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Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

The Slumber Party Massacre, or: Drill, Baby, Drill

Though it’s not officially a horror month on the Collab…it’s the Blog Collab. It’s never not horror month. In a world that seems especially horrific currently, we don’t have answers on the Collab. We only have horror–horror from the ’80s, thank god.

The Film:

The Slumber Party Massacre

The Premise:

After a serial killer escapes from prison, he grabs a power drill as his weapon of choice to terrorize a group of high school girls at a slumber party.

The Ramble:

Though a mass murderer’s recent escape from a prison in Venice Beach, CA is headline news, no one seems too concerned. And though I’m not usually one to call for an increased police presence, this feels like a good opportunity to have a few more patrol officers out and about. But no–it’s relatively easy for the escaped killer to murder a phone repair woman in broad daylight with a power drill.

Oblivious to the danger, senior Trish and her friends are looking forward to a girls only slumber party as her parents will be away for the weekend. Though there are boys around who are all too keen to crash the party, the girls insist they won’t be welcome. Also decidedly not invited is new girl Valerie. As Valerie happens to be gorgeous, naturally athletic, and an agreeable person, Trish immediately dislikes her.

A group of teenagers walk together away from their school building.

Before you know it, one of the girls who is locked inside the school also gets murdered in broad daylight. This is possibly the saddest death as none of her friends seem to notice or even question why she’s not around for the slumber party? I could be misremembering–but, like many an early horror character death, she’s both gone and forgotten.

That evening, Valerie most definitely has more important things to do than sit around and obsess about her snub as the party goes on next door. She insists to her precocious little sister Courtney that she doesn’t care at all about the petty squabble with Trish’s girl gang. Nevertheless, Val is watching quite closely out the window…and she’s got a bad feeling that has nothing to do with the rivalry.

A young woman with feathered blonde hair looks suspiciously around a room.

Something doesn’t seem right to Trish either. Honestly, I’d be concerned too: the kindly neighbor who has agreed to check in on Trish makes himself feel right at home by just showing up in and around the house, incidentally holding a butcher knife. Meanwhile, the boys who are ostensibly among her friends have decided to creep on the evening’s activities by the open window as the girls undress. Quite a few people here really need a refresher on trespassing and consent, and probably the meaning of friendship while we’re at it.

When one of the girls (Diane maybe?) breaks the code of sisterhood and invites her boyfriend to meet her outside the house, there is a horror movie price to be paid quickly and violently. The party goes from bad to worse when the pizza delivery guy shows up dead on the doorstep, making the fatal error of turning the pizza box upside down. Relatably, this doesn’t prevent the girls from stress eating.

Three young women sit back to back on the floor in front of a fireplace. They are each holding a knife.

As the two boys who have joined the party decide to make a break for it to get help, Val considers whether she should finally listen to her gut and investigate the party next door. But will there even be any partygoers left by then?

The Rating:

3/5 Pink Panther Heads

My biggest issue here is how surprisingly slow the first half of the film is, despite multiple onscreen power drill murders. It takes quite a while for the power drill killer to catch up with the slumber party crowd, and the effect doesn’t necessarily build suspense. If you’re going to murder people with power tools after escaping from prison, you should probably waste no time. Then again, one lesson we learn from this film is that police interest in investigating serial murders in 1980s Venice Beach is negligible.

When we do finally get into the swing of things, it’s quite satisfying. I can’t think of other horror films that feature a power drill as the murderer’s weapon of choice, and there are some creatively gruesome deaths as a result. Apparently the filmmakers didn’t catch on to the sly humor of screenwriter Rita Mae Brown, so there are some genuinely funny moments even if the tone is a bit off the mark at times.

Annoyingly, our characters are all pretty one-dimensional. Remembering names or any distinguishing characteristics is next to impossible. Even the power drill killer isn’t a particularly interesting person, opting for murdering teen girls…because? That’s just what crazy people do, according to the film’s logic. I was hoping for even a brief backstory that might help us unpack the killer’s motives, but we don’t get any such preparation from the filmmakers.

I wish the Val/Trish stories had been woven together more effectively too. I have to admire Val’s resourcefulness when she unwittingly stumbles across the active site of a serial killer at work. However, she is completely separate from most of the action of the film, and it all gets a bit clunky in terms of pacing. There are some fun elements of ’80s horror at work here, but they don’t necessarily align to become a classic.

On a side note, I love the extremely ’80s horror theme music.

Would my blog wife invite this one to the slumber party or lock it outside with a power drill killer on the loose? Find out in her review!

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Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II, or: You Should See Me in a (Possessed Demon) Crown

I really wasn’t sure if Horror in March (not quite the same ring as Christmas in July) would backfire terribly when we settled on the theme. Some of our themes have been very hit or miss lately, though more because of world events and less because of the films themselves (but some have been pretty forgettable). Would a focus on horror deliver as expected or merely repeat a disappointing cycle?

Not to spoil this review too much, but I do feel horror has played a major role in making this month somewhat manageable. Admittedly the significant progress in vaccine rollout has helped too. Ultimately, I think the moral of the story here is to always choose horror, even (and especially) when your reality is rather nightmarish. It’s the right thing to do.

The Film:

Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II

The Premise:

Decades after her fiery death, a prom queen returns to seek vengeance against all those who cross her path.

The Ramble:

On a dark and stormy night, a veiled woman arrives at an empty church, seeking to make a confession. What else does one do on a dark and stormy night? Our mysterious young woman reveals that she has committed many sins with many boys and loved every minute of it Oh my.

Who is this figure but the spirit of the titular Mary Lou, 1957 high school it girl and prom queen? Except Mary Lou never got to wear her crown, a fact her restless spirit will never forget. Something of a 1950s rebel, Mary Lou is busted at prom making out with bad boy Buddy (totally the name of a ’50s teen living life on the edge). Humiliated boyfriend Billy opts for a petty revenge scheme, throwing a lit stink bomb towards Mary Lou just as she’s about to undergo the prom queen coronation. This goes horrendously wrong, and Mary Lou literally goes up in flames. Though Billy regrets this immediately and Buddy does try to help (sort of), Mary Lou burns to death–but not before sending a rather murderous glare towards her boyfriend.

