Thursday, December 30, 2010
Also, "The Hollow Man" has been picked up by John Langan and Paul Tremblay for the forthcoming Creature! Thirty Years of Monster Stories from Prime Books. This one will include tales from Joe Lansdale, Kelly Link, China Mieville, and David forkin' Schow (!). In other words, I'm really looking forward to reading it, and I hope you feel the same.
Friday, December 24, 2010
Thursday, December 23, 2010
IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE (1946): Boil it down and this classic tale of redemption and hope is a two-hour-plus Twilight Zone episode. Though I've never seen the connection made in anything I've read about Rod Serling, Frank Capra's movie certainly must have inspired Mr. S and then some. Just give it a look and I'll bet you'll agree with me.
Only one false note in the whole thing, and it starts me laughing every year. I'm talking about the scene with Donna Reed in the dark alternate world of Pottersville. Horror of horrors, instead of becoming Jimmy Stewart's wife, poor Donna became THE TOWN LIBRARIAN! Which gets me on a couple of scores. First, why would a pitstop for floozies and gin guzzlers like Pottersville even have a library? Second, I've worked in libraries for more than twenty years, and the stereotype of the mousy librarian? Uh-uh. Fold that one up like a paper airplane and kamikaze it into a blazing fireplace. In my experience that breed of librarian is as rare as hen's teeth, though everyone seems to believe in it... just like Santa Claus.
MARCH OF THE WOODEN SOLDIERS (1934): Laurel and Hardy in Toyland. Life-size wooden soldiers. Boogeymen on the loose from a cavernous purgatory. Besides that, one of the Three Little Pigs is pignapped, and there's an episode of medieval torture by Old King Cole as a result (well, I'm exaggerating just a little there). There's even a Mickey Mouse ripoff character played by a capuchin monkey who throws explosives from a zeppelin, and lots of weird little gnomes in a dream sequence that will give you nightmares. So, yes -- this is definitely the kind of movie that can warp small children. And I ask you: What more could you want at Christmas time? (NOTE: Beware the musical numbers which, under the proper circumstances, could quite possibly force you to drive icepicks into your ears.)
HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS (1966): No. Not the Jim Carrey flick. I mean THE ORIGINAL ANIMATED VERSION! One of Dr. Seuss' finest (half) hours. First shown in 1966 on a December night when Boris Karloff forevermore became "Uncle Boris" to an entire generation. BONUS: Thurl Ravenscroft singing "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch." That's the real deal. I mean, where else are you going to find lyrics about a guy whose brain is full of spiders and has garlic in his soul sung by a gent whose vocal range bottoms out a couple thousand miles south of hell's own basement? Plus, the ending of this one always makes me hungry for roast beast. Barbecued... and rare.
A CHRISTMAS CAROL (1951): Charles Dickens' brilliant ghost story done as a classic Universal horror movie... or as close as anyone has ever come, with maybe just a little bit of Val Lewton thrown in for good measure by director Brian Desmond Hurst. Watch the opening scenes and you'll catch the tone right away, especially when ol' Ebeneezer makes the long trudge from his counting-house to his lonely quarters. In most movie versions Scrooge makes the journey through bustling Victorian streets, but in this one he makes the trip alone, with nothing but shadows and whispering snow for company... and that sets the perfect mood of the piece. Plus, Alastair Sim is great -- definitely my favorite Scrooge (with Patrick Stewart a close second). One last thing: don't miss Ernest Thesiger -- Dr. Pretorius from The Bride of Frankenstein -- as The Undertaker.
1941 (1979): Some people think this one is Steven Spielberg's greatest train wreck. I think it's hilarious. The Japanese attack California during World War II, but we've got John Belushi as Wild Bill Kelso to protect us. And Slim Pickens, a Christmas tree lumberjack who's held captive on Toshiro Mifune's submarine. And Warren Oates. And Ned Beatty, armed with government issue ordnance. And Eddie Deezen, armed with the most annoying ventriloquist dummy ever seen on film. And most of the cast of Second City TV. There's even a Jaws riff at the beginning of the movie, a young Mickey Rourke if you don't blink at the wrong moment, and Christopher Lee as a Nazi. I had the Belushi poster on my wall in college. I've still got it around here somewhere.
LETHAL WEAPON (1987): When it comes to Christmas action movies most people choose Die Hard, but let me switch up and pick this Richard Donner/Mel Gibson flick. Of course, Donner's best Christmas movie is probably Scrooged with Bill Murray, and Gibson has hit the skids of late, but don't let that stop you from slotting this one in the DVD player. Shane Black's script doesn't just tip its hat at Christmas. Black has something to say about the holidays, and family. Detective Murtaugh (Danny Glover) has one; he's getting ready for an All-American Christmas. Detective Riggs (Gibson) doesn't; his wife is dead, and he's tempted to suck on his .45. The two are thrown together, guns start blazing, and in the midst of all the sound and fury they get a glimpse of each other's lives. Of course, this means we're plunging headlong into buddy movie territory, but it's the chemistry between Glover and Gibson that makes it all work, two very different guys who understand what's important at the right time of the year. Toss in Gary Busey as Mr. Joshua -- one of my all-time favorite heavies -- and Lethal Weapon just flatout cooks.
