Help Keep the Drive-In Open
Wednesday, September 17. 2014

Today celebrates the birthday of one of the most beloved figures in fantasy film history. Who doesn't like Roddy McDowell?

Born in 1928, McDowell was already acting at age ten. He kept at the trade his entire life, and in fact never seemed to lose his youthful charm. You could still see that ten-year-old boy's gleaming eyes all the way to the end of his career.

Roddy McDowell is known to most for his appearances in the Planet of the Apes movies. Long before Andy Serkis his behind a CGI cloak for his performances, McDowell put on the heavy makeup and his warmth shined through.

McDowell worked with the finest directors of old Hollywood, like John Ford, and Fritz Lang. He was a regular in the classic days of live TV. He did voice work in radio and he appeared in Broadway plays.

Roddy McDowell seemed to be equally comfortable doing comedy, westerns, drama, action. But as I said above, we remember and revere him for his roles in fantasy and horror pictures.

Many classically trained actors made ends meet by taking roles in horror movies. You can sometimes see the mortification in their eyes. Roddy McDowell, like his longtime friend Vincent Price, took the movies on with gleeful relish. He always appeared to be having as much fun making the movies as we did watching them.

The list of great performances McDowell did is long and illustrious: The Poseidon Adventure, The Legend of Hell House, It! (a golem movie, and an early favorite of mine), Hello Down There, The Cool Ones, Batman (he played The Bookworm!), Pretty Maids All in a Row, Arnold, Dirty Mary Crazy Larry, The Martian Chronicles, Cutting Class, Dead of Winter, The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean, Class of 1984.

And, of course, there was the original Planet of the Apes series. Roddy McDowell not only appeared in every one of the films, he was on the TV series.

But there is one role that horror fans cherish the most. It is, of course, that of Peter Vincent, Vampire Slayer, from Fright Night. Vincent was a bumbling TV horror host, and sometime actor in Hammer-style vampire movies. He is approached by teenagers who believe that a real dead vampire lives next door to them. He scoffs, but of course it is true.

Fright Night came out at the tail end of the original slasher cycle, and it was so great to see such a classy, funny, wonderful nod to atmospheric horror of days gone by.

Boris Karloff possibly did better movies, but his swan song is certainly Targets. Vincent Price did Edward Scissorhands at the very end of his life, and it is a fittingly dignified farewell to him for fans. Roddy McDowell did many movies after Fright Night, but it is the one that I think of first when he comes to mind. I consider it to be the capstone of his magnificent career.

Roderick Andrew Anthony Jude McDowell died of lung cancer on October 3rd, 1998. He was only seventy years old. I close my eyes and I can see him now, eyes blazing with passion, a cross thrust out to thwart the undead, exclaiming "Back, spawn of Satan!".
Sunday, September 14. 2014

You said you like horror, right? This book is more disturbing than just about anything ever published in the genre.

When the name Corey Feldman comes up, more times than not it is in a derogatory sense. You have the Tiger Beat spotlight on him and his erstwhile acting partner Corey Haim. The really bad movies. The rumors of excessive drug abuse. And, perhaps worst of all, the hideous Michael Jackson dance impersonations Feldman was doing.

However, Corey Feldman was a pretty remarkable child actor. His career began at age three, when he did his first commercial. It was a Christmas Ad for McDonald's . He made appearances in dozens of other commercials before beginning to appear in movies.

Hey, who didn't like Corey F. in Gremlins? Or, better still, in Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter? The Goonies was fun, and so was The Lost Boys. Things started to slip when the studios continued to feature Feldman and Haim together in movies. License To Drive has its moments, but ultimately is not one of the better 80's teen movies. Dream a Little Dream is one of the worst of the child-to-adult personality switch movies of the time. The 'burbs is cool, but disturbing reports of Corey Feldman's drug use and insane behavior cast a dark cloud over it.

As with far too many child actors in Hollywood, things went bad fairly quickly with Corey Feldman. He went from A-List productions to direct-to-home video dreck in a few short years.

Few can deny the strong performance Corey Feldman gave in his best movie, which of course is Stand By Me. He mined the painful memories of his own abused childhood for the roll of Teddy Duchamp, and his work in that film never fails to move me.

I'm as puzzled as to why I read Corey Feldman's autobiography as you probably are. It caught my eye in the library and I checked it out on a whim. I liked his early movies and I wondered about his real story.

As you probably know, it ain't pretty. You've probably heard about the allegations of pedophilia in regard to both Corey Feldman and Corey Haim. Well, if he is to be believed, and I have no reason to doubt his account, they were both molested numerous times.

Feldman maintains that Corey Haim got it worse then he did. According to the book, Haim was raped while making the movie Lucas. Feldman too encountered grown men in Hollywood who sexually abused children. He also says that pedophilia is the biggest secret in the movie industry.

So, is it any wonder than so many Hollywood kids turn to drugs and deranged behavior? Drugs and sex are the ways that the careers of the money-making kids are controlled. Child performers are drained like dishrags and then tossed in the trash while the despicable gossip mongers ridicule them.

Many people take it for granted that Corey Feldman was molested by Michael Jackson. They were friends and Feldman spent time at Neverland Ranch. Corey insists that it never happened, and again, I see no reason to doubt him. It could be speculated that he was paid off, and who knows what really happened? I like to think he is telling the truth about it.

People want Corey Feldman to "name names". To out the predatory perverts who destroyed the life of Corey Haim (who died in 2010) and almost killed him. He refuses to do this, and his reasons are completely understandable. To go up against some of the most powerful people in the entertainment industry, you had better have hard proof.

Instead, he has lobbied for stricter regulations for child actors. Background checks and more supervision when kids are employed in show business.

