Help Keep the Drive-In Open
Monday, July 13. 2015

I don't hate found footage movies. I really don't. I quite enjoyed the first three Paranormal Activity features. I actually loved The Last Exorcism. I also really liked The Blair Witch Project.

Then there are the bad ones. Paranormal Activity 3 comes to mind. The Last Exorcism 2. The Devil Inside.

The cream of the crop are the [REC] movies and, if you count it, Cannibal Holocaust.

Sure, they're overdone these days, but slasher movies weren't in the early 80's? Big bug movies in the 50's? Monster mashes in the 40's?

I try to judge a movie by its merits and not by the genre, or subgenre, it might fall in. Except for zombie movies. Zombies suck, regardless of whether they are fast or slow.

The latest found footage horror movie to hit theaters is The Gallows. Is it good? Read on.

The Gallows starts off promisingly enough. A scene from a high school play goes bad as a young actor accidentally gets hanged on a gallows prop. It's probably best to not ask too many questions about why it is a real, functioning, gallows.

Fast forward around 15 years, and the school is morbidly putting on the exact same play. And, yes, they are using the same gallows. If you think that is stupid and extremely weak screenwriting, you would be dead right.

Meanwhile, an especially obnoxious jock inexplicably carries around a camcorder filming everything he sees and does. Again, it's best not to question this too deeply.

The jock finds little more satisfying than to torment drama students. It's always a plus to have warm, likable protagonists in a horror movie, or how would you feel any empathy for their plight?

The jock gets a brainstorm: Why don't they break into the school and trash the set on the night before the play? Another jock who is barely less loathsome is in the play, and he agrees to help. A trashy chick joins the two athletes, and the fun begins. Oh, to even out the cast a female member of the play shows up as well.

It will be no surprise to learn that things start getting weird pretty quickly, and before you can say Coffin Rock, the kids are trapped in the auditorium, racing through its corridors, bickering with one another, and begging the camera for help.

From there the viewer is treated to a series of cheap shot phony jump scares and a weak-as-water plot that makes no sense whatsoever. Things pick up a little as the students start to get bumped off, but unfortunately the deaths are not gory or the least bit inventive.

Things get even hazier as the plot thickens. There is a contrived ending that is intended to blow the viewer's mind. It only made me wince at the thought of blowing my money on a ticket.

But, hey, I'm a cheap date. I'll allow myself to get fucked by a shitty horror movie, and not even resent it too badly.

The Gallows looks like it was made for around two hundred bucks, so I'm sure it will turn a profit. We can expect more found footage opuses in the future. Let's hope that most of them are at least a little better than The Gallows.
Saturday, June 13. 2015

I used to have a lot of fun with a weekly feature here at Horror Drive-In. In it, I would list the weekly DVD releases of interest to me and the horror/exploitation community. I liked to put on a mock critical spin on nearly everything. It made for some fun conversation.

No more. Not only are DVDs (among other items of physical media) dying, there seems to be no fans of horror and exploitation at the forum anymore.

When I launched this site, my dream was to have a forum where fans could discuss movies and books. With an emphasis on classic drive-in film. Nostalgia is a big part of why I am here.

It was good for a while. I read back over the first pages of the forum and the talk was pretty evenly mixed between book talk, classic horror and sleaze movies, and other stuff. That all seems to have dried up.

I like the idea of book people discussing grindhouse/drive-in/exploitation cinema. Certainly there are no lack of online groups dedicated to the discussion of these type of movies, but I like to think that readers might have a more interesting take on them than non-reader.

My attempts to start threads on classic horror movies have mostly been ignored. Just recently I tried to instigate a discussion about the sexy Hammer Studios vampire movie, Twins of Evil. Nary a reply. Yet a thread about food is currently at one hundred and twenty-eight pages.

And when the visual media is discussed, the threads are often about binge-watching television shows. It almost makes me think I should change the name of the site to Horror Television. But it doesn't have the same ring to it, does it?

I'm not exactly complaining. I am grateful that there is a community here at this website. Message boards are going the way of compact discs and DVD movies. Yet some of us still plow on, regardless of social changes.

Nor am I trying to tell users what to talk about. I've been at this game a long time, and that never works. It's the reason I broke away from the place I got my start in the internet message board business.

No, I'm just woolgathering. Another aging fan mooning about times gone by.

They are not exactly gone yet, but I already miss DVDs. The excitement when they were new. The enthusiastic discussions, the speculation of possible releases. In its own way it was as magical a time as when VHS became commonplace.

