I will fully admit: I am not the biggest LES MISÉRABLES musical fan. I think it’s a rather ramshackle spectacle with a few good numbers and set-pieces. It’s fine. I don’t hate it. I don’t love it, either.

Additionally, I’m not a huge fan of the most recent director to adapt Les Miz, Tom Hooper, despite my endorsement of his version of CATS. If you’ve read about the endless labor he put into his Les Miz adaptation, you’ll probably see that it was a lot of over-exacting bluster. Did he really need all of those terribly sensitive microphones? Nope. The embedded cameras in the set walls? Nope. Especially since they cast fucking Russell Crowe, because no amount of technology could do a damn thing to help that sweaty, ham-fisted job he turned in as Javert. (Even he admits he was ill-suited for the job.)

To quote Lawrence Olivier reprimanding Dustin Hoffman, who endlessly ran to physically wear himself out for his role in MARATHON MAN: “Dear boy, it’s called acting.”

“There was a time when men were kind, when their voices were soft and their words inviting…”

However. I fucking love Anne Hathaway’s portrayal of the fallen woman Fantine, specifically her rendition of I Dreamed a Dream. I endlessly return to it. It’s absolutely heartbreaking. If you aren’t moved by it? Well, sorry to say, but you are a monster. I know some give her grief because of her vocal skills — I’m not the best judge of that — but goddamn, she makes the most of her features, all huge sad and angry eyes and lashes and brows and full-but-cracked lips, and she emotes wildly.

“…there was a time when where the world was a song, and the song was exciting…

“…there was a time… then it all went wrong…”

It’s an absolutely brutal, wrenching number that Hathaway executes perfectly and it tears me up every time I watch it, and almost justifies Hooper’s exacting work as the intensity displayed plays far harder here than in any production of Les Miz I’ve seen.

“I dreamed that God would be forgiving.”

The way she is framed, how she’s essentially housed in an unclosed coffin, the way her hair is shorn; she’s singularly naked, and her fraught voice reflects all of that, a life lost, a life spent, a life overlooked by others, but she’s trying her damndest to give voice to her frustration as well as her resignation.

“…as they tear your hope apart! As they turn your dreams to shiiiiiiiiiit.”

(Yes, I know the actual lyric is ‘shame’, but really. Come on. You know that’s what she wants to say.)

“…life has killed the dream… I dreamed.”

While this post is mostly about I Dreamed a Dream, I’d also like to call attention to Eddie Redmayne’s performance in One Day More. The way he whips the red fabric in ‘One Day More’ is not just commanding, but awe-inspiring, and he does have the necessary voice, all bold and brash and loud. He’s very much a theatre nerd, and that is crystal clear here.

Is this the best Les Miz? No. Is it even a good Les Miz? Beats the fuck out of me! I watched this far too late in my life. This is a musical that one becomes enraptured with in one’s teen years as it’s all emotion, all fraught with rebellion and idealism and being boxed in by higher powers.

However, I keep coming back to it. It is strikingly shot and, while I normally eschew the oh, 20+ years of desaturated colors in film, it makes sense here in that it conveys the grime of France and downtrodden at that time while also letting the reds pop, focusing on the hues of the French flag.

It’s a work that haunts me and it’s worth watching for those few very earnest, honest scenes that encapsulate the hurt, the brutality, the abuse and sacrifices that some have to endure to keep living.

THE CRITIC: A Little Deb Will Do You -S01E05- (1994)

There are a number of jokes that have been stuck in my head for years, but this one joke from the animated show THE CRITIC — a show created by some of the best writers and producers involved with the heyday of THE SIMPSONS — is one of my absolute favorites.

This is all you need to know going in: A young woman is being fitted for her debutante reveal. She is Margo, a liberally-minded teen who eschews this blue-blood practice she was born into but feels pressured to participate in. While being fitted for her reveal dress, the following exchange occurs between the dressmaker and herself.

“We dressmakers have a very strict code, so I need to know: Do you deserve to wear virginal white? Because if you don’t, you’ll have to wear an off-white, what we call a ‘hussy white’.

“So, which will it be? White-white?”

“…yes. Um, except for the gloves.”

I watched this episode when it first aired and was old enough to realize just how smutty the joke was and could not believe it slipped through broadcast standards & practices. I will not spell the joke out for you, as I give you enough credit to have a prurient imagination.

