FRIGHTENING FLIX BY KBATZ: Recent Horror Ladies

Recent Lady Horrors

By Kristin Battestella

 

These contemporary pictures provide a little bit of everything for our would be ladies in peril – be it camp, scares, ghosts, or morose thrills.

 

The Love Witch – Artist, witch, and murderess Samantha Robinson’s (Doomsday Device) romantic spells go awry in this 2016 comedy written and directed by costumer/producer/Jill of all trades Anna Biller (Viva). Rear projection drives and teal eye shadow establish the tongue in cheek aesthetics while cigarette smoke, colorful lighting schemes, purple capes, and nude rituals accent flashbacks and sardonic narrations. Magic has cured our dame Elaine’s nervous breakdown after her husband’s death, and she’s starting fresh in a quirky tarot themed apartment inside a sweet California Victorian complete with a bemusing chemistry set for making potions with used tampons. Kaleidoscopes, rainbow liners inside dark retro clothing, blurred lenses, and spinning cameras reflect the “vodka and hallucinogenic herbs” as magic bottles, local apothecaries, and pentagram rugs set off the pink hat and tea room pastiche. Our ladies are so cordial when not plotting to steal the other’s husband! Her dad was cruel, her husband had an attitude, and her magic guru is in it for the sex, but she’s spent her life doing everything to please men in a quest for her own fairy tale love. When is Elaine going to get what she wants? She’s tired of letting the childlike men think they are in control, but she puts on the fantasy each man wants nonetheless, impressing a literary professor with her libertine references as the to the camera elocution and intentionally over the top Valley acting mirrors the courting facade. Psychedelic stripteases tantalize the boys onscreen, but the actresses are not exploited, winking at the customary for male titillation while instead providing the viewer with a sinister, if witty nature and classic horror visuals. Different female roles as defined by their patriarchal connections are addressed as ugly old eager dudes tell matching blonde twins that stripping or a rapacious sex ritual will be empowering – because a woman can’t be content in herself or embrace sexuality on her own terms unless there is a man to ogle her – while our man eater must break a guy down to the emotional baby he really is for her gain. It isn’t Elaine’s fault if men can’t handle her love! A man not in love can be objective while one wanting sex will excuse anything, and the shrew wife or female black subordinate are put out to pasture for an alluring white woman – layering the women in the workplace and racial commentaries as similar looking ladies must switch roles to keep their man. Tense evidence creates somber moments amid police inquiries, toxicology reports, and occult research – so long as the casework doesn’t interfere with their lunch order, that is. Is this woman really a witch or just a bewitching killer in both senses of the word? Is it batting her eyelashes lightheartedness or is she really an abused, delusional girl masking her trauma as a blessed be? The serious topics with deceptive undercurrents and feminist statements will be preachy and heavy handed for most male audiences with uneven pacing and confusing intercuts. However the fake blood in the bathtub, renaissance faire ruses, and melodramatic humor combine for a modern Buffy trippy satire dressed as a retro gothic That Girl homage that takes more than one viewing to fully appreciate.

 

My Cousin Rachel – Rachel Weisz (The Constant Gardener), Holliday Grainger (The Borgias), Ian Glen (Game of Thrones), and Simon Russell Beale (The Hollow Crown) begin this 2017 Daphne du Maurier mystery with happy strolls on the beach and fun bachelor times be it lovely greenery, carriages in the snow, or reading by the fire. The epistle narration gives a hear tell on the titular marriage via secret letters recounting illness and a wife forbidding correspondence before final, unfortunate news leaves the estates to heir Sam Claflin (The Hunger Games) on his next birthday – not the unseen widow said to be so strong and passionate. She’s a suspicious enigma for the first twenty minutes before a cross cut conversation introduces the charismatic storyteller, where the audience isn’t sure who is more uncomfortable or telling the truth despite the captivation. Divine mourning gowns, black satin, and lace veils add to the half-Italian allure amid more period accessories, libraries, old fashioned farming, candles, and top hats. Between would be scandalous horseback rides, church whispers, and awkward tea times, our once vengeful youth is smitten by Rachel’s progressive charm. Interesting conversations on femininity break Victorian taboos, for childbirth is the only thing a man knows about a woman and if she has a foreign remedy she must be a witch. Is Rachel wrapping her wealthy cousin around her finger? Can she when he is forbidding her work giving Italian lessons? Rachel is dependent on his allowance, and at times they both seem to be recreating the late benefactor and husband between them – the awkward new master wearing the dead man’s clothes and she the woman he didn’t think he needed. Such romance and heirloom Christmas gifts could be healing for them both, but viewers except the other gothic shoe to drop amid holiday generosity, seasonal feasts, and group songs. Overdrafts at the bank, raised allowances, a history of previous lovers and duels – Rachel puts on her finest grieving widow pity with a child lost and an unsigned will that would leave her everything. Is she orchestrating a careful seduction or is he a foolishly infatuated puppy despite clauses about remarriage or who predeceases whom? The ominous nib etching on the parchment leads to cliffside shocks, birthday saucy, blundered engagements, drunken visions, and poisonous plants. The suspicions turn with new illnesses and financial dependence, as Rachel goes out on the town and says what she does is nobody’s business. After all, why can’t she have a life of her own if the estate is now hers? Why should her independence be defined by a man’s piece of paper? We relate to Rachel, but she can only cry wolf and fall back on her sob story so many times… While this isn’t as creepy as it could be – audiences expecting horror will find the pace slow – the drama and mood are well done amid the wrong conclusions and written revelations. Were the suspicions warranted? The finale may not be satisfactory to some, but the unanswered questions and ultimate doubt remain fitting. 

 

What say you, Addicts?

A Dark Song – Psalm warnings, beautiful skyscapes, and an old house with no heating paid for up front set this 2016 Irish tale amid the train station arrivals and others backing out on this specific plan with west facing rooms, twenty-two week diets, and purified participants having no alcohol or sex. More fasting, dusk to dawn timetables, serious interviews on why, and reluctant rules of the procedure build the cryptic atmosphere as the price for this dangerous ritual rises – speaking to a dead child isn’t some silly astral projection, angel psychobabble bollocks, basic Kabbalah, or easy Gnosticism you can find on the internet. The isolated manor with salt circles and invocations feels seventies cult horror throwback, however the metaphysical talk and extreme meditation bring modern realism as tense arguing, religious doubts, and questions on right or wrong match the bitterness toward the outside world. Hallucinations, sleep deprivation, and vomiting increase while physical cleansings and elemental phases require more candles and blood sacrifices. Some of the slow establishing and ritual minutia could have been trimmed in favor of more on the spooky half truths, suspect motives, need to be pure, and distorted state of mind. Black birds hitting the windows and missing mementos don’t seem to get the waiting for angels and forgiveness rituals very far for the amount of time that has passed, and heavy handed music warns us when something is going on even as more should be happening. A third character also seeking something he cannot find may have added another dynamic rather than two extremists getting nowhere, and short attention span audiences won’t wait for something to appear in those first uneven forty minutes. After all, with these symbols painted on the body and awkward sex rituals, wouldn’t one suspect this is just some kind of scam? Untold information, vengeance, backwards baptisms, near death extremes, and knife injuries meander on the consuming guilt and mystical visions before demons in disguise make for an obvious finale treading tires when the true angels, spirits, and goodness revelations were there all along. Maybe more seasoned hands were needed at the helm or a second eye to fix the pacing and genre flaws, for the quality pieces suffer amid the bleakness. This really shouldn’t be labeled as a horror movie, but it doesn’t capitalize on its potential as a psychological examination and surreal stages of grief metaphor either.