Wednesday, December 22, 2010
Of course, Christmas week may not be the time to do that, but what the hey. Shoot the crimson to me, Jimson, and let's get some dark holly hung on that tree before the big day arrives.
So tune in tomorrow. We'll do some stalkin' around the Christmas tree, and shoot some holiday movie recommendations your way.
Friday, November 19, 2010
Of course, that's the kind of review that's a definite day-maker, but apart from that it's got me wondering what would have happened if Mssrs. Poe and Peckinpah had managed to get together and uncork a bottle or two...
Wednesday, November 17, 2010
Saturday, November 13, 2010
Wednesday, November 10, 2010
First off, Jon Foster will be doing the cover. If you've seen the piece Jon did for my novel Dark Harvest (above), you'll understand why he's one of my absolute favorites. His work is flatout amazing. And while it's the oldest line in the book, it's true: I really can't wait to see what Jon comes up with for Oktober Shadows. Just imagine: a Jon Foster cover for a novella about a WWI soldier battling his way through a world inhabited by werewolves, vampires, and other assorted dead things? I can tell you that it will be a keeper before the brush even hits the canvas.
Just as exciting: Glenn Chadbourne will be doing interior illustrations for the project. A Cemetery Dance-favorite, Glenn's the talented artist behind the amazing Stephen King collections, The Secretary of Dreams, Volume One and Volume Two. This is my first time working with Glenn, and I'm looking forward to it. I've admired his work for a long time -- since he illustrated a tale ("The Kiss") written by my bride, Tia Travis, for the anthology Subterranean Gallery -- and it's great to have him on board for Oktober Shadows.
Tuesday, November 9, 2010
While I'm at it, this is the kind of content you'll get if you subscribe to the Cemetery Dance Insider newsletter. If you're not already getting that, you might want to sign up. It's a great way to stay informed about my upcoming projects with CD -- and the best way to get a virtual head's up about limited-time offers like Oktober Shadows.
And: you will want to stay tuned. Just saying...
Sunday, November 7, 2010
We wondered how many kids actually bought themselves a little primate pal, and how exactly the deal worked out for them. Through the magic of the internet, Lafe found out. Check out the true stories of squirrel monkey owner adventures, right here.
And now I'm wondering -- were there any small towns where a bunch of kids ordered monkeys from Mr. Warren and abandoned them? I can imagine urban gangs of squirrel monkeys knocking over the local donut shop on a Saturday night, or wild groups setting up colonies in the local woods... Who knows, maybe those smart little critters even planted forests of Mr. Warren's mail-order Venus flytraps and harvested that insectile protein right out of their slavering vegetative jaws!
Of course, one of them would have to be in charge. A smart one. Kind of like a primate Mr. Kurtz.
The horror! The horror!
Thursday, November 4, 2010
Limited Edition: 586
Lettered Edition: 52
A few notes: the Limited Edition will be bound in full-cloth and Smyth sewn, and the Lettered Edition will be traycased and bound in leather with a satin ribbon page marker. Both editions will be signed. But that's just the tip of the iceberg with this one -- CD has some great art and production plans we'll announce later. Stay tuned.
And while I'm at it: thanks to all who preordered Oktober Shadows during the four-day window of availability. Rich and Brian at CD are very happy with the numbers, and Brian tells me they've never had such a good response to an offer with this short an ordering window. From my side of the fence, I appreciate you showing your support for my work with your hard-earned cash, and I hope you're as excited about the novella as I am. It'll be great to see Oktober Shadows between hard covers courtesy of the folks at Cemetery Dance.
Wednesday, November 3, 2010
Man. I think I'm going to have nightmares about this for weeks. (And no, Cody -- I don't want to know what happened in the hedge maze!)
Tuesday, November 2, 2010
Just to answer a few questions that have popped up:
- We don't have an exact number on the limitation of this project yet. I can tell you that all 52 lettered copies of the book have been sold, but the number of limiteds is still to be determined as the CD crew processes the orders that came in before the pre-order window closed on Monday.
- We're aiming for a publication date well-in-advance of next October. A factor in that will be how long it takes the artist to complete the work -- Rich and Brian are planning to include quite a few illos in this one.
- And when it comes to the artist, we might be talking artists. Been trading some emails with Brian about that today... so stay tuned.
Monday, November 1, 2010
Also, no hard sell, but here's your official reminder that today is the last day to order a copy of Oktober Shadows from Cemetery Dance. Once midnight rolls around, the numbers for the signed limited and lettered edition of this novella will be set in stone, and that's it. I'll just say I'm very excited about the production and art Rich and Brian have planned for the book, and I can't wait to hold it in my hands. Really looking forward to it.
Anyway, hope your Halloween was a good one. Ours was. But what's this sudden fascination with Kit-Kat Bars? Man, that's all the trick-or-treaters wanted last night."Wow! This house has Kit-Kats! They even have one in a white wrapper! Wow! Can I have a Kit-Kat? Can I have two? Wow! White wrappers! White wrappers!"
Man. I'm sitting here this morning with a bowlful of Snickers in front of me. I never thought I'd see the day. But that's okay. I'm Old School. Snickers are Champion.
