Day Eight: Sweet, Sweet Lonely Girl.
Sweet, Sweet Lonely Girl is restrained, melancholy, and softly ominous drama, a sort of off-kilter romance with a gloomy, gothic 70s haunted house vibe plus a placid pace to test your patience. Adele is a quiet young woman who has the opportunity to escape her miserable home life for a time to play caregiver to her aunt, an aging recluse. Soon, she makes the acquaintance of Beth, a pretty young woman with a free-spirited and mysterious “bad girl” aura that is somehow both vague and definitive at once. Adele– isolated, friendless, vulnerable, and naïve, soon develops an intense crush on Beth and falls under her corrupting thrall to the point of neglecting her duties to her aunt. If you dig films like Let’s Scare Jessica To Death, or Burnt Offerings or some of the themes in Jean Rollin’s films, I think you’ll enjoy Sweet, Sweet, Lonely Girl.
Day Nine: Blacula
I have been hearing about Blacula for what feels like my entire life, and yet somehow I had never seen it. And I guess what I mean is that while I couldn’t tell you what I’d heard about it, I was very much aware of its existence. It came across my radar again when I watched the excellent Horror Noire: A History of Black Horror just this past summer, and from the various hosts and guests insightful commentary I became increasingly aware that I must make a viewing of this film a priority.
In Blacula, Prince Mamuwalde, played with dapper dignity by Shakespearean actor and opera singer William Marshall, visits count Dracula to entreat his aid in ending the slave trade. Dracula, instead, bites Mamuwalde, cursing him to become Blacula, who is then sealed in a coffin for several lifetimes. Meanwhile, Mamuwalde’s beloved wife is imprisoned in the crypt and left to die. After his coffin is purchased by a pair of interior decorators in 1972, Blacula awakens with a thirst for blood.
I loved this film. It was campy and dated and …not visually spectacular, in that way that the effects and color in many B-movies from that era are not so great. But I thought it was such a fantastic story–a man, lonely and out of time, searching for the love of his life. There were some funny, light-hearted moments, and one genuinely freaky one, the sort of thing that you’ll see in the dark, in your mind’s eye, for many years to come. If like me, you have a great love of the horror genre and/or vampire films, but have not seen Blacula yet— do yourself a favor and watch it tonight.
Day Ten: The Color Out of Space
I have two cheats in this week’s list, and both for more or less the same reason–they were things that I began last month, but I finished last week. Still counts! (At least according to me!)
Color Out Of Space was a film I have been waiting a long time to see, and it was ridiculous and hammy but utterly gorgeous and pretty wild and worth the wait. If you haven’t read the H.P. Lovecraft story or have not seen the other film adaptations, the story can be summed up thusly: in the wild hills west of the fictional town of Arkham, Massachusetts, many years ago a meteorite crashed there, poisoning every living thing nearby; vegetation grows large and strange and foul, animals are driven mad and deformed into grotesque shapes, and the people go insane or die one by one. Sounds trippy, right? This version of the film was particularly so (and if you’ve seen the film Mandy, then perhaps you, like me, have come to believe that these are the roles that Nicholas Cage WAS BORN FOR.)
It had a strangely amusing moment that didn’t quite fit with the rest of the film. Did anyone else see this? Remember the scene with the local news segment that referred to Nicolas Cage as a “bourbon connoisseur” (as well as “UFO Witness” and “Amateur Farmer,” ha!) You really didn’t see that humor in the rest of the film, which was kinda weird. I would have liked to have seen more of that, but then again, that might have turned it into a different movie entirely. If you enjoyed this version of the story, but have not seen the 2012 adaptation, I recommend that, as well!
Day Eleven: The Strings
I splurged and bought a weekend pass for Salem Horror Fest, which is probably nothing I’d ever go to in-person (I don’t like crowds, or …people…or crowds of people) even if they were doing an in-person version of it this year. Which they were not! So a virtual, on-demand version sounded just dandy to me.
The first film I chose, I will admit, I chose solely based on the thumbnail of a young woman’s face against a wintry backdrop. Without knowing the first thing about the story, that chilly and haunting imagery inexplicably called to me, and I don’t question these things. The Strings is the story of a young musician, Catherine (played by real-life musician, the incredibly gorgeous and talented Teagan Johnston of Little Coyote) who travels to her aunt’s remote coastal cottage on the shores of Prince Edward Island to work on new material in solitude. After visiting an abandoned and very possibly haunted farmhouse with a photographer friend-maybe-more-than-friend, eerie nighttime disturbances at the cottage begin plaguing Catherine her sense of reality begins to shift and crumble.
