Help Keep the Drive-In Open
Monday, August 31. 2015
Mondays are hard enough, but I woke up on this one to devastating news. Wes Craven has died.
It doesn't seem real. Wes has been around so long. He's always been there in my life, creating movies.
No, I never met the man, but that does not mean I do not feel a tremendous sense of loss. Wes Craven, along with people like George Romero, John Carpenter, and Tobe Hooper, were like Gods on Olympus to me. Unlike mythological Gods, these guys were always fallible. They all made masterpieces, but they also made some real duds.
Wes was certainly no exception, but how many directors can claim to have made three genre milestones?
Last House on the Left was a huge success on the drive-in, grindhouse, and midnight movie circuits when I was young. Too young to have seen it until much later, but I well remember hearing the radio spots. They alone were enough to scare the crap out of me.
I eventually did see Last House on the Left at a midnight show. As well as numerous times on home video. I am
a genuine horror fan, after all. I never thought that it was a particularly good movie, but as a study in sadism, it is certainly effective. The manic performance of David Hess is what mostly set Last House apart from its competition.
Yet it struck a chord with people, and it did so outside the small horror community. That's real genre success.
Then there was the nearly unparalleled popularity of A Nightmare on Elm Street and its illustrious villain, Freddy Krueger. Moviegoers of all kinds responded to the story of a badly scarred child murderer who invaded the dreams of teenagers to torment and kill them.
People loved Freddy, and while the sequels became less frightening and more comical, they remained showcases of conventional effects. Freddy's grinning mug adorned many a cover of Fangoria magazine.
It was a great time to be a young horror fan. The genre was healthy, and Freddy led the pack of movies coming out. At least for a while. Time passed, and Freddy fell out of favor as the nineties commenced.
Horror was not all that healthy in the early to mid-90's, but in 1996 Craven made it hip again. Directing from a Kevin Williamson script, Wes Craven's Scream was a meta horror movie that was well aware of the genre's history, and it presented a new kind of slasher for a new generation. And it worked. Scream was produced for a modest sum, and it brought in mega-bucks for Dimension Films.
Not everyone was enthusiastic. Horror fans were starting to become cynical when Scream was released, and many felt that it was an ultimate sellout. Genre journalist Chas. Balun railed against it, and many fans vociferously despised the movie.
I don't know. Maybe Scream was too slick. Or maybe they resented that it was embraced by so many young people who knew nothing of horror. Maybe using recognizable TV stars in key roles had a lot to do with it.
No matter. Scream was a resounding success and it spawned three sequels and a television series. It is my favorite Wes Craven movie.
I have a very soft spot for his 1986 movie, Deadly Friend. It was a critical and financial flop, but I love this idiotic little messterpiece. I was such a rabidly goofball fan at the time, and my best friend and I saw it at a drive-in theater. under the stars on a cool night, sipping beers and watching the movie. How could one not enjoy it? It was a more innocent time, my friends.
Wes Craven did some movies that were obvious jobs-for-hire. Swamp Thing, Vampire in Brooklyn, and the Scream sequels come immediately to mind. Some might make an accusing shout of "SELLOUT!", but I never begrudged anyone making a living.
A few were real disasters, such as Shocker. Not that I didn't enjoy it. It's easy to dismiss Shocker as a sad attempt to create another lucrative genre franchise, but I had fun with it. Shocker is such a gonzo bugfuck experience. Like an acid trip gone bad.
The Serpent and the Rainbow is an underrated gem.
I don't fault Craven for his misfires. Film is such a collaborative medium, and the bean-counters are constantly trying to second guess the creative forces in most productions. Then guess who gets the blame when one fails miserably?
At his best, Wes Craven was one of the most ambitious directors in the horror movie realm. He dealt with archetypes of the subconscious and psychological motivations in his more personal movies. The man was intelligent, incredibly well-spoken, and while serious about his craft, Craven knew that there could be fun and laughter in being scared.
Goodbye, Wes. You helped shape the horror genre, you invaded all of our dreams, you provoked us to scream with delight, and you made us think while you did it. Thanks.
Monday, August 24. 2015
Forget the movie. Please.
It occurred the me that there might be some who haven't read Richard Matheson's classic novel, I Am Legend. I understand that not everyone enjoys reading the classics, but this book? There are classics, and then there are legends of the field.
Matheson's I Am Legend is probably the greatest horror-SF novel of the 1950's. Its influence is immeasurable. The story of a world taken over by vampires has inspired several motion pictures. The Last Man on Earth (with Vincent Price) and the movie of the same title are directly from the book. Neither do it justice, but the Price movie comes much closer than the Will Smith debacle.
I Am Legend inspired The Omega Man, and George Romero admits that he used the novel as a template for Night of the Living Dead.
So I guess it is the illegitimate father of the Zombie subgenre. Don't blame Richard Matheson for the sins of later generations.
