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Why We Write About Horror Amidst Tragedy



Last night the United States was the victim of its worst mass shooting in the country’s history. As of this writing, at least 58 people were murdered and over 500 were injured by a man whose name I will not write, who shot from a high vantage point at the Mandalay Bay Resort into a crowd at a country music festival.

Like so many other mass shootings, it was a senseless act of violence. I won’t go into my own political thoughts on how tragedies like this can be averted because it’s not my place to foist my opinions on anyone. Instead, I will use this platform to mourn the dead, send my thoughts to the injured, and wonder what it will take to see some sort of change so that events like this can fade into history.

I’ve been asked how I can write about horror during such times, which I feel is a valid question. It’s not that I believe horror has no place during these moments; it’s that I feel some people don’t have the context or understanding of horror to understand why it’s so necessary.

The Greek philosopher Aristotle was believed to have coined the term “catharsis,” which he described as using performing arts of the time, such as plays, to purge ill thoughts and negative emotions from one’s self. It’s an incredibly powerful concept and one that is all too necessary and precious in times like these. In his piece Violent media may have a cathartic role in healthy lives, Virginia Tech Associate Professor of Philosophy James C. Klagge wrote, “It seems likely that [violent video games, horror movies, and heavy metal] tap something in us, or in some of us.” Meanwhile, in their 2005 Journal of Media Psychology paper The psychological appeal of movie monters, Fischoff et al. stated, “Movie monsters provide us with the opportunity to see and learn strategies of coping with real-life monsters should we run into them, despite all probabilities to the contrary.

Many of us are drawn to the more controversial forms of media for a wide variety of reasons. As a lover of heavy metal, violent video games, and horror (across all media), I know all too well the stigma that comes from associating myself with such genres. The problem I see is that some people are happy to immediately jump to conclusions without having even the most basic of curiosity so as to ask “Why?

I don’t watch horror because I love seeing people get killed. I mean, I DO, but that’s a bonus. Who doesn’t get a cathartic sense of joy when seeing the asshole get their comeuppance? No, I watch horror because I love seeing people survive. I watch it because I get to see people realize that life is so worth living, that it’s so worth enjoying, that they are willing to fight for even one more second. It’s those moments that fill me with inspiration and joy.

It’s seeing Lili Taylor’s “Carolyn Perron” exorcised by memories of love and family in The Conjuring. It’s seeing Heather Langenkamp’s “Nancy Thompson” realize that Freddy Krueger is nothing more than a nightmare, something she is old enough to see as powerless. It’s seeing Neve Campbell’s “Sidney Prescott,” even though she lives in a self-imposed exile, become a crisis counselor for others, despite all the trauma and tragedy she herself has gone through.

These are but a microscopic amount of examples of horror characters who prove that there is good in this world. These are characters who show growth, poise, grace, and strength far beyond what many of us are capable of. They are inspiring, at least to me. And if I find inspiration in horror, does that not prove its importance and necessity, even in the darkest of times?

By now we’ve all heard the phrase, “Look for the helpers.” In events like these, they are the people who rush to the aid of those fallen. They are the first responders who throw themselves into the fray, regardless of the risk to their own lives. And for many, they are the ones who help afterwards.

If you wish to help those who are in need, I recommend giving blood at your local Red Cross. For those who wish to show that horror can help, don’t forget that Jigsaw is continuing the tradition set out by Saw for their own blood drive, which you can read about here. By their own statement, the Saw charity blood drive has accumulated over 120,000 pints of blood, saving more than 360,000 people.

Horror may be known for bringing about death and violence. But let us not forget that it also celebrates the triumph of survival and the power of helping those around us. In times like today, I think we could all use that reminder.




