CINE-WEEN: A Rambling Invitation to the Dark

IN WHICH OUR FAITHFUL AND RIDICULOUS EDITOR INVITES YOU TO OUR OCTOBER EVENT IN TOO MANY WORDS AND WITH LITTLE SENSE OR COHESION

Lots of pumpkins lit brightly

Why, hello there my furry and fuzzy denizens of the dark, and welcome to what I hope is the beginning of a spectacular event here at Cinepunx. This October we are planning to overwhelm you, our faithful fans and reading public, with a deluge of autumnal unease unlike any you have experience before. Yes, we are having an October event, a thing we began to some extent last year when we posted an episode of Cinepunx EVERY WEEK, each with a horror based theme. Well, the little engine that could which is Cinepunx has since grown, and changed, and become an almost entirely new animal. In fact, in the year since that month of horror, Cinepunx has become an almost entirely different organism. We have multiple shows, a new site design, and, more importantly, a CADRE of writers, each of which add something unique and interesting to the dialogue that is Cinepunx. We want to invite you into this conversation, but, in order to do that, I have to start somewhere unexpected, in this case I have to start with my love for The Stuff.

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You can find me writing about The Stuffin a past edition of a little feature I used to do called A Journal of Fear, here. A Journal of Fear began with a little theory, a theory that I think The Stuff really illustrates in a unique way. For those unfamiliar, The Stuff is a film which plays as a satirical send up of consumer culture. A glorious mess of a film, The Stuff contains some of the most ridiculous and most visceral moments I have ever seen in a film. The movie is about a strange substance which is sold as a food product, but may in fact be taking over the world. It is sharp in its critique even as it is fun and silly, and, while The The Stuff has its flaws, few films from my childhood have stuck with me in such an effective way. That is, The Stuff is a prime example of something I think is unique in genre cinema. In it’s very awkward way, The Stuff connects with this topic not only in spite of, maybe because of its flaws. The Stuff is weird and and off balanced and has some insane performances but Larry Cohen’s sci-fi-meets-horror comedy adventure had a visceral effect on me. It didn’t teach me anything I didn’t already know. Consumerism and chemical dependency of the 80s was a problem, and from a young age I could articulate something along those lines, even if I didn’t yet understand the full scope of what I was describing. I didn’t need The Stuff to know that, but the film helped me see it in focus and describe it more acutely. It is, at its heart, still an entertaining film; it is not a message movie, but it uniquely impacted the way I thought about what it was dealing with.

I think, for me, horror is like that. In a way all genre film is like this, but horror has some unique aspects to it. It is, of course, flawed, often representing a lack of funding or imagination. Many horror films were crass money grabs, and, even when they weren’t, they can highlight some of the biggest failings of their creators. I mean this both in failure of hubris and failures of insecurity, that is in horror folks have thought too much and too little of the films they were making. Yet the discursive space opened by the phenomena of the horror film is to me unique, because when meaning does unexpectedly erupt, it is that much more powerful. That is, within the cheap scare or the artful gross out, there is it seems to me an opportunity to see something that gets at the core of who we are. The Stuff is in no way a message film, an art film, or even a film which is fully realized or funded, and, yet, it impacted me and many others. It didn’t necessarily form my ideas on consumerism, but it helped texturize the way I think about it, it added flesh (or rather goo) to the skeleton of my thought. It left a mark as I consumed it, and I could not get enough. I am being a bit over the top, but basically because these films are flawed, and we all know they are flawed, I find the impacts they have upon us so much more intriguing. It is the unlikeliness of the feel that makes it more compelling for me.

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As I referenced before, for a few years I wrote a column titled A Journal of Fear for our good friends over at Cinapse.co. There was no Cinepunx then, and while I had studied films academically and been a film fan for sometime, I had not written about movies as a film fan yet. This column was my first effort at writing something that reflected me. Something that reflected not just my aesthetic ideas around film, but actually how I saw life in many ways. So the column sought to answer the question, why do we love these movies and how do they continue to shape myself and others? Why is this small art, this spooky story, this penny dreadful, still so important to me and to so many others? It was an admittedly lofty goal which I never achieved, but I did manage to do some thinking about how many important concepts and ideas I could engage through these films. Often some of the least grand or intellectual of these films would still allow me a unique space to consider something essential to how I think about my life and the world. It also gave me an opportunity to nerd out on some great movies, and see some I had never had the opportunity to see and to rail against some stinker I did not understand the affection for. It was a fun enterprise.

