Help Keep the Drive-In Open
Wednesday, December 7. 2016
Every now and again, you have to take some time to process a novel once you’ve read it, and that’s especially true if you’re going to attempt to review it. As it happens, I read two books instead of one: Jack Finny’s The Body Snatchers and Robert A. Heinlein’s The Puppet Masters. So, I guess there was double the process time needed before sitting down to write this review. But I was inspired by posts on the Horror Drive-In forum, posts that talked a little bit about these two books, so, my goal here is to do a little homage to some great stories—and maybe I will entice those reading this review to go back and enjoy a couple oldies, but goodies.
The Body Snatchers, published in 1955 (but first serialized in 1954), involves seed pods that land on Earth to do what seed pods do best—multiply. But the thing of it is, these seed pods aren’t looking to grow into anything other than copies of the people that live in the town they’ve set to invade. It is up to the main characters, who come to realize this threat, to see that the body snatchers are thwarted.
The Puppet Masters, published in 1951 (also serialized in a magazine), has visitors from outer space too, but these are a little different than those in The Body Snatchers. These are highly intelligent aliens, beings that intend to use human bodies for hosts—they look sort of like the nastiest version of slugs you can think of—maybe a cross between a slug and a leech and a snake, who knows—and those slugs, called ‘The Masters’ by the hero of this novel, want one thing only: world domination. It is up to a few special agents that are a part of an off-the-books agency to stop the invasion.
The books are similar as they both deal with hostile beings from outer space, intent on doing what the do best: kill off and/or take over humanity. Both deal with ‘the other’; that is to say, both deal with showing what is weird in contrast to what we all are, which is (supposedly) normal. They both say, “If you don’t watch out, you’ll be watching your own body eating your T.V. dinners and sitting next to your wife who isn’t really your wife anymore.” But, social and intellectual warnings aside, they books hold your attention as they are both action packed, especially Heinlein’s novel—if it were printed today, I daresay that it would be tagged with that insidious Thriller Novel label.
I think an important last point is that both deal with the specific instance of invasion (not a dystopian environment), and shows how humanity might react. Jack Finny’s writing from the perspective of the small town doctor, while Heinlein is showing us how a government that spends $100 on a toilet seat and $300 on a traffic cone might go about dealing with a superior nemesis. In either instance, I think the best and the worst of humanity is accurately portrayed. That’s a big deal for novels that were written some seventy years ago now. That they’re still relevant says much more than I ever could.
All of this is great, but how is it horror? Though I do understand why these books are classified as Science Fiction, I do also think there is an argument to be made in regards to their being functioning works of Horror Fiction as well. The narratives strike a deep sense of fear in the reader, fear of ‘the other’, but it is more than that, too. Both novels create a fear of being made into the ‘the other’ and the process that entails. In The Body Snatchers that seems to mean certain death. In The Puppet Masters that seems to mean something worse than death; possession. It is through these two fears—the fear caused by death, and the fear caused by possession—that both authors twist our feeling of suspense and dread. This is classic horror in its best emanations.
I enjoyed both of these novels. I recommend you read them, if you haven’t. For me, The Body Snatchers was the book I enjoyed more out of the two, but that is because I fear death much more than I fear being possessed (even if it is by a slug). Which of the two fates do you fear most?
Review by David M. Wilson
Saturday, November 26. 2016
At this point in the writing career of Bill Pronzini, having written over ninety novels and hundreds of short stories, one might expect the man to mellow a bit. He's been at the game for nearly fifty years, after all. And, at a glance, one could possibly make that assumption. Pronzini has been writing a series of light historical mysteries with his wife, the acclaimed author Marcia Muller. He steadily puts out a new Nameless Detective novel every year. Bill Pronzini has been a one-man publishing industry for about as long as I have been reading. If anyone deserves to kick back a little, it's him. To maybe go a little easy with the hard subject matter.
But then we have The Violated, a stand-alone solo novel that is coming on March 7th, 2017. I've been a longtime completest Bill Pronzini reader and fan for decades, and I never miss one of his books. For my money, The Violated is the hardest hitting, most intense novel he has written to date. My previous favorite was The Crimes of Jordan Wise, from 2006.
The Violated begins with an arresting opening line:
The dead man lay faceup on the grassy riverbank, legs together and ankles crossed, arms spread-eagled above his head with palms upturned and fingers curled, in a grotesque parody of the crucifixion.
From there the reader is thrust into a dark and horrible story of a suspected serial rapist who has been brutally murdered. Which brings forth numerous questions: Was he really the man who violated the victims? Was it a random crime? Who committed the murder? Will the atrocities continue?
Pronzini has often used multiple first person viewpoints in his books, but he has never done so as flawlessly and convincingly as he does in The Violated. Each chapter is told from the point of view of a person who is either directly or indirectly involved in the investigation.
The Violated is one of Pronzini's most brutal works of fiction, but as always his empathy and humanity shines in every page.
Bill Pronzini has never quite reached the mainstream success he deserves. Maybe it's because he rarely has cookie-cutter heroes and villains in his stories. Readers are as apt to have sympathy for the antagonists as they are the so-called good guys. It's impossible for reasonable people to feel sorry for a rapist, but perhaps one can be a sort of victim, too. That it might be possible to hate as well as try to understand what drove someone to such foul deeds.
As the saying goes, if there is any justice in the world, The Violated will find the biggest possible audience. As far as I am concerned, it is as good as anything out there on the shelves. It, and Bill Pronzini, deserve all the success in the world. I hope you will consider reading The Violated when it is published.
Wednesday, November 23. 2016
I've heard individuals speak of Thanksgiving with disdain, claiming that people should not need a special day to express and feel thanks. Maybe so, but we all have our bad sides. We're all human, and ego, frailty, spitefulness, anger, and self pity come along with the condition. I like the idea of a holiday in which to relax, reflect, and re-evaluate our lives. One to give thanks for what we do have.
