The show must go on
July 31, 2020

This weekend on streaming, horror fans can find themselves being scared silly by ... Zoom backgrounds?

Shudder, the horror-focused streaming service, has debuted a new 56-minute horror film called Host, which takes place entirely on Zoom and was made from quarantine during the coronavirus pandemic. Following a group of six friends whose weekly Zoom call turns dark when they decide to conduct a seance, the movie was "conceived, shot and edited in 12 weeks," and it came together after a video of 28-year-old director Rob Savage pranking his friends on Zoom went viral back in April, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

With this incredibly fast timeline in mind, critics say the end result works surprisingly well. Host currently holds a 100 percent approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 14 reviews, with The New York Times saying Savage "finds a surprising amount of ingenuity" in the premise, while Pajiba says that it's a "satisfyingly scary picture," The Guardian says it's a "genuinely effective little chiller," and the Austin Chronicle dubs it "one of the most brutally innovative horrors of the last few years."

Not only was the film produced during the pandemic, but it incorporates the coronavirus crisis into its plot, and RogerEbert.com writes that it's "nice to see that the first horror movie to specifically address our present hellish circumstances is as unpretentious and tidy as it is."

Host is just the latest horror film to take place entirely on computer screens after movies like 2014's Unfriended and 2013's The Den, though given how well this particular project seems to have worked out despite coronavirus production shutdowns, one can only assume many more like it will be on the way. As the subgenre expands, though, topping the horrors of a particularly boring Zoom meeting at work may remain too great a task. Brendan Morrow

May 1, 2020

President Trump will reportedly visit Mount Rushmore on July 3 to see the fireworks display he helped facilitate, even as uncertainty over the pandemic stretches into the summer, Bloomberg News reports.

Earlier this week, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem (R) confirmed the Independence Day celebration would go forward. "We're excited that this will be happening at Mount Rushmore," Noem said, as reported by CNN. "We've been working on this for quite some time." Trump had first floated the idea of holding "your first big fireworks display at Mount Rushmore" back in January, although firework shows have been held at the monument in the past only to be discontinued in 2009 over environmental concerns. Trump has waved off such worries by saying "what can burn? It's stone."

Noem is notably "one of a handful of governors not to issue an order shuttering non-essential businesses during the ongoing epidemic," Newsweek writes. As of this week, the state had 2,245 confirmed cases of COVID-19, and 11 deaths, ranking it 41st among the country's 50 states for highest number of cases.

Asked about the congregation of crowds for the firework show in a couple of months, Noem said, "We'll continue to evaluate what the crowd looks like and how we'll be able to facilitate that event but regardless of how many people will be there, the fireworks will go off and I can't think of a better way for us to celebrate America's birthday."

Trump has been obsessed with the South Dakota monument — which depicts former presidents Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, George Washington, and Thomas Jefferson — for quite some time. "I said, 'Mr. President, you should come to South Dakota sometime, we have Mount Rushmore,'" Noem recalled in a 2018 interview. "And he goes, 'Do you know it's my dream to have my face on Mount Rushmore?' I started laughing. He wasn't laughing, so he was totally serious." Jeva Lange

April 8, 2015

Can nothing go right with the Maya Angelou U.S. postage stamp? On Tuesday afternoon, as Oprah Winfrey was introducing the Angelou "Forever" stamp — yes, the one with a misquote — at a U.S. Postal Service ceremony in Washington, D.C., much of the capital was thrown into darkness, thanks to what power company Pepco said was a broken power cable at a substation in Maryland. Like the pro she is, Winfrey went on with her presentation, lights and amplification be damned:

The blackout, which lasted for hours, also hit the White House, State Department, Justice Department, Capitol, and several Smithsonian museums. Backup generators kicked on in most government agencies. The Department of Homeland Security said that there was no indication that the outage was engineered by malicious actors. Peter Weber

See More Speed Reads