Sunday, October 31, 2010
Saturday, October 30, 2010
Norman Partridge (Hey! This is my blog! It's about time I got a chance to pick a movie!) on THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1935): Growing up as a kid in Vallejo in the pre-video/DVD sixties, Bride of Frankenstein was the one horror movie that the public library owned. Every year, the staff would trot it out for a Halloween showing, and I saw it more than a few times during those annual events.
That's part of the reason BOF is my favorite among the Universal Horrors. I can still remember my anticipation building as the date of the showing would grow nearer, just as I recall sitting in the dark and watching the movie I'd read so much about in Famous Monsters and biographies of Boris Karloff. And though it's connection to Mary Shelley's novel is tangential at best, for me Bride of Frankenstein is THE Frankenstein movie... even if it has more to do with James Whale's vision than that of The Monster's true creator herself.
For me, the reason's simple. Though Whale spills plenty of sparks in his mad lab and boils up a sky full of Hollywood lightning in the first sequel to Frankenstein, what he really did was catch lightning in a bottle. Everything works in Bride of Frankenstein, and for me it's the perfect horror movie. It moves like a bullet and doesn't waste a scene. It's vision is both sardonic and more-than-a-little melancholy, a combination that is almost impossible to pull off. Bride is also funny as hell (and, yep... I mean that literally). And it really gives viewers two top-tier monsters for the price of one: Karloff's mad/sad Monster, and Ernest Thesiger's "seven-deadly-sins-all-rolled-into-one" Doctor Pretorius... two flip sides to one very dark coin.
So give that coin a flip on Halloween night if you're looking for a great thrill. Either way it lands, it's coming up heads.
Tia V. Travis (author of "No Need of Wings") on REBECCA (1940): When I was little, my mother transported my brother and me across Canada by rail with our earthly belongings stowed in a behemoth of an iron-bound trunk of uncertain vintage. The trunk later became our guillotine-edged toy chest/basement library, and among the books stored there over the years -- including, inexplicably, Judy Garland and the Hoodoo Costume -- was my mum's first edition hardcover of Daphne Du Maurier's Rebecca. "Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again..." And every October when I'm alone in the house I revisit Hitchcock's Academy-award winning 1940 film adaptation. Rebecca possesses all the elements of a mid-century Gothic romance thriller: the forbidding seaside manor haunted by the memory of a beautiful-but-wicked femme fatale drowned in a boating tragedy; the secretive, wealthy widower tormented by his past (Laurence Olivier); the sinister housekeeper with a fierce devotion to the tempestuous first Mrs. de Winter and an intense hatred of her timorous new mistress (Judith Anderson); the quintessential charming scoundrel (George Sanders); the naive young heroine (Joan Fontaine) trapped in a tangled skein of mystery and deceit; and an unforgettable pyrotechnic climax.
For those seeking an even darker shade of black (or whiter shade of deathly pale), The Innocents is a film I find far too disturbing to view without my husband (you know who you are!) ensconced in the parlour chair at my side... and this, despite my affinity for quiet ghost stories and malefic Women in Black. The eponymous 1961 film adaptation of Henry James' 1899 novella stars Deborah Kerr as the repressed governess to a pair of decidedly odd children. Convinced her young charges are being unnaturally influenced by malevolent spirits haunting the remote country estate, Kerr soon finds herself drawn under their evil spell. The Innocents marries vertiginous Victorian paranoia with heart-pounding psychological suspense, and culminates in a deeply disturbing finale courtesy of a master storyteller at the height of his literary powers.
Neve Partridge on Disney's THE LEGEND OF SLEEPY HOLLOW (1949): I haven't seen this yet (I'm not even nine months old and I'm not allowed to watch television!), but my dad and mom watch it every year. I sure like listening to the song, though. Thurl Ravenscroft is the best!
Friday, October 29, 2010
A little more about the book:
A lone man takes a wrong turn into another world... one with cobbled streets lit by Jack o' Lanterns, where all cats are black and monsters haunt the endless night. Werewolves prowl beneath a moon that is always full, and vampires feast in forgotten catacombs. Patchwork creatures stalk twisted forests where black roots dig into blacker soil.
This is Oktober, a dead land ruled by dead things. But Oktober has never seen a man like the soldier who has just cut a path through a river of poisonous fog. He's coming with a shotgun in his hands and a blood-stained Bowie knife strapped to his belt. Things are about to change in this darkest of worlds... and they will change forever.
Needless to say, I'm very excited about this project, and hope you will be, too. Great to taking another dance in the cemetery... and Happy Halloween!
Ah, the haunted house. There's a reason it's a Halloween staple. Sometimes I wonder how long people have been putting on these attractions, getting other people's money and then scaring the living hell out of them. It's got to go back a long ways.
I live in Austin, home of the House of Torment, one of the nation's leading haunted attractions. Seriously. Hauntworld.com currently has it listed as number twelve in their top thirteen. A few years back, they were even higher on the list when some friends and I went to check it out.
