WE ARE STILL HERE: HP Lovecraft and the Taste of Snow

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If there is something I hate about most modern movies, it’s winter. You see, growing up in the North East, you know snow. You simply know everything about it. You are as intimate with it as you would be with a lover. You know how it sounds, how it feels, how it looks, how it tastes, how it smells. This is because winter isn’t simply snow. It’s cold and salt and dirt and ice and dog piss, as well. All of these factors add up to one of the biggest pains in the ass that God ever created. Winter. It’s a bitch to drive in, shrivels your balls and makes your nipples hard for no reason other than to test your hardiness. In movies, they try to fake snow and winter often and I never buy it, I always know when it’s on a set. There are the rare exclusions to this rule, but, typically a movie fucks up winter and it will often pull me out of the narrative, in turn ruining the flick for me. Ted Geoghegan’s first feature length film, WE ARE STILL HERE, embraces snow and all of its attributes. You see, winter is also desolate and often leaves you with a sense of hopelessness, especially once you been cooped up inside for close to 6 months. From the opening frames of WE ARE STILL HERE, you can taste the elements of the often harsh New England winter, immediately establishing the tone for the movie as it sucks you in to its moody, slow burn.

Screenshot (620) WE ARE STILL HERE may at first seem like the same old haunted house/ghost story that has been told in every major studio release the last 5 years. And this means most anything from James Wan (THE CONJURING). The tag line, “The House Needs A Family,” even reinforces this. A middles aged couple, played by Andrew Sensenig (POWERS) and Barbara Crampton (RE-ANIMATOR, YOU’RE NEXT), has moved into a home in rural New England after losing their son in a tragic car accident. Shit immediately gets weird, leading the mother to believe their dead son’s spirit has come with them. We’ve seen this movie before, right? I hate to disappoint you, but this is about where it stops being a cliché.

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You see, WE ARE STILL HERE goes someplace else and borrows its inspiration from a well deeper than the glossy, CGI infested fair we’ve been force fed by the big studios. Pulp is the secret here, both from the printed page and the silver screen, and you can smell the influence of their respective mildewed pages and melted celluloid as clearly as you can the snow. Ted Geoghegan hasn’t made a mass market frosted affair with WE ARE STILL HERE, but he certainly has beaten Guillermo Del Toro to the punch with the best Lovecraftian horror movie in recent memory. By further including a smoking dash of the classic drive-in Italian zombie B-movies, Geoghegan has created something old, yet new, and certainly not typical of our current screen scares.

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The town at the center of the narrative, Aylesbury, even sounds Lovecraftian. In fact, WE ARE STILL HERE has the grocery list of ingredients required for a classic HP Lovecraft story. New England setting? Check! Creepy townies with a hidden agenda? Check! An ancient, un-named evil? Check! A sense of paranoia and hopelessness? Hell yeah! The film moves like a New England winter, slow and prodding, establishing the mood. Adding to this, the period is hard to nail down, and as a result, we are not forced to endure the wasted scenes often prevalent in modern movies, wherein we spend 10 minutes of valuable screen time disabling the electronic devices. Is it the 70’s (the cars and TVs)? The 80’s(the phones)? Now (digital dart board in bar)? You don’t know, and that lack of knowledge only enforces the isolation of the characters, while giving us added character development in the story. Seemingly in spite of this tense build, the movie is surprisingly gory, something you wouldn’t expect from a moody piece, ala THE BABADOOK or IT FOLLOWS. Instead, the film finds itself embracing blood and guts throughout the third act as much as it does Lovecraft. In any other film, the blood and gore presented here would be over the top and comical. But WE ARE STILL HERE never once lapses into the ridiculous or comedic, despite how absurd the spraying blood may be.

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The cast looks the parts, too. Barbara Crampton, a veteran of HP Lovecraft inspired cinema, plays the wife to veteran character actor Andrew Sensenig, the latter stepping up to the forefront in a lead role. As surprised as I was by his appearance, it ultimately became the keystone that allowed me to bond with the film. Sensenig has that common man appeal, something required for a Lovecraft tale to work. Scream Queen Lisa Marie (THE LORDS OF SALEM) as Crampton’s conveniently psychic friend, and TV veteran Monte Markham, playing a creepy townie, round out the required Lovecraft character archetypes. Markham channels the X-FILES Cigarette Smoking Man for David, a town patriarch who knows more than he is leading on to.

