Ghosts in the Graveyard – 3rd Annual Writer’s Digest Self-Published eBook Awards Review

Screen Shot 2015-01-22 at 10.27.55 PMWriter’s Digest judge commentary:

“Ghosts in the Graveyard is a creepy little novel, perfect for reading on cold October night. I saw echoes of William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist here, but, unlike that classic, this novel never expects the reader to think that what’s going on might not be supernatural. The twist… at the end was completely unexpected, but perfect and earned.”

Order your copy now

The Creator of #YesAllWomen, One Year Later

I stand for equality and with women in the fight against injustice, marginalization, abuse and worse.

Longreads Blog

Not everything about #YesAllWomen makes me proud. I am particularly bitter, and disappointed, that it did not live up to its name and its promise. As a marginalized woman, even I could not provide a safe space for more than a few hours for others like me.

But for those few hours, I loved what it was and could be.

Diversity Advocate Kaye M., who started the #NotAllWomen hashtag, reflects in The Toast.

Read the story

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Updated blog post – my favorite horror films (an ongoing project)

Each year I like to update my ever-growing list of favorite horror films.

The Collins English dictionary defines “horror” like this:

horror [noun]
1. extreme fear; terror; dread
2. intense loathing; hatred
3. (often plural) a thing or person causing fear, loathing, etc.
4. (modifier) having a frightening subject, esp a supernatural one a horror film

[According to them and the American Heritage(R) Dictionary of the English Language, it’s etymology is:  Middle English horrour, from Old French horreur, from Latin horror, from horrre, to tremble./trembling with fear]

The following films are presented in chronological order and are the ones I most often come back to for visceral thrills.  Some are classics that might not be nail biters, but more Gothic horror in nature, some are gory and some are scary as hell.  Many cross genres (Science Fiction in particular), but in one way or another, these are the films I come back to and exploring dark matters.  I’m also partial to films that try something new and are fully committed to their vision even if some flaws are present.

And before the attacks begin, there are some “glaring” omissions, but those are due to either my personal preferences or not getting around to certain films (which I’m intending to see asap such as Hostel, Audition, [REC] and [REC]2).  This list is based on films I’ve seen only not just ones I know are great by ratings/reviews/reputation.

Please feel free to comment and offer your thoughts on the list, your personal favorites, but again-these are my personal favorites.  I’m not saying this is a “best” list because that is subjective, but I did review a TON of sites’ “Best” lists to refresh my memory.  Some of those links appear at the bottom of the post for reference.

Without further ado…

The Phantom of the Opera (1925)
Frankenstein (1931)
King Kong (1933)
The Bride of Frankenstein (1935)
Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954)
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)
The Abominable Snowman (1957)
Psycho (1960)
The Haunting (1963)
Night of the Living Dead (1968)
Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
The Exorcist (1973)
Don’t Look Now (1973)
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)
Jaws (1975)
The Omen (1976)
Eraserhead (1977)
Halloween (1978)
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)
The Fog (1979)
Alien (1979)
Phantasm (1979)
The Shining (1980)
The Fog (1980)
The Evil Dead (1981)
An American Werewolf in London (1981)
Poltergeist (1982)
The Thing (1982)
The Dead Zone (1983)
A Nightmare of Elm Street (1984)
The Terminator (1984)
The Fly (1986)
Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986)
Aliens (1986)
Angel Heart (1987)
Evil Dead II (1987)
Fatal Attraction (1987)
Predator (1987)
Prince of Darkness (1987)
Clownhouse (1989)
Jacob’s Ladder (1990)
Misery (1990)
Nightbreed (1990)
The Silence of the Lambs (1990)
Candyman (1992)
Cronos (1993)
Fire in the Sky (1993)
Interview with the Vampire (1994)
The Addiction (1995)
The Prophesy (1995)
Se7en (1995)
Species (1995)
From Dusk Till Dawn (1996)
Scream (1996)
Cube (1997)
The Devil’s Advocate (1997)
Blade (1998)
Bride of Chucky (1998)
The Blair Witch Project (1999)
The Sixth Sense (1999)
Sleepy Hollow (1999)
Ginger Snaps (2000)
Pitch Black (2000)
Brotherhood of the Wolf (2001)
Session 9 (2001)
Signs (2002)
28 Days Later (2002)
Blade 2 (2002)
Underworld (2003)
Dawn of the Dead (2004)
Hellboy (2004)
Shaun of the Dead (2004)
Saw (2004)
Chainsaw Sally (2004)
The Descent (2005)
All the Boys Love Mandy Lane (2006)
Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)
30 Days of Night (2007)
Grindhouse (2007)
Paranormal Activity (2007)
The Poughkeepsie Tapes (2007)
Deadgirl (2008)
Let the Right One In (2008)
Quarantine (2008)
Dead Hooker in a Trunk (2009)
District 9 (2009)
The Final Destination (2009)
The House of the Devil (2009)
Jennifer’s Body (2009)
Suck (2009)
Black Death (2010)
Black Swan (2010)
Monsters (2010)
The Mutilation Man (2010)
Stake Land (2010)
Trollhunter (2010)
Tucker & Dale vs. Evil (2010)
Red State (2011)
You’re Next (2011)
American Mary (2012)
Prometheus (2012)
Sushi Girl (2012)
A Field in England (2013)
Truth or Dare (2013)
Avenged (2013)
Starry Eyes (2014)
It Follows (2014)
Willow Creek (2014)

