Meet our Staff

SlashnBurn is pleased as bourbon pecan pie to reintroduce staff member, Case Duckworth.

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Case has risen through the SlashnBurn gladiator pits to become our new managing editor. Check out his bio below:

Case Duckworth primarily reads picture books to preschoolers to make his living. In his spare time, he reads fantasy and science fiction, crochets, and makes up writing challenges for himself, which he rarely completes. He’s uncomfortable with the concept of favorites in general, but holds strong opinions. He likes to say that he is mercurial, a word he came across while reading about a famous author (he thinks Mark Twain, but can’t be sure) that means he has strong opinions but holds them loosely. He’s been writing seriously, if not well, since seventh grade, and reading well, if not seriously, since first. He has two dogs and fosters more.

Parenting in Pieces

Welcome to the launch of SlashnBurn’s Lifestyle section. First up is our new parenting column, Parenting in Pieces, from author, Christine Davis. Check out her bio after the column.


50 Shirts                                                                                                                                                by Christine Davis                                                                                                                              12 November 2019

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I was eight months pregnant with my second child when the urge to nest hit me full force. I found myself sorting the shirts in my three-year-old son’s closet into four piles: too small, out of season, stained, and keepers. There were so many shirts. Way more than I thought there would be. How many? I counted. That couldn’t be right. How in the hell did my three-year-old own over fifty shirts?

That morning I had read about a 17-year-old mom in a detention center whose baby threw up on her onesie. The mom was given no change of clothes or way to do laundry. Her baby had to sit in that same onesie, in a very cold room, for days on end. That mama could do nothing.

I sat in front of 50 shirts, crying, because I couldn’t do anything either.

My son had a red shirt with navy dinosaurs, a yellow shirt with a teal shark, a cream shirt with an orange and black raccoon. A rainbow of colors. A kingdom of animals. Each morning he could say, “No, not that one. Stripes, mama.”

I kept a change of clothes in the back of my Prius,  just in case. It’s what all the moms I knew did; we planned for those little inconveniences. We hoped to outsmart fate, and for most of us a diaper blowout was the worst that might happen.

My son had three changes of clothes in his cubby at daycare, for different seasons. Extra underwear. He called underwear, “big boys.” He was big enough to dress himself, but he didn’t want to, and he didn’t have to. Of course, his mother, father, or teachers could dress him. The thought of being separated from us would never occur to him. To a child the adults around them are like sturdy trees, at once part of the background and vital as breath.

NPR and various other news agencies reported how donations of diapers, hygiene items, and clothing were turned away. My kid’s dinosaur shirt could not be that detained mother’s kid’s dinosaur shirt. I was legally not allowed to love my neighbor, to help the immigrant, to clothe the poor.

How do you explain that to a child? The mom in the cage with her kid will have to one day explain the forces that put them there, and held them there, and would not let help in. Will she even believe that there were people who wanted to help? Will her child?

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Photo provided by Reuters.

I imagined breaking into a detention center with 40 out of the 50 shirts. I imagined my swollen belly breaking the locks, shoving my way in. I imagined having the kind of power that could not be denied. I didn’t have that power any more than the mom in the cage had another onesie.

I watched it all happening on the news and did basically nothing, just like all the other moms with a change of clothes in the back of their Priuses. What could we do? We could donate to the Refugee and Immigration Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES). Some of us did that. It didn’t feel like enough.

The baby in my belly would be named Cadence Kitt, after my great-grandmother Kit, who washed my socks every time I visited her. She washed them after I played outside. She would wring them out by hand and often cry, thinking of how when she was a little girl she only had one pair of socks and one pair of underwear, which she cleaned each night.

I suspected she was both thankful of where life had taken her great-granddaughter, and heartbroken for the little girl she had to be during the Great Depression. Life can change so quickly in only a couple generations. Could my great-grandmother have even imagined not being allowed to wash the one pair of socks?

I folded the shirts to donate and sat down. I was tired. This world is tiring. Some people think we shouldn’t have children anymore. But children are not the problem.

My sincerest hope is that someday the babies kept in cages will rise up, cut from the fabric of hardship, and with undeniable power demand better of us all– hold us all to account. Or that, once out, their mothers will.


