FRIGHTENING FLIX BY KBATZ: Island of Dr. Moreau (1977)

Dangerous Adventures Make the 1977 Island of Dr. Moreau by Kristin Battestella

AIP’s 1977 adaptation of H.G. Wells’ The Island of Dr. Moreau directed by Don Taylor (Escape from the Planet of the Apes) pairs down the half man half animal mad science to its core themes with claustrophobic symbolism and strong performances anchoring the beastly adventures as shipwrecked Andrew Braddock (Michael York) is taken in by the isolated scientist Dr. Paul Moreau (Burt Lancaster). Also on the beautiful but dangerous island are Moreau’s enchanting adopted daughter Maria (Barbara Carrera) and his crusty assistant Montgomery (Nigel Davenport). Braddock, however, discovers there are more monstrous inhabitants – victims of Dr. Moreau’s twisted experiments – leading to a struggle of wills, abominations, and control.

The silent vast and empty blue ocean open The Island of Dr. Moreau with a tiny boat and one small, desperate survivor bearded and thirsty. Epic music mirrors the hope of this green, lush island oasis, but hanging vines, uneven terrain, and booby traps belie this paradise said to be one thousand miles from nowhere. Fenced in buildings with food, bedding, mosquito netting, books, and fresh clothing appear civilized, however dangerous animals are said to roam the island and one should never leave the compound after dark. Idyllic pets and pleasant races in the woods lead to strange sounds in the night and “muffled roaring.” Viewers think we see something amid the rustling leaves but we don’t know what. Hunched creatures, creepy servants drinking from puddles like animals, and more “special” types of people on this island are in need of Dr. Moreau’s care – and his laboratory is complete with a menagerie of wild cats, cages, and shackles. Rearing horses, chases, fear of the unknown, and unanswered questions are difficult for men who like to know and control all when exploring the natural or unnatural boundaries they should not. The once lovely island locales become increasingly congested environs as the external out of control science closes in on the body sacred thanks to serums, syringes, and surgery. Why would a doctor create such suffering animals now made partially people? Are the hairy inbetweens and experimentation in the name of science worth the loss of one’s morality? The civilized man must defend himself in caves where unwelcome, monstrous, man made creatures have their own laws – not to walk on all fours, not to eat flesh, no taking of life. Gunshots scare away fierce offenders, for these animals given speech and rules remain controlled through fear. Will these hybrids remember what humans told them to say and do if they regress to their innate ways? After all, to study nature, one has to be as remorseless as nature, which has its own sense of justice, selection, and violence to match our undeniable ability to destroy. Dangerous tiger attacks, mercy killings, and angry mobs with torches lead to blood and pain in well paced action as power devolves into anarchy. Although The Island of Dr. Moreau’s symbolism is apparent, the sentiment doesn’t hit the audience over the head thanks to a multi-layered cycle of man made monsters and men made gods.

Dr. Paul Moreau showed signs of brilliance in his youth and loves to converse about emerging technology, but Burt Lancaster’s (From Here to Eternity) extensive academic has been here in his own paradise for eleven years. His colleagues opposed his work, criticizing his theories on the nature of good and evil, to which even Moreau agrees he doesn’t have all the answers. Fortunately, he admires Braddock’s intelligence, explaining to him the need to help his fellow human beings by controlling all stages of life whilst also keeping him at the compound and withholding the details of his trial and error experiments to save mankind. Moreau thinks what he is doing is just – making his work all the more frightening when the results aren’t as he hoped. The doctor gets angry with his whip when his creations remain animalistic. He speaks to his subjects about the law from his rocky pulpit, lording over those punished in his house of pain with his white suit and halo-like hat almost as if Elmer Gantry turned to dastardly mad science. Moreau thinks he can tell an animal he is human and it will understand. He wants his flock to obey Braddock – Moreau needs a successor to continue his delivery of science from cruel butchery and dissection. However, Braddock is a man who doesn’t do what he’s told, and Moreau is determined to use his tough love science to prove Braddock’s true nature. Unfortunately, Moreau is threatened by his own cause, unaware his do as I say not as I do superiority does not give him reign over his creations. Formerly of The Lady Vain, the situation goes from bad to worse for Michael York’s (The Three Musketeers) rugged seaman Braddock. He’s curious about the island, reads, questions where everyone came from and if there are nearby places. He walks the coast and repairs his damaged boat – the audience is on his side as the handsome hero uncovers the askew science. Alas, Braddock is too inquisitive for his own good, in over his head and meddling where he shouldn’t. He must learn to abide by this island’s rules or he will be punished for his interference. Braddock becomes desperate to remember who he is and where he comes from in all this upside down, and The Island of Dr. Moreau is a fine two-hander between its leading men – father and son figures where the elder won’t get his way thanks to the new, stronger man. Though often sweaty and shirtless when proving his macho, Braddock becomes embarrassed by his animal instincts. Ultimately, he buttons up his clothes when these dire circumstances force him to show he can behave like a civilized man. Barbara Carrera’s (Never Say Never Again) stunning image of beauty Maria, however, answers only to Dr. Moreau’s commands. He raised her, and initially, she keeps her distance despite Braddock’s romantic interest. Although the tender, sensuous explorations are well done, viewers know we shouldn’t trust the frolicking strolls along the beach as she gives in to her passion. Carrera doesn’t really have a lot to do, but Maria’s an innocent young woman, a blank slate being shaped by her in the wrong father figure and a lover who would take her away from the island when she’s afraid to go. Nigel Davenport (A Man for All Seasons) as Dr. Moreau’s gruff assistant Montgomery also has less to do than in the novel, but his cryptic attitude adds to the sinister isle orchestrations. He tells Braddock to get over the shock of it all, for he sleeps better on this island than anywhere else. Ironically, this man who chooses to be subservient because he lacks humanity becomes a problem once he does show sympathy.

