Fiction Fragments: Frazer Lee

Last week, Atlanta lawyer and speculative fiction writer, Alicia Wright, joined us and talked about why she loves writing science fiction and fantasy for a YA audience. This week, creative writing professor, novelist and horror filmmaker, Frazer Lee, was kind enough to share a fragment and talk to Girl Meets Monster about what really scares him.

Frazer-Lee-stokerawdsFrazer Lee’s first novel, The Lamplighters, was a Bram Stoker Award® Finalist for “superior achievement in a first novel”.

One of Frazer’s early short stories received a Geoffrey Ashe Prize from the Library of Avalon, Glastonbury. His short fiction has since appeared in numerous anthologies including the acclaimed Read By Dawn series.

Also a screenwriter and filmmaker, Frazer’s movie credits include the award-winning short horror films On Edge, Red Lines, Simone, The Stay, and the critically acclaimed horror/thriller feature (and movie novelization) Panic Button.

Frazer is Head of Creative Writing at Brunel University London and resides with his family in leafy Buckinghamshire, England, just across the cemetery from the real-life Hammer House of Horror.

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Three Questions

GMM: At first glance, Emily Vane seems like a typical rich girl with behavioral problems until we reach the last line of your fragment and we realize there is definitely something odd about Emily. What inspired this fragment? Is this a horror story? What do Emily’s pills do?

FL: Emily popped into my head one day and quickly became the lead character in a horror story about a mysterious institution for wayward girls. I hate this first draft opening because it’s so expository and clunky. It zooms in and out too much, one sentence we’re learning about how bored her parents are, and a few sentences later we’re inside her veins. Your question identifies the main problem here, I think: The question of what her pills do is the most interesting aspect at play. It took me a couple of years to answer that question fully, and by the time I did, this story had become what it really wanted to be all along—a horror screenplay. I had to get to the heart of the character and what her deal was, before I could allow the story to flow from her. Now I think it does, and I hope to see that movie someday. If it goes into production, I’ll also finish writing the book for sure!

GMM: What initially drew you to horror? Who did you read or watch that made you decide to become a horror writer and filmmaker?

FL: Late nights alone at my father’s place on weekends left me unattended with a TV set. Very dangerous. I quickly gravitated towards horror because that was all that was on offer. Lucky me! I devoured every Hammer Horror and Universal Monsters double bill going, and actors like Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Boris Karloff, Hazel Court, Ingrid Pitt, Vincent Price… they became like surrogate family to me. Playmates I loved staying up with. Even though horror movies sometimes frightened me, they were also like a cosy blanket to curl up with on Friday and Saturday nights. From there, I found writers like Dennis Wheatley, EA Poe, HP Lovecraft, Nigel Kneale, and a bit later on they in turn led me to Angela Carter, Anne Rice, Clive Barker and Poppy Z. Brite. Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, the Queen of them all. Directors like Carpenter and Cronenberg were huge influences, as were Bava and Argento. I just had to try and express myself in this genre, there was no point fighting it—nor did I ever want to.

GMM: What scares you? Do you suffer from any phobias?

FL: People scare me. Take for example the man who says he’s not going to cut the trees down, then chops them down when you’re not looking. Him. That one. They are bloody everywhere, men like him. My stories often develop from a phobia of people. But I love people too, so sometimes there’s a happy ending.

Fiction Fragment, by Frazer Lee

Emily Vane sat on the back seat listening to the juggernaut rhythm of her favourite machine-like music. It pumped through her ear buds at a volume that would give her parents cause to worry about her hearing. Not that her parents were in the car, of course – they had seen fit to have her ditched at the latest in a long line of correctional institutions by Bob, their driver.

Bob wasn’t a bad sort; he didn’t look at her in the same lecherous way that his predecessor had, for one thing. Add to that his frivolous nature with cigarettes and Emily had him pinned as an ally. She had badgered him to let her smoke in the car for almost the entire first leg of their long drive from the ornate gates of her parental home but, fearing that her parents would smell the smoke in the car, Bob had pulled over and allowed her to take a smoke break at the service station. She had been tempted to cut and run while Bob took a piss break, but had given up on the idea. Partly out of duty to her driver, who would lose his job if his quarry upped and disappeared, and partly because she had lost count the number of times she’d ran now – it was, in short, beginning to bore her as much as it bored her dear old Mother and Father. So, she sat in the back of the car, ear-shredding music pounding out a tattoo as she watched the countryside pass by in a blur of greens and browns. She felt herself drifting into the whirl of colours, the music pumping in time with the surge of blood through her veins – tributaries that kept her tethered to her body. She felt her veins go numb and she slipped free of them, drifting out of her body and away, over the fields and hills. The sensation trod the fine line between pleasure trip and abject nausea. Emily snapped back into her body and reached into her backpack for her pills.

I don’t know if you noticed, but I like a little romance with my horror. So, next week, romance writer Kenya Wright joins Girl Meets Monster and things will get steamy around here. Stay tuned, and send me your fragments at chellane@gmail.com.

10 Things That Made Me Happy While Taking the #100HappyDays Challenge

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Back on January 23 I started a #100HappyDays Challenge. The homepage of the site asks you, “Can you be happy for 100 days in a row?” I believe most rational people would probably say no. And, if like me, you suffer from chronic depression you’d be even more skeptical.

The second question the site asks you is, “You don’t have time for this, right?” Again, most of us would agree that we don’t have time to make an effort to be happy every single day for 100 days. But is that true? Why don’t we have time? Is it because we don’t believe we’re worth the effort? Or is it because we don’t believe that you can find happiness that easily? Or maybe, and I know this sounds a little crazy, we don’t really understand a) what makes us happy, b) what happiness really looks and feels like, or c) how to begin to find happiness in our everyday lives.

The challenge itself is simple. Each day, for 100 days, you simply take a picture of something or someone who made you happy and then follow the steps on the site.

So first you register in the challenge >here<, then choose your favorite platform for submitting pictures. Here you can decide yourself on the privacy of your participation & happy moments:

  • Share your picture via Facebook, twitter or Instagram with a public hashtag #100happydays;
  • Come up with your own hashtag to share your pictures with to limit publicity. (Don’t forget to tell us how to find your pictures though)
  • Simply send your pictures to myhappyday (at) 100happydays.com to avoid any publicity.

The 100happydays.com site claims that “71% of people tried to complete this challenge, but failed quoting lack of time as the main reason.” Studies have shown that most people are not just busy, but overwhelmed with responsibility – work, housework, school, family, and other social obligations – that keep them running nonstop and afford little time for anything else. People typically don’t make time to take care of themselves, or just check in to see how happy they are with the life they are living.

Believe me, I get it. I’m a divorced single parent who works full-time. I’m a part-time writer trying to become a full-time writer, which means I write fiction in the hopes of being published and farm myself out for freelance projects because my day job doesn’t pay enough. I’m not currently dating, but I have a fairly active social life. I rent, so I don’t have a lot of home repairs to tend to, but there’s still housework, errands, cooking, and child rearing. To be honest, housework doesn’t get done very often, but we always have clean laundry and dishes, and my son never misses a meal. My son is involved in activities outside the house, and he has behavioral/emotional issues that we manage through therapy and other strategies. I’m not going to win any awards for my parenting skills. However, I make a point of showing up and being present when my energy and own mental health issues are balanced. I’m actively seeking employment, because I’m not sure if I’ll be able to stay in my current job after June. So, yeah, I’m busy. Like mind-numbingly, soul-crushingly busy some days. Depression has been an ongoing issue for me since I was a kid. I was diagnosed in my teens and have sought the support of therapists and medication on and off throughout my adult life. I’m not just busy. Some days are harder than others. Some days I have #zerofuckstogive. Some days I consider it a win if I get out of bed, get dressed, and make it to work.

