Universal. Not So Universal. An Open Letter.

Dear Sir or Madam,

My name is Hillary Monahan. I’m a writer and, as of last week, a dissatisfied customer who might as well have lit $120 on fire in lieu of visiting your park. I recently attended Universal Studios Orlando (May 21st, 2013) and I wanted to express my disappointment with the experience and explain why — going forward — anyone asking me about Florida travel will be expressly told to avoid your theme park and to concentrate their energies on Disney instead, who I must presume is your most direct competition. The sole black mark on my recent vacation was visiting your resort. I want that day back, but unfortunately, time does not work that way.

I am a heavy person. I’m not quite so heavy you can launch me into orbit like Sputnik, but heavy enough that I am aware (and comfortable) with my chubby label. I also have large breasts. I don’t quite know at what point in your design you decided not to account for ladies having lady parts, but I could not get on a single ride in your park that had over-the-shoulder constraints because it sandwiched my breasts into a tiny plastic window. On the Harry Potter ride, said window created a VERY EMBARRASSING experience for both me and your ride operator, a young man who couldn’t have been more than 25 and was desperately trying to get me in to experience the attraction because I fit in the seat itself rather comfortably. The only deterrent was the fact that I have ample curves.

At this point I should probably note that I was able to comfortably ride every single ride in Disney because they account for women being shaped like women. I am not “too large” for them in any way.

I am well aware that you have test seating outside of attractions so passengers can test their breasts ahead of time (and whatever elses they have that are too round for your seats), but this is an uninspiring feature for multiple reasons. The first is that the test seating outside of The Hulk roller coaster was covered in children resting their feet. No one shooed them away or made sure that it was open for people to use. As I’m on vacation and really don’t want to have to spend my time bullying other people’s children, I wasn’t comfortable berating them until they left. This same phenomenon occurred on no less than two attractions I passed. Normal benches were covered so test seats became a refuge for weary travelers.

The other issue I have is how very vulgar the positioning of these test seats are. Yes, I am heavy, and yes, the world around me knows it as well as I do. That doesn’t mean I want to flaunt my heaviness by wedging my huge boobs into your test seats in front of a hundred million strangers. I’m groping, squishing, and lifting assets that I had even before I gained any significant weight. Where and when do you account for my dignity? Why can’t there be an alcove to the side with a sign so I don’t have to feel like I’m putting myself on display? It’s humiliating enough to have to use the test seats in the first place to see if I fit into your modified seating. It’s worse when I have to do it in front of sneering strangers who will see me trying to flatten breasts that simply don’t flatten.

(Also, a note? Giving me a speed pass through the lines of other attractions so I don’t feel bad about the line I was bounced from after an hour does nothing to make me feel better. You know what might have? A refund on my ticket. But you don’t provide those.)

I think it goes without saying I left your park after a few hours feeling depressed and — for the first time in a long time — ashamed of my body, which was something I thought I’d abandoned a long time ago. I’ve never considered my size to be much of a setback before; I walked ten miles a day around Disney without too much issue, I kept up with my group and didn’t need special treatment because I have some extra pounds. I fit on bus seats without a problem, I wasn’t too ungainly for my flight. It wasn’t until I visited Universal that I felt strange or unwieldy in my own skin. I resent you and your attraction designers for that, Universal, and that’s why you’ll never see my money again.

I’m sure you’ve heard that spiel about one unhappy customer breeding at least ten non-buyers before. Well, I can assure you that as a writer, my reach goes a little further than that. One voice will become two, and if two become four, maybe you will pay attention then. Doubtful, but one can hope.

Sincerely,

Hillary Monahan

All Things Disney World. Part One. FOOD.

Good morning, Internet! Perhaps you know me as your local shambling monster. Perhaps it’s, “Oh, hey, that creepy chick is looking in our windows again” or “Oh. It’s her. Get the RAID.” Either way, I’m here to drop some knowledge in a way that’d make Mr. T proud.

(And for those of you embryos out there who don’t know who Mr. T is, first I pity you, fools, and offer this sliver of my childhood for you to mock. And really, it’s deserving of the mockery. Why did anyone ever think dressing that way was cool? WHY?)

Onto the meat of the post. I go to Disney far more than most people I know. Probably ten times in so many years? Maybe a dozen in fifteen, I don’t know. There’s a bit of a stigma with this, I know, in that people who’ve never been assume it’s a bunch of dancing rats and cartoons, but there’s a lot more to do there than surround yourself in the kiddie fun. I wouldn’t keep going if that was its only calling as children terrify me. They’re small and brilliant and steal your food. They also wear sneakers that light-up when they walk. Untrustworthy, all of them.

Anyway, as there are many parts to a Disney Orlando vacation, I’m going to only discuss a single facet today – otherwise you’d never leave and that’d be awkward. This is my blog, people. Get the hell of my lawn.

SO! FOOD!

Everyone likes food. Food is delicious and should be enjoyed three times a day. It helps you live and stuff. So I’ll talk here about Disney fooding I’ve enjoyed (or would like to enjoy in some cases) for all of you looking to head to King Rodent’s Mecca of Fun. Other posts will cover attractions and hotels and stuff, but not this one. This one is all about making your inner fat kid squeal with delight.

First and foremost, I highly recommend making reservations online in advance for these places as this is the busiest tourist destination in the world, and generally, if you’re going to Disney, you’re not getting a table for one. Bigger parties are harder to seat. Also, if you let fate decide where you eat, you will be stuck in the restaurants no one else wanted. No, that’s not a TERRIBLE thing because Disney is still awesome and even their bad is better than most other places’ good, but if you’re gonna go, why not go to the awesomest of the awesome? Eh? Eh?

