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Film Reviews

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Don't Worry Darling (2022)
Directed by Olivia Wilde
Warner Bros.
Pictures
2 hr. 05 mins.

Don’t Worry Darling is a psychological thriller film released on September 23, 2022. Directed by Olivia Wilde, it primarily follows couple Alice (played by Florence Pugh) and Jack (played by Harry Styles) in a suspiciously 1950’s esque idyllic life. With a heavy focus on an odd image of perfection where the women play the part of the perfect housewives and the men leave to work at their vague but well-paying day jobs, there is an immediate sense of something being off in the Victory Project though it is unclear what.

It opens to the sense of an almost permanent party run with the undercurrent of the phrase “beauty in control, there is grace in symmetry, we move as one” something we realize quite quickly will be taken to some ultimate extremes.

The imagery throughout the film is interesting as we shift back and forth through the image of perfection to flashes from Alice of these warped scenes that don’t fit anywhere. That combined with a constant shaking that stems from who knows where and a tendency for food to be shown as shells of what it should be, much like the place viewers know they should be unnerved.

As the film proceeds and Alice becomes more aware of the discrepancies, so do we, and as her frustration grows and she tries to break away from the image some of the men begin to reveal things as well. There are characters like Frank (played by Chris Pine) indicating they know everything, and she is lost, and Jack and even Bunny (played by Olivia Wilde) insisting that she shouldn’t ask questions, or it would ruin everything, adding to the fear of what may be being done to her. There is also an emphasis on music, both to set the scene and with a single song repeatedly hummed by Alice that she cannot quite place but seems to separate her from where she is.


The film plays on constant confusion on what is real and what isn’t, frequently using mirrors with conflicting images as a demonstration that all is clearly not well. It also plays with time, not only in the 1950’s setting, but in Alice losing time every time she strays too far from the path she is meant to follow.

As we start to realize certain characters have less agency in where they are than others, more and more aspects of relationships cause concern going forward. It is noteworthy that the film is rated R and oral sex plays a large, and rather creepy when you know what is occurring, part in the relationship of Alice and Jack particularly in later scenes.


Aspects of the circumstances around the situation are not exactly difficult to guess, but they do bring up some interesting questions and a satisfying final escape for Alice at least. It does however raise some unanswered questions about the status of those left, particularly with the leader gone.

The film is admittedly slow moving and quite quiet in the background for the majority of it with an emphasis on build up. There are times where little happens, and it can lose the viewer's interest for a while. I do however believe that when that might happen, other scenes can bring it back well. I would say that if the themes interest you and the style is something you can go along with, I think it is still worth watching. I personally enjoyed the film and think it did a solid job manipulating the characters as intended and causing discomfort in the audience. 

—Essence Saunders
California State University, Stanislaus

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V/H/S 99 (2022)
Various Directors 
Shudder 
1 hr. 49 mins. 

The fifth installment of the V/H/S horror anthology series, V/H/S 99 is a loving homage to late 90’s culture. The film is a series of five visually striking and wonderfully constructed tales. Unlike the previous entries, V/H/S 99 does not have a traditional framing device, one where someone comes across a pile of ominous VHS tapes in a spooky location. Instead, we are treated to a true-to-form mis-mash of scattered images and narratives, much like one would find on a VHS that has been taped over multiple times. This makes for a captivating viewing experience, as you’re never quite sure what you’re about to see next. As is true of most anthology series, the quality of the stories vary wildly, with each one being directed by different people. If you have any interest in watching the film, which I highly recommend you do, this is where you should stop reading and allow yourself the joy of a spoiler-free viewing experience. Otherwise, let’s talk about the segments point by point.