Safari hats, white linen suits, and lacy women’s frocks match The Island of Dr. Moreau’s turn of the century talk of fantastic flying machines and underwater vessels. Candlelight, lanterns, gramophones, longhand journals, leather volumes, and pistols add vintage to the emerging gear, telescopes, globes, and specimens in jars. Laboratory equipment, medical beds, and giant needles create disturbing science alongside creepy teeth, gross smiles, and distorted faces making the audience recoil. Granted, some of the animal make up is weak compared to contemporary designs – the noses, wild hair, and horns could be laughable but they are not thanks to the serious abomination implications. One red scarf becomes a symbolic bright spot in the otherwise earthy palette while foreboding shadows around the buildings instill fear thanks to the natural and unnatural sounds beyond the halos of seemingly civilized light at the compound. Pans over the mountains capture the divine Caribbean locales, but the point of view more often looks out the windows or in past the verandas as if the cameras themselves won’t leave this little oasis. Overhead spins parallel the disorienting jungle alongside well done chases and unseen monstrosities amid dangerous but beautiful bears and big cats in cages. Animal claws and growling effects set off disturbing mobs and vicious attacks before a fiery finale with blood on all hands accenting both the messianic savior visuals and Judas retribution hangings. While the classic horrifics and big performances make Charles Laughton’s 1932 adaptation Island of Lost Souls, the 1996 Marlon Brando and Val Kilmer version is a little too messy despite being more faithful to the novel than the excised bookends here. With its horses, weapons, upside down tone, ravishing brunette, intelligent spark, revealing pace, and primitive design; this Island of Dr. Moreau at times feels more like the original Planet of the Apes. Perhaps we are due for another fully realized Wells interpretation, however, I fear that today’s over reliance on CGI talking animals, motion capture special effects, and spectacle transformations would miss the point of the piece.

Even if such shock value isn’t as important as the scientific harbingers, the bitter parable with man meets beast violence here can still be uncomfortable for some audiences. This well known story of half animal, half human would also seem to get old eventually – audiences aren’t meant to be surprised anymore by the monstrous warnings of combining man and beast for one’s own gain. Nonetheless, The Island of Dr. Moreau remains a relevant conversation starter in today’s era of cloning, stem cells, and healthcare debates, and this well done adventure with fine performances is worth a fresh look.

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FRIGHTENING FLIX BY KBATZ: Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte

Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte a Delicious Gothic Treat by Kristin Battestella

Director and producer Richard Aldrich capitalized on Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? with the chilling but no less sophisticated Southern Gothic examination of murder, gossip, and madness in 1964’s Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte.

After Charlotte Hollis’ (Bette Davis) father Big Sam (Victor Buono) insists she break off her dalliance with the married John Mayhew (Bruce Dern), Charlotte enters the cotillion covered in blood. Decades later, Charlotte remains an infamous murderess and recluse, living alone save for housekeeper Velma Cruther (Agnes Moorehead). The state of Louisiana plans to tear down the crumbling Hollis House to build a bridge, and with Doctor Drew Bayliss’ (Joseph Cotten) help, cousin Miriam Deering (Olivia de Havilland) returns to convince Charlotte she must leave. Unfortunately, ghostly violence terrorizes the women, blurring past crimes, contemporary suspicions, and deadly delusions.

Happening jazz, dancing, and 1927 good times hide the illicit schemes, secret elopements, and vicious murder opening Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte. We think we’ve seen a cold-hearted kill thanks to intercut chopping, gruesome slices, and screams, but is this crime all it seems? Wind chimes and silent shocks lead to 1964 cemeteries and youthful rhymes detailing the chop chop legend of headless lovers as boys sneak in the desolate ballroom ruined by passion, scandal, and insanity. Construction vehicles rumble nearby, yet there’s a certain gentility to the venomous shouts. Everyone says miss or sir, using full names and regional colloquialisms despite the ten day eviction notice, paranoid conspiracies, suspicious old enemies, and secrets coming back to haunt one and all.

Talk of an innocent teen girl having a dirty affair with a married man and calling each other bitches was shocking dialogue at the time, but there are also regrets, tears, and wishful thinking of an inheritance that should have been well spent instead of wasted on the lonely, dilapidated decades.

The dramatically paced conversations are layered with talk of the past, current states of mind, double entendres, and shade – creating zingers and storytelling comforts before wardrobes that open by themselves, slashed clothing, crank letters, and unforgiving threats quicken the pulse. Creaking doors, cleavers, and severed limbs scare the women – our eponymous character may be a little mad, but others are experiencing the frights, too. Crimes of Passion magazine reporters are excited that now in the sixties they can play up the murder’s sex angle, and there’s no one to trust amid phantom figures strolling the grounds and ghostly harpsichord playing. Storms, lightning, and winds blowing across the balcony lead to breaking windows and shattered mirrors. Today we have crazy versus ghost horrors, but they are often teen light rather than sophisticated dramas with performances free to carry the murderous motives behind the frights.

Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte provides superb scenes with heavyweight talent, and revelations in the final act place the viewer within the footsteps, physical bouts, and shocking violence. The southern gentility degrades into cruel intensity as the sense of dread escalates without any need for in your face jump scares. Deaths we’ve seen happen are said to have happened entirely differently, and the women do what has to be done thanks to the men’s messes – be he builder, destroyer, father, doctor, or lover. Beckoning echoes and tormenting serenades are twisted, sad, and delicious all at once thanks to eerie masks, gunshots, headless suitors, and nightmares. Delusions revisit the original crime while chilling visuals, bitch slaps, and dead bodies rolled up in the carpet contribute to the hysteria. These dames won’t suffer for the lies, blackmail, and cruelty anymore, but the can’t take it with you and what was it all for pain serves up a few more frights before the madness is all said and done.