(Also: Disney is LOADED with quick eats places – hot dogs, burgers, etc — if you’re not looking to drop a lot of cash on your dining. I’m not really touching on them because they all serve relatively similar drive-through style food. I’m going for sit-down restaurants only. Kay? Kay.)

Without further ado, LET’S DO THIS!

THE PRE-PAID EATS:

Certain Disney places require you to pay for the dining experience up front – as in when you go to make a reservation, your credit card will be charged on the spot. It ensures you don’t flake out because there are tons of people that’d like to take your place if you don’t show and if you’ve dropped 60 bucks a head already, you’re less likely to be a no-showing tool.

Cinderella’s Royal Table

You eat inside of Cinderella’s Castle and meet all the princesses. Personally, not my bag – I don’t really care much for character meetings because I’m a quasi-functioning adult WHO IS TOTALLY MATURE ALL THE TIME. However, youz guyz with sproglings will rarely find all the Disney princesses together elsewhere, so take advantage if you have little princess wanna-bes. They do breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

The Luau at the Polynesian Resort

I’ve never been before, though the trip I’m going on next week, I am fixing that! I’ve heard from numerous people this is a fantastic time. Fire throwing and chicks in coconut bras and pork and fruity drinks and, and, and NNNNNNF. Something worth noting is the Polynesian is closest to the Magic Kingdom, so if you’re on the Disney bus line and looking to get there, take the bus to MK then find the Polynesian stop.

The Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue

This show takes place at Disney’s Fort Wilderness resort. And really, there’s nothing I can say about it that this YouTube video doesn’t cover. The internet cheats sometimes, I swear.

MAGIC KINGDOM EATS:

Be Our Guest Restaurant

The only regret I have about my latest Disney adventure is I can’t check out their new hotness, the Beauty and the Beast themed ballroom restaurant Be Our Guest. It looks amazing, the ordering process looks like a lot of fun, and even with my absolutely insane early booking, OTHER PEOPLE WERE FASTER. For those of you looking to go to Disney and who are doing your proper early research, best of luck and I hate you a little. (Also, I can totally console myself with Gaston’s Tavern, a quick-eats place that’s also new and serves GIGANTIC PIECES OF PORK.)

Liberty Tree Tavern

I have a soft spot for this place. The food is super home-style Americana but that means wholesome and delicious and WHO DOESN’T LOVE APPLE CRISP? This place is centrally located in Liberty Square and it does have characters that wander the restaurant, all of them dressed like pilgrims and frontier people. Donald Duck in a feather and a loincloth – WOO! It’s one of the easier places to get into with characters, actually, so that’s good for you breeder types. The rest of us can just longingly stare at Mickey while we shovel mashed potatoes into our maws.

HOLLYWOOD STUDIOS EATS:

Hollywood and Vine

Hollywood and Vine is pretty much standard buffet-style food. However, it’s got something going for it other places doesn’t and that’s pre-seating for Hollywood Studios’ water and light show, Fantasmic. There’s really nothing fancy going on here, but the preferred seating really does make it worthwhile to stop by. Also, the only other restaurant to offer this is The Brown Derby and I’ll be honest, when Dave and I ate there we weren’t impressed. The food was not worth the Derby’s price tag. So H&V it is. It’s decent enough and will get you into the Fantasmic sweet seats.

Sci-Fi Dine-in Theater

You eat in cars. Staring at a drive-in screen. Seriously, I don’t need to say anything else.

scifi

50’s Prime Time Cafe

You remember those shows like Leave it to Beaver? Where June’s walking around this ultra-glammed 50’s kitchen serving egg salad? That’s what you get here. Each room is another 50’s kitchen, the vignettes all decorated to give it that old timey ambiance. The food’s good, your standard fried chicken and meatloaf kinda thing, and the serving staff are . . . well. They’re Mom and Dad. From the 50’s. If you don’t eat your vegetables, they will give you shit for it (and quite possibly pick up your fork and attempt to feed you.)

ANIMAL KINGDOM EATS:

The Rainforest Cafe

I’ve eaten elsewhere in Animal Kingdom and I always come back to the Rainforest Cafe not because the food will blow you away, but because you can’t beat the experience of having all the lights go out, fake rain starting, and a stampede of elephants trumpeting your way. You don’t notice how many animatronic animals there are inside the walls and over your head until one of these “storms” happens and the restaurant around you comes alive. It’s colorful, it’s bright, and like many of the Disney restaurants, a show along with your dinner.

DOWNTOWN DISNEY EATS:

Downtown Disney is basically the nighttime hangout spot if you’re sick of the hoopla of the parks or your hotel pool. (This rarely happens with me, but I still enjoy Downtown Disney all the same.) The whole place is restaurants and shops, so there’s a lot of things to do and see. I’m not going to make a list here just because it’s preeeetty much a lot of generic stuff? Planet Hollywood, House of Blues. There’s a Rainforest Cafe located here (second location), a Wolfgang Puck’s. Fulton’s Crabhouse is good if you like seafood, though it’s expensive. Bongos is a bit of a weird call for me because, while the first and second times I ate there it was a delight, the last time it was horrid. Like, the food was simply terrible. I’m not sure I’d return there because of it.