Will this completely fix the problem? Almost certainly not, but any change for the positive will help.

Corey's Feldman's young life was full of delirious highs and horrifying lows. He was a spirited, talented kid, but his parents were insane and he was cast like prime bait into the savage waters of Hollywood. It's an all-too-common story, and I commend his bravery in coming forth to tell it.

Coreyography is compulsive reading for anyone interested in the dark side of the entertainment business. It will be especially fascinating to any movie fan who grew up in the 80's.
Saturday, August 23. 2014

I remember the first time I witnessed the comedy stylings of Adam Sandler. It was sometimes in the mid 90's. In fact, the whole O.J. Simpson fiasco was going on, so that puts it around twenty years ago. Sandler was signing some news or something. I failed to see the slightest iota of wit in the act.

I steadfastly avoided Adam Sandler movies after that. The previews looked uniformly awful. It reached a low ebb when The Water Boy was released. I sat through the trailer on numerous occasions at the theater, and I thought that it looked like the very worst movie ever made.

Then, somewhere in the late 00 decade, I became a fan of the comedy of Judd Apatow. When I heard that Sandler was to star in Apatow's third directorial feature, I was dismayed. I knew that I had to see Funny People, and though I initially dreaded the prospect, I became increasingly excited after watching its trailer.

I am well aware that many people disliked Funny People, but I loved it. I found the movie to be funny and entertaining, but with a lot to think about as well. Funny People works on numerous levels. The acting is all superb, and Janusz Kaminski's cinematography is subtle, but exquisite. I looked on Adam Sandler with new respect after seeing it.

From there I went on to his audio releases. I have always been an enormous fan of comedy music, so I started off with his CD entitled What's Your Name? Unlike his other albums, this one is entirely composed of songs, and has no comedy skits. I loved the album, and I have since bought all the rest of Sandler's CDs.

So I started to go back and watch some of Adam Sandler's movies. Some are virtually unwatchable. Others are more interesting.

I am a big fan of Spanglish, which was written and directed by the renowned James L. Brooks. Reign Over Me is a sad, thoughtful movie. I wasn't entirely won over by Punch-Drunk Love, but I thought it was interesting.

Some are pretty awful, but I enjoyed them anyway. Such as Blended, I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, The Longest Yard, That's My Boy, and even Grown Ups.

I have come to realize that Adam Sandler is a smart, talented guy who happens to usually make very bad movies. He has a couple of very interesting projects coming up.

The Cobbler will hopefully be coming out this year. It is being made by Thomas McCarthy, who gave us such smart films like The Station Agent, The Visitor, and Win Win.

I'm even more excited about Men, Women & Children. This one is due in October and is directed by one of the most consistently interesting filmmakers working today: Jason Reitman. Watch this trailer and try to tell me that it does not look like a good movie:

Adam Sandler will undoubtedly return to the flatulent comedies that he is known and reviled for, and I can't blame the guy for making a paycheck. It's interesting, though, to watch him break away from his standard routine and appear in good movies.

Thursday, August 7. 2014

(Caution: This review contains spoilers)

I'll say this for The Purge: Anarchy: It is more entertaining than these crappy-assed shark mashup things that everyone is programmed into watching. I have no patience for intentionally bad movies. Give me incompetent morons who believe they are making something badass, but the results are cow flop. That stuff is much funnier.

I never saw the first Purge movie, but I heard that it was not necessary to do so to enjoy The Purge: Anarchy. So I, and a friend, went to see it last night at the cinema.

The Purge: Anarchy is bad. Really bad. Worse than Drive Angry. Worse than The Apparition. The acting is atrocious. The thin plot is stretched to the breaking point. And beyond. The political messages are so ham-handed and bonehead stupid that it borders on parody.

Let's see if I can rundown the story for you...

You know what THE PURGE is, right? If not, it is a night when all crime is legal. The idea is ostensibly to stop crime by allowing people to get their nasty, violent urges out on one night of the year. But it really is a way for conservative white America to deplete the poor population. And to make some righteous money in the bargain.

OK, so we meet two women. Mother and daughter. The daughter is sassy and unsurprisingly understands the real deal about THE PURGE, but gosh darn it, no one will listen. These two ladies are selected to be kidnapped on the night of--THE PURGE--so they can be auctioned off for slaughter by evil Christians, ala Hostel.

We also meet this couple going through a tumultuous breakup. The sheer emotion in their performances is breathtaking.

No, scratch that. These are two of the most bland individuals I have ever seen in a movie. Period. I'm talking NADA. No personality. No identifying traits. Nothing at all.

Well, it would not be a movie if they weren't stranded outside during THE PURGE. The ladies are saved by this guy who is sort of the destitute man's Christian Bale. There are a lot of embarrassing posing shots of him, oozing with bad-guy mystery and danger. He is clearly on a mission out in THE PURGE.

Our heroes are saved and cast back out into THE PURGE a few times. One memorable scene in an apartment features the most annoying family I've seen since I got stuck watching The Royal Tenenbaums.

Oh, wait. I am getting ahead of myself. See, there is this resistance against THE PURGE. The leader graduated from The Wesley Snipes School of Grotesque Hammy Acting. He preaches a bunch of malarkey about death and bloodshed to stop the death and bloodshed of THE PURGE.

By the time the lackluster characters were hauled up on stage to be sold off to the Evil Old White People, my friend and I were laughing openly. It was just so ridiculous.

I muttered to her that the movie would earn points if the old bag running the auction were to die in a particularly nasty way, but they messed up even that crucial point.

I can't imagine anyone was surprised when the brooding hero saw the error of his vengeful ways at the end of the movie.