Is Bette Davis’ (All About Eve) Charlotte a crazy killer, abused, or just misunderstood? She’s mad, one minute, pushing planters off the balcony at construction workers, but demure in white, crying, and heartbroken the next. Charlotte’s an unreliable old woman dealing with trespassers and losing her home. She doesn’t need sympathy or company, just help in saving Hollis House. At times she is very sharp, but she’s also caught in the moment of her lover’s murder, dressed up and waiting for a dead beau. She knows the townsfolk think she got away with murder, however the audience likes her moxie. We’re on her side when the sheriff insists she only acts loony because it’s what’s expected of her, and we pity Charlotte’s sobbing sing-alongs to their song.

She wakes up in the night, for her fantasies are only real in the dark.  Charlotte used to be positive she wasn’t crazy, but now she isn’t so sure thanks to ghostly visions, medication, and nightly damaged she swears she didn’t do. Mad murderess or not, she is certainly scared, and the family pride, fatal disgrace, gossip, and the irony of letting go make for a sad vindication. Olivia de Havilland’s (The Heiress) cousin Miriam Deering tries to make it easier for Charlotte to leave, reminiscing and sharing fond memories of sliding down the banister. She makes Charlotte laugh, telling her not to pay any attention to trash rags, old rivals, or nasty letters but come back to reality. Unfortunately, Miriam can’t stop the state’s eviction, and she’s always looking out for herself first. Charlotte says her public relations job “sounds dirty,” and past tattle tales on who was the poor relation or favored daughter make Miriam wish she had never come back. Nonetheless, she increasingly takes over the household, packing and making Charlotte say goodbye to Hollis House whether she is ready or not.

According to Joseph Cotten’s (Duel in the Sun) Dr. Drew Bayliss, Charlotte has nothing more than a persecution complex. He insists the state’s condemned order is solely about the bridge construction and not Charlotte’s infamy – although he has looked into committing her but doesn’t have enough evidence. Drew calls himself an old man who missed out, regretting choosing his career and breaking off his past romance with Miriam. She, however, insists he’s too quick with his compliments and intentions. He flirts with her as he did in their youth, preying upon her even as he wants to protect her – giving her a handgun in case there are any more trespassers. Unfortunately, only more memories of the past come back and Drew wonders if Charlotte isn’t creating her own company and reliving her debutante days with newly fixed delusions. Surprisingly, only Agnes Moorehead (The Bat) as loyal housekeeper and sassy defender Velma Cruther received hardware for her performance in Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte – a shiny Best Supporting Actress Golden Globe contrasting her crusty, cranky self. Velma dislikes Miriam, mocking her before sulking behind a column and muttering comebacks between her chores. Although initially humorous, Velma isn’t stupid. She tries phoning for help and confronts Miriam outright when told she’s being dismissed with the month’s wages. Velma only takes her orders from Charlotte, and the imminent tearing down of Hollis House does not mean she won’t be needed when the manor’s gone. Velma sees through Miriam’s high and mighty behavior in several taut confrontations that become scrumptiously physical.

Certainly there are a few superfluous characters – utility players dispensing exposition yet detracting from the taught hysteria, but Mary Astor (The Maltese Falcon) makes the most of her brief time as Jewel Mayhew, the widow of Charlotte’s mutilated lover. Although Charlotte suspects Jewel is out to get her, she’s not afraid to tell Miriam and her vicious tongue off in public. Jewel is gravely ill and ready for the truth to be heard. Victor Buono (King Tut in Batman, people!) mostly appears in the prologue as Charlotte’s stern father Big Sam, but his threatening presence lingers throughout the film. He disapproves of some lothario like the married Bruce Dern (The ‘burbs) intending to elope with Charlotte and ruin the family legacy he has rebuilt – and his orchestrations ironically cause exactly what he was trying to prevent in memorializing the Hollis name. Unfortunately, George Kennedy (Earthquake) appears too briefly as the foreman ready to bulldoze the manor standing in the way of his bridge project. He’s tried being kind to Charlotte and objects to her shooting at his crew. It might have been interesting to have seen him appear more as a physical reminder of the ten day requisitions countdown, for at times the need to vacate for the tear down is almost forgotten in Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte’s crazy horrors.

Art Direction, Cinematography, and Editing nominations abound for Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte thanks to excellent gray scale schemes, symbolic shadows, scary silhouettes, and askew camera angles that remain sharp on 4K screens. Overhead visuals peer into the scene with our point of view in tight for the harsh, angry faces or panning wide to capture the empty, stage-like mansion interiors. Choice zooms, distorted up shots, and foreboding down angles accent the spinning ceiling fans – we feel the congested southern heat despite breezy lace curtains, open windows, wispy willows, and dangling moss. Trees and balconies are high, but Hollis House is dimly lit with few candles at the dinner table and dark strolls on the veranda leaving room for those disturbing severed heads, phantom hands, and great horror effects. The expansive locales mean every scene takes its time, laid back with people made small in the Louisiana inside out lifestyle. There’s no rush to walk down the long corridors as mishaps belie the grand staircase and grandfather clocks tick tock. Barking dogs and silent pauses add to the atmosphere alongside the nominated Score with its angry crescendos, sad melodies, and bittersweet lyrics. Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte has ye olde big newspapers with thick headlines, flashbulb cameras, and $2.50 for a cab drive after which he’s told to keep the change! There’s a firmly sixties mood thanks to the big cruising cars, hats, gloves, white suits, and cigarettes – however the grandeur is also trapped in time with tall columns, wallpaper, tea in the garden, chandeliers, telegrams, leather libraries, and looming large family portraits. And bench car seats mean we see some good old fashioned slide across!

