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Hey-yo, kids. Recently I “went to” the Trans Steller Film Festival (Nov 26-Dec 3, 2023). And by went to, I mean I sat in my home like a grump, eating kettlecorn popcorn and a lukewarm diet soda.

It was heaven.

So, of course, being a horror critic (or something like that), I bought tickets to the Horror section of their short films, which included three shorts – THE SHACK – An Atmos-Fearic Thriller; THEYSUCK; and MICHAEL AND THE DRAGON.

Backstory, I didn’t read the small print and only watched the first one. Then the next day went to watch the other ones but my ticket expired so I had to pay again. So, that’s the REAL LGBTQ agenda…making me read the small print when I buy shit!

It's a meme that says, "watch all the films or you'll pay again" and Brannyk says, "that sign won't stop me because I can't read."

THE SHACK – An Atmos-Fearic Thriller

The Shack is about is a guy who has very loud music in his head, probably from drinking all the Cthulhu beer. He has a buddy come up into his hunting blind and then bonks the buddy on the head and drags him away. You think in some kind of caveman courtship, but no, it’s for a demon dressed in a raincoat to feed upon the friend.

Next he brings his son (who looks about the same age as he is) to the blind- er, shack? It’s not really a shack. It’s a hunting blind. And it’s really not all that creepy. And it does NOT look like it’s 100 years old like the son says. It looks like it was from the 70’s. It needs more centerfolds in it, like, of 70’s demons or something…

Anyway, spooky things happen and tentacle monsters. Things go downhill.

The issue I took (besides the music, because turn down that racket!) is that the ‘son’ is too old. If he were a twelve or thirteen year old, it would have been more emotionally impactful. The story would have been more interesting. Instead, the son looks old enough to drink Cthulhu beer with dad and it lowers the stakes. Especially as this hunting trip is meant to be a rite of passage.

The high points come from the demon itself – the tentacles and the actor. The makeup for the demon was good and the actor’s presence was appropriately creepy. I enjoyed the atmosphere of the woods and the mystery it was unfolding (although it’s been played out before). Otherwise, it was…good. Mostly. It was fine.

It's a pic of a guy holding another guy with headphones, yelling, "MAH SON". A demon doesn't give a fuck and shrugs.
2.5 out of 5 stars (2.5 / 5)

THEYSUCK

Man, I wanted to like this one so much. UK NB vampires. Sounds incredible, right?

And some parts were incredible. The editing (while sometimes off, like the clothes washing scene) was stylized and crisp, as well as the cinematography. The music, when not rattling in my ears, was well-paced and energetic. Some of the scenes were clever and the locations were interesting.

The problem that bugged me the most was the writing, actually. It just…was bland. For a short about trans vampires. Like, how is that possible?

Truth be told, I think the largest reason for this was that the story didn’t really focus. It tried to be too many things all at once – friends falling out, falling in love, sexual identity, gender identity, uh…vampire identity? Looking for an apartment. Killing humans. Dancing. Dressing up like ghosts. Washing clothes dramatically.

I guess now’s the time to talk about the actual plot. Vampire Toy and their vampire roommate/romantic partner/friend (?), Novah, have a bit of a falling out. Toy is falling in love with a human! Hiss! A human realtor. Double hiss!! A human realtor cis-woman!!! Eternity amount of hisses!!!

As Toy gets more enraptured with this human, Adele, Novah figures enough is enough. Something drastic must be done. Is love enough to win the day? Or at least can Toy find their dream apartment?

Okay, so first – the names of ‘Toy’ and ‘Novah’…are so on point. I was chuckling. I mean, these are the stuff of Reddit NB memes.

It's a meme where there are two buttons - one says "have a normal name" and the other says "have the name of an inanimate object". The next scene is an NB sweating because they can't choose.

And there was a love of spit and love put into THEYSUCK, don’t get me wrong. I think the reason why I’m picking on this one so much is because of its potential. With a few tweaks and re-writes, this could have been a much stronger narrative and short film (possibly even as part of an anthology).

And I like Toy, but with the time and space we’re allotted with them, they usually end up looking sleazy with Adele or manic-pixie-dream-vamp literally dancing to their own tune. I was so looking for more vulnerability from them like in the first scene with Novah. I wanted to see that side of them. In fact, the parts with Novah and Toy were the strongest. They had good chemistry and were natural together.

The love angle with Adele and the chemistry there just felt flat and honestly…was unnecessary to Toy’s journey in their search for independence and perhaps sexual rediscovery.

All in all, I hope Lisbon Mombellet continues to make films. As I’ve said, the editing and cinematography were fun and stylish, with infectious energy. I was never bored while watching THEYSUCK and I enjoyed the parts of the whole. I think if Mombellet tightens up the writing, we’re in for some real treats in the future.

It's Toy with Adele, saying, "Hubba Hubba Happy Halloween" like a creep. And Adele is blushing and saying, "Oh! Oh! My! You're so quirky!"
3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

Michael and the Dragon

Oh…

My God…

Interpretive dance…horror!

Interpretivedancehorror!!! OMG!

It's a picture of Brannyk being in love and saying Yesssss

I love it.

