Wednesday, August 31, 2011
Stephen King’s novel Under the Dome will become a TV series for the Showtime cable network, according the Deadline Hollywood. This will be developed for television by Steven Spielberg’s Dreamworks production company, so look for an addition of a precocious tween boy with a distant father to the story. Hopefully it will do better than the ill-fated plans for The Dark Tower films and series.
If you watched 2005’s Bloodrayne and 2007’s Bloodrayne: Deliverance, then the third installment in the series, Bloodrayne: The Third Reich (seriously) shouldn’t disappoint you. It shouldn’t disappoint you because the original Bloodrayne was a mess, with slumming “name” actors and an incomprehensible plot, and Bloodrayne: Deliverance was bad enough to make the first one look like Citizen Kane, so you shouldn’t have any positive expectations to be shattered. Why you would watch this after suffering through the first two is another question.
(Which leads to the question: I watched the first two, so why did I do this? Anyone who can answer that can probably get a nice research grant from the National Institute of Mental Health. I suspect repressed masochism enters into it, although I try not to think about it.)
Having disposed of the vampire Billy the Kid (!) in the previous installment, the Dhamphyre (Half-human, half-vampire) Rayne (Natassia Malthe) is now fighting Nazis in Eastern Europe during World War II. There’s no deeper motivation than hey, they’re evil, which I guess is good enough. While laying waste to a Nazi train carrying prisoners to a concentration camp, Rayne doesn’t quite kill Commandant Brand (Michael Paré) dead enough. He gets splattered with some of her blood, and transforms into a Damphyre/Vampire/Something. Rayne hooks up with some anti-Nazi fighters, while the undead Brand enlists Doctor Mangler (Clint Howard. Doctor Mangler. Really?) to help him capture Rayne and use her blood for nefarious purposes. The major subplot is to use the blood to make Hitler immortal but even Brand and Mangler don’t seem to have their hearts in that.
I think you’ve figured out by now, the plot is lacking a certain something. This is partially obscured by truly horrible dialogue. Sample, spoken by Rayne: “I need to do what needs to be done!” Thanks for the exposition there, Rayne. Although Howard does a decent job chewing the scenery, the rest of the actors appear overmatched, although it’s difficult to tell whether that’s due to lack of talent or lack of material.
The movie is directed by everyone’s favorite archenemy, Uwe Boll. Everyone piles on Boll, and his oeuvre is not terribly distinguished. He does seem to be a good sport about it, and I have to admire his ability to continue to get movies made, which is no small accomplishment. I’m also tickled by a director who stages boxing matches against his critics, and it doesn’t hurt that Michael Bay hates him, considering Bay is also the enemy of good taste. Here, Boll directs about as well as you would expect. It may be just me, but there is something unsettling about seeing a real-life horror like the Holocaust used as a backdrop for a frivolous movie like this, but this movie is hardly the first to do that, and your mileage may vary.
About a third of the way into the movie, it briefly morphs into a late-night Cinemax feature, as Rayne visits a brothel and there is a fairly lengthy soft-core lesbian sequence. I realize a substantial portion of the male readers who have been wondering why anyone would watch this just added it to their Netflix queue.
For an opposing opinion, here is a video question-and-answer with director Boll and the beautiful Ms. Malthe:
In closing, I’d like to say something nice about Bloodrayne: The Third Reich, so here it is: at 75 minutes, it goes over very quickly.
Tuesday, August 30, 2011
I’m a fan of Quentin Tarantino, and a while back I read an interview in which he talked about his influences and his favorite films. High on the list, and cited as the biggest inspiration for Kill Bill, was a Swedish movie called Thriller (known as They Call Her One-Eye - the connection to Kill Bill being fairly obvious - on its original American release,and as Thriller: A Cruel Picture in its home video version). Naturally, I had to see it although it took some work tracking it down.
Thriller is a revenge movie. Innocent young Frigga is kidnapped by a cruel pimp, raped, and forced into prostitution. When she balks at what he wants her to do, she is blinded in one eye (hence the American title). After the pimp kills her only friend at the brothel, she runs away, only to find her parents have committed suicide due to the hate-filled letter the pimp forced her to write. Frigga snaps, arms herself, and goes on a rampage, slaughtering everyone who has exploited her. Not the most convoluted plot in the world.
As I said, the movie has a pretty simple, obvious plot, and overall is not badly done (it would probably be even better if you spoke Swedish). However, it is for the strong of stomach, and, let’s say, enlightened tastes. In the scene in which Frigga is blinded with a knife, the visual effect was allegedly achieved by mutilating a real corpse from a local morgue. Although the scene is brief, it could be difficult to take. There are several sex scenes (understandable, considering the plot) and the sex is very obviously not simulated, with penetration being shown explicitly. Apparently the Swedes are a little more liberated than we Americans, and a lot of people would probably consider it porn. So if it interests you, be forewarned. Also, the DVD is available in a heavily cut and uncensored version. If you want all the explicit sex and gore, look for the version with the red cover.
Sunday, August 28, 2011
In the collective opinion, people who read comic books are geeks, and the lowest of the comic book geeks are those who read superhero comics. The general idea is, if you are going to read funny books at least read gritty realistic ones, refer to them as graphic novels, and salvage at least a little of your dignity. Books that feature guys (and gals) flying around in long underwear with magic powers are embarrassing according to general belief.