EPCOT EATS:

So, here’s the big one. Epcot. Mostly thanks to the World Showcase having a restaurant in every country and a lot of them being REALLY, REALLY GOOD. I’ve eaten at most of them, and here’s where I’d send you:

The Biegarten Restaurant

So if you like polka, this is the place to be! Well, polka and long tables that seat you with strangers, which I don’t love, but it’s all in the flavor of the country. You can get really good stuff here at a reasonable price, including BEER and SCHNITZEL and SAUSAGE and LEDERHOSEN. But don’t eat the lederhosen. Not so delicious. I recall the strudel being scrumptious, too, but if you’re gonna do dessert in Epcot, you go to . . .

Les Halles Boulangerie & Patisserie

France! You just . . . go here. It’s a french pastry shop and you will walk inside, take a whiff, and want to roll in the deliciousness they have behind their counters. Every trip, I make a stop and get a sampling of sweets and every year I purr like a fat li’l kitty cat afterward. It is SO worth your time.

San Angel Inn Restaurant

Like Mexican? Go eat in Mexico! The coolest part about this place is it’s a faux-Aztec temple, so the look of it is amazing. The food’s solid, though pricey, but the fare is really good if you’re into that whole burrito thing. Which, you know, I am. Lots of traditional dishes (all of the chefs in the showcase hail from the represented countries) so you get a chance to try some stuff you might not get at home.

Also Because Sombreros Happen.

Also Because Sombreros Happen.

Teppan Edo

Japan, oh Japan. There’s a quick eats place in Japan I’d actually avoid – I tried it last time we were there and was largely unimpressed – but the traditional Japanese steakhouse? YES, PLEASE. Dinner and a show! The chefs come to your table and prepare your meal right in front of you. Like most of the Epcot restaurants, this is on the pricier side, but well worth it. Also note that this place is ALWAYS booked fast. If you want this experience, reserve early.

Tutto Italia Ristorante

Italy. No brainer, really. Last time I went to Disney with the crew, we couldn’t get into Teppan Edo so we ended up here sort of by accident. And yeah, I guess you can get Italian food any old place at home, but I can guarantee it doesn’t taste like this. By the time the five of us were done eating, we had to be rolled out the door. Delicious. Expensive! But well worth the cost. (Tip: a lot of the countries in Epcot are on the Disney meal plan? So the cost might not matter so much if you went for the inclusive meal package. You’d get a ton of value out of that package if you could swing by Epcot for dinner every night, I swear.) Also, Italy has wine. So much wine.

Hillary & Horror, A Love Story. Part Five!

For those out of the loop, this is the fifth (and final!) post on my favorite type of movies – horror movies. If you’re interested in the rest of the list, check out One, Two, Three, and Four. Don’t agree with a pick? Do agree? Feel free to make conversation in the comments. I like conversation. It makes me feel like a human bean.

AND NOW LADIES AND GERMS, THE MOVIES!

The Evil Dead & The Evil Dead II

Let’s throw these two in together, shall we? It’s really a coin flip as to which one is better, though I’d personally lean toward the second one myself (and isn’t that a weird thing to say – a sequel being as good or better than the original? Whoa.) POSSESSED CHAINSAW HAND WHAT NOW? Seriously, what’s not to like about the Evil Dead movies? They have some legitimately scary parts, Bruce Campbell is a god, and the Raimis have some CRAZY stories about how the first movie came together. Some of the stuff they pulled to get a scene to look a certain way? Let’s just say I’m glad I’m not an 80’s scream queen actress. The Raimis weren’t nice dudes to their people (and actually had at least one of their major cast quit.)

So is this a zombie movie? Kinda, I guess. I don’t know why I don’t really associate it with more traditional zombie movies like Night of the Living Dead (which isn’t on this list but should be – I kinda figured it was a no-brainer.) Dead rising, coming to get you in the middle of the woods, Necronomicon, blah blah blah. I guess it’s because it seems sorta cross-genre to me with its setting and the inclusion of demons. Not that that’s bad, mind you, but it makes it a little weirder to categorize. The end result is the same either way: It’s funny, it’s scary, it’s beyond-belief gory. Two thumbs WAY UP FROM . . . never mind. Those aren’t really thumbs.

30 Days of Night

Let me say this: I have a weird appreciation of Anne Rice’s early style. It’s gothic and moody; it’s crushed velvet, New Orleans on a rainy night, and strawberries dipped in rich, chocolate mousse. She wrote sensual, homoerotic books that were just so goddamned pretty. That being said – Fuck You, Anne Rice. You de-monstered vampires for the next three decades. Since Interview in 1976, vampires have been romanticized to the point we don’t find them scary anymore. They’re leading men. They’re Lestat and Angel and Vampire Diaries and Edward Cullen. They’re brooding, passionate sex-freaks who want to tie you to a bed, ravish you, and suck your blood.

Shame on us, we’ll let them do it.

That means when we get some real IN YO’ FACE vampires – the Salem’s Lot kind who will play with your organs like they’re Tinker Toys – I’m immediately interested. Vampires as monsters? Real monsters? Really? (INSERT HILLARY WAGGING HER TAIL.) 30 Days of Night not only makes vampires scary again, it makes them despicable vermin. They’re an infestation. They’re animals who will not ravish you, but will treat you like a walking pork chop. And I love them for it. Seriously. I can’t remember the last time I’d felt that freaked out with fangers on the screen. Coppola’s Dracula? Love story and, you know, GARY OLDMAN’S HOT. From Dusk ‘Til Dawn? More memorable for the boner-worthy snake dance (still great, just not scary.) Even Let the Right One In was too touching to scare me much. 30 Days of Night will make you wince, cringe, and wish that you had a stake at your side at all times. In other words? It’s awesome.