 

Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte has always seemed a little less beloved than it’s exceptional predecessor Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? and video options remain slightly elusive thanks to unavailability on Netlix and a limited edition blu-ray. Some audiences may find the psycho biddy style too camp – at times there’s certainly over the top inducing laughter to the scary. At two hours and fifteen minutes, Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte may also be too long and not all out horror enough for viewers accustomed to contemporary, formulaic slashers. For others there may not be full rewatch value once one knows how it ends, but Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte is worth repeat viewings for all the graceful clues and nuances amid the Southern Gothic terror – remaining a gripping, can’t look away master class of chilling moments and staple performances.

Odds and Dead Ends: Scene Analysis – Michael’s escape in ‘Halloween’ (1978)

Most of us have probably seen 1978’s Halloween a million times. When we think of the film’s beginning, we think either of the opening credits, with the long track into the pumpkin’s eye, or the famous long-take opening scene. However, the murder of Judith Myers is just back-story for the film as a whole. The story really begins with Michael Myers, now twenty-one, escaping from Smith’s Grove Hospital. This is the scene I want to examine, taking it step by step, shot by shot, and looking at how Carpenter constructs this famous, if often overlooked, scene.

First to notice is the weather. This isn’t necessary for the scene from a storytelling standpoint, but it adds to the atmosphere, if in a slightly clichéd fashion. It’s an additional air of menace. It’s not up to King Lear levels of pathetic fallacy, but it’s still there, ever present throughout the scene. It also adds some visual interest, in much the same way that Ridley Scott would do four years later, with the shimmering water on the walls of the Tyrell building in Blade Runner. Of final note for the weather, compare the slashing of the windscreen wipers in the rain as a visual foreshadowing for Michael’s slashing knife, with a similar shot in Psycho of Marion Crane driving through the rain, with her windscreen wipers foreshadowing Norman Bates’ knife slashing through the shower. Remember that Psycho is a movie which obviously had a profound influence on Halloween and the budding slasher subgenre.

In the car, we are introduced to Loomis, Michael’s doctor. Pleasance plays him as a brooding and serious, if superstitious, man, bordering on obsession. Alongside we have Marion, who is not only dismissive of the patients she looks after but woefully underprepared, having done “only minimum security” before. This conversation between them not only brings us up to speed as to Michael’s condition, “he hasn’t spoken a word for fifteen years,” but also sets up a motif that will play throughout the movie. Those that don’t take Loomis and Myers seriously, end up attacked and often dead. Loomis says for Marion to “try to understand what we’re dealing with here. Do not underestimate it.”

The line “Do not underestimate it” is one of the most important lines in the scene, and perhaps the entire film, and the following remarks of “Don’t you think we could refer to ‘it’ as ‘him’?” “If you say so,” is crucial to our understanding of Myers. He is not so much a man as a manifestation of evil inhabiting the body. Before we even see the old Myers, he has been taken to a realm beyond the human, back into the land of something much older and more terrifying. Loomis wants Myers trapped forever, but the law, thinking that he is still ‘him’, wants him moved. In later scenes, Loomis shouts that he warned everyone about Myers but nobody listened. Only Loomis, who truly understands what Myers is, knows to keep him locked up. The dialogue between Loomis and Marion is expertly written to give exposition, build character, and raise tension, all in small, economical snippets, and all at the same time. This exchange should be studied further by any screenwriting student to see just how brilliant it is.

Then the headlights illuminate the patients in the white robes walking around in the rain, an eerie sight in itself. The music kicks in, the famous piano and synth combo, which warns of impending danger. We’ve had the build-up, our fears raised, and now the film begins to play on them. When Loomis gets out of the car to open the main gate, a figure clambers onto the roof. Myers strikes when Loomis is out of the way. This begins the cat-and-mouse that the two will play throughout the film. That the rear lights paint Myers in a blood-red glow as he climbs onto the car is symbolic of his intent. He means murder.

What is interesting about this scene is that we begin to see Myers’ method of killing. He isn’t just a hulking mass, but he is quiet, methodical, and will only use brute force if he needs to. When Marion first rolls the window down to see who is on the roof, he brings his hand down to attack her. Only after she drives the car into the ditch, closes the window, and scurries to the other side, does he take to smashing the window. He is like a cobra, striking when he needs to but holding back otherwise.

When Myers does smash the window, it’s interesting to see how Carpenter constructs the scare. He uses Hitchcock’s theory of suspense (affectionately known as his ‘bomb theory’), in that he alerts us to the looming threat of Myers smashing the window before Marion is alerted to him. His hand appears in shot, giving the audience a moment of ‘he’s behind you!’ before it disappears for a few seconds. The tension is raised as we wonder exactly when the attack will be, and then a second or two later, the payoff. This simple, few-seconds scare, is a full construction, methodically thought out in all its beats, has rises and falls in its narrative, and is light-years apart from the false scares of many horror movies.

In horror movies today, one might expect Michael to kill the nurse before escaping. However, this original Michael doesn’t need to kill Marion, because his goal is the car. He attacked Marion when she was inside the vehicle, but now that she’s fled, he doesn’t need to pursue her. She isn’t a threat. This is something that the new movie, Halloween 2018, also subtly picks up on, in that Myers doesn’t just kill indiscriminately; he specifically targets. Evil has its own agenda, and it is perhaps something which makes Michael scarier. If he was just a killing machine, you could deal with it. But there is thought behind his eyes, calculated thought, and death is just one part of it.

In the final moments of the scene, we have Loomis’ line, “the evil has gone”. Described as ‘evil’ for the first time, we have Loomis’ superstitions on full display, and our understanding of the scene catches up. That was Myers, as we feared, and not just a random patient, and the sinking feeling in our stomachs ramps up as it drops another notch. All the precautions Loomis asked for, all the connotations of a silent, deadly mass of inhumanity, that we were given in the car,  has all come to fruition. So awful is this realisation that Loomis doesn’t stay around for much more than “are you alright?” to Marion, before rushing off. Once he knows she’s not in danger, she is disregarded. The evil must be stopped at all costs.

