Monday, January 31, 2011
Sunday, January 30, 2011
Saturday, January 29, 2011
Those of you who are regular visitors to this site (both of you!) may be aware of the short interviews I’ve been doing for Cemetery Dance, a series called We Interrupt This Author. I’ve had a lot of fun doing those, and it’s been great working with the authors involved and with Norman Prentiss, who supervised me with those. I have had the greatest admiration for CD, and respect for the position it holds within the genre.
The magazine version of Cemetery Dance is undergoing a slight reorganization. Norman will be the new Associate Editor for Fiction, and he offered me the position of Associate Editor, Non-Fiction. Naturally, I accepted. Cemetery Dance magazine is, in my opinion, the premier periodical in the horror fiction genre. It has been around for 23 years, an amazing longevity given the state of magazine publishing, and practically every author who has made a splash in horror or dark suspense has made an appearance in its pages. I am greatly honored by this opportunity, and hope I can live up to the high standards of the magazine. I thank Norman and the rest of the CD staff for this. The first issue I’m working on should appear in early summer.
This has been in the works for a little while, and I’m happy to be able to make it public. As far as I know right now, the interview series will continue, although they will be shifting to a new location.
Friday, January 28, 2011
John Carpenter is probably the most revered living directors working in the horror genre, yet a surprising number of his films were initially unsuccessful before becoming popular as “cult” classics. Movies like The Thing and Big Trouble In Little China flopped in the theaters, but found a place on home video, and are well regarded today. I had not watched his last release, Ghosts of Mars, since its initial release, and wondered if it, like the others, might have grown in stature in the years since.
The movie is set in 2176. Mars has been settled, and partially terraformed, with a more or less breathable atmosphere. Society has gone matriarchal for some unexplained reason, an interesting concept that is never really explored in the film. A group of police officers, led by Commander Helena Braddock (Pam Grier) is dispatched form Chryse, one of the major towns (I suppose) to a mining camp to pick up the notorious criminal “Desolation” Williams (Ice Cube). Included in the team is the real star of the film, Lieutenant Melanie Ballard (Natasha Henstridge) and Sergeant Jericho Butler (Jason Statham, when he still had hair). They arrive at the camp to find everyone dead. It seems a dig has released the ghosts of ancient Martians, who have infected most of the locals, turning them into insane, self-mutilating killers. (It’s basically a zombie movie.) The police force will have to work with the criminals to survive.
Well, Ghosts of Mars really hasn’t improved with age. Sometimes movies simply don’t come together the way filmmakers wanted them to, and this is probably a good example.
There is a framing sequence to the story of Lt. Ballard testifying before a board of inquiry about what happened, and it doesn’t really work. The only purpose it serves is to let you know Ballard will be the only survivor, and that spoils a little of the suspense. It also means the bulk of the movie is told as a flashback, and any time something needs to be presented from the point-of-view of another character, it cuts back to the board room so Ballard can explain the sequence is based on what she was told by another character. That’s too clunky, and it makes for one of those flashback-within-a-flashback things that are so hard to pull off.
Special effects look fairly low budget, and they resort too often to the cheap shot of a stunt person jumping in front of an explosion to illustrate its force. This always looks ridiculous, and it’s done every time something blows up in the movie. A lot of things blow up in the movie. It looks like your kids playing on a trampoline, while you hurl grenades behind them.
The police/paramilitary force may be the worst cops ever shown on screen. If a bad guy flashes a knife, they instantly drop all their weapons, and then after they are disarmed and helpless, begin to bluster about how they don’t care if they die. That would be more effective done while they still had their guns, for your information. They also do nonsensical things to further the plot. The one hardened site in the camp is the police station, difficult to penetrate, with ammunition and other supplies inside. They abandon it not once but twice, so they can have running gun battles with the zombies/mutants/Martians. At one point, they set up a perfect kill chute, where the bad guys have to come at them no more than two at a time. They quickly retreat from that position, lest they kill all the bad guys and end the movie prematurely. Half the movie is spent with the characters trying to reach the train, so they can escape the camp. As soon as they reach it and are safely away, they decide they have to turn back.