Grant Morrison, one of the more prominent comic writers of the modern era, disagrees with this. In his new book Supergods (not a comic book, for the record), he argues that the traditional superheroes like Superman, Batman, The Flash, etc., are important to us for their totemic power, and their sometime unrealistic devotion to a higher moral code is necessary to inspire us. We want to see our heroes soaring through the heavens above us, not wallowing in the muck like an ordinary being.
Supergods is both a memoir of Morrison and a history of the superhero genre, going back to the inception of superhero comics in the 1930s with early versions of Superman and Batman, kicking off the Golden Age, the revitalization of the form in the late 1950s in the Silver Age, and where our heroes stand now in the modern age. Along the way, he discusses his first exposure to American comics, brought to his native Scotland by American sailors, and his personal journey from novice to one of the more acclaimed writers in the field today. Along the way, he does an excellent job in explaining the subtext of most of the major comic storylines, divergent philosophies in writing the characters, and interestingly, the influence of mind-expanding chemicals on the superhero art form. (I got an unintentional laugh when Morrison explained the epiphanic vision he had in Thailand could not be explained by the relatively small amount of hashish he had ingested.)
Morrison discusses past legends of the genre like Bob Kane, Siegel and Schuster, Jack Kirby, and John Broome, as well as the work (and his personal relationships) with creators such as Alan Moore, Mark Waid, and Mark Millar. He is very blunt in his assessment of these writers and artists, even those who are his contemporaries. There is at least a hint of some minor feuds with other writers, particularly Alan Moore, and I do wish he had delved a little deeper into what seems a disapproving attitude toward his former protégée Millar. The book also deals with Morrison’s personal spiritual journey – he is a practioner of a shamanic form of personal religion.
Morrison is best known for his work re-inventing the previously minor DC character Animal Man, his own The Invisibles (which was an inspiration for The Matrix), the re-invention of the Justice League of America in JLA, and an interesting and controversial stint writing X-Men. I think his re-imagining of the moribund Justice League from what had become mostly a joke into a re-telling of ancient myths to be one of the better feats in comic book history. I also enjoyed his take on the X-Men, although the purists were up in arms at the time. (X-fans can be passionate and a little crazy. The other X-writer during Morrison's tenure was Chuck Austen, who was basically hounded out of comics by zealots angry at his take on the X-Men. I thought Austen did a good job, too.)
This is probably a book only for comic book fans, but if you are an aficionado of the gents in long underwear, you shouldn’t miss Supergods.
Saturday, August 27, 2011
Continuing to reprint the older We Interrupt This Author series, here is the second interview, originally posted on Cemetery Dance’ website on June 28, 2010. At the time of the interview, Tim’s book The Corpse King had just been released, so once again, this is taken a bit out of temporal context. The only change in the text is the re-insertion of a mention of the book Four Rode Out, which was deleted from the original post, as the official announcement for the book had not yet been made. As always, remember that what was on the horizon in mid-2010 may now be in the rearview mirror.
Here we are for the second in our series of short interviews with horror authors, following the success of the first one (I define success as: Didn’t get fired, didn’t get sued. Set the bar of success low, and you won’t have to deal with disappointment, kids). Our latest author to interrupt is Tim Curran.
A resident of Michigan, Tim Curran is the author of the acclaimed novels Dead Sea and The Hive. His most recent book is The Corpse King, now available from Cemetery Dance. Tim’s home on the web is www.corpseking.com. Here are a few questions with which we bothered him.
WITA: Tell us a little about The Corpse King. Am I correct in assuming Burke and Hare were a partial inspiration?
TIM CURRAN: Yes, definitely. Those two are the most famous of the 19th century Resurrection Men. So I certainly had them in mind. During my research of grave robbers I came across a fellow named Ben Crouch who operated out of London as part of the Borough Gang as it was known. He was a real entrepreneur of the dead. Not only did he and his friend Joseph Naples supply corpses to order for the medical schools, but they ran something of a cadaver supermarket—skeletons, body parts, entire corpses of men, women, and children preserved in vats in their makeshift warehouse which was in a cellar, I believe. They ran the truly first medical supply house in the UK. Crouch was known as “The Corpse King” which I, of course, stole for my novella title. I based my graverobbers, Clow and Kierney, upon Crouch and Naples to a certain extent, though I moved the action to Edinburgh, the traditional home of bodysnatching ever since Burke and Hare and Robert Louis Stevenson’s story. Nearly everything that happens in The Corpse King is based upon firsthand accounts of the time. Although most of the Resurrection Men were illiterate, some either told their tales to others or wrote them down themselves. I read quite a few of these and was amazed at the morbid, gallows humor these guys had. I incorporated that into Clow and Kerney. Other than my supernatural ghoul—The Corpse King of the title—there’s nothing truly imaginary in the book. Edinburgh in the 1820’s was a horrible place of overcrowded slums, rampant infectious disease, child labor, rats and lice, poverty and crime. Life was cheap. People worked fourteen hour days in linen mills with machinery that was extremely dangerous and when you lost a limb or were too sick to work, you were replaced that same day. It was no wonder the girls turned to prostitution and the boys to crime…including grave robbing.
