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Slashers & Serial Killers in Review: THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT (1972)

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If a friend asked me, “Hey, Tommy, can you recommend a good slasher movie?” Off the cuff, I’d typically guide said friend to one of the many wondrous titles under the Friday the 13th franchise or Nightmare on Elm Street. If they wanted obscure but tasteful, I’d most likely say The Prowler or The Burning. Those looking for something for date night, I’d recommend Scream or perhaps Silence of the Lambs. If I wanted to sound like an intellectual or one of those real classic film guys, I’d suggest Psycho. But if I were really brave…if i wanted to take the risk, if not in losing a friend and all credibility in recommending slasher movies, but also risk being looked at (at worse) like some weirdo pervert, well…if i didn’t care about that, then I would totally recommend THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT (1972).

This isn’t to say that THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT (TLHOTL) is a horrid movie. Its not. Its actually quite amazing. Raw. Brutal. Shocking. And truth be told, not entirely that fun of a film. Just how slasher flicks really ought to aspire. TLHOTL doesn’t wear a mask to scare you, it removes the mask, and in so doing is utterly terrifying. There is no pleasure in the depravity, except for perhaps towards the end when the protagonists’ parents exact revenge (more on that later). In Friday the 13th or Nightmare on Elm Street or even Halloween, we’re (mostly) rooting for the killer, “Yeah! Murder those dumb stupid teenagers!” But in TLHOTL, those very scenes are sickening and uncomfortable to watch.  Continue Reading

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Slashers & Serial Killers in Review: American Psycho (2000)

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American Psycho is a satirical novel written by Bret Easton Ellis and published in 1991. It is an unreliable first person narrative, in the present tense, given by the main character, Patrick Bateman, who is a yuppieliving in 1980s New York City. It is an extremely controversial novel, given its depiction of increasingly brutal violence against women; this issue led many feminists to protest the novel.

movie version was made in 2000, the screenplay written by Guinevere Turner and Mary Harron (the latter also being the director), and starring Christian Bale in the lead role. The movie removed or mitigated the novel’s violence, and rearranged much of the material: apart from that, the film was reasonably faithfulContinue Reading


Slashers & Serial Killers in Review: JASON GOES TO HELL (1993)

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WELCOME friends to a new year of “In Review.” As you no doubt have guessed, this year we’re running the gauntlet with Slashers & Serial Killers. To say we’ve got our work cut out for us would be an understatement. Thus far the review count looks to be well over 150 different movie reviews all spread throughout 2018 with our usual break in observance of the holiest of horror holidays, Freight Fest. Why such a high review count? There’s the love of course…the utter romanticism of this particular horror sub-genre–knowing the killer in us all by living vicariously through onscreen murderers and villains. Beginning as early as Psycho in 1960 and continuing on all the way into 2018, slasher and serial killer movies are alive then as they are today with hundreds of different movies to choice from. To kick things off, my movie of choice may seem a bit odd…allow me to explain.  Continue Reading


Horrible Women: My Favorite Women in Horror part 2

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Women have broken more boundaries and defied not only gender clichés, but also more social and cultural obstacles than men as well. Hollywood, or the world for that matter, is still very much a man’s world. Actresses still struggle to get paid the same amount as a male counterpart. Horror is not with its own stereotypical pitfalls, but in fairness, horror has also come a long way. Slasher movies are known for typecasting women as weak characters. Sure, but looking at it from another angle, perhaps you might notice that as said slasher movie victim is running around bumping into dead things and screaming at the top of her lungs, she survives while typically every single if not 99% of the male character population parishes in some grotesque way. At the very least, maybe those stereotyped movies are saying that when the shit hits the fan, women are survivors. To say the only contribution women have made for horror is to play its victim is a gross generalization. In movies where women are intended to be the victim, they survive. And then there’s the other side of the road. The villains. The most creepiest characters and monsters of horror, in my humble opinion, have been women. Consider Kathy Bates in Misery and you tell me if her portrayal as Annie Wilkes didn’t creep you out! Putting aside our egocentric macho bullshit lets admit it, women have done more for horror, and are continuing to do more for horror, than men. So, without further ado, here are a few of my favorite horrible women!

