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Time-Travelling Trauma in ‘The House at the End of Time’

The House at the End of Time, Venezuela’s highest grossing genre title, is an electric, mind-bending, and contagiously empathetic house of horrors. Set in the midst of Venezuela’s economic meltdown in 1981—a period where poverty and hardship were widespread and voter discontent was rampant—Dulce (Ruddy Rodríguez) moves into an old home with her sons Leopoldo and Rodrigo (Rosmel Bustamante and Hector Mercado, respectively) and her husband, Juan José (Gonzalo Cubero). Plagued by a supernatural phenomenon, Dulce and her family are savagely attacked one evening, resulting in the death of Juan José and the disappearance of Leopoldo. Dulce must then unravel the mystery behind her husband’s death and son’s disappearance before it’s too late. 

The House at the End of Time ( La casa del fin de los tiempos) is perhaps the preeminent time-travel horror movie, a heartfelt scare fest abounding with humanity and distinct, cultural tinctures. Moreover, it adroitly interrogates both the collective trauma of an entire country and the singular trauma of one fractured family. The impact of one colors the other, offering a paradoxical cycle of healing and pain. It’s a shame that the movie isn’t more widely known, then, with few traces of it available online—barring dated notes of a New Line Cinema remake that, as of 2021, has had no further developments. Like the ghosts that figure so centrally in its occult-laden domestic labyrinth, the public writ large might be encouraged to conclude that it simply does not exist. 

With shades of Guillermo Del Toro’s The Devil’s Backbone and Alejandro Amenábar’s The Others, The House at the End of Time deserves recognition alongside them as one of this century’s most sensational ghost stories. Scary, flavorful, and incredibly smart, it’s a fantastic movie that merits a wider audience, one that stations its supernatural scares in a vividly realized world contextualized by frightening history. 

Underscoring it all is a clinical, unqualified consideration of multi-generational trauma. Trauma and violence are pathological, both conditional and permanent. Violence and trauma beget far-reaching, biological shifts, fracturing and changing the trajectory of entire bloodlines on both a micro and macro level. It’s what renders movies like Hereditary so successful—the trauma-informed narratives are conceived and executed in such raw, powerful fashion, it becomes universal. Micro-narratives of filmic trauma correspond to the trauma of our own, collective lives. The pain of one’s mother and the pain of their father, and the pain of their parents, becomes one’s own—a possessive and all-encompassing presence that haunts the body and mind like a poltergeist of hurt and maladaptive nourishment. 

There is violence in that grief and pain; just as eye color and disease predisposition are passed from parent to child, so too is their pain, born out of it like Eve from Adam’s rib. Dulce, convicted and sentenced to thirty years for the ostensible murder of her husband and son, is merely pantomiming the likely conviction of her own parents in Venezuela after World War II, where the resettlement of thousands of European refugees and a geopolitical shift augured its future decline as the preeminent Petrostate, a deterioration that engendered abject poverty and suffering of almost mythic degrees. 

This poverty is what traps Dulce in her home, even when the lives of her children are threatened. With no work and no income, her options are nonexistent. Considerably worse, perhaps, are the veiled threats of Juan José. Dulce, he avers, has no chance to be a woman in the world, a woman and mother in her own right. If she dares to leave—he threatens—he will find her and he will kill her. So, Dulce remains, trapped with the spirits of the dead and the savagery of the living. 

The house, Dulce soon learns, has the cosmic capacity to transport its residents through time. It is arbitrary, a capricious science-fiction vessel bearing more resemblance to the iconography of BBC fiction than an international genre picture. The house is rendered symbolic, beyond just the domestic capacity for violence and pain to erect houses of their own. The trauma and pain of the past, in its own way, can travel through time as an amorphous, perennial being. In the denouement, Dulce learns that the spirit haunting the house is her. Thirty years in the future, Dulce is transported back, and having learned the truth—that Rodrigo will die in an accident, Leopoldo is afflicted with an unknown disease for which there is no cure, and Juan José, having learned that Leopoldo is not his son, will try to kill him—intervenes to try and rewrite history. 

For the most part, it is to no avail. With cryptic notes and spectral showings—pounding on doors, fervently urging her past self to flee—Rodrigo is still killed, and Juan José still learns the truth, and on the fateful night, pursues Leopoldo through the house, knife in hand. The pain of one family—their generational trauma—persists in past and present, and no amount of cosmic intervention can change that. 

Dulce, however, does have one chance to make a difference. Should she accept the agony—–her own conviction, figuratively and literally—she could intervene to save Leopoldo. In the present, his disease can be cured. So, the older Dulce travels back, kills Juan José, and steals Leopoldo away to the present. In the past, the younger Dulce is left confounded, condemned by an older version of herself. She is arrested, taken away, and incarcerated, without even the comfort of knowing that she’d done this to herself in an eleventh-hour effort to save her son. Sometimes, the source of the trauma is both known and unknown, a cycle whereby individuals are hurt by both themselves and the world around them. 

There is hope, though. In the present, Leopoldo is reunited with a childhood friend, now older and a member of the clergy. He can live, but Dulce must still die and serve her sentence. She says her final goodbye, content to die alone in her home—damned there under house arrest for the remainder of her sentence. Leopoldo is dressed as an orphan and taken from the house, never to return again. It’s a bittersweet ending, one rendered all the more frightening by the current state of Venezuela. For a horror film so grounded in realism, that context is difficult to ignore. 

With cerebral suspense and funhouse scares, The House at the End of Time initially grabs you by the throat. In the end, however, it poignantly engages with something considerably deeper. In the early goings, the spectral jumps, cacophonous screams, and swirling suspense threaten to scare you senseless. And it does. It scares remarkably well. When the end credits roll, though—when accounting for all the generational trauma and crestfallen sacrifices of the characters on screen—it amounts to something more. It’s irrevocably posed to break your heart.

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James Horner and the Sound of Horror

For most of his life, composer James Horner was on top of the world. His sweeping music was in constant demand from directors like Steven Spielberg and Terrence Malick, and he scored two of the biggest movies ever—1997’s Titanic and 2009’s Avatar. But while Horner was a bonafide blockbuster composer, he learned his trade in the trenches, cementing his style from very early on. 

You can trace a path from films like Troy all the way back to the pure genre work he did as a young composer, with horror and science fiction pictures that are a world away from the films that made Horner a household name. Interestingly enough, Aliens—his breakout film—combined both of those genres; while he got an Academy Award nomination for his trouble, it was the catalyst for Horner to move on to projects with bigger budgets and wider audiences. This may have established his reputation for delivering “epic” films scores, but the real work started almost a decade earlier.

Horner’s first scoring assignments were for films produced by the American Film Institute, of which very little information is known. His music would reach cinema screens in the summer of 1979 attached to a pair of exploitation films: sea monster movie Up from the Depths and crime thriller The Lady in Red. Horner wrote mainly underwater scenes for the former, but his fondness for the horn section shows through during the rousing finale cue. For The Lady in Red, he wrote several jazz pieces reflecting the 1930s setting, yet most telling is a brief-but-beautiful love theme of sorts, selling his innate talent in writing emotionally stirring film music.

Subsequently, the composer worked a two-film stint with Roger Corman on another aquatic horror and a science fiction remake of The Magnificent Seven. Humanoids from the Deep is an interesting if unrefined score, and through the orchestration you can hear echoes of the future, as well as nods to Jerry Goldsmith‘s Alien and John WilliamsJaws. The appearance of existing works in Horner’s music was a controversy that dogged him for most of his career, although in this stage it was probably more attributable to the temporary music track than anything else.

It’s unsurprising that music from Alien and Jaws would appear on a horror movie temp track in the same way that Williams’ Star Wars and Goldsmith’s Star Trek – The Motion Picture were undoubtedly used for Battle Beyond the Stars, although the inclusion of Charles Ives and Sergei Prokofiev is perhaps less likely. Battle Beyond the Stars was an attempt by Horner and Corman to match the popular symphonic brilliance reinvigorated by Williams and George Lucas, featuring a memorably bold title theme and soaring love theme. However, while the score included several pieces that would be further developed and honed, it was still an excellent work, especially by such an inexperienced composer.

Horner’s next three assignments were also all horror pictures. The first was The Hand—the second of Oliver Stone‘s directorial efforts—about a murderous hand lopped off in an accident. Horner’s work certainly shows hallmarks of his emerging style but is much more experimental with only small examples of traditional melody. However, he would next combine both approaches and produce possibly his greatest horror score.

Wolfen was a werewolf tale with a difference; there was no signature transformation, just hints that the “wolfen” of the title came from a spiritual metamorphosis of Native Americans. Horner was not the first composer hired and replaced; Craig Safan (The Last Starfighter) was let go earlier after original director Michael Wadleigh was fired. The resulting replacement score emphasised not only the power and aggression of the title creatures but also their plight as nomads, constantly forced from their homes by man and his need to build. It begins with a forceful title cue that presents the main ideas in the score; a threatening low-register growling motif, and a more ethereal setting on high horns that suggests something more metaphysical.

These two motifs are employed to provide the presence of the wolfen and are the thematic backbone of the score, uniting in the final act to powerful effect. Also heard is a variation on the high motif, which takes the form of four notes—the first three ascending and descending before the fourth is left unresolved, giving an unsettling feeling to the listener. This is what would eventually be dubbed the “danger motif,” and is a crucial signature of nearly all of Horner’s scores (even up to Avatar).

