31 Horrifying Days- Day 9:Wolf Creek 2 (2013)

One of those sequels that comes out substantially after the original. Wolf Creek came out in 2005. The premise and main character are repeated.

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The murderous bushman Mick Taylor once against targets travellers and those who would seek to stop him. His wrath is first turned against cops who heckle him, then to a couple travelling internationally, Katarina and Rutger. Rutger gets mangled by Mick rather quickly and Katarina falls to shambles, frozen in terror, Mick easily knocks her out. She awakens to Mick shredding her boyfriend’s limbs in a woodchipper. She tries to make a break for it, another traveller (this one from England) stops for her and a car chases ensues. Paul, the Englishman, causes Mick to crash and it seems as though they’ll get away: until Mick pulls out his rifle. 

This whole: you shouldn’t have come here/you don’t know about us/backwoods maniac thing has been done well recently in In Fear. 

It’s overdone here, but it works. The gore is overt, gallons of blood, decapitations, bullet holes the size of fists. Paul does all he can to out run, out wit and fight Mick, but his terror is palpable. He runs off into the wilderness in the hot sun with little water and no clue of where he’s going and is momentarily saved. When Mick turns up again, he goes into full panic. Ryan Corr does an excellent job. When he can’t get away, he tries to be charming instead. It briefly works. Briefly.

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John Jarratt really sells it as Mick Taylor, a man deranged enough to kill a young man for not knowing who Australia’s most famous cricket player is. His antics are so out there that extra credit should be given to Ryan Corr for acting scared rather than laughing in hysterics. Paul is a very easy character to root for, every time he sees a light at the end of the tunnel I was elated for him, and his reactions are realistic to what a naive traveller would experience. 

Overall: Night and day changes seem inconsistent. But it hardly matters. There is one moment that had me panicked while Paul is in Mick’s dungeon and sees Mick’s previous captives. 

“In this world: there’s people like me and people like you. And people like me eat people like you for breakfast and shit them out.” -Mick

But was it scary? The creep factor is real. Horror flicks centered around travellers always get to me more than others. I travel. And things are unreliable, you get lost, your technology might not work, you might get mugged and there’s not a branch of your bank, you might get lost, you don’t know the customs, you can’t call your people over to help you out. And people in this world still hold tight to “survival of the fittest” as a valid way of life even though we are evolved (supposedly). It was really gross, a little tense and decently acted. Greg McLean nailed it on this delinquent follow up.

Red Sonja #9

This was an interesting issue. Sonja is collecting the third artisan for the dying pharoah’s last party. This time, the person that she is seeking is a high priced prostitute. Sonja’s been all work and no play and the beautiful specimens in the brothel are a sight for the travel worn, cold and horny Sonja. But the madam tosses out Sonja’s muddy, saddle-rashed arse. Sonja has recently been robbed and can’t afford to pay.

Sonja scales the wall and breaks into Aneva’s room. She momentarily reflects that Aneva is the “Princess of Passion” that she sells her body. “I suppose it’s not much different than what I do, what any soldier does.” And the truth of that really struck me. The complaints about sex work are usually: “but that’s selling your body” (as if at any job you are not selling a piece of yourself), “You’re opening yourself up to violence/injury or disease”. The comparison is also made often between sex work and modelling or athletics, but in the case of expected violence: soldier would be a closer match. 

Obviously, I have thought about this before, but for those who haven’t it is intriguing.

Aneva is hesitant to leave, she’s trying to unionize the escorts so that they can protect themselves from exploitation, theft and assault. 

Sonja tells Aneva about the pharaoh and his slaves. She needs Aneva’s help to see that the slaves are freed. Aneva agrees and they set out. 

Sonja’s been feeling the negative effects of herown life style and agrees to let Aneva give her a makeover. Sonja is distraught, she could have been this beautiful if her tribe wasn’t killed, if she wasn’t enslaved, if she wasn’t driven to the life she leads. The pair get caught up and when the greedy and vengeful Ferox arrives. Ferox is the man who claims to protect the prostitutes but abuses them himself and takes a cut of their income. He sees Sonja dolled up and assumes she is another “plaything.”

“My name, you lackwit doughy-faced ape. Is Red Sonja.”

A melee ensues and Sonja strikes down Ferox’s men, but it is Aneva who takes out Ferox himself. 

Turns out Aneva was named Toa, she grew up on a farm and her brothers taught her how to fight. She was born poor, a skinny kid who worked herself to the bone. Sex work was a way out, but she always dreamed of a life like Sonja’s, of prestige, of rescuing damsels.

So the two had more in common than they thought.

Issue #9 touched on a few interesting sociological concepts. Legitimizing sex work, appearance/beauty norms and sexism, the myth of free will.

