Tag Archives: horror

Breath of Shadows #1 is rock and roll and so much more

Breath of Shadows #1

It’s the mid-1960s, and Jimmy Meadows should be on top of the world. His band’s most recent album just went gold, and they’re riding a wave to international fame. But Jimmy is driven by only one thing: where to get his next fix. Breath of Shadows #1 could easily be a story about a rockstar’s struggle with addiction but the debut issue hints at something much more interesting.

Written by Rich Douek, Breath of Shadows #1 is an interesting start to teases the horrors to come. On its surface, a rockstar seeking out some secret way to help kick an addiction could drive a story by itself. But, Douek hints at something else going on. Those working Jimmy on this path have their own agendas and see him as little more than a nuisance and the pockets to help fund their mission. With different agendas, and what seems like competing agendas, this feels like the start of a trip that will soon turn into a nightmare.

That nightmare fuel is boosted by the art of Alex Cormack. Along with the lettering of Justin Birch, the imagery of Breath of Shadows #1 will potentially leave readers squirming. Jimmy is having a lot of issues with his addiction which causes him to see and feel… things… that might leave some readers having to look away. It’s a great use of visuals to really drive home what’s going on with Jimmy and what he’s experiencing.

Rich Douek and Alex Cormack have found success previously with Road of Bones and Sea of Sorrows and Breath of Shadows looks like it’ll continue that streak. The comic has all of the setup to really create an intriguing story that might be nightmare inducing for some and have a bit of depth to it as well. An entertaining start that teases what’s to come.

Story: Rich Douek Art: Alex Cormack Letterer: Justin Birch
Story: 8.15 Art: 8.45 Overall: 8.25 Recommendation: Buy

IDW Publishing provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review


Purchase: Zeus ComicscomiXology/Kindle

Early Review: Monarch #1 is an impressive debut that builds a living, dangerous world with complex characters

Monarch #1

I’m always wary of stories that feature kids as the main characters. I immediately think it’s going to be another coming-of-age story or a childhood trauma yarn that’ll follow the same old story beats as countless other works that go down similar routes. Not that they’re bad. They’re Just a bit overused, which often makes them predictable. Rodney Barnes and Alex Lins break away from this in their new series Monarch, openly resisting what’s been done before to explore ideas that might hit harder but that must be faced regardless.

Monarch follows Travon, an orphan living in Compton. His foster home seems like a good place and he’s surrounded by people that look out for him, an important factor considering other foster kids who’ve perhaps not been as lucky as him are out to violently bully him for having it marginally better than others.

As if things weren’t hard enough for Travon, aliens descend from the skies thirsty for blood and mayhem, looking like monsters that were exclusively bred to slaughter and maim indiscriminately in the worlds they’ve targeted for invasion. Travon must fight for his life and that of his surrogate family and friends, even if it requires sacrificing things that can’t ever be recovered.

Monarch #1

Monarch sets the tone early with its relentless approach to violence. Lins captures both bully violence and alien aggression as things weighed by consequence, making them feel meaningful and necessary to the story rather than gratuitous. Travon’s living environment feels dangerous as a result, a symptom of the status quo, and it helps to build compelling characters that readers can worry about and fear for.

Barnes’ script leans on rawness to build its characters. Travon isn’t a Disneyfied version of a foster child. He’s a boy that is always aware of the hand he’s been dealt so he can never lose focus of the things that are important to him, like the people that have become family in the absence of blood relatives. Barnes makes it a point to present Travon as a survivor, a condition that might end up making him better suited than most to face down a scenario filled with vicious aliens given the things he’s had to live through at such an early age.

It’s in this arrangement that Barnes and Lins’ Monarch sets itself apart from other stories featuring coming-of-age themes and YA-like sensibilities. Nothing here is played safe or to keep readers in their comfort zones. Quite the opposite. Travon and his friends are all at risk of becoming just few more casualties of the invasion at any time. The prospect of that generates an overwhelming sense of tension that makes for compulsive reading.

Monarch #1

Fans of the 2011 sci-fi horror film Attack the Block will find a similar appreciation for roughness in the storytelling process that makes Monarch such a hard-hitting experience. In it, a group of kids from South London (an historically underprivileged area) have to fight off malicious aliens and defend their home, dysfunctional and difficult though that place may be. The movie’s strengths lie in turning commonly overlooked characters (in this case, rowdy kids that fall into a life of crime given their circumstances) into protagonists that never shed their complexities. Monarch frames its story and its characters in a similar way, letting the harsh realities of life come along for the ride without feeling the need to soften them to make audiences more comfortable. You just have to embrace the conditions of Travon’s existence and feel them along with him.