For his third horror score of ’81—Wes Craven‘s Deadly BlessingHorner combined satanic chanting with a lovely, hopeful melody. It’s not a particularly great score, but it features interesting insectoid strings that would be used later for the xenomorphs in Aliens. It would also be the last pure horror score Horner composed, followed immediately by his work on the caper picture The Pursuit of D.B. Cooper. Straddling the comedy-drama line, Horner provided country music chase cues alongside cuts from the likes of Waylon Jennings, throwing back to his period jazz for The Lady in Red. His next project, however, would take him to space and beyond.

Horner’s score for Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is cited as one of his best, where he pulls all his previous styles together for a thrilling action score with heart, typified by the huge main theme encompassing the romance of spacefaring. He also composed a second, emotional theme which worked in tandem to create a satisfying musical framework for the film. But for the title villain of Khan, he brought in his danger motif, now in full swing as it would appear throughout his pictures, as well a theme for Spock built on the ethereal material from Wolfen.

Star Trek II pushed Horner further towards the composer A-list as did his other picture of 1982, Walter Hill‘s action hit 48 Hrs. Like all of Hill’s films, 48 Hrs was a pseudo-western, so Horner used guitar textures along with the orchestra, steel drums, and synthesisers. It was a bold choice, but it worked brilliantly and provided another palette for Horner to add to his range.

He would need it for an increasingly frenzied schedule that included seven films in 1983, with high points including weird fantasy Krull, holocaust drama Testament, and the science fiction thriller Brainstorm. All of these are unmistakably James Horner and you can again see the lineage, with it being the same with his music for the next two years that saw Star Trek III: The Search For Spock, Arnold Schwarzeneggar actioner Commando, and the sweet-natured Cocoon, all of which led up to his masterful score for James Cameron‘s Aliens.

Up to his untimely passing in 2015, James Horner was a mainstay on the upper tier of film composers and a certified legend in the field. History will most notably remember him for Titanic, Sneakers (1992), and Apollo 13 (1995), but it’s important to recognise where all of these famous scores originated—what a fascinating experiment to listen to them in succession, pointing out every danger motif appearance like a drinking game. How better to remind us that it’s not just where you’re going that counts, but where you came from and how your story began.

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‘Scooby-Doo and the Ghoul School’ Was Universal Monsters 101

Since 1969, Hanna-Barbera’s many versions of Scooby-Doo have served as kid-friendly gateway horror. Through episodes playing via syndication, reruns, and reboots, a sleuthy, snacky dog exposed young audiences to a variety of celebrities from decades prior including The Three Stooges, Sonny & Cher, and Dick Van Dyke. But between all the countless guest stars and crossovers, the animated young ladies who attended Miss Grimwood’s Finishing School for Girls in 1988’s Scooby-Doo and the Ghoul School hold the honor of introducing the most iconic monsters in horror to a generation of adolescent girls. 

Miss Grimwood’s Finishing School for Girls is not the first or last time Scooby and the (pared down) gang interact with real monsters. The 1985 series The 13 Ghosts of Scooby-Doo developed the formula of members of the Scooby crew dealing with actual ghosts. This kicked off Scooby-Doo Meets the Boo Brothers, Scooby-Doo and the Reluctant Werewolf, and Scooby-Doo and the Ghoul School, a trilogy of “real” creature made-for-television features. Ghoul School writer Glenn Leopold was involved in several “Scooby plus real monster” projects and penned the 1998 direct-to-video Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island that kicked off another wave of Scooby-Doo films a decade after Ghoul School

(Leopold also wrote songs for Scooby-Doo including “Terror Time” and tracks for fictional female eco-goth rock band The Hex Girls. The man is a legend, but let’s get back to the ghouls!)

Scooby-Doo and the Ghoul School wastes no time introducing the original #GhoulGang. Scooby, Shaggy, and Scrappy-Doo meet Sibella, Dracula’s daughter; Winnie, The Wolfman’s daughter; Phantasma, The Phantom’s daughter; Tanis, The Mummy’s daughter; and Elsa Frankensteen, the daughter of Frankenstein’s Monster with a vowel change. The Scooby crew never meet any mommies—only mummies—but Elsa rocks the same iconic hairstyle as The Bride, so educated horror viewers can assume her lineage.

While Elsa’s hair is an undeniable reference to classic monster imagery, the other ghoul girls’ appearances favor an ‘80s aesthetic. Winnie might be a wolf girl, but she also resembles “Annie” with her orange, curly hair. Phantasma is an intangible phantom portrayed in baby blue hues, but she’s on trend for the era with her Pat Benatar pixie haircut, belted dress, and booties. Sibella is quite fashionable with her flowing purple gown, feathered lavender hair, blue eyeshadow, and hot pink lipstick. Tanis is the most simplistic out of the girly monster makeovers with blue eyes, eyelashes, and a big pink bow on her head. That being said, the ghoul girls are presented in a feminine way that avoids painting them all shades of gender stereotypical pink and still feels fresh for young audiences today. 

The sweet appeal of the mini monsters in Scooby-Doo and the Ghoul School is not limited to pastels, makeup, and hair bows; their personalities go against the traditional reputation of scary monsters. Upon meeting Miss Grimwood, her pet dragon Matches, and her disembodied hand helper, Shaggy and Scooby-Doo are terrified at the thought of encountering the girls Shaggy has agreed to coach for an upcoming volleyball tournament. Thankfully, Scrappy-Doo acts as an emotional guide, reassuring that the girls are nothing to fear—and Scrappy is quickly proven right! The ghoul girls are warm, welcoming, and share a common goal—to win the tournament and bring back a trophy to show their parents.

The ghouls participate in activities non-monster girls can somewhat relate to. They encourage each other during volleyball training, practice ballet, and share pizza with spider, snail, and tadpole tail toppings. They’re also heroes who rescue not only their rivals—the boy cadets from Calloway Military School—from the greatest known threat in cartoon history (quicksand, duh). In true Scooby-Doo fashion, the girls end up rescuing Shaggy and Scooby-Doo after the duo’s failed attempt to save the ghouls from the evil clutches of spider-witch Revolta. The ghoul girls may be monsters, but they are also brave little ladies who should be respected instead of feared. 

The Halloween open house halfway through Ghoul School finally introduces all those famous monster daddies; Dracula, The Mummy, The Wolfman, The Phantom, and Frankenstein’s Monster. Notably, this crossover is only a few years before the Universal Classic Monsters were unleashed on home video in the 1990s—but Scooby-Doo syndication on television was a far more accessible creature sighting for appropriate audiences at the height of Saturday morning cartoons. The monster daddies lean “traditional monster” in design next to their daughters with slightly muted and natural color palettes, but they still hold a softer touch. 

Right off the bat (transformation), the first moment with these fearsome fathers is Dracula using his cape to shield The Mummy from the rain since his wraps are not waterproof and it sets the tone—these monsters are different. Although Shaggy and Scooby resort back to cowering in fear before the horror titans, all of the fathers are more excited to hug than hurt the pair. Their only scare tactics are vague “take care of my daughter or else” threats to Shaggy and Scooby as each dad heads out the door; this speaks to a more “Universal Dad Move” than Universal Classic Monster. While the ghoul children are developed to appeal to coming-of-age girls, their relationships with their fathers and the affection shared amongst monsters leaves an equally lasting impression. 

In stark contrast to the classic monster parents and groovy daughters, Scooby-Doo and the Ghoul School villains Revolta and Grim Creeper lack any clear references in horror film history. Revolta’s character design falls somewhere between arachnid and witch while the Grim Creeper resembles an overgrown potato with tentacles. Revolta plans to use mind-control on the ghoul girls and overpower their famous fathers because she’s disgusted the classic monsters have “grown soft” in fatherdom. That said, her storyline is rushed and she is ultimately forgotten in a movie dedicated to legendary horror icons and their revolutionary daughters. 

While not every classic monster is featured throughout the film, Scooby-Doo and the Ghoul School squeezes in a few more monster cameos before the credits roll. During the final celebration, Miss Grimwood introduces Shaggy to new arrivals; the Creature from the Black Lagoon’s daughter, Godzilla’s daughter, and an alien’s daughter. Shaggy and Scooby forget everything they have learned from the girls at this precise moment, make a mad dash to the Mystery Machine, and drive away from the ghoul school. I guess a kaiju wearing a pink bow is where Scooby-Doo draws the line? 

Not only was Scooby-Doo and the Ghoul School ahead of the Universal Classic Monster home video line by a few years, but the animated feature was ahead of its time in adapting traditional monsters for kid audiences. Hanna-Barbera paved the way for horror franchises designed with young girls in mind. The film not only conjures a new generation of monsters young girls can identify with, but portrays the classic monsters as kind, loving father figures children can celebrate. Scooby-Doo and the Ghoul School taking the time and care to create monster role models for girls to call their own is—in the timeless words of Dracula’s daughter—Fangtastic!

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‘Jennifer’s Body’ and Other Teenage Hells

In a genre typically considered “for the guys,” it’s time to give a nod to the ladies. Uterus Horror is a subgenre of horror films that focuses on the uniquely female experience of puberty and the act of coming into your sexuality, using horror elements to emphasize and/or act as a metaphor for that experience. These films are often ignored in theaters but quickly develop cult followings. Columnist Molly Henery, who named and defined the subgenre, tackles a new film each month and analyzes how it fits into this bloody new corner of horror.