My God, I bought so many discs over the years, and I sold so many of them as well. Tight financial times when I was married, and when I was unemployed last year I sold every movie and record that would bring in a couple of bucks.

I can't see getting that excited about streaming movies.

I still obsess over DVDs, though. I hit the thrift stores just about every weekend, and I look at the movies, checking to see what special features they contain. That's one good thing about them going out of vogue. People are getting rid of their previous beloved collections and the junk shops are full of 'em.

I miss the heyday of the DVD. The impassioned discussions, the anticipation of the special features, the joy of letting animated menu screens run on the TV.

There will be a resurgence. Just as there is for VHS and for vinyl records. We tend to throw things away, and then miss them later when it is mostly too late. It will never be the same. I don't care what new technology comes along. We are becoming more jaded all the time, and the collector is as much of a dinosaur as a DVD player.
Thursday, June 11. 2015

I'm speechless. Devastated. Lee was the last of the old masters.

I guess this is what growing old is like. You see your idols dying off. People like Christopher Lee, Vincent Price, Frank Zappa, Ray Harryhausen, Forrest J Ackerman, Robert Bloch, Richard Matheson, Ray Bradbury, Robert A. Heinlein. Superstars who have been a part of my consciousness forever. I had reverence and awe of them in the same way the Greeks and Romans used to feel about their Gods.

I know I've have to see others, like Woody Allen and Harlan Ellison, go eventually. Either that or I will die first. I don't know what is more depressing.

Christopher Lee! Not only the greatest Dracula of all time, but quite possibly the greatest vampire of the cinema. He wasn't one of these romantic figures, like Frank Langella. Lee was regal. Kinglike. The warrior-vampire, like Vlad the Impaler.

His best movie is probably The Wicker Man. One of his oddest is also one of my favorites: The Return of Captain Invincible.

Lee camped it up in Howling 2: Your Sister is a Werewolf and Gremlins 2: The New Batch. He worked for directors like Steven Spielberg, Mario Bava, and Alejandro Jodorowsky. Christopher Lee was also in movies by Jess Franco. Lee was a Bond villain. He was a staple in Hammer pictures, and is beloved by horror fans, but Christopher Lee plays in nearly every conceivable type of movie.

He was a working actor, and thank God Hollywood did not forget about him.

Wednesday, June 3. 2015

I used to read science fiction almost exclusively. This was in my youth and early adulthood. I read a lot of pretty great stories and books. I also read some dismal things. That's the nature of the game.

By the time the 1980's were up and running, I was growing tired of SF. To me, way too much of it was inspired by lousy movies and TV shows. A lot of it was too concerned with technology and there wasn't enough focus on the inner workings of the humans in the stories.

I made the shift to horror, and was quite happy about it. I still read the occasional SF yarn, but it was becoming fewer and farther between them.

Today I am reading a little less horror, but I'm not reading a whole lot of science fiction either. I'll re-read some classic Golden Age things now and then, and extremely rarely I will embark on a new science fiction novel. It has to be a really special case.

Robert McCammon's new novel, The Border, is just out from Subterranean Press. Some are claiming that it hails back to 80's classic McCammon titles like Swan Song, and Stinger, but unlike those hybrid novels, The Border is pure science fiction.

The bare bones plot of The Border sounds like it is straight out of a Michael Bay movie, or maybe something from the Silver Age of comics. Lots of action, violence, and typical SF tropes. You've got your alien races who choose Earth as a battlefield in their war with one another. You've got bloodthirsty mutants. A magic child who might have the power to save humanity. Teleportation, death rays, and explosions galore.

Doesn't sound very sophisticated, does it?

Well, this is Robert McCammon we're talking about.

If readers wish to approach The Border as a slam-bang action novel, they will have plenty to enjoy while reading it. If readers are looking for something more, they too will find much to ponder.

To me, The Border works as a parable about second chances. About new beginnings and shaking off the chaos we've all been through. Nobody's life has been a picnic, and most of us have faced despair, depression, hopelessness, fear.

The best works of fiction make us look at the world, and our own lives, in new light. The Border did that for me. I felt as though I had been through a transformation when I read the final sentence. One that made me see things more clearly, and to put my life and its challenges into better perspective.

I congratulate Robert McCammon, not only on a magnificent job with The Border, but daring to do something so different with his fiction. I am grateful that he took this diversion from the chronicles of Matthew Corbett. Now I hope he hurries up and gets back to that character and the plight he is in at the conclusion of The River of Souls.

In closing, I thank Subterranean Press for providing the perfect literary home for Robert McCammon, and for allowing him the freedom to take chances with his writing career.
Monday, May 18. 2015

There are quite a few books coming up from longtime authors whose work I love. Here are the highlights.

