The month of scares continues with a soapy supernatural drama and a cannibalistic coming-of-age tale.
You can’t have a horror movie without the right music.
Even if you haven’t seen a “Halloween” movie, you’re familiar with the John Carpenter score. That wailing piano line that send a goosebumps down your arms and chills through your bones. It’s haunting and its memorable, two things necessary for a classic horror movie score. I love it.
When I was young, my family owned a CD (remember CDs?) of spooky sounds. Not even full songs. It was like, some organs playing while a door creaked and thunder struck and other scary noises happened. I think my dad bought it form one of those dollar bargain bins. It was weird, but I played it every October for a while, at least once, just to set the mood.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve moved on from those sounds to a broader definition of “scary” music, and now listen to darker Americana songs about specters and devils and the like to set the October mood. It’s a very specific direction, one that (I believe) began with the first show on today’s recommendations.
Anyway, since that show is being discussed, I figured I’d share some of the songs on my “scary Americana” playlist in case anyone else wanted to properly set the mood as well. They might not work in a “Halloween” movie, but they certainly work in Florida’s version of October.
It’s still hotter than hellfire; Might as well sing about it, and add some brimstone for good measure:
- “Old Time Religion” by Parker Millsap
- “Beat the Devil’s Tattoo” by Black Rebel Motorcycle Club
- “I See You” by The Bones of J.R. Jones
- “Bottom of the River” by Delta Rae
- “Bilgewater” by Brown Bird
- “Black” by Kari Kimmel
- “Barton Hollow” by The Civil Wars
- “The Perfect Parts” by Shakey Graves
And the theme song to this next show, which I’ve linked to below. Hope you enjoy!
Let’s not waste anymore time.
“True Blood” (2008-2014)
HBO Go, rated TV-MA, 81 episodes, 60 minutes
“True Blood” is the “Cruel Intentions” of HBO shows: I don’t know if it’s “good,” but it’s real fun to watch chaos spill from its veins.
The show is based on Charlaine Harris’ series of “The Southern Vampire Mysteries” novels, which is really a misnomer because vampires are only one aspect of the supernatural world of “True Blood." Both the novels and show revolve around Sookie Stackhouse (Anna Paquin), a waitress at a diner called Merlotte’s who has telepathic abilities she doesn’t fully understand. She lives in Bon Temps, Louisiana, and when the show begins, two years have passed since vampires, as a species, came out of the shadows and officially announced their presence to society. They now live among humans, even frequenting the same bars and indulging in a synthetic drink called, yep, True Blood. Some vamps are cool with this new arrangement and quickly make peace with humans. Others wish things would return to the old ways of separation. Or to kill the humans and take the whole world for themselves. Either way.
The vampire vs. human dynamic is supposed to mirror the plight of “outsider” groups in our society (there are a few references to anti-LGBTQ+ sentiments and a storyline that is a not-so-subtle AIDS metaphor, but otherwise the vampires could be a stand-in for anyone fighting for civil rights). This is slightly confusing, because later seasons introduce other supernatural groups including (but not limited to) werewolves, were-panthers and shape-shifters, who don’t get nearly the equal rights treatment as the vamps.
But let’s be honest, no one watched this show for its social commentary. People watched because of the gratuitous sex, violence and other sins. Stackhouse gets caught in a love triangle between stately vampire Bill Compton (Paquin’s real-life husband Stephen Moyer) and the more, uh, extremist vampire Eric Northman (Alexander Skarsgard). Everyone, even the side characters, have someone to go to bed with. Oh, also, if humans drink vampire blood it’s basically the most intense and addicting form of ecstasy on Earth, for some reason. And if vampires die, they explode. Literally. Blood and guts go everywhere. Why? Your guess is as good as mine.
There’s an actual air of mystery to season one, as someone is going around brutally murdering (human) women and the town tries to find out whodunnit. That’s not there later, as the show becomes more of a soap opera than a thriller. It’s still good, just different. Elements of horror are there throughout the series’ run, which is why it’s Cringe Blog worthy, but the scares are mostly a diversion from the supernatural ridiculousness.
The show is at its worst when it takes itself seriously, like in a later-season arc when a character named Terry Bellefleur (Todd Lowe) is haunted by things he did during the Iraq war. “True Blood” just isn’t the show best-equipped to handle heavy topics like that, and it drags as a result.
What works? Well, the process Stackhouse goes through to find out what the heck is going on with her is quite fun, and the foul-mouthed, depraved Northman steals every scene. Ryan Kwanten is hilarious as Stackhouse’s dim-witted but well-meaning brother Jason, and Deborah Ann Woll’s Jessica Hamby has the show’s best long-running storyline as a newly-turned “baby vamp” learning how to live with herself.
Since the show takes place in small-town Louisiana, the show is given a Southern Gothic vibe, playing its “forbidden desires” theme against a backdrop of religion and conservatism. Everything is sexier when you’re not supposed to be doing it. That’s just a fact, and the show nails it. It’s the only consistent thing about the show’s run: It’s always swampy, sweaty and pulling your hand as it whisks you behind the chapel. Also, it has an all-time great theme song and title sequence that perfectly sums up the show. Like Jace Everett croons, “True Blood” makes one simple plea to viewers.
“I wanna do bad things with you.”
Let it, won’t you?
Netflix, rated R, 99 minutes
Hey, another piece of scary media about lust, who would have guessed?
This one’s a lot scarier than “True Blood,” though. Directed by Julia Ducournau, this French film follows the tale of Justine (Garance Marillier), a lifelong vegetarian entering her first year of veterinary school. Her older sister Alexia (Ella Rumpf) attends the school as well, and viewers quickly find out the girls’ parents also are graduates. Justine got her vegetarianism and love of animals from them.
She’s never eaten meat, and coincidentally, she enters the school year a virgin. As part of a hazing ritual at school, Justine is forced to eat a raw piece of rabbit. She tries to get out of it by saying she’s vegetarian, but no one — not even Alexia — is letting her skip it. So she eats it. It makes her sick, and a rash develops on her stomach. A doctor gives her a cream to treat the rash, and advises her to go back to her vegetarian diet.
The next day, she finds herself craving more meat.
She’s ashamed by this, and convinces her roommate, Adrien (Rabah Naït Oufella), to go with her to a gas station at night to eat chicken. It doesn’t satisfy her, so the next day, she eats more, of the raw variety. Her taste for meat keeps growing until she tastes the one kind of flesh no one is supposed to taste, and she’ll do anything to keep eating it.
This will shock you, but Justine also doesn’t stay a virgin the whole movie. As Justine’s hunger for meat grows, so does her hunger for sex. The interplay between the two ideas is fascinating, and “Raw” cuts no corners to show the instinctual and, well, raw nature of our carnal desires. The A.V. Club’s Katie Rife said it best when she called the film “disturbingly erotic” in her review.
The film made a stir when it premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2016, its more graphic scenes (and there are quite a few!) causing a few people to faint. When I watched it, I didn’t come close to passing out, and I’m guessing most people won’t. Still, know your own limits before going into this one.
If you can stomach it, “Raw” is a satisfying meal, equal parts seductive and horrifying.
Until next week. Stay spooky, y'all.