The cast generally acquits themselves well, although there are some casting decisions that make you chuckle long after the fact. Statham was originally set to play Desolation Williams, but was switched to a lesser role since Ice Cube had more “star power.” Statham might have been better in the role, but that possible loss is balanced by Henstridge replacing the original lead Courtney Love, which would have been an interesting choice, to say the least.
The bare bones of the plot are basically a re-working of Carpenter’s first real success, Assault on Precinct 13, which itself was a re-do of Howard Hawks’ classic western Rio Bravo. (To make things more convoluted, Hawks more-or-less remade his film twice as well, with El Dorado and Rio Lobo.) Therefore, it is essentially a science fiction western, but whatever magic was present with Assault on Precinct 13 was not accessible here.
The biggest tragedy of Ghost of Mars is that Carpenter felt burnt out after making it, and it would be almost ten years before he directed his next film, the forthcoming move The Ward.
Thursday, January 27, 2011
Darkeva also is Canadian, and one of the perplexing things is how many of the horror-related bloggers with whom I‘ve interacted hail from my country’s northern neighbor. Hopefully, these people will vouch for me when I seek political asylum there. ;-)
Friday, January 21, 2011
One thing that might be mildly controversial: everyone talks, of course, about how the heart and soul of the horror genre is the small press. I read a lot of small press publications, and they put out a lot of good things, but this year, the books I enjoyed most were published by the traditional big publishing houses. I have an opinion concerning that which I hope to put down in writing someday soon.
First the honorable mentions. This year seemed to be a year in which vampires, at least part of the time, stopped sparkling and came back to the dark side. Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan published the second part of their Strain Trilogy with The Fall, and Justin Cronin kicked off a trilogy with The Passage (review to come), a book that enjoyed a considerable boost from Stephen King. Peter Straub returned with the lyrical A Dark Matter. Stephen King published one of his periodic collections of four novellas in Full Dark, No Stars (review to come), which I thought was one of his strongest offerings in years. I enjoyed all these books quite a bit, and they mostly feature familiar names, and all come from big publishers. Perhaps I’m becoming more conventional, but I thought the books showed a generally higher quality of effort, and almost universally a stronger attention to editing, the great bugaboo of most of the small press.
My favorite book of 2010 is not from a familiar name, although it was a large mainstream publishing house. Australian author Stephen M. Irwin’s book The Dead Path hit all the right chords with me. The book, which told of a young man returning home to confront his childhood fears and a manifestation of The Green Man, heralded the arrival of a major new talent, in my opinion.
There you have it. The usual disclaimers, this is my opinion only, does not represent a scientific study, and no animals were harmed in the writing of this post.
Wednesday, January 19, 2011
Every time I review one of the Eight Films to Die For/AfterDark HorrorFest films, I mention how they are uneven in quality, which is true. Today’s movie is Dread, which has a better pedigree than most, being adapted from a short story by horror master Clive Barker.
Stephen (Jackson Rathbone) is a film student at an unnamed university. He seems to float aimlessly through life, modeling his personal style on Robert Smith of the Cure. He laments about his inability to get laid, although if you re-read the preceding sentence, you might uncover the secret. He has a chance meeting with Quaid (Shaun Evans) who is obviously a psychopath. Quaid shares his childhood trauma with Stephen, namely that an axe-wielding madman slaughtered his family while he watched, and suggests they collaborate on a student film that will explore what people dread. Stephen, who seems to be a little thick, agrees.
The film project consists of getting student volunteers to sit in front of the camera and talk about what their fears, making it just like every other student film ever produced. No faculty member seems involved in this in any way. Stephen gets his friend Cheryl (Hanne Steen) involved to edit the film, although editing should be easy, and his other friend Abby (Laura Donnelly) also gets caught up in the project. Abby has a birthmark which covers most of the right side of her body, which makes her especially vulnerable. Both girls seem attracted to Stephen for no discernable reason.
