Film Review: Bethany

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Bethany wasn’t the usual jump-scare horror nor did it have any sort of boogie man so to speak. What I liked about Bethany is that true life trauma intermingled with a sense of dread. Claire (Stephanie Estes) is haunted by past childhood traumas that she endured at the hands of her cold, unfeeling mother (Shannon Doherty) who placed physical beauty above all. Young Claire is forced to compete in beauty pageants against her will and to obsess over her appearance, and somehow all this stress on physical perfection causes a terrible rift between mother and daughter.

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But after the passing of her estranged mother, Claire inherits her childhood home and decides to return to live there with her husband Aaron (Zack Ward). I’m still unsure why someone with such terrible PTSD linked to that particular house would want to return let alone start LIVING in said home, but the couple does just that. Unsurprisingly, Claire begins to be haunted by her past in more ways than one.

You see, as a child, she had an imaginary friend called Bethany that would speak to her from the wall. Was the friend real or had she always been a little crazy? These are the questions that surface throughout the course of this movie. There’s a creeping dread that follows the viewer and characters throughout the whole movie and I like it because it makes you question everything. You know that bad things are going to happen, but are those things merely imagined or are they really happening?

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Bethany is one trippy movie, taking you on this rollercoaster of black emotions. What is real? What is imagined? This is a slow burn horror where everything comes to a head when the climax is finally reached and the twist revealed. I was satisfied by the ending, but then again, I’ve always been a sucker for creepy dolls, childhood traumas, and flirting with schizophrenia. The film combines psychological suspense with the supernatural and the twisty reveal is one that many wouldn’t have seen coming.

Overall, if you’re a fan of the horror genre, then you will enjoy this movie as it has many things that horror junkies love such as: an old house, creepy dolls, and strange objects protruding from one’s flesh.

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Check it out, you’re in for a dark thrilling ride.

*Thank you to the director James Cullen Bressack for the free viewing of this movie for an honest review.

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Love or Hype? Bridge Jones’ Diary Movie

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I’ll admit that I’m not a huge fan of the rom-com genre. Mostly because it always creates unrealistic expectations of relationships and also of love. Real life is much more brutal, and I know many girls love watching this genre as a form of escapism. Having said that, I decided that I was going to check out a very famous rom-com from 2001, Bridge Jones’ Diary. For years I’ve heard how amazingly funny this movie is and how relatable the protagonist Bridget is. Ultimately, I decided to check it out and thought that if I wouldn’t enjoy it, at least I got to see London (my favourite city ever) for an hour and a half.

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Bridget (Renée Zellweger) is 32, and somehow in 2001 that meant she was old and heading towards spinster-ville. This thought horrified me, but I guess maybe it’s something that’s still happening now and I’ve just never worried about getting married by a certain age. Bridget is a fun character and very relatable. She’s pretty but slightly overweight (for early aughts standards), doesn’t feel appreciated at her job, and has still not managed to snag the man of her dreams, Daniel (played by a very charismatic Hugh Grant).

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However, life takes a turn for the better for Bridget and she begins to date Daniel. All seems amazingly awesome, a little too awesome till her life starts to derail yet again. I really loved the fact that Bridget, although she really yearned for a stable relationship and was head over heels in love with Daniel she still had enough self-respect to know that she deserved more than his cheating lousy ass ways.

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Renée Zellweger’s performance as Bridget Jones’ was flawless despite an initial controversy that an American actress would embody such a quintessential British heroine. Needless to say, she was nominated for an Academy Award for her performance (although she didn’t win that year).

Honestly, I wasn’t expecting to enjoy the movie as much as I did and I can say without a doubt that this movie is well worth the hype. If you haven’t seen it yet, do yourself a favor and check it out. It’s by far one of the best rom-coms out there.

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Film Review: The Hunt

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The Hunt was touted as being one of the “most controversial movies of all time.” So much so, that they halted the release of it, and even the President tweeted about it stating that it “was made in order to inflame and cause chaos.” Truth is, this movie isn’t smart enough to cause chaos or inflame anyone.

