Throwback Thursday: Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark

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I was 9 years old when I first came across Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. Being a fan of horror, I was incredibly excited about this anthology as it documented various stories that derived from urban legends, folklore, or myths. I was completely hooked. I used the book as a means to inspire my own “scary stories sharing” escapades (which happened often during sleepovers or late summer nights hanging out with friends).

Apart from the stories themselves, what really set this book apart was the illustrations by Stephen Gammell. Often times, for a seasoned horror connoisseur as myself, the stories alone weren’t terrifying enough. But those illustrations! Boy were they ever the nightmare-inducing high that I was searching for.

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I have yet to see the movie from Guillermo Del Toro inspired by the anthology, but being a fan of his past work, I’m certain that he remained faithful to the vision of the illustrations (at least that’s what I could tell from the trailers).

Recently, I decided to reread the stories (my original copies are stashed away in boxes somewhere in my garage in Sicily) so I had to repurchase the books. Luckily, these new editions haven’t strayed from the original, as I heard that for awhile they had done away with Gammell’s illustrations and replaced them with a more kid-friendly version. (Bah!)

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Upon rereading the stories, I realized that I still enjoy them and that I have a damn good memory as decades later I’m still capable of remembering how each of the stories would end. As far as the illustrations go, they’re just as deliciously terrifying today as I thought they were when I was a mere nugget of 9.

But if you’re never read this horror classic, I highly suggest that you do. It’s equal parts campy and horrifying. I still can’t get over the story of the girl that has spiders protruding from her cheek (which I’m sure the movie The Believers capitalized on for a certain scene). Body horror has always been more frightening to me than a million clowns ever could be.

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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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Throwback Thursday: Nelly Furtado – Try

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Full disclosure; I’m not a fan of Nelly Furtado (musically speaking, don’t have anything against her personally) and really loathed the song that made her famous, I’m Like A Bird. But, since the winter of 2004 was still a time when MTV played music videos (at least in Italy), I came across her video for her second single from her second album called Try.

The video was directed by Sophie Muller who just happened to be one of my favourite music video directors (she’s directed a lot of videos for Garbage, No Doubt, Gwen Stefani, The Kills, Mika’s amazing Grace Kelly, Hole’s Doll Parts, and a bunch of other awesome bands). In other words, in typical Sophie Muller fashion, this video is simply stunning.

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Now, I don’t know if Muller was inspired by the 2003 film Cold Mountain for the colonial vibes of the video (Nelly Furtado is seen decked out in a traditional Portuguese dress as she faces various hardships), but it did seem to have the same wintery pioneer rural life aspect of the movie.

But apart from the stunning video, what really drew me in were the lyrics. There’s something fatally tragic in the lyric, “Then I see you standing there/Wanting more from me/And all I can do is try.” Nelly stated that apparently it was a song about true love (although it’s very dark to me) and for me, it seemed more like a song about wishing you could please someone you love, but also knowing that you’re incapable of doing so for a myriad of reasons.

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Revisiting this song kinda took me back to that winter of 2004, which felt very dark and lonely. There were so many things in my life what I was uncertain about, and love was one of those uncertainties. Sure, I was in love with someone back then, but if you’ve read My Bad Romance series, you kinda get the drift of how most of my loves have played out (Spoiler alert: unhappy endings). The strange thing about music and scents is that they can take you back to places at times that you had purposely pushed back in the forgotten zone of your brain. And let’s just say, there’s a reason why your brain had pushed those memories back.

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But the song is still tragically beautiful, as is the video, and even fifteen years later I fell in love with it all over again. For the record, I never became a fan of Nelly Furtado’s music, but I can admit that this one was a little masterpiece.

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Throwback Thursday: Andreas Johnson – Glorious

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1998-1999 was a golden age for music. Or at least I thought it was, seeing that many of my favourite bands came out with albums those two years that I not only loved but defined me, such as Marilyn Manson’s Mechanical Animals, Garbage’s 2.0, Hole’s Celebrity Skin, and Red Hot Chili Pepper’s Californication, just to name a few.

During that time I had also become a big fan Swedish singers, and Andreas Johnson came out with a song and music video that was absolutely thrilling, called Glorious.