Despite all the challenges I face day-to-day, I managed to find something to be relatively happy about for almost every single day of the 100-day challenge. I chose to post my pictures, thoughts and reflections on social media – Facebook and Instagram. Each day, beginning on January 23 and ending on May 2, I posted a photo, a meme, or simply an observation about that day and what brought me joy.

100happydays.com also asks the question, “Why would I do that?” Good question. I’m sure lots of people would ask that question. Well, here are some answers.

People successfully completing the challenge claimed to:

  • Start noticing what makes them happy every day;
  • Be in a better mood every day;
  • Start receiving more compliments from other people;
  • Realize how lucky they are to have the life they have;
  • Become more optimistic;
  • Fall in love during the challenge.

Need help figuring out what makes you happy? Here are the top 10 things that brought me happiness during my #100happydays challenge (in no particular order). Perhaps, you’ll recognize some of the things that make you smile too.

  1. Booze. Let’s face it, adult beverages are delicious and when they are drunk responsibly, they can have amazingly curative properties. When I was younger, I was hell-bent on self-medicating. I drank too much and too often. I also was careless about mixing drugs with alcohol, and usually in questionable company. That’s a story for another day. At this point in my life, I don’t drink very often. I keep some booze at home, typically bourbon, which is my favorite liquor. Occasionally, I’ll drink rum. Booze appeared in my social media feeds on Day 1 of the challenge. It was a rough day. And, booze played a role in bringing me happiness 4 out the 100 days, 5 if you count the codeine cough syrup I drank when I was sick. Fun fact: Because of my love of bourbon and booze in general, I gained roughly 20 new followers on Instagram who are either bars with specialty cocktails, bourbon aficionados, and distillers of small-batch spirits. So, I guess you could say that booze has the ability to make me popular and interesting.
  1. Coffee & Tea. I don’t know about you, but caffeine is 90% responsible for keeping me conscious most days. It’s no secret how much I love coffee, but I also enjoy drinking tea. Coffee and tea have been staples in my life since childhood. I grew up in rural Pennsylvania in the 70s and 80s, and my grandmother didn’t see a problem with putting iced tea in my bottle when I was a baby. I drank my first cup of coffee when I was five. But don’t worry, she cut the bitterness by adding a tooth-decaying amount of sugar to it. Essentially, my grandmother was my first drug dealer. She hated alcohol. Most likely because her father and one of her brothers were alcoholics. People who drank alcohol pissed her off, but she was the poster child for coffee, sugar, and cigarettes. When I was a poor college student and couldn’t afford to maintain my cigarette habit (I smoked between the ages of 14 and 35), my grandmother would either give me money or buy my cigarettes for me. By the carton. In fact, when I was a junior, studying abroad in England for a year, her biggest concern, aside from my safety, was that cigarettes were so much more expensive there. She sent me care packages on a regular basis, and I could always count on finding at least one carton of Camel Lights in the box of goodies. In a related story, after my first week of living in England, I discovered that I was getting headaches almost every day and was feeling lethargic even though I was drinking between 6 – 10 cups of tea a day. Eventually, I realized that I was suffering from dehydration. Basically, I lived on tea, beer and cider, scones with clotted cream, packets of cheese and onion crisps, and Camel Lights. Once I figured out what was wrong with me, I kept a plastic cup near my sink and I would drink 2 – 3 cups of water before going to bed and upon waking. By the way, I had purchased the cup with Camel Cash, and the cup featured an image of Joe the Camel wearing a leather biker jacket, circa early 90s.
  1. Food. I love food. I love to cook it. I love to eat. I see food as something beyond a means of nourishing my body. Food conjures memories of childhood. Food comforts me. Sharing a meal with family and friends is one of my favorite ways to interact and be social. Learning a new recipe is akin to learning a new spell. Food is a perfect marriage between magic and science. Cooking allows me to express myself, get creative, and heal myself through healthy foods. During the #100happydays challenge, food appeared in my social media feeds 34 days out of 100. Foods that appeared the most were fruit salad and tacos. A lot of the foods were healthy and involved my crockpot and meal prep that allowed me to cook once and eat for several days in a row. Some of my most popular posts dealt with food and the recipes I featured, and these posts got some of the most comments, including requests for recipes. Food is the glue of cultural and social interaction. The healthier I eat, the happier I am.
  1. Friends & Family. I have a small family. For the most part it’s just my mom, my son and me. I also have aunts, uncles, and cousins. For the most part, I am close with my cousins. We’re all around the same age, grew up in the same generation with access to the same elements of popular culture. I saw my cousins during the summer at family picnics most of the time when I was a kid, and now I make time to see them when I can. I spend a lot of time with my cousin Tara. I think of her as a best friend and sister, not just a cousin. She’s 1 of 4 kids and I’m an only child. Her sister and I are the same age and get along well too, but we don’t hang out as often as I’d like. Tara and I have similar tastes in music, movies, television shows, art, food, and enjoy mean jokes at the expense of others. She’s a talented artist, a supportive and loving person, and she can always make me laugh or think more clearly about something happening in my life. I will happily tell you that I am blessed with an amazingly diverse and interesting collection of friends and acquaintances. One of my best friends, Pat, has been my friend since we were 14 or 15 years old. He has an uncanny ability to zero-in on what is at the source of the negative feelings I might be feeling about any given situation. Sometimes it’s spooky how well he knows me, but I don’t know what I would do without his friendship. His ability to make me laugh never ceases to amaze me and he is always brutally honest with me when I find myself in crappy situations. He’s usually the first to tell me that I can a) overcome the problem, and b) if I look at a situation a little differently and take full responsibility for my own actions, 9 times out of 10, things will be just fine. I have other amazing friends, like Sarah and Isabelle who have been in my life as long as Pat has, and I have newer friends, like Stephanie who I feel like I’ve known just as long. And, I can’t forget my friend Danielle. She always has a way of making sure I’m taken care of, even if it’s just getting together to talk over dinner. Friends and social occasions really make a difference in my life. Typically, I prefer one-on-one interactions or small gatherings, but every now and then I attend larger events. I have a touch of social anxiety, so that’s where my good friend Booze comes in to play again. Out of 100 days, 31 of my posts were about friends and family.
  1. Film & Television. I’m obsessed with popular culture and have long-loved the escapism of watching movies and TV shows. My preferences for genre tend to be Fantasy, Horror, Science Fiction, Black Comedies, Historical Dramas, Mysteries, and Romance, but usually the Paranormal variety. I love vampires, werewolves, demons, ghosts, and other things that go bump in the night. And, I love superheroes. Marvel’s film franchise has provided me with hours and hours of happiness. And, I’ve been known to fall in love with fictional characters. Here’s a short list: Loki, Magneto, Wolverine, Captain America, John Constantine, Elijah Mikaelson, Hannibal Lecter, Francis Dolarhyde, Damon Salvatore, Simon Bellamy, Lucifer, Preacher, Lawrence Talbot, Rupert Giles, Spock, John Mitchell, Captain Ross Poldark, Spike, Doctor Who…well, you get the idea. In fact, if you’ve read my blog before, you’re familiar with my obsessions and may even share some of them. 12 of 100 posts referred to films or TV.
  1. Books. Reading is important to me. I don’t remember a time in my life when books were not available to me. Bookshelves filled with books, trips to the library and used books stores, talking about new books that a favorite writer had written – these were all common occurrences in my childhood. Before I could read, family members and teachers read to me. Once I could read on my own, I read as many books as I could get my hands on. Stories bring a certain richness to my life that I often can’t find anywhere else. My love of stories, books and words led me to become an English major in college. Why? Because I love to read and write (I’ll get to that shortly). I’ll read just about anything, but like my preferences in film and television, my taste in genre and to a certain extent literary fiction, are the speculative genres – Horror, Fantasy, and Science Fiction. I also enjoy nonfiction. Over the past few months, I have been consuming Roxane Gay’s books, An Untamed State, Difficult Women, and Bad Feminist. Her writing speaks to me in so many unexpected ways. Not only does she show me the different parts of myself that would normally seem disconnected, but she also shows me how they relate to each other to make me a whole and complicated person. And, more importantly, she makes me want to be a better writer. Books appeared in at least 12 of my posts.
  1. Writing. Writing has been a part of my life almost as long as reading. Narratives have always been an important part of my life. Whether I was watching a Hitchcock film or favorite Western with my grandfather, an epic Romance or Soap Opera with my grandmother, “Creature Double Feature” or “Dark Shadows” with my mother, “King Fu Theater” or “The Prisoner” with my father, or enjoying the ridiculous premises you’d find in 80s music videos, and later an obsession with foreign language films, I consumed a lot of narratives in and out of books growing up. Stephen King’s books lined the bookshelves in almost every house in my immediate family. A year or so ago, my aunt bequeathed her Stephen King collection to me. I hadn’t read a lot of his books, but I had seen film adaptations of them. In the last few years, I took the time to read Carrie, The Shining, The Gunslinger, Misery, Salem’s Lot, and I just finished listening to Doctor Sleep as an audio book in my car. I tried reading IT at one point, but I couldn’t get past the clown. It’s weird. I can watch the film starring Tim Curry and I can’t wait to see the remake with Bill Skarsgård, but the book scares the shit out of me. One day, I will read that book cover to cover. Today is not that day. As much as I love Stephen King’s fiction, my favorite Stephen King book is On Writing. It is the only craft book that ever brought me to tears. I have two copies. A copy I bought to read while earning my MFA in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University, and the copy I found on my dad’s bookshelves after he died. My dad was a writer. He wrote a lot, but never finished writing his novel. I finished writing my first novel after his death in 2015. I’ve since started writing 2 more novels, and I’ve been writing poetry and short fiction since I was 12. I’ve only had one short story published, but I will have more of my work published, damn it. I owe that much to my dad. And, I can’t talk about writing without talking about Anne Rice. She is probably one of the biggest influences on my writing, and I must give her at least partial credit for why I write about vampires. Her novels gave vocabulary to some of the things I thought and felt as a teenager, and her vampires made me feel more alive than any characters I’d find in the fiction geared toward teenagers at the time. Thanks for all the good books, Anne. Your work gave me the courage to write about taboo subjects in a way that allowed me to talk about the beauty I found in them.
  1. Self-Care. Technically, participating in the #100happydays challenge is an act of self-care itself. Taking the time to pay attention and make note of the things that make you happy really is an enlightening exercise. In doing so, I found myself seeking out more ways to care for myself. I ate healthier foods. I spent more time in the company of people I love. I tried to develop better habits, like exercising regularly, getting enough sleep, and scheduling downtime so that I could do the things that recharge me and fill my brain with creative ideas. Don’t want to take my word for it? Try the #100happydays challenge for yourself and see what I mean. Self-care and self-love are not selfish acts. Doing nice things for yourself, taking care of yourself, enables us to care for the other people in our lives without killing ourselves to do so.
  1. Art. I’ve talked about several art forms/crafts in this post, namely writing and visual media. I’d also include culinary arts in that list. However, I also like to go to museums and galleries to check out the work of mixed media artists – painters, sculptors, ceramicists, collage makers, and several other mediums. During my 100-day challenge, I visited two galleries, CALC in Carlisle, PA, where my son had a drawing in one of the local student art shows, and Metropolis Collective in Mechanicsburg, PA, as well as The Mütter Museum in Philadelphia. In each art space, I got to see some wonderfully beautiful, disturbing, and thought-provoking art. I need to go to more museums, and I need to create more of my own art. Perhaps there are projects I can work on with my son this summer to get us both creating and spending more quality time together.
  1. Michael Fassbender. Laugh if you must, but Michael Fassbender’s work as an actor brings me happiness on a regular basis. I had enjoyed his work in films prior to last summer when I went to see X-men: Apocalypse, but for some reason, his portrayal of Magneto in that film struck a chord with me that caused me to not only revisit X-men: First Class and X-men: Days of Future Past, but I also rewatched Inglourious Bastards, and then began making my way through his entire body of work. I’m particularly fond of Shame, 12 Years a Slave, A Dangerous Method, Jane Eyre, Jonah Hex, Macbeth, Prometheus, Slow West, and I loved him in the TV show “Hex”. His characters make me laugh, cry, think, feel shame, and I’m not going to lie, ignite my desire. He is a beautiful and talented man. Eventually, I will see all his film and television performances. His Magneto breaks my heart, and makes me question right and wrong. After watching 12 Years a Slave, I went through a period of deep meditation and self-reflection based on my confused feelings of repulsion and attraction for his character, Edwin Epps. His Carl Jung left me feeling sexually frustrated, and his Rochester made me realize how many toxic relationships I have been in and examine why I keep returning to those doomed relationships. He is a master of his craft, not just a handsome face.