Funny thing: The secret police, or whoever they were, were a lot more interested in the bogus Christian Bale than the resistance. Even while the resistance were doing their own fair share of purging on the Christians. "We can't have any heroes", he was told by one grim soldier. And just before he was about to be shot down like the dog he is, Bam!, game over. THE PURGE had ended for another year, and the cops could no longer take action against citizens.

Our dark knight was injured, which led to the most hilarious part of the movie. They pull up to the hospital, which was free and clear. No lines, no waiting! On the day after THE PURGE! People were going to work and stuff like any other day. Absolutely ludicrous.

Then there were the random LOL moments, such as when a bloody Carrie lookalike was hanging out on a street corner, or when a flaming bus roared through an intersection in the background of one scene for no logical reason than the filmmakers thought it would look really cool.

We are given an ominous warning at the end of the movie that THE PURGE would happen again in exactly one year.

My God, The Purge: Anarchy is one of the most ridiculous things I have ever seen. It uses elements of infinitely superior movies like Escape From New York, The Warriors, Death Race 2000, Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, and, yes, Hostel, stirs them up and takes a dump on them.

Not that I did not have a good time. Rarely do I regret seeing a movie. I saw The Purge: Anarchy with the same lady I saw The Lords of Salem with. And while we were not howling with laughter as hard as we were as we stumbled out of Rob Zombie's monstrously self-indulgent and stupefying movie, we were laughing quite a bit. And we also felt an acid-like sense of deja vu about Lords of Salem as we watched The Purge: Anarchy.
Monday, August 4. 2014

Ed Gein put Plainfield, Wisconsin on the map in the worst way imaginable. He inspired some of the most disturbing horror movie villains of all time, including “Leatherface” from theTexas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), “Norman Bates” from Psycho (1960), and “Buffalo Bill” from Silence of the Lambs (1993).

The desolate community of Plainfield has never even housed a population of 1000 people. It’s been suggested that most citizens of Wisconsin had never even heard of the town prior to Gein’s arrest in 1958. The town became infamous throughout the world when accounts of Gein’s veritable treasure trove of perversions hit the media. Among the gruesome discoveries found in Gein’s rural farmhouse were: cereal bowls devised from human skulls, belts fashioned from human nipples, severed heads in paper bags, suits and masks made of human flesh, and the decapitated corpse of a local townswoman, suspended upside down, and gutted like an animal. It was determined much later that Gein’s mother was fanatically religious and had polluted her son’s perception of women and sex. It’s widelybelieved Gein’s psychosis was largely a product of his mother’s death.

He was known to have murdered two people, and had scavenged most of his “trophies” from a nearby cemetery. He even admitted to cannibalism. His squalid chamber of horrors in the middle of nowhere provided the basis for the “deranged farmer” horror trope. Gein himself is essentially that archetype — the hermetic farmer in rural America, who idled away his free time robbing graves and struggled to come to terms with the loss of his overbearing, religious zealot mother.

Genre-pulp writer Robert Bloch (who was a contemporary of H.P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard and one time Weird Tales contributor) and he lived in Wisconsin around the time of Gein’s arrest. Inspired, he wrote the novel Psycho, which would later be adapted into a screenplay by Joseph Stefano for the film directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Bloch’s story
revolved around a man named Norman Bates who ran a hotel in the middle of nowhere and would, in manic, sexually confused episodes, dress as his mother and murder women. It is later revealed that Bates has taxidermied his mother, and speaks about her as though she were still alive.

Psycho is typically considered to be the first “slasher” film, and it inspired a slew of knockoffs, most of which were utterly forgettable. Then, in 1974, there were two notable films released that approached the subject in a more aggressive way. One was Tobe Hooper’sThe Texas Chainsaw Massacre. It placed its story in the heart of rural Texas, and depicted a dysfunctional family that lived off-the-grid in an old ramshackle home. The family made its living by running a gas station where they sold barbecued tourist meat. We’ll leave the task of figuring out the economics involved in that sort of business model to another writer (hardly seems sustainable to this one). One of the most memorable sequences of the film is the one that features actress Teri McMinn running into the home to discover a room filled with Gein-esque artifacts, right before she is whisked away by Leatherface (so called for the masks that he fashions from the skin of his victims) and hung on a meathook.

The other notable Gein-inspired film to be released in 1974 was Alan Ormsby’s Deranged.The character’s name has been changed to Ezra Cobb (Roberts Blossom), but otherwise, the story of deranged stays somewhat faithful to the Gein case. When Gein’s mother passes away, he begins to exhume corpses and act out his murderous fantasies. The film is also notable as the first film that special-effects makeup artist Tom Savini worked on.

There were countless films made throughout the seventies and early eighties that dealt with
similar themes, including: Eaten Alive (1977), The Hills Have Eyes (1977), and Maniac (1980). Most films handled the topic in a fairly serious way, which is easy to understand given the ghastly nature of the subject material. And then, in 1980, Kevin Connor’s Motel Hell dared to broach the subject in a more comical way.

Hell told the story of Farmer Vincent (Rory Calhoun), a charismatic bumpkin farmer who runs the “Motel Hello” and sells his “famous fritters” which are made out guessed it, the flesh of hapless hotel guests. Vincent’s “fritter farm,” as it were, is little more than a field where people (who have had their vocal chords removed, lest they blow Vincent’s cover) are buried up to their necks Apache style and force-fed and ultimately harvested. The film’s tagline was “it takes all kinds of critters to make Farmer Vincent’s Fritters.” Motel Hell and Deranged both faded into obscurity for a while, but they have gained extra attention in recent years, as both we’re released together on a special “double feature” DVD from Midnite Movies, and both films are now screened regularly on the new horror and grindhouse-oriented El Rey Network which is being carried by Direct TV, Comcast and other cable providers.