This is a perfect example of a well-constructed scene, with its personal rises and falls, and specific story construction. Attention is paid in all areas to ensuring that the filmmaking and storytelling come together in a beautiful composition with every subtlety pulling its weight. Carpenter has created a wonderful scene that sets loose upon the film a carnage that will terrify us long after the credits have stopped rolling.

-Article by Kieran Judge -Follow him on Twitter: KJudgeMental

Bibliography

Blade Runner. 1982. [Film] Directed by Ridley Scott. United States of America: The Ladd Company.

Halloween. 1978. [Film] Directed by John Carpenter. United States of America: Falcon International Productions.

Halloween. 2018. [Film] Directed by David Gordon Green. USA: Blumhouse.

Psycho. 1960. [Film] Directed by Alfred Hitchcock. United States of America: Shamley Productions.

Shakespeare, W., 2000. King Lear. Second ed. UK: Heinemann.

Guest Blog: From Beast to Man and Back Again

From Beast To Man And Back Again by John C. Adams

Evolutionary impulses drag us back to when we came. Whether we like it or not, they’re always there. There’s only so much we can do to fight against them. We both hope and fear that the natural human impulse to regress will take over. Even worse, in horror fiction, modern science seems to be getting in on the act.

In the 1984 film The Company of Wolves (dir: Neil Jordan), the childhood tale of Little Red Riding Hood is given a modern makeover. Red drifts into the forest and meets a handsome stranger, whereupon Granny’s advice goes right out the window. Well, sexual appetite does that to you. It’s a shame that Red can’t remember the cautionary element of Granny’s werewolf tale, as Angela Lansbury is quick to point out: not to trust a man who’s too proud to piss into a chamber pot. Let’s just say that in Granny’s tale the young bride’s new husband answers the Call of Nature in more sense than one.

The prime mover of sexual appetite is as good a reason to junk steady adult advice as any.

Fairy stories and folk tales abound with examples of spontaneous changes in shape from man to beast and back again. Those old tales are so central to our cultural identity, developed over hundreds of years in writing and for much longer before that via the oral tradition, that it’s no surprise that they are still cropping up in films and TV today.

If it’s natural for us to long to return to our genetic origins, it’s no surprise that modern science isn’t slow in embracing the opportunities to engineer this for us. And big business being what it is, the profit motive lies right at the heart of it.

In Graham Masterton’s novel Flesh and Blood, the Spellman Institute of Genetics is conducting experiments to implant human genetic material into pigs. Animal rights activists have plenty to say on that subject and are lobbying for a US-wide law banning testing on animals. The pig research (Masterton says his wife always called this book ‘the pig novel’) becomes a cause celebre for them. The pig, Captain Black, is as terrifying as you’d expect:

“His body was awesome enough, but his face made Nathan swallow in discomfort. It was more like the face of a giant werewolf than a hog: it was covered all over in thick glossy black hair, with a hideously flattened snout. Two curved incisors rose from his lower jaw, and strings of drool swung with every step he took.”

Mankind just can’t seem to help themselves from meddling in the mix of human and animal DNA when there’s a commercial excuse for it. But in the 2009 film Splice (dir: Vincenzo Natali) the insanity of experimentation mixing human with animal DNA reaches new heights when two leading scientists splice the DNA of a bird with that of a human. Yikes!

As a species, we are so prone to egotism that we want to be the ones to push the boundaries of creation. Like modern-day Dr. Frankensteins, it’s all about power over the hideous monstrosities we generate.

Like any form of meddling, the best lesson of all is just to leave well enough alone. If only it were that simple…

John C Adams is a horror and fantasy writer. ‘Souls For The Master‘ is available on Amazon and Smashwords.

http://johncadams.wix.com/johnadamssf

Short Bio

John C Adams is a Contributing Editor for the Aeon Award and Albedo One Magazine, and a Reviewer with Schlock! Webzine.

You can read John’s short fiction in anthologies from Horrified Press, Lycan Valley Press, and many others. 

A non-binary gendered writer, John has also had fiction published in The Horror Zine, Devolution Z magazine and many other smaller magazines.

John’s fantasy novel ‘Aspatria’ and futuristic horror novel Souls for the Master are both available on Kindle and via Smashwords.

John lives in rural Northumberland, UK, and is a non-practising solicitor.

FRIGHTENING FLIX BY KBATZ: Water Perils!

Water Perils! by Kristin Battestella

If you aren’t afraid of water, you may be after these moist movies and wet frights.

Cowabunga!

The Reef Sunrises and sunsets, stunning blue water panoramas, and lovely reef life create coastal bliss for this 2010 Australian fright loosely based on a true story. Shark teeth foreshadowing, statistics about the likelihood of shark attacks, and an inexperienced crewman aboard invoke the ominous to come alongside natural water fears, racing to beat the tide, trouble raising the anchor, and leaky rafts. Capsizing thuds, flooding, and underwater hectic don’t need any herky jerky action cam as the innate water movement makes the audience feel like we are there amid the missing keel, sinking hull, no supplies, and outdated distress beacon. It’s frightening when viewers can just make out the shark silhouette beneath the surface for themselves, but headless turtle shocks and false suspense moments go for cheap thrills. Instead of keeping us on edge with every chop in the water, over the top music tells the audience when something bad is happening.

