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So, I have this inappropriate habit of answering honestly when asked a question. I’ve failed personality tests this way – multiple times. And it’s not because I’m a terrible person (it’s because I’m an awful person ahahahaha – classic gags never retire), it’s just that I give these questions thought and merit. Maybe too much thought and merit.

During one uncomfortable icebreaker at a work function, my questions were: my name (easy, it was given to me a while ago), my job (easy, it was earned), and my favorite animal. I should have said dog. Dogs are great.

So cute!

I did not say dog. I said Protoceratops. But that requires an explanation, which then goes into the book by Adrienne Mayor that posits that it was the fossilized Protoceratops bones and nest/egg fragments, found by ancient Scythian nomads, that were the inspiration to the myth of the griffin. You see, the Protoceratops had a beak-like mouth, much like an eagle. The ridge was very delicate, so if it were to break apart from the head and fall near the back…

And there were about thirty people that realized too late that they had asked a mundane question that I was going to answer: honestly, painfully, specifically, and disgustingly.

So, what am I leading to?

Because Haunted MTL asked me a question…

Oh, dang. Here we go. 

Oh, no, Parzz1val….thank *you* very much…

As part of the contributor’s profile, Parzz (and boss) asked a “simple” question: What is your monster of choice?

So, first of all – what is a monster?

Okay, no, we’re not going that far into it. I could, but I would never see life again and I would miss parts of it.

No, instead, we’re going to do something a little different. And it all has to do with identity.

Since November, I’ve been a contributor to Haunted MTL, kicking around the tufts of cult classics, newer shrugs, and beautiful hidden gems. But this month, Imma get real, kids, because this is a weird month for me. You see as I am a gender-fluid –nonono, it’s cool, come back. I barely identify as Apache helicopter or whatever Millennials, Boomers, and Zoomers are making fun of these days.

Obviously I identify as a sharkicopter – duh.

But with who I am, “monster of choice” is not an easy “tea or coffee” pick for me. Since I’m the type to write an overly-complicated essays about surfing Nazis and HIV zombies, you can see I take my horror seriously.

Dead seriously

So, let’s explore the monsters who are the “others” of gender for this Women’s Day as I narrow down to my monster/villain of choice. Join me, won’t you?  

I should just say “dog”, right?

Brain Roll Juice

Gender and horror itself are interesting elements fused together more closely than most would think. There are masculine horror icons and traits – serial, insane, sadistic, carnal. Just as there are feminine – sorrowful, vengeful, jealous, and…well, a more complex insane, shall we say?

Masculine; we have the bloodthirsty hookman, lumbering Jason, sadistic Freddy, carnal Candyman, serial Jason. Their motives are not complex. They are killers, and they kill. On the other hand (more often seen in legends) feminine icons are more personal and complex. They are La Llorona, Bloody Mary, Kuchisake-onna, banshees, and the hag/witch (Baba Yaga, the Bell Witch, and the like). 

In movies, the roles can be pretty stringent – usually if a female villain/monster is introduced, she is the mate of the male – the supporting role. This is most apparent in the older films like Bride of Frankenstein, but even can be seen in films like Basketcase 2-3. They’re usually cis-gender and adhere to gender norms in one form or another. 

Even in legend, monsters are generally gendered via society’s gentle nudge. Bigfoot = hairy dude. Sea creature = scaly dude. Zombie = rotting dude. Vampire = fanged dude. Loch Ness Monster = dino lady. New Jersey Devil = a devil dude into some weirdass cakes.

You get my point.

However, there are characters that fall into a more grey area, regardless of sex (very loosely: gender is how you feel, sex being the dangle or non-dangle parts). These are a few of my favorites, 7 to be precise, all taken from movies. Take note – there are some spoilers to old movies. 

The List

#7 – The Blob

Ew, gross. Imma just poke it with this stick.

“You can’t say ‘the blob’. it’s…like…just a blob. It’s not anything!”

