Story Fragment: SHADOW IN THE SHEETS

Posted in Original Writing with tags , , , , , , , , , , on August 11, 2017 by smuckyproductions

Part of a larger story, exploring a woman’s trauma after a sexual encounter leads to terrifying cosmic revelations – and her attempts to forget what she learned at all costs. 

Jules interviewed Naomi after the date, as she insisted upon since their sophomore year of college, though Naomi thought these questions were more precise. They had lived with each other long enough that something small, the rhythm of their steps or ferocity of a sigh, could hint at mood; so the inquiries burrowed close. “Was it okay?” she asked. “She seemed cute, and smart, but…”

Naomi paused and hitched a breath, which almost ruined her composure and spilled the truth through her teeth. But she managed, “It was fine. Great in the moment, when I was drunk, but not so special the next morning. You know how it goes.”

It gnawed at her, that only two people would ever know what had happened in her bed. She shuddered to realize that such an impossibility would go on as just that, a dream. In the end, this assurance is what kept her silent, even if it terrified her. Jules did not need to know what had occurred so close to her sleeping body. Naomi would have paid steep prices for a similar ignorance. She felt nostalgia for a time when her bed had been an escape; to melt into the worn sheets, the years-old mattress pad, was to forget the complexities of the world. Her comforter, once a prized possession because of its sheer size, now lay at the base of a dumpster several blocks away. She had tried to sleep in the sheets that next day, but could not bring herself to peel them back, in case some sign remained under them. She closed her eyes as she donned the purple rubber gloves from her bathroom and ripped them from the mattress, stuffed them into a garbage bag. It occurred to her what she must have looked like when she rushed down the street, eyes bulging and toting the soft package – realizing that she was just another crazy person on the street, a true New Yorker, kept her from screaming every time the bag bumped against her leg. Sometimes she wondered if it was still in the dumpster after all; perhaps it had slunk away on its own.

These details scuttled through her mind as she answered Jules’s questions – “What did you do? Where’d you go? Was she a good kisser?” She overcompensated in her answers, since she so vaguely skipped through the first one. She described for Jules the candle-flickering speakeasy where they had begun; Alex ordered pungent Negronis for them and grinned over hers, prepared to initiate Naomi into a dark, secret world. “This city has so many places to hide,” she whispered after the second round; “all these corridors and spaces where no one wants to go, and no one will. Imagine what’s sitting there? Who’s using those places to escape? So many stories. You look at these windows, all quiet and dark, and the heavy doors – what’s happening in there? What has happened? What will?” Had Naomi not been a little drunk, this would have bored her. It was the gloom, the aromatic gin, and most of all Alex – her voice edged with a practiced rasp, and her eyes… they glimmered with candlelight and promised, “I have seen these secret places.” Later on, she couldn’t remember what had actually been special about them. If she could have placed their draw through the gin, she might have avoided the rest of the night, and what came after. Their speckles of green seemed to spiral deep into pools of shade, and Naomi wanted to go inside, where it was cool and unknown wonders crept. Alex promised to lead her down.

Story Fragment: PAYMENT

Posted in Original Writing with tags , , , , , , , , , on July 16, 2017 by smuckyproductions

The first page or so to a short story that is more or less complete. Please share thoughts in the comments – perhaps the full version will follow. 

PAYMENT

He had expected, when the knock came, for the grip on his throat to tighten at last into a fatal clench that would finish him off before he could get to the door. Instead, the grip released. The fear of a decade fizzled into a low-grinding acceptance. He preferred the choking.

The knock came once, and Stephen knew not to make him wait. He stumbled to the door on traitor feet and pulled the knob, which put up no resistance, no sympathy. Then the night gushed in and unfolded and the man with the briefcase stepped forward. Rendered in motel fluorescent, the image disappointed Stephen. The lips had deflated. Their kiss, the sealing embrace, wouldn’t do much for him this time. But the amber eyes were more truthful, showed more of the hellfire behind them.

