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Leah Schnelbach

A Haunting in Venice Is a Mystery Wrapped Inside a Gothic Horror

Let me start by throwing my cards on the table. I didn’t like Kenneth Branagh’s adaptation of Murder on the Orient Express when I watched it the first time. But then, a few months later, it happened to be on TV and I found myself watching it. And enjoying it. The same thing happened again a few months later. And when I found out he was making a second Poirot movie I was startled to feel a thrill of anticipation for it, and even had a vague plan to go see it in the theater this time. As Death on the Nile began its ad campaign, I was fascinated/horrified by each new wrench thrown at the film, from the most cursed cast in history to CGI weirdness to, finally, COVID delays. When I finally watched the movie, at home for safety reasons, I was so bowled over by the decision to give Poirot’s mustache its own gritty origin story (!!!!!) that the rest of the film had my heart no matter what it did—and then what it did was make Gal Gadot say they had “enough champagne to fill the Nile.

I’ve watched it twice since it came out and enjoyed the hell out of it each time.

This is all to say: I might be the ideal audience for A Haunting in Venice. I love spooky stories, I love haunted houses, I love horror movies set in Venice, and apparently I love these weird, inexplicable movies.

So how did Venice stack up?

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How Good Omens Queers the Bible

Good Omens is a forked tongue stuck out at conformity and obedience to religion. While the book focuses primarily on Aziraphale and Crowley’s attempt to stop the Apocalypse because they enjoy life on Earth, both seasons of the show use some of their screentime to apply some fairly sharp elbows to the Hebrew Bible’s ribs. But season two shocked me by becoming a work of ferociously queer Midrash.

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A Long Fun Talk About A Long Time Dead With Author Samara Breger

After giving us a hilarious and touching queer/fantasy/quest/romance in Walk Between Worlds, Samara Breger has turned her attention to a romantic fantasy of a more gothic nature. Specifically, a queer vampire romance.

In A Long Time Dead, Poppy Cavendish awakens one night to discover she’s become a vampire. On the plus side, she feels an immediate interest in her vampiric companion, Roisin. On the minus side, she misses London, taverns, her friends back at the bawdy house she worked in, a couple of her clients, and, most of all, FOOD. Oh, and Roisin keeps insisting that she and Poppy are just friends. Insisting a little too insistently.

What follows is a love story that spans decades, introduces us to a vast array of vampires and familiars, and asks deep questions about love and faith and loyalty and time while still being pure joy to read. I was lucky enough to speak with Breger about her new book, a few of her favorite bloodsuckers, and which Buffy characters actually deserved immortality.

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Can They Kick It? Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem

About an hour into the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie, Mutant Mayhem, the small child sitting next to me leaned over to their dad and said “this is the funnest movie I’ve ever seen”

Now, I presumably have a lot more moviegoing in my history—I mean, has this kid even seen Barry Lyndon?—so I can’t say that this is the absolute funnest. But it is a great time at the movies, especially if you have any history with TMNT, and especially if you have a kid you can take with you.

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“Write With Love” and Other Advice From Chuck Tingle

You know how sometimes you’ll read a particular author and find that their cadences and word choices are creeping into your own head-voice? Or sometimes into your writing? I ask because after spending some time in Chuck Tingle’s world, my mind is a CAPSLOCK wonderland filled with buckaroos and sentient jet-skis—and I want to share some excellent writing advice gleaned from his interviews and career.

Trot down below to find some classic Writing Ways.

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Chuck Tingle’s Camp Damascus Proves Love Through Horror


Sorry if this is unprofessional of me, to scream my thoughtfully considered book critic’s opinion in your face, but: I LOVE THIS BOOK.

If you only know Chuck Tingle from his erotica you might think that this book is a gag, but it’s not—and the erotica isn’t either, really. Camp Damascus, like all of Tingle’s books, is about the power of love to transform life into a magical journey, if only we embrace it—and if only the oppressive forces of society will get out of our way. In his latest book, Tingle creates a work of small-town queer horror that balances the joy of found family and young romance with the terrors both supernatural and banal. There’s also a lot of humor to be found in Camp Damascus, but the horror is very real and very horrific—it’s just that most of it happens at the hands of the God-fearing people of Neverton, Montana, not any supernatural element.

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What Stephen King’s It Taught Me About the Shape of Stories

I remember reading IT over a weekend.

Can this possibly be true?

Have I tangled IT up with some of my other fevered reading experiences?

I remember sitting on my middle school bus with my knees pressed into the seatback in front of me, balancing IT on my denim skirt. That’s where I was when I read about Pennywise (“There was a clown in the stormdrain.”) and where I read about a group of kids attacking a couple for being gay and open about it, and I can feel my knees digging into the drab green faux leather, and I can see the lightwash denim on either side of the book, and I can feel hairs prickling up off of my knees cause I hadn’t started shaving yet, despite the skirts (and yes, that did cause me problems) and I remember trying to harden myself as I read—trying to accept the vicious death of a 6-year-old, and the horrific murder of a gay man, because this was a Real Adult Book and this was training for life in the adult world.