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The movie has a lazy script at best. While The Purge franchise (especially the first movie) was a smart social commentary about the rich and poor, this movie merely seems to make fun of both the “elites” and the “deplorables.”

A movie that’s supposed to poke at both sides of the political divide doesn’t really garner any discomfort, questioning, or basically any immediate reaction or gut emotion. The reason for this is because every character in the movie is a caricature of what we think a liberal or conservative is. These characters never become real people to us within the realm of the movie, and thus we can’t take them seriously nor care about their survival. When you’ve got “elite” characters screaming, “Climate change is real!” to a “deplorable,” before trying to off them, you can’t help but think that they’re both loonies.

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The controversy and hype over this movie was way more than what the movie ever merited, to be honest. You’ll leave the theatre feeling like you’re not on either side because none of those characters will resonate with real people. And none of us will care what happens to any of them. The world would be better off with all those horrible caricatures gone, and Blum House should focus on making smarter films with some real horror. There’s never a moment in the movie where you feel the ever-growing sense of dread, and even in a splatter torture film, you wish to be terrified or at least feel some kind of tension or suspense. But there’s none of that. There’s nothing. The Hut was all smoke and no roast. You’re better off watching The Purge.

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Women In Horror: Beloved

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February is one of those months on the calendar that offers a unique and exciting blend of emotions. It’s time to honor and celebrate Black history and culture. Valentine’s Day reminds us of love and relationships (the good, the bad and the ugly…). I also enjoy watching The Oscars to see where the needle of society’s values and elevation of diversity in cinema lands. More recently though, February has become a month to showcase women in horror. With the release of Azzurra Nox’s anthology “Strange Girls”, I thought it befitting to make a cinematic recommendation while adding some horror into today’s post as well.

In ruminating on all this, I was struck by how one film, in particular, incorporates all these themes to absolute perfection; a film that has haunted me with its piercing honesty and emotional depth; a film that effortlessly weaves the themes of slavery and freedom in all its various forms; a film that celebrates the beauty, power and, yes, horror that can manifest from immense love.

Toni Morrison’s “Beloved.”

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I was living overseas when “Beloved” first came out and it had slipped past my radar for a long time. It was always one of those movies I knew I’d appreciate but didn’t get around to seeing it until just a few years ago. Better late than never though. When I did eventually see this film, it made a huge impact on me and has remained one of the top five best films on my list of favorites. It’s haunted me ever since and completely reframed my standards for what constitutes a good ghost story. One of my New Year’s resolutions is to consume fifty classics this year in books and film. Needless to say, Toni Morrison’s novel is next on that list.

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Incredibly acted and unapologetic, “Beloved” threads a needle through the struggles and triumphs of a mother navigating post-emancipation America while the horrors of her past demand reconciliation – with an ever-increasing insistence for attention. As the climax nears, the thread tightens and cinches together all of these elements into a jagged, heart-shaped tapestry of tenacity, terror, and tenderness. It’s a beautiful and painful portrayal of the multi-faceted nature of love. And it raises the question in all of us…

What would you do for your beloved?

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By: Erica Ruhe

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Women in Horror: Interview with Cristina Vargas

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Exclusive collab with:VoyageLA(large inverted)

I love checking out haunts during Halloween and for a few years, I’ve been a scareactor for a haunt at a middle school in Newberry Park, California. Universal Halloween Horror Nights is an awesome experience, and in partnering up with the wonderful folks at Voyage LA for this exclusive collab, I will be showcasing some of the talented people that make up the city of Los Angeles. We catch up with actor Cristina Vargas for a quick Q & A!

Describe your experience working for Universal Halloween Horror Nights. What were some of the pros and cons?

