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I wasn’t sure what I was getting into when I was asked if I wanted to cover the new “LGBTQ horror” film, SUMMONING SYLVIA from director/writer duo, Wesley Taylor and Alex Wyse.

New LGBTQ horror can feel either very outrageous and full-on camp like Death Drop Gorgeous, Ticked Off Tr*****s With Knives, or You’re Killing Me.

Or they can be very cerebral and dramatic like Raw, Lyle, and Bit.

So, which route would SUMMONING SYLVIA take?

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four silly guys
I think we all know

Summoning Sylvia’s Plot:

It’s the bachelor weekend for Larry (Travis Coles) and his three best friends (Frankie Grande, Troy Iwata, and Noah J. Ricketts) have booked an entire weekend to spend together in a historic house. They’re set on getting glam, party games, drinking appletinis, eating fancy snacks, and the pièce de résistance — a séance to summon Sylvia (Veanne Cox), the murdering mother and resident ghost.

However, what they didn’t plan on was Larry’s new brother-in-law (Nicholas Logan) to crash the party and open up new doors to dark pasts…

spooky ghosts in Summoning Sylvia

Thoughts:

I was expecting to enjoy this movie enough. Nothing too much, nothing too little.

With a lot of LGBTQ horror comedies, they typically have the same jokes and punchlines. And as much as I love big dick jokes and bottoming jokes as much as anyone, but it gets to be…a lot. It gets stale. It gets boring.

And worse, inauthentic to the characters and plot.

one of the characters screaming

However, I was pleasantly surprised. Yes, this caters to a very specific type of gay subculture, but it was authentic in its celebration. When Larry wipes off his eye makeup, knowing that his very straight and close-minded new brother-in-law is coming, it’s heartbreaking. It’s watching him wash a piece of his happiness away in a very quiet and sad moment. We understand his character completely in this small and subtle gesture.

The cinematographer (Matthew Roveto) did a fantastic job at focusing in on Larry throughout the film, reminding us that Larry is the focal point, regardless of the story. This was HIS story, even with other shenanigans happening.

And I’m really shocked to find out that Travis Coles hasn’t done that much in front of the camera yet, spending most of his experience as a crew member. His range and rawness are there throughout the film. As Larry, he was playful, nurturing, and self-conscious. For a silly-billy movie about ghosts and gays, he effortless portrayed a lot of depth.

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And in fact, the whole cast has real magnetism and cohesiveness that I often find lacking in many horror movies. It’s the common trope of “friends find a haunted house”, with an emphasis on “haunted house” but very little thought on the “friends” part.

The warmth that the characters had, even the catty diva Nico (Frankie Grande), was convincing and magnetic. The cast gelled well together and were believable as friends who sass each other and maybe (like many queer circles) have little crushes. The relationships in Summoning Sylvia were genuine and charming.

a party game scene where Nico is wearing a sticky note on his forehead that he can't read that says 'Mariah Carey's gay intern'

Also, the editing (Sara Corrigan) with the ghosts in the past and the characters in the present was incredible and stylized. The editing was so effective and precise, it delighted me every time I saw it.

The costuming and sets were so much fun and showed the juxtaposition between the ghosts and the guys. From dark and drab to light and…well…gay. Each character had his own design and brand, which was easy to pick up. All of them were dressed beautifully and Sylvia was foreboding and gothic. Pure perfection.

The only thing that I had a bit of a hard time with was…

Brainroll Juice : The Ending of Summoning Sylvia

The ending was a bit messy. Everything was kind of happening all at once, like a sloppy Joe sandwich coming out at all ends.

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And we haven’t really talked about Harrison.

Oh, Harrison.

Harrison with a knife

So, I know. I get it. People are awful. They get weirded out by things they don’t understand even to this day. And there’s a suspicion that some of what Harrison says and does in this movie are because he’s under the possession of Sylvia.

And regardless of that or not, I was really hoping that there would be another twist. Because Nicholas Logan’s acting isn’t bad. It’s good as a stereotypical cis-het white male as the villain. And the ending is the same as many other endings with the same, er, beats (I’m trying hard not to give this away). And while I applaud Larry for standing up to him, I wish there had just been a different twist.

It’s a safe ending. It’s a trope ending.

