The Official Portal to the Madness of Dark Fiction Author Patrick C. Greene

Blogs

TOP 13 HORROR SUB-GENRES (Part 2 of 3)

I recently read a piece about how certain sub-genres of horror seem to correlate with similar strata of metal music; death metal matching splatter horror, power metal comparing to action horror, etc.

As a fan, such classifications help me find the kind of horror film for which I’m in the mood, while as a writer, it helps to have some point of reference with which to promote my work — though, in the interests of being all “punk rock” and whatnot, I pay lip service to the notion of defying pigeonholery, and to seeking films and books that do the same.

Thus, I’ve attempted to compile an overview of horror’s various niches, with some illustrative examples. Almost every horror film is a crossover to some degree, of course, which is why the horror universe keeps expanding.


The-FlyBODY HORROR

Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde might well be the first fictional take on body horror, a sub-genre based on the concept of one’s physical person being changed or violated. It surely is the most personal and accessible form of horror, given that it stems from the loss of control that accompanies birth, adolescence, aging and death; all radical changes happening to us, over which we exert little control. Add disease and injury, and the idea that we have any individual sovereignty seems almost ridiculous.

In THE FLY, especially the Cronenberg remake, we see bodily changes that might be regarded as improvements — until we realize that these come at the price of humanity. Also true of many film versions of the werewolf legend, which more closely resemble Stevenson’s aforementioned classic than their original folklore — except that poor Larry Talbot and cousins had no choice in undergoing their transformations.

Citing Cronenberg again, eXistenZ puts the viewer inside a game that is more organic than technological. To play, one has to merge with the game itself. VR seems relatively obsolete doesn’t it? In an industry that values immersive experience, might it be possible to be changed beyond return?

Other examples include Body Melt, Cabin Fever, Clown, Horns, and Thinner.


54d40836cd193_-_godzilla-classicCREATURE FEATURE

Pretty well self explanatory, though there are a couple of crucial parameters. It’s all about the monsters, and best left at that. Character development is not the main attraction in a creature feature, and given SyFy’s long list of formulaic CGI monster-of-the-week Saturday slot-fillers, not even particularly welcome Don’t get me wrong; there are great creature features with wonderfully-drawn principals. It’s just not the current norm. Most Japanese kaiju and 50s-era radioactive mutant movies qualify — “mutant” being a key word. Jaws, Anaconda, being real-life horrors of nature, fall into our next category.


44_d__0_Swarm

NATURE RUN AMUCK

When the giant ants and lizards of the 50s shrunk back down to their God-ordered proportions in the 70s, the Nature Run Amuck subgenre was born. Instead of just doing what they do, only as giants, post-hippie era critters are usually more intelligent, populous, and/or aggressive, made unmanageable by an unprepared but generally deserving mankind. Phase IV pits a crew of scientists against a colony of ants. Swarm plays on the 70s fear of “killer bees” migrating from Brazil. “Link” sees research apes turning the tables on their human keepers. In “Frogs,” it’s a lot more than the titular amphibians who upset the balance, and of course, every natural disaster is made worse by combining it with sharks or spiders.


scream-1996-brrip-650mb_tinymoviez1HORROR COMEDY

Call me a curmudgeon. I just don’t see the point. Do you want to scream or do you want to laugh? Some of the best horror flicks contain moments of brilliant black humor that serve to break tension at crucial points. A horror comedy takes the thing that you focus your fears on and makes it a joke. Everything deserves to be parodied at some point — but is it asking too much for a little subtlety. SCREAM for instance, or POPCORN. But the SCARY MOVIE treatment is unnecessarily heavyhanded.


Brain-DeadMINDFUCK

In the Charles Beaumont-scripted BRAINDEAD from 1990, Bill Paxton is leaving work, carrying a long a brain in a jar, hoping to catch up on his research at home. There’s a tussle with a hobo, and the jar, brain and all, shatters on the sidewalk. It’s a good metaphor for what this subcategory aims for. (As an aside, it’s also a damn sight more hilarious than any of the SCARY MOVIE films, near as I can estimate.) The plot often involves following a protagonist as he or she seemingly descends into madness — or is led to believe they are. It lends itself to creative special effects sequences, as well as unexpected story twists, as it is not necessarily constrained by conventional plot structure. It’s also a fairly loose designation that could encompass films as different from each other as ALTERED STATES, VANILLA SKY, TOTAL RECALL, TETSUO: THE IRON MAN, and PHANTASM.


Come back next week for FOLK HORROR and more.

READ TOP 13 HORROR SUB-GENRES (Part 1 of 3)

Advertisements

TOP 13 HORROR SUB-GENRES (Part 1 of 3)

If there’s anything the internet has taught us to do, it’s to pointlessly compartmentalize pop-culture trivia to the point it almost seems to matter. You can find lists of everything from Top 10 Worst CGI Effects to 7 Best Songs About Drugs.

Because horror is so diverse in scope, most fans tend to find one or two particular sub-genres they favor; or more often, they go through phases of certain directors, eras, scenarios, or in the case of fiction, authors or publishers.