Unlikable characters inspire little conflict amid a lot of childhood friends and lookalike blonde cliches – they are completely unprepared for any aquatic disaster and there’s no sense of ocean vast, the slow passage of time on the water, sunstroke, or thirst. These helpless followers holidaying on this deliver the yacht job are also over reliant on their macho, supposedly world water traveling leader who messes up tide times, can’t find north, and thinks they can maybe swim to an island perhaps twelve miles away. Wishy washy, don’t know they are in a horror movie stupidity compounds the uneven pacing as the strong girl, suddenly in tears, stays behind while others risk this uncertain swim before she changes her mind thirty seconds later so they wait in the possibly shark infested seas. The women rightfully call out the guy who orchestrated the trip under false pretenses before apologizing that its not his fault but yes it is. Weak men say they are tired and laugh over sex stories, breaking the swimming scenes to stop and stand on reef rocks rather than shape any kind of epic endurance risk.

Fortunately, seeing the nonchalant great white cruising past the hysterical people as they flounder and panic both justifies the yell at the television aspects and makes the viewer recoil. Mirage visions of land and thought they saw something paranoia frays the group as one by one they must leave the dead behind in the ocean. The fatal attacks are well done, and eventually – disturbingly – those remaining can see land but can’t get to it. Despite loose characterizations and an uneven narrative in need of taut focus – again all the negatives in low budget horror appear due to one writer/director wearing too many hats – overall this is well filmed with several quality sequences featuring fine scenery and practical shark work perfect for a late night scarefest.

You Make the Call, Addicts!

Black RockChildhood friends Kate Bosworth (Blue Crush) and Lake Bell (Boston Legal) revisit a Maine island with co-star/director Katie Aselton (The League) in this 2012 survival tale from writer Mark Duplass (of the 2014 Creep). Hip music, packing inventories, and crass jokes join the scenic drive to the horrors, but one has invited the other two ladies without telling each one, lies about having cancer, and admits she wants an we’re all dying anyway last hurrah.

Fortunately, the speedboat, cold water, and barren coast are already chilling as the women revisit a childhood map with old forts and time capsules. There are no distinguishing characteristics such as jobs or even last names, but it’s easy to see why the two similar brunettes dislike each other – none of them really seem like friends but they go along with their pushy blonde leader anyway.

Despite tough hiking and mosquito complaints one brunette can’t get over the other sleeping with her douche boyfriend six years ago. They shout and nearly come to blows as the blonde between them insists she isn’t taking sides just as she confers with one and not the other. Instead of discussing their problems, the conversation is of men and childhood lesbian crushes amid try hard cursing every other word.

Of course, there are three suspicious dishonorably discharged soldiers turned hunters on this island and the women are obviously their game. Fireside flirtations with drunken blow job talk reveal the once shy brunette as a tease liking attention who thinks a make out session will suffice. Unfortunately, these guys don’t play by the rules or take no for an answer, and assault becomes a typical plot point as each trio falls into bullying peer pressure from its strong arming leader. Our sexually dominate alpha male has a meek black follower and his white pal is perhaps so in love with his commander that he is impotent without the rifle he uses against the women. Rather than exploring catty women snapping in the isolated horror, men hit and bind them while the helpless girls say they fear rape – putting the sexual violence back in the minds of the weak trying to prove they are real men.

Though directed by a woman with an understanding of shit men, this is written by her husband as a male fantasy. These women are called cunt slut bitch and said to be getting their deserved symbolic impalings and kicks in the crotch for denying the superior war-fighting male his pleasure. Graphic gunshots, action filming, and chases in the woods are well done, and up close camerawork draws in the fear or intimidation. However, the mixed message on whether the violent men or the teasing woman is at fault takes away from the tense women’s point of view.

The jealous blonde insists they can’t escape and dislikes her previously at odds pals working together when they don’t need her to fight back – which becomes more male viewer titillation as the lookalikes strip off their wet clothes, panties and all, in the itchy woods with killer men in pursuit! The brash gal with the masculine nickname quivers as her once meek pal slaps her, and the cheek to cheek, heavy breathing, and hair pulling is almost sex scene coy. They walk around in the woods naked, bonding while making spears, yet for all the girl power, this becomes less about defending oneself over an assault and more about two women psyching each other up to slit a guy’s throat. Instead of a horror movie by women, for women, this becomes a bizarre he said, she said. It’s worth a viewing discussion, but it skews toward male tropes disguised as a women’s piece.

Versus

Lake EerieA widow moves to a too good to be true lakeside house in this 2016 ghost and genre bender. The white chic and bright windows should be quaint, but creepy furniture, old pictures, phonographs, and 1969 décor draft an increasingly spooky atmosphere. Old archaeology, retro phones, and voices on the radio add more bizarre while no cell reception, power outages, and doors opening or closing by themselves escalate the tension. Ghostly winds blowing out the candles and phantom figures in the hallway make not knowing where everything is and searching for the matches or kitchen knife heavy – simple but effective fears amid sandy footprints in the house, locked drawers, and undiscovered museum relics.

Concerned dad Lance Henriksen (Pumpkinhead) is only in a few scenes, but quirky neighbor Betsy Baker (The Evil Dead) knows a bit too much about the forty year vacancy, experiments, ancient amulets, and Egyptian mysticism. Attic searches and nightly visions create twists, and the inter-dimensional fantastic isn’t all it seems. Exposition told rather than seen, however, becomes suspect mumbo jumbo – the fantastical technicalities, time limits, and mystic jewelry get a little too preposterous. The dark underworld finale is silly, tossing in a nonsensical maze that unravels all the spooky happenings that were doing just fine. Rocking camera pans, loud music, and ghostly POV strobes are unnecessary annoyances. Poorly delivered voiceovers contribute to the amateur acting, and rather than help hide the weak performances, the directing and editing calls attention to them. This family production certainly isn’t perfect and ends up falling apart as it goes on – it’s obvious from the start but might have enough intrigue and fun bemusement if you can take this ghost cum mystical story twist for what it is.

