Recipe for Terror: Just Add Some Space For the Imagination

So, I saw The Conjuring on Friday night.

Billed as a throwback in the mold of The Amityville Horror (1979), the film follows the exploits of a married, paranormal research duo (Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson) who are asked to investigate the home of a family living in rural Rhode Island. The movie was directed by James Wan who is known best for 2010’s Insidious and 2004’s Saw.


The story opens with a somewhat clichéd vignette of a maniacal doll (Annabelle) brought to life by a demonic spirit. The purpose of these scenes is mostly exposition – explaining how demons manifest inside objects in order to (ultimately) possess people. However, the doll is so over-the-top creepy looking that one really has to wonder who in their right mind would ever keep it in their home. However, this section of the movie is purely to set up later events, so we just have to go with it. Once the plot moves its focus to the Perron family and their plight of a haunted home, the locomotive starts building up a nice head of steam. The first time Lili Taylor’s character ventures into the basement at night, I was completely mortified even though the scene was mostly composed of silence and a well-timed bouncing ball.

The Perrons’ newly purchased residence in Rhode Island’s countryside is a perfect setting for the disturbing events that follow. Having grown up in a farm house myself, I can tell you that they make wonderful places to spin threads of soul-crushing fear. The absence of city life and the void of night give you the feeling that you are completely isolated. The tree branches scraping the roof and the periodic sounds of insects give you the unwanted knowledge that there are many arms and legs out there moving in the dark, even if you can’t see them. And don’t get me started on ponds and lakes hiding their depth and contents when the sun has abandoned the sky. I hate dark water. It’s like an ink well emptied into a hole in the earth offering no hints as to what lies beneath.

And therein is the secret to a good horror film: leaving space for the imagination. I think humans can conjure the most frightening imagery if left to their own devices. Some of my most favorite scary movies are ones where the psychology opened a pocket of mystery and allowed my mind to fill it with terrible inventions. Alien (1979) and The Ring (2002) made good use of this strategy. Unfortunately, The Conjuring starts to fray about two-thirds in when the demons are revealed and the film becomes a dime store collection of every exorcism flick I had seen.

They just don’t make ‘um like they used to.


I Honestly Hope I Am Never Murdered While I’m On The Toilet

Netflix really is a treasure trove of questionable film. Tonight, I happened upon a 2009 horror flick, House of the Devil.

Well, apparently the Devil lives in an old Victorian home with an ill-placed harpsichord at the bottom of the creaky stairs and a rotary telephone with enlarged numbers on the dialing apparatus. This leads me to believe the Devil has bad eye sight and horrible feng shuihousedevil

The film goes to great lengths to revive that nostalgic 80’s era of Farrah Fawcett hair and ill-fitting mom jeans. And much like that time long gone, our lone heroine makes stupid mistakes time and time again in order to advance the overly drawn-out plot. The ultimate cherry on top of the “sundae of idiocy” happens when she goes to take a dump in the small, cramped bathroom and hears a noise elsewhere in the house.

What would a normal person do? Probably finish their business and investigate later, but not our uncouth leading lady: while sitting right there on the pot, she opens the door and looks around like a true cinematic boob, perhaps hoping her ass pollution will scare off the intruder. Even giraffes – with their awkward watering hole stances – would know better than to leave yourself so vulnerable to attack at the moment you can least defend yourself.

Pacific Rim

I caught a film last night called Pacific Rim. The director, Guillermo del Toro, is probably one of my most favorite filmmakers of the past 10 years – bringing such imaginative stories to the screen as Pan’s Labyrinth and the Hellboy comic books. I don’t know if its his eye for good set and costume design or the fact that even his big productions typically have emotional resonance and characters with dimension. Last night though, I wasn’t completely thrilled with the results.

Guillermo del Toro's ode to Japanese monster movies.

Guillermo del Toro’s ode to Japanese monster movies.

I knew what I was getting myself into: del Toro’s cinematic love letter to Daikaiju (大怪獣 ). Daikaiju is the genre of Japanese cinema that celebrated all forms of giant, city-destroying monsters. Godzilla and Rodan (beastly relics of the 1950’s) were the progenitors of of this campy style and del Toro (I think) was hoping to capture that specter of metropolitan menace from post-atomic bomb Japan. Only here, in the now, the monsters are not the result of radiation or human interference with nature, but rather a trans-dimensional gateway which strangely enough opens on the floor of the Pacific Ocean.

I have fewer issues with the lack of scientific merit (this is a summer blockbuster so such rules do not apply), however I never quite get why Hollywood tries to make a bloated action adventure have drawn out scenes about father-son relationship dynamics or letting go of dead loved ones. Rarely do they work, and quite frankly, it feels like going to test drive a red hot Ferrari but all the car salesman wants to discuss is your childhood fears. I’m not here for a catharsis, I am here to see giant robots, monsters rising from the ocean, and shit blowing up (in no particular order).

I know someone somewhere probably thought, “We need to have some character development of some sort,” but really, if you’re going to do it this badly, why bother? It’s a hot rod, not a psychiatrist’s couch.

In any case, I suppose for a popcorn flick it was mildly entertaining. It did have moments of silliness that gave you a wink of “I am not taking myself too seriously” and in those glimpses of honesty I realized del Toro was just doing what every filmmaker is allow to do once in awhile – and that’s just have some stupid fun.