This joke has everything I could ever want: it’s far filthier than it initially sounds, it has a rare sense of specificity, it is loaded with cultural and sexual commentary, and the voice reading cleverly underplays all of the above. It is a brilliant twenty seconds of animated network television.

(If you don’t believe me, check out the YouTube comments on the link at the bottom, as I’m not the only one who fondly remembers this joke!)

I am in the thick of National Novel Writing Month and my novel this year is specifically focused on a bridal dressmaker and her clients. While this is a debutante reveal dress, it works in very much the same way as a bridal dress in that it is often meant to visually exemplify the best of you, as well as make the person wearing it feel imbued with the best of themselves.

I previously only thought about this joke once a month. Now I think about it every fucking day. (Don’t worry, I don’t even come close to involving any ‘hussy’ notions in said novel.)

(Eventually I’ll write a more involved post about THE CRITIC. For now? This will do.)

Unfortunately there’s no single clip available of it, but you can see it via tubi or on YouTube before a DCMA claim takes it down:


Thanksgiving is one of the few holidays where the experience is radically different if you live in a rural area or suburban area versus an urban area, especially if you are a shitheel 20-something and away from home.

In rural and suburban areas it’s a communal, often familial affair; almost routine.

In urban areas and far from family, you have a tiny kitchen that is absolutely not equipped for preparing the amount of food folks expect for Thanksgiving and, if you are in your 20s, you have absolutely no fucking clue what you’re doing, but no one else is doing the work so it’s up to, and you have no one to guide you.

There aren’t a lot of great Thanksgiving films out there, perhaps because the stress of a Thanksgiving dinner is equally mirrored and amplified by preparing a Christmas dinner. (A CHRISTMAS STORY is probably the best example of this, even though it’s solely about making a meal for immediate family as opposed to an extended family.)

PIECES OF APRIL is one of the few great Thanksgiving films. It focuses on the dichotomy between rural and suburban and urban expectations, of young adults trying to live up to the expectations of being fully-functional adults, even if they have been or currently are fuckups, while attempting to prepare an adult meal for everyone to enjoy, while also being not at all capable of doing so.

I know, because I’ve certainly been there, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

“I’m the first pancake.”


“It’s the one you’re supposed to throw out.”

PIECES OF APRIL is a very succinct depiction of a garbage person — April — trying to get better and attempting to mend the mistakes of their past by using food to apologize for her familial transgressions by inviting her suburban family — including her recalcitrant cancer-stricken mother, bitter about her sickness and April’s actions — to a Thanksgiving day trip to her NYC apartment.

“[We’re making] a good memory!”

“What if it’s not?”

“I promise it will be beautiful.”

“How do you know?”

“Because I told her it had to be.”

“And if it’s not?”

“Then I’ll kill her.”

April quickly realizes that her oven doesn’t work and scrambles through her building, looking for someone, anyone, to lend her some oven time to cook her turkey, often only to find doors slammed shut in her face while her boyfriend warmly traipses around the city in order to find an affordable suit to impress April’s parents. Matters escalate.

Katie Holmes is nakedly honest as April, a troubled youth, the black sheep of her family, the eldest of three children. As a youngster she had a penchant for fire and rebellion and when she had the chance, she ran off to New York City and spiraled into a world of drug dealers and even worse behavior.

PIECES OF APRIL is a perfect depiction of urban life, where many folks just want to live anonymously and are hardened by the rough life of an unforgiving city, but also of young misfits realizing what they put their family through, while also aware that they’re leading a very different life than the one that was expected of them.

The distance between myself and my immediate family is vast enough that I’ve never been put through the pressure cooker that April goes through, but as a fucking piece of garbage youth who moved halfway across the country to one of the largest cities in the U.S., and as someone who — along with my then-girlfriend/now-wife — has hosted my fair share of Friendsgivings and has screwed up my fair share of dishes, this film hits hard.

“You’re a bad girl! A very bad girl!”

“…no. I’m not.”

