Where Things Are Hollow: A Review of Starry Eyes

The allure of Hollywood is so irresistible it’s no wonder many associate it’s cabalistic machinations the result of occult manipulation. From Zionism to Satanism to the most terrifying spiritual belief ever, Scientology, there are a variety of rumors connecting the upper echelons of the motion picture industry to various cults and conspiracies.

It makes sense, what else could explain the fact that someone is consciously allowing Nic Cage to still star in theatrically released films?

IMG_2912.JPGThis is a real thing.

There is something undeniably magical about film. A good movie can provide its audience with a needed escape; a great movie can transform an audience entirely. However, for those who wish to transcend to the other side of the screen, success comes at a price. A complete absence of privacy, unrelenting criticism, the pressure to remain ageless, constantly negotiating treacherous public engagements, and sacrificing family and friends for fame.

Such is the milieu from which “Starry Eyes” is born. The film, directed by Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmeyer, tells the story of aspiring actor Sarah Walker (Alexandra Essoe), a waif of a brunette whose sole reason for living is the hope of someday becoming famous. She makes a living working at a Hooters knock-off restaurant as a waitress and her days attending audition after audition. When not working or auditioning she spends time with her roommate (also an aspiring actress) and their friends, hipsters who also long for careers in the film industry. Unlike them, Sarah is the real deal: she takes acting classes, has Hollywood Golden Era legends plastered on the walls of her room, and will do anything for fame. Sarah is given the chance to do anything after receiving a callback from a bizarre audition in which the casting directors (obviously sinister in their bizarre behavior) make her self-injure in front of them.

To say anything more would give away much of the plot; even the film’s poster is pretty much the entire story minus a few gory details. “Starry Eyes” is both a compelling character study and an at times gruesome exploration into body horror. As a result, Alexandra Essoe’s performance as Sarah is riveting as we watch the horrific changes she is subjected to in order to achieve a chance at stardom.

With the spotlight focused so intently on Sarah, the other characters are little more than set-pieces used to amplify her experiences. The performers do a solid job with what little they have (particularly those who work for the mysterious production company that casts Sarah in the lead role), but Sarah herself is little more than a nervous bundle of vulnerable ambition. We don’t know why she is so obsessed with fame, with acting, or with Hollywood. We don’t know why she has no family and very superficial relationships with her friends. Perhaps the directors are trying to say something about the personalities of those who single-mindedly seek fame.

That being said, I found “Starry Eyes” to be a bit of a let down. The individual aspects of the film were superb, but the whole thing never quite seemed to gel. The movie starts off strong, lags a bit during the second act, and picks up during the third act and leads to a somewhat predictable finale.

Like most indie horror movies, “Starry Eyes” wants audiences to think about their emotions and reactions to the film. The problem is that the film’s plot (while good) is fairly thin. The only character who changes is Sarah and while her transformation is…dramatic, it doesn’t offer the audience much to cogitate over. Like I said before, Sarah is a vessel of pure ambition. So although she sacrifices much in the hopes of gaining stardom, because the only thing she seems to care about is stardom, what she gives up is ultimately meaningless.

I wanted very much to LOVE “Starry Eyes” but given all the above and some frustrating ambiguity regarding Sarah’s transformation, I ultimately found the movie star bright yet sadly hollow.

We Tell Each Other Fairy Tales, a Review of Mr. Jones (2013)


SPOILER ALERT: This movie is stupid. Don’t watch it.

I didn’t look up any reviews of this film before watching it, but I wish I had and I wish they’d told me not to waste my time. To be clear the film has a provocative premise: hipster white couple venture into the woods to make a nature documentary, original idea falls through amidst relationship strife, hipster white couple discover bizarre and sinister statues surrounding another cabin near their house, HWC surmise the sculpture is the work of infamous and reclusive artist, ‘Mr. Jones’ who sent out nine creepy scarecrow/statues to different people, all of whom experience nightmarish weirdness afterwards, HWC decide to make documentary about it, break into Mr. Jones cabin, and steal some shit…then the movie gets artsy and goes all to hell in a bad way.

