Thursday, January 24, 2013

WITA # 6: Hans-Åke Lilja

Continuing to re-print some of these old interviews I did for Cemetery Dance in the We Interrupt This Author series, here is a brief talk with Hans-Åke Lilja, who is one of the chief chroniclers of Stephen King's writing career. This interview is reprinted courtesy of Cemetery Dance, on whose website it appeared on August 16, 2010. As always, the material is a little dated.

For over thirty years, Stephen King has been the dean of horror writers, and arguably, his biggest fan is Hans-Åke Lilja, the proprietor of the Lilja’s Library website at  Mr. Lilja has collectd the information acquired over many years into a new book from Cemetery Dance called Lilja’s Library:  The World of Stephen King, available now, and illustrated by Glenn Chadbourne.  It will stand as one of the great resources for information about Mr. King’s life and work, and Mr. Lilja was kind enough to talk with us about the book and about himself.

Dead In The South - So, your book from Cemetery Dance is called Lilja’s Library:  The World of Stephen King.  Tell us about it.

Hans-Åke Lilja - It’s a collection of the reviews and interviews I had done for the site up till mid 2008 as well as some I did exclusively for the book. It’s a version of the site that you can read in bed. It also has a very nice intro by Bev Vincent and an interview (also by Bev) with me about the site.

DITS -  You are one of if not the biggest of all Stephen King fans.  What is it about his work that speaks to you?

H-AL - The main thing is that he can tell a story really well. He makes you feel for the characters. He makes you care about them. He makes you feel like you know them. And on top of that he also has the ability to take something really ordinary and turn it into something scary, in a believable way. 

DITS - How long have you been a Stephen King fan, and what got you started?

H-AL - I have been a fan since the mid 80’s when I got a copy of Carrie for Christmas. I got hooked and read everything he had written after that.

DITS - Since you have knowledge of Mr. King’s work I can only envy, what is your favorite or favorites among his many books and stories?

H-AL - Oh, that is the hard one! I can’t pick just one. I really love The Long Walk which also shows King’s ability to create great characters. Who else could write a book about people walking? I also love The Dark Tower, The Stand, IT and The Talisman. Of the shorter works I really like “Secret Garden, Secret Window” and “Survival Type”.

King and Lilja

DITS - Over the years, there have been many projects in connection with King announced that never saw the light of day, books that were never completed and movies that were never filmed.  If you could wish just one of these projects into existence, what would it be?

H-AL - That’s easy. I would love to see the animated movie version of Eyes of The Dragon that was planned some years ago. And if it were to be done today it would probably be even better since the technique is so much better. 

DITS - Do you have any ambitions to write fiction yourself?

H-AL - No. Unfortunately I have no skills for writing stories.

DITS - Now that this monumental task is completed and the book is out, what is next up for Hans-Ake Lilja?

H-AL - I’m part of another book coming out next year called The Illustrated Stephen King Movie Trivia Book that I co-wrote with Brian Freeman and Kevin Quigley. It’s a quiz book about almost every King movie done. It’s also beautifully illustrated by Glenn Chadbourne.

After that I really don’t know. I’d love to do another book about King but I need to find something that hasn’t already been written about and that isn’t as easy as one might thing… I will also keep the site going and I have some plans for it that I hope to be able to realize.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Breed (2006)

Although I have a soft spot for all sorts of creature features, I run into a bit of a personal problem when said creatures turn out to be dogs, as I tend to like dogs a lot more than people. In my entire life, I have only met one or two dogs I didn’t get along with; while the number of people I haven’t liked is {supercomputer is busy calculating this}. Anyway, on to The Breed.

After a short introduction of a couple docking their sailboat on an island and getting attacked by dogs, we see a seaplane loaded with five twenty-somethings. They are two couples and their Token Black Friend. TBK is doomed of course, because black guys in horror movies don’t last as long as a drummer for Spinal Tap. The two white guys are brothers, with the younger one a high-achiever who is going to medical school and the older the ne-er-do-well of the family. This is a setup for conflict between the two, but since the older brothers is surprisingly competent, it isn’t as much of a contrast as the filmmakers intended. The other two are the girlfriends, one played by Michelle Rodriquez, which immediately started me to speculating about when and how she would die. Rodriquez is the distaff version of Sean Bean, rarely making it to the closing credits with a pulse.

The five are flying to the remote island for a holiday, because the two brothers inherited a house there from a recently deceased uncle. I was having trouble identifying with them, since the only thing I’ve inherited from an uncle was a pair of old boots. The only other building on the island is an abandoned facility where they experimented on dogs, supposedly shut down because all the dogs got rabies and had to be destroyed. Not giving anything away if you looked at the picture of the movie poster above, but group is soon under attack by a pack of feral dogs and trapped in the cabin, where they try to outwit the fidos and escape. It seems that the experiments performed on them made the dogs super aggressive and super intelligent, although there must be limits since they haven’t invented rocket launchers or anything.