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In 6th grade Justin Davis had a dream that a girl in his class was waiting for him outside his house; she was just standing there in his cul-de-sac in Lewisville, North Carolina. The next day that girl, Christine, turned around on the bus and started talking to him. They’ve been together ever since. In addition to being a cool part of her husband’s premonitions, Christine Davis works as an English instructor in Flagstaff, AZ where she now lives with the afore mentioned hubby and their two children, Jett and Cadence. She writes for the local Flagstaff Mom’s Blog, attends MOPS, goes to church, screams a bunch about the various failings of the current presidential administration, and most days seems pretty normal in public. She is also working on her first poetry collection. Her poetry can be found in Paragon Press’ special political issue, Snapdragon Journal, Clarion literary magazine, Four Ties Lit Review, and more.

30 Horror Reviews in 30 Days, Day 17: Haunt (2019)

What’s Under the Mask? A Review of Haunt (2019)

Mateo Keegan Burbano

1 November 2019

Click here for previous 30 in 30 reviews


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Haunt

Haunt, cowritten and codirected by Scott Beck and Bryan Woods, opens on some dude dressed up in a soiled clown costume doing some home improvement to his torture house. Elsewhere, college student Harper, played by Katie Stevens, is hiding in her room from her abusive boyfriend’s constant texts and her overbearing female roommates. She lets her friends talk her into going out to party for Halloween, and breaks up with her boyo, via text, as she leaves.

The girls meet up with a couple of random dudes at a bar, and they decide to pile into a car together to check out a haunted house attraction. They GPS the address for the haunt that leads them out into the boonies. Harper is convinced the truck following them is driven by her ex dude.

They find the haunt purely by happenstance. A creepy ass clown is working the door., He has Harper pull out liability waivers instructions for the haunt from a lockbox by the entrance.  As they enter the haunt, they must leave their cellphones in the lockbox.

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Abandon all hope ye who’d cheap out on a DIY haunted house.

At first, the haunt is your run of the mill, amateur-run haunted house. They enter a glassed off room. A haunt worker on the other side, dressed as a witch, appears to torture a woman. It seems a bit extreme, almost real, but the group brushes it off as part of the show.

The group quickly realizes that the haunt is legit a place where they be murdered. The group gets divided and separated. Harper’s friend, Bailey (played by Lauryn Alisa McClain) has her arms slashed up by a rusted razor blade while playing a game of blindly identifying mystery body parts by pushing her hands and arms into holes in a wall. The group panics, as does the other group after one of them disappears in a maze of ventilation shafts, only to see her get murdered by the haunt worker in the witch costume.

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Um…nope. That’s a hard pass.

The haunt gets progressively more dangerous, as the group loses members to death traps and murderous haunt staff. Our lead extra-struggles, because she grew up in a haunted house. A house haunted by the presence of her physically abusive father. She hasn’t been back home in years. She fantasizes about returning to be embraced by her mother and to find her father is long gone. The film attempts to use this real-world based trauma to lend the film some girth, but her conflict mostly gets lost under the weight of having to juggle too many characters.

The rest of the film is given over to gruesome killings and thinning of the herd until Harper gets the attention her character deserves. Harper’s ex shows up, but the buildup to his appearance doesn’t lead to much. He’s quickly and nonchalantly dispatched by a haunt worker. Depending on your viewpoint, this is either a subversion of genre expectations, or a betrayal.

We learn that the haunt workers doing all the killings are biohackers. All but one are physically monstrous under their masks. They’ve engaged in horrific body and facial modifications, tattoos, piercings, implants and more. These are horror fetishists and murder enthusiasts, but they are still human. They make mistakes and can be fought off, making them more terrifying than the superhuman threats of Michael Myers or Jason Voorhees. The story behind this group, what their guiding principles might be, how they found each other and came together would make an interesting film in itself.


You’ll have to watch the movie to see the killers unmasked.

Haunt is like the movies Hell Fest (2018), Saw (2004), Hostel (2005), Cube (1997), Escape Room (2019), The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), and House of a 1000 Corpses (2003) had a bastard love child, smeared it in shit and blood, and squatted it out in some backwoods DIY haunted house.

The film makes imaginative and gruesome use of the Haunt’s many rooms and mazes. There are a number of twists that are executed well and never insults the audience. The film seems to mostly use practical effects to pull off its many bloody, violent deaths. The gore factor is on full blast. This film is definitely not for the squeamish. The film’s ending satisfactorily uses the final girl trope and brings some of Harper’s personal issues to a conclusion. While this group of haunt killers is defeated, it isn’t hard to imagine that there might other similar groups out there, leaving the door open to a sequel.