THE BORDER, by Robert McCammon. This one was on my doorstep when I got home from work today. My highest anticipated publication of the year. McCammon is, quite simply, the best.

THE SCARLET GOSPELS, by Clive Barker. I choose to ignore the negative word on this one. Chances are fair that I will agree, but I will go into this as I do with every book I start: With the intention of enjoying it. The Books of Blood and The Damnation Game were two of the most important books in my early horror reading years.

FINDERS KEEPERS, by Stephen King. King is on a hell of a roll as far as I am concerned, and I absolutely loved Mr. Mercedes. Which is the first in a proposed trilogy. It was an homage to the hardboiled dick genre, yet King instilled his own warped, yet distinctly human sensibilities to the story.

PARADISE SKY, by Joe R. Lansdale. While it has been a little while since a Lansdale truly knocked my socks off, I've been a ginormous fan since I first held the Bantam paperback of The Drive-In in my trembling hands.

, by Ed Gorman. This is the latest thriller featuring Gorman's political consultant character, Dev Conrad. I don't like the Conrad series quite as much as I do the McCain books, I will read as many of these as he is gracious enough to give us.

VIXEN, by Bill Pronzini. By my count this is the forty-second publication in the incomparable Nameless Detective series. And that is not counting short stories and novellas. I don't know how he does it, but Pronzini has managed to keep these stories fresh and vital. They are among the most treasured pieces of fiction of my life.

LITTLE GIRLS, by Ronald Malfi. Ron Malfi is one of my favorites of the newer horror writers, and he always delivers a story that touches the mind and heart, as well as scaring his readers. Little Girls looks like it will be one of his best.

TIN MEN, by Christopher Golden. Golden is a one-man publishing industry, producing an alarming number of books per year. Anthologies, media tie-ins, collaborations, young adult, series work. All of uniform excellence, but I like his stand-alone novels the most. Tin Men sounds particularly good, and hopefully enough it will wipe that stupid movie with Danny Devito and Richard Dreyfuss completely from my memory.

There are always good books on the way, but right now is a particularly exciting time.

Sunday, May 17. 2015

The most hotly anticipated movie of 2015 is probably Mad Max: Fury Road. Not by me, but by a lot of people. Most particularly action fans. It's not that I wasn't looking forward to see it, but there are others that I am more excited about.

Well, it's finally here, and the praise is rolling in. Deservedly so. Mad Max: Fury Road is an astonishing accomplishment. It is certainly a visceral experience, with more action, exciting and nightmarish imagery, and explosions than most of us have ever seen in a motion picture. Few, very few, fans of the series will be disappointed.

And if the characters and their motivations are a little murky, I am reminded of a line from the immortal Paul Bartel, in Hollywood Boulevard: "This isn't a movie about the human condition. This is a movie about tits and ass".

Mad Max: Fury Road is concerned with jaw-dropping action, explosive violence, and pyrotechnics. It succeeds at what it sets out to accomplish magnificently.

Still, I won't list it among my personal favorites, and chances are fairly good that I will never watch it again. I'm not that big of an action fan these days, and the although I do like it, the Mad Max series was never one that I held in highest regard. I was always more of a Death Wish fan. Or maybe Vice Squad. Fort Apache: The Bronx. Or even Jake Speed.

I'm not complaining. Mad Max: Fury Road is exactly what I hoped it would be, and I got my money's worth. If you have not seen it yet, you need to. If you have, it's pretty likely that you will watch it again and again in the future.

I give major applause to the studio for having the wisdom to have George Miller bring his original vision back to life. They could have easily brought in a snotnose young director to make the movie. I think the gamble will pay off, even though Pitch Perfect 2 has outgrossed Mad Max: Fury Road on this opening weekend.
Thursday, May 14. 2015

Who would have guessed that early MTV staple, Greg Kihn, would write one of the best horror novels of the 1990's? Well, he did, with Horror Show. Horror Show is a fun and scary story that blends thrills and chills with classic bad cinema. Kihn followed it with two good sequels.

Then he seemed to disappear from the literary world for a while. Kihn returned last year with Rubber Soul.

According to Beatle legend, the Fab Four discovered American Blues, R&B, and primitive Rock and Roll from a flea market seller who supplied them with records. He was a merchant marine who obtained the music from America.

Using that as a springboard, Greg Kihn created the character, Dust Bin Bob. Bob meets the Beatles and ignites their love of American music in their formative years. Befriending and even working for The Beatles, Bob ends up saving the Liverpudlian lads from a plot to destroy them.

