Spooky Film Recs for Halloween, part III (2017 edition)

The adventure concludes!

I tend to gravitate toward ghost films, but from time to time other forms of horror tempt me. So if you’re looking for a ghost-free option, here are three films for your consideration:


The Devil’s Candy (2015) — Unrated
A struggling painter is possessed by satanic forces after he and his young family move into their dream home in rural Texas.
After finding this on several “best horror” lists I decided to branch out a little from my usual ghostly fare. Imagine my surprise when I recognized gentle Coyote Bernstein from Grace & Frankie playing the tormented hero! (Can we all get the name of the trainer who prepped Ethan Embry for his shirtless scenes, please?) A man’s struggle with artistic integrity clashes with his obligations as a father, and the way in which the conflict evolves makes for a very tense–at times gut wrenching–viewing experience. (BTW: I happened upon this youtube review and I agree with everything this guy says about The Devil’s Candy. But I can’t decide if I want you to watch the review before or after viewing the film. Maybe it’s better NOT to know too much before watching?) The Devil’s Candy is unrated but I’d give it a strong R for violence, gore, and disturbing content.
Watch the trailer (a bit OTT). Available on Netflix. Metascore: 72


The Girl with All the Gifts (2016) — rated R
A scientist and a teacher living in a dystopian future embark on a journey of survival with a special young girl named Melanie.
I devoured (heh) M.R. Carey’s novel a couple of years ago, so of course I noticed the departures from the text and missed the character development while watching the film. Still, I think it holds up as its own thing, particularly because of the strong performances. (Special thumbs up for Sennia Nanua and the always brilliant Paddy Considine.) If you’re looking for a fresh entry in the post-apocalyptic genre, I recommend this film. And if you like it, please read the book!
Watch the trailer (or don’t — it’s spoils more than I’d prefer). Available on Amazon Prime and on Netflix (DVD only). Metascore: 67


The Invitation (2015) — Unrated
While attending a dinner party at his former home, a man thinks his ex-wife and her new husband have sinister intentions for their guests.
This is one of those films where I think the less I say the better, so this will be brief. Two years after a terrible tragedy, old friends gather. But the hosts have a mysterious agenda, and our protagonist (who bears an uncanny resemblance to Tom Hardy — I’m not complaining!) suspects a dark purpose lurks behind their seductive hospitality. Deliciously eerie and tense! The Invitation is unrated, but I’d give it an R for violence and adult content.
Watch the trailer. Available on . Metascore: 72

That’s it for this year. Feel free to share your Horror recommendations in the comments. Wishing you heaps of happy horror viewing this Halloween!

AND REMEMBER — if at any point you want to browse my previous spooky film recs (which go all the way back to 2012), simply click the tag “spooky film recs” in the tags list below or in the sidebar! Easy Peasy.

Spooky Film Recs for Halloween, part II (2017 edition)

The adventure continues…


Dark Signal (2016) — Unrated
The spirit of a murdered girl returns with a message for the staff of a local radio station.
Ghostly voices appearing during a radio broadcast? Yes, please! I’m a fan of Welsh actor Gareth David-Lloyd from his days on Torchwood, so of course I had to watch this one. Dark Signal is just as much slasher film as ghost story, and there’s hardly any subtlety to it, but it totally held my attention. Also, it briefly features James Cosmo, who is in every TV show and film you’ve ever loved, so why not give it a try? If there’s such a thing as a “ghostly slasher romp,” this is it. (No rating, but I would give it an “R” for language/violence/gore.)
Watch the Trailer (warning: it is cranked up to eleven!). Available from Netflix and for rent from Amazon. No meta score — see external reviews on imdb here.


Under the Shadow (2016) — PG-13
As a mother and daughter struggle to cope with the terrors of the post-revolution, war-torn Tehran of the 1980s, a mysterious evil begins to haunt their home.
This is the best reviewed film of my 2017 recommendations, and I enjoyed every second of it. A progressive Iranian woman denied the opportunity to continue her medical studies must accustom herself to stay-at-home mothering when her doctor husband is sent to the front lines. The bombing of Tehran grows increasingly violent, but she knows that taking her daughter to her in-laws will mean a loss of freedom. Does her resentment at being left behind (in more ways than one) explain the bad behavior of her daughter? Or is something else going on? Highly recommended, and very possibly an option for family viewing. Filmed in Persian but English subtitles available.
Watch the Trailer. Available from Netflix and for rent at Amazon. Metascore: 84