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3.5 out of 5 fire pokers to the brainpan

Haunt is currently available on Shudder

 

30 Horror Reviews in 30 Days, Day 16: Pyewacket (2017)

Pyewacket (2017): The Horror of Grief and Loss, as Expressed by a Girl who Shops at Hot Topic

Mateo Keegan Burbano

31 October 2019


pyePyewacket is written and directed by Adam MacDonald, and stars Nicole Muñoz and Laurie Holden of The Walking Dead fame as her mother. The Reyes family is struggling to make a go at it as a family of two, the father and husband having died sometime in the past year.

Nicole has turned to the occult and dark rituals as a way of coping with her father’s death. She hangs out with the punks, emo kids and wiccans at her high school, and spends her weekends going to book signings of occult authors. Her mother feels stuck, unable to move on in her life after her husband’s death. Without talking it over with Nicole, she moves them out to a rural cabin in the woods, far from Nicole’s school, friends, and much else. Nicole doesn’t take this change well. After a particularly charged mother daughter fight, the mother, in anger, calls Nicole and her friends losers. Nicole storms off into the woods with her occult supplies and performs a ritual to summon a vengeful familiar, the Pyewacket.

As part of the ritual, Nicole has to cut herself. She cuts deeper than she means to and is surprised by how much blood there is. She soon regrets her actions, when her mother bandages her up and tearfully apologizes for her earlier words.

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Threads are thicker than blood.

Like the film The Babadook (2014), Pyewacket explores different manifestations of grief and loss. Where The Babadook focused on the mother’s duel experiences of grieving her dead husband and suddenly being the sole person responsible for raising a child, Pyewacket focuses on how loss is experienced by a teenage girl who is also dealing with figuring out who she is as a person, where she fits in, and her sexuality. Where the creature in The Babadook represented need and insecurity, the creature summoned by Nicole represents all her feminine teen angst and confusion.

Nicole and her mother begin to grow closer to one another, yet Nicole suspects that her summoning of the Pyewacket was successful. At night, she hears movements and noises. Nicole and her mother almost have a headlong collusion with another car, and Nicole believes the creature was responsible.The film’s tension builds and adds to the girl’s paranoia with the sound of discordant strings and shadows moving throughout the house. A dark shape unfolds itself from the corner of the ceiling in the girl’s room. The girl wakes up in the woods, barefoot, with her hands covered in blood, and no memory of how she got there.

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Nothing wrong has ever happened from suddenly uprooting to live in a cabin in the woods.

Nicole becomes further alienated when her friends turn on her after she confesses to using black magic to hurt her mother. Nicole spends more time alone in the cabin after her mother starts working in a local giftshop. She returns to the books that started the whole mess and reaches out to one of the books author’s through email, the same author from the signing. He gets back to her and tells her the history of the Pyewacket. He describes the evil creature as a river that flows through the summoner and warns her the demon will turn on Nicole after it’s done with her mother. To rid herself of the Pyewacket, she has to perform the summoning ritual in reverse. She’s warned that the creature can take many forms and to not trust anything she sees.

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Mommy dearest.

What follows is a terrifying, claustrophobic sequence as Nicole battles the Pyewacket, after it assumes the form of her mother. The film ends violently and sadly. Pyewacket might be too slow for some horror fans, but its final gut punch is doubly tragic in how it could have been avoided if Nicole and her mother had been able to be open with each other about their struggles with grief and loss, a warning to more than just horror film protagonists.


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4 out of 5 Satanic rituals in the woods

Pyewacket is currently available on Hulu.

30 Horror Reviews in 30 Days, Day 15: Happy Death Day 2U (2019)

What do you Lose in a Do-over: Happy Death Day 2U (2019)

Mateo Keegan Burbano

31 October 2019


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Christopher Landon is back to direct and write the sequel to 2017’s Blumhouse hit, Happy Death Day (2017), based on characters created by Scott Lobdell. Also, back are all your favorite characters that you’re indifferent to from the first film, with a handful of new comic relief characters. Jessica Rothe is here as the lead, Tree, trapped in a Groundhog Day cycle of repeating the same day over and over, having the day reset with her death. Israel Broussard is Tree’s love interest, Carter, and Phi Vu plays Carter’s roommate, Ryan.

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Jessica Rothe trapped in a time loop of acting in the same film franchise.