“Hello,” said the salesman.

Stephen moved to the side and allowed the salesman to float into the room. His presence brought the shroud of night with it and dimmed the already-weak lights inside. As he passed, Stephen noticed subtle, peeling burn marks along his skin. Ten years ago it had been perfect, enough to make anyone jealous, addicted.

“All that hounding and hunting will do that to a guy,” the salesman said, unprompted. He sounded like he’d swallowed too much gravel. “The vessels are only supposed to last five years. You, however, you made yourself hard to find.”

The remnants of Stephen’s charms – pentagrams drawn in sheep’s blood, holy dust sprinkled at each window, packets of forbidden herbs that had long gone impotent – dangled or dripped around the room. “Well, I gave it the ol’ college try,” he muttered. “But I still heard you coming.”

“Be grateful I’m just an associate,” the salesman said. “An executive would have started flaying you in dime-sized pieces by now. You’re my first case. We’ll just pretend those extra years never happened.”

“Yeah, sure, lucky me,” Stephen said, and sat heavily on the couch. The rusted springs groaned at him. He looked down at the cushion to make sure he could reach beneath it when the time came. The salesman sunk down next to him. Stephen forced himself to stay still when a bony but gentle hand settled on his knee. He looked at the salesman, an inch from his face, and for a miserable second Stephen remembered the first time he had looked. It had stirred his soul to meet those eyes, promising lots of golden things. Out of all the smeared glasses and buzzing neon of the bar, those eyes, the only things that shone.

Poem: TO MY GRANDFATHER

Posted in Original Writing with tags , , on April 4, 2017 by smuckyproductions

A eulogy to my grandfather, Berle Larned, who passed away this morning, April 4th, at 77 years old. 

TO MY GRANDFATHER

How will I remember you? What image
Would hold you in place –
Not as now,
Stained in dark lost dayfalls
Scribed with words best left untouched
Glazed with glimpse of final truth –
No; this image is meant to fade.

That body was new once
It owned the air and glowed with it
All the promise of eternity,
Which I see now
The younger will see after –
Your red veins and unshadowed eyes
Looked down it and followed

Then the promise breaks
And only breaths are left – cruel joke
Of a lifetime’s brevity upon you.
You fumbled and flawed and must
Rest in silence knowing
You never needed absolution.

No need to worry, for I hold you
Not as now
But as then –
Your eternity safe
Until I, too, wither.

“The Unearthed Thing” Published in The Book of Blasphemous Words

Posted in Updates with tags , , , , , , on February 4, 2017 by smuckyproductions

Greetings, ghouls! Many days have passed since the last post – I’ve been busy relocating Los Angeles and attending the Sundance Film Festival (read my reviews for Bloody Disgusting here).

But horrors are still brewing, and we bring you a fresh piece of news from the crypt. My original story, “The Unearthed Thing,” has been published in the anthology The Book of Blasphemous Words.

tbobwfrontsmall

The anthology consists of “weird fiction, horror, and speculative fiction about humanity’s relationship with its gods.” “The Unearthed Thing” fits this theme – it recounts the downfall of a small farming town after a strange artifact begins possessing the youths, turning them into agents of a sexual force that hungers for vengeance. It’s satirical, it’s nasty, and it’s totally obscene.

CLICK HERE to order a copy of the anthology, and read the story for yourself!

Stay tuned for more news from the dark lights of Hollywood; and watch out for developing projects from Smucky’s Grave.

Smucky’s Favorite Horror Films of 2016

Posted in Best Of with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on December 31, 2016 by smuckyproductions

2016 was undoubtedly a strange, perhaps frightening year; and when it comes to horror, these qualities are quite promising. This was an incredible year for horror films. Reflecting on my favorites, I am reminded that I missed several of the best; yet I can’t resist writing about the ones I experienced. Thus, Smucky’s favorite horror films of 2016:

(For the record, the ones I regret missing are as follows: Under the Shadow, Lights Out, Don’t Breathe, The Conjuring 2, The Untamed, Beyond the Gates, The Monster, Eyes of my Mother, and Evolution.)

