vampires

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Grace Hallworth and the Oral Traditions of Trinidadian Ghost Stories and Tall Tales

Published February 22, 2017 by rmpixie

Last year, I gained a new co-worker that turned out to be my sister from another mister. We share a lot of similar experiences, good and bad, and also a Trinidadian heritage. When computer glitches made us scream out in frustration, my lovely co-worker would stage whisper “Obeah!”, eliciting uncontrollable giggles from both of us. Obeah is a West Indian term for witchcraft and general supernatural trickery, often thrown into conversation in a West Indian household with a casual knowing, as if every little thing was explained by that one word.

When she brought me a book on folklore from Trinidad, I squealed! Entitled “Mouth Open Story Jump Out” (which basically means you feel free to gossip or tell tales), this book contains all the stories my mother and grandmother used to tell my sisters and I, either to scare us into good behaviour or just freak us out in general. I could once again read about “La Diablesse” or “The Suocouyant”; remembering how frightened I was when the women in my family would recount the “true” stories from the Trinidadian backwoods, otherwise known as “the bush”. This book inspired me to dedicate a post for Black History Month and Women in Horror Month to Grace Hallworth, a Trinidadian storyteller who carries on the tradition of the island’s folktale and ghost stories in both the written and spoken word.

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Hallworth, retired librarian, has a number of children’s books under her belt. Born in Trinidad and moving to England in 1956, her storytelling and writing would honour the tradition of Trinidadian folktales for decades. There isn’t a lot of information on her since she is senior and now resides in a retirement home northwest of London, but she is still active and celebrated within the storytelling community and a great reference for those in the children’s literature and academia world.

Storytelling is ingrained in our human DNA; from the beginning of civilization it has brought us together, connecting us and keeping our traditions and cultures alive through the spoken word, song, dance and pantomime.  It is an exercise in remembering ancestry, entertainment and community in one fell swoop.  In island culture, a simple gathering can result in stories about aunts, uncles, cousins and all the weird and wonderful things they encounter in ” Nancy” stories, a word spawned from the original tall tale figure Anansi, the trickster spider from West African tales.

The stories I remember most were the aforementioned “La Diablesse”, a hoofed woman who leads men astray and “The Suocouyant” an old woman who becomes a ball of light and sucks the blood of humans and animals. I thought about these ominous figures in an abstract way, in the same way a kid thinks about the devil or the boogeyman. These were our boogeymen, or women as the story goes. They were ours and everyone else’s it seems, as these phantoms went by other names across the world, like the Phillipines blood sucker The Aswang and the Succubus who keeps company with The Soucouyant, who in turn shares similarities with the Spook Lights featured in Eden Royce’s collections of Southern gothic horror. Even the Loup Garou, or werewolf, stays the same in France and the West Indies. It never occurred to me then how connected these tales were until I started to write about horror themes critically.

Before each set of stories, Hallworth writes a paragraph or two describing the traits of these entities in the chapter, giving a context to the oral tale. You can see a common thread with the spirits and demons that only makes sense since Trinidad and Tobago are like many Caribbean islands that have a long history of colonization. On top of the indigenous people of the islands, settlers from Europe, Africa, The United Kingdom, South Asia and China came in as well, so there is no wonder that some phantoms share the same traits as their originators back on their home shores.  It’s actually comforting to know that Hallworth worked to validate and document these folktales so that they could stand with their global counterparts in unity as they scare children worldwide.

Hallworth preserves regional dialect or patois, traditions and nostalgia as well as the tales themselves.  Some of the stories provide a moral like be careful what you wish for or living in harmony with the natural world, and some were just meant to scare the bejesus out of you.  It is a feat the can’t be done without some effort, but she takes these oral traditions and commits them to the page with an ease that makes me hear my mother and grandmother’s voices as I read the words. At the very least, it would be a treat to hear Hallworth herself recite these tales, as she will still do from time to time in the English libraries and schools even though she is reportedly in her late 80’s.