This was not my first #100happydays challenge rodeo, so I can attest to the fact that most of the claims made by the folks at 100happydays.com are true. Are they true every single day of the challenge? No. I don’t think anyone is happy every single day of their life. However, I will say that by taking the time to notice the things that do make me happy, I have a better understanding of my own happiness (or lack of happiness). I understand that happiness is a choice, and we are responsible for creating it for ourselves. And, like me, you might be surprised to find that happiness is all around us. All we need to do is take inventory and remind ourselves that happiness is not completely out of reach. In fact, it may be closer than you think.

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Fuckable Fictional Characters: The Goblin King

In 1986 I was 14 years old. I was dating a boy who was obsessed with David Bowie. I loved Bowie’s music and I must admit that I found him rather attractive in an androgynous and theatrical way. I always thought of him as a fictional character, which in many ways I think was his goal. When you continually reinvent yourself and write songs that talk about space and magic and love that consumes you like a fire, you’re bound to attract a following with an interest in speculative fiction. So, this boy and I were both into Bowie for similar reasons and when we discovered that he would be playing a villain in Jim Henson’s film about magic and unrequited love, Labyrinth, we were thrilled shitless.

I saw the film 3 times in the theater. Once with the boy, and two more times by myself. I have no idea how many times I watched it once it became available on cable, but let’s just say that I watched it enough times to freak out my 9-year-old by reciting almost all of the lines by heart when I showed it to him around the holidays.

If you’ve never seen this film, um…where the hell have you been? If it’s been a long time since you’ve watched it, schedule a family movie night right now. This flick has something for everyone and appeals to people of all ages. I mean what’s not to love? David Bowie AND Muppets. You can’t lose.