I Am the Pretty Thing that Lives in the House (2016) — Unrated
A young nurse takes care of an elderly author who lives in a haunted house.
This is my favorite of the new-to-me ghost films I’ve watched this year. From the very first line I wondered if this was based on a Shirley Jackson short story. (The title and the protagonist’s voice-over narration both reminded me of We Have Always Lived in the Castle.) But no, this was written and directed by Oz Perkins, son of the late Anthony Perkins, and once I figured that out it all made a certain sort of sense to me. I LOVED it. Warning: people who crave jump scares, gore, and a clear resolution will not like this film. It’s a slow burn of dread punctuated by occasional bursts of horror. Ruth Wilson (so good in Jane Eyre, Luther, and The Affair) offers a quirky and compelling performance. No rating, but solidly PG-13 in content.
Watch the Trailer. Available from Netflix. Metascore: 68

(Perkins’ first horror film, The Blackcoat’s Daughter, features more hallmarks of the genre — demonic possession, lots of blood/gore, surprising twist in the resolution — but I cared less about the characters in that one. RobertEbert.com agrees: “In spite of some compelling performances and a consistent mood, [Blackcoat’s Daughter] fails to ground any of these aesthetic flourishes in story or emotion.” It’s a good film and worth watching, but I am the Pretty Thing was much more to my taste.)

Stay tuned for the final installment of my 2017 film recs, in which I’ll be sharing non-ghostly horror options.

AND REMEMBER — if at any point you want to browse my previous spooky film recs, simply click the tag “spooky film recs” in the tags list below or in the sidebar! Easy Peasy.

Spooky Film Recs for Halloween, part I (2017 edition)

It’s that time of year when I voraciously consume recent (or new-to-me) horror films in hopes of sharing my favorites with you — oh what fun I have! If you are a horror fan, you’ve probably seen most of the recent mainstream options. However, there are plenty of lesser known films waiting to give you goosebumps, and I’ll feature a few of them today and next week.

Sadly, I’ve only seen two horror films in the theater this year: Get Out (huge thumbs up for this one–more about tension than horror) and Annabelle: Creation (Bleh–I’m not a fan of the “jumpscares on a platter” brand of horror). For a mainstream Gothic option, I highly recommend Sofia Coppola’s gorgeously haunting The Beguiled (a vast improvement upon the 1971 Clint Eastwood version, in my opinion, though perhaps not as true to the novel).

And now I offer some lesser-known horror films for your consideration:


The Blackwell Ghost (2017) — Unrated
A filmmaker tries to prove that ghosts are real but soon regrets his intentions after he finds himself being terrorized in a haunted house by a ghost with a dark past.

There is no IMDB listing for this, and therefore no rating or metascore. I’m convinced this is a mockumentary, but it’s realistic enough to have inspired at least one paranormal researcher to investigate it. (Although this investigation could have been part of the promo?) I happen to LOVE films about paranormal investigations, and I prefer fictional representations to actual ghost hunter shows, which alternately embarrass and bore me. This film is only an hour long, and I found it charming, funny, and legitimately spooky. It didn’t terrify me, but I experienced actual, sustained GOOSEBUMPS, and you know by this point I am terribly jaded regarding horror films. This is the kind of film I wish there were more of–engaging characters, spooky setting, and a reliance on tension rather than jump scares. I would give it a PG rating for a bit of profanity. No sex/violence/gore. (Teachers–this one could be fun to watch in a high school film class!)
Watch the trailer. Available on Amazon (free for Prime members).


A Dark Song (2016) — Unrated
A determined young woman and a damaged occultist risk their lives and souls to perform a dangerous ritual that will grant them what they want.

Found this recommended at Vulture’s Best Horror Movies of 2017 (So far). First of all, it was shot at a Welsh country house, so if nothing else you’ll enjoy the scenery. I appreciated how the film perfectly enacts the “emotional wound” sort of story journey–for that very reason, however, it’s not an easy film to watch. If something along the lines of “Extreme Bootcamp for Desperate Occultists” appeals to you, you might appreciate this. It is unrated, but I would give it a solid R for adult content, brief nudity, and mild gore. This isn’t a “fun” horror film, but it is beautifully shot, wonderfully atmospheric, and interesting as a character study.
Watch the Trailer. Available at Netflix and for rent at Amazon. Metascore: 71


The Possession (2012) — Rated PG-13
A young girl buys an antique box at a yard sale, unaware that inside the collectible lives a malicious ancient spirit. The girl’s father teams with his ex-wife to find a way to end the curse upon their child.

