. 

But I also remember fox possessions from The Tale of Genji, how the spirit of a fox or some similar entity will use a woman — as women are considered to be natural mediums of the supernatural in Japanese lore — to cause mischief, and express resentment, but also communicate truths, and hidden knowledge. “Sis” knows things. She can not only mimic Komomo’s voice, but she even seems to know things about Christopher himself. 

The two sisters, this Futakuchi-onna, reveal two truths to Christopher for the price of one. The Woman explains why she killed Komomo. And this is where her Hell ideology comes into play. When you consider that her Father is her Mother’s Brother, and he abused her Mother, possibly raped her, and molested her as well, then considering how the Buddhist Priest educated her about Hell after violating her, you see the cycle of karmic suffering closing in a much tighter circle. Everything is interconnected for the Woman in an unbearable way. Combine that with the fact that she’s seen what happens when men have sex with women, and create disposable fetuses, and her own experiences in the brothel you can see how she equates sex and family with Hell: easily.

There is a concept I was introduced to back in my Japanese Literature and Film class. It is called Amae. It is a term utilized by the Japanese psychoanalyst Takeo Doi in his book The Anatomy of Dependence: which deals with the idea of a uniquely Japanese need or drive to be in good favour, and dependent, on everyone around you. More specifically, Amae is supposed to be rooted in the parent-child relationship, and having someone take care of you. 

Komomo is depicted in Imprint as a naive girl wanting someone to save her. In a way, her description of her family — who she claimed didn’t abandon her to the brothels — is similar to how Mother tells the Woman about their family in the early draft of the script. Komomo firmly believed that in another time, she would have been a Princess, never mind the fact that the other prostitutes claim her family committed suicide out of shame, and she was sold by her foster family to cover their debts. Moreover, Komomo believed Christopher would come back for her, and take her to a whole new life. Now, you can easily interpret this as your typical “Princess waiting for her Yankee Knight to rescue her” trope, but I can argue that Komomo feels Amae to the family she’s lost, still dependent on them for her personality, then the brothel — especially when she gives the Woman her portion of rice when the Madam starves her for not working — and then towards Christopher who she believes will take care of her: like a father-figure. 

Amae is supposed to be an ideal of social interactions, and the love of a child-parent relationship. The Woman, understandably, doesn’t feel this: or at least not in the same way. She never had anyone to take care of her. Her Mother made her work for her keep, albeit teaching her how to assist in taking lives. Her Father neglected, and violated her. And the authority figure that is the Priest used her for his own gratification. The Woman is used to this cycle, as horrible as it is.

But then, she meets Komomo once she comes to her brothel. She reaches out, and offers her rice when the other girls don’t even bother. According to the Woman, she even defends Komomo’s dreams and hopes from those girls by threatening them: to make them look like her. However, you need to remember that any form of attachment to the Woman is Hell. From the vagina, or hole you enter into the world through, to the penises that use you, and the guidance that becomes exploitive and coercive. But this kindness, this arguable … Amae, it’s too much. It’s not the same as the twisting cleaving that the Woman’s whole life has been based on. Even “Sis” is only “helping” her because they are forced to share the same body. 

So the Woman, after “Sis” has her way with the ring and the punishment, sees Komomo. She sees her completely destroyed, but still holding onto that hope. She explains to Christopher that if the Devil saw them together, he might just think Komomo is just as bad as she is as she is her friend. And so, the Woman claims she tried to hate her, and killed her herself so that God or Buddha would take her away. More than anything, I believe that after Komomo’s torments the Woman was simply offering her a mercy killing: because if she hadn’t, Komomo would have continued in that brothel, as the nature of her punishments were made to spare her face, and sexual organs — the Madam’s property — as the patriarchy in the form of the syphillic solicitor and his bobbing cockhat laughed at her misfortune. The way the Woman could have seen it, Komomo continuing on would have seen her dream of seeing Christopher again die, and she would have been tortured to death, or killed herself: both fates condemning her to Hell.

In an act of love outside of Amae, the Woman releases Komomo from her suffering — away from this vindictive patriarchal system that punishes you for behaving or misbehaving. According to the Woman, it’s the only conscious and sober choice she’s ever made in her life. Or perhaps, in that sense, the Woman takes on a maternal role: becoming the parent that takes care of the child, of the innocence still in Komomo, by helping to end her pain. It may also be a major sense of thematic empathy. It is no coincidence that Komomo’s body is seen in the same elegantly crumpled position after her torture by the other prostitutes as the Woman’s had been when she was a girl after her father raped her. Of course, it’s also possible that the Woman killed Komomo because she resents the dependence and approval that Amae entails, and that between her and “Sis” they destroyed that possibility. Then again, the Woman is still dependent on the brothel to live, and her “Sis” who dictates her life, and is the most assertive element of the two of them.

And then, speaking of “Sis,” there is her truth to Christopher, and how it brings this whole twisted film full circle. Christopher tells the Woman that the reason he loved Komomo was that she reminded him of his dead younger sister. That is a pretty disturbing revelation on its own, until you also take “Sis’” words into account, and how they affect Christopher: triggering his last flashback in which he remembers his sister begging for her life, after doing “what he asked” before he kills her.

Think back to the whole thematic structure of this film. The Woman and “Sis” have to share an entire body between them, and how “Sis always gets what she wants.” Her Mother and Father were Brother and Sister, and her Father beat her Mother, and then terrorized the both of them. Christopher killed his sister, presumably after raping her, and then wanted Komomo to himself because she was basically a sister-surrogate for him. Also, consider what Komomo might have gone through had Christopher found her alive: what the status of a Far East Asian woman, who had been a prostitute, would be in a Caucasian-dominated nation like America. In fact, you can go further with this inquiry when you consider the idea that programmer and writers Chris D. and Wyatt Doyle present in their commentary track on the Imprint’ DVD: that Christopher first found Komomo as a child. It doesn’t look good either way. Komomo wanted a parental figure to protect her. Christopher would have essentially replaced the brothel in having the power of life and death over a woman who reminded him of the sister he murdered. 

Christopher can’t face these truths: that he is part of a system that exploits the women and girls he claims to love, that he destroyed both of them. He tries to kill the Woman, and it is telling that when he shoots her in the head, she appears to him as Komomo: with her brains oozing out of the back of her skull, from a wound not unlike that of the dead pregnant woman’s head at the beginning of the film; not unlike that which apparently creates Futakuchi-onna.

It all comes back to holes leading to Hell, doesn’t it? At the end of Imprint, Christopher is back on the Japanese mainland: in a deep pit of a nineteenth century Meiji prison. The male guards are dressed like proper Imperial soldiers. They mock him for killing an innocent girl — in the screenplay it was for killing “a whore,” perhaps the property or merchandise of society as William Leung puts it — and he will spend the rest of his life there: after they “have some fun with him.” He’s left with his water ration, to rot in his own sense of personal horror. In the script, he smashes his head against the wall and sees Komomo reaching out to him and then morphing into his dead little sister as he screams. In the film, he holds his water ration containing the vision of a dead fetus. Perhaps he sees it as his murdered innocence, or a representation of a potential and love killed by him, and a patriarchal world. He holds the bucket, and cradles it, singing a broken lullaby as the spirits of Komomo and his sister stand there: each holding a pinwheel. 

The ending to Imprint in the screenplay implies that the Woman has survived, that as she put it to Christopher, he couldn’t kill her. In the film, after the credits, we see her. Her “Sis” doesn’t manifest, as she does in the screenplay. Instead, she is cooking a fish, and enjoying it. Then, she looks up, and it feels like she is looking right at us: at the audience. She smiles.

I thought about that. I wondered if Christopher really had killed Komomo, or planned to do so. Did the Woman change into her? It was probably a thematic device, but as I think about this entire debacle, this tightly knit hole into hell, I recall Yugiri’s failed affair and the pain he causes in The Tale of Genji towards the women in his life. I think about Komomo suspended with her own urine pouring over her broken body after the women in life almost sensuously torture the hell out of her. I remember how Murasaki Shikibu was an attendant of the Imperial Court, but a minority as a woman with power. And I consider the message that Shimako Iwai’s presence as the sadist in Imprint makes: of the person who created the story that made the basis of the film almost knowingly looking at Komomo, and us: the audience.

And I think about how involved I got, and how there is a complicity in watching a narrative unfold. There is a complicity in being, or letting yourself, become part of a system of sighs and sin and slaughter and slavery: fact or fictional. You get caught up in the cycle of it. You feel like it’s more than second-hand embarrassment or chagrin, or even empathy. You feel like you are a part of it, by virtue of seeing it happen. And the liminal figure of the Woman knows this, her smile bidding you to see if you can handle her Matrixial “truth” better than Christopher: if you can deal with the hell you make, and carry inside of you. Either way, Takashi Miike’s film leaves its mark on me. 

This Hole Leads to Hell: Takashi Miike’s Masters of Horror Imprint

This Dissection and Speculative specimen contains extreme graphic subject matter, and Trigger Potential. Reader’s Discretion is advised. 

After I saw Takashi Miike’s Masters of Horror film Imprint, I wrote the following on Twitter:

I don’t say this lightly but … Takashi Miike, you suck. You suck so hard.

You know, #Audition was terrifying enough, even disgusting. You know the part. But #Imprint … I haven’t been so filled with horror, pathos, and what-the-fuck in a while. Damn, it was brilliant.

I mean, Takashi Miike, you had to know there was no way #Imprint could be shown in North America. You just had to … I mean … Dude. Come on, man.

You suck. Your work is brilliant, but you are such a troll. Not a horror director, my ass.

So why did I respond like this? 

Right. So, years ago I took a Japanese Culture and Film course. And one of the requirements of this course that I took was that our entire class had to read Murasaki Shikibu’s Genji monogatari: also known as The Tale of Genji. It is here I learned a lot about Japan’s Heian Period, the concept of fox possessions, Buddhism and its place in that whole monarchy, a constantly rotating court of royalty and nobility, silken finery and subtle cruelties, many cherry blossom viewings, women generally getting screwed over, and a whole ton of romantic and erotic affairs. I understand, of course, that this isn’t precisely history: even though Murasaki herself, its creator, was a Lady-in-Waiting and poet in the Imperial court: credited with creating the first Japanese novel in Japanese: once considered to be a woman’s written language, or that of poetry compared to the masculine and more overused royal Chinese characters: or so I recall from the time. 

What I do remember, more than any of this, is this one scene in The Tale. The protagonist, Genji, the “beautiful shining prince” who is also one of the Emperor’s illegitimate, yet high-ranking offspring, has many affairs. I didn’t understand him. I tried to relate to this man in this court in this society and time. But he had a son, named Yugiri who is more sombre and less outgoing than his father, though far more along in his studies at the court and through the classes than he is. Unfortunately, there is one chapter where Yugiri endangers not only his standing, but his relationship with his wife, all to harass another woman who wants nothing to do with him. 

The fact is, I couldn’t stand it. It drove me absolutely up the wall that this character would do that. In fact, I got so angry I threw the book across my room. Later, I told my Professor about this, and he thought it was the most hilarious thing in the world. No, more than that. He was pleased. He was pleased because I would never have even done that if I’d been bored, or I didn’t have any feeling invested whatsoever. 

The truth of the matter was that I got invested in that ephemeral, but flawed and worldly place, and sometimes it made me uncomfortable. But it also made me think.

And it made me care. 

I don’t have a material copy of Imprint to throw across the room, and even if I did, I wouldn’t do it. Imprint doesn’t take place in the medieval Heian Period, but in the Meiji Era: the nineteenth century where the Japanese Emperor was officially restored to the head of state after the dismantling of the Shogunate, and the nation’s adoption of many Euro-American sciences, technologies, and philosophies. 

Yet the American journalist Christopher, played by Billy Drago travels seemingly away from these developments to a far island “of whores and demons” to find a woman he loves: a prostitute named Komomo that he left some time ago. Now, thanks to Joe Bob Briggs and The Last Drive-In, I’ve watched Takashi Miike’s Audition, and I saw that liminal place between different perceptions and perspectives of reality and time. I already knew that there would be one scene — at least one scene — that would really fuck with me. In other words, I knew even based on this small amount of information about Imprint, no good was going to come of this.

But holy damn.  

There is something mythic, with an element of the kaidan — or ghost story that Takashi Miike has mentioned — to the setting right off the bat. Christopher is on a boat with a group of labourers when the boatman finds the bloated corpse of a pregnant woman floating in the water. This is a prelude as to what’s going to come. Fascinatingly enough, according to the screenplay written by Daisuke Tengan, who is also the screenwriter for Audition — the woman’s hand was apparently supposed to move towards the boat, or at least from Christopher’s perspective. This would have foreshadowed even more of what happens in the film with Christopher, and who he encounters. 

The island is a place out of time, with some Victorian dress for the prostitutes there — women with red dresses and wigs, blackened teeth, milk pale skin — clamouring to offer their services behind the bars of their brothel: literally a tarnished, gilded cage. Christopher is still looking for Komomo, and is directed into one establishment for the night by a syphilitic solicitor with a rooster hat on his head, and a missing nose. It all starts to fit together into an image that, when you look back on it, makes a whole lot more sense. But by then, it’s too late, and you’ve seen the horror in it. You’ve been taken into it.

Takashi Miike makes you invested in a young, disfigured prostitute who is never given a name: sitting off to herself, and not bothering to even solicit her services. Half of her face is stretched tightly, a birth defect. But it doesn’t take away from her presence, or the layers of personality she exudes. Youki Kudoh plays her role well, seemingly demure but worldly, tired, and beautiful. You can already see there is a lot more to her, and whatever Christopher finds is going to be through her. 

