I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House (2016): review

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Director: Oz Perkins Writer: Oz Perkins Stars: Ruth Wilson, Paula Prentiss, Lucy Boynton

Netflix Originals film output is almost as strong as it’s excellent TV output these days. From the award-winning Idris Elba helmer Beasts of No Nation to the funny and touching The Fundamentals of Caring, Netflix films are becoming a force to be reckoned with (if only they would drop their obsession with Adam Sandler).

Their Halloween offering to their viewers, I am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House, thankfully keeps up this trend of high-quality entertainment. Written and directed by Osgood Perkins (son of actor Anthony, who gets a sly nod during the film), IATPTTLITH (as no-one will call it) tells the tale of a young nurse, Lily (Ruth Wilson), who finds herself caring for an elderly horror writer, Iris Blum (Paula Prentiss). The two women remain largely alone in Blum’s isolated New England home, with no television and just the one telephone connecting them to the outside world. So far, so Stephen King. However within the opening monologue Lily reveals  that the house has seen previous deaths and that she won’t live to see her next birthday, which leaves us in a constant state of tension as we wonder what is going to happen to Lily over the next 90 minutes.

The film itself is one giant, elegant exercise in building tension. The narrative itself could be condensed to 2 sides of A4, and very little happens. There is only one jump-scare, no gore and no terrifying demons. The end result however is a masterful and poetic exercise in making your skin crawl. Lingering shots of dark doorways become way more frightening than any CGI monster, and I found myself going to check my doors were all locked. This is not a horror film for fans of the standard horror tropes, as it is much more measured in it’s scares.

It is hard to pin down when the film is set, although the lack of mobile phones and the nods to The Grateful Dead, mentions of Blum’s books being a hit in the 60’s, all hint that this is possibly early 80’s. This sense of timelessness seems perfect, as the film  itself could be either an Edgar Allan Poe poem, John Carpenter film or the more avant-garde scares of Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin. Osgood Perkins clearly knows horror inside out.

The success or failure of the film hinges entirely on the quality of the performance of our protagonist, who occupies about 90% of the screen time. Ruth Wilson puts in an amazing performance as scaredy-cat Lily, managing to balance being shy and naive while giving some seriously creepy vibes in her voice-over. Paula Prentiss too is great in the few scenes she has, veering from being illness-induced absence to absolute and terrifying lucidity.

The soundtrack, or lack thereof, adds to the insidious scares, with the creaks and bangs of the old house adding to the sense that there is a malign presence within.

The ending was a little lacking, and seemed to be a bit of compromise after such an audacious exercise in stringing out tension, but overall IATPTTLITH left me feeling unsettled and hiding under my bedcovers, which surely is what good horror should do.

8 out of 10

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Short stories and other sidelines

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It’s been a long time since I posted anything on here. Life got in the way of me writing. Life also got in the way of me watching anything to write about. I now find myself in a job which isn’t going to require lots of time spent commuting and late nights, so I can get back to watching stuff, and then writing about stuff once again.

I did do the odd bit of writing on my commutes, so thought I’d add a couple of bits, peppered in among my normal film and TV drivel. The following was written very quickly for a short story competition. It’s based on a real shop in the town where I live, one which causes a lot of speculation. This was my take on that speculation. I don’t think the ending really works, but heck, here it is…

 

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The Shop

“Do people even buy dresses like that anymore?” mused Sara to her friend as they passed the shop. “I mean, I know a lot of little girls like to dress up as princesses or fairies, but how many mums would buy one of those monstrosities? Really?”

“I guess someone must do,” Gemma replied, “That place has been going for years. Since I was a kid. You know, around the time they invented clothes.” She chuckled. “Not that I have ever actually seen it open, or anyone going in it…”

The pair stopped and looked in the window of the large property which sat on the corner of a cross roads. There were a dozen blank-faced little girl mannequins in various stiff-armed poses peppered around the front window. Behind them was a black curtain, with a black canopy over the top of the window shielding them from the light. Each of them was wearing a variation on the same dress; a short-sleeved top and large, flouncey A-line skirt with many petticoats, each in it’s own lurid shade of red, pink, purple or orange, all festooned with bows, lace and sequins.

