Tag Archives: Halloween

7 Hair-Raising Books & Movies for ‘Halloween’

What scares me probably doesn’t scare you.

At Halloween, a lot of bloggers do horror or ghost-themed posts. I’ve always avoided the genre – not out of snobbishness – but because I always end up sleeping with the light on.

Something has changed lately, and I binge-watched three seasons of American Horror Story without flinching! I’m living my best, devil-may-care life.

This a post about some of the scary books and films I’ve encountered recently. Stuff that creeped me out for…reasons. Mostly I just want to do a round-up post.

ELI (Netflix)

Why is it scary? Well, it goes something like this:

Viewer: Oh goody, a standard ‘sick kid in a haunted house’ tale.

Eli: WE’LL SEE WHAT SATAN HAS TO SAY ABOUT THAT!!

I don’t know what they were smoking when they came up with this. Like Annihilation, it was originally a Paramount piece, dumped on Netflix when the studio didn’t know how to market it.

A SIMPLE FAVOUR by Darcey Bell

Why is it scary? It’s a gleeful little domestic suspense whose main character, Stephanie, is that terrifying breed: a mommy blogger.

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A Simple Favour feels like a younger, less elegant Gone Girl. When fashion PR Emily disappears, leaving her British husband Sean and their young son behind, her deluded ‘best friend’ Stephanie sets out to discover the truth.

Debut novelist Bell mercilessly satirises Stephanie’s ‘Captain Mom’ routine. Of course I’m not so happy about the way she writes about us Brits. I don’t know what we ever did.

We get the perspectives of Sean, Emily, and Stephanie – via her thoughts and her inane blog. Ahem. They’re all liars, for different reasons. Emily is reckless and predatory; Stephanie is an insecure dolt. (A “fuzzy bath mat pretending to be a person”, according to Emily.) Sean is…Sean.

Emily’s grand scheme is dumb, but it’s less a true mystery, more a biting satire.

A SIMPLE FAVOUR (movie)

Why is it scary? Directed by Paul ‘Bridesmaids’ Feig, the adaptation of Bell’s novel veers unevenly between black comedy and thriller.

The performances are fun – Emily’s (Blake Lively) unhinged fashion designer boss (Rupert Friend) makes a hilarious cameo. Lively is perfect for Emily, while Anna Kendrick’s Stephanie isn’t just a bath mat, as she evolves from timid mom in cat socks to confident crime solver.

Avoiding spoilers, but Kendrick’s mucky secret doesn’t work on the screen. It’s just plonked in a flashback, when it is waaaay too lurid to pass unexplored or without greater payoff.

THE FORGETTING TIME by Sharon Guskin

Why is it scary? Noah, 4, is Haley Joel Osment. Booted from preschool for talking about guns and..Harry Potter, he hates water, and wants his ‘other mommy’.

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When Noey’s (ugh) doctors suggest schizophrenia (!) hysterical ‘mommy-mom’ Janie contacts past life investigator Dr Jerry Anderson. (Guskin includes excerpts from work by UVA’s Dr Jim Tucker, who inspired the book.)

Janie is dim for an architect, and rude and ungrateful to dementia-stricken Jerry, who is racing to finish his research. I felt greater investment in him as he considers his life, and tries to solve the mystery of Noah’s memories.

Early interactions with secondary characters involve many ‘encouraging smiles’ and eyes ‘welling with concern’ or ‘shining with sadness’. Once it gets going though, it’s an intelligent and thoughtful story about three families’ grief.

SERENITY

Why is it scary? The marketing department hawked it as neo-noir. I saw the trailer, and I swallowed the bait hook, line and sinker. It’s notorious for its stupid ‘twist’.

Set on a fictional tropical island, washed-up war vet Dill toils as a fisherman/gigolo, obsessed with catching a tuna he’s named Justice. Poor Djimon Hounsou is stranded as first mate and conscience.

Sexy thriller undercurrents arrive with Dill’s femme fatale ex Anne Hathaway, who wants him to have an ‘accident’ at sea with her abusive husband, Jason Clarke.

Then it gets really weird. I want to say this movie should be canned but Clarke blames culture-wide resistance to experimental, ambitious films. Hmm. Maybe like Eli, it could have found fame on Netflix.