It's a volatile time in American society. Many feel rage and helplessness. I understand those things, but then my life has always been uncertain. None of us can expect things to go our way all the time, nor can we hope to go through life without adversary. Most of us have food, shelter, companionship.
I could feel sorry for myself, and I sometimes do, but I do have a lot to be thankful for at the end of 2016. I have a decent job, and I finally found the right someone to share my life with.
I'll soon be celebrating eleven years of Horror Drive-In. I recently made the usual noises about shutting down the forums, and I do grow weary of it at times. However, Horror Drive-In has become one of the most venerable message board forums in the horror fiction field. Message boards were once as commonplace as typos in a typical self-published book, but they are very few and far between at this point. The big social media networks have claimed the lives of most of them. As well as loss of innocence and enthusiasm in online discussion. Times change, as do people.
I've mostly enjoyed my years in the forum business, at Horror Drive-In, Shocklines, and Gorezone. I've shared laughs, tears, love, and joy in our mutual obsession with all things horror. Horror Drive-In was born when I lost my brother to cancer. His death inspired me to make a move to start my own website. Since then I have shared my life in the pages of the site. The triumphs and the tragedies. The destruction of my marriage, my struggles with emotion and mental health, the loss of my longtime job. I also shared my successes with the friends who came to the boards, and who have continued to be a part of them. Others have come forth and spoken with often painful honesty about their lives.
I'm not thrilled about everything in my life. My health insurance has gone up again, and the premiums are what I consider to be an obscene amount of money each month. I've had a recent financial setback which will curtail my Christmas shopping drastically. My job is secure, but it can be enormously trying.
On the other hand I am happier than I have been in years. In many ways I am happier than I have ever been in my life.
I've neglected Horror Drive-In for the past few months. Past few years, really, but I plan to become much more active. I've been in the slow process of moving, and I haven't had a lot of access to my computer. I've used a laptop, but I've needed my own desk and PC.
So, yes, Horror Drive-In will be here for a long time to come.
I wish everyone, all over the world, happiness and prosperity. Books, movies, music, and joy. What the hell is
so funny about peace, love, and understanding, anyway?
Thursday, October 27. 2016
You say that you love horror fiction? Well, here's your chance to prove it.
One thing most of us can agree on is this: There aren't enough quality markets for short horror fiction out there.
I always loved reading fiction in a magazine. Something feels so right about it. There used to be a lot more of them around. I was at Barnes and Noble recently and there were a few of the old reliable workhorses like Ellery Queen, Mystery Scene, and Analog. Not much in the way of horror out there.
There are some cool ones still around being independently distributed, and I shouldn't have to list them. But there simply are not enough of them. Not for readers, and certainly not for writers.
There are anthologies coming out all the time, which is cool. But monthly, or bi-monthly magazines? Precious few.
Sure, writers can get their short fiction out through Amazon, and get lost in the ocean of others doing the same. It's kind of hard to get the attention of readers that way.
There's a new magazine on the horizon. It's called Deadlights, and there is a Kickstarter campaign going on now to launch it. Happily it has already reached its goal, but any startup venture can use more capital.
Deadlights is the brainchild of one David M. Wilson, and I've been talking to him a bit. The guy is young, passionate, serious, and well-versed in the genre. Not just the current crop of writers who came come forth since the Millennium, but deep in the history of the field. I respect that. I respect that a hell of a lot.
Now, some of you bristle at the notion of crowdfunding, and there's nothing I can say about that. I have my own thresholds, and I understand.
However, the rules of marketing and distribution are rapidly changing. Wilson is going for an Old School zine, which is wonderful, and he is using new technology to make it happen.
I've heard people make the claim that no one should try to sell something when they don't have the capital to get it off the ground. I don't subscribe to that train of thought. In this day and age, times are tough for a lot of people, and anyone who wants to make an effort to get a fiction magazine up and running is A-OK by me.
Many of the most revered magazines in the history of the field had very modest beginnings. Cemetery Dance, The Horror Show, Whispers, they all were projects of love by people who had passion and conviction.
Will Deadlights be a long-running success? That depends upon the perseverance and dedication of David M. Wilson--and upon the lovers of horror fiction out there like you and me.
And, yes, I contributed, and I am asking you to consider doing the same. Any crowdfunding scheme is a risk, but we're talking about twelve bucks here. Isn't it worth that much to help get in on the ground floor of a new market for horror fiction?
Monday, September 26. 2016
I remember exactly the moment I first heard of the great Herschell Gordon Lewis. It was way back in 1983. I was browsing through a Roses department store, and I saw some oversized boxes of movies on tape. I can't tell you what format it was, and in fact this was the first I had even heard of movies on tape. I saw a bunch of them and they were around sixty dollars each. A pretty penny in those days. Prominent among the boxes were eye-gouging titles like Blood Feast, Two Thousand Maniacs, and Color Me Blood Red. Movies I now know as the infamous "Blood Trilogy".
I wanted to see these movies so badly, but there was no way. I didn't even know anyone who had a player to watch them on. I filed the names away in my mind.
Jump a few years later, and I started reading about Herschell Gordon Lewis in Fangoria. Again, I was desperate to see them, but it would be a while before I had a VCR, and while I knew a few people who did, I don't think I would have had much luck trying to convince them to rent The Wizard of Gore.
The day finally came when I was able to buy my own player. It was a cut-rate job made by Goldstar. I put that son of a bitch to good use, though, before the thing blew up. The first night of rentals were George Romero's The Crazies, Fred Dekker's Night of the Creeps, and Two Thousand Maniacs.
The Romero was a bit of a disappointment, but I loved the other two. I was off and on a roll, and I rented God knows how many movies over the next couple of decades. In the first few years the majority of the ones I got from the video store were horror movies.
