Reviews: The Fan: Virgin Ghosts, Virgin Priestesses, and Virgin Vampires

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by Carole McDonnell

Hey there, all!

I swear I don’t plan my reviewing themes. I didn’t set out to read about virgins. Themes just happen, apparently. So, the reading and drama gods combined to bring me stories of female virgins and the supernatural. First up is A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night. Admittedly, virginity isn’t her major issue. But love and a good man is always in the mix as far as virgin girls are concerned.

a-girl-walks-homA Girl Walks Home Alone At Night; 101 Minutes, November 21, 2014; USA. Netflix.

I’m not sure what I expected from A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night. I suppose because I was told the story occurs in Iran I figured all the filmmakers involved would be Iranian. Yes, I’d forgotten how international the contemporary film world is. So the language is in Persian, but the story was filmed in the USA with Western names like Elijah Wood (producer) and other Westerners involved in editing and cinematography.

Picture yourself in a city called Bad City. Bad stuff goes down in bad city. Think pulp-type bad stuff. There is a mass grave at the edge of town which no one seems particularly bothered by. So, life is cheap… and few people care when someone goes missing. There are gangsters, drug dealers, prostitutes, and heroin addicts around. And aren’t many gangster films really nothing more than westerns in modern guise?

The politicians and activists in the film who speak of moral ideas such as good and evil are only connected to this badlands — with its many orphans and homeless — through television. The rich are always connected to seedy places of course. They have drug-dealer friends who supply ecstasy, coke, what-have-you, to party at their sexually-free clubs.

In this seedy vaguely Middle Eastern Western badlands, there is one person who dresses the way one would expect an observant religious Muslim girl to dress: she wears a hajib and loves music from sixties and seventies America. The women in this drama are all pretty stylized — hypocritical debauched rich girl, prostitute moll — but they aren’t stereotypical. They are used as commentary on Iranian oppression representing the hypocritical and secret sins in Iranian society.

Our female vampire is the kind of “good” vampire who doesn’t kill merely because of bloodlust. Although, she gets a glazed look in her eyes when blood is present, she resists the full-on vampiric urge until she meets bad guys who oppress women. When she meets petty criminal Arash, a pool boy for a rich family, love comes into her life. Unknown to Arash, he also was longing for something/someone precious in his life, someone with whom he could share his heart with. The perfect Muslim girl.

Trouble is, Arash is a good son who is oppressed by his dad, a heroin addict who forces his son to provide money for his drugs. I will say that I generally feel sorry for addicts in movies but Arash’s dad pretty much outstayed his welcome with me. He is such a slave to heroin that he bullies his son around. Not something to do in front of an avenging female vampire girl fall in love. 
Arash’s journey to discovering who his beloved is and his slow journey away from filial loyalties is heart-breaking. But perhaps necessary.

This movie is totally a noir and it’s saying all kinds of thing about female oppression — and oppression in general — in Iranian society. But it never ever ever comes off as preachy. I highly recommend this.

4709_OhMyGhostess_Nowplay_SmallOh My Ghostess! Korean. 16 hour-long episodes, 2014.  Streaming on the the web and Asian drama streaming sites such as Dramafever.com and hulu.com.

This drama was not on my wraithdar at all. I was more interested in the vampire drama “Scholar Who Walks the Night,” a drama that had both my bias, Lee Jun Ki, and my Imaginary Celebrity Boyfriend, Lee Soo Hyuk. But when I began to watch it, I soon grew to realize that no matter how hot or cool an actor is, I simply cannot abide lazy writing.

Luckily, Ghostess showed up. If you don’t know, a Virgin ghost is a woman who has died without having had a true love and/or marriage. Generally, they bare grudges which can only be relieved by seducing a living human male or by being married off to a dead or living male. After the love affair or sexual act is accomplished, the ghost is free to move on to Buddhist heaven or to await reincarnation in another life. The unfulfilled grudge can be dangerous both to humans and to the ghost herself because if left unfulfilled — in this drama, the grudge’s deadline is three years — the grudge can turn the ghost into an evil spirit and then a demon. This must not happen. At all cost, it must not happen. But as often happens — as it happens in this drama — there is a reason for a young girl to just up and die and the reason is usually suicide, murder, or tragic accident.

When the story begin, Shin Soon Ae our ghost has been hanging around for three years waiting to find a man of vitality so she can move on to the heaven. She is friends with a shaman who tells her the sexual relationship isn’t necessary but because our ghost is afraid of what she will find in the afterlife our ghostess is obsessive. Worse, Soon Ae has amnesia. As often happens with ghosts. She doesn’t know why or how she died.

Meanwhile, there is Na Bong Sun. Bong Sun is a timid cook who has inherited her family’s ability to see ghosts. Something she is not pleased with because ghosts terrify her. This makes her absolutely useless at speaking up for herself. This causes her to be in an one-sided love affair with her boss, Chef Kang Sun Woo. As fate — or the kdrama gods would have it — these two women share the same frequency. This means Soon Ae can possess Bong Sun, with or without permission. At first, the possession is without permission because Soon Ae is trying to escape the shaman who is trying to send her off to Buddhist heaven. But then the two girls — whose personalities differ wildly — decide to team up. Win-win, right? Soon Ae will get rid of her grudge and Bong Sun will get her man. What could possibly go wrong?