This was a ramshackle labor of love for writer/director Peter Hedges, shot extraordinarily cheaply — he was paid a whopping $20 for his efforts, and most of the cast worked for under $300 a day — Hedges made the most of it. There’s a visual intimacy here, mostly medium shots or close-ups to capture the emotional fraught nature of her family’s trip, as well as the stress April is enduring. Long shots are reserved for when April’s mom — an acerbic Patricia Clarkson — pushes her family away, rejecting the current situation.

Colors are often muted, although I’ve only seen this film via terrible DVD transfers. It might be intentional, an effort to visually cast a pall over the endeavors, but I might be reading too much into that.

While this summary may make this film sound like a downer, ultimately it’s about perseverance, of folks muscling through to try to do better, to give folks second chances, to showcase the grace that others can give others.

Is Thanksgiving fundamentally a fucking terrible holiday, one celebrating colonialism and downright genocide? Yes, yes it is. Is it terrible that so much of the nation overlooks that in favor for stuffing their faces? Yes, yes it is.

(I will note that PIECES OF APRIL does hang a hat on that, albeit not extremely successfully, but narratively and from a character perspective it makes sense.)

However, hosting Thanksgiving dinners is a rite of passage for many. It showcases that you can provide for others, that you can wrangle the many, many courses and dishes in a way that satisfies everyone and everyone can commune around the table and take comfort in one and another.

You’re living in this moment — a tiny one in the long run of your life — of knowing you’ve provided for those you hold dear and, despite the strife and stress and endless planning, you have a communal bonding moment over your rustic culinary efforts, the table a truce place setting, a few hours that are hopefully conflict-free where you can live in an idyllic familial fantasy of grace.

PIECES OF APRIL ends with a montage of photographs, memorializing the day, recording the above feelings for posterity, not just for the family, but also for whatever comes next. It’s a very simple, no-fuss film, but one that resonates with truth and the hardships of willing the endeavor of bringing everyone to the table, of making the effort in service of others. In other words: the perfect Thanksgiving film.

“One April day we’ll go miles away

and I’ll turn to you and say

I’ve always loved you in my way.

I’ll always love you in my way.”

Stephen Merritt


There are two things I will always post about here: 1) Harley Fuckin’ Quinn and 2) Motherfucking RATED Q screenings at Chicago’s Music Box Theatre. (The Q is for Queer, in case you were wondering.) Both bring me endless joy; I live for ‘em in the best way.

The most recent RATED Q screening featured their usual boisterous trifecta of drag performances that introduce and dovetail with the music and fashions of the the screened film, which this month was the original HAIRSPRAY, willed into the world by the patron saint of misfits and the disenfranchised, John Waters.

HAIRSPRAY’s premise is thin, but results in a hell of a lot of fun. It’s the early 60s and voluminous Tracy Turnblad is a teen who loves to dance to modern rock music, especially music from Black artists. She becomes a local star on Baltimore’s premiere TV dance show. (This was back in the day when half-hours of TV were dedicated solely to a host announcing song after song and you’d just watch youths dance to said song.) Tracy then uses her newfound fame to fight injustice against segregation. Matters escalate, backed by an amazing late 50s and early 60s soundtrack.

John Waters is a master of having his cake and eating it too. He loves pop culture, but also often hates what it represents — the homogenization, the alienation of anyone who isn’t white and straight — and he is an expert at weaponizing pop culture to expose cultural hypocrisy and societal injustice.

If you are only familiar with Waters’ more family-friendly films (HAIRSPRAY, CRY BABY, and SERIAL MOM you may not be aware that he’s also a brilliant purveyor of absolute filth, and he’s damn proud of it and rightly so. If you watch MULTIPLE MANICS or FEMALE TROUBLE or DESPERATE LIVING or especially PINK FLAMINGOS, there are moments in all of those films that will haunt you for the rest of your life, scenes that you will never be able to unsee, but also scenes that — even today — will gleefully prompt you to say: “Wait, you can get away with filming that?!”)

He’s one of the few auteurs in true command of his powers as a creative, as opposed to simply forcing his voice on others. He is often unfairly dismissed as camp (although I doubt he’d deny the label), but — depending on your definition — camp is often vacuous and the works live solely for themselves, as opposed to being created for others with something to say. Waters sincerely wants folks to rethink how they view culture and society, and HAIRSPRAY delivers that wholeheartedly in a slobs vs. snobs way that still feels vital 35 years later.

