Friday, November 28, 2008
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
Monday, November 24, 2008
A good long while ago, I announced I would be entering the world of podcasting, which was going to make me so rich and famous that strippers would be snorting blow off my ass. I know you’ve be dying to hear me talk (just play along, I have self-esteem issues), so here’s an update.
My partner and I recorded the first episode of One Good Scare (get the reference?) about six weeks ago. We discussed the movies Call of Cthulhu (yay!), In The Mouth of Madness (yay!) and Alone In The Dark (my eyes!) for a Lovecraft-themed episode. It seemed to go okay, and was a lot of fun. But on playback, a few problems emerged:
- We used a twin mike system, and my mike was apparently overly sensitive, picking up a lot of background noise. Winston filtered it out, but the los of signal left me sounding like I was down in a well yelling up at Lassie. Winston is the tech guy, he’s figuring it out.
- Apparently, I have a verbal tic of saying “uh” after every other word. This was as annoying as hell. Since I did 70% of the talking, this would drive someone to suicide. I will work on that.
- Back in my teaching days, I did a lot of lecturing. Many students claimed I talked too fast, and I try to be conscious of that. So when preparing for the podcast, I kept telling my self “talk slowly…talk slowly”. The result was in the first segment, I sound like I’ve just taken the world’s largest dose of Quaaludes. It did get better in the later segments, but the damage was done.
- Winston tells me my wit is the dry kind that doesn’t come across well on radio. (I asked him if it worked better in person. He said, “All that’s important is it doesn’t work on radio.”) I probably can’t fix that.
With these problems, we decided after much discussion, to shelve the first episode. After all, as many as ten people might here it, if we left it up forever, and we have reputations to protect. Winston does, anyway.
But I promise you, One Good Scare is not truly dead, and one day you will get to hear me talking about Tara Reid playing a scientist. Good things come to those who wait. One Good Scare will, too.
Copied over from the other site, here is a list of movies that I feel are somewhat overlooked, yet deserving of a look. This reflects only my own opinion, of course. The movies are in no particular order.
Stir Of Echoes (1999) – This came out a month after The Sixth Sense, and suffered at the box office due to its similar theme, but I think it is better. Kevin Bacon is especially good.
From Beyond (1986) – The true follow-up to Re-Animator, this features most of the same cast and crew. Recently available on DVD.
Frailty (2001) – Really creepy movie that turns out not to be what you expected.
The Uninvited (1944) – Nice ghost story set in
Anatomie (2000) – German movie with Franke Potente about fiendish goings-on in a medical school. One inferior sequel.
Cemetery Man (Dellamorte Dellamore, 1994) – A very odd Italian zombie movie with Rupert Everett. The zombies are more of a plot device to examine the human condition.
Ginger Snaps (2000) - A Canadian film using lycanthropy as a metaphor for female puberty (It’s much better than that description sounds). A sequel and a prequel.
The Thing (1982) – Probably not really overlooked any more, included here because it was such an enormous box-office bomb on its release. My favorite horror film, I saw it when it came out at the theater as a double-bill with Annie, possibly the strangest double bill in history.
Ravenous (1999) – Guy Pearce deals with cannibalism in the Old West.
The Ninth Configuration (1980) - Directed by William Peter Blatty from his novel Twinkle Twinkle Killer Kane, this is one of the all-time great American movies, even though few have seen it. A surrealistic drama set in a Vietnam-era military insane asylum. Considered by the author to be the sequel to The Exorcist.
Deep Rising (1998) – A lot of people hate this because they hate Stephen Sommers, but how can a movie about sea monsters be bad?
I have finally given in and started a Twitter account to express my individuality like everyone else. If you would like to know what I’m doing, you may follow me through the sidebar. Here’s a hint: Ten messages a day saying “I’m sitting in a meeting, bored”. How can you resist? Or, at least, that’s what you’ll get whenever I figure out how to use this damn thing. Now, if you will excuse me, I need to visit the 200 sites where I posted “anyone who uses Twitter is a douche” and erase it.
Friday, November 21, 2008
Of all the standard set-ups of the horror film, the zombie holocaust is probably the most used in recent years. Scarcely a week goes by without a new zombie-centric release. This is because the faithful horror fan such as yours truly snaps them up as soon as they are released. Despite the overall negative tone of our entertainment of choice, the horror fan is relentlessly optimistic that the next zombie movie will be a good one, even if the last 43 sucked. Having just seen The Zombie Diaries, I can tell you that you will have to wait at least another week to break the streak.
The concept is interesting enough, I suppose. A number of “found” videos document the infection-caused zombie outbreak in Great Britain. Instead of following one single camera POV throughout the film, as with Cloverfield, The Blair Witch Project and the like, the story here is seen from several different cameras, following different characters, until all the threads converge in the end. In the hands of capable filmmakers, this might work, but the crew here just can’t pull it off.