My experience working at Universal Studios Halloween Horror Nights was overall fun! The pros were being able to scare people and seeing some of their reactions from screaming to running to dropping on the floor. Aside from that, another pro was meeting new people and creating friendships for years to come! The cons were, unfortunately, getting harassed by guests for scaring them and even getting tainted for not being scary to them. One of the rules that guests are supposed to follow is not to touch the Scareactors and that rule gets broken a lot…and scareactors get physically hit by guests. Luckily we have a protocol for that and are able to report those kinds of issues right away.

What sparked your interest in horror?

Ironically, I’m not that into horror, but what sparked my interest was when I was dared by a friend to watch a movie. I believe it was Ring 2 that was playing in the movie theater at the time. I was really scared and still laugh about it till this day!

Do you have a favourite horror movie?

My favorite horror movie is Chucky and the bride. I used to be so scared of Chucky when I was a little kid, but I started watching the movies at an older age and realized Chucky’s not so bad after all!

Editor’s Note: Chucky’s Bride

What acting project are you the proudest of?

The project I am most proud of is the indie film titled “Drug Addiction,” where I play the role of Gabby who comes out as this friendly girl, but later you find she’s not really friendly, but rather a backstabber.

What are some of your future projects? Where can we see you next?

You can catch me on Jenny Lorenzo’s YouTube channel where she creates funny LatinX sketches. I play the role of Lorena, who is one of Maruchi’s best friends. Check out Jenny Lorenzo’s YouTube and stay tuned on when Lorena makes an appearance! I also have a YouTube channel of my own in which I explore different restaurants and try out new food!

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Follow Cristina!

Twitter: @Cristimisty

Instagram: @Cristimisty

YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCn8USIYraCDCxoMxKX98dyA/featured

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Women In Horror: Top 5 Female Directed Horror Movies

The world of directing is still predominantly male, and so is the horror genre. But more and more women are trying to carve out their space in both directing and horror. Below are some of the best the world of horror has to offer when it comes to female directors. Many times women decide to tackle subjects that many men wouldn’t understand with the same amount of ethos. Women understand trauma, the fear of sexual assault, female friendships, and body horror more than men, and the movies I’ve selected all explore those themes.

RAW – directed by Julia Ducournau

Everyone in Justine’s family is a vet. And a vegetarian. At sixteen she’s a brilliant student starting out at veterinary school where she experiences a decadent, merciless and dangerously seductive world. Desperate to fit in, she strays from her family principles and eats RAW meat for the first time. Justine will soon face the terrible and unexpected consequences as her true self begins to emerge.

Honeymoon – directed by Leigh Janiak

Young newlyweds Paul (Harry Treadaway) and Bea (Rose Leslie) travel to remote lake country for their honeymoon, where the promise of private romance awaits them. Shortly after arriving, Paul finds Bea wandering and disoriented in the middle of the night. As she becomes more distant and her behavior increasingly peculiar, Paul begins to suspect something more sinister than sleepwalking took place in the woods. Treadaway (CONTROL) and Leslie (HBO’s GAME OF THRONES) give captivating leading performances as a couple that takes new love to disturbing depths. With romance slowing giving way to terror, writer/director Leigh Janiak puts her unique stamp on this intimate, chilling thriller.

Blue My Mind directed by Lisa Ivana Brühlmann

15-year-old Mia is facing an overwhelming transformation that calls her entire existence into question. Her body is changing radically, and despite desperate attempts to halt the process, she is soon forced to accept that nature is far more powerful than she.

M.F.A directed by Natalia Leite

An art student struggling with creativity is violently raped by a fellow classmate. After attempting the traditional routes to cope with her trauma, she impulsively confronts her attacker – a decision that has deadly repercussions. Her world is turned upside down as a chilling reality is uncovered: she is one of many silenced sexual assault survivors on campus. A vigilante is born- retribution is the inspiration she’s been waiting for.

Always Shine directed by Sophia Takal

Two friends, both actresses (Halt and Catch Fire’s Mackenzie Davis and Masters of Sex’s Caitlin FitzGerald), leave Los Angeles for Big Sur embarking on a weekend getaway to reconnect. Once alone, however, the two women’s suppressed jealousies and deep-seated resentments bubble to the surface, causing them to lose grasp not just of the true nature of their relationship, but also of their own identities.