I recently read a piece about how certain sub-genres of horror seem to correlate with similar strata of metal music; death metal matching splatter horror, power metal comparing to action horror, etc.

As a fan, such classifications help me find the kind of horror film for which I’m in the mood, while as a writer, it helps to have some point of reference with which to promote my work — though, in the interests of being all “punk rock” and whatnot, I pay lip service to the notion of defying pigeonholery, and to seeking films and books that do the same.

Thus, I’ve attempted to compile an overview of horror’s various niches, with some illustrative examples. Almost every horror film is a crossover to some degree, of course, which is why the horror universe keeps expanding.


haunted mansion

GOTHIC

Influenced by the success of Hammer Films’ 50s era reimaginings of classic literary monsters like Frankenstein, Dracula and The Mummy, one Mister Roger Corman produced a series of Poe-inspired films set in gloomy, cob-webbed castles and fog carpeted landscapes, setting the stage for Italian filmmakers to do the same. These films, like the contemporary sub-culture of overly-eyelinered teens which shares the term, relied on gloomy mood rather than startling sudden jumps, leaving an overall impression of oppressive nihilism rather than the roller coaster feeling wrought by less subtle types of horror. Perhaps due to its more deliberate pacing, gothic horror is not one of the more popular sub-genres of recent years, but certainly has its fair share of classics. THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM, THE RAVEN, BLACK SUNDAY, BLACK SABBATH, HOUSE OF USHER

And of course: GOTHIC

Some more contemporary examples: SWEENEY TODD, SLEEPY HOLLOW, THE OTHERS


evil-dead-ii-1987-04-g

SPLATTER

A splatter film need not necessarily be a horror film, but by nature, it would certainly be horrific. George Romero is credited with the first use of the term, so it’s clearly not meant as dismissive, given that his “Dead” series is heavy on social relevance. However, there is more bad splatter than good, as gore was a notoriously easy sell in the grindhouse -and later- DTV markets, hooking the least compromising of screen thrill seekers.

Hammer once again gets much of the credit for bringing (what was once considered) excessive bloodshed to the cinemas, and again it was the Italians who took it and ran with it. 80s Italian horror films went far beyond the level of their British or American counterparts, with lingering, often close up depictions of eyeballs pierced, breasts chewed off, brains eaten and much much worse, all before the advent of CGI allowed filmmakers to create such mayhem in a sanitary editing room. Yes sir, FX technicians had to live the nightmare, and get down and dirty to simulate brutal slaughter back in the old days.

It’s worth noting that splatter has a good many sub-sub-genres and crossovers, such as blood-spurting-yet-somehow artistic samurai films, and the nearly unwatchable collection of cannibal flicks that stained drive-in screens during their heyday. This subgenre is presently thriving at the mainstream level even on television via popular fare like THE WALKING DEAD and AMERICAN HORROR STORY. DAWN OF THE DEAD, DAY OF THE DEAD, ZOMBI, THE EVIL DEAD, JIGOKU, CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST, BRAIN DEAD, SIN CITY, LONE WOLF AND CUB, REVENGE OF THE NINJA, MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN, HELLRAISER

sigourney-weaver-aliens-1

SCI FI

ALIEN is probably the first film that comes to mind when one thinks of a sci-fi/horror hybrid, but it’s far from a watermark. Thomas Edison himself created what was likely the very first sci-fi and/or horror film when he made a loose adaptation of Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” way back in nineteen-and-ten. The 30s Universal effort could also be called sci fi, along with it’s sequels and crossovers featuring other, folkloric based beasts. But the mix of sci-fi and horror truly come into its own in the 50s, when fears of the new and seemingly limitless powers of atomic energy and space travel gave rise to fears that scientists had gone too far in tampering with nature. Film producers took up where the long-dated warnings of Mary Shelley, H.G Wells and Jules Verne left off by imagining ever more gigantic and unstoppable mutations and manifestations from just beyond these new scientific horizons.

ALIEN was beaten to the punch during this era, coming across in retrospect as an uncredited remake of IT! THE TERROR FROM BEYOND SPACE and Mario Bava’s PLANET OF VAMPIRES.

Some of the best horror is wed with sci fi, as is some of the worst. Getting right down to it, sci-fi horror presents us with some extra-terrestrial threat but genetic mutation is a big seller as well. THE THING, VIRUS, THEM!, TARANTULA, GODZILLA KING OF THE MONSTERS, THE DEADLY MANTIS, THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN, THE FLY, PANDORUM, GALAXY OF TERROR, THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL

halloween_0

SLASHER

I don’t think there are any blurred lines in regard to what a slasher film is. Though PSYCHO and TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE appeared a few years before the great slasher boom that came in the aftermath of HALLOWEEN, they’re still largely considered part of the subset. But it was actually Bob Clark’s unsettling BLACK CHRISTMAS that set the blueprint. Assuming the set up for a slasher film (with little variation) is agreed to be a set of teens or young adults targeted by a demented stalker on or near a holiday in an isolated setting, it seems to be a pretty limited formula. However, close examination reveals that some of the most highly regarded horror films, such as THE SHINING and ALIEN, are essentially slasher films.

