Tag Archives: Donovan Riley Wolfington

Fright Club: F’ed Up Families in Horror

Our son Donovan joins us this episode, so obviously the best idea is to look into horror movie families that make ours look downright wholesome. Check out the boy’s band, NEW PLAGUE RADIO!

6. The Woman (2011)

Forget Pollyanna McIntosh for one minute (if that’s even possible). One of many reasons that Lucky McKee’s powerhouse of horror is so memorable is that McIntosh’s feral cannibal (who must smell awful) is not the scariest person on screen.

There’s something not quite right about Chris Cleese (an unsettlingly cherubic Sean Bridgers), and his family’s uber-wholesomeness is clearly suspect. This becomes evident once Chris hunts down a wild woman, chains her, and invites the family to help him “civilize” her.

It doesn’t go that well for anybody, really, in a film rethinks family.

Well, patriarchy, anyway. 

5. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)

Poor, unlikeable Franklin Hardesty, his pretty sister Sally, and a few other friends head out to Grampa Hardesty’s final resting place after hearing the news of some Texas cemeteries being grave-robbed. They just want to make sure Grampy’s still resting in peace – an adventure which eventually leads to most of them making a second trip to a cemetery. 

But that’s not the family we’re after. The clan that will come to be known as the Sawyers begin humbly enough in Toby Hooper’s original nightmare: a cook, a hitchhiker, a handyman of sorts, and of course, Grandpa.

There are so many moments to recall. Maybe it’s the slamming metal door, or the hanging meat hook, or the now iconic image of the hysterical and blood-soaked Sally Hardesty hugging the back of a pick up truck bed as the vehicle speeds away from Leatherface.

Or maybe it’s dinner, when Hooper really gives us some family context. He uses extreme close up on Sally’s eyeball as she takes in the bickering family lunacy of a dinner table quite unlike any we’d seen before.

4. The Lodge (2019)

It’s Christmas, and regardless of a profound, almost insurmountable family tragedy, one irredeemably oblivious father (Richard Armitage) decides his kids (Jaeden Martell and Lia McHugh) should get to know the woman (Riley Keough) he left their mother for. A week in an isolated mountain cabin during a blizzard should do it.

Dad stays just long enough to make things really uncomfortable, then heads back to town for a few days to work. Surely everybody will be caroling and toasting marshmallows by the time he returns.

What is wrong with this guy?! And it’s not just him. Turns out his kids are pretty seriously messed up as well. But fear not (or fear a lot) because Grace has some profound family dysfunction to fall back on, and pretty soon it’s just a guess as to who’s going to out-dysfunction the other.

3. We Are What We Are (2010)

In a quiet opening sequence, a man dies in a mall. It happens that this is a family patriarch and his passing leaves the desperately poor family in shambles. While their particular quandary veers spectacularly from expectations, there is something primal and authentic about it.

It’s as if a simple relic from a hunter-gatherer population evolved separately but within the larger urban population, and now this little tribe is left without a leader. An internal power struggle begins to determine the member most suited to take over as the head of the household, and therefore, there is some conflict and competition – however reluctant – over who will handle the principal task of the patriarch: that of putting meat on the table.

Jorge Michel Grau’s We Are What We Are is among the finest family dramas or social commentaries of 2010. Blend into that drama some deep perversity, spooky ambiguities and mysteries, deftly handled acting, and a lot of freaky shit and you have hardly the goriest film ever made about cannibals, but perhaps the most relevant.

2. Raw (2016)

Justine (Garance Marillier, impressive) is off to join her older sister (Ella Rumpf) at veterinary school – the very same school where their parents met. Justine may be a bit sheltered, a bit prudish to settle in immediately, but surely with her sister’s help, she’ll be fine.

Writer/director Julia Ducournau has her cagey way with the same themes that populate any coming-of-age story – pressure to conform, peer pressure generally, societal order and sexual hysteria. Here all take on a sly, macabre humor that’s both refreshing and unsettling.

Because what we learn is not just that Justine’s sister will not be a good mentor, or that there is definitely something wrong with Justine. By the blackly hilarious final moments on the screen, we see the big family portrait.

1.Hereditary (2016)

What else?!