And then of course, a decade later there was Jonathan Demme’s The Silence of the Lambs
(1993), which was based on the book by Thomas Harris, but that story borrowed little more from the Gein story than the concept of a man trying to forge a feminine identity by constructing a suit out of the flesh of women. Silence would go on to win Academy Awards and is still regarded as one of the greatest thrillers of all time. However, for every Silence or Psycho or Texas Chainsaw there have been countless films that have all but fallen off the face of the earth, such as Three on a Meathook (1972) or William Castle’s largely forgotten Homicidal (1961). But it is likely that, in years to come there will be even more Gein derivative films, for better or worse.

Brandon Engal is a Chicago-based blogger with an interest in all things horror. When he's not freelancing, he enjoys listening to music and hitting the local art house cinemas. His formal education was in journalism and filmmaking. Among his favorite films are: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, House on Haunted Hill, 13 Ghosts, and Rabid. Follow him on Twitter: @BrandonEngel2"

Sunday, July 27. 2014

I was sitting here the other night, a pile of books by me that I started, but didn't get very far. I've been distracted and discontented. Not the fault of the books, at least in some of the cases. I just need to focus.

Scanning my shelves for something to interest me, I noticed Spector's TURNAROUND hiding in a dark corner. This is a book I should have read long ago. I pulled it from the shelf and settled into it.

And was immediately hooked. TURNAROUND is a perfect example of Splatterpunk fiction.

Remember, Splatterpunk doesn't necessarily have to have wall-to-wall gore and violence. It can, and sometimes does, but for me the label is more about style and approach to writing. Splatterpunk is edgy, sharp, and heavily influenced by cinema. As Philip Nutman once noted, Splatterpunk is survivalist fiction that reflects the moral chaos of modern times.

Or as John Skipp said in a recent interview, many modern writers attempt to work in the Splatterpunk vein, and they get the splatter part right, but not the punk elements.

Anyway, TURNAROUND deals with Eric, a screenwriter on far lower end of Hollywood spectrum. He has a few credits to his name, but he is working a dead end job to make ends meet. He is working with a vapid producer on a script, but is constantly requested to make changes on it. Changes that gradually dumb down his story.

The lines between Eric's deteriorating personal life, and the character in his script begin to blur.

TURNAROUND is a cynical Hollywood story mixed with the reality-bending surrealism of Philip K. Dick. The writing is razor sharp, and the short chapters make for a very quick read. I polished the novel off in two nights.

As of this writing, Cemetery Dance Publications still has copies of TURNAROUND in stock. I heartily recommend it to aging Splatterpunks as well as younger genre readers.
Sunday, July 20. 2014

I've seen a lot of talk lately about the virtues of self publishing. Writers are making persuasive arguments about publishing their own work. And it certainly seems like many of them are doing quite well at it.

The whole Hachette/Amazon dispute adds considerable fuel to the fire. Why get caught up in that mess? The conspiracy nut in me wonders if the whole thing isn't a charade to inspire more writers to go directly to Amazon with their works and eliminate the middle man.

How does this affect the readers?

For me, it is hard to justify spending my hard won money on an untested writer who has chosen to publishe his or her own work. Work that, let's face it, in most cases would not be accepted by any editor. Has not been looked over by professional proofreaders.

There are exceptions, of course.

Writers who have proven themselves by working with traditional publishers and editors, and are taking their careers into their own hands, for one. I can dig that.

But what of the new writers who publishe through Createspace or other independent means? How do I distinguish the good from the bad?

Reviews? Sure, they can help, and there are trustworthy reviewers out there. On the other hand, anyone with a Blog can call themselves a reviewer. Just like Yours Truly.

Call me a cynic, but reviews can be bought and paid for. Just like you've probably heard about happening with Amazon customer reviews.

There is also a big buddy system going on. In the name of support, writers and readers endlessly praise their friends and associates.

The ease of self publishing might be a boon to writers, but on the other side of the coin, it can be a bane to readers. Too much to choose from and too much of it is unworthy of our time and money. Time especially, since so many are willing to give their work away for nothing or next to nothing.

I won't say that I will never try out new writers who has chosen to release their own fiction. It will be a rare event for me, though. For now, I will continue to mostly focus on writers whose work has been proven worthy enough to have been released by established publishing houses.
Tuesday, July 8. 2014

I'm late with my convention report. I've been recuperating. Not from excessive partying this time, but from a bout with pneumonia. Which I suffered through during the convention. More about that later.

I've been to my share of these events, and two things are critical for success: the staff of both the hotel and the con.

I've seen everything from indifference to contempt at hotels were fantasy cons have taken place. At one Horrorfind a hotel staff member harshly said something like, "I stopped dressing up for Halloween when I was a little kid, you know?". I should have asked his supervisor if smug judgmental attitudes were part of his job training.

I am happy to report that the entire staff of the Hilton Doubletree in Williamsburg, VA, were awesome. Each and every member seemed anxious to help, and they all at least appeared to be delighted by the madness that invaded their nice hotel that weekend. I honestly have not seen better service.

Then there was the con staff. Again, I have seen incompetence, arrogance, indifference at various conventions. At the Scares That Care con, it was almost unbelievable that this was a debut show. The organization, the professionalism, was impressive. Thumbs way, way up.

It was a special event for me. I often took my kids to conventions when I had a family. Sadly, I am alone now, but my stepdaughter, India, confided to me a while back that horror cons were the best memories of her childhood.

I always promised to take her to another, but it has proved to be impossible up until this year. I had promised to take her to Scares That Care. No matter what.

Little did I know that I would develop pneumonia a week before the convention. Pneumonia takes two weeks to a month to recover from. I should have stayed home in bed. But I couldn't.

So I drove 800 miles and went to a horror convention while utterly miserable.