What female-directed horror movies are your favourites?

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Throwback Thursday: Candyman

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There are some movies that stick with you far more than others, and throughout the years, Candyman has become one of the. It recently was added to Netflix, so since my fiance had never seen the film before, I thought it was the perfect occasion for me to rewatch it.

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Candyman has three very unique aspects to it that I love. First, it incorporates an urban legend (somewhat echoing Bloody Mary with the whole mirror curse), a ghost story (cause Candyman is basically a ghost), and a love story (the first one being Candyman with the rich white girl he impregnated and was killed for and secondly, the one he has with Helen, who looks seemingly similar to his first love). The film is based off of Clive Barker’s short story, The Forbidden, and although elements of it are very similar, the film has given the villain a far more richer back story than the short story ever did. Probably because the short story’s setting was England, and moving the setting to modern-day Chicago, allowed the racial tensions of the past and present be a theme within the film.

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Plus, out of all the horror villains, Candyman has a valid reason to be pissed off and seeking vengeance. He not only was separated from the woman he loved and his unborn child, but was mutilated (an angry mob cut off his right hand, and him being a painter meant they pretty much stole him of both his livelihood and talent) and killed him in the most atrocious way (he was covered in honey and died by being attacked by thousands of bees). So ya know, he has a really good reason to want to off pimple-raced teens who are dumb enough to call upon him.

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But another thing that sets Candyman a little bit above all other movies is the fact that Tony Todd delivers an impeccable performance. His villain isn’t only scary, but there’s an element of seductive danger to him too. We know that Helen joining him means it’ll be her death, but a part of us can also understand why she can’t refuse him. He is both menacing and alluring, and that makes for one complex character. As much as we all love Michael Meters, Jason Vorhees, and Freddy Krueger, there’s also no question that we’d haul ass if we ever encountered them and surely wouldn’t find those psychos sexy! But Candyman on the other hand, is almost a Gothic hero. He has a tragic backstory, we feel his pain, and in most cases want to believe that maybe we could make him fall in love again.

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Throughout the years, I’ve seen many horror films, but time after time this one has remained as one of my absolute favourites because Candyman isn’t just your ordinary slasher film. It’s a film that dares to question racial tensions, to push us into that grey area between love and hate, and ultimately giving us one of the very best and redemptive endings of all time.

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Comic-Con LA – Get Your Nerd On!

This was my second year attending Comic-Con LA (thank you for the Press Passes!), so I kinda had an idea of what to expect this time around. But what I didn’t expect was for the crowds to be even bigger than last year. Again, I attended only Saturday, as it seemed like the day with the most interesting panels.

One of the things that I simply love about Comic-Con is getting to see all the amazing and creative cosplays. I may have a soft spot for those who cosplay horror characters, so you may see more horror related characters than any others. In fact, one of the first booths I stopped by was that for Crypt TV. Last year, they had the LookSee creature, but this year they had one of my favourite creatures, The Birch! Not only did they have a Photo Op with the awesome Birch Forest but it was a way to promote the new series inspired by the original short. I even had a chance to attend The Birch panel and viewing of three episodes. If you’re into creepy woods, witchcraft, and a creature who gets rid of bullies, then I suggest you hope on over to Facebook Watch and check the series out. The panel followed with a short Q&A session with the creators, producers, and actors. Since my favourite character from the series The Birch was the seemingly complex bully, Thurston, after the panel was done I had a chance to chat with the actor, Dempsey Byrk who portrays him. He was really nice and I wish I hadn’t been popping cough drops like no tomorrow to keep a cough attack coming, so I wasn’t as talkative as I probably would’ve been in better spirits.