Shredding (Directed by Maggie Levin). This is, by far, the most aggressively 90’s of the bunch. The camera follows the escapades of R.A.C.K, a punk rock band consisting of three extremely unlikable jerks and one “friend” who gets ruthlessly pranked, mocked, and subjected to some terribly racist remarks. The group heads into an underground location, the former venue of Bitch Cat, another punk rock band, who were trampled to death when an electrical fire broke out during a show. This segment is rather tiresome, mostly because the members of R.A.C.K are the absolute worst, not in a “they’re mean, so I hope they die” way, but a “what sort of awful anti-bullying PSA did these kids crawl out of?” way. At one point, they re-enact the deaths of Bitch Cat by filling sex dolls with red jelly and stomp on them…and then dry humping the remaining bits. Mercifully, the zombified members of Bitch Cat rise, rip R.A.C.K to pieces and put on one hell of a final show. The ending is a visual treat, with the creature effects being a welcome reward for suffering through the teen’s escapades.

Suicide Bid (Directed by Johannes Roberts). Easily the most terrifying tale, Suicide Bid continues the theme of god-awful people by introducing us to Beta Sigma Eta, a sorority that puts a would-be initiate through nightmarish hazing ritual. They tell their bright-eyed initiate the story of Giltine, a similarly trusting freshman, who was forced to spend the night in a coffin by the sorority but never found. And wouldn’t you know it, the new initiate, Lily, is asked to do the very same thing. The POV shots from inside the coffin are deliciously tense, very reminiscent of Heather’s close-up confession in The Blair Witch Project (1999). Before you know it, there’s banging sounds on the coffin, spiders crawling over Lily’s face, and muddy water seeping in from above. Honestly, the entire segment works well enough without any supernatural elements, as the situation is already frightening enough. But then Giltine herself shows up, looking like a prop you could find at Spirit Halloween, and that takes away some of the tension. It's still a great segment, with a really delightful twist ending, but could have benefited from a little restraint (which is asking a lot from this series).

Ozzy’s Dungeon (Directed by Flying Lotus). Nickelodeon’s Legend of the Hidden Temple meets Saw (2004), with a hint of The Void (2016) sprinkled in. This was all over the place, definitely one that keeps you guessing. The thing is, Ozzy’s Dungeon is far too funny to be scary. The dialogue is a tour-de-force and delivered masterfully by the wonderful Sonya Eddy. Anyone who can spit out the lines “you showbiz, LA motherfuckers make my goddamn pussy is drier than the ‘sahary’ desert” and “didn’t I tell you I’d get you a Dreamcast if you did what I told you to do” with a straight face is definitely a master of her craft. Ozzy’s Dungeon is pure joy, with a healthy dose of dreamlike weirdness thrown in. Highly recommended.

The Gawkers (Directed by Tyler MacIntyre). A bunch of 90’s radical bro’s use their camera to voyeuristically gawk at the hottie next door. One of the kids is called Boner. Whoo... Each time they did something stupid or goofy, I would shout “Bo-ner!” at the screen just to add in a bit of 90’s sitcom vibes. One of the guys breaks his arm skateboarding? Bo-ner! The boys get caught trying to peak up a girl’s skirt? Uh oh, Bo-ner! The girl next door ends up being a fucking gorgon and turns them all to stone? You know that’s a Bo-ner!

This one is slow, a bit unpleasant, and has a rather weak twist. Although the camera operator’s dorky brother, who has been creating stop motion mini movies between the segments, is a welcome breath of humanity. The Gawkers misses the mark for me, although it isn’t as aggressively unlikable as Shredding. The tradeoff is, sadly, that it isn’t the least bit scary or exciting. The dialogue is amusing, but nothing approaching the glory of Ozzy’s Dungeon. It’s okay. Not much else to say really.

To Hell and Back (Directed by Vanessa and Joseph Winter). What. A. Masterpiece! To Hell and Back does what it says on the tin, it throws us into Hell itself and boy, could I watch a whole movie based on this premise. On New Year's Eve, 1999, a coven of witches attempts to summon a demon and accidentally traps their film crew, Nate and Troy, in Hell. The environment, creature effects, lighting, and props are all top notch. It is a chaotic jumble that displays a fantastical imagination. The bickering between Nate and Troy is almost as amazing as Hell itself, with the two jumping between darkly amusing quips, like “do you got to Hell for an isolated shoplifting incident” to an outright goofy moment where Troy grabs a tiny pitchfork from a sleeping baby demon and whispers “snatch!” in the same way you would take the last donut at a work party. 