Rubber Soul is a fun book, with an engaging character. It portrays early 1960's England well, and also the burgeoning hippie/rock and roll scene in America.

Kihn has returned with Painted Black. This time Dust Bin Bob, now a respected antiques dealer, makes the acquaintance of troubled musical visionary Brian Jones, of The Rolling Stones. In reality, Jones died under mysterious circumstances in a swimming pool. His legendary wild lifestyle almost certainly played a crucial role on his death.

In Painted Black, Dust Bin Bob is coerced into helping Brian Jones survive his own demons. Or is there a conspiracy against the rock and roll legend? And maybe even other doomed artists of the time?

Again Greg Kihn invites readers into a long past world of mod swinging Londoners and wild American freaks.

Both Rubber Soul and Painted Black are permeated with the love of joy of music. Regardless of whether you like Greg Kihn's own recordings, he is a veteran of the industry and he writes with intimate knowledge and passion.

If Kihn brings back Dust Bin Bob, it is my hope that he meets Flo and Eddie of The Turtles. It is more likely that Bob's possible next adventure will feature him with Janis Joplin and/or Jimi Hendrix. I say bring it on!
Monday, May 4. 2015

Recently on Facebook I saw some individuals--small press writers they were--bitching about how someone was putting down a book or a writer. I didn't see the offending posts, but I am pretty sure they were unnecessarily rude and infantile. Such is the internet. Many feel really big and tough when confronting someone from the safety of afar.

Some other writers were agreeing about how rude it all was, and one made a statement about how writers should support one another. Someone else chimed in with that old chestnut about how you should not say anything at all if you can't say something nice.

I feel that this is one of the most destructive ideas in the community, and that it is far worse than any trollish behavior.

Once upon a time, way back when I was at Gorezone and Shocklines, I mostly felt the same way. I wanted to support the genre. I didn't want a lot of negativity on the forums.

I still don't wish to see a bunch of needlessly nasty criticism. That stuff is usually counterproductive and ugly to behold. It sure makes for a busy forum, though. Despite what many might claim, a lot of individuals thrive on drama.

Really, in the end, it is just one person's opinion. Some might claim otherwise, but I don't buy it. Sure, you can point our glaring examples of typographical errors, and that is a matter of fact, not opinion.

I see writers supporting one another all the time. Trading blurbs, hyping stuff up. There's nothing wrong with that, in theory, but it becomes nearly impossible to tell when it is honest appreciation or gladhanding.

It's no different in any other trade. I made a change in my employment last year, and I was cast way outside my comfort zone. My new supervisor is a hardass, and he rarely, if ever, hands out a compliment. He does, however, criticize me almost constantly. I have often hated it, and I silently cursed him a blue streak on many occasions. But I ended up learning a lot more that way. He kicked my lame ass up and down, and now I thank him for it.

Or, as a legendary writer and great friend of mine says, put your dick on the chopping block and wait for the cleaver.

Quite a few people have flattered me by telling me that they respect my opinion. I owe it to them, and to my own self, to be honest when I discuss books and movies. My opinion may end up being in the minority (it usually is), but I stand by it.

I think the genre needs more critical thinking. Emphasis on constructive criticism. The ease of self publishing has writers cranking out fiction in assembly line fashion. If readers like it, fine, but I truly believe that we all will be much more supportive of the genre and the community, not to mention the writers in question, if we give our opinions with honesty. Especially if we have the grace to do so with tact.

Wednesday, April 29. 2015

I'm not sure what exactly ignited my interest in the work of Chevy Stevens. Perhaps it was her unusual name. Maybe she was recommended to me due to my enthusiasm for Gillian Flynn's writing. It really does not matter, because I was interested enough to give one of her books a try.

I chose the debut novel of Chevy Stevens. Its title is Still Missing.

Still Missing deals with the abduction, imprisonment, and rape of a woman. Annie O'Sullivan is a real estate seller who is surprised by a male following an open house she has hosted. She is drugged and taken to a remote cabin, and is plunged into a nightmare that seems to have no end. Annie is abused, both emotionally and physically.

The novel alternates between her captivity, the aftermath of her escape, and therapy sessions. Everyone is interested in her story and the gruesome details of her ordeal, but few comprehend that the horrors have not ended. She suffers from acute anxiety and has serious trust issues with everyone she comes across.

Worse than that, Annie begins to suspect that the abduction was not random and that it was engineered by someone she knows. And that she may, in fact, still be in physical danger.

Did I enjoy Still Missing? I don't know. I don't think "enjoy" is the right word. I respect the novel and its writer. I was inspired by the courage and fortitude of Annie O'Sullivan. I consider Still Missing to be a document of a woman's struggle against almost insurmountable odds.