WITA -You live in the U.P. (the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, for those not in the know), known for being remote and sparsely populated. Do you find this helps set the mood to write horror fiction?
TIM CURRAN - I think so in some ways. Winters are long and harsh up here and it’s not unusual for towns to get completely shut down for days because of blizzards sweeping down from Lake Superior. It can be a very eerie, surreal experience. Up in the Keweenaw—or the Copper Country as locals call it—the winters are so severe that it’s pointless to shovel the snow so they have tunnels connecting the buildings. When I wrote my novel Hive, all I had to do was step outside on a dark January night with the wind howling and the snow flying, the windchill down to twenty or thirty below, and it was very easy to channel Antarctica. The woods up here are another factor. They can be very weird and primeval when you’re deep out in them by yourself. Algernon Blackwood tapped into that very well with stories like “The Wendigo” and “The Willows.” There’s these very disturbing moments when you’ll be out in the forest, miles from the nearest logging road or fire-cut. The birds are singing, insects droning, wind up in the trees…and then, nothing. It’s like somebody threw a switch. Dead silent. No wind, no birds, nothing. And you wonder what causes something like that. It’ll make your skin crawl. Besides those two factors, there’s a lot of eccentric characters up here. When I was a kid there were remote villages where the locals still spoke Finnish and French, and the old Cornish copper miners—Cousin Jacks, they were called-would spin pretty wild tales out of their native Cornwall.
WITA -It’s easy to see by the titles of some of the anthologies in which your work has appeared H.P. Lovecraft is a source of inspiration. Who are some of the other writers who have influenced your work?
TC - Lovecraft, along with Robert E. Howard, was one of the first authors of the weird I came across as a kid so I’ll always be standing in his shadow to some extent. I’ve been influenced by just about everyone from Ray Bradbury to Jack London, James Herbert to Elmore Leonard. I’m a big fan of Simon Clark and Ramsey Campbell and I honestly think that Thomas Ligotti is probably the greatest writer of the weird since H.P. Lovecraft. I’m absolutely in awe of that man.
WITA -Speaking of things that influence you, what are some of the things other than books which stimulate the writing process for you?
TC - Just about anything, I find. Like most horror writers I tend to unconsciously look for shadows and weirdness in just about everything. I see two men hauling crates into a house and I wonder what’s in them. I find an abandoned shoe in the woods and I wonder what happened to the person who wore it. I see a lake by moonlight and I wonder what might crawl out of it. I watch a movie or a TV show and the whole time my mind is making the connections, plotting out what will happen next and how it will end. And when it doesn’t work out the way I thought, sometimes, if my idea is powerful enough, I have to write it the way I think it should have been done.
WITA - There was some talk a while back about your novel The Hive being optioned for film. Is this still a possibility, or has that opportunity passed?
TC - No, that’s all done with. I had two different production companies looking at it and they both backed out. What they promised and what they delivered were two different things. It did not leave me with a real upstanding opinion of the people in that business. I’d love to see Hive made into a movie, but I’m honestly leery of the whole process. I guess I wouldn’t believe it until I got a check in my hand!
WITA - What’s on the horizon for Tim Curran? What projects are you currently working on?
TC - I just finished writing up the afterword for my short story collection, Bone Marrow Stew, which will be published in winter 2011 by Tasmaniac Publications of Australia. I’ve been publishing stories since the mid-’90’s and always wanted to do a collection of them but I held back because I wanted it done the right way. And now, thanks to Steve Clark of Tasmaniac, it’s being given the royal treatment in a hardcover, lettered edition with a wraparound cover and 10 awesome internal illustrations by the great Keith Minnion. Simon Clark, one of my favorite writers, is doing the introduction. I’m very excited about it. If it sells well enough—and I hope it does—there’ll be a volume two. There’s two original stories in the book and 15 reprints from anthologies and small press magazines, many of which are pretty hard to come by now. It opens with my very first short story and goes on from there. Other than that, I just wrapped up the second Hive book a couple months ago and that should be out from ESP in late summer/early fall. I’ll also be in another Cemetery Dance book with Steve Vernon, Brian Keene, and Tim Lebbon called Four Rode Out, a collection of weird western novellas that’s really going to kick ass and we’re all pretty pumped about. I’m also working on a collection of my zombie stories for Severed Press that’ll be bookended by two new novellas. The latter of which I’ll be returning to Lovecraft for a Herbert West story concerning his exploits in World War I. Let’s see, I’m working on an alternate world/steampunk vampire novel, another about a necrophiliac, another about veterans of the Iraq War who can read the fears in your mind and externalize them, and still another about a life-eating car haunted by a demon. There’s others, but you get the picture: I like to keep busy.
Wednesday, August 24, 2011
Some writers are difficult to fit into the narrow categories we widely use to describe fiction, and Graham Joyce is one of those. His books have elements of fantasy, science fiction, suspense, a little horror, and other sub-genres, and his work can be classified as all or none of those. This should only affect you if you separate the books on your shelves according to these categories, however. What should matter instead is Joyce is one of the better writers working today. His latest is The Silent Land.