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WE ARE STILL HERE will bind to you like a New England winter, holding you in its icy grasp, giving dual meaning to its title. You will wake up one day, tomorrow or six months from now, and you will taste the salt and dirt of its snow and smell the mildew and feel the despair. Yes, WE ARE STILL HERE will remain with you, long after the credits (which you do not want to skip!) close, much in the same manner as Room 237 might disturb a hotel guest or pea soup may make you cringe. Ted Geoghegan’s suspenseful homage to the scares of his youth joins IT FOLLOWS as one of the best examples of horror cinema to be released this year. WE ARE STILL HERE is currently playing in theaters and on VOD.

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Slish, Slash, It’s a Blood Bath! A Look At The Slasher Sub-Genre

Chapter 2 of The Necrocasticon aired last night, and if you missed it, you missed out.  Check out the show here http://www.projectiradio.com/shows/necrocasticon/

On the horror side this week, the guys talked slasher films, so I’m taking this opportunity to take a leisurely stroll through the dark woods of memory lane, and revisit the evolution of the slasher film genre through the years.

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Real Life Slasher – Ed Gein

There is an old question.  Does life imitate art, or does art imitate life?  In the instance of the slasher film, the answer clearly is that art imitates life.  Alfred Hitchcock’s classic, Psycho(1960), is considered to be the first major slasher film.  The one that started it all!  Norman Bates was a disturbed owner/operator of an out of the way motel.  Norman Bates was loosely based on real life mama’s boy, Ed Gein.

Norman Bates - Psycho
Norman Bates – Psycho

Gein was so close to his mother, that once she died, he dug her body up and lived with her corpse, much like Norman Bates did in Psycho.  Like Norman, Gein tried to become his mother.  Norman’s transformation was a mental one, but Gein’s was a physical one.  Ed Gein would kill women, and dig women’s bodies up and used their flesh to make a suit, so he could transform into his mother.  Psycho was a huge success and it’s shower scene is considered one of the greatest cinematic scenes of all time.  Despite the success of Psycho, it took 14 years for another major slasher film to hit the movie theaters.

Leatherface - Texas Chainsaw Massacre
Leatherface – Texas Chainsaw Massacre

If Psycho examined the psychology of Ed Gein, it was The Texas Chainsaw Massacre(1974) that depicted his sheer brutality.  Like Norman Bates, Leatherface was based on Gein.  Leatherface wore a faces stitched together from his families victims, as did Ed Gein.  The furniture in the home of Leatherface was made of human body parts, such as bone and skulls, the same was true for Ed Gein’s home.

The slasher genre began as two vastly different films based on the same person.  One was a psychological study, the other chose to depict the grisly brutality of the subject.  These two films would set the stage for what was to come.  Slasher films can further be divided into two sub-sub-genres.  The “who done it” slasher (Psycho), and the “monster” slasher (Texas Chainsaw Massacre).  In a “who done it” slasher film, the identity of the killer is unknown.  Typically the killers are human, and when the identity of the killer is revealed at the end, it is a surprise. Examples of “Who done it” slasher films are Psycho, Friday the 13th, April Fool’s Day, Scream.  In a “monster” slasher film, the identity of the killer is known pretty much from the beginning.  The appeal of the film is the brutality of the monster/killer.  The killer is usually supernatural.  Examples of the “monster” slasher film are Halloween, A Nightmare On Elm Street, Candyman, Child’s Play, Friday the 13th sequels.

From here, the slasher film exploded into the ’80s, each film and fell in one of the two categories mentioned above.

