PREVIEW: The Holy Bones Festival

To all Halloween enthusiasts,

I will be the brave one to address what’s on everyone’s mind: Fall break is just around the corner and you don’t know what to do! Halloween season is about to start! Your midterm couldn’t have been scheduled at a worse time! AT&T stock drops toward 11-year low, as dividend yield rises further above 8%!

Fear not I have an event for you that will cast away your worries and give you the perfect, ghoul fuelled start to your fall break.*

*applies to folks free between 3 pm EST and 10 pm EST on the 16th October 2021 only Terms and Conditions apply.

Skeletons partying like there’s no tomorrow

Thee (with the special e sound) Holy Bones Festival!

If you were looking for a sign then here is the official start to Halloween season for you. This spooktacular event is held right in your backyard: Ypsilanti. A quick (did I mention free?) bus ride away from CCTC. Forget taking the bus to your North Campus 8ams this is where the groovy kids take the bus to. 

The festival will have over FORTY local artisans and tarot readers, live music, drag shows, an art show, an auction (c’mon have you ever been to a freaking auction?),  and an improv show.

So put on your Jack Skellington T-shirts and be ready to have fun in the sun like the skeletons in the poster. Do you see how much fun they’re having?! 

Also, their early tickets are prices devilishly at $6.66 so don’t wait too long. Grab a friend and let’s go!

 

REVIEW: The Haunting of Bly Manor

The Haunting of Bly Manor is the latest installment in The Haunting anthology created by Mike Flanagan for Netflix. The series consists of nine episodes, and follows the story of an au pair who arrives at the haunted estate of Bly Manor.

The series uses horror elements in a very understated way; it elects to hide ghosts in the background that often go unseen rather than to have jumpscare after jumpscare. It has an overall eerie tone – a large, old house and two children who advise their governess not to roam the grounds after dark – but it is very slow burn, which becomes one of its faults. The series takes several episodes before a cohesive storyline begins to unfold, but once the inklings of an intriguing plot emerge, it becomes too complicated. Bly Manor has a massive cast: the au pair, the two children, their uncle, the housekeeper, the gardener, the cook, the dead parents, the previous governess, and many other characters introduced through flashbacks. What Bly Manor does well is showcase the talent of the many actors, however it fails to set up a clear, main storyline supported by the side characters. Instead, it gives each character a subplot and while all of the characters are genuinely well-written and interesting, the show does not give itself enough time to fully flesh out each subplot and tie them each into the main storyline.

The second-to-last episode, “The Romance of Certain Old Clothes,” is the weakest episode even though it is supposed to serve as the explanation as to why the estate of Bly Manor is haunted, what happened to the current governess’s predecessor, and why any of this is relevant to the current staff of Bly Manor. It comes across as a filler or even throw-away episode, and it adds another layer of confusion to the story. I understand that Flanagan wants to retain an air of mystery to keep the audience engaged, however when the story is so confusing for so many episodes, it becomes frustrating to watch. Ultimately, the series wastes a decent amount of time keeping the audience in the dark, resulting in a rushed conclusion of the ghost story before moving on to conclude the ongoing story of love and loss. That being said, one thing that Flanagan does well is create a bittersweet ending that emulates the central theme that to truly love someone is to accept that loving them is worth the risk and pain of losing them. However, though the last 15 minutes of the final episode carry the entire show, it cannot be ignored that the majority of the show is too slow, and that Flanagan adds another subplot in the second-to-last episode that only opens up more plot holes.

Finally, I cannot review Bly Manor without discussing its predecessor, The Haunting of Hill House. Hill House is overall a tighter and cleaner story that does a better job of balancing horror and very human themes – grief and guilt, in this case. Flanagan ties in fear as a projection of guilt and trauma in this series – rather than a separate and debatably related aspect – with a satisfying conclusion addressing family and forgiveness. However, Hill House also falls into a lull with the two episodes before the finale, but those episodes act more as a set-up for the finale rather than an entirely new addition to the story like in Bly Manor.

