Posts Tagged ‘review’

If you are familiar with my reviewing practices, I like to give my bottom line up front (BLUF) then dissect it in detail. My BLUF for 13 Reasons Why (both the Netflix series and book) is that I loved them and hated them, simultaneously. In either case, I recommend reading/watching to explore your own opinions. You will love them, or hate them, if not both. And in either case, I think it is a topic that belongs in our media so that it can be discussed and approached more openly.

And now to it…

Anyone who knows me, in both the real and virtual worlds, probably knows how I feel about suicide. I survived my own mediocre attempt as a child; then I plunged into self-destruction and self-harm as a teenager. I lost my way, disappeared into my own darkness.

Since recovering from that entire period, I have been very verbal about my experiences. I inadvertently ended up talking to hundreds of high school students on how I dove into writing after I failed to kill myself, how I used the words to drag me through and out of self-destruction and depression. Maybe it is because I am a writer and that makes it compulsive; maybe it is because I never want anyone to feel alone in that place the way I did.

Suicide is a topic very close to my heart. More than my own experiences (because, like I said, my attempts were fledgling then indirect), I have collected a volume of stories on the subject. After I wrote How to Kill Yourself Slowly, I received hundreds of emails from suicidal people. With many, we connected. They told me their pain and all the things that brought them there. We talked about what it was like to be in a place where you wanted to die. And they imprinted on me. All of them. The details are now an amalgamation in my unreliable memory, but I feel them still.

With my own pain and the others’ branded on the soft tissue inside of me, I am judgmental on the subject. I have so many perspectives to weigh the portrayal against. I admit I hold a certain set of expectations. Yet I always devour the media with ravenous curiosity because, in truth, even if you do not succeed in dying, you never fully leave that place. You always have one foot, one toe maybe, left lingering in those twisted shadows.

I live in the city with the highest teen suicide rate in the nation. Chris Cornell just killed himself. This is real. This is a thing in our culture.

I know the topic of suicide gets people all jumpy. It’s ugly; it’s uncomfortable; it’s taboo. Maybe it should not be. Maybe if it was not such a secret, people would not suffer in secret. Maybe if we talk about suicide, write about suicide, watch about suicide, we won’t inspire more suicide; we will instead invite conversation about it. Conversation that could save some lives.

In any case, I approached 13 Reasons Why with mixed feelings. Were they going to do it justice? Were they going to glamorize the idea of taking your own life? Were they going to trivialize and mainstream it? Was it going to be stupid? Yet I resolved to indulge with an open mind. Here are my experiences and impressions of it. Spoiler free, so much as I can help it.

Watching 13 Reasons Why

In case you have managed to miss the buzz about the Netflix series, 13 Reasons Why is a series about a high school girl (Hannah) who kills herself and leaves 13 audio cassette tapes detailing the “13 reasons” why she committed suicide. Each tape centers on one perpetrator, and the tapes are passed from person to person, with an ominous shepherd hovering in the peripheral. The series follows one person (Clay) as he listens to his tapes to discover his role in Hannah’s death.

Initially, the series had me with suspense. The premise is fascinating.

“We’ll never know why they did it.”

“If they decided to end their life, nothing anyone did could really stop them.”

I have heard this sort of rhetoric around every suicide I have been near, at the funeral I attended. That is what suicide leaves: a wake of questions, doubts, blameshifting, and guilt. But what if you could know? What if someone filled 13 sides of audio tapes with the detailed story of why?

In addition to the sheer curiosity generated by such a story, experiencing the tapes with Clay personalizes the narrative. I wanted to know why he, a seemingly decent if not oblivious kid, had made such a list. I wanted every episode to be his. And so, instead of sleep, I clicked Next Episode and Next Episode…

As Hannah began to unravel her tale of woe, I found my mixed feelings resurfacing. I definitely connected and empathized deeply with Hannah. I was undoubtedly enthralled to find out how she could decide to meet her end. Yet, near the middle of the season, the pace began to lag. The offenses and perpetrators became increasingly “high school” and less shocking and upsetting. It almost felt as if Hannah (or the writers) was groping for more to blame. However, at the end, with the full picture in sight, it did make more sense, and it became clear that all the pieces were in fact very necessary. They were contributing factors.

