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Ghoul's Errand

A horror culture gazette.

Concept: What We’re Willing to Overlook

Reader Beware! Spoilers for both the novel and the movie Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe below, as well as Can’t Wait to Get to Heaven, also by Fannie Flagg. Existential kvetching.

1. I never made a conscious decision to be androgynous. PCOS did most of the heavy lifting, keeping my breasts small and my face hairy enough to put me squarely in the center of the gendered uncanny valley since puberty. The rest of it primarily stems from laziness. Why hunt for products for difficult hair when you could just cut it off? Why shave your legs when pants exist? Why find a mascara that works behind your glasses when you could just, you know, not?

Fortunately I grew up among intelligent and generous people, and any trouble I had with my appearance came from outside the house and mostly in the form of teasing. Combine the above with a love for English riding style and you could normally see me stepping out in a black t shirt under a peacoat with nothing filling it out, unknowingly looking vague and feeling just right. I’ve always leaned towards fitted clothes because they seem “correct” on me- not because they seem masculine. The skirts available in the early 2000s were either too short or too draped for my liking, so I avoided them as a rule.

Not to say that I’ve always loved my body; I still kind of hate it, but it’s always felt like mine. For a long time I thought of it in terms of Buts: I’m a woman but I can grow a goatee. Aging seems to be a relentless quest to turn into the person I’ve always hoped to become, and along the way the Buts become Ands. I’m a woman and I look a lot better with a pixie cut. I’m a woman and I have more hair on my arms than my boyfriend. I’m a woman and I look damn good in a suit.

2. Not surprisingly, Idgie Threadgoode is an extremely important character for me. High on Misery, I watched Fried Green Tomatoes for another shot of Kathy Bates and got a huge side helping of Mary Stuart Masterson as everything I have ever wanted to be. Confident, generous, great with jokes, deeply loving at the cost of being a little unhinged- and above all remarkable, of course. And able to werk an untailored tuxedo jacket.

The novel Fried Green Tomatoes is probably the reason I reach for southern girl power stories when I’m stressed out: Idgie is a human tornado in text and on screen and I keep hoping she or someone similar will rub off on me. I just reread the text in about two sittings taking a train to a wedding and I noticed… everything else.

How convenient for the characters of color that their external hobbies line up so perfectly with their occupations and archetypes, down to knowingly splitting colorist hairs. Sipsey, the family nurse, is so interested in babies that she runs halfway across town to retrieve (a black) one abandoned at the train stop. Her grandson Artis is “marked” from the start for being so dark his gums are blue: he gambles his life away and dies alone in a hotel lobby. These are the bookends to a barrage of ignorant little moments, seeming to imply that the characters worth our attention behave predictably, but the rest of them….

And there is definitely a them, in both Idgie’s timeline and Evelyn’s, despite the words in any white character’s mouth. That out of place church scene near the end of the movie comes from Evelyn’s desire, bluntly, to see how black people worship, and her monologue in the book is mostly about how strangely she feels the men are dressed. Mercifully, the movie left out Railroad Bill- probably a bit controversial even in the early 90s. The mystery man who throws canned food off the train into the black half of town turns out to be Idgie. In coal dust.

I’m appalled, partly because this was intended to be innocent humor, mostly because I forgot about it in the glow of my hero worship.

3. With that unpleasant rediscovery in mind, I switched to another Fannie Flagg novel and absolutely hated it. Can’t Wait To Get To Heaven touches less frequently on us white people and them (being set in modern Mississippi, they come in a wider variety now) but it is so heteronormative as to completely undo the good Fried Green Tomatoes brought into the world. Heaven, it turns out, is exactly how you personally imagine it, and for the protagonist, God appears as a couple she knew once. “Dorothy and Raymond” split up the duties for creating the world. Guess which one invented color. Now guess which one invented science.

Halfway finished, I took to Facebook to complain about this and got a friend’s mother’s interest piqued. She wanted to know if Jesus appears (he does not) and seemed inclined to look into it herself. I offered her my copy and didn’t get an update.

Towards the end of Heaven, however, a long-referenced scene appears and is handled in a manner that offends me to my core. It has nothing to do with religion except that it serves as evidence for why the protagonist got into heaven. As an agnostic, I’m aware that I’m not in the target audience, and have literally seen people agree with this interpretation of spirituality: for most of the novel, I took grains of salt with my own opinion. But this ending takes an abhorrent situation that might be explained fully in 50 pages and attempts to resolve it to the point of laughability in less than ten. Fannie Flagg gave me Idgie Threadgoode: I trusted her more than this. I assumed she was more talented. I wrote my friend’s mom saying “I really can’t recommend this anymore”, and I didn’t hear back.

