Over the Labor Day weekend, I got to do something I have literally not been able to do for close to four years. And before you ask, it had nothing to do with goat leggings or full moons.
Having been trapped in academic hell since January 2018 when I made the questionable decision to pursue a doctorate degree, I have had zero time to enjoy simple pleasures. Like sleeping, or having a weekend off. However, the thing I missed most was devoting an entire day (or two) to devouring a good book. To me, there is nothing quite as awesome as parking myself with some snacks and a cold drink, then tucking in to a novel from cover to cover. Due to a series of fortunate events, that is precisely what I was able to do this last Sunday and Monday.
Knowing I would have this extremely rare extravagance, I did another thing I haven’t done in ages: spend a few hours at my local Barnes and Nobel choosing the perfect title. In the “new releases” section I found My Heart is a Chainsaw by prolific horror writer Stephen Graham Jones, which had just hit shelves on August 31st.
A search for “Jack the Ripper” in Amazon books results in over 2,000 titles, 77 of which were released in the last 90 days — and 19 “coming soon.” London’s most famous unsolved serial-killings are still a draw 132 years after the last victim was found on November 7, 1888. The story of five horrific murders in the Whitechapel neighborhood first appeared in sensationalized newspaper articles, eventually moving to Victorian “penny dreadfuls” before being chronicled in every medium imaginable. From poems to plays, music to movies and board games to video games, the world never seems to tire of “Gentleman Jack,” the faceless slasher who lurked in the foggy alleyways of bygone London.
The history of the “Jack the Ripper,” a name which the killer gave himself in one of the taunting letters delivered to the police, reads like fiction. In Victorian England, London’s East End was a teeming slum occupied by nearly a million of the city’s poorest citizens. Many women were forced to resort to prostitution, and in 1888 there were estimated to be more than 1,000 prostitutes in Whitechapel.
It was July 18, 1986 in the movie Aliens (where the year was 2122), when Ellen Ripley told Corporal Dwayne Hicks to “show her everything.” Ripley was actually referring to the totally badass M41-A pulse rifle, standard issue for the Colonial Marine Corp who is defending space at that time. Ripley ultimately weaponed up and used an M41-A to wreak alien carnage in what has become one of the most iconic combat scenes in cinema history.
Fast backward 101 years minus a month, to August 2021, where we just passed the 35th anniversary of Aliens’ theatrical release. Here, the Earth is overrun with a different bug for you to hunt, and now you’ve just been given the best belated gift ever…
Kids and the supernatural have always had a connection. Maybe it has something to do with the innocence of youth making them more accepting and open minded. I clearly remember my friend Noona as the little girl who lived behind the headboard of my bed in the small apartment we called home until I was six. The apartment was the second floor of an old house that my Mom and Dad rented when they were first married. Mom was 22 when I was born and tells me I used to scare the crap out of her. She says she’d come in my room to check on me during the night, and find me sitting up wide awake, making happy baby noises to the wall at the backside of the crib.
When I could talk, these nighttime adventures turned into me whispering with Noona. When I was nearly 7, we moved into our newly constructed home a few blocks away and Noona stayed behind. Either I grew out of her, or she couldn’t leave that old house, or…
Building which now houses Le Petite, in the early 1900s
When someone finds out that writing for Black Gate is my side hustle, you can be sure that in 3 minutes or less I’ll get asked if I’ve ever seen a ghost. I can say with all conviction, that I have certainly tried harder than the average person. I have attended 38 “ghost hunts” in 11 countries, accompanying paranormal investigators with credentials of varying legitimacy. I have sat up all night, surrounded by EVP recorders, EMP detectors, spirit boxes, full spectrum POV cameras and EDI meters. I’ve done this in places like the catacombs under the streets of Edenborough, Scotland, in the burial chambers beneath St. Martin-in-the-Fields church in London, Waldfriedhof Cemetery in Munich, Germany and the battlefield of Gettysburg. I consider myself an open-minded skeptic who would love to believe that spirits walk among us, or at least that the shadowy imprints of past events are occasionally visible. However, the most consistent thing I captured on the numerous outings to these damp, chilly places, was a cold.