Glorious Spouse, 2020

Au contraire, mon petit fermier (my French may be rusty). But, yeah, I can count the blob. Why not? Just because of its absence of sex and gender doesn’t mean that I can’t identify and add it to the list, honey-pie.

In fact, the concept of the blob, as a growing, expanding, overwhelming alien creature, is a perfect metaphor for that cool gender-fluid anxiety that sometimes hangs around. Out of control, amorphous, and just seen by other people as “icky” and untouchable. It’s gross. People don’t want to explore it, they want to avoid it, and the more you avoid it, the larger it gets. The more suffocating it becomes because it’s a weird, gross problem that just gets in the way.  

Ew, it tastes like special snowflakes!!!

And like the end of the movie, it never really goes away. It can be quiet sometimes. It can lie dormant. But it’s never really gone, and it’s never really dead.

#6 The Cenobites

Their new album is going to be LIT

I might get push-back on this one (well, maybe all of them, who knows). The cenobites have clearly defined sexes, yes, but when gender is concerned, they are fluid because gender just doesn’t matter. Some call them angels, others call them demons, but no one says that they adhere to social norms, especially not typical, standard American. 

Pinhead himself is small, lithe, and femininely sleek in his costume, the only imposing parts of him are his voice and presence. The female cenobite is not portrayed as a mate, but just another vessel of their main mission – the experience. Their whole fixation is on pain/pleasure in the experience of eternity, not hierarchy or power (I’m just focusing on the first movie).

#5 Kenny from “Terror Train”

I really dig this killer on a few different levels. I mean, haven’t we all wanted, at some point in our lives, wanted to kiss Jamie Lee Curtis and then turn into a human tornado?

And I know that Kenny might get flack as a character for a few different reasons – he has problems with mental illness, he has gender identity issues, he has murdering issues. However, he is a fascinating character as all identities.

Kenny is not just male but also female, “they” are a duality as much as Jamie Lee Curtis is the duality as “the last girl”. In fact, to call her a last girl leaves something to be desired because it’s not through circumstance that she survives, but her duality of masculine and feminine traits that keep her alive and unbroken.They are both unconventional, but Kenny fails to actualize where Jamie Lee accepts. Hence, human tornado. 

Those sequins are going to do such shrapnel damage…

Anywho, there are times that I wish I could fade into different personas as quickly as Kenny, and blend in with whatever crowd that happens to be there. Especially as Snake Man.

#4 Pumpkinhead

Pumpkinhead is an interesting creature, as it is an interesting movie. It also made me feel feelings (how dare it). I’ll probably get into my P-Head love later (phrasing), but as I mentioned, this creature is interesting. Its role is very fascinating. In my intro I mentioned a few iconic horror figures – male and female. Masculine motivations tend to be gluttonous, wanton bloodlust and power over others. Mostly, stabby-stabby, kill-kill. Even Freddy, although he likes to play with his victims, it’s all a power thing.

Female figures can be stabby-stabs, but more often than not have more complex motivations for murder and mayhem. They are seeking revenge, or haunted by their bloody past. Much like this, Pumpkinhead appears as a manifestation of vengeance. And, maybe this is a stretch, as it is not even spurred its own revenge, but just a supporting figure (a tool) of someone else’s revenge, it is taking a more feminine role. Just like I mentioned many females in horror (and “normal”) movies are there only for the fact of supporting the male’s actualization and his character development. Pumpkinhead is the same. Well, apart from being a mate…

P-head is different from most villains, even “summoned” characters such as Betelgeuse. It gains no pleasure or pain from doing its work, it has only one task and has no say or agency. It has absolutely no power, nor does it seek it. It’s kind of sad, actually. It’s basically a murderous Meeseeks, but with even less agency and dignity.

This poor, sad sap…

#3 Angela from “Sleepaway Camp”

The multiple faces of Angela

This one has gotten some slack over the years and I can’t speak to all sides, nor should I, I can only speak to how I feel about this character and what Angela means to me. Let’s get over the reveal, okay? Go watch it if you haven’t.

