Found-Again Friday: Masters of Horror—Valerie On The Stairs

So I watched neither the classic nor the classically goofy prospect for this week’s F-AF. It seems Netflix has started this proactive “Shipping Today!” feature, which I’m finding very satisfactory—not least because I now have two DVDs more than my plan requires. And so I took another peek at another Tony Todd villain a week earlier than I’d planned.

Why Found-Again? At no time is my “attracted, yet repulsed”  feeling toward horror fare more pronounced than when I watch Showtime’s Masters of Horror series. I’ve seen four of them so far, and these are the only DVDs where I avidly watch the previews, all of which are for other MoH episodes and all of which look fascinating.

Despite all this, I can barely make it through the opening-credits sequence for the show, with its decomposing rat and evilly smiling doll, among other dreadful things. Add a Clive Barker story to the mix, and we’re probably all lucky I watched this the first time.

The Premise: You know that guy in your English class who really wanted to be Raymond Carver, who wouldn’t shut up about it, and by the end of the course you wanted to kick him right in the inspiration? In Valerie on the Stairs, that man is our protagonist.

Rob, an aspiring writer with the requisite drinking and relationship problems, manages to get a rent-free spot at a house full of unpublished authors. No sooner does he sit down to write his first (pretentious) sentence than weird things start happening: there’s a beautiful girl in the walls, and a monster (Tony Todd, the only actor in the world who could have pulled off those demon ears his character has) who relentlessly pursues her. Rob has to turn to his fellow failed authors to find out what the hell—maybe literally—is going on.

Also, someone gets their spine ripped out through their mouth. I mention this because I wish someone had reminded me. Yuck.

The Verdict: This is what Found-Again Friday is all about: the first time I watched this, I found the movie’s end so insufferably twee that I almost couldn’t believe Clive Barker wrote it. And I was wrong: on this second viewing, it’s much easier to see the edge of despair in the ending, even if it does have a wry little twist in it, too. Better than I remembered.


Next time: TCBOM! When villains make me giggle… part 21,396.

Found-Again Friday: Candyman

Long ago, I started my first little blog, in which I mainly wrote about horror things: movies, art, the occasional book, and a little bit of goth culture. When I started Our Cynical Omelet, I decided I was going to try to 1) be a little more dignified and varied in subject matter and 2) make sure I had no fewer than two things per week to write about.

One of those regular features per goal number 2 turned out to be about Highlander, so that was the equivalent of taking goal number 1, killing it, and desecrating its body. Which…kind of brings us to Candyman, in fact.

Why Found-Again? Because I am totally susceptible to horror movies: easily creeped out, easily grossed out, you name it. Candyman is chock-full of both of those things—it’s kind of what Clive Barker does—so I only watch it every other year or so.

The Premise: Doing your dissertation on a hook-handed urban-mythical boogeyman is a phenomenally bad idea. (I could have told the main character that: if you ever want to see a bunch of English professors become horrified about your career prospects, tell them you’re interested in folklore studies. Don’t ask how I know this.)

I suspect Tony Todd isn’t actually the scariest person on earth, but for the duration of Candyman, he absolutely is. The understandably vengeful spirit of a lynched artist, Candyman enjoys:

  • emerging from mirrors if his name is said five times
  • haunting housing projects in Chicago
  • killing people with his hook hand
  • striding around in a big swingy coat while monologuing seductively, and
  • framing folklore-studies majors for murder (sort of) while pursuing them with unholy persistence.

Yes, the unhappy grad student Helen (Virginia Madsen) is in his sights, and all she wanted to do was make a name for herself at conferences and get her husband to stop being such a pompous dick.

Actually, given the end of the movie, I suspect both of those things happened. Let me revise that to add “…while still being able to enjoy it.”

The Verdict: This is, though hardly without flaws, a great horror movie—smart and atmospheric and fascinating and disgusting, occasionally all at once. It helps, of course, that I’ll watch Tony Todd in anything.

Might go well with: Anything that won’t cause repeated trips to a room with mirrors, if you know what I mean.  (Honey is probably also right out.)


Next time: I cover a reasonable amount of ground in watching Highlander.

Found-Again Friday: The X-Files

Why Found-Again? I still vividly recall watching the first episode of The X-Files while at college. To the left of me was the guy I had a crush on; to the right was the guy who had a crush on me. And in the middle was me, stunned that they had at last made what in my house tended to be referred to as “spook shows” for a major audience. (Instinctively I knew late-night fare like Monsters and Nightmare on Elm Street: the Series didn’t count, though even now I can’t explain why.) For somebody who’d entertained a childhood dream of becoming a paranormal investigator, this was a Big Deal.

The sight of a young David Duchovny in wire-rimmed glasses was a less big deal, but it is the point at which I forgot I was watching the show with other people. Sorry, fellas.

I started watching The X-Files on Netflix again before I heard that Fox might be trying to bring back the show, but this seems like a good time to see how it holds up.

The Premise: Straight-arrow FBI-agent-with-an-MD Dana Scully is assigned to work with Fox “Spooky” Mulder, who specializes in weird unsolved cases known as “X-files.” She’s supposed to bring him back to mundanity, but the actual existence of aliens/vampires/government conspiracies/mutants keeps getting in the way (as does what seems like an endless stream of autopsies. What did Mulder do before he had a doctor on his team?).