LULLABY (THE PERFECT NANNY) by Leila Slimani

(translated by Sam Taylor)

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Why is it scary? It’s the infamous killer-nanny book that won prestigious awards and was one of the most hyped books of 2018.

I was worried it would be tacky or exploitative, but it’s a darkly literary novel, which explores themes of race, class, motherhood and domesticity.

The Moroccan-French Slimani is incredibly clever, and the prose is sublime – but I wasn’t sure the author had full grasp of her villain.

PET SEMATARY

Why is it scary? It’s not. But Jason Clarke plays another bad dad/husband.

I’ve never read any Stephen King (remember I have to sleep with the light on) but apparently King himself hails this as one of the best adaptations of his books.

Somehow, I’ve managed to watch The Shining, and in comparison, Pet Sematary seems like basic horror.

There are some well-publicised changes. The ‘child’ isn’t the toddler son but the older girl – and the young actress, Jeté Laurance, is excellent and would be perfect casting for a Greta Thunberg biopic.

SPOOKY FILM REVIEW: Personal Shopper starring Kristen Stewart

It’s 2007, before audiences would learn that Kristen Stewart was to be their Bella Swan, and there’s enormous acclaim for her tiny little role in Sean Penn’s Into the Wild. Anyone would think that the former child actress was being prepped for major stardom.

Of course, Stewart won the Twilight gig, becoming an object of obsession for girls everywhere, one half of Robsten, and a fixture on Hollywood’s Most Hated lists. Now, in 2017, she’s finally the ‘Best of her Generation’ — as Olivier Assayas described her after directing her to a César for her role as a PA to a neurotic actress in Clouds of Sils Maria. 

Stewart made history as the first American to win the French version of an Oscar, and Assayas would write Personal Shopper with her in mind to star as Maureen, a young expat in Paris. Again, she’s a flunky to a celebrity, with her supermodel employer dispatching her to upscale boutiques to try on clothes and pick up red carpet outfits.

Maureen is far more than an underling; she’s a psychic medium, a grieving twin sister, and an artist. She hates her job, but she’s in limbo in the French capital mourning her brother, who died from a heart defect she shares. She sits alone at night in his Parisian mansion, waiting for a sign from the other side.

The building creaks and the pipes rattle, and a rageaholic spirit scratches out her artwork. When Maureen is harassed by text message, we’re supposed to be unsure whether or not she is at the mercy of something more sinister than a fashionista; have ghosts made the jump-scare to the digital era, or has she got a stalker?

If this sounds like a weird blend of high fashion, ectoplasm, and suspense…you’d be right – but it really is an engrossing addition to the whodunnit/horror/coming-of-age genre that probably wouldn’t have worked with a typical lead actress.

But Stewart seems so plausible when she talks (or does that notorious Stewart mumble, mumble, shuffle) about the difficulty of finding portals to the spirit world, it seems perfectly reasonable. From that truthful base, she is fascinating; you just want to keep watching her.

Personal Shopper is a beautiful and detailed treat, from the Vionnet and Chanel dresses, down to Maureen’s beanies, polo shirts and sloppy sweaters. It looks like a fashion shoot, all carried off by Stewart’s insouciance.

She even makes the name ‘Maureen’ sound cool.

For those that ‘celebrate’ it, have a Happy Halloween, and do check out my Guide to Scary Movies.

Fleur Delacour

Mini reviews: a Wimp’s Guide to Halloween Movies

It’s Halloween, surely a time for a movie fan like me to seek out traditional scary flicks like The Blair Witch Project, or Poltergeist.

Only I’m not very brave. I have a long list of fears, and horror movies are on it. They frighten me so much, my coping strategy used to be that on the rare occasion I watched one, I’d immediately go and see another one to stop the nightmares from the first.

So if I’m too scared to go downstairs at night because of the Babadook (no way), a dose of The Woman in Black (forget it) would calm my fears. After all, they can’t both be real right?! Right?

Given the problems with this logic and my sensitive disposition, I just avoid horror. But I blog about movies now, so I thought I ought to gingerly dip a toe back into the world of toil and trouble…

The Ones Below

It’s more of a psychological thriller than a horror, but the title sounded reminiscent of the Harrison Ford and Michelle Pfeiffer classic What Lies Beneath.