The film opens with Ryan stuck in his own time loop. Turns out, Ryan is a physicist and engineer who’s built a quantum cooling reactor that’s responsible for the time loops Tree suffered through in the first Happy Death Day (guess what ever explanation offered in the first film is thrown out the window). Ryan’s own time loop begins when he’s stabbed by the returning babyface masked killer. Tree, Carter, Ryan, are aided by Ryan’s lab partners, and newcomers to the franchise, Dre (played by Sarah Yarkin) and Samar (Suraj Sharma). Their attempt to use the quantum cooling reactor to close the time loops result in Tree being reality kicked into a parallel universe, and the sequel’s attempt to justify its existence.

Before being jettisoned into an alternate reality, Tree quickly recaps the events of the first film. A quarter of the sequels’ plot is dependent on you remembering what happened in the first film, and since specific plot points from the first film weren’t exactly memorable, good luck of keeping track of Tree’s relationship to her roommate, her affair with her married teacher, and the relevance of a hospitalized serial killer. The film’s need to stick to calling back to the same day of the first film (Tree’s birthday) to justify its title’s play on the phrase “Happy Birthday” is more of a hindrance than anything else.

The film squeezes in some slapstick comedy with the college dean and campus security guards that just adds confusion about what tone the film is going for. In the alternate universe, Tree’s mother is still alive but Carter, the boy she loved in her original universe, is dating someone else. The film pushes these two plot twists hard to prove the film has conflict beyond the first film’s conflict. Tree brings Carter, Ryan, Dre and Samar together to close the time loop in this alternate universe but struggles over whether or not to return to her own universe, where she might have the boy, but her mother has been dead since she was a young child.

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We’ll solve this problem with…science!

As the team tries to figure out the right equation to plug into the quantum reactor, their plan relies on the recursive Tree dying and repeating the day to work out that equation. What follows are questionable sequences of Tree committing suicide to avoid being murdered by the masked babyface killer (who’s here to give the franchise an iconic visual, I guess). Suicide is played off for laughs but portrayed with enough detail that someone who really is suicidal could use the film as a how-to primer.

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Money and white privilege offer the most extreme suicide options.

In the end, Tree must decide if a do-over where she can relive her life without her past traumas is worth sacrificing how those traumas strengthened her into the person she is now. Casting aside the needless confusion of tying into a prior money-making film, Happy Death 2U is saved from being a completely needless money grab in how its story presents the argument that who we are, despite all the painful experiences we endured, is our true selves. To erase those traumas by some convenient McGuffin, to play what-if that awful thing didn’t happen, would erase that stronger person we’ve become.


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3 out of 5 Dead Mothers

Happy Death Day 2U is currently available on HBO GO

30 Horror Reviews in 30 Days, Day 14: Spider Baby (1968)

Want to Play Spider? A Review of Spider Baby (1968)

by Amy M. Vaughn

30 October 2019

Click here for our previous reviews.


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For a certain kind of person, Spider Baby is a feel-good movie. I know that isn’t one of its official classifications, but I think it belongs there, right alongside horror, dark comedy, independent, low budget, B, and exploitation. It absolutely transports the viewer to another time, a weirder mind, a world away from whatever shit they’ve faced that day. Plus, it’ll make you smile. That is, if you’re the kind of person who enjoys dark wit and can appreciate watching a filmmaker do a whole lot with very little.

Spider Baby was filmed over 12 days in 1964 on a budget of $65,000, which translates to roughly $500,000 today. It wasn’t Jack Hill’s first time directing. He had Blood Bath (1966) and Mondo Keyhole (1966) under his belt as well as uncredited experience on The Wasp Woman (1959). He was also one of six additional directors, aside from Roger Corman, on the clusterfuck that was The Terror (1963). But Spider Baby was the first time he both directed and wrote. And it’s the kind of film that once you’ve watched it—or even made it halfway through—you want to look up who wrote it and what else they’ve done. (His other writing credits include Coffy (1973) and Switchblade Sisters (1975).

No, this isn’t a piece about Jack Hill, but knowing who wrote Spider Baby, who directed it, and when it was made gives us an idea of what to expect. For instance, other films with similar budgets released the year Spider Baby was made include The Creeping Terror (1964) and The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed Up Zombies (1964). If you’ve watched either of them, then you know the answer to “What should we expect?” is “Not much.” But what we get from Hill with Spider Baby is so much more than its contemporaries.