Monarch #1 is an impressive debut that builds a living, dangerous world with complex characters that already carry a considerable amount of personal history with them. It’s impossible not to root for Travon and you will keep turning the pages with a certain reluctance for fear of what might happen to him throughout. But turn them you shall, and you won’t want to stop. Monarch is just that good.

Script: Rodney Barnes Art: Alex Lins Colors: Luis NCT
Story: 10 Art: 10 Overall: 10
Recommendation: Buy and check out Barnes’ Killadelphia if you haven’t already.

Image Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

In shops February 8th

Movie Review: Skinamarink sacrifices tension for experimentation

skinamarink

The slow burn horror film can sometimes mistake quiet with tension, static shots with dread. The best among them avoid falling victim to this. Movies like Hagazussa (2017), The Dark and The Wicked (2020), and The Blackcoat’s Daughter (2015), find ways to unsettle with a carefully orchestrated sequence of events that linger and invite a closer inspection of the horrors they contain. They excel at creating a sense of discomfort that the slow pace intensifies, especially as the creepier aspects of the story take root and become ever-present once revealed.

Kyle Edward Ball’s Skinamarink, unfortunately, doesn’t quite master the intricacies of slow pacing to create a consistently scary, dread-filled, or even tense movie. Its experimental approach to storytelling, which resorts to found footage camerawork to capture the darkest corners of a house haunted by something that’s taking its time tormenting the family that lives there, produces some haunting imagery and a few truly disturbing sequences, but they are spread too far in between to create a real sense of tension and dread throughout.

A micro-budget horror film, Skinamarink centers itself around two kids inside a two-story house that saw its doors and windows disappear, specifically the ones that lead outside. Their parents seem to be missing, out of sight for the majority of the film (if not for all of it depending on how you interpret certain scenes). We only get half glimpses of the kids’ faces, nothing ever so clear that we can distinguish them elsewhere. In fact, most of the movie sticks to dimly lit corridors, ceiling corners, closeups of Legos, and a big TV showing old black & white cartoons, all in near pitch-black conditions.

skinamarink

Early on, the slow quiet mixed in with the darkness creates an effective and even dangerous sensation that makes you think you’re looking in on someone’s nightmare, a kid’s nightmare at that. What we see through the camera are things and places inside the house that would scare any child that’s afraid of the dark and has no parent nearby to protect them from it (a fear many of us go through growing up, and beyond with some people). Often the only source of light is the glow of the TV screen or a night light, sometimes the hallway light or the one in the kids’ bedroom. The rest of the time everything is covered in a blueish hue that’s meant to communicate the absolute lack of any natural source of light.

In an interview with slashfilm.com, Ball stated that he achieved this lighting effect by mounting a sun gun on top of the camera and then putting a blue filter over it, which was also used to grade with. The effect succeeds in creating a kind of living darkness where the camera’s inability to clearly capture what’s there instead creates a dark canvass that the audience’s imagination can then populate with strange things moving in the background that might not be not entirely human.

What betrays this impressive visual setup is that there are huge chunks of the film where nothing concrete happens. I can fill in the darkness with all manner of monsters and demons, but there were stretches were I felt that was all I was doing. Once I played around with my imagination, I wanted to see something more from the mind of the director. The ratio of personal input vs. storytelling is severely unbalanced.

When the story lands on a horror sequence with images crafted by the director, the scares are effective and the imagery creates its own kind of Hell. Ball knows how to produce faint but malicious shapes that leave a lasting mark in the darkness, leaving a kind of afterimage that you just can’t shake off.

skinamarink

Now, because of the story’s glacial pace, these parts of the story don’t entirely land or disturb with the force they could’ve. The reason is that too much time passes between them to allow for tension to set. Add in Ball’s overuse of the cartoons, which provide a hint as to what the kids are experiencing in certain parts of the story, and the strategy starts to feel repetitive and tedious before long.

The nightmare scenario Ball creates in Skinamarink falls in line with his previous work, available to watch on YouTube, which consists of short films based on nightmares users leave on his channel’s comment section, or on his other social media pages. These videos are absolutely terrifying and way more effective in capturing the deceitful dimensions of a nightmare. What helps them the most, though, is their length. They are very short, minutes long in most cases. They are extremely similar stylistically and they do a better job of balancing audience interpretation with specific instances of horror.