Michael Myers - Halloween
Michael Myers – Halloween

In 1978, John Carpenter arrived with his masterpiece, Halloween.  Halloween was a “monster’ slasher, and introduced horror icon, Michael Myers. Michael is the physical representation of pure evil.  The Boogeyman. This is the film that really solidified the formula for the slasher film.  A group of people, usually teenagers, are introduced to the audience.  The main character is typically a female, and she is ‘pure’.  She’s still a virgin, doesn’t smoke, or drink.  She will be the ‘final girl’.  She is the film’s Laurie Strode.  A killer stalks these characters, and kills them one by one, until the ‘final girl’ is left.  Only the ‘final girl’ can overcome the killer because she is the only one that is really good, and good always defeats evil.  Of course, in Halloween, Laurie had help from Dr. Sam Loomis.  Slasher movies for decades, and still now would follow the outline that Halloween set forth.

Friday the 13th
Friday the 13th

In 1980, a movie came along that perfected the formula that Halloween created.  Following in the footsteps of Psycho, the original Friday the 13th was a “who done it” slasher.  Camp counselors attempt to reopen a summer camp, that has been closed for many years due to a few tragedies.  One by one, the counselors a picked off in various ways by an unknown killer. The at the end, it is revealed that the distraught mother of a boy that drown at the same summer camp, Pamela, is behind the killings.  She would do anything to keep the camp where her boy died from being re-opened.

Jason Voorhees - Friday the 13th Part VII
Jason Voorhees – Friday the 13th Part VII

The many Friday the 13th sequels, however, are more of the ‘monster’ variety slasher films.  Pamela’s son, Jason, is now hell bent on revenge, and killing anyone who enters his domain.

After Friday the 13th, many copy cats flooded the movie theaters and movie rental shops.  Many tried to top Jason and Michael, but they all failed.  It was evident that you can’t do the “masked killer” routine better than Jason or Michael, and that forced film makers to get more creative with their slashers.

Enter Wes Craven.

A Nightmare On Elm Street
A Nightmare On Elm Street

In 1984, teacher turned filmmaker flipped the slasher genre on it’s head with one of the most creative ideas of all time, A Nightmare On Elm Street.  Craven chose to go the “monster” slasher route, and gave us Freddy Krueger.  A sadistic psychopath with the power to kill his victims in their dreams.  Armed with a self made razor glove, and the limits of his own tormented imagination, Freddy made it difficult for an entire generation to sleep.

Filmmakers took inspiration from A Nightmare On Elm Street.  They knew that if they wanted to compete, they had to get creative.

Chucky
Chucky

So, one killer was a doll.  Child’s Play (1988) introduced Chucky.  Chucky was a Good Guy Doll, based on the real life doll, My Buddy.  The doll was possessed by killer, Charles Lee Ray.

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Candyman

One killer was a vengeful spirit, similar to Freddy.  Candyman (1992) leaned heavily on the Bloody Mary urban legend, but created something more terrifying.   Candyman also deviated from the typical slasher staple of killing a group of teens.  Most of Candyman’s targets were adults.

Finally, in 1996, a film came along that, once again put the killer behind a mask.

Ghostface - Scream
Ghostface – Scream

Wes Craven returns, this time taking a shot at the ‘who done it’ side of the slasher films.  Scream took the formula that Halloween established, and dumped it on it’s head.  Not only did the ‘final girl’ have sex and survive, but there was two killers!  Scream was the beginning of the parody era.

Once again, there was a flurry of copy cats.  I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997), Urban Legends (1998), and more.  These copy cats were endured until 2006, when another very inventive film came along.

Behind The Mask - The Rise Of Leslie Vernon
Behind The Mask – The Rise Of Leslie Vernon

Behind The Mask: The Rise Of Leslie Vernon (2006) took the parody concept that Scream teased, and ran with it.  Shot mostly as a documentary, we follow a film team as they record Leslie Vernon, a serial killer, explain the secrets to being a serial killer.  It’s brutal, disturbing, and hysterical all at the same time.

Since Behind the Mask, there really hasn’t been a strong slasher film.  The horror community is ripe for a new creative slasher icon.

Thanks for joining me on this journey through slasher film history.  I know I’ve left a lot of great slasher films out, but there is only so much time.

From The Lord of the Pitts, see ya next time!