 

Skip It!

Shut In – Widowed Maine psychologist Naomi Watts (The Ring) is trapped in a storm while being haunted by little Jacob Tremblay (Room) in this 2016 international but already problematic PG-13 paint-by-numbers crammed with the isolated blonde, ghosts, kids horrors, weather perils, and one spooky basement. Accidents and home movies on the cell phone also laden the start before the lakeside locales, snowy blankets, and paraplegic burdens. The grief and inability to care for an invalid teen is understandable, and our step-mom considers sending him to a facility. However, the frazzled woman increasingly replacing her sick son with a younger therapy patient and the creepy temptations on holding the invalid under the bath water become hollow thanks to the obligatory it was just a dream jump cuts. Unnecessary technology and time wasting glances at watches and clocks are also intrusive – the camera focuses on dialing 911 with the finger poised over the send button and intercutting person to person like a traditional phone call flows much better than up close Skype screens. Weatherman warnings and news reports as the research montage lead to flashlights outside, icy footprints, and car alarms, but again the tension falls back on textbook raccoon scares with round and round scenes outside in the snow or inside on the phone doing little. Maybe one doesn’t think straight in the panic, but most of those frosty searches include shouting for a deaf mute boy who can’t hear you nor answer back. The psychology is also common fluff, i.e. teens have difficulty with divorce, you don’t say – Skyping Oliver Platt (Chicago Med) provides better therapy, so we know what’s going to happen to his character! Besides, all the shadows in the hallway, hidden wall panels, unexplained scratches, locked doors opening by themselves, and ghostly little hands in the bedroom yet the women still end up talking about a man. Fading in and out transitions mirror the sleeping pills and drinking, but such shifts break the world immersion before the storm even hits. When the doctor says her bloodwork indicates she’s being drugged, mom doesn’t even care – because the twist is for the audience not the main character. Lanterns, black out attacks, and video evidence right before the power failure could be good, but random people arrive despite blocked roads and the oedipal sociopath jealously provides a dumb chase finale as the stalker conveniently sing songs “Hush Little Baby” so we know where he is when he’s coming for you. Good thing that foreboding blizzard talked about the entire movie stops in time for the lakeside happy ending that apparently has no legal, medical, or parental consequences.

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Kbatz: Lady Horrors!

Frightening Flix

 

Lady Horrors!

By Kristin Battestella

 

Because new, retro, foreign, zombies or witches – we all need some more ladies in our horror!

 

The House of the Devil – Creepy menus, cult statistics, and retro credits start this 2009 blu-ray featuring Jocelin Donahue (The Burrowers), Dee Wallace (The Howling), and Mary Woronov (Death Race 2000). Payphones, eighties rhythms, and old fashioned style add period flair alongside onscreen smoking, maps, feathered hair, and a big old cabinet television showing Night of the Living Dead. Even the giant Walkman and slightly corny music montage and dance about the house has a purpose in the narrative. Church bells, cemeteries, and an imminent eclipse lay the scary foundation, and rather than an opening scare fake-out, writer/director/editor Ti West (The Innkeepers) uses zooms and movement within the camera frame to create viewer intimacy, closing in from the chilly exterior and ominous windows as the suspicious phone calls lead to desperate babysitting jobs, desolate night drives, and a maze-like Victorian manor. Yes, our Samantha is at times very dumb and unaware she is in a horror movies thanks to plot holes a collaborator not wearing so many behind the scenes hats could have clarified. Mistakes and convenient contrivances in the somewhat tacked on final act also break the solitary point of view for the audience’s benefit. However, that finale free for all with ritual candles, hooded robes, and a sudden twist ending is in the seventies splatter spirit, and the simmering, silent build happens naturally over the film. Instead of hollow thrills a minute, the viewer is allowed time to suspect the scary attic, theorize on suspicious photos, and listen for every noise – we know something is supposed to happen but not when. Though this kind of approach may seem boring to some, this innate alone trickle let’s us appreciate the dark basement and the inopportune power outage for when the titular frights do happen. It’s nice to have something different from the mainstream horror trite, too – not to mention an $8 pizza! 

 

Hush – Writer and director Mike Flanagan (Oculus, Absentia) and his wife, co-writer, and star Kate Siegel place our deaf-mute author in a pleasant forest cabin for some writing, relaxation, and terror in this 2016 eighty minute Netflix original. Comfort cooking noise fades and unheard laptop tones switch to wild kitchen alarms – immediately establishing the common sounds taken for granted alongside subtitled Sign Language, feeling vibrations for sound, and hearing an author voice in your head brainstorms. Friends speak while they sign, breaking up the quiet for the viewer, and we must pay attention to writing onscreen such as book jackets and manuscript text. Understandably, phone technology and Facetime calls are important, but an over-reliance on gadgets in horror can be tiring and soon dated with wi-fi switches, lost connections, and cut power. Fortunately, the intimate home makes the audience accustomed to the hearing challenges before adding the muffled silence, unseen scares, unheard screams, and instant cyberstalking. Through windows or foreground focus and background action, we have the full perspective when the protagonist doesn’t. It is however a mistake to reveal the crossbow and Bowie knife wielding stalker so completely. We don’t need to know the sociopath motivation nor should the viewer feel for the killer or care if he has any personality, and removing his mask just creates limp assholery. The frightening unknown with footstep vibrations, hands at the window, and approaching shadows creates a better siege, and the mystery of who and why is lost in the contrived lulls and stupid mistakes while Maddie waits around for his taunts instead of fighting back. Why not set something on fire, smoke signal authorities? Having her inner monologue address the situation and the pros or cons in each course of action is also better than breaking Maddie’s point of view and using fake out possibilities. Although it’s a pity millennial viewers wouldn’t watch something that was all silent, the long periods with no dialogue, sound effects, and score crescendos do just fine in accenting these unique dynamics. While not perfect, this tale has enough thriller tense and innate woman alone in peril – and thus proves exactly why I must know where all the windows, entrances, and exits are in a given location and never sit with my back to any of them!