9. I AM THE PRETTY THING THAT LIVES IN THE HOUSE

iamtheprettything_still_06

While I haven’t seen February yet (a continually delayed release), I couldn’t resist Oz Perkins’ sophomore feature. This poetic exploration of a haunted house is one of the most unique cinematic experiences of the year. Perkins creates a mist-shrouded and cerebral atmosphere through magnificent imagery, patient revelations and musings on the afterlife that leave a lingering chill. It’s not a film to me, but a sensory immersion.

8. THE AUTOPSY OF JANE DOE

1150-sboximg

Cliches and cheap scares aside – though these have their charms, too – André Øvredal’s return to the director’s chair is one of the year’s most original films. It builds its atmosphere of dread slowly, focusing on the mundane, and revealing its uncanny truths with the relish of a rotten advent calendar. With ingenious set pieces, stomach-churning suspense and an utterly terrifying villain, Jane Doe is a morbid blast.

7. GREEN ROOM

960

I almost passed this one up; the premise sounded rehashed. And I have learned my lesson – this film cannot be missed. Jeremy Saulnier crafts both a masterclass in violent mayhem, and a layered character study. When your characters are so nuanced and realistic, it becomes even more disturbing when they die painfully. I will never enter a dive bar again without thinking of this film.

6. DEAREST SISTER

dearest_sister_1_copy__large

Mattie Do is one of cinema’s most exciting new voices, and her second film is proof of her talent. This searing sociological ghost story is creepy, gruesome and disturbing, but not just because of the phantoms. Do’s exploration of politics, class, greed and family is rendered with brutal human realism. From a genre perspective, it’s entertaining and scary, but there is far more going on under the layers of flesh.

5. SOUTHBOUND

southbound-still

Anthologies are tough to pull off; but the team behind Southbound seems to have it down to a science. With four stories that all exist in the same world – a purgatorial desert full of demons – the film adopts an atmosphere of the bizarre that harkens back to The Twilight Zone, while creating a dreadful experience all its own. I was enthralled by the environment, thrilled by the individual tales, and amazed by the film’s ability to end it with cohesion.

4. THE INVITATION

invitiation-03

Karyn Kusama is incredible; and this tense, utterly disturbing film is a reminder of her talent. A simple premise – a dinner party that begins dissolving into a cult gathering – becomes a deep and frightening exploration of grief’s effect on relationships. Being partial to Suburban horror stories and occult thrillers, this is right up my alley; and Kusama renders these elements brilliantly through her attention to suspense and character.

3. THE LOVE WITCH

swwitch

I adore this film for many reasons – it’s visually gorgeous and uses old school cinematic techniques with brilliance; it shocked me with its depth and tragedy; and it introduced me to the voice of Anna Biller. This lush, complex and upsetting thesis on objectification and sexuality could only have been crafted by Biller, whose attention to detail alone is mind blowing. As far as I’m concerned, she is one of the premiere auteur voices of the decade.

2. TRASH FIRE

Trash-with-fire-movie-2

Not only does Richard Bates’ third film revive authentic Gothic cinema – satirical, pitch-black, and rich in grotesque imagery – but it broke my heart, then mended it (sort of) with its strangely empowering conclusion. Equal parts millennial comedy, familial horror and identity drama, this film surpassed my expectations in every way. It’s also one of the few horror films this year to feature a substantial queer character; let’s have more of that in 2017.

1. THE WITCH

THWIWCHA

A standard choice, maybe, but it deserves the number one spot. Robert Eggers meticulously recreates a Puritan-era farm, populates it with characters who come loaded with neuroses and paranoias; then unleashes an utterly frightening supernatural force upon them. It’s unapologetically a horror film, a psychologically realistic one, that leaves the viewer harrowed and invigorated. I haven’t seen anything like it, and probably won’t anytime soon. It also introduces us to a new horror icon; who else has pledged their souls to Black Phillip?