If sex workers were able to unionize it would be viewed differently. If sex work was viewed as work instead of criminal behavior, victims of abuse, robbery or harrassment would be able to report without fear of repercussion from law enforcement or reporting from health care workers. Sex work is just that: work. Many people in entry level jobs find their employment exclusionary, exploitative and leaving them with low chance for social mobility.  So how different is it

And in regards to my statement “the myth of free will” how much of a choice do people have in their own destiny? Now this isn’t dire, and this isn’t 100% BUT, as referenced by Sonja and Toa. Aneva is at risk of abuse and exploitation in the brothel, correctly; she places the fault on the abuser and not the victims and seeks to improve working conditions. Her alternative, the way she was raised, saw her already as hungry, struggling and at risk for victimhood by theft. Sonja never got to be feminine, nurturing or excessive because of the tragedies that befell her family. In flashback in earlier issues, we saw that she was not born to be lethal, in fact she wouldn’t kill a rabbit for supper. She would have been soft, but her life circumstances wouldn’t allow it. Both women became who they are because it necessary for their own survival. So there’s a little musing on agency vs destiny. Free will is a myth because everything we go through influences the way our brains make decisions, we don’t have as many options as some would want us to believe. That’s why after Sonja’s family was killed she didn’t decide “Oh hey, I’m going to be a high priced escort”

And on to sexism and conventionally beauty norms, this is actually coming full circle: this discussion came up recently in regards to Lara Croft’s “breast reduction” -what girl’s with big boobs can’t have adventures and PhDs? or in the case of the Big Bang Theory’s bubbly dreamer airhead and pretty girl Penny versus the genius and frumpy Farrah Fowler, or actual Farrah Fowler actress Mayim Bailik versus pretty redhead science mascot Kari Byron (both here). Or: in the actual world, Iowa Supreme Court ruled it was legal for a dentist to fire his assistant because she was too beautiful. So from both men or women, as a society conventionally attractive women are view as being less smart, less capable and beauty becomes a liability in professional careers. Sonja can still sling a sword even after her Cinderella makeover (if Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother were a sex worker).

Think about it.

Red Sonja #8

Sonja is still on the quest to bring the legendary artisans together for the dying emperor’s final bash (for which he will set free 1,000 slaves as reward). Red Sonja has been travelling with the highbrow cook that she saved from the swamp. She’s in pursuit of the great entertainer the Beast Lord, who she had previously sworn to kill. She’s also facing some.. uh, “hungers” that the cook won’t indulge. Every moment of this is perfection. 

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This page (is probably too small to read) but the end when she says “I’m Red Sonja, I’m everyone’s type” LOVE IT

When they arrive at the festival to recruit the Beast Lord, he is in the middle of a barbaric show involving abused and hungry hunting dogs and a bear raised in captivity to fight for it’s master. It’s cruel and grotesque. The utilitarian Sonja makes no qualms about digesting animals but watching them suffer so enrages her. Mid performance, she draws back an arrow seemingly intending to kill Beast Lord, but instead she provides a quick death for the bear. This earns the cook and Sonja a trip to the dungeon. She tries to climb out (Gribaldi could have escaped this fate if he’d used his clout, but he does not wish to consort with an animal abuser- I know it’s a “vegan thing” but I would like to point out that last issue, the cook fed baby lizards to swamp people and incurred the wrath of large humanoid-lizards, so not exactly a poster child for causing animals grief… but I digress). Sonja tries to climb out but Beast Lord comes along to smack talk and stomp on her hand. Ouch.

They are visited by Rat, Beast Lord’s assistant -and the one that the animals really love. She says that she hates him and that she will set Sonja and the cook free. She meant half of that. They end up in the arena, about to be killed for sport. Sonja HAS been down that road. The cook blames Rat, but Sonja spares her. She didn’t really have a choice. Rat, in turn, triple crosses everyone and sets the animals out. They attack their abuser first, but they are hungry animals and it’s only a matter of time. Beast Lord dies. But Sonja opts to bring Rat to provide entertainment (and gets a playful lick on the cheek from a tiger). 2 of 5 collected! And on to the next!

My favorite aspect currently is Walter Geovani’s interpretation of Sonja, she has a regular sized waist, thick thighs a body befitting of a travelling sword slinger. She’s gorgeous but not girly.. and on this particular journey… she’s ditched the bikini in favor of a Xena-esque dress. The art is amazing and splendid, #7 took place in a grimy swamp, this one in a more decadent and exotic setting, lush colors and battle scenes that were busy but not disjointed.  

Frison’s cover is fantastic. Minimal but very very ominous.