Hillary 2016

I run in some political circles (none official but also none the less passionate), and everyone keeps singing the praises of Hillary Clinton as the Presidential candidate to beat in 2016. Since we’re only in 2013 and we haven’t even witnessed the potential bloodbath of the 2014 midterms, I’ll reserve judgment until then. However, I won’t deny Hillary’s enduring strength even after the Democrat base handed her a very close defeat in the 2008 primary.

Will she run in 2016? Inquiring minds want to know.

Will she run in 2016? Inquiring minds want to know.

My biggest fear is this constant American illusion that we are going to elect someone who will save the world and…unicorns will run free once again. I heard it all when Obama was elected and now those same ultra-liberal people are constantly turning to me and saying, “I am so disappointed in Obama.” Really? You sound like you raised him from birth and he ended up dropping out of college or something. Perhaps they are just saying it to be fashionable, who knows? I guess I’ve been pretty content with the winding down of two wars, a gradually improving economy (although I’d like a faster recovery too), expansion of gay rights, and the fact that no one will ever again have to go through what my dad endured by being denied health insurance because of preexisting conditions. I think those are all very good things, and I am willing to give credit where it’s due (i.e. the Democratic Party and maybe 1 or 2 Republicans who voted with them). That said, of course I am not thrilled with potential privacy violations or the toothless Wall Street reform. But ultimately, we elect a Congress and a President and neither has absolute sway.

I have never had lofty expectations for any politician I have voted for because I know that the world is a complex place and all I do is fill out an oval on the ballot to put a brain in the Oval Office. Heck, if they can deliver on 6 out of 10 items on my political laundry list, I’m happy as a clam. I never expect perfection from a profession that potentially requires smiling at the podium while you just gave an order to kill 3,000 people moments before. It’s a duplicitous job and you really have to make the best choice you think possible when you’re in the voting booth.

So I always tell my friends salivating at the mouth over a potential Hillary Clinton Presidency, “Remember, she’ll probably do one or two things that pisses you off.”

However, I do think she’d be a totally bad ass President.

I admire people who take adversity, let it *try* to destroy them, and then come back even stronger. It’s a rare talent that (so far) has only been mastered by Madonna and cockroaches.


An Angel Came to Me In the Shape of an Air Conditioner

I’m in the mood for a blanket statement today:
Seattle residents are a sensitive people.

We’re currently smack in the middle of a beautiful summer and I am hearing from a lot of people how hot it is compared to previous years. There are countless Facebook posts of stuffy apartments and escaping one’s home to the heavily cooled movie theaters or supermarkets for relief. Now, it’s not really super hot (I don’t believe we’ve broke the 100°F barrier yet), but for a city where most dwellings are built without A/C, one could understand the dilemmas of trying to sleep in this kindergarten version of Hell.

Growing up in Iowa, it was routine to apply cold wash clothes to your face and arms every July and August and sleep in front of a rusted-out old fan. The summers there were both hot and humid offering the worst set of twins from Mother Nature’s menstrual cycle. I will admit that I secretly used to enjoy the first 20 seconds of getting into a parked car in the middle of the afternoon on a scorching day; the heat would envelop you just like the lava of Mount Doom took Gollum in The Lord of the Rings – slurping you up in one swallow. In some sick way, I would think, “This must be what blueberry muffins feel like in the oven.” Of course, after 20 seconds I was clamoring for the air conditioning buttons because who wants to sit in an instant bath of one’s own sweat?

Since moving to Seattle years ago, I have often roughed it – sweltering through the brutal night while my concrete building radiated all the solar heat it had collected that day. Fortunately, this year some angels from Everett loaned me a portable air conditioner so that I can strip down to my boxer briefs and pile the blankets on my body at night. It is a true gift to be able to sleep in a frost-fingered cave (a magma chamber previously known as my apartment). I’ve christened the A/C unit –  Metatron – after the mighty Guardian of the Tree of Life (as written in the Zohar).

Metatron seems to function best at 67°F.




The 8 Hour Work Day Is Just A Container For Your Life

It’s been a while since I’ve written in these parts, but I wanted to take a brief moment and let a sliver of sunlight in…

I have been performing in my new position at my work; a position which allows me to be creative and operate on multiple channels of talent.  It had been so long since I did anything that made me exercise those muscles that I felt all my magical visions were laying like fish skeletons on a dry ocean floor.  Certainly, I am not back to my full strength yet, but the time I spend now feels like a tropical vacation compared to the dark prison of my past position. I think there is something powerful about allowing your talents out of their cage. We all have them…talents that is, not cages. And when you keep those talents under wraps they get angry.

Well, here I am months later and my mood has changed substantially. When I encounter problems now I think, “Well, isn’t this a pickle? I am sure it will turn out alright,” whereas before, a pen could roll off my desk at work and my first thought would be, “Why me? Why am I damned to this punishing existence?”

This leads me to my point. It’s not profound or enlightening. It’s just a reminder: If you have to spend 8 hours of your day doing something to make ends meet, fair enough. But never stop fighting to make it something that you enjoy. Pull those goddam boots out of the mud and walk. Keep walking. Walk until the leather peels away and the skin is worn. Move. Don’t accept defeat of this nature. Go back to school and learn something radically different. Volunteer to get the experience that you need if you can’t afford school. Help friends with whatever talents you have. Keep exercising your talent.

Oh, there will be crying alright. Perhaps screaming too. But once you break through, your crying and screaming will be in a different cadence. And you might look back from your sunny, new position and see a barren wasteland fraught with thorns and hungry animals and think, “Damn, I can’t believe I made it through.”