With just a handful of mannerisms, one melodic clucking noise, and a few seemingly throwaway lines, Aster and his magnificent cast quickly establish what will become nuanced, layered human characters, all of them scarred and battered by family.

Art and life imitate each other to macabre degrees while family members strain to behave in the manner that feels human, seems connected, or might be normal. What is said and what stays hidden, what’s festering in the attic and in the unspoken tensions within the family, it’s all part of a horrific atmosphere meticulously crafted to unnerve you.

Aster takes advantage of a remarkably committed cast to explore family dysfunction of the most insidious type. Whether his supernatural twisting and turning amount to metaphor or fact hardly matters with performances this unnerving and visual storytelling this hypnotic.

Donovan Riley happened…

by Hope Madden

I was not a pleasant pregnant person. There was no legitimate reason for my nastiness—I didn’t have a particularly problematic pregnancy. I wasn’t bed-ridden or diabetic, didn’t have kidney stones or anything. Two of my sisters and a niece-in-law all passed kidney stones while they were pregnant. Fuck! So I had no real reason to complain, but complain I did.

During the time that I was pregnant, I worked at a restaurant in the now-defunct City Center Mall called The Boulevard. There were several servers hired at one point or another during my pregnancy, and once Riley was born and I’d returned to work, one of them—Dawn—said to my friend Tori, “Wow! Motherhood’s had a big impact on Hope. She’s so nice now. She’s a completely different person now that she’s a mom.”

Tori responded: “No, she was a completely different person when she was pregnant. We just got her back.”

My dickishness was fairly legendary at the restaurant. At one point, while I was taking an order from one table, the man at the next table started pestering me.

“Excuse me. Miss! Excuse me! Excuse me!”

I asked my customers to give me just a second, turned my head toward the offending patron and barked.

I’m not saying that metaphorically I barked at a customer. I’m saying that I made a barking noise, loudly and as viciously as I could, toward this man. Who shut right up, by the way.

Why so grumpy? Well, first of all, people touch you when you’re pregnant. The minute they realize you’re pregnant, it’s as if that misanthropic asshole they’ve known all their lives has disappeared and in its place is a polite woman who invites you to put your grubby hands on her belly.

As if!

Also, when you do express your frustrations, they make excuses for you. “It’s just the hormones…”

Hey, buddy, fuck you. Acknowledge and accept my seething anger or risk being pushed down those stairs like that last idiot who underestimated my bloodlust.

Mainly, though, I felt claustrophobic in my own body, like I was trapped inside my ribcage or something. Plus, the smell of anything made me vomit—not just for the first few weeks, but for the entire pregnancy. All 9 ½ months of it.

That’s correct. He was two weeks late. Imagine how pleased I was. I would walk up and down the stairs, jump up and down, curse out neighbors—any of those tried and true methods of encouraging the baby to just come out already.

None of it worked, until March 12. We were facing a very late blizzard and the boy decided it was time.

Not, like, immediately. I was to face hours and hours of lies as George—eating from a basket of candy that, I still feel confident, was meant for me—would join in the doctor’s chorus of, “Just one more push!”


Oh, the string of expletives that would follow such deceit. So bad that I won’t repeat them here, and I’ve already said fuck at least twice. That’s how bad.

I will share one anecdote that you don’t want to hear. The head of my bed faced one side of the room and the foot of my bed faced the door.

That, friends, is just bad geography. As the door opened and closed, opened and closed while nurses and technicians came and went, I got—impatient is not the word, but it’s in the area code.

“Do you think we could keep the door closed?” I asked politely in between screams of pain. “It may be just a birth canal to you, but I’d rather not share it with passersby.”

I’d have smacked somebody if I could have, but that’s the other real drawback of pregnancy—immobility.

Anyway, sometime after 11, after George had eaten all the good candies from my basket and Married with Children reruns were on the wall-hanging TV, Donovan Riley joined us.

All giant head and tiny body and furrowed brow, he looked very worried. And he should have been because we were all about to be tossed out in a blizzard since we had no insurance or earthly way of paying for a night’s stay at a hospital.

Or maybe he was worried about the cluelessness that wafted like a fog off his parents.

Oh my God, we were parents.

And maybe we didn’t suck at it because here it is, 25 years later, and he is the very best, bravest, loveliest person we have ever known.