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Maggie Sad voicemails, outbreak news reports, desolate cities, quarantines, and martial law immediately set the bleak outlook for infected daughter Abigail Breslin (Little Miss Sunshine) and her gray bearded father Arnold Schwarzenegger in this 2015 zombie drama. Wait – Arnold? In a drama movie? About zombies? No choppers?! Nope, this is not an action horror movie, and gruesome gurneys, gangrene encounters, and blackened decay are not played for scares. Here the body horrors and social breakdowns go hand in hand – science can’t put a dent into the virus fast enough, and loved ones must wait as the vein discolorations and white out eyes spread toward heightened smells and cannibalistic tendencies. Minimal technology, chopping wood, rustic generators, cassettes, and older horseshoe phones accent the isolated farmhouse as insect buzzing, infected neighbors, and animal dangers mount. Younger siblings are sent away, and step-mom Joely Richardson (Nip/tuck) struggles with her faith, strength of conviction, and the promises they’ve made despite the deadly risks. How does a teenager keep it together when she has nothing better to do but sit around and die? Do you call friends for a last hurrah? This flawed father won’t send his daughter to die in quarantine with strangers, but he can’t give the painful lethal injection at home or make it a quick end, either. Creepy doctor visits amplify the stigmas and paranoia regarding these in between infected, and nice teen moments soon give way to growls and necroambulist changes. Where is the line between siege removal authorities and family compassion? Someone has to take control and there’s no time for sympathy – just the inevitable breakdown of families desperate to stay together. Governator Arnold produced the film sans salary, and the off-type surprise provides heart wrenching results and must see performances. Granted, most audiences probably expected zombie action thrills a minute and there are unnecessary artistic shots, long pauses, and plodding direction at times. However, this is a strong story with hefty goodbye conversations, and it is surprising such realistically upsetting and horrible circumstances rather than horror went unnoticed. Without mainstream box office demands, indie releases are free to tell their story as it needs to be told, and this tearjerker delivers a great spin on the flooded and increasing derivative zombie genre. 

 

Picnic at Hanging RockThe Criterion blu-ray has almost two hours more features discussing this 1975 Australian spooky drama based on the Joan Lindsay novel about schoolgirls gone missing in 1900. The innocent white lace and valentine wishes are soon to be ill foreboding thanks to eerie music and budding whispers. These girls tighten each others corsets in parallel shots with mirrors, BFF poetry, latent suggestions, and repression abound. The seventies breezy fits the late Victoria ruffles, hats, and parasols – gloves are permitted to be removed for this excursion! Capable Aussie help and buttoned up British elite mark a strong class divide, and pretty mountain vistas, wild vegetation, and rocky mazes contrast the lovely yet out of place English manor. Straightforward, controlled camerawork captures the society at home, but surreal, swooning outdoor panoramas invoke Bermuda Triangle suggestions alongside dreamy voiceovers, rolling cloud rumbles, and red symbolism. Insects, reptiles, swans, disturbed bird migrations, fickle horses, watches stopping at noon – the metaphysical or transcendental signs imply something beyond mere coming of age and sexual awakening. Trance like magnetic lures radiating from the titular nooks and crannies stir these Gibson Girl naps, and askew slow motion reflects this layered beauty meets danger. The enchanting blonde, the nerdy girl with glasses, an awkward brunette, and the complaining chubby girl – standard horror stereotypes today – all talk as if they are up to something naughty with self-aware doomed to die chats before scandalously removing their shoes and stockings. A flirty French teacher, the severe math teacher in red reciting lava flow build up and volcano rising statistics with an uncomfortable kinky – we don’t see what happens. However, hearing the screams and watching the resulting hysterics make it creepier. Incomplete searches, Victorian speculation, and unreliable witnesses muddle the investigation, but most importantly, doctors assure the survivors are still chaste. Such delicate interrogations and polite society leave newspapers and angry townsfolk wondering while the school faces its own fallout with withdrawals, unpaid terms, drinking, and guilt. Yes, there’s some artistic license with absent families, poor forensics, and missing evidence ignored. Surprising connections, however, and good twists in the final forty minutes keep this damn disturbing – and it’s all done without gore or effects. The innate power of suggestion, period restraints, and our own social expectations drum up all kinds of unknown possibilities, and I don’t know how anyone doesn’t consider this a horror movie.

 

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The Witch – We don’t get many Puritan period pieces anymore much less ninety minutes plus of simmering 17th century horror as seen in this 2015 festival darling. Big hats, white collars, thee versus thou court room arguments, and family banishments immediately establish the ye olde alongside natural lighting and authentic thatch buildings for a rural, simplistic ambiance. Unfortunately, such exile to these empty, harsh, unyielding lands turns devotions to desperation with gray crops, bloody eggs, abductions, and babies in peril raising tensions in the humble hovel. Spooky forests, fireside red lighting, blood, nudity, ravens, and primal rituals suggest a dark underbelly only partially seen with hazy splices, shadows, and moonlight. The screen is occasionally all black and certain scenes are very tough to see, but such visual bewitching adds to the folktale surreal. Personal, intimate prayers are addressed directly to the camera, and we feel for Anya Taylor-Joy (Atlantis) as Thomasin when she apologizes for her sin of playing on the Sabbath. The scripture heavy dialogue and religious names are fittingly period yet remain understandable as coming of age children question how an innocent baby can be guilty of sin. Both parents’ faces are shadowed with hats, dirt, and impurity, yet snapping mom Kate Dickie (Red Road) gives Thomasin all the difficult work. Increasing dog problems, ram troubles, and creepy rabbits contribute to the toughness – the young twins chant oldeth nursery songs to the goats and claim there is a witch at work, but dad Ralph Ineson (Game of Thrones) isn’t totally forthcoming with his grief, hopeless trading, and family pressures. The isolated, starving couple argues, debating on sending the children away as the strain, zealousness, and fears mount. Ominous lantern light, alluring witchcraft, and almost ritualistic in itself bloodlettings stir the finger pointing hysterics while great performances hit home the wild bed fits and exorcism-esque prayers. Somebody has to be blamed. Where do you get help when evil would take advantage of such hypocrisy and social failings? It’s easy to imagine the fantastic or confuse apparitions of the dead as angels when the devil answers your pleas instead of Grace. Maybe one has to be familiar with Puritan history or Biblical texts to fully appreciate the struggles and references here. However, contemporary audiences should realize that there’s more to the horror film genre than today’s rinse repeat wham bam boo gore. Although a brighter picture would have been nice, the genuine designs here are much more pleasing than any digital overkill. Doubt, what you don’t see, and the power of suggestion escalate the horrors with maniacal laughter, screams, and one scary voice leading to a deliriously delicious finale. Why aren’t these niche indies that do film making right really the mainstream cinema?