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Movie Review #19- In Fear

Iain De Caestecker (Agents of SHIELD) plays Tom who sweetly stumbles through inviting a girl he’s recently met, Lucy (Alice Englert, Beautiful Creatures) to a festival in the Irish country side. While travelling they stop at a pub, Tom gets in what he describes as an immature altercation and Lucy gets peeped on while she scribbles graffiti on the bathroom wall. But they leave in good spirits and Tom surprises her with a night in a hotel instead of camping out with friends for their two week anniversary.

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In true modern horror movie form; the GPS loses signal, cell phones lose service -hell, there are no streetlights! The sign says one way and the map says another. Nature seems on the attack. Is it creepy locals, is it something supernatural, is it in their heads -an element of the psychological: adults from the city and grown up in modern times being without technology, without resources, isolated with only someone you just met?  People have no navigation instincts anymore and taught to be distrustful of strangers. With these elements in play anxiety quickly ramps up. As the audience, we know these roads were also the scene of a horrific car wreck. As the couple gets more and more lost we’re left wondering how far back this goes, is there even a hotel at all?

Lucy: “We’re not lost. We’re in a fucking maze.”

How long can they drive in circles before running out of gas?

35 minutes in, all the while wondering if the creeps are inside or outside the car. If it’s murderous hicks or something paranormal. Is it a result of Tom’s altercation at the pub or related to Lucy? Should they be afraid, or are their eyes playing tricks on them? By the 45 minute mark: they find they aren’t the first people this has happened to, but it’s still unclear what that really means ultimately. Who can they trust? Judgement becomes impaired, tensions run high, anxiety makes for impulsive choices.

The atmosphere is an intimate setting with two characters we know little about, who know little about each other, who are hopelessly lost on a gloomy, dismal path. It’s intense and oddly captivating. I’ve always fancied myself a traveller, and lost traveller horror movies always add a level of nail biting anxiety. In everyday life, the GPS tells you where to go, the street signs can be trusted and a gas station is always near by -travelling in general takes away that assuredness. In Fear brings in that anxiety, as well as fear of the unknown: fear of what is hidden in the darkness, around the corner and in the heads and hearts of your fellow humans. All with a modest cast of 3.

The film is stocked with alpha-male posturing, head wounds and misdirection. When the characters lash out in violence it’s impossible not to sympathize while still wondering if they are losing themselves while they are lost on their travels. It’s understatedly atmospheric with elements of High Tension (2003), Wrong Turn (2003) and the Strangers (2008) but make no mistake, it is a movie all its own. Watch with the bloke or gal you just started dating to give them the creeps. In select theaters tomorrow (March 7th) and on Blu-Ray and DVD March 11th. See it on the big screen if you can.

The Blu-Ray includes behind the scenes footage including casting tidbits including the actors awkward auditioning process. And how writer/director Jeremy Lovering created an element of distrust. Knowing what went in to it added an extra depth as well, the actors no script, all method acting. I’ve never heard of that happening before and it seems absurd but was wonderously executed. This is Lovering’s first feature, but he notably directed the season 3 premiere of Sherlock “The Empty Hearse”.

The film is certainly the best in horror so far this year, not that there’s much to choose from. There was some suspension of disbelief involved, but at it’s core this film is majorly tense, claustrophobic and bitingly shows two everyday characters pushed to their limits, making for interesting commentary on human condition. 4 out of 5 for sure. That’s an 8 out of 10 for those of you who are bad at math. Check out the trailer here:

Red Sonja #6

After the big review in #5 that Bazrat was behind bringing Sonja and Annisia together as combatants, the two women are still in the arena. Bazrat, with a woman at his side, one whose husband was killed by Bazrat; reveals that he spread “the plague” to destroy armies that stood in his way. Worse, he assembled Annisia’s army without her knowledge, so she has killed for him. Again.

Annisia, haunted by those she killed in battle, and now those that she has murdered, loses her already weak grip on reality. She lashes out at Red Sonja. Then at Bazrat. Generals Ayla and Nias corner Annisia’s soldiers and threaten them with flaming arrows.

It happens quickly, alliances made and broken, curses, threats, avenging those long gone and recently deceased.  The last issue of the first story arc ends both in sadness and celebration for Sonja.

Red Sonja gets her vengeance against the one who killed Dimath. Ayla and Nias become full grown bad-asses. Annisia gets some peace. The Taverns get reopened.

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Dar Annisia was certainly a complicated “villain” (I’m using the term loosely). She thought she was doing the right thing, she couldn’t live with what she had done and it drove her crazy. Real crazy. Massive survivors guilty, PTSD. And she was furious with Sonja for being able to move on. But how much has Sonja “moved on”? Sonja drinks too much and can’t stay in one place too long, she has trouble relating to other people. She deals with her past better than Annisia, but that’s all.