The women stared at the shop front, taking in the dust and rips to the red curtains behind the mannequins. The interior of the shop wasn’t visible from the street, just the slightly macabre window dressings. Sara stared at her dishevelled reflection and adjusted her scarf and hat.

“That’s true you know. I’ve not ever seen it open either. It must do at some point though. The window displays are always changing, so someone must at least go in to do that I suppose. There aren’t even any prices on the dresses. I bet they must cost a fortune.”

“Have you ever seen anyone in there though? No? Spooky, huh?” Gemma said as they wheeled their bikes around the corner.

Sara asked her partner about the shop later, as she had lived in the seaside town since she was born, and often entertained their guests with local urban myths and gossip that had been handed down through the centuries.

“Leila, do you know anything about that odd kids’ dress shop down on the High Street? Gemma and I were saying we have never seen it open” she yelled from the kitchen, hoping it would reach Leila in the sitting room.

“What? Hannah’s? Yeah, that is a weird place,” Leila yelled back. “I think I did go in there once as a kid”

Sara walked through from the kitchen, with the hot pan and spoon from the stove still in her hands.

“Really? What was it like? Can you remember?” she stared intently while still stirring the hot pan.

Leila looked at her with mild confusion as she said “Vaguely. I guess. I remember it was a very sunny day, and I went in with my mother.  It was really big inside, and they didn’t have any racks of clothes, just old fashioned glass counters, filled with buttons and ribbons. The carpet was red, definitely.  Seemed like acres of the stuff. I remember my mum telling me how she had been in there as a child, too. A woman in her 40’s helped us. I remember her looking like something from Upstairs Downstairs, but that must be my imagination as this would have been… hmm… probably 1980 something…”

“Why were you in there?” Sara said, still stirring the now cooling pot.

“I don’t know, some do or other my Mum wanted me to go to looking like a china doll I expect. I was kind of lucky she didn’t live much longer than she did, or I’d have ended up dressed like Barbie well into my teens.” Sara gave her a softly disapproving look. She had got used to Leila’s black humour about her mother’s passing.

Sara looked online that night to see if she could find out anything more about the place. There was a website for the shop, but like the place itself it was nothing more than a blank front page, just pictures of the same dresses as in the shop window with the name and address of the premises.

The following day Sara grabbed her laptop and went to sit and work in the coffee shop opposite Hannah’s. She positioned herself on one of the stools at the window, so she had a clear view of the shop front, and set up her laptop.

Throughout the morning she watched the bustle of the busy road as shoppers went about their business and delivery vans came and went, but there was no sign of movement from the shop itself. Sara started to search online forums to find out if anyone else had talked about it, and to her surprise there were no other mentions of the shop other than its own website.

As she was about to order her 4th coffee of the day the young man behind the counter asked her what she had been doing, as he noticed she hadn’t spent much of the day engaged with the spreadsheet on her laptop screen.

Sara talked with the other barista too, and they exchanged gossip about the shop, from it being the front for a mafia money-laundering operation, to all the mannequins actually being murdered children. All the theories seemed highly unlikely, and all would still require someone to actually be present on the premises at some point. None explained why the dresses on the mannequins in the windows were still being changed. What everyone did agree on was that the shop had been open for several generations, and had been named “Hannah’s” after the first owner’s daughter. It had been a fully functioning shop until the late 1980s, when seemingly without anyone noticing it just didn’t open its doors again.

That night Sara lay awake in bed, turning different scenarios over and over in her head. Leila had long since dropped off to sleep and was snoring softly next to her. She had been chastised by her earlier in the evening for getting obsessed again. It was just part of her personality, obsession, and she normally wouldn’t sleep well until she had got whatever she was obsessed with out of her system. At least this was a slightly healthier obsession than making the perfect pie, although she felt she had got pretty close with that one with her creamy chicken and ham creation. Resigning herself to another night of obsessive behaviour, she threw some clothes on and left the house.