Mary Lou, a young woman with dark hair, screams in agony as she burns in a fire.

Thirty years later, Billy is principal of the high school and a father to teen Craig. Good to know your life probably won’t be significantly derailed when–oopsy–you pull a prank that results in the actual murder of your girlfriend. (I know this is totally beside the point, but we NEVER have a single mention of Craig’s mother; it’s possible she died or divorced Billy, but I suspect he may have just sprung from nothing, Greek myth-style.) Goody two-shoes Vicky is dating Craig, who is considered a bad boy because he has a motorcycle, puts sugar in his coffee, gives his girlfriend a cross necklace. You know, all of the typical bad boy indicators.

Vicky, a teen with long blonde hair, cuddles up to her boyfriend in the booth of a diner.

Meanwhile, Buddy has chosen the life of a priest to atone for his sins, but mostly to set up some dramatically tense attempts at exorcism.

Vicky has been nominated for prom queen, so you know she’s a popular girl. However, she is also on friendly terms with that weird kid who tried to invent a potato radio and Jess, the troubled teen with an unwanted pregnancy…so she’s not that kind of popular girl. Helping to plan the prom, Vicky uncovers a chest full of 1950s fashions, including Mary Lou’s cursed prom queen crown. Shortly after, Jess stays late after school and ends up hanging from the ceiling lights, though we know her death isn’t the suicide it appears to be.

Worryingly, these aren’t the only sinister goings-on. Vicky has strange hallucinations about Mary Lou and eerie figures chanting her name. Her troubled state of mind bleeds into her life as Vicky tells off a rival for prom queen, talks back to her mother, and even slaps the shit out of a girl she mistakes for Mary Lou. Given all of Vicky’s strange behavior, her family and boyfriend Craig believe she needs help as soon as possible. Vicky’s mother concedes that an intervention is needed in the form of Jesus. When Father Buddy speaks with Vicky, he is sufficiently freaked out to warn Billy that Mary Lou may have the power to possess and kill her ex-boyfriend. Priests are completely immune to the influence of demons, of course, so no need to worry on that front, everyone. You can go ahead and scrub that idea from your mind because it’s not even in the realm of possibility for Mary Lou to bring about any harm to members of the clergy. Clearly.

Vicky, wearing nothing but a towel, looks sinisterly at her own reflection as she brushes her hair.

When Mary Lou does decide to completely take over Vicky’s life, she cranks up the dial waaaaaay beyond 10. Just in time for prom, Mary Lou is living(?) her best life, bossing people around when it comes to prom, using dated ’50s slang, and showing off nearly godlike murder powers. On a scale of 1 to witnessing one of your classmates burn to death onstage, just how fucked up is the big prom night going to be this time around?

The Rating:

4.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

I know, I know–a completely unrelated sequel to Prom Night that features none of the original cast and was released a full 7 years after the fact has no right being this good. But this is such a fun watch, and I don’t get why this isn’t at least considered a cult classic (as far as I know, anyway). The world wasn’t ready, I suppose.

First, I am always here for an ’80s lewk, and there are some strong statement fashions here. I appreciate when genres steal from other genres as well, and this film does things right on that front. It’s very much a horror film, especially as things escalate in the latter half, but we have some very John Hughes teen movie moments and characters, as well as some elements that feel right out of a soap opera. If horror isn’t going to be melodramatic AF, then what’s the point, honestly?

I do think some of the feminist themes in our film are incidental or applied retroactively. I choose to interpret this as a feminist masterpiece; however, all of Mary Lou’s behavior as a queen bitch isn’t necessarily set up as aspirational (in the way that, to me, it truly is). Most of the time, Mary Lou serves as an example of how one should not live life. Vicky seems to be the ideal prom queen: compassionate, monogamous, organized, high-achieving. As is so often the case, it’s much more fun to see Vicky exhibit supposedly bad behavior than live a wet blanket existence. She’s so repressed that it’s a relief to see her let loose as Mary Lou; I could see one interpretation of the film drawing a parallel between Vicky’s coming of age/sexual awakening and her embrace of Mary Lou’s identity, which so many people around her consider dirty and shameful.

No matter how you interpret things, Mary Lou provides plenty of entertainment and some delightfully creepy hallucinatory scenes.

Would my blog wife dial up Mary Lou’s number for a good time or snatch the crown from her undeserving skull? Read her review to find out!

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Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Terror Train, or: Japes on a Train

*Spoilers below*

You know, I don’t think we’ve reviewed a single Jamie Lee Curtis film on the Blog Collab. Not for lack of interest; we simply prefer for our picks to fly under the radar a bit more than many of the iconic classics that feature JLC. This week’s pick may very well be a first then–a Jamie Lee Curtis feature, if not…er…quite a modern classic.

The Film:

Terror Train

The Premise:

A costume frat party on a train provides a perfect opportunity for a disguised killer to strike.

The Ramble:

It’s bonfire night for the rowdiest frat on campus, meaning the time for hijinks is nigh. Poor Kenny, the nerdy/sensitive one, is relieved he will shortly be able to ditch the unfortunate beanie all of the new pledges must wear. Kenny is eager to prove how cool he is by sleeping with gorgeous Alana, who is supposedly very into the sensitive young man.

A group of college students wear red letter jackets as they stand outside at a party in winter. Two of the group wear red and white beanies that mark them as uninitiated frat members.

Unfortunately, the frat bros know too well that Kenny is extremely creeped out by dead body parts (like a normal human, honestly). All of this elaborate setup is part of a pretty nasty prank involving Kenny cuddling up to a cadaver intended for the med students to use (which, btw, would likely get all those involved ejected from the program). Pressured into participating in the prank, Alana is clueless about the dead body involved in all of this, and expresses remorse immediately. She’s especially regretful when Kenny is ultimately hospitalized following the incident.

But that’s totally beside the point, right? Completely in the past, never to resurface again. Fast forward 3 years, and we’re ready to celebrate the new year and the impeding graduation of the frat boy/med. student crowd aboard a steam train. Obviously. Everyone is conveniently dressed in costume to amplify the homicidal chaos festive atmosphere.