The Exorcist

I’d mentioned Night of the Living Dead as too “no shit” to put on the list, and I’ll admit this is the same. Everyone knows this movie. It’s the bar most of us measure other horror movies against. The reason it’s here? I HAVE A STORY. So twelve year old Hillary goes to Vermont to visit her aunt and cousins. Her cousins are a couple years older than she is. They have a slumber party in the middle of the Vermont wilds and invite a bunch of other teenagers to come enjoy junk food and horror flicks. Hillary is invited! Hillary is not prepared for The Exorcist. I’m so freaked out, I can’t sleep that night. When I’m sent home to my mother in Massachusetts (to our two-hundred year old farmhouse which I swear was haunted) every creek in the house is OBVIOUSLY a demon coming to get me, and I soooob when it comes time to go to bed. “I’M GOING TO GET POSSESSED. I’M GOING TO GET POSSESSED.” I swore after that I’d never watch The Exorcist again.

Fast forward ten years when I’m dating Dave, a huge horror buff. Heeeey, they’re re-releasing The Exorcist in the theaters for a limited time with the EXTRA BONUS SHIT THAT WAS TOO FREAKY TO BE INCLUDED IN THE 70’S VERSION. He wants to go, of course, and I’m left with a dilemma: do I give into the screeching child inside of me who wants to duck away? Or do I tackle my Everest? I opt for the latter. I was doing fine for a while! Until this happened:

Then I wasn’t so fine anymore.

Hatchet

Ahhh, slasher movies. How I love to hate you and hate to love you! Conundrum, that. Here’s the deal: MOST horror movies are not a misogynist’s playground. MANY slasher movies are. We all know the drill here, don’t we? One character in every slasher flick is a slut. She’s going to fuck someone on the screen. During this fuck scene, her gigantic, B-Grade actress tatas are going to be bouncing for the pleasure of her male audience. After (or during) the slut’s coitus, the freaky slasher killer will come in and do gruesome things to her body, but only AFTER she was so good as to give us a little zing in the pants with her jiggling funbags.

I know, I know – you can argue that every male in the movie is going to get murdered, too, and the lone survivor will always be the virginal chick character, but the fact is, the males that are offed are not stripped down and sexualized before their inevitable disembowelment. This is not an even playing field. Thus, Hillary doesn’t really care for slasher movies. They annoy her. However, I will make an exception for Hatchet. It’s just stupid fun. Lots of stupid. TONS of stupid. But that’s the joy of it, really, is how goofy and over the top it is. The makers pull out all the stops to make this flick work and in my humble opinion, it does.

The Thing

Wanna see my husband reduced to a quivering pile of man-flesh? Put in the 1982 version of The Thing and let ‘er rip. I mentioned in an earlier post how good The Haunting was at building a sense of paranoia. It keeps you enthralled by allowing the tension to build and build until you feel like you’re going to burst. I daresay The Thing does that better. The alien creature is in one of your friends, you just don’t know which friend because the alien can morph into any shape. It mimics its host’s form and the only way to fish it out is to test the blood. Problem is when you fish it out, you get hideous nightmare creatures that will stay with you all night long.

Don’t believe me?

Screw You, John Carpenter

Shaun of the Dead

Let’s end this on a happy note, shall we? Another horror comedy that’s both clever and legitimately gruesome! Woo for Shaun of the Dead! I loved this movie the first time I saw it. I still love it. I’ve probably seen it five times in five years and I’ll watch it again and again because it delights me in every way possible. This parodies Night of the Living Dead so beautifully, that at times you’ll find yourself pointing at the screen going, “I REMEMBER THAT FROM THE ORIGINAL.” Shaun combines laugh-out-loud humor with some really twisted horror scenes. It’s clear Wright and Pegg were huge Romero fanboys when they scripted this and I think that’s what makes it work so damned well. (Well, that and the casting. Simon Pegg and Nick Frost are the dynamic duo of comedy.)

From what I understand, they were considering making a sequel to Shaun but kaboshed it when they took stock of who had actually survived the original. They decided there weren’t enough characters around or good ideas left to make a second movie work. On one hand, I’m glad they stopped themselves from tarnishing the legacy of their first film by making a turdburger sequel. On the other hand, I totally would have seen that turdburger in hopes that the glory could live twice. Like the phoenix, it could rise again! Sequels can work, take a look at Evil Dead II!

-Sigh.-

***

And that, as they say, is that. I hope all of you have enjoyed my horror flick posts. I know I could go for another two or three articles easy, but I’ll let someone else step up to the plate. They can talk about how wonderful Pet Semetary was and tackle the mountain that is Hitchcock movies. In the meanwhile, stay tuned for my next blog post, wherein I swear about stuff that makes me angry and/or muse about writing books.

Ta!

Hillary & Horror, A Love Story. Part Four!

I was going to forward this post with more enthusiastic jibber-jabber about horror movies and RA-RA SCARY STUFF, but I realized you’d all be like BLAH BLAH BLAH. BLAH BLAH BLAH SHOW ME THE MOVIES BLAH BLAH BLAH.

As such . . .

The Sixth Sense

I know, I know. Once you know the twist of The Sixth Sense it’s sorta all over, but if you can go into it blind without one of your asshole friends telling you a spoiler? This movie is brilliant – M Night’s one truly beautiful thing. From the little girl in the tent to the gallows at the courthouse, there are some wonderful scenes in The Sixth Sense that’ll have you jumping and recoiling from your TV screen. I didn’t even mind the blue light/red light filters used throughout – heavy-handed, yes, but when I better understood why he filmed it the way he did, I could appreciate his technique.