Many, especially from the 80s, also double as whodunits in the best Agatha Christie tradition. Once the initial wave of holiday-themed cash-ins settled and other flavors took over the public palate, slasher films became nostalgia, and soon after, fresh again, via Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson with the SCREAM series. Everything that made the sub-genre overtly formulaic was turned on its ear and used against the audience in brilliant fashion. Ironically, this ushered in a whole new age of cookie cutter slashers in the 90s.

These days, the slasher film is surviving, if not thriving, via mostly superior, amped up or intentionally retro variations like LAID TO REST, MALEVOLENCE, HATCHET, and the surprisingly clever BEHIND THE MASK: THE RISE OF LESLIE VERNON.

With 1984’s A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, the addition of supernatural elements mutated the sub-genre and squeezed some more life from it, giving us an undead Jason in FRIDAY THE 13TH 6 and other defining entries like: BAD DREAMS, CANDYMAN, VENOM, KILLER PARTY

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Italy’s giallo movement, but it deserves a more extended treatment and might even be considered its own sub-genre.


That’s it for this week. Come back next week when we explore more horror sub-genres including Creature Features, Comedy Horror and more.


Saying Goodbye to Tobe Hooper

You know the old horror cliche’ of running out of gas in the middle of nowhere and having to hoof it to the nearest house to ask about a ride to the station, or use of the telephone? In 1974 it wasn’t a cliche’. It was very often a reality.
 
A gasoline shortage had folks qeueing their cars farther than one could see, hoping, praying, gambling they would make it before the supplies were exhausted, or before their car died, or before someone else’s did, and blocked you in.

Gasoline wasn’t something you trifled around with, son. You’d best treat it like gold until the politicos sorted out the whole mess. If, in your foolish, youthful hubris, you should behave like gas and life are forever, you stand to be quickly and rightfully disabused of this sinful notion.

This might have been the lesson -or one of many- taught by the one and only The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. texas-chainsaw-massacre-1974

Tobe Hooper saw the layers of inherent horror in the above scenario. His TCM narrative is one, at its core, of de-evolution. We have come to depend on petroleum, and this dependence makes the hapless teens of TCM vulnerable to the predations of a family isolated from much of civilization and education. And modern morality. These people in turn, are so dependent on the industrialization of flesh as food; a commodity, that humans are now just another variety of meat to them.

If that’s not biting and pertinent; if it’s not reflective of human nature, I’d like to know what is.

tobe hooperWith his take on Salem’s Lot, we got the best King adaptation to that time, (and for a long time after) the scariest TV movie of the time, and the kind of film we like to brag to our friends about how much it scared our younger selves.

Invaders From Mars took standard 50s sci-fi hokum and made it a bizarre nightmare. I recall being overwhelmed by the sheer volume of practical effects in this movie; certainly more than one can process in a single viewing.

Life Force was a similar spectacle, but with Hooper’s sick humor more apparent.

Eaten Alive, a.k.a. Legend of The Bayou, seems to have been too absurd for its own good, but then again, I was very young when I saw it. Something else for the re-view list.

In interviews, Hooper was introspective, soft-spoken, honest. It is said he would catch insects and gently release them outside rather than kill them.

I see this in his eagerness to force the horrors of cruelty to animals, and to each other, on the audience in his work. I see it and I aspire to it.

Thanks, Tobe Hooper. We could sure use a lot more like you.

REST WELL, GEORGE

george-a-romero-8[1]

If you are one of the millions of devoted viewers of AMCs’ The Walking Dead or any of its spin-offs/imitators, you can say a little thanks to George A Romero for creating the genre to which they belong.

I say “genre” and not “SUB-genre” because that is what the modern zombie narrative has become. Zombies are no longer confined to direct-to-vid horror flicks. The shambling, vacant, flesh-eating resurrected corpse which has come to define the word zombie now appears in comedies, cartoons, fantasies, action adventure films, music videos and even soap operas (looking at you, The Walking Dead) and that’s just film and television. Countless videogames, comics, and fiction works feature the same species of “walker” that first appeared in Romero’s Night of The Living Dead, way back in 1968.

When horror magazine Fangoria began bringing horror filmmakers to the fore in the 80s and turning them into recognizable superstars, the name George A Romero rose to the top of the heap based almost entirely on his original trilogy of zombie films known as the Dead series. These were all low budget affairs, crafted with love and passion by a man who found the perfect stand-in for the most basic, perhaps the worst, aspects of his fellow man.

In trying to reach the warm food bags holed up in that Pennsylvania farmhouse, the first wave of Dead clambered over each other, unconcerned with the unbreathing brethren trampled en route to achieving their singular selfish goal.