Maternal Madness: Why Pyewacket Is Lady Bird for Horror Fans



Please don’t read this editorial as an attempt to stoke the fires of horror classification and Oscar-worthy representation. Adam MacDonald’s Pyewacket is, so substantially, a child’s diary that’s shredded to bits during ritualistic sacrifice. Doors that should remain forever boarded are flung open with impulsive negligence, spared not by impunity as pitchfork-scarred figures charge towards the now unblocked opening. Generational unreset and Satan’s deceit lead a cacophonous moral charge, yet even amidst MacDonald’s familial kerfuffle, it takes little sleuthing to proclaim Pyewacket the horror genre’s answer to Greta Gerwig’s Best Picture Nominee Lady Bird.

This is an exercise in theme, tone and tale – plenty more, never less.

It is quite true that both projects differ in climax – one a heart-swelling reunion (Lady Bird), the other a black magic kiss of death (Pyewacket) – but neither narrative dismisses two deeply moving stories about maternal relations. Two intentionally blurry impressions (do you even know how being alive works?), both tremendously rich in their abilities to exploit the unpredictability of emotion and a parent’s eternal love. Each project’s young female protagonist thinks they’re being imprisoned, even mistreated, only to highlight the live-and-learn faults in misunderstanding. We were all kids once, and someday we’ll be parents too (if you choose). Look no further to find equal films that so honestly address both points of view – albeit it in uniquely separate ways.

Nicole Muñoz stars as Pyewacket’s Leah Reyes, your average goth-punk “outcast” who’s obsessed with occult practices. Her mother (played by Laurie Holden) is usually drunk or distraught, a hollow shell of herself ever since the death of Leah’s father. Mrs. Reyes reaches a point where she can no longer endure her current living arrangement so she decides to purchase a woodsy, secluded cabin (without haunting memories). Leah lashes out as any transplanted child would, even though Mrs. Reyes fairly keeps her enrolled in current schooling situations. Nevertheless, Leah turns to her ritualistic hobby and calls for the demon Pyewacket as a form of adolescent overreacting – a deadly curse that must be broken when imbalanced hormones subside in the dumbstruck youth.

Where Lady Bird takes the road more often traveled – a mother and daughter’s symbiotic tug-of-war that’s rooted in sarcastic loveliness – Pyewacket allows for something more malicious. This nightmare scenario where a teenager acts on momentary inhibitions to cause harm unto their parent. It’s that gut-punch family moment where a child screams “I WISH YOU WERE DEAD” from behind cascading tears because he or she isn’t allowed to stay up past 10:00 PM or something just as trivial – but MacDonald *actually* rationalizes such a heartless and empty gesture. This is, destructively, Pyewacket’s grinning premise – except without take-backsies. Extreme to the max, because horror’s most meaningful representations understand and exploit far-reaching depths of our most questionable experiences.

Imagine. Lady Bird is so honest, open and painstakingly enthralled by its flaws, but Pyewacket ups the game with a thick layer of Salem-scented dread. There’s no phone call that erases bitterness once Leah realizes her mother is just trying to do her best in an unspeakable situation. Pyewacket has been summoned from the woods and does not stop advancing – resurrected in anger, acting on ill wishes that can’t be erased. A demon that represents the materialization of dwelled-upon negative thoughts. One girl damned by the stigma of unforgiveness. I might argue that Pyewacket harbors a stronger bond for audiences to detect versus Lady Bird, if only because viewers can sense an *avoidable* (and horrific) end for one, maybe even two lives.

In throwing Laurie Holden and Laurie Metcalf comparisons around (both mamas), yes – it’s acknowledged that Holden portrays a more volatile arc. She’s grief-stricken, typically passing out whilst “enjoying” red wine or saying the wrong thing to her daughter. It’s never intentional, but emotions are so inherently complicated and subject to personal comprehension – something we often forget ourselves (like Leah does). She’s a strong girl who happens to find comfort in pentagram shapes and incantations. Her mother? Smashed to jagged pieces. But here she is trying to piece together a crumbled existence, asking her kin for help. The move isn’t an act of betrayal, it’s permission for understanding (much like how Lady Bird and her mother take everything personally). As (self-obsessed) children, it’s hard to see the big picture.

