Archive for new york

Films That Haunt Me (Halloween edition): THE SENTINEL

Posted in Films That Haunt Me, Halloween with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on October 14, 2015 by smuckyproductions

This hasn’t come up too often on this site yet, but I have a particular obsession with occult thrillers from the 60’s and 70’s. Due to the success of films like “Rosemary’s Baby” and “The Exorcist,” along with a real-world paranoia of cult figures (Manson and clan), this subgenre was booming. While most offerings are not worth remembering, I was struck by a lesser-known thriller from the later 70’s, eerily titled THE SENTINEL.

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The plot is, by now, pretty familiar: a young woman moves into a spooky, low-priced apartment building that has a sinister secret. Plagued by bizarre visions and neighbors who seem more than a bit off, the woman hurries to get to the bottom of the forces surrounding her – but she doesn’t know that she has already been chosen to fulfill a destiny that determines the fate of the world.

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It’s clear to see how much this film influenced others of its time. The depiction of Hell and its inhabitants is shocking, even by today’s standards, and has been copied more times than we realize. Unique, surreal visuals and sequences permeate the film and give it an artistic quality that elevate the fear from run-of-the-mill Devil-chills to a more psychological dread. And the twists, in my opinion, are brilliantly done. The supernatural events lead up to a reveal that is, if not surprising, intensely disturbing.

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What really draws me to “The Sentinel” is its distinct 70’s atmosphere. I swear, there was something about the celluloid that makes the aura so different from any other era in film. The camera itself presents the quality of looking into a dream, which lends itself to the horrific aspect of the story and heightens it. Films like this one, along with “The Omen” and “Halloween” (amongst dozens of others), carry something incomparable in the very fact that they used this type of celluloid. This, in part, is what makes me fall in love with these types of films. And this one has everything – Catholic guilt, midnight rites, and an entrance to Hell.

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For atmosphere, visuals and a good ol’ Satanic ghost story, it’s hard to find a better offering than “The Sentinel.” It’s a celebration of all that was great about 1970s horror.

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A Photographic Trip through Sleepy Hollow

Posted in Halloween with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 12, 2015 by smuckyproductions

I took a little trip up to Sleepy Hollow/Tarrytown yesterday, to honor the season and the legend that evokes its name. For any Hallow’s Eve fanatic, this town is a dream – its entire tourist income is based around this month, of course.

Despite the clearly marked tourist draws and the commercialist air, I still found that Sleepy Hollow carried the aura that Washington Irving immortalized in his legend:
“A drowsy, dreamy influence seems to hang over the land, and to pervade the entire atmosphere.”
Time seemed to flitter away without measure, and the longer I stayed, the stronger sense I had of an uncanny peace coming over me. There is some sort of spectral quality to that area.

Here are a few photographs of the highlights, from the town center and the surrounding neighborhood.

Resident scarecrow.

Resident scarecrow.

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Music hall on Main St.

Antique store.

Antique store.

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One of the many impressive decorated houses.

One of the many impressive decorated houses.

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Forbidden Tomes: HORROR STORIES of TRUMAN CAPOTE

Posted in Forbidden Tomes with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 20, 2015 by smuckyproductions

Though he’s known for more whimsical classics like “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” and “The Grass Harp,” or the harrowing true crime account “In Cold Blood,” there is more to Truman Capote than one might at first recognize. He is undoubtedly masterful with sentimental, nostalgic tales and beautiful insights into memory – but lesser discussed are his forays into terror and the Gothic. Today I want to shed some light on the neglected Horror Stories of Truman Capote.

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From a literary perspective, his Collected Stories are a must-read, and all the more exciting for horror fans due to the surprise moments of terror hidden within. In these moments, Capote equals Shirley Jackson in his ability to conjure tiny moments of suspense with the utmost subtlety, and always favoring an ambiguous end. They speak to the darkness of his own visions, something that would come into full effect with “In Cold Blood” (which, in its own way, is utterly horrifying).

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My personal favorites are “Miriam” and “Master Misery.” The former finds an amiable widow befriending a strange child at the movie theater. She soon regrets it as the child begins to haunt her home, ringing at late hours and demanding to be given a home. It’s a fabulous entry in the ‘evil child’ subgenre, and playing on something innate in most people – who can refuse a child, no matter what it begins to ask of you?

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“Master Misery” is less direct in its horror and its story, but its depiction of psychological breakdown is very effective. It follows a woman who, strapped for cash, begins to sell her dreams to a mysterious but enticingly wealthy old man. But what happens when she starts to run out of dreams? This tale is surreal and ambiguous, weaving a bizarre New York City in which a person’s life is slowly devoured. In spite of its ambiguity, I found it deeply disturbing, mostly because it resonated a truth I hadn’t yet named.

The collection features less horrific stories that still contain hints of the Gothic – “A Tree of Night,” in which a young woman is hounded into insanity by grotesque drunkards on an overnight train; and “Children on their Birthdays,” the retrospective tale of a girl who holds uncanny sway over the children in her town. All of these darker offerings speak to a literary tradition of subtle horror that I often think has been forgotten by modern writers. Capote roots his terror in the unraveling of an already fragile mind, pushed over the edge by an unnatural experience that is usually quite small. The aura of hopelessness that hovers over his endings makes them all the more devastating.

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While certainly not a genre writer, Truman Capote shows how capable he is at creating a dreadful and psychological atmosphere. The above stories (and the others, in spite of their lack of fear) are so often forgotten in the horror canon. I recommend them to anyone who likes their dread to creep up slowly, quietly, and internally, so that it is impossible to run away.