The song was catchy from the very beginning and like most Swedes, Andreas Johnson was quite the eye candy (especially for all of us teenage girls). Now, the music video wasn’t crazily original (as it just showed him performing the song on some stage upon another stage and then in a bedroom in the company of a model-looking girl). Despite it not being a video that screamed with originality, there was something very sexual and sexy about the beautiful couple making out on a bed at that looked like to be dawn (maybe they had spent the whole night partying or they met at a club?) only to fall upon the bed in a shower of silver glitter. Back then, I was in full mode glam-mania (Manson had ditched his goth guise for feather boas and platforms as Omega in Mechanical Albums and the movie Velvet Goldmine was set in 1970’s London, heyday of glam rock had just been released). This was the time I used to wear glitter liner and star rhinestones at the corner of my right eye. I’m telling you, we were much cooler than the emo crowd.

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I can’t recall when it was the last time I had listened to this song but surely it was around 1999-2000 timeframe, because if you were living in Italy at the time (as I was), there was no way you didn’t her this song on the radio at least four times a day. The music video was in heavy rotation on MTV Italy too. So, watching the video and listening to the song almost twenty years later I discovered that the song is still hella catchy today, and you can’t help but be intrigued by the opening lyrics when Johnson croons, “Here she comes with a masterplan, and I’m starting to lose control.” Mind you, we never get to know what this masterplan is unless it’s referring to her seducing him (maybe?). And even two decades later, falling upon a bed of silver glitter still seems thrilling (forget rose petals! Rolling around in glitter that evoke stars is my fantasy!).

The song doesn’t sound dated to me (maybe cause it’s a love song), although I suppose the music video could be seen a bit dated. But honestly, it’s still way more exciting than videos most artists are releasing nowadays (the death of MTV as a music channel brought death to the music videos).

Glorious was an all-out fun, sexy song that sticks with you far longer than you think it should. Maybe because we’ve all fantasized about meeting a sexy stranger at a club to end with a dawn filled with passionate glitter sex. No? Just me?

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Throwback Thursday: Welcome To The Dollhouse

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I first watched this movie back when I was sixteen. Living in Italy, this movie never made it to the theatres there, so I obviously found it at my local video rental. Welcome To The Dollhouse chronicles the life of an awkward seventh grader, Dawn Weiner, who is trying to navigate puberty while also having to deal with uncalled for bullying at school and emotional neglect at home. This is the movie that catapulted Heather Matarazzo into stardom, and with good reason. Her performance in the film is so honest, raw, and unflinchingly realistic that you can’t help but cringe in empathy for her character.

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Dawn is such a social pariah that even the so-called nerdy types at school don’t want to associate with her. Instead, she has to put up with goth girl Lolita’s bullying and bad-boy Brandon’s threats to rape her. Even her teachers are awful to her, as she’s given detention when she speaks up about Brandon copying her test. When she retakes the test during detention and receives a low grade, she tries to plead with the teacher for a retest. Said teacher finds her behavior revolting enough that she has her write an essay about dignity and grade-grubbing to read in front of the class.

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At home, Dawn is mostly neglected by her parents who only have eyes for her younger sister Missy (who is pretty and loves to parade around the house in a pink tutu). Dawn pours all of her frustrations towards her younger sister, but Missy always has the upper hand as her parents (especially her mother) are usually manipulated by the wolf in sheep’s clothing that is their youngest daughter. Things escalate, when one night armed with a hammer she stands over the sleeping figure of Miss with the intent to hit her, and then rethinks her choice and solemnly whispers, “You’re so lucky, you have it so easy.”

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Dawn sees a little light of hope when she befriends Steve Rodgers (Eric Mabius), a beautiful high schooler with dreams of becoming a rockstar. Steve has agreed to be in her brother Mark’s band in return of getting tutored in Computer Science. It doesn’t take long for Dawn to fall madly in love with Steve, whom in return only acts friendly towards Dawn cause he’s such a narcissist that he basks in her adoration.

The reason why this movie resonates with so many people, especially girls, is that it unabashedly shines a light on an underdog that is constantly taunted, but she isn’t such a good person herself (she ends up gravely insulting her one and only true friend Ralphie and is always bullying Missy). But Heather Matarazzo played Dawn with so much pathos that we can’t help but still side with her even when she’s being downright mean.

For having had one viewing of the movie as a teen, I surprisingly remembered a lot about it. And no matter how many characters kept telling Heather Matarazzo’s Dawn how “ugly” she was, there was something about the actress that compelled me to keep on watching her. She had a quiet charisma to her, and her portrayal of an awkward teen was flawless. I don’t know how many child stars could’ve pulled off such an emotional portrayal.