Rotten Tomatoes – Best Horror Movies (2012 Update)

Rotten Tomatoes – Top 100 Horror Movies

best-horror-movies.com – Top 100 Horror Movies (2012)

IGN’s Top 25 Horror Movies of All-Time (2010)

Boston.com – Top 50 scariest horror movies of all time

AMC Movie Guide – The Best Horror Movies and Horror Movie Rankings

The 100 Most Popular Horror/Suspense Movies of All Time

The Boy Who Loved Transit

This is quite possibly the saddest, strangest story I’ve read in a VERY long time. Wow…

Longreads Blog

Jeff Tietz | Harper’s | May 2002 | 35 minutes (8,722 words)

This essay by Jeff Tietz first appeared in the May 2002 issue of Harper’s and was later anthologized in The Best American Crime Writing: 2003 Edition.Tietz has written for Rolling Stone, Harper’s, The New Yorker, The Atlantic and Vanity Fair. He has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award, the Pushcart Prize, and the Livingstone Journalism Award. His work has appeared in Best American Magazine Writing, Best American Crime Writing, Best American Business Writing, and The CAFO Reader. Our thanks to Tietz for allowing us to reprint it here. For those interested in an update on Darius McCollum’s story, see this 2013 The Wall Street Journal piece (subscription req’d).

***

Before leaving his girlfriend’s apartment in Crown Heights, on the morning of his nineteenth arrest for impersonating and performing the functions of New York City Transit…

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An interview with one of the hardest working women in horror – Maria Olsen

Interview with Maria Olsen: Horror Actor, Writer, Producer and Director. Owner of MOnsterworks66

I know you’re EXTREMELY busy so I greatly appreciate you taking some time out of your insane schedule to do this.

MV5BNTY1Mzg1MjA2MV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMDUxMzY0NA@@._V1_SY317_CR20,0,214,317_AL_Robert: What is your earliest memory?

Maria: My earliest memory is of when I was about 4 years old and I was trying to sneak into the spare room in our apartment to get hold of the little pink hard candies that I knew my dad had hidden in the drawer in there… I don’t think I made it in!

Robert: What do you do to relax? Any specific hobbies or activities you like to do that would surprise your fans?

Maria: I actually don’t know if I ever relax because my mind is working all the time, but I do try to make some quiet time for reading and watching movies while knitting my designer scarves (although “watching movies” is arguably still “work” for me). If I had more free time, I would write more, get back into the kitchen to cook the gourmet meals I used to cook when I was still in South Africa and start dabbling in photography. If I had oodles of free time, I would love to travel more…especially to Sweden!

Robert: If tomorrow were your last day, what would be the first thing you would do?

Maria: Spend the whole day with my partner, my dad and my cats.

maria_olsen-image-5Robert: Why do you think you’ve succeeded in an industry where so many others, particularly women, haven’t?

Maria: I don’t think I’ve yet succeeded in the industry…I’m just working a little more than is usual because I’m lucky to have an interesting look and on-screen presence. I’ll talk about how I succeeded in the industry once I’ve won that Oscar…

Also, why certain people work more than others is a combination of a lot of factors including luck, marketing, age, ethnicity, look, networking, on-set behavior, representation, luck and, oh yeah, possibly also talent…

Robert: To date, what has been your most challenging role in a film, on any level (physically, mentally, acting, etc.)?

Maria: I would count my leading role as Mia in the feature Reunion as one of my most challenging. Not only was I in almost every scene, the role was also incredibly physically and emotionally taxing and, when I went home each night, my brain was mush and I was usually battered and bruised. The film looks incredible, though, and we should premiere in June this year.

maria_olsen2_dinerRobert: If you could star in/direct the re-make of a classic horror/sci-fi film, what film would that be and why?

Maria: I would like to be in a re-make of Metropolis; I would like this very much, lol! As I’m now too old to play Maria and the Robot, I think I’d like to try for Rotwang, the mad scientist. Yes, I get that he’s a guy but we’re progressive now, yes? And things can change :D

Robert: What can you tell me about the series “Our Zombie Mother?”

Maria: At the moment, my co-producer, Patrick Griffin of Griffin Studios, and I are taking meetings with distributors in an attempt to secure distribution for a first season of this TV/web-series. We’ve already shot the pilot, and it’s out of post-production although we’re keeping it under wraps for now, and we’re looking to score an overseas and / or domestic distribution deal to bring in some further production financing before we move ahead with developing and shooting the first season.

LIF-poster-FinalRobert: I contributed to a film you worked on called “Live-In Fear.” What should my readers know about this horror film?

Maria: Your readers should know that Live-In Fear is presently with our distributors, WildEye Releasing, and that they are working on poster and DVD-cover artwork prior to our release. As soon as I hear our release date, I will be shouting it from the rooftops! Brandon Scullion’s awesome film has got wonderful reviews so far – it premiered at a Los Angeles festival last September – and I can’t wait for it to get out there!

Robert: Is there an actor/actress present, or past, you most wish you could/could have worked with? Why?

Maria: Oh there are many! I would love to work with Meryl Streep, Jodie Foster and Gillian Anderson, to name a few. And of those that are already gone, Vivien Leigh would have been on top of my list to work with either on stage or on screen.

Robert: How much do you draw upon yourself when creating a character?

Maria: I think it was Meryl Streep who said that, in order to create a convincing character, you must draw out from yourself the things you have in common with that character and work from there. Yes, I’m paraphrasing her horribly, but the basic idea remains: we all have aspects of the characters we play within us, and it’s up to us to find them and work on them until they become dominant during the time we live as that role. This is very much what I do for the larger roles that I play.

