Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Munsters Redux

According to Entertainment Weekly’s Ausiello Files, NBC is planning a new version of the campy 1960s TV series The Munsters. I’ve been wrong before, but I don’t see how this will turn out well.

Oh, and did you know they’ve done a porn version of The Munsters? Neither did I, until I started googling images to find one to use with this item. Ay caramba! That took me by surprise.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Too Much Horror Fiction

It pays to follow the links of those who comment on your posts to their own blogs: you find some good stuff. Which is how I discovered Too Much Horror Fiction (Can there really be too much? Although perhaps the current marketplace is saying yes.), now added to the sidebar. Check it out, I think it's a cool site.

Underworld 4

Here’s some news from Dread Central that’s sure to elicit mixed reactions: filming will begin in March on the fourth installment of the vampires-vs.-werewolves Underworld series, with Kate Beckinsale returning as the vampire “death-dealer” Selene. This has been a love it or hate it series of films, so I’m sure there will be as many groans as cheers. I’ve enjoyed the first three, so I’m looking forward to it, although I hope they don’t bother with the already tired 3-D fad.

Monday, September 27, 2010

At The Mountains of Madness

More news from First it looks like Guillermo del Toro long delayed dream project, At the Mountains of Madness, adapted from the story by Lovecraft, is getting close to getting off the ground. Secondly, it looks like Hellboy will be joining Miskatonic University’s ill-fated expedition, as Ron Perlman will be cast if available. As a fan of both Lovecraft and Ron Perlman, this is more good news.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Joe Lansdale's The Drive-In

According to an article at, special effects wizard Greg Nicotero will be directing an adaptation of Joe Lansdale’s gonzo horror classic The Drive-In. The source material is as over-the-top as Lansdale has ever written, so the movie will be something to see, and is certainly something I’ll be looking forward to. It seems it will be hard to do it justice, though, considered how outrageous the original story is. Then again, the original subtitle for the book was A B-Movie with Blood and Popcorn.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

A Baker's Dozen of Over-Looked Horror Novels

There has been a lot of hub-bub surrounding recent events in the horror publishing field, with Dorchester in a reorganization that may lead to them publishing only e-books, or possibly going under completely, and various small press that have disappeared, been absorbed by others, or have faced various problems. A lot of fans of horror fiction have taken to rending their garments and wailing about not being able to find anything to read in the future. This is an over-reaction, there will be spooky stories published by someone, but even if true, there is an alternative.

It’s probably a function of getting older, but it seems to me a lot of horror readers’ view of the genre extends only as far as the release of Brian Keene’s The Rising, which set off the most recent horror mini-resurgence. I’m sure there are exceptions, but a lot of people don’t seem to realize there are many good-to-great novels published in the recent past that could satisfy the appetite. Also: I like making lists.

So here is a list of 13 horror novels I think are of high-quality that might not be too familiar to newer readers. I tried to list books that are currently out of print (I’m sure I made a mistake or two) but can easily be found. If I have to spell it out for you, you can find them on ebay, through Amazon’s resellers’ program (my on-line choice) or at your local used book store (if you have one). The criteria are just what occurred to me at the moment. There are many, many books that simply didn’t pop into my mind when I wrote this, and all choices are based on my personal preference. Some are more obscure than others, and I’m sure someone will swiftly post “I’ve read all of those. You suck.” I also tried to omit largely foreign (to the U.S.) authors who I think are still in print elsewhere, such as Joe Donnelly.

They are presented in no particular order, merely numbered to keep them apart.

1. Less Than Human, by Gary Raisor. In the pre-Twilight era, vampires were still badasses, and here is a vampire story as something of a modern western.

2. The House Next Door, by Anne Rivers Siddons. Siddons is known more as a literary novel or something of a chick-lit writer, but early in her career, she wrote this very good novel in the haunted house tradition.

3. Curfew, by Phil Rickman. Rickman has gone on to more fame as a writer of light mysteries with a supernatural shading, but his early novels (Candlenight and December are the others) are great horror stories set in Wales, and featuring legends not as familiar or over used to American audiences.