If you were only going to watch one segment, this is the one. It may very well be the best tale of the entire VHS series, because what other story has a giggling gremlin-goblin woman called Mabel, The Skull Biter? She just makes you smile every time she’s on camera, with her welcoming demeanor and gravelly voice granting her a unique presence. If I were to pick one image to sum up this movie, it would be of Nate—blood streaked, holding a pitchfork made of gore, and still wearing his colorful party hat that reads “2000!”—charging towards a demon that his friend has mistakenly called “Qui-Gon” and “Pokémon” (its name is Ukabon, oops!). You just don’t get much better than that.

— Jarred White
California State University, Stanislaus

Television Review

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Interview with the Vampire (2022) 
Created by Rolin Jones
AMC

While the world might have assumed the vampire craze was long buried since the end of the Twilight saga it seems another Vampire renaissance is upon the media. Despite what seemed like an overabundance of vampire content in the 2010s the last year has proved that vampires will always be a bankable option. In fact, in October of 2022 alone, Peacock, Showtime, Syfy, and AMC all are airing weekly vampire shows. Additionally, 2022 has also seen Netflix’s hits First Kill and Day Shift alongside Marvel’s Morbius and Sony’s Dracula remake The Invitation. With many choices available to connoisseurs of Vampire lore, one option stands out amongst the rest, AMC’s Interview with the Vampire. Based on the iconic Anne Rice novel Interview with the Vampire is a reboot of the original book and the successful 1994 movie of the same name. With many compelling updates to the content Interview with the Vampire proves that the resurgence of vampires in film and television is a worthy endeavor. 

Starring Jacob Anderson as the main character and narrator of the show Louis de Pointe du Lac and Sam Reid as his maker Lestat de Lioncourt the show gives an important update to the original work. In the show, Louis and Lestat are not only vampire companions drawn together by their maker-protegee relationship, but they are also lovers. The show challenges the homoeroticism from the original novel and the subsequent 1994 film by exploring the complexities of a sexual and romantic relationship between the two vampires. Adding the layer of a romantic relationship between Lous and Lestat Interview with the Vampire makes the already complex relationship much more compelling. This is displayed beautifully as Louis relays the history of his relationship with Lestat to his interviewer Daniel Malloy (played by Eric Bogosian). Louis's description of their relationship to Daniel seems to swing on a pendulum between abuse and affection as he heartbreakingly seems to struggle to properly capture their all-consuming relationship. Louis and Lestat’s relationship is the perfect blend of codependency, volatility, and sexiness that an audience can simply not look away from. While it is clear the relationship is toxic Anderson and Reid play off each other so well that it is hard not to want to see Louis and Lestat on screen together. 

While the updated relationship between Louis and Lestat is the heart of the reboot the show also has many other captivating updates. For example, the show has updated the time frame of the show. The original novel and film were both set in 1791 New Orleans with Louis being a plantation owner in his human life before meeting Lestat. The 2022 show is set in 1910s New Orleans and Louis is a Black man who is a brothel owner in New Orleans’ red-light district. This update adds a layer of complexity to the character of Louis as he deals with issues such as race politics in America during the 1910s. This is exemplified perfectly in episode three which sees the political implications of White Supremacy play out in a similar manner to the real-life destruction of many Black-owned businesses and towns in a post-reconstruction America. The show is a great example of how to make a reboot successful. Interview with the Vampire is a display of the manner in which reboots can both serve fans of the original work and make space for new fans. 

The show does not make changes for sensationalism instead the changes are thoughtful and introspective. The changes are also inclusive, each change heralding a demographic of the audience the original did not make space for. The show has taken vampire lore to new heights with the creation of a show that is equally parts terrifying, psychologically intriguing, and beautiful. With a contract between AMC and Anne Rice that is said to include over eighteen works, it seems the partnership is up to a positive start. Interview with the Vampire is currently airing on AMC and AMC + and the show has already been renewed for a second season. 