Standing outside the imposing Victorian building Sara found herself wondering what it was she hoped to accomplish by being there. There were no lights, no sign of movement, no way in to the shop that had been apparent during the day either. No, she was pretty sure she would be spending the night staring at an empty building in the blistering cold and howling wind. She leaned her bike against the low wall opposite the shop, and sat down beside it. The black awnings looked like a gaping mouth below three monstrous sash window eyes on the floor above them. Looking to the upper floors she caught a glimpse of something she hadn’t noticed before, a tower on the roof. She stood on the low wall so she could get a better look, and as she did so a gust of wind blew, knocking her backwards. As she fell into the flowerbed behind she could have sworn she saw a flickering light coming from one of the upper rooms. She brushed herself down and tried to stand on her tiptoes on the wall to catch sight of the light again. There was nothing. Maybe it had just been her eyes playing tricks on her as she fell. She then realised she must have fallen on her arm, as a shooting pain was radiating from her wrist. It looked like she might have broken it, and it certainly felt that way. She picked the bike up with her good hand and started to wheel it awkwardly back across the empty street, but as she got to the kerb it toppled over and fell in the road, just outside the rear door of Hannah’s. The rear tyres whirred in the wind, but then there was a creaking sound which didn’t come from the bike. The rear door of the shop was ajar. The shop was open. Sara stood, frozen, for a moment, and was unsure what to do next.

“Well, are you coming in then?” said a thin voice from behind the door.

Sara was fairly sure that her eyes were now about to pop out of her skull as she couldn’t believe what she was hearing.

“You need to have your wrist attended to. I can help you, but only if you come in”, came the thin voice again.

Sara picked up her bike and wheeled it inside.

It was pitch black at first, but soon her eyes began to adjust as she picked out the slivers of streetlamp light coming through the holes in the black screen around the windows.

She offered a tentative “Hello?” into the darkness.

“Come up the stairs” croaked the reedy voice.

Looking to her right Sara saw the stairs, so balanced her bike against the counter, which was just as Leila had described it, and went upstairs. A light shone from under a door in front of her, and she opened it. Inside was bathed in warm candlelight and the glow of a fire. A woman in her early 40s stood by a large wing backed armchair near the window, which Sara noticed was completed covered with cardboard.

“I’ve been watching you” the woman said, her rasping voice not marrying with the elegant figure in front of Sara, who just as Leila had said looked like something from a bygone era.

“Yes, sorry. I… it’s just… you never seem to open” she stuttered.

“No, we don’t. Because I can’t” the woman replied curtly. “Now, show me your wrist. I can bandage that up and you can be on your way”

Without thinking Sara thrust her wrist forward, as there was something particularly commanding about the way the woman spoke.

“What do you mean you don’t open? How do you… I mean… who are you?”

“I’m Hannah. This was my mother’s shop” The woman said, as if this should have been obvious to Sara.

“But… how can you be? I thought the Hannah the shop was named after was born in the 19th century” Sara puzzled over the statement as she replied.

Hannah began to bandage Sara’s arm, and explained her story. She was the daughter of the original owner, and had grown up in the shop and large flat above it while Queen Victoria was on the throne. Her mother was meticulous in her attention to detail in everything she did, from the seams on the dresses to the buttons being arranged in size order in the glass display cabinets. Everything was organised with military precision and cleaned to a glistening shine. Somehow Hannah’s mother had become so caught up in ensuring the shop was perfect that she forgot to carry on sending Hannah to school. No-one ever came looking for her, so she carried on living in the shop, helping her mother sew and clean. Her mother continued her dress making, continued in her fastidiousness and Hannah grew up as part of the shop. Before she knew it weeks had passed since she had left the building, then months. With no-one to look for her and so much work to do, leaving just didn’t seem to matter anymore. She retreated to the flat above the shop, cleaning and pressing an endless line of dresses for her mother, then placing them lovingly on the mannequins in the window late at night.

One day Hannah woke to find her mother very, very ill. She realised it had been years since she had left the building, and was unsure even what year it was. She took her dying mothers hand as she watched her chest rise and fall slowly.

Her final words to her daughter were “Hannah, my dear. I am leaving you with a great gift and a great burden. You are part of the shop now I fear. As long as the mannequins stay dressed in the window you will stay part of it all…” and with that she faded away.

Hannah took a while to reflect on what her mother had said, and soon came to realise she meant it literally. She had spent so long within the walls of the shop she was part of it now, somehow frozen in time like one of the mannequins.