4. Which leaves me wondering: How much do we forget when we embrace stories the way we embrace people? Are we more or less inclined to hang onto details like these, more or less inclined to react to them?

What evils have I willingly overlooked in seeking to support my own id?

The information overload era has led me to a distinct, unsettling real life horror: we lose details with every piece of media we consume. If you care passionately enough about something, you overlook its potentially dangerous flaws- and 2017 America is defined by its passions. I feel like I was dogwhistled into smiling racism, then petty, cruel thoughts about disabled people: diverted from an innocent fictitious path to something disgusting and terrifying in the real world. Given that none of this is designed to be scary, I’ve tried not to write about it for a month, but it just keeps popping up to disturb me like a mental Babadook.

Fried Green Tomatoes still fills a void for me (the movie to a larger extent than the novel, especially now). I can’t bring myself to not recommend it, but for everyone’s sake, please stay awake through it. You can skip Can’t Wait to Get To Heaven, though- it’ll make you feel the same just so you can stop reading it.

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Musing: Pet Sematary, 1989, R

Reader Beware! Spoilers for both the novel and the movie, and Pumpkinhead (1988), below. Some gory images.

1. Man Tempts Fate and Immediately Regrets It is my favorite basic plot, and it’s not nearly as satisfying when paired with the less graphic genres. I know this is a bad movie- it gets worse with every rewatch- but that’s what keeps bringing me back to it. Pet Sematary is a neat, quick little story that you can summarize in under a minute, yet it still retains a certain fascination…

2. …because even though the protagonist gets limited character development, we can understand his motivations. I’m not a parent, and from the outside I’m turned off by how much control over your own life (and the kids’) that you have to relinquish. You can have the most stable family and schedule in history, but you can’t predict the future, or protect your kids from it. That concept scares me more than anything.

Protagonist Louis’ most human character trait is his desire to insulate his family from loss. Clumsily appropriative “magick” happenings aside, the Creed family’s story arc is nightmarish, realistic, and ultimately unavoidable. Every parent risks and fears their child’s death: creation and destruction are married concepts. But because this is a Man Tempts Fate horror movie, Louis insists on being an exception to the rule.

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What warning signs?” -Louis, basically

3. Unlike novel-Louis, movie-Louis doesn’t seem to go out of his mind with grief so much as refuse to accept it. Stephen King novels only click with me about 20% of the time, and I held on to Pet Sematary because novel-Louis’ unraveling is so realistic that it borders on logical. Pet Sematary is enjoyable because it gets you to agree with a deteriorating man’s terrible decisions; Pet Sematary is enjoyable because a kind of douchey white guy tells death “Nuh UH!!” and ruins his own life so thoroughly that it’s hilarious. Again: this movie is awful.

4. I also recently watched Pumpkinhead, a similar story better on every level. Characters are consistent, the monkey’s paw lore is satisfyingly developed, and amidst all the atrocities, we see and feel regret from all sides. No one’s quite innocent in Pumpkinhead, and they all know it.

The fundamental draw to Pet Sematary is the horrible mishmash of corpse and baby, badly stapling Evil Dead tropes to the most innocent among us. NegaGage only appears in the final third, kills a few people, and laughs like Tickle Me Elmo before getting taken out by Louis, who was told he’d regret bringing him back and doesn’t seem to argue the point. There’s no emotional payoff at all, and no real character development: Louis then carries his wife off to the graveyard to keep the franchise alive. In the novel, Louis has a genuine what-have-I-done moment just before Rachel reappears- a very satisfying final emotional sting. Here, she comes in dripping and stabs him while they make out. We can maybe assume he has regrets, but the credits are rolling before we can be sure.

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Quality entertainment.

Contrast this to Pumpkinhead, whose draw is that freaky cover art monster. A man loses his son because some asshole ran him over. He takes the body to his neighbors, who know a witch who can bring the kid back, and they roundly tell him that that’s a terrible idea and he ought to accept his fate. (Familiar, right?) One of the neighbor’s teens sneaks out and helps the man anyway. The hills witch can’t revive the kid (and emphasizes that she’s sorry but that’s a terrible idea) but she can summon a demon to get the asshole that ran him over. The caveat, which the man and the audience realize together, is that the man will slowly turn into the demon himself.