 

Don’t forget you can read more of our Feminine Horror recommendations in the Horror Addicts Guide to Life!

Kbatz: Witches of East End Season 1

Frightening Flix

 

Witches of East End’s Season 1 is Too Muddled

by Kristin Battestella

 

Based upon the novels by Melissa de la Cruz, the late Lifetime series Witches of East End had plenty of magical potential. Unfortunately, this ten episode debut falters in balancing its bewitching tales and romantic plotlines, resulting in perhaps too many growing pains.

Artist Joanna Beauchamp (Julia Ormond) is surprised to see her wildcat sister Wendy (Madchen Amick) after a century apart – for unbeknownst to Joanna’s daughters Ingrid (Rachel Boston) and Freya (Jenna Dewan Tatum), they are a family of exiled and cursed witches. The immortal Joanna is doomed to see her daughters continuously born, grow up, and die, and this time she has steered the bookish Ingrid and romantic Freya away from their dangerous magical abilities in hopes of giving them a fuller, longer life. An old enemy, however, is after Joanna, taking on her lookalike form or shifting into other guises as needed to threaten the Beauchamps and interfere with Freya’s impending wedding to Dr. Dash Gardiner (Eric Winter). While her future mother-in-law Penelope (Virginia Madsen) is slowly warming to Freya, Dash’s wayward brother Killian (Daniel Di Tomasso) makes for a much more steamy adversary to the nuptials.

Glitz, glamour, saucy dreams, and ominous rituals in the garden open Witches of East End, and the “Pilot” moves quickly with fast talking folks and one blink and you miss it spooky incident after another. There’s a lot of house history and paranormal exposition shoehorned in the first ten minutes alone – making it tough to appreciate the morphing red flowers, poofing photographs, doppelgangers, pentagrams, and murder afoot. Did I mention the trite love triangle also being introduced? Witches of East End has much to digest, and although based upon its own book series, comparisons between Witches of Eastwick, Charmed, and Practical Magic are understandably apparent due to this initial patchwork and too similar feeling. Fortunately, Victorian flashbacks and glimpses into the twenties anchor past pain and fate coming to catch the titular ladies – unique tales that might have set Witches of East End further apart from those aforementioned comparables had it been set as a period piece. While it’s nice to have all age appropriate adults and realistic looking dark haired ladies instead of cliché teen bimbos, the enemy evil is told about more than it is actually seen, strong women are always being attacked by icky men, and attempts to be self aware about such cliches end up playing into that very same old. Witches of East End takes too long to get rolling, superficial threats are too easily resolved, and hello look at that shoddy police work. Thankfully, the intercut spell editing and smaller threats in “Marilyn Fenwick, R.I.P.” tie into the intriguing premise’s overall revenge and magical consequences. The sardonic comedy and rules of being a witch remain fun while serious conversations on whether magic is a gift or nothing but problems add drama. Rather than speedy shockers, time is taken with magic training and spell practice in “Today I am a Witch.” More sepia flashbacks and a long list of enemies shape the storylines while magical mistakes, face to face confrontations, and debate on whether these potions and powers should be used for protection and defense or the offensive help Witches of East End get a foot on the right moonlit path.

Fun guest stars, more sinister, and villainous history further up the conflict, surprises, and retribution in “A Few Good Talismen,” and the rules of the realm are established in “Electric Avenue” thanks to ghosts, legal tricks, and courtroom encounters. Witches of East End over relies on fast talking delivery and conveniently mentioned witchcraft information after the fact – we are told about more spells being done that we don’t get to see. However, when action actually happens, it is entertaining and weighted with supernatural arguments. Is the witchcraft right and justified in one scenario and wrong in another? Unfortunately, the pretty people making moon eyes in the pool in “Potentia Noctis” detract from the historical nuggets, turn of the century saucy, and spell casting magical brownies. The period apothecary, rival magics, multilevel spells, and mansion tunnels are top notch, again making one wonder why Witches of East End didn’t just dance the dance and begin with all this quality past beguine. The zombie resurrections and good girls gone bad consequences in “Unburied” are also hampered by the intercut romantic scenes. Yes, the magical hair pulling torture is kind of hokey, but the deadly high stakes is just a bit more important than love la dee da. New character dynamics and more evil shapeshifter meaty end up uneven or stretched thin because this need for dreamy keeps undercutting the magical ruses, occult research, fantastical dangers, and titular charms in “Snake Eyes.”

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Whoa, whoa, spoiler alert! Forget the love triangle soapy, the Beauchamps come from Asgard, can never go home, and more family has been left behind – and all this news is dropped with a mere two episodes left in the First Season. Say what? Knowing this information makes Witches of East End a lot more interesting, even as we again wonder why the series didn’t shoot out the gate with this enchanting who, why, and how it effects the present family. Any and all fantastical dalliances could have come through the town portal for our learning to be witches to wrangle each week and we got sweet nothings at the local pub instead? It’s great to see the sisters going head to head and banging up the house, too – even if the animated laundry is laughable. “A Parching Imbued” has the supernatural feeling Witches of East End needs with the eponymous gals in white robes on the beach casting spells while the evil shifter interferes directly with counter magic. Doppelgangers walk down the street, powers are lost, and conflicts arise over surprise character twists. Granted again the evil torture chamber looks more like an industrial art museum display, but deaths, harbingers of doom, and threats both mortal and magical disrupt the wedding preparations in the “Oh, What a World!” finale. Why ruin all the Asgard answers, bad omens, and major dramatic developments with too many sappy montages and pop songs? I’m ready for the verbal bitch slaps and magic battles! Although the easy, rushed resolution leaves Witches of East End on a cliffhanger and the San Francisco flashback shows the audience the tavern with magic cocktails we already know, the connection to present truths create some much needed character changes to up the ante for Season Two.

Thanks to the lovely at any age and foxy but poised Julia Ormond (Legends of the Fall), the viewer immediately likes immortal witch and mother Joanna Beauchamp. She’s trying to keep her daughters safe due to a horrible curse and that live forever quality doesn’t mean that enemies aren’t out to test her immortality. Ormond’s accent is an odd mix of toned down British and put on American, which may bother some, but it can also be excused thanks to her long lived times – there’s certainly some fun Latin and doppelganger mayhem to chew on, too. Despite her continuously telling lies and withholding information, we don’t blame Joanna for hiding the witchy ways in order to save this generation. Everything she does is to protect her daughters, to give them normal lives, and help them realize being a witch isn’t their be all end all. Witches of East End’s uneven focus between the ensemble love and Joanna’s ongoing enemy plot wavers too much – sometimes we don’t see our star very much from episode to episode. However, the backstory and family revelations late in the season add new spins. Joanna has her own moments of happiness amid the dangerous, and her second love interest should have been recurring all along gosh darn it. It’s amazing to see a strong, mature, and classy lady working to keep her family together. Joanna admits she can’t deal with her history and magic on her own, and her coming round to magic uses, accepting her past, and embracing her power gives Witches of East End a positive anchor.