What ultimately seduced me over were the characters. Most notably, how flawed the characters are. Not a single character, not even Hannah, is simply good or only bad. They are each complex and confused and contradictory. They struggle and falter the way we all do, especially at that awkward and vulnerable high school age. I appreciated that the story showed how many mistakes Hannah made, how she contributed to her problems, how she made it difficult and sometimes impossible to help her.

I know that was what a suicidal me was like.

Hannah struggled; Clay struggled. At one point or another, I loved, hated, sympathized with, cursed, felt sorry for each character (except maybe two). It felt real, and reality was what this story demanded.

Once a certain turning point in the story happened, the plot captivated me once more. I was sacrificing sleep once more. I learned with Clay, perhaps as slowly as Clay, how all these many factors amassed to crush Hannah. And my heart broke for her when that killer blow was dealt.

Watching Hannah’s suicide was brutal. I cried. Like ugly, hysterical, soul crying. I was that 12 year-old girl again; I was that 17 year-old girl again. I was wrapped back up in that darkness that so many times almost pulled me under. And it was strange how comforting it felt. The scene was beautiful in just how viscerally terrible it was.

I can honestly say that my opinion is that the series did not glamorize suicide. Hannah is not shown as this perfect, innocent victim. She is not authentically worshiped as she is mourned after her death. People still hate her; people still talk vicious shit about her. Her parents’ agony is palpable. The show examines more the negative consequences for the people left alive than it depicts her being liberated from her strife.

Instead, my chief complaint is that the anti-bullying propaganda is both belabored and irritating, like being assaulted with the idea. The message is applied far too thickly and unnecessarily as if the show’s creators needed to have it to make fixating on suicide acceptable.

I do not like the persistent suggestion that anyone, especially focusing on a potential high school love interest, could save her. It is an excellent examination of how the small, seemingly insignificant things in life culminate into something larger, something crushing. It is also an alarmingly analysis of causality and all the ways small cultural behaviors are deemed safe yet can lead to something so dangerous. As I read through the inane stepping stones to her demise, I kept thinking, so what? Get over it! Yet it makes sense when you can see the full picture, when the minor infractions are revealed as breadcrumbs to the greater trauma.

Yet the show just keeps beating on the idea that if just ONE thing went differently, she would be saved. Bullshit.

There is never any way to know “what if.” With suicide, with anything in life.

No experience is the same for two people. There is never going to be able to judge what is “enough.” What might kill one person, might just traumatize another, and might go relatively unnoticed on another. All based on the chemistry and biology of their brains, their dispositions, and the compilations of their life experiences. Even just comparing me to me, enough to kill me as a teenager does not even register compared to what I estimate it would take to get me back to that mindset now. And that’s not because my life is better or worse or I am stronger or weaker, simply different. Incomparable.

Additionally, I took issue with Hannah’s narrative itself. Hannah presents a very detailed, logical, near clinical analysis of how she ended up on a suicidal precipice. She speaks about her pain and suicidal influences with the detachment and calm that I can muster decades later. In my experience and in my understanding of other experiences, that sort of encompassing perspective, that kind of sanity cannot coexist with self-destruction. If one could see things so startling clear through the pain, the delusions necessary to kill oneself could not consummate themselves.

Now, every suicide is different. Every pain and every person is different. I cannot reliably say that no one has reached clarity as part of their terminal journey. Yet the portrayal contradicted my expectations and struck uncomfortably against my internal definitions. I mean it did make more sense when her later traumas were revealed, yet the personal critique remains. If she could see so many things so clearly, why could she not see the other side of this temporary horror?

I wanted her to. The entire series, I wanted her to, even knowing how it would all end. And I consider that burning, sustained desire to be a success on the part of the show.

Despite my doubts and critiques, when I survived the last episode, when I considered the series as a whole, I loved it. I do not think it portrayed suicide well; I think it portrayed a suicide well. I think it told one story. One flawed person, one clumsy life–beautiful, unique and irrelevant, mundane.

Reading 13 Reasons Why

When I started 13 Reasons Why, I had no idea it was based on a novel. However, once the credits enlightened me, I of course had to follow my viewing with reading.