It was worth it. India just graduated high school and is off to college soon. I owed it to her.

And she loved it. Horror cons are fun for kids, but a young adult probably has a better time.

I dread listing names, because I can't include everyone and I hate to leave anyone out. But I feel obliged to call out some deserving individuals.

Brian Keene, for being a friend for so long, and for his part in making this convention so great. He orchestrated the writing programing and guests.

Laura Long, my good friend who is always there with a sympathetic ear and optimistic words on the phone when I need it. It was great to see her again.

Matt and Deena Warner (and sons). I love you guys so much and we live too close together for us to get together so seldom.

That goes for local friends Beau and Trish, too. Sorry I was unable to spend more time with you. I'm spread way too thin at these things as it is, then there was how lousy I was feeling.

Erik and Laurie Alkenbrack. Again, it had been too long, my friends.

My esteemed roomies Tom Monteleone and Jim Marshall. Had you told me fifteen years ago that Tom would become one of my greatest friends, I'd have laughed in your face. He and I met nearly that long ago, and we hit it off. We see eye to eye on many things. From our tastes in fiction, to our observations on the community, on to our views on life itself.

Jim is a collector of fine books, and he always brings amazing items to show off. But his personality and generosity outshine his collection. A dear friend and a hell of a guy.

I made some new friends this year. Kyle Lybeck, who is a forum regular, is an outstanding individual.

Jonathan Janz is one of the genre's rising stars, and he is just about the nicest, most enthusiastic and passionate man I've ever met. Read this guy, folks. Seriously.

Man. Sheri White. Skip Novak. Mike Lombardo of Reel Splatter Productions. Bryan Smith (nice Cramps tat!), Mary SanGiovanni. Kelli Owen. My mind is going blank. The last couple of weeks have been a blur.

Mostly, I want to thank India Collier, for continuing to be a part of my life, and for bringing me such joy. Let's hope we can do it again next year!

It's so hard to come home from a convention. After being around so many extraordinary people, everyone and everything seems gray and dull. Boring. The real world sucks.

Finally, I want to publicly thank Joe Ripple. He busted his ass for this con, and his hard work showed. It wasn't as financially successful as he had hoped it would be, and whether there will be another one next year is up in the air. I sincerely hope that he decides to do it.

Friday, June 20. 2014

I continue to move, not forward, but backward.

I don't do the music download thing. No songs on my cell phone. I have gone completely back to listening on vinyl. You've heard the song and dance about how vinyl has a superior sound than digital files, and you will believe what you like. I am 100% convinced and satisfied that my records sound better than any compact disc or digital download.

I do not own a Kindle, a Nook, or any reading device. I like my books.

I was all over the DVD boom. It was perfect, and I gave up my VHS tapes. Now I regret it.

Two different documentaries on the subject of VHS tapes were made recently. I have not seen them. I only watched the trailers. But they stirred something deep inside me.

The VHS days were magical and marvelous. I don't quite think people born after, say, 1990 can imagine how revolutionary it was. To be able to watch anything, at any time, and stop and start it at will. Unthinkable.

I spend countless hours in video stores in the 80's and 90's. Browsing through the titles, talking to other customers and the staff. I was a regular at all the closest stores and I knew the people who worked there.

The earliest days were best. Before Blockbuster came along and tried to monopolize everything. They almost succeeded, but they were unable to make the leap into the new methods of distribution.

There were video stores everywhere. And most of them did outstanding business. Mom and Pop shops, and most convenience stores had a little section where you could rent tapes.

It was exciting. You never knew what you were going to find.

And here's the thing: There were countless movies either produced and manufactured exclusively for the VHS market, or were put on tape and have not resurfaced since.

They are in danger of being lost. Videotape is ephemeral. It deteriorates eventually.

It is a vital part of our culture. A part that is largely being forgotten.

It wasn't all a bed of roses. Tapes damaged fairly easily. But then so did digital discs. Tracking kind of sucked, and sometimes you could not quite get one to play right. Then there was rewinding. Be kind, rewind.

It doesn't look so bad now. In fact, it looks downright wonderful.

I currently do not even own a DVD player. Oh, I do, but it is not hooked up. I do have a combination TV and videotape player in my bedroom. I haven't watched it in ages, and I put in Hollywood Boulevard 2 (a movie still not on DVD or any other format to date) and it wouldn't play. A error message came up and said to run a head cleaner through it. I don't have one, but I just ordered a cleaner from ebay for a couple of bucks.

If that doesn't work, I will buy a player. I am sure I can get one for a song.

I'm excited. I plan to start looking for cool tapes at thrift stores. I want the obscure stuff. The big clamshell cases are calling my name.

In my own microscopic way I helped usher in the vinyl record resurgence. I raved about them, played records for people, talked them into buying turntables, found deals on albums at thrift shops and gave them away. Trying to spread the word.

I won't stop looking for records, but I am going to start combing the shops for tapes. I like the look and sound of analog over digital more and more. And, maybe in doing so, I can find a place of peace and joy in my own heart in the process.

Thursday, May 29. 2014

I wonder how many horror fiction fans even know who Edward Bryant is these days?

If he is remembered by some, it might be for his story, A Sad Last Dance at the Diner of the Damned, whcih is one of the most memorable piece in Skipp and Spector's Book of the Dead.

Bryant wrote SF in the 70's. Mostly short fiction, and it was in collections like Among the Dead and Particle Theory.

He wrote other good short works, and he appeared in groundbreaking anthologies like Dark Forces; Again, Dangerous Visions; Cutting Edge; Silver Scream.

Edward Bryant collaborated with Harlan Ellison on a novel called Phoenix Without Ashes.