February 18: Jareth, the Goblin King

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IMDb’s synopsis of Labyrinth is short and to the point: “A selfish 16-year old girl is given 13 hours to solve a labyrinth and rescue her baby brother when her wish for him to be taken away is granted by the Goblin King.” Okay, I realize that is what most people see as the plot of this story. Especially children who are showing up for Muppets. But there’s much more going on in this film.

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Now imagine him traveling through space in a blue police box.

Jareth, the Goblin King does steal Sarah’s (she’s the selfish 16-year-old) baby brother in order to turn him into a goblin. We can only guess that this is where all of the goblins who live in his castle in Goblin City came from, which if you think about it, makes him a kind of dad to these creatures. And a kidnapper. I did say he was a villain. But aside from stealing babies and tormenting teen girls with palpable sexual tension, he really isn’t a bad guy. Actually, he’s just lonely and kind of weird.

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Is there room on that lap for me?

Sarah is a spoiled little bitch who hates to babysit her infant brother. All outward appearances tell us she comes from a nice home, has access to a good education, is obsessed with fairy tales, well one book in particular, and like most teen girls, she thinks her problems are bigger than anyone else’s. We also get the feeling that there’s no special fella in her life. She’s really into this fantasy world she’s created for herself, and even though she’s 16, she doesn’t appear to be thinking about boys much. Well, that is until she meet’s Jareth.

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When a wizard dressed like this flirts with you in your bedroom, you ask him to spend the night.

She recognizes him almost immediately and is a bit star-struck, but comes back to her senses when she realizes that this stunningly gorgeous wizard-looking dude has stolen the baby she’s supposed to be looking after.

She accepts his challenge to complete his labyrinth and save her brother, but what she doesn’t hear is the subtext. The entire time she’s trying to complete this task, he will attempt to distract her and possibly woo her into staying in Goblin City with him. I mean he has all those goblin children, now all he needs is a bride. A teen bride who is at least half his age if he were mortal, but who the hell knows how old Jareth really is. For me, this is when the story got really interesting, because I learned something about my 14-year-old self. I learned that older men who want to establish romantic relationships with teen girls aren’t just a bit scary, but super hot. What can I say? I like perverts.

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Honestly, most of his distractions seem like foreplay and confessions of devotion. Using one of his magical crystal balls (yes, he has magical balls) and a poisoned piece of fruit (he isn’t above using roofies) he transports Sarah to a dream world where he holds a masquerade ball. I’m sorry, but if Jareth held a masquerade ball in my honor, the only reason I’d be thinking about the labyrinth would be to figure out where we could screw.

Speaking of magical balls, his crotch is practically a character in the film. Go ahead, Google David Bowie + Labyrinth + crotch. You’ll be busy for at least 30 minutes. Seriously, David Bowie’s crotch in Labyrinth has its own pop culture following.

See, I wasn’t making that shit up.

Want

Hell yeah!

I’m sorry. What was I saying? Oh yeah. Jareth, the Goblin King is Hellbent on getting Sarah to forget about her baby brother and become his queen instead. You know, for someone who seems pretty smart and reads a lot, she doesn’t seem to be catching the drift of what Jareth is proposing. And if she is, but has no interest in returning his affection, then she’s just plain stupid.

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I’d like to take a big bite.

But here’s the thing. He makes it pretty clear that he wants her. And he tries to be patient waiting for her to catch up, but all she does is run away and complain about her predicament.

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Show some gratitude!

She doesn’t seem to appreciate all the trouble he’s gone to in order to create this adventure through the labyrinth that he’s hoping will lead to his bed. Or dungeon.

Riding-Crop

Holy shit, that’s a riding crop!

All she wants to do is bitch about how unfair her life is and the fact that he isn’t playing fair. Hello! Villain!

Fair

Seriously, Sarah. Open your eyes. He isn’t asking for much.

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OMFG, where do I find this man?!

Yes, some of his methods are a bit deceptive and he’s quite a bit older than her. But, he does try to warn her not to follow him at the beginning of the tale.

Turn-Back

Sorry. Couldn’t hear you over the sound of my ovaries exploding.

What teen-aged girl in her right mind who is waking up to the reality of her sexual nature would walk away from this man?

Stars

See, she’s hurt his feelings.

He’s a king. With a castle. Who knows magic. And wants to bonk your brains out. So what if he lives at the center of a labyrinth that seems vaguely similar to where the Cenobites hang out? I’m sure Jareth has some pretty amazing sights to show you, too.

Eventually, he gets fed up with her saying no.

Exhausted

He’s a reasonable Goblin King. He wants a child bride to shower with affection as long as she does what she’s told. And, if she’s naughty, he might give her a spanking. We can only hope. But despite his efforts, she chooses rescuing her brother and returning to her normal boring-ass life. I can remember sitting in the theater and thinking that she was out of her mind.

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But what the hell I did I know? I’ll tell you what I knew then and know now. Magic like he’s offering only comes along once in a lifetime if ever. So, I’ll say it again. If a wizard shows up in your bedroom and flirts with you, invite him to stay for the night. Go on, have a little happily ever after.

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Good fairy tales are about inappropriate sex with strangers.

Fuckable Fictional Characters: Captain America

As I mentioned in a previous post about Loki, the Marvel Universe has a lot of delicious eye candy on offer, a buffet of fuckable characters if you will. I know I spend a lot of time lusting after villains and monsters, but every now and then a hero catches my eye and I have to stop, stare, and possibly drool. And, oddly enough, it’s usually the clean-cut guys that turn my head. Not always, but good guys have been known to make my heart beat faster. Marvel superheroes typically have a lot of tragedy in their backstories, and have a tendency to lose people they love. If I lived in the Marvel Universe, I would provide support and comfort to those superheroes in need of a hug, or a kiss, rough sex, or whatever. What can I say? I’m a giver.

Today I will be discussing the cleanest-cut guy of them all. The superhero who set the gold standard. A man whose uniform makes me want to salute the Red, White and Blue.

February 12: Captain America

Captain-A-First

Steve Rogers is an all-American boy from Brooklyn, NY. Before he became the first Avenger, he was a scrawny little guy with a big heart who believed in fighting for freedom. More than anything, he wanted to join the armed forces and get shipped to Europe so he could start kicking Nazi ass. But, he failed the physical. After several more attempts, a scientist, Abraham Erskine, takes an interest in Steve and signs him up for “Project: Rebirth”. This secret government project was developed to create super soldiers in the hopes of defeating a rogue branch of the Nazi’s, HYDRA. Say that out loud. Rogue branch of Nazi’s. Good luck sleeping tonight. With the help of other scientists and inventors like Howard Stark, Erskine creates the Super Soldier Serum.

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This is what determination looks like.

Steve completes a series of psychological and physical tests designed to gauge strength, intelligence and merit with a group of other potential test subjects. His poor health keeps him from performing the physical challenges as well as everyone else. To be fair, Steve was a pretty sickly kid.

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Are you sure this isn’t a death certificate?

Despite his terrifying laundry list of ailments, Steve is chosen for “Project: Rebirth” because of his determination and commitment to being the best soldier he can be. Soon after meeting Steve, Erskine tells him, “Whatever happens tomorrow you must promise me one thing. That you will stay who you are. Not a perfect soldier, but a good man.” Although Steve is worried about what might happen to him, after Erskine explains that the procedure will be very painful, he still agrees to become the first test subject.