If I were a white person or a hipster, I’d be offended at the representation of my people in this film. No one is as daft as Scott and Penny. They are terrified of Mr. Jones, but that doesn’t stop them from breaking into his house multiple times and stealing a creepy little doll and a mask. Then, although they interview art experts in NYC, they can’t figure out how to leave the cabin once shit gets crazy.

The film does a great job of building tension and dread, but completely fails to deliver. If this movie were sex it would be that edging thing that people do for some reason I can’t understand. It’s like, “This is so creepy what is about to happen oh my god I am so worried will I see something crazy oh fuck the horr–”


Seriously. You have basically just experienced this movie. The film suggests that Mr. Jones is a shaman trying to build a border between the real world and the nightmare world and the two main character dummies break that border. However, we don’t know because the movie has a seizure the last twenty minutes and just features people walking around and mugging menacingly at the camera. Oh, this movie is one of those found-footage fiascos that doesn’t remain consistent. Some parts are clearly FF and other parts are inexplicably filmed from the director’s POV. Whatever.

I wanted more of the border stuff, more of the “nightmares explode inside your head” creepiness (this is how one of the recipients of Mr. Jones’ art describes its after-effects), some commentary about the monsters who haunted the mindscapes of the First Peoples and how they are still around, lurking in the darkest pockets of this bloodstained continent…

But no. This movie is not that. It’s boring and disappointing and I’m going to go get some ice cream to make me feel better about wasting my time.

My Nefarious Plan

Amazon will actually promote the work of authors who have a ton of “likes” on their Amazon author page. Or at least, that’s the word on the street. In order to buck trends I’d like everyone reading this to “like” my Amazon author page and in one year from today (provided we’re still Facebook friends) I’ll post a reminder for you to all unlike my Amazon author page. IT WILL EFF WITH THEIR ANALYTICS SO HARD. DO IT. http://amzn.to/19YroQ5


It Is Dark Here and I Hold Horror In My Hands…

…the above is from an earlier draft of a published story. I couldn’t think of a good subject title, so I tried to find something ‘evocative’.

Anyway, I’m having a good writing year so far. I’m hesitant to say that because despite my humanism I can’t help but feel a little superstitious about the creation, reception, and publication of my work. I don’t want to jinx anything. However, three of my stories were published in JWK Fiction Best of Horror 2013; “Because You Watched”, “Bereft”, and “The Mother of All Monsters”.  It’s a huge honor to be recognized in any ‘best of’ collection, but particularly this one since many of the writers included are personal friends and favorite writers; Chantal Noordeloos, Lily Childs, James Ward Kirk, KZ Morano, Roger Cowin, and James S. Dorr.

I also had “All the Hellish Cruelties of Heaven”, accepted for publication in Axes of Evil II. It is the second entry in a heavy metal horror anthology series published by JEA/Wetworks. The tale has been generously described by the editor, Alex S. Johnson, as a “Stoker-worthy sapphire of a short story”.

Finally, I made my first sale last Friday. Additional info is forthcoming, but trust me: it’s a big deal.

When things are available, you’ll be at least the third or fourth to know.

Finally, here’s an image of Vincent Price because Vincent Price fucking rules.


Cheap Knockoff: A Review of The Collection

Bleh. Another derivative exercise in gore, The Collection is the sequel to the much-hyped 2009 film, The Collector. I only watched this crap because I needed some background noise while doing the laundry and I couldn’t have made a better selection.

The writers (Michael Dunstan and Patrick Melton) also worked on Saw IV, V, VI, and 3D which is excellent since this movie is basically a Saw ripoff without the charisma of Tobin Bell. In fact, The Collector was originally pitched as a prequel to Saw, was rejected, and then turned into this turd.