I Am Legend is almost certainly the first story to use scientific analysis to examine and explain the vampire in fiction. The lone survivor of a vampire breakout attempts to learn what created the epidemic. Even while he grapples with his sanity in the process.
It also examines the archetypes of the human tribe and definitions of the outcast, the hero, and how time, happenstance, and perspective determine who are the monsters among us.
Matheson's novel is one of the most important stories in the genre's history. It is a marriage of the traditional monster and the modern age of reason and logic. It's also a devastating nightmare vision of a future that seems all to possible.
Vampires? Assuredly not, but virulent pestilence, human prejudice, ignorance, or fear-induced violence? It seems more likely by the day.
If you are one of the readers who has not experienced Richard Matheson's I Am Legend, you owe it to yourself to do so. Then maybe you can move on to other Matheson classics like Hell House, Somewhere in Time, The Beardless Warriors, or his many superlative short stories.
And if you have read it, perhaps it is time to go back and see how well it was done long before most of us were born.
Sunday, August 16. 2015
TV, or Music Television, premiered on August 1st, 1981. While it was a radical development (to use 80's vernacular), it wasn't completely original. Musicians had been making short movies based on songs for quite some time. The Beach Boys did it. the Turtles did it as well. Rod Steward had made quite a few. Todd Rundgren had an idea for a channel of short films based on songs, but it didn't work out. Frank Zappa experimented in music-oriented filmmaking as early as the 1960's. Former Monkee Michael Nesmith had a briefly-run syndicated show called PopClips, which was inspired by a New Zealand program entitled Radio With Pictures.
My own first experience with the music video was at a showing of Frank Zappa's psychedelic midnight movie, 200 Motels, which I saw when I was still in high school. Before the feature we were treated to eye-popping short movies set to Elvis Costello and Devo songs.
So while MTV wasn't exactly unprecedented, it was still pretty, well, rad.
MTV and the music video are such an ingrained part of our culture, that the idea for a music video channel seems like a no-brainer. Right? Well, it wasn't seen that way at the time. Who would watch it? What sponsors would pay to advertise on it? People would watch
music? It was met with quite a bit of resistance.
But the creators of the world's first music channel had a collective vision, and they were persistent. Here is the brilliant part of their concept: Excepting the very modest host, or VeeJay, segments, they would not pay for their programming! They would get the record companies to supply the video clips that aired.
MTV made its creaky debut on August first, and as 'most everyone knows, Video Killed The Radio Star was the first video that ran on the channel. Footage of The doomed Challenger takeoff were public domain, so they used it as their theme footage. A snazzy little rock ditty was concocted, and an industry was born.
In the early days, if you had a song and a video, and as long as the content wasn't too controversial, chances are it would air on MTV if it were submitted. The earliest days were mostly classic rock holdovers like Rod Stewart, Journey, REO Speedwagon, Pat Benatar, Styx, The Who. But as the channel gained popularity, the rising popularity of New Wave was showcased there.
Not every band or record company embraced the notion that they should supply free product to the fledgling network. ZZ Top, in particular, was against it. All that quickly changed when it became evident that record sales and music video airtime became obvious. A new wave, indeed, of music promotion had risen, and there was no looking back.
I loved MTV for its first few years. Part of me knew that it was the beginning of the end. That style and fashion, while always a part of the delivery of music, would overtake musical talent and songwriting ability as the primary driving force of popularity of musical acts.
MTV was a perfect way for partying kids/young adults to while away time. Maybe you disliked a lot, or most of the videos shown, but you could make fun of them, and sooner or later something you wanted to see would play. Me and my friends watched for hours hoping to see videos by The Tubes or Todd Rundgren. I liked a lot of it. It was great to see new acts like The Waitresses and Bow Wow Wow. I enjoyed videos by Nick Lowe, Donnie Iris, The Pretenders, The Vapors.
It was so new and exhilarating. No one had seen anything like Once in a Lifetime, by Talking Heads. It was funny, it was musical, it was weird, it was artistic. Devo videos were amazing to behold.
For me the best days were the earliest ones. It was obvious that everyone involved was running by the seats of their pants. Many videos lacked professional production values, but that only added to the charm of them. Of course some were abominably awful, such as Billy Squire's Rock Me Tonight
. That video, directed by Kenny Ortega, is reputed to have destroyed the artist's career. But things like that were at least fun to laugh at.
Despite expectations, MTV became incredibly popular. Budgets for videos rose, and this created problems for many recording artists. You don't think the record companies risked their bottom line, do you? The budgets for most videos came off the top of the artists' profit. And as increasingly more bands and singers were submitting videos, the money was often wasted. MTV no longer was desperate for content and airtime was severely limited.
The high point of it all was probably Michael Jackson's Thriller. Reportedly the most expensive music video up until then, Thriller was insanely popular. MTV was showing it hourly, and a making-of videotape became a bestseller.
