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.
Wednesday, October 20, 2010
Tuesday, October 19, 2010
I teach a class in Horror Stories at Capac High School in Capac, Michigan. We are reading a story of yours, "The Hollow Man." I thought it would be very special if my students could hear back from you about that particular story. Would you be willing to share your thoughts about how you came to write it? What, exactly, the narrator is? Is there a major theme that you were thinking about at the time? Thanks for any time and consideration you can give us.
Capac High School
Glad to comment, Ms. Shurat... and howdy, Capac High. Hope you're having a good Tuesday morning.
I've published more than seventy short stories, but "The Hollow Man" is probably the winner when it comes to picking the one I wrote earliest -- I was still in college when I typed it up, not much older than most of you are now. I thought (still think) it was the best story I wrote during that time. I sent it out to horror magazines shortly after graduation, but it came back with rejection slips. Years later, when I started having luck publishing my stories, I took another look at "The Hollow Man." To tell the truth I didn't change much, but this time I had luck selling it, to a respected horror journal called Grue. Since then, the story has been reprinted many times, and it appeared a few years ago in S. T. Joshi's American Supernatural Tales from Penguin Classics.
As to how I came to write the tale: I'd long admired the work of Jack London, and his short story "To Build a Fire" was an old favorite I'd never quite forgotten. That tale of a man's grim battle for survival in a frozen wasteland was in my mind as I set about writing "The Hollow Man," as was T. S. Elliot's poem with a similar title, "The Hollow Men." Boil up those two bits of inspiration with the idea of four men and a monster battling for survival in a desolate, London-style environment, and I thought I had the beginnings of a good story.
Of course, beginnings are usually easy -- inspiration always carries a writer along through those. It's middles and endings that are hard. Telling the tale from the monster's point of view was one thing that made "The Hollow Man" interesting, because I was writing from a viewpoint that was alien to the reader but would not seem that way to the narrator. That was a challenge, as was the clipped, rhythmic cadence of the monster's voice.
As for the monster, part of the initial inspiration was the Wendigo, the legendary cannibalistic creature of the northern United States and Canada. But I didn't really want to make the monster in "The Hollow Man" too easy to define. I wanted to leave it a bit mysterious, which for me means the creature is ultimately more frightening. For my money, the unexplained is always a little bit scarier. In other words, I didn't want to give the reader an owner's manual for my monster; I just wanted to give folks a map to the dark patch of country where the creature might be glimpsed in the dim moonlight of a winter's night.
As for the theme of the tale, I like to leave those answers up to the reader. I'll just say that for me "The Hollow Man" is a tale of survival, and that's one word that can have a variety of definitions depending on your perspective... and the perspective of the characters in the tale.
Monday, October 18, 2010
It's Halloween... and getting on toward dark. Things are the same as they've always been. There's the main street, the old brick church in the town square, the movie theater -- this year with a Vincent Price double-bill. And past all that is the road that leads out of town. It's black as a licorice whip under an October sky, black as the night that's coming and the long winter nights that will follow, black as the little town it leaves behind.
Those are the first two paragraphs of my Halloween novel, Dark Harvest. And now that the new mass-market paperback edition is out, I'm starting to get some familiar emails again. The ones that ask what part of the Midwest I'm from. The ones that assume I must come from a small town to have written a book populated with cornfields, and two-lane blacktop roads that run straight as the path of a bullet, and plenty of dead ends.
And that's kind of flattering, for a couple reasons. First off, I'm from a blue-collar town in the San Francisco Bay Area. Second, a lot of these emails come from folks who grew up in Midwestern towns and are surprised when they find out where I'm from. They often tell me that I captured the vibe of a small town just right -- at least when it comes to the dark side.
That makes me feel pretty good. As a writer, it means I did my job. Part of the trick to telling stories is learning to inhabit places (and people) that aren't part of your experience. In some ways, learning to do a good job of that is just learning to pay attention -- to people, to places, to everything. There's another part of the trick that is just as important, but I can't quite put a name to it. It falls somewhere between empathy and acting, or at least the facility actors use to and live in a character's skin. And to tell the truth, that's one of those little mysteries about writing that I don't try too hard to understand. I'm afraid doing that might hijack the guts right out of the magic.
But some stuff... it's funny where it comes from. Like most creative folks from the boomer generation, a lot of my first impressions came from television. That includes small towns. As a suburban kid planted in front of the TV, I encountered lots of those -- most notably Andy Griffith's Mayberry. That imaginary corner of North Carolina probably set the template for me on what a small town was. It certainly set the template for what most boomer kids thought a small town should be.
Of course, I encountered other small towns as I grew a little older... some of them on the late, late show. One of those was a fenced-off corner of hell in a William Castle thriller called Macabre, which was probably one of the first "adult" horror/dark suspense movies I ever saw.
