Several Full Moons - Izzy Maxson
For a sizeable chunk of my childhood my family lived on the outskirts of Moriarty, New Mexico, on the far southwestern edge of the Great Plains. A flat and yellowish gray landscape with the mountains far off on the distant horizon. We lived in front of a large cow pasture. That is important.
One summer at about age 9 I discovered werewolf movies from the 1980s. There aren't very many truly great werewolf movies, there's An American Werewolf in London and The Howling and then everything else is pretty much lesser. But I watched those and Wolfen and Silver Bullet (with Corey Haim and Gary Busey, based on a minor Stephen King work).
There were a lot of coyotes in the area. They never attacked people. But sometimes they attacked dogs. Especially if they were outside on metal leads to doghouses which was pretty common. They would also attack cows. Whenever a night happened when one of these events was going on my mind would immediately picture it like a werewolf movie. Like the werewolf popping up in the window to slash at Gary Busey in Silver Bullet, or the scene in An American Werewolf In London with the man in the narrow corridors of the London Subway. But especially the sequence in The Howling when Dee Wallace's husband has sex with the hippie temptress (the only survivor at the end of the film) and they both turn into werewolves during the act. I would hear the coyotes tearing into cows and the cows baying in pain, the dogs on chains fighting back. The different pitched howls from both sides. I'd picture green and yellow eyed monsters stalking the fields.
Years later when I saw a different horror film, The Silence Of The Lambs, I was shaken by the sequence that explains the title, "do you still hear them Clarice? The screaming of the lambs?" And even today when I hear dogs howling at night, let alone actual coyotes, I pick up the pace, feeling solidarity for that tweed clad, almost funny British businessman, his footsteps clattering on the stone as he tried not to acknowledge that he knew the werewolf had his scent.
Pressure, Billy Joel - Brodie hubbard
I wrote on this very blog a few years ago about the TV movie which unnerved me as a child. And it wasn’t beast nor boogeyman, or anything else you’d expect that scared me. It was the creepiness of a pizza cutter rolling back and forth, and the grievous bodily harm it implied.
However what my reoccurring nightmares were about involved the distortion of time, specifically everything slowing down, and human bodies seeming to melt.
The closest thing to seeing this in waking life was the music video for “Pressure.” Billy Joel’s first single in 1982 to kick off the release of his eighth studio album, “The Nylon Curtain.” This four and half minute video starts off with the singer in a chair watching rapidly changing black and white images and texts on a large monitor, a less restrained version of Alex’s conversion therapy in “A Clockwork Orange.” I mean… literally, Billy Joel is not tied up with his eyelids pried open.
AND YET…! He’s still jerking around in the chair and there’s a freeze frame of him gnashing his teeth. There’s a zoom into the freeze frame which is uncomfortably long.
This transitions into these unsettling set pieces of barking dogs, Billy Joel waking up in a bed in a black room filling with water, a party where people start flying into walls made of water and he seems to melt into the floor! It’s too much!
Some more of this is repeated with a little kid representing Billy Joel, and there’s one more creepy shot of the kid’s face pressed against a screen.
But you know what? A ketchup bottle flies by, the rest of this video and song really just feel like a Pink Floyd ripoff, and dude actually sings the lyric “Sesame Street / what does it mean?”
I’m not scared of you anymore, Piano Man.
Phantasm - Susan Kennedy
I was 17 when I went to see Phantasm with my boyfriend. First boyfriend, first horror movie at the Odeon, Dundee, 1979. It stank of fags and desperation. Kinda like him.
Phantasm played into all of my darkest fears. Who’s beneath the bed, what’s behind the wardrobe, the dark, mausoleums but mostly, my own imagination.
I left the cinema with a lifelong fear of the dark and anyone wearing a black cloak or hood. Nuns, dead highwaymen on horseback, anyone with black cloaks and hoods. Especially if they’re under 5ft.
Phantasm continued to evolve and thrive at least another 4 movies. The boyfriend? Not so much. He turned out to be a serial cheater. Died in a mausoleum. Found lying next to a lone black hood.
What's that on the wall? - Joey Gould
Growing up in the eighties was frightening enough on its own, especially with a brother who was five years older than me. Consequently, he would watch things that weren’t age-appropriate for me; he & my mother like to reminisce about the time he was watching Gremlins & looked over at me, crying, then told my mother “I don’t think Joey should be watching this”. Bless her heart, mum had three of us to mind- four, if you count my father, who would carry us to her & say “deal with it” if we had a dirty diaper, even as she cooked dinner.