As kids become more sophisticated with electronics and adult life readily at their fingertips, it’s comforting to know this little book of Nancy stories persists on library shelves so the original monsters under the bed or at our windows don’t fade away.  I am grateful for Grace Hallworth because it is through her book that I remember my mother (my original woman in horror) and my heritage.  She is a storyteller, writer, children’s author and an honorary woman in horror for preserving these tales.

Grace Hallworth is a patron for The Society of Storytelling in the U.K. and has been nominated for the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award in 2016 and 2017.

For a list of all her books, check here.

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Face Off Season 9 Episode 4: Classic Books and Horror Mashups!

Published August 19, 2015 by rmpixie

So the last episode left us hanging as to who was going home after the whimsical wedding challenge.  Meg and Nora were in the bottom because their characters didn’t work together, and Missy and Jason got there because of the paint job.  The person going home was Missy because she was behind the bad paint job and shoulder sculpt that looked like paralysis.  I was sad to see her go, but I’m sure she will soldier on in the makeup world.

The next challenge would be something different, and yet another first on the show.  There would be no Foundation or Spotlight Challenge, instead, a new challenge was introduced.  With this new Focus Challenge, the artists had to focus on only the face and they would have just 2 days to complete it.  There would also be more stringent judging and the artists had to have clean makeups, great edges and great painting.  There was no room for error here!  As an added treat, award-winning artist and Face Off guest judge Lois Burwell was back.

Like Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, the subject matter this time was mash-ups.  The gang had to create their own mash-up protagonist using classic literature and horror.  McKenzie reminded them to mind their edges and pay attention to the faces.  The selected books were:  King Arthur and his Undead Knights, The Scarlet Letter:  Puritan Poltergeist, Gulliver’s Travels in the Underworld, Don Quixote: Monster of La Mancha, The Exorcist of Monte Cristo, Great Expectations of a Serial Killer, and Sherlock Holmes:  Bloodsucker.

Stevie picked Don Quixote and designed a dragon knight who defeats monsters.  She decided to sculpt scales on his face.  She felt a little out of her element since it was the first time she would do a brown paint wash and was unsure about the outcome, but she actually did a great job.  The sculpted scales looked amazing and the judges applauded her on all the detail she did in such a short time.  They liked the character, paint and well blended makeup, and felt she needed to be more confident because she can do the work. She was in the top looks.

Stevie and her makeup

Stevie and her makeup

 

Jordan worked on Gulliver’s Travels.  He wanted to make a cowl and face piece, but Mr. Westmore told him to scrap it if he was losing out on time.  He needed to focus on the face.  He ended up doing just that, and his demonic character came out really well.  Kevon worked on an undead Merlin, and he used a female model for her smaller face to create a sunken look.  It was weird-looking.  Libby’s possessed Count of Monte Cristo came out with a natural looking makeup, and Ricky, who had the same book to work on, used his angry face pictures to create his own version of the same possessed character.  Evan’s vampire from Sherlock Holmes impressed the judges with the forms and maniacal finish. Nora’s demonic guide for Gulliver and his travels came out nice and clean, and Ben’s goal to have a great sculpt worked on his undead knight of King Arthur.  All of these artists were safe for next week’s challenge.

Scott created a monster of La Mancha, Sancho Panza, as a Frankenstein monster in the Don Quixote mash-up.  He wanted to add layers of decay and different skin tones.  Mr. Westmore really loved the direction he was going in and suggested adding staples to the character’s face.  He was the first in the mold room, and used grease paint to get all the colours of skin.  His makeup was great.  The judges loved the skillful sculpting, and Glenn thought it was the best they had seen from him so far.  Neville said it was subtle and well done with a strong understanding of anatomy.  He was in top looks.

Scott and his Monster of La Mancha

Scott and his Monster of La Mancha

 

Meg worked on a vengeful Hester from the Scarlet Letter.  Mr. Westmore told her to change the direction of the wrinkles for her character.  She spent a lot of time sculpting, and since she only had 2 days for the challenge, was a little panicked.  She had too much texture on the face piece, and the paint turned out too purple.  It was a rough-looking makeup and she knew it.  The judges didn’t have anything nice to say, and felt she had come off the tracks this challenge.  She was in the bottom.