Kind of an aside here. The Others came out RIGHT after Sixth Sense, and I remember going to the theater to see both. The Sixth Sense was a blind pick for me — I didn’t even know it was a horror movie when I went in — but imagine my delight to be scared shitless at no additional admission cost! Problem was, when I went into The Others, I said “wouldn’t it be funny if it had a plot twist, too?”

. . . notice there are no Others on any of my lists. /SIGH, HILLARY-BRAIN. SIGH./ I did that to myself.

(Oh, AND ANOTHER THING. M Night says his screenplay was based on an episode of the popular Nickelodeon kids show called Are You Afraid of the Dark. Want to see that episode? Here ya go.)

The Changeling

More creepy dead kids! Act surprised. So, a composer loses his wife and kid in an accident. Alone, trying to recover, he buys a big house across the country. It’s a Victorian. Victorian houses, as we know, are all haunted and have spirits living in their attics. Enter The Changeling. I’d never seen this movie until a couple years ago, and I remember Dave looking at me and saying, “NO WAY, REALLY? You will love this.”  He was right.  It’s probably pretty evident to my readers that I prefer ghost stories above all other scares.   I’ve seen a ton of them, too, so finding a new one (well, new to me anyway) is always a delight.  The Changeling made me twitchy and shuddery in all the good ways.  From the ball that rolls itself into the room to the seance scene, I was hooked.  Scared and hooked, but still hooked.  See it.  Do it now.  Arnie says so.

Cabin in the Woods

Joss Whedon just gets cooler all the time, doesn’t he? From Buffy to Angel to Firefly (DAMN YOU, FOX) to his comic book writing to The Avengers, he does no wrong. He just gets awesomer by saying or doing more awesome things that allow us nerdling fangirls and boys to bask in the glow of his awesome and . . .

I’m being excessive. A moment.

Okay, I think I’m done now. So, I like Joss Whedon. Tickle-me-pleased when they released another one of his movies into the theaters. Tickle-me-STOKED to discover it was a horror movie. Yes, Joss is a phenom so it had to be good, but I had NO IDEA what kind of horror movie this was until I sat through it. And Wow. Just WOW. Cabin’s strength is its delivery of its scares. It’s aware of the tropes within the horror genre and it GLEEFULLY exploits them for a laugh or a shriek. It’s got a great cast (tons of OH, HEY, I KNOW THAT GUY FROM SOMEWHERE) but the star of the show, no holds barred, is Fran Kranz. He’s spectacular as the stoner-kid Marty.

Cabin’s smart, it’s fast-paced, it’s legitimately creepy sometimes, and it’s utterly hysterical. Also? There’s a killer unicorn. Who doesn’t want to see a killer unicorn?

Silence of the Lambs

Iiiiit’s the cop procedural movie from Hell! Yay! Silence of the Lambs is like Se7en in that it gives you that gritty realism that makes psychological thrillers so effective. You can put yourself in the shoes of the main character — in this case Clarice’s fake pumps — and you can believe that everything you’re seeing really happened. You buy into the threat of the crazy, skinning serial killer. You buy into the chick trapped in the well waiting for her turn to be peeled. And, unfortunately for everyone, you can buy into Hannibal Lecter and his brilliant insanity. HOLY CRAP ANTHONY HOPKINS. PUT YOUR CREEPY AWAY. Lecter steals the show here, no questions asked. Without him, Lambs doesn’t work. With him, its a near-perfect movie. It’s intense, it’s gross, it’s scary, and he’s such a convincing psycho that you’re shivering every time he delivers one of his perfectly-articulated lines. At some point a while ago, I’d compiled a list of my favorite villains in film, and Lecter topped it (over The Wicked Witch of the West and Darth Vadar, so he had some stiff competition). If you’re one of the five people in the universe that hasn’t seen Silence of the Lambs yet, FIE UPON YOU I SAY and get thee to a dvd place. So you can whimper in the corner with the rest of us.

Pan’s Labyrinth

This movie could fit into about three categories and they’d all be appropriate – horror, fantasy, drama. It’s a mixed bag of everything, but I personally view it as a dark fairytale that got SO dark, it became horror somewhere along the way. You may disagree and that’s okay. Everyone’s wrong from time to time. (I did a funny there!) This is another Guillermo Del Toro offering and I gotta say, he’s really cornering the market on hauntingly dark visuals these days. That crown used to belong to Burton, but I dunno, man. Del Toro’s giving him a run for his money. He’s so artistic and everything is so precise in his movies. I never really considered a goatman scary before, but here’s Pan and isn’t he just a terrifying thing to behold. Beautiful, yes, but that’s the thing about Del Toro’s horror stuff – he gives you a loathsome creature and somehow manages to make it gorgeous, too. Watch the scene I posted above and tell me that’s not breathtaking. Yeah, it’s creepy as shit and you wanna poop your pants, but it’s filmed perfectly. It’s so . . . I dunno. It’s like Goya’s picture of Saturn Devouring His Son. You know it’s fine art, it’s just terrifying fine art. You may only want to look at it once, but that’s enough to make the image stay in your brain forever. If that’s not the mark of a great movie, I don’t know what is.

The Family That Cannibalizes Together …

(Parts One, Two, and Three are here in case you missed them. Enjoy!)

Hillary & Horror, A Love Story. Part Three!