It wasn't so easy in those days. No Amazon. No specialty companies doing deluxe prints of genre movies. It was hit or miss when looking for Herschell Gordon Lewis movies, and I usually missed. But I gradually managed to see a lot of them.
I was also rabidly watching everything I could find by Roger Corman. A few fools considered Rog to be a nothing but a schlockmeister, despite so many smart and important films to his credit, but most people could see how influential Corman was. I was discovering the work of Dario Argento, and while many find his movies to be incomprehensible, few could deny the technical precision and artistic merits of his movies.
But if you liked the movies of Herschell Gordon Lewis, there was obviously something wrong with you. The term, amateurish, doesn't even begin to describe these pictures. The actors rarely demonstrated even a shred of talent or credibility. Yet many of us, tried and true gorehounds, cherish them.
How amazing must it have been to have seen one of Hersch's movies when they were first released in the 1960's! Lurid titles were commonplace, but the Lewis movies delivered the groceries. In spades.
Part of the allure of the films of Herschell Gordon Lewis was the man himself. I never had the pleasure of meeting him, but I felt that I knew him a little, at least, from watching the profile of him on that great old Incredibly Strange Film Show program. Herschell Gordon Lewis was obviously intelligent, admirably self-deprecating, and equally sheepish and gleeful about his place in movie history.
That gleeful presence he possessed found its way into the movies. I always pictured that laughing face as I watched them. I pictured old HGL shaking his head at the thought of an audience for the crap he made, and laughing all the way to the bank.
I can't say that I liked all of the movies. A Taste of Blood bored me to tears. Suburban Roulette is hideously atrocious even by Lewis standards. I never saw the children's movies, and by all counts I should consider myself lucky for that.
I liked most of them, though. Not despite their whopping shortcomings, but because of them. My favorite? The best of them all is almost certainly Two-Thousand Maniacs, but I might have to go with She-Devils on Wheels for sheer depravity.
We mourn when people whose work we love die. Whether it's Bowie or Prince, Harold Ramis or Robin Williams, Arnold Palmer or Muhammad Ali, their lives brightened ours, and sometimes it is even more poignant--and heartbreaking--than when people in our real lives pass. Real life is often dull and colorless.
Herschell Gordon Lewis took his viewers to places most wouldn't want to go, but his fans always liked the ride.
RIP Herschell. You were the first, and while no one could call you the best, you made your mark. Horror would not be the same without you.
Wednesday, August 24. 2016
I blame it all on a guy named Mike Walker.
I was a nice, normal horror fan. This was just into the 1990's. Well before DVD made nearly every movie imaginable available to fans. I was discovering Argento, Deodato, Fulci, Franco, and others through the bootleg circuit. Ahem. Make that through duplication services
. I was happy doing this, until the day that the aforementioned Walker showed up and handed me a magazine. It was something I had never seen before. Film Threat
Not that I wasn't ready for such a breakthrough. I had been watching early John Waters movies, and I was discovering a lot of foreign and independent things at the video stores. But this...this Film Threat
...this was something altogether different.
The issue I was given was the very last one that was published prior to the magazine being acquired by Larry Flynt Publlications. And hoo boy, was it an eye-opener.
Who were these people I was reading about? Nick Zedd? Richard Kern? G.G. Allin? What kind of bizarre tapes were being sold in the magazine? It was punk rock for the movies.
The timing was right. That was part of it. Punk was seeing a major resurgence, and alternative music had been assimilated by the mainstream yet. Things were still edgy in the early 90's. And underground filmmakers were often shooting their opuses in the Super 8 format. Which, to me, was and always will be more effective and visceral than digitally shot movies.
Independent film was chic in the mid 90's, and part of the credit for that goes to Film Threat. The biggest catalyst for the success of indie movies was Pulp Fiction, and FT was the first national magazine to showcase Quentin Tarantino in its pages.
Yes, I was hooked. Shortly after I discovered that Film Threat had sort of gone legit with a glossy magazine that was present in many bookstores. Film Threat Magazine was, as I previously indicated, part of the Larry Flynt family of wholesome periodicals.
Yet those of us who craved pure subversion were not forgotten. A sister magazine was launched that was devoted to underground cinema. Thus we had two magazines to enjoy: Film Threat was more accessible, and it largely skewered Hollywood product, while Film Threat Video Guide covered the underground. I loved them both.
It was the perfect pair of magazines for the new fan. Ones who were raised on Black Flag and Eraserhead, and who dropped their pants and mooned film school stuffiness. Film Threat was irreverent, acidic, informative, and funny as hell.
I loved that FT championed people like Todd Haynes and Bruce La Bruce, but it was unafraid to praise movies by Woody Allen and John Sayles. Film Threat, and its readers, demanded honesty and integrity from filmmakers, and we didn't care where they came from.
I learned so much about different types of movies: Underground, transgressive, queer, punk, foreign, experimental. The sky was the limit.
Being a Film Threat reader and subscriber felt like being in a club. Being in my mid-thirties I was older, I think, than most of the readers. I still felt like I was part of a tribe. I had letters in the Hate Mail sections, won contests. It was so much fun.
Sure, more than a few feathers were ruffled along the way. FT pulled no punches. Like the time Film Threat called horror journalist, Chas. Balun to task for bootlegging practices. It was an ugly situation, and a lot of horror fans leaped to Balun's side. Me, I had to agree with Film Threat, mostly because they had the distinction of being right about what was going on. FT always championed the rights of filmmakers.
Then there were the movies that were being distributed by FT. I bought them all: The Hardcore Collections, Steal This Video, Hated: G.G. Allin and the Murder Junkies, My Sweet Satan, and all the rest. These movie shocked, provoked, and assaulted viewers.
The hardcopy magazine unfortunately folded by the late 90's, but a website was born. Film Threat.com continued the tradition of the magazines. Until it, too, closed its doors in 2015.