Reading a book is always a more intimate experience for me than watching an adaptation. Reading puts the narrative inside my brain rather than before my eyes, but I am happy that I experienced 13 Reasons Why in this order, series then book. In all honesty, the adaptation is close, as close as perhaps Fight Club (for me). Crucial changes yet overwhelming loyalty to the story.

So I binged on the book as I binged on the show, and I began to note all the distinctions between the two versions.

The show’s largest deviation from the novel, in my opinion, is the inclusion of additional perspectives and side stories by developing and following several of the collateral characters. This makes for a more rich (and more watchable) story, rounder characters with backstories. Something that could go into a second season with a dead protagonist whose tapes are spent.

In Hannah’s depiction in the book, these characters are flat, villainous in certain instances. The show tries to make them more balanced, give them redeeming or at least empathetic characteristics, give origin to their behaviors. It makes for a more dense and interesting plot, but it does shift the audience’s perspectives and sympathies.

The book confines the audience to Clay and Hannah, which amplified the appeal of the story for me, making it more of a case study on a suicidal youth and her suicide bystander. I was less worried about it being an accurate rendition of suicide and more taken in by the intriguing dynamics in the story.

I found it easier to relate to Clay’s direct, closed narration in the book. Hannah’s story is in first person in both instances, yet in the show we see it reverberate mostly through Clay but also fragments of the other players. The book definitely put me more in Clay’s head. With the series, I empathized with Hannah. Yet with the book, I felt Clay.

In the show, Hannah’s narration sounds more detached, resigned. It was actually unsettling to me (see above) because she seemed too objective and clear-headed for suicide. The book reads with the anger and emotion that felt more appropriate to my expectations. Her distorted perceptions and thoughts seem more clear and enlivened, even when they same words were used.

Without these distractions, Hannah’s narrative was more raw and consuming for me. Hannah’s fixations are annoying; her reasons are irrational. They should be. We never should be able to bob our heads along and say how justified the suicide was. It should be illogical, frustrating, even sometimes stupid. Then we have Clay interrupting her narrative to remind us she was wrong, to keep us tethered to the nonsuicidal perspective.

Hannah seems mad that no one tried to save her, yet she never tried to save herself. She claims she kept attempting, yet it sounds like (from her own words) she is seeking out failures, hunting for justifications for how she feels. Nothing is ever good enough for her. The way depression breaks your mind. The way we seek out ways to confirm our own distorted, destructive ideas about ourselves. Terminal self-fulfilling prophecies. Convenient harmful excuses. I know I am guilty of that, even still.

The show also upped her trauma, made her reasons more reasonable. Yet I found the book to be more resonate. More real to me. The fragile truths about our own weaknesses. The things we don’t want to believe we would do. When I read the book, I heard the deformed thoughts and twisted perceptions I expect with suicide. It shouldn’t make sense; it shouldn’t be reasonable because suicide is not reasonable.

For Netflix, they made Hannah “more” traumatized and “more” rational to make the topic more palatable. Because the realities of suicide are too uncomfortable for our culture. I liked the less desirable Hannah of the page.

The show also changes Clay. Instead of being another victim of the tapes and a cog in the process of her revenge, he is resistant and confrontational, even vengeful on the perpetrators identified on the tapes. Again, it makes the drama interesting and more digestible for people to watch (we love to think there is justice in the world), but it changes the larger message.

At some point along the way, more with the book than the show, I realized Hannah’s suicide then distribution of the tapes is like a school massacre turned inward. She takes this passive-aggressive way of selecting victims and taking revenge. She does not kill or physically harm them directly, yet she still spreads the pain that she thought no one noticed. She is still aiming to make them pay.

All Told

So after all of that rambling and waffling, what did I think? Like I said in the BLUF, I loved them. And I hated them. Some twisted, blended dance of the two. On the whole, I enjoyed both the show and the book. I understood and accepted the changes the show chose to make in the adaptation. I even enjoyed many of them, but the book remains my preference of the two. Both have their limitations and warts, yet in the end, both worked on me.

For me, the story (book and show) is about perspectives. Hannah’s, Clay’s, all the “perpetrators,’” all the bystanders’. All are narrow and flawed, incomplete and at times utterly inaccurate.