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…though that process kind of begins on its own.

When the man realizes what’s happening- it begins with him seeing how the victims are killed through the demon’s eyes- he returns to the witch and begs her to call it off. He can’t bear to see the cruelty he’s unintentionally doling out, but she tells him what’s done is done. After failing to kill himself, he realizes that he and the monster feel the same pains, so he approaches the kids it’s terrorizing and beg them to kill him instead.

Here we have the entire grief cycle, ending with regret and remorse in place of acceptance. The horror makes you gape at what we might do in response to loss rather than recklessly and needlessly demonize the innocent. Somewhere between page and screen, Pet Sematary dropped the fact that Gage isn’t frightening: Louis is. Pumpkinhead tells the real story better than the adaptation.

5. And these are all the reasons I watched Pet Sematary for the fourth time last night. I love it when something this bad becomes iconic in horror culture: we’ve all seen it, and no one seems to unironically enjoy it. If you haven’t seen Pet Sematary, I’d skip it in favor of either the novel or Pumpkinhead… or literally anything else. The actors, plot, and effects have all the depth of a puddle, and are about as impressive.

Song: “The Great Mandella”, Peter, Paul and Mary, 1967

Listener Beware! Uh… all I really got is that the song only gets louder and more discordant. If you’re not paying attention, it’s really jarring, and that’s basically the story of how this post came to be.

When I was a kid, the tape deck in my mom’s car sucked in “The Very Best of Peter, Paul and Mary” and refused to spit it back out. We listened to it whenever she got sick of radio ads, and four-year-old me fell head over heels. Side A wound up defining my musical tastes to a T: I’m an instant fan of anything with tongue-in-cheek lyrics and choir vocals. Even the protest songs were accessible on some level. “If I Had a Hammer” is just plain fun, and the times are always a’changin’ when you’re that little.

But side B. Oh man, side B. I realized a while ago that I’d never heard it- we had no means of ejecting the tape and flipping it over- so I dug the album up on YouTube. Side B is arguably more interesting and pointedly more political. I listened in unawares, snickering through the schmaltz of “Don’t Laugh at Me” and “The Wedding Song”, intrigued through “El Salvador”, and completely gobsmacked by the end of “The Great Mandella”.

The Great Mandella” (sic) is about a young man who is arrested for draft dodging, then goes on a hunger strike in prison and dies. It’s told from the point of view of his father, who considers him a coward and makes no effort to bridge the gap. Deliberately discordant, it begins midsentence (“So I told him/ that he’d better/ shut his mouth and do his job like a man”) and climaxes with loud protests that sound eerily close to keening (“We’re not guilty!/ He was crazy!/ And it’s been going on for ten thousand years!”). The overall effect is bone-chilling, even after repeated plays, even if you’re just minding your business trying to write out a good description of it. Oof.

My parents were just a hair too young to be hippies, but they all had older siblings and were the children of WWII vets. (If I recall correctly, my dad got his draft notice the month we withdrew from Vietnam.) They grew up steeped in this culture, and the remnants that made it to the 90s frankly showed no respect to its depth of feeling. Draft anxiety didn’t register with me until I actually started studying it, and being some years out of college (and female, after all), I’d more or less removed the concept from my head. “The Great Mandella” brought it all scarily back and made it real and relatable, 50 years and an unforeseeable political climate later.

The part that makes my skin crawl is the concept that anyone could ever feel threatened by someone saying “no, I don’t want to kill a fellow human being”. I’m sure if I’d lived through the 1940s in real time, I’d feel very differently, and the band puts magnificent words to the thought process: “He’s a martyr/ Thinks he’s a prophet/ But he’s a coward/ He’s only playing a game”. The father’s position in the song alternates between regret at the loss war has brought into his life and hysteria taking recognizable shots at WWII propaganda (“We are free now/… Now we can end the world!”). The chorus, describing time spinning on regardless, comes in a little modified: “…if you lose you’ve only wasted your life”. And the song ends. All the keening in the world doesn’t matter- the man’s sons are dead at the hands of Vietnam despite the second one’s attempts to avoid it. War will inevitably consume everything. Take your place on the great mandella.

My generation’s impression of the 1960s is mistakenly mostly positive. We learned that questioning authority is necessary and that protests work(ed), well enough that the idea of the US before they began borders on conceptually inaccessible. We are- I am- mostly unaware of exactly how radical the time’s shift in attitudes was. The stereotype of the lazy, happy hippie is grossly inaccurate, considering the centuries of social norms they successfully overhauled.

