66 Things to Do in Salem, MA (Updated June 2014)

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Essex St Pedestrian Mall, Salem, MA.

Because I like lists, and sympathise with the tourist dilemma of “Bollocks! We only have 5 hours to spend here – what do we do first??”, I’ve decided to compile a big fat list of awesome things to do in Salem. Yes, this list could have been shorter, but the number 66 is cool, so shut your face (and click “Continue reading” to read more!):

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31 Days of Hallowe’en, Day 24: Les Yeux Sans Visage (Eyes Without a Face) (1960)

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eyes without a face les yeux sans visage

“To avoid problems with European censors, Borkon cautioned Franju not to include too much blood (which would upset French censors), refrain from showing animals getting tortured (which would upset English censors) and leave out mad-scientist characters (which would upset German censors). All three of these were part of the film”

- Wikipedia

Well, this French film from 1960 was far creepier than its time period implies. I’ve been shocked like this before (just watch the entirety of The Innocents), but the film starts out so eerily that I shouldn’t have been so surprised.

eyes without a face les yeux sans visage

Doctor Génessier is a well to-do surgeon in an affluent Parisian suburb. He’s mourning the death of his wife and now he’s just identified his daughter Christiane’s body, mangled from a car crash and pulled out of the river by police. At the funeral, he and a lady friend appear blank-faced and then trudge home…where his daughter is waiting for him.

eyes without a face les yeux sans visage

She’s the titular character without any skin on her face, though she’s somehow able to speak and cry etc. the way a facefull person would. But she’s miserable; she misses her fiance (who thinks she’s dead – and he works with her damn father), and she feels like a guinea pig for her dad. She’s being kept mostly with her consent under house arrest while her father locates a suitable face donor – whether they’re willing or not.

eyes without a face les yeux sans visage

The movie has a cracking score, but it’s used so sparingly that, along with the stable, continuously-shot scenes, at times you feel like you’re watching a documentary. Which makes it all the scarier, because the medical scenes are horrifyingly gruesome. Ever want to hear the sound of forceps snipping open facial veins? How about skin being tugged and lifted like a bleeding pancake off of red-raw flesh? Well, this movie’s for you!

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At the heart of it, though, is a troubled father-daughter relationship that, when stripped of all that kidnapping and mutilation, most adult daughters can probably relate to. And Edith Scob manages to portray Christiane’s predicament so well while forced to wear a rigid, opaque mask for almost all of her screen time.

eyes without a face les yeux sans visage

And for a disarmingly frightening film, there are some doses of very lovely, poetic imagery, including a wee bit of foreshadowing I didn’t catch until a skim of a rewatch. It takes some of the edge of the tension and gore, and turns it into more of a melancholic slow-burning, psychological horror. But yeah, about that ending. Really makes use of that very theatrical, almost demented circus-like score.

31 Days of Hallowe’en, Day 23: Teeth (2007)

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teeth movie 2007

Even though Teeth was only made in 2007, I can tell that it was from a whole other time period when I see review blurbs labelling it “feminist” in some way. There are no smartphones, no social media, and the main character, Dawn (Jess Weixler) wears baggy bootcut jeans instead of skinny ones.

Our movie begins with toddler Dawn and her slightly older wicked stepbrother Brad sitting in a paddling pool. They hate each other. It’s implied that he reveals himself to her, then when she’s coerced into doing the same, suddenly we cut to his bleeding finger. It’s assumed that she bit him, and then we fast-forward to present day – Dawn’s the goodiest of the goody two-shoes, a good student and an active member of her conservative school’s abstinence club (Why would you need a club for that? Is it the opposite of sex clubs? What does one do at such clubs? Not watch porn together? What are sex clubs, even?). Meanwhile, her stepbrother (John Hensley) is a metal-blasting, tattooed, pierced, Rottweiler-owning, bong-smoking, skank-banging stereotype of a bad son.

teeth movie 2007

Despite that, it’s going well for Dawn until sensitive, soft-spoken new kid Tobey (Hale Appleman) joins the school and the two are immediately attracted to each other. Mindful of their abstinence vows, they gradually develop a friendship, which then goes from tender romantic kindling to full-on assault and rape during a lake swimming trip. And he was such a nice guy. They always are. Luckily for Dawn, the teeth in her vagina that she forgot she had (and used to bite Brother Perv at the start of the movie) promptly/accidentally noms off Tobey’s sexually violent, undeserving cock.

teeth movie 2007

Maybe I should feel awful about this, but this is where the black comedy starts to creep in. The looks on both Dawn’s and Tobey’s faces when they realise his knob’s been munched off (and not in the good way) are priceless, even though the scares and gore are played fairly straight. Things only get darkly funnier when Dawn tries to talk to others about her problem, including her doctor.