Jake and Zoe are a young married couple on a ski holiday in France. Life seems to be going well for them, and Zoe is searching for the right time to tell Jake she’s pregnant. Their luck turns when they are caught in an avalanche on the slopes. Zoe is buried and barely rescued by Jake, and then the story takes a turn into Twilight Zone territory. When they reach the resort, they find it is deserted. Apparently, it was hurriedly evacuated, with food still standing on prep tables in the kitchen. They believe this is because of danger from another avalanche, but a hike into town finds it just as deserted.
Attempts to leave the area are fruitless, as the two always end up back where they started. They discover the food left out doesn’t appear to spoil, as if time isn’t passing. At first, they make the best of having the exclusive hotel to themselves, but things go into a decline. Zoe gets garbled calls on her cell phone and glimpses eerie figures outside the hotel. They speculate they have died in the avalanche, and apprehension over what comes next begins to grow.
The story itself isn’t outstandingly original. By the halfway point of the book, you can assume it will end in one of two or three ways, and it does. Despite this, Joyce is a master at creating characters you care about, and slowly ratcheting up the tension. If you were going to call this a horror novel, and that fits as well as any other shorthand description, it would definitely be in the “quiet horror” tradition, lacking the exploding heads and other over-the-top psychodrama that fills most current horror fiction. Instead you have a growing feeling of dread, which to my mind is more effective. I found myself glancing over my shoulder when Zoe started seeing the mysterious figures, and it’s a rare book that gets to me like that. I had read about 50 pages when I opened it again at one o’clock in the morning, and, simultaneously dreading learning the fate of the young couple and needing to know it before I could sleep, I didn’t close the book again until I was finished.
If you’ve read Joyce’s brilliant previous books, you know what a good writer he is, and you won’t want to miss this one. If you’ve never read anything by him, this would make a good start. Either way, this is a book I whole-heartedly recommend.
Tuesday, August 23, 2011
As mentioned yesterday, here is the first of the We Interrupt This Author interviews. It was originally posted on Cemetery Dance' website on May 18, 2010, and featured author Rick Hautala. The interview is presented here exactly as it appeared in its original form. Obviously, time has passed, and when an author talks about a "forthcoming" book in one of these, it is a book that has now been published. But you knew that. Because you're smart.
Writing is a solitary endeavor. Your favorite authors toil alone to produce the fiction that keeps you going. Here we reward them by…interrupting their precious writing time with a few questions. The first author we will
Since the publication of his first novel, Moondeath, in 1980, Rick has been at the forefront of horror fiction. His next book is the forthcoming Cemetery Dance volume Occasional Demons, his first collection of short stories since Bedbugs, selected by Barnes & Noble as one of the distinguished horror publications of 2000.
-Everyone is looking forward to your forthcoming book Occasional Demons, your first short story collection since 1999. Tell us a little about the book.
At the time I signed the contract, Occasional Demons included every story I had written and published to date that wasn't in Bedbugs, but since then, I've got enough stories for a third collection, which Rich and I are talking about CD doing ... What's unique about this collection is that it includes all the "Little Brothers" short stories and a handful of stories I wrote as collaborations with friends and two of my sons ... The artwork by Glenn Chadbourne is, as always, stunning, and I hope the stories don't disappoint. I have a few personal favorites in the collection, but I won't say what they are. That's like trying to pick your favorite child.
-The publication dates on the stories in this volume range from 1987 (“Every Mother’s Son”) to 2010 (“The Call”). How has your style changed and evolved over this period?
Well, for one thing, I stopped writing my stories with crayons, so that's an advance. Seriously, though, I'm not sure how my style has evolved or changed, other than I hopefully have gotten better each time out. Writing is a tough "craft" as well as an "art," and no one ever really masters it. If they say or act like they have, they're delusional. Even the simplest advice, like drop the passive voice whenever you can, will hit you with the force of a religious revelation if you're ready (or need) to hear it. Of course, I have worked to eliminate passive voice, and useless intensifiers ( ... like "really"), and make the environment more active ( ... like instead of saying "She heard a dog bark in the night" becomes "A dog barked in the night.") But overall, I just try to do the best job each time out, and know when I finish something it could always have been better ... Resting on laurels or repeating past successes to the point of self parody are the pathways to creative death.
-It is the “Who cuts the Barber’s hair?” question, but readers always seem interested in what a writer reads for his own amusement. So, what does Rick Hautala read these days when he wants to kick back and relax?
Sad to say, I don't read much fiction. After writing fiction all day, I need to blow the stink off, as it were, so I read a lot of non-fiction--history, biography, political books. For fiction, I do a lot of what I call "social reading," which means I read books written by friends of mine so I can tell them I read their new book and loved it. (Speaking of which: I read Chris Golden and Mike Mignola's book Baltimore and loved it!) And as I get older, I find myself drifting back to sf, fantasy, and horror I read when I was young. Kind of a nostalgia trip, probably. Of course, I will always read and savor James Lee Burke's writing. Hands down the best writer working today. And of course there are other writers who, when I read them, make me think I want to do that!
-Your career spans from the early days of horror as a separate genre in American Publishing, through the horror boom and bust, the rise and fall of the major lines and the growth of the small press. You’ve seen contemporaries come and go, and you’re still standing. To what do you owe your longevity?