This led to a lot of such moments of terror, many of which are lost to my mind because of my dual threat AuHD & a severe concussion at the age of six. The scariest thing about my childhood might be how little I can recall. No, that’s not true. Out of that endless fog preceding my nascent consciousness, there’s my first memory of absolute movie horror: Labyrinth (Jim Henson, 1986).
It wasn’t the baby-stealing or the goblins in the bedroom, those are whatever. After verbal sparring with Jareth (David Bowie), meeting Hoggle (Brian Henson), & finding the entrance, Sarah (Jennifer Connelly) enters the labyrinth. A long corridor stretches in both directions and Hoggle jump-scares Sarah in an attempt to discourage her. Then, she sends him away. The door slams dramatically behind her. She breathes, collects herself, and walks out of the frame as…
What's that on the wall? A mass of eyeballs at the end of tendrils of moss, tracking her surreptitiously? “No thx!” said Baby Joe, running screaming out of the room! I wasn’t okay for days. Check out this biblically-accurate moss:
I noped out of the wood-paneled den so fast!
The Gate - Michael
Saturday night. My buddy's place. I was 8? 9? His parents were in their bedroom on the other side of the house, you wouldn't even know they were home. My buddy's older brother shows up and says he wants to put a horror movie called The Gate on.
I was a lonely, hyperactive kid with a lotta problems. I didn't handle horror well. I mean, I owned all the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark books, but I kept them hidden away. Wouldn't even touch them unless I had company around.
So, I'm already freaked out as big brother pops in the VHS tape.
The opening credits appear--red text on a black background with chillingly ambient music. Then the film opens right into a nightmare sequence that centers around the terror of alienation, blending the familiar with the uncanny.
That's what this movie does so well. It wrings out phantasmagoric terror from prosaic domesticity, all from the viewpoint of children who feel, for their own unique reasons, utterly alone.
There's a scene where Terry, our protagonist Glen's mourning-metalhead pal, sees his deceased mother walking through the misty front door. His tough demeanor drops as he whimpers "mommy?"
(I was endeared to him at that moment. I also felt like the air had been sucked clean outta my body. Unadulterated fright. Because when his walls crumble, so do the viewers.)
He runs to her, embraces her. But something is terribly wrong. The scene cuts away, leaving us to wonder for a moment about Terry's fate. When we return, he lovingly finishes the embrace, only to realize he's been clutching Glen's now-dead dog.
Yeah, this ain't a lighthearted romp.
In this movie there are doppelgangers and wall-demons. There are rockets and rituals. There are eyeballs where eyeballs shouldn't be, and a hole to a demonic underworld. The forced-perspective demons are unforgettable, the soundtrack rules.
This movie struck a terror-nerve inside of me. It also turned out to be a gateway into my lifelong love of horror shit. I watched it at the wrong time because it deeply traumatized my already fucked-up brain. I watched it at the right time because it made me feel slightly less alone.
The Adventures of Mark Twain and the Icky, 1985 - Kim
I don't know how many times my sister and I watched Will Vinton's The Adventures of Mark Twain from 1985 in the early 90s but it feels like, for a while, it was on a constant loop. I'm trying to locate the memory, if it was on Svärdvägen (Sword Street) or after my mom and stepdad moved to Stenåldersvägen (Stone Age Street), in the TV room in the basement there. At my dad's? At my grandparent's? I can't remember the VHS, holding it in my hands. All my childhood memories feel incomplete and fragmented, a blurry collection of images, but this movie remains grafted somewhere in my fundamental programming even thirty years later.
Fear doesn't feel like the right word because I kept watching it. The word that comes to mind is icky. I was en-gross-ed with it. Like that feeling of impending childhood sickness. Something in your stomach. Did anyone else, as a kid, have this feeling that would come sometimes where you became detached from your body? Your body felt suddenly different? I would lie in a bean bag and feel a change I couldn't articulate. Press my fingertips together and they felt different. I associate that feeling with this movie; maybe I was watching it when it happened. Maybe that was dissociation.
There's the main terrifying scene, I think somewhere in the middle, where the children step out of the claymation story elevator portal and encounter satan ("uh-oh"), or The Mysterious Stranger, with their contorting tragedy mask face, who builds a clay civilization only to destroy it, because humans are "a worthless, greedy lot". I remember dreading this scene in particular but actually the whole movie evokes dread: Adam and Eve in the garden and the snake, naming animals, and God's wrath, the lion turning on the lamb. Adam going over the waterfall, over and over. The frog full of trash, trying to jump. Mark Twain's greying, depressed doppelganger self.