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I recall loving the movie for being a dark comedy, and even upon viewing now, the film is very funny but at the same time very dark. Things never did get better for our poor Dawn. She never gains the insight and self-awareness to be less socially awkward, nor does she get the boy. In fact, the ending is so bleak that you wonder what was the point of the journey. This isn’t the sort of movie that assures you that bullying will stop once you get out of high school nor that Dawn will shed her caterpillar skin to morph into a beautiful butterfly. No, the movie suggests that there are clear social standings in life, and often, where you stand as a teen is where you’ll find yourself at as in an adult. A bleak outlook indeed.

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Throwback Thursday: House

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From the very beginning, I was a horror fan and also a night owl, which made going to bed at a decent hour once I began school a difficult task for my parents to get me to accomplish. So, the only way they managed to get me to go to sleep on time was for them to promise me that they’d record on the VHS whatever horror movie was playing that night on either Cinemax or HBO so that I could watch it upon my return from school the following day.

One of the movies I loved as a child was House. It was a quintessential 80’s comedy horror with the awesome Kane Hodder (most famous for bearing Jason’s hockey mask in several Friday the 13th movies) as the stunt coordinator.

Not recalling much about this movie (I hadn’t seen it since I was about 6), I decided to take a trip down horror memory lane and see if a recent viewing would garner me with more insight than when I first saw it as a child.

The movie opens with horror writer, Roger Cobb who’s doing a book signing for his latest novel and it seems like they found every weirdo in Los Angeles to be an extra as a fan. His manager tells him he needs to write another book pronto as the fans are hungry for more, but Roger, a Vietnam vet is still plagued by the war and what happened to a fellow soldier, Big Ben. When his aunt commits suicide and he inherits a huge mansion, Roger sees that as an opportunity for him to finally work on his Vietnam memoir. However, thoughts of his missing son and ex-wife start to haunt him as well. Soon he has to deal with his PTSD, grief, and actual supernatural phenomena.

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I don’t know if it’s because it was the 80’s, but House’s supernatural elements come in the forms of campy looking gremlin-like creatures that look like they were repurposed from the set of Critters. However, the plot of juxtaposing supernatural horrors with the actual horror of war was brilliant, and something that I probably didn’t fully catch the meaning of as a child. After all, we’re a generation who’s been living with war for years now (Gulf War, Balkans Wars, War on Terror, etc.). We now know the full effects of PTSD and how that can be a lot scarier than say, having to live in a haunted house full of campy looking gremlins and closet monsters.

So overall, did I enjoy the movie? The short answer is, yes. With so many movies nowadays relying on CGI for special effects it’s nice to see movies where practical effects were used and skilled prop masters and makeup artists were needed to create the monsters that appeared in the movie. Sure, the movie hasn’t aged well when it comes to the campiness of how the characters act or using questionable soundtrack for a horror movie with songs like You’re No Good and Dedicated to the One I Love, just to name a few.

But if you’re not familiar with 80’s creature horrors, then I recommend you check out House. It’s not truly disturbing, being a horror comedy, so one could totally watch it as a Friday night family film.

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Throwback Thursday: Dr. Jones – Aqua

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For someone who’s a self-proclaimed connoisseur of rock music, it’s probably very perplexing to understand why I’d enjoy a pop band like Aqua. Sure, I tried to resist this Danish-Norwegian band with their earworm music and bubbly demeanor. When Barbie Girl became popular, I resisted, they weren’t going to have me! But when Dr. Jones was released I could no longer resist and caved into the bubblicious world of lightness that was Aqua. Perpetually happy and poppy, the band sang about notorious icons such as Barbie and Indiana Jones. Mattel notoriously tried to sue them but a judge dismissed the case in 2002 allegedly stating, “The parties are advised to chill.”

The song though didn’t really have that many Indiana Jones references, the lyrics were more about a summer love (think Grease). But the music video was genius campiness to the max. I also truly loved the female lead singer Lene Nystrom, she was a breath of fresh air, because she dared to defy the busty 90’s gals that had been helped by silicone. Lene had a badass attitude wearing crop tops that read, “No Silicone Added.”