The cast is amazing. Divine, of course, and they do double-duty as both Tracy’s mother and the evil owner of the TV station. Ricki Lake is effortlessly likable as Tracy in her breakout role. Waters wrangled both comedic icon Jerry Stiller as Tracy’s father. Pop legends Debbie Harry and Ric Ocasek, as well as general icon Pia Zadora all have extremely memorable moments! And, of course, Mink Stole, often steals the spotlight.

However, I’d love to call attention to the production and set design, which are as equally rebellious as the script and casting. From the candy-colored sets to the faux-TV cameras used during dance tests, everyone was 100% aware that this was a heightened, but somewhat underground, reality. My favorite design decision though, is the facade of the apartment building that Tracy lives in, specifically the graffiti. It literally speaks volumes. Theatrical and dirty, but also visually striking in the way that only the way that graffiti — and film — can be. It’s an amazing feat.

While I’ve waxed on about how subversive HAIRSPRAY is, I need to underscore that this a fucking fun film. It is a film that will make you want to dance, a film that will make you grin, a film you will walk away from feeling satiated, a film that nestles in the uncanny valley of genre in that it leans on all of the expected plot and character beats, while exploiting them and being vibrantly transgressive at the same time. It is a film that only John Waters could will into the world.


I’ll note that this Rated Q screening suffered from what I call a Halloween hangover — the exuberance of October peaks, then November crashes the party and you have the realization that: “Fuck, now I have to start thinking about winter holidays and presents and travel and motherfucking Chicago winter”. I was so psyched to see this — so excited! — as it’s a John Waters film that’s wall-to-wall music and I expected a lot of folks singing along and shouting out lines (“I’m big, blonde and beautiful!”) but nope. It certainly didn’t help that I’ve been burning the candle at both ends as of late. That plus my Halloween hangover caused me to nod off halfway through the film instead of hooting and hollering and clapping, which boggles my mind, but it was a thing that happened. Nonetheless, even if I don’t have peak energy, I’ll be there for each and every screening because there’s nothing else like it.


I’ve touched on this in prior posts about Harley Fuckin’ Quinn — as I will never, ever shut up about Harley Fuckin’ Quinn — but I refuse to read or watch or listen to works that involve her in a relationship with the Joker.

It’s a coercion/abuse thing. My Harley — because there are many different Harleys because she is nothing but mercurial and has had many writers — has (mostly) moved beyond that. Read into that as you will.

As usual, I picked up HARLEY QUINN: BREAKING GLASS — penned by Mariko Tamaki (SKIM, THIS ONE SUMMER) with art by Steve Pugh (ANIMAL MAN, HELLBLAZER) — without knowing jackshit about it. It was about Harley and it looked like fun.

I didn’t realize it was considered part of DC’s non-canon young adults imprint which, uh, is boringly named ‘DC: Graphic Novels for Young Adults’. That said, it’s more adult than a number of ‘mature’ comics I’ve read. Also, probably something that if it were on more garbage folks radars, it would probably be banned due to Harleen/Harley being part of a queer found family.

BREAKING GLASS is a twisted fairy tale-ish take an alternate Harleen/Harley’s teen years (hence the YA label). She was sent by her mother to Gotham City to live with her grandmother because, well Harleen doesn’t take shit and we’ll leave it at that.

(Not-so-brief note: I will be switching between Harleen/Harley to match the use in the book as the best that I can. As someone who did draw a line in the sand at a certain point in my life as to which name I would utilize, most Harley-centric works don’t have to juggle that, so I appreciate that Tamaki respects that and I will as well.)

Harleen found her way to the address of her grandmother’s house, only to discover that her grandmother had died, but had been overseen by the minder of the building called Mama, an older queer who oversees a number of misfits. Gotham City’s YA take on TALES OF THE CITY, if you will.

“And yes indeed, our happy heroine Harleen was happy as a kitten on a radiator.

“She had everything she needed.”

Mama takes Harleen in and Harleen starts attending high school with a bunch of — to use her phrase — boogers, boogers that disgust her because “boogers will always act like boogers.” As Harleen is prone to do here, she acts out, and gets punished for pushing against the bullies and jerks— I mean boogers — of her high school.