And that’s not necessarily bad, but I just wanted it to veer into new and fresh territory. I wanted more from the ending.

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Now, this was a short movie, and perhaps there was a longer ending, who knows. I would have loved a little more time to clean up the sloppy Joe mess and tie things up more gracefully, but obviously that wasn’t in the cards.

At the end of the day, it doesn’t ruin the movie, it just doesn’t hit as strong as the rest of it.

Bottomline:

Are you looking for a fun gaycation with a spooky house and an awkward new addition to the family? Look no further. SUMMONING SYLVIA is funny, charming, and will lift your spirits. 4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Release Information:

The Horror Collective is excited to announce the North American theatrical and TVOD release of their LGBTQ horror comedy Summoning Sylvia. Written and directed by Wesley Taylor (Smash, The Spongebob Musical) and Alex Wyse (Marvel’s Iron Fist, soon to join Broadway’s Good Night, Oscar), the hair-raising romp tells the story of a gay bachelor party that takes a spooky turn when sinister spirits are suddenly summoned. 

The Horror Collective will release Summoning Sylvia in theaters nationwide March 31, 2023 and on Cable VOD and Digital HD April 7, 2023.

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When not ravaging through the wilds of Detroit with Jellybeans the Cat, J.M. Brannyk (a.k.a. Boxhuman) reviews mostly supernatural and slasher films from the 70's-90's and is dubiously HauntedMTL's Voice of Reason. Aside from writing, Brannyk dips into the podcasts, and is the composer of many of HauntedMTL's podcast themes.

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Movies n TV

Fallout, The End

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Launching with worldwide excitement, Fallout is based on the extremely popular game series of the same name. Fans of the series have waited with anticipation and trepidation to see if the Prime series would live up to the game.

Having now watched the first episode I can say that, so far, it’s successful.

The story

Our story begins with a children’s birthday party. A performer is there with his daughter, giving horse rides and taking pictures with the kids.

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As much as the adults try to focus on the party and the kids, it’s impossible to ignore the looming threat of war that’s on everyone’s mind.

Of course, it’s during this party that war comes, and the bombs drop.

We then cut to after the war and into one of the vaults established to protect humankind and the American Way. For future reference, this is Vault 33. We meet Lucy, our first main character, who’s petitioning to be married to a man from Vault 32 to ensure DNA diversity.

On the wedding night, though, Lucy and the rest of Vault 33 are met with a horrible surprise. The group they let in is not in fact from Vault 32, but is instead a team of raiders from the surface. The raiders kill a lot of the vault dwellers and kidnap Lucy’s father.

We are then introduced to our second main character, Maximus. He is in training to become a Knight in the Brotherhood of Steel. And, well, he’s not doing great.

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Things get worse when his best friend Dane becomes a squire before him. But when Dane is hurt, Maximus gets their spot.

Aaron Moten in Fallout.

We then go back to Lucy, who has decided to leave the vault and find her dad. Of course, the council of her vault doesn’t want her to go. So she is aided by her brother Norm and cousin Chet in a wild escape.

What worked

The first thing that deserves attention is the exceptional character work. Our three main characters are fleshed out and relatable right away. We feel sympathetic for The Ghoul before he’s even introduced as such. We love Lucy’s nativity and selflessness. And we love Maximus for his honesty and passion for his cause.

While these characters are their own people, they also exhibit the three responses we might expect to see in a post-apocalyptic world. We have the hopeful optimist who doesn’t understand how bad things are. We have the aspiring hero who wants to make the world better by force. And we have the self-serving individual who’s given up on the rest of humanity and is only focused on surviving.

Another thing I enjoyed about this episode was the balance of humor and gore. Because there was certainly enough blood and guts for even the most hardcore horror lover. We had a violent sabotage, a brawl with raiders, and even several nuclear bombs.

But there were a lot of funny moments as well. Usually from Lucy. Her overall goodwill and fearless gumption are absolutely hilarious, especially given the horrors she’s facing. It never ceases to amuse me.

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Ella Purnell in Fallout

Both of these aspects are done perfectly. The jokes land and the bloody scenes pull no punches. It was delightful.

All in all, this was an exciting start to a much-anticipated series. Here’s hoping they’re able to stick the landing.

