Monster Monday: Azeman

Today’s Monster Monday post comes from Robin Rivera, who is trained as a professional historian, but now puts those skills to use writing speculative fiction for young adults. Robin is culturally from a mix of mostly Latin American cultures, and she writes about Hispanic myths for her contribution to Part-Time Monster’s Monster Monday column. She blogs full-time at Write On, Sisters about fiction writing craft.

October always makes me dream of monsters and the monsters I love best are the classics, particularly vampires. There is just something about vampires and the fact that they live off our blood that makes them seriously scary creatures.

Vampire lore is often pretty universal, but there are exceptions to the norm. About a year ago, I wrote a post about a collection of Latin American vampires that didn’t act like traditional vampires at all. But that trio was just the beginning. Latin America has so many unusual vampires, that I decided to introduce you to another one today, the Azeman.

The Azeman are a group of female vampires found only in South American. They are best known in Suriname, a small country located on the northern tip of the continent. It’s sandwiched on the east by French Guiana, on the west by Guyana and the south by Brazil. It was once part of the Dutch colonies.

The myth of the Azeman says they are shape shifters, creatures that turn into something otherworldly but only at night. The women often take one of two preferred shapes; they will become a bat creature, or something like a wolf. Part of the Azeman myth is the woman wraps herself in a long animal skin cloak, and it’s believed that the cloak is part of their transformative process. During the daylight an Azeman will pass as a normal woman. This double life aspect of the Azeman marks her as very different from the traditional undead vampires. Although the Azeman will not shun the daylight hours, some versions of the myth say she will avoid full sun.

At night, while in her non-human form the Azeman will search for victims. The preferred method of attack is to find someone sleeping with their feet exposed. The Azeman will zero in on their juicy big toe and suck away. I image it’s not the best location for taste, but I do love a monster that knows what she likes. The Azeman bite is seldom fatal, however she can spread diseases and her bite will leave the victim weak, while she glows with new vitality.

Only woman can be an Azeman, and some versions of the myth closely resembling other vampire lore, and suggest biting is how the Azeman creates more sister monsters. However, in other version of the creation story, a mature Azeman must mate with a human man while in her nighttime form and give birth to another Azeman. The mating process is a bit fuzzy. One version says she bewitches the man, makes him forget the encounter and sends them home once she is pregnant. The other version is she becomes her bat like creature self and draws the man into the folds of her leathery wings. This method leaves the man conscious of his peril, but trapped. The Azeman keeps the man this way until she grow tired of him, gets pregnant and/or possibly eats him. As I said, it’s a bit fuzzy.

Lucky for us, there are several ways of defending yourself against the Azeman.

The Azeman, like many other vampires, loves to count. It’s rather an obsession. Survivors of Azeman encounters say they threw coins or large bags of seeds in front of the advancing vampire. When she stopped dead in her tracks to count ever single item, they were able to run away.

This is also why people are advised to place a broom with a lot of bristles across the threshold of their home at night. The Azeman will never cross a broom without counting every bristle first. This either gives the people inside the home time to get away or if they are very lucky, the Azeman will still be standing there counting in the morning. This is suggested as the best way to unmask an Azeman and prove she is not a normal human.

Another method advises snatching off her animal skin cloak and destroying it. Some believe the cloak is the only magical source of the Azeman’s power and without it she will return to her human form permanently.

Another method says you should coat the Azeman with pepper. They are known for having sensitive skin and the pepper will cause an immediate reaction similar to being allergic. The pepper will also interfere with the absorption of power from the cloak making shape shifting and feeding impossible. Unable to feed, the Azeman will starve to death. While in her human form the Azeman is susceptible to every lethal means, but starving her is supposed to be the only way to kill the creature in the nighttime form.

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#WeekendCoffeeShare: In Which I Fall Down, Then Get Back up Again

If we were having coffee, I would tell you hello and welcome you in. It’s likely that I’ve had more than a single cup this morning, as I’ve been dragging quite a bit this week and need to get started on a busy day. My car needs to be taken into the shop for a fix on a recall…Evidently, sometimes the passenger airbags of my particular model of Honda shoot out shrapnel when they’re deployed. Yeesh. Anyhow, after that, there are some things I volunteered to get going for the nonprofit, and I have a pile of annotated bibliographies in need of grading. And over in the evening, we’re taking Little Jedi and ourselves out to the annual Halloween parade, then coming back home to watch It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown and Garfield’s Halloween Adventure, complete with pizza and Halloween candy.