Needless to say, the people who ask about my ghost adventures are disappointed. “You’ve never seen anything?” they ask, “Like an-nee-thing?”
Admittedly I approached A Quiet Place II with skepticism. I thought the first installment of the film, A Quiet Place released in 2018, was a genius take on the alien invasion story which has been explored dozens, if not hundreds, of times in Hollywood. Without dropping any spoilers, the story follows a family and their struggle to survive a post-apocalyptic alien invasion. We enter the story after nearly a year of horrific death and destruction has already occurred, perpetuated by alien creatures who are sightless, but hone in and destroy anything or anyone making the slightest sound, thanks to their ultrasensitive hearing. The result is a film that was almost totally silent (the script contained a total of 25 lines of dialog for a 3-hour, 36-minute run time), driving the visuals into even sharper focus. And the intense quiet made the jump scares more intense. In short, A Quiet Place worked because it was so unique.
Now, three years later, A Quiet Place IIhit theaters, once again helmed by the husband-and-wife team of John Krasinski and Emily Blunt. Both star in the follow up, and Krasinski is back to assume writing and directing duties as well. This alone seemed to point to another entertaining outing, but could the elements that made A Quiet Place a standout take on a horror movie trope work twice?
Given my favorite genre, watching anything that results in hysterical laughter is a rarity. It isn’t that I don’t have a sense of humor. You couldn’t work here without one. It’s just that the opportunities to partake in hilarity doesn’t often arise in the horror industry; but when it does, the source is usually something very special.
Such is the case with the FX series What We Do in the Shadows. The two-season series is a look into the daily lives of four vampires who’ve been together for hundreds of years, and their “familiar,” the young Guillermo, whose dearest wish is to be turned into a vampire in payment for his years of faithful service. This show, which is also available to stream on Hulu and Amazon Prime, is just plain wrong, which is what makes it so darn funny. No subject is off limits, and though some might characterize the humor as of the “potty” variety, personally that is precisely what I need in the all-too-serious times we live in.
I mean there are literally hundreds of vampire movies, so to come up with a unique way to portray them is really something to be excited about. And I am.
The last time anyone came close to this was when John Ajvide Lindqvist first penned his novel, then the screenplay of Let the Right One In back in 2008. The movie was Swedish with English subtitles, which somehow made it seem bleaker than it otherwise would have been. Though a couple years later an English version was filmed, it wasn’t as dark nor as artful as the original. I won’t spoil it for you here, but if you haven’t seen the story of a child vampire and her human companion, you won’t be sorry.
This week a trailer dropped for a new German-language Netflix movie. Netflix has ten foreign language films scheduled for 2021, which is a huge change from just a few years ago, when most major movie studios wouldn’t have considered releasing a non-English-language feature in the United States.
It’s probably no surprise to anyone that the FX series What We Do in the Shadows is one of my favorite shows ever. Each 30-minute episode has me literally crying laughing, and I’ve watched seasons 1 and 2 on demand multiple times while I wait for the release of season 3 in September. Something about mixing horror and comedy, ala American Werewolf in London or Zombieland just works for me.
A first look at the trailer for Werewolves Within makes me think this will be a film to go see in the theaters. I mean, I used to go see everything in the theaters. But being stuck at home for the last year has made a lot of us antisocial, and I find myself weighing the worthiness factor of a film before deciding where to see it. Such as, “is this film worthy of me putting on real clothes and sitting in the vicinity of other people I’m not related to?” And why do I think Werewolves Within is worthy? First of all, its origin story is kind of cool.
With regards to movies, my mantra has always been that if you tell me a good story, I’ll willingly suspend my disbelief. I’m not one to pick apart details or demand every plot hole be plugged if, overall, the story is entertaining. For example, I thoroughly enjoyed Wonder Woman 1984, even though critics were all over it for a number of plot-related reasons. However, even I have my limits, such as Godzilla vs. Kong. Since when is King Kong as big as the buildings he used to scale? That said, I was ready to go all in for Army of the Dead, especially as I really love a good zombie movie. I probably did have a bit of lingering doubt as I did not rush out to see this one during its theaters-only first week of release. Instead, I avoided all reviews and spoilers until I could watch it on Netflix where it debuted on May 14th.