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Cover your eyes... Issue 5: Horror is here 👻
Get creeped with excerpts from our latest issue on House of Wax, Drop Dead Gorgeous, and sinister smiles. P.S. Issue 6 submissions are now open!
For our first-ever Horror Issue, we look back on the things that scared us: uneasy smiles, unfathomable prisons, empty suburban streets, or an unexpectedly sinister blow-job. There are also our brave columnists, skittish or averse, who have been tasked with tackling the genre. And there are writers who found something terrifying in a teen comedy or a trippy romance. It seems horror shapes us more than any genre. When something scares us, it sticks around, morphing onto neuroses, predilections, and resilience. We all have something we can’t bear to watch, something that rings a deeply embedded bell. In the spirit of the season, below is the history of mine. What’s yours?
1. There was a time, as a kid when the thing was to be boyish—play sports, mock pop stars, hang out with boys. It had happened suddenly, and as someone who used to sob when forced to wear pants or practical shoes, I was unprepared for the new standard of girlhood. So I leaned in and drew mean words onto my jeans, always chose dare and steeled myself to whatever it was. I stuck my foot in the compost bin, broke into the burned-out and abandoned house down the street (sidestepping broken glass and fallen beams) and learned to love horror movies.
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2. In high school, my boyfriend took me to see the Grindhouse double feature of Planet Terror and Death Proof. He may have imagined I’d be scared, that I’d need to look away or grip his hand. But through the melting flesh, flying limbs and splattered brains, the one thing that made me squirm was Kurt Russell sloppily eating nachos. He thought I was being ridiculous, so did I. But I’ve come to learn that this discomfort is beyond common, we just hate to watch people eat on screen.
3. Years ago, biking home from a friend’s place, a woman doored me and I landed on my side, breaking my collar bone. After hours of interrogations and X-rays, I took a cab home with a handful of Percocet. I struggled awkwardly to get out of my American Apparel pencil skirt and fall asleep, for the first time in my life, on my back. The next day, my roommate came into the room to chat, asking after 15 minutes why I was lying so stiffly. I learned long ago that it felt good when people thought you were brave.
4. Soon after I had recovered from surgery—a metal plate was fixed onto my bone with screws, a gruesome detail that thrilled me and that I would brag about constantly—I started biking again. No mental trauma, I supposed, nothing lasting aside from a slightly weaker arm.
5. But I noticed I was struggling to get through horror movies. I was closing my eyes before the scare, worried that I might see an arm snap, a nose punched in, and things turned in unnatural angles. I was petrified of seeing something I could not shake, but in my downtime, I would imagine all the horrible things I hadn’t been able to watch, bobbing up into my mind and ruining my day.
6. In Spring 2020, like many people, I couldn't sleep. I had just moved into a new apartment and while the world outside felt dangerous and uncertain, so did my home. I lay awake, trembling and anxious, the only thing that would soothe me was to imagine a giant bear sitting at the foot of my bed, sworn to protect me from whatever might come in. I was told by a doctor to exercise, to cut out coffee, and to stop watching horror movies. Eager to recover some ease, I followed the regimen dutifully, except on that last one. That one I could not.
Editor-in-Chief, In The Mood Magazine
Join our Issue Launch Party!
We’re hosting our very first event to celebrate our horror issue launch, teaming up with our pals at Peach Mag!
Join us online on Thursday, October 13th for an evening of readings and performances by In The Mood contributors Cason Sharpe, EJ Kneifel, Emmalea Russo, Fan Wu, Ky Capstick, and Vannessa Barnier — plus, some scary movie trivia with prizes for guests! 😈
Advance registration required:
Cason’s Casting Couch: House of Wax
By Cason Sharpe
The first face we see in 2005’s House of Wax is an empty plaster cast. The second face we see is Paris Hilton’s. The teen horror flick marks the heiress’s silver screen debut, lest we count a few walk-on cameos or the infamous sex tape that leaked the year prior. On set, she was often interrupted by swarming paparazzi or eager fans hoping for an autograph. In anticipation of its premiere, the movie launched a publicity campaign featuring the slogan See Paris Die!, a cheeky stunt exemplifying the kind of casual misogyny that defined the mid-aughts. To the joke’s credit, its punchline seemed unfazed, almost as though she knew she was the only notable presence in an otherwise unremarkable slasher. When asked if she had been typecast as the movie’s clueless bimbo, Paris replied: “I'm just happy to be a beautiful scream queen running around in lingerie.” Her reaction to watching her head impaled on screen by a rusty metal pipe? “I cheered!” she said. “It was dope."