People always talk about the gimmicks in Castle's movies, but there was a lot more to them than that. Castle's films always bothered me as a kid -- not so much the monsters, but the people who showed up along with them. As a kid, I couldn't quite figure those people out. The House on Haunted Hill worked that way, and so did The Tingler. I loved the monster in the latter, was scared to death of it. But the people in that movie really bothered me. I didn't understand them, or what they did, or why. As a kid, they were out of my reach, the way some adults were when I heard them talking while they didn't realize I was listening... and that made them scary, too.
Macabre was about a kidnapped child in a small town. An anonymous phone caller claimed the little girl had been buried alive, and the folks looking for the girl only had five hours to find her before her oxygen ran out. Of course, this amped up the suspense to a pretty wild degree. The movie riveted me, and it made me really uneasy at the same time. Because the town in Macabre was the same as all the other small towns I saw on television -- at least it looked that way on the surface. It could have passed for Mayberry. But this town and the people in it were... well, different. As the story progressed, there seemed to be more to each character than I first imagined -- from the doctor whose daughter had been kidnapped, to the rich grandfather, to the crazy blind girl, and even the town cop.
It was the cop who bothered me most. He was played by Jim Backus, who for most of us boomers was forever the Millionaire on Gilligan's Island. In other words, Backus was an overblown blustering puffball. But not in Macabre, he wasn't. He wasn't anything like Andy Griffith, either. Backus played a guy with secrets of his own, and a score to settle, and a gun and a badge that would let him do it. And he could turn from smiling and friendly to mean as a rattlesnake in about on tick of the clock. For me, that was a kind of scary I'd never encountered, and it was just one more thing about the movie that set me on edge (as did the ending, a dark twist which took me completely by surprise as a kid).
I thought about Macabre for a long time after seeing it. It really made me uncomfortable. And it gave me my first inkling that maybe there was another side to small towns and the people in them, a darker side that you wouldn't find in places like Mayberry.
Of course, I was just a kid when I encountered Mayberry and the the town in Macabre. As I grew older, other stories amplified that notion, including Ray Bradbury's darker work and the small-town noir novels I devoured after college. That's some of what I had inside me when I set out to build a Midwestern town with plenty of secrets in Dark Harvest.
But while I knew creating that town was important, I understood that creating the people in it was the primary thing that would bring the town to life. There was my own bad cop (Jerry Ricks), and a kid named Pete McCormick who was on the run with a stolen .45 in his hand, and all the folks trapped in a town they can never escape. The same was true when it came to inventing the monster that haunted every one of them -- the walking scarecrow known as the October Boy. And it wasn't watching television that helped me with those little problems. Living was what gave me the ability to create the characters in Dark Harvest.
That's the only way you really learn about people... and monsters. For me, one of the most important parts of writing effective fiction is learning to trust what you know and trust your worldview, and let that guide your story. Transfer that to paper, and it's what gives the page a heartbeat. That brings a story (and the people in it) alive.
Do the job right, and you can bring a small town to life, too.
Even if you're a guy who's never lived in one.
Sunday, October 17, 2010
Saturday, October 16, 2010
Friday, October 15, 2010
One: I think Bloch was one old pulpmeister who really knew how to party. And B: pictures like this make me want to grab my 1930's Royal typewriter from it's filing cabinet perch and start the machine-gun rattle of a pulp story. And lastly: if the creator of Psycho came knocking on your door on Halloween night, it'd be safe to say you'd definitely get more trick than treat.
Wednesday, October 13, 2010
Shroud Magazine #10 is now up for preorder. A Halloween special edited by Kevin Lucia, this one features an interview with yours truly (conducted by Brian J. Hatcher) plus a personal fave among the stories I've written in the last few years, a Halloween piece called "Three Doors."
There's also work by Dan Keohane, Rio Youers, Lisa Mannetti, Kelli Owen, and a host of other talented folks. Plus a cover by Steven Gilberts and interior woodcuts by Danny Evarts. This is the first I've seen of the work of both artists, and I've got to say they've got the right stuff.
Tuesday, October 12, 2010
Monday, October 11, 2010
My favorite heroes have always been outsiders. Both in fiction and in life. I've always had an eye for the underdog, or the guy who got the raw deal or took the longer walk on the rougher road and kept on going anyway. I love stories like that, and the idea of heroes with moral compasses that don't chart quite the same way most do. Maybe that's why I puddle up at the ending of movies like Gladiator, The Wild Bunch, and (especially)Hombre, tales of guys who go down swinging when there really isn't anything left for them to win at all. (And, yes, I cry when Jim Brown buys it at the end of The Dirty Dozen, too.)
For me, the outsider is the ultimate hero. And though I didn't realize it when I first encountered him, that idea began with Lon Chaney, Jr. as Lawrence Talbot, a.k.a. the Wolf Man. He was my favorite monster as a kid. I loved the way Chaney played him, as guy who walked among men but knew in his heart that he was no longer one of them. That's just the way the dice had rolled for Larry Talbot, and he understood that. He was a monster, but one who ironically was all the more human because of it. Victim of a curse that couldn't be beaten, still wanting to do the right thing even on nights when the full moon rose, always looking for an end to the road that would bring... well, if not peace, then maybe oblivion.