Sadly, it wasn't scary. Don't get me wrong, I still had a ton of fun. The sets were great, and the makeup and costumes were amazing, but there wasn't any real effort made to scare other than people jumping out and yelling, "Boo!" And for the love of all that's holy, please explain to me why, in the middle of a post-apocalyptic themed haunted house, there's a clown with a big hammer dancing around? Maybe it's a symptom of a high-volume business. Their job is to move people in and out of the building, and that doesn't leave much time for high-quality scares. Really, I don't know.
To me, the haunted house experience was best when I was a kid. In my small Indiana hometown, the local Jaycees held a haunted house in an abandoned schoolhouse. The three story building that sat in the trashier part of town was a tower of scorched bricks and busted windows. I was in the second grade when my parents first took my brother and me. I still remember waiting in line for more than an hour, looking up at this brick monstrosity. At one point, a woman on the third floor started screaming and beating against the window. The glass broke and rained down the side of the building, and then something grabbed her and pulled her away from the window.
If I wasn't scared before, I sure as hell was after that!
Finally, we made it into the haunted house. The first room was a tight little spot where the guide explained the rules to us. Okay. No problem. Once we were ready, we were ushered into the next room...
...and right into a funeral.
There was a full funeral service happening in the next room. Rows of wailing mourners in chairs, an actual coffin with an actual person inside, and a priest giving a service. My seven-year-old mind tried to guess what was happening. The guy's gonna get out of the coffin. That's the scare.
But the funeral just kept going, the priest talking and talking, and I started to feel the pressure build, that anticipation when you know something's going to happen, but it just doesn't. The service lasted long enough that my anticipation began to fade and boredom started to creep in to take it's place. Then a door to the left burst open and something leaped out. Strobe lights burst into life, and I saw a shrieking woman in a white dress that was both tattered and streaked with blood. There was blood around her mouth, too. Her skin was just as white as her dress, and her hair was a black, tangled mess. She had a knife in one hand, and with her other hand she grabbed one of the mourners, a woman who began to shriek just as loud as this monster. The mourner struggled in the woman's grip, but she was still dragged back through the door, which slammed shut behind them. The screams continued for a few seconds, arching upwards in a horrible, painful climax.
And then they stopped, cut off like somebody had brought an axe down on them.
I didn't open my eyes for the next hour. I know my parents dragged me, my hands iron claws in theirs, through the rest of the house, but I never saw another scene. That night, I didn't sleep. I'm not sure I slept the next night, either.
One scene did that. One scene was more terrifying than the three times I've been through the House of Torment combined. Sure, I'm twenty-five years older now, but I don't think that's the reason. The Jaycee's Haunted House was about suspense, while the House of Torment relied on shock. There's a difference, and it's an important one. I can only hope that today's haunted houses can take a look backward and learn a thing or two.
I want to take a moment and thank Norm for letting me take up some space today. He's as solid as they come, and I'm thankful for it.
Next Monday, November 1st, my debut novel Red Sky will be available for pre-order. It's a gritty, grisly tale of a bank heist gone wrong and the terrible things the perpetrators find while trying to flee through the deserts of New Mexico. If that sounds like your cup of tea, I hope you'll head over to Thunderstorm Books and reserve a copy on Monday. It's a limited edition, so there may not be copies available when the book is released early next year.
Well, that's all I've got for today. I hope you all enjoyed it. Happy Halloween!
Thursday, October 28, 2010
Cody Goodfellow (author of Perfect Union) on THE SHINING (1980): I watch different stuff every Halloween, but if I have a traditional favorite, it's more because the first time I saw it, The Shining marked me like a scar. Far from traumatic, it was like a magical key to everything forbidden that adults didn't want kids to know, and since it was the plain black 1st edition hardcover, Mom only knew I was reading a fat book with no pictures for a change.
I didn't get to see The Shining in the theater, but it ran on HBO in October of 1981, the year I got hit by a car. I couldn't go trick or treating, as I'd just been cut out of a body cast. I knew The Shining, and by God, I knew all about cabin fever.
I had nightmares for the first time since kindergarten.
In a weird reversal of the Hollywood casting dynamic, Kubrick's Torrance family is far more real than King's traditionally attractive couple. Nicholson's seething dry drunk, Shelly Duvall's hysterical codependence and Danny Lloyd's autistic fugue are like big heaps of dry tinder stuffed into the psychic kiln of the Overlook. While Kubrick keeps us miles away from the inner life that was King's focus, these people were all too recognizable to me.
Duvall is twitchy and bullied because she was manipulated and a bit terrorized by her director, who never even told poor Danny Lloyd or his parents what kind of a movie he was making. This gives it the sense that none of this is in any way made up for your entertainment. There are no corny musical cues or moments of levity that don't feel forced or grimly ironic, and the changes from the book's plot are brilliantly ruthless. The dreadful mystery of what's really going on in Jack's head is scary enough, but that distance is exactly what makes stuff like this...
...as scary as anything I have ever seen in my life.
These guys were iconic to me as a child because they represented every scary, mysterious thing that adults every abruptly stopped doing when I came into a room (and my mom was single in the 70's so... yeah). Screw screaming for help when monsters come around, because adults, with their addictions, fetishes, fixations and phobias, are all monsters. And they continue to haunt me as an adult because they represent an afterlife where you'll spend eternity reliving the most degrading thing you ever did in your life, while children from the future constantly stumble in and get traumatized.