Micky Waickman plays both Michael and the Dragon – both equally masculine and feminine in the most beautiful ways. Cait Rowe, cinematographer, pulled an utterly impressive job and took my breath away with the shots. MICHAEL AND THE DRAGON is the proof of how much an experimental piece horror with very little cast and crew can achieve with clever camerawork, ingenuity, and talent.

Shooting in black-and-white was the correct choice and I’m not just saying that because it’d probably be on the now-defunct High Art Camp, but because it added to the horror and distortion of the film. Dreamlike and nightmarish, the dance and bodywork of Waickman was itself a juxtaposition of the story it wove.

And yes, I’m showing my bias of experimental horror, but THERE IS A FINE LINE between pretentious weirdness and actual art. This one was the latter and Director/Writer Ella Price should be incredibly proud. I sincerely hope to see more of her work in the future.

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Bottomline for the Trans Steller Film Festival:

Was spending twice the amount really worth it?…

Of course! These small indie film-makers are the lifeblood of solid horror, and bigger and better things to come. I’ve said it before and I’ll say again, indie movies are precious and need to be supported. They are the babies of creators. And whether they fully hit the mark or not is irrelevant. The point is that there is creation, bridled only by lack of funds and resources. And it’s incredible to see what happens when there’s a dream that refuses to be deferred, especially by the minority of creators.

Horror is for minorities. For misfits. For the underfunded and underprivileged. Because that’s when it’s real and authentic. And horror, to be GOOD, desperately requires for it to be authentic. Maybe these won’t blow the door off anything yet. But maybe in a few years. Or maybe they’ll inspire someone else. Or maybe these directors and actors will move on to bigger things.

Yeah, yeah, I’m making it a fireside chat, but it’s true. These film festivals are the lifeblood of our community and we need to support them. I’m glad I’m an idiot and paid twice. They deserve it.

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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The Last Drive-In: Joe Bob’s Vicious Vegas Valentine Special Live Watch Party February 10th!

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The sweet putrid stench of love lingers through the air which can only mean one thing…Valentine’s Day and its annoying little winged cherub, Cupid, is fast approaching. Soon, partners will be spoiling one another with extravagant bouquets of roses, heartfelt Hallmark cards, obnoxiously large teddy bears, glistening diamond jewelry, and heart-shaped candies or boxes filled with assorted mediocre chocolates. You know? Normal things couples do. I tend to prefer my chocolate boxes filled with bleeding hearts, à la ‘My Bloody Valentine’ but, beggars can’t be choosers, right? All jokes aside, Valentine’s Day is special for many couples, however, there are also many others who find themselves celebrating this day without a significant other. Luckily, Shudder, along with drive-in king Joe Bob Briggs and co-host Darcy the Mail Girl (Diana Prince) will graciously be keeping us lonely mutants’, and yes, all you horror fanatic couples’ company on Friday, February 10th as they return with The Last Drive-In: Joe Bob’s Vicious Vegas Valentine, premiering live at 9pm EST.

Love Spells Abound…

Back in 2021, Joe Bob and Darcy invited us to a gruesomely passionate night of spell-binding love witches and animatronic dinosaurs infused with teenage human brains during The Last Drive-In: Joe Bob Put a Spell on You. Many, including myself, were introduced to the tantalizing 70’s inspired retro throwback ‘The Love Witch’ and the graphically goofy cult classic ‘Tammy and the T-Rex’, providing the perfect viewing pleasure to mend any broken heart. While the two films for this year’s morbid love-induced special have yet to be announced, as a special treat, Briggs has announced for the first time on The Last Drive-In, he will be marrying one lucky couple during the live showing. We here at HauntedMTL are eagerly awaiting the return of the ghoulish duo so, as is tradition, we will be proudly hosting a watch party on Twitter during the broadcasting of The Last Drive-In: Joe Bob’s Vicious Vegas Valentine. Be sure to follow us on Twitter and tag us  @hauntedMTL as well as @shudder@therealjoebob, and @kinky_horror to partake in this night of unholy love.

Drawn image of Joe Bob Briggs pouring  a drop of pink liquid into a clear glass potion bottled filled with a glowing red substance. To his left lies a book a magic spells with a golden pentagram necklace resting on top. Also on the books rests a human skull with heart shaped pupils for eyes hiding behind a pair of clear glasses. In bold white letters a text reads "Join us on February 10th as we live tweet The Last Drive-In Valentine's Day Special".
Follow @hauntedMTL for live tweets and replies!

What started off as a one-time special premiering on Shudder July 13, 2018, ‘The Last Drive- In’ was originally meant to be Brigg’s swan song; one last special before hanging up the bolo tie in retirement. However, due to so many mutants, excuse me…viewers tuning in and breaking the Shudder servers, it was only natural to announce an official full season of ‘The Last Drive-In‘, which would make its explosive debut March 19, 2019. Since then, Darcy and Briggs have spawned many exclusive holiday specials, have graciously donated to many charities within the community, and have accumulated 4 seasons of ‘The Last Drive-In’, with a fifth currently in production premiering on Shudder’s 2023 schedule sometime this year, let’s hope sooner rather than later.