The ending of this issue was such a surprise that I don’t even want to explain too much, it’s just better in color.

Certainly a great wrap up for the first story arc. Sonja’s past is behind her now. Enemies vanquished. I wonder what’s up next for our red haired warrior. And I do hope that Nias and Ayla make an appearance again soon.

This came out on my BDay, Gail Simone tweeted HBD to me!

This came out on my BDay, Gail Simone tweeted HBD to me!

Legends of Red Sonja #2

The Grey Riders are still hunting down Red Sonja, ready to exact their revenge for her doings against them. 

Meljean Brook’s “The Undefeated” was my favorite of the two tall tales. Told to the Grey Riders hunting Sonja through the eyes of The Beheader, a fierce warrior; Red’s armor gets even skimpier. He says that her prowess in inflated, that the stories take on a life of their own. A drunken wager between The Beheader and Red Sonja lead them on a quest to pry a ruby from the jaws of an elephant beast. The Beheader paints her as a coward who hides behind men. The ruby around his neck proves he won the wager, right? Maybe Red Sonja isn’t as fierce as lore makes her… uh huh..

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In Tamora Pierce’s story, the Grey Riders are greeted by a child whose family has recently employed Sonja to protect her mother, a Goddess. Cassandra James’ art here was rather weird. Belly buttons in odd places, Sonja’s face crooked. It didn’t have the swagger of the first story. Interestingly, Red’s tale by Tamora Pierce is told through the eyes of a young girl, since Pierce is well known for the Young Adult series the Beka Cooper trilogy and Song of the Lioness featuring young female protags, it certainly added another dimension. 

Through out all this, Sonja is lurking in the shadows, making sure the Grey Riders are drawn off course. 

Next Month: January 22nd: Rhianna Pratchett, author of the Lara Croft video game origin story entertains us with a “legend” along with writer of Sherlock Holmes/Damsels/Raise the Dead Dynamite comics superstar Leah Moore. Nichola Scott, who worked with Gail Simone on Birds of Prey makes some art.

Red Sonja #5

Check out the Becky Cloonan variant cover ❤

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Guards under the command of “Red Annisia” are lounging over a campfire when they see an enemy approach, the decapitated heads of their fellow soldiers are thrown in front of them. It’s an ambush. It must be an army.

“Verdes. It’s not an Army. It’s the curse of the Hyrkanians. It’s the Devil! The Devil! The Red Sonja!”

Red Sonja is back from the brink of death, still smelling of the dirt of her own grave.

None the less, she accepts the men’s surrender and orders a meeting with Annisia. She’s still taking medicine sent from the new King (Dimath’s son, as Dimath has fallen) and travelling with her two young body guards. They take her to see his grave, she is outraged that he is not buried in a way that befits his status, as the only monarch she ever met worth a horse’s ass she demands that he deserved better. And maybe he did. But the girls explain that Annisia ordered them to burn his body with the horses and the sisters did the best they could.

Sonja remembers Dimath freeing her and Annisia, of him calling them daughters and warning them to not let the evil that was done to them become who they are. It’s good advice if you can take it.

Then they set off again to get the rest of the cure for Sonja. In an area near The Sundered Board, a tavern… where she will go… for purposes of rest. Not just for drinking, but mostly for drinking.

Nias: “Sadly, O Queen of all fermented beverages …the hated Dark Annisia shut down all taverns and public houses.” 

Annisia told the townspeople they should pray and contemplate their sins. As she does. Annisia, on a cliff, talks to the ghosts of those she’s killed. They are lonely. They need more dead to keep them company. Limbless bodies with swords through their skulls, men with arrows jutting from eye sockets haunt her. She gets news that Sonja has returned and orders that all the men, women and children of Patra be locked in a tower and burned alive. 

Ayla and Nias try to prove their worth, acting as generals, insisting they will take back Patra and the townspeople will be safe. 

Sonja and Annisia suit up properly! and go to face off in the arena where they were made. Annisia, with her massive frigging survivor’s guilt reminds us again how she got so damn evil, she felt abandoned, Sonja left her with the dead. And Sonja moved on, she was embraced, she became a hero. Sonja tells her it was her own choice to do the evil she has done. She’d hated spilling blood in the arena. Dark annisia is not the woman Sonja loved, the one she called sister.

But then: the two discover that they are not alone. 

They’ve played right into the hand of King Bazrat, the Zamoran who ordered them to kill, who ordered their deaths 3 years ago. 

With a proper enemy, will they be able to set things right? Will they team up? Will Bazrat’s death be the last that Annisia’s ghosts need? Will Annisia sacrifice herself for Sonja the way she planned to 3 years before?

Ahhhhh! So many questions.

Next: Finale!