So…Busy day ahead.


If we were having coffee, I would tell you that this week has been incredibly challenging, and I haven’t gotten nearly enough finished, but I’m just glad to still be going at this point. My anxiety hit me hard this week, exacerbated by the PMS that started early in the week. Monday was especially challenging, and it was difficult to keep myself at work and on-task. I did manage to get myself through the workday and back home, and I even managed to write a bit about feeling that way…But then I was so drained that I didn’t really write anymore this week.

In the coming week, though, there will be more Halloween-y content here. There will be a Monster Monday from Robin of WriteOnSisters, and I’ll have some content later in the week about horror reads for adults and some read aloud ideas for the kiddos—especially appropriate since I’m set to visit Little Jedi’s classroom on Thursday to read a story during their English class.

I’m getting myself going again.🙂


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1. Posts should be framed as a chat over coffee or some other beverage.
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In Which I Make an Extended Metaphor

Today is a difficult day. An impossible day. A day that I wish I could’ve stayed in bed. The noises of the office, the buzz of people talking, typing, laughing, chewing–living their lives–feels too big and too loud. Even the sound of my own fingers hitting the keys as I type this is Just Too Much. Today is a day I’ll cry on the way home, out of exhaustion and frustration and sheer sadness.

Today is a day that I have to deal with my monster. Well…Every day is a day that I have to deal with my monster. She never goes away, really. But sometimes she is small and easily sated. When she is medicated, she is a Good Monster, a Watchful Monster. Other times, like today, she is big and bossy and horrid.

And yet.

And yet, I have to teach. I have to walk into a classroom full of college students (two rooms, actually), and command respect and diligence from my students. I have to talk to them, and I have to listen to them. I have to be attentive to what they need from me. I have to do my job. At a time when every noise I hear makes me wish I could curl further into the fetal position, I have to be upright and on-task.

And that’s what life is like for me–knowing that I must be upright when there’s a literal weight and heft to my anxiety pushing me downward. Being out of bed and out of home instead of being bundled under the covers, my pup curled next to me. Even when it’s difficult to move through the day, I must move through it. This is what I must do, not every day, but many days.

There are lots of days when just getting out of bed, going through the routine of bathing, getting dressed, and getting the breakfast-and-medication routine finished, zaps whatever energy I have. That’s today, a Monday that has brought both a rise in anxiety and some PMS symptoms. Those are beasts, both of them. Big, ugly monsters–bossy ones, at that. But I can’t stay in bed, and I can’t avoid the things that need to be done. I either have to do what needs to be done or forfeit some part(s) of my life, a thing that I am unable (and unwilling) to do. The bills still have to be paid, the child and dog still need to be taken care of, my students still have to be taught, and I still have to keep going.

I’ve been reading up on the Spoon Theory today, wondering if I can use it to help explain how my anxiety and depression work. And to a certain extent, it does work–I have a finite amount of energy each day, and I must consider which tasks have to be done and which can wait. But my illness deviates from Spoon Theory, perhaps because it is of a mental rather than physical nature–or perhaps just because we’re all different, and there is no one-size-fits-all way of explaining what it’s like to live with an illness.

Some days, I wake up and bounce out of bed, moving through the getting-ready-to-be-out-in-the-world phase pretty quickly and easily. Some days, it’s easy to face my classroom full of students–and there are times when it even gives me some spoons back, almost like re-charging. On those days, the monster sits quietly by, attentive but not active. Leashed. (Modern medicine is a Wonder, and it is Key to Keeping the Monster on a Leash.)

And then some days (like today), getting out of bed feels like slogging through mud–with an unruly, awful critter screaming at me to hurry up. That I’m not doing well enough. That I’m weak. That the world is big and ugly and always will be. That I’m insignificant. These taunts make me so afraid that I start dropping spoons. And once I start dropping spoons, it’s difficult to get them back. Everything is scary, and nothing is good enough.

Some days (like today), I start thinking about how I’ll have the energy to parent, because if there’s one thing I’m sure of, it’s that I need spoons when Little Jedi is home. I need spoons when he’s home so that I can find him something to snack on, help with homework, and give him the emotional and mental support and care that he needs from his mother. And if there’s one thing that I’m afraid of, especially on a day like today, it’s that I’m doing him a disservice by using up my spoons on the rest of the world. And so the monster grows louder, needier.