Some might consider Still Missing to be feminist fiction. I don't. Not exactly. While I would be unsurprised to learn that the majority of fans of this book are female, to me this is a story of an individual who has more strength than she probably believes she has. It deeply touches on universal things like friendship and loyalty. Desperation and perseverance. Trust and betrayal. Human cruelty and compassion. Most of all, Still Missing has a message of hope.

Yeah, I guess you could say that I enjoyed Still Missing after all.

Will this be the last Chevy Stevens book I read? Absolutely not.

Very highly recommended.
Sunday, April 19. 2015

I read, and loved, this novel when I originally read it. I was fortunate enough to obtain an ARC prior to publication. Now I am listening to the audio edition.

Dr. Sleep is a divisive novel, but then most of King's books are. Some, like me, greatly enjoyed it. Others were disappointed.

I get it. At least I think I do. Allow me to elaborate.

Stephen King is known for his colorful villains. They are often multi-faceted, and they are usually interesting and entertaining characters. Consider Randall Flagg, Roland Lebay, Pennywise, Annie Wilkes. Even Cujo.

I'll admit it. The true Knot, from Dr. Sleep, are among King's weakest adversaries. None of the characters are fully fleshed-out, and they feel like forced creations.

Then there are the themes of alcoholism and Alcoholics Anonymous. It can come off as preachy to some, I believe.

Plus, Dr. Sleep is the sequel to one of King's greatest triumphs. The Shining has large shoes to fill.

Me, I have never been one to look for subtext and hidden meanings in fiction. Give me a story, well told, and leave the mental masturbation to the academics.

However, I found the themes in Dr. Sleep to be utterly compelling. As I did The Shining. In The Shining, the reader is introduced to an alcoholic who is in very shaky recovery. He moves his family into an abandoned hotel for his job as Winter caretaker, and they find that the hotel is a malignant entity. Some of its rooms are haunted.

The Shining is, to me, a metaphor for alcoholism and its devastating effects on not only the afflicted party, but to his family. Jack Torrence has some very haunted rooms in his mind, and unable to deal with them properly, he relapses and brings destruction upon himself and his family.

Of course The Shining can be enjoyed as simply a story of a terrifying haunted hotel.

The underlying themes of Dr. Sleep are inherited addiction, recovery, fellowship, and mortality.

Perhaps I appreciated Dr. Sleep more than some for reasons of my own, ah, intimate relationship with alcohol addiction.

Dr. Sleep had a profound effect upon me. I found it to be a deeply spiritual novel that helped bring me strength and comfort. It even prompted me to give AA a try. Unfortunately, like many things, Alcoholics Anonymous is a better idea on paper than it is as a reality. At least to me. But that is quite another story.

Stephen King's Dr. Sleep works for me as a treatise on alcohol treatment, recovery and intervention, as well as the burden of sobriety on a problem drinker.

Dr. Sleep is also a horror novel, and there are some powerful scenes. Such as when a boy with a baseball glove is exhumed from an unmarked grave.

The scenes where Dan Torrence acts as "Dr. Sleep" and eases the passing of dying individuals are breathtakingly moving. Here is where King's own faith shines the most in his fiction.

My opinion is my own, and some will share it, while others will not. It's all fine by me, but I hope that anyone who approaches Dr. Sleep for the first time will do so with an open and receptive mind.
Monday, April 13. 2015

Don't be too harsh. It was the 70's after all, man.

Yes, I was a pothead. A doper, if you will. Sometimes referred to as a "fiend" for short. Hey, who wasn't?

You've seen Dazed and Confused, I presume? Well, that shit was pretty accurate. There were different social groups, but by my senior year, I ran with the 'heads.

In some ways I have no regrets. What's the use? It was fun and I have a wealth of great memories. On the other hand, I wish I had taken things a wee bit more seriously.

I was a reader, of course. I always have been. I also had aspirations of being a writer. My eye was set on journalism. In a way, I achieved that goal. I am, after all, a columnist at Cemetery Dance Magazine. But I didn't become a newspaper reporter as I dreamed about. All that partying does not often lead to lofty positions in the working world. I am a machinist, and I consider myself lucky to be one.

We were rebellious, of course. We rejected the values and attitudes of our parents, and although most of us ended up right where they were as far as work and debt are concerned, maybe all that peace and love crap (as well as the poetry of rock and roll music) made us a little better. Some of us, anyway.

And we hated school. What a drag, man. It seriously cramped our party lifestyle.