Overall, I expected both series to come to a huge, dramatic, maybe even disturbing conclusion, but what Flanagan choses to do instead is to subvert expectations and craft two conclusions that that are empathetic and wistful. The last fifteen minutes of Bly Manor and the finale of Hill House showcase Flanagan’s ability to depict compelling stories of human relationships, which is ultimately what draws a large fanbase to the two shows.

REVIEW: International Studies Horror Film Fest

Another year of the annual International Studies Horror Film Fest has come and gone, and with it went my hope that they would show actual horror movies.

Don’t get me wrong; the selections were wonderfully artistic and variable in tone and theme and texture. All three featured original plots and unsettling undertones. They each force a bit of creepiness into one’s idea of the world, while remaining quite beautiful. However, I would have appreciated at least one fully, overtly gruesome movie in the program. The gore was almost nonexistent in all of the films, limited to a few scenes of graphicness apiece. I found myself groaning over the romantic subplots and long periods of calm while trying to focus on the main stories and character dynamics. On Halloween, I need fear to rule. This can be done in complex, story-rich, writerly ways; the artistry of a film need not be sacrificed. Thus, even if the fest’s planners intended to get together a group of intellectually stimulating movies, they could have done so while giving the audience a little more of a scare.

Face was basically CSI or Criminal Minds in all it accomplished horror-wise. The whole movie seems cast in shadows, plagued by an uninspired soundtrack and TV-drama style acting. But the pace of the film was perfect, a slow reveal of a shocking truth whose slime does something venomous to the psyche of the audience.

The Lure was an entire musical, and certainly the only movie of its kind, however impossible to define that may be. The heavy glamour of the strip club pairs so well with the mythology surrounding mermaids, and the girls’ dead stares were a perfect balance for all the life in their musical numbers. The unwholesomeness of the young girls participating in this business combines with the sexual power of mermaids in lore to create an uneasy feeling for the audience, similar to the trickery sailors face in all the stories. But even with the violence and the complex uneasiness, this movie is far closer to a comedy than a horror film.

Dogtooth seemed like something I should have enjoyed, given that its creator is the same man behind The Lobster (a movie which, after watching, made me feel so unmoored that I literally held onto street signs as I walked to the bus stop, certain I’d blow away with the wind). It bears obvious similarities in how the cast is directed to act (basically emotionless, flat) and the minimalism of the indoor environments. But it falls short of creating the same level of effect for me that Lanthimos had in his later film. I think he realizes later in his career that there is a limit to the lack of expression he can write into his actors and the barrenness of the landscape before it becomes too offputting for the audience to focus on the story. In short, I got bored, and the beauty of the expertly done lighting and the carefully constructed garden space did little to change that. Some emotional music would have gone a long way.

Truly, these movies have tons of artistic value to consider and appreciate. In another sort of film festival, they would be great additions (and indeed, they have been inputs of such festivals as Cannes and Sundance), but I still hold that they are unwise selections for a true horror fest. I hope that next year, they have more time in the gallery to show an extra movie that a Halloween lover would appreciate.

PREVIEW: International Studies Horror Film Fest

 

Halloween, though it has already been upon us for months, is now extremely upon us. Somehow the most important holiday in the universe does not warrant a day off of school (meanwhile, some still legitimately celebrate Columbus Day), so we must do all we can to work around our schedules to properly honor this spiritual time.

Thank the Unholy Lord of the Dead that the International Studies program is continuing horror film fest. In its seventh year, the free program will include three foreign films (subtitled in English) for all to be terrified by. Come by the Hatcher Graduate Library Gallery (first floor) between classes, or if you’re especially dedicated, skip them all and stay for the whole time. And I better see you all in costume, or else.

The movie schedule is as follows:

10:00–11:30 a.m. — Face (2004, Korean)
11:30 a.m.–1:00 p.m. — The Lure (2005, Polish)
1:15–3:00 p.m. — Dogtooth (2000, Greek)

https://events.umich.edu/event/68410

PREVIEW: Nosferatu

I hope everyone is enjoying the Halloween season (though truly every season is Halloween) by immersing yourselves in as much spooky media as possible. Decorations, candy corn, and research into ancient gruesome myths are all important parts of a healthy Halloween diet, but we must not forget to honor the great movies that never fail to get us into the spirit.

