Guillermo del Toro knows horror.  He knows what frightens us and he uses that to his film-making advantage.

I can’t even watch a trailer for his movie without running from my computer, screaming in terror.

Remember Pan’s Labyrinth?  A child, a fantasy world, and fascist Spain?  I couldn’t watch it.  The Devil’s Backbone, again a child and a fantasy world set during the Spanish Civil War?  Couldn’t watch it either.

Guillermo del Toro is from Mexico.  He’s a director, screenwriter, producer and novelist.  He directed and wrote the first Hellboy movie (with Ron Perlman as Hellboy), and was a producer for the second and third installments.

Fortunately I have a resident horror expert, my son.  I keep him on staff for just such occasions.  I discussed Guillermo del Toro’s new movie, Mama, with him.  My expert had actually shown me a short film, Mama, made in Spanish with subtitles, sometime in the past year which had me so frightened I refused to touch my computer for three days.

Oh god, I think I’m gonna pass out just uploading that sucker! Jesus!

From my resident expert:

“There is actually a hypothesis which discusses why we react the way we do to the kind of horror movie Guillermo del Toro makes. It’s called The Uncanny Valley. It’s a theory of robotics and it hypothesizes that when human replicas look and act almost, but not perfectly, like human beings, it causes human observers to experience revulsion. It was originally discussed by Ernst Jentsch, a German psychiatrist, who wrote an essay in 1906 entitled, On the Psychology of the Uncanny. Sigmund Freud elaborated on this in 1919, when he wrote his own essay on the same subject, The Uncanny. Robotics professor, Masahiro Mori, (think Japanese horror films), coined the phrase, The Uncanny Valley.

“Horror comes from the grotesque, from showing something familiar acting in an unfamiliar way. We are hard-wired to expect humans to act in human ways. When a human moves like an animal, or an insect, something that is inhuman, it plays with our sensibilities and becomes frightening. Guillermo del Toro is a master at showing us a human being acting in an inhuman way.

“He also tends to center his films around children. First of all, let’s be honest, children in horror movies are creepy. However, by placing a child at the center of the abnormal activity, he’s giving adults permission to participate along with the child, because in childhood the impossible is possible. In childhood, there is no impossible.”

And then my resident horror expert showed me this:

Holy fuckin’ shit. I have to run and scream now. Later.

The ineffable joy of Zombie Apocalypse.

Zombie ApocalypseThe past two weeks have fried my brain.  I’ve been in dire need of zombie distraction.  The Walking Dead is a no-go for me – I’m so over it it’s not even a no-brainer.  It’s simply not entertaining anymore.

There I was, sitting on my bed in a daze, channel surfing, which is kind of a guy thing but that’s how desperate I was, when I stumbled across Zombie Apocalypse, a 2011 made for TV movie.  I was really surprised at the quality of the story telling.  The movie got my attention and kept it throughout.  Oh, some of the special effects were hokey, I mean… What zombie movie doesn’t have a few hokey special effects?  On the other hand, most of Zombie Apocalypse was darn good.

What did I like about the movie?  First of all, the acting.  Well cast.  Bravo!  C’mon, how can you go wrong with Ving Rhames?  For another, the interesting ways disparate groups of people from all areas of the country managed to survive.  It wasn’t only the strong, the mean, the vicious, and the crazy sociopaths who survived.  It was those who organized quickly and planned ahead– After an entire season of watching Rick avoid planning on The Walking Dead, I really got behind that.  Organize.  Come up with a plan.  Beat the zombies at their own game.  Check.

The realistic discussions about weapons made a whole lot of sense.  Why waste bullets?  As the characters themselves explain, bullets are scarce and firing a gun attracts more zombies.  The largest group of survivors were all members of an archery team.  Neat twist.  Whoever came up with that little gem was a genius.

I got a kick out of the terminology used by various groups to describe zombies – “The Dead.”  “Zombies.”  “Zombs.”  “Shufflers.”  “Runners.”  It was actually pretty cool.  “Zombs” is a cute nickname for the brainless, don’t ya think?

Zombie Apocalypse contained one thing sorely lacking in The Walking Dead– Hope– even the slimmest thread of hope is better than none at all.

Besides, I didn’t find a single character so vastly annoying I prayed the zombies would eat him/her.  How weird is that?