It takes money to keep a website going. Believe me, even my little effort here costs me every year. Film Threat founder Chris Gore launched a Kickstarter drive to revive the site, but it failed to reach its goal. Now he has started another one, with an eye toward greater visibility and ambition.
What began as a snotty, messy, upstart fanzine gradually morphed into one of the most influential and important film journals in history. Countless fledgling directors, actors, screenwriters, crewmembers were inspired by Film Threat. Discerning viewers were pointed toward worthy movies. Undiscerning viewers became
discerning viewers. And Hollywood were kept on their collective toes by the no-bullshit stance of Film Threat staff and readers.
We need Film Threat. The movies have become more homogenized and formulaic than ever. No one else is as capable of speaking out for serious movie fans than Chris Gore and Film Threat
A new Kickstarter
is open, and some pretty cool incentives are up for grabs. Yes, I am in. I couldn't give a lot, but I did my part. I'm asking you to consider doing so as well.
Tuesday, August 16. 2016
I always hear that life is so short, but it seems to me that my own life has been a very long one. I'm smack in the middle of my fifth decade on this pile of mud, and I feel like I have led several lives. Memories are sometimes lost, and sometimes stored away for later reflection.
I was at work today, and someone brought up a visit to Charleston, West Virginia. I felt a stab of emotional memory at the very name of the town, for I have a vivid memory of a morning there that has haunted me for years. I had not given it a thought in a long time.
The year was 1985. I was penniless and on a Greyhound trip from Seattle, Washington to Newport News, Virginia. A very long and hungry ride. I had been on various buses for four days, and I had consumed nothing but water for three of them.
I was less than delighted when I learned that I would have an unscheduled and very unwelcome layover of around ten hours. Disgusted, but resigned, I dealt with it.
So, it was just before dawn. The sun wasn't quite up, but there was visibility. I was walking around the streets near the bus station, looking forward to reuniting with old friends, and caging a meal from them until I got back on my feet. I had gone from famished to a kind of numbness.
Ahead of me I heard a car screeching to a stop, and I saw the passenger door open. Then a woman was thrown from the car just as it tore off at a highly illegal speed. I ran to the woman, and she was convulsing and literally foaming at the mouth. I was in shock, and froze for a moment or two. The woman looked up at me with anguished, tortured eyes. I blurted out something about going for help, and I ran off in the direction of the station.
I burst through the door, and raced to the window, scaring a sleepy clerk. I screamed at her to call for help. "CALL AN AMBULANCE! CALL THE POLICE! A WOMAN MAY BE DYING OUTSIDE!" To her credit, she wasted no time. I ran back out the door, and back to the woman lying at the curb.
I stood there, looking at her. I was choked up, and I was saying things like, "Help is on the way. You're going to be all right. Hang in there. Help will be here soon..."
The poor woman looked kind of like Sissy Spacek as Carrie after the dreadful prom, but instead of blood, she was covered in vomit and foamy saliva. The convulsions had stopped, and she seemed to be frozen stiff, with tortured eyes locked upon my own.
I stood there like a helpless idiot, mumbling words of encouragement. I have no idea of whether she was hearing them, or comprehending them, or if she was too far gone for that. But her eyes...her eyes remained locked on mine. I held the gaze, urging her with words and my will to hang on.
Soon, an ambulance came to the buss station, and greatly relieved, I waved them over to where we were. The two guys were efficient, and they had her on a stretcher in no time and loaded the woman into the ambulance. Her eyes and mine remained locked the entire time.
A squad car came, and an officer asked me some questions. Did I know the woman? No. Did I know the car? No. Did I catch the license number? No. Could I identify it? No, no, no. It all happened so quickly, and I was much more concerned about the woman than the car.
I showed the policeman my ID and my bus ticket, which satisfied him. He thanked me, and got into his car and left. End of story.
Sort of. As I stated earlier, the incident haunted me, just as I am pretty sure it would have haunted you. I had to wait all day for the bus, and the delirium caused by hunger intensified the effects of the encounter.
I wondered how she had gotten to that point. And, more importantly, I wondered what would happen next. Would her family be notified, and be tearfully relieved at finding their baby? This was a young woman. Had she run away from an abusive home situation, and have nowhere to go? Would she end up in the gutter again? There were, of course, no answers to these questions.
I thought that if I lived in the same town, I would try to locate which hospital she ended up in. I don't think it would have been too difficult. I thought that I might have tried to visit her.
But my bus finally showed up that afternoon, and I made it back to Newport News. Where I went about my life. I remember feasting on homemade tacos that night at a buddy's place, and that is was possibly the best meal I have ever had. I was seriously hungry.
As the years passed, I thought about the poor, lost woman, and I wondered--hoped--that the ugly situation was bad enough for her to change her life. I am uncomfortable in the role of Samaritan, and I think most anyone would have done as much as I did. Still, that ten or fifteen minutes where I stared into this nameless woman's eyes, pleading with her with my words and my own eyes, may well have saved her life. The streets were deserted that morning, and she could have choked to death, or simply lost the will to continue to breathe and to circulate blood through her body.
I wonder if she made out all right, and if she ever thinks of the nameless guy who watched over her, teary-eyed, willing her to keep fighting. I'm sure I'll never know.
One thing is certain: There is no Hell hot enough for the scum who almost certainly gave her too many drugs, and who dumped her like a piece of garbage.
Tuesday, August 9. 2016
I generally distrust message fiction. I've seen it done well, and I've seen writers--favorites of mine at times--wear their convictions on their sleeves so blatantly that the stories are completely derailed.
That doesn't mean that I dislike all pieces of fiction that deliver messages. When it works, a writer and his or her story can change my way of thinking, or at least bring me to re-evaluate my own life and actions.
Case in point: James Newman's Odd Man Out.