Discovering Ball’s previous work led me to believe that Skinamarink would’ve worked better as a short film. The time constraint could’ve given tension and dread a better chance to shine and to sustain itself. As is, the movie feels more like something you’d find in a museum under experimental video art. You go in, watch a bit, and then move on.

skinamarink
Taken from the Skinamarink trailer

There’s nothing wrong with experimentation or with asking audiences to put in more on their part to enrich the viewing experience. I enjoyed trying to figure out if something was actually moving in the darkness or if it was just that the camera produced too fuzzy an image because of the house’s all-consuming shadows. Problem was that the effect got stale way before the halfway point and it didn’t really offer anything new to keep me interested as the story progressed. Creepy sound design and minimalistic dialogue help turn the house into a claustrophobic nightmare of childhood fears too, but it gets lost in the tedium. Oddly enough, getting lost in the tedium is exactly what some viewers will experience while watching the movie.

Dark Ride is one of the best series on the stands and issue #4 further cements it

Dark Ride #4
Dark Ride #4 variant cover by Michael Walsh

Joshua Williamson and Andrei Bressan’s Dark Ride is a treat for horror fans. The scary theme park at the center of the story is a buffet of genre references and the monsters that inhabit it hide gruesome secrets underneath their mascot suits. While it’s fair to say Dark Ride is a fun read, it’s not without its moments of pure darkness. Issue #4 dives more freely into them.

Dark Ride #4 continues to frame Devil Land park as a place that’s being forced to get in with the times. The definition of fear has changed more than once in recent years and is currently at its most flexible. The park’s owner, Arthur Dante, and his kids Samhain and Halloween (their actual names) are scrambling for ways to update the experience and stay relevant, but eager YouTubers and the sister of missing park employee Owen Seasons are threatening to expose the real horrors operating behind the scenes.

Samhain and Owen’s sister, Summer, take a more central role in issue #4, both fearful of the park’s real power as they each try to understand it while figuring out how Owen could just vanish without a trace inside it. The story is starting to take more of a traditional shape here, with the evil elements making themselves more clearly visible than in previous issues. It looks like Samhain and Summer will end up working together to get to the bottom of the many unknowns Devil Land houses.

Summer’s search for her brother does allow Williamson and Bressan to channel bits from a movie I’m pretty sure influenced the comic’s creation: Tobe Hooper’s The Funhouse (1981). In it, a group of horny teens visit a fair that features a big and disorienting funhouse as one of its main attractions. They sneak into the ride to extend their stay after the fair shuts down, but what they get is an encounter with a monstrous and violent thing that calls the place home along with his cruel parent.

Dark Ride #4

Hooper’s approach to the empty funhouse turns the location into a strange nightmare-filled arena, with barely discernible shapes and shadows making the darkness feel dangerous at every turn. Williamson and Bressan achieve a similar sensation, but they extend it to take over the entire park. Devil Land always looks like a death trap with a mind of its own, not content with just scaring guests. It takes a bite out of customers, one way or another, and it’s the reason why the horror the creative team manages to conjure up with it feels so unique.

Bressan gives the park and its creatures a fairy tale-like aesthetic that flips classic cartoon tropes for things that look as if from another dimension, a very sadistic one at that. Their behavior reminds of the old voodoo zombie films of the black & white era, stoic but harboring a menace that could reveal itself at any moment.

Adriano Lucas’ colors have been a highlight since issue #1. They’re loud and bright and they help in creating an interesting dialogue between the real and the monstrous. I was reminded of old carnival posters, in which sideshow ads and key announcements jumped out of the page. You can almost hear the colors being shouted out via megaphone, urging people to step right up.

Dark Ride continues to be one of the best series on the stands and it looks like that won’t be changing in 2023. Williamson and Bressan are taking full advantage of the premise, adding layers upon layers of storytelling to the point of establishing narrative arcs and threads that can go on for a long time. I hope the series stays for the long run. If Devil Land were a real place, I’d have no problem buying one of those expensive, all-inclusive passes that let me visit whenever I want. Even if it risks being eaten by one of the rides.

Story: Joshua Williamson Art: Andrei Bressan
Color: Adriano Lucas Letterer: Pat Brosseau
Story: 9.0 Art: 9.0 Overall: 9.0
Recommendation: Read and then watch Hooper’s The Funhouse if you haven’t already.

Image Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE COPY by the publisher for review


Purchase: TFAW – Zeus Comics – comiXology/Kindle

Virus: 32 looks at an outbreak of violence from the the perspective of parenthood

Virus:32

The zombie/infected horror subgenre is at a point where innovation and conceptual remixes are almost a necessity for any of its movies to succeed. The Walking Dead looked at survival from a multitude of forms and perspectives, the George Romero Dead movies took on the zombie as a metaphor for social collapse, and 28 Days Later framed the figure of the zombie-like infected human as a stand-in for society’s capacity for violence in times of crisis. Uruguayan infected/zombie movie Virus: 32 throws its hat in the ring with a story that looks inward rather than outward. Not at society as a whole but on the failings of the individual. It does so quite successfully.