When is the last time you watched Thriller
? It seems so innocent now. Michael J was young and the insane superstardom that eventually killed him was just beginning. Its influence on not only music video, but horror movie makeup, is immeasurable. And how many Thriller parodies have you seen since then? If I never see another bunch of dancing zombies, I will die a happy man.
As hotshot directors began to emerge on the music video scene, and they became increasingly ambitious, I rapidly lost interest. The naive, humble days were gone. Never to return.
Besides, by the mid-80's, pretty much everyone who really wanted a VCR could have one. Movie freaks like myself no longer were no longer forced to watch mediocre television. We watched a lot of mediocre, bad, and very good, movies instead.
Now, of course, MTV is polluted by Reality TV and other crappy programming. In fact, their show, The Real World, is guilty of bringing Reality TV to popularity. Of course anyone with any savvy at all knows that there is very little reality in Reality TV.
MTV was pivotal in getting hip hop into the suburbs with Yo! MTV Raps, but that was never my thing. I was never into the heavy metal crossdressers either.
Yes, no more music videos on MTV. I guess it's for the best. New generations tend to reject the beloved pleasures of previous ones. And would you really want to watch a channel that showed Lady Gaga, Robin Thicke, Bruno Mars, and Sam Smith? I wouldn't.
The music video isn't dead. You Tube is filled with them, and I guess that's a good thing in many ways. You can watch anything you want, at any time. I can click up Detachable Penis, by King Missile, Talk To You Later, by The Tubes, Zappa, just about anything you can imagine. Stuff that MTV would never have had the balls to air. Still, I miss it.
It was kind of a magic time. Everyone was watching the same things. People discussed the new videos and we all felt like we knew the VJs. Most guys wanted to have sex with Nina Blackwood, and go on a date with Martha Quinn. J.J. Jackson was a hip black dude, but not too scary for Middle America. Alan Hunter seemed like kind of a geek, but I guess teenage girls liked him. Mark Goodman was the kind of guy you might like to party with.
The old VJs were like people you might actually know. Later ones like Pauly Shore and Downtown Julie Brown were shockingly tacky and grotesque.
Like a lot of things these days, MTV is merely a sad reminder of simpler, more honest times. I know that the music industry was corrupt back then, but it wasn't as cynical and manipulative as it is now. And, unlike many of my contemporaries, I know that more good music is coming out now than ever before. You won't find much of it on mainstream radio stations, and there certainly isn't a music channel that is interested in bold, innovative programming anymore.
Monday, July 13. 2015
I don't hate found footage movies. I really don't. I quite enjoyed the first three Paranormal Activity features. I actually loved The Last Exorcism. I also really liked The Blair Witch Project.
Then there are the bad ones. Paranormal Activity 3 comes to mind. The Last Exorcism 2. The Devil Inside.
The cream of the crop are the [REC] movies and, if you count it, Cannibal Holocaust.
Sure, they're overdone these days, but slasher movies weren't in the early 80's? Big bug movies in the 50's? Monster mashes in the 40's?
I try to judge a movie by its merits and not by the genre, or subgenre, it might fall in. Except for zombie movies. Zombies suck, regardless of whether they are fast or slow.
The latest found footage horror movie to hit theaters is The Gallows. Is it good? Read on.
The Gallows starts off promisingly enough. A scene from a high school play goes bad as a young actor accidentally gets hanged on a gallows prop. It's probably best to not ask too many questions about why it is a real, functioning, gallows.
Fast forward around 15 years, and the school is morbidly putting on the exact same play. And, yes, they are using the same gallows. If you think that is stupid and extremely weak screenwriting, you would be dead right.
Meanwhile, an especially obnoxious jock inexplicably carries around a camcorder filming everything he sees and does. Again, it's best not to question this too deeply.
The jock finds little more satisfying than to torment drama students. It's always a plus to have warm, likable protagonists in a horror movie, or how would you feel any empathy for their plight?
The jock gets a brainstorm: Why don't they break into the school and trash the set on the night before the play? Another jock who is barely less loathsome is in the play, and he agrees to help. A trashy chick joins the two athletes, and the fun begins. Oh, to even out the cast a female member of the play shows up as well.
It will be no surprise to learn that things start getting weird pretty quickly, and before you can say Coffin Rock
, the kids are trapped in the auditorium, racing through its corridors, bickering with one another, and begging the camera for help.
From there the viewer is treated to a series of cheap shot phony jump scares and a weak-as-water plot that makes no sense whatsoever. Things pick up a little as the students start to get bumped off, but unfortunately the deaths are not gory or the least bit inventive.
Things get even hazier as the plot thickens. There is a contrived ending that is intended to blow the viewer's mind. It only made me wince at the thought of blowing my money on a ticket.
But, hey, I'm a cheap date. I'll allow myself to get fucked by a shitty horror movie, and not even resent it too badly.
The Gallows looks like it was made for around two hundred bucks, so I'm sure it will turn a profit. We can expect more found footage opuses in the future. Let's hope that most of them are at least a little better than The Gallows.
