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Posted on August 18, 2017

Kong: Skull Island is not good, but it says something about horror


Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ Kong: Skull Island is the kind of film that makes you wonder what everyone involved was thinking, including some generally good actors (Samuel L. Jackson, Tom Hiddleston, John Goodman, John C. Reilly). It’s a hot mess of a film—incoherent, pointless, lots of execrable writing and wooden acting. And it gratuitously and shamelessly pulls from other (better) films—notably Jaws (1975) and Jurassic Park (1993).

Kong does say much about how horror films (and maybe life) work, however. Cast as a kind of reboot of the first King Kong (Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack, 1933), Kong shows how utterly bound to the need for borders and for “others” the horror film tradition is.

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Posted on August 4, 2017

Baskin’s Conflicted Horror

Guest Post

Baskin is a 2015 Turkish horror film directed by Can Evrenol. It centers on a group of police officers, including a young and naive officer named Arda (Görkem Kasal), as they respond to a late-night call and inadvertently wander into Hell. The men stumble into a place and time “where realms unite,” and they are doomed to be punished for their sins in life in a twisting tale that denies the viewer any semblance of reality to which they can cling as the horrors mount.

Baskin spins an intentionally disorienting narrative as perspective jumps from character to character, and dreams within dreams layer upon one another as the film moves toward its climax.

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Posted on July 5, 2017

Don’t Hang Up: Teens and Social Media


2016  |  R  |  83 min  |  Directors: Damien Macé & Alexis Wajsbrot  |  Writer: Joe Johnson  |  UK

Grade:  A-

Don’t Hang Up scares some sense into social media obsessed teens.

Synopsis: A few millennial pranksters take crank calls to the next level while trying to achieve internet stardom. They soon find out the hard way that there are very real life repercussions for their actions.

Don’t Hang Up is a really good film. I was super excited to see a horror film that is rated “R” as that in itself has become as likely as finding a unicorn.  This film evokes many of the better elements of Wes Craven’s Scream (1996) as well as I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997) combining pranks, poor choices, and a few selfish kids. Remember the opening scene in Scream when Casey Becker gets a prank phone call? Well, imagine that on crack and you have Don’t Hang Up.

Most thrilling about this film is the commentary on social media use. Don’t Hang Up tells a tale of a handful of teenage boys who video themselves making pretty vicious prank phone calls for the purpose of getting “likes” online.  When bad things happen, we could superficially assume that their horror-trope indiscretion was exploiting others for personal gain.  However, this film is actually much more complex than that. Social media and technology greatly enhance the cat-and-mouse component within this film.

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Posted on June 29, 2017

Matt Ruff’s Lovecraft Country: On Horror and Racism

Guest Post

There is much to recommend about Matt Ruff’s Lovecraft Country, published in 2016. It is a book where the premise (monsters are real, but racism is the real monster!), setting (1954 Chicago and environs), form (a series of connected short stories, each taking up a different horror trope), and characters (each of which stars in their own story and crosses over into the others as side-characters) are all reasons to pick up the paperback. Recently, the book became even more enticing following the announcement of an HBO series adaptation produced by Jordan Peele (Get Out) with Misha Green (Underground) writing and showrunning. (You can check out Matt Ruff’s announcement here.) The show has the potential to be the next big thing given the talent involved and the source material, so if you want to be one of those people who invariably claim that the book was better, now’s your chance to get ahead of the pack. Except that might not be the best idea in this case because everything that works here could easily end up working better as a TV show since it only reaches its full potential on the page occasionally.

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Posted on June 23, 2017

The Last Broadcast: Christine and Carnival of Souls

Guest Post

On July 14th, 1974, 29-year old Christine Chubbuck, a TV reporter based in Sarasota, Florida, was helming a seemingly routine newscast when there was a technical hitch. Once the live feed returned to the studio, Chubbuck read the following statement: “In keeping with Channel 40’s policy of bringing you the latest in ‘blood and guts’, and in living colour, you are going to see another first – attempted suicide.” She then pulled a gun out from under her desk and shot herself in the head, dying in hospital several hours later. Footage of her suicide attempt was subsequently passed on to the police. In Killing for Culture (1995: revised and updated 2016), David Kerekes and David Slater discuss Chubbuck’s suicide alongside other notorious instances of “Death in the Media.” They note: “The tape has apparently yet to surface in any form. Despite some claims that footage of Chubbuck’s suicide had once circulated on the internet, there is no evidence to suggest it is there now. Frankly, it is unlikely that such material – any material – would ever surface and then simply disappear from the virtual reservoir” (2016: 355).

Footage of Chubbuck’s death may not yet have surfaced in the “virtual reservoir,” but that fact that it inspired two films in 2016 suggests that her story is one that still resonates. The meta staged “documentary” Kate Plays Christine (Robert Greene) is told from the perspective of an actress preparing to play Chubbuck. My focus here is on the more formally conventional take on Chubbuck’s story, Christine (Antonio Campos, 2016), which dramatizes the months leading up to her death.

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