Perspective fascinates me. How every experience is inevitably influenced and distorted by perception, perception we can’t escape. How there is no unified reality. One single thing can (and is) interpreted a thousand different ways by a thousand different people. This is the reason Seven Types of Ambiguity is my favorite book. Teen depression and suicide speak to me, but I am even more drawn to the examination of perspective. That is why I connect to this story.

I do not think 13 Reasons Why is a great or amazing portrayal of teen depression and suicide, but I do think it is a brilliant depiction of a spiderweb of interactions and perspectives surrounding one pivotal knot.

We want there to be a reason; we want suicide to make sense or maybe mean something. However, the point of the book (for me) was that even with 13 tapes detailing 13 reasons in excruciating detail, it still does not make sense. It still does not provide enough reason. Or the right reason.

My interaction with this story, either on the screen or the page, affected me. Gravely affected me. It infected my mind, lingered on the edge of my thoughts and dreams every day. The scenes, the characters echoed in my brain, deep into the darkest corridors inside me. It all brought me back, stirred up feelings long starved and dormant. Not in a negative way, not even in an upsetting way. It conjured a strange yet comforting nostalgia, like finding my way back to a part of myself forgotten. I felt that damaged little girl at my core, and something in that connection was healing.

There is nothing wrong with still connecting with the darkness, with remembering and honoring all the things I have done and felt. I find it distinctly safer to maintain that relationship, lest the darkness swell and fester unchecked.

If you are hurting, do not stay silent. Nothing in life is permanent. No one can be completely lost. Had I succeeded all those years ago, I would never have seen the life that unfurled in front of me. Or the life yet to reveal itself. I would never be able to gamble with my circumstance in every decision and experience the beautiful joy and pain tethered to each course. My darkest times are still my times. Mine to own and experience, learn from and move on from.

If you are lost, do not hesitate to reach out. You can still email me. A distant voice typing on the internet without judgement. christina[dot]bergling[at]gmail[dot]com. Just don’t message me on Facebook; I get too many unsolicited dick pictures there.

Christina Bergling

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Like any good horror fan, I have enjoyed the Evil Dead franchise. Most recently, I indulged in Ash vs Evil Dead on Starz. So when we saw that Evil Dead: The Musical was being performed by the Equinox Theater Company in Denver over the summer, my friends and I immediately bought tickets.

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The six of us incorporated the show into a birthday celebration and trekked to the Bug Theater down the streets of downtown dressed all in white. We purchased splatter zone tickets, naturally, and wanted every drop of carnage to be visible.

The first act began a bit slow for me. It might have been the fallout of spending a day drinking mead in the sun. It might have been the impatience for blood and carnage. It might have been my fixation on thinking the actors for Ash and Scottie should have been reversed. The first act definitely was not poor quality at all, but it was not as engaging as I needed. Some of the expected corny parts struck an eye roll rather than a chuckle.

However, the second act made up for any inadequacies I found in the first. With mundane requirements like plot establishment and character development out of the way, the play dived into the meat. Literally.

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As a whole, Evil Dead: The Musical was just fun for our entire party. The rendition remained very true to its inspiration, keeping a balance of gratuitous horror and campy comedy. Many jokes and puns hurt as much as they tickled.

I was impressed by the Equinox Theater Company, though I do think Ash may have been slightly intoxicated for how many times he stumbled on his lines. He definitely could sing and throw himself across the stage in physical comedy to make up for it. My favorite portrayal was definitely Ash’s sister, Cheryl. The actress did a superb job of making her both hysterical and unnerving. I enjoyed every time she popped up from the floorboards. We also did not miss how she took Ash accidentally really slamming her face into the stage like a champ.

I was, however, disappointed in the splatter zone. Here, I was, dressed in a pretty white lace dress. I do not wear pretty. Or white. Or lace. I wanted that dress to get absolutely destroyed. I wanted to look like a horror movie survivor or, at the least, like I used to look after a heavy metal belly dance show or horror photo shoot. I wanted fake blood like this picture of the Detroit show.