Saturday, June 13. 2015
I used to have a lot of fun with a weekly feature here at Horror Drive-In. In it, I would list the weekly DVD releases of interest to me and the horror/exploitation community. I liked to put on a mock critical spin on nearly everything. It made for some fun conversation.
No more. Not only are DVDs (among other items of physical media) dying, there seems to be no fans of horror and exploitation at the forum anymore.
When I launched this site, my dream was to have a forum where fans could discuss movies and books. With an emphasis on classic drive-in film. Nostalgia is a big part of why I am here.
It was good for a while. I read back over the first pages of the forum and the talk was pretty evenly mixed between book talk, classic horror and sleaze movies, and other stuff. That all seems to have dried up.
I like the idea of book people discussing grindhouse/drive-in/exploitation cinema. Certainly there are no lack of online groups dedicated to the discussion of these type of movies, but I like to think that readers might have a more interesting take on them than non-reader.
My attempts to start threads on classic horror movies have mostly been ignored. Just recently I tried to instigate a discussion about the sexy Hammer Studios vampire movie, Twins of Evil. Nary a reply. Yet a thread about food is currently at one hundred and twenty-eight
And when the visual media is discussed, the threads are often about binge-watching television shows. It almost makes me think I should change the name of the site to Horror Television. But it doesn't have the same ring to it, does it?
I'm not exactly complaining. I am grateful that there is a community here at this website. Message boards are going the way of compact discs and DVD movies. Yet some of us still plow on, regardless of social changes.
Nor am I trying to tell users what to talk about. I've been at this game a long time, and that never works. It's the reason I broke away from the place I got my start in the internet message board business.
No, I'm just woolgathering. Another aging fan mooning about times gone by.
They are not exactly gone yet, but I already miss DVDs. The excitement when they were new. The enthusiastic discussions, the speculation of possible releases. In its own way it was as magical a time as when VHS became commonplace.
My God, I bought so many discs over the years, and I sold so many of them as well. Tight financial times when I was married, and when I was unemployed last year I sold every movie and record that would bring in a couple of bucks.
I can't see getting that excited about streaming movies.
I still obsess over DVDs, though. I hit the thrift stores just about every weekend, and I look at the movies, checking to see what special features they contain. That's one good thing about them going out of vogue. People are getting rid of their previous beloved collections and the junk shops are full of 'em.
I miss the heyday of the DVD. The impassioned discussions, the anticipation of the special features, the joy of letting animated menu screens run on the TV.
There will be a resurgence. Just as there is for VHS and for vinyl records. We tend to throw things away, and then miss them later when it is mostly too late. It will never be the same. I don't care what new technology comes along. We are becoming more jaded all the time, and the collector is as much of a dinosaur as a DVD player.
Thursday, June 11. 2015
I'm speechless. Devastated. Lee was the last of the old masters.
I guess this is what growing old is like. You see your idols dying off. People like Christopher Lee, Vincent Price, Frank Zappa, Ray Harryhausen, Forrest J Ackerman, Robert Bloch, Richard Matheson, Ray Bradbury, Robert A. Heinlein. Superstars who have been a part of my consciousness forever. I had reverence and awe of them in the same way the Greeks and Romans used to feel about their Gods.
I know I've have to see others, like Woody Allen and Harlan Ellison, go eventually. Either that or I will die first. I don't know what is more depressing.
Christopher Lee! Not only the greatest Dracula of all time, but quite possibly the greatest vampire of the cinema. He wasn't one of these romantic figures, like Frank Langella. Lee was regal. Kinglike. The warrior-vampire, like Vlad the Impaler.
His best movie is probably The Wicker Man. One of his oddest is also one of my favorites: The Return of Captain Invincible.
Lee camped it up in Howling 2: Your Sister is a Werewolf and Gremlins 2: The New Batch. He worked for directors like Steven Spielberg, Mario Bava, and Alejandro Jodorowsky. Christopher Lee was also in movies by Jess Franco. Lee was a Bond villain. He was a staple in Hammer pictures, and is beloved by horror fans, but Christopher Lee plays in nearly every conceivable type of movie.
He was a working actor, and thank God Hollywood did not forget about him.
Wednesday, June 3. 2015
I used to read science fiction almost exclusively. This was in my youth and early adulthood. I read a lot of pretty great stories and books. I also read some dismal things. That's the nature of the game.
By the time the 1980's were up and running, I was growing tired of SF. To me, way too much of it was inspired by lousy movies and TV shows. A lot of it was too concerned with technology and there wasn't enough focus on the inner workings of the humans in the stories.
I made the shift to horror, and was quite happy about it. I still read the occasional SF yarn, but it was becoming fewer and farther between them.
Today I am reading a little less horror, but I'm not reading a whole lot of science fiction either. I'll re-read some classic Golden Age things now and then, and extremely rarely I will embark on a new science fiction novel. It has to be a really special case.