This movie isn't about fear as a festive, funny feeling. This is about real, mortal dread, and human emotions so out of control that they live on in an afterlife without God. So, I could name a hundred movies you'd have more fun with, this Halloween; but this one will always be a rite of passage for the angry crippled kid I was, my tenth Halloween, and the first meaningful portrait of the monster I would grow up to be.
John Langan (author of House of Windows) on CARNIVAL OF SOULS (1962): I can't remember how I came to watch Carnival of Souls. There was a video store in Rosendale, the nearest town to where my wife and I were living; I want to say I ran across the box for Carnival while prowling the wire racks of that mom-n-pop venture (whose interior, in my memory, is always dim, washed by the pale light that pushed its way through the hazy windows). It must have been a VHS tape; although I'm sure the cover would have been the same as that for the DVD I eventually picked up: a cartoonish drawing of a woman with long blond hair looking over her right shoulder as she runs away from whatever has brought the look of terror to her face. Her blouse is off-the-shoulders, the better to display her generous cleavage; indeed, she might have fled straight from the cover of a Harlequin romance. Behind her, a stolid building raises a pair of onion domes on stocky towers, while below and to the left, the cadaverous head of an old man leers. It's an illustration that screams low-budget, and the film it advertises does nothing to contradict that impression. Shot in black and white, using no-name actors who in most cases deliver their lines as reading them from cue-cards, Carnival of Souls is a bare-bones production.
Of course, that's not necessarily a bad thing; in fact, it can be an asset. From Night of the Living Dead (1968) to The Blair Witch Project (1999), filmmakers have made a virtue of frugality, using their limited resources to give their movies something of the feel of cinema verite. The artlessness of the actors, the simplicity of the special effects, can contribute to the impression that we're seeing through to something, a layer of authenticity, that can render these films more deeply affecting than their better-financed brethren.
Certainly, that's the case with Carnival of Souls. The movie begins with a drag-race that leads to a car full of young women plunging off a bridge into a wide, muddy river. Three hours later, as the local authorities search the fast-moving, opaque water for the car, one of its passengers climbs up onto the muddy shore. Immediately mobbed by rescuers, Mary Henry has no answer to their questions of what happened, how she survived. Subsequently, she returns to the scene of the accident, but if she is looking for answers, the river's dull surface offers none. A musician, the music she coaxes from the pipe organ is haunting, a combination of carnival melody and funeral dirge that seems to hint at the emotions churning inside her. Her musical talent offers her a way out of town, and she accepts a position as the organist for a church out west, in Utah. (The opening location of the film is not identified, but it feels like somewhere in the broad Midwest.)
On the drive to her new job, Mary sees the silhouette of a distant structure rising against the mountains. It's massive, domed. Shortly thereafter, her reflection the the passenger-side window is replaced by the head and shoulders of a man. Wearing a black jacket, white shirt, and black tie, he's corpse-white, his eyes dark, sunken, his scant hair curling from his head. Seconds later, he reappears, standing in the middle of the road. Of course, Mary doesn't hit him. As soon as she has taken a room in a boarding house, the nameless man begins to appear to her, sometimes in place of her reflection, sometimes waiting at the foot of the stairs to her room, a macabre gentleman caller. Mary learns that the structure whose outline she saw was formerly a bathhouse, then an amusement park, until the lake over which it was built dried up and it was abandoned. She has visions of the place in which the nameless man is waiting there; later, he will be joined by a host of similar figures. Worst of all, Mary begins to experience moments -- heralded by a shimmer across the screen, as if water were running over it -- during which she cannot be perceived by the people around her.
Even from so brief a summary as this, it's possible to guess that this film is an example of the posthumous fantasy, an updating of "An Occurrence at Owl-Creek Bridge." It's a supposition that the very end of the film appears to endorse. And yet, it isn't that, or isn't only that, as the second-to-last scene attests. Something deeply strange has happened to Mary Henry, and while I have my ideas about what that is, I'd rather keep them to myself, since the purpose of this little essay is to encourage you to give this film a look. The best horror films, it seems to me, are the ones that leave room for mystery, that deliberately refuse to answer every question they raise, and in so doing, allow a space for the viewer. Carnival of Souls does this; indeed, having just watched it again, I can say that it stirs more questions in me now than it did when I first watched it.
The would-be blurbist in me would like to describe the movie as a low-budget L'annee derniere a Marienbad (1961), except that there are too many substantial differences between the films to support such an equation. Yet the films share a sense of unease, a suggestion that something sinister is lurking just off-camera, drawing ever-nearer. It would be more apt to say that Carnival of Souls is the best Ramsey Campbell movie Ramsey never wrote.
Behind the video store in which I may have discovered Carnival of Souls, there's a drop and then a bit of flat land that reaches a brief distance to the Rondout Creek, which flows broad and flat and not too deep. As you face the water, there's a bridge to your right, low, metal, difficult if not impossible to drive off, I imagine, and even if you did, the Creek's not deep enough for you and your car to be lost in. I don't think it is, anyway. Fall afternoons, it's almost possible to hear the low, lonely tones of a pipe-organ rolling over the scene.