The movie feels cold, like something you can't trust. There are no warm moments, no comfort. Even the 3 main kid characters, Tom, Huck and Becky, offer no real comradery. It's a lonely place. As I remember it. The feeling of being stuck, high up in the sky, on one man's suicide date with a comet. Even heaven isn't your heaven; it belongs to some other creatures, with 3 heads.
I wonder how much of the feeling has to do with the claymation itself. Something that shouldn't move but does, jerkily. Uncanny valley but not, but similar. I have memories of another swedish claymation series that give similar feelings of ickiness. Many years later, I bought The Adventures of Mark Twain on DVD and watched it with my step kids, about the same age as I must have been, and passed on the trauma.
by Michael Seymour Blake
Carpenter’s Someone’s Watching Me! didn’t get a proper physical media release in America until 2007—a cinematic sin. It’s not as iconic as some of his other films, but this tense little character-driven thriller belongs in any fan’s library, digital or otherwise.
A somewhat lonely but upbeat woman named Leigh (Lauren Hutton) moves from NY to LA. She lands a job directing live TV for a local station and makes quick friends with her new co-director, Sophie (Adrienne Barbeau). Besides having to deal with unwanted advances by a creepy co-worker named Steve, things are lookin’ up for our hero. Soon, she starts receiving strange prank calls and getting letters and packages delivered by a mysterious company called "Excursions Unlimited.” Things continue escalating after she meets an intriguing philosophy professor named Paul (David Birney) at a bar.
After realizing the anonymous harasser doesn’t plan on easing up anytime soon (the opposite, actually), and learning that the police are too indifferent or misguided to help, Leigh has a decision to make: flee or fight.
This movie feels like a distant relative of Spielberg’s Duel, where a faceless truck driver relentlessly follows and harasses a man (David Mann to be precise) through endless desert roads until, desperate, worn down, and angry, Mann must make a final stand. Mann, who realizes there’s no escape from the quasi-demonic force stalking him, is pushed to his ultimate limit. Will he be swallowed up by the soot-covered engine of his pursuer, or will he prove himself to be more than a match for it? Someone’s Watching Me!’s landscape is urban, and our hero is a woman who isn’t quite as alone, but it feels almost as desolate and isolating.
Even after the villain is revealed, he feels like a faceless representative of all the dangerous weirdos out there living among us. Aerial shots of cities and periodic glimpses of lofty buildings reinforce this, asking us to wonder about the people behind all those windows—are they dangerous? Would they help us if it meant putting themselves in harm’s way? Would they even believe us if we said we needed help? Is there truly safety in numbers?
Sometimes movie characters can feel hollow, just there to prove whatever point a writer’s trying to make. We get a poorly packaged message through preachy dialogue or forced situations which provide ample opportunity to smash us in the face with a lesson or two. Someone’s Watching Me! could have easily fallen prey to this. It doesn’t, thanks to a balanced screenplay that gives us people, not sounding boards. Of course, there’s lessons to be gleaned here—almost every movie has these—but they’re absorbed naturally rather than stuffed down our throats. Hutton was the right choice for this role. She plays one of the most relatable characters in any recent horror movie I’ve watched.
Leigh is endearing from the start, with idiosyncrasies (like the frequent quips and comments she makes to herself) that read as genuine and unique to her personality—you know, like a real live person. When she comments aloud that the TV is there to assuage lonesome nights, I thought about her desire for (but—importantly—not need for) companionship. I did not think about the writer (Carpenter in this case) trying to hammer home that idea. Her amusing under-the-breath remarks had me invested in her. Her healthy aplomb throughout the first half of the movie not only helps define her, but it also makes her inevitable breakdown much more moving; ditto her inevitable regrouping and final stand.
After Leigh’s frustrating experiences with creepo Steve, it was refreshing to watch her strut her flirting skills on Paul at the bar. While watching the scene, I was trying to remember the last time I saw a woman in cinema hit on a man with such goofy, effortless confidence. Her coin tricks and silly come-ons win Paul over. After a successful end to the night, Leigh takes a moment to appreciate it all. “Not bad, LA. Not bad.” (A nice jump scare follows this.) By that point I was rooting hard for her, so the movie could have collapsed, and I’d still be in. It doesn’t collapse, though. Watching Leigh’s transformation from watched to watcher is so damn cool without going too over the top.
Her new pal Sophie (Carpenter’s future real life wife) is supportive, helpful, and gay. Her homosexuality isn’t made a big deal of, and as she tells Leigh, “Don’t worry, you’re not my type.” That’s all there is to it. It’s a part of who she is, it ain’t all she is. I loved how it was handled. Then there’s Paul. He’s likable, cool, and interesting. What more can we ask for? But characters aside, Someone’s Watching Me! is a tense horror/thriller with a bunch of truly noteworthy moments.