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Unfortunately, we ended up in the last row of the splatter zone. We were shielded from much of the carnage by the patrons in front of us. The lucky bastards. Then, much of the blood was actually just kool-aid. My husband even tasted it to confirm. It produced this watered-down, pinkish, sticky blood that barely showed up even on our white apparel.

I have interacted with a lot of fake blood in my day. From the bottles at the Halloween store to an amazing chocolate recipe I learned from a brilliantly twisted photographer. I was hoping a theater performance would step up the quality. The blood thrown not from a super soaker (hilarious, by the way) or the fertilizer sprayer was more legit though.

From some online research, it looks like other cities stepped up their splattering a bit. Maybe it was venue restraints (been there); maybe it was director’s purview. I just wanted MORE. More blood.

I did end up with a bloody dusting that looked a bit like spaghetti gone wrong, but I will take it. I took one shot right in the eye. It was fun to be so interactively part of the experience. Splatter zone again definitely. Splatter zone every time.

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All in all, my experience of Evil Dead: The Musical was awesome; I thoroughly enjoyed it. I would recommend it; I would go again. Of course, I had complaints and things I would change but not enough to detract from the overall fun.

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After this, I wish I would have gone to see Silence! The Musical when it was running in April. More horror musicals!

 

Christina Bergling

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SavagesCoverChristinaSavages

Two survivors search the ruins of America for the last strain of humanity. Marcus believes they are still human; Parker knows her own darkness. Until one discovery changes everything.

Available now on Amazon!
savagesnovella.com

TheWaning_CoverThe Waning

Beatrix woke up in a cage. Can she survive long enough to escape, or will he succeed at breaking her down into a possession?

Available now on Amazon!
thewaning.com

I apologize for the break in the regular posting. My family and I went to England for the holidays; then I became slightly consumed by writing book #3. I have finally reached the point in the story that has me excited and engaged–murder.

2015 vanished in the blink of an eye. I am officially old, that specific age where time starts to disappear faster than I can register. I now understand what my parents were always saying about how the years fly by. The years are flying, and 2015 was the fastest yet.

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Let us take this moment, though, to review the fruits of the horror genre we all experienced in 2015. Please feel free to comment with your own favorites.

Horror Movie

I did not see even a fraction of the horror movies released in 2015 that I wanted to, though I did watch a robust library of horror over the months. I reviewed 39 horror movies on MoviePilot over the year. This left me 13 shy of my goal, but there is always 2016.

If I limit my 2015 horror movie ingestion to only those films released in 2015, horror comedy ended up ruling the year. Historically, horror comedy has been perhaps my least favorite subgenre under the horror umbrella. However, all my favorite 2015 horror movies are horror comedies. Maybe I was feeling more lighthearted this year; maybe my compromising with my viewing partners brought me to the lighter side. Or maybe the subcategory is growing on me.

I even find myself currently penning a horror comedy novel. What has become of me?

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My favorite horror movies released in 2015 are:

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Nostalgia played a huge role in nominating Goosebumps and The Final Girls, particularly the former. Krampus secured my heart by infecting the joyous holiday of Christmas with fear. Yet all are clever and/or well executed; all manage to strike the crucial balance between horror and comedy, a balance of which I am particularly demanding.

I did also watch a fair amount of non comedy horror over the year, but much of that was horror education like Hellraiser and Re-animator, but since this list is restricted to those released in 2015, horror comedy wins!

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Tell me what I missed, what movies I should add to my list for 2016.

Horror TV

The Walking Dead rules this category. Obviously. Always does. Mostly, I enjoyed the offerings of my regulars. The Walking Dead, Penny DreadfulAmerican Horror Story. However, the best new additions were Scream Queens (horror comedy again!) and Ash vs. Evil Dead (also pretty much horror comedy–what is happening to me?). If I had to select the series that got the most into my heart and my head during the year, I would declare Penny Dreadful the winner. The last season crawled inside my head, and I sit rigid on the edge of my seat for next installment.

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Horror Book

I did not get to read in 2015. I planned to; I wanted to. Instead, I devoted any spare time I could scrape up to writing. I managed to sneak one book on the plane to England, but it was not horror. I went classic and finally read Venus in Furs. It was amazing! It is the BDSM book everyone should be reading instead of 50 Shades of Grey. The terms sadist and masochist actually come from the author’s name: Leopold von Sacher-Masoch. I devoured it in a sitting.

