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Finally, Lovecraft Country brings the horror in “Strange Case.” Sure, there have been horrible moments, mostly tied to the horrors of racism, but this episode does a great job of fusing social themes and body-horror in a creepy and effective way.

Ma’am, you appear to have an eyeball in your throat.

The story so far…

The episode continues to build on the ongoing narrative concerning the lodges and the missing pages, but the real draw of the hour is Ruby’s body horror-driven identity story.

Ruby wakes up after her evening with William in the previous episode in the body of a white woman named Hillary and stumbles out into the streets of Chicago alarmed and confused and nearly getting a poor black kid murdered by the police. She’s picked up by a pair of cops who take her back to William who has laid out a tarp in a room, placing the contorting and visibly pained “Hillary” on the floor. He then proceeds to help Ruby escape that fleshy vessel in a gruesome manner and a report about African cicadas is read on the news.

Ruby is given a potion that allows her to slip into “Hillary” for a period of time, and the episode follows Ruby over a series of transformations. Ruby first begins to enjoy the freedom and protection of being a white woman; she gets access to a managerial position at the department store, she gets free ice cream. Things seem great, but “Hillary” also bears witness to how black people are treated in white circles. She also tries to “uplift” the only black employee of Marshall Field’s (the one who applied for the job Ruby originally wanted) but only proves to condescend and perpetuate the worst sort of impulses of the moderate white of the era. “Hillary” chastizes the only woman of color in the store to “be better.” She also forces this poor woman to take a group of white Marshall Field’s employees into her safe space, a bar, where the whites proceed to gawk and fetishize the black people in their space.

With each transformation, Ruby grows more and more disillusioned with the magical transformation and the Hillary identity, and finally breaks when she witnesses the man who hired “Hillary” attempt to assault the very employee she has been bullying. This sets the stage for revenge and a high heel brutally shoved up the ass of the boss (though we do not necessarily know much about what he had done behind a failed assault).

The wrinkle to this storyline, however, is that it is not merely Ruby who has been under such brutal transformations because Christina and William are finally revealed to be one and the same. “William” granted the magic as a favor, which is later called when he has Ruby pose as the help at one of the local lodges. It’s all very much a solid A-plot for the episode.

Montrose, having killed Yahima, is in a very dark place. He is brutally beat down by Tic and proceeds to lick his wounds in the comfort of his lover, Sammy, and diving into the underground queer community in the area. Montrose seems less about an emotional connection than a physical one early in the hour, refusing to kiss Sammy, but by the end, among the drag performers at the club and the celebration, finally kisses Sammy. However, could an acceptance of himself truly help Montrose with decades of trauma, his fractured relationship and betrayal of Tic, and his very recent murder of an intersex person?

Tic and Leti continue to develop their relationship, albeit with a couple of hurdles. They discover Montrose has sabotaged their plans. Tic is well aware of what Montrose has done, but Leti assumes Montrose merely let Yahima go. Tic’s violent attack of Montrose naturally alarms Leti who at one point checks on him while wielding a baseball bat. Not helping matters is Tic’s obsession with uncovering more magic by translating the text from the now-destroyed pages. Tic and Leti have sex later; Tic’s knuckles still raw and bleeding from his brutal beatdown of Montrose, and later still they have an intimate moment in Leti’s bathroom. Tic opens up about not knowing what love is but finding something like it in Korea with Ji-ah, who we’ve only heard over the phone.

Even so, after finding a little bit of love and mercy, Tic is still agonizing over magic, pouring over photos of the pages taken by Leti uncovers a message in the Language of Adam, something so alarming to him that he calls Ji-ah in Korea. She knows something about what is going on.

Ruby is red.

How it worked out…

Lovecraft Country delivers an outstanding episode that delivers genuine horror that smartly intersects with the larger themes the whole season has addressed. The performances are top-notch and anchoring the episode around Ruby’s experiences with transformation worked out incredibly well.