And sure, I just notched the melodrama meter into the red with that character assessment, but I'm not afraid of melodrama any more than Chaney was (or Curt Siodmak, for that matter). In fact, I think melodrama is kind of refreshing here in the Age of Snark. And while we're at it, you can give me a side order of heroics with that. Thank you. I'll order up and take that every day of the week and twice on Sunday.
Of course, I try to give a little of it back now and then, too. In good portion, that's what my novel Dark Harvest is about. If the book is new to you this Halloween, you'll discover what I'm talking about when you crack the covers.
And if you hear a wolf howling in those cornfields along the black road while you're reading, don't worry. That's just the ghost of Larry Talbot, still looking for an end out there in the darkness.
Sunday, October 10, 2010
Saturday, October 9, 2010
It's probably no surprise that I still love the Universal Horrors. Nothing says October to me quite as thoroughly as those movies do. My favorites can be pretty changeable depending on my mood, but the ones I seem to watch every year include Bride of Frankenstein, The Old Dark House, The Mummy, Son of Frankenstein, Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, and Dracula’s Daughter. Of course, I love the later movies, too -- the monster rallies from the forties that wedge Dracula, Frankenstein, and the Wolf Man into one movie… but those films always seem like they needed to be about twenty minutes longer (and have a whole lot more money spent on them, too).
Two favorites that are rarely discussed are a couple of Karloff/Lugosi pictures from the thirties: The Black Cat and The Raven. They're both included in a Bela Lugosi DVD set Universal put out a few years ago. If you haven’t ever seen these movies, I suggest you hunt them up before the 31st. They’re amazingly twisted for the time -- especially The Black Cat -- and watching Boris and Bela in them is great, creepy fun. Of course, when you peek behind the scenes, there’s a little bit more to the story than that. If you’re interested in finding out more about Karloff and Lugosi, click on over to my website for an article I wrote a few years ago: "Boris & Bela Fistfight in Hell."
Hope you enjoy it… and here’s to horror’s real kings. Long may they reign!
Friday, October 8, 2010
"The Hungry Glass" : William Shatner (as a guy with a real he-man meat-eater name: Gil Thrasher)! The Professor from Gilligan's Island (actually, he's the meat-eater and Shatner is the sensitive one!). Together in a house haunted by Elly May Clampett! Plus: this is a ghost story cooked up by Robert Bloch! And (you guessed it) Shatner comes unglued!
Really, this is a solid, creepy episode, the kind of thing that'll set the bite of a fall night snapping at your heels. And, yes, go ahead... you can admit it. I had you at William Shatner.
"Well of Doom": This one just might be my favorite episode so far. From a John Clemons story straight out of a shudder pulp, updated for the early sixties with more than a little E. C. Comics crime/horror vibe. "Well of Doom" has underrated Henry Daniell doing a pretty wicked Lon Chaney London After Midnight imitation, and king-sized Richard Kiel looking like some misplaced ogre who's been waiting a couple of centuries under a bridge for the wrong guy to come rumbling overhead driving a big hunk of Detroit steel. That's pretty much what happens when the hero of this piece encounters Squire Moloch (Daniell) and Master Styx (Kiel), leading to his imprisonment in a crumbling ruin complete with subterranean chambers and (yes) a Well of Doom. Anyway, the opening segment of this episode was so amazingly good that I demolished a whole bowl of popcorn without even realizing it. In fifteen minutes. The last half hour may not quite match the opening... but it comes pretty close.
And if you like "Well of Doom" as much as I do, hunt up the old first-season Wild Wild West episodes with Kiel as Doctor Loveless' sidekick, Voltaire. Pretty creepy stuff there, too. (In fact, I'd loved to have seen how James West would have handled Moloch and Styx... but that's a question for another day.)
"The Return of Andrew Bentley": A Richard Matheson script from an August Derleth tale. Derleth has never been a favorite, but his plot-driven brand of fiction worked well as an adaptation this time out. "Andrew Bentley" features a dead necromancer uncle (who's pretty unnerving before he kicks off his mortal coil) and a preposterous inheritance agreement (I get everything? But I can never leave this moldy old mansion? Not even for ten minutes? Okay. Sounds reasonable. But leave me a lot of smoking jackets and decaying witchcraft tomes! Deal! Lock me up! I'm good to go... I mean stay!). Besides that, there's the host of One Step Beyond as the hero, a creepy mushroom-headed familiar who's busted loose from the nether-world, and Reggie Nalder channeling Bela Lugosi with cape-whipping zeal and signature glare.
Which sets me thinking. What if Lugosi had lasted a few more years and guest-starred on Boris Karloff's Thriller in this episode? Whipped his own cape, glared his own glare, twisted his gnarled fingers into that signature crawling-spider claw. Now, that would have been something to see.
Or, as Uncle Boris might have said: "Let me assure you, my friends. This is a THRILLER..."