Who stars in the film? Some people who are largely forgettable. Christopher MacDonald plays a rich guy who is kind of a douche for the billionth time in his career. Emma Fitzpatrick plays his daughter, Elena, who I didn’t care about and neither will you. Reprising his role from The Collector, Josh Stewart plays Arkin, the most gullible and guileless thief alive. There are some other people but they don’t live long enough to serve as anything more than slaughter-fodder so, whatever.

Similar to its prequel, The Collection is about a masked serial killer who kills people in groups (families, douchebag partygoers, etc.) and spares one person to add to his “collection”. In this sequel, the filmmakers upped the proverbial ante and had our titular character dispatch a crowd of moderately attractive young people with essentially a giant old-school pencil sharpener. Blah blah, more people die, except Elena and a few others soon-to-be-heinously-dismembered. While rambling through the derelict confines of the killer’s expansive lair, Elena comes across a sizable red box that contains a bloodied and beaten Arkin. Instead of helping him out of his shackles she runs away, fortuitously leaving behind an earring the thief uses to pick the locks and escape. Ironic, given the fact that later she repeatedly guilts Arkin into doing dumb shit for leaving her behind. The Collector captures Elena and her rich father assembles a crack-team of walking stereotypes to rescue his daughter.

Organizing the damned is Lucello (Lee Tergesen), the “leader” of COMMANDO TEAM FORCEY FORCE and Elena’s protector from childhood. He makes a big deal about how bad-ass his crew is, so bad-ass that they don’t even need help from the police because they are fucking bad asses! More irony since at the end of the film when all but one of them is dead, the police have to come to their rescue. After Arkin’s escapes he is hospitalized and treated (?), but not before a bunch of officious looking dudes interrupt his surgery to demand he help them locate Richpants McWealthy’s daughter. I guess all the patient’s rights advocates were off that day, as no one seems concerned about Arkin’s extensive injuries.

Some more boring bullshit happens and Arkin agrees to help
FORCEY FORCE, provided he will not go inside the killer’s playground. Lucello promises that won’t happen while all but winking at the camera. Unlike an actual paramilitary unit with sense, these numbskulls arrive at the location (an old hotel/museum or something) and make no attempt to review building plans or even find out who once owned the building, because they’re impulsive badasses with guns and potty mouths and don’t need help from nobody. Literally five minutes after entering the building,
the Collector comes out and stabs one of the team members.

More shit happens but honestly this review has taken me too long to write already, mostly because the only thing more boring that watching The Collection is writing about it.

Lifetime: Television for Sadists

lifetime tv for sadists logo

Hey Lifetime, nothing personal. Please don’t sue me.

I was born in 1981 and raised on a steady diet of cable television. Keep in mind, my mother didn’t know any better. She wasn’t neglectful by any means, but I suspect that she and many other parents during the 80’s had some level of naivete about their kid’s attention spans. She intentionally allowed me to watch the standard fare educational stuff: Sesame Street, 3-2-1- Contact, Reading Rainbow, Mister Rogers, etc. but never alone. She always made sure to watch those programs with me and we’d talk about them afterward. I had a clear understanding of what made reality and what made fantasy so that even though many of my favorite cartoons were violent (I’ll elaborate here in a bit), no one in my family had to worry about me trying to morph into Optimus Prime and running headfirst into oncoming traffic.  Saturday morning cartoons were a ritual that signaled the rest of a a day spent outside hooliganing around with my friends until the streetlights came on.

In my neighborhood, having cable television was a Big Fucking Deal. It was like being rich without actually having any money. Cable TV made my house one of the most popular joints on the block. I spent entire summers in front of the TV dancing to Bell Biv Devoe and SWV with my friends, shaking our imaginations and belting out “Weak” like we had any actual idea what that song was about. When it was time for my friends to go home and the neighborhood settled in for the evening, it was time for me to start powering down. I would usually sit on the floor and color or play GI Joe vs. Barbies while my mom and auntie had cups of coffee and watched their favorite station: Lifetime.