Robert McCammon's new novel, The Border, is just out from Subterranean Press. Some are claiming that it hails back to 80's classic McCammon titles like Swan Song, and Stinger, but unlike those hybrid novels, The Border is pure science fiction.
The bare bones plot of The Border sounds like it is straight out of a Michael Bay movie, or maybe something from the Silver Age of comics. Lots of action, violence, and typical SF tropes. You've got your alien races who choose Earth as a battlefield in their war with one another. You've got bloodthirsty mutants. A magic child who might have the power to save humanity. Teleportation, death rays, and explosions galore.
Doesn't sound very sophisticated, does it?
Well, this is Robert McCammon
we're talking about.
If readers wish to approach The Border as a slam-bang action novel, they will have plenty to enjoy while reading it. If readers are looking for something more, they too will find much to ponder.
To me, The Border works as a parable about second chances. About new beginnings and shaking off the chaos we've all been through. Nobody's life has been a picnic, and most of us have faced despair, depression, hopelessness, fear.
The best works of fiction make us look at the world, and our own lives, in new light. The Border did that for me. I felt as though I had been through a transformation when I read the final sentence. One that made me see things more clearly, and to put my life and its challenges into better perspective.
I congratulate Robert McCammon, not only on a magnificent job with The Border, but daring to do something so different with his fiction. I am grateful that he took this diversion from the chronicles of Matthew Corbett. Now I hope he hurries up and gets back to that character and the plight he is in at the conclusion of The River of Souls.
In closing, I thank Subterranean Press for providing the perfect literary home for Robert McCammon, and for allowing him the freedom to take chances with his writing career.
Monday, May 18. 2015
There are quite a few books coming up from longtime authors whose work I love. Here are the highlights.
, by Robert McCammon. This one was on my doorstep when I got home from work today. My highest anticipated publication of the year. McCammon is, quite simply, the best.
THE SCARLET GOSPELS
, by Clive Barker. I choose to ignore the negative word on this one. Chances are fair that I will agree, but I will go into this as I do with every book I start: With the intention of enjoying it. The Books of Blood and The Damnation Game were two of the most important books in my early horror reading years.
, by Stephen King. King is on a hell of a roll as far as I am concerned, and I absolutely loved Mr. Mercedes. Which is the first in a proposed trilogy. It was an homage to the hardboiled dick genre, yet King instilled his own warped, yet distinctly human sensibilities to the story.
, by Joe R. Lansdale. While it has been a little while since a Lansdale truly knocked my socks off, I've been a ginormous fan since I first held the Bantam paperback of The Drive-In in my trembling hands.
, by Ed Gorman. This is the latest thriller featuring Gorman's political consultant character, Dev Conrad. I don't like the Conrad series quite
as much as I do the McCain books, I will read as many of these as he is gracious enough to give us.
, by Bill Pronzini. By my count this is the forty-second publication in the incomparable Nameless Detective series. And that is not counting short stories and novellas. I don't know how he does it, but Pronzini has managed to keep these stories fresh and vital. They are among the most treasured pieces of fiction of my life.
, by Ronald Malfi. Ron Malfi is one of my favorites of the newer horror writers, and he always delivers a story that touches the mind and heart, as well as scaring his readers. Little Girls looks like it will be one of his best.
, by Christopher Golden. Golden is a one-man publishing industry, producing an alarming number of books per year. Anthologies, media tie-ins, collaborations, young adult, series work. All of uniform excellence, but I like his stand-alone novels the most. Tin Men sounds particularly good, and hopefully enough it will wipe that stupid movie with Danny Devito and Richard Dreyfuss completely from my memory.
There are always good books on the way, but right now is a particularly exciting time.
Sunday, May 17. 2015
The most hotly anticipated movie of 2015 is probably Mad Max: Fury Road. Not by me
, but by a lot of people. Most particularly action fans. It's not that I wasn't looking forward to see it, but there are others that I am more excited about.
Well, it's finally here, and the praise is rolling in. Deservedly so. Mad Max: Fury Road is an astonishing accomplishment. It is certainly a visceral experience, with more action, exciting and nightmarish imagery, and explosions than most of us have ever seen in a motion picture. Few, very few, fans of the series will be disappointed.
And if the characters and their motivations are a little murky, I am reminded of a line from the immortal Paul Bartel, in Hollywood Boulevard: "This isn't a movie about the human condition. This is a movie about tits and ass".
Mad Max: Fury Road is concerned with jaw-dropping action, explosive violence, and pyrotechnics. It succeeds at what it sets out to accomplish magnificently.
Still, I won't list it among my personal favorites, and chances are fairly good that I will never watch it again. I'm not that big of an action fan these days, and the although I do like it, the Mad Max series was never one that I held in highest regard. I was always more of a Death Wish fan. Or maybe Vice Squad. Fort Apache: The Bronx. Or even Jake Speed.
I'm not complaining. Mad Max: Fury Road is exactly what I hoped it would be, and I got my money's worth. If you have not seen it yet, you need to. If you have, it's pretty likely that you will watch it again and again in the future.