4. Our Lady of Darkness, by Fritz Leiber. Leiber doesn’t get the credit he deserves today, and anyone who wants to talk knowledgably about horror owes it to themselves to give it a read. There is a recent compilation called Dark Ladies, which pairs this novel with an earlier book called Conjure Wife, also worth your time.

5. Fear, by Ronald Kelly. Any of Kelly’s output in the late 80s to early 90s would fit this list, but this is generally regarded as his best. Hopefully, Kelly’s books will be reprinted some time next year by an as-yet undisclosed publisher.

6. The Manse, by Lisa Cantrell. Another Southern horror writer, she moved on to other things when the horror boom imploded, but before she went, she wrote several good horror novels, mostly Halloween-themed.

7. Vampires, by John Steakley. This novel by the less-than-prolific Steakley is the basis for the film of the same name.

8. The Ceremonies, by T.E.D. Klein. Klein is another writer who isn’t very prolific, but if you want to know what Lovecraft would have written if he’d been around in the 1980s, try this one. His collection of four novellas, Dark Gods, is also recommended.

9. Summer of Night, by Dan Simmons. I guess this is the most well-known author on the list, but nowadays Simmons writes sci-fi, and very, very long historical novels, while back in the day he was considered a horror author for a time. This is the closest to a Stephen King novel ever written by someone who wasn’t Stephen King. Also check out his book Carrion Comfort.

10. The Hour of the Oxrun Dead, by Charles L. Grant. The late Mr. Grant, who was also one of the great editors, was the foremost proponent of “quiet horror.” Just because it lacks exploding eyeballs doesn’t mean a book can’t be unsettling, and this is a good example from his many fine novels.

11. Green Eyes, by Lucius Shepard. Long before the zombie craze, this book offered an unusual take on reanimated corpses. Shepard is a great writer, and that is evident in this book.

12. Midsummer, by Matthew Costello. It’s something of an unsanctioned take on the movie The Thing, where the shapeshifters escape Antarctica. Please ignore the terrible and misleading cover.

13. The Portent, by Marilyn Harris. I don’t know anything about the author, and have never read anything else by her, but this is a great book, an early example of eco-horror.

There you have it. Any thoughts?

Friday, September 17, 2010

Let The Right One In (Movie)

I told you there’d be more on this…

It’s been a while since I read John Ajvide Lindqvist’s novel Let The Right One In. I enjoyed it, but I’ve had the DVD sitting on the shelf for a year without watching it. Why the delay? I don’t like to watch a movie too soon after I’ve read the book on which it’s based. My feeling is reading a book tends to be an immersive experience, and if it’s any good, the mental images formed during the reading tend to overpower the more passively perceived ones from a motion picture. This, I think, is one of the reasons people tend to hate movies made from their favorite books. During the gap, two of my friends whose opinions I respect watched the movie. One hated it, one loved it. This made me fairly curious as to how I would see it.

I won’t rehash the plot elements it has in common with the book, since I’ve already done that in my original post, but I’ll mention a few things that are different. Most of the subplots are dropped, which is typical, since a filmed novel would be far too long to show as a movie, but there are two truly significant differences between the book and its adaptation. First of all, the character of Håkan is all but lost. In the book, he is a pedophile, in love with and devoted to the eternally 12-year-old vampire. That’s a pretty heavy theme, and the director of the film didn’t think he could devote enough time to it to do it justice. He’s probably right, but it reduces Håkan to a cipher. We don’t know who he is or why he stays with Eli, and more importantly, why he is willing to kill for her. Secondly, there is something of a shift away from the supernatural aspect of the story towards more of a romance between the immortal Eli and the bullied Oskar. Not that the supernatural is absent from the film, or that the romantic angle wasn’t present in the novel, but there is a definite tonal shift. This doesn’t necessarily make the movie worse, just…different.

The movie is beautifully photographed, although with a cold austerity rather than warm, bright colors. The snow is so prevalent as to almost be a character in the film. I thought the movie was as faithful an adaptation of the book as it could be, since there was no way to get everything in. In the end, I was more in tune with the friend who loved the movie, although I didn’t like it quite as much as he did. There are times the languid pacing of the film almost drowns it, but overall, it was a fine movie.