Meg and her makeup

Meg and the vengeful Hester

 

Jason chose Gulliver’s Travels and had a lot of trouble with a concept.  He had to walk away and regroup, and once he did, started to like his sculpt.  It was more weird-looking than demonic, and the judges felt the same.  They thought the linear forms were bizarre and looked more alien, or like a weird vegetable to Ve.  He was in the bottom as well.

Jason and his creation

Jason and his creation

 

Jasmine chose Sherlock Holmes and created his vampire daughter.  She wanted to fuse horror and beauty with this character.  Mr. Westmore told her to stay away from wrinkles to convey youth, and she shaped Styrofoam tubes to create bat-like ears that were covered by hair.  This was my favourite makeup.  It was clean and beautiful.  The judges loved the forms, colour choices, the graphic design and thought it fulfilled the challenge.  She was in the top.

Jasmine and her vampire daughter

Jasmine and Sherlock’s vampire daughter

 

Britt came up with a serial killer Mrs. Havisham from Great Expectations.  She was burned in a fire, so that meant a burn and old age makeup.  Mr. Westmore didn’t like the sculpt and called it high school.  He felt it needed much more detail.  Nora helped her a bit, but Britt was struggling.  She wasn’t happy with the sculpt or the finishes.  The judges felt the burned skin looked like stucco and it went downhill from there.  She had way too many technical problems this time and was in the bottom.

Brittany and her makeup

Brittany and her makeup

 

The winner of this challenge was Scott.  It was his well thought out concept and skill as a designer, along with his restraint in his sculpt that got him the win.  The person going home was Britt.  They felt the paint job was dreadful and her makeup was just too big and difficult for the challenge.  She was grateful to be on the show, and happy to have learned so much.

I think we are starting to see who the consistent artists are, and my vote goes to Jasmine, who has so far come up with some great concepts and makeups.  And is Stevie our dark horse?  We shall see in the upcoming weeks…

Everyday Vampires

Published March 22, 2015 by rmpixie

 

WWDITS

What We Do in the Shadows (2014, 1 hr, 26 mins)

 

What We Do in the Shadows.  Sounds really ominous, mysterious and a little intimidating, but it’s the title of a vampire “mockumentary” that was a favourite at film festivals last year, and probably one of the funniest horror-comedies I’ve seen in a long time.

A documentary crew follows the everyday lives of four vampires in Wellington, New Zealand.  The unofficial den vampire, “dandy” Viago (Taika Waititi), moderates, mediates and civilizes the others, perhaps to bring an understanding of their kind.  Deacon (Jonathan Brugh) and Vladislav (Jermaine Clement) are rougher than Viago; with Deacon who is all about rebellion, knitting and being sexy, and Vladislav, described as a “pervert”, who is in love with torture.  There is also the loner Petyr (Ben Fransham), who is probably better known as Nosferatu, lurking in the basement and barely controllable, but a flatmate all the same.  We are introduced to the challenges of vampires living in the modern age, with disgruntled familiars, clubbing, chores, wardrobe, victims and the perils of blood-stained furniture.  When fledgling vampire Nick (Cori Gonzalez-Macuer) ignores the age-old vampire code, things get messy and dangerous for the undead roomies.  Add a pack of rival werewolves, an ancient grudge, and an unholy masquerade, and you have the recipe for bloody and hilarious mayhem.

I’ve said before that I dislike horror comedies because they usually end up being stupid instead of silly, but the folks from Down Under have nailed it again.  I don’t know if it’s because of their geographical positioning that gives them such a hilarious view of the world, but whatever it is, it works.  Jermaine Clement is a multi-talented performer born and bred in New Zealand that is fast becoming a familiar name in North America.  Most would know him from his show Flight of the Concords, a great comedy series about a musical duo from New Zealand trying to make it in America.  He was also in Men in Black 3 as Boris the Animal and, in my opinion, stole the show.  His fellow Kiwi Taika Waititi has a number of director credits under his belt such as The Inbetweeners and Boy, as well as being a seasoned actor.  Here, the two friends since college have written and directed a gem of an indie film, brought over to North America with funds raised from a Kickstarter campaign.