Surprise! For April you get not one, but two Uterus Horror films. Earlier this month I covered The Witch and how it fit in with the subgenre. Now, the time has come to discuss a horror fan favorite, Jennifer’s Body. There is a lot to unpack with this film, so let’s dive right in.

Director Karyn Kusama (The Invitation, Destroyer) brought the screenplay by Diablo Cody (Juno, Tully) to life. The film follows two best friends, Jennifer (Megan Fox) and Needy (Amanda Seyfried). After an indie band botches their virgin sacrifice by picking Jennifer, who isn’t even a “backdoor” virgin anymore, she becomes a boy-hungry demon. As Jennifer goes from victim to victim, Needy watches as her best friend becomes a literal maneater and tries to figure out how to stop the evil. Using humor and gore, Jennifer’s Body gives a satirical look into what life is like as a teenage girl. 

On the surface, Jennifer’s demonic powers are the obvious qualifier for the film’s Uterus Horror designation. After the band makes the mistake of trying to sacrifice a non-virgin for their ritual, Jennifer becomes a succubus. One of the perks of being a succubus is it keeps Jennifer looking alluring and beautiful (plus, she’s virtually invincible). However, this all comes at a cost. After a period of time, Jennifer weakens. Her skin breaks out, she becomes lethargic and achy, and her hair loses its luster. Only one thing can bring her back to full strength: feeding on teenage boys. 

The cyclical nature of Jennifer’s condition is directly comparable to a menstrual cycle. For a majority of the time, Jennifer is her usual succubus self. Then comes the time of renewal. Just like people who menstruate shed their uterine lining in a painful, bloody process to renew the uterus, Jennifer must rejuvenate herself in a similarly violent fashion. The only difference: it’s the blood and guts of teenage boys that is shed in Jennifer’s cycle. The filmmakers even make jokes about Jennifer’s situation being similar to a menstrual cycle. The first time we see Jennifer looking drab (at least as drab as Megan Fox could possibly look), Needy asks her, “Are you PMSing or something?” Later, during the climax, Jennifer is again in a weakened state and Needy stabs her through the stomach with a pole. After Jennifer removes the pole, blood gushing from her gaping wound, she asks Needy if she has a tampon. As is common with Uterus Horror, this line is a wink to the viewers who menstruate and know that a period can look and feel much like this horror movie scene.

Not only does Jennifer’s Body convey a broad metaphor for menstruation, it also examines the roles of women—specifically teenage girls—in an Anglo-Christian society. When we are first introduced to Needy and Jennifer, they are made to fit two very specific roles. Needy is the virginal, sweet, and somewhat nerdy best friend. She is the “good” one, both as a friend and as a person. On the opposite end of the spectrum is Jennifer. While these two are best friends, the way people view Jennifer is quite different. She is looked at as this beautiful, sexual being and objectified, but she is also immediately established as the villain of the story, even before she becomes a succubus. Jennifer is popular, bitchy, and treats her sexuality as a fun, casual thing, which good girls are not supposed to do.

The catalyst for the horrors within Jennifer’s Body is the Satanic ritual. An indie band, Low Shoulder, believes if they sacrifice a virgin to the Devil, they will get the fame and fortune they desire. They choose Jennifer, incorrectly assuming she’s a virgin. Low Shoulder brutally murders Jennifer for their sacrifice. Even though it is the band’s mistake they sacrificed a non-virgin, they get everything they ever wanted: a big record deal, their song all over the radio, and the adoration of the entire town of Devil’s Kettle. It is Jennifer, who is already the victim of their heinous crime, who is punished for being a sexually active woman. First she is violently killed; then she becomes a succubus. Even this is indicative of how Jennifer is viewed, as succubi are traditionally depicted as demonic women who seduce and feed on men during sex. Even before becoming a demon, Jennifer was likely looked at as a “man eater.”

Needy exemplifies a different side of the same coin. In the beginning she is a virgin, generally ignored or looked at in a more childlike manner. That is, until she has sex for the first time with her boyfriend, Chip (Johnny Simmons). It’s no coincidence that the filmmakers go back and forth between showing Needy having sex for the first time and Jennifer killing a male classmate. Not only is this a turning point for Needy, but the juxtaposition is meant to show the audience the sin of premarital sex is equal to the sin of murder, at least for women. 

From this moment on, Needy is shown in a different light. Almost immediately after losing her virginity, Needy sins some more. She swears, which Jennifer points out as abnormal behavior, and she and Jennifer come very close to having same-sex relations. No longer being a virgin also means Needy is not afforded any protection from Jennifer. When Needy first encounters demon Jennifer, she is still a virgin and Jennifer leaves before she can feed on her best friend. When they see each other again after Needy has sex, one can assume Jennifer’s seduction of her friend is an attempt to feed. Luckily for Needy, Jennifer had already filled up on teenage boy. This leads to Jennifer trying to eat Needy’s boyfriend the next time she’s hungry, when she even attempts to take a bite out of Needy.

At one point during the film, Needy’s mother recounts a nightmare she had in which men nail Needy to a tree like Jesus was nailed to the cross. This is foreshadowing for Needy’s fate. After Jennifer kills Chip, Needy only sees one possible solution: she has to kill Jennifer. In her attempt to eliminate her former best friend, Needy is bitten by Jennifer just before she successfully stabs her with a box cutter. This is a pivotal moment for two reasons. First, because it shows the only way to absolve Jennifer of her sins in this society is to kill her. Second, the bite from Jennifer transfers some of her demonic powers to Needy. Needy is sent away for Jennifer’s murder and, presumably, the murders of the boys Jennifer killed. It is symbolic because Needy has taken on Jennifer’s sins, as well as the sins of Low Shoulder, just like Jesus took on the sins of the people when he was crucified. 

Luckily for Needy, she doesn’t appear to need to feed regularly in order to maintain her half-demonic powers the way Jennifer did. Jennifer might have eaten boys because she enjoyed it, but Needy does it to devour the patriarchy. She breaks out of prison and heads straight for Low Shoulder. Through a delightful series of images in the end credits, the audience gets a glimpse of the carnage she reaped on the true sinners: the men who killed her best friend. 

Jennifer’s Body checks multiple Uterus Horror boxes. There is the obvious connection, which is Jennifer’s demonic cycle mimicking a menstrual cycle. Yet the true heart and soul of this film is how it conveys the way teenage girls are viewed in a society dominated by straight, white, cisgender Christian men. Young girls are nothing more than objects, and their value is determined by their sexual experience, or lack thereof. It’s a powerful and important point being made by Cody and Kusama that is sprinkled with humor and splattered with gore. Needy truly said it best, “Hell is a teenage girl.”

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‘Resurrection’ Is the Best ‘Se7en’ Successor

On September 22, 1995, Seven was released onto unsuspecting audiences. The film went on to gross $100 million domestically and became something of a cultural phenomenon. The crime-horror genre it repopularized never disappeared, but the success of David Fincher’s film sparked a wave of imitators. You may remember Kiss the Girls, Fallen, The Bone Collector, and In Dreams as just some of the major studio copycats, but have you seen 1999’s Resurrection? While it showed theatrically in other countries, Resurrection went straight-to-DVD in the US. It sat on Blockbuster Video shelves alongside other ignored or forgotten titles of that era. 

Among the few who have seen it, there is a tendency to dismiss Resurrection as a Seven rip-off. This fails to accurately convey its distinct attributes. While there are surface-level similarities between the two movies, Resurrection is hardly an uninspired retread of Fincher’s classic. Even Seven contains elements familiar to viewers of police procedurals and serial killer stalkers. Resurrection borrows from the familiar but adds enough ingredients of its own to become something different and noteworthy. It boasts a stellar supporting cast and is stylish, violent, and occasionally unsettling—and ends on a moment that needs to be seen to be believed. 

Resurrection was something of a vanity project for Highlander star Christopher Lambert. In addition to playing the lead—Chicago homicide detective John Prudhomme—Lambert produced the movie and received credit for co-creating the story. He also surrounded himself with some familiar faces behind the camera. Highlander and Highlander II: The Quickening director Russell Mulcahy is at the helm; Lambert’s frequent collaborator Brad Mirman—who wrote Knight Moves and Gideon for the star—also notches a screenplay credit. 

The filmmakers waste no time showcasing dead bodies. Prudhomme and his partner Andrew Hollinsworth (Seven and The Bone Collector’s Leland Orser) arrive on the scene of a homicide within the first four minutes. The victim’s arm has been removed and “He’s Coming” is written in blood on a window. Shortly after that two more bodies are found. One, also missing an arm, is buried in a botanical garden. The third crime scene is particularly gruesome and marks the movie’s first legitimately unsettling moment. A man with no head sits on a toilet in a dilapidated, dirty building. It is equally evocative and repulsive. 

Here is where we learn Resurrection identifies as Easter horror, something we don’t see too often. Prudhomme and Hollinsworth determine that each victim is a 33-year-old male named after an apostle (Peter, Matthew, and James). Each victim has numerals on their body that are revealed to be bible verses. With the murders occurring a week apart and Easter three weeks away, Prudhomme announces that the killer is recreating the resurrection with stolen body parts and that their work will culminate on Easter. This means the police can expect three additional murders but have no way to stop them. The killer is smart and has left no trace evidence behind. Identifying a suspect seems impossible.