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With its tone and soundtrack, it feels a little dated (most kids would look up myths on Wikipedia rather than read about it in a book), and most of the supporting characters are one-note, Jekyll and Hyde plot devices – though their turncoat natures aren’t implausible. Stuff like this really happens. Every day.). What is implausible to the point of distracting is Brad’s character. He’s a metal kid stereotype who I can’t imagine would seriously be living in his parents’ house acting the way he does, yet so much screen time is devoted to him without fleshing out his character beyond some douchebag tool of a dick that’s designed to be Dawn’s antagonist, and nothing else.

The plot has a tiny prick of gender equality commentary in a throwaway scene about censorship in biology textbooks, but for the most part it’s a pretty much your standard transmogrification horror with some high school drama attached. Which is a shame, but it’s a short movie, so I suppose there wasn’t much room made for anything else.

teeth movie 2007

I’ve seen some neckbeard complaints about the violence against schlongs in this movie. Funny, considering that said violence is issued towards the type of guys who contribute to a fair few statistics, such as that 1 in 6 American women will be raped in her lifetime, or that 80% of victims knew their rapist, or that 1 in 33 American men have committed rape in their lifetime. Not trying to reverse gender equality or justify the violence, but it helps to have a bit of perspective when making these kinds of complaints willy-nilly.

31 Days of Hallowe’en, Day 22: Would You Rather (2013)

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source: impawards.com

Some pretty catchy creepy piano music opens this movie about a dinner party from hell. Would You Rather (available on Netflix UK) opens with Iris (Brittany Snow) searching for a job to help pay for her brother’s bone marrow treatment, and settle the debts their parents left behind when they passed away. She’s a sweet kid, soft-spoken, holding a door open for a lady in a wheelchair and helping her through, so we instantly like her. Her brother’s doctor, Dr. Barden (Lawrence Billard, Jr – yay, Bob!!) notices her money woes and introduces her to Shepard Lambrick (Jeffrey Combs – yay, Weyoun!!), who has an “opportunity” that might result in some much-needed cash – the same opportunity that Dr. Barden won the previous year. So, you know…with that endorsement, there’s nothing to be afraid of, right? Right?

would you rather movie

Iris gets suitably dolled up, says bye for the night to her depressed brother and arrives at a ginormous mansion for the world’s most deviant episode of Come Dine With Me. The rest of the guests (which include John Heard, Eddie Steeples, Sasha Grey and the riotous June Squibb) mingle, but have no idea what’s in store for them. Dinner is then served, which is a measly, grisly-looking, fake prop chunk of medium-rare children’s toy steak. News flash, poshos: Adding asparagus and a jus does not make a dull lump of meat anything but. Even chavs know what a jus is. And asparagus? Bitch, we have brie, grape and cranberry sarnies as a standard in the local Tesco. This is nothing special. I bet these pretentious fuckboys call chips “frites”. Without adding the fucking “pomme”, because they’re just not pretentious enough, I guess. Anyway, I wouldn’t feed that to a dog that’s the reincarnated spirit of everyone horrible in the world ever. And there’s only the one fucking course. There isn’t even any dessert! It’s main course only, then straight to the “entertainment”…

would you rather movie

…Which encroaches onto the main meal. Our first hint that something might be a bit off about this dinner party is when Iris mentions that she’s a lifelong vegetarian (well, then you should have fucking told them earlier so that they could have planned ahead – I have to do this all the time). Rather than grill her about why she’s probably pro-choice or douchebaggingly eat a steak in front of her, Shepard goes one up and offers her $10,000 to eat all the meat on her plate. After some hesitation, she does, though I’m surprised she doesn’t vomit. Shepard then notices that The Dad From Home Alone isn’t drinking any of his wine, and when he answers that he’s a recovering alcoholic (probably from all those times he kept forgetting Kevin), he offers him $50,000 to drink an entire decanter of Scotch (won’t that kill you?). He does, and it’s that plus Shepard’s shameless laughter that clue the group in that something’s a wee bit sadistic here.

would you rather movie

After the plates are cleared, Shepard offers everyone a one-time chance to leave. Everybody is fucking stupid and stays. Shepard then announces the evening’s main activity – a parlour game called “Would You Rather”….but with a bit of a twist. One person is fitted with some headgear, and is offered the choice of electrocuting themselves, or the person to their right. Before the game begins, Kevin’s Dad is full of scotch and says “fuck you” to everyone, but when he tries to leave he is shot dead.