Directed by Gustavo Hernández, Virus: 32 centers on Iris (played by Paula Silva) and her young daughter Tata (played by Pilar García Ayala) as a virus takes over the city of Montevideo, Uruguay. Iris is a security guard in a worryingly unkempt sports club, a place that looks more like a death trap than a place where people go to play anything. Iris is presented as a free spirit that resists meeting the traditional expectations of motherhood and responsible parenting.

Iris drinks before work, carries herself as if her life is simple and responsibility-free, and sees the idea of arriving to work on time more as a suggestion than a rule. Her attitude pushes her daughter away from her. Tata doesn’t like spending time with her forgetful mom, especially as she’s treated more like a friend than a daughter.

All of this is communicated to the audience in the first ten minutes of the film, signaling the filmmaker’s intention to make that relationship power the story at a personal level. It’s effective in that once the virus breaks out and starts becoming an immediate danger for Iris and Tata, the expectations surrounding the mother/daughter relationship come to the fore with a force, paving the way for an intimate look at these characters rather than on the total breakdown of society via infection. Iris’ parenting decisions catch up to her and they become a potent source of horror as they point to Tata’s safety not being in the most capable of hands.

Virus: 32

The main threat of the story, the thing that will metaphorically test Iris’s ability to be a good parent or not, is a virus that creates vicious killers that go berserk whenever a potential victim enters their field of view. The infected here remind of those in Garth Ennis and Jacen BurrowsCrossed, or with those in the ultraviolent 2022 virus movie The Sadness (which also borrows heavily from Crossed and 28 Days Later). They don’t eat flesh. They hunger for violence instead. In Virus: 32, the infected are incapacitated for 32 seconds after killing someone or hitting someone enough to leave them on the verge of death.

Director Hernández proves to be adept in creating a sense of horror over his characters that hinges on their fears of what they stand to lose as the pandemic breaks. For starters, Tata and Iris are split up for most of the film. Iris leaves Tata alone playing with her skateboard and kicking around basketballs as she goes to make her rounds in the sports club. Moments later, the first sign of things going completely wrong start making their way inside the club, immediately putting Iris’ decision to leave her daughter all by herself into harsh perspective.

Each terrifying development after that hits different thanks to Paula Silva’s performance as Iris. Her expressive, full-bodied performance packs an emotional punch that makes every situation feel oppressively intense, especially after another character with a unique but somewhat shared problem merges into her path (bringing another yet very different type of worry about parenthood into the story). Silva wears her character’s fears and regrets on her face and it helps the movie capture the metaphors at play more clearly.

For all of Virus: 32’s accomplishments with its personal take on the formula, there are moments, particularly in the last leg of the movie, that borrow too freely from its influences, most notably 28 Days Later. The infected behave much like those in Danny Boyle’s flick and some of the chase sequence seems ripped straight from it. The ending, too, has echoes of 28 Days, but what stuck with me was its refusal to commit to a particularly traumatic character development that happens late in the story and see it all the way through. It might’ve made for a bleaker experience, but it could’ve taken the movie’s metaphors in a different direction.

Virus: 32

Virus: 32’s decision to keep things personal helps elevate its infected/zombie story above standard fare. The movie sticks to a single location for the most part, introduces new problems with a very different and compellingly written character about halfway through, and it doesn’t settle on the grand but overused metaphor of humanity being the real monster in a zombie movie that so many others default to. It looks towards parenthood, considers how much damage it can do, and then puts it in a world devolving into senseless violence. It’s safe to say the latest wave of zombie movies has a good advocate for innovation in Virus: 32.

Virus: 32 is currently streaming on Shudder.

Review: The Nice House on The Lake #12

Nice

Since the very first issue of The Nice House on The Lake, I questioned whether this would be the type of story we’d get all the answers for come closing time. It had all the makings of a mystery box narrative of the kind that resists clean revelations wrapped up in neat and pristine packages. The character-focused approach to the story, with one character being the focus of a single issue throughout, even made me think that pulling the veil back on everything wasn’t entirely the point. It was about how the end-of-the-world situation the cast was living through impacted their growth and capacity for emotional adaptability (something that made the best parts of Lost succeed so resoundingly).

Now that we’re at the last stop, issue #12, I will say I feel a bit confused. It’s not that the characters didn’t reach a point of no return that changes their entire group dynamic at the core (which, to a point, it did). It’s that it felt like a fairly lax affair that ultimately ended up telling readers that the story’s a while away yet from reaching its true end. In a way, it felt a bit too restrained for it to cause any real sense of culmination, if only to signal a break in anticipation of a potentially more terrifying second part.