So important is a reminder that we’re all just sacks of flesh and cerebral neurons that are trying to make sense of infinite existential unknowns. Maturity provides no one an answer key. Metcalf’s decision to abstain from conversation when Saoirse Ronan flies away and Holden’s depleted capacity to “deal” are both neither “wrong” nor “right.” Good decisions? Hardly – but that’s not for you to say. I love this brand of steadfast imperfection because it allows for latter-act breakthroughs where two characters finally channel the same wavelength. Both stories trace these lines so incomparably well, which is an easy inclination of similarity. Pyewacket as vividly wounded as Lady Bird despite horror sadism.

MacDonald makes the most of his film’s satanic roots with heretic details. Leah’s Pyewacket awakening so researched (oil, milk, herbs, blood from her wrist, subject’s hair), her ensuing torments chilled to the bone. This, of course, is the biggest gap between Lady Bird and Pyewacket – Lady never had to fake sleeping while a midnight demon sat *on* her bedroom wall (downright paralyzing sight) – but that’s what gives Leah’s struggle its signature genre stench. There is no fear of pushing boundaries too far as a “wannabe Manson chick” must live with decisions poised to haunt her every waking hour – if they’re proven real (you better believe there’s a sick psychological duality at play).

Of course, Muñoz’s performance is just as important as Holden’s given the situation. How is a child with no worldly experience suppose to take her mother’s exclamation of “Moving on is impossible with your father’s face?” The weight here is heavy, with Muñoz dealt a much uglier hand given Ronan’s intermittent department store banter and more obvious hints of mixed messages. Leah’s HIM posters and Rowan Dove books (an occult writer she admires) are her safety net – an escape from depression. Lady Bird acts out in her own way, but for genre fans, this is a familiar trope – executed so beautifully by both MacDonald and his young starlet. Muñoz sells her angst, paranoia and teenage selfishness like a pro (ditto Ronan). Be careful, this is one of those feely, decadently rich emotional horror flicks some of y’all are afraid of (jk WATCH THIS MOVIE).

Am I using broad strokes to latch Gerwig’s California-hazed coming-of-age dramedy onto a movie about a malevolent spirit set free by a woefully unprepared child? Maybe, but not as blindly as you’d think. Both films run a tremendously relationship-driven undercurrent that evolves with analogous devotion, creepy Pyewacket chase sequence or not. Both proficiently understand parental dynamics (and fears), both highlight egregious Hollywood misconceptions about raising children and love, both connect messy characters through blood and experience – don’t be fooled by monsters in one and Timothée Chalamet in the other. Pyewacket is a brooding rumination on hasty decisions and stewing over perceptions we create ourselves, but also the power in coming-of-age – and the unknowingness that remains in adulthood.

Horror fans, do not skip out on such a genrefied dagger to the heart as Pyewacket – one marvelous movie about our human condition in horrific form. As tragically beautiful as is it cautiously forthcoming. Pure, bare-it-all art laced with the devil’s strongest brew.


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Kip Weeks, Original Man in the Mask, Slashes The Strangers: Prey at Night




We need to quit the knee-jerk hatred towards sequels; recent follow-ups like Ouija: Origin of Evil, The Conjuring 2, and Annabelle: Creation prove that creative ideas and talented directors can exceed expectations set by an original.

But we can’t give sequels a free pass to be mediocre either. For example, the response to the follow-up to Bryan Bertino’s home invasion masterpiece, The Strangers: Prey at Night, recently debuted to extremely mixed reviews. Pessimists bemoan, “What did you expect? Most sequels are unabashed cash-grabs!” In the case of The Strangers, I expected a lot more.

Fans of the 2008 shocker have been clamoring for a sequel for years, but no one wanted the wait to end with the unceremonious dispatches of some of the 21st Century’s most iconic new villains. I’m talking about the titular Strangers themselves, the murderous trio dubbed Dollface, Pin-Up, and The Man in the Mask.

While attempts to give characters like Michael Myers and Leatherface backstories have backfired by turning manifestations of evil into melodramatic anti-heroes (thus demystified and deflating their sources of terror), such an endeavor isn’t always a liability. In the case of Prey at Night, it should have been considered a necessity. The first Strangers concluded with hints that Dollface was conflicted; simultaneously, the juxtaposition of Mormon missionaries hinted at cultish motivations (beyond the infliction of random acts of violence).