The first concern in any of these movies filmed with a “handheld camcorder” is the quality of the footage, which has been a big source of complaint in other movies of this type. If Cloverfield’s camera work made you seasick, this one should make you puke blood. The camera relentlessly bobs, and there are frequent scenes where the character holding the camera runs away, giving a jolting views of the ground during the run. The night scenes are so chaotically shot, it is difficult to tell just what the hell is going on.
There also seems to be a rule that in each of the separate groups we follow, one person is a completely useless dick, including one where an Englishman taunts the groups American (who has the only gun) about America’s lax gun laws. Please. No matter where you stand on the gun control issue, when the dead rise to eat the living, you’ll want to be armed.
There is also a bewildering change of focus in the third act, when the movie suddenly stops being about zombies and becomes a standard psycho-killer story, which I suppose is intended to be a plot twist, but comes off as confusing.
Most of the characters are poorly fleshed out (ha ha – zombie movie poorly fleshed. Well, I thought it was funny) and hard to distinguish from one another, although I give one credit for continuing to film even while he is being eaten.
One criticism of the film which seems unfair is that it is a rip-off of George Romero’s most recent release, Diary of the Dead. Actually, The Zombie Diaries began production first. It isn’t as good as Diary of the Dead (which had its moments) but it doesn’t rip it off (although all zombie movies rip off Romero in some way).
If you’re the sort of person who takes quotes on the internet and the boxcover about movies at face value, this might leave you disgruntled. It has quotes around such as “The best zombie movie ever made!” and “Better than Diary of the Dead!” Allegedly, the filmmakers conducted a stealth campaign to fill the web with glowing reviews under false identities. That seems the only rational explanation for positive comments about this mess.
I’ve been a fan of Brian Keene since reading The Rising, and continuing through The Conqueror Worms, Cities of the Dead, and Dead Sea. He has a splatterpunk sensibility, although I think he is a smoother writer than most of them, and a wonderful refusal to look away from the unpleasantness of the situations he creates. I finally got around to Ghoul (an earlier effort to read it was ended when my dog ate my copy, took a while to get back to it) and it is my favorite of his books so far.
Ghoul is something of a coming-of-age novel, in the manner of Simmons’ Summer of Night, King’s It, or McCammon’s Boy’s Life. Three twelve-year-old friends have their summer off from school interrupted by the discovery the nearby cemetery is being plagued with a recently freed ghoul, who is eating the dead and kidnapping woman to breed others of his race. The three kids ultimately have to be the ones to stop him, while dealing with some serious childhood issues of their own.
In Keene’s universe, there is true tension since you have no idea if any of the sympathetic characters will make it, or that Good will defeat Evil (Most of horror fiction is a type of morality play, where you know Good will triumph in the end). And the horror works on two levels. There is the supernatural threat of the title creature, and the human horror of how the damage we receive as children scar our lives. The epilogue, which does not concern the supernatural, is heartbreaking (This is not a criticism, but truly happy endings seem to be anathema to Keene. One of these days, he will write one just to shock his long time fans.).
It was also nice to see a horror novel written around a seldom used beastie, an actual corpse-eating ghoul. I can’t think off-hand of too many other novels to use this.
I would heartily recommend this to those who are already Keene fans, and those who haven’t tried him yet. My dog enjoyed her copy also.
I’ve been a fan of horror and crime fiction since I was a kid. This has made me fairly jaded as far as depictions of violence go. A lifetime of reading about the extremes of human behavior will do that to you.
So I was surprised when, a third of the way through J. F. Gonzalez’ excellent novel Survivor, I contemplated chucking it aside. This had nothing to do with the quality of the book, but it was so harrowing, I was leery of what I knew was to come. Reality based horror, as opposed to the supernatural kind, is usually a bit more intimidating, since you are dealing with something at least theoretically possible. With trepidation, I stuck it out, and I’m glad I did.
Brad and Lisa are two young married lawyers, off for a weekend getaway, when they are stopped by a police officer. It seems another motorist, Caleb Smith, has filed a complaint for a citizen’s arrest against Brad, and he gets to spend the weekend in jail. But the Smith’s real motive is to separate Brad and Lisa in order to kidnap her. It seems that Smith has been commissioned by clients to provide a victim for a snuff film. Lisa is to be raped, tortured, and murdered, for the pleasure of a network of hardcore perverts. But that isn’t even the worst part. That’s what Lisa is willing to do to survive…
My only previous experience with Gonzalez’ work was in reading the enjoyable, B-movie-esque Clickers and Clickers II. Here his work takes a much darker turn. Like at the scene of a highway accident, I found I could not look away. If you can handle it, this is a must-read.
I have a couple of quibbles with the book. It could have used a good proof-reader (this has become the standard in American publishing, I’m afraid), and I felt it could have done with some editing, especially during the last segment of the book, which seemed to meander a bit. But this is not enough to keep this from being a very significant book in the field of non-supernatural horror.
Thursday, November 13, 2008
Norman Partridge has been touted as one of the rising stars of the horror field, and now that I’ve read Dark Harvest, I have to disagree. He is not rising; he has already risen. Dark Harvest is a wonderful, mature work of horror fiction that places Partridge among the elite of the profession.
