Monthly Archives: October 2012

Movie Review: Sinister

It’s October, the month for moonlit nights highlighting bare, skeletal branches creaking in the cool autumn winds, and of course, it’s the month for Halloween and horror movies.

I’ll talk about my favorite scary movies in a later post. For right now, I’d like to focus on the one we saw Friday night.

In Sinister, a true crime writer (Ethan Hawke) is doing research for his latest novel. This involves moving his family into the town where the crime took place. The crime in question was the ritualistic murder of a family, and we find out pretty quickly that the murder didn’t just take place in the town, it happened in our protagonist family’s new back yard.

Hawke’s character finds a box in the attic of what appears to be home movies on super 8 film. He’s pleased about this, thinking it will give him an insight to the dead family. He’s horrified (and yet somewhat excited) to discover these films include not only the murder of his subject family, but additional murders. Oh, and there’s a creepy Michael Jackson-esque face appearing in each of the films. Booga booga.

That’s what we see in the previews. There’s talk from a presumed expert about the dangers of seeing such evil and how children are especially susceptible. Given that, I was eager to see the movie.

I should have watched the previews more closely. The fictional expert was right about what happens when one watches these acts. They get in your head and they don’t leave.

The movie begins with one of the Super 8 films. It shows, in brutal, graphic detail, the family being murdered. They were hung, together, in the back yard. We in the audience, watch every painful second of kicking and struggling. It’s silent, but one could imagine the choked screams. My first thought was, That’s something you can’t un-see.

I could have tolerated that awful scene had it been the only one. I’m okay with violence and gore in horror films, generally because there is a supernatural element as a buffer. We all know that zombies aren’t going to break down our front doors and that scary ass ghost women aren’t going to appear in the upper corner of our bedrooms. I don’t like “realistic” horror movies. Call them torture porn, since that’s pretty much what they are. The Saw movies are an example of this. Then there was the movie Hostel. Ugh.

I like to be scared. I like to hesitate when entering a darkened room and straining my eyes to see any movement in that darkness. (my cats have startled me a few times under those circumstances) I like that feeling that perhaps something evil is there, just over my shoulder, but I don’t want to watch torture.

That being said, Sinister didn’t scare me. It disturbed me. In the torture porn tradition, it showed graphic murders in full detail. The super 8 “home movies” were all snuff films. I have never, in my life, wanted to watch a snuff film. That’s the kind of thing, like the opening scene, that once you have in your head, you can’t get it out. It’s not scary, it’s unsettling and disgusting. There was no buffer, supernatural or otherwise. It was designed to be upsetting.

There were plenty of cheesy, “make the audience jump” moments. The best of which was when the evil face on the computer moved while our oblivious hero looked in the opposite direction. The worst: when one of the kids, in the grips of a night terror, contorted himself, unrealistically sliding backwards out of a box. (No spoiler here, this scene was in the preview) There were creepy little ghost kids – so many that they became overdone and not scary anymore at all. The characters were all fairly unlikeable and the idea of them dying a horrible death didn’t bother me much.

One thing the producers got right was the music. That is, if you can even call it music. It was a series of jarring, disjointed sounds that were nearly as unsettling as the scenes played out on the screen.

To sum up, Sinister wasn’t scary. It was disturbing. It dragged in several places. The supernatural element was more of an afterthought, and the plot was as lazy as the protagonists’ research habits appeared to be. I’d like to have my two hours and twenty plus dollars back. Most of all, I’d like those snuff film scenes out of my head. I could have happily lived without seeing this movie, and I recommend that you do exactly that.



Banned Books Week

Years ago, (more years than I care to admit) my eldest sister and I visited the Ousterhout Free Library in Wilkes-Barre, PA. I have very fond memories of that library, but that’s another post for another day. The importance of this particular visit is that it occurred during Banned Book Week. There was a display near the front desk all about the freedom of the press and why it’s so important. It included bookmarks which listed the most commonly banned books. My sister handed me one and said, “I want you to read every book on this list.”

I was eleven at the time and had already discovered the joys of forbidden reading. I’d spent that summer devouring paperbacks left behind by my sisters. Novels of which our conservative, religious mother would not approve. I’d spent many warm days, locked in my bedroom, reading until my head throbbed, but never minding the pain. Forbidden fruit really is the sweetest.

The library’s list of forbidden treasures included The Handmaid’s Tale, Ulysses, The Great Gatsby, Gone With the Wind, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Lady Chatterly’s Lover, 1984, The Call of the Wild, The Handmaid’s Tale, Of Mice and Men, The Catcher in the Rye, To Kill a Mockingbird, Slaughterhouse Five and other titles full of intrigue and infinite potential. They excited me. I wanted to read them all.

Why did I react this way? Certainly my sister, twelve years my senior and infinitely cool in my eyes, had plenty of influence. But here were other adults, no, not just adults, Librarians encouraging people to break the rules.  My world view broadened a bit in those moments because I realized that not every adult was like the faculty at my religious school, seeing the devil in every corner.  Perhaps I was rebellious (okay, there’s really no perhaps about that) but in the battle between books and those who opposed their content, I sided with the books and found I was in excellent company.

I’d already read Mark Twain, and surprisingly enough, thanks to one of those religious teachers, Jack London.  Margaret Atwood and Kurt Vonnegut became fast favorites. I was, and still am, awed by the beauty of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. 1984 and The Handmaid’s Tale opened my eyes to disturbing trends in society and the government. Cuckoo’s Nest fed my distrust of authority. I was probably a bit young for some of these titles, but they never did any harm. I firmly believe I am a better, wiser adult for having read these books.

To this day, I make a point of reading banned books. I never outgrew that rebellious streak. If someone says, “You shouldn’t read that,” I’m going to start reading immediately. Ignoring narrow minded people who call themselves authority figures is still plenty of fun.

So in celebration of the freedom of press and reading, I’d like to send out a big THANK YOU to my big sister Jenny, Ousterhout Free Library and most of all, Banned Books Week for helping to cultivate my mind, my rebellious nature and making me the person I am today.

October Giveaways

Hi everyone!

In honor of my favorite month, October, and favorite holiday, Halloween, I’ll be giving away five Odonata gift packs this month.

What’s an Odonata gift pack? It’s a signed paperback copy of Odonata: City of Night, a piece of LUSH Karma soap, candy “Odonata blood,”  candy “Vampire ashes,” and two vampire bite temporary tattoos. I’ll ship everywhere, including overseas.

How does one enter to win a gift pack? Go to the Facebook page, Jessica Zellman — Novelist and comment on that week’s discussion post. Comment as many times as you like for a better chance of winning. I’ll do a random drawing at the end of each week in October for a winner.

Not on Facebook? Contact me at to be entered in the drawings.

Happy October and good luck!