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How to throw an America-proof Halloween Party

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‘You’ll have to step up your game over here. Americans have pretty much seen it all at Halloween.’

This was the response I received when I put forward the idea of throwing a Halloween party to some friends over dinner.

If you have ever read Brummed Out before, you’ll know that I’m rather giddy for Halloween, and consistently disappointed at the lack of Halloween spirit in the UK. Not so in Michigan folks.  Just on my street this week, we’ve had industrial amounts of spider webbing, entire front lawn cemeteries, headless mannequins and a 10ft Wicker Man. All of which were cruelly denied their moment of gory glory by the last minute gales, rain and even a snow flurry that kept Trick or Treaters indoors on Halloween night.

Planning a Halloween party that won’t bore Americans is another beast entirely though.  BUT, we might just have done it on Saturday.  Americans love animatronics. We had no such budget. I was just one girl armed with a roll of garbage bags and a sick imagination. Here is how we threw Little Haunted House on the Prairie…

  1. The Dollar Store/ 99p Shop is your best friend.

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Ravens, skeletons on string, spider webs, spooky holographic pictures, candles, dolls. All can be purchased here and used as the basis for kick-ass Halloween displays. I wired my raven to a twig and perched it in an old lantern, Edgar Allan Poe-style, the holographs were put in normal photo frames to form a spooky picture gallery. The dolls were painted spooky white and their eyes were painted black. Cheap, cheerful, weird wonderful.

  1. Hack your LACK                                                               photo 2                                                                                   Ouija boards are freaky, fact. I used a printable one, some white acrylic paint, and THIS program to trace and paint one onto our cheap IKEA LACK coffee table. It washed off really easily the day afterwards and made people feel all dangerous/ nostalgic (in a 13 year old’s slumber party kinda way) while they were sitting around it.
  1. Copy and Paste

Food labels, apothecary labels, vintage Halloween graphics, invitations. Ideas are all over the internet. Be inspired and print out you faves to use.

4. Get your glow on

photo 8                                                                                               We had a scary unfinished basement and not enough space for the amount of people we invited. Scary basement seemed like a good overflow space but how to get the guests to venture down there?… Aha! Beer + Blacklight. We stashed the kegs downstairs and purchased a big ole 48” blacklight from Spencer’s. We hung blacklight bats from the joists, positioned scary dolls and horror books on the shelves, and used blacklight paint to write quotes from scary movies on the walls (on paper of course – your landlord will not appreciate having to re-rent a permanent murder basement), stuff like THIS and THIS. We also put some dry ice in styofoam coolers (like ‘em? They were pretty fun to make) to seep out eerily in the glow. It didn’t work that well – maybe we’ll add a fog machine next year.

  1. A tree is not just for Christmas

photo 7Black Christmas trees are brilliant. So sophisticated at Christmas, so scary at Halloween. This is decorated purely with rings, tinsel and creatures from Birmingham’s 99p Store (Yup, even the witch at the top – she cackles too!)

  1. Include Obscure Movie References
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I made these ‘devil’s nests’ from True Detective, with twigs, thread and some florist’s moss. The husband made me lock them away because they creeped him out. Mission accomplished.

                                                                                               Chances are, you’ll have one or two movie buffs at the party. They will appreciate a few well placed references, even if the majority of your guests do not. Apart from the quotes in the basement, we displayed my Evil Dead Necronomecon, and I made a sign for the basement, based on the haunted forest from The Wizard of Oz. I included a Black Candle in the bathroom ‘only to be lit by virgins at midnight’ – who didn’t love watching Scary Jessica Parker in Hocus Pocus?

  1. ALWAYS do the bathrooms

photo 6                                                                                                As certain as the toilet getting clogged is the fact that your guests will root around in your bathroom cupboards. Give them what they want (no, not the Valium), make some apothecary bottles – a cheap one is sweetcorn and black tea in a jar labelled ‘Old People’s Teeth’. Fill them with different coloured water and there are lots of printable labels on t’internet. A scary holographic picture and lots of cobwebs help. Do clean the shitter though –that’s just good manners.