A standout sequence near the halfway point demonstrates the grisliness of the killer’s actions and the stylistic flourishes Mulcahy brings to the table. Prudhomme and Hollinsworth are able to identify the fourth victim while he is still alive. They arrive at his art studio to find the man with his leg cut off and near death. It is extremely graphic and bloody—according to Mulcachy, the scene needed cuts in order to secure an R rating. Prudhomme discovers that the killer is still present and a chase ensues. It culminates with the man’s death, Hollinsworth suffering a serious though nonfatal injury, and the villain escaping. 

Such a sequence is highly and horrifically effective. The dark, sizable art studio is a bit creepy even before Prudhomme locates the victim, who is in enormous pain and bleeds to death. The killer is glimpsed lurking in the background before Prudhomme realizes and gives chase. They are wearing a pale mask that tightly grips their head. It has black holes that hide the eyes so that from certain angles all you can see are dark circles. There is a hole cut out for the mouth, meaning the killer’s lips protrude slightly from the mask itself, which is taut around the lips. It is an odd, unnerving sight. The killer eventually incapacitates Hollinsworth with a taser before taping his mouth shut and a gun to his hand. A police officer mistakes him for the killer and fires a shotgun blast into his leg. Hollinsworth survives but has to have his leg amputated—quite tense and very well-orchestrated. 

Like much of Resurrection, the art studio scene is set in the rain as Mulcahy emphasizes gloominess throughout. It’s always dreary weather and even daytime scenes lack color. Mulcahy also employs a significant amount of camera manipulation in this sequence, including conscious shaky cam choices as well as funky angles, close-ups, and rapidly moving the camera towards and away from a character in quick succession. The shaky cam is overused at times, but overall Mulcahy’s direction is captivating and stylish. Many images, like the headless man on the toilet, are impossible to forget. 

‘Resurrection’ works hard to prove that “Easter Horror” deserves its own category of cinema.

It helps that the gloominess and unsettling imagery are partially offset by humorous moments. In addition to Orser’s wisecracks, there is a medical examiner who deadpans lines like, “I have a pretty good idea what killed him,” upon seeing the man on the toilet. Prudhomme’s stiffness and ability to alienate everyone around him also plays for laughs—there’s an amusing moment near the end where, after a certain reveal, Prudhomme shouts, “what the fuck,” and you can’t help but nod in agreement. The film even gives us David Cronenberg for two scenes as a priest trying to restore Prudhomme’s faith.

Then, there is the ending. Resurrection has a doozy of a finale, one that elevates the film from good to great. Prudhomme determines that the killer, who is a man masquerading as an FBI agent assisting with the investigation, plans to complete his work by sacrificing a newborn on Easter. He deciphers which hospital the killer will strike and arrives there just after the baby has been kidnapped. Prudhomme, spotting the killer running off with the newborn, gives chase and winds up on the building’s roof. 

This is where the fun really starts. It is, of course, pouring rain and late at night. Prudhomme slowly approaches the killer as he wanders toward the edge of the roof, fully aware of the fact that a newborn is in grave danger. The killer gives a token speech about his diabolical ways as the cop tries to reason with him. Suddenly the newborn is being held by its ankles, naked and shrieking, as the killer dangles the baby over the edge. He is about to release his grip when Prudhomme shoots him while almost simultaneously grabbing hold of the newborn just as they begin to fall. The editing and special effects work well together to keep it looking real, so the viewer stays fully involved in what is happening. In a film populated with sequences that punch above their weight class, this finale is truly impressive.

Resurrection is a must-see for any fan of the serial killer genre and one of the more overlooked films of its kind. The crimes are appropriately bloody and twisted, it is suitably moody and atmospheric, and there are a handful of standout moments genre fans will enjoy. In addition, the supporting cast is full of faces familiar to horror and sci-fi fans and it is fun to figure out what you recognize them from. This is an extremely entertaining and well-executed flick that easily holds its own among the more popular titles of its time period. Even the most seasoned viewer of serial killer fare will be left with an indelible image or two that proves plenty of wickedness exists outside theatrical screens. 

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‘The Taking of Deborah Logan’ As Faux-Queer Archive

As artifacts of resilience and endurance, found footage speaks to the queer experience. The subgenre offers unique capabilities that affirm its queer characters through continuance, holding a radical potential for counter-archiving. Through adopting a cinéma vérité approach, found-footage horror films like The Taking of Deborah Logan (2014), Unfriended: Darkweb (2018), and Megan is Missing (2011) are forging new terrain depicting queer women onscreen. Contributing to a lineage of archive-making by queer artists, these found footage films create their own cinematic language for queerness in horror. 

As Beverly Seckinger and Janet Jakobsen describe it, cinéma vérité unobtrusively captures “spontaneous, untampered-with ‘reality’ for direct, unmediated presentation.” Found footage’s guise of the “real” mimics the crude visuals of vérité to depict a fabricated reality. Exploring The Taking of Deborah Logan allows for a theoretical analysis of how found footage becomes an imitative marker of lesbian “authenticity” and “identity.” 

The film, directed by Adam Robitel, follows a documentary crew as they observe Alzheimer’s patient Deborah (Jill Larson). Having taken on the role of caregiver, her daughter Sarah (Anne Ramsay) has sacrificed a life in Richmond, Virginia with her girlfriend, Shelly. As Deborah’s condition deteriorates, unexplained phenomena begin to transpire, causing Sarah and the crew to investigate a disturbing history of the occult, femicide, and possession.

History, Memory and Lesbian Ethnography

The documentary’s thesis on the fragility of memory and personal history extends its focus beyond Deborah, to Sarah’s past.

Located between the space of two films, an alternate narrative emerges. Initially framed as a medical documentary, the film inadvertently becomes a queer counter-archive. Posited through “outtakes,” Sarah’s footage becomes spontaneous, “authentic” expositions of lesbian ethnography. As an out filmmaker, Robitel’s lived experience further authenticates this narrative.  

The confessional, intimate gaze of the found footage lens presents a unique variation on coming out. Outtakes articulate the various ways Sarah is outed to multiple recipients; the crew, camera, spectator, and her mother. Through their erasure of identity, both Alzheimer’s and homophobia require a repetition of coming out. By refusing to avert its gaze, found footage’s objective lens reaffirms Sarah’s homosexuality, acting as a surrogate figure of acceptance. 

The Ethical Gaze

Issues associated with vérité can be applied to found footage regarding consent, ethics and the queer subject. Found footage retrieves and exposes moments of queer confession in ways that contribute to and complicate the archive. Through breaching fictional boundaries, the found footage camera violates privacy in ways that are unique to its queer subjects. 

Early into The Taking of Deborah Logan, Sarah is caught, unknowingly, by the camera during a phone conversation with Shelly. The camera becomes an omniscient spectre documenting a private moment. The forced encroachment on personal space problematizes the spectator’s boundaries to the film’s queer women. Yet, it is through these moments that we witness lesbian intimacy onscreen.  

The outing of a character in found footage horror reinforces its “truth-telling,” framing queerness as both spectacle and worthy of preservation. This situates the spectator as a problematic witness to moments not necessarily intended for a larger audience. 

If we consider our introduction to Sarah, we see how queerness is laid bare under the found footage lens. In a moment of vulnerability, Sarah asks director Mia (Michelle Ang) if she wants her to present in a “certain way.” Despite being reassured to act “normal,” queer muscle memory insists Sarah perform a routine of “acceptable selves.” It is particularly indicative of the pressures to assimilate and the instincts of survival forged through dissimilation—an instinct vital for survival in Exuma, Virginia. 

An Archive of Perishability

Found footage evokes a vulnerability by revealing its fragile materiality. Our ability to watch the events that threatened this footage speaks to an archive of perishability. The audiovisuals persist violations, becoming a valuable record of the fictional atrocities queer women, like Sarah, are subjected to. 

But a great deal of queer audiovisual heritage has been lost through neglect and deterioration. These displaced histories align with found footage’s status as recovered artifacts. Through this premise of erasure, the faux-queer archive is allowed a level of verisimilitude. 

Films like The Taking of Deborah Logan exist in conversation with this loss. As viewers, we participate in their imaginary preservation, reaffirming their status as “found.” The camera’s gaze insists we do not avert our eyes and instead, take active ownership as spectators. 

But where does one locate authorship of found-footage and what does this mean for the way lesbian identity is crafted in films like The Taking of Deborah Logan? The title itself connotes an act of plundering, of wrongful “taking.” Found footage presents the possibility that one can ”steal” an image and manipulate its context through the colonization of amassed records. 

The Perishable Body

Through the crew’s “capturing” of the Logan’s daily lives, the film demonstrates both women navigating control of their bodies. 

Sarah’s documented loss of autonomy is inherently queer. Her pressure to appease her mother reveals a lifetime of erasure. Returning to her childhood home to care for someone who undermines her identity, we watch Sarah confront personal demons. We learn that as a child Sarah was sent to Saint Bernadine’s as penance for kissing another girl. Her removal from the home erases the queer body but also the heteronormative family unit, in the process.

As Sarah recounts this trauma, the intimacy of the lens articulates what queer theorist Ann Cvetkovich terms an “archive of lesbian feeling.” The idea that feelings behind an event are as valuable to archive as tangible objects. Queer archives are often archives of feelings.