Wednesday, October 27, 2010
Also, thanks to those of you who've emailed about Dark Harvest in the last few days. Great to hear how many people have discovered the novel this October, and that you've enjoyed it. While I'm at it, I just spotted a great new review for Dark Harvest over at the blog of Rob H. Bedford (reviewer for SFFWorld and San Francisco Book Review). He says, in part:
"Small towns are often the settings for some of the best horror stories. Dark secrets add to the mix, and the sense of everybody knowing everybody, is the tip of the iceberg. In Norman Partridge's Dark Harvest, these elements set the tension for the annual Hallowe'en night event where the boys try to catch the October Boy. Penned up and unfed by their families in the days leading up to Hallowe'en, these boys are released into the town to chase and take down the October Boy. In a sense, this is reminiscent of the mythical Wild Hunt. The boy who takes down the Pumpkin-headed monstrosity gets to leave the dead end town and his family is showered with prizes...
"In the end, the imagery is powerful, the themes of youth awakening and small town dark secrets familiar, and the narrative pull thrillingly addictive. The fact that the town is never named and little background is given about the events leading up to those events that take place in the novel gives the novel a greater sense of mythic resonance. I think it's pretty fair to say that Norman Partridge has crafted one of those novels readers will return to in future Hallowe'en readings -- in other words an iconic novel."
Okay. That one's a keeper. And now that intermission is over, let's get back to the movies...
Laird Barron (author of Occultation) on AUDITION (1999): Audition is a masterpiece of psychosexual horror by director Takashi Miike, Japan's answer to John Carpenter. The story concerns Shigeharu Aoyama, a widower executive, who is petitioned by his son to move on, after several years of grieving, and find a new love. Middle-aged Shigeharu has no stomach for the singles scene, but a friend who works as a producer comes up with a brilliant solution: hold an audition for the role of a wife in a nonexistent film with Shigeharu choosing a prospective mate from among the finalists. No tedious cat and mouse dating games necessary. The scheme works all too well. Before long, he focuses upon a particular woman, Asami. Shy, wounded, utterly desirable.
And, of course, things go to hell in a hand basket in a plot redolent with Hitchcockian suspense and powered by a Grand Guignol sensibility -- all of this gorgeously photographed by Hideo Yamamoto.
Since its arrival in 1999, much has been made of the film's graphic violence. While Audition does indeed contain memorably gory scenes, the shocks are amplified by Miike's lens and evocative performances by Ryo Ishibashi and Eihi Shiina. We are invested in Shigeharu's search to replace his dead wife, a quest that is by turns vaguely creepy and quixotic. We are also deeply invested in discovering the secrets of the beautiful and melancholy Asami. The horror that results from their union would be far less compelling were it not for the fact that by the time this slow-burning Audition approaches its unholy climax, we empathize with these flawed, yet ultimately sympathetic characters. I guarantee most of you, jaded genre aficionados or not, will view the final scenes from between your fingers.
That's a rare feat for a horror film -- to depict men and women of real flesh, real blood.
Allyson Bird (author of Wine and Rank Poison and co-editor of Never Again) on THE WICKER MAN (1973): Whilst I was watching Mark Gatiss' History of Horror he talked about the sub-genre of "folk horror" set in the quite British countryside and mentioned Blood on Satan's Claw (1971) made by Tigon British Film Productions and Witchfinder General (1968), another Tigon film. The original The Wicker Man (1973) from British Lion Films belongs with them, too.
The Wicker Man is set on the Summer Isles where the inhabitants are pagans, much to the horror of the devout Christian Police Sergeant Howie who has arrived to investigate the disappearance of a young girl, Rowan Morrison. He soon encounters the pagan rituals in the day to day life of the people. They worship the sun and indulge in the hedonistic pursuit of sex and the fertility rituals encouraged by the school mistress Miss Rose and Lord Summerisle. The preparations for the spring equinox, May Day, are going on all over the isle. There is a wonderful "innocence" and mischief about the people in their day to day lives... only the outsider (Howie) can never be a part of their world. His strict beliefs and "purity" are both a burden/curse and a blessing to him.
In contrast, the villagers in Blood on Satan's Claw work to bring the evil to those that are of their own village. In the latter you have the suggestion of the girl becoming one with the devil or becoming the other. Also, in Blood on Satan's Claw we have chilling music by Marc Wilkinson in which we find no consolation.
In The Wicker Man there is an affinity with nature and animals, and the accompanying music reflects that in "The Maypole Song," influenced by an earlier piece called "The Rattlin' Bog." Paul Giovanni is the musical director and he makes the film all the more memorable with his choice of music. We have the circle of life and death.
And a fine fine tree was he
And on that tree there was a limb
And on that limb there was a branch
And on that branch there was a nest
And in that nest there was an egg
And in that egg there was a bird
And from that bird a feather came
And of that feather was
And on that bed there was a girl
And on that girl there was a man
And from that man there was a seed
And from that seed there was a boy
And from that boy there was a man
And for that man there was a grave
From that grave there grew
We are led to join in with the villagers in their celebration of life. They and we want to have the joy of living to the full... on earth, and not in heaven. Howie is a sterile shell of a man whom we are led to have no empathy for except perhaps towards the end of the film. Before that he puts on the mask of a fool and becomes one. We would rather stand beside the children who wear their animal masks and join in their procession (a much happier one than in Blood on Satan's Claw) and celebrate the coming of spring than ally ourselves with poor Howie.