A lot! Not only will we have a confused chef, a lovelorn ghost who has fallen in love with a human who can never love her, and a timid human girl who can’t believe that she is loved for herself but we have the murderer — who is possessed by a human spirit turned demon — roaming around trying to kill the human girl because he suspects her body is the vessel of the soul of the woman he already killed once.

Oh heavens! This drama is totally fun! It is disturbing and human. There are a few slow moments when the story veers away from the love triangle. But even those slow moments have a sweet, unpredictable moments. I highly recommend it.

Chanthaly_Poster_ENGChanthaly, Directed by Mattie Do, the first female Laotian horror film maker. 2012. Laotian. Streaming on youtube on Mattie Do’s Channel.

Chanthaly, a Laotian ghost story. Bryan Thao Worra, a Laotian writer of speculative fiction, posted the info on Facebook about the first Laotian horror movie and its screenings at various film festivals. So, of course, I had to look because I love a good Asian love story. I will admit, though, that I was a bit wary. I’d seen Thai horror films and I wasn’t impressed. Yes, I’ll admit it. I shallowly lumped the film industries of two Southeast Asian countries together. Never fear; I’ve grown culturally.

In this story, Chan is a girl who inherited a weak heart, the same ailment that killed her mother. Her father has kept her locked up in the house where she has a little laundry business. She longs for her mother. Which really is never a good thing. Longing for the dead opens doors that might be better left closed. After a while, Chan’s starts seeing a spirit. What this spirit wants is debatable. It’s possible Mom died of suicide because Dad was so overprotective and stifling. If that’s the case, maybe the spirit wants Chan to live a free life. It could just be the spirit is lonely and wants to have Chan at her side. There are two guys who are enamored of Chan: Thong, a boy her age. And a doctor who prescribes meds for her. The doc sometimes seems caring. At other times he seems pervy. Dad is against both these guys. He also made matters worse by not performing the proper rites for his dead wife. Chan starts feeling the presence of her dead mother. But is it her mother? And how did her mother die really? And why is that visiting doctor so dang creepy?

This is a good movie. Moving, gentle, downright arty. It doesn’t feel like a horror film at all. Gore-whores will be disappointed but horror lovers who have a larger idea of horror will like it. I did miss jump scares. After a while something happens to Chan that wouldn’t really happen in an American horror film. The ending is unclear. I wondered if the director either willfully tried to confuse the viewer or believed she had made something clear that simply was not clear. At least to me. Still, it is smart little indie, and many people will like it. Recommended.

ABENGONI-COVER-working-2Abengoni, Charles Saunders, 368 pages, M V Media, LLC, November 2014

Okay, I’ll have to walk gingerly with this review. Why? you may ask. Isn’t Charles Saunders one of the greatest sword and sorcery (sword and soul, to us Black folks) speculative writers of all time? Well, yes he is. So if I give him a glowing review, it’s not as if I’m praising some newbie on the block. But I must put it out there. I know this writer. We spec-fic writers all know each other, and we black speculative fiction writers really really really know each other.

Abengoni is the latest of Charles Saunders’ sword and soul epic fantasy. Abengoni is an analogue of the African continent. The novel is epic in scope, featuring humans and humanoid beings of all kinds (humans, elves, dwarves), nations with interwoven histories, and spiritual events and spirit beings that range in power from gods to shaman. There are forgotten grudges (between gods, between humans, between humans and gods), lingering national anger, and long-seething desire.

Those who read Euro-fantasy will recognize elves and dwarves, but they might stumble a bit over beings like orishas who are part of the African magic, religious systems, and lore.

The story begins when Tiyana, a chosen vessel of the goddess of the waters, is performing a ritual in which the goddess temporarily inhabits her. But Tiyana feels a dread-filled presentiment. The goddess doesn’t seem to be appearing, and when the goddess does make herself known, all she says is the word, “Danger.” Immediately after, a strange ship of foreigners crashes into Abengoni. This sudden influx will bring about a clash between the vengeful Uloans, the Almovaads (believers in a foreign god), the old gods called the Jagasti, the Thabas, the Fidi, the street gangs and the people of Matile.

Imagine the history of the African continent and Europe told as a history of the battle of gods and men. The story is told in a complex non-judgmental non-preachy manner.

The first part of the book is daunting because there are so many names, tribes, peoples, and gods, and beliefs to keep track of. And there is a heck of a lot of history. At first, the main characters seem to exist secondarily to the history. But when the second part of the book arrives with zombies, war-crazed Uloans set on Redemption Time, a spiteful malicious spider god named Legaba, and the various battles begin… well, the book sets the reader’s heart racing. Highly recommended.

Carole McDonnell is the author of The Constant Tower, published by Wildside Books.

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