—Autumn Andersen
California State University, Stanislaus 

Poetry Review

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Under Her Skin: A Women in Horror Poetry Collection, Vol. 1 (2022)
Edited by Lindy Ryan & Toni Miller
Black Spot Books

You wake up in a body that is yours, but not your own. You look in the mirror, but you do not look back. Such instances are the foundation of body horror—a subgenre of horror that focuses on eerie and disturbing happenings of the body. Some may think of The Metamorphosis, Franz Kafka’s famous novella featuring Gregor’s bug-like transformation, when thinking of examples of classic body horror, but for many, they need look no further than their own reflection to experience the jarring alienation found in body horror. For women especially, this horror is an inescapable reality of human existence. The poetry collection Under Her Skin (2022) grapples with the all too real horrors women face with bodies that oppose them, standards that defy them, and people who use them up until all that is left is nothing. 

Under Her Skin is a collection of 90 poems written by 70 non-binary femmes and women, both cis and trans, from around the world. These poets range heavily in background: young adults studying in college, mothers who have retired from the scholarly field, and even Bram-Stoker Award winning and nominated authors. The collection itself focuses on the inherent connection body horror has with the female experience, as those who identify as women deal with a litany of burdens throughout their lives. Between generational cycles of trauma and abuse, threats of rape, demanding beauty standards, bodily functions that inherently harm, conditioned complacency, and the ever-looming presence of the male gaze—there is so much to bog down the minds of women in their daily lives. These poets articulate the horrors women experience, from girlhood to old age, in gruesome detail, with vivid descriptions and chilling allusions. Each piece is different. Some are short and to the point, while others are long with thought-provoking metaphors that cut into the reader, much like how the women on the page are cut into themselves, literally and figuratively. 

Many of the pieces specifically reference issues that women face in their everyday lives. One of them is the beauty standards that women feel pressured to keep up to date with and adhere to in order to not even be respected, but avoid physical or emotional harm. For example, the piece “Skincare Routine,” written by Cynthia Pelayo, demonstrates the normalization of self-mutilation for women—to look pretty, women are expected to alter their bodies, regardless of the consequential pain and alienation. Another prevalent theme in these pieces is the powerlessness associated with sexual domination. Images of holes, being sucked up, used, penetrated, and “rightfully” abused are throughout the collection. In these pieces, it is clear that women-aligned people feel expected to give and give until there is nothing left, whether that be in servitude to a husband, to children, or to a parental figure. The poets of these pieces share their agony in nuanced ways, with some going into horrific detail. Some pieces showcase imagery of bones, bugs, vomit, meat, mold, and blood to depict the alienation and dehumanization women feel when put in positions of powerlessness. “Inside of Me,” by Betsy Nicchetta, even goes as far as to allude to alien insemination, equating women to incubator vessels that have no agency over their own bodies. The feeling of isolation and despair is compounded by the fact that, in many instances, these women feel compelled to do these acts of violence on themselves, that they are required to put themselves through pain and smile while doing it. Such observations are what makes the female experience such a chillingly accurate way to describe body horror in general. 

While some pieces take the reader to a dark place and leave them in the feeling of resignation, others suggest a kind of unholy retribution, or a chance for these women to be reborn into powerful, dangerous creatures who will no longer be victims. As a whole, the collection amplifies and celebrates female empowerment, allowing for the pain women feel to be seen and felt as a collective. Under Her Skin brings to the forefront critical issues pertaining to the humanization of women, and by relating these experiences to body horror, these poets make it more evident that these issues have a pressing need for attention and societal change. 

In all, Under Her Skin gives a broad glimpse into the horrors of the female experience. The collection shares diverse voices from around the world that shed light on an age-old yet crucial topic that is still wrangled with today, both in daily occurrences and in the political sphere. While it is true that change may need to happen systemically to properly address the issues of patriarchy and sexism, Under Her Skin demonstrates the essential need for those who understand the female experience to share their pain. These poets make beautiful, ugly, and thought-provoking what is otherwise pushed to the side and deemed normal in society. By giving a place for these awful experiences to stand together and be seen in new ways, Under Her Skin challenges the body horror genre, provoking readers to rethink what they know both about horror and the female experience. 

—Andrea Wagner
California State University, Stanislaus ​

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