  1. Include one good scare

photo 3                                                                                                As I just wrote, people get nosy at house parties; they want to know how clean you are. You can exploit this by putting a fake body in the bathtub! If you draw the shower curtain straight across, they will suspect you are hiding something – and you are. The beauty of this is that some people will come out ready to tell everyone about it, and some will make a great effort not to – but the faces always give it away. Either way, you save hundreds on animatronics and you find out who’s a nosy parker!

  1. Make gross-looking food, offer it around –and be prepared to eat it yourself!
Split Cockroaches: dates stuffed with honey and walnuts - for that gooey but crunchy feel.

Split Cockroaches: dates stuffed with honey and walnuts – for that gooey but crunchy feel.

This year, I plumped for making Used Q-Tips, a Dirty Ashtray, Split Cockroaches and Jello Worms. The worms looked so real that people wouldn’t eat them so Mr D and myself downed a fair few just for the disgusting factor. It’s always good to circulate with these dishes as it makes people feel looked after – or victimised: tomato-tomato.

10. Don’t scrimp on the alcohol

Jello-shots turn up in the weirdest places.

Jello-shots turn up in the weirdest places.

Halloween is the perfect time to wash a latex glove, fill it with water, freeze it, then empty it into some brightly coloured spiked punch, try to make some non-alcoholic punch for the kids too – they appreciate doing what the grown-ups do. If you’ve ever wanted to try pumpkin ale, now is the time. Jelly-shots, and Bombay Bad Bears (gummies soaked in gin) are also good adult Treats. Just be prepared for the consequences. I’ve only just finished clearing up and it’s three days later…

Oh, and the garbage bags…?

Well, apart from clearing up the debris (those jelly-shots got everywhere),  they make pretty awesome decorations – and fake corpses. Thank you Martha Stewart (yikes, can’t believe that just happened).

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Heads Up! Shock & Gore 2014 Schedule Released

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Oh how I love the Shock & Gore horror festival at the Electric Cinema. And oh how gutted I am that I’m stuck on t’other side of the pond for this year’s fourth celebration of the weird and wonderful side of cinema.

To fully understand how much I love Shock & Gore, click HERE and HERE.

Yup it’s that good.

So what would I be going to see this year? Well I have never quite gotten over Twin Peaks, even though David Lynch abandoned the show in it’s second season leading to a sharp decline in quality and the damn network insisted that Laura Palmer’s killer was revealed early on when it was never meant to be a solved case at all and then it got cancelled on a reaaaallly infuriating cliffhanger…OK Breathe, it was 25 years ago dammit.

Horror meets Americana: Twin Peaks

Horror meets Americana: Twin Peaks

 

Anyway the fact remains that for a while, Twin Peaks captured our imaginations rather like Game of Thrones does these days. It remains one of the greatest TV series of all time. And in view of this, S&G are having a David Lynch night on Friday July 25th. There will be a showing of the strange and compelling Mulholland Drive, followed by some sort of Twin Peaks-related viewing. I have no idea what form this will take; could be a Log Lady riddle, could be Red Room dream sequence. The only thing for certain is that coffee and damn fine cherry pie will be available at the bar.

Cronos: Guillermo del Toro breathes new life into M.R. James' old 'enchanted object' plot.

Cronos: Guillermo del Toro breathes new life into M.R. James’ old ‘enchanted object’ plot.

 

For those of you who couldn’t care less about Twin Peaks (do I really owe you anything?) here are some other S&G offerings…

  • Classic spine-tingler in the form of The Innocents (Friday 25th – Thursday 31st)
  • Movie buff -worthy screening of Alien: The Director’s Cut (Saturday 26th)
  • Obligatory vampire quota is served by Cronos (Friday 25th) and the Lost Boys (Part of the All-nighter on Saturday 26th).
  • Morbid curiosity satiated by the intriguing sounding Death Cafe at the Victoria on Sunday 27th
  • Utter terrifying and all too real misery in Threads (Wednesday 30th) with a live score to bring the nuclear apocalypse even closer to home.
  • Queer Eye for the Dead Guy: Michael Blyth from the BFI delivers a lecture on gay presence in horror films from the 1930s to the present day. I expect this will be a lot like The Celluloid Closet stuff that Vito Russo wrote about and could be good fun.

So whatever keeps you awake at night, make sure you indulge it next month at Shock & Gore. And tell us how it went!

