Help Keep the Drive-In Open
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.
Tuesday, January 12. 2016
I'm chiming a little late on my yearly roundup. Please accept my apologies. The past few weeks have been more hectic than usual.
Well, I'm still here. Horror Drive-In is a decade old. It's been a bumpy trail, but I survived this long. Maybe I'll be around for ten more.
I lost my brother ten years ago, almost to the day I am writing these words. My marriage ended five years ago. Pretty rough stuff that almost knocked me down for the count, but you have to get up and keep going. What choice do we have?
The world continues to go crazy, and I have seen more hatred and finger-pointing than I ever have in my life. Especially on Facebook. It sickens me.
Barnes and Noble is still around, despite some predictions that it would be gone by now. I think it's important that we all try to keep it alive. Competition is healthy for consumers. People are beginning to see the tarnish behind Amazon's glossy exterior. Disquieting reports from writers and allegedly atrocious working condition for employees have turned a few people away from the internet juggernaut. I just hope people spread the wealth a little.
The small press is busier than ever. Ease of independent publishing makes it possible for everyone to be an author. We've seen a deluge of new writers come along that makes the so-called boom of the 80's look like the biggest drought in history. It's definitely a mixed blessing. Deserving talents are getting their work out.
Movies are changing. Many theaters in my area are converting to recliner seats. Most people love it. I don't. It puzzles me that as people try to make their homes into theaters, theaters are trying to be more like homes. What, did theater chain execs decide that there wasn't enough chatter from dumbasses in their auditoriums and want to make the cretins feel like they were at home in their own chairs? I don't really like choosing my seat in advance either. What if you get there early and you are next to a bunch of ass crack bandits who act as thought they are in their homes and can behave any way they feel like behaving? And then the theater fills up? You are fucked, Charlie.
Movies seem more removed from reality than ever. So many of them look like they were made on a computer. The sky, the grass, everything looks completely phony.
It wasn't the best year at the movies for me, but I did enjoy some of them very much. My top pick of the year is Woody Allen's Irrational Man, which would have made Bergman proud. It seems like I am just about the only person who saw it. Irrational Man is a dark tale of despair and desperation as only Woody can make them. It's also one of his movie about murder and conscience, or the lack of it.
I've always loved teen movies, and there were two powerful ones in 2015. Paper Towns is a lovely story that is generous in wit and wisdom. It was based upon a John Greene novel, and most people decided that he sucks after the enormous success of The Fault in Our Stars. Those who pass on Paper Towns are doing themselves a big disservice.
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is also based on a good novel. I have not read the book by Jesse Andrews, but if it is anywhere near as moving and emotional as the movie, I will adore it. The title gives away the bare bones of the plot, but it isn't just a clone of the aforementioned Fault in Our Stars. It's telling that Brian Eno provided the music for the film. He has enough integrity not to be involved in a crap project. I was blown away by Me and Earl and the Dying Girl.
It was a decent year for horror movies. It Follows is a smart, multi-faceted gem and should be seen by everyone who even has the slightest interest in the genre. Krampus was fun in a Joe Dante/80's Amblin kind of way. Eli Roth's The Green Inferno is exactly what you hope it will be. If you are the kind of individual who hopes for this kind of thing. Some were disappointed in it, but I felt that it was a worthy updating to the maligned/beloved Italian cannibal subgenre. Unfriended is unique and mesmerizing.
I also really enjoyed The Big Short, Bridge of Spies, and Foxcatcher. To date I have not seen The Hateful Eight, The Visit, The Gift, Crimson Peak, Carol, Spotlight, or The Gift. I avoided all the big budget fantasy/escapist movies and have no regrets about that.
My favorite book of 2015 was Daniel Kraus's The Death and Life of Zebulon Finch. His 2011 novel, Rotters, blew me away, but Finch topped it.
The second placeholder is Paul Tremblay's harrowing and heartbreaking A Head Full of Ghosts. This is the first time I have read the man, and it definitely won't be the last time I do so.
You, the debut novel by Caroline Kepnes, would have taken the top spot in other years, and had the above choices not been so strong. You is unique, horrifying, and addictive. I cannot wait for the sequel, Hidden Bodies.
McCammon's The Border is a deceptively simply story of alien invasion. The plot sounds like strictly Michael Bay material, but nothing is simple in a McCammon story. Probably not his best novel, but The Border is a fantastic read.
Stephen King continues his hot streak with part two of his Hodges trilogy, Finders Keepers. His prose has never been more effective and enthralling. The Bizarre of Bad Dreams is my favorite King collection since Skeleton Crew.
