Uzumaki, a Japanese Classic (Review)

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I fucking love Junji Ito! He is the master. The legend. If you love comics and weird, supernatural shit, he’s THE MANGAKA to read. Junji Ito is the only horror writer/artist whose work makes me physically ill and or gives me nightmares. Seriously, it takes A LOT to frighten me and Junji Ito’s drawings get under my skin each time. If I think about “Glyceride” too hard, I get sick all over again! Ugh! *shudders*

Newcomers to Ito’s work should read “The Enigma of Amigara Fault” or the celebrated “Tomie” series. Ito’s influences are H.P. Lovecraft, Kazuo Umezo (I’ll review his comics in another post), and Katsuhiro Otomo, the creator of “Akira.”

I recently got my hands on the complete hardcover edition of Ito’s famous spiral horror, “Uzumaki.” I wanted something other than “Johnny the Homicidal Maniac,” and “The Walking Dead” in my horror comic book collection. “Uzumaki” looks so pretty on my shelf now. I’m fangirling, I know, but Jesus Christ, I love comic books in hardcover! Why aren’t all comic books published in hardcover? *drool* There are lush, color pages, too, which is nice. I’ve only ever read Ito’s work on scanlation sites. So it is nice to own a physical copy of the man’s brilliance.

“Uzumaki” is terrifying, gorgeous, hilarious, and weird all at once. Ito steers clear of blood and splatter and uses psychological mindfuckery to frighten his readers instead. The basic premise follows a schoolgirl and her town’s obsession with supernatural spirals. Ito has an incredible imagination–each chapter is more insane than the previous one. The distance between reality and fantasy is what drives the horror, here. Reading his comics is like tripping on literary-acid. The stories seep slowly into your subconscious, scrambling your disbelief, and then throwing your renewed perception together in haphazard, unrecognizable ways. It’s nothing short of genius. His art isn’t beautiful. In fact, it borders on the simplistic. And yet that’s why it works! If he drew elaborate dreamscapes, it would be too fantastical for the reader to accept. Ito’s straightforward approach adds to the story’s credibility. I always feel strange when I read Junji Ito’s comics. I hope you will, too. He really is one of my favorites. He’s right up there with Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, Anne Rice, Chuck Palahniuk, and other modern classics, I think.

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African American Tarot

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I have several tarot decks but I haven’t reviewed any of them. Today I’m pulling out my newest  set, African American Tarot by Lo Scarabeo. Lord knows, I searched low and high for a tarot deck that didn’t have the generic white, European characters on them! I saw a few decks that depicted “ethnic” characters/themes, but the artwork was hideous and I don’t accept that having brown characters means I have to compromise on quality. No, honey, not this one. White folks have been whitewashing the trade since…well…colonialism. But that’s another rant for another post. Just walk into your local occult shop or hoodoo shop (haha, don’t get me started!) and count how many people of color you see. Chances are, not many.

So I searched for a beautiful tarot deck with lush, detailed pictures like the Euro-centric ones in my collection. It wasn’t easy. There were a few that caught my eye, but I’ll only review  the deck my boyfriend surprised me with. I like obscure and or rare tarot decks, and I was not disappointed by African American Tarot. Illustrations are by Thomas Davis and Jamal R. is the writer.

The African American Tarot has nothing to do with “African Americans,” like advertised.  It’s more like generic tribal with afro-centric imagery. Lots of zebras, elephants, lions, and muscle-y men in loincloths and elaborate headdresses. I don’t mind all this, but there’s nothing “American” about what I just described, either. I was hoping for a more…um…”modern” approach, but whatevs. At least I have a deck with characters that (sorta) look like me! Historical black figures grace the foreground on some of the cards. 2 of Chalices has Jean Baptiste Du Sable and 5 of Pentacles features Sojourner Truth.

The minor and major arcana are based on traditional Rider-Waite themes. Like most tarot decks, there’s a booklet included with notes from the author. He infuses African-based folklore and deities into the descriptions and does not limit his scope to just one African religion/region. But I appreciate his broad approach. I don’t know what Sojourner Truth has to do with the 5 of Pentacles, but I’m happy she’s there, haha. Disjointed? Yes. But I’m willing to forget all that because the artwork is so well-done! The images are interpretive and I feel a visceral connection to them. Some of the images are odd, like the 2 of Wands, which depict a ghostlike man screaming in agony while a man rides on a bull above a baby in a crib. Um…yeah.