Me, I will always revere Ed for his wonderful book reviews in Twilight Zone Magazine. He took the place of Thomas M. Disch, which was such a relief. Disch was a gifted writer, but his reviews had a nasty edge to them.

I'm certain I would have discovered the writers anyway, but Bryant's insightful reviews pointed me toward so many favorites at a crucial time for me as a reader.

I considered Bryant to be a reviewer and not so much of a critic. There is a marked difference in the two.

I had hoped that Edward Bryant would have a more prolific career, but it didn't work out that way. A big part of it was due to health problems.

I won't go into details of his health challenges, but suffice to say that it has been a rough road for the guy. And we all know that writers tend to not have insurance.

The Friends of Ed Bryant gratefully accept donations, and if you are so inclined, you can do so through Paypal. Details are available at their website.

Hey, I get it. It's hard for even the best of us to give money away with nothing but good karma in return. So now you can purchase books, in print or electronic format, by Ed. Every penny that can be possibly spared from the sales will go to help Edward Bryant.

His books are available from ReAnimus Press. I urge everyone to consider picking up something.

For horror fans I would perhaps suggest Trilobyte, which has an Introduction by Tim Powers. Or maybe Fetish. Darker Passions would be good, too, and it has an Intro from Dan Simmons. If SF is your game, Among the Dead would be a good choice.

Actually, anything would be good. Edward Bryant is a remarkable writer.

Everyone talks about trying out and supporting new writers. I wholeheartedly agree with that. But I also advocate trying older ones. Especially, as in this case, where the funds will go to help a guy who always was an important figure in the field.
Sunday, May 18. 2014

As some of you might know, Robert McCammon's breakthrough novel, Swan Song, has just been released in an extremely affordable MP3 edition. For just over ten bucks you get a whole lot of listening pleasure.

There is a lot of talk about the so-called horror boom of the 80's. I was there, and there is a lot of truth to it. For me, the high water mark was the publication of Swan Song. McCammon was a damned good writer already, but this one put him in an entirely new, and breathtaking, category.

It starts off like a Cold War thriller, and segues into something else. Was it influenced by The Stand? Almost certainly, but that takes not a thing away from Swan Song. It and King's post apocalypse novel have distinct differences.

The reader of an audiobook can make or break its success. I'm happy to report that the narrator of Swan Song, Tom Stechschulte, does a good job with the material. Perhaps not in the league of someone like Stefan Rudnicki or Phil Gigante, but he has a good command of the characters and the feel of every scene.

If you are an audiobook fan, or are considering getting into them, you can't go wrong with Swan Song. The price, the delivery, and most importantly, the unbeatable story, make this an incredible bargain.

Coincidentally, I am about to read the latest Robert McCammon novel: The River of Souls. It is shipping to me as we speak from Subterranean Press. Or, it probably is not a coincidence. My bet is this new, inexpensive audiobook was released to coincide with The River of Souls.

I admit that I have the tendency to wax hyperbolic about things. But, yeah, no ones writes like McCammon. No writer has touched my heart, my soul, like he has. He was absent from publishing for a long time, until he returned with Speaks The Nightbird. We are infinitely richer having him with us.
Tuesday, May 6. 2014

You'd be hard-pressed to come up with a more maligned music genre than New Wave. Everyone seems to dismiss it. They do it now, and a lot of people did then, too.

I grew up in the classic rock days, and sometimes people automatically assume that I am a devotee of Zeppelin, Floyd, Rush, the Stones, etc. Nothing can be further from the truth. My favorite era of music is the very late 70's to the mid 1980's. With a strong emphasis on New Wave.

People seem to think that New Wave is a specific type of music. At best, Devo, and at worst, A Flock of Seagulls. This is a misconception. The best, and most compact way I've heard New Wave described as is stylistically diverse.

New Wave encompassed many styles and approaches of music: Ska, Pop, World, Goth, Industrial, electronic, punk, and the just plain weird. If it wasn't classic rock and roll, jazz, blues, classical, or any generic brand of music, chances are it was lumped as New Wave.

I treasure the memories of the early days of MTV. Back when they, you know, played music videos? Before the world was duped into falling for that "reality" (Ha!) crap that passes for entertainment these days.

Sure, you had your Who, your Mellencamp, your metal and other established stuff, but New Wave was creeping into its schedules. The channel was wildly popular, and in those days programmers didn't force feed the same songs down the public's throat repeatedly. They needed product, and New Wave was a strong force in the industry.

Everyone was abuzz about the new stuff. Not so much the country or southern rockheads, or the ones still listening to hippie crap. What was airing on MTV was completely new. No one had seen anything like David Byrne doing his weird moves on the groundbreaking Once in a Lifetime video. It was bizarre, it was artistic, it was funny. It was even a little bit scary at the time.

The word, I think, is artistic. The best of the wave musicians were crazy with creativity. It was colorful, weird, new.

Some will tell you that New Wave was merely a watered down, safe reaction to Punk. Yeah, there is some truth to that, but Punk by definition is limited in what it could do. I know some will take deep exception to that statement, but it's my considered opinion. With New Wave, on the other hand, the sky wasn't the limit, it was the launching point.

Nothing lasts forever. Like any other musical trend, New Wave became sanitized and samey. Times changed and the next generation, from the 90's, mostly hated it.

And I was supremely uninterested in the so-called grunge phenomenon. I felt it was dull, lifeless, and mostly retread of tired music from a couple of decades in the past. I like bands like Nirvana and Pearl Jam slightly more now than I did when they were new, but I will never consider them favorites.

Of course Grunge was a reaction to the excesses of 80's New Wave and Metal, and it was probably necessary. Just as Punk was a necessary antidote to weary stadium rock, Prog, and Glam.

I'll always love the styles, the music, the attitude of the 80's. And, of course, the movies that utilized the music. The classic films of John Hughes were, of course, the best of them.

