The Castlevania animated series on Netflix was a hoot. You might be surprised to know that I have some thoughts…
- The animation felt very old school, which makes sense since the series is based on the legendary game, which dates back to 1986 and pixels. The series riffs off the Belmont family’s obsession with killing vampires, and features (sorry for the spoiler) the death of Dracula.
- It doesn’t move as fast as modern series – we spend almost an entire episode, for instance, in the Belmont family archives, watching as Sylpha (mage/scholar for those keeping score at home) learns the spells that will transport Dracula’s movable castle to their location.
- The setting is all quasi-legendary, and as always I wonder why the creatures of hell have to wait for Dracula to want revenge for the death of his human wife at the hands of a corrupt bishop to start wreaking havoc on the villagers, who seem pretty poorly equipped to handle any of this.
- There’s a lot of looking in this for a pure church, and that search for purity and its origin drives the narrative. Even Dracula couldn’t help searching for the return of the purity of his love for his wife, and it’s the world-destroying anger that unleashes his search for revenge.
- Belmont plays the last son of a storied family character to the hilt, complete with drinking far too much (and getting beaten up by townspeople) when he’s not actively engaged.
- His story is an interesting take on the hero legend – his flaws are not the stuff of legend, and his skills are more of the super-hero variety. I’m guessing that this portrayal points to a mesh point (a liminal space worth investigating) between the heroes of games and the heroes of, oh, say 10,000 faces.
- The gore in this series is epic. It’s billed as for adults only, and that makes perfect sense. We see people (and monsters) get killed in all sorts of horrible ways, and the spilling of blood by the animators takes on the aesthetics of the poetry of kung fu movies.
- For all that gore, there is absolutely zero sex. We know that Belmont and Sylpha will hook up by the end, but it’s a chaste, subtle pairing, one in which we never even see them kiss. Not pairing sex and violence feels pretty un-American, and I’m okay with that.
The Shape of Water burst on the scene shortly before the re-issue of Mrs. Caliban by Rachel Ingalls, but Ingalls beat del Toro to the story by 35 years as this novel features a housewife in a marriage that seems stagnant who falls for a sensitive male of another species. Water is definitely involved.
- Making the protagonist Mrs. Caliban is just one of the many brilliant moves in this novel. Ingalls calls attention directly to gender roles and expectations with the title, and by positioning the canon’s wimpiest monster opposite Larry (the monster in this novel) being someone who can kill – he does so out of self-defense, and does so brutally – reverses Prospero’s cultural dominance in favor of a monster who actually becomes the sort of ideal partner that Dorothy wishes she had.
- While Prospero tames Caliban, demonstrating masculine and English superiority over all types of Others, Dorothy falls in love in an almost traditional way with her monster. Their relationship is not one of master-servant (a trope for marriage that seems to fall apart while we watch among Dorothy’s social circle) but rather a contemporary good marriage, with a true partnership between equals rather than a series of passive-aggressive territory contests of the sort that middle class marriages degenerate into in the world of this novel.
- Larry seems more perplexed by the insanity of Dorothy’s world than she does by his. Of course we get to see her world and not his, but the ever-shifting alliances of marriages in Dorothy’s circle are hard to fathom, and become almost labyrinth-like. There simply are no good marriages, as men cheat, women cheat, and the ideal of the American household falls completely apart.
- The larger context that Ingalls works from is suburbia, and her portrayal of it makes middle-class citizens of the USA seem more savage than poor Larry…
- And by the way, this novel contains inter-species sex…don’t say you weren’t warned.
The Field Guide to Evil is a crowd-funded horror anthology, and in my recent viewing at the Nightlight we went with some other horror fans who had decidedly mixed opinions about it.
- Being crowd-funded made some of the choices make sense, and it’s sort of hard to imagine a horror film these days that doesn’t use green screens or other types of digital effects. The old-fashioned types of trick camera work and stunts that they used were really cool and an homage of sorts to the films of the 60s and 70s that didn’t have access to digital camera effects.
- Each focused on a folklorish approach, but they treated all kinds of texts as ones worthy of producing folklore, including texts that are more recent. In particular, I liked one that the rest of the group found hoky – a story about big-headed children in the forests of California, children who are actually the product of a mad scientist (as we find out). The mix of genres felt like a particularly useful way to look at the ways that we create folklore.
- I think my favorite was one of the first ones, featuring a tinker who went from village to village and who was told by an evil spirit that if he ate the heart of corpses he would be all-powerful. He ends up in a jail cell, but the vignette finishes with him listening to the sound of troops marching off to war, as the emperor has obviously taken on the powers by doing the crimes that he has committed.