The experiment is clearly a success. It doesn’t matter how many times I watch this scene, I am always overwhelmed by just how fucking amazing this man looks without a shirt on. Jesus wept. Steve feels physically different. Stronger. Taller. A keen sense of his increased vitality. But, he doesn’t fully appreciate his instant sex appeal.

So-Hot

That is one lucky T-shirt.

But one smart lady has recognized his appeal from the moment she met him. Peggy Carter was impressed by Steve’s problem-solving skills and the fact that he really is a good person. She can’t help falling in love. And neither can he.

Before Steve can fulfill his dream of killing Nazis, the government uses his good looks to fuel the war propaganda machine. It is during his time with the USO that he earns the name Captain America.

But he finally has a chance to show what he’s really made of when goes behind enemy lines to rescue his old friend, Bucky Barnes. Bucky’s unit was captured during a raid on a HYDRA facility. While there, Rogers encounters HYDRA’s leader, Johann Schmidt (Red Skull). Schmidt stole the Tesseract and has been using it to combine science and magic to create weapons of mass destruction in hopes of world domination.

Hugo

I couldn’t resist slipping in a shot of Hugo in his HYDRA uniform.

The Tesseract is a cube-shaped container for one of six infinity stones which has an unlimited power source. The Asgardians hid it on Earth. But because several evildoers have attempted to use the Tesseract, including Red Skull of HYDRA, to destroy the Earth, it is eventually returned to Asgard for safe keeping. Schmidt escapes after Steve confronts him, then Steve returns the freed soldiers back to base. Of this group of soldiers, he handpicks the best of the bunch and assembles a team called the Howling Commandos.

Howling-Commandos

Captain America is an equal opportunity employer.

This bunch of hard ass fighting machines shows up to chew bubble gum and kick Nazi ass. Guess what? They’re all out of bubble gum.

capt_AMERICA_Commandos

The Howling Commandos take down the HYDRA facility, but once again Schmidt escapes. Steve climbs aboard Schmidt’s aircraft to stop him. During their fight, the Tesseract is damaged and Schmidt comes in direct contact with the power source and it turns him into vapor. The aircraft crashes into the ocean and Steve and the Tesseract are lost. Howard Stark tracks down the Tesseract and retrieves it, but is still unable to locate Steve. Nearly 70 years later, a scientific exploration team discovers Steve frozen in a block of ice. He  awakens in a hospital room that attempts to recreate the 1940s, but he realizes something is wrong when the radio announcer makes a mistake about a date.

After Nick Fury recruits Steve for a S.H.I.E.L.D. mission, he tries to fit in and pick up where he left off. Working with the other Avengers can be challenging at times, but it keeps him busy. He has a somewhat antagonistic, yet friendly relationship with Tony Stark.

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In all fairness, Steve had a better relationship with Howard Stark than his son did, so Tony’s a bit jealous. For more than one reason.

Wood

I think Tony has a crush.

Steven even makes Thor a little nervous.

Thor-Nervous

And he really gets along with Black Widow.

Despite the fact that he was frozen for nearly 70 years, he manages to jump right back into the hero gig. And he looks super fine doing it.

Seriously, that man’s body should have it’s own religion.

Fun-Fact

I’m only concerned about how fast he can get those pants off.

Fuckable Fictional Characters: Hannibal Lecter

A few days ago I mentioned that several serial killers made my list of fuckable fictional characters. Don’t judge me. Monsters can be beautiful. Especially if those monsters hold up a mirror to society and show us how monstrous we can all really be.

Serial killers are terrifying. Fictional serial killers, when well crafted, can become an endless source of fascination. Thomas Harris, a master of characterization, created one of the most famous fictional serial killers of all time – Dr. Hannibal Lecter.

February 6: Dr. Hannibal Lecter

My first encounter with Dr. Lecter was in Jonathan Demme’s 1991 film, Silence of the Lambs, which according to IMDb had a release date of February 14. Happy birthday to me! I watched the film with my mom and Aunt Vanessa when it became available on cable. They had both read the novel and Harris’ first novel featuring Lecter, Red Dragon. They talked about the character like high school girls discussing the hottest boy at school. Look, at least I come by my weirdness honestly.

Hopkins-Close-Up

I’ll be your date for the evening.

At the time, I was excited about the film because they were so excited, but after watching Anthony Hopkins’ performance as the cannibalistic psychiatrist, I fell in love too. Think what you will about that statement, but I don’t have to justify what turns me on. Would I date an actual serial killer? Not intentionally. Will I continue to find certain fictional ones sexy and totally fuckable? Hell yeah!

Hannibal Lecter is an incredibly interesting character with an epic backstory. He’s an accomplished musician and artist, as well as a psychiatrist and behavioral analysis expert. He speaks several languages and has an appreciation for art and culture. He likes the finer things in life, including clothes, antiques, and opulent interior design. And, he is above all else a lover of fine food. His culinary skills are sought after by his acquaintances, and his dishes would please the pickiest gourmand. But here’s the catch. One of the primary ingredients in his culinary creations is the flesh of his victims. He not only enjoys eating people, but also takes pleasure in feeding human flesh to his guests.

I’ll admit that initially my feelings about Dr. Lecter confused me. Lecter’s actions are undoubtedly horrific, but his personality and demeanor (when he isn’t brutally murdering someone and eating them) makes him one of the most attractive characters in fiction. Yes, I’m fully aware that he is a psychopath. In fact, that is probably one of the reasons why he is so charming. He has had to master the spectrum of human emotions in order to blend in with the rest of us mere mortals. His intellect and skills place him in a position of authority, and his wealth gives him access to the upper echelons of society. Smart, rich men of European decent can literally get away with murder. Before you get all offended by that statement, pick up a history book. Hell, pick up the newspaper.

Suit

What’s that? You’re here to eat my children? Do you prefer them baked, broiled, or fried?

Many of Hannibal’s victims are his patients. Fellow psychopaths and sociopaths who haven’t found their true calling, and seek his services as a psychiatrist. As an expert on human behavior, Lecter has a knack for targeting a person’s strengths. Through manipulation and often guidance, he encourages his prey to act upon their strengths, no matter how dangerous or morally corrupt. Then he makes a game out of turning these strengths against his prey, making them weaknesses. Once that person is completely vulnerable and trusts him, he strikes. And he doesn’t waste his time on the dregs of society. He typically targets people who are intellectual peers and experts in their own fields. However, one of his own weaknesses is his need to be the smartest person in the room, which causes him to underestimate other people’s intellect at times. Despite this evil game he plays with people, some of his victims probably could benefit from being murdered.

Attracted-Psycho

Yeah, that guy is totally on the menu.

In the first novel in the series, Red Dragon, Lecter is in prison. We learn that prior to the opening of the book, he helped an FBI profiler, Will Graham, track a serial killer who actually turns out to be Lecter. Lecter and Graham developed a respect for each other as colleagues and we are given the sense that they were friends, but Will begins to to see that there is something dark and suspicious about the doctor. Will knows a serial killer when he meets one, but he almost loses his life at the hands of Lecter.

Caught

It is possible to be too committed to your work.

Will Graham, the protagonist of Red Dragon, is also an amazing character. His relationship with Lecter, although nearly fatal, continues after Graham puts Lecter behind bars. Graham and the FBI make use of Lecter’s skills to catch other serial killers. In the novel, the two characters have a relatively normal working relationship. On many levels they respect each other’s abilities, but they do not become close friends. I suppose it’s difficult to remain friends with someone who tries to eviscerate you.