One explanation for why I didn’t rave over the movie as much as some may be found here. Apparently, when the U.S. distributor re-worked the subtitles for the DVD release, they lost much of the nuance and black humor of the movie. The site referenced offers some good examples, and a history of the controversy.

There is an American remake on the way (Let Me In, this time) which promises further deviations from the original material. Contrary to most that seem to feel the sky is falling on them when a movie they like is remade, I’m looking forward to seeing how it goes. Bad or good, it won’t change the movie I still have on the shelf.

Let Me In Poster

Here's the French poster for the American remake of Let The Right One In - more on that later - called Let Me In. I like it, which means no way they'll use it on the American version.


Thursday, September 16, 2010

2001 Maniacs: Field Of Screams

After 2001 Maniacs proved to be a direct-to-video success, the creator of the movie spent several years coming up with funding for the sequel, released in 2010 and called 2001 Maniacs: Field of Screams. It would probably have been better if they hadn’t bothered.

It is an indeterminate time after the first movie, and the ghostly inhabitants of the haunted town in Georgia have a problem. They have lost the cooperation of the local police (why did they have it, anyway?) and can no longer detour unsuspecting Yankees to their little hamlet. Well, if their victims won’t come to them, they’ll go to their victims. They get a bus, and set off for the North, to put on a traveling show. We won’t even bother considering why they would need a bus since they are ghosts, or why, in their best Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland style, they obsess so much about putting on a good show. They stop in Iowa (there are plenty of Yankees between Georgia and Iowa, but I guess they are picky) and set up shop. They attract the attention of the cast, crew and producers of a reality show that seems based on the horrendous thing starring Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie, a joke that might have been slightly funny five years ago. Amidst lame musical numbers and magic acts, they once again up their kill count.

Only a few minor members of the cast return, a shame, since the replacements are mostly inferior. Bill Moseley (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, House of 1,000 Corpses, The Devil’s Rejects) replaces Robert Englund and does a good job, although they either forget which eye he had the patch on in the first movie or thought it would be funny to switch. It isn’t. The maniacs now prominently include a black man and a Chinese woman, neither of which makes much sense. The Chinese character’s main purpose is to speak in broken English, which I suppose someone thought was funny, too.

The first movie was low budget, and this one was even lower. Most of the cast changes, with the exception of Moseley, are for the worse, and the jokes and gore this time around seem lame. The bad taste remains, but the gags just don't work. I was looking forward to this sequel, but I would recommend you give it a pass.


"Much later, as he sat with his back against an inside wall of a Motel 6 just north of Phoenix, watching the pool of blood lap toward him, Driver would wonder whether he had made a terrible mistake. Later still, there would be no doubt."

So begins Drive, by James Sallis, an extremely lean neo-noir story about a professional driver (named Driver – it’s a pseudonym rather than a Pilgrim’s Progress sort of name) who is forced to take extreme action when a robbery goes very wrong. Driver finds himself on the run from organized crime as well as the police.

Very much recommended, Drive is actually a novella rather than a full novel. Sallis is also a published poet, and has a gift for language. If noir is to your tastes, and the opening sentences grab you, you should check it out.

2001 Maniacs

I don’t consider myself a terrible demanding consumer of mass culture. Not everything I read or watch has to change my life or reveal some hidden facet of the human condition. I’m satisfied if the product is merely entertaining, which few seem to be these days, and as long as it holds my interest, I’m perfectly content. This preface, by the way, is my way of apologizing in advance for liking the 2005 gorefest 2001 Maniacs.

A remake/re-imagining of Herschell Gordon Lewis’ 60s schlocker 2000 Maniacs, 2001 Maniacs is a tasteless horror comedy. But more of the jokes work than not, even if they are the type to make you wince after you laugh.

A group of losers from a Northern college are heading South for Spring Break when they are detoured to a small town in Georgia, a town celebrating its annual jubilee. The kids, along with some other travelers, decide to stay and enjoy the Southern hospitality, but there is a high price to pay. It seems the 2001 residents of the town are the ghosts of the people who lived there during the Civil War, people who were massacred by Northern troops during Sherman’s march through Georgia. Each year, they rise from the dead to massacre and cannibalize Yankees, unable to rest until they have killed 2001 Northerners to balance the scale.