Some might consider Odd Man Out to be gay-themed, but I don't. Not really. Yes, the story deals with a gay teen at a summer camp and the horrifying events that occur there. The theme of Odd Man Out is larger than that.
I think it is a subject we can all relate to. Most readers are odd men out, and we've all been ridiculed for having our noses in books.
This short novel deals with a hot topic in today's society: Bullying. We hear about it in the news almost as much as we see the contemptible actions of the 2016 presidential candidates. The public is usually enticed to believe that an evil party, or parties, bullies an innocent individual. Black and white, no questions asked.
James Newman takes us deeper into the insidious nature of bullying in Odd Man Out. This is a searing cautionary tale, and a reader can easily imagine being caught up in the role of the victim. The really disturbing part of Odd Man Out, however, shows how possible it is for even decent individuals to be among the oppressors in the situation.
I'm not innocent. No, I've never committed violence upon anyone, but in my younger years I laughed along with others a few times when a poor kid was being verbally humiliated. Part of me hated myself for it, but another part joined right in. It didn't happen often, and I never made a practice of it, but my hands are not entirely clean.
Perhaps it was simple fear. Maybe I didn't want the same treatment to happen to me, and so I joined in the ridicule. Or maybe a nasty part of me, a part that we all have the potential for, reared its repugnant head.
I like to think I have gotten better, and I know that I have. I also know that I, and most of the rest of us, have to continually work to improve ourselves. We not only cannot engage in the ridicule of others, we cannot stand still and allow others to do it.
Thank God I never got close to anything similar to what happens in Odd Man Out. It's terrifying, but the violence never approaches exploitation. James is showing us the bitter truth of what tragically happens on a regular basis. Odd Man Out brings to mind other things like Nate Southard's Just Like Hell, and Jack Ketchum's The Girl Next Door, and while these are all worthy and important pieces of literature, James Newman takes his readers deeper into what fuels the motivations of the antagonists. And he dares to show them a measure of compassion, while never for a second does he condone or be less than appalled and sickened at it all.
I've admired the writing of James Newman even before his debut novel, Midnight Rain, was published. I've enjoyed it all, but Odd Man Out is far and away the best thing he has published to date.
Odd Man Out has been published in limited hardcover and paperback editions by Thunderstorm Books
. The softbound copy I bought is a lovely little item, and I recommend it without reservation. This is a book that should be read, and then passed on to others.
Sunday, June 26. 2016
I was never much of a Star Trek fan. I grew up loving science fiction, but the show always seemed a little weak to me. Yes, there are glimpses of excellence, but they were often mired down in Gene Roddenberry's utopian dreams and the one-hour TV format where every problem is cleanly solved by the time the end credits rolled around.
One good thing about the original Trek series is how the producers used established writers for the teleplays. There were shows written by talents like Theodore Sturgeon, Robert Bloch, Jerome Bixby, Richard Matheson, and George Clayton Johnson. And, of course, Harlan Ellison penned one episode. Or at least it's his name in the credits.
One of the most memorable and beloved shows from the original series is The City on the Edge of Forever. Even casual viewers remember this one. It's the show where Kirk and Spock go back in time to the Great Depression, and the good Captain falls in love with a visionary woman, who was played by Joan Collins. It's generally considered to be the best show in the entire three-year run of the series.
Die-hard fans will know of the controversy surrounding the City show. Harlan Ellison gets screen credit for writing it, but he disowned the final product, claiming that it was butchered by the producers. Roddenbery and company admited to making changes, and there is where things get muddy. It's been a point of contention between fans and people affiliated with the series for years.
Gene Roddenbery gave his reasons many times in interviews and lectures. Ellison gave his, in intricate detail, in the publication of his original, unaltered screenplay in book form
around twenty years ago.
The book has been around for a while, and I highly recommend it. But now the screenplay, and all of the supplementary materials, have been produced as an audiobook
by the very good folks at Skyboat Media.
Harlan Ellison has a reputation as having a fiery temper, and there's a lot of truth to it. You'll find plenty of rage and contempt in his blistering, very long essay about the creation of The City on the Edge of Forever. As an added bonus, Harlan reads the piece himself for the audiobook.
Then there is the dramatized teleplay, as Ellison originally envisioned the story. A teleplay which, by the way, won the Screenwriters Guild Award that year. The original teleplay won the honor, not the version that was aired.
You'll also find essays and appreciations by people like Peter David, D.C. Fontana, David Gerrold, DeForest Kelley, Walter Koenig, Leonard Nimoy, Melinda Snodgrass and George Takei. In most cases, these are read by the authors.
It may all be a bit too much for those who are not afflicted with Star Trek mania, but fans need this audiobook. Harlan Ellison readers will also treasure it. Not only that, anyone interested in the politics of 1960's-era television will find it fascinating.
Ultimately, with all of this content, you'll get a lot of bang for your buck. At just under fourteen bucks, it'll be the best bargain you've had in quite some time.
And, finally, you may wish to take Ellison's words with a grain of salt. Memory is the greatest trickster, and a lot of moons have come and gone since the mid-1960's. I tend to believe most of it, but then I've always been prejudiced in favor of Harlan.
Wednesday, June 8. 2016
Next month will see the release of the already-maligned Ghostbusters remake. You basically have two camps: One who can't abide to see their beloved classic tarnished by a retread. The polar opposite side triumphantly proclaims the former group to be sexist. SJWs never feel more empowered and superior than when they are pointing to someone and shouting "fillintheblank
That said, some of them are almost certainly pissed that women have claimed the positions of sturdier, manly spook hunters. Fans can be pretty juvenile.
As usual, I am somewhere in the middle.
I am not against remakes. Many people claim to despise them, but a lot of then make very good money. Especially ones that involved caped crime fighters.
I've enjoyed quite a few remakes. I could list the obviously superior ones, like The Thing or The Fly or Invasion of the Body Snatchers. I could state that treasured classics, Frankenstein and Dracula, were remakes of sorts. The rightly revered Hammer remakes of Universal classics were frowned upon by many genre purists in their day.