Clémence Poésy is married to a nice bloke (Stephen Campbell Moore). They’re both media/creative types and have a gorgeous cat, a lovely flat and a baby on the way.

A new couple move in downstairs – the Governor from The Walking Dead (David Morrissey- shouty) and his blonde wife (Laura Birn), who are also expecting a baby.

Despite the fact the two couples are clearly never going to get along, they have a dinner party. An unfortunate tangle of factors leads to tragedy, and middle class competition turns to revenge.

David (The Night Manager) Farr is the first time film director, from his own script. It felt a little like a one-off TV movie, but the echoes of Polanski, and Poésy’s emaciated, tomboyish appearance and the loopy music, give it a woozy, memorable vibe.

JUMP SCARES: Zero

NIGHTS HIDING UNDER THE COVERS: None, but my aversion to unfriendly dinner parties and The Walking Dead still stands.

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It Follows

Aaaargh what was I thinking?! David Robert Mitchell’s modern horror masterpiece already has me hiding under the covers.

An evil, unstoppable force takes on the guise of various gruesome-looking individuals, and stalks people to death.

The ‘thing’ is passed around like a virus – you have to sleep with someone to infect them, but if it kills its victim it comes back down the chain to snuff you out.

A cast of relatively unknown actors help make it fresh and disorientating.

JUMP SCARES: One

NIGHTS HIDING UNDER THE COVERS: Two so far!

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The Gift

“It’s just one dinner and it’s over…” No no no it’s NEVER over. The past returns to haunt thrusting tech professional Patrick Bateman when he moves to California with his wife Rebecca Hall.

An unrecognizable Joel Edgerton stars as Bateman’s old school friend colleague, an unattractive misfit (“Gordo the Weirdo”) who wrecks havoc with his target’s marriage.

Edgerton wrote the screenplay and makes his directorial debut, and the result is impressive. Hall is great, her character’s reaction to Gordo veers so far from movie convention and the ending is wonderfully subtle.

JUMP SCARES: One but I really jumped!

NIGHTS HIDING UNDER THE COVERS: Nope, but when will people stop having uncomfortable, wholly avoidable dinner parties?

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FILM REVIEW: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

Ransom Rigg’s YA fantasy Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children sold millions and has been translated into 40 languages. Now Tim Burton’s adaptation has found a perch at the top of the US and international box offices.

On the advice of his shrink, the story’s hero Jake has left his Florida home for rainy Wales, hoping to unravel his Grandpa’s tales of growing up in an orphanage for “Peculiars” with extraordinary abilities – ranging from super strength and invisibility, to a girl with teeth at the back of her skull, and a lad who likes to belch up a swarm of bees.

Count me out of school dinners at this place.

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20th Century Fox. (Halloween costumes sorted!)

Jake finds a gateway to the 1940s orphanage, which exists on a one-day time-loop. He bonds with Emma Bloom (rising star Ella Purnell), a Burtonesque blonde ingénue who’d float away without her platform shoes. Poor Jake – she’s blooming beautiful, but she’s also an octogenarian who used to fancy his granddad.

Headmistress Miss Peregrine (Eva Green) is a “Ymbryne”, who can a) manipulate time and b) transform into a falcon – a mother bird hiding her young from Samuel L. Jackson’s mad scientist and the monstrous, eyeball-chomping Hollowgasts.

The most haunting moment comes when she gathers her pupils to reset the day, and she plays the popular WWII era song Run Rabbit Run on the gramophone. We know Grandpa witnessed the horrors of the Holocaust (Hollowgast?), but the movie does not engage further with the historical context.

The movie has some scary imagery, but it wasn’t the dark fantasy elements that I found most unnerving. As if being cursed with a set of teeth at the back of your skull and dodging evil creatures that want to eat you isn’t bad enough, imagine being trapped for an eternity at school.

It’s driven at least one Peculiar mad; seer Horace (Hayden Keeler-Stone) – among stiff competition – is the creepiest inhabitant of this child prison world, with his old-fashioned manners and weird fixation with tailoring.

There’s something skin-creeping about the movie, like a Victorian era freak show. It’s like one of those nursery rhymes with a sinister meaning – and as someone who spent their childhood secretly hoping they’d fall through a wardrobe into Narnia, it’s a fictional fantasy world I would not want to visit.