Understandably, everyone’s freaked out, especially as there are a handful of armed guards behind them. And so begins a series of relatively restrained Saw-esque torture porn episodes, each more creative and horrific than the last, including eye-ball slicing, whipping and holding one’s breath underwater.

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It’s grim stuff and there are some moments of tension, but the film never really strays beyond one-set, B-movie filmmaking. Some of the imagery, especially in the opening credits, is quite stylish, but the design looks cheap (especially that aforementioned meat). Acting is decent, but beyond Snow’s sympathetic performance, most of the other characters aren’t given much to do but look scared and then cry out in pain while sitting in a chair. One standout (unfortunately, negative) is Grey’s performance; not sure what went wrong here, because she’s a capable actress, but she delivers her lines like her mouth is sharting out the words while trying to do an impression of Anna Paquin. What the fuck. Especially as her silent acting’s quite effective – her wry glances and emotional acting, especially when her character breaks facade, are compelling to watch. Robin Lord Taylor (i.e., arguably the best thing about Gotham) is uncomfortably convincing in a short role as Julian, Sheperd’s spoiled, Joffrey-esque, rapist creep of a son, but impressive eye-bag-owner and theatre veteran Jonny Coyne is poorly utiilsed as the family butler Bevan; when he does have lines, you’ll wish he had more of them.

would you rather movie

To pull something like this off, you need a good script with sharp dialogue, and a charismatic actor for the Shepard. Would You Rather has neither. When Shepard speaks, it’s like a used car salesman wandered into a stately home and started giving weak arguments for the death penalty. Neither he not the dialogue are engaging enough to push Shepard’s agenda when asked, “Why are you doing this?”.

This results in a movie that’s just a slightly less gory excuse for torture porn. There’s no social commentary on wealth disparity, or the callous treatment of people in need, or even the fact that an educated young woman is driven to participate in a murderous party game run by powerful, untouchable freaks because she cannot afford the life-saving medical treatment her brother desperately needs. It’s just creative torture game after creative torture game, and even with that, there’s no commentary on us as the voyeur or anything even remotely profound. This film does exactly what it says on the tin, with no ambiguity or real shocks or twists. Ir’s like if Drax decided to make a movie.

31 Days of Hallowe’en, Day 21: The Double (2013)

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source: dvdsreleasedates.com

Yay! Richard Ayoade directed a thing! And it’s as brilliantly bonkers as he is! Based on the novella of the same name by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Double is a charmingly unsettling descent into probably madness, sort of like if somebody took you on a really surreal date to a desolate restaurant but held your hands as you both marvelled at how pretty the half-smashed-in neon lights were.

the double 2013

Simon James (Jesse Eisenberg) is a self-proclaimed “wooden boy”. Pathetically doormattish, he’s ignored at work, glossed over by his aging mother, and barely acknowledged by Hannah (Mia Wasikowska), the girl he has a crush on. He seems to have all but fully accepted his lot in life (or lack thereof). “Meek” is a gross understatement. He is passive to the nth degree. Of course I can identify with Simon, because I, too, feel invisible and unimportant at times; people frequently don’t realise I’m there in a queue (even if I’m standing in front of them), and others behind me get served first. At a train station in a crowd, I’m the person that people brush by and run into, as if I’m not even there, or that I just don’t matter. So I’ve felt to be of very little value and function to the world. But maybe not to the extent that people have stopped recognising me at work after 7 years of working there…

the double 2013 the double 2013

Which is where it starts to go so terribly wrong for Simon. The day after witnessing a suicide/jumper in his Soviet-esque housing estate, a new employee named James Simon (er, also by Eisenberg) starts work in Simon’s division, but nobody – except Simon (and James) can see that they look exactly alike. But that’s where it ends. Simon is more confident, more successful with women, better-respected at work, and even admired by Hannah. In a sense, James is just more “visible”, and it’s from this point that Simon’s place in his own world seems to be disintegrating.

the double 2013

Much of the direction and humour bear Ayoade’s trademark awkward restraint, and played to the same pitch-perfect comic effect as with his on-screen appearances. Eisenberg’s acting comfort zone is the ideal springboard for this, and uses it elicit some massive, pitiful laughs, such as a scene in which Simon tries to overhear a conversation in a loud diner, but a nearby radio is blasting a vintage Chinese pop song. He tries to turn the volume down, but the dial breaks off in his hand. Unsure of what to do, he just keeps the dial in his hand and just timidly folds his hand back against his chest.