It’s unfortunate that Rachel Boston’s (American Dreams) Ingrid is always siding with Wendy while Freya is most often with Joanna, as these limited pairings inhibit plot variety and keep critical information from all the players – who often behave more like four women in separate events rather than a core family. Unless you read some of the series’ apocrypha, the audience doesn’t get all the details, such as Ingrid being the older sister. Her level headed skepticism and slightly awkward but honest chemistry is a welcome change of pace early on Witches of East End, however her uber shrew detesting of Meg Ryan and Katherine Heigl movies is too textbook on the nose and used more to differentiate her from her dreamy lovestruck sister than develop her own personality. Ingrid is a realistic student of history and witchcraft that suddenly jumps the gun and writes spells because she’s really powerful with a saucy evil past and not just a shy librarian after all. From episode to episode Ingrid is either awed, wide eyed, whoopsie surprised, and scared of her magical mantle or being selfish and stupid with serious life and death spells. It’s great to see when her magic gets out of hand with erroneous consequences, but the character is made smart and stupid at the same time and too often caught in over her head whilst we are also repeatedly being told she is the good one. Which is it?

Likewise, Jenna Dewan Tatum’s (Step Up) wishy washy romantically confused shtick gets old fast, and I wish I could skip over her ‘he’s oh so dreamy’ scenes. We don’t know anything about Freya except how she is torn between two men. Even when she finds out she is a witch, she turns princess and doesn’t want to get her hands dirty with spells – only to be angry later when her powers don’t work. Why couldn’t the love triangle plot be developed later once Freya knows who she is and has accepted her powers? Instead she always needs to be saved by one of her men. Meh. This same old melodrama wastes time Witches of East End doesn’t have to spare, and honestly, I would rather have seen only one daughter in a learning to be a witch plot with more focus on the elder sisters. Isn’t Freya too old to be this juvenile? She learns of her magic history but would rather talk about boys, and she’s a bartender who’s good at potions, ba dum tish! I’m not opposed to Gothic love triangles done right in paranormal fantasies. However, I do expect to know something more about an allegedly strong woman – an immortal witch from Asgard no less – before knowing who she’s boinking as though the boinking is the most important thing about her. As if!

Thankfully, Madchen Amick (Twin Peaks), is a feline delight for Witches of East End as Joanna’s wild sister Wendy. She has nine lives to live and now in her slightly mature age uses her experience to protect her family. Wendy is self aware, sarcastic, and educates her nieces on good magic just as much as she imparts don’t be like her reckless wisdom. Of course, that’s not to say she doesn’t get up to wrong doing spells and danger, but Wendy remains a positive sounding board. Some of her plots do move too fast – they use up her lives quickly and swoop in a love interest, too. However, some of the speedy exposition works when Wendy is dropping witty asides and one line adventures about being widowed, married, divorced again, or eaten by a crocodile. Her knowing how to fix or undo a spell is also a convenient dues ex machina used too many times on Witches of East End, but the sisterly pros and cons are well done with both Wendy or Joanna each being short sighted at times in their magical knowledge or uses. Where Joanna seeks to motherly protect, Wendy would rather empower her nieces. Is one way better than the other or can both styles strengthen the family? Amick is a fun counter balance whose personality doesn’t change from week to week – unlike the under utilized Virginia Madsen (Candyman) as Freya’s snotty future mother-in-law Penelope. It takes half the season for what we already suspect of Penelope to come to light, making for another missed opportunity that Witches of East End should have indulged from day one.

Dimension also comes too late for Eric Winter (The Ugly Truth) as Freya’s fiance Dash. Why couldn’t he have been a doctor first and foremost instead of one half of a limp couple? Scenes with science investigation to counter magic end up going nowhere, and time focusing solely on the brotherly rivalry is so slow compared to the rapid witch pacing. We can see man pain anywhere, and Witches of East End could have at least completed the trifecta and had Canadian Italian model Donald Di Tomasso play hockey instead of serving up the same old dark, mysterious, music, and motorcycle Killian brooding. The series continually falls back on this teen wannabe bedroom ho hum, and such glaring plots don’t belong on what’s supposed to be a sophisticated, women-oriented supernatural show. Fortunately, familiar guests including Matt Frewer (Max Headroom), Joel Gretsch (The 4400), Jason George (Grey’s Anatomy), and Freddie Prinze, Jr. (Scooby Doo) add mature, supporting sensibilities to Witches of East End. It is, however, disappointing to see the charming Tom Lenk (Buffy) and Kellee Stewart (My Boys) typically typecast as the gay and black best friends, respectively. Tiya Sircar (The Internship) as Amy also starts with medical intelligence and character strengths, but is ultimately made stupid with Witches of East End once again wasting better, progressive plot opportunities and giving both its interracial and mixed couples ill fates. Tsk tsk. All these independent, confident chicks and ensemble support possibilities, yet it appears the only purpose of Witches of East End’s unfocused storytelling is to toss every woman a man. Bechdel test my foot – when we do get all the lady librarians, doctors, immortals, and witches together they still end up talking about men!

Witches of East End has a fitting mood with black cats, bewitching eyes, skeleton keys, Latin curses, and a pink Victorian house that belies the spooky within its quaint. Books, photographs, ominous lighting, small period piece doses, and freaky bathtubs should be used even more for a slow burn atmosphere, yet once again I come back to the faulty execution at work. Witches of East End could have been styled as several television movies or at least had a feature length pilot episode, however the ridiculous playing at double speed opening title card is a lighting bolt blink and bam indicative of how by the pants these 42 minutes or less episodes were steered. The witch effects and magical movements are cheap and quick, as if making them one second longer would cost too much. Trite ‘if this were a movie, this would be the part where happens!’ dialogue doesn’t excuse borrowed ideas – like the trapped in the painting plot lifted from The Witches. Cell phones and modern lingo are intrusive, and unlike The Witches of Eastwick, everything in Witches of East End feels lighthearted, too soft with little edge or dark style. Cursing and some near nudity amid brief 1906 orgies are fine, but such saucy is also an obvious, late in the hour desperate move – and something turn of the century should not be montaged with contemporary pop music! Witches of East End never fully establishes its titular setting, and we know almost nothing about the town’s size, how many shops there are, or what the main street layout may be. Are there no nosy neighbors to spy on these backyard spells? Is the Beauchamp name beloved or notorious in the community? Viewers don’t find out the town is shrouded on a map and secretly famed for its occult history or hiding a gosh darn gateway to Asgard until it is too late. Good job, everyone!