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Tell me what I should be reading when I reclaim some of my own spare time.

Horror Experience

The Stanley Film Festival was an amazing horror experience. We crammed in as many movies and parties as we could, yet I still do not feel like we even grazed the surface. I loved being able to see such a variety of films before the leaped into the market. I loved being able to see and hear from the actors and filmmakers. I loved feeling like an active member of the horror community. Then, there was, of course, staying in the Stanley Hotel itself. Potentially the best birthday present I have received to date.

I would love to say that I would be returning to the festival this year, but it does not appear to be in the cards. I am certain, however, that I will find myself there another year in the future. Most likely, more than once.

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What were your horror favorites in 2015?

Christina Bergling

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facebook.com/chrstnabergling
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SavagesCoverChristinaSavages

Two survivors search the ruins of America for the last strain of humanity. Marcus believes they are still human; Parker knows her own darkness. Until one discovery changes everything.

Available now on Amazon!
savagesnovella.com

TheWaning_CoverThe Waning

Beatrix woke up in a cage. Can she survive long enough to escape, or will he succeed at breaking her down into a possession?

Available now on Amazon!
thewaning.com

Being a published author, even on the smallest of scales, remains a perpetually surreal experience.

A couple weeks ago, I attended my first book club. This experience was especially unique because it was also the first time (to my knowledge) that my book, Savages, was the book said club read that month.

Even though this book club was one a friend belonged to, sure to be hosted by equally welcoming people, I found myself nervous. I had experienced feedback on the book from people directly in my life in person and from strangers at the distance of the internet. While the response from those sources was overwhelmingly positive, I had developed coping strategies for when/if it was not. Having to receive critiques from live people who had no personal stake in my mental well being was going to be new.

Thankfully, my anxiety was largely unfounded.

The women were, as anticipated, very welcoming and friendly. Prior to our book discussion, I could have easily forgotten I was there as an author and would have had a delightful time just eating and chatting with newly met women.

When we transitioned to book discussion, I was reminded, “hey, you’re a published author.” Enter the surreal.

There were the normal questions. Where did you get the idea for this book? And so on. Every time I get the questions, I get a little better at articulating them. Especially in person. The more I’m asked about my own inspiration and process, the more I am able to analyze and define it myself.

The critiques were also relatively gentle. They wanted more, more time with the characters, more about the characters. They wanted to know what caused the apocalypse. They wanted to know what happened next. I took all of these reactions to mean I had accomplished what I wanted; I had affected them.

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Overall, it was a good experience. Like a baby step to public scrutiny.

More recently, I (or more just Savages) went to Denver Comic Con. ChaosStudios was kind enough to grant Savages a cozy little corner on her booth, as she was the artist to visualize the savages from its pages.

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Aside from it being Savages‘s convention pseudo debut, this was also my first official convention. I went to a couple misnamed events falsely claiming to be conventions when I was a belly dancer in Tennessee and Georgia. I also attended the Stanley Film Festival. Yet this was my first full fledged, official convention attendance. And a comic con, no less.

Denver Comic Con was overwhelming. We spent the duration of our time among the vendors, lost in a sea of cosplay bodies, shouted sales, and blinking geekdom. Everywhere, there was a vendor to take my money for something new and creative. The market was utterly saturated.

While our voyeur experience was enjoyable, Savages did not fair especially well. On a small corner of a non-horror art booth in a sea of visual options, it went largely unnoticed. Not even a copy sold, which was quite disappointing. Yet I could understand how it could easily happen in such an overstimulating market.

So when I was physically present at the booth on the last day, I simply distributed my cards and evaluated what made a successful booth. It was exposure, and it was a learning experience. In the end, that was enough.

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It is difficult to gauge my place on the public spectrum. I have a published book that seems to be selling; I have created a growing social media following. In short, I am infinitely farther than when I started. Yet in comparison to successful public figures, I barely seem noticeable.

Once again, just utterly surreal.

So I continue to stumble down this unknown path as an author, fumbling through a string of unfamiliar experiences. It all makes me wonder where this road will lead after my second book, The Waning, comes out in July.