No one on the island seems to know Komomo, though Christopher has followed her trail to this place, but this disfigured girl — who seems to see or sense the dead — does know her. The girl plays this for laughs at Christopher’s expense, though in the screenplay I read she is dead serious about seeing the spectres around her: that both he and she can see. It makes me frustrated in another way, as Imprint is a film adapted from a short novel or novella written by the writer Shimako Iwai titled Bokke e, kyōtē, which is a regional Okayama expression or series of words meaning “really scary.”

Unfortunately, there does not seem to be an English translation of the novella, but from what I’m given to understand the story is written in a way where the prostitute — who also doesn’t seem to have a name — is telling a patron a story, or a series of stories, but the reader never gets to see the patron, or read what they have to say. The whole interaction is, according to William Leung in his indepth Misogyny as radical commentary — Rashomon retold in Takashi Miike’s Masters of Horror: Imprint, in “a monologue format.” Interestingly enough, that would mean Bokke e, kyōtē is written solely from a female perspective, a narrator who is the only force that makes sure her male patron even exists in the story as the reader only knows about him through her one-sided conversation, and Shimako Iwai is the writer that makes this possible.

It is equally unfortunate that this Okayama dialect couldn’t be utilized in the film: making Imprint a foreign language film with English subtitles would have done dividends for it, and added that authenticity to the setting. But Showtime is an American network, and apparently Takashi Miike did the best he could by having the actors speak a form of accented English to approximate the dialect. Also, it might have been problematic to determine what language Christopher, or Billy Drago, would have spoken if everyone was speaking a form of Japanese. Someone might have had to speak English, anyway. Even so, It’s interesting to look at how this discussion of the novella, whatever its original language, translates through the screenplay, and into the narrative of the film. Writers and critics like Leung examine the presence of Christopher as an embodiment of an Occidental masculine gaze, or a narrow need to seek out “truth”: to know, and comfort one’s self in that knowledge regardless of anyone else’s status around you. I’ve read reviews where Billy Drogo’s acting is criticized for being flat, and unconvincing but while this might not have been purposeful, I think that his performance in addition to his appearance as a dissolute Westerner adds to his character: showing the audience, making it clear to us, that he has something to hide: that the man doth protest too much when he says his only goal is to find the woman he loves.

I think it’s also telling that Christopher and Komomo, as played by Michie Itô, are the only named characters in this film, while everyone else — most of them women — don’t have any names at all. I would argue, and perhaps others have already done so given that this film was released in 2006 and many have already made their … mark on it, that Komomo is only mentioned by name in that she is the only thing that’s important to Christopher. Everyone else, as described by the prostitute — the woman he’s staying with for that night — are the Madam, the woman’s Mother, Father, the Buddhist Priest that taught her about Heaven and Hell, and — eventually — Sis. The other prostitutes don’t even have names, and the brothel solicitor is just a diseased cock.

The fact is, this island — by thematic design — and from the way the woman describes it as a place of “whores and demons,” exists away from a defined, empirical reality. This is not a place where people have names, or lives, or futures. This is where people come to fuck, and die. At the same time, as a critic or scholar like Leung would mention, this place is very much a part of the mainstream culture and society that rules it. Women and girls are given away from places of famine and cultural shame to brothels to work with what the prevailing society thinks is their only defining trait: their bodies. 

It’s interesting. In Western philosophy and aspects of Gnosticism you have the figure of Sophia — of Wisdom in the form of a woman — that a philosopher, generally a man, always pursues. But Leung in his work defines Youki Kudoh’s prostitute character as “the truth.” And as “truth?” She is somewhat deformed, but also sultry, coquettish, sly, but also silent at first until she unfurls herself, and reveals what she truly is. The writer Iwai created her novella, the inspiration for Imprint, with the idea of her character having a secret, and moving on from there. 

So let me get back to making this more personal, even though it is fairly clear at this point in the game that Imprint isn’t particularly Christopher’s story, or from his perspective, but it has always been dependent from the storytelling narration — and subsequent layers of lying and unraveling description — of Youki Kudoh’s character: of the woman. 

As I said before, the Woman is identified as “truth” by Leung, and even Christopher — presumably due to his journalistic instincts — singles her out to spend the night with him, and possibly get him the answers that he thinks he wants.

And, eventually, she tells him what happened to Komomo. It is a painstaking process, in which first he finds out she was here, then she died, and is then told she committed suicide through hanging. And this is the part where … my visceral reaction comes into play.

We find out why Komomo died. Komomo, who was a favourite girl at the brothel, was accused of stealing the Madam’s jade ring. She is taken to the linen closet by the Madam and her fellow girls where they torture her. Brutally. Takashi Miike doesn’t fade out from the scene, or hint on things. It makes sense. In the interview “I am the Film Director of Love and Freedom: Takashi Miike,” he admits that he took one non-descriptive line about the situation from the script, and constructed this entire scene.

Of course he did. 

No. You see it happen. You see it all happen. You see the girls burn her armpits with incense sticks. You watch as one particularly sadistic girl with a red-gold wig — actually played by Shimako Iwai herself — with a relish almost bordering on eroticism, even love — drive acupuncture needles into each of Komomo’s fingers, under the nails to the point of seeing blood bloom like in the introduction of the Masters of Horror series. Then, they hold her mouth open and drive those same needles into her gums, Iwai’s character taking special delight in placing the needle just inches away from Komomo’s eye. Afterwards, they hang her upside down and question her. The thing is, in the script, she had urinated all over herself during the needles sliding into her, Takashi Miike has it so that she pisses on herself as she’s suspended by that rope. And, the entire time, you hear her screaming, begging, grunting like an animal, writhing around, her eyes rolling back into their sockets from the agony, as she is utterly dehumanized.

That scene fucked me. It wrecked me. This was the mental equivalent of me throwing The Tale of Genji across the room. It filled me with rage, at seeing this poor girl — who did absolutely nothing, who was even kind, and just told stories to keep her sanity, who waited for Christopher to find her — tortured by these merciless other women, while the solicitor laughs at her with his rotten cock bobbing up, and down on his head. It was disgusting, and I wanted all of these evil bitches to pay for what they did to her, while at the same time feeling major empathy, and a sense of protectiveness for this fictional woman. 

Takashi Miike’s Audition was hard on me. I’m not talking about when Asami Yamazaki tortures Yasuhisa Yoshikawa, although that also sucked, but I mean the vision Yoshikawa has of a mutilated man drinking Asami’s vomit out of a dog bowl.

I just … I couldn’t.

This scene of dehumanization, and the body losing control just hit me, and while Audition made me feel ill, this part of Imprint made me angry. And yes, looking back, this — these are the transgressive places — is where I said that Takashi Miike sucks. And he sucks hard.

At the same time, the scene is brilliant.

Think about it, if you want. Here are these women, these — as Youki Kudoh’s Woman puts it — “daughters of joy,” trafficked sex workers having internalized a society that rejected and used them, and indoctrinated them into provided male pleasure, using their instruments of that indentured profession in their culture to inflict non-consensual pain on a body that is like their own, but it isn’t one of them: not for the purposes of this exercise. Incense sticks are supposed to create a smell that will relax you. Acupuncture needles are made to provide health benefits for the body, or sadomasochistic releases. Even the rope, that suspension, can be tied to kink practices like Shibari and erotic bondage in general. Komomo’s mouth is held open, used for another’s pleasure, and long phallic objects are inserted into soft, pliant places.

Even her cries of pain can be sold as sounds of pleasure to an audience indoctrinated into responding to such. I will never forget the sadist either. Shimako Iwai is not only a writer, a tarento — a television celebrity or personality — but also a pornographic director, and someone particularly vocal about sex, and sexual pleasure. And here she is, playing a sadist using all of those tools against this character, and you realize she doesn’t give a jot about that jade ring. In fact, none of the girls do. Not even the Madam does. It is all about Komomo, according to the Woman, having been “too good,” “too favoured,” and this theft is just an excuse to release all of that suppressed feminine resentment on someone else. It’s horrific because these women have also been victims, but like demons in hell, they have reached the point — in a manner similar to the women in The Handmaid’s Tale as they tear apart a chosen criminal — where they will tear apart their own for doing exactly what they rest of them have been doing, even excelling at it, even loving the men, or the man doing it. And they themselves love inflicting this cruelty on her, things that had been done to them by men and society in many different ways.

I wanted to hate those women, and that anger remains, but the true horror here in Imprint I feel isn’t supernatural or limited to one innocent individual’s suffering, it’s that this twisted patriarchal order and internalized misogyny, exists and created this entire thing. Leung definitely delves into this idea when he mentions how Christopher ignores that whole reality just to focus on Komomo. Hell — and I don’t use the term lightly, as the Woman herself goes into her ideology of Hell as the film goes on — he even sees them suffering, behind those bars, ravenous and desperate, and when he sees the dead pregnant woman float by. In the screenplay, he doesn’t even acknowledge the corpse while the labourers pour sake into the water, except to notice it grabbing at the boat. In the film, he at least has the decency to take off his hat as the labourers offer prayers.

This place, in Imprint, is literally Hell. But as the Woman’s Sister says at the end of the film, hell is a place but it’s not a space you can run away from. You carry it with you.

Takashi Miike in the documentary “Imprinting: The Making of Imprint” explains that he told Michie Itô, as he directed her during her torture scene as Komomo that  “It’s like you are in a pretty field of flowers, and an old man is bashing your head in with a stick.”

That sentence sums up that world, that scene, and what comes after, pretty well. 

The Colours of Ari Aster’s Midsommar

It’s hard to bring something new to a previous, or even an ongoing conversation. Sometimes, it’s hard to say anything at all. 

I don’t remember when I saw the preview to Ari Aster’s 2019 folk horror film Midsommar. Certainly the first look at the Fangoria issue, and its cover featuring the film, made me wonder just what kind of horror I would inevitably be facing this time around. But, deep down, I knew what it was going to be. The truth is, I’d seen it before.

Or I thought I did. In a few interviews with Ari Aster, he says that he’d been going through a terrible breakup, and it influenced the script that would become Midsommar. I can believe that. It doesn’t take much to relate to the idea of a beautiful, ongoing, sunny world where your heart is shattered into a million pieces, and you are obliged to just keep smiling, or at least go through the motions of the dance. I think we’ve all been there, really. I know I have. 

Midsommar can feel like a fever dream in what seems to be an idyllic situation, except you feel that sense of loss pounding away in your chest, the music around you muted and distant as your mind tries to withdraw from the stimuli but also attempting to keep away from the pain. The scene where Dani Ardor, played by Florence Pugh, at a party with her boyfriend and his friends and the forced and detached look on her face comes to mind.

But as I’m writing this article, and I think more about my initial impressions of a movie I saw a year and a lifetime ago, I realize I relate to this film and the atmosphere in another way. You see, before I knew about Dani’s actual physical loss I read the premise to the film in which she is essentially at this outside communal event while essentially going through the process of a strained relationship, and the inevitable separation that is soon to follow. It’s those similar motions, almost being walking wounded in the heat and light of summer, being only being linked with someone in name, trailing awkwardly, not wanting to bump them, and end the mirage — even needing to have them remain to deal with a deeper pain, or fear — but knowing, deep down that it’s inevitable, and a part of you blaming yourself for this coming dissolution. 

Through the year or so, I’ve read and watched a lot of commentary on this film. I’ve seen people claim that Hårga commune is central, and that it’s ethnocentrism and isolationism — and its penchant for human sacrifice — symbolizes fascism, and racist ideologies: and the dangers that a cult has on the psychology of someone who suffers from depression and loneliness: how a sense of belonging and love-bombing can indoctrinate someone into abhorrent beliefs. Likewise, I’ve even heard that others believe Midsommar isn’t a horror film because it has a “happy ending” for the protagonist. Still more think it is about the end of a relationship, and how that ultimately plays out at the end of the story. 

I can see all these different aspects. It’s no coincidence that in a deleted scene in the film, on the road to the Hårga commune in Sweden, that the students pass an anti-immigration sign, and that Mark — the practical joker and general asshole of the group — tries to bait Pelle, their friend who belongs to the commune, by showing him a book called The Secret Nazi Language of the Uthark: in reference to the Nordic runes that the Hårga utilize. However, while these scenes and others are in the Director’s Cut, they were taken out for a reason, because they were either too on the nose, or they took away from the rest of the film, or both. Ari Aster also acknowledges these influences, and it’s no coincidence that there are only Caucasian people in the Hårga, and it’s pretty clear that Josh — a Black student — along with Simon and Connie — who appear to be Indian — are pretty much going to die, though their deaths seem to be ritualized due to the Hårga knowing the former will try to break their rules and steal their secrets for his research, and the latter because they want to leave and potentially reveal to the world the secrets of their ninety year cycle Midsommar ritual: including the ättestupa– the elder suicide — in the movie (though social or hegemonically-supported suicides of the “unhealthy” or the “undesirable” do have some fascist overtones).. 

The connotations are all there. The Hårga are not innocent. They know exactly what they are doing, and they will lie, and massage events to make things go their way. The fact that they sent Pelle as an exchange student to America, and he purposefully brought these friends over to the commune shows a great deal of organization on his, and their, part. Pelle knows, for instance, that Mark has an inherent irreverence towards life, that Josh only cares for his research over everyone and everything else, that Christian — Dani’s distant boyfriend — is a sycophant, narcissist, and generally weak-willed, and if you go by the deleted scenes, has this penchant for gaslighting his girlfriend. And he knows about Dani’s loss, about the murder-suicide of her sister Terri and her parents. 