Now I hear programmed, repetitious dance music, soulless pop, a never-ending parade of Rap acts. It makes the days of Grunge look damned good. I think the early 90's might end up being the last era of honesty and integrity in American popular music. I certainly hope not.

There have been numerous books about New Wave, but one of the best has recently been published. With Mad World, Lori Majewski and Jonathan Bernstein take readers on a loving journey through those exuberant New Wave days. Days of big hair, big ideas, synthesizers. American bands who wanted to be English, English groups who wanted to be German, and Germans who wanted to be robots.

The authors take 35 of the most influential New Wave songs and artists. They write some introductory material, add some personal reflections, and then let the culprits tell their own stories. The singers, band members, and producers give accounts of the making of these wonderfully weird, yet undying mini-portraits of those unforgettable days.

My favorites are the chapters about Bow Wow Wow (I Want Candy), The Waitresses (I Know What Boys Like), Modern English (I Melt With You), Thomas Dolby (She Blinded Me With Science), Dexy's Midnight Runners (Come On, Eileen), Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark (If You Leave), and, well Hell, I loved the whole damned book! I stayed up way too late on Sunday night reading and kept telling myself I was going to stop after one more chapter...

I was sad to see that XTC was not in the book, but then as brilliant as they were, they never really had a huge hit. Talking Heads are conspicuously absent. But so many great (and near great) artists and groups are featured in Mad World, I would not dream of complaining.

If you are at least a casual fan of New Wave, Mad World is mandatory reading. Or if you are interested in a cultural time capsule of the wackiest, most daring, ludicrous, yet fearless days in music history, do yourself a big favor and buy this book. But don't blame me if you find yourself dancing to Duran Duran or Kajagoogo when you are done.

Tuesday, April 15. 2014

It was the early 80's and everyone, it seemed, was aware that a motion picture based on Rod Serling's The Twilight Zone was in the works. Who wouldn't be excited? Steven Spielberg was behind it, and word had it that he had corralled a lot of talent into the making of Twilight Zone: The Movie.

Yet the movie was almost universally disliked. A lot of it had to do with the tragedy surrounding the production.

There was an accident involving a helicopter and one of the movie's stars, Vic Morrow, was killed. Worse still, two young Vietnamese children also died. It was a grisly story. Morrow was reportedly decapitated by the copter.

A tasteless joke was going around:

Q: How did they know Vic Morrow had dandruff?

A: They found his head and shoulders in the bushes.

Har har.

What kept the Twilight Zone movie disaster from being a horrifying accident were the details behind it. The children were not supposed to be working at that hour, for one thing. Safety precautions were rumored to have been ignored. The blame for it all fell in the lap of the man who directed the segment: John Landis.

I never quite got that. A director doesn't get involved in hiring or union details, nor is he or she in charge of pyrotechnics. But The Blame Game is always played in any business when something fouls up. Landis ended up with the brown end of the stick in his hand.

Mostly, though, people simply did not like Twilight Zone: The Movie Many thought it silly and inconsequential. Me, I always loved it, and here's why.

1: I love that Twilight Zone: the Movie didn't try to emulate the serious format of the show. There is no way anyone could duplicate the magic of the originals series, and attempting it is to invite failure and disappointment.

It's like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. No one can do a better job of the story than Tobe Hooper did. Not even himself, and he knew it. That's why (I think, anyway) he went the farcical route with his sequel.

Twilight Zone: The Movie is a goofy, fun, fond nod to the greatest fantasy-science fiction-horror TV show of all time.

2: I love the entire look of the production. The Spielberg movies from the 80's were innocent and charming. They tended to resemble a Norman Rockwell painting mixed with youthful imagination.

3: The cast is marvelous. I've never been a big fan of Dan Aykroyd or Albert Brooks, but both are cool in the movie. We also get to see favorites like Dick Miller, Kathleen Quinlan, Scatman Crothers, William Shallert, Nancy Cartwright, Kevin McCarthy, Bill Mumy, John Lithgow, and Cherie Curry.

4: The Animal House reference in John Landis's segment.

5: The narration from Burgess Meredith.

6: Twilight Zone: The Movie utilized the talents of Richard Matheson, Geroge Clayton Johnson, and Jerome Bixby. Robert Bloch got the novelization gig.

7: Wanna see something really scary?

I could go on, but I think you get the picture.

In many ways I feel that the 80's, with the Spielberg pictures, the original slasher movies, teen comedies, were as magic as the original Twilight Zone years. And Twilight Zone: The Movie captures the era as well as any other movie I can think of.

Sure, the Landis segment has a black cloud over it, but Morrow is eerily effective as the bigot. Spielberg's remake of Kick The Can was criticized for being overly schmaltzy, but I felt it hit all the right notes. My favorite is the cartoon-like feel of It's a Good Life, which was directed by Joe Dante. And while John Lithgow is no William Shatner, the Nightmare at 20,000 Feet manages to evoke both suspense and laughs.

You can turn your nose up at the movie, or at me for loving it as much as I do. I don't care a whit. Twilight Zone: The Movie remains a big favorite of mine, and I never grow tired of it.

Sunday, April 13. 2014

You say you're a horror fan. You have encyclopedic knowledge of movies. You have a DVD library of all the classics and near classics. You can speak more or less eloquently about movies and books. Cool.

If you really are a fan, you should get out and see Oculus. I saw it this afternoon, and while I won't sit here and claim that it is a classic, it is very well done. The performances are uniformly good, the script won't make you cringe, and the story is clever. Perhaps it isn't the most original idea in the genre, but Oculus is a fresh approach.