If you’ve been keeping up with the story (warning: some spoilers ahead) then you’ll remember certain rules within the Nice House had changed and made everyone mortal again. It takes someone’s death to change the game entirely, though, and so an urgent expectation of consequence took over the story once that happened.

Issue #12 presents the group with a decision that can disrupt Walter’s mission for good this time, one in which the idyllic and potentially utopic living conditions of the Nice House will shift into a much harsher reality that will require thinking about survival rather than just being given everything they might need to survive, as had been the case just a few issues back.

It’s safe to say by now that the story is about the burdens that friendship can instill on a group of people that don’t know how to entirely cut away from those they’d be better off not having in their lives. To an extent, it’s about the toxicity of a certain kind of friendship and how one person’s co-dependent inclinations can invade an entire network of people.

There’s a lot of this in issue #12, with the group having to decide whether to take a drastic step or not to sever ties with Walter. Most of it works, but the way it’s addressed here takes the reader back to past exchanges with Walter and his friends that we already knew about. These sequences are presented in cell phone text threads or emails and they feel more like filler than key details finally made available to the reader.

They cut away from the action too much and lessen the impact of the group’s struggles with deciding what to do with Walter, the only constant since issue #1. James Tynion IV would’ve done well to reign in those pages back to keep the focus on the group’s principal dilemma. Álvaro Martínez Bueno’s art is, as ever, perfectly calibrated to capture the emotional chaos of the moment and his facial expression work is given even more attention to help establish the momentousness of the group’s decision. It’s easy to get lost in every panel thanks to the nuances in Martínez Bueno’s character work and it truly elevates the very delicate exchanges between the group and Walter so late in the series.

Tynion does provide more generous breadcrumbs as to what Walter is and what the Nice House’s geography truly looks like in the context of the planet’s very painful and fiery death. Readers should be able to make some reliable assumptions as to what’s operating behind the scenes, especially on who Walter’s masters could be. And yet, a sliver more of information could’ve gone a long way to heighten the terror behind the personal events that transpire in the comic’s last pages.

Despite all that, I really do hope we get more Nice House in the coming year. If this last issue is meant to the closing of a part of a larger story, then it’s easier to forgive the lax nature of it and its overreliance on text-only pages. As it stands, it doesn’t really feel like an end. There’s not even enough for an open-ended type of conclusion. In fact, it feels more like a recap with a big decision in the middle of it. If this really is how it comes to a close, though, then it’s unfortunate its final moments unravel in a manner befitting of a middle chapter in a book rather than a concluding one.

Story: James Tynion IV Art: Álvaro Martínez Bueno
Colors: Jordie Bellaire Letterer: Andworld Design
Story: 6.0 Art: 10
Recommendation: Read, then cross your fingers this amazing series continues.

DC Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review


Purchase: TFAWZeus ComicscomiXology/Kindle

Review: Dead Seas #1

Dead Seas #1

Haunted ships aren’t exactly a new thing in the horror genre. They are, in essence, floating haunted houses made even more isolated, and perhaps crueler, by virtue of being placed miles away from land, thus making it pretty hard for anyone inside them to escape. It’s mostly the same idea behind stories that take place inside haunted spaceships or monster-infested cargo ships. There’s no escape, no one to really hear you scream, and no one to call for a quick save (all things that make movies like Alien and Event Horizon so utterly terrifying).

A floating prison ship that recruits inmates to work on the highly dangerous task of extracting ectoplasm from the ghosts that are being held in it, though, adds a few wrinkles to that old formula. There just aren’t a lot of these kind of ships in horror. This fact alone opens new doors into terror, and it is precisely what writer Cavan Scott and artist Nick Brokenshire decided bet on for their new IDW Originals series Dead Seas.

Dead Seas follows Gus, an inmate who is being flown into the prison ship Perdition to work on ectoplasmic collection, an entirely new field of work that’s still in its experimental phase. The world, one character explains early on, has been wrestling with a ghost problem for going on ten years, forcing a new status quo and new opportunities to exploit. Water, it’s been found, can hurt ghosts, a discovery that’s led to the capture and holding of spirits at sea to study the ooze they secrete and their potential medical benefits. Of course, it doesn’t take long for technical difficulties and human error to cut the experiment short and put every living soul on the ship on the path towards paranormal activity.

Dead Seas #1

There are a few influences at play in the story, more as flavoring rather than dominating ingredients. Fans of the 2001 Thirteen Ghosts remake, for instance, might appreciate some of the ways in which Scott and Brokenshire present their ghosts and the vessels they’re trapped in. Spirits are found in short supply in Dead Seas #1, but what’s shown hints at an interest in exploring their more monstrous aspects (like those in the film I mentioned). These aren’t transparent outlines of deceased relatives or hazy visions of regular people. They’re nightmarish, things that look and feel dangerous, insidious, and tortured.