For all intents and purposes, Lifetime was one of the boring channels. It was grouped with stations like CNN, (CSPAN, sweet Jesus), TNT, and all the other networks that didn’t feature a constant stream of music videos and/or cartoons. During this time, I was too young to really enjoy sitcoms so while I would later develop a deep and abiding love for Designing Women and The Golden Girls, my first encounters with those programs were less than stellar. Usually, my parents would watch some sitcom or other series, but at some point (I don’t know when) Lifetime started to air original movie programming. Now, as a child during the 80’s I was quite familiar with the After School Special and it’s didactic attempts to keep me away from drugs, molesters, anorexia, graffiti, or being mean to old people. For awhile, I was able to tune out much of what I saw because it was boring adult stuff, but eventually I couldn’t help myself.

Lifetime movies were like After School Specials on crank and bath salts. And because Lifetime’s programming was ‘for women’ and I lived in a house of almost always exclusively women, the films took on a much larger and terrifying dimension. It’s a strange habit I still don’t get entirely about my mom and auntie, but they LOVE movies about women suffering. THEY LOVE THAT SHIT. Farrah Fawcett, Meredith Baxter Birney, and Nancy McKeon were like the holy trinity of battered women in my house. So, throughout the summer, I’d spend the day playing with my friends, but come nightfall I’d be riveted with popcorn and Pepsi alongside my parents watching Farah Fawcett get repeatedly abused and raped by her psychopathic husband until tying him up to their bed and setting him on fire.

And if that alone wasn’t disturbing enough, my parents cheered about it! “Go ‘head girl! That’s right! Burn his ass! Burn his ass up!” High fives ensued. What in the hell was wrong with the world? Was this what being an adult was like?

After the horrors of the The Burning Bed, I didn’t think it could get worse. But oh…that was just the beginning. After that harrowing experience, the next film that was watched repeatedly in my house was Extremities. Ah yes, that wonderful film in which Farrah is stalked by a psychotic mountain man who repeatedly rapes her until she “turns the tables” and beats the shit out of him and ties him up inside a fireplace. russo in fireplace extremitiesI haven’t seen either film in years (for reasons that should be clear) but I do wonder if they are as graphic as they remember them. It seemed as if the camera lingered on the violence of the rapes, as if the filmmakers were brutalizing the audience along with the character so her (our) vicarious revenge could be all the more satisfying.

In addition to films about rape and domestic violence, Lifetime also specialized in one other subgenre of 80’s TV programming: white ladies with eating disorders. This genre didn’t disturb me nearly as much because (at the time) the idea of having an eating disorder was the most ridiculous thing anyone could ever do. It was almost comedic really, we’d watch Tracy Gold or Meredith Baxter Birney scarf down a meal meant for four people and then yak it all up and laugh. Who does that? She was crazy. White people crazy. Black people don’t do stuff like that. kate's secret coverClearly, I don’t mean to suggest here that ‘the black community’ is anymore dismissive of the severity of mental disorders than any other racial/ethnic group, but I remember the tension while watching those films was significantly weaker. Because we could distance ourselves from it; no one in my family was gonna waste food like that unless they wanted to get an ass whoopin’.

No thanks!

Although I cherished watching these movies with my family because it was a kind of quality time, I started to pick up pretty quickly what ‘television for women’ was really about. Basically, if you’re a woman you are going to get raped and beaten and no one will believe you so you’ll probably just get killed or you’ll have to kill your abuser but that’s cool because, y’know, justice. If those two things don’t happen to you then (as exemplified by another popular subgenre of 80’s Lifetime movies) someone is going to kidnap your child and their absence will destroy you, your marriage, and your relationship with your other children. OR, your child is going to get molested and no one will believe you so, again, MURDER. After a while, I realized that the stuff my parents watched just made me horribly depressed, even as a child. Yet, for whatever reason, I still felt compelled to participate in the ritual (because by then it had become a ritual), even if the tradeoff for a sense of closeness and conformity was that I had to feel completely demolished and terrified of the outside world.