As their Dawn rose, they moved outward from their various necropoli, Romero’s legions finding their way to the shopping malls, where thoughtlessly they roamed, only occasionally finding the gristly goodies they sought behind store windows.

dawn-of-the-dead-mall

As living folk began to haltingly re-organize, in vast military bunkers for instance, and further, began trying to corral and control the Dead, they demonstrated that sheer numbers and mindless appetite will always win the Day; even over any concepts of hierarchy or supposed intellect.

George A Romero milked the zombie genre, perhaps not for all it was worth, but certainly, for its most meaningful elements. He did so almost entirely without the help of the Big Bully studio system, even while lampooning it in many ways.

Many images from his work stand stark in my brain forever. That first stumbling cadaver, zeroing in on Barbara, while her cruel brother mocks her in a Karloff voice.

The nightmare of a hundred hungry hands punching through a wall to claim Lori Cardille.

The agonizing wait for David Emgee to “turn.”

That effing nerve-shattering Thing In The Crate, with its bottomless stomach, swimming up even now from some less-bottomless gulch.

creepshowcrate

Poor Martin.

Milquetoast Jason Flemyng, waking to find himself beautifully faceless.

Psychotically jealous Capuchin Elle, screeching somewhere in the dark, wielding a straight razor.

He was by all accounts, good to his family, his friends, and his fans. He was never less than generous, not only in sharing his talents, but in sharing his time.

Cliche’d as it is, one truly wonders if there can ever be another horror auteur like him. Another cliche’: there simply isn’t enough of his work for us.

But when I watch The Walking Dead, or play Resident Evil, whatever the given origin story, I will always realize I’m in the universe he made.

2f18d1b8fdaf4a0f2442181092926647--zombie-movies-horror-movies[1]

 

 


MY FIRST ALBUM REVIEW! (A MUSIC MYSTERY)

Grave Robber: The Cellar Sessions

Having enjoyed horror punkers’ Grave Robber’s full length effort Be Afraid, I was surprised to find their lo-fi cover EP The Cellar Sessions to be so lifeless, if you’ll excuse the pun. I’m no music expert; my reactions are purely visceral with no understanding of technical aspects. That said, I’ve always found horror punk to be hit or miss; maybe 70 -30.

Covers are remarkably common in horror punk. It’s a crossbreed of genres after all, and not meant to be taken too seriously, so why not take a stab at someone else’s material?

Something I learned while researching the band is that they’re a Christian horror punk outfit, which is even more unusual than Christian metal. Interestingly, this 2014 release is not mentioned on their Wikipedia page, or any discography, and neither CD nor digital versions are available on Amazon.2883293525_9e0486d44e_o[1] Also, their sound from Be Afraid to Sessions is markedly different. Are there TWO bands Christian horror punk bands called Grave Robber???

Onto the music: as mentioned all covers, some of which seem like either really poor or supremely smart ass choices. “Spirit in The Sky,” the seventies Jesus movement anthem, and “The Rose” both come off like a pissed off middle school band playing songs from the approved list for the school dance, but subverting them just to steam the principal.

David Bowie’s Space Oddity is next, but nothing particularly interesting or innovative is done with it. Cyindi Lauper’s Time After Time — same deal.

The album finishes with The Ramones’ I Just Wanna Have Something To Do, which projects none of the original’s nihilistic disaffectedness, but it’s possibility the heaviest track.

Can’t say much positive or negative about the musicianship. It’s very deft but seems intentionally under-produced to give a garage band effect. Might have worked with original material but falls flat with these covers.

Write it off as a bold experiment. I’m looking forward to sampling more of Grave Robber’s original work, but I hope they’ll steer clear of unimaginative covers henceforth.


MORE ON SYMBOLISM

In my short story Unto The Earth I attempted to integrate symbolism that served as both foreshadowing and “easter eggs” of a sort, in that they gave the story what I hoped is a connected sense of doom that cannot be forestalled; karma that must be satisfied.

In case you haven’t read the story and don’t want it spoiled, stop reading now and find it in Sekhmet Press’ Wrapped In Black anthology, or just skip this installment.

wrappedinblack-new-cover

Our protagonist Lyle is a decent guy who suffered a severe, memory-robbing accident. Brought back to physical health by the patient love of a nurse named Agnes, he has fallen in love and married the Haitian beauty, only to find himself falling into uncontrollable fits of rage he takes out on her.

Lyle is something of a partial man; missing pieces of his psyche that might give his life, already ideal on the outside, the meaning that would fill a vast hole in his soul. The first easter egg is his dog ; another slice of normal pie that should fit easily into a very simple puzzle. But I chose for the dog to be black, and named him Shucky. If you’re familiar with supernatural lore you might know of the Anglo legend called the Black Shuck; a massive demonic dog, black of course. Encountering or even just seeing the beast is said to foretell of death, either to the seer or his/her immediate family.

black_shuck_commission_by_kivulimwitu

So “Shucky,” even as a seemingly harmless family pet, is a portent of death to give the story an early sense of the supernatural mixed in with the commonality of Lyle’s everyman (apologies for this cliche’) life. In retrospect, it seems rather wedged in. Something closer to the story’s vodun (voodoo) connection would have been more appropriate. Still, Shucky plays his role and adds some spice.