Robert: What do you like the most about working in the horror industry? And what do you like the least?

Maria: I really like the fact that the genre gives actors the opportunity to play meatier roles than are usually found in more mainstream genres. In horror, actors can explore deviant and dysfunctional characters to an extent that just isn’t possible in other genres, and I, for one, relish this challenge.

What I like least is the fact that there seems to be no sense of risk-taking at the studio level as we see either the same types of horror vehicles recycled, sequel after sequel after sequel or the-remake-of-the-day. Innovation, envelope-pushing and risk-taking is thriving in the indie horror scene, though, and without it we’d never have films like Starry Eyes.

a18dce546fbbf83ab11405d72379799dRobert: I loved you in “Starry Eyes” – what was it like working on this amazing film?

Maria: I really enjoyed working with Dennis and Kevin again – they had previously directed me in the short film, Curtain, which you can find on their Parallactic Pictures’ website – and I loved making new friends on set, including the super-talented Alex Essoe! I loved my character, especially the understated way that Dennis and Kevin wanted me to play her, and I’m thrilled with the reception both the film and my character are getting.

Everyone who sees it seems to have a different interpretation of who and what I am, and some of the ideas that are making their way to me are just SO intriguing! I’m honored to have been a part of Starry Eyes, and I hope that I get to work with Dennis and Kevin on many future projects.

OlsenGayoftheDeadAnotherRobert: Is there anything else you’d like to share with readers of my blog?

Maria: Yes, absolutely! Two further films of mine have been released since Starry Eyes, and I’d love to give them a shoutout! The first is Hansel vs. Gretel, which is getting awesome reviews and which can be found on Netflix streaming and at all the usual DVD outlets.

The second is a film I co-produced along with Randal Kamradt of Soliloquy Films: the fantasy adventure feature Faraway. You can find Faraway on iTunes and other platforms (details on its Facebook page):

Faraway iTunes link: https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/faraway/id961918912

Faraway Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/farawayfilm

Also be on the lookout for Gore Orphanage, Axeman II: Overkill and Live-In Fear (another of my co-productions, this time with Brandon Scullion’s Iodine Sky Productions), which should all be released later this year.

Robert: Thank again for taking time to chat with me!

================================

maria-e1312795615888Follow and learn more about Maria online:

https://twitter.com/mariaolsen66

http://www.facebook.com/mariaolsenfanpage

http://www.facebook.com/monsterworks66

http://www.imdb.com/name/nm1864017/

The Skin I’m In: Stories By Writers of Color

Longreads Blog

I wanted to share these stories about love and music and beauty and family. These stories are also about hair, about plastic surgery, about skin color, about contending with the harmful standards imposed by white privilege. They’re all written by writers of color, whose stories don’t always get the air time they deserve. My inspirations for this list: summer is coming; Arabelle Sicardi’s unique aesthetic; my haircut; Baltimore; and more. I hope you find a writer you love and a story that resonates with you, today.

1. “Hair Trajectory.” (Sharisse T. Smith, The Los Angeles Review, April 2015)

This essay blew me away. Sharisse writes about the history of her hair: the painful braiding process, and how it affects every aspect of her life. The offensive questions from strangers. The nervousness she feels when she finds out she’s pregnant with a girl, and the irony infused in her daughter’s…

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An interview with a rising scream queen to be reckoned with – get to know Arielle Brachfeld

ArielleBrachfeld4An interview with Arielle Brachfeld: rising Scream Queen, smart ass, unabashed nerd, and SNES aficionado.

Robert: What is your earliest memory?

Arielle: My earliest memory is the smell and feel of clover in the backyard.

Robert: What do you do to relax? Any specific hobbies or activities you like to do that would surprise your fans?

Arielle: I play video games (currently “Borderlands the Pre-sequel”) generally to relax. When I’m dealing with a lot of anxiety I always want to get up to a forest and hike. In terms of hobbies, I love to fence (foil) and I’m also palms deep in a puppet show about socks who think they’re great Shakespearean actors. Yes, you read that sentence correctly.

Robert: If tomorrow were your last day, what would be the first thing you would do?

Arielle: I’d get to the deepest mountain forest I could and bring some of the best sci fi and fantasy books I can. And probably try and get away with something that no one in their right mind would try, you know, for the thrill of it.

Robert: Why do you think you’re succeeding in an industry where so many others, particularly women, haven’t?

Arielle: I don’t know that I’ve succeeded. I’m working, which is no easy feat don’t get me wrong. But, I’m busting my butt every day in every way I know how to keep working. I produce, I write, I shoot, I edit. I make sure I always have an artistic project I’m engaged in. I just don’t know how to function without making movies. I always come back to that I’d be doing this whether I get paid or not, because it’s what I love.

That in and of itself has been tremendous. It’s not about success, it’s about always being able to do what you love. It is cool to realize that you’ve hit certain milestones in your career. I just always try to give everything I can to a character. And to always remember that I’m on set playing and doing something that I love.

Robert: To date, what has been your most challenging role in a film, on any level (physically, mentally, acting, etc.)?

IMG_2692Arielle: The most challenging role has probably been Deputy Darlene Whitfield in “Axeman 2: Overkill.” She was so masculine, and so physical, and not a victim in the slightest. I’m used to playing very vulnerable characters, and Darlene was a complete departure. She opened my eyes to what strong characters can do.