Afterwards, I attended the panel for Zombieland: Double Tap. The fans were promised a surprise and everyone thought that that meant that Billy Murray would show up. I knew that would be too good to be true, so had joked that most likely we’d be graced by Jesse Eisenberg presence instead. And well, let’s just say that Jesse Eisenberg did show up, but so did Zoey Deutch and (probably this was the surprise) Rosario Dawson. The panel was fun and some lucky peeps got to win tickets to the premiere that was happening that same night.

Once the panels I was interested in were done, I went comic book browsing. I was looking for some vintage horror comics but like always, most of the ones that were awesome were way too expensive. But I did find some vintage Archie Comics and even Joe Hill’s Tales from the Darkside. I was a little disappointed that there weren’t many new horror comic books there this year as there were last year. But all in all it was still a very fun experience. I love getting to check out all the vendors (there are so many talented artists!) and getting the chance to try out new food items (I tried this vegan ice cream from Nice Pops that was really good, and being lactose-intolerant it was a plus to have ice cream and not deal with a stomach ache afterwards). These pops are handcrafted and made from Cashew Milk. I got the chocolate one but they had other flavours too and they cost $5 a pop.

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With tired feet and famished, I was ready to call it a night once 6pm rolled around. But as always, Comic Con LA didn’t disappoint. It was a fun way to spend a Saturday in the company of creative people and getting the chance to check out new things in the world of horror and comics. If you’ve never been to Comic Con LA, I highly suggest that you book your ticket for next year (which it’ll be in late September) because I have a feeling that with each coming year, it’s only going to get bigger and better every time.

Photos by: David Hanger

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5 Horror Movies I’m Looking Forward to in 2020

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CANDYMAN

A “spiritual sequel” to the 1992 horror film ‘Candyman’ that returns to the now-gentrified Chicago neighborhood where the legend began. It’s gonna be produced by Jordan Peele and Tony Todd is reprising the titular role of Candyman, so I have high hopes for this one.

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MORBIUS

Biochemist Michael Morbius tries to cure himself of a rare blood disease, but he inadvertently infects himself with a form of vampirism instead. Played by true-life Jared Leto (the man doesn’t age!).

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FRIDAY THE 13th

LeBron James of all people is actually going to be producing this remake. He claims to have always been a fan of the franchise, so I hope that he does a better job than the previous remake that was made a couple of years ago.

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FEAR STREET TRILOGY

A murder mystery shakes up the town of Shadyside, Ohio. Feature adaptation of R.L. Stine’s book series. As a huge fan of R.L. Stine and the Fear Street series, I am incredibly thrilled about this and can’t wait to see what they cook up since there are so many books in the series!

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SAW

A re-imagining of the franchise produced this time by Chris Rock. He says he’s a huge fan, again, I hope him being a fan means that he will do the franchise justice. But I really am looking forward to seeing Samuel L. Jackson in this project too.

What horror movies are you looking forward to? How do you feel about some of the remakes?

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I Was Friends with J.T. Leroy: From Fame to Hoax

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Laura Albert as “Speedie” and Savannah Knoop as “J.T.” with Asia Argento in 2002

J.T. Leroy was one of the greatest literary hoaxes of the internet era. It’s also proof that reality is much more outrageous than fiction. Up until the New York Times’ Warren St. John uncovered the hoax in January 2006. Up until then, J.T. Leroy blazed the literary scene and was pretty much a rockstar with the celebrity friends (Bono, Madonna, Shirley Manson, Courtney Love, Michael Pitt, Gus Van Sant, and Asia Argento just to name a few). Shirley Manson even went so far as to write not one, but TWO songs inspired by J.T., Cherry Lips (Go Baby Go!) and Bleed Like Me. But J.T. Leroy wasn’t really who he claimed to be, the son of a truckstop whore in West Virginia and former junkie and prostitute himself. He wrote about his childhood in West Virginia in the book The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things and Sarah. Both books were published as fiction, and yet in interviews, he suggested that they were based on fact.

But up until 1999, no one had ever seen Leroy. In fact, Leroy never did book signings or readings. It wasn’t until sometime in 2000 that Leroy began to do public appearances, and he was always disguised by a wig and sunglasses.

