Welcome back to The Losers' Club. How's your week been?
Work-wise, post Wales, I have got back to my usual watching, reading and writing about horror. I'm not going to lie though, that first week back after my holiday was SLOW and trying to get back into The New Horror Film Book was not easy. I managed to find a million other tiny research and writing related things to do, rather than actually do the proper work and get writing. Eventually, I went back to basics with the Pomodoro technique and set 25-minute timers on my phone for writing stints, which worked great, as it always does, and I should have just done on the first Monday morning I sat back at my desk.
One day I will learn.
I've now got a rough draft of my first chapter done, which I can see needs one more pass before it is solid, and then I can leave it for a while, then come back to do the Joan Didion Pass which is - don't worry - I am not delusional, thinking I am Joan Didion - but the pass where you get to play with language, and obsess over comma placements and varying the length and rhythm of sentences, so it all ebbs and flows in a very pleasing way.
Next I'm going in on chapter two which already exists, but is all fragmented bits of writing, and needs actually writing together with a beginning a middle and an end and no notes to self or yellow highlighted bits or sections which are just me writing questions to myself in capital letters.
Once I've got the first two chapters in a reasonable state that I wouldn't be embarrassed for people to see, that I wouldn't DIE if someone read the first line, it'll then be proposal drafting and submitting it to the world, seeking a home. And I'll rest easy that this new book is actually going to exist.
What have you been up to? Owt or nowt? A few days ago, I taught a horror screenwriting workshop for Kurja Polt Film Festival, which was a lot of fun. I love doing screenwriting workshops for festivals and I am always fascinated by the stories that all the participants produce. I love it even more when the participants are complete rookies, and have never written fiction at all, and you get to give them the tools to do it for themselves and watch them fly.
Last week, I also did an online event for the Hamburg Short Film Festival. For the latter, I did a Q&A with Eli and Sara from The Final Girls Berlin about women filmmakers and short horror films, and we got to screen Prano Bailey-Bond's Nasty, which is a fantastic example of the form. I didn't have to do any prep for the event, I wore my pyjamas and a hoodie, and chatted away about horror, which is as good as it gets, right?
I also did a rewatch of Leigh Janiak's Honeymoon for a new project. Honeymoon is a great example of, essentially, a two hander, one location, one very short period of time - I love my horror like this, tense and tight, nowhere to hide. I also thoroughly enjoyed rewatching the original The Amityville Horror with Zosia, who was watching it for the first time. The picture at the top of the newsletter is from Amityville, when Margot Kidder discovers something surprising in the microfiche. Next week I am off to Leeds to see The Conjuring 3 with my mate Emma, so I am feeling very satisfied with my horror film viewing right now.
But talking of screenings, I think the most exciting thing that has happened to me since we last spoke was my first visit to an actual, physical, cinema. Paul and I went to see A Quiet Place Part II at the Everyman in Leeds. This was my first cinema visit in eleven months (last time was when the cinemas briefly reopened up North, in August 2020, and I took the kids to see 100% Wolf at Bradford Cineworld, hmmm).
In her ‘Film of the Week’ newsletter, Catherine Bray nails A Quiet Place Part II, suggesting that its major pleasure is watching it at an actual cinema: ‘it’s the kind of film where you should be sitting in the dark, hefty cinemas vibrating the room, the screen looming over you, and ideally an enthusiastic crowd jumping and gasping along’.
I totally agree with her, but I don't necessarily care if anyone else is in the auditorium watching with me. I am always at my happiest in a deserted cinema. When I used to do a lot more film journalism, and I'd go to preview screenings, I'd often be the only person in there which suited me just fine.
Probably the only time I really 'got' the communal experience was way back, waaaayyyyy baaaack, in 2008.
It was the Bradford Fantastic Films Weekend, and I was going to a screening of An American Werewolf in London. Before the screening, me, Emma, our Chris, and Paul knocked back an inadvisable amount of beer in The Exchange on Market Street, then staggered over to the National Film and Photography Museum with rucksacks full of booze. The screening was to a near-enough sold-out crowd, and we four focussed on trying to gauge the sound to make sure we opened our Carlsberg during the noisy bits.