Alana, a young woman played by Jamie Lee Curtis, sits next to her boyfriend on a train.

Silly Ed is dressed as Groucho Marx, though his comedic stylings are more in line with classic dad jokes. Mercifully, the truly terrible jokes don’t last long–Ed is the first to go, stabbed before the train even leaves the station. Ed falls perfectly onto the train tracks, though not before the mysterious killer claims the costume for upcoming use.

As the train takes off on its novelty journey, Alana and bff Mitchy are thrilled, vowing to be friends forever. Yikes. Meanwhile, David Copperfield is lurking around, prepared to do magic and stand around dark corners. Doc, voted most douchey in the class, is eager to remember his best prank, the one targeting Kenny. This is rather a sore spot for Alana, who (wisely) hasn’t been a fan of Doc since that night. Unfortunately, Doc is very much part of the friend group, as he is dating Mitchy and is a close friend of Mo’s.

The magician David Copperfield performs a magic trick with a rose for the benefit of Alana, who looks on in amazement.

Predictably, Doc is determined to be an asshole, making it clear to Alana that the idea for the party train was all his. Mo, who made the entire evening seem like a surprise planned for Alana, is SOL, and the two get into a fight. Unbeknownst to the group of friends, they are down another med. student–Jackson, dressed in a lizard costume.

This is more or less the way our film unfolds: drama between various couples, David Copperfield magical interludes, more and more grisly murders. Interspersed are scenes with the train conductor and crew, who end up as amateur detectives when they begin to realize something is amiss.

In one of our more dramatic sequences, Mitchy sees Doc and Mo head off to a separate train car with two foxy magician’s assistants. Upset with her boyfriend’s infidelity, Mitchy bumps into lizard man Jackson…or does she? Seeking romantic vengeance becomes a dangerous pursuit, especially when Mitchy realizes just how cold Jackson’s hands are.

A young woman with blonde hair sits on the top bunk in a sleep car, a man in a green lizard costume standing in front of her with a clawed hand on her knee.

Once the number of murders on this train ride becomes impossible to ignore, the crew has the brilliant idea of stopping the train to search for the killer. Because that’s sure to help. Alana has put two and two together, warning Doc that she suspects Kenny is the killer on the train, seeking revenge against all in their group of friends. Can they unmask the murderer before it’s too late?

The Rating:

3/5 Pink Panther Heads

There’s no escaping the fact that Jamie Lee Curtis looks damn good as a lady pirate, and that alone carries perhaps 75% of this film.

Beyond that, I didn’t hate this. I can certainly see why this film hasn’t become a horror classic in the way that other JLC vehicles have. There are a LOT of scenes of 20-somethings just standing around in various costumes that aren’t particularly necessary. And while I do appreciate the effort made to make the train crew more than nameless, faceless background characters, most of their scenes are a bit boring IMHO.

Given the opening scene of the film, it’s pretty obvious who the murderer will turn out to be. However, David Copperfield is creepy enough here (and probably generally, to be honest) that he makes for a pretty convincing red herring, especially when he seems to take a shine to Alana. Lines of dialogue he utters to her include “Do you believe in magic?” and, shortly after, “I’ll have to convince you.” Shudder.

I will say, even when it was obvious where the film was going, there were still a few surprises. An extremely spoiler-y one is that Kenny’s most dramatic disguise is that of lady assistant to David Copperfield. Which does leave me with more questions than answers–like for how many years was Kenny an assistant to DC? And does David Copperfield just not believe in background checks, because supposedly Kenny killed someone, perhaps while institutionalized, before becoming an assistant. However, the more important focus here is that it’s problematic to depict people who dress in drag or are gender non-conforming as criminals who are out to trick others. It feels gross, honestly–and not necessarily an attitude that’s a complete throwback. These ideas and depictions are very much alive and well today.

On a final, petty level, I was annoyed that Alana didn’t get the last swing at Kenny. I feel if you’re terrorized by a murderer who kills the vast majority of your friends, you should at least be the one to hit him with a shovel in the end. In horror movie land anyway.

Would my blog wife guess this one’s card correctly or make it disappear altogether? Find out in her review!

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Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

We Summon the Darkness, or: That’s So Metal

*Significant spoilers below*

It’s March. It’s 2021. In a nightmarish year (that does have some glimmers of hope ahead), what else are we going to do on the Collab but dive into horror? October is much too far away for us to wait, so be prepared this month for some creepy isolated houses, plenty of gore, and…hairspray I guess?

The Film:

We Summon the Darkness

The Premise:

Despite the dangers of an at-large Satanic cult lurking in rural Indiana, three young women invite a group of boys back to their isolated cabin following a 1980s metal concert.

The Ramble:

In 1980s Indiana, metalheads Alexis, Val, and Beverly are off to a concert they’ve been eagerly anticipating for weeks. The girls seem to be thrilled not only for the evening out, but also for the freedom of driving along for miles, stopping for emergency supplies as needed (i.e. Hostess snacks), and teasing out their ’80s hair to new heights.

With big '80s hair, teen girls Alexis, Val, and Bev drive along a highway in Indiana. Alexis is driving, Val is applying make-up, and Bev is eating a Ring Pop.

Along the way, the girls receive a cryptic warning from a gas station attendant, who cautions them about the existence of evil. He’s not entirely off-base here; there have been a series of Satanic ritual murders across the state lately, with the perps still at large. Standing in opposition to Satanism/the moral decline of the nation is fear-mongering pastor John Henry Butler, your standard Mike Pence clone.

It also becomes increasingly clear that the friendship between our leading ladies isn’t all it’s cracked up to be; leader Alexis and flirty Val quite often take sides against “the quiet one,” Bev. I’m guessing that’s not going to create any further tension later.

Despite all of this, things are going quite swimmingly until an ’80s stoner van passes our main trio on the highway, tossing a brown liquid from the window, which temporarily obstructs driver Alexis’ view. Stopping by the side of the road to assess the damage, Alexis discovers the liquid is only a chocolate milkshake; however, it’s enough to draw her ire.