There is something of a subplot about those characters that have been bitten and survived becoming more aggressive and losing control, as if the bites had given them rabies or maybe just made them irritable at being gnawed on by Lassie, but this goes nowhere at all. Maybe they were saving that for The Breed 2.
A tense scene from the movie, showing the cast being attacked by one of the killer dogs.

Anyway, both acting and direction are competent, with only a few fast cutaways needed to conceal vicious dogs wagging their tails and sporting doggie smiles. The script isn’t particularly dumb by the low standards of this sort of movie. The scenery is nice (It was filmed in South Africa). I suppose the final judgment on the movie is that it is a perfectly bland, middle of the road horror-thriller. There is nothing much to recommend it or trash it. If you are in the mood for this sort of thing and have nothing else to watch, it will pass the time well enough, I suppose.

The moral of the movie’s story is always carry bags of Milk Bones on your vacation. You will make friends with the murderous dogs, and they’ll eat your friends instead.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

The Fog (2005)

Way back in the aughts (You remember those. No? They ended three years ago! Fewer drugs, dude.) there was a mini-wave of remaking horror films from the 70s/80s. Halloween, Friday the 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street and Arthur all got remakes, with enough success to encourage studios to keep doing it.

John Carpenter’s 1980 film The Fog was a fairly obvious choice to be remade. Successful at the time, it isn’t held in quite the same reverence as some of his better-known films, and Carpenter himself has said is feels dated. So, cast some good looking young TV stars, use modern special effects and it couldn’t go wrong. Right? Oy…

Nick Castle (Tom Welling, Smallville) owns a charter fishing boat harbored in Antonio Bay, Oregon. Despite the name, Antonio Bay is a small island off the coast of Oregon. He takes fisherman out for brief excursions with his completely incompetent mate Spooner. We only get to know Spooner briefly, but in that short time he manages to almost capsize the boat with the anchor winch and ignores the small matter of engine trouble at sea. Gilligan was better. One day, Nick and Spooner are floating along when they snag their anchor, disturbing a small bag. This is significant because…I guess because that’s how the movie starts.

Back on shore, we learn there is tension in the town between young entrepreneurs like Nick, who want the town to spend to upgrade the marina, and the older generation who spent the funds on a statue of the four founding fathers of the town. This is supposed to be a heated controversy, but neither Nick nor the town elders seem to be able to work up much enthusiasm for the fight. The timing is crucial, since this is the 100th anniversary of the town’s founding in 1871. Wait, when is this movie set? 2005? But…Try not to think about it.

Nick has an old girlfriend Elizabeth (Maggie Grace, Taken) who has been gone to New York for a while, and a new girlfriend Stevie Wayne (Selma Blair, Hellboy) who is the owner and sole operator of the town’s radio station. Nick is surprised when he picks up a female hitchhiker late at night (in a creepy don’t-get-in-the-truck way) and finds it is Elizabeth, who has apparently walked back to Oregon from New York. This would seem to trigger a heated lovers’ triangle, but none of the three can work up much interest. Stevie has a son, whose purpose is to be put in danger.

Meanwhile, disturbing that bag (or possibly the 100th/134th anniversary thing, or sunspots or something) has triggered a strange fog that darts in and out, hence the name of the movie. The fog is filled with ghosts, who murder people indiscriminately and really hate streetlamps. It seems that in 1871, there was another mythical Oregon island with a prosperous trading colony. Through trade with China, they all caught leprosy. That isn’t how leprosy works, but whatever. Cast out from their island (by who?) they search for a new home. The good founding fathers of Antonio Bay promise them half the island, but rob them, lock them on their boat and burn them alive instead, and use the stolen wealth to build the town. This does seem like the way to get a monument to yourself, judging by history. Rather than take their revenge on those who actually wronged them, the ghostly lepers wait a century or more to punish the relatively innocent descendants and unconnected people living in modern Antonio Bay.
Oh. no! Limited visibility!

There is also a drunken priest who wanders around misquoting the Bible, various impalements, and a lot of broken streetlamps. I don’t reveal the ending of movies so as not to spoil them for those who haven’t seen the film, but in this case I don’t understand it anyway. Something happens, but who knows why.

The actors are good looking but uninspired. Even Ms. Blair, who is normally an interesting actress, looks like she wishes she were somewhere else. The direction is flat. The modern special effects don’t really look as good as the 1980 version. There really isn’t anything about which to recommend this movie.

My favorite anecdote related to this movie is the director insisted that Selma Blair, a petite woman, wear formidable falsies in her role. Why? The role of Stevie in the original version was played by carpenter’s then-wife Adrienne Barbeau, who was fairly busty. Again, why? This is apparently yet another mystery of The Fog.

WITA #5: Al Sarrantonio

I am continuing to put these old interviews from my column We Interrupt This Author back on-line, courtesy of Cemetery Dance, on whose website this first appeared on August 3, 2010. I feel they may be of interest to some, although the material in them is obviously dated. Thanks to CD for allowing the re-publication of these pieces.

