Search terms: you ask, I answer

This is one of my favorite games to play on my other blog, but I don’t think I’ve ever done it here. I feel it’s only polite to try to help those who visit me seeking something specific. Luckily, WordPress can tell me what they were looking for.

real dornish peppers: It would have been better for you to hear this from a loved one, but I’m afraid there’s not a real Dorne. I imagine you could substitute any of several varieties of chili?

things that are not scary: Macaroons. Napkins. Toothpaste. The Blair Witch Project.

sansa loves lemon cakes: Yep.

jen rasmussen hawaii nude: Not that I recall.

richard armitage butt: Seriously, four of you in the last thirty days? I am not the proper resource for this. Meaning no offense to Mr. Armitage, there aren’t very many people whose butts I care to know stuff about.

american horror story briefly topics: Ghosts, aliens, medical experiments gone awry, odd explanations for the Black Dahlia, creepy clowns, creepy nuns, creepy war criminals, completely uncreepy and nonsensical witches, serial killers, and ladies who want babies. Not in that order.

info on murder of jen rasmussen: I imagine I’d be the last to know.

we found a witch may we burn her: How do you know she’s a witch?

jen scary thing: Not generally. Maybe if that Hawaii thing was true.

where do you send for letter to cary fukunaga: I can’t help with this, but if you write to him, tell him I loved his Jane Eyre!

four and tris with supernatural powers: I agree this would be cool.

excessive planning: THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH THIS.

i would always rather be happy than dignified: Jane and I both approve.

mr rochester x reader lemon: This is almost certainly code for something, but as I’m not a Cold War spy, I don’t know what. Perhaps my commenters can offer suggestions, if it wouldn’t blow their cover.

Did we learn nothing from Pennywise?

This post contains spoilers for Stephen King’s It and last week’s American Horror Story, but not this week’s, because I haven’t watched it yet. I don’t mind if you spoil it when making comments, though.

American Horror Story has made me sad. They had such a great thing going with that clown. But they ruined it. No no, not by killing him. I mean, I’m kind of bummed about that too, because it’s too early in the season to lose their best feature, but I could have handled that.

But first they had to give him an origin story, and that’s where it all went wrong. Horror rule, you guys: leave the clown alone. Resist the urge to mess with the clown.

Do you remember when you read It, and Pennywise was just the most terrifying thing? And then the makeup came off and it was just, like, a big bug? That was such a letdown. The only thing that kept it from ruining the book was that the rest of it was so damned scary that you could forgive even that big a flaw. American Horror Story just made the same mistake, and they haven’t got Stephen King’s skill to talk their way out of it. (Don’t feel bad, Ryan Murphy and friends. Nobody does.)

Because you have two kinds of villains: villains who are uncomfortably like the rest of us, and monsters. The former are relatable, and that makes them both scary and tragic. You might hate them, but you get it, how they became what they did, the things that make us crack, the darkness within all of us. Nobody likes to look too long into that darkness, and these villains work because somewhere in the back of your mind you’re afraid that, given the same circumstances, that could be you.

These are good candidates for origin stories and mask removal. We need to know their motivations and we need to understand them. They need character arcs of their own. They don’t work otherwise, and they come off flat.

But monsters work the opposite way. They must be mysterious. The source of their terror is their otherness, their inhumanity, the sense of something bigger and badder than any of us. It’s great for them to be disguised as something familiar, especially if it’s something related to childhood, like a clown or a doll. That only adds to the effect. But you must make me imagine something awful under there without ever, under any circumstances, showing it to me. Take off the mask and give me a big spider, or a sad man who hasn’t got the capacity to judge the right or wrong of his actions, and you’ve just replaced the mystique with something I can deal with, even something mundane. The trick to the monster is understanding that you can’t scare someone better than they can scare themselves.

Where American Horror Story went wrong is that they started with a monster and then at the last second tried to swap it for the human kind of villain. Once you’ve put someone in a clown suit, he is not that kind of villain. He is unequivocally a monster, and there’s nothing you can show me under his makeup that will be scarier than him with it on.

Okay, fine, maybe they didn’t want him to be scary anymore. But why not? Why ruin all that terror momentum they had going, just on the off chance that they could use a few minutes before they killed him off, after we’ve been watching a monster for weeks, to make us see a sad man instead, and feel sorry for him?

There’s no point to that, and also, it didn’t work. The origin story wasn’t interesting or good. And going for the cheap gross-out with that jaw? Totally ruined a perfectly good evil clown. It’s like Pennywise all over again.

Just leave the clown alone.

Props for getting Wes Bentley though, AHS.