Hello and welcome to the third installment of Hillary’s Horror Week. I’m eyeballing my list and it looks like there will be one or two more posts before I’m through. I’m apparently long-winded when it comes to horror, but in my defense? These are movies I adore and want everyone in the world to see so we can talk about them all the time, together, forever. ‘Cause, you know, they’re awesome and stuff. If you haven’t checked out articles one and two, do so, and enjoy today’s contributions!

Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon

This may very well be my number one favorite on all my lists. Is it the scariest? No. But it is one of the funniest. Leslie Vernon has the distinction of being the first and only mockumentary I’ve ever seen (which is defined as “a type of film in which fictitious events are presented in documentary format” – thanks, Wikipedia.) The premise behind Leslie Vernon is simple enough: a young man wants to be a horror slasher legend. He wants to be a Mike Meyers or Jason or a Freddie Kruger. So he goes about building a personae that matches slasher movie villain profiles and then undergoes years of training to become fit enough — physically and mentally – to embrace his dream.

We all have to have goals in life. Leslie Vernon’s is to disembowel you in an apple orchard. I’d tell you not to judge him, but . . . well, he sorta wants to kill you, so go nuts. He’s fucking crazy. Judge away.

The Shining

Interesting fact: I much, much, MUCH prefer the book over the movie in this case. No, really. I worship the book as one of the all-time great horror stories. From the bloodthirsty topiary to the hideous final scene with the basement boiler, I’m hooked. It stands to reason I ought to hate Kubrick’s interpretation, then. He molded the base story into something else entirely. Erm, frozen hedge maze? Okay, no. And Halloran was not like that, and . . . well. What’s with the elevator? But you know what? If you distance Kubrick’s movie from King’s work — if you separate it entirely — it’s a fucking strong horror flick. The creepy twin girls alone are enough to make you poop your pants, never mind the scene with the dead chick getting out of the tub and scaring the crap out of Danny. Kubrick didn’t make MY Shining, but he did make /his/ and there are parts of that movie that are utterly terrifying.

A Tale of Two Sisters

The short version: there’s an evil stepmother, a pair of sisters, and a ghost woman in the house. The long version: A Tale of Two Sisters won a shitload of awards and is the top grossing Korean horror movie in history. There’s a reason for that. This is psychological horror at its finest. It was remade in America in 2009, but don’t bother. Deal with the subtitles. This movie is beautifully filmed and haunting in every way imaginable. There are plenty of flinch-worthy moments (the thing under the sink – good God) that’ll have you hiding behind your furniture to get away. The story is so engrossing, though, that you’ll peek up to get another look and IMMEDIATELY regret it.

Paranormal Activity

Confession time: Hillary pretty much hates found-footage films. They feel cheap to me. Why would you use shaky camerawork and poor production value as a way to draw me in? I’m not going to forget it’s fictitious. It’s not like I’m going to REALLY think that Tommy is running away from a were-hyena. Admittedly, this attitude might stem from my HUGE DISAPPOINTMENT over the reveal that Blair Witch was fake (Goddamn you, Greg) but either way – unsteady cameras, bad angles, and “meh” soundtracks? I’m just not a fan.

Then I watched this.

Look, you need to be patient to enjoy Paranormal Activity. You need a quiet, dark room. You need to appreciate slow build-ups. You need to pretend the Ouija board scene didn’t happen (the only weak point in an otherwise strong film). IF you can do these things? You’ll love it. Even I loved it, and I’m notoriously prejudiced against this type of flick. Let me share a brief story from when we went to see this at the theater. Lauren, Dave, and I went to see it in a packed-house, arena-style seating cinema in Randolph. This is a crappy place to see loud movies, never mind a movie that requires your undivided, unyappy attention. People are always talking, always texting. You could hear a pin drop for an hour and a half. And when it was all over and the last great scare happens? Someone finally broke the silence with a loud, very masculine, “OH, FUCK THAT” that cracked us all up. It surmised what everyone in the theater was thinking.

Severance

Severance is another one of those movies that’s really funny and could technically fit into the comedy horror category of Tucker and Dale or Leslie Vernon, except it’s actually way, way scarier. When it’s not being hysterical and making you giggle, it’s horrifying you with the sheer brutality of the death scenes. This is a gory, gory movie – lots of blood, lots of gross-outs, and lots of tension. If you’re anti-violence? You’re anti-Severance. Considering how effective the scares are, it shouldn’t really work with the cheeky Brit humor, but it does. Perfectly. You’ll feel bi-polar, going from delighted to cringing in the span of a minute, but if you’re like me, you’ll love every minute of your movie-induced mood swings.

Suck

Welp, here’s the first and only MUSICAL horror movie on my list. I did a full review of Suck over here, so anything I’d have to say about it I’ve already said. Do yourself a favor and track this down. It’s fun, funny, and gruesome. Oh, and Iggy Pop, Alice Cooper, Henry Rollins, and Moby all make guest appearances, so you know it’s gotta be good, yeah? Yeah!

Hillary & Horror, A Love Story. Part Two.

It’s time to continue my horror post from yesterday with more on-screen brilliance. I’m pleasantly surprised that people are talking about their favorites here and on Twitter! One of the reasons I adore horror is because of how personal it is. For example, my friend Steph said Fear scared her because it was so very plausible – its realness was what triggered her discomfort. That’s at odds with my own tastes, which lean more toward “supernatural with a hint of realism.” Everyone’s wired a little differently, so it’s only natural that what’s scary to one person is not to another. That’s why within the genre of horror, you find so many different varieties of creeps and scares – we’ve all got our personal monsters.

Cool, innit?

Anyway, less waxing, more flicks on the list. And yes, there will be another post after this one. Onward!