In the lobby of a concert venue, three young men wearing metal- and grunge-inspired clothes talk to a group of young women.

Arriving at the concert at last, the girl gang spots none other than the van involved with the milkshake incident. Deciding to pull a prank on the group inside the van, Val lights a firecracker and tosses it inside. As three guys scramble out in a panic, their mood shifts from irritated to apologetic when they realize how they have wronged fellow metalheads with impressively styled ’80s hair. Bev in particular bonds with mulleted Mark, the drummer in the dudes’ band (because of course they’re in a band).

Following the high of the concert, Alexis impulsively invites the guys to join the girls at her father’s isolated cabin in the woods. And by cabin, she actually means mansion. As everyone settles down outside the massive house with a red Solo cup in hand, Bev seems to get the jitters after discovering a switchblade in Mark’s jacket. When Alexis reassures Bev that they are sisters and will be okay, the two rejoin the party for a round of “Never Have I Ever.” The festivities take a dark turn when, after Alexis claims she has never drugged anyone’s drink, all three girls take a sip. Y I K E S. One by one, the three guys lose consciousness as they realize they, in fact, have been drugged.

When the boys are awakened, they are tied in a room marked with Satanic symbols. Are their abductors members of the Satanic cult committing murders throughout the Indiana countryside? Disappointingly, no.

In a dimly lit room, teens Alexis, Val, and Bev stand ominously, dressed in all black. Alexis twirls a knife in her fingers.

As it turns out, Alexis is the daughter of the Reverend Butler, who leads the religious cult Daughters of the Dawn. The followers of this cult have been responsible for all of the recent Satanic murders, operating on a rotating schedule for homicide duty. This convoluted plan is all in service of driving the unsuspecting public to the comforting embrace of a religious cult when faced with the evils of Satanism. As Alexis remarks using eerily Trumpian rhetoric, “It doesn’t matter if it’s true; it only matters if people believe it.”

Of course, the plan doesn’t go entirely as expected when two of the dudes manage to escape. Meanwhile, Bev, still new to the cult lifestyle, has an increasing number of doubts about her commitment to highly illegal and immoral activities in the name of God. Things only get more complicated when Alexis’ stepmother unexpectedly arrives home, and the girls must cover their tracks while simultaneously coming up with creatively homicidal uses for hairspray.

Who will survive when the lights go out, “Heaven Is a Place on Earth” cranks out on the stereo, and a certain religious cult leader returns home?

The Rating:

3/5 Pink Panther Heads

I won’t deny there’s a lot to enjoy about this film’s setup. The ’80s metal looks are excellent, and I particularly relish all of the big (or crimped or mulleted) hair on display–and we’ve got some suitably evocative tunes to transport us. I’m here for a girl gang, especially if their bond is so strong they’ll be killing together in the name of Satan.

However, the number of twists just for the sake of having a twist is insufferable. Most importantly, I personally do not forgive this film for promising Satanic murder cults and then not delivering. The supposed big reveal is almost immediately taken away from us for the less intriguing/believable social commentary of religious extremists representing the true danger to our society. No arguments here, but…Satanic cults. Why give up that plot element for a religious cult?

On top of this, the major twist is not thought through. The film does give us a hint that the girls are not who they appear as Alexis struggles to remember the details of her first concert or identify basically any pop culture figures. However, beyond this, the film just demonstrates how poorly planned the cult’s actions are. One: rotating responsibilities for carrying out a series of executions is a recipe for disaster. More people committing murder for the first time = more people making amateurish mistakes. And, considering that part of the plan means giving repressed teen girls (young women? I don’t know how old these characters are supposed to be, honestly) a taste of freedom, it’s a wonder there are any members of the cult left.

There are also a series of confusing contradictions in the murder plan; first, Alexis claims the ritual will look like the work of a Satanic cult. Then, she tries to set up the boys’ deaths as a murder/suicide. Pick ONE. It also makes zero sense that the girls seem to impulsively choose their victims while at the concert. I’m not speaking from experience here, but it strikes me that the victims of your staged murder should be picked out well in advance. And there’s absolutely no reason they need to be metalheads; it’s stated quite clearly that the murders have nothing to do with their victims’ connection to the so-called music of Satan.

As if all this weren’t bad enough, the story ultimately undermines the characters’ agency and shows that their sisterhood is cheap. A group of teen girls committing Satanic murders is maybe not the most original premise for a film, but it’s one I would likely have enjoyed so much more than this. In the end, the girls are merely brainwashed to carry out someone else’s plan, which is deeply unsatisfying. Can women not even have a Satanic murder club without it being all about men???

Speaking of which, I really hated the end, and the degree to which Bev and Mark seemed to have some stupid unspoken connection. Bev was cool AF and the one I related to most with her constant snacking, but, in Mark’s position, I still wouldn’t trust her even a little bit. After Bev drugs him, plans his death, and is complicit in his friend’s murder, Mark is much too willing to believe her sudden change of heart and trust she will help him.

I did have fun watching this one, but I experienced a lot of frustrations along the way.

Would my blog wife bust out her trusty pentagram and stage a ritual murder with this one or come at it with a lighter and a can full of hairspray? Find out in her review!

Life Rants

Things My Brain Has Decided Will Cure My Insomnia: Covid-19 Edition

There are few things I love more than sleep, especially in times of stress. My tired, worried brain is always on board for the moments during the day when it doesn’t have any connection to reality.

Of course, the times when I am most stressed (and handling things worst) are inevitably when my brain decides lying awake and worrying is the best way to cope.

Here are some irrational things my exhausted brain has tried to deal with sleepless nights–none of which have particularly worked. Perhaps, at the very least, these thoughts will leave you with the comfort that you’re not the only one with a strange, questionably functional mind.