“The problem is, you see” Hannah said to Sara as she grasped her arm, “that once you come in to the shop you can never leave”

New Crimson Peak trailer: Guillermo Del Toro’s ghosts are real

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I have recently been reacquainting myself with Guillermo Del Toro’s horror output, re-watching Cronos, The Devil’s Backbone and Pan’s Labyrinth. I even have The Orphanage and Julia’s Eyes to watch as I felt they needed to be seen too. So the timing of this extended trailer was just perfect for me. Excited doesn’t come close to describing my feelings. You had better not let me down, Guillermo.

The weird world of shifter-erotica: From werebees to gay cuttlefish

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The joy of the internet is the endless possibilities it offers. It enables us to have access to different cultures, different points of view, and some alternative literary styles. No longer is writing limited to works deemed commercial enough to publish. Anyone can write a Kindle ebook and upload it to Amazon. The result has been some amazing self-published work, from works which crossed into the mainstream such as 50 Shades of Grey, to some more weird and wonderful offerings. Among the latter category sits the wonderfully weird world of ‘Shifter-erotica’. The stories see humans meeting with shape-shifting animals in various guises and, yes, having erotic adventures with them. The animals most commonly featured are wolves, bears or big cats, but then there are a few which are distinctly (further) off the beaten track. Here’s a list of a few of the best (covers- I haven’t READ any of them) and some Amazon comments:

Seduced by Werebees: Taken by Swarm by A M Ball

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After all, what’s sexier than a swarm of angry bees? That’s right, WEREbees.

Amazon reviewers say: “Werebees aren’t something I had considered hot before. But after reading this, well I might have a new fetish. For anyone who loves to indulge themselves, and to treat themselves to tons of tasty sugary goodness – this book is for you. It’s cute, sexy, and definitely HOT.”

Out on a Limb by Luna Loupe

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Loupe is a prolific writer of shifter-erotica and some of her titles are the most entertaining on the internet. ‘Out on a limb’ is gay shifter-erotica. Firemen saving cats from trees just got sexy. YOU HEARD. You can read more about Luna here. Sadly no-one on Amazon has reviewed this as yet. I imagine it’s genius.

T-Rex Troubles by Christine Sims

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What could possibly be more erotic than living animals? That is correct. The answer is dinosaurs. Sexy, sexy dinosaurs. This is not strictly shifter-erotica, but it was too good to leave off my list.

“Naked and alone, Layla bargains with the beast: her body for her life. “

An Amazon user review says “It has to be seen to be believed. I read it for a laugh, and I got that… and horror. The least sexy erotica ever, my vagina might have shriveled up, but I laughed all night. I MADE MY CHOICE.”

If dinosaur porn is your bag, you can see more on Cracked here.

Catgirl and the Orc Women– Luna Loupe

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It’s Luna again, this time branching out into lesbian cat/orc erotica.

““Florence,” she breathed, lightly resting her hands on my hips. I could feel the tips of her claws through my shift. She leaned forward. “Why don’t you relax for once? I can help you,” she whispered into my ear.”

Unfortunately no-one on Amazon has reviewed this as yet.

Someone to Cuttle– Luna Loupe

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Yes, it’s our lady Luna again. This time she leads us to a world where boy meets cuttlefish. “Paul found himself surrounded by the three cuttle-shifters, all of them naked, all of them eager to get his clothes off him. What the hell, why not, he thought. It was a vacation, after all.”

This also has some of my favourite Amazon user reviews:

“Highly recommend it for the inkers out there and anyone who enjoys the thought of putting a new bone into an invertebrate.”

“I wanted gay oyster shape-shifter erotica, but until the world is ready to except same sex mollusk/human relationships, this will have to do…”

and finally…

“im sure nobody will read this but sometimes i like to cover myself in lube and pretend im a slug”

I am drawing this list to a close now before my Amazon recommendations are tainted forever. 

When depression hits, the films get turned off

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Depression is a surprising thing, even for those of us who have been dealing with it for years. It often sneaks up on you, and suddenly you find yourself in the middle of a dark grey pit, wondering how you got there, but unable to see any edges to cling on to to hoist yourself out.