One day a good friend of mine and I were in some woods, getting high and talking. We talked about everything imaginable. We had this idea: Let's start an underground newspaper and distribute it at the school. I'm not entirely sure whose idea it was, but I am thinking that I was a major proponent of it. I do know that I came up with the title. Poetry in motion, my friends. Our little endeavor was called...


Kinda has a ring to it, doesn't it?

I also remember well that the other guy did most of the work in getting it printed up.

We gathered some like-minded friends, made up phony names for ourselves in hopes that we wouldn't get caught, and started writing some stuff. We had a couple of cartoonists, and a handful of would-be journalists.

We handed them out in clandestine stealth. The cover price was a whopping quarter. No small amount of greenage in the 1979 economy.

People liked it. We made our investment money back. And we were never caught. The faulty and staff were outraged, and tried to find the guilty parties. No one narked us out.

Our upstart publication had a long three-issue run. Which was two more than I figured would ever get made.

Not long ago, some old friends and I got together for pizza and pitchers of beer. High school pals. We had some laughs, looked back at our triumphs and embarrassments, and promised each other that we would get back together. Real soon.

It hasn't happened yet, and I guess it never will. People go their separate ways. But one of the guys who was at the reunion was my old High's Cool partner. He came up to me after everyone else was gone and handed me a folder. It contained all three issues of The High's Cool Press.

I look back at it now with nothing less than astonishment. We actually did it. Some of it is pretty bad, and I blush a little bit, but for the most part I saw passionate work by some pretty smart teenagers. I got a chuckle and a few tears as I read them.

And now my party days are long past. I gave up the incessant dope smoking decades ago. I continued to drink for a long, long time, but it has been months since I have had a drop. I couldn't get high if I wanted to. I get screened at my job. Even if it becomes legal in my state, and it no longer matters to my job, I probably won't do it. You've got to grow up sometime. Well, some of us do.

Wednesday, April 8. 2015

I'm trying. I'm trying very hard to appreciate and enjoy newer writers in the horror genre. The truth is, I am not very successful.

Thanks in part to the ease of producing and distributing books through Amazon/Createspace, there is a glut of material out there. Even many small presses are using the service now, and who can blame them?

But when there is a glut, quality tends to deteriorate.

Everything seems to leave me flat these days. I recently did enjoy some newer books: Save Yourself, by Kelly Braffett, and Fat Kid Saves The World, by K. L. Going. Neither are precisely horror fiction, but both have disturbing elements in them.

Part of the problem, for me, is the abundance of writers trying to emulate Richard Laymon, Jack Ketchum, and Edward Lee. Over-the-top stuff makes me yawn most of the time. Been there, done it.

I've heard nearly universal acclaim for Laird Barron, so I took the plunge and ordered his sole novel, The Croning. I didn't get very far. The dialogue in the first chapter was ridiculous to me. I also did not care at all for the setup, which featured a Spy and a Queen.

Where are the game changers of today? The horror novels that literally change the genre? In the past there were knockout books like The Shining, The Ceremonies, Swan Song, even Lost Souls. The last thing I can think of that had anywhere nearly as much influence as those is Brian Keene's The Rising.

Maybe I am just getting older. I keep looking to the past for my reading fixes. I just finished up Philip Jose Farmer's mind-blowing A Feast Unknown, which I originally read around thirty-five years ago. I'm listening to Red Dragon in my car. I'm also going back and re-experiencing beloved titles from my past by Peter Straub, Stephen King, F. Paul Wilson, Charles Beaumont, Ray Bradbury, etc.

I'm much more apt to find something I like in the YA dept instead of a book labeled "Horror".

The funny thing is, I don't mind most current horror movies. Sure, many leave a lot to be desired, but to me watching a movie is an escape and reading is mental concentration. But more books seem to be directly influenced by movies these days than ever before.

Funnier still, most fans and writers seem to "support" up-and-coming horror writers, while many disdain most of the genre stuff that plays the multiplexes.

I don't like all horror movies, of course. Texas Chainsaw 3D is one of the most wretched things I have ever had the displeasure to watch, and I can't get aboard the Rob Zombie bandwagon.

I really am trying. It's hard when you don't do the Kindle thing, and paperbacks run anywhere from ten to twenty dollars. Sometimes they are even more expensive. And when I am disappointed most of the time, it is hard to continue to try new stuff.

In the meantime I will read the writers I love, and to rediscover the joys of the past.

I will continue to try, but I am beginning to despair that I, or the genre, is hopelessly out of touch.