At the same time, the Hårga genuinely seem to believe in what they practice. They think that seventy-two — numerologically adding to nine altogether, perhaps like the Nine Worlds on the Nordic World Tree — is the full winter lifespan of a human being. They do not seem to have a central leader, though there are elders that have a variety of functions even though they do have regimented roles in their society. The Hårga don’t seem interested in exterminating other diverse people, or outsiders, or even having authority outside of their land, but they use them in their ritual when it occurs: either through sacrifice, or keeping genetic diversity — a lack of inbreeding — in their commune. They definitely practice eugenics, and while the mention of their oracle — the deformed boy Ruben — supposedly represents “racial or genetic purity,” it is also an ancient custom in many different cultures, and even among nobility and royalty. 

I think this film is all of those things. My issue is with those who believe it is only one thing, or another. Midsommar can be an allegory for fascism and extremism, or cult indoctrination, or racism, or even a breakup revenge story. You can even make a case of Midsommar being a critique of North American grief culture, and a lack of a sense of community, empathy, and a centralized sense of self and independence that just fills empty and hollow.

As for me, I think like Ari Aster’s other film Hereditary, this film is about grief. It is about dealing — or not dealing — with a profound sense of loss, and the failure of one social order or group in helping someone dealing with that, and what might fill that void instead. None of the above insights are mutually exclusive with this idea, but it’s pretty reductive to say that one or the other, or another, are all that film is about. 

I’ve had a bit more time to think about this. When I first saw Midsommar, I felt kinship with Dani. I know what it’s like to lose something, or someone, or feel it happening — and you don’t want to admit it. Or the logical part of your brain knows where this is going, but the emotional part still holds on … until it doesn’t anymore. The fact that Dani’s initial grief happens in winter makes no difference that she is still dealing with this in summer, and trying to keep up appearances. Dani suffers from anxiety and depression, and somewhere along the line she’s had to learn to “act normal” or “pass” with it. And this before her sister and parents die. 

Dani is living the North American dream. She’s gone away to college. She’s living on her own, for the most part. During this time, she has a steady boyfriend. Dani also has a therapist, a casual friend she talks with about her problems, and medication. She is even studying psychology or psychoanalysis at school: either to help herself, or her sister who has constantly, throughout their life, been suffering from her own mental illness. Clearly their parents didn’t know, or didn’t want to know — or were incapable of knowing — the extent of it. 

We see what happens. After texting her sister, and calling her parents multiple times, she gets the news of their deaths. It breaks her. And all she has is the comfort of a boyfriend who is pretty much done with their relationship, who isn’t comfortable enough to be there for her when she needs help or is not wired with the empathy or the mental tools to do so, and his friends who don’t feel much of anything to her beyond her being a nuisance. The times she’s nodding blankly at a party she doesn’t want to be at, lying in her bed for all hours, and then going into bathrooms and either crying, or trying not to have a panic attack — and making sure no one else can see her “moments of weakness” — really strikes me. 

And Florence Pugh plays this out well in her body language, and her facial expressions. She tenses up her forehead into a creased brow, and her mouth turns into a literal frown: face bordering constantly on an ugly cry. She looks like she is constantly on the edge of bawling. I know, from the other end of this, how painful that is: to see it happen to someone that you love. In the beginning, when Christian is holding her and she is screaming her agony, there is this numb, almost helpless look on his face. And I know that look. I’ve been there. It sucks. It was one of the few times I almost felt bad for Christian, but then I felt worse because of knowing his wavering feelings or his uncertainty, and seeing how Dani needed someone to actually be there for her: to actually hold her.

To be held. 

Pelle asks Dani, as they are at the commune and Christian has forgotten her birthday, if she feels held by him. And that question stayed with me. It still does.

The thing is, Dani was looking for something even before those deaths. There is a picture in her room depicting something very similar to the Hårga art we see at the beginning, and during the film’s events. Even after the ättestupa, for all of her horror, she starts unconsciously mimicking the gestures of the Hårga in her movements as she stumbles off. And the Maypole Dance, and the way she begins to start talking in Swedish with the other girls even after imbibing their medicinal drink, and winning that contest to become May Queen: I don’t believe it was rigged. I think she genuinely, and unequivocally, won that dance. Something Dani is attracted to all of this, something Pelle might have seen, but even the Hårga with their Oracle could plan for so much. 

Critics have compared the Hårga to fascists or cultists, but I see them as an older culture. Those stones on their property, and runes have been there for a long time. Their Midsommar meals and all their rituals — even their deceptions, especially their fabrications — are choreographed to the nth degree like a Passover Seder writ large: commemorating various events, stories, and applying them to their followers in a seasonal and cyclical manner. Even the pictures of the May Queens seem to go back a great deal in time, and there is something about the fact that Midsommar happens every ninety years. This is not new. This isn’t the 1980s messianic cult of Jeremiah’s Children of the New Dawn in Panos Cosmatos’ 2018 film Mandy: with their masculinist overtones, and a pyramidic temple tribute to an egomaniac. That cult would not survive the death of their leader, having been made to essentially glorify him. And Red Miller, played by Nicolas Cage, made sure of that. That temple, that structure, burned in memory of his wife, Mandy Bloom whom the cult brutally immolated alive: leaving Miller a ravening, grieving, psychopath driving into a horizon of darkness.

Midsommar itself isn’t the only horror film, as some have said, created in broad daylight: Robin Hardy’s 1973 The Wicker Man definitely comes to mind on that front as a series of celebrations with at least Celtic folklore influences. But Midsommar’s central theme, I feel, is grief and the loss of not just family or loved ones: but a previous, and tenuous, sense of self. Dani’s journey, if anything, aside from the Hårga’s pyramidic wooden temple that is burned purposefully with its own sacrifices — the last decided by Dani herself — reminds me of Arthur Fleck’s from Todd Philips’ The Joker.

The Joker was made in the same year as Midsommar. Like Arthur, Dani loses her sense of family identity, perhaps already having been distant when it still existed. Her relationship with Christian, while had actually happened, was no longer present. She had been around people, and a society that ignored her and, low-key in her case, judged her for her mental illness and not being able to fit in, or “pass” as “normal.” Like Fleck, she keeps reaching out for a connection, and meets maybe one person who cares from her home, but mostly just disinterest, or disdain. She is gaslit by someone she trusts, and made and after-thought. You notice that throughout the film she barely even smiles. 

But just as Arthur Fleck lets go of the faulty and defunct illusion of what he thought he was, or wanted to be, to embrace the chaos that is his nature — a state without an origin — Dani finds order and meaning with the Hårga. They provide a sense of community. The women want her to bake with them. The girls dance with her. She is made May Queen on her birthday, or around then. For the first time, in her entire life, or at least in a long time she feels special. And when Christian runs off to be with Maya, another girl at a breeding ritual, she finally airs her grief: and the Hårga performatively channel it with her. It’s not a ruse, or an artifice. They feel her pain, and they work with it. Where Arthur Fleck finds solidarity with the furious, resentful mobs of Gotham and channels their rage into a dance of destruction and violent liberation, Dani makes a decisive choice to end a failing relationship that represents the lack of connection with the world from which she came. There is something cathartic, you can see, as she watches that pyramid with Christian in the bear suit inside burn. And that smile on her face, while twisted, is genuine. It might as well be painted in her own blood, but I suspect she doesn’t need that: as what we are seeing is what’s now in her heart.

I think that Dani, from the new paradigm she’s shifted into, is actually happy. She is in a culture that has strong matriarchal and gender-shifting elements, and a communal society. Death has a meaning in it, and it is not an arbitrary thing. It’s certainly not a lonely end, or a lingering one. She knows her fate now. Other critics say that Dani will be horrified once the love-bombing, or the honey-moon phase of the cult’s seduction ends but I don’t think that’s how it will play out. I think she has the structure and the support of people. The deaths and sacrifices happen rarely, and most of their life is pastoral. Dani is a part of the Hårga now. She is their May Queen. She is their flowering, smiling, goddess-figure. 

You see, I think the terrifying thing about Midsommar isn’t the machinations of the commune, or the fascist and cultic overtones of the Hårga. It’s the fact that Dani has embraced it. It’s that she’s happy. It’s this burning alive of her former boyfriend, and her peers, and human lives, and her accepting her own ritual death one day is — in fact — her happy ending: the happy ending of a now twisted mind in a world-view that is quite legitimate to her. And it leaves you unsettled, just as it makes you think.

What is The Horror Doctor?

I find that I keep on reinventing my horror origin story.

As of this date, the Horror Doctor is a year old. Not me, of course unless you want to be existential about it, but this whole blog. 

I don’t think I ever really knew what it was going to become. Oh, I definitely had a plan. I was going to take a particular film and rewrite it on here in installments for my “Reanimation Station,” but for the most part I’ve written “Strains and Mutations” for my horror mashup fictions and homages (read: fanfiction), a whole lot of focus on Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos and vampires, and — really — my “Dissections and Speculatives”: you know, my reviews. 

A lot of my horror reviews focus on films, even though originally I toyed with looking at short stories, written narratives in general, plays, and even games. Sometimes I’ve done some “Behind the Screams,” which is an embarrassing label as it is anything other than original, though I got to write about my reasoning behind creating some of my fictional homages, so that was all fun. 

Mostly, my Horror Doctor blog reviews, takes apart, and sometimes puts together in different forms horror movies. A long time ago, I wanted to focus on lesser known movies too, but once I saw Cannibal Holocaust it was all over. I’d like to think that somewhere, in the Dark Multiverse that probably wasn’t created by Universal Studios, that the original version of my horror blog — a work displaying a long-form horror film rewrite, along with some smaller fictional experiments, and reviews of films most people don’t look at — does exist. And maybe, it might at some point anyway in this hellish timeline. 

A long time ago, my non-fictional writing mostly focused on the comics medium, and popular geek culture. I wrote for two other online publications, and a whole ton of fanfiction along with my mainline Writer’s Blog Mythic Bios: where I’d post a lot of writing experiments, which included horror. 

One problem I have is that sometimes I try to be too clever. I’m a perfectionist and it creates a cycle where I agonize over something, and it either causes great anxiety and I overwork myself, or more anxiety and it just doesn’t happen. Before really delving into horror in a focused way, I used to be even more exacting, and serious: I took myself and what I would see or watch very seriously. Horror, back in the day for me — before the Year From Hell, and you know exactly what I mean by that — was something I was afraid of as a child, kept away from the mainline Eighties and Nineties films by my parents, and something I came at surreptitiously from the corners of my youth. I would go into Hollywood Movies and look at the box art and descriptions of the films either my family wouldn’t let me sneak past, or my own fear kept me away from. 

But I read abridged folktales and classics, and eventually went to the Toronto Public Library and read Christopher Pike, and R.L. Stine’s Fear Street series. I saw the Poltergeist: The Legacy series as I got older later at night, already watched Are You Afraid of the Dark, and the Goosebumps shows, and occasionally managed to get some Tales From the Crypt, when not also watching shows like Psi Factor, and Outer Limits, and your good old X-Files if you want to branch out into multi-genre classing. 

And I saw some movies, especially when the 300s became available on Cable. I was always there, on the periphery but I missed out the mainline slashers and contemporary monsters of — again — the Eighties and Nineties until much later, and I’m still catching up on them: which isn’t a bad thing as I’m doing so with the Mutant Fam of The Last Drive-In. I could seriously do worse than discover old and new films with Joe Bob and Darcy, and Fangoria Magazine as well. 

It really culminated when my late partner got me into the Toronto After Dark Film Festival, and when I started going and checking out films from the late and lamented physical manifestation of Toronto’s Suspect Video store and sometimes I wish I could go back in time — for a variety of reasons — to talk about the things I learned. And I would just make these comments on Shudder when I discovered it on the movies I watched, or on Twitter after I saw something at the After Dark. 

Then the Pandemic struck. And, like I mentioned in other places I’m sure, I looked at an old Blogger journal my partner and I were going to make together back in 2011 that never happened. I was going to make The Horror Doctor — still a working title — there, but the platform wasn’t sophisticated enough and I went with WordPress, only for it to change its own format in the process too. 

But I needed a place to write my thoughts on horror that was more than just on other online magazines, or even Mythic Bios. I needed something focused. Something clearer. Like a dark blade. 

I have been writing this blog for a year. I learned a lot. I write my entries in Google Docs now and paste them into the format that WordPress has basically enforced, after a lot of complaining on my part. I finally made a place, too, for my collected Creepshow Commentaries. It’s funny. My Mythic Bios blog, that I haven’t really updated in a while, was the result of me needing a place to talk about geekery that my Reviews on Amazon just couldn’t cut, and then I went into GeekPr0n and Sequart from there. And it was a similar, but parallel evolution here on The Horror Doctor: from Shudder Reviews and Twitter streams of consciousness, to this. 

I’m sure this is all fairly interesting retrospective stuff. Sometimes, even with all of this I wonder how it all happened, and if it’s going to go anywhere. I’ve worked on this a lot, perhaps in a fairly obsessive manner. I wonder, sometimes, when that sliver of doubt happens if I can use this writing to lead me to a place where I can write professionally again: or in general really. Sometimes I wonder if I am just wasting my time. 

But this has been a transformative experience too. Not only has this space allowed me to engage with horror media in a critical and creative manner — more expansively than before — but I got to review new films based on classic horror film stars, and interact with them on social media. I can’t even begin to tell you how it feels to realize that I’ve talked with Kelli Maroney, and Barbara Crampton. I have difficulty trying to describe just having a casual conversation with Diana Prince (Darcy the Mailgirl), or even getting a DM from Joe Bob one day. It’s hard to explain the coolness of chatting with Anna Biller on Twitter about Viva and The Love Witch, not to mention Barbara Crampton and her role in Sacrifice. I have a whole section on “Dialogues” on The Horror Doctor that was reserved for Interviews with horror personages I might have, and some of those discussions could have made it on there if they were a bit more formal, and if of course I had permission to post them. 