Happy Birthday, baby bunny!

Outtakes: “Our Son Turns 21” Movie Marathon!

Donovan Riley turns 21 today.  Well, that can’t even be correct. Wait…March 12…it is! Against all logic, it is actually our boy’s 21st birthday. Holy cow! Well, while we sob quietly, enjoy a list of our fictitious DRW Turns 21 Movie Marathon, where we offer a quick glimpse at how those 21 years were spent.


The Lion King (1994)

Not even two years old, Riley would see the trailer on TV and shout “Rawr!” at the screen, so we figured The Lion King would be a fine choice for his first big screen adventure.  Is 18 months too young for a theatrical experience? Maybe for the rest of the audience, but we were ready to challenge them. That’s the kind of parents we are. Turns out, he was all about it, and it set the stage for the game-changer to come next.



Toy Story (1995)

It’s hard to put into words how much the original Toy Story changed our world. Beyond the multiple viewings, toys, bedsheets, posters, etc., Buzz, Woody and company were ever-present in our young boy’s mind.  It was a great movie, so we really didn’t mind the infatuation. He was moved, and he wanted to preach the gospel…which he frequently did by approaching random strangers in Kroger or Target with a simple query, “Have you seen THE SHOW?”



Pokemon: The Movie (1999)

We went from a classic to an…ugh. Our parental love was tested by these films, which we were lucky to escape without suffering a seizure. But how the boy loved them! Tears in his eyes when Charizard’s head got caught in that log. Not only did we sit through these god-awful films, we braved the warring hordes on Tuesday nights at Burger King, when new movie tie-in toys were released. No offense, Pikachu, but we’d like to strangle you with our bare hands. Pika! Pika!



Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001)

Always an advanced reader, Riley devoured the Harry Potter books, and was once interviewed on TV at a midnight release party for a new installment. Indeed, his life had a weird parallel to Harry’s, what with that lightning bolt scar he got when he defeated an evil warlock….wait. That’s not right. No, it’s because Riley began kindergarten the year the first HP book was published, and graduated from high school the same year the final l(and best) film was released. It was like he followed Harry through Hogwarts. He liked to think so, anyway, and to honor his hero, he would re-read every installment just before the next was released, and then stay awake until he finished whichever new adventure had just come out. (More fine parenting.) To say the least, the debut of the first film in the series was a pretty big deal. Not a great movie, but a big deal.


Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003)

The boy was 9. We took him to an afternoon screening. He’s been buckling swash ever since.


That Thing You Do! (1996)

Listed out of sequence because he didn’t discover it until years after its release, this film is one that found regular rotation on HBO one summer, and it had a devoted audience of at least two for each screening. George and Riley can quote every line from the film, and will forever refer to character actor Bill Cobbs as “Del Paxton” no matter what beer ad or TV movie he stars in.

Ocean’s 11 (2001)

The boy loves a good con movie, and that may have started here. Danny Ocean and his smooth criminals charmed and delighted the would-be con man who, luckily, decided to pursue other career avenues. (We were pretty relieved when he gave up that short-lived dream to be a magician and a card shark as well.)


Once Upon a Time in Mexico (2003)

Riley did not stumble upon this Robert Rodrigues gem until it was available on cable, and  then he had to beg to see it because of its R rating. Our rule was that he had to watch any R-rated film alongside his mom, which will seriously squelch a young boy’s interest. But together we watched Johnny Depp chew scenery, lose eyeballs, and look awesome. Families bond in different ways. Besides, it’s too late not to notify children’s services.


Mr. & Mrs. Smith (2005)

Discovered one night in a Florida Keys hotel room, this Brangelina Spy v Spy action flick became a constant companion during that particular vacation. You know a kid likes a movie when he’ll choose it over Shark Week and the Little League World Series.

There Will Be Blood (2007)

Proof positive that the boy grew up OK, shortly after leaving home and moving to LA to become an actor himself, he changed his FB background to reflect his newest favorite film, the flawless Paul Thomas Anderson epic There Will Be Blood. Say what you will about our sketchy parenting, this suggests that he turned out A-OK.


We can’t wait to be watching him on the big screen. Riley, we love you and we are so proud of you!  Happy, happy, happy birthday!!!