What happens in your mind when you watch Threads.

What happens in your mind when you watch Threads.

Our Little House on the Prairie

The actual Little House

The actual Little House

Did you ever used to watch this on Sunday mornings? It was Channel 4’s gooey sentimental filling, sandwiched between The Waltons and Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. My brother who is going through a protracted quarter-life crisis, has recently become obsessed with it, filled as it is with the comforts of a poor but caring two-parent family, regular chastening of one’s morals  and plenty of gingham.

So it should delight him to know that the husband and I are due to move into our first American home together tomorrow, a house on a road called Prairie. And just like Laura Ingalls, I get to sleep in the loft!

OK, I don’t know what a prairie actually is but I’m already having visions of running down a hill filled with wild-flowers, my hair in pigtails and wearing gingham (but of course).

Me on Sunday mornings

Me on Sunday mornings

American houses are innately scarier than British homes. OK, so British homes tend to be older, but when you’re on your own in a typical US house there are all these noises… I’ve been walking around trying to find their sources just to put my overactive imagination tot rest.

Evil furnace - they don't normally look this evil.

Evil furnace – they don’t normally look this evil.

I can now sympathise with little Kevin McCallister’s fear of his basement furnace in Home Alone. It just starts whirring in a uniquely macabre tone at the most random moments. And forced air systems are louder than good old central heating. Our wood floors seem to creak and settle way more than wood floors back in Blighty. I actually got the husband to prowl around the house with a baseball bat last night because a combination of the sump pump and creaky floor boards translated into ‘serial killer’ for me.

Or even something worse; remember those strange sounds at the beginning of The Excorcist – suspected rats in the attic that turned out to be Satan? Although Hantavirus poses as great a threat…

The (and rats) laugh in the face of your puny light source.

The devil  (and rats) laugh in the face of your puny light source.

And after watching both versions of Don’t be Afraid of the Dark last year, I have also developed a fear of air vents – there could be a whole race of malevolent little people in there who want you to join them in being needlessly malevolent.

And all roots lead to the basement – those little quirks of mid 20th century American house design, such as the milk box (a small alcove in the wall next to the back door for milk deliveries), laundry shoots and giant ill-repaired air vents, foster echoes and dirges from the laundry room and dreaded sump pump below.

They came from the air vents: the little beasties from Don't Be Afraid of the Dark

They came from the air vents: the little beasties from Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark

Well I’ve suitably terrified myself in time for bed this evening, so it’s only fair to spread the misery.

Although Little House was an idyllic window into the American pioneer world of the 19th century, the TV show allegedly carries a dark legacy.

A few years ago I read this claim on Find A Death that the set of Little House on the Prairie was built near an experimental weapons plant. The claim alleged that the saintly Michael Landon (Pa Ingalls himself) got the land cheap because he knew of this. Obviously I disregarded this unsubstantiated claim. But a lot of the cast got sick after filming finished, even Landon himself died tragically young of cancer. And I’ve now seen this theory crop up on quite a few sites. It makes me sad to think that even that cosy loft on the prairie harboured death in the nooks and crannies.

Nighty night children. Sleep tight.

Brum Legends #2: The Birmingham Vampire

 

Kurt Barlow

70s vampire: Salem’s Lot’s principle vampire Kurt Barlow

Over the past month, Northampton has been spooked by a grown man dressing as a clown. He seems to be harnessing the image of the scary child-killing monster Pennywise from the Stephen King novel It.

This character keeps a Facebook page and claims not to want to frighten the town’s residents, despite creeping around their streets in the dead of night, knocking on their doors, and staring at folks until they run away. Some think his creepy antics are amusing, others accuse him of exploiting Coulrophobia (yup, there’s a scientific term for the fear of clowns).  People have been worried that he may be disturbed and gathering attention in advance of doing something …worse (a la every serial killer on Luther). He even has his own vigilante. Fun or foe?  Here is a film of him so you can make up your own minds.

The Northampton Clown makes his rounds.

The Northampton Clown makes his rounds.