However, she does find solace in Mama’s queer community, as well as one fellow student: Ivy, a vegan, anti-establishment activist, and the two form a fast, if somewhat combative bond. Harley learns from her, she grows, she tries to do better and to do more and to be more supportive. (There’s nothing more Harley than her trying to grow from terrible situations, even if she consistently fucks up.)

Eventually, due to her urban reactionary behavior, she’s eventually spotted by ‘The Joker’, basically a similarly ostracized youth who has managed to wrangle a bunch of other youths to do slight terrorist actions to Gotham.

(I will note: his face is not physically altered like in the canon. He wears a mask that exaggerates the already exaggerated canonical Joker look.)

Matters escalate in the way that teen dramas do, and it’s quite fulfilling. This is a fully realized work, from the framing device of Harleen’s scattered fairy tale rendition to the exacting dialogue, to Pugh’s amazing command of color depending on Harleen/Harley’s situation, often only utilizing primary colors, and explode into vibrancy when her emotions rise.

Like all of the best young adult works it transcends ages. If I had nieces? I would totally hand a copy to them. (Not that I wouldn’t hand it off to nephews, but I know my nephews and haven’t handed off a copy.) Harley isn’t exactly the best role model but Ivy is and Harleen is improved by being in her orbit and simply listening to her.

While this isn’t the cavalier Harley of Conner/Palmiotti, it is a great take on the character and an extraordinarily well-executed and well-plotted and well-penned and dynamically illustrated and vividly colored work that deserves all of the eyeballs.

You can purchase HARLEY QUINN: BREAKING GLASS via bookshop.org!

HALT AND CATCH FIRE: Signal to Noise -S04E02- (2017)

HALT AND CATCH FIRE was a very little-watched show about brilliant folks navigating Silicon Valley at the beginning of the personal computer revolution, as well as the burgeoning world of the Internet.

There is a lot of strife on display in the show, especially between Joe who is a wanna-be Steve Jobs with severe emotional issues, played by the charismatic Lee Pace, and Cameron — Cam — an exceptional programmer who also has a creative heart. Mackenzie Davis, who embodies Cam, reflects the spark in one’s eyes when they have a revelation. She adeptly conveys the frustration that she constantly feels, partially because of the modern male-dominated tech industry, but also because she does not like to feel boxed in.

Signal to Noise — the second episode of the final season — encapsulates the heart of the show. Its focus is on a phone call between Cam and Joe. Cam calls Joe late at night because of recent life changes. They start talking. Cam falls asleep on her tethered, corded phone without hanging up. Joe stays on the line via his chunky cellular phone until she wakes up in the morning.

When she does wake up, they talk for hours and hours, learning more about each other, feeling each other out and comforting each other.

That’s the underlying theme of HALT AND CATCH FIRE, that technology can be used to communicate and bring folks together in ways that were previously impossible.

I told my wife that she should really watch this episode, despite the fact that she hadn’t watched much of the show previously.

When she watched it, she remarked:

“That’s us.”

My wife and I first met through friends. It was not matchmaking — she was friends with folks I’d recently met and she was in town for a very short time, but knew she’d return a few months later.

All of us went to an ATARI TEENAGE RIOT show and were showered with Alec Empire’s backwash, which is something you more readily accept when you’re young than say, now.

Matters escalated but not the way you think, and that’s all I’ll say about that.

My now-wife tracked down my phone number via directory assistance, which I doubt you can do now.

I answered the call via a very 90s translucent, candy-colored, nicotine-stained corded phone and we would talk for hours. Not two or three hours, but over ten hours and until dawn, much like Joe and Cam.

We’ve been together for many, many years now. We’ve always worked together, from wrangling bands to putting on club nights, to day drinking while going garagesaling, playing GRIM FANDANGO and SYBERIA together, reading each other’s writing drafts and wrangling fabric and aiding in non-conventional public artworks and even being on TV. We have done a lot together — we have put in a lot of work — and I’m proud of what we have accomplished as partners.

We were married on this very day, ten years ago.

If you’ve read prior posts, you may have noticed that life has been pretty rocky for me these past few years, and not because of the pandemic. (Yes, that didn’t help.) I’ve been dealing with a lot of therapy, a lot of mental processing, a lot of diagnoses, a lot of internal confrontation and recalibration, and a lot of coping mechanisms. Also, my coming out has only added to the emotional weight.