Christina Bergling

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facebook.com/chrstnabergling
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SavagesCoverChristinaSavages

Two survivors search the ruins of America for the last strain of humanity. Marcus believes they are still human; Parker knows her own darkness. Until one discovery changes everything.

Available now on Amazon!
savagesnovella.com

TheWaning_CoverThe Waning, coming July 2015

Beatrix woke up in a cage. Can she survive long enough to escape, or will he succeed at breaking her down into a possession?

thewaning.com

When I embarked for a weekend of horror movies at the Stanley Film Festival, I had all of these grand ambitions of spare time. My children would not be in attendance, so surely, I would be drowning in surplus hours. I was going to go for mountain runs; I was going to blog, review, Facebook, and tweet in real time; I was going to work on my next horror novel.

Very few of these things actually happened. Instead, my waking moments were utterly and wholly consumed by horror movie viewing. Fitting for a horror film festival.

So I devoted myself to the cause and emerge now to finally recount the experience.

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Estes Park is gorgeous. I am Colorado born and bred, so I am an insatiable sucker for a beautiful mountain town. Something in the looming peaks speaks to me deep, in my bones. I could have simply vacationed there, could have been content visiting the famed Stanley Hotel, yet coupled with my resounding love of horror, I was euphoric.

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Attending the Stanley Film Festival marked my first film festival experience. I had no idea what to expect. My exceptional partner secured the trip to celebrate my birthday.

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The Stanley Hotel is a character within itself. I could see how the setting, how that personality could inspire Stephen King, how it still has a draw for horror and paranormal enthusiasts. It was like a pilgrimage. The hotel is, at its essence, creepy. The walls and floors themselves creak; the physical building speaks and whines. It is not a faceless, renovated, cookie cutter hotel you can stay at in any American city.

I loved it.

IMG_0240_editedWe braved the fury and fickleness of mountainous Colorado spring weather as we waited for the initial screening. Huddled under our daughter’s rainbow polka dot umbrella, we felt decidedly un-horror, but it was worth the freezing pelting wait.

Cooties was the opening night screening (Cooties review here). Cooties was potentially the perfect film to kickoff the festival for us. It managed to be funny yet still scary and wildly entertaining throughout. My partner and I laughed out loud, and I flinched on multiple occasions.

Directly after the screening was the opening night party. The party was a strange experience. I am a cinematic civilian, so it was surreal to me to be in arm’s reach of celebrities or actors like Elijah Wood. As much as I wanted to gush over each and every one of them (and also hand them a copy of my book), I forced myself to keep a quiet and respectful distance.

The party was oddly low key. The music was loud, but the crowd was more sedated. People stood stoic with drinks around tables. It only became more lively when the chicken nugget eating contest began (or perhaps after we left).

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On Friday, the first full day of the festival, it became an assault of movies. We went to screenings only to exit the theater to get back in line for the next film. There was no time for eating or sleeping. My partner and I took turns fetching beers (free from the Chiller Lounge) as we stood in these long and slow lines.

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We began Day 2 with The Treatment (The Treatment review here).  This was not the wisest of selections for us. As parents, a movie so graphically about child rape and abuse was hard to take. It was horrific but not in the way that we usually enjoy the horror genre. The film left us somewhat beaten and depressed. Afterward, all I wanted was another beer and to watch anything else.

Thankfully, Goodnight Mommy was only a line’s wait away (Goodnight Mommy review here). I enjoyed the film, and it made me forget (somewhat) The Treatment. Nothing could truly ever wash it from my mind. However, at this point, I began to question the Stanley Film Festival’s intentions when it came to children. Cooties had killer monster kids; The Treatment was all about child abuse; Goodnight Mommy brought us back to more killer kids.

Where we had intended to watch four movies in the second day, we dropped one from our roster. We could not make it between theaters (there were three around Estes participating in the festival) in time to line up. Instead, we capitalized on the opening to actually eat food.

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We returned to truly cleanse our palates with the midnight movie: Deathgasm (Deathgasm review here). Deathgasm was mindless, stupid, crude horror comedy. While it was not my particular flavor, my partner thoroughly enjoyed it, and I was relieved to have my brain realigned and distracted after the earlier trauma.