Everyone hail to the pumpkin song

Eleven things for Halloween:

1. The post title, of course, comes from the song “This is Halloween” in A Nightmare Before Christmas. This was the correct answer to the October poll asking for the best Halloween movie. Fifty percent of you got it right.

2. The other half of you chose It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, which is certainly a good one. But you’re still doing Halloween wrong if you don’t know Jack Skellington is the pumpkin king.

3. Nobody chose either Halloween or Night of the Living Dead. I was especially surprised that Michael Myers did not garner a single vote, although I quite agree with you. (By the way, there is no November poll because mah book is being released next week and will be occupying the sidebar space where the poll normally sits. But I’m sure we can all agree that the best Thanksgiving pie is cherry anyway. Shut up with your pumpkin.)

4. ahsclownAmerican Horror Story, which was maybe the least scary thing on TV last year, is the scariest it’s been since Season 1 this year, and maybe even scarier. You really can’t beat a creepy clown when it comes to scares, and John Carroll Lynch is giving us the creepiest one since Tim Curry played Pennywise.

5. The adaptation of It in which Tim Curry played Pennywise was not scary, despite Curry doing a fantastic job. The production values were… not high. So there’s no point in watching that for Halloween, but you might consider reading it, because it still wins my scariest book ever award.

6. ‘Salem’s Lot and Pet Sematary are my runners up for scariest Stephen King books. His son Joe Hill’s NOS4A2 is also really scary.

7. That family hasn’t got the corner on scary, of course. The Haunting of Hill House is a classic that stands up, and Poe will always be the master. I haven’t read much lately that genuinely scared me, though. (By all means, give me your recommendations in comments.)

8. If you want a movie instead, my personal picks for scariest movies are Seven and Silence of the Lambs.

9. Last year’s The Conjuring deserves a mention too, because it brought the scary back to scary movies. We need less of that nauseating found footage nonsense, and more good old fashioned scares.

10. I’m going to say it one more time, movie people: startle does not equal scare. Don’t just make me jump and call it a day. I’m not going to have nightmares about being startled. You’ve got to disturb me.

11. My fun sized candy bar of choice this year is Almond Joy. Yours?

Devil babies, frankenboys, and things that make you throw food

Spoiler content – minor for American Horror Story: Coven

I just caught up with episode two of American Horror Story and was pleased to find it so much better than the first. Mainly because of the performances, but the lack of magical killer girlbits was also welcome. Plus I was delighted right in the first three minutes, when they dressed Lily Rabe like Stevie Nicks while playing Stevie Nicks in the background. (Would’ve been better if she didn’t have a speech about Nicks later, but you know, you’re not coming to AHS for subtlety.) The life-death focus of each storyline made this episode feel more cohesive. But some of those storylines were stronger than others.

Frankentate, I don’t even know what to do with that.

Cordelia’s infertility thing just made me ask a lot of questions, especially about that husband who came out of nowhere. Because I thought she lived at the school? She must if she’s waking the girls up in the morning right? Surely they don’t just keep sleeping until she gets up, showers, has breakfast, then commutes? So does the husband live there with her, but he’s mostly invisible unless needed for a sex ritual? How does that work, an adult unaffiliated with the school, still getting to live there among the children? This is just like how I used to obsess about whether Hogwarts teachers could get married and have families or not. I mean, you can’t apparate onto the grounds, so the commute… Anyway. Assuming she got pregnant from that ritual, will this be a devil baby? Please if it is, can we pretty please have a guest visit from Sister Mary Satan, raised from the dead to be his nanny?

And then there’s the big thread, the one that delivers not only Jessica Lange, Angela Bassett, and Kathy Bates, but also the overall premise. Which seems to be that the Salem witches were real, except not the ones who were actually convicted, except for Tituba, who is the one who taught them witchcraft in the first place, only to be betrayed by them and turned in, so the witch-types and the voodoo-types have hated each other ever since. Okay, whatever. Convoluted and bizarre and demonstrating a complete disregard for all sorts of facts, but high marks for creativity, with extra points for delivering the exposition in that truly marvelous salon scene. When Fiona paused mid-catfight to wave Marie off with a quick “no more spray,” I almost choked on my tea. So much win. And Kathy Bates, as hoped, is making Madame LaLaurie more engaging to watch than she has any right to be. The chemistry between Lange and both Bassett and Bates is as good as their individual performances. Honestly, I could watch these three all day.

In fact, I’d love to see more of them in exchange for less doe-eyed, open-mouthed Taissa Farmiga. Really Zoe, is it that much to ask for you to think faster than a cauliflower on occasion, and also breathe through your nose? You know that nasal breathing has major health benefits, right? I quite liked Farmiga in the first season so I have to assume this is bad direction and not her fault, or else that it’s intentional because they really want me to throw cookies at my TV out of frustration at my inability to punch her in the face.