Actually, without Darlene, I wouldn’t have been able to tackle Beatrice in “Good Family Times” nearly as well. Beatrice had a phenomenal fortitude and internal strength that I had insight into because of Darlene.

Robert: If you could star in the re-make of a classic horror/sci-fi film, what film would that be and why?

Arielle: Oooooh, this is a tough one. I don’t ever, EVER, want “Alien” to be remade. It’s a masterpiece. But I might actually kill somebody to play a similar character to Ripley. In terms of how bad ass and groundbreaking the character is, I’d love to try and do her justice. The other answer is Kara Thrace, Starbuck, from “BSG.” Katee Sackhoff is one of my favorite actors of all time. I would never want to remake that character, but I’m not ashamed of some of the illegal things I would do to get a chance to play her. It’s one of the best series ever, and I would die happy being a part of that universe in any capacity.

Robert: Speaking of killer casting, what can you tell me about your upcoming film “Good Family Times” written and directed by Staci Layne Wilson?

72dpi_GoodFamilyTimesTeaserArielle: I can tell you that you’ve never really seen anything like “Good Family Times.” I can’t tell you how wonderful it is to be given freedom to just play as an actor. It was exhilarating working with Staci, and all my “Good Family Times family. When Staci and Jen (both of whom I admire tremendously) approached me about the part, I felt like I won the lottery. To work with people of that high of caliber on material like this is a dream.

I think I squealed when I listened to Staci’s message. I’ve never had the opportunity to play someone as complex as Beatrice. The only real things in the world are her mannequin family members. It’s a head trip. I knew it was going to be the project of a lifetime, especially when I found out the other actors on board. I’m a huge fan of Elissa’s. And, I really admire and look up to Jen and her work. I was thrilled to work with Richard, Matt, Sean Keller, Elissa, Jen, and Nikita. I couldn’t believe I had this opportunity.

Robert: I am friends with Maria Olsen, and contributed to another film you worked on called “Live-In Fear.” What can you share about this horror film?

MV5BMTgxOTM2MzcwMF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwOTQ5ODU3OA@@._V1_SY317_CR3,0,214,317_AL_Arielle: Maria is one of my all time favorite artists and people!! I had the absolute joy of having “Live-In-Fear” be the first project I worked on with this renaissance woman. After working with her, I thought that this is the type of artist I want to be. You find people that inspire you and that share this joy of film making. She’s an artist through and through, and simply one of the best humans you will ever meet.

“LIF” was such a cool experience (pun intended). We filmed in this tiny town, Brian Head, Utah, in the dead of winter. I was so worried the townsfolk would turn the shoot into a real horror film. We were definitely outsiders.

I got a chance to see it play at a festival this past fall, and it’s such a cool, weird film. I was actually disturbed watching it. It gets under your skin, and it’s so unsettling. Brandon Scullion has such a unique and powerful voice as a filmmaker. It was wonderful working with a group of people who were just happy to be making art in the middle of freaking Utah.

Robert: Is there an actor/actress present, or past, you most wish you could/could have worked with? Why?

Arielle: Katherine Hepburn is the first to pop in my head. What a classy, smart ass lady. I think Philip Seymour Hoffman was a genius of our generation. He gave everything to his characters without question. I admire artists that put everything on the line the way he did.

Robert: How much do you draw upon yourself when creating a character?

Arielle: I think my single sanity saver is that I try and separate myself as much as I can from my characters. When I hear cut, I don’t want them hanging around any longer then they have to. But, I give myself permission to bleed for them. When I take on a character, I want to give all my heart to them, whatever type of person they are. Acting is terrifying. You’re going to feel things you try not to feel day to day.

Robert: What do you like the most about working in the horror industry? And what do you like the least?

ArielleBrachfeld3Arielle: Horror is the only genre where you can go to such emotional extremes on a single project. I love that. I love the bare humanity that exists. I also love the horror community. The fans are phenomenal. The other film makers are always excited to help on a project. It’s such a supportive, tight community.

I also love that horror has such amazing female characters. I’ve not encountered the wealth of talent, on or behind the camera, that horror draws. Oddly enough, it’s a very woman-centric world.

I hate trying to wash the fake blood off at the end of the day. That stuff stains! I’ve got my gore clothes that I wear certain days on set if I know it’s a heavy makeup day. Our washing machine was broken earlier this year, and it was always weird trying to wash my gore clothes in a laundromat.

Robert: I know you’ve done model work and have a love of fashion. Do you see yourself pursuing this further in the future? Do you have any interest in costume or set design for films?

ArielleBrachfeld2Arielle: Costumes are a great way for me to get to know the character better. I find that specific, tangible things add an incredible dimension to these people that you don’t know is there until you’re wearing them. I remember talking with Staci about a talisman for Beatrice. We were shooting necklace ideas back and forth, and then she sent me this pic of an antique bee. I was like “Yeah, that’s her.”

I love the reality that fashion photography creates. You can create this whole world in a single frame. Josh Banks, who I’ve the absolute pleasure of working with fashion wise for years, really opened my eyes to the artistry behind fashion, and the creativity employed. Before working with him, I thought it was about looking cool. I don’t think I’d pursue it beyond the occasional shoot, but I appreciate the artistry tremendously.

Robert: Is there anything else you’d like to share with readers of my blog?