Anyway, around this time each year, I dig out another Stephen King novel, Salem’s Lot to reread while the nights are steadily drawing in. I’d thoroughly recommend it – very atmospheric and scary (the first time I finished it, I had to ring a few people up to make me less frightened – at 4.30 in the morning. You’re welcome). Now it is an autumnal ritual, the same as pumpkin carving, sloe collecting and the Halloween Tree.

Anyway, here’s the vampire bit…

So yeah, you’re probably wondering where I’m going with this. Salem’s Lot is about vampires – and not the simpering Twilight model-ish, veggie ones. We’re talking back to basics, bad-ass, soulless demonic entities (click here if you dare *). We have so many variations on what a vampire is these days that the air of fear at the prospect of a human acting like an animal and biting us, has pretty much become extinct.

But back in January 2005, it returned for a while in the Birmingham neighbourhoods of Ward End, Saltley, Small Heath and Alum Rock. Reports of a man who attacked a family on Glen Park Road in Alum Rock by biting them on December 19th 2004, apparently led to a police report being filed. In the following weeks many more ‘incidents’ were alleged to have taken place.

The suspect was supposedly a Somalian man in his mid-20s, and each time the incident at Glen Park Road was reported, new embellishments were added; that he’d started his feeding frenzy by a biting a fully grown man before working his way through the family and then biting a chunk out of a female observer, that he was just after the Bangladeshi community, that he was just after women and children.

Suddenly it was in all the local newspapers, then the nationals, the Beeb and Sky News, and even Richard and bloody Judy. Worried parents at local schools plagued the head teachers with phone calls, in case the vampire had rabies and went after the ‘little ’uns’.  Imams and priests were being asked to speak out against the fear engulfing their communities.

vampire-mouth

Here’s the thing; the police had never had any reports of people being bitten, not one. Neither did any local hospital see any bite victims coming through their doors. Nor were there any reports of nut-cases with biting fetishes on the loose.

Since there were no victims on record, the authorities had no idea what the vamp looked like. But when did that ever stop people making crap up? Lots of forums had fun with this one.  The Birmingham Evening Mail in typical ‘crazy human interest story’ style, dispatched one of their number to the scene of the alleged crimes armed with garlic and a crucifix, to scrounge for more witnesses.

But try as they might, there was nothing to latch onto. Because it was a hoax. At least the people of Northampton have concrete footage of their creepy psycho, not for them the desperation of the urban myth. But as urban myths go, this was quite a good one, just plausible enough to keep people looking behind them on those dark winter nights. And just imaginative enough to fill the yawning gap we have for a little carefully contrived fear in our lives.

vampire-trick-or-treat-thumb

 *I actually find the 1970s TV version (directed by Tobe Hooper of Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Poltergeist fame) quite creepy but you may just find it quaint. Anyway, just try the book, it is properly scary.

 

 

Review: Black Sabbath @ The Electric Cinema

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Now before you start bombarding me with pedantic troll comments, I’m talking about Black Sabbath the 1963 Italian horror anthology film, not Black Sabbath the Birmingham band. Got it? Really got it? Good.

So I went to the last showing of Black Sabbath as part of the Electric Cinema’s Shock and Gore festival yesterday. I took along my film-buff brother, and a friend of my husband’s who I think was left wondering about the cinematic tastes of my family. And so he should haha.

Not for me the torture-porn films so beloved of modern day horror fans. I was looking for a schlocky, Technicolor hoke-fest full of organ music and clashing discordant brass instruments in the score. Black Sabbath did not disappoint.

Setting the scene:

The Electric does a great job decorating for Shock and Gore. On the mirror leading to the upstairs theatre were written quotes from Saw, Hellraiser, The Shining and many more. Fun Fact: In the late 1990s when my brother was ten, we went trick or treating and he dressed as a pint-sized Pinhead from Hellraiser, using my mum’s hair pins and a white swimming cap).

Yo ho ho and a bottle of blood.

Yo ho ho and a bottle of blood.

Upstairs were neat little Rorschach butterflies (for the Silence of the Lambs showing tonight), anatomic sketches of eyeballs (for the Evil Dead double bill), broken wax dolls, bottles of blood and a veeeeerrry creepy sort-of human (but with a tail and flippers) voodoo baby in an antique pram. I was cooing over the unfortunate infant when one of the staff came over.

