Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Scares -- Er, Year

It's the turn of another year, and apparently another decade or whatnot. You know, the years really just blend together for me. When the zombies started walking, every day's the same.

On March 5 of 2009, and after a lot of me saying "I should really do this," I started this blog in an effort to bring my voice - hopefully, a unique one - to the horror blogosphere. In that time, I've been welcomed by a group of new friends, more experienced and truly excellent bloggers who have made me feel like I belong. For that, I will be eternally grateful, so thanks to all of you.

Also, thanks to all of you who take the time to read and sometimes comment. I really hope you enjoy what I'm jotting down about the world of horror from my viewpoint, and I'll just keep trying to make it better.

That said, I really need to be more prolific. So, in 2010, more movies, more comics, more horror everything, even if it's just a quick thought. Hoping also to hit up more conventions and events, see what I can do to be a part of more things.

Speaking of movies, I'd be remiss if I didn't pick out what I believed to be the most affecting horror movie I watched in 2009. Now, it didn't have to be a 2009 film, per se, just one I'd seen in the past year. And the choice I have may be obvious.

The horror movie that hammered my soul more than any other this past year was the French film Martyrs. If you want to know my deeper thoughts about this amazing film, the post of my review is right this way. I saw it in November, and I'm still affected by what I saw. It reached a visceral nerve inside me and I'm still thinking about this long after the credits. So, cheers to you, Martyrs, for reaffirming my faith in foreign horror.

As I raise a drink well inside the safety zone compound, I wish you all a Happy New Year and a wonderful 2010.


Friday, December 18, 2009

Torchwood: Countrycide - Wait, What? Is That Horror?

OK, wait a minute. This is a horror blog, right? I mean, in it, I like to discuss horror films, books, shows, comics...well, maybe I should include ideas as well. Something doesn't have to be classified in the horror genre for it to contain horror ideas. I never want to constrain myself by only taking one angle on a subject.

Take, for example, the episode of Torchwood called "Countrycide." First, a bit of a primer on this British show. Torchwood is a spin-off of the wildly successful modern reboot of Doctor Who. In fact, take a look at the spelling of Torchwood. Yep, it's an anagram for Doctor Who. There's a whole history in the parent show about why Torchwood was formed: something had to be in place in case the Doctor was not present to save the world. It had a few incarnations before the one the spin-off is based upon, mostly militaristic. This version is much smaller and only consists of five people out to prepare the world to defend itself against alien and supernatural threats. Oh, and it's a lot more...ahem..."sophisticated" than its parent show. There is frequent cursing, sex, violence, all sorts of good stuff.

The group consists of leader Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman), a former Time Agent who cannot be killed and is a bit of a smooth talker. There's former policewoman Gwen Cooper (Eve Myles), tough and sensitive, trying to balance her personal life with the wildly insane life of Torchwood. Also in the group is the compassionate main tech Toshiko Sato a.k.a. Tosh (Naoko Mori), obedient and quiet assistant Ianto Jones (Gareth David-Lloyd), and intensely forward medic Owen Harper (Burn Gorman). Those are your players, now let's set the stage for "Countrycide."

The episode begins in such a way, that it reminded me of the French horror thriller Ils that I recently reviewed. A woman drives down a lonely stretch of English country road when she comes across what appears to be a body. Upon investigation, she sees that it's a dummy. Someone's messing with her, that much is clear. She's hearing sounds, seeing shapes. Suddenly, the tires on her car are flat. When she realizes she's really, really in trouble, that's when a hooded figure attacks her.

The Torchwood team is called in to investigate not only that disappearance, but of 16 others in the same area. They're used to dealing with the strange and unusual, and this appears to be right up their alley. It could be UFO's, it could be ghosts, werewolves, who knows? Mysteries are their thing. Like the Scooby Gang, but with more sexual tension.

After setting up camp, they find a mutilated corpse in the woods. It's been skinned and much of the meat taken off its bones. They start to realize the gravity of what they might be dealing with, but don't have long to think about it when someone steals their swanky Range Rover as they look on. Fortunately for them, they're Torchwood, and handy gadgets are handy just for pickles such as this. Ianto tracks the Range Rover into a nearby town which appears to be a little more quiet than it should be.