Dead In The South:  Your latest book from Cemetery Dance is Halloween: New Poems.  Tell us a little about it.

Al Sarrantonio: The goal with this one was simple: to put together a book of brand-new poems about Halloween, something that's never been done before.  Luckily for me, everyone I asked came through.  I even persuaded Joe Lansdale to write some poetry -- something he'd never done before!  And, being Joe, he not only did a great job, but he managed to imbue his half-dozen contributions with the same edge he shows in his fiction.  And the book ended up exceeding my hopes as far as format goes -- oversized, beautiful cover art by Alan Clark and magnificent interiors by Keith Minnion.  These two guys never cease to amaze.  I do think anyone who picks up this book will take it down and re-read it every October.

DITS:  In addition to Halloween Poems, you are also the author of Halloween and Other Seasons, Hallows Eve, Halloweenland, and several other stories with a theme centered on the greatest of holidays.  Other than the obvious, what is it about Halloween that attracts you as a writer?

AS:  Halloween is an iconic time of year, a bridge between hot (summer) and cold (winter) and a hinge on which the entire calender turns.  The present children's holiday is fascinating enough, but the ancients were very serious about this time of the year, and infused it with a lot of magic, religious significance, and mysticism.  If that ain't fodder for a writer's imagination, I don't know what is.

DITS:   You recently co-edited Stories with Neil Gaiman, and you are known as one of the best editors of anthologies in the field, with 999 being high on the list of indispensible horror anthologies.  How do you go about making sure that your anthology will stand out from the crowd?

AS:   I don't do anything but my job as an editor, which is to buy the best stories I can get my hands on, and then present them in an order which is pleasing to the reader.  Everything else -- and I mean EVERYTHING -- is in the hands of the contributors.  I've been extremely fortunate to work with some of the finest writers in the business, and they always seem to come through.  Which makes me lucky and happy as hell.

DITS:  You’ve also written several books in the science fiction field.  How do you go about adjusting from a horror mindset to more scientific orientation?

AS:   It's not much of an adjustment.  All of my sf has been of the science fantasy kind, and I manage to mingle some horror elements with the rest of it.  Science fiction was my first love, and I just can't let it go.  I'm particularly proud of my Five Worlds trilogy, which had a LOT of horror in it.  One of the main characters, the Machine Master of Mars, had his lips snipped off by his brother, whose essence is encased in a huge ant-like carapace!

DITS:   In an age where the short story is increasingly rare compared to the more lucrative novel length, you are one of the few authors who is just as prolific writing short stories and novellas.  Do you feel that one length or another better suits your style?

AS:   I like 'em both, but approach them differently.  To me, the short story is an art form with particular demands.  Every word counts. Novels provide a broader landscape, and you can wander a bit and stretch out.  I'm very serious with short stories.  Novel-wise, I tend to smile a bit more.

DITS:  Finally, what projects lie in the near future for you?

AS:   Another anthology is in the works, as well as a new Novella Series book from Cemetery Dance (centered on Halloween, of course).  New short stories will be popping up here and there, I can never stop writing those.  Looks like my story "Pumpkin Head" will be made into a short film in the near future.  Perhaps a new novel, which is just beginning to take shape.  In other words, more of the same -- which I hope is a good thing!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

SEAL Team 666

In SEAL Team 666, Jack Walker is going through the selection process to become a U.S. Navy SEAL, one of the world’s elite Special Forces organizations, when he is graduated early to join an even more exclusive group: SEAL Team 666, a five man (and one dog) team of operators that deal with supernatural threats to the United States. It seems that Jack, due to an incident in his childhood, has the ability to sense supernatural danger, which makes him valuable to the group beyond his basic sniper assignment. Unfortunately for Jack, his spidey sense initially manifests itself as complete paralysis, which could be a problem in combat situations.

Jack has little time to adapt to his new role, as the team is off in pursuit of a Karen rebel in Myanmar who plans to bring forward an ancient demon, controlled by a custom suit of human skin. Casualties among the good guys mount rapidly as time runs out to stop the final ceremony.

Weston Ochse is the author of one of the best novels dealing with the supernatural in the last twenty years, Scarecrow Gods, and this is the launch of a new series blending military fiction (think Tom Clancy) with supernatural literature. I don’t think this is as good as Scarecrow Gods – there isn’t the depth of characterization found in the earlier novel – but few books are. I think this will be good reading for those looking for a book filled with action and horror. I will certainly look forward to the next book in the series.

Irrelevant trivia: because it is a pet peeve of mine, I was overjoyed to see that Ochse refers to the ammunition storage devices for the rifles used by the SEALs by the correct name of “magazine.” Too many writers use the word “clip”, a mistake they beat out of you in basic training. (Few modern weapons use free-standing clips, although many types of magazines contain clips.)