Time travel sci-fi TV with an Occupy Wall Street theme

Promotional poster for the TV show Continuum shows a woman holding a small glowing sphere with a stormy cityscape behind her.
Image by Rwtia64 on Continuum Wiki

You know how certain shows seem to jump from one streaming service to another before suddenly disappearing altogether? I made the unfortunate discovery this fate had befallen the Canadian time travel show Continuum, which was so great and (like so much sci-fi) incredibly underrated. And, as stubborn insomniac brains are wont to do, my brain decided re-watching the show in the night’s wee hours was the only thing that would help me magically drift off to sleep–and, naturally, paid to stream all 4 seasons. Who could have guessed the explosions, terrorist plots, machine gun fire, and hostage situations happening regularly on the show wouldn’t be particularly conducive to a restful sleep?

New wave pop of the 1980s

A cassette tape rests on a bright pink and yellow background.
Image by Kevin Sanderson from Pixabay

Aztec Camera has been stuck in my head since “Somewhere in My Heart” was unexpectedly featured in the first film of Shark Month 2020, 47 Meters Down: Uncaged. Since then, my brain has decided the soundtrack of 2:00 A.M. includes The Jam, Elvis Costello, Squeeze, Eurythmics, Madness, and the Smiths (ugh Morrissey, I know). So perhaps not so much new wave as British artists with a lot of feelings and suspiciously upbeat rhythms masking angry social commentary?

Relaxation apps

Screenshot of the Calm app, showing the sleep story Blue Gold, narrated by Stephen Fry.

I’ve tried the free versions of both Calm and Headspace within the past month and realized how strange the world of relaxation/meditation apps truly is. Calm is oddly committed to celebrity performances, including Stephen Fry narrating a stroll through the lavender fields of Provence and John McEnroe reading the rules of tennis. It also features a playlist of rain falling on leaves that’s been curated by LeBron James? Whatever the fuck that means. Headspace has its share of surreal experiences too, such as a soothing visit to an antiques shop that is home to a dog who trusts you intrinsically.

Video game playthroughs

Cover of the PlayStation game Spyro the Dragon, featuring a small purple dragon posing confidently.
Image by Emmaboo60 on Spyro Wiki

Obviously it’s incredibly soothing to listen to the gentle sounds of fictional dragons burning other animals alive and occasionally pushing them from cliffs. Though, honestly, I’m talking about the late ’90s/early ’00s Spyro games for PS1, so there is actually an innocent charm to all of this. And if it makes you feel any better, the creatures in the original game were actually gems that had been transformed to give the illusion of being alive…or something like that. Also making my insomnia playlist are the choice-based games Life Is Strange and The Wolf Among Us, which both involve difficult ethical dilemmas with some terrible unintended consequences. Friends tell me there are also marble racing competitions and Tetris world championships available on YouTube.

Sleepytime tea

A tin of Celestial Seasonings Sleepytime herb tea shows a bear in a nightgown sleeping on an armchair.
Image by Washthebowl on Flickr

Honestly, this is the biggest crock I’ve ever bought into, and I want to light the rest of the box on fire. Not only does this tea taste absolutely awful, but it also has zero effect on my ability to sleep. In fact, the only thing this tea is good for is making you get up to pee like 6 times in the night. Fuck the lying fucking bear on the box’s art who was probably already in hibernation mode before drinking this goddamn tea in the first place.

With all of this being said, I have to count myself lucky. Along with my friends and family, I’m in good health. And I have been able to continue working from home (knock on wood). I’m sure there’s part of my brain that knows this and is trying to do its bit by taking worrying into hyperdrive. So, on the one hand, you may say all I’m doing is needlessly losing sleep by sitting around and stressing about the state of the world. But to you I say I’m a goddamn hero right now, doing my part to prevent the spread of a deadly virus for which there is no cure.

And yeah, not sleeping.

How are you coping (and staying safe) during the novel coronavirus pandemic?

Cover photo by twinsfisch on Unsplash

four members of a band in stage costumes lean together in private conversation
Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

The Dirt(bag Men of ’80s Rock)

We often escape from reality on the Blog Collab with terrible horror, bad sci-fi, and cheesy rom-coms. Not so this month, which brings us biopics and true stories grounded wholly in reality. Well…as real as the life of a rock star can be.

The Film:

The Dirt

The Premise:

The rise and fall (and rise?) of Mötley Crüe is recounted as the rock band contends with drug use, banging each other’s girlfriends, and the most rock ‘n roll problem of all: artistic differences.

The Ramble:

Our narrator sets the tone accurately here by claiming the ’80s are the worst decade of all time: stirring up shallow outrage, using glib humor rather irritatingly, and managing to come off with a smug superiority. Oh, you wanted a glowing review reaffirming that rock lives forever? Sorry to break it to you, but nostalgia’s dead.

a man in a government office holds his ID card as it burns

Lucky for us, we’re going to get insightful narration from all 4 major members of the band. Nikki Sixx (aka Lord Byron from the biopic Mary Shelley–this actor definitely has a type), founder of the band, grows up constantly fighting with a mother who blames him for driving his father away. At a fairly young age, Nikki decides he’s had enough of this situation and slices his arm open in rage, making accusations against his mother to guarantee he’ll be taken into foster care.

Tommy Lee, in contrast, has supportive parents who just sort of shrug when he raids his sister’s wardrobe. A mega fan of rock music, Tommy meets Nikki after a show that erupts in a massive fight. With his trusty drumsticks at the ready, Tommy convinces Nikki to make him the drummer in a new band just getting started.

a young man wearing colorful clothes reads in front of a wall of late 1970s posters

Enter Mick Mars, advertising himself in the papers as a rude, aggressive guitarist. A few years older than his band mates and suffering from a degenerative bone disorder, Mick takes no shit from the kiddos in the band.

As the band is still missing a lead singer, Tommy suggests his old high school buddy Vince Neil. Nikki and Mick aren’t particularly thrilled with his vibe, but since our dude is charismatic AF, they decide to give him a chance.

three young men in punk clothing look into the distance among people at an outdoor party

After throwing around a few truly terrible band names, the group quickly decides on the name Mötley Crüe. In the spirit of rock ‘n roll, a massive fight between the band and audience erupts at their first gig. However, their unrestrained music and attitude gains them a loyal following, and it’s not long before they are signed with a record label and have their own manager.