“The Great Mandella” reminds me of all the things I don’t know in a way that’s familiar, heart wrenching, and ultimately terrifying. It’s a time capsule of two generations reacting to the nightmare situations happening live in 1967, portraying a side of the era that many of us never even realized existed. You don’t need a total primer on the 60s to feel the way both the father and the son did- it will rock you to your core regardless. It’s an incredible piece of art. Highly recommended.

Musing: American Horror Story: Freak Show, TVMA, 2014 (SPOILERS)

I have a touch and go relationship with American Horror Story. I’ve seen five seasons and liked two: Murder House and Freak Show are the only ones that don’t (ironically) feel gimmicky, or seem to run completely off the rails halfway through. I’ve rewatched both in the last week to find I’m still drawn to them.

I can’t explain my attraction to Murder House. I love a chance to get into dangerous teen boys’ heads, and the Harmons’ couple dynamics feel very realistic. Compared to other seasons, it’s fairly cohesive on the whole. The house porn certainly doesn’t hurt, either; I’m in love with those built in Tiffany fixtures.

Then there’s Freak Show. This was actually my third run through with it: the first left me stunned, the second made me cry. Unlike the other arcs, most of the protagonists enter the series as innocents, genuinely good people who happen to be in bad situations. They are victims of circumstance, nothing more.

This time I noticed a couple things.

S4 E1 displays that the freaks mostly move under cover of night and are subject to police harassment. Jimmy, whose fingers split into two pairs rather than four individuals, tastes freedom by renting himself out as a masturbatory aid. Dot and Bette, conjoined twins sharing a body below the neck, are welcomed as the newest members of the troupe. Antagonist Dandy Mott sees them and immediately attempts to buy them.

Something definitely felt off here. Turns out the plot was gearing up for a fairly offensive denouement.

S4 E2 sees the freaks involved in both a sit in and a senseless police murder: the body is returned by being thrown from the back of a truck that never fully stops. It also has the first appearance of two of the only four black characters: Dora, the Motts’ maid, and Desiree, a woman with three breasts and purring with sex appeal.

In effect, the writers chose to borrow some fairly traumatic Civil Rights imagery for a group of exclusively white people, then made it clear they couldn’t be arsed to humanize their nonwhite characters at all. Dora serves up distractingly dated head-bobbing sass alongside her meals, and Desiree alternates between Jezebel and mammy archetypes throughout.

From this point, there are all kinds of microagressions towards POC: while begging, (Legless) Suzi kills a dancer who gets more handouts than she does; a little girl asks Desiree if she’s a real lady; Bette makes a passing reference to someone as “high yellow”. Quid pro quo, Desiree and Dora both spit out “white” as an insult, as though their presence at all is equally threatening. It should be noted that Freak Show takes place in Florida in the early 1950s. While this was probably a common mindset among white people in the actual time and place, it has absolutely no business being broadcast on national TV in the 2010s.

While black cast members get the worst of the insensitivity, there are a few other notable minority players:

Ma Petite, an Indian woman somewhere around 2 feet tall and treated like a doll across the board. She’s frequently seen putting makeup on ringleader Elsa and, on one occasion, is delivered to her as a literal present. Twice she is removed from her bed in the middle of the night, the intruders only announcing their arrival at its foot. Her lack of personal agency borders on disturbing; it’s eventually revealed that she was bartered for soda to serve as a surrogate child for Pepper. She’s doomed to a life of just-go-with-it, and eventually killed by someone pretending to hug her, then snapping her neck.

Salty, Pepper, and Meep, all of whom are played by able actors in heavy makeup, all of whom are affected by unspecified mental disabilities. Meep is the least verbal, only able to say his name but otherwise functional; he’s framed early on for a cop murder and becomes the truck-delivery casualty. Salty and Pepper have the same nondescript issue, which appears to be a poor-taste play on microcephaly. Pepper is Elsa’s first “adoption”, and Salty was obtained solely to give her an “understanding” husband. When he dies of old age, Elsa can only speak of him with disgust, calling him stupid and unwilling to learn compared to his wife. Pepper becomes inconsolable with grief, so Elsa returns her to her non-freak sister. Lacking any meaningful dialogue, all three characters are presented as disposable.

