Created and narrated by Aaron Mahnke
I love lore.
Mythology, legends, stories, fables, tales…LORE. It’s been my obsession since I was a tyke. It’s what I do with The Gasp Menagerie, at the heart of it.
I love the word and what it means, because it’s without judgement. I frequently talk about the lore of the Bible, and I believe in the Bible. I talk about the lore surrounding alien abductions, and I don’t believe in that at all. I can talk about the lore surrounding demonic possession, water-based cryptids, a specific haunted house, or even the Lost Dutchman mine. The word encompasses all of that and more.
I also love “Lore,” the new TV series on Amazon based on the podcast by Aaron Mahnke. The show is narrated by Mahnke, making it a true extension of the podcast, but it’s so very much more.
The series, currently limited to six episodes on Amazon, is executive produced in part by Gale Anne Hurd and Glen Morgan. Those names should be familiar: One was part of many of James Cameron’s seminal works and produced many other great films and TV shows on her own, and the other is legendary for his work producing and writing for “The X-Files.” These aren’t lightweights, and this show proves that.
Each episode follows a format. There’s an introductory bit of lore that serves to introduce the basic concept they’ll be covering in that episode, but isn’t the main story. We then move into the primary tale told in the episode. This is always re-enacted dramatically, usually led by a fairly famous guest star. During the episode’s main tale, Mahnke will break in with other short bits of lore that speak to what’s happening in the main story or kind of splinter off the main concept of the episode’s lore. It’s ingenious, entertaining, educational, and just fun as hell. Finally, the main story wraps up, leaving the reader with the details, but no real answers. It’s up to them to decide; this show just gives you the lore.
These are six extremely well-made episodes of television. Each 45-minute episode is different; yet, all of them generally focus on something creepy. Subjects can be as wild and spooky as hauntings or werewolves or all-too-real horrors like the lobotomy craze of the 50’s and 60’s. As each also has its own cast, these feel like little mini-movies rather than episodic television. Watched separately, you’d never guess “They Made A Tonic” and “Echoes” were the same show, but they sit next to each other as Episodes 1 and 2.
“Tonic” is a creepy, tragic tale led by the great Campbell Scott (at his most stoic and sympathetic here) that tells a tale of New England and the “consumption” epidemic in the 19th century. It’s not afraid to show the suspicions of these poor folks on screen, as fears of the risen dead reach a fever pitch when families die. By visualizing what they fear to be true, the spook factor is elevated and we’re put in their shoes.
“Echoes” meanwhile is shot very stylistically in black and white, with a cheerful and sociopathic Colm Feore portraying the man who invented and popularized the frontal lobotomy despite its obvious catastrophic damage to patients. All 50’s sitcom in presentation, the casual horror involved in what happens on screen will make your skin crawl as Mahnke’s other lore looks at asylums and madness in general.
“Black Stockings” goes to a bit of lore more famous in Ireland than here in the US: the tale of Michael Cleary and his doomed wife, Brigitte, as she is suspected of being the victim of a changeling. Mahnke uses his sidesteps into other lore to give suggestions as to what’s really behind the superstition and fear here, and the outcome is brilliant and chilling. The great John Byner, someone I thought was dead, appears in this one as Brigitte’s father.
“Passing Notes” is the most outright terrifying of the episodes. Written by Glen Morgan himself, this one covers spiritualism in general using the specific case of the Stratford Knockings. Robert Patrick is excellent in this one as the reverend Eli Phelps, a man torn between his faith in God and the growing belief in the “science” of spiritualism in the 19th century. As events escalate and it becomes apparent that he isn’t speaking to his lost wife, we’re left with a magnificent short horror film.
“The Beast Within” deals with werewolves, and in doing so brings up several pieces of lore that even I hadn’t heard of. The primary story is one that should have been used as the basis of a feature years before. As such, it’s a bit rushed but has great performances all around, especially young Cassady McClincy as Greta, the only victim to escape the wolf preying on the people of Bedburg, Germany, in the 16th century. Or did she?
The last episode, “Unboxed” is timely given the release of a new Chucky film. Dolls. Haunted ones, specifically. The main story here is Robert, the original spooky and possibly murderous doll down in Key West, Florida. The tale here is well-told and easily convinces you to be uneasy in any toy room. Again, Mahnke’s choices for the other bits of lore here are clever and appropriate, especially the bit about Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy.
This is an incredible start. The only negative I can find is that there aren’t more episodes. It’s just that good. Amazon continues to make a run right at the big boys of original content for streaming services with “Lore.” Mahnke is now on tour with a live version of his podcast, and I hope to see that show when it lands in Dallas next month. Now we just need MORE “LORE.”
American Psycho Meets Creep – Strawberry Flavored Plastic Review
Starring Aidan Bristow, Nicholas Urda, Andres Montejo
Directed by Colin Bemis
Recently I wrote up an article here on Dread Central which was basically an open letter to anyone who was listening called “I Miss Found Footage.” Well, it seems like someone WAS listening, as I was then sent the link to an all-new found footage film called Strawberry Flavored Plastic from first-time writer-director Colin Bemis.
The film follows the “still-at-large crimes of Noel, a repentant, classy and charming serial killer loose in the suburbs of New York.” Basically, you could think of the flick as American Psycho meets Mark Duplass and Partick Brice’s Creep. That, or you could think of it as “Man Bites Dog in color!” However you choose to label Colin Bemis’ psychological thriller, just make sure you check out the film once it hits in the future.