Hamlet

It’s hard to build lasting relationships when you try to kill everyone you know.

Like many fans of the cannibalistic psychiatrist, I equated Lecter to Anthony Hopkins. His portrayal of Lecter in Silence of the Lambs earned him an Academy Award for Best Actor, and he reprised the role in two other films, Hannibal (2001) and Red Dragon (2002). I couldn’t imagine anyone else filling Lecter’s gorgeous Italian leather loafers.

Hopkins-Hannibal-Mask

This is how you win awards.

Well, not until the Danish actor, Mads Mikkelsen, put on a well-tailored suit and treated the American public to an award-worthy performance as the infamous doctor in Bryan Fuller’s TV adaptation that depicts a re-imagining of the events leading up to Lecter’s capture. Fuller’s artistic vision of Harris’ work provides a smorgasbord of opulent sets, a wardrobe to kill for, and scenes that reference some of Fuller’s cinematic influences, like David Lynch and Stanley Kubrick.

After I finished watching the second season, I re-watched Twin Peaks to satisfy my suspicions that I wasn’t just imagining the fact that certain scenes and images reminded me of David Lynch’s work. Fuller’s references to Lynch’s use of lighting, textures, patterns, and unique objects were unmistakable. And, when Will Graham woke up choking and spit up a whole human ear, I thought I had died and gone to cultural reference heaven. I literally squealed, bounced up and down, and shouted, “No fucking way!” It was my reward for being such a geek about cinematic imagery.

While Fuller’s cinematic vision took me to new levels of giddiness each week, Mads Mikkelsen took an intellectually stimulating character and turned him into a sex symbol. Of course, Mads does that in nearly every role because…well…just look at him.

No seriously, gaze upon him.

Stunning, right? Well, he isn’t just a perfect specimen of complete and total fuckability. He’s also an accomplished, award-winning actor with an incredible range of emotion that made Lecter not only charming and frightening, but also someone we almost feel sympathy for and secretly hope that he escapes capture.

Fuller’s vision of what happens before Red Dragon brings Hannibal and Will closer together. They become more than just colleagues. They become friends, and eventually accomplices. Lecture pushes Graham over the edge to embrace his madness. Literally.

ATTENTION: SPOILER ALERT

As Will gets to know Hannibal more intimately, he suspects what his friend is up to. Hannibal considers Will his closest and only friend, and wishes to awaken Will’s potential to become a murderer. In order to capture Lecter, Will becomes like him. A choice that becomes dangerous for both men as well as everyone else in their lives. Lies, deception and manipulation become the tools that Will turns against Lecter. In the process, they forge a bond where mutual respect and genuine affection exist. Lecter is attracted to Will. He finds the FBI profiler fascinating and desperately wants him to be a peer. Hannibal develops a bit of a crush on Will, and Will’s obsession with Hannibal mimics the emotional state of someone who is falling in love.

Fuller uses this dynamic to create some extremely hot homoerotic scenes that inspired fans of the show to loving refer to their relationship as Hannigram. You may or may not be shocked by some of the fan art that pops up on Pinterest, Tumblr, and DeviantArt.com.

But how can you blame them when there are unexpectedly erotic scenes like this?

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Excuse me, I need a moment alone.

Fuckable Fictional Characters: Loki Laufeyson

When I’m not fantasizing about smoking hot vampires (which I do a lot) or sexy British librarians (ditto), I like to focus my wanton attentions on the Marvel Universe. I enjoyed reading the comics as a kid and idolized Stan Lee’s superhero creations, but as an adult, I’ve come to realize, especially after watching the wonderful series of films about the various Avengers, that there is an absolute smorgasbord of fuckable characters in the Marvel Universe. Throughout the month of February, I’ll be talking about many of them – Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, and Wolverine – all fuckable. But this post is devoted to one of my favorite villains from the Marvel Universe.

February 3: Loki Laufeyson

Some of you may be saying, “Loki? Why would you find Loki attractive?” To which I would reply, after the collective din of fangirls around the world screaming “Duh!” stops echoing in space, “You must be feeble minded.”

Green-Eyed-Loki

Duh!

Loki is an Asgardian Prince, the God of Mischief, and the adopted son of Odin and Frigga. The fact that Loki plots revenge against his family, in part due to his MAJOR daddy issues, and wishes to usurp the throne of Asgard from his super-sexy brother, Thor, tells me that he has an interesting story to tell. He is Hellbent on world domination and will stop at nothing to get what he wants. This human-sized frost giant, although not born of Asgard, still has comparable superhuman strength, agility, speed, longevity, and stamina, which allows him to successfully outwit and outmaneuver the various Avengers, S.H.I.E.L.D., and the omniscient Guardian of Worlds, Heimdall.

Loki-and-Stark

They should totally kiss and make up.

Loki is a sorcerer and master of illusion, with the ability to control the minds of lesser beings (humans in particular), allowing him to create copies of himself, make himself and others invisible, and appear to be other people. His greatest strengths are manipulation and deception. He likes controlling others and would have enslaved the entire population of Earth if Thor and the Avengers didn’t stop him.

Kneel

Note to self: Buy knee pads.

He is highly intelligent, obviously well-organized to pull off some of the schemes he concocts, and shows little remorse if he has to kill people who stand in his way. With the exception of Thor and his mother Frigga, the two people he cares the most about, Loki shows little more than morbid curiosity and desire for power when it comes to his interactions with other Asgardians, humans, and other alien cultures. And what he feels for Odin is an unquenchable passion for patricide. Loki loves Frigga, and at the very least, respects Thor when he isn’t envying his status in Asgard. When Thor falls in love with Jane Foster, Loki taunts him for being weak and chastises him for allowing his emotions for a human woman to cloud his judgment. Loki has no love interest that we’re made aware of, and since he devotes all of his time and energy to destroying worlds and stealing Thor’s place on the Asgardian throne, he really doesn’t have much time for romantic relationships. And his use of…colorful language when talking to the ladies, might hinder his attempts at finding a female companion.

Quim

Arcane profanity can easily be mistaken as an awkward attempt to get in your panties.

And, we get a glimpse of what turns him on when Jane Foster punches him in the face and his reaction is to smile lewdly and say to Thor, (as if Jane isn’t still standing there), “I like her.”

Because Loki is obsessed with domination, lives to control others, uses vulgarities when speaking to women, looks great in bondage gear, and apparently enjoys being hit by ladies, many fangirls and boys have jumped to the conclusion that he probably has some rather kinky fetishes…or at the very least, inspires our imaginations.

Still uncertain about what makes this character so appealing? Well, for starters, he’s played by Tom Hiddleston, who is NEVER not sexy, and has been cast as some other fictional characters that will blow your mind.

Here he is as Sir Thomas Sharpe the sexy serial killer in Guillermo Del Toro’s Gothic Horror film, Crimson Peak.

Thomas-Sharpe

Oh. My. Goth!

He also plays Adam, in Jim Jarmusch’s film, Only Lovers Left Alive, which shows a unique view of life as a vampire.

Adam

Eat that bloodsicle!

And here’s Tom just being his adorable self.

And once again as Loki…arguing with children.

Seriously, that is effing adorable.