Dell Toledo, a strong man, the only member of his immediate family without “lobster claws”, and of uncertain sexuality. He’s married twice to women with masculine physical traits and spends a lot of his screen time at a local gay bar. Stanley, an openly gay con artist, sees him there and blackmails him into murder (though Dell’s current wife, Desiree, drops hints that she already knows). It would appear that Dell finds it more shameful to be gay than to be a freak. Even though he has the ability to pass as “normal” in either situation, he’s much more willing to defend and admit to being the latter.

Ethel Darling, a bearded lady, showtime announcer, camp chef and broad Finnish stereotype. Like other poorly scripted Finns, she’s self-reliant, alcoholic, and as quiet as a TV series permits her to be. She’s never exclusively ethnically identified, but if you know what to look for- if, say, your own family is among the .2% of American Finns- it’s dogwhistle clear. I’m calling attention to her because it feels great to see a fully developed character that looks and sounds a bit like you. Why the writers chose to quietly specify yet another white cast member rather than pay attention to the characters noticeably lacking is anyone’s guess. I certainly didn’t need any more representation: drawing attention to Ethel is icing a cake so much that it becomes inedible.

The actually physically different freaks: Amazon Eve, Legless Suzi, Toulouse, Paul the Illustrated Seal. Though their stories come across piecemeal throughout the series, they are largely filler compared to the repeat-seasons stars: CGI’d Sarah Paulson, prosthetic’ed Evan Peters.

I’ve stopped watching other AHS seasons at various points for doing something in extremely poor taste. I’m ashamed to admit that the sit in sequence didn’t even blip my radar the first two times around- I took it as a normal discrimination experience without ever stopping to consider why. To quote Pepper’s sister, “God doesn’t always give with both hands”: yes, Freak Show handles segregation, but only to the extent that it serves the plot. As an audience, we deserve and ought to demand better.

This is a great season for feeling disgusted and nihilistic. I won’t be watching it again.

Musing: The Dark Knight Rises, 2012, PG13

Here’s a brief and funny thought about a movie that’s neither:

All Batman villains have a literal je ne sais quoi. Either we cannot place their motives or they are in a grieving stage exaggerated to the point that it’s not easily recognizable. They are frightening and dangerous because we cannot fully understand them, and a good Batman movie knows how to ruthlessly exploit that.

The Nolan trilogy was doing great until this last misfire. Batman Begins: the Scarecrow seeks power through giving people terrible hallucinations as revenge for a lifetime of bullying (stage 2, anger). The Dark Knight: the Joker, twice over, forces two parties to decide which one has more right to be alive because…???? The Dark Knight Rises: Bane hijacks the stock market and seals off the city because he is being paid very well by the real antagonist.

Lackluster, to say the least, but it matches the rest of the production. There is not a single moment that bothers to connect you to the average Gothamite or encourages you to wonder what you’d do in their shoes. (There is a lot of forced discussion about the haves and the have nots, with the haves represented by 90% of the speaking characters.) Worse, there are several total rewrites on character backstories, which might be acceptable if there ever was a clear one for Bane. Where we’re used to villains that leave us chilled and introspective, we’re presented with a super strong possible former prisoner with an obnoxious accent. Lackluster, to say the least.

The Batman origin story is about facing fears. New chapters to the Batman saga are kept fresh through fear: dazzle the audience with something we can’t comprehend, put us in the batsuit with him. The Dark Knight Rises feels like a mockery. It tackily exploits the known (don’t even get me started on that national anthem scene) while constantly changing the rules of the unknown. Don’t bother. Rewatch The Dark Knight instead.

Game: Nitemare 3D for DOS, 1994

Player Beware! Admittedly, I haven’t finished the game in its entirety… but I got nothing. Nitemare 3D is pretty much harmless. Pro tip, I guess: the bats cause damage and, unlike other enemies, circle you in a tight radius. Kill them on sight and save yourself some grief.

From the “That Explains A Lot” file: some of my earliest memories are of sitting on my dad’s lap, playing this game. Too young to read, even (I would have been 2 or 3 upon its release), I called Nitemare 3D “The Hand Game” thanks to the forced perspective. I’ve probably spent 100 hours shooting at monsters while my dad steered, inevitably more intrigued than frightened when a new creature showed up.