Picture of Joe Bob Briggs, Darcy the Mail Girl, John Patrick Brennan and Yuki Nakamura standing together dressed in medieval costumes. A cardboard cutout of Tom Atkins stands between Darcy and Yuki. Darcy is seen drapped in a beautfiul elegant princess dress, satin white with gold trim. Yuki is seen holding a small wreath of purple, white, and yellow flowers that match his loud medieval king costume. Resting atop both their heads are golden crowns. Joe Bob Briggs is seen standing to the left of Darcy, as he smiles whilst wearing a half-put together jester costumer. Lastly, we see Brennan with two wooden recorders in his hand as he mimics playing them both dress clad in a bright yellow dress.
An unexpected ceremony during The Last Drive-In: Joe Bob Put a Spell on You (2021) special.

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Movies n TV

Horror Noire, a Film Review

Horror Noire is a horror collection that includes “Daddy,” “The Lake,” “Brand of Evil,” “Bride Before You,” “Fugue State,” and “Sundown.”

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Horror Noire is a horror collection brought by the combined efforts of AMC+ and Shudder. The collection includes “Daddy,” “The Lake,” “Brand of Evil,” “Bride Before You,” “Fugue State,” and “Sundown.” Horror Noire boasts Black directors and screenwriters, providing six unique stories.

As this collection explores six stories, I will skip the usual synopsis to assess the genres and ideas explored, albeit limited as needed. Expect to find supernatural horror, creature features, and psychological thrillers. Many short films deal with these genres while exploring Black issues, but this isn’t universal for the collection.

The directors and writers include Zandashé Brown, Robin Givens, Rob Greenlea, Kimani Ray Smith, Steven Barnes, Ezra Clayton Daniels, Tananarive Due, Shernold Edwards, Victor LaValle, and Al Letson.

Woman and man wearing a vote for candidate shirt, scared of something off screne
Image from “Sundown” Directed by Kimani Ray Smith

What I Like

Each story remains unique, holding different strengths and weaknesses that highlight drastically different perspectives. Collections like VHS hold a similar premise to create their collection, but Horror Noire gives more creative freedom to its talent to be independent.

My personal favorite short film is Zandashé Brown’s “Bride Before You.” This period piece unravels a fable set in the Reconstruction Era. The entry feels Fabulistic in approach, which happens to be my preferred niche.

However, the best example of horror goes to Robin Givens’ “Daddy,” providing an existential horror tied directly to the characters involved.

Woman listening to a preacher amidst a crowd
Image from “Fugue State” directed by Rob Greenlea

What I Dislike

As mentioned, all have a particular style and idea. The downside of this approach always remains to keep the viewer interested long enough to find their favorite. If you find several underwhelming choices, this becomes a chore. But I imagine that is rare as the variety makes the options refreshing.

Personally, “Brand of Evil” had an interesting premise, but the execution fell short. On paper, it might have sounded like my favorite, which makes the lackluster execution a bigger letdown.

Zeth M. Martinez

Final Thoughts

Horror Noire gives power and control to Black creators, providing a formula for a unique collection against others in the space. While the various subjects and approaches mean you aren’t likely to love them all, there should be a short film for everyone.
3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

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Movies n TV

Dahmer, Silenced

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Episode six of Netflix’s Dahmer was not, honestly about our title character. Instead, it was about one of his victims, a man named Tony. We’ve actually seen Tony a few times during this series. We just didn’t know it was him.

Rodney Burford in Dahmer

And, well, he wasn’t exactly alive the first time we saw him.

Tony was born into a supportive, loving family. This is good because soon after he was born a viral infection took his hearing. He is black, deaf, and gay in the early 90’s.

Tony has a dream of becoming a model. And he certainly has the looks for it. He is beautiful, body and soul. He has lots of opportunities for romance, but it’s not what he’s looking for. He wants a real relationship. 

Eventually Tony moves to Madison, trying to pursue his dream. He gets a job and starts getting modeling work.

Then, he meets Jeff Dahmer at a bar. 

At first, we can almost believe that it’s going to be alright. Jeff seems happy. He’s taking care of himself. He’s not drinking as much. He even has his dad and stepmom over for dinner. It seems like his life is getting on track. Even better, he’s treating Tony right.

Then, of course, things go bad. 

One thing that has always bothered me as a true crime fan is that we know so much about the killers, but not as much about the victims. Not so much if we don’t know who the killer is, of course. But the names that are part of our pop culture are those of the killers. Dahmer, Manson, Jones, Bundy, Holms. The names we don’t know are Roberta Parks, Beth LaBiancas, Leno LaBiancas, and Tony Hughes. And clearly, we should know them.

If Tony Hughes was half the shining, positive person that the show Dahmer made him out to be, I’m so sad that he isn’t with us anymore. We need so many more people like him. And many of Dahmer’s victims were likely just like him. After all, he was attracted to them for a reason.

This was a significant episode, and I understand why it’s the highest-rated episode of the series. I finished it with a heavy heart, saddened by the loss of a man who should still be with us today. 

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

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