George Miller, Heavy Metal & the Simplicity of Story

The weekend box office has come in and PITCH PERFFECT made something like $70 million. A pop song singing fest with mass broad appeal, it edged out the weekend’s second place offering by just over $25 mill, MAD MAX: FURY ROAD made a respectable $44 million. But it seems to have created a rift in the fanboy and critics circles. I don’t see how or why it would or should. One is a PG pop song, the other an R rated heavy metal opus, chock full of violence. Of course the pop song is going to sell more date night tickets than the heavy metal act. And being the heavy metal act is not a bad thing at all.

You see, director George Miller is more metal than you. Shit, he’s more metal than metal itself. A single viewing of FURY ROAD is enough to pummel you into concession of my assessment. FURY ROAD is the visual equivalent of the perfect metal album. A note for note masterpiece, perfectly timed in its sequences, each is a ballistic song unto itself. The end result is a surreal ballet of violence that has no parallel in modern Western cinema. Forget about the kinetic impact of THE RAID going forward, after DAREDEVIL, ass kicking in the up close is passé. Allow me to evoke the CGI that allows the FAST & FURIOUS franchise to defy physics before you do. FURY ROAD makes the Vin Diesel vehicle a cartoon in comparison. The bar on action films has been raised, once again, by an innovator of the genre. By breaking FURY ROAD’s story down to the bare bones, Miller has reinvented the genre once again.

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And that’s what makes this such an amazing experience to behold. The simple mindedness of it. Miller has found a way to appeal to today’s attention deficient audiences and tell a compelling tale with three clear acts. As a result, FURY ROAD tells a cohesive story with no plot holes, no bullshit and, most of all, more explosions than Michael Bay has had in his past 5 productions. FURY ROAD also has more story than any of the aforementioned Bay offerings, despite the fact that it’s nothing more than one long chase that goes in one direction and (spoiler!) back the way it came. Along the way shit gets blown up, people die and both heroes and villains find themselves on varying sides of redemption, either receiving or dealing it. Constantly. A simple story, plus complete characters makes for compelling entertainment and FURY ROAD is a classic Campbellian hero’s journey, complete with a trek into the underworld and a rebirth during said portion of the trek. It’s bare bones Hellenic story telling, ripe with visual Easter Eggs and succeeds because of it. With this outline laid, Miller creates a post apocalyptic vision that defies the suspension of disbelief, going over the top to a degree that you can’t help but accept the absurdity and madness of it all. It’s almost as if Miller has laid down tracks on the perfect album, Side A takes us one way, side B goes back again, and never loses its pace.

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The bad guys, under the command of Immortan Joe, form the rhythm section of the movie, figuratively and literally with their thundering bass drums and driving guitar. The antagonists also fill this role in the narrative, as they are the driving force behind the chase itself. Joe’s a sick and poisoned boogeyman with interest only in retrieving his breeding stock of wives. And this is why Immortan Joe works. He’s not a sympathetic villain. In some sense, he’s no different than the killing machine that is Michael Myers, or Jason Voorhees. Like them, Joe’s a driven maniac. Immortan Joe heralds the end of the sympathetic bad guys. Too often we waste precious screen time on justifying their motivations, taking precious character development form the protagonists and their wards. The end result with many modern movies has been an inability for the audience to bond with the intended heroes, because they’re less interesting than the bad guys. All too often this is leading to bland or otherwise uninteresting exercises in film.

MAD MAX: FURY ROAD features a return to the post apocalyptic adventures of the titular “Mad” Max Rockatansky, after a 3 decade theatrical sabbatical for the character. The creation of George Miller and his late writing partner Byron Kennedy, Max wanders the wasteland of Australia in a search for redemption. Max is Miller’s Elric, a haunted but eternal champion. Max and Elric share many similar traits, primarily in the “dead friends” department. But whereas Stormbringer typically ends up feasting on the souls of Elric’s companions, Max’s friends and family die at the hands of others, and live on only to haunt Max’s soul.