The only face everyone remembers

So, Angela the Killer is relatable because “she” is forced into both worlds, while belonging to neither. I also want to point out that “she” has been called trans by some, but I’m not sure if that’s even inherently correct as this was not by choice. Angela is attempting to navigate as what she/he/it believes is required of her/him/it, enduring some of the most negative aspects of being “female” (sexual harassment, bullying, predatory behavior).

The murders are a result of the culmination of the abuses Angela faces and the confusion of never being accepted as she/he/it truly is. Every time Angela begins to open up, she/he/it is again met with societal expectations and norms that she/he/it can’t adhere to, and the ultimately crushing disappointment when others can’t accept that.

Look, it’s not me, it’s you…

I’m not saying that killing everyone was the right move…I’m just saying that I think I get it.

#2 Jaws

Jaws…Jaws is many things, all in one. It is a force of nature, a shark with a badass scar, a mother seeking revenge, a…voodoo spirit seeking revenge…Jaws itself is a strange a beautiful enigma…and also really good-bad sequels featuring beautiful Lea Thompson and not-giving-a-flip Michael Caine.

But I want to concentrate on Jaws #1. The original. One of the reasons that I love the movie (a million times more than the book) is that it’s an examination of male identity – from father/authority figure, scientist/intellectual, to…well, Quint. 

But Jaws, itself, is more of a force of nature, an impending doom, than an example of masculinity. It tests their strengths. It prods their weaknesses. It is more monster than man, with only primitive motivation of survival, and perhaps, the hunt.

You could make a claim that Jaws also encompasses a more aloof masculinity, but, again in my own opinion, it is a primordial being of hunger and chaos – sex and gender are too complex for what it represents. Almost like a primeval Leviathan, rising from the bowels of the ocean to cast down the modern man.

Jesus!!! Two mouths!???

Too bad for it that Roy Scheider was a legend, with Richard Dreyfuss on the sidelines, ready with high-fives.

And the Monster of Choice is:

Glorious

#1 T-Rex from “Jurassic Park”

Here we are. Surprised? Don’t be.

Apart from being one of my favorite films (and a friendship deal-breaker if you don’t like), it has the best female villains.

They just happen to be dinosaurs…

And are also not entirely female

It’s true. At one point, Dr. Grant finds egg shells and realizes that the dinosaurs are changing their own sex to reproduce (“life will find a way”). While this is a bit of a throw-away line to go into the greater “playing God” theme, it’s a very cool and powerful moment for the creatures themselves. In nature there are animals that can change sexes, “gender roles” and other social dynamics. It’s pointing to the fact that it’s natural. We evolve. We change as a species. It’s okay. To be stagnant is to be the death of our lineage, we must adapt. In the movie, it was the sex of the dinosaurs. For humanity, maybe it will be something akin to gender.

But just as a movie concept, and going back to monsters, that makes the T-Rex incredibly powerful. Not only did she successfully fight for her freedom from forced confinement and exploitation, she can change herself. She can become he, and vice-versa. She has that agency and choice to, which is something lacking by others on the list. She can physically alter her body and hormones by her own will, for the continuation of her lineage and legacy.

By the end, she establishes her boundaries, reclaims her own body, and asserts her own path. And if that isn’t one of the most powerful characters in cinema history, boy, I sure don’t know who is.

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.

Movies n TV

Dahmer, Lionel

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Most true crime content includes a dramatic courtroom scene. Two dashing lawyers face off, defending their clients no matter how gruesome their crimes were.

While there was a courtroom scene, it wasn’t exactly what I expected. It’s something that, again, I don’t think I’ve seen before. 

Let’s discuss. 

As the title would suggest, most of this episode was from Lionel Dahmer’s point of view. And Lionel, it should go without saying, is not in a great place right now. His son, who he loves, is in a hell of a lot of trouble. And Lionel is doing his best to make this whole mess not his fault.

Richard Jenkins and Molly Ringwald in Dahmer.