For more tv shows based on video games, check out my review of Witcher. 4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

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Movies n TV

American Horror Story Delicate, Ave Hestia

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Episode seven of American Horror Story Delicate was a classic AHS flashback episode. If you were excited to see what Preecher had to say to Anna at the end of the last episode, I’m sorry to say that you will not get that satisfaction. However, we did learn all sorts of other fascinating things about the strange coven hunting Anna. And, we learned all sorts of things we didn’t know about Dex’s first wife, Adeline.

The story

We begin our story with a woman giving birth alone in a barn. When it becomes clear that she’s not going to be able to deliver vaginally, she pulls out a knife and cuts her stomach open to pull out her children.

For whatever reason, this is when the coven of witches decides to make themselves known.

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Ashlie Atkinson in American Horror Story.

We then cut to 2013, when Dex was still married to Adeline. In true Dex fashion, he’s surprised her with a puppy.

While that sounds great in theory, dogs are something a couple should talk about, not gift each other with as a surprise. An adult would know that. A trust fund boy like Dex does not.

Adeline owns a vegan restaurant called Ave Hestia. Love that name. She seems to be living a great life. She has a career she’s passionate about, friends who love her, and a husband she seems kind of fond of.

Maybe that’s why she didn’t want a puppy. She already had one.

Of course, things aren’t as good as they appear. We soon find out that Adeline was one of those babies we saw at the start of the episode. The other baby was Sonia, the painter.

Annabelle Dexter-Jones in American Horror Story.

And yes, both of these characters are played by Annabelle Dexter-Jones.

Adeline has stepped away from their family, and whatever dark things they do. But the family isn’t happy with her decision. And if she isn’t going to come back willingly, they’re going to make her.

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What worked

To start with, I loved the character, Adeline. She is fierce, she is fearless, and relentless. I feel like this would have been a far different story if Adeline had been our main character. It was astounding to see her interact with the same people Anna has, and get a completely different response. It’s clear now, how much everyone around Anna resents her for simply not being Adeline.

I also appreciated that there was just a shocking amount of blood in this episode. From the start when Adeline and Sonia are born, to the climactic end of Adeline, this episode is just drenched in blood.

Finally, I’m fascinated by the changes in this season from the book it’s based on. Because absolutely none of this was in the book. Compared to this, the book is heartwarming.

The book is kind of heartwarming even without the comparison.

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But I love the fact that, even with just two episodes left in the season, I have no idea what’s going to happen. I do not know what Anna is carrying. I do not know if she’s going to survive this. I do not know what these people want with her.

But I can’t wait to find out.

What didn’t work

All that being said, it is a bit frustrating to have no forward momentum in this episode. This was all backstory, and it felt like there wasn’t enough backstory to fill a full forty minutes. Because of that, it dragged. There were a lot of scenes that just didn’t need to be as long as they were. It felt like they could have cut that down considerably, and had some time to check in with our main characters at either the start or the end of the episode.

There are only two episodes left in the season, and I can honestly say I have no idea what’s going to happen. But so far the story has been dark, bloody, and provocative. So I hope they can manage to end it on a high note.

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4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

If you’re a fan of my work, please check out my latest story, Nova, on Paper Beats World. New chapters launch every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

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Movies n TV

The Last Drive-In with Joe Bob Briggs: An Eggs-celent Time

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The Last Drive-In with Joe Bob Briggs returned March 29th for the first ever Easter-themed episode. Debuting the new series format, hosts Joe Bob and Darcy the Mail Girl presented only one film. The Drive-In can be watched on AMC+ and Shudder every other Friday during the season.

This week on The Last Drive-In, Joe Bob Briggs and Darcy the Mail Girl hopped onto our screens to include us in their Easter party. Festivities include decorating eggs, blowing noisemakers, cuddling mutilated stuffies, and of course, swigging down Lone Star beer. You’re invited to consume whatever substances you like best to enhance the viewing experience of this week’s film, Brian Skiba’s Rottentail (2019).  

Season 6 poster for The Last Drive-In with Joe Bob Briggs.