The Woman In Black

The Woman in Black surprised the crap out of me mainly because it had no business being as good as it was. First off, Harry Potter is the main character. Second, Harry Potter is the main character. Third? HARRY POTTER IS THE MAIN CHARACTER. The boy wizard was one of the reasons I didn’t go racing to my local movie theater to check this out – I was afraid I’d have Harry on the brain whenever Mr. Radcliffe was on screen. Well, time to admit it – I’m a tool. This movie was fantastic. It’s along the lines of yesterday’s pick The Orphanage in that it’s moody with sweeping shots and gorgeous cinematography. The differences end there, though. The Woman in Black is a period piece, set in 1800’s England. It’s a fairly traditional English ghost story with fairly traditional visual elements. Its major strength? Creepy teasers. The camerawork manipulates backdrop and shadows masterfully. You’ll see things move that ought not move from that dark corner of your screen. There will be faces where there ought not be faces, and hands where there ought not be hands

Goddamned faces. Goddamned hands.

Let’s wrap this one up with, “I had to rewind the movie a few times to see if I really saw what I thought I saw, and yep – that was terrifying.” It’s one of THOSE and it’s wonderful for it.

28 Days Later

No horror list is complete without some zombie offering or another. This is my FIRST zombie offering (another later – GASP). I know zombie purists will say 28 Days doesn’t count as pure zombie awesome because it’s a bunch of ragers who want to eat your face off in lieu of corpses who want to eat your face off, but close enough, people. This is zombies on roids. Zombies who are fast. Zombies who are organized. Zombies who are REALLY, REALLY PISSED OFF.

The thing I like best about this movie, though, beyond the obvious angry zombie scares, is the set-up. The scene I linked above is wonderful because the filmmakers take the time to capture the horror of an empty London. Seriously, put yourself in that dude’s shoes. Imagine going to sleep and waking up and the world is empty. There are very few clues as to what happened, but it must have been something bad, because everyone’s gone. You’re the only one left. I LOVE that they don’t just jump straight into zombies mauling faces and take the time to let the gravity of the main character’s plight weigh on you. So much tension and heartache in this movie. It’s damned near perfect in my book.

The Haunting

Moviegoers today are spoiled. We’ve seen everything – the splendor of Cameron’s Avatar (and for all that the plot was Dances with Smurfs, at least it was pretty), limitless budgets for limitless explosions, and enormous CGI armies. There’s choreographed fight scenes and star studded casts and grandeur everywhere.

It’s amazing, then, that some movies from fifty, sixty, seventy years ago still stand tall. The Haunting is one of those movies. It’s a story that makes the viewer ask “is this all in the character’s head, or is this real?” You hear the pounding on the door, and you’re forced to wonder if it’s a ghost or if it’s someone’s psychosis manifesting. This movie captures paranoia in such a brilliant, wonderful, and tense way. I don’t care that it’s black and white and fifty years old – if you can sit down and watch this with the lights off, you’ll get hooked and you’ll get jumpy.

(Word to the wise? Avoid the 1990’s remake. It’s HORRIBLE. Like, “stick your head in the garbage disposal” bad.)

Ju-On

So you’ll note The Ring on my first list but not Ringu. There’s a reason for this. Ringu, to me, was /less scary/. It was equally as good but scare for scare, I think it was the softer horror flick. I know some people will call me crazy, and that’s okay, but I’d even go so far as to debate that Ringu’s prequel is an even better movie than Ringu, so there. (And then the fanboys came and killed me and I never got to finish my horror movie posts.)

But, but wait! That’s not the case for Ju-on versus the Americanized Grudge. PLEASE STOP HURTING ME.

Now, the Sarah Michelle Gellar version is good, but the problem is it’s a direct lift of the original movie. They don’t deviate much at all. So, if they’re not going to improve on the original or spin it as their own, why bother remaking it? Cause Ju-on itself is FUCKING SCARY. Not only does it fit into the “creepy kids are the worst things ever” category, but it has a new, horrible category of “a noise that will never leave you.” The mother ghost makes this awful groaning screech that . . . ugh. UGH. It’s terrible. Someone makes the noise around you, you’ll whirl around and beat them with your shoe. Why? ‘Cause you’re sensible. That shit is evil, no joke.

Tucker and Dale vs Evil

Tucker and Dale is a different type of horror than everything else I’ve listed in that it’s a comedy horror. It’s supposed to be as funny as it is dark/scary. There’s a lot of these movies going around these days, and even a couple more on my future list, but we’ll address them later.

I won’t say that there’s much in the way of scares in Tucker and Dale, though there are some truly cringe-worthy moments (see the wood chipper scene and the collapsing beam with the nails – use your imaginations.) It’s clear that the writers adore slasher flicks and wanted to make an “ode” to their favorites. And they succeeded beautifully! Not only is this hysterical, but you’ll find yourself on the edge of your seat waiting for the next thing to go brilliantly wrong. And it will go wrong, cause . . . well. Cause if it didn’t, there wouldn’t be much of a movie, now would there? Tucker and Dale is one of those movies I wouldn’t hesitate to break out at a party, because even if you’re not a horror fan, you can appreciate the ridiculousness of the story and how fuck-amazing Alan Tudyk is as a comedic actor.

(TO BE CONTINUED . . . )

Hillary & Horror, A Love Story. Part One.