Twenty years later, having forgotten the game’s name, I tried to describe it to Mr. Flax. He said it sounds a lot like Wolfenstein and that I probably misremembered the antagonists- how would a toddler know what Nazis are? After some extensive searching, I’ve finally found The Hand Game again (in emulator form). Now we’re both reasonably sure it’s Wolfenstein repackaged with a custom skin on it and lowered thusly down to a PG rating. Admittedly, everything about it screams “shareware”.

You are Hugo, whose girlfriend has been kidnapped and hidden somewhere in the bowels of the huge, pixellated house on the title screen. To find her, you need to search floor by enormous floor. Enemies are around every corner, so there are two stackable map trigger options: view the maze and/or view the monsters relative to your position. Pickups in the form of potions and giant floating 3D rendered eyeballs will fix your health and keep the maps running, respectively. Your maps’ lives are tracked with bars, and yours is tracked with an image of your own face… which, even at 100%, doesn’t look that great.

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You all right, man? You’re looking kinda…
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…oh.

I’m featuring Nitemare 3D thanks to a gag I noticed. The enemies are all rough sketches of Universal movie monsters… and I’m pretty sure they come at you in the order of the movies’ releases. Downstairs: Frankenstein with a knife, a mummy. Upstairs: skeletons and a lady with a beehive, both with the ability to give you an electric shock. Outside: a wolf man. One doesn’t play DOS emulators looking for visual detail; it’s nice to see a little reminder that the game was made with love for the genre.

Obviously there are better horror games- more recent, faster, scarier, easier on the eyes- but if you have half an hour to spend on a kooky little holdover, you could do a lot worse. Recommended!

Film: It Follows, R, 2014

Watcher beware! It Follows is an overblown metaphor about an STD: there is one instance of (plot-relevant) graphic, nonconsensual sex and one use of chloroform. Also, sorry for the lack of images: this is a library borrow that has been returned.

It’s summer, very nearly my birthday, and I’m miserable at an overnight job. Money this week has been a bit of a struggle- I’m paying off a (fantastic) early birthday vacation- and my Facebook feed is loaded with day job people relaxing in the sun. I’m about to launch a media analysis project and have been feeling altogether too zoomed in. I am not living the dream; it’s more like I’ve sold my soul to it.

Enter It Follows, the truest-feeling movie I’ve seen in ages. We go into horror movies expecting to feel a range of thrilling emotions- would you believe this one left me nostalgic instead?

It Follows follows an incestuous knot of nothing-special teens helping member Jamie with a sticky sexual problem. Jamie’s involved with a slightly older man, Hugh, who suddenly starts acting strange, capping it off with chloroforming her, handcuffing her to a chair, and explaining It in eerie detail. It is spread by sex, and It stops once you sleep with someone new. Hugh doesn’t cover what It does, exactly, beyond relentlessly pursue you, but he does note that It usually appears as a stranger and occasionally as someone you know. He then drops Jamie off down her block in her underwear. Horrified, the rest of the squad- Kelly, Yara, and Paul- get her a blanket and call the police.

Jamie quickly learns that “follow” is the best word for it: her first extraordinary encounter is with a woman who spots her through a classroom window and walks straight toward her. Jamie dodges into a hallway. The woman keeps coming. She shouts to her and finds that no one else can see her. After an unnerving but easy escape, Jamie returns home and stays up all night with the others, who can see she’s so upset that they don’t even question attempting to fight an invisible enemy.

Shades of The Ring, you’ll say, The Happening, and, once you get some visuals, The Sixth Sense. You’re not wrong. All of these movies rely on a certain subtlety: the concepts are more frightening than anything we actually see. It takes its time getting up to speed: initial scares primarily consist of Jamie seeing a weird-looking person coming closer and closer, and her friends watching her consequent freakouts and not knowing what to do. By the time It makes contact and the squad finally believes Jamie, you’ll be thoroughly unnerved by powerwalking as a concept.

Plot B concerns Jamie reclaiming her sexuality. It is a problem no one wants; Jamie’s uncertain whether she’s more obligated to spread it or suffer through it. Appropriately enough, It Follows is set in a lake town in midsummer: there’s a fair amount of beach-read will-she-won’t-she in between the scares. The kids are vaguely aged somewhere between 16 and 21 and have lived on the same block forever. Conversations increasingly begin with “remember when…” and end with confessions of impropriety with one person to another person. It’s nostalgia in the worst way, a soft-focus, pastel reminder of the days when boredom led to experimentation… until consequences set in.