Bird Box the film (dir. Susan Bier) and Bird Box the novel (written by Joseph Malerman) were very similar, with almost none of the exposition present in the novel explaining what the film explains visually. Thoughts below:
- The conceit is an interesting one, as the aliens are barely present, and even then in shadowy, more-seen-than-felt form. This solves the problem with a lot of these types of stories, in which a plucky group of humans defeats the aliens using what are essentially rocks and sticks in the face of overwhelming technology, and it also reduces us to organisms that might not be all that interesting to the aliens…depressing!
- The conversations Malerman presents as humans try to figure out what these things are also struck me – several people surmise that perhaps they don’t even know they’re here, or hurting us, and that our own fears that lead to us violently murdering each other come from us.
- The elimination of sight I think alludes to our overwhelming obsession with the visual, and the fact that even seeing something indirectly through a recording could trigger the reaction was pretty interesting.
- Where, then, does this type of intensely psychotically violent behavior reside? In our visual processing systems? Are the connections so tight that any issue in one directly affects our central nervous system?
- Finally, the book made me think of how often dystopias and horror cross generic lines…
“Cult” is season seven of American Horror Story, and each season has been very different. After the attempt to make a meta-take on horror in season six (Roanoke), this one felt like a combination of The Purge and our current political scene.
- It was meant to feel like the (re)rise of nationalism in particular, and I guess we could view it as a cautionary tale of sorts, if we hadn’t already been there.
- The series works hard to make sure that everyone is inculcated in murder – character we don’t expect to do bad things do, and even the hero (this is not a spoiler) is not clean.
- That’s part of the joy of modern horror, of course – none of us are really clean, even if we may think that we are.
- It’s an even scarier fear when it feels like we are losing our political system as we watch.
- The problem, though, is that the show has to work very hard to make us believe that ordinary people are capable of murder (and that the government will not strike back, hard). There is fairly recent historical evidence of course, but even that isn’t as cut-and-dried as we sometimes think.
- I guess that’s the problem with trying to draw lines to contemporary life too closely. Law and Order was able to do that with varying degrees of success, perhaps because they were not relying on our ability to believe in the supernatural, but it’s a tricky line.
This seems to be a film review morning…
We watched The Haunting of Hill House, a new Netflix series. Here are my thoughts:
- I’ve talked to folks who didn’t find Shirley Jackson’s novel scary. I did, and I thought it was particularly effective because it never clearly told us what action occurred in the characters’ minds and what actions the house itself actually did.
- I think that the teevee series does the same, at least until the end.
- The reconfiguring of the Crains’ interest in the house was a particularly adroit move on the series creator’s part. The old-time Boston Brahmin feel of the house – and the way that feel invokes the Victorian Gothics – especially in that period’s American Gothic forms – made me think about the links between the Old and New Worlds that those texts interrogated.
- One of the appeals of this genre to me is watching the ways in which those who survived and thrived on the American continents attempt to reconcile everything they love and hate about the New World with what they loved and hated about the Old. Shutting themselves up in these spaces that are both full of cheap attempts to recreate classic European art – paintings and sculpture mostly, but architecture as well – *and* ways to show their own financial success directly contrasted with indigenous peoples’ ways of life, and the psychological stresses are clearly powerful (and hallucination-inducing, perhaps).
- This series updates that with its version of the Crains. The parents are a couple making their way by flipping houses, and this is clearly the biggest risk they have taken, the culmination of their success at building wealth by restoring the not-so-recently departed architectural past. Their obsession with thinking of houses in terms of getting rich (and not without a ton of hard work) is a beautiful twist on the US’s Puritan heritage.
- Each of the kids is invested in their own impressions of the house, and we’re never sure (until the very end) exactly what the house is, with one exception: it serves as a locus in which space and time are bent. Characters routinely see into the future and the past. The mechanisms of this are of course never explained, but if I continue thinking about this house from the perspective of the intersection of the New and Old worlds, then the Hills – with their New World-derived (and thus tainted) wealth – have paid the price for climbing past their proper social class.
- The series also works on our own culturally-produced ideas about sensitivity to the paranormal, and our obsession with understanding reality in terms of linearity and rationality. This series makes the argument that sometimes what we see simply doesn’t make sense, and we construct a whole series of ways to rethink what we see so we can place it neatly into a linear narrative that we understand.
- Or, in contrast, it fits itself into our desire to make the material world more than it seems. We want to believe that there’s more, and this series might simply fit that narrative instead.
- Finally, the use of a house as a symbol of the attainment of the American dream, and beyond, as houses signify wealth and status and also provide new money Americans with an opportunity to show just how refined (or unrefined) they are.