It's a spooky little village, and it seems to be deserted. Not a single soul to be seen. As the team splits up, Jack, Owen, and Gwen surprise a young man named Kieran, who fires upon them with a shotgun and wounds Gwen. As Gwen is tended to by Owen - furthering their smoldering tension - Kieran tells his story, that he thought "they" had come back for him. He claims "they" aren't human, and he's in utter shock, only wanting to get away right now.

During this time, Ianto and Tosh have been taken hostage, but by whom, we have no idea. They're locked up in some kind of weird room with chains, hooks, and strange fluids. They also find remnants of other people: shoes, clothes. Upon opening the fridge they discover,'s another horror staple: it becomes clear to them that they are now food. There is a supply of meat inside the fridge, and it isn't a rack of lamb.

In the pub, someone or something tries to break in even as Jack and the others fire on it. Whatever it is, it takes the kid Kieran and leaves. They still have no idea what they're dealing with, despite Jack's vast knowledge of aliens and unknown.

Back in the meat locker, a scared lady opens the door and tells Ianto and Tosh she's there to help. She warns them of a "harvest" and says she's been sent to "collect" them, but wishes she could help them. Every ten years, apparently, the harvest "takes" them. She holds them at gunpoint and insists they come with her.

Cut to the pub (remember, this is a TV show, lots of cuts and such) and Jack is seeing this place isn't all it seems to be. There are jars of icky things and hey, a blood trail. It must be the one of the attackers, and it sure is. Jack interrogates him, but the guy is borderline insane and laughs in his face. But Jack, being somewhat immortal, has been around the block once or twice when it comes torture and amps it up a bit.

Gwen and Owen run into the woods and eventually meet a policeman, much to their relief. They insist on the police's help, that the village is in grave danger. Ianto and Tosh are taken to a horrible house, full of hanging plastic, blood splatters, and "that stench." The woman really didn't want to help them, obviously. It was just a spot of fun. They meet their attackers, the ones who have apparently cannibalized the village. They have met their attackers, and they are other words, they are all too human. Not aliens. Not demons or ghosts. Humans. And they love what they do. "See, the meat has to be tenderized first." But awesome Ianto headbutts the leader and Tosh gets away into the woods.

Tosh, handcuffed, is found by the leader, who gleefully bullies her until Owen and Gwen show up with the policeman. Finally, Tosh is saved! Well...until the policeman reveals his true colors and forces Owen and Gwen to disarm. Oh, great. Everyone's in on it.

It looks like curtains for our brave team. Back at the charnel house, the leader explains that the meat must be bled out, "like veal." He really enjoys this way too much as he holds a cleaver to Ianto's neck. A growing tremor distracts the band of bitey people. Seems they forgot about good ol' Jack, who storms in and wounds each one in a rage. Jack wants to kill them all. "People like this don't deserve a warning!" he exclaims, but Gwen wants to know. The same curiosity that got her the job with Torchwood compels her to know why.

She interrogates the leader by asking him that one question: why? The leader is playfully evil, toying with her, knowing he can scare her with words. And he does. He agrees to tell her why he does it, with a tear rolling from one eye, only if he can whisper it:

"Because it made me happy."

The expression on Gwen's face as he tells her that and as he's dragged away by Jack says it all. Utter and complete horror. See, horror? That a person could perpetrate this kind of evil on others, and that it had nothing to do with aliens or the supernatural, echoes in her head. And it changes her.

Torchwood is not a horror show, that's very true. It's sci-fi spun off from sci-fi. But that's not to say that you can't mix a little horror with your sci-fi. At the heart of this episode was a classic torture horror story about cannibals, a vanished village, and the shriveled heart of evil. No gadgets, no lasers, and no Doctor to bail them out.

I like it when I find horror in the least expected places.