Eihi Shiina as Asami Yamazaki in Audition (1999)

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I’m not ashamed to say, Asami scares the shit out of me. And for good reason. Leave it to the Japanese to come up with something so twisted. The story follows a widower named Aoyama who, aided by a film producer friend, hosts an “audition” of which they aim to work as a dating service. Aoyama sets his sights on the quiet and withdrawn Asami, but when they venture to his house, Aoyama soon discovers Asami is not so reserved as she appears to be. The torture in this movie is…insane. Its almost doubled by the this otherwise seemingly sweet woman, who even during the torture is nearly whispering pleasantly as she inserts nails into Aoyama. Here’s a clip on YouTube, but its not for the faint of heart.

Vera Farmiga as Lorraine Warren in The Conjuring 2 (2016)

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Both Conjuring movies that have thus released have been true pleasures watching on the Big Screen. And while you cannot have Lorraine Warren without her partner and husband, Ed (Patrick Wilson), I feel it is Lorraine who really shines, in both movies. In part 2, the Warren’s are called out to Enfield, England to help Peggy Hodgson, a single mother of four who tells the Warren’s that something evil is in her home. When one of her daughters begins to show signs of demonic possession, the Warren’s work quickly to try and help the besieged young girl. The Lorraine and Ed relationship almost reminds me of Fox Mulder and Dana Scully, where Ed is the headstrong, well-meaning “car sells-man,” and Lorraine is the collected talent. Not to mention that Vera is a real treat watching on screen.

Jane Levy as Rocky in Don’t Breathe (2016)

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Another slam-dunk that came out last year, Don’t Breathe was a surprise; not surprise hit with new audiences and horror fanboys alike. Stephen Lang may have stole the show with his creepy vulnerability, but it was Levy playing the part of thief/single mom Rocky that really sold me on the story. But Don’t Breath wasn’t you typically casting, technically Rocky was the bad guy, of sorts, breaking in to a blind man’s house in the hopes of making it rich so she can take her kid and escape the wastelands of inner city Detroit. And Rocky takes some hits in this one, as well as dishes out her own vengeance. Seeing how this is her second appearance on “My Favorite Women in Horror” list, last years being Mia from Evil Dead, I’m very curious what this young lady has planned for 2017.

Karen Gillan as Kaylie in Oculus (2013)

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Karen Gillan in anything is both entertaining and amazing. Her time with The Doctor aside Matt Smith as the 11th incarnation of The Doctor, to her reprised role as Nebula in Guardians of the Galaxy. Oculus was a solid lead for her, released shortly following the end of her stint on Doctor Who. In this movie, Gillan plays Kaylie, a strong headed woman who attempts to exonerate her recently released brother in order to prove that he did not murder their parents, but that a cursed mirror did. The movie is a total head trip and Gillan plays wonderfully as a strong resourceful leader whilst still somewhat vulnerable. A drop in the bucket among paranormal movies coming out, Oculus is potent enough for its flavors to let it stand out. Gillan certainly added to the movies benefit.

 Anya Taylor-Joy as Thomasin in The Witch (2015)

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Another rising star, right there beside Jane Levy, Anya Taylor-Joy has been in horror hit after horror hit, starting with The Witch, followed by Morgan, and finally this years mind bender, Split. The Witch is a unique movie that divided horror fans into two groups of “love it,” and “hate it.” From what I can tell, most are in the “love it” group, and for good reason. What caught my attention was the use of 17-century records as means to developing a script that sounded very much like a movie set in the mid-1600s. The Witch was also not what I was expecting. I thought maybe the story was going to be about this town and witches were involved in some manner. But instead, the movie focused on a zealot uber religious family that is exiled from a colony for being too religious, which is funny in its own right. And whilst the family struggles to survive living on their own in the wilderness, tragedy befalls them when the youngest newborn member of the family is thought to be taken by wolves. the mother blames Thomasin, the oldest daughter who was watching the boy at the time of his disappearance. With suspicion and paranoia mounting, twin siblings Mercy (Ellie Grainger) and Jonas (Lucas Dawson) suspect Thomasin of witchcraft, testing the clan’s faith, loyalty, and love to one another. As said above, the movie wasn’t quite what I thought it was going to be. Yet, it was still really provocative, with plenty of tension and wonderment, especially when you realize there really are witches out there. The ending was one of the more satisfying endings to a movie I’ve seen in years.