One of Hill’s master strokes was to bring in an aged Lon Chaney Jr. By this time, Chaney’s alcoholism was keeping him from getting steady work, which is why Hill could afford him. Chaney abstained from drinking during the two weeks of filming, and the DTs are responsible for his shaky hands and at least some of his profuse perspiration plainly visible in the film. (It was also brutally hot on set, as they were filming in late summer with no air conditioning.)

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“Fuck you. I’m not sweating, you’re sweating.”

Chaney plays the sympathetic role of Bruno, the Merrye children’s guardian. The children—Ralph (Sid Haig), Virginia (Jill Banner), and Elizabeth (Beverly Washburn)—have a degenerative disease that strikes around the age of 10. It causes them to regress through their young years and will finally leave them in a condition of “pre-human savagery and cannibalism.” Bruno, the family chauffeur, swore to the children’s father on his deathbed (where he still resides) that he would care for them always. The children are already starting to show signs of “pre-human savagery” when a distant aunt shows up to claim the Merrye fortune with her lawyer and her brother in tow. Merrye mayhem ensues.

This movie is droll in the best sense of the word. There are a few standard jokey dialogue bits and sight gags aplenty, and the stereotyped characters, especially the greedy aunt and the self-important lawyer, are milked for laughs. There are also gross outs and jump scares and other horribly fun things that have come to define horror comedy. One of those delightful crossbreeds in this film is Sid Haig. Hired for the way he could contort his body, it was his first starring role and he resolutely succeeds in putting pathos and even joy behind the monster he portrays.

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Touch, touch, touch, touch me love. Just one touch, touch, touch, touch me love. Just one touch, touch will do. – John Lennon (1980) via Sid Haig

The real horror of Spider Baby comes from witnessing Bruno in his losing battle as he tries to protect the children from the world and the world from the children. His unconditional love is no match for their complete amorality. Besides having the same strength and physical abilities as young adults, Hill (who would go on to be one of the best known exploitation filmmakers ever) doesn’t pussyfoot around the issue of the children’s sexuality. One of the tensest scenes in the film occurs when Virginia, playing the game she calls “Spider” with her uncle, sits in his lap while he’s tied to a chair. It is expertly crafted to induce discomfort and squeamishness in the audience, and then it ends in a snap as she bounces back to her childlike ways.

From the kooky, spooky theme song played over cartoon faces in the beginning credits, to the house whose floorplan makes no sense, to scenes where two actors are obviously never on the same set at the same time, this movie has ample opportunity to fall apart. But the quality of the acting and the unique nature of the premise hold it together. The many foibles simply make it quirky and endearing.

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White meat, anyone?

During filming, Spider Baby was called Cannibal Orgy, or The Maddest Story Ever Told. Then, before it could be released, the production company filed bankruptcy and the movie went into legal limbo. Three years later, in January of 1968, it was released as a drive-in second feature called either Spider Baby or Liver Eaters, depending on what it was being shown with. It did not do well, not least because it was nearly impossible to market. How do you advertise a movie the likes of which has never been seen before? Among its taglines were “Seductive innocence of Lolita, savage hunger of a black widow!” and “Spider Baby will give you nightmares forever!” These were par for the course for the day, but they didn’t exactly capture the humor and poignancy that makes this movie special.

After a brief run it faded away and, for decades, it was considered a lost film. But in the 1990s, Jack Hill acquired the “answer print,” which is the first version of a film that is color-corrected and has the sound properly synched. Because of this find, Spider Baby or, The Maddest Story Ever Told was made available to a new generation, where it appealed to a certain kind of person and gained the cult following it has today.


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5 out of 5 Tarantulas named Winifred

Spider Baby is currently available through Tubi and Amazon Prime


Amy M. Vaughn writes weird little books. Among them are Skull Nuggets (Bizarro Pulp Press) and The Shelter (Cabal Books, forthcoming). She is also serving as editor for Dog Doors to Outer Space: A Compilation of Bizarro Writing Prompts (Filthy Loot, forthcoming). Amy lives in Tucson and online wherever writers go to avoid writing.

Poetry: Glen Armstrong

29 October 2019

We have new poetry from Glen Armstrong.

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Glen holds an MFA in English from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst and teaches writing at Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan. He edits a poetry journal called Cruel Garters and has two new chapbooks: Simpler Times and Staring Down Miracles. His work has appeared in Poetry Northwest, Conduit, and Cream City Review.


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