While the unknown was key to the terror of The Strangers, it was a one trick pony; the franchise could only flourish with an expansion of the implied mythology created in 2008. Of course, Prey director Johannes Roberts’ decision to assassinate these compelling masked invaders proves he really had no intention of turning Bertino’s original into a franchise, something that left me feeling extremely disheartened.

And I’m not the only one; among the lambasts of fans and critics comes a vocal response from the original Man in the Mask, Kip Weeks (replaced by Damian Maffei in Prey). I caught up with him after he chimed in on a negative review in Variety. And lest you think it’s a case of sour grapes, I wouldn’t be sharing his insights if I didn’t agree fully.

Dread Central: We were all bummed the original Strangers actors weren’t recast. Now that Prey at Night has premiered to mostly negative reviews, can we get your thoughts? Specifically, why does Prey fail where the original Strangers succeeded?

Kip Weeks: I had a long back and forth with one of the producers. I told him, “You destroyed an art form.”

DC: Did you give him any specifics?

KP: I told him: “You have no idea what it means to create a character from its core. You made a piece of shit, jump scare movie without realizing you had gold in your hands.”

DC: What should the producers have done differently?

KP: They could have made a movie about “The Strangers”: where they came from and why they became killers. Instead, they made it about some bullshit family and wasted Christina Hendricks’ acting skills. The fans wanted depth and story and honesty. They gave them shit.


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Zena’s Period Blood: Pin Up the Period Blood



It can be difficult finding horror films of quality, so allow me to welcome you to your salvation from frustration. “Zena’s Period Blood” is here to guide you to the horror films that will make you say, “This is a good horror. Point blank. PERIOD.”

“Zena’s Period Blood” focuses on under-appreciated and hidden horror films.

Allow me to do a proper introduction for once.

Pin was directed by Sandor Stern and is based on the book by Andrew Neiderman. The film introduces us to Leon, an 8-year-old boy who believes that Pin, a medical dummy, is alive. Leon’s father, Dr. Linden, is a ventriloquist who projects his voice onto Pin and uses the dummy to teach his kids and patients about bodily functions. See, that was a modest introduction. I even made it seem like I was introducing a nice, little Goosebumps episode. But, no. THERE’S SEX. Sex played a huge part in this movie. They referred to it as “the need”. Freaking intelligent. They made it sound like it was as powerful as “the force” from Star Wars. Oddly enough, Leon’s younger sister Ursula, at the sprightful age of five, deduced that she was going to like “the need” as a teenager.

“The need” led to Ursula becoming pregnant at fifteen. Terrified, she confides in Leon for instruction whose bright idea is to talk to Pin. Yes, the medical dummy. Ursula reluctantly agrees to this absurd idea and discovers that 18-year-old Leon can also perform ventriloquism, although he believes Pin is truly speaking to him. The voice tells them to come clean to their father, who after being told performs the abortion of Ursula’s baby. This caught me completely by surprise. Abortion was not deeply debated in this movie, yet I still commended the bravery of Stern and Neiderman to include this. Nonetheless, here we see that even as a teenager, Leon relies on Pin to give him advice. Although Leon has developed his own ability of ventriloquism, he gives Pin the same personality that Dr. Linden gave the medical doll.

Before leaving to give a speech one night, Dr. Linden returns to his office to find Leon having a conversation with Pin, via ventriloquism. Observing his son’s psychosis, he takes Pin, insisting that he must use the doll in his speech. Unfortunately, on the way to the ceremony, Mr. and Mrs. Linden are killed in a car crash.

Okay, so far I’ve talked about five characters but said little regarding my feelings about the film. I must start with my adoration for the subtle hints given about each character’s personality. You never received a straight in-your-face revelation, like he’s the weirdo or she’s the slut. Still, the little hints instantly put you at ease with understanding these characters. There is nothing more annoying than spending thirty minutes with a character and having no idea what his or her motives are for their behaviors.