The Finns have a word for it: "Sisu." The positive spin is that a Finn will stand tough and do whatever needs to be done, no matter what, but the negative connotation is that a Finn is too damned stupid to stop doing something even when the odds are stacked against him or her. Look, writing is hard work, and it never gets easier. If anything, it gets harder, and the economy can take a toll. If your sales figures start to flag (and mine have gone up and down), you have to reinvent yourself. I think it was Harlan Ellison who said (this is a close approximation): "Writing is easy; it's staying a writer that's hard." You have to develop your craft and you have to expand your horizons and challenge yourself every time out. (re: my "pass success--self parody" remark). And the material has to stay fresh and exciting for you, the writer, otherwise it becomes a drill, a routine which will bore you and your readers.
-And finally, Maine is one of the smaller states in terms of population. In the horror fiction field, though, it’s as big as California. Is there something about Maine that lends itself to dark writing? What is in the water up there?
The glib answer is "Stephen King's success." Writers who have never visited the state set their stories in Maine and more often than not get it wrong, wrong, wrong! Sure, setting is important to a story, and Maine (and all of New England, being the oldest colonies ... if we ignore the Spanish in Mexico and the Caribbean) has its creepy places. But a writer has to write about what he knows. Imagination is only one element. To really get a story, you have to know the bones of the land and the people who live there so your story rings true and--hopefully--will be universal enough to reach readers even in, say, Europe (which has its own share of creepy locales). The only thing in the water is ... well, I could tell you, but then I'd have to kill you.
Monday, August 22, 2011
Way back in 2010, I started doing an interview series for Cemetery Dance’s newsletter called We Interrupt This Author. The interviews went out to CD’s e-mail list and were also published on their website. When the newsletter got re-vamped, the series, still under the auspices of Cemetery Dance, moved to its current home at Horror World. In the recent revamp of the CD website, the earlier interviews came down. (This in no way represents a falling out with Cemetery Dance, in fact I am still doing some work for the print magazine which I am excited about.)
Maybe its ego, but I liked the idea of those earlier interviews being available in on-line in case fans of the authors involved went looking for them. Therefore, with the gracious consent of Norman Prentiss and Brian Freeman, I will be re-posting the first seven interviews here over the next couple of weeks, which will keep them “in print” – and allow me to post content with a minimum of work, which appeals to my lazy self. Links on the sidebar will be updated as they go up.
Wednesday, August 17, 2011
After a long hiatus, my interview series We Interrupt This Author has returned, and my newest subject is my friend and outstanding new author, John Hornor Jacobs. Click on his name to read what he has to say about his new novel Southern Gods, his next novel This Dark Earth, and speculation on the hotness of Anais Nin and Erica Jong.
Tuesday, August 16, 2011
Not exactly a zombie film – it could more accurately be described as “zombie-ish” – Pontypool, a 2008 film directed by Bruce McDonald based on Tony Burgess’ novel Pontypool Changes Everything, is a good example how a good cast and script can overcome a low budget.
Grant Mazzy (Stephen McHattie) is a morning radio personality for a tiny radio station in the equally small town of Pontypool, Ontario (a real place, no doubt named after the Welsh town of the same name). It is at least implied that Mazzy is at the last stop on the downward slide of his career, drinking his way through announcements about lost cats and garage sales. He is assisted by his producer Sydney Briar (Lisa Houle) and assistant Laurel-Ann Drummond (Georgina Riley). Mazzy tries whatever he can to spice up the broadcast, while Briar tries to keep him on script, as it were.
A routine morning broadcast is disrupted by reports of violence and riots in the area. One by way, locals wig out and start attacking each other, mindlessly repeating random words. The radio station is soon under siege from the converted townsfolk. It turns out there is a virus that doesn’t transmit itself in the usual fashion, instead attaching to certain words. According to the director, Bruce McDonald, "There are three stages to this virus. The first stage is you might begin to repeat a word. Something gets stuck. And usually it's words that are terms of endearment, like sweetheart or honey. The second stage is your language becomes scrambled and you can't express yourself properly. The third stage is that you become so distraught at your condition that the only way out of the situation you feel, as an infected person, is to try and chew your way through the mouth of another person". The only way to avoid it is to stop hearing speech – an ironic task for people working in radio. Speaking a foreign language also seems effective, but it seems some Canadians aren’t as bilingual as you would think.
This is a very compact movie, with almost all of it taking place inside the radio station set. It is also dialogue driven, and thus rises or falls based on the cast. Fortunately for the film, Stephen McHattie, mostly seen as a character actor, does a superb job, and so does the rest of the small cast. The script is not only suspenseful but very witty in places, and I would recommend this movie. Be sure to wait through the credits for a final scene.
The writer and director have discussed plans for two sequels to the movie.
Monday, August 15, 2011
If you are still undecided about reading John Hornor Jacobs' debut novel Southern Gods
Sunday, August 14, 2011
I just realized I’ve made 665 posts on this blog prior to this one. 666 isn’t a particular large number of posts (I was well over 2000 when I got tired of the previous blog), but it seems like it should be a significant number for a (mostly) horror blog. It is after all, the number of the devil, after all, but what sort of devilish thing could I come up with to mark the occasion. A girl I dated in college did tell me I was the devil, once, but that doesn’t seem like a terribly interesting story, and in my defense her sister was hot and a bit of a slut. I just don’t know
Crap, I just realized I wasted the landmark 666th post talking about how I don’t know what to say. Oh well, come the 1984th one I’ll have something insightful to say about politics.