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First played by (the then not so bat shit crazy) Mel Gibson in MAD MAX, THE ROAD WARRIOR and BEYOND THUNDERDOME, the role is now in the safe hands of Tom Hardy. With this passing of the torch in FURY ROAD, the character of Max has now reached a level of iconography on a level similar to James Bond. But whereas Bond’s tux and Walther PPK are signatures of the character, a tattered leather jacket and sawed off shot gun are the dog-eared marks of Max. Hardy is Max in the same manner that Gibson was Max. He motivations in the story are clear. It’s his intent to aid his wards in their quest and hopefully end the nightmares of his past.
But Max isn’t the movie’s primary protagonist. He’s more a window dressing in the story, placed there as a convenient plot MacGuffin to drive the story with his frequent super human feats of heroism and survival. Like FROM DUSK ‘TIL DAWN, which is a gangster movie that just happens to vampires in it, FURY ROAD isn’t as much a Mad Max movie, as it is a movie with Mad Max in it. This becomes clear as we close the first act.

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Instead, this story is about Imperiator Furiosa, brought to life by Oscar winning actress Charlize Theron. We haven’t had a female action lead this strong since Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley in the ALIEN franchise. It’s her quest, her goals that further drive the story and are the catalyst to all of the death and destruction that rains throughout the film. Ultimately her story is a twist on Homer’s Helen of Troy. Where as Helen launched a thousand ships, Furisoa’s actions launch a thousand vehicles. But it’s not until we meet the Many Mothers that the narrative takes a noticeable turn, giving the story a prevalent feminist sub theme. That’s not a bad thing. It’s a part of the message that drives the narrative, showing the balance between not only good and evil, but male and female, and life and death. Miller has actually snuck in a bit of neo-pagan symbolism in the story with the three faced goddess representation in the female characters. The fundamental archetypes of the triple goddess are there if you look. The Five Wives of Immortan Joe represent the Maiden in their nativity. Furiosa is clearly the aspect of the Matron, guiding her charges to safety. The Many Mothers are the embodiment of the Crone, whom also heralds life and death. This is less feminism than it is just good story telling providing a positive message, albeit hidden behind vast carnage.

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Combined, Max is our lead guitarist and Furiosa our vocalist. Furiosa channels the aggression of Lzzy Hale in her convictions and softness of Amy Lee when required. Hers is the voice of FURY ROAD. Max’s signature compliments her, melding the technical genius of Randy Rhoads and garage band rough of Sean Morgan, getting the job done at any cost. All played out over Immortan Joe’s backbeat with an end result that is familiar, yet new. Is FURY ROAD a modern masterpiece? Perhaps, perhaps not. One thing it isn’t is a pop song. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD is pure and unadulterated, in your face heavy metal always in tune with an absence of sour notes, even if it isn’t Pitch Perfect.

Celluloid and Cenobites: The Cinematic History of Clive Barker

The first chapter of The Necrocasticon has cracked open, and like Pinhead’s puzzle box, deliciously horrible things were unleashed upon the world.  Token Tom and the gang discussed the HP Lovecraft of Generation X, Clive Barker.

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This will be a tour of Clive Barker’s film history.  Born in England in 1952, Clive Barker grew up with a taste for horror and fantasy.  He quickly established himself as a prominent young horror writer.  One of his themes is hidden worlds within the real world, and that is a theme that will permeate his movies, another prominent theme in his work is sexuality.

Clive Barker first got into film as a screenwriter.  He wrote the screenplay to Underworld (1985) and Rawhead Rex (1986). Rawhead Rex is about a demon that gets released from his prison, and creates a trail of gore, terror, and destruction across Ireland.  The film was released to less than stellar critical reviews, however, as time has gone by, Rawhead Rex has garnered a cult following.

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Clive Barker was not happy with how his vision of Rawhead Rex was portrayed on the screen, so he decided direct his own films.  This decision lead to his most popular film, and arguably the most popular character created by Clive Barker, Hellraiser (1987) and Pinhead.  Based on his novella, The Hellbound Heart, Hellraiser had a 1 million dollar budget, and grossed 14.5 million in the box office.  It made Barker’s first directional outing a financial success.