Monday, March 23. 2015

I was in Junior High the first time I read Kurt Vonnegut. I guess they call it Middle School now. I had been reading a lot of science fiction and fantasy, and while I loved that stuff, I was hungry for something different.

One of my older brothers graced me with a copy of Slaughterhouse-Five. I started reading it, and was instantly shocked. This novel was unlike anything I had encountered before. I would later come to call it a meta-novel.

Slaughterhouse-Five is a shrewd blend of memoir, an anti-war polemic, and science fiction.

In the book, Vonnegut came across as bitter, but not uncaring. Cynical, but not without kindness. It's a tour of his harrowing past experiences in the fire-bombing of Dresden, Germany, in WW2, and a trip through the author's own imagination.

I was hooked. And his next novel, Breakfast of Champions, was richer, more outrageous, and also hilarious.

Kurt Vonnegut (then known as Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.) rose to meteoric fame and fortune with this two books. His earlier work had been extremely well received, but now he was a literary superstar.

I read all the back works, and I liked them all. Much of it was published as straight science fiction. My favorite was The Sirens of Titan, but I also really loved Cat's Cradle and Mother Night. Kurt Vonnegut, in fact, became one of my favorite writers.

I had a fairly turbulent late youth, and I ended up missing out on the two books that followed Breakfast of Champions. But I made up for it by buying the next one. In hardcover, no less, which was foolhardy of me in those days. But then I have always been a fool for books.

Palm Sunday was the name of the book that I financially overextended myself with, but I was only too happy to have done so. I could not wait to start it. Then I could not wait for it to be over.

I suffered through the whole thing. I found Palm Sunday to be massively egotistical, and worse, uninteresting. It included the short story, The Big Space Fuck, but I had already read that in Ellison's Again, Dangerous Visions. Mostly I felt that I had been rooked when I bought Palm Sunday.

I went back and read the previous two books: Slapstick and Jailbird are not what you might call bad books, but they did not possess the vitality and passion of the earlier books. Had success spoiled Kurt Vonnegut?

I also read one called Deadeye Dick, but I was largely unimpressed.

I did enjoy his novel, Galapagos, but again, not to the extent of the earlier books, and I passed on later publications like Hocus Pocus and Timequake. Other books of unpublished short fiction and essays came out in book form, but I had the impression that they were filled with trunk pieces.

So, yeah, I had given up on Kurt Vonnegut. I was not happy about that, but it happens.

I didn't think a lot about Vonnegut. It was very cool to see him show up for a minute or so in one of my favorite comedies, Back To School. Other than that, he rarely crossed my mind. The inferior later material sort of soured me on him.

I grieved, like most did, when I heard that Kurt Vonnegut had passed away. He died of complications after a fall down some stairs.

Regardless of how I felt about some of the stuff that came after Breakfast of Champions, it was a major loss to American letters.

Here and there I heard good things about his final novel, Timequake. I picked up a copy at a thrift store, and tucked it away for a rainy day.

That day came last week. Weary of horror and suspense, I was looking through the ridiculous number of books in my house, and I focused on Timequake. Now was the time to see if the old magic had arisen.

How I wished it would be so, but unfortunately I did not make it very far in Timequake. What I did read was excruciating. The old cynicism was there, but it seemed silly and put-upon. The 50-75 pages I read meandered and seemed to be going nowhere. I was not enjoying it, and I reasoned that moving forward would only serve to further sully my admiration of Vonnegut.

Yet others seem to like it. I don't know what it is. The old saw about the emperor and his nonexistent clothes comes to mind. Do fans see something there that I didn't through some form of loyalty?

Or maybe I am the one who has grown too cynical. I really have no idea.

Maybe it's time to go back and re-experience and re-evaluate the past work of Mr. Vonnegut.

I recently obtained a copy of Vonnegut's Cat's Cradle in audiobook form. The narration is done by Tony Roberts, who was so good in the early Woody Allen movies. From there I plan to eventually reread more of Kurt's older catalog, and hopefully I will regain love and understanding of his work. And then maybe I will approach Timequake in a more suitable frame of mind to appreciate it.

ADDENDUM: I began listening to the Cat's Cradle audiobook today, but I had to shut it down. I loved it when I was around fourteen years old, but now it comes across trivial and condescending. Cat's Cradle is ostensibly a science fiction story, but Vonnegut seemed to have utter contempt for that audience. Times change, people change, and I guess I have changed, because I no longer think Kurt Vonnegut is a writer I care to read.

Sunday, March 1. 2015

Remember back to your youth. When you were the most passionate horror fan around. It cost you a few relationships, I bet, because the truth is, you loved horror more than your partner.