By Alison Lang
Horror finds its emblem in the hideous smile. In movies, a character’s slow, toothy grin often means they are about to expose their truest selves. It signifies a move into a darker realm—a space that is unhinged, monstrous, and senseless. We’re even starting to make movies that focus entirely on evil smiles to send ourselves deeper into paroxysms of terror. Here are four smiles that have haunted me, onscreen and off.
1. Alice in Wonderland (TV Movie, 1985)
The one thing people don’t tell you about getting older is that the flotsam of your childhood dreams and nightmares floats closer and closer to the surface. As a child, Carol Channing’s smile as the White Queen in Alice in Wonderland slid inside me like a splinter and made its home.
The White Queen first appears to Alice in the enchanted forest. Styled in a white dress that shapes her body into a chess piece, she swirls around the girl like a cloud. In a velvety rasp, she confesses to Alice that she’s a seer, of sorts; she knows she’s going to prick her finger on her own brooch soon. She begins to scream in anticipation and fumbles with the clasp; sure enough, a droplet of blood beads on her white glove. She assures Alice that she’s feeling “beeeeetter,” and yet something very weird is happening. Her face splits into a wide, toothy grin. Her eyes glaze. “Beeeeeeetter,” she bleats. Before our eyes, the Queen has become a sheep.
Channing’s wild leer—the committed wrongness of it, in a movie where reality is already upended—became an obsession for me. My mom knew this too. For many nights after we first watched the Alice movie, she tucked me into bed and retreated to the door. Her lips pulled back and she bared her teeth: “My dauuuuughter,” she bleated. I shrieked until she ran back to tickle me to sleep. It was the first of many times in my life where a thrill of terror felt interchangeable with safety and even an expression of love.
Drop Dead Gorgeous (1999)
In the summer before seventh grade, I was in a beauty pageant called Miss National Pre-Teen of North Carolina. It was 2001 and I was 11, cute but somewhat shy. I joined because my best friend Ashley was a nationally crowned pageant princess with a china cabinet full of 12-inch tiaras and she was sure I had a chance. Our parents were friends and they convinced my mom to let me enter. I don’t think it was very hard. My mom and I had a close relationship, but it was at its closest when I was in the spotlight making her proud.
When I finally saw Drop Dead Gorgeous in my more cynical adult years, it became an immediate favourite. The film is a brutal mockumentary that exposes the dark underbelly in the lives of small-town teenage girls as they fight to the death to win the local pageant. Skulls are cracked, eating disorders mocked, multiple girls are literally exploded, and it is genuinely the funniest movie I have ever seen.
In 2001, I might have felt most like an Amber Atkins (Kirsten Dunst), naive and out of place in my borrowed heels. I finished okay, placing 5th overall, but I remember being proud of that. Over the course of the weekend, I’d modeled equestrian gear in the sportswear competition, had my glamor shots ranked in the photo contest, and eaten two stacks of pancakes at the family breakfast. I’d memorized choreography with the other contestants in matching outfits, and been assessed for poise in the interview segment, during which we all wore pastel polyester pantsuits.
In a lot of ways, it was just like the movie, though there was no attempted murder or anything fun. Mostly it was just awkward; a bunch of adults watching young girls and evaluating our womanhood. My brightest memory is of my mom rolling my hair with strips of toilet paper in the Sheraton hotel bathroom because we’d forgotten the curlers at home. It was a touching moment in an otherwise strange experience, like Ellen Barkin hugging Kirsten Dunst with a beer can melted to her hand.
The older I get, I fear I relate more to the Drop Dead villains. I’m Becky (Denise Richards) when my ambition precludes me from rational thought. I’m Gladys (Kirstie Alley) when I’m collecting my change for Botox money. Each toxic, tortured character speaks to something secret inside every woman. We’ve all wanted to be number one, the prettiest, the “most smartest” as Amber’s unpolished yet encouraging godmother Loretta (Allison Janney) says. Many of us would do anything to achieve it.
At the end of the movie, after 90 minutes of cut-throat antics, the pageant’s sponsors declare bankruptcy and no one is ever crowned. That’s the Sisyphean game of womanhood. There is no Sarah Rose Cosmetics, there is no ultimate win. Even if you claw your way to what you think is the top, you’ll probably be disappointed when you get there. It’s scary for sure, but in some warped and messed up way, it’s kind of funny, too.
Issue 6 Submissions Open!
Submissions are now open for Issue 6 until November 1st. Send your pitches for pop culture investigations, personal essays, fan fiction, and film diaries. There’s no theme for this issue — surprise us!
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