In addition to the characters, clever actions in the story often cloud you from foreseeing outcomes. For example, there could be a jacket picked up nonchalantly or a wristwatch given as a gift and you would think very little of it. The foreshadowing happened so casually that when you finally saw the significance of that prop or article of clothing, you were mesmerized at the calculated execution. It seemed like the entire crew was super competitive all while displaying immaculate teamwork. The unique screenplay coupled impeccably with stunning camerawork. A notable scene involved Ursula discussing Leon’s schizophrenia with her boyfriend Stan. We hear Stan behind the camera, but we see Ursula bickering in the foreground and simultaneously see a mirror in the background holding Leon’s reflection as he painfully listens behind a wall. You can tell that cinematographer Guy Dufaux meticulously walked each set to determine how best to tell the story. I love when a cinematographer and director take this much time to learn the screenplay and the sets. I also love the fact that Guy Dufaux had his wife help out on the movie set (she operated the clapper). This gleefully reminded me of my relationship with my husband. He and I work together now; but before, I used to go to his job and help him out from time to time. My primary task was to remind whores that their place in this world was anywhere but near him. While in these shops, I discovered that even elderly women over 102 years old can still have “the need”.

Now, I know you thought this was going to be a regular review. I even tried to give you a modest introduction (emember the “Goosebumps” thing). And yet, all of the previous information was presented to build a case for something. Sorry that you didn’t know you had been summoned to court, but we are here to discuss the case of Good Booty vs. Bad Booty. Let me explain: first, allow me to reintroduce you to Stan.

In the movie, Stan seemed to be a well-brought-up guy: nice looking, studious, the type of guy momma and poppa would be proud to see you bring home.

Let’s say we, like Ursula, are casually introduced to Stan.

Let’s say he spots us in the library like he spotted her.

We are a hot girl named, well, Ursula, sitting there, working in-between helping customers.

Stan figures he’d be polite and say hello.

Okay. The scene is set.

Is there something we should tell Stan? I mean, he’s admiring the booty already, right? Let me just get to the point. By this time in the movie, the viewer is already thinking or possibly yelling, “Stan, don’t do it, dude! Run like a bat out of hell, Stan. That is bad booty.

Bad booty is simply defined as booty that is bad for you. By this time in the movie, we knew that (1) Ursula slept with majority of the football team, (2) her brother kicked a dude in the balls so hard that we poured out a bit of liquor for the dude’s balls because there’s no resurrecting dead balls, (3) her parents died in a car crash because her father was staring in the backseat at his medical dummy, and (4) her older brother’s best friend was the medical dummy who helped him kill their Aunt Dorothy. Now of course, Stan knew nothing about the booty before he approached it. But here is my point. ALWAYS STUDY THE BOOTY! Study it in detail before you fall in love with it. Question that booty. Background check that booty. Get it together, Stan. That booty had been through enough by this point in the movie that it was probably going to end up killing Stan, which it almost did. The lesson here is to always inspect the booty.

My husband acquired “Good Booty”. The only bad part about the booty is that my attention can be taken away with the snap of a finger. For example, I first watched this movie at work. It was supposed to be background noise and light peripheral fondling as I focused on important social media statistics. All of a sudden, the peripheral fondling seized my full attention. You know that moment when your mind has its own schizophrenic conversation? Pause this awesomeness and focus on work or pause the work and focus on this awesomeness? Well, that happened to me. Pin won.

All in all, I hope we all learned something today. Determine if the booty is good or bad. Men, protect your balls from potential NFL kickers. If your five-year-old says she has “the need,” you might want to listen. And last but not least, Pin is a remarkable movie. Point blank. PERIOD.

In addition to contributing to Dread Central, Zena Dixon has been writing about all things creepy and horrific for over six years at RealQueenofHorror.com. She has always loved horror films and will soon be known directing her own feature-length horror. Feel free to follow her on Twitter @LovelyZena.


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