This might be the single goriest episode of the series yet, with flaps of flesh sluicing right off of bodies during transformations and it really feels the closest to effective Lovecraftian horror the show has gotten. H. P. Lovecraft wasn’t necessarily much of a body-horror writer, as in those themes didn’t exactly drive him, but the larger movement his work inspired has latched onto body-horror as a driving element, such as the recent adaptation Color Out of Space. Plus, it does make a kind of cosmic sense that our mere fleshy vessels are so easily slashed and scrapped as we are just meat in an indifferent universe. So while Lovecraft Country has not delivered the sort of cosmic awareness normally associated with Lovecraft’s prose, the body horror does feel like an appropriate well for the series, especially because it makes for such a nice metaphorical device for exploring identity.

What I appreciate most is that the episode, while horrifying, was also bleakly funny. Not funny as in laugh-out-loud, but more a recognition of the effective use of situational irony that ran through.

And look, this show still has issues. The William-Christina transformation scene creates some issues because there are moments in the show where the two identities are seen just mere moments apart. Let’s not even get into the fact that there are just strips of meat all over Chicago from the transformations, either. How are the racist cops not investigating the flayed remains of a white woman? Montrose’s rough sex (closer to rape) was uncomfortable given what he did to Yahima the night before. The show isn’t handling queer themes well enough. Themes of blackness the show does quite well. Everything else, well, is a coin-flip.

Lovecraft Country may have bounced back a bit with this week’s episode, one that deftly integrates horror and social themes in a delightfully gory package. I give Lovecraft Country‘s “Strange Case” four and a half Cthulhus.

4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)
Maybe it is just German for “the?”

Miskatonic Musings

So what are the other miscellaneous odds and ends to cover?

  • I appreciate the gorgeous title cards presented with each episode but there’s no way in Hell I am going to make new title cards for these reviews week to week.
  • Yes, that was Shangela from RuPaul’s Drag Race.
  • The actress playing “Hillary” was the same actress who kept the dogs and Shoggoths in the first two episodes, Jamie Neumann.
  • So, the police captain’s torso is apparently black and we didn’t even really get into that or the man in his office closet. I am sure we’ll learn more in the coming weeks.
  • I appreciated Tic looking every bit the Lovecraftian scholar at the end of the episode; flop sweat, panicked eyes, piles of documents. It was very recognizable.
  • The big literary reference this week? The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
  • The monologue over the Hillary montage is “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide / When The Rainbow Is Enuf.”
  • Some great songs, as usual, on the show. Tic and Leti’s love scene was set to “Return to Love” by Black Atlass. One of the first songs we here is Patience and Prudence’s take on “Tonight You Belong To Me.” My choice for the sound of the episode, though? Cardi B’s “Bodak Yellow.”

What did you think about “Strange Case?” Do you think Lovecraft Country has bounced back, or do you think it’s been going strong since the first episode? Let us know in the comments.

David Davis is a writer, cartoonist, and educator in Southern California with an M.A. in literature and writing studies.

Movies n TV

Dahmer, The Good Boy Box

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I think if it were possible to awkward someone to death, Dahmer never would have had to use any other weapon. Because if episode four is any indication, the man was a walking personification of awkwardness. 

Let’s discuss. 

We start this episode with Dahmer talking with the police detectives after his arrest. He doesn’t seem to have any issue laying everything out for them, starting with the murder of the hitchhiker from the last episode. He’s seeing a psychiatrist, which feels overdue. And the psychiatrist is bringing back some memories. Starting with his graduation from high school.

Still from Dahmer with Evan Peters.

A few days after graduation, Lionel Dahmer finally decides to look in on his family. He comes home to find no one but Jeff there, drunk and scribbling out the faces of his classmates from his yearbook. 

After taking some time to blame Joyce, Lionel sets himself to the task of fixing his son. He first sends Jeff to Ohio State. Within a semester, Jeff is expelled with a GPA of .45. So, Lionel sends him to the army. And for about a year, that seems to work out. Jeff goes through basic training and everything is fine. But then, he’s discharged. 