25 Years of Fear: World Horror 2015

WHC2015LOGOThis past weekend I attended the 25th Annual World Horror Convention and HWA Bram Stoker Awards Banquet in Atlanta (May 7 – 10, 2015). I’ve been a member of HWA for three years now and this was my third World Horror Convention. I shared a room with two people who are very special to me: two-time Stoker-nominated poet, Stephanie Wytovich and fellow Seton Hill University alum, Ryan DeMoss. We had a blast, but it just wasn’t the same without Joe Borelli. Hope to see you soon, Joe. There were quite a few of us in attendance representing Seton Hill’s MFA in Writing Popular Fiction Program, including my amazing mentor, Lucy A. Snyder who won two Stoker Awards this weekend for her fiction collection, Soft Apocalypses and her non-fiction book on writing, Shooting Yourself in the Head For Fun and Profit: A Writer’s Survival Guide, as well as Michael Arnzen, Tim Waggoner, Jennifer Loring and John Dixon, who also won a Stoker for his novel Phoenix Island.

Jennifer Barnes and John Edward Lawson of Raw Dog Screaming Press hosted a fun gathering Friday evening in their hotel room where many of us got to experience some of the common fears horror writers try to capture in their fiction: claustrophobia, social anxiety, ophthalmophobia (fear of being stared at), ochlophobia (fear of crowds or crowded places) and bibliophobia (fear of books). Michael Arnzen broke out his Fridge of the Damned magnets for us to play with, and added performance anxiety to the list of fears.

As always, I attended some amazing panels and presentations, with the following being some of my favorites:

  • From Voodoo to Rattlesnake Revival: Southern Folklore in Horror Literature
  • Selling Your Scares to Screen: Ins and Outs of Options in Today’s Film Market
  • Different Visions: African- American Spec-Lit From Afro-Futurism to Beloved (moderated by Chronicles of Harriet creator, Balogun Ojetade)
  • Midmorning Madness: Making Insane Characters Believable
  • Bram Stoker/Dracula Travel Guide New Discoveries 118 Years Later (presented by Dacre Stoker)
  • Pushing the Diaspora Darkly: Horror from Multicultural Perspectives

I never get to attend all of the panels and readings I want to, because there are simply too many to choose from each year.

However, there is so much more to WHC than attending panels. Catching up with talented friends like Michael Knost, Craig DiLouie, and Rio Youers were some of the high points of the weekend. What’s even better than telling stories, drinking, and laughing at inappropriate humor with old friends? Making new friends! This year I met some really talented, insightful, and darkly humorous people including the amazing science fiction poet Linda Addison, the thought-provoking speculative fiction writer Crystal Connor, the adorably weird horror writer and filmmaker Frazer Lee, the nicest bizarro fiction writer you’ll ever meet, William Pauley III, and a filmmaker and writer who also aspires to become a Time Lord, Aaron Dries. It was also my great pleasure to meet DragonCon’s ConSuite Master, Joseph Campbell, who showed WHC2015 attendees southern hospitality while wearing a Utilikilt and spinning Bryan Ferry. Be still my heart!

And, if all that wasn’t cool enough, William F. Nolan and Charlaine Harris signed books for me.

All in all, a wonderful weekend in which I was reminded not to fear success, conversed with intelligent, insightful, and caring people, learned some new things about madness, laughed at inappropriate humor, and exhausted myself to the point of insanity. Can’t wait to see you all again soon.

Now It’s Dark: Lynchian Images in The Babadook

babadookPOPUPBOOOK This weekend I watched Australian writer-director Jennifer Kent’s amazingly beautiful and haunting film, The Babadook (2014). It was my second viewing of the film in about a month. My intent was to kick start my brain into generating a blog post; or rather a series of blog posts about horror films that focus on the darker side of motherhood— “The Horror of Motherhood”. And, I was going to begin posting the series in time for Mother’s Day. I’m still going to write the series of posts, and I will do my absolute damnedest to get the first one posted in time for Mother’s Day, even though I will be attending World Horror 2015 in Atlanta next weekend. According to most successful writers, and several of my well-meaning friends, I simply cannot allow life to get in the way of writing the stories I need to tell. Even if they are just musings about the art and literature I wrap myself up in to hide away from the realities of life. I keep tripping over those realities each time I think I’m going to sit down to finish that poem, story, or book. MUST. KEEP. WRITING.

My intent, while settling in for another viewing of what I consider to be one of the scariest films I’ve seen in a long time, was to inspire myself to write about a series of horror films I feel deeply connected to. Horror films about mothers and their children. This connection stems not only from my awareness as a mother who appreciates how rewarding it can be to raise a child, but also how dark and terrifying it can be to realize that your life is no longer your own. Motherhood is fraught with a host of responsibilities, expectations, and societal pressures that go beyond the basics of keeping the children you bare alive. You must adhere to a very strict level of high standards that seem to fall under constant scrutiny, or you will be deemed a monster. As much as I love monsters, I don’t wish to be accused of being one. Notice that I didn’t say I don’t wish to become a monster. If becoming a monster means protecting the safety of my child, then there will most certainly be a gnashing of sharp teeth.

This concept of the horror of motherhood first occurred to me when I was pregnant with my son. I took a film class to fill the void of boredom, or stave off the fear that I would never have a life again after my son was born. True story. Each week we sat in a dark classroom on the University of Pittsburgh campus for several hours watching films and then discussing them. I was a non-traditional student. By non-traditional I mean an unwed thirtysomething pregnant woman of color with a full-time job at the University, and a master’s degree in English literature in a classroom full of mostly white twentysomething undergraduate students oddly misinformed about cinema. If my alma mater had offered a film minor I would have earned one while pursuing my undergraduate degree…but, I digress (and I will keep doing that, because I am in stream-of-consciousness mode lately and there’s not much I can do about it right now if I want to keep writing. Like it or lump it).

motherdaughterSo, horror of motherhood…film class…right…what was the point I was trying to make…? Oh yeah! One week we watched The Exorcist in class. I saw the movie for the first time when I was maybe ten-years-old. It scared the living shit out of me. I had nightmares for weeks, and I refused to sleep with the lights off for a long time afterwards. To me, that’s a sign of a good horror flick. But, is that enough? When I was kid? Absolutely. I still watch horror movies just for the thrill of being scared, but now I tend to evaluate them with a different set of standards in mind. And, I honestly think I began to think about horror films in this way during my viewing of The Exorcist as a pregnant woman. As a kid, the film was terrifying because, let’s be honest, some really unsettling things happen to Regan and her mother once the demon manifests and takes control of the young girl’s body. We’re talking body horror at it’s finest, demon possession, a parasitic invasion of the mind and body in which the host is totally helpless to defend herself from the invading entity. The connection between demon possession and pregnancy was not lost on me as I sat in the darkened classroom. The film suddenly took on a very personal tone, and my original fears quickly evaporated as I began to perceive a new set of fears the film stirred up in me. I was about to become a mom, so the fears were two-fold. Like Regan, I had a being growing inside me that I had little or no control over. My body had been invaded, and unlike many women who look forward to the miracle of birth, I was terrified, because I didn’t completely have faith in my own body to do what it needed to do to bring forth life. And, I also saw the film from the perspective of Regan’s mother, who has a very sick child that no one in the medical field can seem to correctly diagnose, and as her behavior becomes more bizarre and she is subjected to test after test, it became very clear to me that the horror in this film is very real. The horror(s) of motherhood – fear that you won’t be able to help your child if she becomes sick, fear that people will accuse you of being a bad parent, that somehow your child is ill because of something you’ve failed to do right. Yeah, that’s scary stuff. And, because I had to think about those very real fears while rewatching The Exorcist as a mother-to-be, the film gained a new depth of meaning for me, placing it higher on my horror film hierarchy list.