the double 2013

Almost all of the film is in Eisenberg’s hands, and he effortlessly spins both characters’ journeys into two quite brilliant performances. Also no stranger to muted roles in an wildly offbeat film is Wasikowska, who imbues Hannah with just enough melancholic charm to make the audience sympathise with her. And what’s also great about this movie is that, while there is a love story, this isn’t the central part of the film, so there’s no fallback on cliche-ing Hannah’s character with some manic pixie dream girl trope to drive the story along. It’s more about the character’s journey of self-discovery….on his own.

the double 2013

Arguably, the most striking thing about this film is the imagery. The film is beautifully and meticulously shot, with every frame carefully arranged like a bloody work of art. It’s sort of like if Wes Anderson and David Lynch adopted a baby and raised it in a film school. And occasionally Terry Gilliam came to visit. The sets, colour palette, lighting and deliberate geographical ambiguity all evoke a 1980s Soviet/police state, and gradually transform the haunting, bleak tone from curious to quirky to shudderingly menacing. Like Diary of a Madman, but cinematically. Though the plot is linear and quite straightforward, it’s a film that politely requests repeat viewings for some of its elements that are more open to interpretation. It’s such a compelling, bizarre little film that it’s made me wish I’d bothered to have done a ratings system. Maybe something like 11 pumpkins? Out of 10.

31 Days of Hallowe’en, Day 20: The Loved Ones (2009)

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Wow, this movie was terribly-made. Caricatures rather than characters. Weak plot, including a flimsy B-storyline that goes nowhere. Cheap sets and even cheaper gore. Abysmally clichéd and unsympathetic characters mouth-farting out flat and boring dialogue. One-note acting. Hilariously OTT music that seemed to have scurried away from a low-rent Dario Argento remake.

I don’t care if there are spoilers; this movie’s so bad you’ll thank me for sparing you it.

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This Australian tortue porn follows a young man who’s kidnapped by a scorned crush on Prom Night. Held captive by her and her creepy, paedo dad, our perma-tanned, self-harming surfer dude has knives hammered info his feet, a love note forked into his chest, and a hole drilled in his skull. Despite making a string of implausibly idiotic decisions (such as running up a tree and staying there in full view of his rock-throwing captors), he sort of half-escapes with the kind of adrenaline only a trepanned moron can muster. Like a good boy, he even drives (with his hole-y feet) back home to see his mum rather than, you know, a hospital.

But nobody’s watching for plot or characterisation. People are here for the gore which, along with the the melodramatic acting, makes the whole thing unintentionally funny. But there are moments when the violence is over-glamourised to the point of accidental self-parody, like shots lifted from other generic films.

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The end result is a movie with unlikable characters that feels like a charmless chore to watch at times. You’ve got to wonder how these torturer types think they’re going to get away with it. And I mean the filmmakers, not the psycho teen killer.

31 Days of Hallowe’en, Day 19: Kill List (2011)

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source: articulationtimes.com

Well, this one was fucking weird. To call this horror might seem a bit of a stretch at first; it’s more of a surreal action thriller. It’s not really a slow-burner as the tension is more grounded in reality, and the movie doesn’t make a horror-esque shift until well into the duration. But I’ll leave it at that, because the less you know about the plot, the better effect it has.

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This one has some pretty nifty names attached to it – such as director Ben Wheatley, who recently helmed acclaimed Doctor Who episodes Deep Breath and Into the Dalek, and will be capitalising on the menacing half of Tom Hiddleston‘s face in upcoming ’70s-set horror High Rise. Great acting comes from three stars I like to watch out for: Phone Shop (yes)’s Emma Fryer, Utopia‘s Neil Maskell and Michael Smiley, who I’ve loved in everything he’s done since Spaced, and I try to go out of my way to see whatever he’s popped into.

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I don’t think I’d watch this again if you paid me, but not because it was bad. Without revealing too much, I’ll say that tension is abound in this film, from all-too-familiar domestic tension from a toxic relationship, to strained friendships and financial problems. So when the external tension starts building up, along with some pretty gory and emotionally disturbing (beyond WTF) imagery, it got to the point where I was forcing myself to sit through it for the sake of just getting it over with. And the ending? You’ll need a strong stomach. It’s fucking grisly stuff.

kill list

The characters live quite insular but moderately comfortable lives, but their physical isolation ups the eeriness factor while setting an increasingly bleak tone. There’s a fair bit of imagery borrowed from The Shining (notably title cards), and there are some other spoiler-y horror homages that crop up later on. Most chilling of all is the music; it’s very overdramatic, quite odd, extremely surreal – and it should feel out of place in fairly normal scenes, but somehow it doesn’t. It’s a very stylised chiller, but uncomfortably steeped in plausibly miserable horror, and even with the smatterings of dark humour, you’ll be so short of breath mouthing “WTF?!?” into a closed hand that you’ll need to watch something very nice afterwards.