That monster–that loud, mean monster–is more difficult to quiet on some days than others. And while I am lucky enough to have a wonderful, supportive spouse and a fantastic kid and a comfortable home, none of those things can make the monster quieter.

On these days, we wait for the monster to wear herself out.

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#WeekendCoffeeShare: In Which I Am Preparing for a Party

If we were having coffee, we’d be on the move today–Sam and I are working on getting everything finalized for tonight’s Third Annual Grown-Up Halloween Party, and I have quite a bit of cleaning and straightening up that I’d like to do, plus we need to make a store-run for snacks.

We did manage to reorganize the Oubliette, which looks a little less frightening now. The only trouble is that we’ll have to re-reorganize when it’s time to take down the Halloween decorations, as the big box they’re stored in will only fit if stored on its side–fine when it’s empty, but not once we’ve filled it back up. Ah well–shouldn’t be too difficult, now that we’ve at least managed to get everything in an upright position.

The week has been a busy one in other ways, too–though I was off work for our fall break, I’ve had quite a bit of grading to do. Between Monday and Tuesday together, I re-organized the closet, cleaned kitchen and bathroom, bathed the dog, got the Halloween decorations up, and graded 35 essays. Of course, I had Sam’s help with the closet and decorations, so those took less time than they might’ve otherwise. But all of this just confirms my belief that I’d be far more productive if I regularly had a 3-day weekend. (Dare I even suggest a 4-day weekend?)

Meanwhile, Little Jedi seems to have had a great weekend on his trip to Gatlinburg. He went down a zip-line for the first time, rode a horse for the first time, and got to see a bear up close. I think he also learned to play pool. I’ll be glad to have him home, but I’m also glad that he’s had a good time.


I’ve been doing quite a bit of TV watching this week, which has been a nice change from the sort-of nonstop work these past few weeks. Sam and I are catching up on The Walking Dead so that we’ll be ready to watch the new season next week. Somehow we missed most of season 6, and although we’re caught up with the comics, we still wanted to watch the season. It’s fairly good, I have to say–though I maintain that the comics are better.

We’ve also been catching up on the second seasons of Scream and iZombie, though we haven’t watched those as much as TWD. And on the currently-running-shows front, we’re keeping up with Scream Queens, and I’m keeping up with How to Get Away with Murder.

I’ve been reading quite a bit, too. I made a stop in at our local comic shop to pick up the 4th volume of The Wicked and the Divine as well as the most recent issues of Saga, so that we could catch up on those. And I checked out the first volume of Monstress from our library–extremely impressive, and definitely something I want to own a copy of. Expect some posts about that soon enough!

And speaking of posts–that’s the one thing that I wanted to get to this week that I didn’t do enough of–writing. I’m still working up to writing more often. October has resulted in my producing new content than I have since the A to Z Challenge this April, though I’m not quite yet writing as much as I want to be.

For now, though, I think it’s time to be off to giving things a dusting and sweeping before we have company this evening, and lots of Halloween fun tonight.


Review: The Attic Box

Guys, guys! Look what I just got!


It’s this month’s Attic Box, and it’s fantastic!

Our friends at Blue Spider Press dreamed up The Attic Box, and I was only too thrilled when they offered to send their October box my way–its Halloween-y theme fit right into the month’s posts! This monthly subscription box includes gently used books (that’s what you see in the paper wrapping), coffee samples, and bookish treasures.

The Attic Box arrived quickly–I received a shipping notification in my e-mail on Oct 5, and it was here by Oct 7. And that’s good, because I was excited about what would be inside!

img_20161008_132553Turns out, there were quite a few things inside! The small, handmade Poison Ivy keychain is currently tied with the Frankenstein refrigerator magnet for Favorite Bookish Treasure. There were also several cool stickers, a small bag of candy, a lovely bookmark, and a copy of Flytrap Uprising, Blue Spider Press’s journal. We haven’t tried the San Francisco Bay coffee yet, but both Sam and I are looking forward to it.

The books were wrapped in sturdy brown paper, which kept their covers and pages from being damaged during transport. And gently used is exactly the phrase I would choose for them. The three books I received were paperbacks with very little wear and tear–both The Second Glass of Absinthe (Michelle Black) and The Monsters of Templeton (Lauren Groff) were in like-new condition, and Jonathan Mayberry’s Bad Moon Rising only showed signs of wear along the spine of the book (difficult not to with a paperback that clocks in at just over 600 pages). I don’t think that any of the books is something I would’ve thought to purchase, but all of them are things that I’m quite interested in reading, especially The Monsters of Templeton.

img_20161008_132543So would I buy this? Absolutely. Would I recommend this? Absolutely.