Joe R. Lansdale had a major hardcover in 2015 called Paradise Sky, but I liked his quiet YA novel, Fender Lizards, more. I honestly can say that I have never loved one of his books more than it.
I continue to be impressed by the suspense novels of Chevy Stevens, and Those Girls is probably her best book. Its heartrending and heartbreaking. A white knuckle tale of bravery and depravity. I wish more horror reader would give her a chance.
Other books of note include Jonathan Janz's Wolf Land, Brian Keene's Where We Live and Die, Richard Chizmar and Ed Gorman's Brothers, and Bentley Little's The Consultant.
Death is never far away, and He came calling too much in 2015, with devastating results. As usual. We said goodbye to Tom Piccirilli, Christopher Lee, T.M. Wright, Wes Craven, George Clayton Johnson, Stan Freberg, Amanda Peterson. Here it is only days into 2016 and we lost David Bowie, Angus Scrimm, and A. R. Morlan.
Sunday, December 27. 2015
The home video market was booming in the late 1980's, and if a movie had a decent cover for its VHS packaging, a catchy title, and some exploitative elements, chances were it would end up on a video store shelf near where you lived.
Most of it was crap, of course, but even some of the crap was entertaining. And while the getting was good, and the producers had a few bucks to throw around, they could reel in some fairly well-known actors.
World Gone Wild was a favorite of mine. Not a good picture, I assure you, but I always thought it was fun and entertaining.
World Gone Wild is a post apocalyptic thriller that owes a bit of debt to Mad Max. Bruce Dern is a stoned-out spiritual leader of a commune-type village in your typical burned-out wasteland. Michael Paré is a rogueish pretty boy good guy wanna-be hero, and 80's queen Catherine Mary Stewart is his prospective squeeze. Enter Adam Ant and a crew of blank-eyed religious minions who wish to take the tiny paradise from the hippies in their blissful ignorance.
Soon you have all-out war between the fanatics and the fuckups. It's reasonably entertaining, with enough action, humor, and buffoonery to warrant an hour and a half of drunken fun. The lameoid metal theme song only added to the tasty cheese factor of World Gone Wild.
Ah, the 80's. An innocent time to watch dopey crap like World Gone Wild, and it really wasn't that hard to convince yourself that you were having a good time.
A lot of this stuff has unfortunately never been made available on DVD. It's a shame, especially since there is so much dogshit out that that isn't even worth a second of your precious time. World Gone Wild is one of the casualties of the movie distribution wars, and I have no doubt that many would applaud the situation. Those of us who have a taste for this sort of thing find it to be a deplorable situation.
World Gone Wild is, fortunately, currently on You Tube
. It's a fairly crappy print, but, hey, it's not like we didn't squint through plenty of tapes that had been cruelly misused by negligent renters back in the days of yore.
Saturday, December 12. 2015
I got onboard the Joe Lansdale bandwagon early on. Hearing great things about his writing, I bought The Drive-In when I saw it on the shelf at WaldenBooks. Remember them?
I was an instant fan, and since then I have bought and devoured every Lansdale book I could get my hands on. Which included Savage Season. I bought the original Bantam paperback, and it sported the coolest cover I had ever seen. The salesperson at Walden didn't share my admiration, and she made a disgusted noice when she inspected it.
Joe R. Lansdale can have that effect upon people, and not just from the covers. His work is often hyperviolent, profane, irreverent. That's all that is seen by myopic individuals. Discerning readers come back to his work again and again for the humanity, the wit, the sense of justice. And, most of all, because Joe is one of the best storytellers in the business.
Like most everyone else, I was blown away by Savage Season. It's a razor sharp story, but the main draw was and is the two protagonists in the novel. Savage Season introduced readers to Hap and Leonard, who have become Lansdale's most beloved characters. Most people know this by now, but just in case there are a few readers peeking in who have not partaken of the delights of the Hap and Leonard novels...
Hap is an aging white, straight-as-an-arrow liberal. Leonard is black, gay, republican. Both are serious badasses. Leonard might be the better fighter, and Hap is a superior marksman, but suffice to say that these guys can take care of themselves.
Hap and Leonard banter with outrageous dialogue in the stories, even while they find themselves embroiled in even more outrageous situations. They tend to try to help individuals in need, and in the process end up ass deep in shit, with their lives on the line.
So far there have been eight full-length Hap and Leonard novels, and there is one more on the horizon. Not only that, we are about to get what fans have been clamoring for all along: A cinematic adaptation of the books. A TV series from The Sundance Channel is coming soon.
Lansdale has written some shorter Hap and Leonard fiction along the way, and now Tachyon Publications has gathered them into a collection. Here's the rundown...