This is a lean, spare story, clocking in at just over 160 pages, and readers should be warned: It won’t take that long to read, but you can’t stop once you start. It is set in a small town in 1963, where every year, a pumpkin-headed October Boy rises in a field just outside of town. A resident is there to carve a face in his head, he is stuffed full of candy, and given a butcher knife. He then takes off, with the goal of reaching the church in the center of town. Standing in his way is every boy in town between sixteen and eighteen, armed with clubs and knives, and determined to kill him before he reaches his goal. Each of the boys has been starved for five days to make them “hungry” for the kill. The boy who kills the October Boy gets to leave town (the only way out) and his family receives rewards.
There are many secrets about this ritual, and they are revealed one by one. This is one of the great works of dark fantasy, and the perfect book for Halloween. There are a few anachronisms in the 1963 setting, but that is a very minor quibble. The novel is available as an inexpensive Tor trade paperback.
You should also check out Norman Patridge’s website. Essays there reveal he is one of the few people to share my love of the Universal horror movies of the 30s and 40s.
Sunday, November 9, 2008
I have a long, if not particularly notable, association with Bram Stoker's novel Dracula. It was the first "adult" book I ever read, completed when I was seven. It had been given to me by the teenage girl next door (I like to imagine she thought "it would be perfect for the little creep") and took awhile to finish, partly because I may have been a little precocious but wasn't yet a speed-reader, and partly because my mother kept finding it and ineffectually hiding it, convinced it would give me nightmares (it did). I was entranced by it then, and have loved the novel ever since. I have watched Bela Lugosi, Christopher Lee, Frank Langella, Jack Palance and others portray the saturnine Count with enjoyment, while lamenting that no one ever attempted to make an adaptation that was true to the book.
So I was pretty stoked back in 1992 when Francis Ford Coppola announced he would be making a huge budget, star-laden adaptation. Since he was calling it Bram Stoker's Dracula, surely he would stick closer to the novel. Else why bother? Obviously, I underestimated Hollywood's willingness to "improve" books. Although I remember being very disappointed, I recently picked up the latest DVD edition and decided to give it another try.
First off, the good stuff: The movie looks great. Coppola has always had a good eye, and also done well in hiring cinematographers, and the movie looks great, although Vlad's armor in the beginning makes him look a little like the Crimson Dynamo. Coppola also makes good use of mostly practical special effects, and uses a very stylized approach to the movie which is very pleasing to the eye.
But it still doesn't work. Although Coppola still calls this a faithful adaptation, his Dracula has been transformed from the monster of the original into a tragic romantic figure. So what if he tortured thousands of people to death, and has spent centuries not only killing humans but destroying their souls? The dude's wife died. This has an ick factor to me. I'm sure Ted Bundy had some sort of heartbreak in his life, the world would still have been better off if he'd been stillborn. Since the years since the movie have seen an explosion of cultural entertainment with vampires as romantic characters, maybe I'm out of touch. The middle of the film, where Dracula romances Mina, also slows the pace of the film to a crawl.
The movie also inserts historical information showing Dracula as the real ruler Vlad Tepes, an inspiration to Stoker for the Dracula character, which Coppola claims to make his version even more "real" than Stoker's. Which would be true if Dracula was a non-fiction account of Vlad the Impaler, but since the title character is a fictional creation of Stoker, that doesn't really hold up. Actually, tying Dracula closer to Vlad makes him less sympathetic rather than more, since Vlad was one of history's true SOBs.
One of the most criticized aspects of the movie at the time of its release was casting Keanu Reeves as Jonathon Harker, but I think this is more of an example of Keanu-hate than anything else. True, he struggles with his fake accent (everyone in the film seems to, even those who are using their native ones), but I truly think he acquits himself well, or at least as well as most of the rest of the wooden cast. To me, the one awful acting performance comes from the usually wonderful Anthony Hopkins, who portrays Abraham van Helsing as sort of a deranged vaudeville performance. He is so over-the-top that he warps every scene he is in, with the most egregious example coming when he dry-humps Quincy Morris like a dog humping your leg, while giving him instructions to guard Lucy. Just too bizarre.
For all his claims of originality, Coppola steals from other films a little too liberally (although they are often his own earlier films). He juxtapositions the sacred and profane when cutting back and forth from the wedding of Jonathon and Mina to the murder of Lucy by Dracula, but it is basically the same as the baptism/settling of scores scene in The Godfather. And when vampiric Lucy vomits blood over her antagonists, it looks like it was taken directly from The Exorcist.
In the end, it would have been more appropriate for the movie to be named Francis Ford Coppola's Dracula, and we are still waiting for a version that will be true to the book, a masterpiece of Victorian fiction.
Tuesday, November 4, 2008
The big announcement is a new (free) story is up at Kent Gowran’s Chop Shop Horror Show. It is “Best Friend’s Girlfriend” by J.F. Gonzalez, and like the Bryan Smith story which preceded it, is of the highest quality. The Chop Shop Horror Show has become a can’t miss destination for horror fans, and you’ll hate yourself if you miss this story. So go there. Now.