It has been a lot for her to endure. She’s been there for all of it, communicative and supporting and accepting and loving, even if what I’m going through is sometimes confusing.

If it weren’t for her finding me through technology, by calling me up one night, we might have only met that one weekend and never talked to each other again. Instead, through technology, we were able to learn about each other and feel matters out and we’ve been married for ten years now and, hopefully, many more.

“That’s us.”

November Hiatus

I know I just took a hiatus, but I annually participate in National Novel Writing Month, a.k.a NaNoWriMo. If you want to follow along with my progress, here’s my profile. (I’ll note that you do have to have a NaNoWriMo account to view profiles.) I’m writing a novel about a cursed bridal dressmaker, and — despite how that sounds — it’ll be a lot of fun! (Except when it isn’t.)

I spent all of October writing these Horrorclature posts, and National Novel Writing Month takes the same sort of dedication, so I have to take a bit of a hiatus until December.

I have a few more posts queued up, so don’t be surprised! (They’re mostly Harley Quinn-centric. Shocking, I know.) However, posts will not be a daily drip like it’s been for a while.

Thanks for reading, and I hope you’ll continue to do so in December and in 2024.

Halloween 2023 Postmortem

So I fucking did it: 31 days of (mostly) soft horror recommendations! I know this sort of thing is easier for some folks, but damn, I’m fucking exhausted.

As I’ve previously mentioned, my wife and I have a long-running tradition of just tucking in for Halloween, wrangling wings from BW3 a.k.a. Buffalo Wild Wings — sorry, not sorry as their spicy garlic wings are some of the best things on Earth — and eating candy and watching movies.

Beforehand I send her a list of film suggestions that encompass ‘classic’, ‘cult’ and ‘contemporary’ horror films and she chooses three from ‘em based on trailers and descriptions. (I do not want to be one of those asshole dudebros that force works onto others. Also, this year, just like with Horrorclature 2023, they were all cozy horror films.)

So here’s what we decided on this year. (These are just brief notes! I got other shit to do, y’all!)


VIY (1967)

This is the first Soviet horror film and it’s all spooky witchy folk horror goodness. Goddamn, the production design and casting here is perfect, especially during the three days the philosopher is stuck in a church with a witch. I still can’t believe that the Soviets went ~40 years without making a horror film.



This has been on my watchlist for a while, and we always love a campy musical, and this delivers in a very Brian De Palma way. If you are a film nerd, you know that De Palma is all about extolling works he loves, and this modern rock opera interpretation of THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA delivers. (I’ll note: it predates Webber’s version by over a decade!) From his split-screens, to his hallmark adoration for Hitchcock, to his fondness of THE WHO’s rock operas and remarkable characters, this is quintessential De Palma and I love it.

Also, it features Jessica Harper, as in motherfucking SUSPIRA lead Jessica Harper. Also in SHOCK TREATMENT! What more could you ask for?



I rewatched this just a few weeks ago, but I was so stupidly excited to rewatch it again. This film is so, so, so much fun. It is the perfect amalgamation of cast and script and direction and camerawork. It is funny and witty and spooky and occasionally gory and a glorious ride of a film.


Due to scheduling matters, we ended up screening the above the weekend before Halloween, but decided to watch one more scary work on Halloween proper, which I already featured yesterday: MILLENNIUM’s The Curse of Frank Black. There’s no trailer or anything, so you’ll have to settle for my write-up:




Yet again, I am intentionally breaking the rules I laid out for Horrorclature 2023. This episode of MILLENNIUM involves childhood trauma and suicidal references. This is not a happy or carefree work. However, I feel it’s a singular, important work that deserves to be extolled on the day depicted in the episode: Halloween.

Happy fucking goth Christmas! I hope you’re either all slutted up and partying like there’s no tomorrow — no judgement! Been there, done that! — or cuddled up at home, all warm, surrounded by great, scary works.

If you’ve been following along with this blog, you know that I absolutely love Chris Carter’s MILLENNIUM, specifically the second season when he handed the reigns to James Wong and Glen Morgan (who would go on to help kick off the FINAL DESTINATION franchise).

“Do you ever find yourself talking with the dead?

“Since Willie’s death, I catch myself every day, involuntarily talking with him, as if he were with me.”