Their career gets an additional boost when the band goes on tour with Ozzy, who I learned was once blonde and did things like lick his own piss off the ground (the blonde thing surprised me more, TBH).

Am I forgetting something? Oh, right–the massive amount of partying, drugs, and sleeping around that happens throughout. Everyone seems to be sleeping with everyone else’s girlfriend, but the band is typically too fucked up to give a shit.

a man in all-black looks out confrontationally while the members of a metal band look on

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the band’s carefree days are numbered. When Vince causes an accident while driving under the influence, passenger and fellow rocker Razzle dies, while the passengers of the other car are seriously injured. After serving just 19 days in prison(!????!?!?!?), Vince is released on the condition he stay sober. When everyone around you is shooting up heroin and chugging hard liquor, this is a rather challenging task.

Meanwhile, Tommy is marrying actress Heather Locklear. Nikki, serving as best man, arrives at the wedding high out of his mind. He later overdoses and is reported dead. After immediately shooting up a bunch of heroin (again), Nikki realizes he needs to get sober. However, sober Nikki = perfectionist asshole Nikki, and a falling out means Vince is leaving the band.

Soon after, Vince is hit with the devastating news that his young daughter has cancer. The band is dropped by the label, seeming to end the Crüe’s run. Can anything get the band back together?

The Rating:

2/5 Pink Panther Heads

Points earned for over-the-top ’80s rock fashions; points detracted for toxic masculinity.

As a viewer, I was frequently confused about the purpose of this film. It seems to approach the culture of ’80s rock excess somewhat wryly, yet there are so many goddamn scenes of sex, drug abuse, and fights that it also buys into the lifestyle. There are only so many times you can flash tits onscreen and claim it’s part of the ambiance. And there’s a scene where Vince basically uses The Secret to get a blowjob, which just makes him look like an absolute douche.

I have admittedly never coveted the rock star lifestyle, but I would hope with a music biopic I would learn something about the band that’s interesting or informs my understanding of the music. Wow–Mötley Crüe really leaned into their rock star image Color me surprised. While I did find the story of Vince’s daughter upsetting, overall this film feels like a very surface-level examination of the band rather than offering much to reflect on.

There’s also so much unnecessary narration and breaking of the 4th wall that the film frequently feels like an unholy union of Scrubs and The Office. We get it: talking directly to the camera means you’re aware of the absurdity of your own experiences. So impressive.

All of this being said, our 4 leads are great. Their distinct personalities come across even when the characters all have the same haircut. And the charisma, the sense of fun, and the dedication to rock are very much there in the approach to the roles. I just have very little patience for watching so many men run around as giant man babies for most (if not all) of their lives.

Would my blog wife tie the knot without a prenup or fire this one before it can quit? Read her review here to find out!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

GLOW, or: Gorgeous Ladies of the Blog Collab

Sometimes (and always) we’re so in tune on the Blog Collab that we do the same things whether we intend to or not.  Our latest brainwave came in the form of the Netflix original GLOW.  We were there for the glam ‘80s hair and glitter, but stayed for the zany wrestling personas and the show’s surprising emotional depth.  This month is inspired by GLOW, and the documentary that spawned the TV show is kicking us off to celebrate the Gorgeous Ladies of the Blog Collab, or:  GLOBC…?  Doesn’t have quite the same ring as GLOW.

The Film:

GLOW:  The Story of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling

Where to Watch:

Netflix

The Uncondensed Version:

In case you haven’t watched the original ‘80s show or the updated Netflix series, GLOW was the first women’s wrestling show on TV.  It was surprisingly successful, especially considering that it began as more or less one extended infomercial…with comedy sketch bits, song/dance numbers, and some rather cringey rapping.

Despite the blatant sexism and stereotyping, the women cast on GLOW consider it revolutionary as it allowed them to feel strong and empowered while looking and feeling fab.

women in colorful costumes proceed down a flight of stairs in a mall, glittery banners behind them
SO MUCH GLITTER.

The show did not begin with great promise–Mando, a real wrestler, trained the women (hired mostly based on looks rather than wrestling prowess) in a run-down gym without proper equipment or safety practices.  After training, things sped along quickly as the GLOW ladies were moved to a hotel in Vegas (because, honestly, where else would this have happened if not Vegas).  As depicted in the show, the ladies are supposed to always stay in character and obey strict rules on curfews and partying.

One of the few wrestlers on the show was Matilda the Hun, who had been trying in vain to find wrestling partners.  She was so hardcore she once literally wrestled a bear and may be my new personal hero.

a woman smiles, holding up a crown with the word "GLOW" written in red rhinestones
In case you’d like some glitter to go with that glitter.

Initially, the creator of the show clashed with the director, who envisioned an over-the-top, campy variety show.  These issues were quickly resolved as the director was also the one with the money behind him.  Some of the ladies look back fondly on their working relationship with the director, while others think he was borderline abusive.

Several of the more memorable personas were Big Bad Mama, a Louisiana voodoo priestess, and the Heavy Metal sisters, who cut things up with a chainsaw and lit shit on fire in the ring.  Ninotchka was the Russian stereotype whose confidence boosted the wrestler herself and made her feel powerful.  The wrestler shares a rather touching moment when she realized her boyfriend was in love with her persona’s confidence–not her.

several women wrestlers stand in an outdoor wrestling ring; the one at the center is a woman with teased '80s hair, wearing a skirt with floral print

Just as Machu Picchu is the heart and soul of the Netflix show, Mt. Fiji is the star of the original GLOW (and the documentary).  Fiji was an Olympian and by all accounts the sweetest lady on the show.  It’s heartbreaking to see her current health problems that have largely confined her to a hospital bed.  Many of the women suffered injuries and dead-end careers after GLOW‘s abrupt cancellation.  Several speculate the businessman funding the show stopped because of marital problems that arose as he spent so much time with all of the ladies of GLOW.

a large group of women poses for the camera in a hotel lobby
WHOEVER IS CHOPPING ONIONS RIGHT NOW NEEDS TO STOP.