Archiving the Queer Self

Since Barbara Hammer’s Dyketactics (1974), queer filmmakers have been radicalizing vérité techniques with subaltern aesthetics. Films like Sadie Benning’s video ‘dyke’ diaries, Cheryl Dunye’s The Watermelon Woman (1996) and Jonathan Caouette’s Tarnation (2003) experiment with techniques that rupture vérité’s heteronormative modes. Through “confessing” artfully crafted historiographies, these filmmakers obscure boundaries between their own authenticity and artifice. 

Particularly, The Watermelon Woman, (a “dunyementary”) confronts the legacy of omission within archives regarding the histories of Black lesbians. Notably, Dunye was forced to craft her own found footage when searching the Lesbian Herstory Archives and the Library of Congress wielded minimal results. 

This is how imaginary archives are crafted. It is a queer sensibility Robitel contributes to with The Taking of Deborah Logan. Because queer history is a history of obfuscation, there remains an inherited impulse to self-preserve against cultures of omission. With horror’s own lineage of erasure, glimpses of queer women within found footage become vital assemblages. 

The Living Camera

If you consider this queer impulse to document, found footagee horror mimics and expands on this inclination. Its techniques become visual metaphors for the unsettled presence of queer women in film. Aesthetically, it possesses a transgressive quality juxtaposed against more hegemonic approaches. 

The ambiguous visuals of films like Robitel’s queers the dominant gaze on their subjects, including those reifying heteronormativity. The “living camera” trembles at the sight of each character equally, rendering them all illegible and elusive. 

In The Taking of Deborah Logan, the diegetic camera refuses a firm focus on Sarah, liberating her from a certain gaze through abjection. Initially, Sarah’s presence exists peripherally, relegated to the margins of the screen in poorly lit and framed shots. But as supernatural elements accelerate, Sarah dominates the film’s landscape—more than her mother, crew, or entity. Sarah is granted increasing agency, at times even taking control of the camera. 

As outtakes, Sarah’s footage becomes “scraps” salvaged by the film’s horror schema. Inherently survivor-prone, the queer body persists—all in the name of found footage’s insistence to witness “truths.” 

Queer Ephemera

In The Taking of Deborah Logan, lesbian history is traceable through objects. During a tour of their home, Sarah’s bedroom reveals itself as a time capsule. “We haven’t touched anything since she was a child,” Deborah notes, underscoring the room as a vault. The camera peers inside but resists trespassing beyond the threshold. “I was never really allowed in here,” Deborah recalls, speaking to the space’s queer sanctity. 

The camera’s portable focus documents the ephemera of a queer childhood; illustrations of cars, softball and mitt, a basketball in a dusty corner. Cvetkovich notes that a counter-archive can act as a “resource that ‘comes out’ into the world.” Here, we experience private lesbian space as a public display, the interiors of Sarah’s preserved childhood are now revealed as objects of communal observation. 

The viewer is allowed to survey the inventory, each item contextualizing the daily archive of Sarah’s life before her removal from the family home. “She loved cars,” Deborah remarks in the past tense, as though Sarah’s nonconformity is itself an artifact of the past.

These material traces encourage us to decipher her past, allowing the lesbian archive to become a site of communal fantasy. 


By appropriating codes of cinéma vérité, Robitel presents new ways of exposing lesbian “truths.” The camera ceremoniously captures Sarah by inadvertently archiving the queered landscape of her personal history. 

The Taking of Deborah Logan is unique in that it reveals a crucial mode of seeing and representing lesbians on screen, one that refuses to condemn women like Sarah to the closet, or the grave. While issues of an ethical gaze add complexity to the subgenre, found footage’s insistence to witness and preserve is a testament to Sarah’s own survival and of queer continuance.

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Meditations on Guilt in ‘Soul Survivors’

What’s the worst thing you’ve ever done? Stephen Carpenter‘s 2001 critical reject Soul Survivors is a thesis on this very question and the matrix of emotions that stem from the answer. Following the success of teen-horror darlings I Know What You Did Last Summer and Urban Legend, the film featured other rising stars of the early aughts, but with a grungier, moodier tone than its predecessors. Rather than blithely contemplating the concepts of culpability, mortality, and death, Soul Survivors takes a turn towards self-flagellation, guilt, and the ruthless consequences of our actions.

Cassie (Melissa Sagemiller), Sean (Casey Affleck), Matt (Wes Bentley), and Annabel (Eliza Dushku) are prototypical American teenagers on the precipice of adulthood. In that equidistant time between high school and college, the group decides to attend a party in an old church. The location further situates the gang in the realm of the intermediate—where they exist neither here nor there. Scribbled on the exterior of the church are warnings of what’s to come. “Abandon all hope ye who enter here,” greets Cassie in sanguineous spray paint. Later, on the dancefloor, masked men attempt to grab Cassie before she makes her way to safety outside beside Sean. 

They talk, unaware that Matt is listening to them exchange proclamations of love. When Sean returns to the club atmosphere, Matt captures Cassie’s attention and confesses his love for her. Cassie agrees to give Matt a final goodbye kiss, once again finding herself caught in the middle (between Sean and Matt). This suspension of finality continues when Sean witnesses the kiss, and the group decides to relocate. Cassie is at the wheel, driving erratically with panic and alcohol in her blood. Too distracted and under the influence, she crashes the car. We see Cassie being rushed through the hospital, with Matt and Annabel unharmed. Sean was confirmed dead on the scene. 

This is where Soul Survivors transcends its conventional horror set-up. There are still men in masks and fountains of blood, but Cassie is more haunted by her guilt. Remorse becomes the agent by which reality stratifies, forcing both the character and the audience to confront their consciences. Cassie suffers from flashbacks to the night of the car accident, memory lapses, and visitations from Sean’s spirit as she grapples with the fallout of her actions. As the film progresses, Cassie’s mental state declines until she can no longer control which reality she’s visiting. The lines blur in quick flashes and moments of lucidity as the world around her crumbles. 

Cassie’s surviving friends, Annabel and Matt, begin to demonstrate irregular behavior towards her. In one scene, they’re having fun painting. In another, they’re antagonizing Cassie and instigating a bar fight. It’s a struggle for Cassie to get a grasp on who her friends really are, and which versions of them are the most genuine. There is a tear in the integrity of the world she’s created for herself, guilt too powerful a force to placate with imagination and psychic protection.

The tension compounds until they’re not her friends at all. This is when it becomes clear that the world Cassie’s been living in isn’t the real world at all but a product of her guilt. Matt and Annabel are the ones who died that night, and their souls met in true limbo, where Cassie was able to manufacture a new reality to soften the blow. If they weren’t friends, then their losses wouldn’t be as painful upon waking. 

Soul Survivors posits that guilt, too, is a state of in-between. It is the moment you’re left behind in the wake of aftereffects, close enough to survey the damage, and too far to ever go back. Cassie is a mirror of our guilty consciences, her arc a manifestation of the worst thing we’ve ever done—and an exploration of the fallout. It is human nature to overexplain, to rationalize and justify our actions. As liars overexplain to substantiate their claims, the mind works overtime to justify our actions. This is why Sean appears to Cassie as an angelic figure while Annabel and Matt become “demon” friends. 

The film investigates our tendency to absolve ourselves of guilt the moment it becomes too powerful to acknowledge. We search for reasons why, and we struggle to apologize—anything to keep us from focusing on what we’ve done. Guilt is a distraction from these consequences, engaging our minds to conjure justifications and conflicting testimonies to dull the reality of our shortcomings. As Cassie navigates through opposing realities, the question evolves from what’s the worst thing you’ve ever done to how far will you go to absolve yourself? In Cassie’s case, to hell and back. But the lies that Cassie tells herself to keep her guilt at bay are poisonous. The deeper the web of justification goes, the more at risk she is at succumbing to her injuries. 

The men in masks chasing Cassie throughout the movie are avatars of the forces created by the guilt that wishes to capture and keep us in that sunken place. A new choice presents itself. Should she, or we, perpetuate the lie and condemn ourselves, or do we accept the gravity of our actions in exchange for liberation? In the case of Soul Survivors, Cassie is both the final girl and the masked killer, each persona fighting for dominance in search of absolution. With the help of Jude (Luke Wilson), a former priest existing in the interstitial place between life and death, Cassie makes her decision. Only when Cassie can admit that she killed her friends can she return to the absolute—to the reality where she truly fits. 

Guilt will find us regardless of intent. If we have a soul to torment, then we will eventually be forced to confront guilt and the many ways in which it can convince us to abandon hope and warp our realities. Much like Cassie’s journey, only when we can confront the source of our guilt rather than the muddiness of the emotions that follow, can we move on. Humans both good and bad are capable of hurting others, but only those with the potential for good can feel the guilt. Cassie was seduced by its allure and fought her way out—reminding us that we will always be asked to choose between hero and villain. The farther you go to vindicate yourself, the more entangled you become. If we want our souls to survive, the best we can do is accept what comes.

Soul Survivors was accused of being toothless by critics, but nothing bites quite like the realization that even the most comfortable dreams want to keep us from waking up. It deserves more credit for daring to explore the many ways in which we try to protect ourselves from and negotiate with the trauma that bookends guilt—from inciting incidents to resolution. It dares to call humanity out for its self-indulgence without denouncing the possibility of growth. This is a movie that recognizes the horrors of being, without condemning hope. If we’re willing to put in the work and feel the pain, we too can be soul survivors. 