I won’t go into all of them, but one of the standouts comes early on. Leigh comes home to find her door unlocked. She’s uneasy, but attributes it to a forgetful maintenance worker and calls her landlord (I think) about it. At first all seems well. Leigh stands in the foreground facing us while on the phone. Behind her, we have a partial view of the living room. Then, on an unexpected beat, a figure darts across the background. It only lasts a second, but wow is it effective. I think I even inadvertently cursed at the screen when it happened. There’s also chilling telescope POV shots, sweat-inducing walks through empty(?) apartments and laundry rooms, disheartening police interactions, and even a risky break-in or two. If that’s not enough for you, I haven’t even mentioned the crafty camerawork and overall contagious sense of dread throughout.
For all its limitations (both budget and TV restrictions), Someone’s Watching Me! manages to stand alongside any of Carpenter’s theatrical releases. The closing clash could’ve been a little tighter, and at times the TVness shines through, but it plows past these obstacles with great characters, impressive tension, and memorable scares. Two weeks after filming this, Carpenter began shooting the legendary Halloween. Nice double feature idea.
Watch Someone’s Watching Me! at night with some popcorn (or whatever it is you like to snack on), the lights turned down, and the curtains open wide.
Once as a child walking home I passed our house and decided to keep going. I had neglected some responsibility and didn't want to face the consequences. I left the neighborhood and walked onto a path that took me into the woods next to the lake. The water on the left glittered through the trees. Having made the decision I couldn't turn back and walked on, for an hour or so, until I reached town.
I found the song Tuesday by London based trio mary in the junkyard via a tiktok and it made me want to make a playlist. I love when the drums kick in and the intensity of the haunted vocal. The song takes you on a journey. "I feel like an alien here". Who doesn't?
Other songs seemed to fit. It isn't a happy playlist but I was imagining child me walking into the woods then, in the early 90s, as I walk in the woods here, next to another body of water, more and more leaves turning and piling up on the trail:
Beirut's new single The Tern is like a prayer or spell that Zach Condon says he improvised on the spot over a simple drum machine part. The song slowly grows with layers as Condon's voice reaches for something divine. I find it really affecting and vulnerable.
Jenn Champion is back with another cheerful album, The Last Night of Sadness, and I was already hooked on the single Good News Bad News (we're all gonna die) that dropped a few days before. It's catchy and timely: "what they say is true, we are all gonna die, sometimes it doesn't feel right to be alive". It's depressing as shit but it makes you want to dance at the same time.
I look forward to listening more to Champion's album and also Tre Burt's new release Traffic Fiction. The songs I've heard have been all really good but for this playlist I like All Things Right, that has alot going on, bluesy rock but at the same time something nostalgic and almost 80s in the chorus, with vocals that are loose and a groove that is addictive. Maybe not a complete fit for this playlist but I can imagine child me walking to it, kicking rocks.
Sufjan Stevens will likely be my most played artist this year because I keep putting on Javelin. I love it! Will Anybody Ever Love Me? Feels fitting for emo child me. Same for Hide Behind My Disguise by Cleffy. You should definitely check out Clean Sheets, Dirty Walls. I was torn between using Hide Behind My Disguise and Meet you at the Graveyard but I also have Graves by Black Polish and two grave songs seemed too much? Typing this out now it feels totally appropriate to have two grave songs, so check that out too.
And if Black Polish isn't on your radar she should be. Baby Tonight is such a fun pop punk song it will have you dancing in your despair. Graves should be on all your Halloween party playlists.
Another artist that showed up on tiktok: Veviter Long. Tiktok is a good source for music recs. His deep voice is interesting and Little Red Flower is a great song. The Christian Club sounds like something demonic is going on, and sometimes that's relatable. Like King Krule's sibling they had to send away. It's an alternative band from Bruges, Belgium.
Corrine Bailey Rae's Black Rainbows is one of the albums of the year and Put It Down is a 8 and a half minute masterpiece. If it went on for another 8 minutes I wouldn't complain. It felt like a perfect penultimate track on a walk through a forest. She released her self titled album featuring Put Your Records On in 2006 and Sarah Assbring released her first self titled studio album the same year as El Perro Del Mar, out of Gothenburg, Sweden. That was about the same time I left Gothenburg for the Americas. Her new single In Silence feels like a very sad Disney song:
Forever in your dreams
I’m bound to walk aimlessly alone
And on that note, I feel like apologizing, but I found comfort in a lot of these songs, and maybe you will too. Hug your loved ones.
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