The victims are killed in imaginative and gory ways, and the humor works more often than not. A good deal of it is inspired by there being a black guy and an Asian lady among the group of victims, and there is almost a gay or bisexual victim, so if you are easily offended, you might want to miss this.

The cast is led by Robert Englund (Freddy Krueger from the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise), who plays the mayor of the town, and does a great job, but the rest of the mostly unknown cast is good, too. You have to be in the right mood for it, and you can’t be overly sensitive, but I thought this was a fun movie.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Reeds

Another one of the After Dark Film Festival/Eight Films to Die For movies, The Reeds, a UK production directed by Nick Cohen, is probably one of the weaker in the series.

A group of young Londoners decide to rent a boat for a weekend excursion, for reasons that are never really explained. They don’t seem to have much boating expertise, and their only goal once they get the boat is to get to the pub before it closes. I’m no expert on England, but I’ll bet there is a pub somewhere in London, which would have been a simpler proposition. They are the typical set-up group for a slasher flick, the arrogant jock, the dependable guy, the pretty girl, the token black guy. In keeping with current vogue, none of them are really that likeable, and none demonstrate much intelligence or competence (At one point, one of the girls thinks there’s someone at the cabin door, and reacts by firing a flare gun at the navigation map, setting the boat on fire.). Once they are on the boat, they start off through a more-or-less swamp, quickly getting lost in thick reeds. Hence the name. They soon encounter some sinister children, and realize they are being stalked and are in danger. One by one, they die.

But. For the most part, they aren’t killed by the enemy, but by each other. They run their boat aground, they set each other on fire, they mistake one of their party for the Bad Guy and hack the person to death. They are the Three (six, actually) Stooges of horror victims. I was hoping the end was going to be no one was really after them the whole time, but no luck. Towards the finale, the film goes supernatural on us, plays with a muddled timeline, and features a “twist” you can see coming from a mile away.

The acting is reasonably good, although the script calls for the characters to do stupid things. Photography is a bit of a mess, as the camera occasionally bobs up and down, to give it that “amateur” feel, I suppose (although it isn’t presented as “found” footage, so why bother), but I kept wishing they’d hold the damn camera still.

I’d recommend you give this one a pass, but it’s a free country (depending on where you are, of course) and you can make your own decisions (unless you’re nine, in which case you’re too young to see someone shot in the face with a shotgun, and should watch Hannah Montana instead – although that might scar you worse).

Monday, September 13, 2010

Kevin McCarthy 1914-2010

According to CNN, actor Kevin McCarthy has died at age 96. McCarthy is best known to genre fans for his role in the classic film Invasion of the Body Snatchers (he also had a cameo role in the 1978 remake), and always seemed like a classy guy. R. I. P.

Currency Of Souls

There are a lot of people who seem to believe that there is no possible intersection between “literature” and “horror”. I would say these people have never read anything by Kealan Patrick Burke, an Irish author now living in America, who has written literate, thought-provoking short stories and novels, without the attention he deserves.

Currency of Souls, a 2007 novel from Subterranean Press, is a good example of how you can have a novel with the action and suspense fans of the genre want without sacrificing the ability to get inside characters that is the benchmark of good writing. It takes place in Eddie’s Tavern in the town of Millstone, a kind of hell, or more appropriately, purgatory, where a motley collection of characters await redemption. It seems they were all responsible for some tragic event, and are awaiting their chance at redemption. Every night at 11:00, the sinister Reverend Hill appears to tell them who is about to die, and which one of them will serve as the driver for the occasion. The hope of the patrons is they will one day atone for their sins and move on. The main character is Tom, the town sheriff, who, like the rest, is weary of the repetition and pain of their existence.

One night, the routine is broken. Unexpected blood is spilled, the tavern burns, and the desperate denizens of the tavern struggle to learn whether the events represent an end to their limbo, or just a momentary interruption. Along the way, we learn more about why they are there, whether they (or anyone) deserve their fate, and if there is to be a release.

This is a short novel, but there is plenty to get under your skin and much to ponder after reading it. Burke is one of those rare authors with a fluid way with words, and he can tell a story. I thought the novel reflected a very Catholic sensibility, but perhaps I’m projecting my own background there.