Abraham Lincoln — upon the death of his son

There was nothing like it on TV in the mid-to-late 90s. It was astoundingly dark, but had moments of levity. It was super smart, but wasn’t pretentious. It had motherfucking Lance Henriksen as Frank Black, an overly-emotionally sensitive ex-FBI profiler, and LOST’s Terry Quinn as a morally dubious, potentially exploitative head of a quasi-cult.

It is one of my favorite seasons of TV and this episode — The Curse of Frank Black (CURSE going forward) — is one of my favorite episodes from that season.

I know this episode like the back of my hand. I vividly recall my mind being blown when it was first broadcast, and I have revisited it every October for many years now.

CURSE has many of the hallmarks of the best MILLENNIUM episodes: it leans far more on showing rather than telling; there are more than a few scenes where little more than an utterance occurs. It’s extraordinarily visual for network TV at the time. Also, most importantly, it is seriously empathetic. It showcases Frank’s origin story, when he realized he felt too much, felt for people and could read people far more than others. (Hence why he was so great at being an FBI profiler.)

It’s that sense of empathy from a man — who, again, is played by a middle-aged, very craggy Lance Henrickson instead of some young emo 20-something — that is rarely seen on TV. It’s his empathy that undermines his entire life. It’s a trait he inherited from his mother — along with an ability to see the demons and angels that inhabit the world — and it fucks over his career and his marriage and his life. Folks simply do not understand the way he feels, despite the fact that he knows how they feel. Frank is haunted, not just by the demons and angels that he actually sees, but by how much he feels for others.

As noted in the content warning, CURSE takes place almost entirely on Halloweens. One from Frank’s childhood, and one current Halloween. It opens with Frank prepping for Halloween, gutting a pumpkin. Odd events start occurring around him, such as radios turning themselves on or refusing to dial in correctly, electricity going out, and his car sputtering to a stop. All of these events occur around the number ’268’. Frank exits his busted car, runs into kids egging houses, scares them off and then sees his house — the house he and his wife and daughter once were happy in — and he eggs his yellow house himself.

We flashback to when Frank was a youth. He’s dared by friends to trick-or-treat the house of a scary, chain-smoking shut-in who lives at a singular 268 number, Mr. Bob Crocell, played by Dean Winters who has great comedic chops. He is best known right now for being Mayhem in insurance commercials, but also Dennis ‘Beeper King’ Duffy in 30 ROCK, however he was also dramatically great in TERMINATOR: THE SARAH CONNER CHRONICLES. This is not a comedic performance; it is extremely dark.

Crocell is ruminating on his life and just wants to be left alone, but he allows young Frank Black into his abode. He forces Frank to listen to his horrible mental tribulations and his time in the army before he offers him his deserved treat, which is a lone cigarette, and it’s not even a candy cigarette.

Fast-forward a few years: Frank and his friends drive by the house. Crocell is being carted out of his house, dead on a covered stretcher. His friends make light of it, but Frank bluntly remarks about how Crocell was misunderstood.

FRANK: “He killed himself.”

FRIEND: “…yeah, because he couldn’t take being a commie traitor.”

OTHER FRIEND: “He’ll go to Hell for killing himself.”

OTHER FRIEND: “I always heard he, you know, liked men. That’s why he killed women.”

FRANK: “…it’s none of that.”

FRIEND: “How would you know?”

It’s Frank’s empathetic awakening, something that will loom over him for the rest of his life. As someone who has felt too much and felt too hard and felt haunted for so many years, this depiction hits me intensely.

“There’s no such thing as ghosts.”

“Tell that to Frank Black.”

There’s one amazingly stark, darkly back-lit scene where Frank enters his attic and sees Crocell there, chain-smoking as usual. Then the ghost-of-Halloween-past (or future, depending on how you look at it) Crocell delivers a monologue that chills Frank:

“I know you’re feeling strange right now kid but, believe me, it’s a hell of a lot creepier for me to be back.

“That night, I was so dying to know if the dead can return… if there was anything afterwards, ‘member?

“The time when you’re really asking the question and when you really need to know just goes by like — nothin’.

“But you know the answer.


“I’ll tell you this: all that stuff your hear about the fire and the brimstone and the rats and the excrement and the demons tormenting you for all of eternity — there’s none of that stuff.