So I like creepy things.  Not like gnats and perverts who steal your underwear, but scary things – the things that go bump in the night (admittedly underwear stealing perverts are terrifying, but in a totally different way).  There’s something spectacular about movies that make you tingle all over; that make you think the walls have eyes.  I love that feeling of huddling down in a couch staring at a TV screen with a pillow to my chest, my breath coming fast, and my heart pounding in my ears.  I like thinking the shadows flicker and that the bathroom mirror is watching me.

I never claimed to be normal, people.

I want to tip my hat to those movies that get my blood pumping.  I want to give props to the flicks that give my imagination seizures and inspire me to write my own spooky tales.  Something worth noting?  My list has all different kinds of horror.  Not everything is a big honking monster trying to eat you. Sometimes, it’s a slow-building mood movie.  Sometimes it’s a concept that’s just so surreal, you brain goes wild and you’re freaked out for days (weeks – years in some cases) afterward.  Some movies lull you into a false sense of security before they explode in a spray of gore and violence that make you dive into your friend’s shoulder.  I touch on a little bit of everything because horror is a much wider net than a lot of people give it credit for.

The Ring

From the moment an old friend showed me the “haunted video” preview of The Ring, I knew I wanted to see this flick.  Lots of blue filter, and some blatantly telegraphed scares, but The Ring is one of my all time favorite horror movies.  It goes beyond the creepy chick in the well and the haunted TVs.  Why?  STORY TIME.   So Dave, me, Lauren, and Greg all went to check out the late movie.  It was an eleven o’clock show.  We were the only ones in the theater.  We only quasi-knew what we were getting into because our friend Chuck had shown us the preview video I linked above.   We sat, we watched, and we climbed out of our skin.  We were tweaked to all Hell by the time we left the theater.  It got so bad, we decided none of us would sleep so we went to an all-night restaurant and ordered some coffee.  After about two hours of just sitting around being traumatized together, we went our separate ways.

Greg refused to sleep.  Lauren made the mistake of passing out on the couch downstairs.  Greg didn’t want to pass the TV to wake her up, so he left her there all night.

Dave and I went to bed.  I asked if he’d locked the front door, he said no.  He abjectly refused to get out of bed to lock it because that’d require him to walk past the television.  Which forced me to do it.  Asshole.

The Watcher in the Woods

I don’t know what it is about this movie that’s so goddamned freaky.  Maybe it’s that mirrors are evil.  Maybe it’s that Bette Davis’s voice is enough to make a normal, sane person climb the walls.  Maybe it’s because this is the only movie I can recall that tackles a fourth dimension and actually makes that dimension terrifying.  Whatever the case, we watched this quasi-recently, and even though I didn’t have the same visceral terror reaction of childhood, I still found myself discomfited by the girl trapped in the mirror, by the camerawork that let you know the main characters are being watched, and by NAREK.  Thanks for making me pee my pants, Disney.

(Note:  Do yourself a favor and don’t watch the alternate ending for this movie.  Cause it’s just dumb, y’all.  Seriously.  I’m so glad they went with the ending they did.)

Se7en

Se7en was a movie that made me feel dirty after I watched it.  Like, it was so intense, so “grab you by the nuts and shake you” that I wanted to shower when it was over.  The only other movie I’ve ever seen to skeeve me out that much?  Requiem for a Dream.  But Se7en predated Requiem by five years, and for it, it goes on my list.  Kevin Spacey’s villain is terrifying and believable.  He’s this ordinary little man who just so happens to be NUCKING FUTS and wants to punish people for their vices.  He does it with almost zero expression.  The crimes themselves are all hideous, but the ones that stay with me are Lust and Sloth.  And of course wrath, because WHAT’S IN THE BOX?!

We know what’s in the box, Kevin Spacey, and you’re a dickhead.  This is my sad face.

Audition

So you’ll notice the cover art for Audition has a beautiful Japanese woman with a piano wire.  I’m not going to tell you what she wants to do to you with that wire because I don’t want to ruin it for you.  Because ruination is what that psycho is after.  She ruins everything ever, including appetites.  Audition starts off as a love story between an older man and a sweet, unassuming girl.  Halfway through the movie, things go very, very wrong.  By the end of the movie, you’ll be writhing and — if you’re me? — walking out of the room because you can’t TAKE the fucked up stuff going on.  I’ve never bailed on a movie before, but this one made me tap out.

The best part?  It’s worse for dudes to watch than chicks.  You’ll get why.

The Orphanage

Guillermo del Toro brings us The Orphanage, which is a classic, moody mystery/ghost story offering. The strength of this movie is atmosphere – the cinematography is beautiful, the score haunting. Everything is so very clean, and I know what a weird adjective that is to use, but watch the movie and you’ll see what I mean. There’s a crispness and precision to the visuals you don’t see in a lot of movies. It’s art, but the quality doesn’t end there! The story is strong, building in intensity and providing a few solid scares thanks to a creepy little kid (and as we all know, creepy kids are the worst. Which brings us to . . . )

Trick ‘r Treat

The beauty of Trick ‘r Treat is it doesn’t take itself too seriously. It’s Creepshow style horror, which means it’s over the top, campy, and aware of its limitations. There are as many funny moments in the movie as there are scares. The thing I probably enjoyed most about Trick ‘r Treat is how it weaves four or five concurrent story lines together almost seamlessly. Each vignette feeds the next which is — again — very Creepshow style. It’s clear someone in production was a big fan of the horror comics of yesteryear. You’ll see some big names in the cast, namely Anna Paquin and Brian Cox, but the ones who steal the show are the little kids who venture into the ravine. It’s awful and scary and those little bastards will make you jump.

Plus, you know. There’s this kid:

Creepy Little Bastard

Part Two coming soon!