I’m probably in the minority of people who loved The X-Files, in that I do not care about short grey aliens even a tiny bit, and for me the conspiracy stuff was starting to get old even before somebody shoots Deep Throat late in season 1. When it was on TV, I tended to skip around a lot, checking in for a monster of the week but leaving the extraterrestrial stuff alone. Netflix streaming has reminded me that the Scully/Mulder bond is a lot of what’s worth watching here—I’m shocked to find myself literally out-loud “Awwww”ing some of the exchanges when the X-files are (temporarily) closed down but they still can’t stay away from each other.

And, of course, all the classics are still there: the vampires, the scary clones, Eugene Tooms, Flukeman.

The Verdict: Many of these are much better than I remembered. And it’s still got some of the best theme music ever.

And just for the heck of it, my favorite goofy ‘Files YouTube video:

Might go well with: I find myself wanting to watch this side by side with EurekaAs for food recommendations, some of the episodes preclude food altogether. Yuck.





Found-Again Friday: Bloodlist—Vampire Files #1

Remember when vampires weren’t polarizing?

That isn’t quite accurate: they were, but in a horror-nerd-versus-mundane-person kind of way. There were no sparkling vamps outside of Anne Rice’s novels, no one had any overwhelming interest in Dracula as a media property, and the renaissance of the horrific, Nosferatu-style demon-faced predator everyone knows from Buffy and the like was slow.

This was the world I grew up in, fascinated by the fanged few from the moment I saw the Count on Sesame Street. But when you’re a squeamish horror fan, you have to choose your hobbies carefully, and it was with trepidation I picked up the first little paperback with what looked like a Dashiell Hammett vampire on the front. The book was Bloodlist, the first in P.N. Elrod’s series about 1930s reporter-turned-vampire detective Jack Fleming.

How much did I love these books? I went on about them at length in my college interview, to the point that it was mentioned in a speech about the diverse interests of the incoming freshman class, that’s how much.
I wonder if that lady from admissions ever picked up the books?

Why Found-Again? You’d think that after all that, these books would be on my yearly reread list, but I always forget. There are probably a lot of factors playing into that: it’s hard not to feel saturated on the whole vampire idea at this point, and there have even been a few vamp detectives since Bloodlist came out in 1990  (*shakes fist at Forever Knight, but somehow not at Lacroix*—it seems especially fitting that Vampire Files author Elrod went on to collaborate with actor Nigel Bennett, given that he portrayed the only character on that show who didn’t make me want to throw garlic at my television).

The Premise: Former reporter Jack Fleming awakes in Chicago with a newly developed taste for blood, but no memory of the murder that put him among the ranks of the undead. When mortal detective Charles Escott discovers Jack’s secret, they join forces to solve the crime—no mean feat when it turns out to be mob-related.

It’s always interesting when reading a vampire book to figure out what kind of a vampire you’re dealing with, and Jack could perhaps be described as a modified Dracula type: yes to stakes, home soil and turning into mist, no to garlic, crosses and holy water.

The Verdict: A thousand times yes! It’s got action, humor, vampire lore, lounge singers, a fun noir sensibility, and a detective named (presumably*) after one of Sherlock Holmes’s pseudonyms.


Might go well with: Torch songs, The Thin Man, Bloody Marys



*I haven’t read the later book where we find out more about Escott’s past. Pleasepleaseplease let that be his name for a reason.


Next time: Leaving the scene of the crime, immortal-style.



What I Did With My Halloween: Pumpkinhead and Belphegor

I’m writing about the horror movies I watched last Friday in part because they provide an interesting study in contrasts and in part to avoid dwelling on the near-complete lack of trick-or-treaters this year. I’m only half joking when I tell people I save all my extroversion for October 31, and this time it had nowhere to go. (I am filled with the urge to do a loud musical number and then barely speak for a while, like an AU version of Michigan J. Frog who knows the lyrics to “Different Drum.”)

Anyway, on with the show!

Pumpkinhead has all the stereotypical marks of a certain kind of 1980s horror movie: group of psychologically varied young people takes a trip to hillbilly country, does something terrible, and is served with swift vengeance. The movie takes the unusual step, however, of making its characters fairly well developed and realistic—from genre giant Lance Henriksen as a man who loses his son and learns the lessons of revenge the (extremely) hard way to the group of outsiders, whose responses to the titular monster’s onslaught meet with varying degrees of success.

The friend with whom I watched the movie kept saying, “I don’t remember this from the last time,” as the plot unfolded, and I think that’s why Pumpkinhead doesn’t always get the credit it deserves: it’s an elevated slasher, but one that hits its beats so well as a slasher/monster-in-the-woods movie that sometimes that’s all people can remember about it.

Next up was Belphegor: Phantom of the Louvre, a 2001 French horror film with Sophie Marceau and Julie Christie (and subtitles, if anyone is averse to such things) in which an ancient Egyptian spirit possesses a young woman in an attempt to cross over to its promised afterlife. I can’t really speak to whether it’s “good,” because frankly, my goodwill as a viewer can be almost completely bought with mummies. This is the second movie with French-speaking mummies that I have enjoyed this year—the other being The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec—and at some point one just has to admit to having a weakness other people don’t have.

The reviews of this I’ve found online haven’t been complimentary, and it is apparently a remake of an earlier film that people also disliked. Perhaps some of this stems from stereotyping, though: most American viewers expect a French film to be artsy, and horror-savvy viewers likely associate French film with Haute Tension and the like. For my part, I fully support the right of any nation to make slightly silly horror fare, and thieving mummy-spirits amok in the Louvre is a lot of fun indeed.


Next time: In which I am briefly twelve again.