At just 19.99/month + shipping/handling fees, the box is not exorbitantly expensive. And unlike many of the other subscription boxes, which include all-new products that are factory made and that are mass-mailed, The Attic Box includes items that are individually selected and often handmade. I also quite like that the box includes secondhand books, giving them a new home and me some new reading material. PLUS, a little birdy tells me that if you subscribe before Dec 31 and use the code FREEBIESFORPTM, you can get a little extra something in your Attic Box.

Monster Monday: The Cuckoo


Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series gives us both heroes and villains, monsters and gods. Sometimes, they are one and the same. Sometimes, it is difficult to decide on any real classification. And sometimes the most interesting of characters are only on the page for a brief time, for a snapshot of their brief lives. Not many of the monsters can make me shudder in quite the way that the Cuckoo can, though–not even the Corinthian, and that’s saying something since the Corinthian has teeth for eyes.

The Cuckoo appears in A Game of You, the fifth story arc of the series. And while many classify this as their least favorite of the bunch, it ranks among my favorites. The story is inventive, and beautiful, and grotesque, and problematic. The characters are vivid and flawed and brave and vulnerable. And it’s all a game, a game of identity. A game of you, quite literally.

Barbie is locked out of her dreams, unable to return to the Land, the dreamworld where she reigns as Princess Barbara. And her dreamworld is in terrible danger from a mysterious monster called the Cuckoo, who has taken over in the absence of the princess. Barbie is visited in the waking world by Martin Tinbones, a giant dog from the Land who has come to find her; just as he gives her an amulet which he calls the Porpentine, he is shot and killed by police.

The Porpentine returns Barbie to her dreamworld, where she is greeted by several of its inhabitants and sent on a quest to put an end to the Cuckoo. Back in the apartment, where Barbie’s unconscious body rests, one of her neighbors is revealed to have been recruited by the Cuckoo–he releases a flock of nightmare birds that are only stopped when Thessaly (another denizen of the apartment and a powerful witch) kills him. Thessaly divines the threat of the Cuckoo (by using George’s innards) and summons the moon (using menstrual blood), after which she travels to the Land with Hazel and Foxglove, who also live in the apartment building. Their neighbor Wanda is left to watch over Barbie’s unconscious body. (All of this gets a little complicated because Wanda is a transgender woman left behind because she isn’t “technically” a woman–the implications of which are big and problematic and sad.)

While in the Land, Barbie embarks on a quest to find the Cuckoo and restore order. She finally comes to the Cuckoo’s citadel–which looks just like Barbie’s childhood home. And then child-Barbie runs up to adult-Barbie, revealing herself to be the Cuckoo. Or at least, some version of herself. The Cuckoo, it seems, was born from Barbie’s childhood imaginings and fantasies, and she has become a kind of parasitic entity. She was Barbie’s imaginary friend as a child, and when she was discarded, she became tied to Barbie’s dreamworld. Barbie’s companions on her journey and Martin Tenbones are actually versions of Barbie’s discarded childhood toys, and Barbie’s dreamworld is a kind of simulation of her childhood.

reckoningThe Cuckoo bewitches Barbie, who agrees to help the Cuckoo destroy the Land by allowing the Cuckoo to kill her. She’s not satisfied with her home in the Land…She wants to be free to fly away. Destroying the dream will allow her to fly away and plant versions of herself in the thousands of other dreamworlds that exist. When Thessaly, Hazel, and Foxglove arrive to save Barbie and confront the Cuckoo, they are temporarily tricked into thinking that the Cuckoo is Luz (one of Barbie’s toys and a companion on her adventure through the Land who turns out to be a spy for the Cuckoo), and Thessaly kills Luz. Barbie destroys the Hierogram and the Porpentine, which summons Morpheus, who un-creates the Land and its inhabitants. Barbie is granted a boon from Morpheus, and she uses it to ensure the safe return of herself, Thessaly, Foxglove, and Hazel to the waking world.

Against Thessaly’s wishes, the Cuckoo is allowed to fly away freely. So, what became of the Cuckoo? Who can say? Probably she’s in another dreamworld, on another dream island.