I've just remembered that Howie meets up with Dr. Hawthorn in front of his surgery. Hawthorn is the symbol of fertility, and the druids used it to bless and curse. This is one doctor who cannot cure what ails Howie. Did I see hawthorn branches covering the semi-naked bodies in the graveyard in Blood on Satan's Claw... of course I did.
Norm here again, with a reminder to return tomorrow, when we'll feature two more fine writers, two more great movies... and two full posts. Be sure to check them out.
Tuesday, October 26, 2010
Bride of Halloween Movie Picks: Three Dark Shadows (and a Midnight Smorgasbord at Doktor Markesan's Morgue!)
Joe Hill on THE CHANGELING (1980): You might figure me for an Exorcist man, or a guy who would go for Chainsaw... something with some blood on the wall. But for me, Halloween is defined not by the sound of a screaming chainsaw, but by the susurration of the wind among dead leaves. Halloween is children running in the darkness and the first bite of winter in the air. In-your-face-horror is all wrong for the season. I prefer the quiet, understated chills of The Changeling (1980). If you don't know it, George C. Scott stars as a composer who loses his family in a tragic accident, and moves into an old house in the country to grieve in private. But he hardly has his bags unpacked before the walls start booming at night and a restless ghost begins reaching out to him, in a series of visitations that are increasing terrifying -- and desperate. The Changeling is a reminder that what you don't see is often more frightening than what you do, while Scott proves that the best special effect in a horror movie (or any other kind of picture) is a quietly forceful performance.
Joe Nazare (author of "Midnights Drearier") on SLEEPY HOLLOW (1999): Only Tim Burton could take Washington Irving's classic story, radically revise it, and actually improve on it. This 1999 film has it all: mystery (involving, in true American Gothic fashion, a conspiracy amongst the town elders), humor (Johnny Depp at his eccentric best as the skittish Constable Ichabod Crane), romance, thrilling action, and horror (the murder scenes are shockingly grisly, and Christopher Walken [as the undead Hessian] is the stuff of nightmare with his filed fangs). Burton's depiction of Sleepy Hollow -- both the fogbound town and its wooded outskirts -- suggests a world where it is always October, and that's what makes this movie required viewing in my home each and every Halloween.
Tom Piccirilli (author of Nightjack) on THE WOMAN IN BLACK (1989): This UK television drama adapted by Nigel Kneale from Susan Hill's novel is a rarity all around. A difficult if not wholly impossible to find first-rate TV movie that is smart, atmospheric, chilling, and entirely worth tracking down.
Taking place shortly after WWI, young attorney and new father Arthur Kidd is sent to a small rural town on the marshes to attend to the estate of recently deceased widow. While attending her funeral, he sees the titular Woman in Black, who he at first mistakes to be a mourner. But Arthur soon learns she's a well-known ghostly figure in the area, and her arrival always coincides with the death of a child.
After saving a gypsy girl from being crushed in a carting accident, Arthur apparently draws the Woman in Black's wrath. As he suffers through various spooky hauntings at the secluded house, including what seems to be the replaying of a tragic horse and buggy disaster out in the mists, he races through the widow's belongings to find out who the Woman in Black is and what he might do to stop her overpowering influence.
This one's got it all, gang: a scary as hell setting, an honest and human mystery, grim but unexploited subject matter, and an ending like a kidney punch that will leave you gasping. Do whatever you have to do to hunt down a copy. Author Susan Hill sold the rights long ago so you're not stealing anything from her mouth if you manage to swing a bootleg DVD somewhere off eBay.
And, believe it or not, Hammer has announced that they'll be releasing a big-budget remake in 2011, their first horror film in over thirty years.
David J. Schow (author of Internecine and Hunt Among the Killers of Men) on THRILLER (w/ bonus deadly delights!): As you'll see from my maundering over a the Thriller-a-Day blog, I detest winnowing complex decisions down to one thing. But for the purposes of Norm's hit-list:
Halloween III: The best movie ever with "Halloween" in its title, and one of the most mean-spirited movies ever made. Thank you, Nigel Kneale!
Or, if your preference is to be shaken up, morally unsettled, vaguely infected, I recommend Session 9.
But neither one of of those is, strictly speaking, supernatural. Neither is the original version of The Haunting, but that deserves a slot on your list for perennial Halloween viewing, too.
But since this is the year of Thriller (the DVD set came out August 31st), allow me to bust tradition by recommending a TV show. It's perfect for Halloween if you select the right episodes, like "The Grim Reaper" or "The Incredible Doktor Markesan."
Don't be left out: A THRILLER A DAY.
(I reserve the right to change this list every five minutes, as necessary, until the 31st. -- DJS)
Thanks, David... and Tom and Joe (x2). And remember, folks, tune in tomorrow for more movie picks by horror's finest!