‘It moves, you know,’ he said. And flipping the baby on its back, he flicked a switch which immediately sent the tot into gurgling convulsions. Awesome.

The guy smirked, hoping he had sufficiently scared me.

‘Aw. I want one…if Kate can have one, so can I!’ I cried out petulantly. The staff member backed away with a disturbed expression. Never underestimate the power of a woman demanding a voodoo baby (or any baby) to freak a bloke out!

  He gave me the card for Tom Ellis who was responsible of this awful little creation. I recognised him from the Curious Oddities shop front in the Great Western Arcade.

Voodoo Child: Tom Ellis' mechanical demon baby.

Voodoo Child: Tom Ellis’ mechanical demon baby.

The unluckiest cupcake in the world:

Regular readers of Brummed Out will know I have a slight obsession with cupcakes, so I couldn’t resist this gory little  number:

The ill-fated cupcake in its former glory

The ill-fated cupcake in its former glory

I took it upstairs with my G&T and after sucking up the licorice ‘entrails’ I put it down on the step next to me (the cinema was pretty much empty). Then two horrific things happened:

1)      I accidentally stepped on it. Just a little. I decided to eat the other half due to the one second rule.

2)      A lady with a seeing-eye dog came in. The dog took one look at that blameless little cake and swallowed it whole!

 ‘He’s had the whole bloody thing!’ I cried as if alerting the cinema to a murder. I had to laugh. I think this is fate’s way of getting me to stick to my diet.

 The film itself:  

Someone's gettin' a cursed: broken wax dollies upstairs at The Electric.

Someone’s gettin’ a cursed: broken wax dollies upstairs at The Electric.

I recovered enough to settle into the film, which starred Boris Karloff and Mark Damon (sorry if you just clicked on the link – I couldn’t resist – no, I don’t know who Mark Damon is either). I knew going in that we were being shown the version of Black Sabbath that Ozzy Osbourne, Tony Iommi and Geezer Butler would have seen as hormone-laden teenagers. This would be the US version, complete with bad dubbing, heavily edited stories (there are three stories in the anthology) and less shots of Boris linking the stories.

It really showed.

Black Sabbath poster with the original Italian title The Three Faces of Fear

Black Sabbath poster with the original Italian title The Three Faces of Fear

Having come home and read up on the original version shown in Italy, you could see a ton of plot holes and mistakes in the editing. For instance the running order of the stories is wrong. The scariest story was shown first and the least scary shown last (this was the opposite in the Italian original). Having said that, the beginning story alone is scary enough to recommend this film. If you’ve ever been freaked out by being in the proximity of a corpse (well why wouldn’t you) be prepared to revisit a nasty place.

The dog added accompanying smellorama by farting out my cupcake, just to rub it in.

The middle story ‘The Telephone’ seemed to be about a girl being stalked by a dead lover who she’d turned in to the police. She rings up his ex to come over and protect her (instead of leaving the flat, obviously) and then he kills the other girl and she stabs him. It was crap but my companions enjoyed watching a beautiful woman running around in a see-through nightie.

Rosy the call-girl getting freaked out by one of her many stalkers.

Rosy the call-girl getting freaked out by one of her many stalkers.

Now I read the original synopsis on good old Wikipedia and it says this story was heavily edited for America. The original left out the supernatural element resulting in a more standard Italian Giallo thriller. The girl was meant to be a high-class hooker who had turned in her pimp and was being harassed by her former lesbian lover pretending to be the pimp on the telephone (huh?) who was then killed by the escaped pimp who, in turn was stabbed by the hot hooker. Make sense? Nope, I didn’t think so.

Anyway, I doubt this mattered to Ozzy and co who were probably too stoned to care and were just grateful to have come out of the experience with a good band name.

Buffalo Bill wants his suit back!

Buffalo Bill wants his suit back!

Downstairs in the lobby, the voodoo baby had been moved to pride of place by the front door and was gurgling away, happy as Larry. Awwwww. There was also a fabulous cake version of the lady-skin dress that Buffalo Bill was making in The Silence of the Lambs, courtesy of Annabel de Vetten at Conjurer’s Kitchen. I want her to make my next birthday cake! And off we went to discuss how gorgeous those Italian birds were over drinks at The Victoria. I’ll be back next year – hopefully I get to the all-nighter one of these days.