Ghosts are only as good as the people they haunt, though, and Dead Seas starts strong in this department. Scott and Brokenshire surround Gus with a cast of inmates and scientists with complex personalities, each carrying their personal histories on their bodies for all to see. Brokenshire’s character design does an excellent job of making each one feel like a unique person, with qualities both seen and unseen making it across in a very nuanced visual style.

Scott’s dialogue and carefully orchestrated exposition segments prioritize character work first. It’s the reason why issue #1 is lighter on ghosts, which isn’t a knock against it. Scott lets conversations play out as needed so that readers can get a good sense of their personas, especially as it pertains to their anxieties and fears. Every prisoner is there for a reason, mostly to get some benefit in exchange for their service as it pertains to their prison sentences. The stakes run high as the promise of freedom is dangled in from of them so they can overlook the risks and do the job.

Dead Seas #1

One thing the first issue could’ve done a bit better with was pacing. Scott and Brokenshire do an admirable job of worldbuilding and character development, but it all happens fast. There’s barely any breathing room to process what we learn about Gus and Perdition’s ghost operation. The story is rich enough that I would appreciate a slower pace to savor the smaller details in it.

This complaint, however, does little to detract from this impressive and refreshing horror series debut. The promise of things to come is more than enough to warrant attention and further reading. It’s hard not to love stories that tinker with traditions and expectations within genre to arrive at something new. Dead Seas falls squarely on that category and I can’t wait to see what horrors await us in Perdition.

Writer: Cavan Scott Art: Nick Brokenshire Letter: Shawn Lee
Story: 9.0 Art: 9.0 Overall: 9.0
Recommendation: Read, then research how much damage water can actually inflict on ghosts.

IDW Publishing provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review


Purchase: Zeus ComicscomiXology/Kindle

Ghostface goes to New York in Scream VI for what could be an homage to city slashers

The Big Apple is no stranger to sadistic slashers, both real and imagined. New York City has quite simply proven fertile ground for gratuitous violence, often amplified by its dark history. The city is, after all, home to some of America’s most vicious serial murderers, among them the Torso Killer, the Son of Sam, and Albert Fish (also known as The Brooklyn Vampire and The Werewolf of Wysteria). In the horror world, it has hosted slasher icon Jason Vorhees (in 1989’s Jason Takes Manhattan), Maniac’s gory mannequin collector Frank Zito (1980), and Reno Miller the Driller Killer (from the 1979 movie of the same name, directed by Abel Ferrara).

It’s now Ghostface’s turn to carve up the city as is revealed in the new teaser trailer for Scream VI, in which the survivors of the previous instalments leave Woodsboro, California behind for the promise of new terrors in the sprawling metropolis.

The teaser focuses on a subway train ride filled with people in masks and costumes, seemingly on Halloween night, as returning cast members Jenna Ortega and Melissa Barrera Martínez realize a man dressed like Ghostface is staring at them. It’s an unsettling development that is made worse by the presence of more than one passanger dressed as Ghostface. How many of them are just morbid fans of the real one and how many are actual killers remains a mystery, something we’ll definitely be looking at more closely in the movie.

The move to another location is a welcome one. There’s only so much metafictional horror storytelling you can do in the same place. In a way, Woodsboro has given everything it possibly could and it’s now time for a change of scenery. Setting swaps in franchise horror movies can be tricky to pull off. You don’t want the story to fall victim to gimmick by giving a tourist’s view of the new place with key stops in fresh crime scenes. In a sense, the movie’s success will hinge on how well it captures the feel of New York, on how well it can make Ghostface adapt to its surroundings.

It might do well to avoid all of the pitfalls that the infamous Jason Takes Manhattan movie falls so hard into. The movie’s jump from summer camp into a big city proved to be a massive flop and it quickly became the least liked entry in the Friday the 13th franchise (it also tanked at the box office). For one, the movie wasn’t shot in New York and it shows. It was filmed in Vancouver, with additional photography in Times Square and Los Angeles, and very rarely does it even resemble the place it features in its very title.

One of the scariest components of city horror is how it considers the concept of anonymity. This alone brushes aside the relative safety of small-town scenarios seen in more traditional slashers. In Woodsboro, the suspect pool is limited mostly to the town’s residents or a stranger from elsewhere. In a city, the suspect list numbers in the millions. The possibilities are near endless.