Highly recommended.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Quatermass Xperiment

Before Dr. Who, British television audiences watched the science fiction adventures of another doctor, Bernard Quatermass, who began his serialized adventures in 1953, and has made periodic appearances on the British tube ever since. The character was created by English screenwriter Nigel Kneale. After the first serial was a success, Hammer Films converted it into a feature film, condensing the story without much input from the original writer, and casting American actor Brian Donlevy in the title role instead of an Englishman (this was typical of Hammer at the time, using an American lead in an attempt to broaden a film’s appeal). The change did not please Kneale, who thought Donlevy was stiff and close-minded, but the film was a success. It was directed by Val Guest, beginning a rich run of sci-fi efforts. The movie version was called The Quatermass Xperiment (although tame by today’s standards, it received an “X” classification from the British censors, and Hammer was proud of the rating and wanted to emphasize it), sometimes known as the better-spelled The Quatermass Experiment, and as The Creeping Unknown in the United States.

A young couple is cavorting in a field* when a rocket crashes near them. Various official agencies and important personages gather, including Dr. Quatermass, whose area of expertise is rocketry. It seems that Quatermass managed to pull off the feat of secretly launching the rocket into outer space, and it has returned a bit unexpectedly. When the rocket cools enough to be opened, they find two of the three occupants (the term astronaut hadn’t been coined yet) have disappeared, and the survivor is near catatonic. Medical men soon observe the survivor’s skin and body are undergoing changes. It seems the unlucky explorers ran into an alien lifeform in space, which devoured the other two, and is changing the other into something else.

To say quarantine procedures were ill-conceived is overstating the fact. Despite the subject wasting away and changing, people come and go as they please, with little thought to it being caused by some dread and unknown disease. Security is loose, too, and the survivor’s wife, who obviously isn’t the brightest candle, sneaks him out of the hospital, but not before he has absorbed a cactus (!) giving him a nice barbed weapon for a hand. Out in the open, the poor bastard goes on something of a rampage, menacing a number of people and the animals at a zoo, before ending up at Westminster Abbey.

The biggest problem with the film is the miniscule budget, meaning what passed for special effects were produced on a shoestring, and the final form the creature morphs into just sort of sits there and waves its tentacles. I would have to agree also with Kneale that Donlevy wasn’t quite right for the role. He had been a movie star for twenty years by this time, but he was on the downward slide, and his alcoholism had probably taken a lot out of him. His characterization of Quatermass is pretty much continual irritation.

Still, the movie is a lot of fun. The script is pretty good, even in its condensed form, and Guest makes the best he can of his budget. Richard Wordsworth (a descendent of William Wordsworth) does a very good job as the afflicted space traveler. All in all, I’d say if you enjoy 50s sci-fi horror like The Blob and Them!, you’ll probably get a kick out of The Quatermass Xperiment/Experiment/The Creeping Unknown as well.

*If this was a modern movie, I would have probably been using “cavorting” as a euphemism for something more intimate, but this was filmed in 1955, and they really were just cavorting.

The Killer Inside Me

The Killer Inside Me was undoubtedly a shocking novel when it is was first published in 1952, and, although it is not as unusual today as it must have been then, it still holds up well. The author, Jim Thompson is rightly revered as one of the fathers of the roman noir.

Lou Ford is a deputy sheriff in a medium-size Texas town. To his constituents, he is an amiable, slightly dim-witted guy who has a tendency to speak in clichés. His true nature is carefully concealed, as he is a cunning well-read man struggling to suppress what he calls the sickness. He is at best a sociopath, at worst a psychopath. The novel details his actions as he starts to unravel, deciding to commit a double murder, and then is forced to kill again and again to cover the first murders.

What made The Killer Inside Me so remarkable is the book is told as a first person narrative. The reader makes the journey through the story inside the mind of the killer, experiencing the crimes as they are committed, and then going through the justifications for them (Ford blames the victims for what he is forced to do). No real empathy is felt for the people killed, and Ford feels disappointed in himself for any feelings of pity or caring for anyone else. In today’s literature, where the serial killer is sometimes the hero of the book (Hannibal Lector), this may not seem so remarkable, but it must have blown the minds of those reading it in the early 50s. Highly recommended, it is the sort of book Thomas Harris wishes he could write.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Ripley In Film

When I don't have the time or the inclination to post something new, I tend to recycle old pieces that appeared on other sites. Guess what I'm doing today. Here is an introduction to a series of posts about a famous fictional character, a brief look at the movies made from Patricia Highsmith’s amoral creation, Tom Ripley.