But until then…

Please, pretty please Shock & Gore, could you show the Italian version of Black Sabbath at next year’s festival? For artistic integrity?

Heads Up!: Shock & Gore Horror Fest 2013

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Shock & Gore has been delighting horror fans in the Midlands for quite a few years now, and while we may not be able to get to every event in the festival (I for one am gutted that I’ve never been free on the evening of their legendary all-nighter), there are plenty of tales of terror coming Brum’s way from July 19th to the 25th.

Whether you prefer your horror creepy (The Spiral Staircase), visceral (Dead Ringers), kooky (Gremlins), funny (The Evil Dead), foreign (Santa Sangre) or classic (The Exorcist), the festival never disappoints and often incorporates live Q&A sessions with directors and writers and performances by comedians, magicians and musicians.

Normally centred on the Electric Cinema (but of course), this year the event has also branched out to include venues such as The Custard Factory Theatre, St Columba Church in Moseley and Stageside Restaurant.

I’ve had some great times here over the years (watching Carrie springs to mind because my husband and brother seemed to burst out laughing whenever John Travolta was on screen for some reason) and the organisers go to so much effort to set a good-naturedly creepy atmosphere. Oh, and food is usually very important here too – lots of inventiveness (see below for some of this year’s culinary concoctions).

I’ve been looking through the schedule and there is so much choice but for me, the standout events include (but certainly are not limited to):

Bram Stoker’s Dracula (with wine tasting), Tuesday 23rd July, 8pm, Electric Cinema, £26 (sofa) or £20 (standard).

I just love me some tongue.

I just love me some tongue.

OK, so this isn’t an event to go to if you are a) a recovering alcoholic, b) a militant teetotaler or c) somebody who hates it when films get paused because there will be five different (blood red) wines doled out during pauses in the movie.

But if you love a tipple and you find Keanu Reeves’ attempts at an English accent really amusing (seriously, he has an English mum, he should have this down) and find Gary Oldman weirdly sexy then this showing of Francis Ford Coppola’s 1992 effort is for you. Enjoy.

The American Scream, Sat 21st July, 2pm, Custard Factory Theatre, Digbeth, £6, £4.50 concessions.

They're coming to get you Barbara

They’re coming to get you Barbara

 ‘A heart-warming documentary at a horror festival? What are they thinking?’ I hear you cry.

But this look at a Massachusetts community’s efforts to have the best haunted house at Halloween really appeals to me as a long-time Halloween fiend. I really love the way that Americans just get the kooky, spooky aspect of autumn, how important it is to childhood and just how fun it is to be scared.

I really want to spend Halloween there one day (and that might be happening sooner rather than later…) although I did once go to Hell in Michigan which celebrates it all the year round (read if you like small town Americana and accidental road trips).

Film Food Club – The Silence of the Lambs, Thursday 25th July, 19.45 (Meal at Stageside Resaurant) and 9pm (film at The Electric Cinema)

He just licked one too many icy flag poles, honest.

He just licked one too many icy flag poles, honest.

Don’t tell me you’ve never wanted to try this, of course you have. Well now is your chance to eat some liver (can’t ensure this will belong to a friend or neighbour though) with some fava beans and a niiiiice chianti sfa-sfa-sfa-sfa. Then you can throw it all up whilst watching Anthony Hopkins shrink Jodie Foster’s head while some guy collects women’s skin so he can make a lady suit.

If you take someone on a first date to this one and they don’t run off screaming, they’re a keeper!

Would You Rather, Saturday 20th July, 8.30pm, The Electric Cinema, £7.40 and £5 (concessions)

You want me to strap Tena to my head? OK

You want me to strap Tena to my head? OK

There’s usually a hot new horror flick premiering at the festival and this year’s choice plays on that gross-out childhood game that usually involved licking someone’s eyeball. I’m not promising that’s going to happen here (I wish) but with a sadist hosting a dinner party for people all desperate for money, some horrid, exploitative stuff is bound to go down.

This is probably going to be a hard one to stomach (think Hostel or the Saw series) but for all you sick puppies out there, I hope it’s what you were looking for. Personally, I might sit this one out and see Black Sabbath instead.

Scary on Brum!

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