The fault, as far as he’s concerned, lies with Joyce. It should be no surprise to anyone that Joyce doesn’t agree. She’s been doing her best to distance herself as much as possible from her oldest son and former husband as possible. 

This doesn’t work, as reporters find and hound her just the same. 

With Jeff in jail, an angry population doesn’t have anyone to turn their anger on, except Jeff’s family. And they are all getting harassed. Jeff’s grandma, suffering from dementia, is having her home raided by the police. People are coming forward, claiming to be Jeff’s friends from childhood. We know that’s a like, Jeff didn’t have any friends. Accusations are flying against Lionel, that he sexually abused Jeff when he was a little boy. 

All in all, it’s hard to not feel bad for the Dahmers. Yeah, they were bad parents. They made some pretty serious mistakes. But honestly, no more than lots of parents. And most people don’t go on cannibalistic murder sprees. 

Now, to the court scene. Honestly, this was so hard to watch. 

Dahmer’s attorney tried to convince him that he can plead insanity like Ed Gein. On the off chance you don’t know who Ed Gein is, he’s the notorious serial killer who inspired both Norman Bates and the Texas Chainsaw Massacre. He killed women who resembled his mother, cut them up, and did stuff to them. And yes, just like it says in this episode when he was caught he sold himself out for an apple pie with a slice of cheddar cheese on top.

Gein spent the rest of his life in a mental ward, and Lionel would like to see the same for Jeff. It’s hard to argue with him.

But that argument fails. And before sentencing, the families of the victims are allowed to speak.

They have a lot to say. 

This is what I meant when I said the courtroom scenes were unusual. We saw non of the actual trial, it was hopped right over. This is normally a dramatic moment in true crime shows. Instead, we see the impact that these murders had. Dahmer’s actions destroyed his family. He destroyed the families of the people he killed. 

DAvid Barrera, Matthew Alan and Scott Michael Morgan in Dahmer.

There is so much collateral damage when a life is lost. And that, I think, is what this episode is truly about. The extensive, heartbreaking collateral damage of Jeff Dahmer. 

With Dahmer sentenced to fifteen life sentences, I’m honestly not sure how we still have two episodes to go. One I could understand, but two seems a bit much. I’m hoping that the creators have some additional chapters of the story that we haven’t yet explored. 

I guess we’ll have to see. 

3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

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Movies n TV

“The Menu” Gives Us A Bloody Good Time

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Writers Seth Reiss and Will Tracy have outdone themselves with the plot of “The Menu.” Spoilers ahead!

The Plot

Yes, chef!

Tyler and Margot are attending a high-class restaurant located on a remote island for the meal of a lifetime. This meal comes at a steep cost: thousands of dollars ($1,250 a plate to be exact) as well as possibly your life. Those who attend the dinner at Hawthorne are the type who frequently ask: “Do you know who I am?”

Chef Julian does not care who you are, and after years of serving the privileged elite, he has had enough. Julian commands his chefs and the room with a loud clap, his chefs answering him in tandem with a bone-chilling “yes, chef.” Ralph Fiennes as Julian gives a shiveringly scary performance. Julian commands the space as well as everyone in it and Ralph Fiennes is dastardly, dark, and daunting.

Chef Julian’s sidekick is creepy herself, doing his bidding just as the other chefs do. Female subservience is addressed through this side character as well as sous chef Catherine, who created one of the courses that is served to the guests.

This course is introduced by Catherine telling the story of how Chef Julian tried to have sexual relations with her. When she denied him, he refused to look at her in the eye anymore. Before Catherine serves her dish, she stabs Julian with scissors in the thigh, getting revenge for his behavior. Julian acts none the wiser, pulling the scissors from his thigh before serving the diners the hunk of meat with the same kind of scissors plunged into it.

Everyone obeys Chef Julian except for Margot. Women and men in the room accept that this is their last night alive, not protesting too hard or trying to escape. Margot is the only fighter. Perhaps this is why she escapes.