In 2006, we found out exactly why he was always in disguise because J.T. Leroy never existed. Rather he was an “avatar” for writer Laura Albert who hired her sister-in-law at the time, Savannah Knoop to portray J.T. in public.

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Winona Ryder with Savannah Knoop as “J.T.”

How to best describe the moral outrage that many felt when they found out they had been “duped” by the duo were best said by Warren St. John when he stated, “The books are fiction but the marketing device to get us to read them was a lie, pure and simple.”

Recently, a film was made based on Savannah Knoop’s memoir, Girl Boy Girl: How I Became J.T. Leroy, where androgynous It-Girl Kristen Stewart brought to life both Knoop and the enigmatic Leroy, while a wildly unrecognizable Laura Dern played Laura Albert as well as Leroy’s so-called “manager,” the cockney-accented Speedie.

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Laura Dern playing Laura Albert as “Speedie” and Kristen Stewart playing Savannah Knoop as “J.T. Leroy”

In the film, Asia Argento was played by Diane Kruger (although they changed her name to Eva, probably to avoid any legal issues). Although the film excelled with these actress’ performance, the film lacked to explore how writing was therapeutic for Laura Albert and how that propelled her to hide behind J.T. Leroy. It also failed to address the fact that maybe J.T. wouldn’t have had so many people willing to be helpful towards him had he not been a young, white male. One of the most poignant moments in the movie was towards the end, when after the hoax was exposed and Savannah reveals to Laura Albert that she’s planning to write a book about her experience portraying J.T., Albert replies with, “Remember, just because you played a writer, doesn’t make you a writer.” A little too tongue in cheek.

For years, I’ve avoided writing about J.T. because for me he wasn’t just an author that I admired (he was so young and had already accumulated so many accolades and for someone like me who was an aspiring writer at the time, he was such a great inspiration), but he was also a friend. You see, back in the early 2000s there used to exist Yahoo mail groups, and somehow I found myself being in the one dedicated to J.T. Leroy, which was run by the actual author. At some point sometime in late 2001, he and I began to correspond. And our correspondence lasted up until The New York Times unveiled the hoax in 2006. He and I would talk about books, movies, cartoons (we were both obsessed with Spongebob Squarepants) and chocolates. In fact, on several occasions, I sent him Italian chocolates.

Watching the movie J.T. Leroy was kinda triggering in the sense that it reminded me of so many J.T. things that I had forgotten over the years. It also left me sad, because although he didn’t exist, in some ways he did and his memory remains alive in those that had a chance to be friends with him. Even after all these years, when I visited San Francisco in 2016, I found myself going to places that he had suggested I visit so many years ago (Ghirardelli Square being one of them), and also Polk Street (only because it was predominately featured in Leroy’s final book, Harold’s End.

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Pictured at Polk Street in San Francisco with my cousin in August of 2016

In today’s age of social media, Laura Albert wouldn’t have been capable to pull off the hoax for very long. But for me, the fact that she not only managed to pull it off, but to market J.T. in such a way that had him picking up awesome gigs left and right (he wrote for Vogue, got to interview Billy Corgan’s short-lived band Swan for The Rolling Stone, and wrote the screenplay for Gus Van Sant’s Elephant). In other words, Laura Albert was a master class in marketing and promoting, and I think any author would benefit from being more like her in that regard.

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Laura Albert the writer using “J.T. Leroy” as her avatar

I know some people in the literary world still shun Laura Albert today, but no one can take away the fact that the novels she wrote provided solace to many of those that had succumbed to the child abuse she depicted in them. Maybe, the hoax went on for so long because we all wanted J.T. to be real, and in believing it, he ultimately became real.

I miss you, J.T. There’s a part of me that still wishes that someday you’ll find your voice again and we’ll get another book.

Here’s hoping, but I’m not holding my breath.

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Savannah Knoop as “J.T.” with Bono sometime in 2003

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