But also having Kelli Maroney, Barbara Crampton, Diana Prince, and even directors like Travis Stevens, and Tate Steinsiek, a writer like Kathy Charles, and so many others comment positively on my articles is just something that made this year for me. 

The fact is, like many people during this time, I lost a lot this year, but I gained something else. I don’t always know what it is, or where it will lead, but I want to keep going with it. I have to be careful to pace myself. I’d been flirting with burn-out for a while. It helped to take a break for a while. Breaks are good. Breaks let you take stock, watch other things, do other things, perhaps see the difference between not giving up on something and letting something old tired go, and going back with perhaps more of a game plan. 

It’s been a hell of a year. But I accomplished a lot. And even if this blog ends sooner rather than later, I did this. I made this, and put it all on social media, and curated what I could, and did the best I was capable of doing. And whatever happens, nothing can take those achievements away from me. 

It’s been a ride. And hopefully, we can have more of them together. Technically, today is not the first day of the Blog — that would be the 29th because that is the first post I made — but this was one year anniversary of the first time I made this “About” section, and cursed at WordPress in trying toggle their weird Word Block formats in setting this basic structure up. 

And I’m so glad that you long-time readers have continued to deign to join me here in this organized house of horrors, and I am equally appreciative of those of you newcomers who want to see my black blade at work on these bloody building blocks of storytelling.

So take care everyone and remember, while I am not an actual doctor or a master of this genre, I am definitely still continuing to be one of its students, and perhaps we can continue the experiment together along the way.

Creepshow Commentaries Season Two: Episode 5 – Night of the Living Late Show

Warning: Potential Spoilers for Episode 5: Night of the Living Late Show

They always say that the first rule of holes is that you should stop digging. But in horror, what often happens is the protagonist keeps on digging, until they complete their own grave — or, in this case, a coffin. 

I didn’t expect this episode for a variety of reasons. First of all, “Night of the Living Late Show” is just one story as opposed to two, directed by Greg Nicotero and written by Dana Gould. It doesn’t share the billing with another story, and it almost functions as a standalone. The other reason it’s taken me aback is that, as the fifth episode, it is also the last of this season. That surprised me, as the last season had six episodes, though due to the current global circumstances it might make sense: and really, having all of these episodes to watch with their controlled fears on the small screen — or writ large on a television — is one method of escape. 

It’s a different situation from the ending of Season One. While “Skincrawlers” and “By the Silver Water of Lake Champlain” were decent stories, worthy of being Creepshow material for sure and having that undead spirit within them complete with the grim justice inherited from EC Comics mentality, they just didn’t feel like an end cap. Of course, the Animated Special made up for it — in my mind — but I remember thinking as it ended just how Season One started strong, and then kind of ended on an anticlimax, or not even an element of catharsis. “Night of the Living Late Show” still has the ghost of Creepshow within the structure of its machine, and it tries to innovate, and it feels like an end. It also makes me think about other matters as well. 

The homage to Night of the Living Dead — in the VR sequences before, during, and after the story — were nice to see. The introduction raised my expectations for sure. As for the actual virtual reality device that we see Simon having created, complete with camera-mirrors, and looking like a casket — it feels like something from a Black Mirror episode: invention made from the best of intentions, but gone terrifyingly wrong due to the banality of human nature. 

I appreciate how they attempted to splice together vintage horror films such as Horror Express, and Night of the Living Dead into the story, which is a nice thematic callback to the first episode of this Second Season, in particular the story “Model Kid”: which also plays with a youthful and nostalgic imagination for vintage horror. At the same time, I can also see how it interplays with “Public Television of the Dead” with an element of nostalgic horror affecting the minds of those it comes into contact with through technology.

But these are only some of the thematics. I did find myself relating to “Night of the Living Late Show” in some uncomfortable ways. I suspect that Gould and Nicotero wanted us to sympathize with Renee, and believe that her husband Simon gets his just desserts. And I agree: Simon isn’t honest with his wife. He lies to her. There is the implication that he’s married her to get the funding to create his virtual reality pod in order to get his jollies off with a fictional character, and escape from life, that her father was right in that he only cared about her for her money. And it is cringy that he says the title of “Countess” before he goes to sleep, right next to his wife. Also, the man talks through horror films. It’s almost a guaranteed death sentence in at least a movie theatre setting. 

At the same time, I don’t particularly … like Renee. She is fairly ignorant of what Simon actually likes and, deep down, it comes apparent that she’s fairly disdainful of it. She refuses to even test out the very device he’s spent so much time and energy creating, on her own dime no less, and browbeats him for perceived unhappiness in his life instead of actually talking about it with him. While Simon runs away from his problems, and gets addicted to the escapism of being in his favourite horror film and having sex with a fictional character — which is essentially interactive VR porn — Renee only seems to think about herself, is generally passive-aggressive, and while talking about “sacrificing her relationship with her father” doesn’t seem to even acknowledge how much Simon had actually taken the time to get to know him and prove him wrong. It’s one thing to not have the same interests, but in her case she has this almost wilful ignorance of what he likes, and I can just see where that resentment would begin. 

I think we’ve all been there as geeks and nerds, where there is someone special in our life, and we accomplish something, or something good happens and they just … don’t get it. They don’t understand. That can be absolutely soul-killing. I know I’ve been there, where I worked time and again on something, just for others around me to simply … not care, or in a better case scenario it’s just not their area of expertise. It’s easy to side with Renee over what happens, but I keep thinking about how Simon went to her, totally proud of what he’s accomplished, more than willing to show her — to show her father and her friends, and really just her — that he isn’t a loser. That he more than earned his place in the material aspect of their relationship. This is a big deal. This device can simulate reality and it doesn’t need a headset. Simon could exceed any money he married into by billions, easily. But there is nothing. No excitement. No attempt to really engage. Nothing. 

There are other aspects. Simon doesn’t account for claustrophobia, or even the fact that the pod takes up a great deal of space and resources. Miniaturizing the technology is a good step. Even having a screen that would allow someone to watch a partner or friend interact with a simulated film would be a nice touch. Certainly, as a builder of something to be placed in the consumers market, Simon would have needed to present his product in an accessible way. At the same time, it’s as though Simon doesn’t want anyone else to have this technology, and it’s more just about him and his special relationship with it: not just because of the fictional Countess, but also because he can — in his own mind — hobnob with the likes of the late Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing: and no one else. 

Also, isn’t about the money or the virtual porn but the fact that he’s spent more time with it than Renee that builds resentment on her end. And the lying. But I am not convinced Simon began by just wanting to use Renee for her money, but it was a breakdown in communications between them: or a feature if you consider that maybe between their two separate operating systems they just weren’t compatible.

But my inaccurate attempts at technological metaphors or analogies aside, I didn’t feel the payoff on Renee’s revenge. It is just petty and spiteful, just as Simon is cowardly and annoying. I have to admit, when the creature tries to devour Renee’s mind, I almost wish it had succeeded, though it’s fascinating given how Simon says in the beginning of the episode that the “creature isn’t finished yet.” I thought that meant it couldn’t actually do anything, or maybe he meant he didn’t have the “safeties” installed? Maybe he should have had two remotes for both hands instead of one? But let it not be said that Simon is a thoughtful person, which he clearly is not. 

I’m also curious as to why the ghouls in Night of the Living Dead seemed to react to him being there with his thumb cut off in real life, but that is another Hitchcockian fridge question for another night, I feel. 

This episode in particular makes me think about two other things: about Creepshow and horror fandom. I’ve seen fans who aren’t as enthusiastic at the Second Season, seeing an apparent degradation of quality. And I think the issue is that, for some, they don’t understand that Creepshow is modelled after EC Comics: that the stories are often bordering on two-dimensional, and they are supposed to be kind of ridiculous, zany, wacky, and weird. I used to take stories seriously all the time and I didn’t enjoy them for what they were. But often going to the Toronto After Dark, and interacting with The Last Drive-In with its own origins in a horror host who is an expert in grindhouse horror, I can still constructively criticize a piece while seeing its merits, and even enjoy them. As a creator myself, I thought of a few ways I would have made this episode different. For example, Simon uses the device to escape to his fantasy, and the film of his childhood, only to have his wife die and we see the episode repeat over and again as he keeps trying relive seeing his wife — who he knows he neglected — over and again as he is a wasted skeleton in that coffin of glittering electronic glass lenses. 

But that kind of intricate pathos isn’t a part of Creepshow. Creepshow gives you a simple premise or a gimmick and runs with it. I’ve seen somewhere that there are those who think this episode had more resources, and should have had more to develop its concept. And I think so too, but that’s not the nature of this show or what I even recall of the original film from which it all came: or EC Comics favourites like Tales from the Crypt. You have an idea, characters in an exaggerated and even over-the-top situation, and something tips the karma to the bad ones generally — especially between more than one bad one — the good tend to make it out, though there is sometimes collateral damage, but there is always a form of poetic justice. And of course gruesomeness, and sex. These are Creepshow stories, and I feel like while you can have your own opinion, there is something petty about simply dismissing a whole season without constructive criticism to the point of self-entitlement. 

There is also something fairly telling that Simon is a horror fan, or just a fan who almost self-inserts into his favourite narratives, and feels a sense of power in knowing what will happen in those stories — being outside of it, but capable of immersion — at his own will: possessing a power he can never have in reality. Simon is the kind of person that talks through a film, though I’d argue it’s less about showing how intelligent he is, and more from excitement, and even a degree of wanting to point out details one might miss. Of course, he does all this with himself and in a format that is solely his, and whenever he is pleased with Cushing or Lee, or even the Countess, arguably it’s himself and his own tastes with which he is more pleased. He did make all of this after all — and what he didn’t make, he adapted with his own will: while forgetting, perhaps, the resources and labour of others that allows him to enjoy and immerse himself in that entertainment. I feel like there is something of a critique there: especially when you consider the coff — the pod, lined with cameras and mirror-lenses that feed back into the brain, a self-contained universe where you can exist in your own fantasy world. It kind of reminds me of the inverted light cameras that made up the suit in Leigh Whannell’s 2020 film adaptation of The Invisible Man. I feel like, perhaps, Gould and Nicotero are saying something about some elements of fandom in general and, while gaudy as all Creepshow stories, it is fairly subtle and effective. 

I guess you can also see it in the animated sequence at the end of the whole episode, where the Creep — a ghoul himself — uses his own VR set to kill other ghouls, licking his lips as they consume flesh as he might want to, and he ends up getting eaten by another ghoul outside the headset: and doesn’t seem too dismayed by this. We consume our favourite things, and sometimes our favourite things consume us in return. There is a cycle in that process. 

In fact, I think if “Night of the Living Late Show” would have an epitaph on its tombstone, for the hole and grave its protagonist dug, it’d be:

Rest in Pieces Creepshow Season Two

Episode 5

“Night of the Living Late Show”

“May you be devoured by the things that you have consumed.”

Creepshow Commentaries Season Two: Episode 4 – Pipe Screams/Within The Walls of Madness

Warning: Potential Spoilers for Episode 4: Pipe Screams/Within The Walls of Madness

So let’s get to it. The first story, “Pipe Dreams” is written by Daniel Kraus, and directed by Joe Lynch, where we are introduced to some very … sentient clogs in rusty, ill-maintained apartment building pipes.

It’s so strange seeing Barbara Crampton again, after watching Jakob’s Wife, in a totally new persona. This time, she is a racist, bigoted “Karen” landlady by the name of Victoria Smoot, and it actually gave me a doubletake to see that just by a sleek hairstyle, designer clothes, a necklace, a pink sweater worthy of Dolores Umbridge, and a nasally, unpleasant voice Barbara Crampton transforms herself into this terrible person who talks about her tenants as “animals” and even says things such as how their “hair is different because they come from different places” in the drain. Just like that, I really wanted something bad to happen to this woman, and that is all by design.

This is a person who not only has lead pipes in her terribly run apartment complex, and a general lack of maintenance and open bigotry, but she also hires one Linus Carruthers — a plumber from a company that used to be owned by him and a disreputable brother that is going under — to patch things up, and deal with the clogs in the pipes that shouldn’t legally exist. She knows he won’t report her as one more bad review will bring him under, and it is fairly certain she will try to rip him off of his pay in any case. When Linus talks about his terrible brother, or refers to him, my mind almost wants it to be Harlan King from “Pesticide” and that parallel of what he did to the homeless, though it doesn’t particularly line up, and there are dangers in trying to put things together that shouldn’t be: a lesson that Smoot never took to heart.

He goes to the apartment upstairs, after something devours a cat — and you know Smoot is evil, as she despises cats — to what seems to be the source of a clog that “squeaks” and “chirps” almost like a bird. It skitters in and out of the shadows. You know you’re not going to want to see what this monstrosity is. 
And when you see it, you don’t. It’s … So, a little while back, I was in a Dungeons and Dragons campaign Game Mastered by a friend of mine who really wanted us to confront some rats. So when we saw these rats coming — rats not unlike what Linus kept telling himself they were — we closed the door, only for those rats to bend and twist themselves under the crack beneath the door frame as if they had no bones. One of my friends, during the game, called these creatures — jokingly — octo-rats, and they were bullshit.

This sentient clog, and its kind, are basically octo-rats: malformed, twisted, and they eat flesh. I thought once this thing took the flesh off Linus’ hand, he was going to lose that limb. Then when it got to his face, I thought he was fucked. I thought he’d die, and we would cut to the skittering, bulbous, furry, tentacled clog going after the other tenants in the building, and then Smoot. But likely, it’s coded pretty clearly that Linus is a good man that isn’t just doing the job to save himself, but to protect the children that he knows in his heart is living in the building: the child of the mother that lets him into her apartment, and owned that poor cat that’s eaten.