Crap, I just realized I wasted the landmark 666th post talking about how I don’t know what to say. Oh well, come the 1984th one I’ll have something insightful to say about politics.
Friday, August 12, 2011
I’m a fan of Robert Wise’ 1971 adaptation of Michael Crichton’s novel The Andromeda Strain. Although not free from scientific errors, I do like its basic message that when the world is threatened, the smart educated people are the ones who will save it – Kids, stay in school! – and the “ticking clock” finale is very suspenseful. So, it took me three years to watch the 2008 mini-series remake, since I figured it would be an inferior copy of the original. I needn’t have worried, since the new version uses only the basic setup from the original and then wildly diverges from the original. On the other hand, I didn’t miss anything, because this is quite a mess.
A pair of necking teenagers in rural Utah are interrupted by a crashing satellite. Unfortunately, this guy isn’t like every other teenage boy in existence, who would have ignored a nuclear explosion if he had a chance to get lucky. Instead, he stops the love-making to load the satellite in his truck (it isn’t explained how he managed to pick it up) and takes it to town, where the fire chief opens it. Everybody in town dies. Kids, in addition to staying in school, have sex instead of monkeying with crashed extraterrestrial objects. You’ll ruin fewer lives.
This triggers a “wildfire” alert – a possible runaway biological contagion. A team of scientists trained (debatable) to handle this is gathered and taken to an isolated facility. This is one of the better moments in the original film, when there is a knock at the original Jeremy Stone’s (Arthur Hill) house, and an army officer says “We have a wildfire.” The look on Hill’s face shows how terrifying the words are. In the remake, Jeremy Stone is played by Benjamin Bratt, and his Stone, given the same notification, has a hard time ending an argument with his wife to pay attention.
The rest of the team consists of surgeon Angela Noyce (Christa Miller), epidemiologist Charlene Barton (Viola Davis), former biological weapons maker for the Chinese government (!) Tsi Chou (Daniel Dae Kim) and Army doctor Bill Keane (Rick Schroeder). Keane is chosen as the “Odd Man” of the group. Since he is unmarried and has no children, psychologists believe he will be able to destroy the facility and kill everyone in it if the contagion gets out of control, since he has no emotional attachments. The psychologists have overlooked that Keane is unmarried because he’s gay, and gays can form emotional attachments. (If Michelle Bachmann reads this blog, I’m going to get an angry comment on that.) Keane is also put there to “counter” Stone by General Mancheck (Andre Braugher) who seems to have his own agenda. Or maybe not, it’s hard to tell. There is also an investigative journalist (Eric McCormack), fresh from rehab, trying to expose the story. Stone keeps him apprised of developments by telephone, security meaning something different in this universe.
Here’s where the plot diverges most of all. The satellite brought back a virus not from deep space, but from the future, sent by our future selves because they could not find a cure. Uh-huh. The expanded length is accounted for by a convoluted subplot about shadowy figures in the government working against the researchers to preserve the virus. They kill everyone who thwarts their sinister scheme and are led by the National Security Advisor, who has no apparent motivation for his actions, with the possible exception of quitting smoking. He’s just Evil, dammit! The President is shown as a bit of a doofus, who is determined to do the right thing, until the end of the movie, where he does the exact wrong thing, despite ample evidence to go the other way. No explanation given. The movie ends in an ontological paradox, in case your head needs to explode.
I’m not going to go into the myriad scientific errors, except to state the crack team shows no real skill or knowledge in dealing with the situation. They don’t even solve it in the end, the answer is given to them from another source. Benjamin Bratt looks more like an action hero than a cerebral scientist, and neither do the rest of the cast, with the possible exception of Kim. The original used actors who looked like scientists, and was better for it. The character of Keane vacillates wildly, from complete jerk to relative nice guy, as does General Manchek. The suspenseful finale is changed into shots of Bratt climbing a pipe, with a ludicrous thrown thumb (!) for unintentional laughter. There is also a last-minute betrayal by one of the researchers which leads to the needless deaths of two of the others, although she is forgiven enough to be seen mourning at their funeral in the end.
Watch the slightly dated original, if the topic interests you, and hope if there is an actual outbreak of deadly plague, the team fighting it is a little more on the ball.
Thursday, August 11, 2011
Another slightly dated movie review; however, in this case, you probably haven’t seen Cowboys & Aliens yet, since not that many people did. This might be the best sci-fi/western hybrid movie ever made, since the only other one I can think of is Oblivion, which was not a high point of cinema, despite the presence of George Takei. That is assuming you don’t count Firefly/Serenity, which is science fiction with western themes rather than a western with science fiction themes. Confusing enough?