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#WeekendCoffeeShare: Of Oubliettes and Horror

If we were having coffee, I would apologize for my lateness! Last night was a bit longer than I intended, and not only was I slow about getting up this a.m., but then I managed to get myself pulled into several discussions about the upcoming election for POTUS, and my rage and anxiety sky-rocketed. So, whoops! Here it’s about noon, and I’m just making my way to actually having coffee and a chat.

But I’m here now!

So if we were having coffee, I would tell you that the week has been a busy one, and I’m glad that the weekend has finally arrived. This week was the last full week before fall break for both Little Jedi and me, though for him the break is a full week and for me it’s just Monday and Tuesday. He had a big project to work on–his first book report. He decided to write about Jeffrey Brown’s Goodnight, Darth Vader (requirements were just that the book be fictional and he be able to read it himself), and there was a little poster he had to fill out with information about the book and the color. They’re presenting them to class just after the break, but since Little Jedi left after school yesterday to go on a trip to Gatlinburg with my parents and won’t be back until next Sunday, we needed to go ahead and finish up the project. That also meant yesterday afternoon was full of packing for the trip, getting the kiddo from school, then driving to meet my mom and back home. The rest of my week was full of grading, as my classes handed in their second essays last week.


If we were having coffee, I would tell you that I’m ready to get the Halloween decorations up, but that I’m definitely not ready to start digging through the closet to find them. When we moved into this house in May, a lot of our things went into a rather large closet in the hallway. This flat (part of a quad unit) is significantly smaller than our old one (part of a duplex)–but it does have a closet in the hallway is fairly large a, closet that is deceptively large because it also includes access to the attic. It’s like a TARDIS of a closet, except now it’s something worse, because in order to get everything into the moving truck in one go, the movers loaded and unloaded our belongings in a random order, rather than room by room, and the things that were going into the closet just got thrown inside-nothing was walked up to the attic.

The consequence of the moving process was the Oubliette, a closet where so many things are stacked and packed in that you can’t actually walk into it. We kept saying we’d straighten it out before we actually needed something from it, but of course that didn’t quite work out. Right now, I can’t even see the box that the Halloween decorations are in. I can see a box of toys, and our Christmas trees, and the two end-tables that we didn’t have room for in the main part of the house…But not the big box of Halloween decorations. I know it’s in there, though, so, in order to get this project going, I’m going to have to clear out and re-organize the Oubliette. And I really want the Halloween decorations up, but it’s going to take some doing. So I’ll whine about it a bit, but at some point this afternoon I’ll be tackling the Oubliette. If you help, I’ll owe you one–or a dozen!

Speaking of Halloween–I’ve begun making some of my October posts here, though I skipped Wednesday and Friday because of how busy the week was. I’ve got some ideas for this week’s posts, and I’m going to be using the break to work on those ideas (in addition to getting those Halloween decorations out, of course!). Naturally, I’ll also be watching some more horror movies! Last night, we had a double-feature, watching The Conuring and The Conjuring 2, and that kept us up late into the night (hence my lateness🙂 ). We’re planning to watch some others, too–I think tonight’s double-feature might be 28 Days Later and 28 Weeks Later. Of course, we do the thing properly, with pizza delivered and lights down low.

For now, though, perhaps it’s time we make our way into that Oubliette. See you guys on Monday for another Monster Monday, and of course I’ll have some other surprises in store this week. As our friends from the company Blue Spider’s Attic (a division of Blue Spider Press, LLC) sent their October, Halloween-y box my way, I’ll also be reviewing The Attic Box this week. The Attic Box is a monthly subscription box that pairs coffee with books and bookish treasures, so it’s right up our alley. (Psssttt…Our friends have also sent a special coupon code that will entitle subscribers to an extra bookish treasure in the box when you order, so pop back over for that on Tuesday.)


Link up your coffee posts below! Just please follow our few little rules:
1. Posts should be framed as a chat over coffee or some other beverage.
2. Posts should be current (written within the week).
3. Links go on the link-up, not in the comments section.
4. Comment and share each others’ posts using #weekendcoffeeshare on Facebook and Twitter!

Thursday 13: Favorite Horror Comedies

I’ve mentioned, once or twice, that I’m a fan of horror films.

I have an especially soft spot for comedy-horror. It can go really, really bad–but when it’s good, it’s really, really good. I like the combination of laughter and fear, the way comedy-horror often pokes fun not just at the horror film genre but at our humanity and its discontents.