I give major applause to the studio for having the wisdom to have George Miller bring his original vision back to life. They could have easily brought in a snotnose young director to make the movie. I think the gamble will pay off, even though Pitch Perfect 2 has outgrossed Mad Max: Fury Road on this opening weekend.
Thursday, May 14. 2015
Who would have guessed that early MTV staple, Greg Kihn, would write one of the best horror novels of the 1990's? Well, he did, with Horror Show. Horror Show is a fun and scary story that blends thrills and chills with classic bad cinema. Kihn followed it with two good sequels.
Then he seemed to disappear from the literary world for a while. Kihn returned last year with Rubber Soul.
According to Beatle legend, the Fab Four discovered American Blues, R&B, and primitive Rock and Roll from a flea market seller who supplied them with records. He was a merchant marine who obtained the music from America.
Using that as a springboard, Greg Kihn created the character, Dust Bin Bob. Bob meets the Beatles and ignites their love of American music in their formative years. Befriending and even working for The Beatles, Bob ends up saving the Liverpudlian lads from a plot to destroy them.
Rubber Soul is a fun book, with an engaging character. It portrays early 1960's England well, and also the burgeoning hippie/rock and roll scene in America.
Kihn has returned with Painted Black. This time Dust Bin Bob, now a respected antiques dealer, makes the acquaintance of troubled musical visionary Brian Jones, of The Rolling Stones. In reality, Jones died under mysterious circumstances in a swimming pool. His legendary wild lifestyle almost certainly played a crucial role on his death.
In Painted Black, Dust Bin Bob is coerced into helping Brian Jones survive his own demons. Or is there a conspiracy against the rock and roll legend? And maybe even other doomed artists of the time?
Again Greg Kihn invites readers into a long past world of mod swinging Londoners and wild American freaks.
Both Rubber Soul and Painted Black are permeated with the love of joy of music. Regardless of whether you like Greg Kihn's own recordings, he is a veteran of the industry and he writes with intimate knowledge and passion.
If Kihn brings back Dust Bin Bob, it is my hope that he meets Flo and Eddie of The Turtles. It is more likely that Bob's possible next adventure will feature him with Janis Joplin and/or Jimi Hendrix. I say bring it on!
Monday, May 4. 2015
Recently on Facebook I saw some individuals--small press writers they were--bitching about how someone was putting down a book or a writer. I didn't see the offending posts, but I am pretty sure they were unnecessarily rude and infantile. Such is the internet. Many feel really big and tough when confronting someone from the safety of afar.
Some other writers were agreeing about how rude it all was, and one made a statement about how writers should support one another. Someone else chimed in with that old chestnut about how you should not say anything at all if you can't say something nice.
I feel that this is one of the most destructive ideas in the community, and that it is far worse than any trollish behavior.
Once upon a time, way back when I was at Gorezone and Shocklines, I mostly felt the same way. I wanted to support the genre. I didn't want a lot of negativity on the forums.
I still don't wish to see a bunch of needlessly nasty criticism. That stuff is usually counterproductive and ugly to behold. It sure makes for a busy forum, though. Despite what many might claim, a lot of individuals thrive on drama.
Really, in the end, it is just one person's opinion. Some might claim otherwise, but I don't buy it. Sure, you can point our glaring examples of typographical errors, and that is a matter of fact, not opinion.
I see writers supporting one another all the time. Trading blurbs, hyping stuff up. There's nothing wrong with that, in theory, but it becomes nearly impossible to tell when it is honest appreciation or gladhanding.
It's no different in any other trade. I made a change in my employment last year, and I was cast way outside my comfort zone. My new supervisor is a hardass, and he rarely, if ever, hands out a compliment. He does, however, criticize me almost constantly. I have often hated it, and I silently cursed him a blue streak on many occasions. But I ended up learning a lot more that way. He kicked my lame ass up and down, and now I thank him for it.
Or, as a legendary writer and great friend of mine says, put your dick on the chopping block and wait for the cleaver.
Quite a few people have flattered me by telling me that they respect my opinion. I owe it to them, and to my own self, to be honest when I discuss books and movies. My opinion may end up being in the minority (it usually is), but I stand by it.
I think the genre needs more critical thinking. Emphasis on constructive criticism. The ease of self publishing has writers cranking out fiction in assembly line fashion. If readers like it, fine, but I truly believe that we all will be much more supportive of the genre and the community, not to mention the writers in question, if we give our opinions with honesty. Especially if we have the grace to do so with tact.
Wednesday, April 29. 2015
I'm not sure what exactly ignited my interest in the work of Chevy Stevens. Perhaps it was her unusual name. Maybe she was recommended to me due to my enthusiasm for Gillian Flynn's writing. It really does not matter, because I was interested enough to give one of her books a try.
I chose the debut novel of Chevy Stevens. Its title is Still Missing.