If you are familiar with other magical material, Witches of East End will be very derivative. Some audiences may like that whimsical comfort, readers of the series especially I imagine, but that unfulfilled basic may be disappointing for others. Undivided viewing attention is needed for this incredibly fast moving design, and a marathon session is a must to both keep up with the fast moving plots or exposition dumping and breeze over the spinning tires romance. The steamy attempts may cater to the Lifetime audience but such trite strays too far into soap opera over the top at the expense of the unique core potential. All that should have happened to start Witches of East End comes in the second half of the season, with numerous writers and directors falling flat over a backward execution – which is surprising since there is a literary source. Though Witches of East End is certainly watchable for paranormal light fans looking for a streaming weekend or ladies growing out of Charmed, the weekly witchy, immortal trials, and magical tribulations feel like they should be bigger somehow – leaving this debut with more than its fair share of flaws muddling the magic.

 

Kbatz: Buffy Season 6

 

Buffy Season 6 Slips

By Kristin Battestella

 

On my last Buffy: The Vampire Slayer rewatch, I was sidetracked and stopped midway through Season 6. That, however, is no excuse – especially since now that I’m neck deep in another Buffy marathon, I can admit it’s the disinterested sagging of Year 6 that bottoms out the vampy viewings.

Sunnydale without The Slayer just won’t do, so witches Willow (Alyson Hannigan) and Tara (Amber Benson) work a spell with Xander (Nicholas Brendon) and Anya (Emma Caufield) to bring Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) back from the dead. Her watcher Giles (Anthony Stewart Head) is leaving for England, but vampire Spike (James Marsters) has remained loyal to Buffy and helps care for her sister Dawn (Michele Trachtenberg). Unfortunately, Buffy isn’t glad to be back, Willow becomes addicted to using magic, and relationship cracks show as Xander and Anya’s wedding approaches. Life is bad enough, but the nerdy, self-proclaimed villains known as The Trio (Adam Busch, Danny Strong, Tom Lenk) interfere with the Scooby gang, causing a spiral of deadly divisions and end of the world rage.

 

Now on the UPN network after departing The WB, Buffy is darker this season and not as fun, understandably, perhaps, thanks to the hefty resurrection in Bargaining Parts 1 and 2. It’s an excellent start with action heavy and questionable Scooby leadership – these bittersweet departures and deadly transitions are nearly insurmountable for most television series, but Buffy pulls it off in “Afterlife”. Distorted, in your face, camera whirlwinds reflect the jarring as well as the intimate moments, tender returns, and demonic consequences. Sure, your friends meant well! These early bottle shows are strong in Year 6, for there’s no need to divert with weekly villains when you have so much raising from the dead angst. The gang isn’t exactly up to fighting demons, and their internal problems make for a more interesting pain than any supernatural catalysts. A more horror styled filming is indicative of this bleak Buffy can’t handle – such as the bills and broken pipes in “Flooded”, and more risque language and saucy details reflect this mature tone. “Life Serial” is fun as a one off episode with bemusing trials in the more expected Buffy humor. However, the episode has the unenviable task of fleshing out The Trio as mini bads for the season – rather than say, leaving them as an obnoxious recurrence or two amid all the other break ups, allegory, and torment.

Of course, “Once More with Feeling” has everything Buffy needs for the bitter developments in Season 6, and this longer musical hour works as both a unique takeaway and a deeply involved game changer. I hum these tunes or refer to the lyrics more often than I should admit, and while you can’t watch it with your parents thanks to the naughty gay sex innuendo in “Under Your Spell”, that suggestive wink has held up well. “Bunnies” is a fitting little rock moment, and “Rest in Peace” sums up Spike’s romantic edge – even if he doesn’t sing with his British accent. Whoops! “I’ll Never Tell” is a fine throwback that foreshadows relationship troubles to come, and each song’s tone is smartly tailored to match the characters regardless of genre or revelation. The actors who aren’t really singers still have catchy moments – Sarah Michelle Gellar’s flat notes appropriately match Buffy’s off-key state of mind – and the tongue in cheek whimsy makes for self aware set changes and breaking the fourth wall moments. Rather than the shorter syndicated edition, viewers must see the full length episode with its lyrical subtitles to appreciate how the smiling mid century musical direction perfectly belies the unhappy truths. Slow motion training montages are intermixed with serious reprises, progressing the hour from lighthearted to explosive. Indeed, the “Where Do We Go from Here” finale wonderfully surmises all of Buffy’s metaphors, leaving the house of cards fallen and our players facing rocky, unknown futures. All their secrets are made known – maybe life will be okay, maybe it won’t. Going out on a high note jokes aside, I must say, this episode could have been a superb series finale.

 

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Whew! Though not as big a production, “Tabula Rosa” is an excellent coda. Their souls have been sung, so now let’s wipe everyone’s memory and see if anything is happier. The switcharoos are humorous yet serious, and it is important for our wayward Scoobies to rediscover themselves. The pairs with the strongest ties remain, and whelp, that’s that for the rest. Michelle Branch’s appearance with “Goodbye to You” is also the best use of a concert montage on Buffy, ever. The early episodes this season are largely solid, even spectacular. Unfortunately, the magic is the drug elements in Smashed and Wrecked are too much together. Our beloved ladies are going to the dark side, nobody’s friends, no one gets along, and it’s all too unlikable and tough to watch. Dumb decisions are made and Gone uses invisible gags to lessen the sour, but half the episodes in Year 6 could have been axed. “Doublemeat Palace” uses the stink of normalcy in its conspiracies with askew camerawork to match while Dead Things goes too far with Spuffy sex and disgusting Trio behavior. Important character developments may happen and pieces of these shows are memorable, but the framework is too depressing or forgettable. “Older and Far Away” is the one where they can’t leave the house, right? As You Were is the one where Riley Finn comes back, really? And we care because?

Fortunately, “Normal Again” is a much nicer dark alternative with its superhero delusion and mental institution possibility. Which tale do we tell ourselves to keep us miserable or happy? This illusion versus reality twist is a much more tantalizing theme compared to the over the top bitter this season, as is the seemingly innocuous credit addition in “Seeing Red”. Again, rather than an expected monster, a real world drive by cuts the rug out from under the audience – we should know Buffy well enough by now to see too much good was in need of some ruin. Sadly, this critical episode is also uneven with Trio filler and an unnecessary, crossing the line motivation for Spike. His love isn’t cause enough for his quest? Why even show his motorcycle flight – just let him leave and give us that surprise next year instead of using intercut life versus death symmetry in “Villains”. Who can or can’t be brought back from the dead and what happens when you choose to take a life instead? All the ills come full circle with a surprising spiritual touch in “Grave”, and a good laugh over a simple, embarrassing recap of the season’s icky events breaks the gloomy. Unfortunately, Buffy doesn’t quite come round right, and it’s just a sigh of relief that this season is finally over.