It’s not outright said in the show why Dahmer was discharged. He later tells a woman that it was because of his drinking. But he lies and gives half-truths to everyone without any remorse. So there’s no way of knowing. 

Finally, we pick back up where we left off a few episodes ago, with Jeff’s grandmother finding the stolen mannequin in his bed. She throws it away, and he starts to unravel.

He goes to a state fair and gets arrested for masturbating in public.

Evan Peters in Dahmer.

Honestly, there are a lot of masturbation scenes in this episode and the last. Probably more than we needed.

Every time Jeff seems to get some sort of handle on his life, he manages to mess it up. He loses jobs and starts drugging men at bars. Finally, he finds himself in bed with the body of a beautiful young man he brought home the night before. 

I liked this episode. It was a deeply disturbing portrait of a mentally ill young man trying and failing to get himself together. It’s easy to feel bad for Dahmer. To feel like there should have been a way to save him from himself.

And there should have been, to be clear. Dahmer was throwing up enough red flags early enough that someone should have been able to do something.

And yet, nobody did until seventeen men were dead. It does make you wonder if it would have gone on so long if Dahmer hadn’t preyed on gay men. If he hadn’t been a white man. And maybe it should make us wonder that.

I’m sure this point will be made clear to us as we watch the second half of the season.

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

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The Last of Us: Episode 2: Infected

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*WARNING: This review contains spoilers.*

If you haven’t read the review on The Last of Us’ first episode, click here.

HBO’s The Last of Us‘ second episode, “Infected,” released January 22, 2023. It was directed by Neil Druckman and written by Craig Mazin. The episode takes us to Jakarta in 2003, just days before the outbreak. Dr. Ratna (Christine Hakim) is a mycology professor at the University of Indonesia. The Indonesian government orders her to examine a dead body they killed at a flour factory. During her examination, Dr. Ratna discovers Cordycep mycelium growing in the body’s mouth. After learning the full story behind the dead body, including the high infection rate and its symptoms, Dr. Ratna’s only conclusion is to bomb the whole city because “there is no vaccine for this.”

Fast forward to present day and we once again witness the aftereffects of Dr. Ratna’s discovery.

Is that everything you hoped for?

Ellie, Joel and Tess walk to the capitol building

In episode one, Tess and Joel learned an infected bit Ellie a few weeks back and are reluctant to keep traveling with her. Joel threatens to shoot her the moment she starts showing symptoms, but it’s Tess who convinces him that they need to keep going to the Capitol Building to hand the youth off to the fireflies.

One of the most exciting scenes in episode two is when the trio takes a shortcut through a history museum that is almost identical to the one in the game. They enter a dark room and all seems well until they hear a slow, ominous clicking sound nearby. An infected with torn clothes and cordycep covered body creeps around them. When it hears Joel step on a piece of glass, it attacks.

Infected: a clicker

Clickers are the third stage of infection and it takes about a year for them to reach this point after exposure. They can’t see their prey, but have an incredible sense of hearing and communicate through clicks. (If you want a real life example, they sound awfully similar to crows clicking in conversation.) More clickers enter the museum room and Joel, Ellie and Tess fight them off, brutally killing them one by one, barely making it out alive.

When the trio reaches daylight outside, Ellie realizes she was bit. “If it had to happen to one of us…” she jokes, still shaken by their encounter. But Tess is less than amused; she’s furious by how narrow their escape was. Even when Joel and Ellie have a sweet moment, the first sign of warmth Joel gives the girl on their journey together, Tess interrupts and tells them to keep going because there is still a long way to go.

The Last of Tess

After two episodes, HBO’s The Last of Us mirrors the video game while creating a brand new story. Spores moving through the air are a significant threat in the video game, but are merely a terrifying thought in the show’s universe. Instead, HBO’s version illustrates how the Cordyceps’ mycelium creates a “hive mind” in infected. If one infected is killed, a message is sent to everyone else it’s connected to.