While the genre of horror has become something wildly artful and haunting over the decades, we must look to the classics that provided inspiration for the present. That is why I will be attending the 7:30 pm showing of Nosferatu at the Michigan Theater on Wednesday, October 16. The night will feature live accompaniment by our resident organist Andrew Rogers! The 1922 silent film follows the life of one of the original vampires ever to be depicted on screen, modeled after Bram Stroker’s Dracula of a few decades prior.

Until then, I will be busy learning how to apply a bald cap, because (of course) I will be showing up in full costume. I invite you to come sit with me (I’ll be quite visible), and encourage you to wear your own frightful fashion.

Tickets can be found at michigantheater.org.

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REVIEW: International Studies Horror Film Fest

There are hidden gems of all sorts in this world, from underground bagel joints to hole-in-the-wall consignment shops to rooftop stargazing parties. The sixth annual International Studies Horror Film Fest is no exception to this hidden gem phenomenon–although at any one time there were hardly ten people comprising the peanut gallery, the time I spent in the Hatcher Library this Halloween was far more magical than, say, a packed football game or waiting in a mile-long line to get into the club. There’s just something special about gathering with a group of strangers to watch spooky movies nobody’s ever heard of.

The first movie, Little Otik, was one of the weirdest things I’ve ever seen. It lies somewhere between directors Tim Burton and Jean-Pierre Jennet, like if the characters of Beetlejuice and Delicatessen had a love child. Between the extremely up-close shots of people sloppily eating soup and disturbing stop motion animation scenes, this film holds everything I love about some of my favorite movies. The translation of the 19th century traditional fairy tale “Otesanek” into modern-day surrealism is a far better alternative to the diluted brothers Grimm stories we are saddled with in the US.

Plus, little treasures like this:

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I have to say, the other movies were not as good. What We Do In The Shadows was framed as a “documentary” on a group of “vampires” living together in an old, dusty house. The next line you might expect me to write is “hilarity ensues,” but what actually ensues is 87 minutes of the stale side of campy–there were a few hearty laughs from the audience, but the whole thing seemed like a rejected MTV movie script that New Zealand fished out of the trash. Yet somehow, the part of me that cannot let go of a love for Napoleon Dynamite and Crossroads (you know, the Britney Spears movie) had me laughing on the inside too.

Image result for stock photo dumpster diving

Ghost of Mae Nak, which was released in 2005, really looks like it’s from 2005. The entire movie looks like someone applied a bad filter on it, not to mention the marginal special effects. I must say, though, that Mak and Nak’s relationship was exceptionally cute, and of course I gobbled the melodrama of Mak’s coma right up, being the dramatic fool I am. However, the title character did nothing but pull the same “scary” face and scream at people. I feel they could have been a little more creative with this.

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Finally, there was Go Goa Gone, a self-proclaimed “zomcom.” This went exactly as you might imagine it would: it was a spoofy husk of a bona fide horror movie that relied on moderate gore to retain its classification within the genre. The zombie makeup and action scenes were certainly nothing to scoff at, if a bit repetitive. Though I’m generally not a hardcore fan of zombie movies, I do believe they have the potential to be high-quality contributions to the world of film. Train To Busan, for example, had a rich and heartwrenching storyline. Go Goa Gone may have been able to boast this if it had not gone so directly down the comedic route.

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I understand the difficulty of choosing the perfect lineup for a Halloween film fest. Too many hours of intensity and violence can exhaust even the hardest psychopaths amongst us. However, none of these movies were actually scary, even for someone who is definitely affected by the Goosebumps TV series (I’m talking about myself here). Turning off the room’s lights could have helped, and maybe a paper skeleton or two to serve as decorations on the otherwise bare walls. While there were good parts to the movie showing (including our wonderful host), there is room for improvement. I have no doubt that the seventh annual film fest will knock the socks off of everyone in attendance!