When a horror movie came to town, you bet your ass you got out there and saw it. How could you not? Sitting around in front of a TV in the living room was for your lame-ass parents.

And you liked just about everything you saw. To varying degrees, obviously. Even the bad ones were fun, and you made a point of getting out there and seeing for yourself. As bad as some of them were, you still had a good time. And as the years race by, you look back upon each and every one of those theatrical outings with fondness.

I've been guilty of it. It's easier to sit home, drink beer, and watch a movie on home video. It's even easier now. Watch on demand, instant download, streaming. Not to mention the repulsive act of illegally downloading a movie.

I look back on the days of my horror-watching youth with infinite fondness. I've grown cynical, and somewhat embittered, but I try to fight it. I am trying to keep that burning flame of horror fandom alive and burning.

If a horror movie comes to the theater, I try to get out and see it. One thing has not changed: Most of them are not very good. Not if you gaze upon them with a critical eye. But many of them are fun, and the real joy is getting out and seeing them in a theater.

Something pretty cool is happening in the midst of big changes in Hollywood. The mid-priced movies seem to be disappearing. Big budget slop is everywhere, and low budget movies are flourishing. Ones that cost between, say, ten and sixty million dollars, are going the way of the drive-in theater.

Low budget horror movies are coming out at a fairly steady clip, and most of them are extremely profitable. We're not talking a gazillion dollar revenues like the latest regurgitated superhero feature, but a tidy return that has to be undeniable to the studios.

Which brings me to The Lazarus Effect. This humble effort was reportedly produced for a little over three million dollars, and in just a few days has tripled its money.

But is The Lazarus Effect any good?

Not particularly. I didn't mind watching it, and to be painfully blunt, it is not a whole lot worse than many movies I went to see and sort of liked in my misspent late youth. Things like One Dark Night, The Pit, Bloody Birthday, Slaughterhouse, and on and on.

The Lazarus Effect breaks no new ground. Its theme of "Man should not meddle in God's work" has been done by superior talents like Mary Shelley, H.P. Lovecraft, and Stephen King. The Lazarus Effect has a lot of pseudo-science, melodrama, and the final quarter is nothing short of an embarrassment.

I had a good time with it. The acting was above par, the movie was professionally shot, and there is a modicum of suspense. For a six dollar matinee, I do not regret seeing it at all.

The really good thing about it is, young people are going out and seeing these movies. Most will grow up sooner or later, but thankfully there will be the few who never do. People like you and I. Horror fans who refuse to be relegated to old fogeydom. Some of these will be the horror fans, and the writers and directors, of tomorrow. They will look back upon movies like The Lazarus Effect, Insidious, Paranormal Activity, and so on, and the building blocks of their obsession for horror and the macabre.

Thursday, February 26. 2015

Most readers of this website will be familiar with the David Lynch movie, Wild at Heart. It's one of his best, and most coherent, motion pictures. Not as many may be aware that Wild at Heart was adapted from a novel of the same name by Barry Gifford. Fewer still might know that Gifford has written several sequels to Wild at Heart.

The Wild at Heart adaptation is pretty faithful to the source novel, although David couldn't resist throwing in some Lynchian elements of his own. It's really too bad that he didn't continue on with the series.

The story deals with two lovers, Sailor and Lula, whose wild and violent life is second only to the passion and dedication they have for each other. They are kind of a white trash Romeo and Juliet, but their burning love is so genuine that it lends grace to the bizarre circumstances of their exploits.

The Sailor and Lula stories are collected in an omnibus edition entitled, appropriately enough, The Sailor and Lula Novels. This collection contains seven complete short novels that chronicle the lives of the two lovers. It concludes with the emotionally devastating The Imagination of the Heart, which chronicles the end of the wild lives of Sailor and Lula.

This appeared to be the end of the epic saga, but Barry Gifford had one more trick up his sleeve. It's another novel called The Up-Down, and it concerns the son of Sailor and Lula, who is named Pace.

Pace's destiny has been shaped by the astonishing lives of his parents, but now he is aging and nearing the end of his own existence. His life is no less violent and profane as that of his parents, but he lacks the passionate dedication that brought them so much contentment and happiness.

Feeling spiritually vacant, Pace embarks on a journey of self discovery. He seeks a state of enlightenment that he thinks of as the up-down. Along the way he finds more violence, extraordinary individuals, and is reaffirmed that everyone's life is wild at heart and weird on top.

The Up-Down concludes the story of Sailor and Lula once and for all, and it makes me a little bit sad. But I am richer for having known these characters, and having had the privilege of Barry Gifford conducting me on a tour of their flaming lives.