The Verdict

In a world where we have seen a rise in slasher films, The Menu lives in a place between darkly satirical horror and a slasher film.

The Menu is whip smart, remarking on our class system, displaying those who can afford a $1,250 a plate meal on a remote island against the thought of the character of Margot. Margot is revealed halfway through the film to have been a sex worker, hired by Tyler to attend the dinner. His girlfriend, the original intended guest, had broken up with him and Tyler knew that there was never a table for one at Hawthorne.

Tyler knew everyone would die at the meal, yet still involved Margot, an innocent bystander who turns out to be the only one that makes it out alive. Chef Julian does this as it is clear he believes Tyler tainted his final menu experience by not bringing the guest who RSVP’d.

Tyler gets what is coming to him in the end. He comments on each course in mostly negative ways and snaps photos (which was expressly forbidden). Chef Julian asks Tyler to make him a meal since he knows so much more than anyone about cuisine. When Tyler’s meal doesn’t live up to Chef’s expectations, he is killed.

Margot is juxtaposed with the famous and rich at the dinner who can afford such an experience while she is being paid to attend. The film remarks on the lavish actions of the rich in the movie versus those who may not know where their next meal will come from.

Final Thoughts

The food that the film shows is gorgeous and conceptual, Chef Julian giving backstory to each dish. The film is the darkest version of Hell’s Kitchen I’ve ever seen. As a foodie and a horror lover, this film touched on all my favorite genres. It was deep, had something to say, and screamed it at the top of its lungs.

I respect the filmmakers and writers of this movie as it was compelling, engrossing, and kept me guessing, all while remarking on important social themes.

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

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Movies n TV

Dahmer, Cassandra

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Episode seven of Netflix’s Dahmer brings the spotlight, finally, to the hero of our story. Glenda Cleveland. 

Glenda was Jeff’s neighbor. And honestly, I can’t think of a worse neighbor. A horrific stench is always coming from his apartment. He has people over, and they make a lot of noise. 

While they’re dying. 

Niecy Nash in Dahmer

If you’ll recall episode one of Dahmer ended with all of his neighbors, including Glenda, being forced to leave their homes. The whole building was declared a crime scene. They’re not given any place to go, of course. 

Everyone’s got a few thousand dollars socked away for an unexpected motel stay, right? 

Fortunately, Glenda was able to get a motel room. And that’s where she is when Reverend Jesse Jackson finds her. 

Glenda pours out her story to Reverend Jackson. The rest of the episode consists of her dark and troubling encounters with Dahmer. 

The most compelling scene, I think, is when Dahmer brings Glenda a sandwich. He’s being evicted, and he knows it’s because she’s been complaining about the smells coming out of his apartment. 

He tries to pour on his little boy charm. He tells her that he got his apartment cleaned, just for her. He brings her a pulled meat sandwich as a present. 

Notice I don’t say pulled pork, because I’m fairly sure it was human meat. Or, it was just drugged.

Or both. 

This episode just hummed with tension and rage. I was so happy to see Reverend Jackson tear into the police in the most polite way possible. I hated seeing what Glenda went through. And even though I know she lives through this horrific encounter, I held my breath the entire time she was alone with Jeff. 

Dahmer is certainly not afraid to jump back and forth between the past and present. But they are careful to never do it in such a way that I felt lost. And I honestly think this was the best way to do it. 

The reason for this is that it adds a level of suspense that Dahmer might have lacked without it. Suspense is something that true crime stories can lack. Especially well-known ones. We have heard this story before. We know how it ends. But in presenting the tale this way, first from one point of view and then another, it reveals sides of it that we may not have seen before. 

Glenda Cleveland, from the trial of Jeff Dahmer.

I loved seeing the story from Glenda’s point of view. She was brave, determined, and selfless. She had every right to be furious at the way the police dismissed her concerns for years. And yet she continued to handle everything professionally. She never stopped trying to help people, even when no one else seemed to care. And for that, she is a true hero. 

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

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