The character Tom Ripley has appeared in five films, portrayed by five different actors:

1. In Plein Soleil (1960), Ripley was played by Alain Delon as coldhearted and calculating. This was Patricia Highsmith’s favorite version of Ripley in film.

2. In Der Amerikanishche Freund (1977), Dennis Hopper plays Ripley as a tragic figure, motivated by his own insecurities.

3. In The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999), Matt Damon shows a Ripley that is unempathetic and envious of his happier couterpart, Dickie Greanleaf, in a movie that introduces the character.

4. Ripley’s Game (2002) has an older Ripley, played marvelously by John Malkovich, who is still amoral, but motivated largely by boredom. This film features more laconic black humor than any of the others, and is your Humble Narrator’s favorite of the bunch.

5. Ripley Under Ground (2005) features Barry Pepper as Ripley close after the events of the first book. Also known as White on White and Ripley’s Art, this film has never been released, and has only been seen at a few festivals. One of the principle actors has stated it may never be released. It has been described as a dark comedy.

There you have them. I’ve seen all but the last, and the only one I didn’t enjoy was Der Amerikanishche Freund. Oh, and Sigourney Weaver plays a character named Ripley in the Alien movies, but it’s not the same character. Although Ripley In Space would be kinda cool.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Dark Tower: Movie Trilogy and TV Series

Universal has announced plans to bring Stephen King’s epic story The Dark Tower to the big (and small) screen. Ron Howard and his producing partner Brian Glazer, with screenwriter Akiva Goldsman, will use an unusual way of presenting the story, as a joint movie and TV series. Apparently, there will be three movies, and a TV series will run between the first and second (and possibly the second and third) to tell the full story. This is a very ambitious undertaking; I hope they can pull it off. You can get the full story at Deadline.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Two Bear Mambo

The Two-Bear Mambo (the title refers to a scene in a nature documentary the characters in the book watch, where two bears have sex), the third Hap and Leonard novel, takes up a few months after the events of Mucho Mojo. As it opens, Leonard is again burning down the crackhouse next door, and Hap’s girlfriend, Florida, has left him for a friend on the police force. After the two are arrested for aggravated arson, Florida’s new beau tells them Florida has disappeared while researching an article in a small, ultra-racist town of Grovetown, and he will drop the charges if the two will go to Grovetown and find her. The duo reluctantly agree, and find greater problems than they could have imagined.

As always, no one equals Lansdale when it comes to blending genres, with hysterically funny dialogue mixing with chilling suspense. Grovetown is an example of a small, racist Southern town that I hope does not exist anymore (although I know it does). As usual with a Lansdale book, not for the easily offended, but great nonetheless.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Music To Murder By

I’m always looking for something to fill space on this website, so I thought, Why not a list? That will fill space. So I did (very) little thinking and decided to develop a list of songs that are appropriate to the sort of novels I’ve been reading recently, crime novels from the 50s (mostly).. Sort of music noir. So here is a list of 16 songs that I think match the tone of our crime novels. I used an arbitrary cut-off date of my lifetime, since the early twentieth century saw the popularity of “murder ballads”, which would have made the list too large to be manageable, and tried to limit to no more than one song per artist (Springsteen’s Nebraska album was composed completely of songs that would qualify). Inclusion in this list is entirely subjective to the listener. For instance, every time I hear “My Humps” by the Black-Eyed Peas, I want to kill someone, but I realize most people like that sort of thing.. One word of explanation: traditional country songs have a disproportionate representation on such lists, since in trad country, once the cheatin’ started, somebody was goin’ to get shot.