The cast’s comedic timing, honed by years of improv, smoothed over a couple of drawn out scenes, such as Deacon consoling Nick after a loss, that could have stilted the pacing.  The fact that they were also friends outside the set conveyed an ease with the characters that made the flatmates’ relationships believable.  For a low-budget film, the makeup was also well done.  Petyr clearly wore the most special effects makeup, and there was a good balance of tongue-in-cheek and terror with his character, and the practical effects were extremely practical but they worked.  Old-school rotating room techniques and wire work gave us plenty of vampire fights and tom foolery to laugh at.

It’s nice to have an iconic horror villain like the vampire come from left field once in a while, and What We Do in the Shadows goes above and beyond to tickle even the sourest funny bone.  If and when it comes out on DVD, I will definitely be adding this to my collection!

*If you live in the Toronto area, it is still playing at the following theatres:

http://www.cinemaclock.ca/showtimes/ont/Toronto/49958/What_We_Do_in_the_Shadows.html

 

Bloodlust and The Girl

Published February 9, 2015 by rmpixie

a girl walk

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014, 1 hr, 39 mins)

 

Imagine if John Hughes, Jim Jarmusch and David Lynch passed a vampire script around in a game of Broken Telephone, put it in a blender and channelled it through writer/director Ana Lily Amirpour.  I think the outcome would be A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, her the debut feature film that premiered at Sundance last year, was an award winner at several film festivals and is currently nominated for 3 Independent Spirit Awards.

Arash (Arash Marandi) is a young man burdened with the task of caring for Hossein (Marshall Manesh), his grieving junkie father.  He makes his money by gardening for a wealthy family and tries to pay off his father’s creepy drug dealer Saeed (Dominic Rains) on time.  Living in the same, bleak town is a mysterious, nameless girl (Sheila Vand), a girl who you might see sitting at the back of the bus or in the last seat in class, if she showed up at all, quiet and menacing.  She is a chador-wearing vampire and silently wafts through the night, looking for her next meal, and smiting wrong-doers in the process.  Arash and The Girl meet after he leaves a costume party, high and lost in the deserted streets of Bad City.  Dressed as Dracula, he is made fearless by the drugs; oblivious to her creepy nature and predatory intimidations.  This fateful meeting starts a complicated romance that is punctuated with an incredible soundtrack, and a cat that connects these strange and melancholy characters.

Spoken entirely in Farsi, this movie is described as the first Iranian vampire western, and although this may have been Amirpour’s intention, my frame of reference made it more of a John Hughes love story because of the quirky and deliberate musical storyboarding, set in Eraserhead‘s bleak landscapes almost 40 years later.  Although all those legendary references can be seen, her film is unique and one that will have a different definition for each viewer.  It is a horror film, dark comedy and art film all in one; visually stunning with its beautifully stark black and white cinematography and equally stark, subtitled dialogue.

As an animal lover, I noticed she cleverly built tension with the cat, making you wonder what his role was and whether he was literally and figuratively safe.  Honorable mention goes out to Rains who played Saeed the drug dealer.  He gave the character life with his obnoxious antics.  Vand’s intense portrayal of The Girl’s conflict with her loneliness and her vampire nature contrasted with Marandi’s faux tough guy act, creating an endearing chemistry and highlighting their isolation.  Both gave subtle yet powerful performances that will stay with you well after the film’s final scene.

Amirpour’s attention to detail is meticulous, from the lighting, to the chador-clad pedestrian crossing signs which authenticated the Iranian ghost town; and underlying themes and symbolism like the feline, female identity and sexuality, and the parallel realities of Arash and The Girl will surely provide lots of film school essay fodder.

Go see this film if you want something unique and visually captivating, and especially if you are a cat lover because Masuka the Cat steals the show!

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