Here are my favorites:

13 Horror Films to Watch This October

I’ve mentioned before that I like gory TV shows and all-things-zombie. And, naturally, I have an affinity for all manner of creatures and monsters. I also don’t mind being scared, especially if I can be scared in my own home, and especially if it’s October, which Sam and I always officially designate as a month of horror films. So in the spirit of the season, here are some of my favorite horror films:

1. Insidious, 2010.

I love haunted house stories, and I’ve watched this one with more, not less, horror each time I’ve seen it. The film maintains an excellent balance of newer film techniques with tried-and-true horror film staples. Plus, this creature that a friend and I isolated in the trailer still freaks me out, almost 7 years later.


Yeah, that thing. Night. Mare.
Yeah, that thing. Night. Mare.

2. 28 Days Later, 2002.

Danny Boyle’s post-apocalyptic world of contagion is fantastic. It does what the best horror movies do in that it provides us with a scapegoat to be afraid of (the virus, and those fast zombies) and then reminds us that what we should really be afraid of is humanity.

3. The Exorcist, 1973.

I was in college when I watched this for the first time, and I was absolutely frightened by it. The feeling lingered for a while, a few hours after the film was over. The re-watches don’t scare me as much, but it’s still a chilling film—superbly scripted and acted, with that spider-walk on the stairs still being one of the creepiest things I’ve seen on film.

4. Let the Right One In, 2008.

I’ve seen both this original, Swedish version and the American remake, Let Me In. And it was honestly a little difficult to decide which version to choose for the list. Each version is an adaptation of a vampire novel, and each has its own merits. The Swedish version ultimately topped out for me because of its careful timing and fantastic use of long, slow shorts and sparse dialogue to create tension.

5. The Cabin in the Woods, 2012.

This film surprised me, it really did. But then again, with Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard at its helm and Kristen Connolly as its heroine, I suppose it shouldn’t have been surprised at the heady mix of cheekiness and gore. Not content just to subvert our expectations of the genre—it twists and rearranges them.

6. The Shining, 1980.

Jack Torrence is one of the scariest characters I’ve ever had the pleasure to watch on-screen, but at least 7/10’s of that is due to the performances put in by Jack Nicholson and Shelley Long. I’ve been watching this film since I was probably-too-young-to-watch-it, and I’m pretty sure that those twins in the hallway are the origin of my fear of kids-in-horror-movies.

Those Twins. Those. Twins.

7. Zombieland, 2009.

A zombie film with Woody Harrelson, Emma Stone, Abigail Breslin, and Jesse Eisenberg? And they run into Bill Murray, you say? Sign me up. The film manages to be, at its heart, a zombie film, and while the characters are fun in a way that they rarely are during the zombie apocalypse, there are moments of tension, fear, and pop culture critique.

8. The Conjuring, 2013.

Another fairly recent film, The Conjuring tells the story of the Warrens, American paranormal investigators, as they conduct an investigation and exorcism at the Perron family home. Using old-school scare tactics and striking cinematography, the new film manages a refreshing, cerebral take on the horror tropes of the investigator and the haunted house.

9. Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, 1962.

Fantastically creepy, the aging sisters of Baby Jane are a stark reminder of the jealousy and animosity that can sit beside us, of the things we hide from ourselves and those closest to us. Bette Davis and Joan Crawford are fantastic mirrors for one another.

10. Halloween, 1978.

Difficult to make a horror film list, especially in October, without mentioning this one. Mike Meyers has haunted our dreams for 36 years now, and he shows no signs of stopping. From the moment he stabs his sister to the film’s final act, Meyers is terrifying and mesmerizing.


11. Frailty, 2001.

Matthew McConaughey walks into a police station and claims to know who the God’s Hand Killer is, a terrifying serial killer who is revealed, through flashbacks, to be McConaughey’s father (Bill Paxton, in his directorial debut), an ultra-religious man who wakes up his two sons one night to instruct them on how to dispatch demons. The film is twisty-turny, and it’s a woefully underrated piece of suspense horror.

12. Psycho, 1960.

The king of horror films, Psycho still manages to be scary, over 50 years after its release. Norman Bates is a character of horrifying beauty.

13. Alyce Kills, 2011.

Alyce Kills has a bit of a sagging middle, but the opening act and the final act are fantastic. It’s plenty gory, though most of the gore is contained in the last 20 minutes of the film, and it’s also darkly funny and painful to watch Alyce, whose friends have missed all signs that she’s a budding psychopath, come completely unglued because of her guilt over a friend’s probably-mostly-accidental death.