Monday, October 25, 2010
And while I'm at it, here's a recommendation of my own -- if you don't have yourself a Genuine Whirley-Pop popcorn maker, you don't have the necessary equipment to cook up a bowl of corn that's several notches past magnificent. So grab one now, boys and ghouls. You'll want to pop yourselves a Kong-sized bowl on Halloween night before watching these fine selections:
Kealan-Patrick Burke (author of The Turtle Boy) on TRICK 'R TREAT (2009): File this one under studio neglect, the same neglect that saw limited theatrical releases for quality movies like The Road and Buried, and I'm sure, many other films the studio execs had no idea what to do with. It's a downright shame that Trick 'R Treat never saw wide release, as there's not a doubt in my mind that horror fans would have absolutely adored it. Originally slated for an October 2007 release, and despite almost unanimously positive reviews, the film didn't see the light of day until it appeared as a direct-to-DVD title in 2009. Even then, most chain stores didn't carry it, which made finding the damn thing akin to begging for candy in a dark neighborhood on Halloween.
The thing about Trick 'R Treat is that it's a good movie, not a great one, but what elevates it above most horror anthologies of its ilk is the clear love on the part of the filmmakers for the season in which it's set. From the E.C. Comics-style opening to the outstanding production design, and the presence of "Sam Hain" -- who I imagine despite the limited release will still take his place right alongside Chucky as one of the creepiest little mass murderers to come along in some time -- to the clever way in which the whole thing is tied together, Trick 'R Treat is the best Halloween movie to come along since... well, Halloween. Add in some gratuitous nudity, gore aplenty, terrific makeup effects, and outstanding turns by Dylan Baker (as a gleefully malevolent principal) and Brian Cox (as an asthmatic shotgun-wielding curmudgeon) and you have all the makings of a cult classic.
The good news is, despite the way in which the original film was treated, a sequel is already in the works.
So cue this one up, light the lanterns, and dig into the candy bowl, folks. You'll thank me later.
Ellen Datlow (editor of Darkness: Two Decades of Modern Horror and Haunted Legends) on ALIEN (1979): Alien directed by Ridley Scott is the movie that continues to give me chills no matter how often I see it, and I still jump at the alien erupting from Kane's (John Hurt's) chest. It's one of the most suspenseful movies I've ever seen and it plays right into my deep rooted fear of bodily mutilation (another movie like that is John Carpenter's The Thing, but I've never been able to watch it again).
Brian Keene on THE THING (1982): Perhaps my generation's quintessential horror film, this movie stands the test of time. As delightfully shocking and creepy on the 100th viewing as it was on the first viewing, it never fails to satisfy.
John Skipp (editor of Werewolves and Shapeshifters: Encounters with the Beasts Within) on CREEPSHOW (1982) (with Skipp-a-licious bonus picks!): I gotta be honest. My family's screened some awfully fucked-up movies on Halloween, as part of a decades-long tradition. Big favorites have come and gone, from the sublime (Jacob's Ladder, Rosemary's Baby, The Haunting) to the ridiculous (2,000 Maniacs, Desperate Living, The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies).
Because it's a party night, we tend toward more festive horrors. Musicals like Richard Elfman's Forbidden Zone and Brian DePalma's Phantom of the Paradise are almost guaranteed to play. The spookier Berry Boop cartoons are frequent Halloween faves. I could go on and on.
But our #1 most-oft-played Halloween movie is Creepshow (1982): to my mind, the greatest comic book horror movie every made. Working from Stephen King's most purely enjoyable script, director George Romero hands in his zestiest entertainment, full of joyful performances, copious gore, thousands of live cockroaches, and meteor shit.
Is it Romero's best? Not even close. But it is the one I'll be watching this Sunday night, no matter what.
Okay. Norm here again -- thanks to Kealan, Ellen, Brian, and John for some great selections. Tune in tomorrow for more Halloween movie picks from Joe Hill, Joe Nazare, Tom Piccirilli, and David J. Schow. See you then!
Sunday, October 24, 2010
Saturday, October 23, 2010
"People talk often in horror reviews about an author having 'a unique voice'. Usually that's a cover for poor craft and style... but this is the real deal. Stylistically speaking, Dark Harvest is one of the most finely crafted novels I've read in years. It manages to blend a first, second, and third person present tense narrative into seamless storytelling perfection. And, along the way it's simply a great story, with some unexpected heroism to boot. This is the new standard Halloween stories should be judged by. Pick it up in time for Halloween. You won't be disappointed."
So if you haven't grabbed a copy of Dark Harvest yet, click on over and do the job. There's a new mass-market pb edition out from Tor, and the best time to read the book is Halloween... which is creeping up on us even as I type and raindrops do the tap-tap-tapping thing upon my chamber's (particularly unPoe-esque) sliding-glass door.
Friday, October 22, 2010
Now: head on out and grab a copy of Dark Harvest before Halloween. If you think the monster in "The Hollow Man" was scary, just wait until you meet the October Boy (not to mention a cop named Jerry Ricks!).
Thursday, October 21, 2010
And, yes. I am inviting my friends.
Be there... or we just might have to come after you with a pitchfork.