Most remakes are looked upon with disdain by 'serious' horror fans, but the contempt held toward the yet-to-be-released Ghostbusters reboot is more intense than I've seen since the impending Dawn of the Dead remake. Which, if you ask me, turned out pretty well.
For me, Ghostbusters is a perfect project for a remake. Simply because I never really felt that it was a particulalry good movie to begin with.
Oh, I enjoy Ghostbusters. Nostalgia is practically my middle name. 1984 was a pretty good year for me. I was young, I had few responsibilities, my friends and I partied constantly, and we saw a whole lot of movies. We loved Meatballs and Stripes, and being Bill Murray fans, we were excited about Ghostbusters.
It was a fun time at the movies, if a bit unsatisfying. Ghostbusters seems a movie that will hold more interest to non horror fans than those of us who have spent lifetimes watching scary stuff.
The writers of Ghostbusters, Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis, are smart, talented, very funny people, but I don't believe that they had genuine affinity or knowledge of the horror genre. The movie seems like a lark, but it was a lucrative one. Grossing over two and a quarter million dollars isn't such a remarkable thing these days, but in 1984 it was a tremendous blockbuster.
And that was only the beginning. Ghostbusters has become a beloved family feature that has been loved and enjoyed by generations. I hold fond feelings for it as well, and I am even seeing the Fathom Events showing of it this coming weekend.
There was the inevitable sequel, but it got so many bad reviews from both critics and people I knew, I skipped it and have not seen the movie to date.
There has been talk, rumors, speculations, abortive announcements, and hope for a third movie for years. None have come forth.
Now, as everyone knows, the remake is set to be released.
I'll see it. I'm not very enthusiastic, and my expectations are in the toilet, but I may enjoy the movie. I'm not so impressed with the trailer. It looks loud and filled with dumb, very obvious humor. Not that much different, I guess, than the original.
I like Kristen Wiig. She does the star vehicles, and who can blame her? But she also does smart, challenging things like the searing The Skelelton Twins, and Welcome To Me.
Melissa McCarthy gets on my nerves. Her shtick is way too broad for me, and to me she grossly exaggerates her characters. I'm sure this is mostly due to her screenwriters and directors. I did think she showed some depth in St. Vincent, which coincidentally stars Bill Murray.
The draw for me, if there is much of one, is the choice of Paul Feig as director. He will always be a hero to me for creating Freaks and Geeks. I thought Bridesmaids was decent, and it made an A-LIst Hollywood director out of him. It's nice to see a deserving guy get a break.
Speaking of Feig, if you like Freaks and Geeks, you owe it to yourself to track down his books. Kick Me and Superstud are hilarious and horrifying in equal measures. And if you've missed Freaks and Geeks, you need to watch the whole series. It's one of the best in the history of the small screen. No shit.
Getting back to the Ghostbusters remake, I believe I will withhold my opinion until I have actually seen the movie. I said that the trailer is a turn off, but the promo dept can make a good movie look bad, and a bad movie look good.
Summer's here, so see some movies. Peoples' brains are fried, and they don't mind big, dumb, idiot pictures. Ghostbusters can't be much worse than the rest of the stuff coming out. Can it?
Tuesday, May 10. 2016
To lovers of the screen both large and small, William Schallert's face is instantly recognizable. His name, however, might escape the memory of many.
The news sources are touting Schallert as the Father from The Patty Duke Show, but how many people under retirement age even know about that program?
The long and colorful career of William Schallert saw many, many movies and television roles. He made guest appearances on old Boomer favorites like The Six Million Dollar Man and its gender-friendly spinoff, The Bionic Woman. Schallert was on Kung Fu. Room 222. Love, American Style. Gunsmoke. Leave it to Beaver. The Andy Griffith Show. That Girl. Get Smart. The Dick Van Dyke Show The Mod Squad. Have Gun-Will Travel. Combat! Dozens and dozens more.
Genre-loving TV viewers saw William Schallert on Star Trek, Land of the Giants, Thriller, and The Twilight Zone.
There were hundreds of movie appearances. Schallert was a professional, in demand, working actor, and as such he did a lot of indoor bullstuff like Pillow Talk and Singing in the Rain. Can't blame a guy for making a buck.
But the drive-in community knew and revered William Schallert from his memorable roles in exploitation fare like The Monolith Monsters, The Incredible Shrinking Man, The Gunslinger (directed by shoot-'em-from-the-hip legend Roger Corman), Invasion USA (the original, not the Chuck Norris remake), Riot in Cell Block 11, Them!, Twilight Zone-The Movie, Colossus: The Forbin Project, The Beat Generation, Captive Women, Speedway. Yes, Speedway. Elvis movies were huge
at the drive-ins.
Joe Dante, God bless him, used older actors to wonderful effect in his movies, and William Schallert appeared in Gremlins, Innerspace, Twilight Zone-The Motion Picture, and Matinee.
Schallert was in extreme demand and he worked steadily throughout his long and incredibly busy career. He was equally comfortable in horror/science fiction pictures, comedy, action, westerns, you name it. His kindly demeanor made Schallert a natural as a doctor in the movies, and Dante used him especially well as one in the Mant segments of Matinee.
Guys like William Schallert are the unsung heroes of the screen. Character Actors like him don't get the glory of leading parts, and they rarely get juicy romantic roles. But the best of them, like William Schallert, bring authenticity to any production they grace with their presence.
That isn't even close to all that William Schallert accomplished. He was the SAG president from 1979-1981. Schallert founded the Committee for Performers With Disabilities. He appeared in the very first episode of the acclaimed live television show, Playhouse 90.