Arielle: I would love to give some shout outs to the film noir I’m shooting, “Day For Night.” It’s directed by Michael Chrisoulakis, written by Guy J. Jackson, and I get the pleasure of sharing the screen with two iconic women, Lin Shay, and Sally Kirkland. I also get the pleasure of working with Camilla Jackson, Azim Rizk, Ruben Pla, and DuJuan Johnson.

Also want to give a shout out to the upcoming Macbeth adaptation, “The Letter Red,” written by Edward Gusts, myself and Joston Theney. I’ve had the pleasure of working with Joston and Ed on several features, and they are two of my favorite artists of all time. I’m thrilled we have so many “Axeman 2” alum working on this film. “Axeman 2” is in post and will be out later this year! (Maria Olsen has a great part in it, FYI)

Finally, “Chemical Peel,” which was directed by Hank Braxtan, written by Dan Sinclair, with Natalie Victoria and I responsible for this messed up story, and distributed by Lionsgate, is available now.

I’m still pinching myself that I get to work with all of these amazing people.

Oh! And sock puppets! Check out SockPuppetShakespeare.com You’ll never be the same!

Robert: Thank you for taking time out to chat with me!

Arielle: Thank you so much Robert!! Thank you so so much for helping indie film get some love! It’s a joy working on these projects and I want to give as much love as I can to all these amazing artists.

ArielleBrachfeld1Follow and learn more about Arielle and her films online:

https://twitter.com/abrachfeld
https://www.facebook.com/ActressArielleBrachfeld
http://www.modelmayhem.com/1727866
https://twitter.com/mariaolsen66
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2290473/
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MlTLuVkLYGw
https://twitter.com/jenniferblancb
https://twitter.com/biehn_michael
http://blancbiehnproductions.com/
https://twitter.com/BlancBiehnFilms

Horror film review: “It Follows” – STD PSA AND a stunning allegory for the necrotization of the American dream-SEE/OWN

It-Follows-Movie-PosterDecay: the new indie horror smash hit “It Follows” is a stunning look at the decay of American society.

***Note that while I avoid too many spoilers, I would highly recommend seeing “It Follows” and then reading my review/commentary.***

The horror genre has always held a magnifying glass up to American society. Current trends, urban legends, phobias and angst often are just below the surface of some of the great horror films in each decade. Social commentary in horror, much like science fiction, allows writers and directors to share their vision or fear in a chilling translation.

George A. Romero’s undead films are a classic example of using horror to speak to larger contemporary societal concerns (60s racism/civil rights in “Night of the Living Dead,” 70s consumerism in “Dawn of the Dead,” etc.).

I recently saw/reviewed Michael Ojeda’s “Avenged” (review here), and that film was like a PSA on the dangers of texting and driving. “It Follows” feels like a PSA on sex generally and unsafe/unprotected sex specifically. In fact, you could view the film as a straight forward nightmare young people face when confronted with the possibility of contracting an STD. The momentary passion overriding the logic part of the brain and then the guilt/shame/fear of what just occurred. Yes, you could view “It Follows” as the “Just Say No” of horror films.

But I think something deeper is at play here. It was clear to me from the opening moments of the film, that David Robert Mitchell, writer/director of “It Follows,” has some serious commentary on America in mind. Though clearly centered on American obsession with, and fear of, sex, there is constant symbolism of a decaying nation. The first character/victim we see, comes out of a house, frantic and the home address appears to be 1492. It seemed an oddly specific number to be on display (it could have been a coincidence of scouting location), and combined with the rest of the film seemed very intentional. it-follo9ws-maika-monroe

We watch as the girl runs into the street, clearly distressed, as her father appears and is confused/concerned about what is happening to his little girl. This would strike a chord with any father realizing their daughter is crossing over into womanhood and that scary mess is a horror story of its own.

The girl flees the broken, and clearly insufficient safety of family and home, and run off to face her fate alone. I was struck that seemed to be a metaphor for the fear and isolation the young feel as they cross the sexual meridian into adulthood. There’s that moment of realization of lost innocence that seems still within reach, but you know it’s forever beyond your grasp.

After the shocking opening, we meet the main character, Jay Height, played perfectly throughout by Maika Monroe. She’s fishing a leaf out of the backyard pool before diving in and relaxing in the water. The pool still has some debris so it’s not entirely clean much like everything in her life. She talks to her sister about having a date with a guy she’s been seeing and before exiting catches neighbor boys spying on her. This starts a persistent thread of voyeurism and sexual tension that runs throughout the film. As the camera pans across college quads, hospitals, etc. we constantly see couples flirting or making out.

Despite all the risks, the sexual drive is ever-present like an electric current through our DNA. it_follows_french_trailerFinished swimming, we see what comes across as a slice of 21st century Millennial life. Jay and her sister, Kelly (Lili Sepe) live in a home that, unlike most films, actually looks and feels like a real home. Full of stuff in every room, it gives the Height home an unkempt, but lived in feeling.

You get the sense of a family that occupies the space, but fatigue, boredom and neglect has let things start to gather up. Jay, her sister and their friends seem to just hang out and watch old horror/sci-fi films with no real sense of purpose. We later see that Jay is in college and her sister and friend work in an ice cream shop of some kind. But you get an overall impression of everyone hanging out in a perpetual state of inertia with no clear path ahead or ambition. Just occupying time and space and not really focused on anything specific.

Recent studies have shown (check out this article), Millennials are struggling with unprecedented student loan debt, delaying marriage, making marginally more with a college degree than without and are more racially diverse than Baby Boomers. They still tend to be optimistic about the future, but the present holds a lot of challenges for this generation. This group, given their focus probably isn’t seeing a silver lining ahead.