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Hellriaser is about a man, Frank, who is looking for the ultimate high.  He heard of a box that opened a portal to a world that held extreme carnal pleasures.  The movie begins with him finding the box, and opening it.  Chains immediately rip him to pieces.  The film then jumps and follows the man’s niece, Kristy, who stumbles upon the box.  She discovers that Frank is now a skeleton in the attic who is desperately trying to become human again, by consuming the blood of humans.  The more he drinks, the more his body regenerates.  She opens the box, and makes a deal with the demons who live in the realm on the other side of the portal, The Cenobites.  Their leader, Pinhead, agrees with her deal.  Frank escaped the cenobites, and Kristy offers to deliver him back to Pinhead.

This film really pushes the envelope of sadomasochism.  One common theme that runs through the work of Clive Barker is pushing the limits of taboo issues.

The original cut of the film got an X rating from the MPAA.  Barker had to cut several scenes to make the R rating.

Hellraiser spawned 8 sequels, and one of the most enduring horror icons, Pinhead.  Barker recently announced that he would be writing the screenplay to the remake of Hellraiser.

Nightbreed

After Hellraiser, Barker went on to direct another film that became a cult classic, Nightbreed (1990).  Nightbreed is based on Barker’s novella Cabal.  Nightbreed explored the question, “who are the real monsters?”

The film centers around Aaron Boone, a patient of Dr. Decker.  Decker convinces Boone that he is a serial killer, when in fact, it’s Dr. Decker who is the real killer.

Boone sets out on a quest to find a place where monsters are welcome.  He hears of a place called Midian.  Midian is a city hidden under a massive cemetery, where monsters are accepted.

Once there, the monsters he comes in contact with, don’t believe that he is a murderer, and attacks him.  One of the monsters bites him, and after the police gun him down, Boone wakes up in the morgue, because of the monster’s bite.

Now a true monster, Boone returns to Midian, and is accepted this time.  Tensions build between Boone and Dr. Decker, and a battle for Midian takes place, leaving Boone standing, and charged to find The Nightbreed another home.

Nightbreed was a commercial failure.  Clive Barker has gone on record blaming this failure on the studio, who tired to sell the movie as a standard slasher film, but it is much more complicated than that.

Barker also was not happy with the final edit. After more than two decades, Barker finally was able to release his director’s cut in 2014.

Barker’s experience with Nightbreed and his battles with the studio could explain why he has directed so few movies in his career, and why they are so few and far in between.

Lord Of Illusions

Five years after Nightbreed, Barker decided to try directing again with Lord Of Illusions (1995).  With a budget of 12 million, and only a 13 million gross, Lord Of Illusions was another financial bust for Barker, but it is a fantastic film.  Based on his short story, The Last Illusion, this film features Barker’s signature literary character, Harry D’Amour, in film for the first time.

Scott Bakula plays Harry D’Amour as a private investigator who is hired to investigate a series of disappearances and deaths of illusionists.  D’Amour uncovers an evil plot by demonic cult to harness real magic in the world.  Faced against forces of the occult, D’Amour come to terms with what is really happening and hold onto his sanity, if he hopes to survive and stop the cult.

Again, Clive Barker was not happy with the final edit, and insists that the theatrical version does not accurately represent his vision.  He has released a director’s cut of the film.

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Lord Of Illusions was Clive Barker’s last attempt at directing a feature film, but fear not!  It has recently been announced that a film based on the modern boogeyman phenomena, Slender Man is in the works, and none other than Clive Barker is set to direct.

Slender Man is one of the most interesting concepts to come from the modern social media age.  Born from a few creepy old photo shopped photos originally posted by Eric Knudsen in 2009, Slender Man took on a life of his own.  He is usually depicted as an usually tall, skinny, bald man with no face.  He is dressed in a suit, and sometimes has tentacles.  Slender Man stalks and kidnaps children and is typically depicted as living in the woods.  What he does with the children and his motives are currently unknown.

Slender Man plus Clive Barker is a match made in Heaven….or maybe that’s Hell.  In either case, I’m in! Thank you for celebrating the movie career of Clive Barker with us here at The Necrocasticon! From The Lord Of The Pitts, we’ll see you next time!