When I first got Netflix, the service’s algorithms had me pegged as a fan of horror, science fiction, and other genre staples, and its recommendations were targeted accordingly. Then one day the magic computer systems that measure our every action calculated that I was gay, and so overnight Netflix started recommending all manner of programming about drag queens and some Golden Girls-adjacent category they called “strong female friendships”—subjects of no interest to me. Stubbornly, Netflix refused to let the stereotype go despite my manifest uninterest, even sprinkling in shows about decorating and fashion. What, really, do they program their algorithms to believe? After a couple of weeks of this, the computers tried a new tack and suddenly all of the thumbnails for shows featured shirtless young men smiling and flexing, even when the content had nothing to do with the imagery. Eventually, Netflix’s algorithms calmed down and settled back into highlighting genre fare, but it was instructive to see the way the service’s marketing changes according to how they stereotype their users.
My computer was supposed to be fixed and on its way back to me by now, but it still hasn’t left the repair center, so I remain limited in my ability to work. With the extra time, I’ve seen a few movies for the first time in ages. Having a toddler tends to make it hard to find long blocks of time to devote to movies. I can’t remember the last time I went to a movie theater. But I was struck by the contrast between two superficially quite similar films, Truth or Dare, a paint-by-numbers 2018 horror movie streaming on HBO this week, and Head Count, an independent horror thriller that just began streaming on Netflix after a very brief theatrical run this spring.
Yesterday was a busy day for me and a slow day for fringe history, so I do not have much to say today. Instead of trying to come up with something just for the sake of writing, I will present you with a short film that is being released today. I received a screener for it prior to its release with a request to review the film. The short, called Occupant, stars Dan O'Brien of Grey's Anatomy and is being released by Gunpowder & Sky. I cannot imagine how one reviews a 4-minute short, but here goes: It's a minor effort that delivers an eerie feeling but is ultimately far too short to have anything real to say. The plot is unfortunately far too similar to the Jordan Peele film Us from only a few weeks ago, and the comparisons make this look like a deleted scene from the movie, and not necessarily in a good way.
The YouTube video link will become active at 10 AM ET and can be viewed directly on YouTube here.
In the streaming era, TV shows come and go so quickly that there is barely time to binge-watch one before the next drops. Frankly, I don’t know where people find the time to watch 10 or 13 hours of TV in a period of just 24 to 48 hours. Because I don’t have that kind of time, it took me more than a couple of days to make my way through Netflix’s new supernatural comedy-drama, The Order, which touches on many of the themes and leitmotifs that I discuss here on this blog: Gothic horror, Hermetic secret societies, ritual magic, Nephilim, ancient books of wisdom, and the connections between all of these and questions of institutionalized power and privilege. These themes make what would otherwise be a pleasant but forgettable college-set teen drama into something a little more interesting.
Acting Attorney General's Bigfoot and Time Travel Claims; Plus: Kentucky's Governor Blames Zombie TV for Mass Shootings
Despite the fact that the History Channel and I don’t have the best of relationships, it seems that their publishing partners at the Atlantic Monthly Press didn’t get the message. The publisher just sent me an advance copy of the History-branded The Curse of Oak Island tie-in book by journalist Randall Sullivan, due out just in time for Christmas. I only received the book Tuesday night, so I haven’t had time to read much, but I have to say that the introduction and opening chapter left me baffled. I suppose this must be a book for super-fans of Curse, since my general but not particularly deep knowledge of the “mystery” of Oak Island was not enough to make sense of the barrage of names and dates, or the convoluted history thrust upon me with little authorial guidance.
Truth or Double Dare (TODD)
2018 | L.O.U.D. (Living Out Ur Dreams) Films | 62 minutes
Every day, publicity agents send me pitches to review new movies, TV shows, web series, concept albums, and books. As a general rule of thumb, if they are asking me to review something, it’s probably bad. I only watch about one in ten of the movies that I get asked to review. I review maybe one in five of those at best because most are vaguely competent but clichéd riffs on familiar themes, destined to cycle through a third-tier streaming service and be forever forgotten. They aren’t even worth hating. But once in a while I find a movie so staggeringly awful that it takes even me by surprise. And I have watched every episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000.
Happy Halloween! I’m taking the day off to mark the occasion with my son, who is dressing up as his favorite animal, an owl, this year. In the spirit of the holiday, please enjoy a selection of seasonally appropriate content.
The Teenage Slasher Movie Book (2nd revised and expanded ed.)
J. A. Kerswell | 224 pages | Companion | October 2018 | ISBN: 978-1620083079 | $24.99
Horror fans have sliced and diced the genre into innumerable subgenres—if you will forgive the terrible pun. It is now possible to be a fan exclusively of Korean zombie movies, or films about people trapped in overly complex torture devices, or even movies about creepy strangers posing menacingly outside of young adults’ windows. It is both an astonishing time to be alive, and also kind of uncomfortable to have Hollywood feeding so much of the same that the most obscure horrors are no longer isolated gems cherished for their own sake but are instead copied and pasted until the original no longer stands out. There is a certain degree of homogenization in horror, and the homages, copycats, and riders of coattails end up retroactively detracting from the true originals.
Tonight, Syfy launches the new season of Channel Zero, its low-budget knockoff of American Horror Story. Like other outsourced copies, the Canadian-produced series tends toward lower quality and a more workmanlike, no-frills approach to its product. I have been critical of the anthology series’ past efforts, all of which I have found to be aesthetically displeasing, occasionally wooden, and rather thinly sketched. However, I will offer praise for the remarkable renovation that the series has undertaken for its new six-episode edition, “The Dream Door,” which premieres this evening and will run a new episode each night until Halloween.
A couple of years ago, W. Scott Poole wrote a book about H. P. Lovecraft that I did not like, and a few years before that, he wrote a book about monsters in America that I also did not like (Part 1 and Part 2). Having read much of his work, it is clear that he and I have very different views on the origins and development of the horror genre. This week Poole releases a new book, Wasteland: The Great War and the Origins of Modern Horror, unread by me, about what he sees as the profound impact of World War I on the development of the horror genre. While there is no doubt that the war found its way into horror—as it did comedy, as Laurel and Hardy, the Marx Brothers, and many others attest—my visceral reaction to his claims in a recent Vice interview is that he has grossly overstated the case.
I'm an author and editor who has published on a range of topics, including archaeology, science, and horror fiction. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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