Everyone who has depression will tell you it hits them slightly differently, and will have slightly different symptoms and onset rates at different times. I have realised recently that one of my first signs of depression worsening (and I really should pay closer attention to) is my attention span getting shorter, as my interest in everything begins to wane. Unfortunately, as a film fan, this often means that one of the first things I stop doing is watching anything over 30 minutes long. Hence my blog being rather sparse of late. It has been all I can do to sit through 30 minutes of comforting Father Ted episodes, as everything else has seemed too challenging. Absolutely nothing seemed of enough interest to warrant me sitting down for two hours and devoting my attention to it. Except Father Ted, in whose company I can gladly spend 2 hours watching multiple episodes without having to think about anything, or engage with anything beyond familiar background noise (sorry to the Father Ted team, as I love their work it deserves to be more than my comfort blanket).

I have been feeling immensely guilty for not being able to watch anything of late, as I am sure I have missed out on some great work, but also for not updating my blog. I know I don’t have thousands of readers, but I had begun to enjoy the process of writing up my thoughts, and also interacting with other bloggers. Alas, depression made it all seem rather pointless (and hush, naysayers, blogging IS worthwhile), but still the guilt was there. That glorious combination of indifference, feeling worthless and guilty, while not seeing the point in anything summed up my depression.

I have also been very busy at work, which hasn’t helped matters, but when I do have free time I have largely spent it worrying, or trying to play computer games. Again my depression means I manage about 20 minutes before giving up or getting annoyed and quitting whatever it is I’m doing. So I spend a lot of time moving between doing things. Lots of days filled with in-between things. Which seems apt as that is pretty much how I feel currently.

Hopefully normal blogging service will be resumed soon, but do let me know of any films you have enjoyed that might entice me back to watching stuff again.

 

For more information about depression you can visit the NHS website here.

Alien: Isolation- Survive Trailer

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E3 has provided us with some interesting insights into games which we can expect over the next year or so. One which definitely ticks all my boxes is the latest installment in the Alien franchise, Alien: Isolation. You play through the survival horror as Ripley’s daughter, Amanda, having to lurk in the shadows and scavenge resources to uncover what has happened to your mother. It sounds claustrophobic and terrifying, so I am looking forward to having my nerves further shredded.

Alien: Isolation will be released on 7th October 2014.

Katherine Dunn’s “Geek Love” is 25

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A rather awesome imagining of the Binewski children by  Jandruff

A rather awesome imagining of the Binewski children by Jandruff

Wired magazine have reliably informed me that it is 25 years since my favourite book was published, Katherine Dunn’s Geek Love.

Contrary to what you might assume from the title, the “geek” in Geek Love is not a reference to over-enthusiastic role-playing nerds, but rather  an early American incarnation of the word, which was used to describe carnival performers who would indulge in disgusting acts, like biting the heads off live chickens (Alice Cooper wasn’t the first you know).

“When your mama was the geek, my dreamlets,” Papa would say, “she made the nipping off of noggins such a crystal mystery that the hens themselves yearned toward her, waltzing around her, hypnotized with longing.”
― Katherine DunnGeek Love

Geek Love follows the fortunes of the Binewski Sideshow Fabulon, a family sideshow act headed by sweethearts Al and Crystal Lil Binewksi. They wanted to create the ultimate sideshow and dabble in various hardcore drugs while trying to conceive, determined to give birth to the ultimate freak. Eventually they get their way, and the Binewski siblings take to the stage in various guises, but as you can imagine, their world is not a happy one. So,  no, it is not a gentle tale of a computer programmer’s romance. It is stark, shocking and endlessly inventive, and importantly, pure cinema on the page. It didn’t neatly fall into a category, it wasn’t a romance or a fantasy, or sci-fi. It was just a great, imaginative story that went wherever Dunn wanted it to go.

“I get glimpses of the horror of normalcy. Each of these innocents on the street is engulfed by a terror of their own ordinariness. They would do anything to be unique.”
― Katherine DunnGeek Love

I was drawn to Geek Love in a book store in Florida, where my Dad was living at the time (Florida, not the book store, he had a regular apartment) purely on the basis that Courtney Love had recommended it. While my love for Courtney may have waned, my passion for Geek Love has stayed strong and I am waiting patiently to see if Warner Bros ever do anything with those films rights they purchased.