Lyle also visits a therapist to discuss his growing outbursts of abusive rage. Absently, he handles a figurine replica of a Mesopotamian fertility goddess. Maternity -of a kind- is also a theme, and with the goddess now hovering in the reader’s subconscious, the finale will theoretically carry its weight and imbue a sense of connections, a thread that weaves in and out of the tale along with many others to make a whole cloth.

willendorf_fertility_goddess

I was intrigued to see, some months later, a similar scene in the film “Hellions,” whose antagonist is a teen who fears she is pregnant. The girl visits a counselor. As the session winds down, she sees a decorative sculpture on the desk that begins to seep blood. There is no further discussion of this; the narrative simply moves on. While we watch the movie with most of our brain another part continues to ponder this image, becoming more and more uneasy.

hellions_rgb_web

A funny thing about symbolism is that once you’re aware of it, you start seeing it everywhere and pondering what a seemingly meaningless placement of an item or color or sound might actually mean. Symbols will seem to present themselves in your daily life. Make of that what you will, but this awareness can translate to your writing . Many authors (or screenwriters/directors) when learning of symbolic meaning that has been read into their work, will deny that it was ever their intent. However, if symbolism is deeply subconscious, would even they know?

More on the Black Shuck:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Shuck


INCORP(SE)ORATING SYMBOLISM INTO YOUR HORROR WRITING PART 1

Call it simple instinct.

snake-dreams1 We see a snake or a spider and our initial reaction is revulsion — because we perceive it as a threat. Our ancestors learned the hard way, in countless separate tribes, that some creatures are dangerous, others are not. Few of us fear budgies or warblers for instance and might even find them cute or otherwise pleasant. Yet, most spiders are much smaller than these birds, not to mention completely harmless to us. Still, we have a natural revulsion to them.

There is more to our little eight legged boogieman than we see at first glance. Spiders have eight legs and eight eyes. The number eight has significance in many esoteric belief systems, and we are aware of this too, though at a deeper level. Numbers mean something to us beyond the amount of things they count. Some people even see numbers in terms of gender or even color or taste.

spiderWhen you put a spider in your story, the reader’s natural fear or negative baggage will arise, and you must take advantage of this. Thus, a spider can represent something related to the number eight. Perhaps your protagonist is an outlaw in a western, riding across the desert to start a new life. He encounters a tarantula and gets a bad feelin’. Well, turns out there’s a posse on his trail; eight hard men, aimin’ to kill.

Let’s take it a step further; our hero brings down his knife, severing one of the spiders’ legs. But it gets away; he either chose not to kill it or simply wasn’t able. Of his pursuers, one is an adversary whom he wounded and should have killed.

This also falls into the realm of both foreshadowing and subtext. But the important thing is — you never spell it out. Some readers might catch it but most won’t — yet their subconscious will, and the reader will have a richer experience. It’s like the barest pinch of a spice in a stew that takes the whole meal from “delicious” and elevates it to “unforgettable!”

This is an entry level example of symbolism, which admittedly, is pretty much where I am. But it’s a start, and if you want your story to work beyond just the gut level -meaning a pure celebration of scares and gross outs and shock factor, which is just as legitimate a form of horror I might add, in the same way that slapstick is just as powerful a form of comedy as the most sophisticated Greek tragicomedy- then it’s not a bad idea to research symbolism.

NEXT TIME: Part 2. Duh.


CINEMA’S GREATEST MONSTER MASHES -PART 1!

If the Avengers and The Expendables franchises have taught us anything, it’s that more is better, or at least…morier. And while horror fans may enjoy the classic scenario of a small group facing a singular implacable menace, sometimes it’s fun to engage in sensory overload via a film filled to the face with a variety of menaces.

This list focuses on the over-the-top monster mashes that leave us sated like scary smorgasbords.  No ALIENS, STARSHIP TROOPERS, zombies or other multitudes of the same species here; the following focus on flicks with several different kinds of monsters.

KING KONG
Back in 1933, horror and monster pictures were just beginning to take hold and prove their box office worth. But Universal’s nascent house of black and white horrors must surely have paled (literally) in comparison to RKO’s monster fest KING KONG. O’Brien had worked on a silent adaptation of Arthur Conan Doyle’s THE LOST WORLD nearly a decade earlier, but  comparatively speaking, KONG was light years ahead in the FX department, featuring stop motion special effects work by Willis O’Brien that included not only the titular monster monarch but a stegosaur, bronto(or pleisio?)saur, styracosaur, a giant lizard and the triple threat of an allosaurus, eel monster and pterosaur engaging Kong in epic battles.King Kong 1933

As if that wasn’t enough. O’Brien and crew devised an icky menagerie of smaller insect and reptile critters that attacked crew members forced off a log bridge and into a swampy pit by Kong. Reportedly, this scene was deemed too horrific by studio suits, so it wound up on the floor. Sadly, that footage is long lost.