He survives, gives a good fight, and the mother comes back to actually save him. And this is where, between the two of them, instead of calling the authorities we get some beautiful EC Comics justice in the form of poetic retribution. Oh, it is wonderful. I knew, the moment the tenants, with Linus the plumber, were all down in the basement — and he somehow lured Smoot back — that they weren’t going to simply beat her with tools. No, that is too easy for someone like her. Instead, they lure her to a drain where, as Linus put it as she’s stuffed in there being consumed by the creature, she “is home.” There is something timeless, but timely about this story when you consider the state of landlords and property and tenants during dire times of recessions, and in particular COVID-19. I do feel bad, though, that no one told the girl about her cat, but at least she leaves pretty pictures for her pet by the drain. Oh well, at least the octo-rat might appreciate it.

Speaking of tentacles, and disturbing things, we find ourselves at “Within the Walls of Madness” written by John Esposito and Greg Nicotero, and directed by John Harrison. Imagine William Shatner shouting “There is. Some-thing. On. The. Wing!” from the classic “Terror at 20,000 Feet” in a world created by combining H.P. Lovecraft’s “The Rats in the Walls” with “At the Mountains of Madness,” “Beyond the Wall of Sleep” and in the spirit of The Thing and you might see the resonance of this story.

It starts off with a graduate student named Zeller held at a military prison being interviewed by a lawyer named Tara Cartwright as he is accused of murdering three of his scientific team in — you guessed it — the Antarctic. What happens is something had already dealt with the rest of their expedition, and the survivors ran back to the base. Zeller had apparently been having an affair with a fellow graduate student named Mallory — who was dating their hostile head of security — but when the latter goes to look for their leader, Professor Trollenberg as played by Star Trek Next Generation veteran Denise Crosby — reality ripples around them into a wormhole as the two students are attacked by an entity from a wormhole.

Of course, the Professor and the security head come back to find Zeller with an axe and Mallory in pieces, and seem to think the worst. But there is security footage that would exonerate Zeller. Unfortunately, it becomes clear that the Professor had erased that footage and kept only him attacking the security head who attempted to kill him.

As it so transpires, Professor Trollenberg found the remains of what she calls the Old Ones — yes, Lovecraftian beings not unlike the ones in the Cthulhu Mythos — who apparently gave humanity Earth millennia ago before dying out, only to have humanity misuse it. She saw through a wormhole that she summons with a strange sonic instrument: an organic bonelike flute or ocarina, almost like a Key — and we know from Cthulhu Mythos lore that “The Silver Key” is not only a Lovecraft story, but it is an artifact that can unlock places between dreams and other realities. I see it as an analogue of that, though it uses sound to create wormholes through space-time in this narrative. Anyway, the Professor used it to manipulate time to when the Old Ones still lived, and believed they would punish humanity for destroying the world: that she would help them usher its destruction and return it all to the sea.

Zeller doesn’t want this, or to be framed for murder and when she summons another wormhole, he kills her. Now, this is where things are interesting. The expedition was a secret government one, which claimed to have them work for medical purposes. They know full well they were dealing with extraterrestrial elements, and they want Zeller to take the fall so that this incident will stay underwraps. It also helps that they genuinely don’t believe anything he says. Hell, even the lawyer claims to want to help him plead insanity, but really just wants all the rights and royalties to the book she will publish about his case. By the time we get towards the end of the story, Zeller’s had a lot of time to think about all of this. He is slated to be executed, which the governor or official along with Cartwright even talks to her about the insanity plea she decided not to pursue.

Zeller starts to see that humanity — its society, its hypocrisy, condemned him to this fate — and wasn’t listening to him when he says “they would come through the walls.” This is where it all goes down. For his last request, he asks for the alien instrument: which he blows. Zeller never gets that lethal injection, but everyone else gets grabbed and torn apart by tentacles from another dimension. What we realize is that Professor Trollenberg didn’t look into the past to find the Old Ones, but the future. And we see, as this paradox trope plays itself out — in which her own words “Time is an illusion” — come back to haunt her as she sees Zeller on the table and the Old Ones everywhere. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy as they both see each other between the past and the present, life and death.

Everyone has betrayed Zeller: from the security head, to the Professor, to the lawyer, to the government, to humankind. And he decides, instead of continuing to warn them, knowing they won’t listen and they will kill him anyway, that if he’s going to die he is going to take them all down with him. His last words are with him cackling, Lovecraft end-sentence style, “They are in the walls! In the walls …” And honestly, this is a story I can get behind, that when you disregard confusing temporal mechanics, it is humanity’s arrogance and abuse of power — and the hatred of one human that supersedes even that of an eldritch otherworldly species’ coming to destroy it all — everyone gets what they deserve. I … love it, frankly, Cartwright’s self-serving book Our Demons, Ourselves says it all. I … love it, frankly, Cartwright’s self-serving book Our Demons, Ourselves says it all.

I Got A Lot to Think About: Travis Stevens’ Jakob’s Wife

Stagnation can last years, but the dead travel fast.

If I can summarize Jakob’s Wife, directed by Travis Stevens, and written by him, Kathy Charles, and Mark Steensland, it would be that bite-sized sentence above. I’ve been looking forward to seeing — and writing about — this film. Not only did Travis Stevens direct the brilliance of what misogyny leaves behind in Girl On The Third Floor, Kathy Charles write the Lovecraft Mythos remake of Castle Freak, and Mark Steensland co-write a twisted version of male sexual fantasies, addiction, and consequences in The Special, but this movie stars the renowned Barbara Crampton who plays Anne Fedder: an unhappy woman and wife of a small-town preacher who gains something that can be seen as both a curse, and a blessing.

I just want to say, as many other reviews, articles, and interviews have stated — including and especially in Meredith Borders’ “Waiting to Exsanguinate” as well as Barbara Crampton’s own “Scene Queen: The Journey of Jakob’s Wife” in Fangoria Vol. 2, Issue #11 — that the element of vampirism is only part of the overall theme of the film: which is that of a woman seeking to change her life in a stale relationship, and attempting to negotiate the boundaries of love while seeking her own freedom. 

Perhaps there is a better way to phrase it. Certainly, vampirism being besides the point in a vampire film is nothing novel. Joe Bego’s 2019 film Bliss comes to mind, if only because I said something very similar about it. But there is a difference between that psychedelic nightmare of drugs and self-denial, and Anne’s sudden thrust into a reality that is terrifying, but all too clear: something that, in some ways, has always been around her: and she’s only seeing it now. It’s poetic that takes Anne dying to actually realize that she wants to live. But does Anne actually die?

I am getting ahead of myself. If you want to actually watch the film — and I highly suggest you should — our fangs are out, and from them are dripping spoilers. You were warned. I would suggest, as Anne says to another in her film, that you run while you still can.

This whole film is nuanced. It’s true that Barbara Crampton’s previous horror roles in the 1980s — in Re-Animator, and From Beyond — were not always subtle, but in addition to the way she portrays those characters her skill has evolved. Certainly, by the time we get to her role in Andy Collier and Tor Mian’s Sacrifice, we see she can play a character who straddles the line between different sides of morality, and someone who struggles with their place in society, and their own desires. 

Barbara Crampton goes specifically into the correlation between herself having returned to acting later in her life after marriage and raising a family, and Anne being an older woman seeking to fulfill dreams she put on hold to find love and stability. However, unlike Barbara Crampton — who never really stopped working or chasing her own goals, despite the ageism towards women in the film industry — Anne let herself become subsumed by the doctrine, but mostly the routine of married life with her husband the Pastor Jakob Fedder: a seemingly unassuming man played by veteran actor Larry Fessenden. 

I’m getting back to my point about nuance. This film could have easily gone a few ways, and I found myself being wrong with almost every prediction I had. When the film begins, Jakob is preaching to his congregation in their small town, and after — when he’s approached by a young woman named Amelia — there is almost this red herring in the way it’s portrayed playing on your expectations that the young girl is trying to flirt with the pastor, or there is something illicit business going on. A part of my mind even considered the possibility that Anne had already become a vampire, and is the presence stalking the girl later: her sympathy towards the young woman’s alcoholic mother being an excellent mask.

But that’s not what this film is about. It also isn’t about Jakob, however mundane he seems at the beginning of the story, being a terrible or a violent religious fanatic, or being completely ignorant of what happens to his wife right towards the end of the movie. He doesn’t immediately turn on her, and he also isn’t killed by her as a plot point to liberating herself from him. These are all heavy-handed, easy plot solutions, but Jakob’s Wife never takes the easy way out.

It’s true that the town, in the middle of seeming nowhere, is ruled by a patriarchal system and social expectations towards women: something we see in the attitudes of Anne’s brother and sister-in-laws, and even her husband during their dinner scene when talking about whether or not Amelia ran away “due to a boyfriend,” as opposed to something having actually happened to her. There are certainly some class and even possibly racial connotations in those deliberations and gossip given that Amelia is Black and she and her mother live in a more rundown part that town, and definitely some of that is mirrored in the way that Jakob confiscates marijuana from two younger people of colour. This is the setting that’s seeped into Anne throughout the years, an ebb and flow: a sluggish pulse of inertia that Jakob can live with, complete with the expectation of having a dutiful wife that you can see in the implicit chauvinism of his brother of his brother’s wife, but not someone like Anne whose always sought to travel, to innovate, to just … do something more with her life.

Again, it would have been simple to have Anne leave her oblivious husband to have an affair with her lost childhood love come back to town, while renovating the old abandoned mill that is apparently a town landmark. Hell, having Tom — Anne’s mischievous rule-breaking former flame — be the vampire that turns her is another place that could have gone. But it doesn’t go there. Instead, Anne breaks off the moment’s indiscretion, despite her unhappiness, because we realize she actually still loves her husband: or at least feels loyalty to him. 

And then, everything begins to go to hell. Tom is consumed by rats, unsurprisingly, found in some crates the size of … coffins. They’re coffins, complete with earth and all of that Dracula and vampire Eastern folklore goodness. After that, Anne is attacked by what we find out is an old vampire called “The Master.” No, not the Master from Buffy: The Vampire Slayer with his collared leather jacket, and snide sarcastic remarks.

We are talking about — what we find out later — a Master that’s like Count Orlok from Nosferatu in the perpetual, final stages decay … who likes to play with her food. Or, in some cases, her toys.

A few vampire film inspirations are referred to in various interviews, one with Coming Soon’s Larry Fessenden on Unique Role in Horror Pic Jakob’s Wife, and Meredith Border’s Fangoria article as well. Films such as Ganja & Hess, Nosferatu, Salem’s Lot, Let the Right One In, The Hunger, and Possession are mentioned, but Dracula has also left its toothy mark on the vampires in Jakob’s Wife.

I really want to look at how vampires function in this world. At first, I thought Anne was a throwback to the way vampires used to be before Nosferatu: beings that are simply weaker, or less tolerant of sunlight, but can otherwise move around. However, what we find out is that she is — figuratively and literally — going through a transition. It’s like a less severe version of what happened to Lucy Westenra, or Mina Harker when they were being fed on by Dracula, and given his blood. However, Anne is already manifesting the hunger. At first, it’s just for animal blood but eventually she can’t even tolerate that. She already can’t eat solid food anymore, and she’s become photosensitive, but she’s changed more than this. Her physical strength has vastly increased, as have her five senses.

And, perhaps due to these new stimuli, Anne expresses a certain directness, with some coldness, that might have remained under the surface: with a fire that Barbara Crampton notes in her “Scene Queen” column. By not having to eat anymore, she also doesn’t feel the need to cook for her husband, who has taken all preparations for him as something for granted: an extension of that casual chauvinism that his brother expresses to him on the possibility that Anne is having an affair. 

But it is not a perfect, nor a permanent state. Eventually, Anne can’t feed off animal blood anymore without being violently ill, focused ultraviolet light becomes damaging to her, and the hunger begins to take its toll. It’s also clear that when she kills a human being — and she only kills one when the hunger becomes too much for her — that if she doesn’t finish off the body, even with its head partially torn off, it will reanimate as what seems to be another vampire. This is something I recall from, of all things, Blacula, where all a vampire like Prince Mamuwalde needs to do is feed and not give their blood to the mostly drained human. 

Yet it’s still more than that. Anne is not, apparently, a full vampire. And Amelia, the poor girl who hears “the Master” calling to her as well, is mostly a twisted, hate-filled bloody revenant of her former self. Even the poor man Anne kills in a frenzy comes back as a relatively mindless thing that she has to wrestle with, and it becomes hers, and her husband’s first kill together. 

Oh yes. That’s right. Remember how I said that Jakob doesn’t remain ignorant? Well, after he goes to, reluctantly as he isn’t a confrontational man, tell Tom to leave his wife alone he realizes that the old mill is home to vampires, and very nearly dies there due to the pitiable, terrifying thing that used to be Amelia. 

He returns, realizing that “the Master” is after his wife: to find his wife feeding off of her unintended victim. It might as well, in his mind, be him catching his wife with her pants down with the Devil in his kitchen.

And this is where the film gets interesting as we see, essentially, a priest and a vampire, a husband and wife, team up to hunt other vampires: to hopefully deal with the curse laid on Anne. On the surface, this is fairly bad ass: not just because we realize that Jakob’s holy items — communion wafers, cross, and water — actually work on vampires, and he even knows instinctively how to dispose of the remains of Anne’s aborted creation in the grave in their garden, but Anne has a new kind of ruthlessness in dealing with “the Master’s” other creations. The way she kills Amelia is a counterpoint to all the sympathy and compassion that she expressed to her earlier in the film: to a point where her husband, the priest, is horrified. He actually wanted to save Amelia, probably in his mind by killing her dark creator … if that’s how this species of vampire functions  of course, right?