My Darling Dead: Episode 2 – The Christening

“Your HIGHNESS!” the queen shrieked, striding in and seizing one of the ceremonial swords which hung over the fireplace. The flurry of activity on the reclining sofa bed ceased as Hespa held the sword to the king’s throat. He crouched, pants around his ankles and robe pulled behind him, eyes watering with terror as his chin quivered.

“P-please, dearest,” he stammered, “Don’t do anything you’ll regret. Remember, I am the king of–”

“King?” Hespa cackled, throwing her head back. “When was the last time you made a decision, my liege? This has been my kingdom for years.” A movement beside the king caught her eye and she swung the blade to the right, the edge coming to rest against the fairy’s trembling neck.

“Esemli,” hissed the queen. “Don’t even think of doing anything foolish, girl. This sword may be a decoration but its blade is still kept sharp.”

The fairy looked defiant. “You would not dare. You need me for your daughter.”

“That’s the only reason you still draw breath, you little whore,” Hespa said and swung the blade back to her husband. “After the ceremony, we shall see.” She dropped the sword with a clatter before them and stormed out of the room, slamming the door behind her so hard the door frame splintered.

One of her handmaidens came scurrying up to her, about to speak. Hespa backhanded the girl with all the force she could muster, sending the maid crashing into the wall and crumpling senseless to the ground. “Guards,” barked Hespa, gesturing over her shoulder at the prone figure as she made her way to the courtyard. “Clean her up, we can’t have unconscious servants laying around during the princess’s christening, it looks untidy.”

Wendell continued kneeling for a moment in the wake of Hespa’s disappearance, closing his eyes briefly. Esemli busied herself restoring her own clothing. Her fair skin was flushed and her eyes flashed.

“How dare she,” Esemli muttered, straightening her bodice. “To raise a hand against one of my kind? It is not done!”

“Hespa has always been most strong-willed,” Wendell said, and sighed, pushing himself to his feet and pulling his trousers up. “But she knows the power of the christening and she wouldn’t dare prevent that.”

Esemli finished adjusting her top and spun to face him, hands on her hips, long blonde hair flying out behind her. She looked magnificent, Wendell noted with a sad twinge.

“Maybe I am no longer willing! Perhaps another fairy would be more suited to the job you wish me to perform.”

“I beg you, fair one,” the king said, taking her hand. “Do not deny the princess that which is hers by right, on account of what has happened here.”

The fairy looked at his hand holding hers for a moment and took it back. “I will do this, only if you finally tell the queen what you have promised me.”

Hespa swept up to the tower chamber which served as the nursery for the princess. “Prepare the main chamber for the princess,” she barked. The startled handmaidens immediately leapt to their feet and rushed out the door.

The queen stood for a moment, looking at the crib and at the sleeping child laying therein. A frown creased Hespa’s face as she approached and stood, looking down at her daughter. She sighed.

“My lady,” came Wendell’s hesitant voice from the door.

She whirled to face him. “Speak, dog.” She spoke around gritted teeth.

“About the fairy…”

“What, exactly, about her?”

Wendell opened his mouth to tell her. That he and Esemli had met when she had come to wish him well after the birth of the princess. That Esemli’s warmth and kindness had seemed so welcoming in the face of his wife’s increasing indifference, and the gracious attention he lavished upon the fairy had so taken her that before either of them knew it, a love affair had sprung up. That she had whispered that she loved him, and in the throes of passion he had promised her a life together.

But he could not bring himself to utter the words and suffer her wrath.

“She is just that, a fairy.” The king dropped to his knee before Hespa and bent his head. “You, though, are my life.”

Outside the room, Esemli’s eyes flashed red in their green depths as she retreated with the king’s words ringing in her ears. Her love for Wendell had been a beautiful feeling she had embraced with every fiber of her being, so unlike anything she had experienced in her existence. She had wanted to hear Wendell say these things to the queen, things that he had professed to her to be feeling as well. She had followed him, hoping to hear these words. Now, the path before her had gone dark and she walked willingly into it, her life illuminating before her only a few steps at a time. A dark roaring had filled the fairy, but on the outside, the only hint was the ghost of a smile.

Hespa sneered at his bent head. “Get up, fool. Don’t let your subjects see you groveling to me.” She pushed past him, knocking him off balance. “Get the girl ready to go. The ceremony begins soon. After that…”A swirl of dark fabric at the door and she was gone.

King Wendell pushed himself to his feet and crossed to the crib, hoping his daughter had not been disturbed. Her eyes were open, and when she saw her father’s face, she smiled. He reached a finger out and she grabbed it with a grin.

You are my life,” he said softly.

A half hour later, the princess had been removed to the grand hall by her team of nursemaids. She lay in the center of a soft white pillow in a golden receptacle that resembled a clam more than anything else. The princess’s eyes traveled around the strange surroundings and she smiled, melting more than one heart as those assembled smiled back, their hearts jelly. Her nursemaids busied themselves tidying the dais for the imminent ceremony, doing their best to avert their eyes from the fairy Esemli.

She stood behind the baby, her hands clasped behind her as she stood before the king’s guests, lost in her dark thoughts. Many in the audience whispered to each other as she stood before them, having never seen a fairy before. There were many crudities being thought loudly enough for her to hear but she scarcely noticed amid her own hatred. She burned with a rage, a fire so hot and black she would never have guessed such a thing existed. She burned as well with shame, for she remembered being told, many long ages ago, that the hearts of men were fickle and not to be trusted. Yet she had.

A hush and the multitudes stood as the king and queen appeared at the door. Esemli’s eyes flashed at the sight of them. Regally they moved forward down the aisle, her arm through his, both their eyes fixed on Esemli. She met their gazes and could feel the loathing coming from the queen. King Wendell smiled nervously at her and Esemli twisted her lips in the direction of a smile in return, feeling the thousands of eyes upon her. The queen’s lips pursed even more tightly as they mounted the stairs. The fairy moved to greet them, standing beside their child.