The project goes well enough, but there is a hitch. What could it be? Oh, yeah, Quaid is a psychopath. Predictably, he begins to use the subjects’ fears against them.
Judging by its rating on imdb.com, this is one of the more popular films in the series, and judging by the comments, there are a lot of people who really love it. As usual, I am a contrarian. I found it hard to believe the gang would lack the awareness to realize they were spending time in a secluded house in the woods with a sociopath, and that would not end well. The Stephen character is entirely too passive, and he’s one of those who gets a chance to stop the madman, and just can’t bring himself to do anything.
A lot of those who liked the film mentioned they liked how disturbing it is, and, with a nihilistic ending, it certainly is. So, however, is a video of a slaughterhouse, and I wouldn’t enjoy that either. I’m afraid this is thumbs down for me, although I should point out most disagree with me. It might also be enjoyed if you are a fan of The Cure.
Tuesday, January 18, 2011
In addition to being the most popular horror writer for the last 35 year, Stephen King has always embraced experimental forms. He wrote a serial novel (The Green Mile), a novel available by download over the internet, long before such a thing became fashionable (the uncompleted serial novel The Plant), and simultaneously published two novels that were alternate takes on the same subject by himself and his alter ego (Desperation under his own name and The Regulators as by Richard Bachman). It is not, therefore, surprising he would be one of the first to produce a story for the Amazon Kindle E-reader, and to make it about the Kindle. It is called Ur, and it is also not surprising that a diehard Stephen king fan such as I would buy it as soon as I received my Kindle.
Wesley Smith is a professor of English at a small college, and something of a Luddite. He is one of those who steadfastly proclaim the superiority of printed books over anything electronic (as I was a year ago). When his girlfriend leaves him in part because of his old-fashioned ways, however, he decides to show her different by ordering a Kindle. Wesley has a bit of dyslexia, though, and makes some sort of error in placing the order. When the Kindle arrives, it is in the unusual color pink (Kindles are white or charcoal) and has some unusual features, chief among them the ability to tap into different Urs.
An Ur is an alternate universe. In our Ur, Ernest Hemingway committed suicide in 1961, but in others he lived and continued to write for many more years. In others, he became a hard-boiled detective novelist, or some other variation. This is true of all other writers, and is obviously an English professors dream, the opportunity to read great novels never published in our reality. Wesley has made an excellent purchase.
The Ur-Kindle has another experimental feature that is not standard on the run-of-the-mill Kindle: the user can download editions of the local newspaper up to thirty days in advance. Through this feature, Wesley learns a disaster is about to take place, one that will claim the life of his ex-girlfriend and others. Wesley and one of his students have to use the knowledge gained to change the future.
All in all, the novella Ur is a bit lighter than most of King’s work, but his gift of characterization is as good as ever. Any of his fans should enjoy this, and for the hardcore fans, there is a connection to the Dark Tower series.
I also admit it was pretty cool to read a story about a Kindle on a Kindle.
Friday, January 14, 2011
There has been quite some disparity in authors’ reactions to e-books. Some have stubbornly resisted the movement away from traditional paper-and-ink, while some have embraced it. In the latter category is writer J. A. Konrath, who may well be the leading adopter of the new technology, at least in this genre. Origin is the first book by Konrath I have read, and it is available as a $2.99 download at Amazon and elsewhere.
During the construction of the Panama Canal at the beginning of the 20th century, workmen make an incredible find: a sealed sarcophagus with a not-quite-dead figure inside. The inhabitant is a fearsome looking creature, with horns, hooves, and serrated teeth. It is more comatose than dead, and in appearance seems to be…Satan. President Teddy Roosevelt orders the box and its contents taken to a secret facility in New Mexico for study.