As I alluded to above, the film is basically a found footage version of American Psycho. But that said, the film sports a twist on the charming serial killer subgenre that I have yet to see play out in any of the above-mentioned classics. I’m not going to go into spoiler territory here, but I will say that the film introduces an element to the tale that spins it into much more of a character drama than a straight horror film. Not that there is anything wrong with that!
Truth be told, the film’s turn from serial killer flick into a layered character study might have been its kiss of death, but this slight genre switch is rendered a minor issue as the film’s central narcissistic antagonist is played by Aidan Bristow. Bristow is an actor you may not have heard of before this review, but you will hear his name more and more over the years to come, I promise. The guy gives (no pun intended) a killer performance as the film’s resident serial killer Noel Rose, and time after time surprised me with how chilling, charming, or downright vulnerable he chose to play any given scene.
Bristow’s performance is, in the end, the major element the film has going for it. But that said, as a fan of found footage, I was smiling ear to ear at first-time director Colin Bemis’ understanding of what makes a found footage suspense sequence work.
In Strawberry Flavored Plastic director Colin Bemis is confident and content to allow full emotional scenes to play out with the camera directed at nothing more than a character’s knees. Why is this so important? Because it keeps the reality of the film going. Too many found footage directors would focus on the actors’ faces during such emotional scenes – no matter how contrived the camera angle was. In this film, however, Bemis favors the reality that says, “If you were really in this emotional state and holding a camera, you would let it drop to your side.” I agree, and it is small touches like that which make the film feel authentic and thus – once the shite hits the fan – all the scarier.
On the dull side of the kitchen knife, the film does feel a bit long even given it’s short running time, and there doesn’t seem too much in the way of visceral horror to be found within. Again, graphic blood and gore aren’t a must in a fright flick, but a tad more of the old ultra-violence would have gone a long way in selling our main psychopath’s insanity and unpredictability. But all the same, the film does feature a rather shocking sequence where our main baddie performs a brutal home invasion/murder that puts this film firmly in the realm of horror. In fact, the particular POV home invasion scene I’m talking about holds about as much horror as you’ll ever wish to witness.
In the end, Colin Bemis’ Strawberry Flavored Plastic is a must-see for fans of found footage and serial killer studies such as American Pyscho, Creep, and Man Bites Dog. I recommend giving it a watch once it premieres. If only to be able to point to Aidan Bristow in the near future and tell all your friends that you watched (one of) his first movies.
Lead actor Aidan Bristow turns in a star-making performance in Colin Bemis’ Strawberry Flavored Plastic, a found footage film that plays out like Man Bites Dog in Color before introducing a new element to the charming-serial-killer subgenre and becoming more character study than a straight horror. Think American Psycho meets Creep.
Who Goes There Podcast: Ep 148 – Inside (2017 Remake)
We’ve all heard the old saying, “in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” Well, I’m here to tell you that’s only partially true. It seems there is a third certainty that had been omitted from the original quote, “It is certain, if you enjoy a movie, at some point someone will remake that movie.” Now is the time when one of my favorite movies gets reimagined, “for an American audience”.
In the late 2000’s an explosion of “French extreme” horror films was released. Martyrs and or High Tension can often be found on any number of lists of the “most fucked up horror movies ever”. Unfortunately, the vastly superior Inside is often forgotten (as well as Frontier(s), but that’s a whole ‘nother rant). Now, ten years after it’s initial release, Inside has been Americanized. Don’t worry, we watched it so you don’t have to. You’re welcome.
Mommy says you’re not dead. Is that true? It’s the Who Goes There Podcast episode 148!
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Totem Review – It’s Not Always A Bad Thing To Look Up From The Bottom Level, If You Like That View
Starring Kerris Dorsey, James Tupper, Ahna O’Reilly
Directed by Marcel Sarmiento
Following the untimely death of a family’s matriarchal figure, a young woman finds out that managing to hold all of the pieces in place becomes increasingly more difficult when otherworldly infiltrators make their presence felt. We’re going to have to work our way up this Totem, as
17 year old Kellie is the leading lady of the home following the passing of her mother Lexy, and with a needy father and tiny tot of a baby sister, she still keeps things in working order, regardless of the rather large hole that’s been left in the dynamic due to the death. Kellie’s dad after a while decides to ask his lady-friend to move in with the family, so that everyone can move onto a more peaceful existence…yeah, because those types of instances always seem to work seamlessly. As fate would have it, Kellie’s sense of pride is now taking a beating with the new woman in the mix, and her little sister’s new “visitor” is even more disturbed by this intruder – only question is, exactly who is this supernatural pal of sorts? Is it the spirit of their dead mother standing by to keep watch over the family, or is it something that’s found its way to this group, and has much more evil intentions at hand?
What works here is the context of something innately malicious that has found its way into the home – there are only a couple moments that come off as unsettling, but the notion of having to weave through more than half the film acting as a sullen-teen drama is rather painful. The presentation of the “broken family” is one that’s been done to death, and with better results overall, and that’s not to say that the movie is a complete loss, it just takes far too much weeding through at times stale performances and even more stagnant pacing to get to a moderately decent late-stage conclusion to the film. Under the direction of Marcel Sarmiento (Deadgirl), I’d truly hoped for something a bit more along the lines of a disturbing project such as that one, but the only thing disturbing was the time I’d invested in checking this one out. My best advice is to tune into the Lifetime channel if you want a sulky teen-melodrama with a tinge of horror, or you could simply jump into this one and work your way up…but it’s a LONG way to the top.
Sulky, moody, and ridden with teen-angst buried in the middle of a supernatural mystery – SOUNDS like a decent premise, doesn’t it?
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