“Songs To Murder By”

“The Red Right Hand”, Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds
“Shoot Out The Lights”, Richard and Linda Thompson
“Rose In Paradise”, Waylon Jennings
“The Beast In Me”, Nick Lowe
“Long Black Veil”, Johnny Cash
“Decoration Day”, The Drive-By Truckers
“Lilli Schull” Uncle Tupelo
“Cold Cold Ground” Tom Waits
“Private Investigations”, Dire Straits
“Down By The River”, Neil Young
“In Germany, Before The War”, Randy Newman
“Jailbreak”, AC/DC
“I Fought The Law”, The Clash
“I’m Not The Man”, 10,000 Maniacs
“The House Of The Rising Sun”, The Animals
“Nebraska”, Bruce Springsteen
“Heroin”, The Velvet Underground
"Killing Just For Fun", Tito & Tarantula

{Note: This is a reprint of a much older post, on a different, now defunct blog.}

Monday, September 6, 2010


Those who like novels about the seedy side of life, leavened with black humor, should check this one out. Bust, written by Ken Bruen Jason Starr, is the story of someone who hires the wrong hitman, and the spiral of calamities that follow. As the promotional material states, in Bust you learn five important lessons:

1. When you hire someone to kill your wife, don’t hire a psychopath.
2. Drano is not the best tool for getting rid of a dead body.
3. Those locks on hotel room doors? Not very secure.
4. A curly blond wig isn’t much of a disguise.
5. Secrets can kill.

A good read, as long as you don’t mind a group of completely immoral, bumbling characters. There is no one in the book who is not out after their own self-interest; or who has the slightest idea how to achieve it. Highly recommended, another in the Hard Case Crime series.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Galaxy of Terror

Over the course of a very long career, Roger Corman served as producer on a huge number of low budget movies. Some of them turned out to be classics in spite of their budget (Piranha), and some turned out to be campy fun (Humanoids from the Deep). Most of them, unfortunately, turned out like Galaxy of Terror.

Released in 1981, this sci-fi horror film features a fairly recognizable cast. There’s Erin Moran (Joanie from Happy Days and Joanie Loves Chachi, beginning a downward career cycle), Edward Albert (sporting quite the pornstache), Ray Walston, and genre mainstays Robert Englund and Sid Haig. I doubt that anyone of them puts it on their résumé in bold print. Reportedly, Sid Haig was so disgusted with the dialogue he asked permission to play his character as a more-or-less mute (he has one line.). If you’ve seen a lot of Sid’s movies, you know dialogue that shocks him has to be a high level of bad.

The movie is mostly a rip-off of Alien, with a bit of Star Wars’ New Age bull thrown in for good measure. In the future, a distress call from a crashed ship is received by The Master, the leader of the world. We know he’s special because his head is a glowing red light. He spends his time playing a future version of checkers with an old woman, but pauses long enough to dispatch a rescue expedition, whose crew is carefully chosen because they all hate each other to various degrees and for various reasons. They also all come completely apart under the slightest pressure, a great trait for their jobs, no doubt. Moran plays a psychic, but if she was any good at it, she would have seen how the movie would turn out, and gone to work at Waffle House instead.

After a harrowing 45 second trip through space, the hapless crew arrives on the Planet of the Bad Matte Paintings. There, they are killed one by one by their worst fears. Sid Haig declares “I live and die for crystals” and before you can figure out what the hell he’s talking about, a crystal kills him. The blonde crew member mentions she hates worms, and gets raped to death by a giant maggot. You might want to read that sentence again, just in case you didn’t want to grasp it. A woman gets fairly graphically raped by a giant maggot. It is possible this was intended to be titillating, but it is a woman being forcibly sexually penetrated by a giant worm, and I don’t want to meet the person who is turned on by that.

Some terrible special effects and listless acting later, and the movie comes to an early and much appreciated end. Along the way, we are treated to some of the worst dialogue I’ve heard, so I think Sid was on to something. My favorite line is probably “I’m too scared to be afraid” but there are plenty of howlers.

The most interesting fact about the movie is it served as the debut of James Cameron, who was the production designer and second unit director. Reportedly, he got the job by demonstrating how to get maggots to move on a fake severed arm (he ran electric current through it). Bill Paxton, who would become better known as an actor and frequent collaborator of Cameron, was a set dresser on the production.