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Thomas S. Flowers is the published author of several character driven stories of dark fiction. He resides in Houston, Texas, with his wife and daughter. He is published with The Sinister Horror Company’s horror anthology The Black Room Manuscripts. His debut novel, Reinheit, is published with Shadow Work Publishing, along with The Incredible Zilch Von Whitstein and Apocalypse Meow. His military/paranormal thriller series, The Subdue Series, both Dwelling and Emerging and Conceiving, are published with Limitless Publishing, LLC. In 2008, he was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army where he served for seven years, with three tours serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom. In 2014, Thomas graduated from University of Houston Clear Lake with a BA in History. He blogs at machinemean[dot]org, where he does author interviews and reviews on a wide range of strange yet oddly related topics. You can keep up with Thomas and all his strange books by joining his author newsletter, at http://goo.gl/2CozdE.

You can get Reinheit for $2.99 on Amazon!

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Silent Night, Deadly Night w/ Chad Clark

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Not unlike me, while slasher movies weren’t invented in the eighties, the eighties was when slasher movies became great. See what I did there? In all seriousness, though, ask anyone to name a slasher movie and chances are, most people will name one of the big three, Friday The 13th, Nightmare On Elm Street or Halloween, all of which have been remade over the past ten years or so. And all of them really took root in the consciousness of our culture in the eighties. Still, there were a number of other examples that rose out of this period and jumped on the bandwagon. Many of them were standalone films, or simply lacked the power of the majors, but there are still some good ones in there. For me, coming across these movies at the time, at the age I was, it made a huge transition in my life. I had loved movies up until that point, but it was more for the fantasy of it, the spectacle and the majesty.

This was the first time that a movie scared the shit out of me.

I never considered that film could have such a powerful, emotional effect. For the first time, I didn’t really feel safe in the theater, or on the couch. And it was from there that my love for dark fiction was born. Not because I thought the carnage was cool (although often it was) but because I loved that experience and the impact that images and words could have.

One last thing I will say in general before we get to the heart of this is one important aspect of slasher movies in the eighties. And that would be the sex. I don’t mean this in a titillating way, although at a young age, this was some of my first exposures to sex and the female anatomy. What I’m talking about is the function that sex played in the story.

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In the eighties especially, sex was like the redshirt for horror movies (sorry if you don’t get the reference here but Google is only a click away). Characters who had sex on film were almost certain to meet their grisly demise shortly after. It wasn’t unusual for someone to actually meet their end mid-coitus. The message often seen in these films was pretty plain to see.

Sex equals death.

We’re going to come back to this point so hold on to it, okay? Put a pin in it.

That brings us to the movie of the hour. Silent Night, Deadly Night.

The movie starts out with the main character as a child. After visiting his grandfather in a nursing home, Billy is forced to witness his parents murdered in front of him by a man dressed in a Santa suit. His emotional damage is furthered while living in a foster home under the supervision of a tyrannical nun, Mother Superior.

As an adult, Billy is talked into dressing up as Santa Claus for the store he works at. At some point during the night, he witnesses an act of sexual violence between two coworkers and he is triggered into launching a killing spree in the town.

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This film was the embodiment of the idea of sex leading to death. As a child, Billy is battered with Mother Superior’s influence that immoral people have sex and should be punished. This clearly has an impact on Billy as he ends up killing several people either immediately after or in the act of having sex. He literally becomes a kind of uber-violent puritanical, acting out his hatred for those who choose to engage in the sins of the flesh.

And I suppose for being naughty?

He is Santa Claus, after all.

This film was pretty controversial when it first came out, even though it was hardly the first of its kind. I think that a large issue with the public was the fact that the film was actually released during the holiday season. Also, the promotional material for the film placed a heavy emphasis on the fact that the killer was dressed as Santa Claus.

The moral outrage evidently became so outspoken that Gene Siskel actually took time out of their program to call out members of the crew by name, just so he could point his finger and say, “Shame on you.” As a result of public pressures, TriStar Pictures did end up pulling the film from theaters. It would be re-released early the next year by a smaller studio, exploiting the controversy around the film in order to promote it.