Best of all, Oculus keeps you on your toes. It's not a paint-by-numbers story, and it does not rely on cheap gore and jump scares. Writer-director Mike Flanagan does not try to overwhelm you with headache-inducing visuals, or gut-churning, disgusting situations. Nor, thankfully, is it another story of walking dead people hungry for flesh. He aims to scare you by stimulating your brain. And he mostly succeeds.

You have pissed and moaned about remakes and sequels. Well, when an original horror movie comes along, you ought to make the effort to see it. In the theater.

I guess if one wanted to be totally anal, it could be argued that Oculus is a remake of the short movie of the same name, by the same director.

Yeah, sure, but for all practical purposes, Oculus is an original feature film. And it's a damned good one.

I won't go into plot details here. The trailer alone, as usual, gives away too much as it is. Suffice to say that Oculus is a mind-fuck story that plays with shifting events in time, and its dizzying plot stretches the very fabric of reality. The movie it most reminds me of in that regard is Nacho Cerdà's bizarre The Abandoned.

But wait. You say that movies cost too much. You're weary of paying fifty, seventy-five, or even more dollars seeing them. Well, I say that you don't have to do that. Eat before, or after the movie. If you, like me, see it with a date, grab some food after and discuss it while the two of you eat. See a morning show, when it is much cheaper. I, and my date, got in for a total of twelve dollars.

We all love the horror genre, and we all wish to see more original movies being produced. That is why it is so absolutely crucial to get out and see the ones that do get released. The guys who pull the money strings of potential productions look at the box office results of similar projects more than anything else. We blame the kids for making the remakes so successful. Let's all do our parts to make movies like Oculus profitable.

Oculus is already a modest success. It earned its modest five million dollar budget back on opening weekend, and it will hopefully continue to bring in revenue. I love it how these small pictures so often outdo the bigger spectacles that are produced. These little ones are often more effective, too. At least I think so.

Will you like Oculus? I think so. No movie will please all fans. That much is for sure. It might be too subtle for some fans, or too confusing for others. Others still simply won't like it. For the most part, though, fans seem to be responding positively.

We need more movies like this, so again, please go out and vote with your dollars and see Oculus.
Tuesday, April 8. 2014

We all love our ghost stories, our monster yarns. These things are fun, and they keep the inner child alive inside us. I, for one, will never stop reading horror and science fiction. Yet there are a lot of amazing works out there that deserve a wider audiences. Works that are not considered to be horror, but would be enjoyed by fans of the genre.

Horror writers could learn a trick or two about mounting dread from Paul Theroux. His books tend to be excruciatingly grim. His latest, The Lower River, is no exception.

Theroux joined the Peace Corps in the 1960's, and spent time in South Africa. He also set some of his early fiction there. Paul Theroux became a renowned novelist, but he also wrote many travel books in his career. He would visit foreign places, and go to areas many would fear to tread. He detailed the events of his journeys in his nonfiction works. He would then incorporate his experiences into his novels.

I've always said that the best way a writer can effectively describe foreign places is to travel. The second best is to read Paul Theroux. He is uncannily observant in both the places he goes as well as the people he sees there. He can be an icy cynic, but it is usually hard to argue with his reasoning.

I discovered the work of Paul Theroux when I saw the movie, The Mosquito Coast. I consider this to easily be the best performance of Harrison Ford, and the movie is riveting. I knew that the novel it was adapted from had to be great. I was right. Since then I have read every novel from Theroux, and much of his nonfiction. For my money there is not a finer writer in the world.

Decades after Theroux left Africa, he returned and found the beloved place from his past a shambles. Poverty, disease, violence. Few seemed interested in education or agriculture, but instead were dependent upon foreign aid. He used the experience as inspiration for The Lower River.

The novel's lead character is Ellis Hock, a tailor whose business is faltering in today's throwaway society. No ones wants finely made clothes anymore, but instead are content with cheap imported goods. He is closing his store and selling the property at a tidy profit, but is unsure of what to do with the rest of his life. Meanwhile, his wife surprises him with the gift of a smart phone. She goes to set it up for him, and all of his past emails are unearthed from prior deletion. Hock's wife discovers dozens of innocent yet flirtatious emails Hock has sent his female customers. This brings about the end of their long marriage.

Hock remembers the only time and place in his life he was truly happy. It was on The Lower River, in South Africa, in the little town of Malawi. In his Peace Corp days of the 1960's, Ellis Hock taught, worked, helped, and fell in love there. Now he decides to go retrace his steps and return to Malawi.

Just as author Paul Theroux found a very different environment, so did his fictional creation. The old schoolhouse he helped built is abandoned and infested with snakes. The clinic is filthy. The villagers live like savages.

Hock is welcomed and hailed as the villagers' chief; their holy man. But he finds himself trapped by the elder of the town, and the fellowship begins to seem sarcastic. Even bullying.

When Ellis reunites with his old love, she urges him to leave the area immediately. "They will eat your money. Then they will eat you", she warns.

His attempts to leave fail, and only weaken and anger the inhabitants of Malawi. His health deteriorates. His money dwindles. Ellis Hock is trapped in the heart of darkness he once cherished.

The Lower River is a dark novel. Hock's plight becomes more increasingly horrifying as his hope vanishes. Africa is depicted as a brutal, disease ridden, dangerous place where the people have adopted the greed and selfish attributes of the western world they equally despise and desire.

Paul Theroux's contempt for U2 singer, Bono, is more than apparent in The Lower River. Theroux has been openly critical of the aid given to Africa, claiming that the efforts are destructive and misguided. Bono even makes a sneaky but uncredited appearance in The Lower River.

I read The Lower River when it was published in 2012, and I just finished listening to it in audio form. I consider it to be one of Theroux's very best novels. I also found it to be more disturbing than the vast majority of horror novels I have read in recent memory.