I’ve studied film unofficially for many years, and have a love of the art form that goes beyond catching the latest blockbusters Hollywood has to offer. In fact, I would consider myself a bit of a film snob. I enjoy certain large production films, like the whole Marvel superhero franchise that has enlisted the talent of some of my favorite actors, screenwriters, and directors, but I prefer indie, foreign, and classic films – silent, noir, Murnau, Welles, Hitchcock, Bergman, Polanski, Herzog, Universal, Hammer, American International – and my taste runs toward the dark, the uncanny, and the bizarre. However, a film has to be more than just weird or unsettling for me to really engage with it. There needs to be some sort of artistic or intellectual exploration happening to maintain my attention for an hour or two. My senses need to be tingled, my emotions need to be swayed (unhinged if possible), and what I’m watching on screen should be jangling loose memories and connections between other films and narrative forms I have encountered before. My enjoyment as a reader, writer, and lover of film comes from the connections I am able to make between these different mediums.

I love films, especially horror films that delve into our dark psychological past in the form of reimagined fairy tales and myths. I am particularly thrilled when I see a newer filmmaker paying homage to another filmmaker whose work I enjoy. The Babadook accomplishes both. Kent’s dark fairytale that features a fictional children’s pop-up book, Mister Babadook, introduces us to a new retelling of a particular type of fairytale that delves into the madness that can result from unresolved emotional trauma and the isolation that often comes along with it. I have a lot to say about this deeply disturbing, and yet somehow familiar tale of motherhood, in which a woman fights against a malevolent spirit to halt her transformation into a monster. She refuses to heed the entities demands to harm her own child. She fights madness and ignores what the voices are telling her to do. But, I’m not going to talk about that here. Not now. Think of this as merely a teaser if you will. I have more thinking to do on the subject, but I will share my thoughts soon.

As the title of this post suggests, while I watched The Babadook this weekend, it became very clear to me that Kent has a very serious love of David Lynch. So do I. I became even more excited about this film, which I didn’t think was possible. I love surprises.

Before I get too far ahead of myself, I want to give you a very brief synopsis of the film, but I don’t wish to reveal too much, because I really hope that if you haven’t seen the film yet, you will. So, I’m going to steal the two sentence synopsis from Kent’s website (parentheses are mine): “The film tells of a single mother (Amelia), plagued by the violent death of her husband, who battles with her son’s (Samuel) night time fear of a shadowy monster (The Babadook). But soon, she discovers a sinister presence is lurking in the house.”

repulsion-2Kent’s film has been compared to Roman Polanski’s films, and there were many instances when I was reminded of Repulsion (1965). Especially while watching the scenes in which Amelia is wandering around the house alone at night through shadowy hallways in her nightgown. I couldn’t help but think of Catherine Deneuve sleepwalking through her nightmarish descent into madness.

Jennifer Kent admits that David Lynch is her favorite film director, so it is no wonder that his influence can be seen in this terrifying masterpiece about the darkness that lives inside all of us. After noticing the second reference to his imagery, I picked up a notebook and started jotting down notes in an ecstatic rush of joy. Not only is this film well written, carefully crafted, and very scary, but also the filmmaker is asking me to engage in the narrative she has created on a very intellectual level through images that evoke memories of other narratives. Specifically, Lynch’s films and his television series, Twin Peaks.

If you have seen more than one Lynch film, you’ve probably noticed several recurring images and themes. He communicates his narratives through a very surrealistic system of dream-like images, causing the viewer to experience the story in a state of disorientation they share with many of the characters on-screen. Dreams and hallucinations play a major role in his narratives, and so do darkness and the dangers that hide there. Kent employs several of Lynch’s lighting techniques to create a similar feeling for her viewers. She uses light and shadow to define space within a scene, and creates a sense of isolation, claustrophobia, and even makes her viewer squint to get a closer look at what is hiding in the darkness. We begin to suspect that things are lurking in the dark corners of Amelia’s house long before the monster is ever introduced. She goes so far as to use one of Lynch’s trademark images, flickering electricity and burned out light bulbs, which I initially read as a common trope of horror films indicating a supernatural presence. I think Lynch uses this recurring image similarly to convey an element of the supernatural set against the backdrop of ordinary life.

The-Black-Lodge-twin-peaksFilms often provide us with an escape from this ordinary life, and while we wish to become immersed in the narrative unfolding before us, both filmmakers have a desire to remind us that we are in fact watching a film they have created, and delve into the realm of metafiction. Lynch does this by creating a proscenium arch in nearly every one of his films, and he even goes so far as to include curtains. Usually very heavy red curtains, which most people will remember from Agent Cooper’s black lodge dream sequences in Twin Peaks. He not only suggests that there is a stage where his characters are performing, but he creates one within a scene. Behind that arch, which sometimes has curtains, and sometimes is just a wall of darkness, there usually lurks something his characters don’t wish to face. The truth. Danger. The darkness within us. Kent uses a wall of darkness to create one of Lynch’s proscenium arches during a very emotionally charged and terrifying scene, in which the Babadook is threatening Amelia’s safety and the safety of her son. She screams at the monster hidden behind the arch and refuses to back down. Refuses to show weakness. She protects her son from the darkness and what it hides. And, much like one of Lynch’s films, eventually something emerges from the darkness. In this case, the true cause of Amelia’s grief and depression is revealed. And then, we are rewarded with yet another Lynchian image, a gaping head wound. I’m pretty sure I squealed with delight during that scene. One reason Lost Highway is one of my favorite Lynch films is because it has two head wounds.

Lost-HighwayAnother example of Lynchian themes Kent uses in The Babadook that really confirmed her love of his work is the concept of split consciousness. In several of his films, Lynch features female leads with dual roles: Patricia Arquette in Lost Highway, Naomi Watts in Mulholland Drive, and Laura Dern in Inland Empire, as well as Sheryl Lee in Twin Peaks. These split identities often highlight the darker side of human behavior and puts the two characters at odds with each other. While Essie Davis plays only one character in Kent’s film, Amelia goes through a psychological transformation rather than a physical one, teetering on the edge of madness. She doesn’t become two people like in Lynch’s work, but her grief over the loss of her husband and her unwillingness to fully accept her role as Samuel’s mother creates a similar fractured female identity. She struggles with depression and feels guilty for wishing she could still have her husband even if it meant giving up her son. She is in danger of not only being a bad mother, but of becoming a monster herself.

GarmonboziaFinally, the icing on the cake for me came near the end of the film when Amelia goes through a terrible night in which the Babadook enters her body. There is a kind of possession that takes place, further supporting this idea of fractured identity. She is becoming a monster. She poses a threat to her own son. But, Amelia is strong, and she is able to force the darkness out. She exorcises her own demons. In the process of casting out the monster, she expels what I like to call emotional ectoplasm. She literally throws up an inky black substance that made me shout: GARMONBOZIA! She expels her pain and sorrow, which is what the demons in the black lodge eat. Bob expels a similar black substance from his hands in Fire Walk With Me when The Man from Another Place demands, “Bob, I want all my Garmonbozia.” Oddly enough, that inky substance, which I equate with a literal emotional discharge, a physical manifestation of pain, isn’t actually garmonbozia. Lynch depicts garmonbozia as something completely ordinary and mundane. Creamed corn. In my opinion, that’s the true stuff of nightmares.