Actors who were in the classic exploi-cheese movies of yesteryear are dying off too quickly for me. We lost Kevin McCarthy a few years back. Same with Ed Lauter. Beverly Garland. The list is long, and my heart breaks for every one of them.
William Schallert worked in genre fare almost until the end, taking on roles in things like True Blood and Bag of Bones.
He was 93 when he died, on May 8th, 2016. Reaching that age, with almost 400 roles to his credit, is a hell of an achievement.
Tuesday, April 26. 2016
It's immensely satisfying to be in the front seat to watch a writer grow. I've seen it quite a few times before, and now I am doing so with Jonathan Janz
Janz came into my radar with a novel called The Sorrows. The Sorrows was done by a major publisher, Samhain, and it was well received by the horror fiction community. I did not know Jonathan at the time, but I try to make a point to check out the rising new names of the genre.
To be honest, I liked The Sorrows. I thought it was a good book. Especially considering that it is a debut novel. Great? Not exactly, but there's no shame in that. First novels by critical and popular favorites like Joe R. Lansdale, F. Paul Wilson, Ray Garton, Robert McCammon, and even Stephen King show talent in development. Not everyone can be a Dan Simmons or a Jack Ketchum, and knock a first novel straight outta the ballpark.
But, yes, The Sorrows is a solid effort. I happily added a new name to the list of authors I regularly read.
The next books came along at a steady clip. House of Skin, which like The Sorrows, is a haunted house story. A Laymonesque gorefest called Savage Species. A methodically-paced thriller called The Darkest Lullaby. A sequel to The Sorrows entitled Castle of Sorrows. A fun weird western romp by the name of Dust Devils. The Nightmare Girl, which is a gutsy thriller with echoes of Joe Lansdale. A werewolf yarn with the appropriate title, Wolf Land.
All enjoyable works of good old fashioned horror fiction with a common thread of careful writing and credible characters. Looking at these books is like seeing a writer climb a ladder. With each step Jonathan Janz has surer footing, more confident prose, and greater success as a storyteller.
I have the good fortune of knowing Jonathan Janz in the real world. He's one of those guys you meet and instantly you have a brand new lifelong friend. I knew almost from the very start that he would be one of the big ones, and not just one of the good ones. Here are some reasons why I had that conviction:
Jonathan Janz is a genuinely good, humble individual. Most of us have seen the cocky types come, and we've seen them go. Despite already having an enviable oeuvre and an ever-growing fanbase, he remains a self effacing, modest individual.
Jonathan Janz reads. As all writers should do. He doesn't just read your basic King/Hill/Barker bunch, nor does he limit himself to the Keene/Ketchum/Laymon/Lee people. He does read all of this stuff, and well he should if he intents to compete in the current horror fiction arena. But Jonathan also reads the classics of the field, like John Farris, Theodore Sturgeon, Harlan Ellison, Charles L. Grant. Not only that, he reads outside the genre, which is just as important as reading Matheson and Bradbury. Like a bodybuilder getting in shape, this is how a writer builds his or her literary muscles.
Jonathan Janz works his ass off. He has a full time job, is a dedicated family man, plus he averages around two books a year. Always wanted to be a writer, but can't seem to find the time to do so? Don't tell that to Jonathan Janz.
Jonathan Janz continues to grow and to take chances. He isn't writing the same book with rearranged plot and character details.
Jonathan Janz had a lucrative situation with editor Don D'Auria and Samhain Publishing. They were doing nice editions of his material, and everything seemed to be going well. And then all of that fell apart. Certainly he was intimidated by this unfortunate turn of events, but Janz is rapidly proving himself more than capable of continuing his career.
Which brings us to the latest novel from Jonathan Janz. Sinister Grin Press was fortunate enough to get to publish Children of the Dark
, which is in my opinion the best piece of fiction he has given his readers to date.
Children of the Dark reads like a young adult book. There are shades of Stand By Me, Summer of Night, Boy's Life, in its pages. I bring up influences here and above, and Janz has obviously learned from the masters he has read, but his own voice is sounding louder and clearer all the time.
I have sort of a litmus test for horror novels. While reading one, I will ask myself if I would be interesting in reading it if there were no horrific elements to the story. In the case of Children of the Dark, the answer is a resounding yes. The youthful characters in the novel are likable and I'd be more than happy to read about them indulging in the usual proclivities of average kids.
But Children of the Dark is most assuredly a horror novel. I don't like to give too much away in a review, but Janz isn't content to plague his characters--and his readers-- with merely one menace. We get monsters and
a homicidal maniac in Children of the Dark.
Janz seems so comfortable with his young characters that I would love to see him tackle a full-out YA novel. It would be great for him to pull a Jeff Strand and alternate between full-blown horror and fun young adult fiction.
In whatever direction Jonathan Janz elects to go with his writing, you can bet I will be there to follow him. And I will be far from the only one to do so.
Tuesday, April 5. 2016
I'm recommending a book that was recently announced by Cemetery Dance Publications. It's called Nothing Lasting
, by Glen Krisch. Why am I doing this? I have not read the book. In fact, I've read nothing at all by Krisch.
Well, for one, I have interacted with him on the message boards. He seems like a good guy. For another, the plot synopsis sounds interesting.
Mostly I am excited about this book because Cemetery Dance is publishing it. For my book-buying dollar, CD has the best editorial sense of any horror/dark fantasy press out there.
And there's another reason...
I've heard some complaints about CD here and there over the last few years. Some get irritated that Cemetery Dance does so many high end Stephen King books. They also do a lot of pricey reprints of bestselling authors.
Me, I can't criticize. These books obviously do well for CD, and any company that does not know which side of the bread needs to be buttered won't be in business for long. Most of the stuff I am referring to is either too expensive or simply not to my tastes. I really don't need to own extremely expensive and extravagant books.
People have said that CD needs to showcase more new writers. I've argued that horror readers can find that stuff in the magazine, and in some of the anthologies.