In 2005, Universal released a fun -if overlong- remake created by The Lord of The Rings director Peter Jackson and his New Zealand effects house WETA, which featured more of everything, including the pit scene.

This would not be Jackson’s first shot at the infamous sequence though, as he lovingly recreated the lost footage based on the original script and various descriptions. See it here!

THE BLACK SCORPION
There was plenty of dino-filled matinee fare after KONG, though most were not nearly as well realized. Japanese films mostly just pitted single monsters (including Kong) against their reigning champion Godzilla until the mid-sixties, but this entry in the giant bug brigade, coming in 1957, brought back O’Brien and his creepy stop-mo aesthetic for a unique, if rather cheap effort that, aside from the titular mutants (their were actually many of the big arachnids) presented an unnerving subterranean sequence filled with spiders and worms that had all the nuclear age housewives shaking out their bouffants and sleeping with their kids’ Daisy BB repeaters for months.

DESTROY ALL MONSTERS!
Japan’s Toho Studios followed Universal’s formula of one film containing multiple monsters in 1965 by bringing their Big Three, Godzilla Rodan and Mothra, together to battle the new menace of GHIDORAH THE THREE HEADED MONSTER but it wasn’t until 1968 that they assembled no less than eleven kaiju for a proper monster party set in the far away future of 1999, when daily moon trips were/will be the norm and all the giant menaces that have so plagued the world have been corralled onto a pacific island affectionately termed Monsterland. But as we all know, the future will bring with it alien contact, and in this case the aliens are hostile. They’ve devised a method to control the monsters and promptly release them to raze the world’s capitols. Godzilla and friends, Rodan, Mothra, Anguirus, Kumonga and many more, eventually turn face and help defeat the aliens but the enemy has an ace up their silvery sleeves: King Ghidorah. The space demon, vastly outnumbered, quickly succumbs, finally dying after three films. It’s fun to see the 90s through the eyes of the 60s, but all those monsters onscreen at once is a 12-year-old sci-fi geek’s dream come true.

AT THE EARTH’S CORE
Exploitation studio stalwarts American International and Amicus came together for this very very 70s B pic based on an Edgar Rice Burroughs tale featuring western star Doug McClure, Peter Cushing and the irresistible Caroline Munro, in a tiny animal skin bikini no less. The plot: Victorian era scientists ride a drill machine past the earth’s upper crusts, where they find a neolithic civilization enslaved by a race of rodent men who are in turn working for telepathic flying reptiles.
But wait, there’s more. Along the way, our heroes encounter dinosaur-like beasts unseen in the above-ground fossil record, such as a giant bulldog lizard thing, two bipedal wild boars fighting over a mansnack, a beaked allosaurus, a fire breathing toad, and a creepy carnivorous plant. The same producers followed up with the equally monster-filled THE LAND THAT TIME FORGOT and WARLORDS OF ATLANTIS, but neither of those carries the weird charm of this bad boy.

GALAXY OF TERROR
Just get a look at the poster art and there can be no doubt that this ALIEN-inspired Roger Corman production, despite its budget shortcomings, delivers monsters galore, and yes, a full galaxy’s worth of terror, not to mention a cast to kill for: Robert Englund, Edward Albert, Ray Walston, Erin Moran and Sid Haig. But its Taafee O’Connell who is best remembered for the dubious distinction of being raped by a giant maggot thing. So yeah, this is that kind of flick. Quite a departure from the above-mentioned films in terms of subject matter. Aside from the maggot thing, there is a tentacled brain sucker, a malevolent disembodied arm, a glowy-eyed giant demon, sentient wires, Erin Moran minus epidermis, and… okay not as much monstrage as some of the previous flicks, but just the idea of a film trying to outgun ALIEN earns it those coveted monster mash points.

THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD
The legendary sailor and adventurer began his film career in 1958 with Ray Harryhausen at the helm of spectacular stop motion effects that, for my money, are his best work. Kerwin Matthews leads a cast of white folks playing Arabs doing battle with and running from, such monstrosities as Talos The Bronze Giant, a vicious horned cyclops, a two headed vulture, (aka a ‘Roc,’) a massive fire breathing dragon and an army of unsettlingly agile skeleton warriors. Spawned a handful of sequels, but none compare to the majesty and wonder of the original.