“We are gathered,” boomed the king, “to celebrate the christening of the Princess Alasin, heir to the throne and daughter to the kingdom.” He nodded at Esemli, and stepped back.

With all the eyes of the kingdom focused squarely on her, Esemli smiled and curtsied to the king, going lower than she normally would until she was practically to the floor.

“My king,” she said, her voice dripping sarcasm so opaque that the king, for all his poise, frowned. The queen’s eye twitched.

“I am come from afar to christen this princess, that she be favored among the gods,” Esemli said, rising from her curtsy and addressing the crowd. “That she go forward and prosper amid life’s graces. That fortune and fate smile upon her and all her kin.” She gestured toward the king and queen.

“But instead,” Esemli said, her voice hard. Wendell and Hespa, who had been smiling blithely, froze at the tone of her voice. “Hear me now.”

A darkness fell upon the hall as though a black curtain had been dropped on it. The torches all went out and the fire was extinguished as though by a giant candle snuffer. The screams started but dropped abruptly as a light swelled at the dais, illuminating the infant wailing from where she lay in the clam.

The fairy stood with her arms stretched wide, looking skyward. As her hands came together before her, a light appeared between them, at first a dim spark and as her hands grew closer, the light grew brighter. Her voice sounded far away and deeper, as though it came from the back of her throat.

“I am of the fae, and I have seen thousands of men, women, and children perish in my time on this world.” Her voice continued to rise until she was screaming. “Do you all think that we are nothing but ceremonial figureheads for your mankind’s rituals?” she shrieked, the ball of light swelling between her hands. “When you think of a fairy in the future, you will think of today, upon my oath.”

She began speaking to the ball of light as it continued to grow brighter still. Esemli’s face was contorted in savage fury, the light between her hands growing brighter until the king shouted, an inarticulate cry of protest and took a step forward. But faster than the eye could follow, the fairy howled a final sentence, the orb of light exploded into a blinding white flash that filled the entire room.

Hespa picked herself up from the floor where she had been thrown. The air smelled of brimstone and white smoke was hanging in the air. The fairy was gone. The princess was screaming. Dragging herself to her feet, she nearly tripped over the body of King Wendell. He was laying on his back, mouth wide in mute protest, hands partially raised. He was dead.

The princess was screaming. People in the crowd were getting to their feet, others were laying immobile. Hespa staggered to the clam crib and looked in. The princess’s face was a red mask of rage as she howled at the top of her lungs. Her eyebrows, such as they were, had been singed off. Apart from that, she appeared untouched. Hespa reached for her, intending to comfort her, then paused. The fairy’s final words loomed in her mind.

      “Henceforth, she will always know the pain of losing those for whom she cares the most. This begins today and concludes on her dying day!”

Then the king had shouted, the world had blown up, now he was dead and anybody the princess loved would die.

The queen withdrew her hand, willing it to stop shaking, and looked around her for one of the child’s handmaidens. She spied one at the back of the dais, getting unsteadily to her feet, looking shell-shocked.

“You, maiden,” Hespa said crisply, gesturing her forward. “Attend the princess. Remove her from here and return her to her bed, and send the captain of the guards in here at once.” Turning, she raised her voice, shouting over the hubbub of the audience, most of whom had revived and now were talking amongst themselves. “All of you! Disperse! Back to your homes, there is to be no further activity at the castle today.”

Looking dazed, they began moving for the doors, reminding the queen of cattle. A fat peasant near the front dared to venture, “Yer ‘ighness, weren’t there s’posed ter be a feast after–”

Get out of my sight, you mindless fool!” shrieked Hespa, a vein standing out in her forehead with a look on her face that would that night awaken the peasant in a cold sweat. “You bore witness to what has happened here, do you not think that I have other priorities than you feeding your fat face?”

The exodus hastened with the peasant man in the lead. Hespa was left in the empty room, staring at the dais.

“Highness?” said the captain of the guards, entering the room and standing to attention.

“The king is dead,” she said, her voice lifeless, “and the princess is cursed.”

 

Live Action Reviews! by Crystal Connor: Lifechanger

 

Plotline: A murderous shape shifter sheds blood to make things right with the woman he loves.

Who would like it: People who enjoyed movies like The Body Snatchers, The Hidden, The Fallen or about aliens taking over human bodies in general. 

High Points: I really enjoyed the subtle complexities that Lifechanger explored about what it is to love and be loved; and the sheer will to just survive. 

Complaints: N/A

Overall: Even though in my opinion this isn’t horror I still really enjoyed it.

Stars: 3

Where I watched it: VOD

 

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Master Imaginationist and Instagram photographer Crystal Connor is the Chief Imagineer working for the Department of Sleep Prevention’s Nightmare Division. A Washington State native she loves anything to do with monsters, bad guys (as in evil-geniuses & super-villains.  Not ‘those’ kind her mother warned her about), rogue scientific experiments, jewelry, sky-high high-heeled shoes & unreasonably priced handbags.

When she’s not terrorizing her fans and racking up frequent flyers miles by gallivanting all over the country attending fan conventions and writer’s conferences she reviews indie horror and science fiction films for both her personal blog and HorrorAddicts.net

She is also considering changing her professional title to dramatization specialist because it so much more theatrical than being a mere drama queen.

http://wordsmithcrystalconnor.com

http://www.facebook.com/notesfromtheauthor

Download your free copy of …And They All Lived Happily Ever After! from Podiobooks.com and see why the name Crystal Connor has become “A Trusted Name in Terror!” 

http://podiobooks.com/title/and-they-all-lived-happily-ever-after