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Gen Z Reclaims the Slasher in ‘Tragedy Girls’

In the fictional midwestern town of Rosedale—where Tyler MacIntyre’s Tragedy Girls is set—blood attracts an eager crowd. It isn’t long before a pair of high school seniors learn how to spin local misery into a lucrative business. Known on social media as the “Tragedy Girls,” McKayla Hooper (Alexandra Shipp) and Sadie Cunningham (Brianna Hildebrand) have built a viral brand by reporting on terror within the community—and if the bodies fail to drop, they gleefully lend a hand.

Deviousness begins when the girls successfully bait a serial killer named Lowell Orson Lehmann (Kevin Durand) into murdering a classmate. They then capture Lehmann in a wild ploy to secure a forced mentorship opportunity. When the killer’s incompetence leaves much to be desired, the girls stealthily chase clout by staging their own murders based on his modus operandi.

Tragedy Girls shares a common tongue with films in the ‘90s teen horror cycle, making it a deceptively familiar watch. McKayla and Sadie go by the surnames of revered slasher filmmakers and riff on popular works in the subgenre (including its giallo predecessors). They even fulfil the promise of the original killers in Scream by being well-versed students in the craft of manipulation.

MacIntyre and co-writer Chris Lee Hill ground their concept in the ravenous world of online culture—like in Wes Craven’s eerily prophetic Scream 4, the ubiquity of viral, morbid news triggers mass panic in Rosedale. The girls exploit bloodshed mercilessly via a series of sardonic blog posts that are flooded with engagement from their peers. But courting an enthusiastic fan base for the grotesque soon takes its toll, and Tragedy Girls deviates from the path blazed by classic slashers.

Tragedy Girls maintains its endearing tone by prioritizing the growing pains of being a teenager in a small town. McKayla and Sadie are halfway between gawkish and psychotic. Overwhelmed by the desire to make an impact before graduating, their kills boast an operatic flare in order to expand viewership. The film spares no gore in the elimination of a brooding ex, an annoying classmate, and a heroic firefighter. Yet the girls are often uncoordinated and leave damning traces of evidence at nearly every scene. Pantomiming slasher-isms to lure prey quickly gives way to each girl falling victim to their own emotions. The farther tensions escalate between McKayla and Sadie, the closer their sociopathic feat begins to catch stride. The viewer is lulled into sympathizing with two patently horrible characters who begrudgingly learn to be people apart from one another.

McKayla and Sadie’s media-rotted minds prepare them for everything but the crushing reality of having to grow up. Obligations from the world outside loom heavily. Even after their relationship sours, the girls’ combined reactions while facing adolescent rituals indicate a less than ecstatic attitude about the future. Must they care about prom beyond its usefulness as a venue to wreak havoc? Must they be attracted to boys? Plan for college? This is a norm usually interrupted by a killer waving a knife around threatening to snatch it all away. Here, the girls themselves are the danger.

To their dismay, the paradigm of Rosedale seems unable to register their ownership of the carnage in spite of how obvious it is. Before long, the film asks: what is the benefit of killing with impunity if your work goes unacknowledged? This is a bleak irony that opens the parameters of the slasher villain arc. In doing so, the filmmakers leave us adrift in a third act without a traditional final girl in a story overrun by two monsters.

Throughout Tragedy Girls, Shipp and Hildebrand explore unrepentant viciousness with the pathos of angsty teenage girls. Interestingly, their characters evade victimization to face a cannibalistic online culture head-on with giddy mean-spiritedness. Gone is a menacing allegory in the flesh. A killer old man in a pair of boots and joggers stalking the background is nostalgic fun, but it is oddly satisfying to witness Lehman be systematically dressed down. The girls sequester him to usurp his position as homegrown slasher icons.

Without dismissing the trials of final girl royalty, Tragedy Girls collapses the dynamic between monster and survivor. It’s a revelation to watch slasher iconography in a constant state of metamorphosis throughout the spree. The killers hunt under neon masks, all black clothing, and prom dresses alike. Despite a gendered handle, the Tragedy Girls function as he, a she, and a they. Swinging a machete to the face of convention, McKayla and Sadie write their own rules. They can be whoever they want. Their brand embraces fluidity and demands a break away from its anonymous presence.

The film ends with a tried-and-true prom sequence. McKayla, jealous of her partner’s relationship with their videographer Jordan (Jack Quaid), strikes a deal with an escaped Lehmann. She sics the killer loose on school grounds and, predictably, the beast turns on its master. Both girls reunite to put him down. In a dramatic twist, McKayla reveals the longstanding guilt which makes them kill. They are responsible for the murder of Jordan’s mother at a young age and have harbored the secret ever since.

Incapacitated, Jordan pleads for Sadie to leave McKayla behind, wrongly putting his faith in their fleeting romance. By yester-year slasher standards, Jordan would have saved the day. He is, by virtue of his traumatic connection to the murders at large, the final boy. Instead, the girls kill Jordan shortly before incinerating a gym packed with 124 students in a Carrie-esque blaze. They marvel at their work hand-in-hand in a grand display of liberation, solidifying their unholy union. 

Though troubling to watch, this final heel turn doesn’t run contrary to the overall narrative. Tragedy Girls is an incisive look at the anxiety of a new generation growing up under surveillance. Horrific as it is, the Tragedy Girls brand is a vehicle for agency. The film interprets social media as a reality of perpetual competition for a meaningful place in the world. McKayla and Sadie’s success vanquishes societal pressures and creates a peculiar space for them in the slasher subgenre.

As final girls to their own reign of terror, they can drive off into the sunset without having to look over their shoulders. There is no maniac with a buzzsaw trailing the vehicle. For better and worse, the girls are left to be the authors of their own destinies while remaining free of judgement. This isn’t an ideal outcome for a horror film. Then again, Tragedy Girls is not interested in binding itself to restrictive ideals.

By creating media-savvy teen girl killers, MacIntyre and Hill engage a new generation of horror audiences on their level. Tragedy Girls might be reverent to a point, including the retro photography of Pawel Pogorzelski, but it acknowledges the gripe Gen-Z has with the world outside. Existing under a microscope involves a degree of losing control. Regaining autonomy is a seasoned concept in horror, where a person is either the hunter or the hunted. Tragedy Girls is fully aware of the rules of the game, but chooses to pursue an outcome as inspiring as it is demonic. Identity itself is fraught in a slasher film and “be yourself” doesn’t quite satisfy as a lasting impression anymore. Neither McKayla nor Sadie have a grip on who they really are before the prom murders anyway. The film’s message, therefore, rides more along the lines of “be as many things as you can.” With solidarity from the person riding alongside you, most anything is surmountable. Give or take a limb or two.

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‘The Witch’ Puts Coven Before Blood

In a genre typically considered “for the guys,” it’s time to give a nod to the ladies. Uterus Horror is a subgenre of horror films that focuses on the uniquely female experience of puberty and the act of coming into your sexuality, using horror elements to emphasize and/or act as a metaphor for that experience. These films are often ignored in theaters but quickly develop cult followings. Columnist Molly Henery, who named and defined the subgenre, tackles a new film each month and analyzes how it fits into this bloody new corner of horror. This week, we take a look at Robert EggersThe Witch.

Just a few short weeks ago, we got all lovey-dovey discussing Spring as a Uterus Horror film. Now it’s time to give you delightful readers a bit of whiplash, because we’re diving into a film that has absolutely no love in it, but a whole lot of puberty. That’s right, we’re talking about The Witch. While this puritanical slow-burner has been polarizing in the horror film community, there is no doubt it is an achievement in Uterus Horror filmmaking. 

If you’ve been following my Uterus Horror column from the beginning, you might remember my first entry on Fangoria (back when they had their online content last year) that covered Carrie. In that article, I not only discussed how Carrie is the first true Uterus Horror film, but I also examined how religion factored into the titular character’s demise. Many of those themes in Carrie can also be found in The Witch—but what makes this New England folktale especially interesting is how it presents these themes within a single family unit, allowing viewers to examine everything under a microscope. 

The first film from writer-director Robert Eggers (The Lighthouse), The Witch follows a family during the early 1600s. Their Christian values are so extreme that the community elders kick them out of the settlement where they lived. This period piece then takes a turn into pastoral folk horror as the family decides to venture into the wilderness and fend for themselves. It is in their new homestead when the focus turns to young Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy). She is old enough to be sexually mature, but young enough to not be married or have children. This means, as things at the homestead quickly go from bad to worse, Thomasin is blamed.

There are three women in this family: Thomasin, her little sister Mercy (Ellie Grainger), and their mother (Kate Dickie). Together they represent the different stages of life for women, along with how they are perceived at these stages in a traditional Christian family construct. Mercy is a child. Even when she is being a malicious little brat, she is still considered innocent because of her age, which also effectively makes her sexless and worthy of protection. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the mother is older, married, and has given birth to five children. She is shown as a woman who has done what she was born to do; become a mother and care for her husband and kin. 

Thomasin is either just beginning to experience puberty or she is right in the thick of it, as evidenced by her budding curves. We even get a glimpse of her older brother, Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw), checking out those curves because she is the only sexually mature girl there for him to look at. She’s no longer viewed as an innocent child, but she hasn’t started her journey as a wife and mother either. Unfortunately for Thomasin, this means she is the only woman who is associated with sexual desire, as Mercy is too young and their mother is “too old.” 