After escaping the museum, the trio eventually make it to the capitol building, only to find that all the Fireflies they were supposed to meet are dead and gone. Tess rummages through the bodies’ clothes in hopes of finding a map, but there’s nothing. Suddenly, a runner lunges into the air and tries to take them down. When Joel shoots it, the mycelium hive mind alerts the rest of the infected outside the building. They swarm to their new pray.

Joel is in a rush to get going. But before they can all escape, it appears that Tess was bitten at the museum, too. In just a short amount of time, her bite has worsened while Ellie’s remains the same. Tess holds Ellie’s arm up and shows it to Joel. “This is real,” she cries, desperate for Joel to believe her. She needs him to keep taking Ellie out west, to wherever Marlene needs them to go. Maybe there is a cure after all.

The Verdict

Episode two continues to show promise of The Last of Us being a great video game adaptation. It maintains the game’s plot while creating new rules to make the story more suitable for TV. When the episode begins in Jakarta, we see how the world, not just the United States, is devastated by the impacts of this disease. And it is hopeful we will see the state of the present day world in later episodes, too.

Additionally, the filming of mycelium growing and spreading throughout the infected is convincing for the new hive mind theory. While spores and gas masks worked well for the game, many of those rules were still inconsistent; it’s for the best that The Last of Us‘ writers did away with spores in the show. The makeup for the bite marks and prosthetics for the clickers make the fight scenes more high stakes and terrifying. The actors, from infected extras to the main cast, are phenomenal. Bella Ramsey as Ellie especially shines, particularly with her whipsmart comebacks and various facial expressions.

It is evident the creators did not cut corners when it came to filming, makeup and casting these last two episodes. If they wanted to create as authentic an experience as possible for this video game adaptation, they did not disappoint.

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

Until next time, check out what else we’re watching and playing at Haunted MTL.

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Dahmer, Doin’ a Dahmer

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Episode three of Netflix’s Dahmer was, to put it mildly, difficult to watch. Mostly because it depicted an awkward and uncomfortable time in young Jeffery Dahmer’s life. But also because the pacing of this episode wasn’t great. 

We start the episode with an uncomfortable look at Joyce Dahmer. She’s pregnant, and she’s struggling. Her doctor has her on a lot of medications, and her husband doesn’t like it. He doesn’t seem to care about her emotional well-being. His concern, as he indelicately puts it, is the fetus.

Evan Peters and Emma Kennedy in Dahmer

I would think that most of us, after finding our partner sitting barefoot in a thin nightgown at a bus stop in the snow, would be putting their well-being before anything else.

We go from there to the Dahmer’s bitter divorce. Joyce gets custody of the boys and takes off with her younger son. Lionel decides to leave home, and spend his time at a hotel. This leaves Jeff at home alone, at the age of 17.

Abandoned by his family, Jeff is living his worst/best life. Mostly he’s drinking and working out. He starts going on long drives, often passing a young man jogging. This young man, as I’m sure you can imagine, catches Jeff’s attention.

Evan Peters and Cameron Cowperthwaite in Dahmer.

This episode ends with what might be the first of Dahmer’s murders and the fallout from it. 

As I mentioned earlier, the pacing in this episode was slow. It was so painfully slow. In hindsight, I think this was an intentional choice. 

While the action was slow coming, the feeling of most of the episode was incredibly intense. The viewer is left nervous every time Dahmer is alone with anybody. We know that he’s winding up to do something horrible. But we have no idea what he’s going to do, or who he’s going to do it to. 

That being said, not every scene in this episode needed to drag as much as it did. The scene with Joyce and her boss at the women’s shelter went on far too long. The repetitive clips of Jeff working out, drinking and melting bones took too long. 

It’s a difficult needle to thread, pacing. What works for one scene will just crush another. And that was the case in this episode. The scenes that work, man do they work. The scenes that don’t, though, are a slough. 

3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

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