Still Missing deals with the abduction, imprisonment, and rape of a woman. Annie O'Sullivan is a real estate seller who is surprised by a male following an open house she has hosted. She is drugged and taken to a remote cabin, and is plunged into a nightmare that seems to have no end. Annie is abused, both emotionally and physically.
The novel alternates between her captivity, the aftermath of her escape, and therapy sessions. Everyone is interested in her story and the gruesome details of her ordeal, but few comprehend that the horrors have not ended. She suffers from acute anxiety and has serious trust issues with everyone she comes across.
Worse than that, Annie begins to suspect that the abduction was not random and that it was engineered by someone she knows. And that she may, in fact, still be in physical danger.
Did I enjoy Still Missing? I don't know. I don't think "enjoy" is the right word. I respect the novel and its writer. I was inspired by the courage and fortitude of Annie O'Sullivan. I consider Still Missing to be a document of a woman's struggle against almost insurmountable odds.
Some might consider Still Missing to be feminist fiction. I don't. Not exactly. While I would be unsurprised to learn that the majority of fans of this book are female, to me this is a story of an individual who has more strength than she probably believes she has. It deeply touches on universal things like friendship and loyalty. Desperation and perseverance. Trust and betrayal. Human cruelty and compassion. Most of all, Still Missing has a message of hope.
Yeah, I guess you could say that I enjoyed Still Missing after all.
Will this be the last Chevy Stevens book I read? Absolutely not.
Sunday, April 19. 2015
I read, and loved, this novel when I originally read it. I was fortunate enough to obtain an ARC prior to publication. Now I am listening to the audio edition.
Dr. Sleep is a divisive novel, but then most of King's books are. Some, like me, greatly enjoyed it. Others were disappointed.
I get it. At least I think I do. Allow me to elaborate.
Stephen King is known for his colorful villains. They are often multi-faceted, and they are usually interesting and entertaining characters. Consider Randall Flagg, Roland Lebay, Pennywise, Annie Wilkes. Even Cujo.
I'll admit it. The true Knot, from Dr. Sleep, are among King's weakest adversaries. None of the characters are fully fleshed-out, and they feel like forced creations.
Then there are the themes of alcoholism and Alcoholics Anonymous. It can come off as preachy to some, I believe.
Plus, Dr. Sleep is the sequel to one of King's greatest triumphs. The Shining has large shoes to fill.
Me, I have never been one to look for subtext and hidden meanings in fiction. Give me a story, well told, and leave the mental masturbation to the academics.
However, I found the themes in Dr. Sleep to be utterly compelling. As I did The Shining. In The Shining, the reader is introduced to an alcoholic who is in very shaky recovery. He moves his family into an abandoned hotel for his job as Winter caretaker, and they find that the hotel is a malignant entity. Some of its rooms are haunted.
The Shining is, to me, a metaphor for alcoholism and its devastating effects on not only the afflicted party, but to his family. Jack Torrence has some very haunted rooms in his mind, and unable to deal with them properly, he relapses and brings destruction upon himself and his family.
Of course The Shining can be enjoyed as simply a story of a terrifying haunted hotel.
The underlying themes of Dr. Sleep are inherited addiction, recovery, fellowship, and mortality.
Perhaps I appreciated Dr. Sleep more than some for reasons of my own, ah, intimate relationship with alcohol addiction.
Dr. Sleep had a profound effect upon me. I found it to be a deeply spiritual novel that helped bring me strength and comfort. It even prompted me to give AA a try. Unfortunately, like many things, Alcoholics Anonymous is a better idea on paper than it is as a reality. At least to me. But that is quite another story.
Stephen King's Dr. Sleep works for me as a treatise on alcohol treatment, recovery and intervention, as well as the burden of sobriety on a problem drinker.
Dr. Sleep is also a horror novel, and there are some powerful scenes. Such as when a boy with a baseball glove is exhumed from an unmarked grave.
The scenes where Dan Torrence acts as "Dr. Sleep" and eases the passing of dying individuals are breathtakingly moving. Here is where King's own faith shines the most in his fiction.
My opinion is my own, and some will share it, while others will not. It's all fine by me, but I hope that anyone who approaches Dr. Sleep for the first time will do so with an open and receptive mind.
Monday, April 13. 2015
Don't be too harsh. It was the 70's after all, man.
Yes, I was a pothead. A doper, if you will. Sometimes referred to as a "fiend" for short. Hey, who wasn't?
You've seen Dazed and Confused, I presume? Well, that shit was pretty accurate. There were different social groups, but by my senior year, I ran with the 'heads.
In some ways I have no regrets. What's the use? It was fun and I have a wealth of great memories. On the other hand, I wish I had taken things a wee bit more seriously.
I was a reader, of course. I always have been. I also had aspirations of being a writer. My eye was set on journalism. In a way, I achieved that goal. I am, after all, a columnist at Cemetery Dance Magazine. But I didn't become a newspaper reporter as I dreamed about. All that partying does not often lead to lofty positions in the working world. I am a machinist, and I consider myself lucky to be one.