Obviously, the mom isn’t really too old to be sexy, but in the context of how women are represented in The Witch, she is. Within the perspectives of puritanical Christian views, this makes Thomasin dangerous. Not only is her very sexuality threatening to their beliefs, but the simple fact that she has likely bled connects her to sin. Being looked upon as a sinner means she is no longer afforded the love and protection we see given to the other children, who are all either younger or male. This allows the rest of the family to easily associate all the evil they have experienced with this innocent adolescent woman.

It’s interesting to note that these roles for women are not placed on the male characters. There are men of similar age juxtaposed next to all the women in the family. While it is obvious the women have very specific roles and expectations depending on the stage of life they are in, the men simply get to exist. They gain more responsibilities as they get older, which is expected, but their age and sexual maturity doesn’t necessarily dictate how they are viewed by those around them. They are always honored just for being men. Especially with Caleb, who is assumed to be about the same maturity as Thomasin. He is loved and respected in a way that Thomasin never experiences from her family. This juxtaposition helps to build a stark and startling contrast of gender roles. 

Thomasin is quickly blamed for every wrong that happens to her family for no other reason than she is a young woman. When the baby is taken while under Thomasin’s watch, she is held responsible even though the baby was taken by a witch. When the witch takes Caleb, curses him, and he returns home only to die, the family accuses Thomasin of being a witch and cursing her own brother. By the end of the film, as the family is thrown into chaos and bloodshed, every single member of the family believes Thomasin is the source of their misfortune. This is especially evident in how the mother treats her daughter. 

Much like the relationship between Carrie and her mother, Thomasin wants nothing more than her parent’s approval. Yet her mother is emotionally incapable of giving that love now that Thomasin has gone through puberty. The two main reasons for this are because she looks at her daughter as the embodiment of sin now that she has bled and, in a more primal way, as sexual competition because she is the only other woman of child-bearing age. In fact, the only family members who are kind to Thomasin are Caleb and, to a lesser extent, her father (Ralph Ineson). Although the father has to mask his kindness in order not to upset the mother. As mentioned, Caleb dies after being cursed by the witch, and their father turns on Thomasin by the end of the film. 

While many aspects of Thomasin’s Uterus Horror story are similar to Carrie’s, especially the influence of extreme religious views and the relationship between mother and daughter, the end of Thomasin’s story is in many ways a happier one. Yes, her entire family dies horrible deaths, but Thomasin is left alive. It is at this point she meets someone—Black Phillip (aka The Devil)—who sees Thomasin for the person she really is. In this story, religion and outdated, sexist, patriarchal views are the true evil despite the involvement of the witch and the devil. Black Phillip serves as Thomasin’s savior, and after her family betrays her, Black Phillip steps in to give Thomasin everything she desires. 

Black Phillip’s allure is that he isn’t judging Thomasin or trying to change her. He doesn’t expect Thomasin to conform to the narrow-minded views of what society thinks a young woman should be. Another part of this allure is joining a coven of women who are powerful and independent. By signing his book and joining the coven of witches, Thomasin is freed from the confines of her family’s puritanical hold. She is finally given the space to be the person she wants to be and to live the life she chooses for herself. Thomasin is now surrounded by other women who will support her in her endeavors. When we see Thomasin floating into the air with these women, it is meant to be the physical manifestation of her finally breaking free of those shackles and reaching her full potential.

Thomasin’s journey throughout The Witch is a prime example of Uterus Horror. In the most basic terms, it is a film that uses a small family unit to show the different stages of womanhood and how women are perceived at each stage, with a particular focus on the sometimes harsh changes of puberty. Even before outside satanic influence comes into play, we see how Thomasin is cruelly treated by those in her family—this is what makes the end of the film so satisfying. Thomasin is finally free of the restraints inflicted by her bloodline, and she joins a new family (or coven) of women who truly accept her. As the final shot of the film shows, women are at their most powerful when they are their authentic selves and supported by those around them.

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‘Bandh Darwaza’ Brought Horror to Bollywood

Popularized in the 1970s but reaching peak industry dominance through the 1980s and 90s, the often-lavish masala genre dominated Bollywood over three decades. During this time—in remarkably parallel fashion to how Hollywood operated in the 1980s—production periods and costs had become so high that normal and smaller-size projects were severely sidelined. That often left room for only the biggest of the big and the cheapest of the cheap. It had become a regular thing for Bollywood movies to run near or over three hours long and take an entire year to make, with masala films aiming to provide a total package of drama, comedy, romance, action and musical.   

One thing there wasn’t room for in Bollywood was horror like Bandh Darwaza—an almost completely foreign concept to Indian audiences literally and figuratively as a pure genre (not counting the older, gently romantic ghost stories the industry pioneered with 1949’s Mahal). That changed when seven brothers from Karachi were brought to Mumbai by their father (upon Partition). In a remarkable family affair, the Ramsay Brothers played a near-total part in making their films and for a time, essentially ran the nation’s whole horror genre. The eldest Tulsi and Shyam (the overall head of the group) directed; Keshu produced; Kumar wrote the scripts; Gangu did the camerawork; Kiran handled the sound; and Arjun did the editing.

The Rarity of Bollywood Horror

After a string of failures in the early part of their career, in 1971 the brothers decided to try something very different with Do Gaz Zameen Ke Neeche, Bollywood’s first pure horror film. While Neeche got the ball rolling with a cult following (aptly enough), it was 1984’s Purana Mandir (The Ancient Temple) that became a milestone that shocked not only throngs of viewers with its demons, curses, possessions, blood and sexuality, but the entire industry as well. Why? Because a low-budget shlock movie with a C-list-and-below cast and an “Adults Only” certificate—which normally would’ve been three strikes against a movie’s commercial prospects—beat mega-productions with the biggest stars to become the #2 box office hit of the year by a budget-to-earnings ratio.  

Ramsay Productions
The original poster for the brothers’ — and genre’s — breakthrough hit. Notice how few credits don’t have the name “Ramsay” in them [Kanta was Tulsi’s wife].

While Purana Mandir marked the Ramsays’ peak popularity, the brothers made almost nonstop hits in the genre for two decades. How’d they do it? Shyam cited the four key ingredients of the Bollywood horror movie as follows: “sex, drama, good-looking girls and fear.” That he mentioned fear last wasn’t indicative of it being the least important factor. On the contrary, it’s that extra oomph factor that makes the genre special and different from everything else. Just like the actual masala spices added as the final ingredient to otherwise routine cuisine, fear gave these films a character all their own. 

Under normal circumstances, a movie of a new type (or especially a sequence of movies) having unprecedented success in its industry would inevitably result in massive newfound interest and offers from big studios and names. But the industry at large still thought the genre too alien and lowbrow. (To put things into perspective for how odd the genre seemed, the censor board attached messages at the beginning of some Ramsay films warning viewers not to try practicing black magic after seeing them.) There was just a brief wave of ultra-cheap copycat independent horror movies during the few years of the Ramsays’ peak success, with the only such director even reaching footnote status being Mohan Bhakri (whose movies were even wilder but not as well-made).

Ramsay Productions

Thus, you would never see Bollywood’s top stars of the 80s and early 90s like Aamir Khan or Sanjay Dutt in Ramsay Brothers films. It was even more out of the question for female superstars like Sridevi or Jaya Prada, as being in such “tawdry” films—where women in either really loose, tight and/or skimpy clothes would get stalked, attacked, possessed and/or killed in rather similar fashion to many 80s American horror movies—could ruin their reputation. So it’s no coincidence that many of the female stars of the Ramsays’ movies stayed on the “underground” side of the industry. And a few, like the especially pneumatic lead of 1988’s T&A-filled Veerana, Jasmin, would never have major or any roles after their Ramsay film(s).

Breaking Out With Bandh Darwaza

But 1990’s Bandh Darwaza (“The Closed Door”) was made during the time of the brothers’ highest industry clout. That allowed them to cast their largest C-list assortment of character actors, TV actors, stars from regional cinema (like “Kollywood” and “Tollywood”), and older stars past their prime. And this time, the actresses were better known too. That probably helps to explain why the filmmakers were on their best behavior; which still wasn’t too behaved, but at least meant holding back on the “funnier” outfits, shots and songs for the actresses. 

Lajo lives in a haveli (traditional South Asian palatial house) with her landlord husband, Pratap Singh (Vijayendra Ghatge). Not far off from their house is Black Mountain, known and feared for its satanic rituals and “toying with the honor of women and leading their daughters into shame”. But for now, Pratap is more worried about his aunt, who keeps pestering him to find a way to carry on the family line while putting down Lajo for her infertility. After auntie goes as far as moving to setPratap up with a young “professional” girl to have his child, an eavesdropping Lajo is devastated.  

Ramsay Productions

That’s where their mysterious maid Mahua (Aruna Irani) steps in. Mahua warns Lajo that her only chance to bear a child is to secretly come to Black Mountain and meet their master—Neola (Anirudh Agarwal)—who’s supernaturally fertile, as normally, “flowers can’t grow in a bed of sand” (an example of Ramsay dialogue that straddles somewhere between crude and poetic). Desperate, Lajo doesn’t seem to pay attention to the condition of her “contract” when she agrees: if it’s a boy, they can keep it. But if it’s a girl, she’ll belong to Black Mountain. It’s a girl, yet Lajo doesn’t keep her promise and is killed for it; Pratap in turn kills Neola.