In lieu of a 10th spot, I’ll list a few films that came out last year but I only saw recently; or films that haven’t technically been released yet, such as: the subdued and touching psychological thriller They Look Like People; Baskin, the decade’s coolest descent into Hell; a Lovecraftian effects extravaganza, The Void; and a film that both made me retch and blew my mind, We Are The Flesh.

 

Review: THE LOVE WITCH

Posted in Films That Haunt Me, Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 11, 2016 by smuckyproductions

(This is one film to watch post-election, because of its empowerment, brilliance and social intelligence.)

Stylistic homage in horror is nothing new in 2016. So many of the greatest genre offerings in the past few years have been throwbacks to past decades, usually the 70s or the 80s. It’s an interesting reaction to the “horror is dead” statement that keeps throwing itself around – filmmakers respond to this by returning to their roots, the eras during which so many horror classics were produced. Few of these films go beyond homage, though, to comment on the eras that they are meant to inhabit. THE LOVE WITCH is one such film.

love-witch-2

Anna Biller’s sophomore feature is, like her debut VIVA, created in the style of 60s and 70s sexploitation cinema.She achieves this homage with an incredible attention to detail – everything from the film grain and the harsh lighting to the vivid production design and celestial soundtrack fits the era impossibly well. Had I been told I was watching a 60s film, I wouldn’t have questioned it (aside from a few important moments that I can’t reveal here).

This world exists around the titular witch, Elaine, who joins a Wiccan cult and uses her practices for one thing: seducing men. Hence, her name. But Elaine runs into some trouble when her love spells backfire. Soon, the locals become wary and a handsome police officer begins following her trail. Will Elaine finally find love, or will she fall victim to her own desires?

love-witch-3

The plot, like the film’s aesthetic and atmosphere, is pure exploitation. Its occult elements and sexually ‘liberated’ characters provide plenty of excuses for trippy visuals and copious sex scenes. Biller’s script is full of cheesy one-liners and flirtations straight out of a dating how-to; but it’s aware of itself enough that the audience can laugh without mocking the film. These moments constructed to be funny, but they aren’t farcical – Biller takes her world seriously, too. That’s where the brilliance comes in.

love-witch-1

What begins as an exercise in homage evolves into a political exploration of themes found throughout 60s and 70s cinema – where does sex-positivity end and delusion begin? Had this film been directed by a man, perhaps these questions would not be asked. That is why Biller’s scrutinizing voice is essential to the film’s success. Early on, as Elaine explains what men want in a woman (a maternal figure who satisfies sexually, more or less), her friend shuts her down – how can she say such demeaning things? Of course, at first, Elaine seems an expert in seduction. Until people start ending up dead.

love-witch-4

This is where Biller’s genius shows through. She isn’t content to perpetuate the sexualization of her predecessors – she displays that, while these films are attractive, they also contain some demoralizing ideas. Without giving too much away, I’ll say that Elaine’s story is not all bright colors and sex scenes. THE LOVE WITCH earns its place in the horror genre through its dissection, and destruction, of the demeaning elements.

Apart from being a lush and charming homage, Anna Biller’s THE LOVE WITCH manages to be a rich commentary. It exists in two eras, eventually bringing them together until the lines blur – have things really changed? For cinephiles and social psychologists alike, this is a hefty, essential film. It will take you under its spell, and won’t let you leave without a little bloodletting.

A Poem out of Darkness

Posted in Original Writing with tags , , , , , , on November 10, 2016 by smuckyproductions

They mean to break down your body
They mean to flay it into little pieces
that are easier to pack away
and poke holes in

They do not realize
your body cannot be parceled
It was made whole
Through the fire of their stares, their hisses
it continues to move
Rent perhaps, torn at and patched,
but inseparable.

What they cannot understand
they seek to destroy
but our bodies, patches and all, prove
Erasure is out of their power.