By Day 3, we were orientated to the routine. We fell into a horror viewing rhythm and started to recognize faces around the festival. Various actors, directors, producers, and our many friendly line mates.

Once again, we did not make the optimum choice for our first movie of the day. We opted for the documentary The Nightmare (The Nightmare review here). While I found the chronicle of sleep paralysis sufferers intriguing, my partner was relatively bored. Both of us agreed we would have rather invested our festival view on another selection.

The Invitation and The Boy made up for our slow start (The Invitation review here) (The Boy review here). Back to back quality horror, broken up only by more time queued up outside the theater. Both were slow burns. Both followed in the anti-child theme with a dead child in one and another killer kid in another. Consistency is important. What matter was how much we enjoyed them both.

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By this point, as much as we had enjoyed the many movies we had been offered, I was a bit burned out on slow burn, artsy, indie horror. I was ready for something a little more traditionally entertaining.

Enter the closing night movie. The Final Girls was potentially my favorite of the festival, though the competition with Cooties is fierce (The Final Girls review here). Like the opening film, The Final Girls was fun to watch in a full theater of horror lovers. And it was so very genre savvy and appropriate. It made me happy to watch it, right there on the grounds of the Stanley Hotel.

At this point in the festival, I began oscillating between wanting the festival to continue and being overstimulated and ready to relent. I missed food and sleep and exercise. My brain was awash of horror. Yet, at the same time, I loved it.

The final day arrived either way.

We attended the bloody horror brunch, which had themed food that could be served at a Halloween party and table decorations devoted to great horror films. At the end, they distributed some of the awards from the weekend. It was fun, and the drinks were strong.

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Then we concluded our weekend and our viewing with the Pumpkin Pie Show. Amazing. The show consisted of four live monologue performances. The actors were brilliant; the stories rich and appropriate. It was the perfect way to end our time.

IMG_0231_editedIn the end, I am glad we attended the Stanley Film Festival when we did. It is on the cusp of becoming too big for itself. The schedule offered more to do than you could ever indulge. We missed out on multiple movies, the virtual reality experience, the immersive game, and yet we took no time off. There was very little time to eat or sleep, mainly due to the time that had to be committed to waiting in line to obtain seats to the screenings.

I am not sure how any of these issues could be resolved. The festival is popular, rightfully so, and will only become more so, but the Stanley Hotel venue will never be able to accommodate more patrons. The city of Estes Park will also probably not have more or larger theaters to offer.

Success is a double-edged sword.

I do know I hope to attend again. I also may venture out to check out the horror festival in Telluride, Colorado in October. I enjoyed the experience, the environment, and the people. I am glad I was initiated at the Stanley.

While I attended as a horror and movie lover, I also did sprinkle in a bit of my horror writing. On the scenic drive up through the mountains, I sat in the passenger seat, typing away on my third book.

More importantly, I left a couple copies of my book, Savages, around the Stanley Hotel for other festival attendees, patrons, hotel staff, or ghosts to enjoy. I was not there to pimp myself, but I could not help but leave a part of my own horror behind.

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I was also recognized for the first time, which was another surreal experience. The first in my author career. I appreciate that he managed to pull it off in an appropriately creepy and awesome way.

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My weekend at the Stanley Film Festival was amazing. While I was tired and hungry at times and disappointed in the limitations of the scheduling at others, it sated my ravenous horror appetite for the time being and stimulated so many parts of my dark little mind.

Mini Review: Stalker’s Shadow

Posted: October 8, 2014 in reviews
Tags: , ,

I love flash fiction, reading it and writing it. I discussed this when I reviewed The ABCs of Death

The horror short, Stalker’s Shadow, is definitely a flash horror short at less than two minutes. Even in those two minutes, the pace of the story is slow, peaking my curiosity. Then it seems to dissolve into a bit of a blur at the end. When I first watched it, I found myself a bit confused before the caption reorientated me. Then I was able to appreciate the cleverness of the premise.

I enjoyed the filming style and the angles of the shots. I also found the music to be very stereotypical horror, but I did enjoy the application.

Definitely worth the less than two minutes to watch it.