My favorite card (in any deck) is the Queen of Swords and so I always look to her first before making up my mind about the rest of the deck. In the African American Tarot, she is personified by Yemaja, who also just  happens to be my favorite Goddess. All in all, I like this deck. It’s not my favorite of all time, but I do look forward to using it when I am in the mood for an intuitive and less structured experience.

Crucible of Horror (1970) REVIEW

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Classic British horror at its finest. I must say, I really enjoyed this movie! This cult-classic flick was directed by Viktor Ritelis and stars Michael Gough, Yvonne Mitchell, and Sharon Gurney.  John Hotchkins provides a deliciously eerie score, and the music reminded me very much of the wailing theremin in Dark Shadows. Is the story supernatural or a crime-mystery? Not quite sure. But I won’t spoil the surprise ending by revealing too much, here.

First five minutes: Not much dialogue, moody camera closeups while patriarch, Walter Eastwood, incessantly washes his hands and stares at his blinking cat. All of this would have bored me to tears if not for the odd camera angles and the characters’ stifled movements. Right away the audience feels a sense of veiled oppression, which is fully-realized once Walter’s daughter, Jane,  kisses a business associate and is savagely beaten with a switch. The camera immediately snaps back to Walter washing his hands again. His wife, Edith, listens to disembodied voices in the attic while Jane sobs from her wounds. There isn’t much dialogue and we’re still not sure what’s going on , but the absence of information only adds to the mounting suspense. We learn Walter is as meticulous as he is cruel. He coddles his son, Rupert, while terrorizing his wife and daughter with physical violence. He seems fixated on his daughter (and her sexuality) most of all.

When she receives a letter at breakfast the next morning, Walter snatches it away and tells his family he will go to the family cottage by himself. Once his back is turned, Edith casually suggests that she and Jane should kill him. Only she’s not joking. The mother-daughter kill-team show up at the cottage that night with poison and a loaded rifle.

I’m not going to write what happens next–but, oh, dear! Things for Walter go downhill from there!

It’s easy to see why Crucible of Horror is a cult-classic. The family is horrifying because audience can relate to them. And the twist ending…you will NOT see it coming! It is strange. Open-ended. And leaves unsettling questions in your mind long after the credits have finished. I didn’t expect to like the movie so much, but I will certainly add it to my collection. I recommend this movie for folks who like mysteries, family horror, British actors, and psychological surrealism. I’m giving this movie an A+ for creeping me out!

Darkened Hills (Review)

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Darkened Hills (Darkened - The West Virginia Vampire Series, Book #1)Darkened Hills by Gary Lee Vincent

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

At first glance ‘Darkened Hills’ looks like any other run-of-the-mill vampire book. With its unsubtle references to Bram Stoker’s, ‘Dracula’ and Stephen King’s ‘Salem’s Lot,’ one might dismiss the novel for being yet another uninspired regurgitation. Horror readers are all too familiar with vampire lore and its tropes; therefore it takes an exceptional vampire story to stand tall above the rest. Gary Vincent not only succeeds in doing that, but does so while providing buckets of laughs and snorts.

‘Darkened Hills’ is an eccentric mishmash of gothic horror, pop culture, and black, tongue-in-cheek comedy. I appreciated the author’s nod to my favorite show, ‘Breaking Bad’ with the character, Walt Pinkman. I also loved how Vincent opened each chapter with a quote from one of Edgar Allan Poe’s short stories. Each quote foreshadowed the events of the chapter—a strange, but dexterous touch on the author’s part. But no, this is not a literary horror novel. Nor does it try to be. There is gore and splatter for comedic effect. Most memorable is the scene when that man runs over a herd of cats with his lawnmower. Do feline guts and “girlie cams” add much suspense? No. Was it funny? Hell yes. And that sums up much of what ‘Darkened Hills’ accomplishes here.

This book is an ode to popular vampire novels before it. Vincent does not attempt to supersede the legacy of Stoker and King, but rather poke fun at it and revel in their entertainment value. The campiness is a refreshing approach and reminded me of Robert Rodriquez’s movie, ‘Planet Terror.’ Even as I write this sentence, I am replaying the ridiculous “Cat Herding” scene in my mind and am grinning again.

I wouldn’t say ‘Darkened Hills’ is frightening, but it is funny and there’s plenty of cheese, sex, and violence to love.

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