It’s a slow burn that might not be for everyone–also considering that while it’s not a musical, there is a fair bit of musical performance in it, and I know that’s not everyone’s cup of tea, either… but after watching The Strings, I was thoroughly satisfied that it alone was worth the price of admission for Salem Horror Fest. ALSO PLEASE MAKE A SOUNDTRACK AVAILABLE FOR THIS MOVIE!
Day Twelve: Black Lake
Black Lake was my second choice from Salem Horror Fest, again not based on anything more than the name. Oddly enough, it had quite a bit in common with The Strings. Aarya (K/XI) is a young artist who travels to the Scottish countryside for a housesitting gig that will also afford her some time away from her family to work on her paintings in solitude. A gift from a generous auntie turns out to be a cursed object in ways I’ll admit I did not entirely understand.
There was a lot to love here, though I must confess that I was watching this late at night and I may have had a couple of strong cocktails and by the end, I’d totally lost the thread of what was happening. Here is what I do know: Aarya has a fantastic collection of tee shirts (above she is wearing an Eraser Head tee; in the film’s opening sequence, she is wearing an Evil Dead tee shirt.) The visuals are a total sensualist’s dream: we see her digging her toes into the carpet, luxuriating in its texture; savoring a bowl of Lucky Charms, stopping to eat the marshmallows with her fingers, an extended clip of her preparing an afternoon coffee with that iconic little Moka pot–it sounds weird to say, and I don’t want to turn anyone off, but many portions of the film almost felt like a high production quality vlog. But it’s not all delicious beauty: the lens focuses with the same desire and relish on the grotesque as it does the greedy; similar hunger is shown for the delectable as it is the detestable (i.e. closeups on pulling hair from her mouth, dislodging glass shards from foot-flesh.)
I think I am discovering that the “artist traveling to an isolated spot to create in solitude; weirdness ensues” subgenre is my very favorite in horror, and it’s so strange to think that in knowing nothing about either of these Salem Horror Fest films, I chose these two specific films! Black Lake, I think, was more diverse in the themes it explored: violence against women and girls, cultural differences, sexuality, and art. But like The Strings, it had an amazing soundtrack, and this one is actually available. I was tempted to count it as a separate entry on the list, but nahh. It is very good, though!
I fell madly, deeply in love with both of the leads in both of the films–they are both incredible– and I am trying not to be weird and stalkery on social media. But also: hiiiiiiiii! I love you both!
Day Thirteen: The Return by Rachel Harrison
Good golly. I tore through this book. Up until the point where I put it down and forgot about it and only finished it a few days ago (this is the other cheat I mentioned, as I actually started The Return sometime in September!) If you enjoy stories centered on female friendship and the complicated histories between friends and the secrets they share–or keep–from each other, and how sometimes a friend disappears and you give them up for dead but then they return but they’re all kinds of weird and fucked up and then you all go to a super creepy bespoke hotel in the mountains to reconnect …well, then you may enjoy The Return. I sure did!
Day Fourteen: Lovecraft Country poster by Ngabo D.Cesar aka El’Cesart
Ok, so I am not yet ready to talk about Lovecraft Country, the story of weird-fiction fan and veteran Atticus Black in search of his missing father in 1950s Jim Crow America, where if the white supremacists don’t get you, the Shoggoths will. Monsters, ghosts, curses, magical treasure hunts were just a few of the pulp-noir adventures that we encountered in this bonkers HBO adaptation of the novel (which strangely enough, even though it seemed like it follows the exact same story, I could not get into at all.) As I am only four episodes into the show and have quite a bit of catching up to do, my day fourteen entry is for this dark, fantastical, emotionally-fraught poster art by Ngabo D. Cesar, aka El’Cesart, instead.
Ok ok, wait! One more thing. Earlier in this list, I mentioned the documentary Horror Noire, over the course of which a great many wonderful films are mentioned. One of them was Eve’s Bayou, which upon hearing the description, I immediately hunted down a copy and devoured it.
I’m not sure I’d call it a horror film…it’s more a southern gothic family drama, I think, threaded with themes of trauma and violence and grief and memory but also voodoo and swamp snakes. I watched this film and I fell in love with every character, every scene. Eve’s Bayou is a beautiful and sorrowful and haunting film–and wow, I know I use that word all the time, but it really applies here– and it’s the best thing I’ve watched in many, many years. (It is from 1997 though, and it definitely looks and feels like it.)
The main character, a little girl named Eve, is the main focus of the story, and she is played by the marvelously emotive and adorable actress Jurnee Smollett…WHO NOW PLAYS LETTIE IN LOVECRAFT COUNTRY. My partner and I may have let out little shrieks of glee when we realized this was the case!