INFRA-MAN aka THE SUPER INFRAMAN
OMG, ya’ll — a Chinese kung fu/sci-fi/monster flick? No further sales pitch needed. An ancient subterranean troupe of intelligent and malevolent monsters (hmm…kinda like NIGHTBREED, but much better at jump kicks) rises to overtake the world and install as its ruler The Princess Dragon Mahm, a seriously bad bitch with a hand that is a dragon’s head sprouting a tongue for a whip. …FUCK yeah. That’s not all she has up her sleeve — er, reptile…arm/neck. She turns into a full blown winged dragon that can re-grow its head, countless times! So, a scientist creates an implant or something that allows bad ass Danny Lee to turn into the titular hero via a series of aerial flips. Just in time too, because the princess’ horrific hordes are as brutally destructive as they are ugly. Infra-Man’s seemingly unlimited powers serve him in battle against: a reptilian bulldog/gorilla beast with one metal drill hand and one metal boxing glove! A green tentacled fellow who can plant himself like a seed and sprout to Godzillian heights as a bundle of flailing tentacles! An orange bipedal arachnid who traps dudes in web spheres! An armor plated demon with a red mustache! A chick with eyes in her hands, that, of course, shoot lasers! Infra-Man is obviously China’s answer to Ultraman, Kamen Rider and countless other Japanese heroes, but I have to admit — I’ve always liked INFRA-MAN better than any of those shows.

More MONSTER MASHES to come!


CinderBLOG: Pinned by Pops

A few days ago my latest short story CINDERBLOCK released as an ebook. It’s unusual in a number of ways, most obvious being that it’s a horror story set in a sporting environment. As far as I know and with few exceptions, the closest horror has gotten to athletics is Jason donning a Detroit Red Wings goalie mask in Friday the 13th Part 3.

By now, it’s clear to most of my social media associates, readers and imaginary friends that I have a more than passing interest in martial arts and all forms of unarmed combat. Most horror writers are deeply peaceful folk who actually abhor violence, and while I share that perspective, there are few things I enjoy more than watching a good match between trained combat athletes, and on a good day, stepping onto the mat myself.

pops1

Billy “Pops” Wicks  c.1950s

One of CINDERBLOCK’s principals is an old Polish fight trainer named Doc Lubinski, who is not unlike Burgess Meredith’s Mickey in the Rocky films. This is what people who spend too much time thinking about storytelling refer to as an archetype, which is a way of saying “stereotype” without sounding demeaning. But as a martial artist I’ve certainly had a few Doc Lubinski types expressing encouragement and enraged disappointment at my own humble efforts. By far, the most influential and colorful is Billy “Pops” Wicks, to whom the story is dedicated.

Pops, the son of Norwegian immigrants, took up wrestling in his teens and soon found himself working in traveling carnivals as the guy who takes on “all comers” while a top hatted barker riled up “marks” -local boys who wanted to impress their gal. Of course, the mark would never reach the Promised Land that lay under the skirts of their preferred farmer’s daughter. or if they did, it was out of sympathy. Pops’ job was to toy with them long enough to make it interesting, then to force a submission.

This style of wrestling is called Catch As Catch Can, more recently shortened to catch wrestling. I discovered it and Pops through another of his students, Pancrase* veteran Johnny Huskey.

wrestlers_in_greek_times_500x432As one might expect of any man from that rough post-depression era, Pops is salty, outspoken, and generally annoyed with how goddamn candy-assed contemporary fighters are. Unlike Brazilian jiu jitsu fighters, catch wrestlers are expected to stay off their backs when competing or fighting. So emphatic is Pops about this that he has been known to jab young pupils with straight pins if they don’t work out of the bottom position. Believe me, no matter how big or skilled your opponent is, you’ll find a way to escape if you see an angry-faced Norwegian man coming toward you with a straight pin. The pin you see, is to remind you that you’re being “pinned.”

Eventually wrestling changed, and Pops joined the movement toward choreographed action. If a wrestling star got a bit unmanageable among his peers and promoters, he might just find himself booked against Pops, which was a fast track to either humility or hospitalization

p and pops2

**Left to right: Patrick, Pops, Matt

But my main point is that Pops loves wrestling, and he loves his wrestlers. To me, his very direct approach and reliance on simple yet brutal techniques is reminiscent of the legendary Bruce Lee’s Jeet Kune Do fighting philosophy. In fact, Lee trained for some time with Gene LeBell, himself a catch wrestler, and a good many catch techniques are found in Lee’s Tao Of Jeet Kune Do.

When my first novel PROGENY was released, Pops excitedly bought and read it. If I may be a bit personal here, that was extremely gratifying for me, considering my own father died before its release. Pops exemplifies what a great teacher of any skill should be -a man who teaches boys how to be men, how to be honest, how to do everything as well as you can. There wasn’t time for the story’s Doc Lubinski to get a very wide arc in CINDERBLOCK, so it was important to me that his love for his pupils was apparent, that the reader would understand how much his boys, both the dead and the living, meant to him.

The boxing gym in CINDERBLOCK might itself seem sort of a cliche. But any inner city kid will tell you, that’s where you find them. The athletes of whatever culture that is most persecuted in any given historical era will gravitate to boxing, and because they have little other choice, they will excel. During Lubinski’s time it would have been the Polish, now it’s black and latino kids. The story’s protagonist O.C. is that kid who could easily have gone the wrong way, if not for “The Old Pole,” as I like to call him.