Check out the video of the end of the episode to see some of those horror elements, a heroic save by Jack, and the chilling words from the leader of the cannibals.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Frontier(s) (2007) + The Word Of The Moment: "Primal"

Remember in my review of Ils, I spoke of fear? It had crossed my mind that there would be a certain segment of the viewing population - not a large one, really - that would puff up their chests and proclaim that they would "kick ass" if placed in a situation that the protagonists of that movie faced. Everyone knows or has met someone like that. The hero of their own mind, they've probably only ever seen fear in movies or news reports from the comfort of their own home.

I'm digressing a bit, but please bear with me. What I'm getting at is that I consider fear to be a "primal" emotion. There are certain emotions hardwired into us from the dawn of time: fear, desire, pleasure, anger, and a few more. How do we often express these emotions? By eloquently stating a monologue? No, it's usually through the most primal of expressions: yelling, screaming, panting, laughing, grunting. Sounds, not words.

I wanted to bring up the "primal" angle because the movie I just experienced, Frontière(s) (aka Frontier(s)), brought up the primal elements in nearly every part of the film. The film, which definitely falls under the horror subgenre "French extreme," is from 2007, and is written and directed by Xavier Gens. It stars a very fine cast headed by Karina Testa as Yasmine or Yaz. Hm, I'm seeing a trend here: strong female leads in the three French extreme films I've viewed, both in acting and in the characterization. This is a good trend, as the actresses I've seen warrant worldwide attention for their skills and a strong female lead is always welcome.

Let's dive into the recap: right away, we're introduced to a France that is falling apart. An extreme right-wing government has been voted in and protests are plunging the streets of Paris into chaos. Fresh off a robbery, we meet two groups of young folks trying to escape. Yasmine helps her brother, Sami, to a safehouse to nurse his worsening bullet wounds. Tom, Farid, and Alex are the others, and they're the ones with the money and the police tail. Eventually, they all meet up, but Sami's in bad shape. Yaz wants to get him to a hospital, but the others think he may rat on them. Tom and Farid take a separate car into the country on their way out of France, and to wait for the others. Yaz and Alex, whose baby she's pregnant with although they have broken up, take Sami to the hospital. There, Sami dies, and Yaz and Alex barely escape the police who show up there. In this opening sequence, we're privy to the personalities of our wild bunch. Yaz is emotional but headstrong. Alex is a hothead, but his toughness is a facade for regret. Tom is a douche, and Farid is quiet and almost innocent.

Speaking of the douche and the innocent, they stumble upon a very, very rural motel to rest up for the night and wait for the others. Tom's digging it because the two women they meet there, Gilberte and Klaudia, are more than receptive to his douchey pick-up lines. A fearsome specimen, Goetz, shows up to encourage the love motel shenanigans. Goetz, by the way, is played by Samuel Le Bihan, who played Grégorie de Fronsac in one of my absolute favorite movies, Les pacte des loups (Brotherhood of the Wolf). To say these were two different roles is an understatement.

Angry butchers: a horror staple.

Everything seems great for Tom and maybe Farid. Tom's loving the wanton sex the women offer, while Farid is less than enthused, claiming he has a "girlfriend." The motel even offers a home-cooked meal of...uh...something or another fried up in pork fat. As a bonus, "Mom" sits nearby to have her meal spoonfed, even if some of it pops out of her throat tube. When Farid refuses to eat the pork fat because of his religion - he's Muslim - the family seems not just offended, but angry.

While Tom and Farid discuss what just happened, a new guy bursts onto the scene, this time brother Karl. He's pissed that Tom insulted the women and threatens the guys, who fight back. They don't get far before Tom is floored by a blunt object to the face and back, and Farid is held at gunpoint by Karl. But, you gotta hand it to these guys, they do fight back in the face of fear. They don't "kick ass," but they do take the opportunity when it arises. Stabbing Karl with scissors, Farid snags Tom and they escape. For a while anyway. Goetz, in pursuit, runs them off the road and down a mineshaft before leaving them for dead.