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But much like the heyday of the ’90s, even Aqua’s eternal optimism fizzled with the oncoming of the new millennia. And so, for awhile Lene tried a solo career, becoming one of those many busty gals singing suggestive songs that she used to mock. When the band reunited in 2009 and did a cover of Abba’s My Mamma Said, we immediately knew that this band wasn’t the same anymore. The music video was one of the most visually darkest moments for the band, as you see them reunited around a table, dressed in black as they were being served the strangest foods as roaches walked all over the table. Even their voices had lost their signature cheerfulness and instead had turned more morose. It was official: the once happy pop band had turned dark.

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There had also been a shift in the band dynamics. Before, at the height of their popularity, Lene was dating the male lead singer in the band, Renee. But then she later got married to another Aqua member, drummer, Soren, and the two were married for sixteen years before divorcing in 2017 (the couple has two children together).

So what did I learn from re-listening and rewatching a video I hadn’t seen since 1997? Well, I’m thoroughly confused as to why the cannibals were speaking French, but other than that, the light campiness of Dr. Jones is just as infectious now as it was in 1997. Although now, when I listen to it I’m taken back to a place where my teenage problems seemed so trivial to the real-life troubles that one only understands once you reach adulthood. Nowadays, I relate more to the Aqua members in My Mamma Said, disillusioned and nostalgic for their lightness but now consumed by the darkness.

And despite all those books and movies about how much light wins over the dark, the last two decades have proven that darkness has been prevailing and we’re all left longing for that time in our lives when we used to enjoy light pop songs like Dr. Jones.

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As Lene sings, “Dr. Jones, Dr. Jones wake up now,” I wonder if we’ve all been sleeping and that the past two decades have simply been one prolonged nightmare. Who isn’t ready to wake up now? I know I am.

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Throwback Thursday: The Virgin Suicides

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I have a confession to make. As a teenager, I was utterly fascinated by films or literature that explored the themes of suicide. In fact, it was so much my focus that even my poetry reflected that. Now, perhaps at the time, I was guilty of glamorizing a horrific act, in part because at the time I saw it as a solution to my teenage depression and a manifestation of trying to get people to understand how serious my inner turmoil was (and not be blown off as simple teenage angst). This is why books and films like The Virgin Suicides hit home, especially when the youngest sibling, Cecilia tells the doctor after a suicide attempt gone wrong, “Obviously, Doctor, you’ve never been a 13-year old girl.” And that statement was the crux of both the film and novel.

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We, the audience, never know what it means to be a 13-year old girl, especially since the narrator of the story is an older male reflecting back on his youth and his fascination with the five beautiful sisters. The film was Sofia Coppola’s directorial debut, and she did a stunning job at demonstrating the male gaze (cause after all the book is written by a male who’s trying to understand teenage girls). When we all know that the only way to truly understand a teenage girl is to have been a teenage girl yourself.

The film depicts how the neighborhood boys elevated the sisters (especially Lux played by the superb Kirsten Dunst) to an almost saintly level. They can’t understand why Cecilia wished to die, nor do they understand why sisters followed suit soon after in the most horrific ways.

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The Lisbon sisters are never allowed to simply be girls, which means that they, like other girls that have come before and after them, have always struggled with this dilemma where girls aren’t allowed to be real people. That they must fit into someone else’s idea of what they should be (their parents, society, etc.). and that ultimately, it’s that wanting to break free from that saintly ethereal mask that is pinned so aggressively upon them that breaks them in a way that no one will ever comprehend. When Lux tries to break out of her good-girl box and has sex with the school heartthrob Trip (Josh Harnett), the consequences are exceptionally dire, and ones that many teenage girls can relate to.

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What spurs the demise of the Lisbon sister isn’t their sadness, but rather they choose death because they see it as the only vehicle to freedom. They couldn’t be free to be themselves, they had to live up to the expectations that were thrust upon them, and in an act of rebellion, they eliminated themselves as a way to not conform. And sadly, that is something that many teenage girls relate to, and why teenage me only saw death as a means to escape as well.

Men that watch the film will never understand the motives for the girls’ suicides, as the boys in the movie never do. But the girls in the audience know why. Because obviously, the men in the audience have never been a 13-year old girl. But us girls have been and although we can’t condone the act, we do understand why.

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Throwback Thursday: TLC – No Scrubs

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When the single NO SCRUBS came out twenty years ago (February 2, 1999), TLC was the best-selling girl group in the world and fierce feminists at a time when the music world was suddenly getting overrun with Lolita-esque divas like Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera.