Ramsay Productions

Fast-forward 18 years (or 1 minute past the credits, as everything before was just the intro): Lajo’s daughter Kaamya (Kunika) is all grown up now. And despite being the offspring of a vampire belonging to a cursed place, the only thing that seems demonic or possessed about Kaamya is her sex drive, as she can no longer resist relentlessly putting moves on her childhood friend, Kumar (Hashmat Khan). Unfortunately, Kumar only has feelings for Bombay girl Sapna (Manjeet Kullar), deeply hurting Kaamya with rejection. Thus Black Mountain continues being the bane of the family’s existence, seizing its chance to make a new deal with the now-all-too-willing Kaamya to use a cursed mantra to bewitch Kumar into falling for her. Worse yet, Neola is reborn far more powerful than last time.

Ramsay Productions

Derivatively Distinct Cinema

Bandh Darwaza highlights all of the Ramsay’s unique collective talents. In basic themes, they drew inspiration from classic Hollywood horror canon like Dracula, The Exorcist (Shyam’s favorite), and The Omen. But stylistically, the brothers’ quite impressive knack with elaborately designed gothic sets (with Tulsi doing set design on some films and T.K. Desai on later ones) that belied their budgets and the slow, brooding way the camera moved around them seem most inspired by Mario Bava. The location shooting and setups for well-chosen eerie places (ancient temples, castles, forests) replete with added fog effects and intensifying music is more redolent of Hammer Studios. 

Ramsay Productions

But the brothers didn’t just copy, as the other crucial half of their gift was richly imbuing a distinct Indian flavor to their tales and designs, transcribing Indian mythology and spirituality to their sense of the supernatural. As Hinduism already has and in fact started some of the richest concepts in reincarnation, karmic retribution, and more plainly laid out presences of ghosts and demons, some of the more occult varieties made a natural fit for Ramsay films. (Other times—as with graveyards which Indians don’t tend to need—it was necessary to use other religious templates). They also worked from a wholly different cultural and societal framework, with villagers, landowners, arranged (and forbidden) marriages, princes, and princesses you’d seldom find in present-day Western horror movies.

Ramsay Productions
In a trademark Ramsay macabre culture clash, Neola cuts himself to apply a bindi of blood on Kaamya’s forehead

Beyond comedic incidental scenes (including some lengthy ones that somewhat marred the tone of earlier Ramsay movies) and provocative dances, many central plot points and twists in the Ramsays’ films indeed involved sex (before/during/after): marital, casual, charms and curses around it, childbirth and demonbirth. These could come in the form of eerie yet also wacky developments (when Kumar becomes possessed to follow Kaamya, she directs him in the dead of night to have sex in the graveyard), or stylistic flourishes (Neola throwing his cape over Lajo and himself before consummating their demonic deal of a relationship).

With that in mind, the Ramsays had to fight with some of the most bizarre and seemingly erratic censorship rules in the world (which is no small feat against competition like the MPAA and BBFC). For example, on this “Adult” film it was deemed acceptable to have Kumar kissing on Kaamya’s breasts, but not showing them kissing on the lips (the camera takes a special angle so that Kaamya’s hair obscures their lip locking). But generally, Bandh Darwaza was able to get away with more (including extreme violence, kissing, slightly obscured/very clearly implied sex and affairs, lingering T&A etc.) than even other Bollywood films with “Adult” certificates. 

Ramsay Productions

I suspect a reason for this was because the CBFC (Censor Board of Film Certification) thought very little of these movies and their genre. Therefore, they figured most people even coming to see the films were uncultured and wouldn’t be too offended or corrupted by a lot of content that normally would’ve been of concern.

The Ramsays’ Gallery of Rogues

Bandh Darwaza is largely cast with actors/actresses who specialized in villainous roles. Reza Murad (who plays an evil tantric priest) won several awards for his villains (and yes, most Bollywood award ceremonies had categories for villains). Kunika was known for vamp roles—literally, in the case of this film. And Irani is a true veteran of such roles and more, in over 500 movies and counting. But thanks to the Ramsays, our resident vampire Agarwal—the film’s MVP in story and performance despite having limited scenes and dialogue—was the only Indian star up to then who was ever typecast as monsters and demons beyond mere villains. 

Ramsay Productions

The Ramsays apparently didn’t get (or want) the memo regarding how far vampire civilization had come since the days of the hideous Nosferatu. The cultured, articulate and either cunningly evil or uncontrollably anguished vampires popular over half a century from Bela Lugosi to Christopher Lee, then Robert Quarry to Tom Cruise, won’t be found here. Nor are the hip, stylish, quite-similar-to-human Gen X vampires of Buffy or Blade. Least of all, there’s no sign of the youthful and curiously heartthrob/matinee idol vampires introduced in 1988’s The Lost Boys then exponentially cranked up over the years to (the wrong kind of) grotesque heights of Twilight.

Ramsay Productions

This vampire is a true creature of the night, with overpowering deep red eyes, a grim countenance, a foreboding, echoing baritone voice and a solemn, terse manner of speaking. In short, he’s genuinely scary and monstrous like fewer and fewer vampires have been over the last several decades. But he still also has a plain lust for power combined with a more distinctly Desi fixation about carrying on a line of demonic descendants—though this one actually prefers girls. 

So even more so than biting women’s necks, Neola’s interested in necking with them (and more) so they can have his spawn. But it’s not just his demonic power and libido that makes this vampire truly scary; it’s also his apparent invincibility. This one is a product of centuries of evolved cultural mixing and different ruling classes, so it will take a heck of a lot more than a cross to merely faze him.   

Ramsay Productions

At one point, the heroes set a special trap to rout him that features a Cross, a Hindu Om and a Koran in tandem. Casually fitted into the story though it is, this cleverly quaint message is a defining example of how even within all the craziness of their films, the brothers still slipped in markedly progressive and socially conscious themes. In fact, those are even more relevant messages for today that could be learned from, with the pitiful directions Indian religious politics have been taking on multiple fronts that even stretch to the film industry itself.

The Monster Mash

The biggest of all names involved in the film for the time were actually composer duo Anand-Milind—who are brothers—for the soundtrack. While typically romantic or festive songs could easily disrupt the flow of such films, Bandh Darwaza brilliantly works within that system in ways that enhance rather than compromise the mood. One song seems like a typical “item number,” with Sapna dancing to arouse Kumar. But Kumar happens to be under the influence of Kaamya’s spell, so nightmarishly sexy visions of Kaamya beckoning him keep popping up in the middle of Sapna’s song. 

But aptly serving as the centerpiece of the film is the song “Main Ek Chingari Hoon” (“I Was Once a Spark”), with grimly poetic lyrics about being trapped, lovelorn and hopeless to a wistfully soothing melody. One verse is sung in a crescendo of desperation as Kaamya mopes through the dark and foggy corridors alternately in chains, under the menace of Neola, and as she’s desperately (yet rhythmically) back-crawling away from an approaching Mahua. So in the songs, the Ramsays proved just as adept at incorporating Western horror elements into distinctly Indian cinematic forms as they previously did Indian ones into Western forms. At their best then, the brothers were brimming with creativity that brought what were once two entirely different film worlds together.

Bandh Darwaza in many ways showcases the brothers’ talents at peak refinement with advances in resources, casting, message and style. So it’s a pity it would be their penultimate horror film as their industry luster began to fade, evident in the cold reception of their final effort, 1993’s Mahakaal (a rather ill-fitted remake of Nightmare on Elm Street). But in their last team outing, Tusli and Shyam would prove equally revolutionary for Indian TV, producing, directing, writing and presenting most of 1993’s The Zee Horror Show, similarly popularizing horror in that medium over an astonishing 9 years and 364 episodes. 

The Ramsays were reasonably regarded as an utterly unique aberration for their industry during their time, as their period’s horror bubble would seem to totally burst like a fad. Yet tellingly, like the vampire Neola, the brothers’ legacy and their genre would come back many years later with a vengeance—ironically in a way far more prevalent and plainly seen than when they were active. (And though Tulsi and Shyam passed away in 2018 and 19 respectively, the pedigree still lives on, with Shyam’s daughter Saasha doing web and TV series including 2008’s Neeli Aankhen about a naagin or snake woman.)

The Post-Ramsay Subcontinent of Horror 

The genre exponentially grew into an enduring presence since the turn of the 21st century. The first respected mainstream director to dedicate himself to horror for a time was Ram Gopal Varma—who had previously specialized in gangster movies—in the 1990s. The 2003 release of his protege Prawaal Raman’s groundbreaking horror anthology Darna Mana Hai fully ushered the genre into the mainstream, with intermittent star-studded horror extravaganzas like 2004’s Rakht (Blood) to come. Then there were the Bhatt brothers, director Vikram and producer Mukesh, who’d make the genre’s first popular franchise in Raaz (though they tended to rip Hollywood movies a little too directly.) 

For the last decade, a recent trend sees horror films directly rooted in India’s folk traditions like 2018’s Stree and 2020’s Bulbbul, while the most recent Bollywood horror phenomenon was Ragini MMS, a bizarre adult-horror-comedy series about haunted MMS sex tapes. Most of those movies and directors have budgets and casts that the Ramsays and their contemporary audiences couldn’t have possibly dreamed of.

Yet they have not been able to surpass the overall edge, invention and formidable resourcefulness that powered the Ramsays perhaps as much out of necessity as out of skill and cleverness. Furthermore, the many who’ve finally embraced the genre unashamed now are unmistakably indebted to the Ramsays, following the path they had paved. That was a path which was far too dark, uncharted, and indeed scary for anyone to have tried taking before them.

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