Their mom, who is either in the kitchen or asleep throughout the film, interestingly is never seen directly. It seemed to me that the crumbling family is again speaking to America. When things start to go bad for Jay, her only comment to a friend, not to her daughter is that she’s sorry “that happened to her.” Completely devoid of tangible emotion or any vested interest in what clearly was a horrific event. She’s disconnected from her family and reality symbolic of the disillusioned middle class unsure how to connect with their Millennial children or the great family, America, decaying and slipping away all around them. ItFollows2The father is seen in photos but I don’t recall that he’s either named or his whereabouts explained. Are the parents divorced? Is he dead? In jail?

The mom, played by Debbie Williams, is there but not there. From what we see, and character comments, it’s clear mom is focused on smoking, drinking and not much else. Definitely not leading the family or involved in the ensuing chaos as we usually see in horror films (i.e., “Sinister,” “Insidious,” etc.). In one example, Jay and Kelly take a walk so the latter can have a cigarette. They discuss how the mom would reacting to her habit and while noting she’d be upset, the comment is she’d most likely just steal them from her. As we see the home and the neighbor’s across the street, I was again struck by the recurring theme of decay.

I initially thought there was a continuity error due to location filming on two blocks in the city. The neighbor’s home has a five-digit address and when the camera shows the Height home, it appears to have far fewer digits. However, in later shots you can see there are five and in the same block range as the neighbor. It’s just that some of the numbers have faded and the family has replaced it. bp76ax3vviw2gjrtt27j“It Follows” was filmed in Detroit which is further featuring of the eroding infrastructure spreading from the city outward and loss of the American dream.

Throughout the movie as characters seek out answers, try and evade their fates, we see abandoned homes and decay spreading throughout the urban landscape. The film features solid cinematography, editing and a soundtrack full of really unique music. If anything, the look/feel, pacing, editing and music reminded me of the 1970s/1980s and some of my favorite horror films by John Carpenter.

Similar to Ti West’s amazing “House of the Devil” which itself was shot/edited to appear to be a lost 1980s horror film, this film avoids specific dating. The family friend always hanging out at their home, Yara (Olivia Luccardi) has a sea shell-shaped device which, based on context is an ereader. In the opening scene, the first victim uses a cell phone to call her parents. But other than that, the decor of the Height home, vehicles, music all seems non-contemporary. I love the timeless feel and it will help the film have an impact without being seen as “so 2014” in any way.

it-follows-cannes-2014-4At its heart, we have a new “urban legend” if you will about “It” that is an STD that passes through unprotected sex. If you have sex with someone who’s been cursed, it passes to you. “It” will follow you, slowly but surely no matter where you go. The only hope you have is to pass it on to someone else. However, if they don’t out run “It” and are caught, they’re out of the line and it’s back to hunting you.

So we begin with Jay deciding to pursue sex with the guy she’s started dating, “Hugh” (Jake Weary). The scene is passionate and probably extremely common young first encounter in the back seat of a car. It seems like exactly what Jay was expecting and hoping for…

That is until Hugh knocks her out and she awakens tied to a chair in her underwear. He wanders around the condemned and hollowed out building, more decay, as he tries to assure her that he means her no harm. No further harm and that she has to pay attention. itThis bit of exposition sets up the rules around “It” as he awaits its appearance. And sure enough a naked woman appears below and is soon approaching them. Hugh makes sure “It” sees Jay, and selfishly that it no longer notices him. Assured that the curse has passed, he gets Jay out of there, races to her home and dumps her, still bound and in underwear in front of her home. All this to the shock and horror of her sister and friends. It_Follows_review_-_CANNES_article_story_large

As they hunt down “Hugh” with the help of neighbor Greg (Daniel Zovatto) in his mom’s station wagon (again symbol of aging things), they learn there may be no escape. Clearly having sex with others is the only choice, but this presents an amoral dilemma. Do you attack others as Hugh did? Do you have sex with a lot of people and not tell them?

At times the way the characters are struggling with their unsafe sexual practices reminded me of the 1995 film “Kids.” Like that film, “It Follows” doesn’t offer easy answers and choices get increasingly moral ambiguous or immoral as time passes. it-follows-620x400That means we see characters slowly take more chances and, as options run out, resort to actions they would probably never have considered before this started.

As a final touch of American symbolism, Jay has sex with one of her friends covered in a blanket with red, white and blue stripes. They both know it’s probably their death sentence, but of all the encounters, it appears to be the one that’s based truly on love and friendship. A desperate act to buy more time while they face an uncertain cursed future. itFollows_THUMB-1419020972241As for “It” what can we learn from what’s shown to us?

We see that it can impact the real world and without spoiling anything, appears to be vulnerable to some things including potentially water. When one of the characters embarks on a interesting approach to delaying “It,” it did make me wonder what would happen if you got on a plane and flew to Europe and slept your way across the brothels of Europe?

I also began to wonder, why the “It” is a specific curse that appears to be focused on a long line of heterosexuals. Although we see flashes of different “It” with a form that varies throughout the film changing gender, age and even appearing as people currently alive, the focus of “It” appears to be hetero partners. Granted, we’re only seeing a snapshot of time and victims, but I did wonder what would have happened if Jay had sex with a girlfriend or one of the guys impacted had paired up with another guy?