We were rebellious, of course. We rejected the values and attitudes of our parents, and although most of us ended up right where they were as far as work and debt are concerned, maybe all that peace and love crap (as well as the poetry of rock and roll music) made us a little better. Some of us, anyway.
And we hated school. What a drag, man. It seriously cramped our party lifestyle.
One day a good friend of mine and I were in some woods, getting high and talking. We talked about everything imaginable. We had this idea: Let's start an underground newspaper and distribute it at the school. I'm not entirely sure whose idea it was, but I am thinking that I was a major proponent of it. I do know that I came up with the title. Poetry in motion, my friends. Our little endeavor was called...
THE HIGH'S COOL PRESS
Kinda has a ring to it, doesn't it?
I also remember well that the other guy did most of the work in getting it printed up.
We gathered some like-minded friends, made up phony names for ourselves in hopes that we wouldn't get caught, and started writing some stuff. We had a couple of cartoonists, and a handful of would-be journalists.
We handed them out in clandestine stealth. The cover price was a whopping quarter. No small amount of greenage in the 1979 economy.
People liked it. We made our investment money back. And we were never caught. The faulty and staff were outraged, and tried to find the guilty parties. No one narked us out.
Our upstart publication had a long three-issue run. Which was two more than I figured would ever get made.
Not long ago, some old friends and I got together for pizza and pitchers of beer. High school pals. We had some laughs, looked back at our triumphs and embarrassments, and promised each other that we would get back together. Real soon.
It hasn't happened yet, and I guess it never will. People go their separate ways. But one of the guys who was at the reunion was my old High's Cool partner. He came up to me after everyone else was gone and handed me a folder. It contained all three issues of The High's Cool Press.
I look back at it now with nothing less than astonishment. We actually did it. Some of it is pretty bad, and I blush a little bit, but for the most part I saw passionate work by some pretty smart teenagers. I got a chuckle and a few tears as I read them.
And now my party days are long past. I gave up the incessant dope smoking decades ago. I continued to drink for a long, long time, but it has been months since I have had a drop. I couldn't get high if I wanted to. I get screened at my job. Even if it becomes legal in my state, and it no longer matters to my job, I probably won't do it. You've got to grow up sometime. Well, some of us do.
Wednesday, April 8. 2015
I'm trying. I'm trying very hard to appreciate and enjoy newer writers in the horror genre. The truth is, I am not very successful.
Thanks in part to the ease of producing and distributing books through Amazon/Createspace, there is a glut of material out there. Even many small presses are using the service now, and who can blame them?
But when there is a glut, quality tends to deteriorate.
Everything seems to leave me flat these days. I recently did enjoy some newer books: Save Yourself, by Kelly Braffett, and Fat Kid Saves The World, by K. L. Going. Neither are precisely horror fiction, but both have disturbing elements in them.
Part of the problem, for me, is the abundance of writers trying to emulate Richard Laymon, Jack Ketchum, and Edward Lee. Over-the-top stuff makes me yawn most of the time. Been there, done it.
I've heard nearly universal acclaim for Laird Barron, so I took the plunge and ordered his sole novel, The Croning. I didn't get very far. The dialogue in the first chapter was ridiculous to me. I also did not care at all for the setup, which featured a Spy and a Queen.
Where are the game changers of today? The horror novels that literally change the genre? In the past there were knockout books like The Shining, The Ceremonies, Swan Song, even Lost Souls. The last thing I can think of that had anywhere nearly as much influence as those is Brian Keene's The Rising.
Maybe I am just getting older. I keep looking to the past for my reading fixes. I just finished up Philip Jose Farmer's mind-blowing A Feast Unknown, which I originally read around thirty-five years ago. I'm listening to Red Dragon in my car. I'm also going back and re-experiencing beloved titles from my past by Peter Straub, Stephen King, F. Paul Wilson, Charles Beaumont, Ray Bradbury, etc.
I'm much more apt to find something I like in the YA dept instead of a book labeled "Horror".
The funny thing is, I don't mind most current horror movies. Sure, many leave a lot to be desired, but to me watching a movie is an escape and reading is mental concentration. But more books seem to be directly influenced by movies these days than ever before.
Funnier still, most fans and writers seem to "support" up-and-coming horror writers, while many disdain most of the genre stuff that plays the multiplexes.
I don't like all horror movies, of course. Texas Chainsaw 3D is one of the most wretched things I have ever had the displeasure to watch, and I can't get aboard the Rob Zombie bandwagon.
I really am trying. It's hard when you don't do the Kindle thing, and paperbacks run anywhere from ten to twenty dollars. Sometimes they are even more expensive. And when I am disappointed most of the time, it is hard to continue to try new stuff.
In the meantime I will read the writers I love, and to rediscover the joys of the past.
I will continue to try, but I am beginning to despair that I, or the genre, is hopelessly out of touch.