Fear ramps up under this condition, an element that makes Maniac’s Frank Zito (played by Joe Spinell), for instance, such an unsettling slasher. Maniac, it should be noted, deals in serial killings from a resident, not an outsider. The killer is homegrown, not a transfer from somewhere else. And yet, what makes him so scary still offers lessons on how to make slashers work in cities.

Frank Zito’s motivations, for instance, point to the frustrations of a very lonely and mentally disturbed man that is ignored by city folk whose attention spans are severely limited to the people they interact with on a daily basis. They don’t have time for strangers. In fact, they avoid them at all costs, a luxury that’s on short supply in small towns. Scream VI might not have the time to laser-focus on Ghostface that Maniac has, but it does present a detailed blueprint for the creation of a terrifying city location.

Maniac excels in putting victims in real places anyone could run into and trap themselves in. It portrays the darkest corners of the city as places where people can die without anyone ever finding out. A shout for help might not even help as a city of millions doesn’t stop for just one scream. Again, anonymity. Whatever’s happening to a victim somewhere is no one else’s business in an urban environment.

In a sense, the city slasher creates its own fear state, thrusting an entire city into panic and paranoia. They turn cityscapes into killing floors where anyone is a potential victim. Whereas the small town slasher makes killing personal to those looking from the outside, the city slasher makes it impersonal. The net this kind of fear casts is wider, deadlier, and more unpredictable.

Scream VI steps into a very special kind of slasher territory by making the jump to NYC. The history, the culture, the social indifference attributed to it by principle of overpopulation all combine for a cruel playground that killers can run amok in. Ghostface’s sixth outing stands to gain quite a lot if it knows how to use New York to its advantage, to find horror among the masses who more often than not look the other way.

Scream VI premieres in theaters on March 10th, 2023.

Movie Review: Sissy

Sissy

There’s a curious contradiction at the center of social media. For an idea that seems to put heavy stock on the importance of socializing, the very act of doing so online can be a very lonely affair. As such, the image we create online is often severely curated, a sanitized version of ourselves that purges the less appealing aspects of our personas. Writer/director duo Hannah Barlow and Kane Senes’ satirical horror movie Sissy puts this contradiction front and center to dissect our relationship with social media and what happens when our online profiles become scrutinized in the real world. Turns out a lot of blood can be spilled on the topic.

Sissy follows Cecilia (brilliantly played by Aisha Dee), a successful mental health influencer that creates mindfulness content. One day she runs into her childhood friend Emma (played by Hannah Barlow) and is reluctantly thrust into in-person socializing with her and her new group of friends. Tensions arise when we learn there’s a deeply rooted traumatic event that made the two friends drift apart when they were kids, an event that involves another girl who used to bully Cecilia but is now Emma’s bestie.

Things get complicated when Cecilia is invited by Emma to join her fiancé and a few friends to go to a cabin in the woods to celebrate their bachelorette party. Once there, Cecilia learns the cabin belongs to the same girl, now grown up, that used to bully her when she was little. What was originally meant to be an opportunity to reconnect with a lost friend quickly becomes a darkly comic descent into trauma, social media identities, and deaths both accidental and intentional.

Sissy

The movie is, in essence, a clever deconstruction of Cecilia, a slow unraveling of her real self and of her influencer self. It’s made obvious quite early that each version of Cecilia is at odds with the other. Whereas Cecilia the influencer comes off as a calm and collected person that’s emotionally mature and stable, offline Cecilia is a quiet and somewhat awkward person that keeps to herself and only socializes via her phone. Content creation isn’t just her job, it’s her life. Emma’s presence disrupts this as it forces the real Cecilia to get behind the wheel, traumas and anxieties laid bare for all to see.

Sissy succeeds at showing how current generations live in a constant exchange of personalities that are then equally scrutinized both online and offline. The message hits hard thanks to Aisha Dee’s performance, an emotionally nuanced showcase that presents audiences with the darkly funny consequences of bringing digital behaviors into the real world.

As Cecilia’s traumas are forced to the surface by her childhood bully, the mental health influencer starts to show the cracks on her own psyche. It’s an idea that frames online content creators as the spiritual successors of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, substituting the classic horror character’s mysterious transformation elixir for social media platforms. Cecilia makes it clear throughout that she values her digital presence more than her real one. Harlow and Senes use this to lay the breadcrumbs that guide the story towards its very funny and clever deaths.

Sissy

Sissy sneaks up on you with what it decides to make fun of and illicit laughs from. Each of the characters Cecilia interacts with is pushed to a point just shy of caricature to make them embody the least pleasant parts of social media interactions. It’s as if they were walking like/dislike buttons, offering opinions on Cecilia’s character with the scorn of an anonymous troll in a comments section. They become the things that are wrong with the internet, in part, with Cecilia being the troubled but also troubling victim at the center.