The pair is still alive, though, and cut into the nearby mine for what I thought was such an intense part, I could barely take it. See, one of my greatest fears is dying alone in a tight tunnel, stuck and unable to move in either direction. Just add water, and my fear intensifies. Would I kick the tunnel's ass? Probably not. Farid panics and actually grows a pair (something Tom told him to do earlier in the movie) while Tom weeps for his mother, which I though was a nice, sad touch. Tom does make it through the tunnel, where he meets the rotund Hans, who brains him and drags him out. Farid scrambles back the way he came, where he must face some weird scraping, scuttling noises. Poor Farid, though. He makes through so much before getting trapped in a steam room-type gimmick and is basically melted to death by Hans. He was a tough little bastard, though.

Alex and Yaz show up at the motel, but are given the runaround. Their friends, they're told, are at the nearby hostel (uh-oh, that word is never good in a horror movie). Alex and Yaz arrive and meet doll-like, hunched Eva. While Alex heads for the bathroom, which is across the courtyard of the old mine facility, Yaz meets "Father," a former Nazi who settled in the French countryside. I mean, you know something is off when Yaz scans the dining room and sees old pictures of Nazi banners and a Nazi officer (presumably Von Geisler, the Father). Alex hears sounds and explores the facility, where he finds Tom, who is by Jove still alive. He's been meathooked upside down and implores Alex to run. Alex, realizing the gravity of their situation, rushes in to get Alex, but the two are subdued by the Von Geisler family. Seems the old man in his infinite, hateful, and deranged mind, wants to recreate a master race and despite her "impurity," wants Yaz to be the brood mare for his son Karl.

Alex and Yaz are chained up in the hog pen, but Alex manages to free Yaz by straining enough on the rusty chain. Yaz digs and digs in the hog poop and dirt to create enough room to crawl under the iron gate, but pauses to admit to she still loves the father of her child. As much of a bravado-spouting tough guy Alex acted like in the beginning, he really was a caring, decent guy under it all. Yaz runs and runs, until she meets a guy driving along the country road. Yay, she's rescued!

No. It's Goetz.

Yaz is returned to the compound, where she's put right back in the pen with Alex. While she was gone, Von Geisler severed Alex's Achilles tendons so he wouldn't escape. Von Geisler wants Yaz readied to be betrothed, and kills Alex in cold blood. When Yaz awakens, she's in Eva's room. Eva befriends her and, while she cuts her hair (in a scene very reminiscent of Martyrs - removal of the hair to demoralize - like Samson lost his strength when his hair was cut), tells her tragic tale. She's not related to the other nutjobs and after having been kidnapped, has been a similar brood mare to Hans. Their children are not "perfect," so they are the ones scratching around in the mine.

At the "wedding dinner," Von Geisler places Karl in charge of the family and proclaims he and Yaz "married." Here, the tension between family members is palpable. Goetz thinks he should be in charge, and Von Geisler makes it known he is only proud of Karl. Yaz is in a hopeless situation, but the look on her face as she remains defiant is encouraging. She hasn't given up yet. Quicker than The Flash, Yaz holds Von Geisler at knifepoint and demands to leave. The family starts to fall apart pretty quickly. Von Geisler wants all guns down, but Hans wants to prove himself and says he will kill both to stop Yaz. He makes good on his word, firing, but only killing his father. Karl fatally shoots Hans as Yaz makes her escape.

Into the mine Yaz goes, first dealing with Goetz in a particularly nasty manner. You see the implement of his demise right there, and you know it's going to be used. It's a little like Chekov's Gun in theater: you introduce something like that, you best use it before the play's over. Karl traps her in an elevator and it all seems lost. But you can't help but notice what happens when Karl says "au revoir." I actually shouted out "ha!" when it happened. Karl won't be getting up from that head wound.

Now this is someone ready to kick some ass.

Eva tries to help Yaz escape, but the last two Von Geislers, Gilberte and Klaudia show up like a couple of Tarentino femme fatales, firing a hail of bullets at Yaz, who is also armed. Yaz fires on a gas tank and boom goes the...uh, gas tank. No dynamite, but just as effective. In a final battle with Gilberte, Yaz reverts to true primal brutality and uses her teeth as a final, desperate way to win the fight. And as she finally gets away into the waiting arms of the police, she breaks down in a series of cries and screams.