Chris mistimed and the unmistakable fizz of cheap nasty lager permeated the auditorium just as Jack and David wander into The Slaughtered Lamb. Everyone looked round. Everyone. I slunk low in my seat, silent-crying-laughing, so beyond aware of full bladder. I loved watching the film half cut, with my mates, and I genuinely loved watching it with a full house who knew the film so well and was anticipating every move. And this was important - it wasn't until that evening that I realised just how funny American Werewolf is. I’d always watched it as straight horror before, but that night, the audience guided my emotions, taking the film experience somewhere else.
By the time we left, we were all very happy and very drunk. Honestly, Emma was wrecked. She happily admitted she hadn't eaten any tea before coming out, and then she staggered off for her train, basking in the glow of communal werewolf watching.
There was also audience engagement at my A Quiet Place Part II screening in Leeds, but it wasn't necessarily quite in the way that Bray experienced it.
There is a single sequence in the film which is entirely silent - and don't worry, I'm not really going to do spoilers or anything, you are safe to read on - Regan, the daughter from the first film, wakes up and her hearing aid is missing. We are given Regan’s auditory point of view, and for a few minutes, we are experiencing the world directly as she does. She falls to her knees in utter despair: not only can she not hear at all now, but her whole plan, her great plan, to save not just her family, but the lives of – potentially – everyone, her grand, plucky, plan, her homage to her dead dad’s bravery, is now lost.
During this silence, this total, utter silence, the Everyman audience respects the power of the absence of sound, recognising, intimately, what Regan is experiencing (given I'd run out of batteries for my own hearing aid the day before, I was totally with her).
Then, rising out of the silence, forward perhaps two rows, comes a noise.
At first, it is muffled and soft.
As Regan agonises, the snuffle grows, it becomes masculine, full.
The row of girls in front of us start whispering.
Regan’s greatest crisis, her worst point, was then accompanied by the slow and steady, snow–white snores of an retired man who had settled in for the afternoon. He had had his double gin and tonic, and was now enacting his own, preferred mode of cinemagoing: a deep and happy drunken sleep in the velvet darkness.
So, this is more film engagement, of the drunken kind, but not the adoring version I had with American Werewolf, nor with the rollercoaster of excitement in Bray's screening, either. In either case, it's a reminder of the difference between film consumption at home, versus in the theatre, and what you gain, and just what you might lose.
Have any of you, my lovely Losers' Club, got back to the cinema yet? What have you been to see? Or what are you planning to go watch?
Now, before I leave you, a few things online that have caught my eye.
Continuing my interest in mermaid horror, I recommend Molly Henery's 'Blue My Mind’ And The Relatability Of Mermaid Maturity' for Certified Forgotten. I also very much enjoy Danielle Trussoni's horror column for the New York Times. Her recommendations are always bob-on. In the latest edition she profiles Grady Hendrix's forthcoming novel The Final Girl Support Group which I am ridiculously excited for. The Final Girl is on my planned summer holiday reading list (don't get excited, I'm only going to Northumberland), along with V. Castro's Goddess of Filth, Stephen Graham Jones' My Heart is a Chainsaw and Zakiya Dalila Harris' The Other Black Girl.
Oh, and Women Make Horror got a great review over on Monster Librarian! If you're new to The Losers' Club, Women Make Horror: Filmmaking, Feminism, Genre, is my latest book, and you can find out all about it here. It's not half bad, you know.
And last, but certainly not least, happy Pride month! I leave you with Jenni Olson's post on Queens at Heart (1967), a rare look at the lives of four trans women and drag ball culture in mid-1960s New York. It was restored by the UCLA Film & Television Archive in 2009, as part of the Outfest UCLA Legacy Project and is now free for everyone to watch on YouTube. Hurrah!
If you fancy it, do feel free to reply to this message and say hi. Tell me what horror-related stuff you've been watching, reading, listening to (I am also a podcast obsessive). I love hearing from everyone, and I do always write back, albeit very belatedly. Also, do spread the word, if you want, and forward this newsletter onto anyone you think might be up for joining us in The Losers' Club. And, if you've been forwarded this missive by a friend (who, let's face it, clearly has excellent taste), you can sign up y'sen and view past issues here.
Chin up! And take care.