Say what you will about the movie, there was enough of a following to justify four sequels and a loose remake that came out in 2012. Interesting trivia note – the Silent Night remake featured one Malcolm McDowell, who starred in another classic horror reboot, Rob Zombie’s Halloween in 2007.

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I honestly can’t say if Silent Night, Deadly Night is that great of a film. It certainly is exploitative, loaded full of nudity and sex and graphic violence. The story is a bit on the cheesy, trope-heavy side, the innocent child drove into becoming an insane murderer by the cold, overbearing nun in the foster home. The killer who sees himself as a kind of moral avenging angel. At moments, it has the feel of an over-the-top after-school special in that it tries a little too hard to be earnest and isn’t particularly subtle.

But being honest, I don’t think that you should reasonably expect anything else from a movie like this. It would be like complaining that you got heartburn from the taquito you got at the twenty-four hours greasy taco truck. It’s a fun movie and I think that should be taken into consideration when evaluating it. If you enjoy the gore of horror movies and watch it for the kills, you’ll probably like this one.

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For me, this film is more important in relation to the point in my life in which I crossed paths with it. It was one of many films lying around in the stack of VHS tapes at home and it was when I was in grade school that I first saw it. It was scary, but there was also that thrill of watching something you weren’t supposed to see, the taboo of the thing that made it exciting. I have made a point to not rewatch this over the years, choosing to preserve my fading memories of the film as opposed to reconfiguring my viewpoint by watching it now.

Silent Night, Deadly Night will always be locked away in a memory box for me. It was a time when I was first introduced to the irreverent potential of storytelling, the emotional impact that movies could have as well as the realization that there was a whole new world out there, just waiting to be discovered on the back of a good video store membership.

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Chad Clark is a frequent flyer here on Machine Mean. He has reviewed for us before with commentary on House of Dracula (1945) and House of 1000 Corpses. Mr. Clark is a midwestern author of horror and science fiction. His artistic roots can be traced back to the golden era of horror literature, Stephen King, and Robert McCammon being large influences. His love for horror began as well in the classic horror franchises of the eighties. He resides in Iowa with his wife and two sons. Clark’s debut novel, Borrowed Time, was published in 2014. His second novel, A Shade for Every Season was released in 2015, and in 2016 Clark published Behind Our Walls, a dark look at the human condition set in a post-apocalyptic world. His latest book, Down the Beaten Path, released in September 2016. You can keep up with all of Mr. Clark’s works by following him on Amazon here.

And you do not want to miss this box set from dark fiction author Thomas S. Flowers. Still on SALE for $0.99!!!

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Upon Waking: book in review

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There’s something to be said about realism in horror. The late great Wes Craven often spoke about hard truths during many of his interviews, even if said piece or film he was working on had supernatural elements, the story in itself was ultimately real. Raw. Not an untruth. Recently, I had the pleasure of reading J.R. Park’s newest adventure, Upon Waking. And I was reminded very much of what Craven had said, about how the most terrifying things are real and how people used to ask him how he could live with himself (and I’m paraphrasing a lot here) putting these “evil” thoughts and imaginations out there (“out there” being the “real world”). And I adore his response, Craven is like, “What world do you live in? Cause it sounds really nice. I think I’d like to live there.” This particular segment during his interview in Nightmares in the Red, White, and Blue stroke a cord with me. Because he’s right. Horror, those terrifying words of macabre, are not aimed to be untruths, to create something that could never exist; but rather, quite the opposite.

What Mr. Park has created here with his new novel, Upon Waking, is very much a truth, as squeamish as some of his scenes are. Cassie, our villain in this story (and there’s no spoiler there) isn’t some mythical monster, she’s real, horrifying so. She’s a next door neighbor. The woman you pass on the street without so much as a second glance. You don’t see her. She blends in the crowd. But she’s watching. Perhaps you. And it that’s the case, well…I’ll pray for you. Cassie has a house. It is very much a house of horrors, but it is also decorated in the mundane, almost banal in its sterility. This isn’t the house of H.H. Holmes, with all the mazes and hidden compartments and traps and such. This isn’t a funhouse. There are rooms, most of which you’ll find locked until Mr. Park is ready to show you the nightmare held within. Once he does open the door, everything is on full gruesome display.