Primal. The yelling and the screaming. Yaz barely speaks during the last half of the movie. She's crying and screaming, whether in fear or rage, or both. Primal elements cover her in the film in dirt and blood. Besides the earthen dirt, she's nearly consumed by fire and is cleansed by rain - more primal elements. The tunnels of the mine: forcing a primal fear in not only the characters, but the viewers. Fear of the dark, of strangers, cramped places, the unknown. The lust that lures Tom and Farid deeper into the trap: primal. The desire for money that fuels the gang to commit robbery in the first place. The rage of Yaz as she finally snaps. It's all there.

Now, I could just be reading what I want into it, and it may just be a really intense, bloody French torture movie. That said, I enjoyed it as a direct line into our primitive selves. We can always speculate what we would do in these extreme, fearful situations. Some of us, like Yaz, could bring ourselves to kick ass. But who knows? Fear is primal, and it's the part of us we can't control.

Until next time, make sure your shelters are secure and I'll see you from the skies.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Ils a.k.a. Them (2006) Including My Love For A Good Burger

I'm not all zombies and ghosts. So, when I asked Andre Dumas, author of the fantastic horror blog The Horror Digest (see, another shout-out!), to recommend to me some French horror films when I wanted to watch something a little different, she gave me the titles of four offerings. Martyrs was the first. The one I'm about to present was the second. Once again, I was not steered wrong.

A little symbolic segue: back when I lived in Michigan, there was a nearby town called Suttons Bay. In that little hamlet was a restaurant called Boone's Prime Time Pub, and in that restaurant were the absolute best hamburgers known to man. You know when you have the best burger known to man, and then eat burgers that are really good, you still compare them to the BBKTM? For me, Martyrs was that best burger, and Ils (referred to in here by its English name, Them) is that really great burger that gets compared to the original. Long segue, I know, but I'm hungry and burgers are always on my mind.

But, to compare it to Martyrs is really doing it an injustice. Them is an entirely different movie about an entirely different story. It's deftly directed by David Moreau and Xavier Palud, and stars two quite beautiful people in Olivia Bonamy and Michael Cohen. These two could easily be lead actors in Hollywood, and their acting chops more than hold up. Let's dive right in, shall we?

Ah, how idyllic.

As the movie opens, we are treated to a prologue wherein a mother and her teenage daughter argue about the daughter's attitude while driving at night in Romania. The mother swerves to avoid what she thought was a person, and they crash into a pole. They're fine, just shaken, but the minivan has seen better days. When the mother gets out to try fixing the engine somehow, she vanishes from from behind the upraised hood. The daughter, once annoyed by her mother but now worried and frightened, begins to hear sounds. There are whispers, taunting her. Mud collides with a window. The girl tries to phone the police, but is suddenly strangled from behind, although we can't make out who or what it is thanks to the rain.

The next day, we meet French teacher Clementine (Bonamy) as she leaves school for the day and drives home...right past the minivan from the prologue (being hauled off by the police...empty). She lives with her boyfriend Lucas (Cohen) in a really sweet old mansion on the Romanian countryside. Seriously, I wanted that house. It's a nice life: she teaches, and he's a writer. They even sort of have a dog, a stray that wanders by once in a while for food. All they need is a picket fence and they'd be set.

Yeah, not in this flick, babies.

That night, strange things happen. Awakened by her car stereo, Clementine, with Lucas, watches as someone blatantly steals her car. Then come the sounds. Footsteps. Doors opening and shutting. The TV goes on and off. The couple sees things. Flashlights. Fleeting figures. Someone is trying to break into the house, it seems, and they're being frustratingly ninja-like about it. It gets real when a door that Lucas just accidentally broke while swinging at nothing slams shut and puts a good chunk of glass in his leg. He makes it back to the locked bedroom and a waiting, frantic Clementine. All the while, he's glancing back at...what? We, the audience, don't see a thing. But something is there.

Attics are just no good.