Everyone has their breaking point (especially Farrah Fawcett) and mine came in the late 80’s with Nancy McKeon’s A Cry for Help: The Tracey Thurman Story. I’m not even sure what possessed my mother to allow me to watch that movie, because even in comparison to the other films, Cry for Help was brutal. So brutal that (I just learned) it was nominated for an Emmy in best makeup effects. You know why? BECAUSE THAT SHIT LOOKED REAL. And not only did it look real, it was real. That woman really was stabbed multiple times by her douchebag husband while her neighbors watched and the police did nothing, until after an ambulance came (someone had the sense to do that at least). Even though she was the first person to successfully sue a town and their police department for negligence and settled with a few million, nothing about that resolution made me feel any better.

It was at that point that the real world became officially Too Much. I couldn’t deal. I couldn’t deal with the violence depicted on television, particularly the sort of violence that I was to later learn my family had an intimate familiarity with. I couldn’t deal with the real-world suffering the films seemed to emphasize with martyr-like zeal. I really could not deal with Farrah Fawcett’s hair. So, I made a boundary. Perhaps one of the first big ones. I stopped watching those sorts of shows with my parents. I stayed in my room and read. And yes, what I read contained violence and misery, but it was of a fantastic sort that was often a catalyst for vengeance and rad battle sequences. It was the sort of violence that sparked my imagination instead of the sort that smothered it. For a while, my family didn’t get why I didn’t watch the programs with them anymore, but eventually they realized I wasn’t budging. As a result, my aunt and I discovered a mutual love of sci-fi and fantasy movies and watched those together. My mother and I discovered a mutual love of asinine comedies and psychological thrillers and watched those together. We no longer needed Lifetime to bond with each other.

And that’s why Lifetime is Television for Sadists.

(Note: I was supposed to be finishing a story today, but I chickened out and wrote this instead. Whatever.)

Horrified Press: Nightmare Stalkers & Dream Walkers Now Available for Kindle


“Welcome to the dreaded night realm . . . lingering just beneath your eyelids, where the hellish things borne of fear eagerly await your arrival. Prepare to be whiplashed to the darkest regions of 32 wicked minds, and forced to stare into their collective abyss.”  Yes, it’s NIGHTMARE NightmareStalkers4_11_14STALKERS & DREAM WALKERS (see February 13; October 23 2013, et al.) and, according to its publisher, it’s now available through Amazon as well as Lulu, including for Kindle.  And not only that, it now sports a slightly different cover commemorating a second place win in the Predators & Editors™ Readers Poll 2013 for best anthology.  Not bad for a book that purports to be about sleep.

Or maybe not sleep, exactly, but the stuff of dreams, both good ones and bad ones, including a story of mine called “Flesh,” about a man who’s become convinced that he must get fat.  Say…

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This Vicious Cabaret

So. Apparently there’s a subculture of folks who enjoy wearing female latex masks. They got some attention this week when a ‘shopped .gif of Emma Watson removing her skin to reveal Sofia Vergara went viral from Jezebel.

Someone found and linked the original material, a four minute YouTube advertisement for the “Susan” mask.

This all comes from a website: www.maskon.com.

I am not trying to hate. I repeat, there is no hateration or holleration in this dancerie.

As a queer scholar of gender and related issues, I find this fascinating. How long has this been around? Is it a sexual fetish, genderqueering, or something different? What’s the attraction? How does this affect a person’s sexuality and gender expression? There seems to be some level of embarrassment since the participants don’t reveal their actual faces (not that they should feel obligated to), but I wonder of these men are “closeted” and this is a way to be “out”.

So many questions!

This image is from the Mask On website. While I am trying to understand this phenomenon from a psychological/sociological perspective, the horror writer is just beneath that mask, screaming.