 

Well, well, Buffy wanted a regular life beyond being The Slayer, but a feeling meaningless resurrection, fast food job, and paying the bills isn’t so fluffy, is it? Our super gal is flawed, disturbed, and unhinged – and getting drastic ala that rogue slayer Faith. Slaying used to be what made Buffy Buffy, but now she must find her place in this cruel world without her responsible routine. She can’t go back to college and has to put up happy pretenses or tell everyone what they want to hear rather than hurt her friends’ feelings. She raises Dawn and does the right thing while everyone else is too busy with their own lives to help her – even though Buffy is unwillingly back from the dead because of them. The bringing down the house metaphors are a bit obvious, but her discomfort over using someone she loathes such as Spike is an important experience. It’s abusive, unlikable behavior when she takes out her self hatred on him. Buffy is an inherently good person doing what she perceives as wrong – and unlike Faith, it tears her up. Sadly, it takes horrible human interactions for Buffy to get back to sticking to her guns after this year’s drab, but by the end Buffy is ready to live and intends to see justice served, whether her friends are right or wrong.

Spike’s relationship with Buffy, however, is a little weird. Such kinky, uncomfortable, and unhealthy physicality is a bit too much for younger viewers yet Spike has grown in emotion and loyalty. He has a chip in his head but not his soul, and that restrained, misplaced prowess helps him relate to Buffy the way the rest of the Scoobies cannot. He works alongside them but remains at arms length, an outsider just like she is. Spike enjoys making Buffy feel both pleasure and pain, and “Smashed” shows the inseparable nature of those seemingly opposite feelings. Is Spike a man in love or a monster playing poker for kittens? This ongoing struggle provides some wonderful character movement even whilst Spike dresses sexier, goes in the buff, and is treated like a drug for Buffy’s fix. He’s a powerful influence that threatens to harm her but the violence feels too extreme. Can Spike yet be redeemed? We’ll see. Likewise, Dawn is understandably trying to find her way now that the Key elements served their purpose in Season 5. Unfortunately, Dawn is also an inverse Wesley Crusher with nothing to do but steal, get rescued, or be really shrill, and we’ve been through all this erstwhile youth before on Buffy. Slowly, she joins the research or alleviates the tension with jokes, but Dawn-centric retreads like “All the Way” remain cliché and uninteresting. The audience has been rolling our eyes over her all along, so when the rest of the cast doesn’t notice her petty crime and actually forgets about Dawn after the bullets fly…ouch. Losing the character completely admits to a “Dallas” dream season mistake, but this year Dawn may have worked better in a reduced recurring capacity as the sisters’ mother had been. Ultimately, Dawn is truly a supporting character more for how the familial tug and pull affects Buffy rather than her own developments.

 

The hints were there, but it’s pretty stinky nonetheless to watch Willow go off the magic junkie deep end with too many unlikable me me me threats against her friends. Giles is right when he says she has some in over her head amateur to resolve. Does Willow work? What is her major at school? She’s a selfish bully who raises the dead or kills when it suits her but she can’t poof away a bill for Buffy? Willow does the resurrection spell because she wants to prove she can, not because she should, and there’s no need for the redundant magic á la drugs antithesis because Buffy’s making her own mistakes already. Where magic was a positive empowering lesbian metaphor in Year 5, now Willow is a very bad girlfriend becoming the abusive boyfriend. She misuses magic and turns into some kind of stereotypical evil angry lesbian filleting men. The fury and pain are emotional moments the first time you see Buffy, however on repeat, you just want to skip these mixed magic metaphors all together. As Xander once said way back in “Something Blue”, “So, so tired of it”. Buffy feels run out of ideas with these head beating allegories, and when Dark Willow’s personal rage turns into wanting to emo end the world’s pain, it’s just ridiculous. I would be more angry that it is the lesbian relationship being treated so problematic in Season 6, except all the pairings go to hell this year. Fortunately, Tara remains a positive moral perspective and solid center for the gang, and Buffy confides in her away from the group. She looks out for the Scoobies from a good place, something the rest of the gang learns the hard way. Maybe the character doesn’t change, but her reliability as an independent woman not moping over Willow is important to see alongside their more intimate and naturally progressing romantic moments. They do live together after all, and props to Buffy for not having the gay couple be chaste while other partners make whoopie.

Before their doubts about Buffy returning and their delayed engagement announcement, Xander and Anya were already a complicated pair. Rather than strengthening the character, Anya’s blunt and impolite sass is regressed this season to downright rudeness and a no longer cute obsession with capitalism and money. While Xander is the Regular Joe anchor for Willow from beginning to end, he is also ‘So, so tired of it’ with Anya, and she only seems to care about what’s really going on once she finds out Dawn has stolen from her. She tries to make Willow use magic and we feel for her being jilted in “Hell’s Bells”, but Anya’s mixed empathy also makes us realize how little we actually know her. “Entropy” tries to be humorous perhaps but the admittedly interesting possibility of Anya and Spike is used for hatred – another harshness thrown on top of the Year 6 heap. Xander does some stupid and cruel bull headed things too on Buffy, but the non superhero sidekick finale is meant to fix all that, I think. And no, Giles, you never should have left and picked the worst possible time to take flight.

 

There’s more new school bizarre in Year 7, but Kali Rocha as vengeance demon/guidance counselor Halfrek and James C. Leary as fleshy but friendly Clem are fun guest additions amid the dreary. Elizabeth Anne Allen is a fine bad influence as rat no more Amy, but her taunting Willow with selfish magic antagonism is inexplicably dropped. Although The Trio is funny within themselves and it is nice to already know their history, they are dumb, unlikable, try hard villains that go round and round too long. We’re disappointed in Jonathan – who hasn’t learned his lesson and finds his moral conscious too late – and weak Andrew’s latent crush on Warren is mistakenly played for humor. The Trio’s fan service pop culture quips become too obnoxious to enjoy the geekdom, and surely this plot would be done differently today now that nerdism reigns. Simply put, Warren is an asshole and gets everything he deserves. Of course, in order to do that, you have to become more evil than he is, and Buffy is right that it is better to leave The Trio to the authorities rather than loose yourself in such rage.

Hokey ghost effects, repeated monster designs, visually darker schemes, dated 2001 laptops and payphones – this season of Buffy feels older than it is thanks to all this depression. Despite the regular Buffy writers and production team being here to run the show into the dark ground, was it creator Joss Whedon’s larger than usual absence that let this season slide into common life addictions, character separation, internal evils, and one too many cliches? Perhaps. I’m tired of saying unlikable metaphor I know that. While casual fans may simply give up on Buffy halfway through here, completists will need to see Season 6 at least once to appreciate the player progressions – as well as their regressions and transgressions. Those familiar with Buffy can pick and choose their favorites, but the writing is on the wall for Buffy: The Vampire Slayer Season 6.