Clem and Lucas manage to escape from the bedroom, but only make it to one of the bathrooms (I say "one of" because this house is enormous). From there, Clem figures she can climb into the attic and find a way out., hey, fellow horror fans, show of hands: do we know how trips to the attic work out in horror movies? That's right. Clem is not alone. Now we're seeing figures. Those feet stalking Clem belong to someone, but who? One of the attackers (we damn well know there are more than one) grabs Clem, but she fights back, causing the person to fall presumably to his or her death. The others, at least three or four of them, don't take kindly to that and step up their pursuit of the couple. They escape into the woods, chased by whooping, strange-noise-making...what? People? Something supernatural? Reaching a fence, Lucas is too injured to go over, so he sends Clem for help. Like the attic, "sending for help" never turns out well for any horror protagonist. Clem is captured and hauled off, but Lucas isn't far behind.

I'll keep it spoiler-free, but from here, we find out more about the attackers. Who they are, or rather what kind of people they are. They aren't who you might think. And even if you guessed semi-right, you're probably still a bit off. That final scene, so innocent and quiet, will still give you the loudest chills because the realization will set in. Even as you read the text which wraps up the story, you'll wonder just why it happened.

A very frantic Clementine...

Some of you will find yourself speculating, "well, I would've kicked some ass." Have you ever felt fear? I mean, real fear? How did you react? Did you puff up your chest, attach a chainsaw to your hand, and quip "Groovy"? Or did you feel nauseous, want to run, want to get away now? Fear does strange things to people. A lucky few can rise up and overcome it, maybe really turn the tables on physical attackers. Most of us will be looking for the nearest escape route, our breath terrifyingly short, the blood drumming in our ears. We'll forget the toughness. We'll just know we have to survive.

This is the second French horror movie in a row that, to me, had outstanding directing and acting going hand-in-hand. It also employed the minimalist approach: few settings, two main actors, and a tension-driven plot. There was relatively little blood in it, so gore fans might be disappointed, but come on...the tension was so solid. We see very little of the antagonists right up until the very last part of the movie, yet we absolutely know they're trouble.

Oh, and the sound. The sound was like another character in the movie. Seriously, when you watch Them, don't just turn out the lights, turn up the volume. Every little creak and step and shuffle is crisp and clean, and that's not even the sudden scary noises.

You know me and my love/fear of underground places.

You know, I still pine for those burgers at Boone's Prime Time Pub (they'll even mix in chopped jalapeños for you), but there have been other burgers almost as delicious that I would recommend to anyone. This burgermovie comes highly recommended from me now. It's quick (74 minutes) and it's tense, topped off with just being well-made.

OK, still hungry. Until next time, lock your doors.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Musical Horror: "Murder Ballads" by Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds

When I'm flying up above the zombie hordes, I like a little music to keep me from going insane. Well, more insane than I already am. I'm pretty easy when it comes to music. I stand firmly in the rock genre, but I can handle anything from electronica to ambient to classic country to mambo. If it sounds good to me, it's good to me.

One of my favorite CD's in my collection might actually fall in the genre of horror. Let's see: killer kids, jealous lover killers, hitchhiker killers, guns, knives, rocks...all on one CD. All on Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds' amazing 1996 release, Murder Ballads. Murder ballads are story-songs about crimes of passion, but Cave and his crew expand past passion and dive right into madness as well.

"Song of Joy" kicks off the festivities with a song about a wandering man who finds himself at the door of a stranger, looking for a place to sleep. The man relates his tragic, horrifying story, one about his sullen wife and children whom he loved dearly. One night, he returns home to find them horribly murdered with the words "HIS RED RIGHT HAND" scrawled in blood on the wall. To me, there's something about this dude that's not registering right. Are you beckoning me in? I don't know...I leave it to your interpretation.

"Stagger Lee" is actually an old legend made into different versions of blues songs, about the murder of William "Billy" Lyons by Stagger Lee Shelton (read more about it here). Cave spares no description; this is not a song you play for your grandma. Massive profanity and wanton violence are set against the minimal music that suggests quite strongly what Stagger will do in certain...ahem...situations.