Back in the present day, linguist Andrew Dennison is hurriedly brought into Project Samhain, the group studying the beast. It seems after all those years, it has finally awoken, and they need someone who can communicate with it. In New Mexico, Dennison meets with the rest of the team, all carefully chosen for personal flaws which would lead them to be accepting of isolation. This is a fatal error, as the devil is now awake, and Satan is a master at exploiting flaws. Before it’s finished, all the project members will wish he’d stayed asleep.
In a “bonus features” section of the e-book, Konrath mentions the difficulty he had in marketing the book, and it’s not hard to see why. The book is a bit of a techno-thriller, something of a horror story, and also a comedy. Potential publishers looked at it and couldn’t figure out how to market it. Readers don’t have as much problem, however, in making what they read fit into a narrow slot, and the cross-genre appeal should be in the book’s favor.
I highly recommend this book. It is slam-bang action, and I was surprised at just how funny it is. (Konrath supposedly toned down the humor in a re-write, but it still has moments of great hilarity.) Immediately after finishing Origin, I started downloading other Konrath titles. I think you’d like this too, and if you have an e-reader, you can’t hardly beat the price.
Wednesday, January 12, 2011
Vive le Bleu, Blanc, et Rouge!*
*All this is in good fun, of course
Tuesday, January 11, 2011
I realize everyone up north is thinking "A little snow, what's the big deal?" But I assure you, Southerners do not handle snow well. We've been shut down for two days, and roads may not reopen until Friday. This is our third largest snow on record, and I haven't worn a tie or dress shoes all week. Rarely pants, come to think of it.
Monday, January 10, 2011
All hail the new flesh, er, the new media!
The advent of e-readers and near instantaneous delivery of a book over the internet is alarming to some, but is a great opportunity to others. Some savvy authors have adopted this as a method of cutting out the middle man, and as a way to get closer to the reader, and the possibilities going forward are frankly exciting. Of course, this places an even stronger burden on the consumer to tell the good from the bad without help from the marketing campaign of a major publisher. Today, some of the good stuff, a new anthology from editors David T. Wilbanks and Craig Clarke, called Living After Midnight.
(Caveat: counting the two editors and the contributors to this anthology, over half those involved are friends of mine to some degree. I believe this sort of information should be provided up front, so the reader knows of any possible bias. I try not to let personal feelings affect what I think about a story, but it is always possible I would be more kindly disposed to this book than to, say, Tales from the Taliban: The World’s Leading Terrorists Share Their Favorite Jihadist Fiction.)
There are six stories in Living After Midnight, all inspired by heavy metal/hard rock bands (each story title is the name of one such band). Less that discourage those of you who are fans of chamber music and Celine Dion, no knowledge of the heavy music scene is required to enjoy these stories, as the authors for the most part use a name or image as a starting point.
Randy Chandler’s story “Spooky Tooth” tells about a rocker’s connection to lycanthropy – with a twist.
Matthew Fryer’s story “Iron Maiden” features a ghostly galleon and eerie sirens luring men to their doom.
In “Black Sabbath”, Steven L. Shrewsbury’s characters inhabit a world after a zombie apocalypse. The zombies themselves have mostly rotted away, leaving the greatest danger to the survivors – each other.
Co-editor David T. Wilbanks gives us a story about magic and curses in “Judas Priest” a slam-bang story about dueling creatures from another plane of existence.
L. L. Soares provides the well-written “Slayer”, about an aging rocker’s inevitable encounter with the acolyte of great and powerful supernatural entity.
There has to be a favorite in every collection, and mine is “Motorhead” by Kent Gowran, a crime/chase/horror story that seems to have pure adrenaline mixed with its ink. Mr. Gowran understands the way a great pulp crime story is created: the writer strikes a match to the story on the first page, and watches it flame its way to the end. You’ll want to look for more from this author.
The book is well laid out, an important consideration, since typos and formatting errors are the pet peeve of the users of e-readers. Effort was put into this book to make sure that wasn’t a problem. The very cool artwork (seen to your right) is by Carrie Gowran.