But it’s here where their conflict really begins. This is where Jakob has to admit that Anne has changed, and not just because of her transformation. She is more independent and willful than she had been before: or maybe she had been that way before her mother died, Tom left, and all she had was good old solid Jakob and the never-changing faith of the church. But he is angry at her admitting she kissed Tom, and … basically blames her for “the Master’s” attack on her: like a spouse blaming their partner for their own rape which, given what “the Master” is like, and how Anne staggered up to the washroom to hide herself, blood-stained, violated, and screaming while her husband remained ignorantly downstairs, is more or less my read on that situation.

However, Anne is having none of it and actually calls Jakob out on his behaviour. Yet this is a fight between two people who don’t know each other anymore, who hadn’t for a while, but still at their core fiercely care for one another. Even when Jakob drives away, and goes to bed, he can’t quite stop himself from going after her, and when “the Master” uses her power to take control of Jakob, to make Anne feed from and kill him, Anne forces herself to save him instead, having come back to their home on her own. 

“The Master,” played by Bonnie Aarons, is twisted. It’s more than just her appearance. She has the ability to control and change herself into multiple rats. “The Master” also seems to have the power to fly, or at least move almost instantaneously from one place to another. She can even move objects without touching them. But more than that, she has great powers of mental domination: which she uses to not only control Jakob as a thrall, but Anne herself. There is something horrific about how “the Master” manipulates Anne like a puppet, moving her with her body’s movements. She plays with her, and she knows it, and Anne knows it. She can kill Jakob, or anyone Anne cares about on a whim. Amelia is just a plaything, perhaps a prototype to what she seemingly wants from Anne. 

“The Master” provides a lot of voice to what Anne is feeling, about being in the thrall of men, and what they have constructed. She claims she wants to help liberate Anne from being a “scurrying church mouse” as she had been when she had drunk of her own Master’s blood ages ago. This is apparently the thing: drinking your creator’s blood, in this world, liberates you from the hunger of the transition between human and vampire. This is the choice that “the Master” offers Anne.

Choice is a main component in this film. For years, Anne felt her choices taken away from her. Now she has agency again, or a new vital sense of it. She wants equality and a say in her life from her relationship with her husband. She wants to have a role again in their mutual decision making. It’s clear, when the two work together, they are a force to be reckoned with: when they kill the vampire in the kitchen, when they dispatch Amelia, and even taking that poor deceased old woman’s body for Anne to slake her hunger for a time while Jakob hunts for “the Master” during the day.

There is even one scene, after their fight at the mill, where we find out — hilariously enough — that pot takes the edge off of vampiric hunger as Jakob takes his confiscated drug and shares it with Anne. It’s here that they have a heart to heart, and she tells him that she didn’t feel valued, and he apologizes. That is the gist of their conversation. And there is this moment, where Anne seems to feel validated, and get her say in all of this: in her own fate. 

But “the Master” keeps escalating the situation. “The Master” claims to want to liberate Anne from her husband. She asks her “Were you ever really you, or were you just Jakob’s wife?” The film title drop aside, she has some valid points. Certainly, the discussion about Amelia at the beginning of the film is predicative of Jakob’s go-to behaviour along with the victim-blaming element of Anne’s current situation. He has taken her for granted for years, fulfilling her role as her sister in law does. Hell, he doesn’t even consider that “the Master” is a woman: just another man that his wife let take advantage of her, like Tom. And he’s only cooperating with her now to make her “normal” again: to make her “back the way she was.” 

Jakob’s sermon at the beginning of the film, which is Ephesians 5:28: “In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself,” and in the middle, which is 1 Corinthians: 7:16 “For how do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?” speaks volumes about how he views marriage, and his relationship with Anne. Anne is just an extension of him, as Eve comes from Adam’s rib.

Oh, and “the Master’ gets to that. Even while the latter proverb is almost a rebuke to Jakob about not knowing his wife anymore, mirroring his own fear of her changes, “the Master” talks about how Eve was deceived well before Adam by the Serpent, and how she deserves better. And here is where I begin to disagree with the sentiment that “the Master” is trying to “liberate” Anne.

You see, she is still using the metaphor of Eve, Adam’s wife, comparing Anne to her, and her relationship — or dependency — on Jakob. It’d be so easy, again, if this film — as Meredith Borders puts — had been stereotypical and about Anne as Jakob’s extension, as his wife. Or perhaps, to make another Biblical reference, Anne or what she represents now can be the angel that Jakob has to wrestle with to get his life back. That angel has been referred to as Lucifer, as the Devil, but in the Old Testament that angel still works for God: to test Jakob’s resolve. 

But while their relationship is central to the film, this story isn’t about Jakob, or angels. It is about demons. You see, if we go into apocrypha, Adam had two wives before Eve. His second wife had been constructed, from the bones and ligaments up, to being a full human being: an act that horrified Adam so much, God had to remove her. The parallel between a being constructed, all bloody and messy and imperfect, to a man realizing a woman has bodily functions and needs — and indeed possesses growth reminding him of his own imperfection — is not lost here. But perhaps Adam’s first wife, Lilith, is more appropriate in this theological discussion of sorts:  being not made of filth, but the same mud and dust that Adam was created from, and who refuses to be subservient to her husband. 

Lilith discovers the powers of the world, she is embolden by them, and she leaves her husband to ascend to Heaven, and descend to rule in Hell. I think this is a lesson that Anne might have taken more to heart. The problem is “the Master,” as Amelia worshipped her as a god, or a god-surrogate — being her creation — is petty. She likes to play with humans, tormenting and hunting them. Amelia is a diversion, some poor girl who just wanted to take care of her sick, alcoholic mother, for “the Master” to manipulate: even as she preyed on her the same way she did Anne. And what she does to Anne: not just killing Tom in front of her, but also attacking her, and then controlling her body — even going as far as to make Anne masturbate in front of the window — does not look like the independence she promises.

Here is a possibility: what if Anne had chosen to drink “the Master’s” blood, it solidified the older vampire’s claim over her instead of liberating her. What if Anne is just an extension of “the Master” just as she claims Eve had been of Adam, and Anne of Jakob, or her town? What if the choice had already been a false equivalent and Anne had almost been tricked into exchanging one Master for another. Indeed, even if all of those acts were sadistic lessons to give Anne a taste of potential freedom and more supernatural example of the slavery with which she already labours and can escape, either way I think the Master is a cruel, bloody mistress.

What is the ultimate tragedy is not that Jakob kills “the Master,” it’s that he takes that choice away from Anne. She doesn’t have time to make it. “The Master” is — seemingly — gone. A stake through the heart is enough. She is muck and dust, and one rat on the ground. Instead of reverting to a human, Anne is stuck — supposedly — as a bloodthirsty ghoul. Perhaps she could have been liberated, even gaining the shapeshifting, telepathic, and telekinetic powers of her creator. We don’t know. Neither does Anne. And this seriously pisses her off.

It’s fitting: that the man who hesitated in killing, who hated what he believed his wife made him become in destroying her own vampire in the kitchen, who didn’t want his wife to kill a young woman, doesn’t even hesitate to destroy a monster — but that’s not the point. It’s that the divide between them is too great. It’s more than just mortal and immortal, vampire and human. It’s a fed up woman and a clueless man too steeped in his ways.

That last scene between them is so telling. I think … I could have seen it going another way. I can picture it, after they discuss selling the house, with Jakob having an epiphany and realizing that it is not his place to dictate to his wife anymore: that it never was. He can’t help her anymore, but he won’t stop her. He has to trust that she will find her way. And Anne has to let him go. I think what Jakob robs Anne of is something I anticipated so much in this film: that she would face up to her would-be creator, and utterly defy her: to break her bond with her, and make her own way as a vampire in her own right, and not a tool with the illusion of freewill: unbeholden to anyone, or anything.

But Jakob killed “the Master” and took that choice away from her. She’s stuck in transition, a frustrating and angering process indeed, for anyone to be in. This could have ended with them going their separate ways, kind of like A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, except the Girl and Arash leave each other.

Yet this is not what happens. It is left, like life, ambiguous. Did Anne want to destroy or refute “the Master” herself? Was she going to be liberated? And will Jakob the priest, and Anne the vampire destroy one another? Is it their last spat, or just the beginning of another conflict that will lead to something more?

I think it all goes back to that glorious scene, when Anne realizes it’s blood she needs, and after pouring herself a cup, she dances to a remix of Concrete Blonde’s “Bloodletting”: also known as “The Vampire Song,” one of the most epic moments in this entire film. I think whatever happens, Anne has a better grasp of herself now, and she knows where she stands — in this moment — as Barbara Crampton did in her role in this film, a penultimate achievement, with more accomplishments — in acting and production — to come, I’m sure. 

Farewell to the World

Dedicated to Fred M. Wilcox, Scott Derrickson, and Harry Bates.

“My poor Krell. After a million years of shining sanity, they could hardly have understood what power was destroying them.”
— Dr. Edward Morbius

“Commander Adams. Ms. Morbius. Do you understand why you have been brought here?”

“Actually, Mr. Carpenter.” The young woman, small and diminutive next to John J. Adams. “It’s Mrs. Adams now.”

“Oh. I see.” Klaatu notes their body language, their closeness, and the band on the woman’s hand Even after all this time, he has to catch himself before missing any Earth customs. Perhaps it’s that cultural disconnect, or maybe his people did not reconstruct his brainwaves as well as they had hoped. Nevertheless, considering the circumstances, it is a swift development. “My apologies, and my congratulations.”  

“Thank you, sir.” Commander Adams nods. They sit in the briefing room, just the three and two other occupants. The dark-haired man is polite, in full dress uniform. He knows this is a briefing. The young woman is in a smart dark conservative business suit, complete with a short skirt. Humans have always had a strange perspective on both modesty and exposure. Mrs. Adams looks awkward in the fashion, almost as much as Klaatu once did in the suit he was forced to borrow from what seemed to be an eternity ago. Now he sees the ring on the Commander’s finger as well. “The nature of this inquiry, Mr. Carpenter. It is about Altair IV.”

“To the point.” Klaatu allows a small smile. “Yes, Commander. That is the nature of this debriefing. The United Planets has been clear on this matter.”

“With all due respect, sir.” The way Commander Adams says it, his words still formal, still manages to convey anything but irritation and perhaps an element of protective fear as he seems to sidle physically closer to his wife. “The C-57D has already filed its report.”

“Yes. I know.” Klaatu looks down at the papers, something this species still continues to utilize as documentation while others have already long since moved onto electronics. “Your investigation into the radio silence of the Altair IV Expedition, and the Bellerophon concluded that they were both destroyed by psychic phenomena on the surface of the planet, the same force that took the lives of Lieutenants Ostrow and Farman, Chief Quinn, and …” He looks up, feeling his sympathy written on his face. “Dr. Morbius.” 

Klaatu almost expects Mrs. Adams to look away. As it is, it’s Commander Adams’ brow that furrows: in sadness, or anger, or perhaps both. Mrs. Adams puts a hand on his, and keeps Klaatu’s gaze. He knows he must look strange to her. For all their species look alike, he is well acquainted with the human discomfort with his high cheekbones, and the overall asymmetrical physiognomy of his face. For some reason, however, despite her timidness there is a clear look in her eyes. For a few moments, he recalls his … he still thinks they are his … memories of Helen Benson, of her fear of the unknown being overcome by her determination to do the right thing. 

“My mother and father were the sole survivors of the expedition.” She says, her eyes level with his. “My mother, as you know, died of natural causes. My father was assaulted … by the phenomenon before we escaped the planet.” She sighs. “The power of the Krell was too much for him. It destroyed the mind of the Bellerophon‘s skipper, from what he told me, told … us.”

“And poor ‘Doc.'” Commander Adams rubs one thumb over Mrs. Adams’ hand as both an acknowledgement of her comfort, and his returning of it. “And Dr. Morbius. After we realized the nature of the phenomenon that destroyed the colony and the Bellerophon twenty years ago, Dr. Morbius faced his … Monster of the Id. He stopped it, but it cost him his life. He was mule-headed. Stubborn. Too smart for his own good, probably even before that ‘plastic educator.’ But he was a good man, and he died a good man.”

“And he detonated the 9,200 thermonuclear tandem reactors in the Krell underground complex, destroying the entire planet.” Klaatu confirms, shifting the papers, and putting them aside. 

“After his intelligence was augmented,” Mrs. Adams says, “My father couldn’t risk anyone, or anything, else potentially activating that power, releasing their … manifestations …”

“Yes.” Klaatu replies, looking down for a few moments. “The Krell civilization, in addition to creating a device that measured and augmented the intelligence of their young through mental exercise, also constructed machinery that could molecularly reproduce any material of which they have a sample.” Klaatu knows this, the rest of their confederation utilizing similar technology in more limited and controlled ways. “Your … friend over there is an example of some of this knowhow.”

“Robby.” Mrs. Adams smiles, looking up at the clunky, glittering automaton at her side. “My father made him after his own ‘education.’ He always said he tinkered him together with pre-made Krell technology. He always downplayed what he could do.”

“Your father was a modest man.” Klaatu says, not missing the look on Commander Adams’ face as he says it, remembering full well the report of the Doctor’s lack of cooperation, and the fear of what he learned being misused by any humans aside from himself, a self-fulfilling prophecy. “Pardon, but your name is Robby, yes?”

There is a series of clacks and the intense working of transparent circuitry as a voice booms in the room, reverberating. “Affirmative, Mr. Carpenter.”