Jake Lonergan (Daniel Craig) wakes up in the desert, with no memory, a wound in his side and a strange metal device strapped to his wrist. He doesn’t remember his name, but he does know he is a badass, since he dispatches four desperadoes on the 10 o’clock train to Boot Hill. (Westerns bring this sort of thing out in me.) With newly acquired horses, weapons and clothes, he makes his way to the nearby town of Absolution. This turns out to be a bad choice, since Absolution is controlled by rich rancher and former Army Colonel Woodrow Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford) – and Lonergan robbed a stagecoach of money belonging to Dolarhyde. An encounter with Dolarhyde’s dimwitted jerk of a son (Paul Dano) lands both Lonergan and the son in jail, but not before Lonergan meets the enigmatic Ella (Olivia Wilde).
To this point, the movie hasn’t been that different from a traditional western, but then alien space craft start buzzing the town and abducting the townsfolk. Lonergan discovers his bracelet can fire energy blasts that can shoot down the alien aircraft, and he and Dolarhyde lead a posse in pursuit of the aliens, in order to recover the abductees.
All of this is not nearly as much fun as it sounds. Despite the title, the story is played deadly serious, and could have used more humor. Craig and Ford are playing the same character – the gruff tough guy with a secret good streak – and there needed to be more contrast for them to play off each other. The story also leaves no western trope untouched. In addition to the posse, Lonergan and Dolarhyde recruit Lonergan’s old criminal gang (in a scene reminiscent of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid) and an Apache tribe (after a spirit ceremony, reminiscent of almost every bad modern western). The chase after the aliens seems to take place in real time, and the movie slows down just when it needs to speed up.
The aliens have an improbable reason for coming to Earth and abducting yokels. Worst of all, when it comes time for the climactic battle between our heroes and the aliens, the aliens fight with their bare hands, completely nude. Space dudes! You have the technology to travel between the stars, beam up precious metals and create wrist-blasters. You should use that know-how on the guys with six-guns and bows & arrows. I suppose they are related to the ETs from Signs. It is also stated the aliens can’t see well in daylight (this is mentioned, but has absolutely no bearing on the plot in any way) but choose to come out of their dark tunnels to fight the heroes in sunlight.
The cast does the best they can with the limitations of the script. (Harrison Ford said when he read the script he “didn’t get it.” I feel your pain, Mr. Ford.) Craig makes a surprisingly good western hero, and I can’t help but think it would have been a better movie if the filmmakers had created a straight western, leaving out the sci-fi elements. There is a fairly impressive supporting cast, with Clancy Brown, Sam Rockwell, Keith Carradine and Walton Goggins. It is a particular crime that Carradine and Goggins weren’t given more to do.
All in all, Cowboys & Aliens is more interesting to consider as the movie it might have been than it is to watch the movie that was made.
Wednesday, August 10, 2011
I’m not much of a fan of what is commonly called fantasy fiction. Maybe I’m looking for something darker, but most of it comes off as far too inconsequential, often silly. I liked Tolkien all right when I was twelve, but even then found the hobbits to be useless at best and generally annoying. Had I been Aragorn, I would have sent them back to the Shire and gotten on with it. Unless, of course, hobbits cook up well, since you need provisions for that long trip to Mordor. Just my opinion, of course.
I do like the idea of reading about a magical world, where supernatural events are commonplace, but few authors manage to create a world where that is presented in an adult context. George R. R. Martin has done that with his A Song of Fire and Ice series, of course, and after some initial hesitation I came to love Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files series, but those types of books seem rare within fantasy, which makes the discovery of one a happy occasion, which brings me to the most recent book I’ve read, Daniel Polansky’s Low Town, a book which manages to combine fantasy elements with a hard-boiled crime story, without cheapening either genre.
The main character is the Warden, a drug dealer in the titular Low Town, the rough section of the city of Rigus, which reminded me a bit of London. Warden grew up hard on the streets, went off to fight in the bloody “Great War” (an obvious analogue to World War One) and became an agent of the Crown, tasked with investigating crimes, before a fall from grace five years earlier brought him to his current occupation. Warden has to go back to his old detective days when the bodies of ritually sacrificed children begin turning up in Low Town. His search for the killer leads him to encounter a magical creature he first saw on the battlefields of the war, and to stop it he has to confront much of his own history.
Like Martin, Polansky wisely doesn’t overdo the magical aspects of his invented world. The inhabitants accept that they live in a reality where magic exists, but it isn’t necessarily a part of their day-to-day lives. They are too busy surviving in a rough town where the technology seems to be more or less on a par with our mid-nineteenth century. He has also created a hero who is sympathetic yet undeniably a hard man. The book is fast paced, closer to classic noir novels than the more languidly paced stories typical in fantasy. The reader is shown enough of the world to be intrigued, but the flow of the book isn’t muddled with long explanations of everything in the background. The inhabitants of the novel accept their world as it is, and so do we.
I thought the twist at the end was a bit obvious, but that did nothing to dim my enjoyment of the book. I assume this is intended to be the first of a new series, and I look forward to more visits to Low Town.
Low Town will be published by Doubleday on August 16th, and is available for pre-order at the usual locations. In the UK, it will be published under the name The Straight Razor Cure.