Monster Monday: Maleficent

Maleficent might just be one of my favorite Disney villains–and really one of my favorite villains, period. She’s certainly monstrous, a dark fairy with a name that quite literally means “evil” or “harm” and a secondary title as “Mistress of all Evil.” But she’s also incredibly refreshing, a female character who, in the 1959 Disney film Sleeping Beauty, demands to be seen and heard, while the heroine is quite literally asleep for the majority of the action.

Of course, Maleficent wasn’t always such a favorite. When I was a child, I remember watching Sleeping Beauty and either going into another room entirely or hiding my face behind a pillow while she was in dragon form, stomping around and breathing that strange, lime green fire. I mean, look, y’all, in the 1959 animated film she was scary as shit, sending lightning and fire after the prince, turning into a huge monster, calling on all the powers of hell in her fight to keep Sleeping Beauty and Prince Phillip apart. The fantastic voice acting from Eleanor Audley (who also voiced Cinderella‘s Lady Tremaine, and who reportedly influenced much of the character design for Maleficent, including some of her mannerisms and facial expressions) added to the overall feel of the character, and certainly so did the design of the character–tall and elegant and very, very cold.

I found Maleficent’s anger and malice confusing and unsettling. She was an adult who got angry about not being invited to a party, then decided to take out her anger on the infant Aurora. Sure, the party was for Aurora’s christening. But Aurora herself didn’t make out the invitations, obviously, and yet she bears the brunt of Maleficent’s punishment for the perceived offenses.

Maleficent first blesses, then curses Aurora–she will grow in beauty and grace, but on her 16th birthday, she will prick her finger on a spindle, and she will die. One of the kinder fairies still hasn’t presented her gift, and while she is unable to lift the curse entirely, she is able to change the death sentence into that of a long, deep sleep. Of course, given the time period during which the film is set, not inviting a prominent person from the area to such a grand occasion as a christening would’ve been a major insult, but whether or not it would’ve resulted in bloodshed is debatable. I’ve long been curious, too, about what kind of past she had with King Stefan and the Queen, suspecting that Aurora’s christening can’t have been the beginning of the problem.

And then I started studying literature, found myself quite interested in folklore and fairy tales, and I looked up some of the source texts for Disney’s version of the film. The film was based on old stories, much as Cinderella and many of the other Golden Age films were. It can be difficult to trace fairly tales and folklore, and the tales themselves are, in general, easier identified by type than by precise plot and characters. And there are many, many different versions of the Sleeping Beauty story, reaching back at least as far as the early 17th century, likely much farther.

There’s generally a slighted fairy in these tales–in the Perrault version of the tale, the fairy is not invited because she hasn’t left her home in many years and is thought dead, and in the Grimms’ version, she is generally (there are a few versions, actually) not invited because the king and queen quite literally don’t have enough place settings. In Basile version from the 17th century, there is no Maleficent figure–the princess is simply very unlucky. In none of those versions, though, is the slighted fairy the true antagonist of the tale. Instead, the Basile authored version casts a jealous queen as the villainess–after the king impregnates the princess in her sleep (yes, ew) and she gives birth to twins, the queen tries to kill her. In the Perrault tale, the true villain is the princess’s mother-in-law, who tried to kill her and the children. But in the Grimms’ tales and in the Tchaikovsky ballet, the villainness is much closer to that of the Disney films.

But in the more recent, live-action film Maleficent (2014), the details are changed up a bit, mostly to allow for some rehabilitation of the character. The film begins when Maleficent is a child, a young fairy who falls in love with a young peasant boy, a human named Stefan. But Stefan eventually betrays Maleficent, cutting off her wings in order to win favor with the king and secure his place as the future king. In the years after the betrayal, Maleficent develops her distinct style, wearing all black and fashioning a staff that also functions as cane, as the loss of her wings has changed her sense of balance and equilibrium significantly. And when she does curse Aurora, it is only with a long, deep sleep–never with the threat of death. In many ways, the film doesn’t just rehabilitate Maleficent–it de-fangs her entirely. Gone is her dragon form: rather than turning into a dragon, she turns her raven into a dragon. Gone is the overt sense of malice: instead, it is clear that she is reacting to pain and trauma.

So is Maleficent a monster? Maybe it just depends on the version of her you’re looking at, the lens you’re looking through.