Would that have broken the curse? Or just spread it down new avenues? And what about contraceptives? Would a condom save the day or is it a psychic transfer with an infected person no barrier could stop? Clearly I let my mind wander a bit trying to figure out escape paths for the characters. Clearly a lesser film would have been more focused on titillation, but “It Follows” presents sex, at least unprotected sex as best we can tell, as risking your life. And when I am emotionally invested in the characters and wanting to figure out the mystery, it’s a good thing from my perspective. It_Follows-0-2000-0-1125-crop

Reminding me of something from early John Carpenter films, with touches of Ti West and other great contemporary horror directors, I loved “It Follows.”

Maika Monroe is phenomenal and utterly believable as a Millennial college-age gal working through a sexual nightmare. This is a tour-de-force, career-launching role and she owns it much like Jamie Lee Curtis did in Carpenter’s 1978 horror classic “Halloween” (and one of my all-time favorite films). I’m looking forward to what she does next! David Robert Mitchell is to be commended for his writing and direction creating a smooth, atmospheric thriller with one of my favorite soundtracks to date.

The unrelenting “It” is like the “Shape” (aka Michael Myers) in “Halloween,” an inevitable force of dread that will never stop coming for you. I haven’t seen his prior film “The Myth of the American Sleepover” (2010) also filmed in Detroit, but will check it out now. I’m feeling my age a bit that he’s four years younger than me and already has two films under his belt (three if you include his 2002 short “Virgin”) – but I’ll catch up I swear!

The pacing is perfect and a fresh antidote for the hyper kinetic “Fast & the Furious” style of horror movie gore porn from the last few years. I did hear some mixed reactions to the film, the ending in particular, from younger folks in the audience. My guess is they probably only know “horror” from last 10 years, and the pacing and moral ambiguity of it all may seem off to some. cdn.indiewire.com

However, if you cherish original, indie horror films and if you love your horror old school, “It Follows” should be seen asap. And seen again. And owned eventually. I love all kinds of horror films from the goriest blood tests to the slow burners.

And I can safely say that “It Follows” is one I’ll be enjoying many times in the future.

Watch the trailer See the film

Follow the team behind the film:

Maika Dillon Monroe on Twitter

David Robert Mitchell on Twitter

It Follows on Twitter

Get the information you need to save lives:

Safer sex

Preventing HIV and other STDs

Practice Safer Sex

An intimate interview with horror’s queen of screams – Brooke Lewis

unnamedEnjoy an amazing interview with the beyond amazing Brooke Lewis!

Photos credit: ROGER A. SCHECK

Her Twitter profile sums her up perfectly: Actress/Scream Queen/Ms. Vampy/TV Personality/Board Certified Life Coach/Dating Expert/Ask The Drama Queen Advice Columnist/Hot Mess

But, having known her for several years, I would add: One of the most approachable, caring people I’ve ever met. Deeply passionate about helping others, loyal to her fans and always on the move. She is a rare celebrity who is equal parts artist working her craft and an all around great, down-to-earth person who hasn’t let the L.A./Hollywood lifestyle change her.

Robert: What is your earliest memory?

Brooke: I remember being like 3 years old, sitting in front of the TV and pretending I was on the shows! Swear! I was a shy and insecure kid and I think I would improv with the characters on my favorite TV shows to have an escape. I was either destined to be an actress or even CRAZY at a young age!!! ;)

Robert: What do you do to relax? Any specific hobbies or activities you like to do that would surprise your fans?

IMG_4182_2_RETOUCHEDBrooke: Oh, Robert, I don’t think my fans would be surprised at all to hear that I listen to jazz and blues music and drink lotsa wine or tequila to relax! ;) Although I no longer sing much, they may be surprised to hear that when I am really sad or stressed, I will blast my favorite Broadway show tunes and belt my brains out in my living room!

Robert: If tomorrow were your last day, what would be the first thing you would do?

Brooke: If tomorrow were my last day, I would eat and drink my face off and not even think about calories! I would fly to Italy, Greece and Paris on a private jet! I would let all my family, friends and fans KNOW how loved they are and how grateful I was to be here with them! :)

Robert: Why do you think you’ve succeeded in an industry where so many others, particularly women, haven’t?

IMG_4278Brooke: Thank you, Robert! THAT is subjective now! ;) But, I appreciate you saying that! :) I think I have sacrificed a LOT and fought a hard fight in Hollywood! I keep going when people tell me NO!!! :) It only motivates me more! I have had many disappointments and failures, but I am COMMITTED and I DO NOT QUIT! :) I hold on to my INTEGRITY, as best I can and I try to sleep well on my pillow at night.

Robert: Well you’ve succeeded in winning many hearts & minds who adore you.

Brooke: Awwww Robert, now you will make me cry!!! ;) I just try to stay in GRATITUDE!!! It is soooo hard sometimes when the chips are down or when you feel like the industry is not on your side! I would not be here this long without my fabulous fans… and, like you, those whom have transformed into friends.

IMG_4310Robert: To date, what has been your most challenging role in a film, on any level (physically, mentally, acting, etc.)?

Brooke: I think doing live Broadway theatre like TONY N’ TINA’S WEDDING 7 shows a week for 3 years was sooo challenging in every way…more so than film and TV! Thank God I was young! ;) SPRINKLES was one of my most challenging emotional roles yet! I never imagined a short film would create such a dark, emotional challenge for me! Loved every minute of that piece and am grateful it won me “Best Actress” at 3 festivals.