But now here is a new book by a newer author. One I think a lot of readers may not be familiar with. It's a deluxe limited edition, with the usual bells and whistles.
So you can party like it's 1999 and buy a CD edition by a writer who is not yet one of the usual suspects. And unlike a lot of limiteds these days, Nothing Lasting still has the old forty dollar price tag. That might seem to be a lot of money for a book to some people, but those of us who have a grasp of what it takes to produce one of these things knows that it is a pretty straight deal.
And, yes, I've put my own money where my mouth is and I've preordered Nothing Lasting
for myself. Best of all, this book is already at the printer and will see publication soon.
Monday, March 21. 2016
I always look forward to the twice-yearly library sale here in Hampton, Virginia. I never fail to find cool stuff, and once in a while I land a real gem. This past weekend was no exception.
Nothing Earth-shaking. I got some decent records, and some nice books. I have been wanting to read William Wharton's Birdy, and I got a hardcover of that one. Ex-library, but who cares? I got the Scream Press edition of Ramsey Campbell's The Face That Must Die, which was plentiful in the bargain bins once upon a time. Some other stuff---gifts for friends, that sort of thing. Books I hope to eventually read, or reread. Wishful book buying, perhaps, but I enjoy it.
I also saw a lot of familiar faces among the spines on the bins. Books that I, in some instances, had intimate relations with. The very copies I have read over the years.
The library sales offer donated items, but the bulk of the product are books that have been withdrawn from the library. Books that no one cares about anymore.
I saw a lot of Bill Pronzini books. I wanted to buy them all, but damn it, space is limited. Same with books from F. Paul Wilson, John Farris, James Herbert. Books and writers who were mainstays for me in the 80's, 90's, and beyond. Books by Charles L. Grant are long gone.
I'm not really complaining. They have no choice. New books are introduced into the system on a weekly basis. Older titles, aging or deceased writers, well, not a lot of younger readers are interested.
Out with the old. In with the new. It's a system that is as old as the species is. Part of it does
make me mad. "Don't people want to read Black Wind? The Pet? The Nameless Detective books? Fiends? The Magic Cottage? Summer of Night???"
I'm sure that more people are reading them than I imagine. Most of this stuff is available in ebook form, and people buy used books online all the time. Some of them are finding new life in reprint editions as well as deluxe hardcovers.
But, damn it, part of history is disappearing. My
history. On many occasions I have strolled through the library, looking at the books and remembering the first time I read them. Just as I do all the time at home. But there is something about a library. It's a shrine. A place of worship.
And I know that good stuff comes into circulation. Some of the best books I have ever read were published in the last twenty or so years. Still, it's not like the old days when the reigning kings of horror were all over the bookstores and libraries.
Thursday, February 4. 2016
I know that I am supposed to be a big, tough horror fan. I should be watching chainsaw welding maniacs, black-gloved killers, cannibal tribes, slashers, aliens, monsters. And, sure, I like that stuff.
I like Pretty in Pink, too. A lot. There's a Chick Flick fan in all of us, I reckon.
I saw Pretty in Pink at the theaters once. It was when the movie was first released, smack in the middle of the John Hughes and the teen movie heyday of the 80's. Ah, it was over just as soon as it started, it seemed. Just like any other innovative movement: the early days of rock and roll, punk, grunge, splatterpunk, goth. These things begin as revolutionary, but quickly get imitated and compromised.
I had recently seen The Breakfast Club and Sixteen Candles. I loved the shit out of both of them. Perhaps the best of them all, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, was just around the corner. New Wave was still fairly relevant. The timing was perfect.
Pretty in Pink isn't a perfect movie...
OK, I am going to assume that you have seen the movie. If you haven't, well, you've been warned. Spoilers are ahead.
The alternative oddball chick who steals everyone's heart in Pretty in Pink clearly made the wrong romantic decision.
Of course, Molly Ringwald is the star of Pretty in Pink. She is an off-kilter teen, with an odd-but-charming fashion sense. An equally weird and unpopular boy is smitten with her. She meets a bland popular rich kid (they were known as "Preppies" back then) and begins seeing him.
Jon Cryer plays Duckie, the misfit toy who pines for Molly. He is passionate; has verve and wit. He knows exactly what he wants in life. At least in regard to his heart.
Andrew McCarthy is the pretty boy who Molly likes. He's scared of what his friends and family will think of his other side of the tracks girlfriend. He's wormy, indecisive, unsure, and more than a little smarmy.
The story goes that Moly Ringwald's character originally ended up with the colorful Duckie, but teenage test audiences didn't like it.
Either way, it's the wrong ending, but the movie is still a classic.
I was a 70's boy, and I know that I am supposed to be obsessed with Zeppelin, 'smith, Floyd, etc. Or, worse yet, Skynyrd, Hatchet, Tucker.
Give me The Psychedelic Furs, Talking Heads, OMD, over all that tired old stuff.
The music in Pretty in Pink perfects sets the story in its time and place. The styles are irresistible, the idioms used by the characters are wonderful--it is my favorite era.
And John Hughes, who wrote but didn't direct Pretty in Pink, had an ear and eye for the dialogue and mindset of the young people of the mid-late 1980's.
Pretty in Pink is a relic of the era, and the movie's fan remain fiercely loyal. Not only that, young people of later years see and love this and other John Hughes features. The reason for this is simple: The themes Hughes explores with wit and warmth are universal.
Most people who visit sites like Horror Drive-In were outcasts when they were young. They were too smart to be fully accepted by the herd. They were and are creative, funny, wonderfully weird. We were all Duckies.
Thanks to Fathom Events, Pretty in Pink
will be coming to a theater near you. Just in time for Valentine's Day. Don't you think it's time to rediscover the magic? Better still, share the rad glories of Pretty in Pink with someone. A loved one, a young person, anyone. Only the hardest of hearts would remain unmoved.