Either way, I’ll keep watching this week. I’ll just maybe eat the cookies beforehand.

 

On the dark side

Spoiler content: American Horror Story: Coven (mild); The Silence of the Lambs

So without having seen another episode of American Horror Story: Coven, I’m reconsidering my position on Kathy Bates as Madame LaLaurie. My problem here was the complete lack of dimension. We found out everything we needed to know about Madame LaLaurie in the first ten minutes of the first episode, and considering the real-life person on whom she’s based, we can guess she’s not likely to change much. Which means we haven’t got much left to explore. There are no layers there. Nothing sympathetic or relatable. Nothing at all but pure one-note evil.

I’m not one of those people who thinks every single villain needs to be complicated; I’m cool with just plain monsters showing up in horror stories. But in this case, did we really need the woman who played Annie Wilkes to such amazing, terrifying effect to do it? It just seemed like a waste of talent.

But the thing is, one note can still be pretty interesting (and terrifying) when it’s played right. I got to thinking about characters of pure, unadulterated evil who are nonetheless elevated by good performances. Here are my top eleven picks for one-dimensional monsters who are still done well:

  1. Hannibal Lecter, as played by Anthony Hopkins in The Silence of the Lambs. This is the most obvious one, no? Lecter has more dimension in the books – there’s a human under there somewhere, or at least there was at some point – but as far as this film alone goes, he’s nothing but a purely black heart. Yet still, at the end, you’re at least half rooting for him to eat that warden. (No? Just me?)
  2. John Doe, as played by Kevin Spacey in Se7en. His actual screen time is short, and he’s only got one side to show us in those few minutes, but the performance is riveting and unforgettable.
  3. Jon Ryder, as played by Rutger Hauer in The Hitcher.
  4. Top Dollar, as played by Michael Wincott in The Crow.
  5. Freddy Krueger, as played by Robert Englund in A Nightmare on Elm Street. Completely uncomplicated, completely iconic.
  6. Max Cady, as played by both Robert De Niro and Robert Mitchum in Cape Fear.
  7. Maleficent, as voiced by Eleanor Audley in Sleeping Beauty.
  8. The Wicked Witch of the West, as played by Margaret Hamilton in The Wizard of Oz.
  9. Count Rugan, as played by Christopher Guest in The Princess Bride. Is sadistic and wholly evil, hilarity ensues.
  10. Roose Bolton, as played by Michael McElhatton in Game of Thrones.
  11. Cancer Man, as played by William B. Davis in The X Files. I don’t care what you say, anyone who is that mean to the Buffalo Bills is pure evil and that’s all there is to it.

So I’m going to keep my eye on this Kathy Bates performance and see where it goes. I’m curious to see what she does with it. (But the rest of my AHS complaints still stand. And I still just can’t even with the magical-deadly-vagina-as-superpower.)

We found a witch, may we burn her?

Did you watch the premiere of American Horror Story? What did you think? Me, I didn’t love it. But I’m reserving judgment. For one thing, my expectations may have been too high. For another, sometimes that show takes me a little while to process.

But thus far it’s sorely lacking in the fresh and interesting department. There were an awful lot of tropes flying around that screen, almost too many to count. This show has always played with tropes but these weren’t being played with in any new or compelling ways. As far as I can see, they weren’t really being played with at all. They were just there. Which is fine if the showrunners are being intentionally campy, but are they? I’m not sure they are. I’m not sure some of those images they mixed in there can play campy.

And why are you hiring all this great talent if this is all you’re going to do with it? Because I don’t think it takes a cast full of award winners to play these roles. Jessica Lange is delightful as always, but oh look, it’s another messy aging bitch hiding her fragility beneath a veneer of cigarette smoke and destruction. Considering the past two seasons, this isn’t exactly new territory they’re taking her to, is it? I’m disappointed with the way they’re using (or not) Lily Rabe. And Kathy Bates is always excellent, but she seems to have been given a role, um, without a lot of dimension to it. All she’s missing is a mustache to twirl.

And the gore. Too much with the gore and the blood and the torture. I’m not objecting due to sensitivity, but on a storytelling level. AHS has never been your go-to for subtlety and nuance, but still. An insane butcher-doctor or a mullet-sporting serial killer torturing and mutilating people is one thing, but witchcraft should be more sophisticated than that, no? I mean, it’s got the word craft right in the name. Where’s the craft here?

On the plus side: The lighting and camera work were sufficiently creepy in the style we’ve come to expect. And I would like to congratulate the folks who do the title sequence on what is possibly their most disturbing and grossest one yet.