David’s Haunted Library: Camp Arcanum

20959068Three men arrived in Arcanum Ohio with a pick up truck, a camper and seven months to build a renaissance faire. Little did they know that Arcanum is a town where most of the population practices magick and the woods are filled with supernatural creatures. The man in charge is Marc, who along with a love of power tools, has a family history of mental health issues and he doesn’t believe in magick. His beliefs soon change though when he meets a woman named Brenwyn who is head of the local wiccan coven.

Marc is forced to reexamine his views on magick and he has to deal with Jerimiah who is a powerful warlock and Brenwyn’s ex lover. Jerimiah has plans to finish off Marc but not before he uses him to become more powerful. Between the witches, demons and undead skinless bunnies, it’s going to take more than power tools to get the renaissance faire open in time.

Camp Arcanum by Josef Matulich is a comedy with horror elements and an interesting love story. When Marc and Brenwyn meet you see that they are exact opposites but right away their relationship clicks. One of my favorite scenes in this book was when Marc who has a history of schizophrenia sees magick spells being done and believes that he is loosing his mind. He starts to freak out and Brenwyn tries to come to his aide but at the time Marc doesn’t want her help and leaves Brenwyn feeling heart-broken. Eventually they start to accept their differences and work at becoming a couple. What really stuck out for me about this love story is that it didn’t seem too perfect and despite their differences I was rooting for them to stay together.

I also loved how witchcraft was represented in this book, I admit I don’t know a lot about covens, wicca or magick but this book made me want to find out more.  All of the witches and warlocks in this book came across as people you might meet in everyday life and were nothing like the stereotypes that I’ve seen in other books and movies. In fact this book makes fun of those stereotypes. Though it’s not a big part of this book I have to say that I loved how schizophrenia is dealt with in this story. Marc spent a period of time taking care of his brother who has schizophrenia and I liked how he points out that people who have it can’t help how they act. In many books you see people who have mental health issues as being a villain, so I liked that this book treated it like it wasn’t a bad thing.

Camp Arcanum was kind of a mixed bag for me. I thought the story was slow-moving and even though I liked the villain he didn’t seem to come across as very threatening. All of the characters in the book were interesting and I liked the love story between Brenwyn and Marc. This book has some great moments such as Marc using tools to battle a coven of witches and there was a hilarious scene where all the local wiccans gather at a movie theater to watch and make fun of bad movies based on witches. This book is definitely worth your time and the ending is left wide open for a sequel.

25217904The sequel to Camp Arcanium is Power Tools In The Sacred Grove by Josef Matulich. This one picks up right after the first one left off and continues the story of Marc and his crew trying to build a Renaissance faire while fighting off monsters, demons and undead bunnies. The way things are going though the faire may not start on time. Jerimiah is doing all he can to stop construction along with putting a wrench in Marc and Brenwyn’s relationship. Also Marc is still trying to recover after a battle with a large tentacled monster. Hopefully Marc can stay on good terms with Brenwyn and keep his crew in the land of the living.

Power Tools In The Sacred Grove is on par with its predecessor and gives you all the comedy you would expect and more. I liked the further character development on Jerimiah. Jerimiah is more than a black and white villian. In this book you feel a little sympathy for him despite the fact that he is trying to kill Marc and his crew. Jerimiah craves power but doesn’t seem to realize that he is destroying his life in the process.

Another great scene in this book was when the OSHA lady pays a visit to Camp Arcanum and gets more than she bargained for. The exchange between Marc and his workers is priceless and how it ends is hilarious. Once again though I have to say my favorite part of this book is the relationship between Brenwyn and Marc. I like how they are total opposites but seem to work well together anyway.

While I did find this book entertaining, my problem was that it just seemed like more of the same. The first book doesn’t have any closure and this one continues the story. I felt as I was reading that the author could have just edited some scenes out of both books and combined them into one. That being said Power Tools In The Sacred Grove is still a lot of fun.  I love a good mix of comedy and horror and the characters are deep and memorable. I’m hoping we see more from Camp Arcanum in the future.

The Phoenix Girls

16206228At some point everyone feels like an outsider. In Penny Sinclair’s case she is a 13-year-old girl moving to a new town after the death of her mother. She has spent four months living in a group home and now is headed to the small town of Dogwood to live with her godmother Susan, who was best friends with Penny’s mother.

As soon as Penny moves into her home she notices a fox that seems to always be watching her. She has already been having mysterious dreams and doesn’t feel comfortable in her new surroundings. When she is outside one day the fox speaks to her, in fear she runs away but she can’t escape her destiny.

What Penny doesn’t know is that her mother once belonged to a group of witches called The Phoenix Girls and she is about to become one of them. The Phoenix Girls Book 1: The Conjuring Glass by Brian Knight is the first in a series from JournalStone Publishing  that young horror fans will enjoy. In a secret grove behind her new home is a cave, wands, magic keys and a book on how to become proper witches.

Penny is not alone, she soon meets another girl who has just arrived in town named Zoe and the two of them start training to become witches. Their spells don’t work half the time but they’re determined to keep trying. Something wicked is coming to Dogwood in the form of a magician with a big secret. The children of Dogwood start to disappear one by one and Penny and Zoe may be the only ones that can help.

The Conjuring Glass is a story geared towards middle school children and has a couple of themes that all kids can relate to. One is trying to fit in with other kids. Penny and Zoe are both outcasts because they are new in town and both are adjusting to their new surroundings. They have each other though and work well as a team. They learn magic together and get help with bullies from the talking fox. As the story develops, the girls are left to their own devices to rescue the kidnapped kids.

Another theme that is in this book is abandonment and loneliness. When Penny comes to Dogwood she feels that she is alone in the world. She is dealing with the loss of her mother, but also wonders who her father was and what happened to him. Penny is obsessed with finding him and her obsession leads her and the whole town into danger. I really enjoyed how the mystery of Penny’s father worked into the story.

While I did think that The Conjuring Glass was slow-moving at points, there was a lot to like about the book. All of the characters reminded me of kids that I once knew. I also think young readers will be able to relate to both Penny and Zoe. The setting and atmosphere were great and I liked the fate of the town’s children lying in the hands of two young witches. My favorite part was when Penny stands up to a bully that was much bigger then she was. It showed that Penny was a tough character and I found myself rooting for her. I think most young kids will love the mystery in The Phoenix Girls: Book 1 The Conjuring Glass and they will appreciate the spooky parts also. I would love to see where the story of The Phoenix Girls goes in future installments.