Probably the best thing to say about this film is that most of the cast and crew had better things in their future. If you take my advice, you’ll give this one a miss. You probably won’t.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Grave Descend

John Lange’s novel Grave Descend is a crime/adventure story of the old school. The hero, James McGregor is a Jamaica-based diver hired to investigate a rich man’s sunken yacht, and determine why it went down. He is suspicious at being overpaid for the job, and reconnoiters the dive site a day early. To his surprise, he finds the yacht moored there, not sunken…yet.

This is one of those books of which you say “they don’t write ‘em like that anymore”, and with good reason. The novel was originally published in 1970, when it was an Edgar Award finalist. It betrays its age most in its somewhat anachronistic mores, belonging to the age when men were men and women were objectified. Despite its flaws, it is an enjoyable, quick read. Although the nautical yarn isn’t deep (nyuk, nyuk, nyuk), it is entertaining. Recommended for those who like this sort of thing.

The reprint was published courtesy of “Hard Case Crime”, a Dorchester Publications imprint. Hard Case Crime publishes mostly noirish crime novels, a mixture of originals and reprints. Thus far, they have published crime novels by such notables as Stephen King, Richard Stark, Ken Bruen, and so on. The books are all paperbacks, with retro covers very similar to the old Fawcett Gold Medal line. You’re old if you remember those, as I do.

One more note: Researching the book, I found that “John Lange” was a pseudonym for Michael Crichton, who wrote several crime novels under this name while in medical school. Before his untimely death,he left all this behind him, and moved on to bestsellers based on astonishingly bad science for the most part.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Mucho Mojo

Five years after bringing us the first adventures of Hap and Leonard in Savage Season, Joe Lansdale brought their second installment to us in Mucho Mojo. When the story opens, Hap is back at work in the rose fields, putting rose sticks into the ground (“the job they give to sinners in hell” he describes it) while Leonard is still recovering from the injuries received in the first book, when Leonard learns he has inherited a house from his Uncle Chester. Leonard and Hap move into the home to fix it up so it can be sold, and make some disquieting discoveries.

The first is the once-quiet African-American neighborhood is being terrorized by a crack house located next to Leonard’s new property. This leads to confrontations between Leonard and the drug dealers, and eventually to Leonard burning down the crack house, an event that will be repeated until it becomes something of a running gag in the series. The second is even grimmer. Beneath some rotten floorboard, the duo finds a box filled with child pornography – and the skeleton of a small boy. When the police are none too keen on following up the disappearances of black children in the area, Hap and Leonard take it on themselves to uncover the truth. The result is the usual mix of grim criminal activity and hilarity, as only Lansdale seems able to pull off.

Oh, and the title refers to the bottle tree placed by Uncle Chester in front of his property. According to the book, the bottles are supposed to catch and trap evil spirits. Bottle trees are also common in some parts of Alabama, although I've never heard that particular explanation.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Lovecraft: Fear of the Unknown

I think anyone who has enjoyed the work of Howard Phillips Lovecraft would also enjoy this even-handed documentary on his life. Born to a father soon to die in madness of syphilis and an over-protective yet emotionally distant mother, Lovecraft’s brand of horror set the template we still follow today. He famously rejected the vampires, werewolves, ghosts, et al of traditional weird fiction for his own cosmography, the greatest of which has become known as the Cthulhu Mythos, a figurative sandbox authors still play in today. Perhaps the most revolutionary aspect of his writing was the use of antagonists who are often not truly evil, but indifferent to human fate.

The film doesn’t flinch from the less-attractive aspects of his personality, the xenophobia and racism common to his time that he unfortunately didn’t escape. (I had forgotten the name he gave to the cat in “The Rats in the Walls” and somewhat wish it was still forgotten) It also examines the personality quirks that caused him to be the harshest critic of his own work, and limited both his output and his ability to enjoy his role as one of the fathers of modern weird fiction.

The film makers assembled an all-star team of interviewees for Lovecraft: Fear of the Unknown, with Neil Gaiman, Peter Straub, Caitlin R. Kiernan, John Carpenter, Stuart Gordon and many others going before the camera to talk about Lovecraft and his place in history. Interwoven into the narrative are also brief examinations of some of his most popular stories.

Highly recommended.