Doc is not based directly on Pops so much, but is my attempt to compress my understanding of the coach/pupil relationship into capsule form and make it believable enough to fuel the story proper. What I know of Mike Tyson’s relationship with Cus D’amato is also in there, maybe some Mister Miyagi, and of course — Mickey. 🙂

*Pancrase: A Japanese MMA promotion pre-dating the UFC that emphasized submission grappling over striking.
Wiki Billy Wicks


A FAREWELL TO WES CRAVEN

freddy-krueger I was once lucky to catch a midnight showing of A Nightmare on Elm Street for which there was no advertising other than word of mouth. At the theater, deal was that you got in if you wore pajamas and the showing was free; just a few days before Hallo-You-Know-When.
The joint was packed, and no doubt some spirits were sneaking about, if you can detect the low notes of the tune I’m playing here…
But this wasn’t Rocky Horror. The only participation the film’s tight narrative would allow was terror — and it was palpable. When the nightmares began, and the claws scratched steel, we all went nuts as a unit, and not via the tossing of toast, or recitation of random lines – but by screaming and holding onto one another, acquainted or not.
It built from there. When Tina was dragged across the ceiling by the invisible force of a laughing Freddy – rewind that: yes, I said dragged across THE FUCKING CEILING, the joint collectively popped in a figurative orgasm of terror and release and youthful madness that must’ve shaken the entire multiplex. Those screams, well, I should say that singular collective scream, was shrill music to me. This, I realized, was a work of genius.
Story goes that a few studios rejected Nightmare because they felt that audiences wouldn’t care about events occurring in a dreamworld, versus “reality.” Seems to me those guys don’t really understand exactly what a film is meant to be, anyway.
wes-cravenCraven did. Like many of us horror freaks, Wes Craven came up in a religious household, banned from watching any films that weren’t from the Disney stamp pad. But of these, he favored Fantasia, itself a celluloid dream composed more of disjointed imagery set to classical music than a single narrative. It seems likely he was deeply affected by the Night on Bald Mountain sequence, with its towering devil figure (based on Bela Lugosi!) and Stygian landscape.
LastHousePosterLast House on The Left came to me as a copy on VHS, which only added to its raw, cheap, snuff feel. A few years ago, the horror market became riddled with movies reflecting the shock and horror of torture murders committed and posted online by terrorists. Some of these “tort-sploitation” (“torture porn,” as you’ve probably seen me say, is not a legitimate term) films were rather effective, others not so much. But back in 1972, there wasn’t much of a precedent. Craven and his producer/partner Sean Cunningham were responding to the Vietnam war, a conflict equally as polarizing as our current campaigns and the first war to reach us with the immediacy of televised evening news.
Thus, it is an angry statement from passionate young filmmakers. No ghosts or living dead or vampires, this might have been a standard police thriller if not for the POV’s discomfiting submersion into the events concerning our victims, not to mention their tormentors. This gang, led by a sick bastard named Krug (sound vaguely familiar?) lures and assaults a pair of teen girls looking to score some weed.
But it doesn’t end there, (SPOILAGE ALERT!) as you probably know. Karma directs the crew to the very house where one of the vics’ parents live; and that necklace the degenerates stole from the girls as a keepsake is awwwwfully incriminating.
What follows next is, among other things, death by ferocious fellatio, death by sloppy dentistry and as far as I know, the first ever cinematic butchering of a human being via chainsaw, beating TCM to the punch by two full years.
It’s not an easy watch, even through the filter of cheap filming techniques. Its harsh impact upon one’s psyche is pretty much permanent, and it’s effectiveness as a cathartic release depends on the viewer I suppose. It’s probably a leap to think that the average viewer would detect the anti-war theme at work here, but then, that’s why it’ll never be called preachy. That’s where Craven excelled, and that’s why the tricky backdrop of the dreamworld gave him great opportunity for creating horror that works equally well on both visceral and subconscious levels.
There’s a lot of hate for 1988’s Shocker, and most of it is well-deserved. Studio control on this and a handful of other Craven flicks was far greater, and the creative results predictably suffer. Wes never conceived that the Nightmare films, and more significantly FK himself, would become iconic beyond nearly any previous horror film, and naively signed away rights to the character. It’s nice to think that, if he hadn’t, the watering down of the dream demon wouldn’t have been nearly as pervasive. No Fat Boys videos, no eye-rolling comic quips in the sequels.
scream-4-20110411013136680However, if Shocker is any indication, Wes wasn’t above going for the commercial appeal; it’s pure paycheck. You can’t really blame him. But there is no denying that Shocker is –firstly- a cynical attempt to create another Freddy, only with Craven retaining creative control of the character, and secondly, maybe, just maybe, a bit of that Last House righteous anger showing itself in the form of a statement against commercial horror – in the form of very very commercial horror, sorta like Korn’s “Yall Wanna Single, Say Fuck That” single.
I think I’ll choose to believe the latter, because I know that ANOES and Hills Have Eyes and New Nightmare and even the Scream films were all sincere, and all impressive works, and I know that no director hits a homer at every bat, and because four or five great movies is damn sure a lot more than most directors will achieve.