 

31 Days of Hallowe’en, Day 18: Red State (2011)

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red state

More than halfway through my horror-a-thon (I wish I’d chosen a better name for this), and today’s movie was the Kevin Smith-helmed Red State. The controversy around of how this got distributed is almost more interesting than the film itself. Distributors attending the Sundance screening felt cheated because Smith announced he was never intending to shop it around for distribution deals – he was going to tour it himself (it is, after all, a film festival, not a movie convention booth). The resulting media furore labelled Smith as an imploding liar, and even bizarrely compared him to the movie’s central character – er, a hateful extremist gun nut preacher.

Guess they were too busy wanking off to cash cow numbers to have sat down and actually watched the film, then…

red state

…Which stars a typically Smith-esque cast of thoroughly unlikable characters – some more so than others. Unnamed Southern State high-schoolers Jarod (Kyle Gallner), Travis (Michael Angarano) and Billy Ray (Nicholas Braun) respond to a group sex ad by a local woman (Melissa Leo). They soon realise this wasn’t what it seemed when the beer she’s plying them with is laced with some kind of pretty powerful sedative (so powerful that it managed to get into bottles she’d just opened while handing it to them?). They wake up and Jarod is in a cage in a local church – one that has a reputation for being frizzy cunting twatmoustache bastards who spend their days protesting gay people’s funerals. We’re then treated to a long-arse deliberately boring hellfire, homophobic, finger-pointing sermon from Pastor Abin Cooper (Michael Parks), and some disturbingly pleasant banter among the congregation as if nobody’s aware that clingfilm-ing an innocent gay man to a cross and shooting him at the top of the skull is the same as a church bake sale.

red state

The rest of the movie plays out in what appears to be real time, when a scuffle ensues and some people are shot dead. It’s not so much a horror than it is an action thriller, but that doesn’t make me dislike it. I will say that, as a horror fan, there’s always some weird twisted part of your brain that’s curious about what sort of on-screen violence at which you’re going to be peering through your fingers, but the villains are so utterly hateful and despicable, and their real-life counterparts (they’re not the WBC) so hateful and despicable, that you’re rooting for no violence at all, for the kids (even though they’re horny, entitled little creeps) to escape unscathed.

red state

Smith’s script touches on culturally-relevant issues (which I didn’t think he had any interest in doing): religious extremism, domestic terrorism, sexual repression as a weapon, homophobia, gun control, freedom of speech abuse, and ineffectual law enforcement. That’s a lot to cover in less than 90 minutes, but he manages to stick a finger in each pie (why does that phrase sound so sleazy?) without sacrificing too much.

But what takes us out of the horror style and clogs the pacing a bit is the addition of a second storyline, about an ATS Agent (John Goodman, who provides the film’s best performance), who’s ordered to investigate the church’s compound on a possible series of firearm violations. While the commentary is interesting, it just adds an unnecessary layer (irrelevant to the religious extremism themes), and takes the action away from the cat-and-mouse chase in the church. What’s odd is that his story starts in the early hours of the morning following the kidnapping, so I’m wondering how much chasing there’s been in the multiple hours between getting kidnapped/drugged and the ATS storyline beginning. It felt like this was added just to give the film a proper ending.

Because of all this, characters are a wee bit paper-thin, and it feels like the movie baits us into pastor-esque finger-pointing and keeps switching the target on us; do we feel sorry for the pervy little kids? How about the church’s children, who didn’t do anything, or the pastor’s granddaughter Cheyenne (Kerry Bishé), who’s trying to save them, but doesn’t utter a word of remorse for the part she’s played in murdering innocent people? The church’s members – the pastor especially – are just so thoroughly evil I was hoping that there would be an pansexual task force using the power of interracial orgies to implode their tiny brains to smithereens.

red state

The execution of the themes is arguably a little heavy-handed, but I think that’s needed here. It’s a welcome commentary on how the WBC and others of their ilk have been exploiting a broken constitutional system for far too long (“guns? free hate speech? sign us up…for JESUS!”), and nobody’s been shouting out a consequence of their horrific influence at equal volume. People like them are a vile, repugnant waste of oxygen, and we need more voices countering their attempts to legitimatise their bigoted, misinformed, and damaging views.

Maybe you can call this porn for forward-thinking, global individuals. Because the scariest thing about this horror is that these hellfire-preaching, homophobic, intolerant, gun-wanking psychos might seem like caricatures, but they exist. That’s terrifying enough.