On a quick note, I was glad to see the movie not give in to 80’s horror nostalgia. At points, I expected a neon-soaked homage to the slashers of yesteryear, but the story has a wider vision that isn’t content to simply settle on genre references and Easter eggs. The same can be said of its score (by Kenneth Lampl) and musical selection. It’s all set to capture the present rather than a modernized version of the past.

Barlow and Senes have one of the best horror movies of the year on their hands with Sissy, led by an astonishing performance by Aisha Dee. It puts social media, woke stereotypes, and digital anxieties in full display to satirize them in a way that invites discussion. I for one keep coming back to it, thinking about Cecilia and all the chaos that she brought with her by the simple fact of having an online presence that hides her traumas and presents an entirely different person than the one that walks among real people. Goes to show just how much horror lies in the things that we leave out of our social media profiles.

Sissy is currently streaming on Shudder.

Advance Review: Dead Seas #1

Dead Seas #1

Haunted ships aren’t exactly a new thing in the horror genre. They are, in essence, floating haunted houses made even more isolated, and perhaps crueler, by virtue of being placed miles away from land, thus making it pretty hard for anyone inside them to escape. It’s mostly the same idea behind stories that take place inside haunted spaceships or monster-infested cargo ships. There’s no escape, no one to really hear you scream, and no one to call for a quick save (all things that make movies like Alien and Event Horizon so utterly terrifying).

A floating prison ship that recruits inmates to work on the highly dangerous task of extracting ectoplasm from the ghosts that are being held in it, though, adds a few wrinkles to that old formula. There just aren’t a lot of these kind of ships in horror. This fact alone opens new doors into terror, and it is precisely what writer Cavan Scott and artist Nick Brokenshire decided bet on for their new IDW Originals series Dead Seas.

Dead Seas follows Gus, an inmate who is being flown into the prison ship Perdition to work on ectoplasmic collection, an entirely new field of work that’s still in its experimental phase. The world, one character explains early on, has been wrestling with a ghost problem for going on ten years, forcing a new status quo and new opportunities to exploit. Water, it’s been found, can hurt ghosts, a discovery that’s led to the capture and holding of spirits at sea to study the ooze they secrete and their potential medical benefits. Of course, it doesn’t take long for technical difficulties and human error to cut the experiment short and put every living soul on the ship on the path towards paranormal activity.

Dead Seas #1

There are a few influences at play in the story, more as flavoring rather than dominating ingredients. Fans of the 2001 Thirteen Ghosts remake, for instance, might appreciate some of the ways in which Scott and Brokenshire present their ghosts and the vessels they’re trapped in. Spirits are found in short supply in Dead Seas #1, but what’s shown hints at an interest in exploring their more monstrous aspects (like those in the film I mentioned). These aren’t transparent outlines of deceased relatives or hazy visions of regular people. They’re nightmarish, things that look and feel dangerous, insidious, and tortured.

Ghosts are only as good as the people they haunt, though, and Dead Seas starts strong in this department. Scott and Brokenshire surround Gus with a cast of inmates and scientists with complex personalities, each carrying their personal histories on their bodies for all to see. Brokenshire’s character design does an excellent job of making each one feel like a unique person, with qualities both seen and unseen making it across in a very nuanced visual style.

Scott’s dialogue and carefully orchestrated exposition segments prioritize character work first. It’s the reason why issue #1 is lighter on ghosts, which isn’t a knock against it. Scott lets conversations play out as needed so that readers can get a good sense of their personas, especially as it pertains to their anxieties and fears. Every prisoner is there for a reason, mostly to get some benefit in exchange for their service as it pertains to their prison sentences. The stakes run high as the promise of freedom is dangled in from of them so they can overlook the risks and do the job.

Dead Seas #1

One thing the first issue could’ve done a bit better with was pacing. Scott and Brokenshire do an admirable job of worldbuilding and character development, but it all happens fast. There’s barely any breathing room to process what we learn about Gus and Perdition’s ghost operation. The story is rich enough that I would appreciate a slower pace to savor the smaller details in it.

This complaint, however, does little to detract from this impressive and refreshing horror series debut. The promise of things to come is more than enough to warrant attention and further reading. It’s hard not to love stories that tinker with traditions and expectations within genre to arrive at something new. Dead Seas falls squarely on that category and I can’t wait to see what horrors await us in Perdition.

Writer: Cavan Scott Art: Nick Brokenshire Letter: Shawn Lee
Story: 9.0 Art: 9.0 Overall: 9.0
Recommendation: Read, then research how much damage water can actually inflict on ghosts.

IDW Publishing provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review


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