“It’s worse. It is so much worse.

“It is for me, at least.

“Imagine having to suck on this [cigarette] for all eternity. Man, I wish someone had told me!

“Others, they uh— they ain’t got it so bad, I guess. I don’t know. But you’ll know… soon enough.

“I’ve been sent here here because you’ve become me.

“The way people look at you, what they say about you, making stuff up… pretty soon you come to believe it’s true and then it’s really all over.

“You know, I threw things at my house too. Not eggs though. I think I threw dog crap.

“Yeah. I threw dog crap from my backyard at my kitchen window.

“I never cleaned it off. Imagine that.

“The one thing you’ve got that I never did is that you’re getting close to understanding what’s about to happen. And He’s been watching you — uh-huh, oh, yeah — more closely and more often the closer you get.

“Here’s the deal, kid. Give up the fight. Sit it out. Forget about this Millennium Group.

“Go back to your wife and to your daughter and to your puppy and to your yellow house and just live out a nice, happy, normal life. And there’s gonna be a place for all three of you afterwards.

“A place, believe me, where a lot of souls wish they could be.

“But you pass on this… and you’re going so much farther than I have ever been.

“Hell, the way you gutted that guy who took your wife, the anger inside of you, whoo, I don’t know why you’re not being offered a sweeter deal.

“You got the heat inside of you to fight for this side so what I’m asking of you is really simple. Sit back and do nothing. Anyone can do it. Hell, most people do.

“Take this deal, kid. Secure you and your family’s future because the time is near, and He will win. There’s no way He can lose!

Frank then responds:

“When will it happen?”

And Crocell is gone.

It’s a harrowing, sensitive piece, one about empathy and trauma and temptation and complacency and giving up, with a perspective that is rarely seen — even in contemporary prestige TV.

Happy fucking goth Christmas.


I am a huge fan of the website AUTOSTRADDLE. Yes, it is a queer-centric site and I do identify as queer, but AUTOSTRADDLE is specifically a website for lesbian culture that is also trans and non-binary inclusive.

I fall under none of those labels. Okay, well, genderqueer, but I present as a dude. I feel more akin to their writing than, well, just about any other culture site out there. They have a certain sensibility — a brusqueness and forthrightness coupled with insight — that brings me joy, although I do occasionally feel like an interloper. I have numerous tabs of their posts in my browser at all times. I want to send more eyeballs there way, and perhaps maybe you’ll enjoy it and maybe even become an A+ member. (I am a proud supporter!)

I first discovered the site via Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya, who wrote for the very influential A.V. Club website before the working conditions went to shit, and she is now a writer and managing editor for AUTOSTRADDLE.

Kayla is brilliant and recently posted the sequel to her HORROR IS SO GAY collection of queer-adjacent essays about horror works, which is a far better collection than what I’ve been doing all month. Among other things, it features a deep dive on the works of Jennifer Reeder, who I have posted about and am always delighted to see others extoll her films.

HORROR IS SO GAY 2 also includes a paeon to the FINAL DESTINATION franchise, which I oddly hold near and dear to my heart. (Of course they featured the log truck. I don’t think anyone can argue against the log truck scene being one of the most spectacular horror scenes in film history.) And of course, they have a post about NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 2, because how could they not?

I’d be bereft to mention their selections of horror films based on your astrological sign. While I’m not all that into horoscopes, this is fun and I absolutely cannot deny that I’m undeniably a Cancer, to a scary extent, and despite — well, this entire fucking site — I have not seen any of the films they assigned to my sign.

While I’ve always identified Halloween as Goth Christmas — see tomorrow’s post — it is also Gay Christmas and Kayla linked to a fantastic piece about exactly how it became know as ‘Gay Christmas’. This is history that should be known and she’s doing the work. I would not have discovered it if it weren’t for her or AUTOSTRADDLE.

AUTOSTRADDLE is a great site, one that really knows how celebrate Goth and Gay Christmas! I do hope that you click through to some of their non-horror posts as well, as they’re writing amazing works and I’m happy to call myself a supporter, even if I’m a dude.


If you’re looking for more horror/goth-centric queer essays, I highly recommend GOTHIC QUEER CULTURE from Laura Westengard. I will warn you that it is surprisingly more entangled with trauma than I expected.