As Joe Bob opens the episode, there is hope he will remain focused and on topic. He begins with innocent rabbit behavior patterns before taking a turn into the best methods of hunting them. Darcy grows increasingly uncomfortable as he delights in giving pointers to would-be hunters. She incredulously asks, “Are you talking about killing rabbits right now?” 

Believing the audience is on her side, she throws up a Twitter poll. It was a close split, but 50.2% of viewers who responded do agree with her. See? Every vote does count. (Seriously, make sure you are registered to vote in this year’s elections.) 

Ch-Ch-Changes

Calling out the elephant in the room, Joe Bob reminds viewers about the new one-movie format of the series. Instead of two movies every Friday, this season has been stretched out with one movie showing every other week until Labor Day. 

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If you want someone to blame, Joe Bob says you can point at us tired folks on the east coast struggling to stay awake past midnight. However, between the new format and specials, we have been assured there are actually more movies this season. 

Thankfully for the audience, Rottentail is packed with action and hits multiple genres to the point that it feels like at least a movie and a half. 

A poster for Rottentail (2019) featuring the mutated Peter Cotten and the tagline "Hippity Hoppity Homicide."
A poster for Rottentail (2019).

Rottentail tells the story of unassuming scientist Peter Cotten (Corin Nemec) being transformed into a rabbit-human hybrid after receiving a bite from a genetically-engineered rabbit. He embarks on a journey of revenge against those who wronged him in his childhood such as Pastor Jake Mulligan (William McNamara). He even finds time to rekindle a past romance with Anna Banana (Dominique Swain).

The Drive-In Totals include but are not limited to: 4 dead bunnies, 1 mad army general, mutated bunny rampage, lettuce nibbling, heart tossing, 1 mutant bunny baby, and erection fu. “Four stars. Joe Bob says, ‘Check it out.’

No Animals Were Harmed

It goes without saying that there are a few depictions of animal cruelty within this film. Darcy feels it is prudent to warn the audience. Whenever an animal dies on screen, Twitter is flooded with upset viewers expressing their distaste. Dragging the warning out of Joe Bob, she reminds him of the gentle nature of the #MutantFam. We’ll watch humans be slaughtered all day, but don’t you dare hurt that animal.  

Joe Bob seems to not understand the need for the warning as, “this whole movie is about taking revenge on people who harm animals!” He insists no animals are actually harmed and implies that being bothered is indicative of good effects. To demonstrate, at one point he “snaps” Darcy’s neck with the assistance of a sound effect.

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Joe Bob demonstrates the use of sound effects as he fake kills Darcy.
No mail girls were harmed in the filming of this episode.

Pages to Print

The film is based off of the graphic novel Rottentail by David C. Hayes and Kevin Moyers. Initially self-published, Source Point Press picked up the novel and are responsible for its translation onto screen. The film is very stylized and Joe Bob says it gives Re-Animator (1985) vibes. 

Nemec is a big fan of graphic novels, and had read the story prior to the film’s production. He ended up becoming a co-producer of the film. Joe Bob believes Nemec should get more praise for his role as Peter/Rottentail, and the hosts bemoan his lack of availability to come on the episode.

Furthering my belief that Joe Bob is secretly a huge fan of Lifetime Christmas movies, he highlights that director Skiba is perhaps best known for his work on the network. I am continually baffled at how many of these Christmas movies he can name and refuse to believe he doesn’t actually cozy up to watch them.

Tis The Season?

Speaking of Christmas, this week’s mail call features a letter originally sent back in December. Joe Bob immediately senses what is going on and chides Darcy, “I do not want letters that make everyone cry.” Brad from Loretto, Kentucky writes in to share his Halloween memories with his daughter. Unfortunately, she passed away at the age of 20 before Brad had a chance to share The Last Drive-In with her.  It’s a sobering reminder that we truly do not know how much time we have left to spend with someone.  

No, Wait, Come Back!

It is understandable why some folks were upset with the new format change of the series. However, the episode is still full of The Last Drive-In spirit. I don’t have the numbers in front of me, but it feels as if there was more time & space for host segments. At points, Joe Bob and Darcy were breaking in almost every 15 minutes. It’s very much still the same show we love, just now featuring more anticipation.  

My rating for Rottentail: 3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

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My rating for the episode: 4.3 out of 5 stars (4.3 / 5)

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