Because the show ended so suddenly, no one felt a sense of closure…which is about to change when one of the wrestlers decides to host a reunion.  If you don’t get emotional seeing the ladies of GLOW reunited, you may have a heart of stone.

The Rating:

4.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

Like the new Netflix show, there is plenty of glitter and over-the-top wrestling mayhem along with lots of heart.  It’s really hard to see the physical and emotional toll the years of wrestling took on these women even though all seem to remember the show fondly whether they found happiness and success in later years or not.  Though all of the ladies were thrilled to be part of a ground-breaking series, they also suffered greatly at the hands of the entertainment industry.  Like most things to emerge from the ’80s:  come for the glitter, stay for the genuine heart.

Would my Gorgeous Lady of the Blog Collab hit it with a bodyslam and leave it down for the count…or crown it champion of the ring (and the collab)?  Read her review here to find out!

a man in a hard hat holds the phone in a phone booth to his ear
Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Blow Out, or: Another Reason to Celebrate the Death of the Pay Phone

April brings us another round of Blog Free or Die Hard, one of my favorite themes next to Ewan McGregor/Hellraiser month…and every other theme of the blog collab.  This week we opt for a throwback featuring John Travolta, dramatic ’80s scores, and sketchy, sketchy payphones.

The Film:

Blow Out

Where to Watch:

Netflix UK apparently

The Uncondensed Version:

John Travolta has been the sound editor for low-budget horror for the past couple of years.  It’s a living.  The latest picture is presenting a challenge, as he can’t seem to get some of the sounds right, in particular the screams of the slasher victims in the film.  To gather sounds for the film, he decides to somewhat sketchily hang around parks at night and record general nature sounds.  What could possibly go wrong?  You might ask.  Naturally, JT (conveniently, for both John Travolta and his character, Jack Terri) sees something he’s not supposed to see…or rather hears something he shouldn’t.

A close-up of an owl's face at night. Behind the owl stands a man with sound recording equipment.
Owl be seeing you?  (Not sorry.)

Just before a car dives headlong into the river, passengers inside, JT hears a gunshot and realizes this crash isn’t an accident.  His deep sense of moral conviction doesn’t permit him to remain a bystander, so he jumps in shortly thereafter to help the surviving passenger, a young woman (of course).

While at the hospital, JT learns the victim of the car crash was none other than the fictional Governor McRyan, top contender for the presidential nomination in the upcoming election.  JT is encouraged to keep quiet about the presence of the young woman as this news would only upset McRyan’s family further.  He reluctantly agrees to do what seems like the honorable thing…but is it?

The young woman, Sally, is very confused and agitated in the hospital and eager to leave.  JT brings her to a motel so she can rest, but also so he can obsessively play his recording of the crash to figure out what happened with the accident and why.  Meanwhile, we learn someone really is destroying and covering up evidence surrounding the crash.  Spoiler alert:  It’s John Lithgow.  As we learn soon after, John Lithgow escalates things super fucking quickly.

a man in a trench coat stares down the length of a hallway
Damn it, John.

JT tries to get more information out of Sally about her relationship with McRyan, but she doesn’t take well to this line of questioning.  At this point JT does get really fucking irritating and insists they get a drink since he did save her life and all.  FFS, save a woman from drowning because it’s the right thing to do—not because you expect her to get a goddamn drink with you.

Annoyingly, they do get a drink, but mostly so we can learn about JT’s tragic backstory investigating police corruption.  I sometimes worry about the lack of empathy I have for characters in realistic scenarios, but his story came off as a bit melodramatic and led to some pretty cringey Travolta overacting.

a man smiles at a woman seated next to him in a restaurant booth
Nice rabbit foot…

As it turns out, Sally has a dark past of her own, and was part of a conspiracy to ruin McRyan’s political career.  This is apparently all too much for the honorable JT, who you know…probably never saw anything worse in his days of investigating police corruption.

But to return to John Lithgow.  Remember how he was going to take shit too far suddenly?  As part of the conspiracy to eliminate McRyan from the competition, John Lithgow decided to just straight-up eliminate him by shooting out his car tire.  But the plan included Sally’s death and, since she’s one of the few people who can tie all of this back to the conspirators, she needs to die.  John Lithgow actually becomes a serial killer with a fucking garrote watch and all, targeting sex workers who look like Sally so her death won’t seem too out of the ordinary.  TWIS.  TED.

What will happen when John Lithgow poses as a journalist trying to get all of the evidence connecting him to the crime?  If you’re squaring off with someone who has a garrote watch, it’s probably not going to end well.

The Review:

4/5 Pink Panther Heads

The plot is solid, and John Lithgow is obv a delight.  To the extent sociopathic serial killers with goddamn murder watches can be considered a delight.  In true film noir style, the entire movie is incredibly dark, and the ending doesn’t shy away from that.  This is an indictment on politics, Hollywood, the media…virtually every angle of American life.  Since some of the elements of this film are right out of the ’80s thriller playbook, I expected a cop-out ending, but ended up really impressed.

On the other hand, there’s just something that vaguely irritates me about John Travolta no matter what…?  I think I watched Grease too much growing up, and he was one of the first men to disappoint me with his stupid expectations for women.

I also had such a problem with the roles for women in this film, who are all props without exception.  I really wanted to like Sally, but she just felt like a pawn with no real dimension, and she was soooooooooooooooooooooooo naïve for a woman who agreed to a sleazy plot to set up a politician, And as a minor point of irritation–her voice was really grating.  She brought up shades of Lina Lamont from Singin’ in the Rain to me.  Is it me or is Lina Lamont still more of a feminist icon than Sally in this movie?

Would Christa dive off a bridge for this one or let it sleep with the fishes?  Read her review here to find out!

in a crowded room, a man lifts a smiling woman over his head
Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Dirty Dancing, or: The Other St. Patrick

This month we both celebrate and mourn the end of summer by giving our brains a break.  Apparently that means ripping our own hearts out and dragging them along the ground because that is approximately the ease with which I objectively approached the beautiful dream that is this classic.  Objectivity is overrated anyway.