I found a reference to this while researching dybbuks and was surprised I’d never heard of it. It isn’t a great film, but it does spend a good amount of time on character development and offers nuanced performances from Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Kyra Sedgwick, and the young actresses who play their daughters. Yes, there are hokey and/or predictable moments, but there are some truly spine-chilling ones, as well. Go in with low expectations, perhaps?
Watch the trailer. Available on Amazon to rent or buy. Metascore: 45 (rather low, but Roger Ebert gave it 3.5 stars out of 4. And it’s Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Kyra Sedgwick!)

Stay tuned — more recommendations coming on Tuesday!

AND REMEMBER — if at any point you want to browse my previous spooky film recs (dating all the way back to 2012), simply click the tag “spooky film recs” in the tags list below or in the sidebar! Easy Peasy.

Darkly Gothic Poems for Halloween

Welcome to my new WordPress blog!

My Blogger blog is now an archive, but you will find all my old posts dating back to 2010 here as well as there. As a reader, I find WordPress blog posts so much easier to read and comment upon — I hope you enjoy this new interface. Now, on to a little “warm up” for Halloween. . .

Way back in 2006 I found the Goth-O-Matic Poetry Generator and created a Feeling Very Sorry for Yourself Darkly Gothic poem entitled “Alone in Darkness.” With Halloween just around the corner, this seemed the perfect activity to resurrect from the past, especially because the link still works. I’d love to see your Goth-o-Matic poem!

Here’s my new poem of Supernatural Horror & Violence:

Dark Betrayal

Around, all around, the shadows gather.
My dread grows as the Dark One’s touch falls against my neck.
It smites me, and darkly my
essence drips
to the broken ground.
In horror I call your name
while Death’s shadow looms.
Now alone, my cry of mercy falls upon darkened eyes.

This is my doom

So fun! Do try it yourself and post in the comments if you like. Teachers, I think this activity would be great fun to use in the classroom.

STAY TUNED — my 2017 edition of Spooky Film Recommendations is coming soon.

Mothers of Invention — A Tribute

Hello blog friends! It’s been a long time since I’ve posted here. I’ve missed chatting with you.

I should explain that my lovely and loving mother died on May 19 at the age of 71. Since then I’ve alternated between sorrow, anxiety, numbness, and a cautious cheerfulness. Many of you have been through this. No doubt you’d tell me there’s no right or wrong way to grieve, and that I should give myself as much time as I need. I do appreciate that.

This post really isn’t about grief, however. It is about a legacy of love. To honor my mother (and grandmother) I’d like to share a specific example of their magical influence on my life.

I promise this will make you SMILE.

Like many young girls, I obsessed over the Laura Ingalls Wilder books. My fascination began when Mom read Little House in the Big Woods and Little House on the Prairie to me at bedtime. As Laura and I grew older, I graduated to reading the novels on my own. Wishing to be as much like my favorite protagonist as possible, I demanded that my hair be braided, wore my ruffled calico dress until it burst at the seams, and begged to go to Grandma’s farm where I could practice baking, butter churning, and cow tending. (Working in the garden was less inspiring, but imagining myself as Laura helped make it endurable.) When Mom remarried I decided henceforth that she and my stepfather would be known as Ma and Pa. No one dared to disagree. Even my Barbie dolls were forced to hold down a claim under a tree in the backyard. In their little frame house they cooked on a miniature cast iron stove, slept on straw-filled mattresses, and fed fragrant grass seed to their (plastic) horses.

Mom and Grandma were well aware of my obsession. They shared it, after all. And thus one year they concocted a plan for my Christmas present–a plan so ambitious they must have been as intimidated as they were excited by the enormity of their task. They undertook to sew a complete wardrobe for my Barbie dolls based on Laura Ingalls’ wedding trousseau from These Happy Golden Years.

Each day, as soon as I was safely on the school bus, my mother collected my Barbies and drove to Grandma’s house. Together they pored over the text of the book, taking notes on her descriptions of fabrics and dress styles. They cross-referenced these details with a reproduction 1900 Sears & Roebuck catalog and adapted Barbie dress patterns to the old-fashioned styles. Once they knew exactly what they would be sewing it was time to plunder the ragbag for fabric scraps that closely resembled the dresses described in the book. Only after they’d exhausted that resource did they take out their pocketbooks and travel to the fabric store for the materials they did not already have.

They watched the clock carefully in the afternoons to ensure my mom would get home before the bus. Each day she returned my dolls to what she hoped was the exact spot where I’d left them. To her credit, I never had a clue of the costume fitting adventures my Barbie dolls had undertaken during the day…


At least, not until Christmas Day brought this box of MAGIC.

Would you like to see what was inside?