It also felt entirely false. Yes, I do go out of my way, every October, to watch a horror film every day. However, horror is a part of my life all year long. I love the celebration of Halloween as an opportunity to focus on these unique filmic works, but I have never limited horror to just this part of my life. The Journal began to only make sense to me conceptually if I could write about horror all year long, and the October celebration could just be a special event for a regular column. Whether here on the Punx or over at Cinapse, I wanted the regular exploration of this genre to be simply be a regular element of what I imagined as a robust and fruitful writing life, which basically never happened for me. Not only that, Halloween is more than just horror films. Halloween, for me and for many, is also food and costumes and fun, a general explosion of autumnal appreciation, and, yet, I found myself overwhelmed with the effort to not only watch but to write, and to attempt to write something interesting. Writing does not come for me the way I want it to, and while I have the gift of gab in person, on the page I struggle to communicate. Shit, this piece is as difficult as an exercise routine for me, and I am just welcoming you to the party so to speak. In other words, one of my favorite times of the year became a burden to me, due simply to my own short-comings, and it had to stop. Of course, I also found a way to scratch my regular horror itch with the Horror Business show  I now co-host with my man Justin Lore.

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Yet, I couldn’t let October just slide on by. Yes, horror should not be relegated to just one month, that is ridiculous. Yes, there are a million awesome people already doing the 30 days of horror gimmick, and doing it better than I can, dudes like Jaime Burchardt for example, and so why cloud up the space? So, CINE-WEEN is a way to both let go of the 30 days of Horror model, thus letting myself off the hook to some extent, while still celebrating Halloween for the ENTIRE month of October. Halloween, for me, represents the last hurrah before the end, the winter, the meteorological death knell. It is a reminder that we all die, that the world is dark, that there is real reason to be afraid. Yet in exploring that world it is also a way to assert life, to really engage with how versatile and undeniable life is and can be. Life persists, through the dying of the seasons, through the dark of winter, until the flowers poke out again. Halloween in somehow ritualizing that, draping it in fun and food and scares, it allows for life to have that something more. I think.

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Honestly, the reason I am still watching these movies, still writing about life and death and a certain dark which does not obscure but illuminates is ‘cause I don’t understand. I don’t understand why horror. why Halloween, or why all this feels right. So instead of bombarding you with a month’s worth of my hand wringing over how much I love and how little I understand, we have invited as many folks as we could find to speak into that dark. Their voices are unique, some serious and some silly, and all focused on Halloween broadly. Many will be more personal than I, as I am always tempted to hide myself behind a pretension of scholarship. Apologies for that. I am proud though, not of the fact that I found a way to flood my website with Halloween without having to come up with 1k words on Dead-End Drive In — which I will still be doing — but I am proud because so many fun, interesting, and lovely people were interested and even passionate about sharing with you all around this holiday, and I can give them a place to do that. I am proud they wanted to be a part of this event, that I could host the event, and that even one of you will show up to read it.

I am glad you will be here for us in this month when anything goes, because we all remember Halloween.

Liam O'Donnell
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Liam O'Donnell

Liam O'Donnell is co-creator and co-host of the Cinepunx podcast and Editor in Chief of the Cinepunx website. Liam has written about film, music, politics and faith for a variety of publications in real life and online. Despite his advanced age he can be seen moshing in the greater Philadelphia area, usually to a cover song. He can be seen sitting in the audience at the newest comic book film, the retro drive-in screening of a Fulci film, or catching a series of Jodorowsky films. Liam has worked in social services, events planning, arts curation, education, community organizing, faith communities, and scooping ice cream. He has worked with festivals like This Is Hardcore Fest and The Awesome Fest. Despite all these things, Cinepunx is definitely the coolest thing he has ever done.
Liam O'Donnell
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