"Henry Lee" is one of the most beautiful songs not only on this album, but in my opinion. Cave brings in P. J. Harvey to sing the female lead about a young man who tries to let his illicit lover down easy. She has other ideas and stabs him to death with a pen knife before throwing his body into a well. Never has bloody mayhem sounded so gorgeous. Lie there, lie there, little Henry Lee/'Til the flesh drops from your bones/For the girl that you have in that merry green land/Can wait forever for you to come home. Brrr...shivers.

"Lovely Creature" describes what might best be a ghost story. A man travels with a beautiful woman, who accompanies him through the night. By the time the man makes it home, she's gone, but he's sure she still out there somewhere, or as Cave puts it: Somewhere she lies, this lovely creature/Beneath the slow drifting sands/With her hair full of ribbons/And green gloves on her hands.

"Where The Wild Roses Grow" is another beautiful song featuring the ethereal voice of Kylie Minogue. Yes, Kylie Minogue. I'm totally serious. One would think she didn't fit here, but she is perfect in the role of Eliza Day, the object of affection of Cave's character. Remember how in the film "Frankenstein," the Monster developed that child-like logic of "beautiful things belong in the water"? Yeah, something like that happens here, but it ain't child-like: And I kissed her goodbye/Said all beauty must die/And lent down and planted a rose between her teeth. This comes after Eliza Day makes this observation: On the third day he took me to the river/He showed me the roses and we kissed/And the last thing I heard was a muttered word/As he knelt above me with a rock in his fist. Yeah, not really the ideal date, you know.

"The Curse of Millhaven" is a cheeky little story-song told from the point of view of Loretta (but she prefers Lottie), a strong-willed girl who lives in the town of Millhaven, where chaos is throwing the little place into a tizzy. Murders, disappearances, vandalism...someone's causing the good people of Millhaven to panic. Lottie doesn't seem to mind much about it all...probably because she's the one behind it all. It's a darkly humorous peek into the insanity of a 15-year-old girl.

"The Kindness Of Strangers" features the poor young girl Mary Bellows. All she wants is to travel to the ocean, and she accepts a ride from a man named Richard Slade. They stop at a hotel, and she lays down her boundaries right away. She tells Slade she's a "good girl" and that she can't possibly "permit him in." He "tips his hat" and goes to his room, but the situation is left sadly open when this happens:
She sat on her bed and thought of home/With the sea breeze whistling all alone/O poor Mary Bellows/In hope and loneliness she crossed the floor/And undid the latch on the front door/O poor Mary Bellows/They found her the next day cuffed to the bed/A rag in her mouth and a bullet in her head/O poor Mary Bellows. Damn.

"Crow Jane" is about a legendary woman who lives near a town called New Haven and whose mind crawls and squirms with violence and vengeance. She gets a hold of several guns and as the song progresses, the population of New Haven drops from 48 to 28. People, do not piss off that nasty woman who lives alone down by the river.

"O'Malley's Bar" clocks in at just over 14 minutes and is a true story-song in all its gory, blood-soaked glory. It's a true descent into madness as a man - the main character telling the story - walks into O'Malley's Bar, which is full of familiar townsfolk just enjoying a beer. The man calmly begins shooting everyone he can, describing it in full detail. He relays what he sees, how he feels. He imagines himself as some kind of Angel of Death, that he has an absolute divine right to murder innocent people. It's unflinching.

"Death Is Not The End" is the lone "bright" spot in the entire CD. After the extreme mayhem of the last song, this cover of a Bob Dylan song basically tells the listener not to worry, not to fret, and that truly, "death is not the end." It features everyone on the CD, including Shane MacGowan of The Pogues, singing a verse, much like the end of a somber play. At this point, you want to throw flowers, but might be too depressed to do so.

I absolutely love this entire offering. Yeah, it's violent and it's depressing and it's unabashedly brutal. But they're stories. They're murder ballads, and they aren't meant to be about unicorns and jellybeans. It's not everyone's cup of tea - I have some friends that may pass out during "Song Of Joy" - but it's well-crafted, scary music.

It's a slasher film for your ears.

Until next time from the skies, keep rocking.