When I first started reading Upon Waking, I was almost lulled by the style and chosen format of his book. Its almost like poetry, in form and prose. But its a trick. A fantastically disgusting trick. And when you’re finished witPrinth this 160 or so pages read, you’ll need to look back at some of the “chapters.” Notice the quotations around chapters? Well…the author here didn’t really use chapters per say, instead (with a stroke of genius, I must say) of chapters he gives us moments. Moments of characters that have or interact with Cassie and her horrible plain-Jane house.

 

And there’s more. I think one of the more mesmerizing things in this book is the how J.R. Park was able to write some of these grizzly scenes in very candid detail whilst maintaining this sense of un-urgency. He takes his time. Slow. Methodical. So much so you almost miss the plot of the story. Walking, or tip-toeing more like, through the halls of Cassie’s house, I nearly forgot about Gary and his search for his missing son. As one reviewer has already pointed out, Upon Waking deserves a re-read, despite as much as you probably don’t want to, for fear of losing your lunch or spoiling dessert. You’ll need too. Because there is a devilish twist at the end, leaving the reading pondering “was she…is she…?”

If you’re looking for a short but gut punching read, you’ll want to check out J.R. Park’s Upon Waking. Its like a cross between Madame LaLaurie and The People Under the Stairs. You’ll squirm. You may even gag. You might need to look away. But for those depraved enough, you’ll take it, and you’ll probably enjoy it too, you sick sick puppies.

Get can get your copy of Upon Waking here.

My Rating: 4/5


M (1931) and the society at war with itself

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Professor of German and Film & media, Anton Kaes, discuses, to some extent, butchery, madness, and the loss of innocence in his article on Fritz Lang’s cult film “M.”  This seemingly simple letter for the film title is suspect. Consider how, according to Professor Kaes, “M was not among Germany’s top ten features of 1931 [and] the film received mixed reviews… [with] only modest box-office returns” (pg.138), yet despite being overshadowed by the collapse of the Weimar Republic and the rise of Nazism, M is richly historic and symbolic in the midst of its own history, but also as a time piece standing on the precipice of the emerging National Socialist Party.  Professor Kaes “unmoors” M from its historical base in which in the film was emerged and discusses our own obsession with serial murder, the historic crisis in Germany during the development of the film, and what M represents for us today.

M and the Blind Man, 1931.

M is filled with shadows that cut against the backdrop of “be-on-the-look-out” posters on walls notifying that there is a child murderer amongst the people and high angle shots showing a circle of children singing an eerie nursery rhythm mixed with silent stills and unnerving echoes of a mother’s anguished calls for her baby girl to come home for lunch, to come up the empty stair case; but Elsie Beckmann never comes home. Once invoice is lost, it can never be returned. According to historian Kaes, “anyone who has seen Fritz Lang’s M even once will remember these images and sounds” (pg. 138), and yet somehow after M’s 1931 release in Berlin, it only generated moderate reviews. So, if M wasn’t a major blockbuster for its time, what is it about M that entices us to pay attention today, what draws us to look deeper into the story? According to Kaes, we need look no further than our own newspapers, full with “stories of serial killers, mass murderers, and school shootings…veterans carrying the war into the cities” (pg.138) and so forth. Besides our obsession, Kaes forces us to look outside the media and provokes the introspective question: “[are] killers naturally born, or are they a product of their environment?” Do historical events and culture shape and motivate murderers and mayhem? According to Kaes, “Lang’s M is implicated in these current questions, but responds to them by suggesting through its very form that something else entirely might be negotiated in these films – something that has to do with us, with our lives, our communities, [and] our culture” (pg.138).

is considered one of the greats, not just because of the film’s symbolism’s, but also because of its receptor of acting. Consider Peter Lorre’s performance as Hans Beckert as genuinely chilling. One of the most haunting scenes was during the mock trial with the cities criminals sitting in as judge and witness. Beckert is forced to defend himself against the anger of a town tired of being afraid and of police harassment. It questions everything. This film, for its time, used scientific forensic techniques that was considered in 1931, to be rather progressive. This was a CSI-esk film sixty-nine years before its time. But at the same time it begs us to question the use of such modernization; in the tormented face of Beckert, M begs us to question the duality of man. We know better, but cannot help ourselves. Here is one of the films most chilling moments:

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What is so real about this moment, so unnerving? Read again what Beckert has to say:

“What do you know about it? Who are you anyway? Who are you? Criminals? Are you proud of yourselves? Proud of breaking safes or cheating at cards? Things you could just as well keep your fingers off. You wouldn’t need to do all that if you’d learn a proper trade or if you’d work. If you weren’t a bunch of lazy bastards. But I… I can’t help myself! I have no control over this, this evil thing inside of me, the fire, the voices, the torment! It’s there all the time, driving me out to wander the streets, following me, silently, but I can feel it there. It’s me, pursuing myself! I want to escape, to escape from myself! But it’s impossible. I can’t escape, I have to obey it. I have to run, run… endless streets. I want to escape, to get away! [But] I’m pursued by ghosts” (M, 1931).

The history surrounding M, the political and social crisis of the Weimar Republic, cannot help but have some kind of impact on the film. In a way, M captures the ghosts of 1930’s Germany, the surrounding worldwide recession of 1930, the mass unemployment and rise of criminality and political discontent that eventually lead to the rise of National Socialism, the Nazi Party (pg.140). According to Kaes, “the original title [of M] was Mörder unter uns (meaning…Murderer among Us),” which, in a strange way, combines the “explosive atmosphere of Germany two years before Hitler’s assumption of power” (pg. 141) and the infamous murder trial involving Hitler’s “Storm Troopers,” hit men who murdered a member of the Reichstag communist party in the late fall of 1930. Besides using M as a modern interpretation of our own obsessions and crafting of modern day killers, Kaes reflects on the films own history and asks if indeed, “were the Nazis ‘murderers among us’” (pg.141)?

Looking at how M impacts us today and what was going on during the films own particular history, historian Kaes probes the deeper meaning of M, basically, what M represents as an historic achieve of 1930 Germany. According to Kaes:

M presents a society at war with itself. Serial murder recalled wartime slaughter, and the heightened state of mobilization of an entire community echoed experiences from the home front…[focusing] on the downtrodden lumpen-proletariat, [including] washerwomen and fatherless children, criminals and beggars, haggard prostitutes and slovenly policemen” (pgs. 143-144).

According to Kaes, M was a representation of the public’s strange fascination with murder, suggesting that imitation murder “displaces and shields us from real murder” (pg.146), thus, in an ironic twist of things, “murder and its mass marketed representations feed on each other” (146). Basically, murders are covered by the media in noir-esk fashion, inspiring future killers to commit asks of greater violence, which in turn is reported by the media, and so on and so forth; all the while, sitting on the backdrop of current events relating to culture and social n(m)ormality.

M, 1931.

Historian Kaes interpretation of M is provoking in many ways. While we watch the film and enjoy the artistic nature of a cult classic during the sound revolution, Kaes forces us to see the things hidden underneath, the film as a representative model of not only our own culture, but also the particular culture history of 1929-31 Germany. Kaes reminds us that even in 1931, the Great War was still a “living memory [of] national shame of defeat and [resentment of] the financial and moral burden” (pg. 151) embodied in the Treaty of Versailles.  The most provoking notion Kaes leaves us with is how interconnected everything seems to be; yet how we never seem to notice.

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Thomas S. Flowers writes character-driven stories of dark fiction ranging from Shakespearean gore feasts to paranormal thrillers. Residing in the swamps of Houston, Texas, with his wife and daughter, his debut novel, Reinheit, was published with Shadow Work Publishing, along with The Incredible Zilch Von Whitstein, Apocalypse Meow, Lanmò, The Hobbsburg Horror, and FEAST. His veteran focused paranormal thriller series, The Subdue Series, including Dwelling, Emerging, Conceiving, and Converging, are published with Limitless Publishing, LLC. In 2008, he was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army where he served three tours in Operation Iraqi Freedom. In 2014, Thomas graduated from University of Houston-Clear Lake with a Bachelors in History. He blogs at machinemean[dot]org, where he reviews horror and sci fi movies and books and hosts a gambit of guest contributors who discuss a wide range of strange yet oddly related topics. You can follow Thomas at a safe distance by joining his author newsletter at http://goo.gl/2CozdE.