“My apologizes again, Robby.” Klaatu smiles. “We, of course, have taken your testimony into account as well.”

“There is no need, Mr. Carpenter.” The whirl and clicks of the robot continue. “I simply reiterated the words and recordings of everything that had transpired, and what I had been monitored to explain during our previous briefing.” 

Monitored. A fascinating choice of word, in Klaatu’s mind. Perhaps “seen to” is the right use of that specific designation. “Yes, there is much we can learn from you. Our confederation, the United Planets and the homeworlds have a version of your replication process, but is it true that you truly duplicated — from one sample — an alcoholic beverage from one …”

“I replicated 60 gallons of rocket bourbon, simple alcoholic molecules with traces of diesel fuel.”

“It was … for Cook, ship’s mess.” Despite the situation, Commander Adams’ manages to have a combination of chagrin and amusement on his face. “Apparently he put the bottle in a slot. The robot … burped?”

Klaatu smiles. “Really?” He tries to think about Gort imitating the sound of biological flatulence, and fails. “Is this true?”

There is more clacking and seeing Robby’s dome move back and forth. “Morbius programmed some mannerisms into me. He had a … sense of humour.” 

Klaatu notes the humans in the room smiling, Commander Adams trying to hide it under one hand, and Mrs. Adams’ filled with a certain reminiscence. “He even duplicated the bottles for him.”

“That is impressive.” Klaatu leans forward. “I’ve read the reports. I suspect that Robby is capable of doing a great deal.”

“Well.” Mrs. Adams tries not to look nervously to Klaatu’s side. “He isn’t as advanced as other robots I’ve seen.”

Ah yes. Klaatu’s smile becomes tinged with a bit of sadness. That is why she has been focusing some much on him. As otherworldly as his appearance may be, though he hasn’t announced himself as “alien” by their standards, even though as far as Earth is concerned Klaatu died over three centuries ago after a “temporary revival” — and perhaps he had — he must be more reassuring than his constant companion. The poor woman had been on a world without any other people aside from her father and then the crew of the C-57D. And Robby the Robot had been something of overgrown toy, with slinky arms, bright lights in a glass dome, tottering steps, turning gears and wheels, and clamp hands. He is almost comical. But Gort …

Gort stands at Klaatu’s side. Commander Adams as seen Gort’s kind before, tall, silvered, silent, visored most times, and hoping that the visor would remain closed besides. There is nothing playful or amusing about him, even though Klaatu is used to him, and his general passive benevolence. But he is imposing, and by design. Gort remains by his side as every member of his “race” does with any high-ranking United Planets dignitary. And Klaatu knows that he himself has more notoriety among the homeworlds than most given the relatively recent — and controversial — inclusion of the human species into the confederation. He’d been the first injured — and even killed — for their message in centuries. He doesn’t like that distinction. It’s unseemly to gain renown from another younger species’ fear and ignorance. Frankly, it’s distasteful to him, as distasteful as … 

Klaatu has a mandate. And he needs to get to it. The sooner, the better. “Forgive me for being blunt,” he says, and immediately regrets it as they mirror his words from three hundred years ago. “But this is all information that we are aware, Robby’s sound effects not withstanding.”

“Right.” Commander Adams stares at him, and gives Gort a side glance. “Forgive me, sir.” He says, respecting the chain of command even in the relative peace-time in which this whole galaxy should be. “But why exactly are we here?”

“You already know about the power of the Krell.” Klaatu says, his smile gone, leaning forward intently. “They created a machine that could manifest any matter from thought, a vast underground planetary network that scanned the synapses of its inhabitants — already accustomed to replicating anything they desired from even a single molecule — to make creation beyond a sample, or a template.”

“Limitless power.” Mrs. Adams says, though her words sound like someone else’s, like her father’s.

“Yes.” Commander Adams affirms it, but his tone is impatient. “We recorded all of this in our report.” 

“We did not acquire this information in our report.” Klaatu sighs. “Our confederation already knew about the Krell, and their achievement.”

The two humans say nothing, but their faces express everything. It’s as Klaatu expected when his superiors gave him this authorization, and order. Shock on the young woman’s face, and the Commander’s but also a wariness to the latter, and a grim set to his gaze. His face becomes stone. “You knew … about the Krell.”

“Yes.” Klaatu says, knowing now that there is no turning back, wondering if the United Planets would always make him a messenger of ominous tidings. “We were there. When it happened.”

*

20,000 Years Ago

He can only watch, helplessly, as the glass spires melt in front of him. Winding stair cases, floating steps fall with their travelers still on them. The sight, from their ship, is unimaginable as vessels are disintegrated, and lives wiped out in a myriad of instants. 

And they are the fortunate ones. 

Klaatu sees the Krell below. He sees them staggering through their wide archways, trying to get away from crackling, hoarse apparitions of pure energy. They are screaming. Crying. The event, Klaatu’s readouts tell him and the others, is localized to the planet itself. The Krell had done it. They’d completed their engine, and the vast machinery, all over their world.

This was the beginning of a new dawn. The long legged, broad, Krell with their magnificent tails, are … they have been, they had been, an inspiration to the confederation of worlds. They traveled the galaxy, perhaps even the universe, when the confederation was young, when they were just different planets slowly exploring the stars. Their automatons were legendary, wondrous, their offspring constructing them for just a lark out of single building blocks. Klaatu’s people, and the others, they made their police — their race of robots — used Krell design, among others, as inspiration while the Krell themselves had no need for them at all, striding peacefully among the stars, brining samples of life back to their homeworld, reconstructing them, hoping to show others what they have achieved through example. 

Klaatu watches as the arches fall on the Krell, burying them alive. They tried to help. They tried to warn them, to slow down. But they had achieved much in their millions of years of evolution. This had been inevitable. This final step. To make manifest their dreams. 

But what they didn’t count on, was their nightmares. 

As another shimmering spire falls, and all Klaatu can hear is screams, he senses Gort coming behind him. He and Gort exchange a look … and Klaatu steps aside. 

Klaatu knows that each species sees Gort, and his “race” differently. He is even known in different languages. Here, he is Gnut. Klaatu can see it, almost. A tall, angular green-tinged figure with a loin cloth — perhaps like the humanoids they liked to interact with, as they had apparently with Klaatu’s ancestors — with visible muscles. He moves seamlessly to the Krell, who see perfection in everything. He wonders, in their mindless terror, if they can see the beauty in their own destruction in this moment. Gort’s face, is this form, is usually sullen, or brooding. This is what Klaatu was told, and what he can even see through the art of the Krell … and their minds. But right now, as Gort observes the carnage, as a nightmare creature grabs a Krell by the tail and rips it off them, flinging them wailing into the sky, all Klaatu can see on Gort’s metal-muscled face — made clearer by the manifestation engine on the planet causing all of this chaos — is sadness. 

Then, his eyes open. Usually, Klaatu’s species among others, would see a beam of shimmering light from a visor. Here, they are just red eyes. But they glow. 

With fire. 

Klaatu watches. He makes himself watch. There is no way to help them. The nightmare manifestations will tear them apart, piece by piece. Their own fear and hate torturing them. There is no language — no conception — to even explain to the Krell what is happening to them. And the terror in their offspring’s eyes is too much for him. And possibly for Gort. 

It doesn’t take long, but it takes too long. Gort’s metal-muscles flex almost artistically around his neck and shoulders as his eyes continue to burn. Klaatu tried to disable the electronics on the planet, but their reactors are too advanced and deep, too synchronized to turn off the effect now. It is all up to Gort now. Gort and his grim sense of duty. 

“Gort.” Klaatu whispers, after a time, “Gort. Baringa.” 

By the time it is over, Gort closes his visor. The manifestation of Gnut, the familiar Krell depiction of him, is gone from Klaatu’s perception. He is a tall, metallic construct again. Gigantic. Expressionless. Faceless. Inscrutable. They are above the world, their synapses away from any field of energy that should remain. The planet’s demoniac nightmares have died with the last Krell. 

Klaatu’s will continue for the rest of his lifespan. 

*

“The Bellerophon had a mission two decades back.” Klaatu explains, meeting their eyes. It is the least he can do considering the circumstances. “As you know, the confederation allowed Earth to keep its weapons, and maintain colonies provided that no atomics or any other weapons of destruction — or acts of hostility — would be brought to any member world. Altair IV was to be a colony.” 

“Bellerophon.” Mrs. Adams’ tone is as faraway as her gaze. “He was the hero that tamed Pegasus, with a bridle he gained from Athena herself. Father told me that story. He rode Pegasus.”

“Yes.” Klaatu admits. “I recall that story.”

“Well, if you do.” Her voice becomes cold. “Then you will know that he tried to fly Pegasus to Olympus, only for the gods to take his steed away, and leave him to fall to the earth, in brambles, blinded, and dying.”

Commander Adams follows up on his wife’s words. “I’ve never heard that story, so you have me at another disadvantage.” The barb is clear, just shy of insubordination. “I know the one about Prometheus, though. And Icarus.” His eyes narrow. “You sent them there.”

“Yes.” Klaatu says. “Earth already found the planet. It was an Expedition sent to … find what might remain. We suspected that there were Krell archaeological remains. The Bellerophon was informed, and consented to excavating what they could find. Unfortunately …”

“They didn’t know that the machine was still active.” 

“I don’t understand.” Mrs. Adams turns, almost pleadingly to Robby. “Robby, why didn’t Father tell us any of this?”

The calculation circuits in Robby’s dome click hard, and fast. “Unknown, Miss Alta. My hypothesis is that he wished to have the perception of a space for you and himself. He did not wish to worry you about outside affairs.”

“Yes, Alta.” Commander Adams grips her hands gently. “Your Father sheltered you. He didn’t want you to know about …” He glares at Klaatu and Gort. “All of this.” And, somehow, his eyes narrow further. “Wait. You know, this whole time, about the planet.”

Klaatu closes his eyes. He knew how terrible an idea, this whole situation, had been. He told them, his superiors. But they didn’t listen. It seems to be a constant on every world in, or out of the United Planets, that one’s superiors don’t listen. “Yes.”

“Then that means.” And Klaatu can almost see the gears in Commander Adams’ mind turning as transparently as those in Robby’s cranium. “You had a ship nearby. With one of those.” He inclines his head at Gort.

Klaatu doesn’t say anything. He doesn’t have to. 

Commander Adams’ bares his teeth. “All those lives. You sacrificed all those people for what? To get that power for yourselves? To use us to do it? Are you still sore at us after three hundred years? Didn’t we pay enough? That was supposed to be our colony! Our territory! Are we just expendable to you?”

“Commander …” 

“No. I get it now. You incredible hypocrites.” Commander Adams shakes his head. “You condemned us for the atomics we were making. You barely begrudged us our weapons: pistols and laser cannons, nothing to you. Nothing to you, and that tin can. And you put us on a planet where our worst nightmares would come true! Where we’d spread it to the universe! What did you think, Mister! That you could control what the Krell failed to do? That we –“

“In all honesty.” Klaatu feels the disgust in his mouth as he speaks the words. “Your minds, even augmented, are nowhere near those of the Krell. You, and your nightmares, would never have gotten off the planet without our police force neutralizing you.” 

“You know my Father had augmented himself.” Mrs. Adams murmurs. 

“Yes.” Klaatu says. “It was … a remarkable achievement. He accomplished much. You said it yourself, Commander.” He turns to the fuming man. “He will be remembered. I won’t …” He tries to find the words. “I won’t pretend to know, or even agree with the decisions of my superiors, but something has to come from this tragedy. From several millennia of tragedy. And it has.”

It takes them a moment. “Robby.” Mrs. Adams replies. “You think Robby can help you with your research.”

“He can.” Klaatu turns to the automaton. “Robby, is it true that Dr. Morbius recorded inside of you all of his research on the Krell?”

“Robby?” Mrs. Adams’ eyes widen. “Is … is that true?”

“I am not monitored to grant that information.”

“Robby.” Mrs. Adams’ voice becomes flat.

“I am not monitored to …”

“Dammit, Robby!” Mrs. Adams’ face turns red. “Archimedes!

“Alta, what in god’s name has gotten into –” Commander Adams grabs her arm, but immediately lets go as he realizes, it is all out in the open now. All too late.

The robot pauses for a moment as everyone looks at him expectantly. His globe glows temporarily with expended energy. 

“Affirmative.”

Klaatu nods, slowly. “We thought as much. Robby is integral in our research of the Krell, and their sciences. In using their science and technology responsibly. But he is not the only one we need.” 

“No.” Commander Adams gets up from his seat.

“Commander Adams.” Klaatu says. There is only so long this insubordination, even though completely understood, can be tolerated. “You need to remember yourself.”

“Are you threatening me, sir?” 

“No.” Klaatu looks at Gort, who still hasn’t moved. “I am warning you.” 

“I don’t care. You are not taking her. Her, or Robby. I am tired of this –“

“You have no choice, Commander.” Klaatu says. “You will, of course, accompany them, with a promotion –“

Suddenly, before Klaatu can react, he sees Commander Adams throw himself across the table. For the first time in hundreds of years, Klaatu finds himself rough-handled again, the Commander’s hands bunching up his uniform. “Like hell we’re going anywhere!”

“Stay back, Miss Alta.”

“Robby, stop!”

Klaatu feels his airway blocked by the human Commander’s hands. He wonders, briefly, if they can retrieve enough of him again from the audio tapes. He recalls telling Helen that resurrection was beyond even his species’ — beyond this confederation’s — power. And it technically wasn’t untrue. They can only, at best, make copies with as near perfect memory engrams as they can from sonic impressions. From radio waves. Will Klaatu truly be the one that returns if he dies here because of this entirely unnecessary exercise? This one last waste of life? 

