Before settling in for a weekend spent watching Hemlock Grove, I read the New York Times's lukewarm review, which called it “a hybrid of Twin Peaks ... and CW teenage gothic” before going on to refer to its pace as pokey. This did not bode well, and I wandered into the Grove with adjusted expectations. Prior to reading the review, which was actually one of the more generous accounts of Hemlock Grove, I was psyching myself up for a highly enjoyable experience: how much would I have loved to permanently disfigure my sofa with my body’s imprint after a zillion hours spent consuming American Horror Story all at once? So much! How good was that teaser of the werewolf transformation? Pretty good! How long ago did Eli Roth’s Hostel: Part II come out? Long enough that we’re over it now!
Fun-ish fact: The superabundant carnage in Evil Dead, first-time director Fede Alvarez's relentlessly brutal and relentlessly competent update of Sam Raimi's 1981 no-budget horror landmark, was apparently created using nothing but practical effects. That means no CGI — just real, honest-to-crap prostheses, good old-fashioned camera tricks, and fake blood in reportedly record-breaking quantities.
The blood gives what's arguably the film's most compelling and multidimensional performance. It spatters and gushes, spews geyserlike from actors' mouths, runs thick as the wax on fancy whiskey and as gloppy as raspberry kombucha — and that's leaving out the finale, which let's just say owes a little to Singin' in the Rain and a little to Slayer. The fact that Alvarez brought this hemophobe's nightmare to the screen without computer assistance is, I guess, the slasher-flick equivalent of a band recording its album through tube amps straight to magnetic tape in a studio it built with reclaimed wood and its own hands, in that it will either tell you everything you need to know about this project or nothing, depending on what kind of person you are.
Everybody wants to poke a finger into Psycho, trying to reimagine the creepy recipe that officially put calling your mom “Mother” out of style. Some of the prequels, sequels, and spin-offs (including 1987’s Bates Motel) were OK, some were bad, and all of them seemed to warn “Don’t mess with Hitchcock.” Something about the original film invites audiences to B.S. forever about Freudian themes and shower trivia, and I guess if we’re so reluctant to let go of it, it makes sense that we keep trying to stick it in a petri dish. We have an innate preoccupation with diagnosing evil: Is it innate? Can it be caused? And which is worse? Anthony Perkins’s Norman was tragically fascinating, almost sympathetic. As “Mother,” he’s a monster; as Norman, his impulses are to prevent his dark side from taking over. The idea that he was once somehow pristine, or at least only as garden-variety creepy as anyone else, and became damaged by a platonic (or otherwise) dysfunctional love tango with his mother is an intriguing knot to untangle.
Before I begin this week’s recap, pardon me, merciful readers, if I flash my TWD creds in the hope that slathering myself with zombie bona fides will let me pass (relatively) unscathed through the hordes of Walking Dead fanatics and Grantland commentators. Yes, I have seen the show, all of it. In fact, I just spent the better part of a road trip with my girlfriend binge-viewing Season 3, the upshot of which is we both agree she would survive the zombie apocalypse and I wouldn’t, based solely on my need for copious pee-breaks and her steadfast refusal to allow them. Further, I share everyone’s agonized memories of the mind-numbing yoga betrayal retreat that was Season 2, as well as despair at Season 1, Ep. 4, “Lowrider Rest Home Cholos.”
So, I’ve watched the show since it was the little phenomenon that could and Daryl accessorized solely with Squirrelly Couture. And while it might not always drive me to the same dramaturgical despair as Andy Greenwald — I think Season 3 has, overall, shown geometric improvement — I retain both a healthy dose of skepticism and an appreciation for a re-animated corpse creatively de-animated. For me, The Walking Dead is most like that smoking-hot-if-slightly-dim cheerleader/quarterback you can’t help fantasizing about even though he/she thinks Africa is a country.
One summer when I was a kid, I went swimming in a pond against my family’s protests. I was a tomboy and I didn’t mind skipping along the slippery shore composed almost entirely of goose feculence and dead one-eyed minnows, and pushing stinky algae aside to relax in the wet funk. Halfway through my dip I cut my foot on a broken bottle and got a staph infection that, over the course of the next few days, spread up my leg in a bold red line that encroached on my knee joint. By the time I went to the doctor, my predicament was serious enough that I was warned that if I didn’t soak my leg every hour until the line receded, I would need my limb amputated. I spent 97 percent of my antibiotic-heavy recuperation fervently hoping I didn’t lose my leg, and 3 percent letting my mind crawl under the dark bed of my own imagination. I suppose this is what people with morbid streaks do. I soaked the offending body part and took every pill, but — even more so retrospectively — I was fascinated by what was happening.
Last night’s episode of American Horror Story: Asylum wasn’t my favorite, though it did feature Deadwood’s excellent Ian McShane as a psycho, serial-killing Santa and dentures as Christmas tree ornaments. I guess it was time for an episodic bridge, an installment with dialogue set to soap-opera music (and an instrumental of the creepiest carol, “Hark How the Bells”), but it seemed a little bit on the nose compared to weeks past. The good news, however, is that Sister Jude (Jessica Lange) and Dr. Arden (James Cromwell) now both know that the devil is occupying Satan Mary Eunice (Lily Rabe), and Sister Jude, fresh off the revelation that she didn’t accidentally kill anyone 15 years prior, seems to be taking it upon herself to cast that demon out. Merry Christmassacre, everyone!
Last week, as Grantland took a much-needed tryptophan nap, American Horror Story: Asylum packed quite a wallop. Before I start recapping this week’s episode, let’s catch up. In Dr. Thredson’s (Zachary Quinto) torture chamber, Lana (Sarah Paulson) is still being held hostage, though this time in what appears to be her bed from home; Dr. Thredson/Bloody Face, no longer content to be just a skin-snatching serial killer, is now revealed to be a creep with a serious mommy complex who just wants to suck the colostrum from Lana, make her croque monsieur sandwiches (possibly with Clea Duvall subbing in for ham), and whine about being abandoned by his mother. He’s been stalking Lana for a while, and now it looks like he wants her to be his motherlover. Groooooooss.
Now that’s what I’m talkin’ about, American Horror Story: Asylum. While the pilot wasn’t as scary as I’d hoped, last night’s episode delivered plenty of the gray-faced exorcisms, shots of knives carving bloody meat during unsettling conversations, and electroshock treatments that are so close to my weird old heart. And what about Dr. Arden (James Cromwell) refusing to be seduced by Shelly the nymphomaniac (Chloë Sevigny) as she sexily begged him for five measly minutes outdoors? “No! Whores get nothing!” The euphemisms in this installment were top-notch: I think “Now slowly, show me your mossy bank” has got to be the most potent gender-neutral boner-slaughterer ever introduced into the aural atmosphere. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start at the beginning.
What’s scarier about living in a time of constant surveillance: being watched, or being caught watching?
Paranormal Activity genuinely scared the shit out of me in 2009. Like The Blair Witch Project that preceded it by a decade, it was almost as scary to think about what it was like to film the movie as it was to watch it. Low-budget productions often involve a group of professionals who have no reason to trust each other, and imagining showing up for an early-morning call in the woods is chilling enough for anyone who’s ever downloaded a script in PDF and wondered what they’d gotten themselves into. Paranormal Activity’s release came at a time when we were getting increasingly paranoid about how we shared our information, however, and this made it even more scary than it would have been before we knew that The Government Knew What We Liked and were picking up the geographical pins that we had unwittingly dropped into their database.