Tuesday, August 9, 2011
I’m trying to get back to regular posting (yeah, I know, you’ve heard that one before) so I’m throwing out some of the stuff I failed to post earlier. The first up is a now-dated review of Super 8, which I saw on its release weekend. Most of the pre-release hype for Super 8 was centered on the (somewhat predictable) mystery as to the cause of the problems for the small town in the movie. If you haven’t seen the movie yet, and don’t want the mystery spoiled, I advise you to stop reading now. Although if you haven’t seen it yet, I doubt you really care that much.
In the summer of 1979 in the small town of Lillian, Ohio, a young boy named Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney) is making an amateur zombie movie with his friends. This is therapy of sorts for Joe, since earlier in the year his mother died in an industrial accident, and he has a difficult relationship with his distant father (Kyle Chandler). Sneaking away to shoot some night footage, two important things happen for Joe: he connects with the film’s leading lady Alice (Elle Fanning), who happens to be the daughter of the man indirectly responsible for his mother’s death, and the young Eisensteins witness a shocking train derailment. They also see something apparently escape from the wreckage.
Soon the Air Force, presented as the true villains of the movie, is swarming over the town, people are disappearing, and property is being destroyed. It seems the mystery train was carrying an alien taken from the wreckage of a crashed spacecraft, which has been tortured for years by the Air Force, and now is trying to put its ship back together to go home, all the while enjoying a steady diet of Ohioan tartare. Will the alien return home? Will Joe re-connect with his dad? Will he find first love with Alice? Will the gang finish their zombie movie? Super 8 was produced by Steven Spielberg, which should give you the answer to all those questions.
I enjoyed the movie well enough, but I didn’t love it. It is too much a cobbled together collection of themes from other movies (Spielberg’s E.T. and The Goonies, director J.J. Abrams’ Cloverfield) to stand on its own, and there are too many inconsistencies in the script, with too many of the themes underdeveloped. Part of the movie’s arc is supposed to be Joe coming to grips with his mother’s death (a locket is used for symbolism), but frankly, he already seems to be handling it pretty well. Four months after the event, the 12-year-old is just a little blue. His relationship with his father is only shallowly explored. Is dad distant because of the shock of his wife’s death, or has he always been that way? Closure to this is found when dad realizes he doesn’t want his only child to be eaten by a monster, which seems like a low bar of parental responsibility.
There’s also the issue of the creature. We are supposed to root for the alien, since it just wants to go home, but it’s eating people. Not just evil Air Force personnel, who no doubt deserve it, but innocent townsfolk. Yes, it is misunderstood and has been treated badly, but is that any excuse for it to eat the nice lady next door or the guy working at the 7-11? I think the alien is from the wrong movie.
The young filmmakers are supposed to be the ensemble focal point of the movie, I think, but they are mostly unrealized. They are archetypes, the fat kid, the small kid with ADD, the kid with a weak stomach, etc. Other than the director of the movie, who is something of an ass, none of the group is developed at all, and except for Joe and Alice, they all disappear when it is time for the movie’s climax.
Abrams meant this movie to be an homage to his idol Spielberg, and it more or less succeeds. All of the typical Spielberg beats are here: A boy with issues with his father, a mawkish sentimentality, an idealized view of early teens. Unfortunately, these are mostly flaws here.
There were some good things. The train wreck is exciting, Kyle Chandler is always an engaging actor, and Elle Fanning is a revelation, showing real talent in her scenes for the movie-within-the-movie. But overall, Super 8 is a movie that falls apart if you stop to think about it.
Monday, August 8, 2011
It seems like a lifetime ago, but it was just less than three years ago I was blogging about an unpublished novel I’d read. The world has moved on, as they say, and now you can read Southern Gods for yourself, and you really should.
The book is set in the American South in the post World War II era. Bull Ingram, a veteran of the war who left it with skills suitable only for violence, works as an enforcer in Memphis. A local DJ hires him to find a bluesman named Ramblin’ John Hastur, whose music, broadcast on pirate radio stations, is said to have magical powers, and drives some men insane on hearing it. Bull’s quest, which becomes as much about his own redemption as finding Hastur, takes him through the heart of the South and the blues sub-culture which was just beginning to break out into the wider world. He journeys toward a rendezvous with Hastur, a young woman named Sarah and her daughter Franny, and his own destiny.
This book is a detective story, a period piece, a road novel, and a horror tale. Its synthesis is greater than the sum of its parts. John does something increasingly rare in modern fiction: creating characters that seem real enough for us to care about them. You will want to come along on Bull’s journey.
A lot of writers these days seem to miss a central truth about their vocation: It is a combination of art and craft. They embrace the art side, telling stories, but shy away from the hard work of crafting words together in just the right order, the tedious business of finding the proper phrase to communicate to the reader what the writer is attempting to say. John is not one of those people. He labors hard at finding the right word, the appropriate phrase. Southern Gods was already a good book when I first read it in an early draft, better than the vast majority of what’s published today, but John was willing to perform surgery on it to make it even better. That dedication to his craft is going to make John an important writer, not just in the relatively small horror field, but in all of fiction.
John is a personal friend of mine, a fact you should know when you read this. But regardless of his poor choice of friends, he truly is an outstanding writer, and Southern Gods is a book you should read. It is a gem in the rubble of derivative zombie novels and torture porn that dark fantasy consists of at the present time. You can get a copy for under $10 from Amazon and other retailers, and you won’t be sorry you did.