I chose this song for my Throwback Thursday because when the song came out I loved the message it promoted. For the first time, you had women who were confident enough to say, “NO.” No, they didn’t want a man who had no ambitions and was a deadbeat parasite. And if you think that this message wasn’t bold, you’re gravely mistaken. For centuries women have been groomed to always say, “Yes,” that stating a “NO,” loud and clear, for women to actually have standards of which men could pursue them, this was a big deal.

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Rozonda “Chilli” Thomas, Tionne “T-Boz” Watkins, and Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes were known for being bold, independent, and outspoken young women. They were no damsels in distress, these women were ambitious and hardworking and didn’t expect anything less from their men. This song actually had men questions themselves for the first time, ask themselves if they fit the “scrub” list or not. Ironically, usually, the men who did fit the “scrub” list were the ones who got the most upset over the song.

Of course, this song wouldn’t have been the same without Hype Williams amazing futuristic music video, especially in an age where music videos could make or break a career (this was back in the day when MTV still predominantly only aired music videos on their channel). Hype Williams at the time was considered to be one of the best music video directors around with his bold colours, anime style sequences, and notorious for his fish-eye view which distorted the image in central focus. In his vision, Chilli, T-Boz, and Left-Eye were futuristic warriors that could be both sexy but ferocious, in other words, they were fierce.

The video went on to win the MTV Video Music Award for that year, beating out the all-male competition of boy bands like Backstreet Boys and Nsync at their career highs, which was no small feat.

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Listening to this song twenty years later only emphasizes how much this message is still relevant today. Not that long ago when just idly chatting with my boyfriend in the car, he said he couldn’t understand my need for all this ambition, that he’d still love me even if I were a slob who’d spend all day at home and wait for him to return and he said something along the lines of, “Wouldn’t you love me still the same way if I were like that?” And I replied, “Look, as TLC taught me, I don’t want no scrub. I’d never date someone with no ambition or dreams to be better.” Probably not the kind of response he was relying on (after all, most men would hope that women are “romantic” enough to like them even at their worst), but it’s the truth.

I expect a lot from myself and would never dream of being someone who’s just looking for a way to get out of work to stay at home. So for anyone to think that I’d expect less of them just because out of romantic notions is kind of absurd. TLC taught many girls the power to say no, and that’s a lesson that many of us took to heart. I know I did.

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Throwback Thursday: Angel Heart

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I’ve decided to start a new series, Throwback Thursday. So one Thursday a month I’m going to share my experience of either rewatching, rereading, or relistening something that I adored back when I was a youngster (think between the ages of 6-18) and see if it stands the test of time. So for my first Throwback, I decided to rewatch the 1987 horror film, Angel Heart.

When I told a friend of mine that I saw this movie at six he was appalled (what can I say? My parents were horror fans who knew I was one and watching movies kept hyper me occupied, so there’s that).

So the premise of Angel Heart is that a private detective called Harry Angel, has a new case at hand, to find a man called Johnny Favourite. Except things aren’t quite that simple, and Johnny doesn’t want to be found. Let’s just say that, amongst the period detail and beautiful scenery, it all gets really, really nasty fast.

All I could remember about the movie in question was that it dealt with voodoo, Robert DeNiro was in it, (I also recalled another detail but can’t reveal it as it’s *spoilers*), and that this was one of those movies where Mickey Rourke was hot.

Upon viewing the movie I was like, HOLY SHIT this movie is truly very twisted and no wonder people are shocked I saw this at the tender age of six. This movie has one hell of a twist back in the day before twist endings were a thing, so it was very innovative in that way. The mystery was captivating and the gore factor was high, so if you’re into that, you’re gonna love it (and yeah I’m a creep and love that).

The movie has Angel (Mickey Rourke) traveling from Brooklyn to New Orleans in search of the ever elusive Johnny Favourite (that Robert DeNiro’s character wants to find because he’s got a score to settle with him), only that everyone that knew Johnny begins to die in horrible ways and Angel is made to look like the culprit of those murders when he is not. So will he be able to find Johnny before he gets framed for murder? And will the voodoo queen Epiphany ( Played by a pre-Lenny Kravitz & Jason Momoa, wide-eyed Lisa Bonet) help Angel in his endeavor to find Johnny or is she simply going to bring his downfall? The stakes are high and the mystery is very much intriguing.

I really enjoyed my this movie and think that six years old me had impeccable taste for being so young (and probably was a teeny bit twisted).

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