Authors, take note – doesn’t have to be perfect.  Must be engaging and must have courageous characters.  And hope.  Never underestimate the power of hope.

My Favorite Monsters.

There’s a huge difference between horror and gross.  Aliens is horror.  Aliens vs. Predators is gross.

Aliens grabs you by the whatever and squeezes until you squeal.  The movie evokes so many emotions, dialing up the fear factor until it becomes outright terror which morphs into righteous anger which ultimately morphs into sacrifice and heroism.

Aliens vs. Predators goes for the disgust factor, as in fear factor participants eating a live spider.

Movies like Aliens and Predator lead you through the valley of the shadow of death.  This is the difference between horror and goo.  Predator may be a gore-fest, but it’s not goo.

When I watch a horror movie, and I much prefer sci fi to slasher crappola – which I actually will not watch – I want the protagonist faced with a life or death challenge, and I want to see the protagonist rise to the occasion in a realistic fashion.  No Deus ex Machina and no Nickelodeon green slime.

Think Sarah Connor, The Terminator.

In fact, my husband and I just had an discussion about how much the Queen in Aliens weighs – because remember she holds onto Ripley and Ripley holds onto the ladder? My husband says – between 500 and 1500 lbs. I say at least a ton. Heavy exoskeleton. He says hollow, lightweight exoskeleton. Nope I say heavy. Either way IRL Ripley could not have held on, but we’ll let that go…

Ooh, I found an interesting horror movie the other day – Outlander.  No, it’s not what you think, although I did hear a Scottish brogue or two.  The story combines a few of my most very favorite tropes:

Vikings/Norse mythology.


Battle axes.

Woman warrior.

Spaceman, i.e., man out of time, time traveler.  Humanoid who crashes on early medieval earth and locates a forgotten humanoid colony (of course we’ve forgotten we’re a colony).

Mythological monster – a dragon.  The Morwin.

A tragic back story.  A decent man, spaceman, trying to repent for what he views as his sins.  Hot guys and gals battling legendary creatures.  Destruction, death, rebirth.  Story incorporated into local mythology.  Great stuff.

And you’ll recognize the players:  Jim Caviezel from Person of Interest and one of my favorite time-paradox movies,  Frequency, and Sophia Myles from the short-lived and much-mourned vampire series, Moonlight.

Thar She Blows…

You know how you come home from a two hour hike and your hands are kind of dirty from cleaning mud from the dog so you head into your bathroom to wash up? And you flip on the faucet when you hear a loud rumbling behind you coming from the toilet? And you turn around thinking, uh, hmm, wonder what…? And then the floor begins to shake while the ceramic lid on the back of the toilet bounces up and down. The water in the toilet bowl bubbles and turns a dark brown and the thought just pops into your head  – Holy shit! She’s gonna blow! And it’s gonna be a gusher!

So you run screaming from the bathroom, except the only people at home to hear you are the cats because the dog’s been called into work (yeah, Jake has a part time job as a play-socializer) and you hear the two toilets upstairs rumbling and your next thought is…

Is a naked Terminator gonna appear on my floor? And me, fresh out of German shepherds.

Is my head going to spin around while I vomit pea soup and speak in one of those scary devil voices?

Is a new volcano being born beneath my bathroom?

What the hell do you do?

Well, you run down the street to the four guys on the corner cutting a big hole in the asphalt with jackhammers and you yell at them to stop whatever it is they’re doing because they’ve obviously hit one of those prehistoric worms from Tremors and it made a beeline for your house.

I think I would have preferred a worm. “Broke into the wrong goddamned bathroom, didn’t you, you bastard!”

Just call me Reba… Yup, it was a lot like this. I had to use the elephant gun.

Better the elephant gun than city employees back-flushing a clogged water pipe, right into my house. Damn. Blew the seals on all three toilets. Bob the Plumber made an emergency visit. I had to flush my water line for three hours, until the water ran clear. According to the city, the brown water was nothing more than the sediment clogging the line, safe to drink but I might not want to wash my clothes in it. You don’t say… I’m waiting for National Geographic to show up, either that or the CDC, maybe FEMA.

***And the winner of Pride and Prejudice, drawn from a hat by my cat Ichi-ban, Stephanie!