The Film:

Dirty Dancing

Where to Watch:

Please borrow my copy if you’ve never watched this because it hurts my heart to think about knowing anyone who hasn’t seen this movie

The Premise:

For the love of all that is holy, please stop and watch this damn movie.  I’ll make you popcorn.  Actually, I think I’m out of popcorn.

The Uncondensed Version:

It’s 1963 and Baby is off to the swanky summer resort where her family stays every year.  (Or, you know, the ‘80s version of the ‘60s because so many of the hairstyles/songs are completely anachronistic but IDGAF.)  Baby is such a goody two-shoes that she can’t imagine any man as great as her dad (vomit).  That is, until…okay, not yet.  NOT.  YET.

We need a teensy bit more set up.  Baby has her future mapped out:  she’ll study the economics of developing countries at Mt. Holyoke, then join the Peace Corp and save the world.  Her heart is in the right place, but she’s so idealistic it hurts.  Also really bad at dancing, which is unfortunate because it seems like the only activity available besides wandering around at night wearing a knitted sweater.

a young woman looks into the distance with a neutral facial expression
I also make this face when I have to talk to boys.

Baby’s father keeps setting her up with dick-bag Ivy League types whose self-confidence is matched only by their sleaze.  Is it any wonder, then, that Baby is immediately drawn to Patrick Swayze, who walks up late wearing sunglasses (inside) and knocks things off of set tables, thus establishing his role as bad boy who gives zero fucks?  He also does a very nice mambo and has extremely controlled hip movements, which doesn’t hurt.

So Swayze’s character is named Johnny Castle, which I just hate.  It sounds like the name of a White Castle knock-off, doesn’t it?

But I digress.  After several evenings of wandering around, Baby finally gets into the cool kids club by famously carrying a melon.  As it turns out, what the cool kids do all night is practice some rather risqué dance moves in the ‘60s version of a rave/hotbed of sin.  The most valuable piece of intel Baby gathers is that Swayze is NOT dating his super gorgeous dance partner, Penny.  And that his hips are magical.

a man dancing with a woman falls back in a move that defies gravity
Literally made of magic.

Baby continues to dodge sleaze balls and participate in the resort’s tacky entertainment until one night she finds Penny crying alone in the kitchen.  Baby has a good excuse to track down Swayze and learns that Penny is pregnant.  Who’s the baby daddy?  Not Swayze, contrary to literally every single person’s assumptions.  It’s actually the creepy waiter who is attending Yale and sort of dating Baby’s sister.  When Baby confronts him about the pregnancy, he acts like a total dick bag and recommends The Fountainhead.  Honestly the complete embodiment of being a dick bag.

With no alternative, Baby asks her father for the money needed for Penny’s abortion, supplying an “It’s really important” line as her only explanation.  Surprisingly, this works(??!).  I think I’ve just never had a good enough reputation for people to take me at my word.

Of course the major complication is that Penny can’t miss this big performance at another resort and no one else could possibly fill in.  Right, Baby?  Esp. when Patrick Swayze emphatically insists there’s no way she could.  Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaand cue “Hungry Eyes.”  In every sense.

a woman laughs with head thrown back as a man with an exasperated expression stands behind her
This scene.  ❤ ❤ ❤

Everything leads up to the big performance, which goes okay, and Penny’s abortion, which does not.  Guess how safe it is to get an abortion when men try to restrict women’s reproductive rights?  Baby needs help from her father yet again, though he’s not so understanding this time and forbids her from seeing Swayze or any of his crowd again.

…Which, you know, means she goes directly to a shirtless Swayze’s room.  And I got chills during this entire scene because not only is it such an emotionally raw scene, but it’s so sexy even though there’s not a ton of nudity.

I feel any further plot summary gets lost in translation, so let’s wrap it up.  You either know the rest and worship at the altar of St. Patrick Swayze or you have a heart of stone.  Amongst the many obstacles facing Baby and Swayze are sleazeballs, prejudice, assumptions, cougars, arbitrary rules, and theft.  And this is all before we’re even close to cueing “She’s Like the Wind.”

Needless to say, I was dead emotionally well before the heart-stopping classic line “Nobody puts Baby in the corner.”  Flat lining.

The Rating:

5/5 Pink Panther Heads

For a movie remembered as an ‘80s teen fantasy, this one explores some dark themes.  Abortion I think is the obvious one, esp. the real dangers women faced in finding a safe, affordable operation during a time when it was illegal.

On a related note, privilege also receives a lot of attention.  With enough money, even a total sleaze like Robbie the waiter can coast by relatively unscathed; he loses a recommendation letter, but is there any doubt he’ll land on his feet after the summer ends?  Penny, on the other hand—what will become of her?

Baby naively believes everyone deserves the same opportunities in life and realizes for the first time how untrue this is and what an unfair place the world is.  There is a stark contrast between the future she has ahead of her vs. Swayze, whose character will be lucky if he ends up with a steady job painting houses.  Swayze also feels completely used by the wealthy older women who want, ahem, private dance lessons from him.

There’s a bittersweet yearning for the past since this film is a coming of age story, the end of an era, but also the transition to a better future.  Baby isn’t so sure what she’ll do by the end of the movie, but she has definitely decided to reject the life her parents chose and the cocoon they built around her.

Okay, yes, Baby’s growth as a person is triggered in large part by her relationship with a man, but it’s her love of dance that gives her freedom, power, confidence, and self-expression over (even) Patrick Swayze.  Ultimately, both Baby and Swayze learn from each other, and not in the way of weird old Hollywood movies where he’s her teacher/guardian/lover (looking at you, My Fair Lady).  Baby’s empowerment actually improves all of her relationships, even with her dad as he learns to respect her autonomy.

Moral of the story:  EVERY.  SINGLE.  LINE.  In this film.  Is classic and beautiful.

I said Patrick Swayze should be sainted as an offhand FB comment, but I stand by it.  Patrick Swayze is my religion.  Those hips have performed miracles.  (But seriously, please don’t smoke.)

Let’s not even pretend:  Christa is a living human being.  She loves this film.  Find out by reading her review here!