Hyenas: This is one of my favorite pieces of Hap and Leonard fiction. It's a tight, hard-hitting, violent novella that deals with a man who approaches the guys to help his little brother out of a bad situation. What seems like a simple task that may require a little roughing up turns into a terrifying ordeal. Hyenas was a stand-alone hardcover publication from Subterranean Press.
Veil's Visit: The title story of this Subterranean trade paperback was co-written by Andrew Vachss. It concerns a scary lawyer who comes to help Leonard out of a jam. The lawyer is obviously modeled after Vachss himself. Like much of Lansdale's fiction, it is darkly humorous, with deadly serious undertones.
Death by Chili: This is a much shorter piece, and it is kind of a locked-room mystery. Or perhaps a locked-chili mystery. A fun little story.
Dead Aim: This is the second hardcover novella Hap and Leonard novella that Subterranean has published. In it, Hap and Leonard run afoul of a classic femme fatale. It's more of a traditional mystery story than usual for the series, and it's not as graphic as Hyenas, but it's a terrific piece that shows Joe can play it a little lighter without losing any of the fascinating qualities that fans love.
The Boy Who Became Invisible: This is the shortest story in the collection, but it packs one of its hardest punches. It features Hap as a young boy and in it he learns hard lessons about loyalty and justice. One of my favorites of Lansdale's entire career.
Not Like Us: This is an original story to the collection. It takes place when Hap and Leonard have recently met in high school, and Hap is being targeted by other kids who don't take like that he has befriended a black kid. This one went in a direction I hadn't expected, but I greatly enjoyed reading it.
Bent Twig: A story that came out in George R.R. Martin's Rogues anthology. Hap and Leonard once again go forth to help Hap's girlfriend's troubled daughter. They wind up in an unexpected place and have to participate in an odd ceremony to get through it. It's funny, but the story is also dark and tragic.
The Hap and Leonard collection concludes with a whimsical interview the author conducts with his two creations that I had read before in Veil's Visit, and an overview of the series by Joe Hisownself.
Oh yeah, the book opens with an insightful appreciation by bestselling writer Michael Kortya.
True blue Lansdale and Hap and Leonard fans will have read the majority of this collection before, but it's great to have all of these wonderful stories together in one nifty volume. Hap and Leonard will be published on March 15th, 2016, and it can be preordered now from Amazon
and Barnes and Noble
Wednesday, November 18. 2015
And just in time for Thanksgiving, which was always a great time to be a Mystery Science Theater 3000 fan.
MST3K will officially be back. Unless you've been living under a rock, you know that Mystery Science Theater 3000 creator, Joel Hodgson, has launched a Kickstarter campaign
to bring back the beloved show. He has already brought in over two million dollars, which is enough to produce three episodes. Hopefully fans will help him reach his stretch goal of five-and-a-half million dollars, which will cover a full twelve shows.
I'm on board, and I feel that every true blue fan who can afford to do so should be as well. This is the perfect vehicle for crowdfunding. A show that is treasured by fans, but was canceled by the suits at the networks.
I fell in love with the show early on. My passion for trash cinema coupled with my abiding affection for wit made Mystery Science Theater 3000 a natural for me.
Any crowdfunding venture is a risk. Will they take our money and run? I don't think that is a worry with Joel. More importantly, will the new incantation only soil the memory of the show so many of us adore?
MST3K was canceled by Comedy Central, and brought back by the Sci Fi Network in the late 90's. The movie riffs were still funny, but the host segments were atrocious. I missed The Mads.
It's worrisome that a new host and cast will be used in the future shows. It isn't necessarily a bad thing. Many fans were in an uproar when Joel stepped down and Mike Nelson took over the reins as the hapless captive of The Satellite of Love. Most people came to love Mike as much as Joel. If not even more so. I'm not on Team Mike or Team Joel. I like them both. On the other hand, I have never quite warmed to Bill Corbett as Crow.
The proposed new host will be Jonah Ray, who is a host on The Nerdist, whatever the hell that is. I personally folded up and put away my Geek Flag quite a while ago. Today's breed of nerd brings me no joy. Especially in the light of things like Gamergate and all those pathetic award puppies.
Still, I have an open mind and I am enthusiastically following and applauding the success of the Kickstarter campaign. I derived so much pleasure from Joel's odd little TV show that I feel I owe him. I'm in for a tee shirt and a download of the first show.
Sometimes this stuff works. Ash Vs Evil Dead is pleasing most of the fans of the old Evil Dead movies.
So, please, if the old show made you smile. Helped you forget your troubles every week. Please be a part of this. At a time when people are angry, scared, self-righteous, we need Mystery Science Theater 3000 more than ever. Join us
, won't you?