But then he sees Gort step forward. His visor is beginning to lift.

“John, stop!”

“Gort –” Klaatu gasps out. 

Then, Klaatu feels his windpipe fill with air as Gort tears Commander Adams off him. He holds him, in the air, with one arm, as he begins to scan him. As he …

Something knocks into Gort. It doesn’t move him, but it dislodges Commander Adams from his grasp. The Commander falls to the floor, red-faced, shaking, angry or terrified, or both. Robby and Gort wrestle. Sparks, negating energy, comes from Robby’s ridiculous but strong vacuum tube arms. His appendages are pincers. Gort, however, remains still and his eye-slit is burning. It’s crackling with power. 

“Robby. Stand down.”

“Negative, Miss Alta.”

“Robby, that is an order.”

And that is when Klaatu realizes it. The report he read. Robby has been built with a command by Alta’s father, by the late Dr. Morbius. Of course the Robot, if entrusted with the Doctor’s secrets, built with a command not to harm humans, would also have an imperative to protect his only daughter, from any threat, perceived or otherwise. 

Klaatu and Mrs. Adams regard each other. She is at her husband’s side, holding him to her, his arm around her. For a few moments, he sees Helen again, in her expression if not her resemblance. She nods. Slowly. 

“Robby, Archimedes.”

“Gort.” Klaatu rasps, trying not to remember the last time he uttered these words with regards to the Krell. “Baringa.”

Sparks, red hot, purple lightning, forms in the dome of Robby’s head. Then, slowly, the robot lets go off Gort. Gort, for his part, scans everyone in the room. His gaze falls on Klaatu for a second longer, before his visor lowers back onto his eye slit. Klaatu attempts to get onto his feet. Then, he feels someone helping him up. Gort. He always forgets, even after all this time, how fast the automaton can move. He nods at him, thankful. Just how many times has the robot saved his life? Or remained by his side throughout the hardest decisions he’s had to make? He doesn’t know, but he hopes the other knows how grateful he is, how safe he feels with him, this being that could snuff him out like a tiny flame, his age-old protector …

“I apologize, for my part in this getting out of hand.” Klaatu says, finding his voice again, wanting to sit, but remaining standing. “We –“

“We will take this assignment.” Mrs. Adams says. 

“Alta –” Commander Adams says, but she cuts him off. 

“No. My Father … he died for this knowledge. It was his life. And if it can help … can it help others, Mr. Carpenter?”

Klaatu almost forgets his assumed name. He slumps his shoulders. “With time. With self-consciousness. With conscience. What I was going to say … what I should have said, to my shame, is that while the Krell were more advanced than humans, possibly than almost anyone in our confederation, they forgot their baser instincts. Their fears. Their subconscious. We have not. We are not that … elevated. Clearly. And you, humanity, you know yourselves. We were impressed by what Dr. Morbius did, despite …” Shame fills Klaatu again, at what that discovery cost, at what he is forced to condone. What would the late Professor Barnhardt think of this accomplishment? Or Helen? “With time, and perhaps better minds, a better mindset, this could eliminate the need for any violence. Any threat of force.” He looks up at Gort, his face apologetic. “For peace without any fear of ultimate sanction.” 

Gort remains still. Mrs. Adams, for her part, has a thoughtful expression on her face. “Perhaps with a modified plastic educator, that’s how it can start.”

“Alta?” Commander Adams touches her arm.

“Oh, John. We could help people. All of this doesn’t have to be a curse. It –” She turns to Klaatu. “I agree. On a few conditions.”

Klaatu is quiet, taking in the words. The situation. “And those would be?”

“First. We have a station, to ourselves. A space station. You have those?”

“Yes.” Klaatu readjusts his suit. “We do. We have been constructing one, for just such an occasion.” 

“Alta, we don’t have to do this …”

“We do.” A pained expression forms on her face. “And you know it, John. I …” 

Klaatu sees it. She spent her whole life on a small planet, isolated, alone except for a few others. “I …” He says. “I’m sorry for the sacrifice we are asking you to …”

She turns to him. Her eyes are firm. Set. She’s made her mind up. “We will do it. As long as you meet our conditions. We get the station. John gets his promotion. And we set the litmus on the research. We determine what is safe.”

Klaatu’s brow furrows as he watches Commander Adams come to his wife’s side. “You are asking a lot. To trust you, even with the best of intentions, with what you will uncover …”

“Just as you did with a bunch of human colonists that you expected to fail, and have to sterilize?” 

Klaatu doesn’t say anything. His silence says everything. Mrs. Adams shakes her head. “We’re not asking you to not have … one of those, Gort or whatever he is nearby. You’ll do it anyway. But you will defer to our judgment. On what you get. Can you tell your superiors that? Are you authorized to do that, Mr. Carpenter?”

Klaatu takes a moment to consider. They won’t be happy, but their confederation wasn’t made in a day. They had the patience then, to see it through. They can have a little more. “I will tell them. It is the least I can do.”

“Yes. It is.” Mrs. Adams’ eyes soften. “Thank you, Mr. Carpenter.”

“Thank you, for your service Mrs. Adams.” Klaatu turns to the others. “And you, Commander?” Klaatu asks. “And Robby?”

“I will obey Miss Alta.” Robby says, nodding his bulk to her direction once.

“I will go to my post.” Commander Adams replies, his face overtaken by his glower. 

“For what it is worth.” Klaatu says, as they begin to adjourn. “You have …”

“What? Have we passed your test, sir?”

Klaatu nods, knowing he deserves that. “The parameters of the confederation. Of the United Planets. Your probationary period is over. Your world, and colonies — your civilization — will now be an official member of our union, with all of its privileges and responsibilities.”

Commander Adams’ facial expression doesn’t change by a margin. “I’m sure the rest of the brass will be happy. But I’m not doing it for you.” He puts an arm around Mrs. Adams. “This is for my wife.” 

There is nothing more to be said as the arrangements are made, leaving nothing but paperwork and records to be dealt with. As the humans leave, their own robot in tow, Klaatu moves away from the conference table. He goes up to the grey non-descript wall. Slowly, it opens, revealing a night sky filled with stars. Somewhere, out there, Altair IV is still burning, the planet now another star. 

“The Almighty have mercy on us, Gort, old friend.” He says, feeling the robot at his side, as always. “The Almighty forgive us.” 

Creepshow Commentaries Season Two: Episode 3 – The Right Snuff / Sibling Rivalry

Warning: Potential Spoilers for Episode 3: The Right Snuff / Sibling Rivalry

I keep thinking to myself, that there is no way the writers and directors of Creepshow will outdo themselves. And then you get something like Episode 3. I’m just going to say it, right off the bat that Joe Lynch, Paul Dini, Stephen Langford, and Greg Nicotero’s “The Right Stuff” is yet another reminder that horror can be — and has been — created in space which, given the social media debates of last week, a lifetime ago as space-time goes, bears repeating. 

I love the setting design. The gravity generator that plays such a key role in the story reminds me of something from a vintage science-fiction movie: a device from Doctor Who, or technology extant in Forbidden Planet: the latter of which my mind has been finding itself these days. There is always that age-old genre debate over whether or not something is purely science-fiction if it involves space travel, science, and technology though there are some who forget that multi-genre media does exist: especially when you have something like horror that can cover a whole wide swathe of human endeavours. As such, I got some major EC Comics Weird Science vibes from this tale, though it is so much less about the science and more about the human — the sentient — interactions, and volatile emotions building to that inevitable conclusion.

What does jealousy and resentment and a lust for fame lead you to within the vacuum of space? The answer is in the void around you. Nothing. Nothing good. The characters of the captain Alex Toomey — pilot of their ship the Ocula — and the inventor Ted are fairly one-dimensional and exaggerated as these old style parodies of humans go, but the tale is captivating even as — for the most part — you see where it is going to go. That little quirk where Toomey leaves his coffee cup on Ted’s machine, as a small, petty, and ineffectual way to assert dominance for something he almost had nothing to do with, does speak volumes about where this is going to go even before he hallucinates his father — an astronaut before him — constantly belittling all of his achievements, and how only “being first” matters. 

It may sound weird, but for all of what Toomey does in the narrative — murder out of pure jealousy — I can somewhat sympathize with him. It doesn’t take much to consider what happens when you spend your whole life training to be better, to live up to the example of someone else, to have that person or force constantly sideline you, and then always seem to get slighted every time you accomplish something for someone — or something — else. I think most people can relate to that. But I didn’t hate Ted either, and he tried — he genuinely tries — to make Toomey feel better. 

You know, it’s kind of cool to see how Toomey and Ted work together — even with Toomey’s inferiority complex, or before it truly manifests — and avoid some spatial collisions. At first, when they turned on the gravitational field, I thought they would be stranded or time dilation would put our intrepid protagonists into a science-fictional “Survivor Type” for two situation. Or, maybe, the aliens planning to do something terrible — even indoctrinate or devour — the Earth representative sent to them. But neither of these red herrings happen.

I want to say that I love the overall morality tale of the story, even though what complicates it is one Alfred Hitchcock moment. Basically, we find out that the American government has been in secret contact with aliens — the Gorangi — apparently through the probes that the two astronauts barely avoided, which they thought were asteroids. The Gorangi had been part of a galactic or interstellar alliance attempting to convince their peers that humanity was worth saving and helping, having one of their own — an agent who turns into their ambassador — give them gravity technology to see what would develop from it. That agent is Ted, of course. 

You know, the man Toomey kills out of jealousy and whose place he takes. 

It kind of makes you wonder what would have happened if the government, and even the aliens just told the two men what was going on from the beginning instead of keeping it all a secret. Perhaps their ambassador might have lived. Or maybe an advanced species — who looked amazing and whose effects were reminiscent of Mars Attacks — would be intelligent enough not to judge an entire group of people by the actions of one individual. Of course, Toomey should not have murdered his coworker with his own gravity device, this absolves him of nothing, but I feel that both Gorangi and human dishonesty — seriously, an undercover Gorangi agent being masqueraded as the first human to make contact with “other species” instead getting another human as an actual ambassador — played as much a role in the tragedy in this abortive “first contact” as Toomey’s own inferiority complex, and misplaced ambition. If there is one thing worse than aliens wanting eat, corrupt, or kill you, it’s moralizing hypocritical aliens.

Even so, I admire his punishment. He wants fame and to be first. So the aliens, after they leave, let Earth know that he murdered one of their own … and they don’t bother to save Earth as its own gravitational experiments pull the moon into its crust: destroying the entire human species. The fact that Alex Toomey, who could have asked the aliens not to condemn his world for his own crimes and ask to be punished instead, is left alone on the Ocula — the last human being in all existence — to contemplate what he’s done, with only the shadow of his disapproving father as company is utterly beautiful in its brutal, stark poetry.

There is another conflict in the episode as well, though it is situated in high school. However, this one turns out differently. Rusty Cundieff and Melanie Dale’s story “Sibling Rivalry” begins with the freshman Lola — funnily enough, there is a Hula spring toy on the dashboard of the Ocula in the previous story that I kept calling Lola — telling her guidance counsellor, Mrs. Porter, that she thinks her brother Andrew is planning to kill her. Her story meanders a lot and you can see that Mrs. Porter is definitely not taking it seriously, though we the viewers get little hints of what might be going on. It’s clear that everything isn’t as straightforward as Andrew wanting to murder his sister, and that the “monster” is something, or someone else. 

It didn’t take me too long to realize that whatever this was, whatever made Andrew act this way, what made their family dog terrified, and even the disappearance of their parents isn’t due to Andrew, but the oblivious Lola herself. It turns out her friend Grace, whose brother she’d been oogling with more than a suggestive bit of ice cream in and on her mouth (I mean, come on, she was fantasizing about him pouring milk on himself, can we be any more subtle about this, especially given that Lola’s already asking her teacher if you can pregnant from handjobs, see her meandering story has gotten me off on a bracketed tangent as well), bit her neck while she was sleeping. This is played off as her friend tried to kiss her while she was sleeping, which is a whole other non-consensual boundary issue, but we see that Lola has blocked a lot of what she’s done out of her head.

So Lola is a vampire. She resembles more of a vampire from before the advent of Murnau’s Nosferatu, those that can actually walk out in the sunlight and not die: but she more resembles the terrifying demonic face of Grace Jones’ Katrina from the film Vamp when she feeds, with even more teeth. In the end, her brother is trying to kill her in order to keep her from murdering again: perhaps even protecting himself. But after a confrontation in their kitchen, where they just laugh at the ridiculousness — as horrible as it is — the terrible madness of the whole thing, in a very human moment they realize that they can’t live without each other. They are all they have left.

And yes. As I thought, Andrew plans to kill Grace — who turned her friend and his sister against her will, which resulted in the deaths of their parents — but she stops him as she tells him he isn’t strong enough to deal with Grace on his own. This leads to her … adding him to her new family. A rivalry doesn’t completely destroy a family, but helps to construct a new alliance. And then, Mrs. Porter calls Lola into her office on the suspicion of Grace’s disappearance. At last, it seems as though Lola agreed to “eating” with Grace, but not in the way she intended. It really shows you that Mrs. Porter didn’t take Lola seriously when she was telling what happened, but it was only when Grace goes missing that she immediately suspects her: as a culprit and not a victim.

But then Lola is joined by Andrew, in Mrs. Porter’s office and … well. Mrs. Porter is played by the renowned Molly Ringwald and if there is one thing aside from high school drama that she should be used to now, it’s being made part of a “Breakfast Club.” 

And I have to say, while “The Right Stuff” made for a good meal of grim morality, “Sibling Rivalry” was just the bloody dessert needed to cleanse the palette for the next episode of Creepshow.