I’m featuring It Follows because of the accuracy of its protagonists’ concerns. It’s very easy to step back into their shoes and be frightened with them; questionable sex and failing mental health are terrifying at any age but especially when both are brand new concepts. For the record, I grew up within walking distance of my best friends’ houses, and we’re all from an oceanside tourist trap: a lot of the visuals are familiar and comforting to me on a level that might not translate. Still, I firmly believe that if you have friends you’d die for, you’ll connect to It Follows. Strongly recommended.

Show: My 600-Lb Life, TV14, 2012-

Watcher beware! This show has at least one graphic surgery per episode, generally lasting several minutes. My 600-Lb Life is sponsored by the medical center where they take place; suffice it to say the editors spare no details.

This program is focused on demonizing, then rehumanizing, an already traumatized set of people. I am not including images because, frankly, the exploitation is the most horrifying part.

What hooked me was the fact that everyone carries it differently. While every protagonist is so heavy that it’s actively endangering them, there’s a surprising amount of variety among body types. Some folks look like pupated Tim Burton characters, some have only a massive spare tire. Consider the poor woman whose lymphedemas meant her lower body outweighed her upper body 2:1, or the man whose cellulite was so prone to infection that it was constantly leaking and hardening.

Every episode begins with the featured patient describing how humiliated they are with themselves, then moves straight into discussing the generally similar traumas they’ve encountered, in between ECUs of the protagonist eating junk. The stars almost universally express that they know they lack control and are afraid of truly examining why. Bariatric surgeon-cum-producer Dr. Nowzaradan enters to offer a miracle cure in the form of stomach stapling. Based on their attitude, he performs the surgery or doesn’t.

Exploitation is an ugly, ugly storytelling device, and My 600-Lb Life makes certain that the audience only relates to its characters out of empathy they’re not entirely sure to trust. I’d estimate about two thirds of the featured people are sexual abuse survivors; while all of them clearly wound up with eating disorders, there’s no other common thread between them or likeable, individual trait given any real focus. My heart hurts most for the man who began eating badly after his first wife was murdered: halfway through the episode, his second wife and their toddler walk out over his “attitude problems”. It’s unclear whether we’re meant to sympathize with a man still obviously grieving or a woman whose spouse mentally abandons her as he does so.

I am featuring My 600-Lb Life because lack of control is probably my biggest, most realistic, and most relatable fear. Despite its simplistic sideshow sheen, this is ultimately a program about people who freely express that they live in a nightmare… and who, as often as not, don’t get to leave it.

Back. Sorry

I make the same mistake every time I get a new job.

Somehow I got it into my head that the right job will mean I no longer need hobbies. I seek work that will happily consume me, and to which I will willingly give all my spare time, convincing myself, every time, that I am completely fulfilled with desk work. I have never been salaried, so I always imagine that treating my contract job like this will rapidly move me up the ladder- after all, salaried jobs occasionally require one’s total focus.

If my life was a scary movie, we’d be yelling “Don’t go in there!” with each job change.

Case in point: I bailed on Ghoul’s Errand because I started working for a cable provider, and boy did I want to do it right. After the initial gloss wore off, I realized my basic function is to wait for a problem to arise, then tell other people about it. That’s all. That’s it. And while we wait, we can watch literally anything in the catalog… included a decent selection of horror.

So for a while I glutted myself, thinking the joy was in the watching, only to find that I’m the only coworker with any real appreciation for the finer, scarier things in life: no one wanted to watch them with me. Slowly I gave up on that, and almost immediately fell into a pit of doubt and self loathing. My old demons sat on my shoulders and whispered into my ears:

>You don’t like your job.
No, I don’t like my job.
>You don’t like anything.
No, I don’t like anything.

Meanwhile, boyfriend was putting together an Amazon order and trying to make it large enough to qualify for free shipping. He shouted out did I want anything? and before he finished the sentence I was yelling “GOODNIGHT MOMMY”.

And I realized I had an answer for the demons.

I love scary movies.
>No, you don’t.
Yes, I do, and I like writing about them even more.

And faced with the truth, they ran off screaming. I’m positive they’ll come back for the sequel, but the shock at seeing them won’t.

So I’m back, and slowly saving up money in the hopes that I can support being an author full time (turns out I do like working at a desk as long as I’m doing something intelligent). Thanks to the daily overexposure, and largely for want of time, you’re going to have to take quality over quantity, heaven forbid.

Thanks for bearing with me, guys! There’s a really interesting one coming soon, I promise.

Anne

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