[Here’s where I confess to devoting an entire day to a Barbie photo shoot, just so I could show you the clothes that were packed in that box. Many thanks go to Disney’s “Belle” Barbie for standing in for my long lost dolls. And as always with my blog photos, if you would like a closer view, click the image to enlarge.]


First there was the brown poplin dress:

It’s smooth, long sleeves fitted her arms perfectly to the wrists, where a band of plain silk ended them. The neck was high with a smooth band of the plain silk around the throat. The polonaise fitted tightly and buttoned all down the front with small round buttons covered with the plain brown silk. Below the smooth hips it flared and rippled down and covered the top of the flounce on the underskirt. A band of the plain silk finished the polonaise at the bottom. (These Happy Golden Years, 162-63).

I loved that there were two parts to this dress, and that you can see the underskirt’s ruffle peeping out below the silk ribbon of the polonaise. Note: this was the dress Laura wore during the infamous buggy ride in which she shook the buggy whip and startled the colts, all because Almanzo tried to put his arm around her. Cheeky young man! (And “devilish” young lady!)


The pink lawn dress also came in two pieces and was gorgeously feminine. Grandma and Mom were particularly adept at recreating the tuck work that Laura described:

They made the waist tight-fitting, with two clusters of tucks down the back, and two in front…The skirt was gathered very full all round into a narrow waistband, which buttoned over the bottom of the waist to secure them from slipping apart. All down the full skirt, tucks went around and around it, spaced evenly a little way apart, and below the bottom tuck was a full-gathered ruffled four inches wide that just touched Laura’s shoe tips (243-44).


Laura’s black cashmere wedding dress was constructed of soft, fine-waled corduroy, complete with lace at the neck and a tiny wooden brooch painted with an even tinier strawberry. [See a closer view of the brooch.] Grandma and Mom sewed Laura’s straw poke bonnet out of roughly textured green fabric and lined it with blue cotton.

Laura was ready when Almanzo came. She was wearing her new black cashmere dress and her sage-green poke bonnet with the blue lining and the blue ribbon bow tied under left ear. The soft black tips of her shoes barely peeped from beneath her flaring skirt as she walked (279).

(For the record, I simply could not manage to tie that ribbon under Belle’s left ear without it looking ridiculous.)


Being very attentive to detail, Mom and Grandma did not forget Laura’s underclothes. Mom cleverly constructed a narrow hoop skirt of wire and tape–“the very latest style in the East” (161)–and even fashioned a tiny bustle that could be taped underneath for fullness or on top for modest backside enhancement. Knowing Laura preferred a small bustle, I usually taped it on top. (In the photo, however, it is taped underneath for maximum enhancement. Check the side view of the black wedding dress for the effect.) To cover the hoop they provided a soft white cotton petticoat with yellow ribbon trim. Their pièce de résistance, however, was a corset of white satin sewn with the tiniest of stitches to fit the fabric exactly to Barbie’s inhuman proportions.


Mom and Grandma even found time to sew a long-sleeved, flowing nightgown of white flannel sprinkled with delicate purple flowers for Barbie. They also made a girl-sized one out of the same material for me. Sadly, my gown is long gone, but Barbie looks quite cozy in hers, doesn’t she?

As you might imagine, I was thoroughly enchanted by this miniature and very complicated wardrobe, and I spent hours dressing and undressing my dolls. A few items didn’t survive the heavy use, and one dress (a blue calico?) was drastically retooled during my Medieval Barbie phase, but the rest were passed down to my baby sister when I went to college. (I honestly can’t remember how I felt about this. I wonder if I even knew?) Eventually my dear nieces played with them as well, and I’m certain the dresses enjoyed their varied adventures over the years. Their good condition today is a testament both to the care that went into their construction and the delicacy with which we played with them.

A few years ago Mom and I searched through the toy box and collected all the Laura Ingalls items we could find. Just last week I conducted my photo shoot–partly for posterity, but mostly as a way to celebrate Mom and Grandma. They were true mothers of invention, and it is such an honor (not to mention a balm to my sore heart) to share their industry and artistry with you!

I will close with a message for these dearly departed ladies: Thank you, Grandma and Mom, for taking time out of your busy days to enter a child’s imagination, for making her dreams come true, and for gifting her with your love of history and story. Thank you for the magic. You both will live forever in my heart.


Grandma and me (You can see I inherited her mouth) on Christmas Day, 1978? (Photo taken by Mom)


Margaret Ellen (Grandma) and Marcia (Mom), circa 1962

**Many thanks to my sister, Heather Miller, who searched the family albums for the Christmas photos!