Robert: If you could direct/star in the re-make of a classic horror film, what film would that be and why?

IMG_4315Brooke: I have NO interest in directing! :) Too hard and I have no patience for actors!!! :P BUT, I would love to star in THE SHINING or AMITYVILLE HORROR :). Oooo… or SWAMP THING :P.

Robert: OMFG – if ANYONE could be the love interest (ala Adrienne Barbeau’s character in the 1982 film) it would be you!!! Note to DC Comics – MAKE THIS HAPPEN NOW!

Robert: Speaking of killer casting… What can you share about working on ‘Killer Rack‘ an upcoming film? I love the Twitter profile description: “Betty’s new breast implants are Lovecraftian monsters hell bent on world domination” I understand it’s part of a “shared universe” with an early film “Slime City?”

20150324105226-KR_poster_semi-finalBrooke: LOL! I think I’m kinda a “Lamberson Lifer” :)… along with the super talents of Debbie Rochon, Lloyd Kaufman, Roy Frumkes and Robert Bozek! Seriously, after working with Greg Lamberson on SLIME CITY MASSACRE years ago, I’m kinda his for the taking! When he first reached out to me to play the Voice of the “Killer Rack” (BOOBS) creature, I thought he was out of his mind, but when I read the script, I was ALL IN! I think the audience is going to be pleasantly surprised at the smarts behind this one! Anyone who knows me knows how much I stand for empowering women and the writer and male lead, Paul McGinnis, addressed this perfectly! Of course, it is totally over-the-top and comical, but it wouldn’t work any other way! As a woman who has battled body image issues herself and also life coaches women and young actresses, I think it is great to get important messages out to young people in a comical fashion. Many props and thanks to Greg, Paul, the crew and newcomer, Jessica Zwolack, whose acting was sensational!

Robert: Is there an actor/actress present, or past, you most wish you could/could have worked with? Why?

IMG_4266Brooke: Well, you KNOW my ICONS are Elizabeth Taylor and Mae West!!! They were POWERHOUSE, FEARLESS WOMEN in an era that did not support that!!! They both took Hollywood by storm and broke through the “Boys Club”. They were sooooo sexy, beautiful and strong! Plus, they were a little crazy and dramatic like me! ;) I am INSPIRED!!!!!!!!!

Robert: How much do you draw upon yourself when creating a character? Ms. Vampy for example or any other role near/dear to your heart.

Brooke: As an actress, I was trained that is all about your “essence” transferred to each different character, under imaginary circumstances. I believe in sense memory work and using what you have personally experienced to make each experience and emotion real, BUT… I have really learned that I gravitate toward roles that contain my “niche” (thanks to Jonn Dapolito!!!). That’s the reason Ms. Vampy is so dear to me and makes sense! She totally is my alter-ego who is sassy, mouthy, fearless and does not care what people think of her! I want to BE her! So, I MUST have those qualities and essence deep down inside. I’m really drawn to roles that are POWERFUL for women!!!

IMG_4276Robert: What do you like the most about working in the horror industry? And what do you like the least?

Brooke: The horror genre has the best and most loyal fans in the world! I love that horror embraces women of all ages, ethnicity and body types! We see powerful women both in front of and behind the camera in horror. The thing I like least is that every person who woke up one day and declared himself a filmmaker, seemed to jump into making a horror flick ;)! Remember, filmmaking takes study, practice, skill and hopefully talent ;)!

Robert: I know we’ve spoken many times about your work to combat the very real horror of bullying. Can you share some of your ongoing efforts and anything new you’ll be pursuing to help support those who are suffering from bullying?

Brooke: As an actress and life coach, I am committed to being a huge support system for people who are victims of bullying! I have written for The Huffington Post, spoken out at events for the LGBT Community in Hollywood, was a Celebrity Judge at The No Bull Teen Video Awards 2014 and had the privilege to coach a few of the beautiful women on Lifetime’s LITTLE WOMEN LA. I want to spread the word that, “You are never alone on this issue!”

I am a Board Certified Life Coach and cover ALL issues, so readers can check out my website.

Robert: You’re about to embark on a Reality TV experience of some kind. I know you probably can’t share details at this point, however, can you expand upon what drew you to this project?

6.2012-12-16-03.11.32Brooke: Yes! I have been acting, writing, producing and kicking around Hollywood and the entertainment business for many years. The trends and tides have changed and are ever-changing, so I can fight it or embrace it! I have actually booked a few Reality spots in the past year, but they did not air or get picked up, so you did not see them. I have been involved in and attached to several shows, so I am embracing wherever the “Hollywood Universe” takes me ;)! I CHOOSE to believe that I can be a successful actress in ALL genres and mediums :)!

I want to thank you for taking time out of your ever-full schedule to chat with me.

Thank you, Robert, for this opportunity, your talents and being YOU!!!

XO Brooke Lewis

IMG_4188_2_RETOUCHEDFollow and learn more about Brooke online:

https://twitter.com/brookelewisla

http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0506989/

http://www.brookelewis.com/

http://beyouandbefearlesslifecoach.com/

http://www.msvampy.net/

51bbkHxmDCL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-v3-big,TopRight,0,-55_SX278_SY278_PIkin4,BottomRight,1,22_AA300_SH20_OU01_One of my horror ebooks was inspired by and is dedicated to Brooke. A late night Twitter conversation that revolved around “Curvy Zombies” got my head spinning and soon produced: Dead Woman’s Curve.