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“Horror Is Not a Celebration of Death, It Is a Celebration of Life”: Chuck Tingle Talks Camp Damascus

Chuck Tingle is a delight. His latest book, Camp Damascus, is ALSO a delight. A few years ago, I wrote a short essay about the excellent writing advice you could glean from his work and interviews, and I’m overjoyed to say that I recently had the opportunity to ask him some questions about his craft, Camp Damascus, and his future projects.

And while we are, sadly, at the end of the Tingle Takeover, I hope your brains, like mine, are now a CAPSLOCK wonderland filled with buckaroos and sentient jet-skis, and the enduring knowledge that LOVE IS REAL.

Because it is.

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Canon Event, Schmanon Schmevent: Can Spider-Man Reject the Tragic Nature of Superheroes?

I was having a conversation with my beloved colleague Renata Sweeney after watching Across the Spider-Verse, and we agreed that this film, more than most, matches how we think. I realized about halfway through the movie that watching it felt… good? This is hard to describe. It felt like my brain was being massaged. Like I could relax and allow all the stimuli to wash over me.

Apparently this is a hallmark of some types of ADHD, that a barrage of information and imagery feel more natural than slower-paced media. I’ve never been diagnosed with anything, but I thought it was interesting that at a certain point a few minutes into the film I felt a physical click, like a coin going in a slot, and was able to…where, ummm—it felt like the way I think was finally on the outside of my brain. For a few hours.

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The Boogeyman Provides Genuine Horror, But Doesn’t Fully Embrace Its Darkness

The Boogeyman isn’t the most successful Stephen King adaptation out there, but it’s creepy, well-acted, and fun in a sick kind of way. It has one of the most disturbing openings I’ve seen, which I’ll get into below the cut. The film was initially going to go straight to Hulu, but test audiences responded so well (and apparently, Stephen King himself responded so well) that the producers pushed for a theatrical release.

I think this was good call, as the atmosphere and sound design worked really really well in the theater, especially with a few groups of teens shrieking and giggling enthusiastically as the horror unfolded. Nothing makes a horror movie sing like an audience that’s willing to commit.

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How Do I Talk About Mrs. Davis?

I’ve been trying to think about how to talk about Mrs. Davis.

Do I go super personal, here in the privacy of the internet? Do I talk about the religion puns? Do I put Father Ziegler’s arc in conversation with Hudson Hawk? Do I talk about the Sisters of the Coin, and put that arc in conversation with the oeuvre of Dan Brown?

I don’t think I want to do any of that. What is that but showing off—”Oh I’ve seen this other thing, here’s how it reminded me of this new thing.” Instead I’ll say that it’s thrilling to watch something that’s isn’t afraid of big ideas and gleeful irreverence.

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Let’s Talk About How the Guardians Attack and Dethrone God… Sort Of

Here’s a sentence I never thought I’d write: what’s up with all these Marvel movies beefing with God? While Thanos and Kang are not literal gods, they each impose their god-like will across the universe/multiverse. Thor: Love and Thunder had like 12 or 13 plotlines, including Gorr the God Butcher traveling from world to world and John Wicking every deity he could find with the Necrosword.

And now we get Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, where James Gunn ups the ante on his religious imagery. I wasn’t that surprised to see some of it, because Gunn has played with this imagery before. He explicitly referred to Groot as a Christ figure, talked about Rocket’s spiritual journey in interviews—and if we go back to his earlier films, 2010’s Super is far more a fable about religious crisis than it is about superhero lore. (I mean, there’s even a Bibleman parody!) What did surprise me was going back through the whole Guardians trilogy and realizing that it’s always been “about” religion, or more specifically about working through religious trauma.

Join me below for trauma! So much trauma! And spoilers! 

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Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 3 is Messy and Overstuffed, and It’ll Probably Make You Cry

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 is a bumpy ride. When it works, it really really works. When it doesn’t, it can feel interminable. There were a couple points where I teared up, and at least two when I almost said,“Who is this movie for?” out loud, in the theater. There were moments that were the best an MCU movie’s had in ages, and scenes where characters say “friend” more than Dom Toretto says “family”, and I expected sap to start bubbling right out of the screen.

In other words, it’s very much a messy, overlong, ultimately pretty effective conclusion to the GOTG Trilogy.

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Evil Dead Rise Is a Delightful Update to the Series

There’s been so much talk of legacy sequels over the last few years—personally, I tend to balk at them on general principle. The only ones I felt really fully justified their existences were Matrix: Resurrections (which I love more with each passing day) and Bill & Ted: Face the Music (which made me cry at a Bill & Ted movie ffs). Does Evil Dead Rise fit the brief for a legacy sequel? It’s a new take on the franchise, introduces new characters, but it also does deploy some well-timed catchphrases and a certain Book of the Dead in ways that are designed to appeal to fans of the older films. Like I said, these things tend to make me nervous. I love what I love, for my own reasons, and I don’t need corporations feeding me some pre-chewed, regurgitated, ghost oatmeal version of things that used to bring me real visceral joy. Nostalgia, in my view, is death.

But the trailers for Evil Dead Rise looked creepy and fun, and I decided to take a chance on it. And holy shit was it great!

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