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Triple Hit Combo – Brandon Lee

75ec735580b00dc99c51b8289d5d75c6Brandon Lee’s career path converged with mid 80s Hong Kong cinema’s trend toward emphasizing gunplay over kung fu. Filmmakers like John Woo and Tsui Hark, perhaps as a way to separate themselves from the post – Bruce Lee wave of cheap, quick and generally bad cash – ins, insisted on breaking from the assembly line style of action films to experiment with both more grounded and more fantastic concepts, the former incorporating a “realistic” firearms presence.
Unfortunately, Lee would die at the young age of 28 before the gun – fu fad ran its course and allowed him to properly display his own significant fight skills. It also left a sad paucity of films from which to draw for this edition of THC.

9393254Versus Michael Wong in Legacy of Rage:
The legendary Bolo Yeung turns up as a low – level thug, just long enough for a quick scuffle with Brandon. Bolo always performs balls – out so this had the potential of being a brilliant fight. For whatever reason, likely the aforementioned gun fight emphasis, the fight is barely a footnote in the film. In the end it’s still great Hong Kong action though, and the breathlessly – paced plot leads us to a final showdown with 80’s HK stalwart Michael Wong.
Choreographer Hoi Mang works with Wong’s martial arts limitations and the requisite gun trope to craft a decent showcase of Brandon’s Jeet Kune Do principals in a satisfying, anything – goes war between righteous hothead and honorless gangster.

Rapid-Fire-21Versus Al Leong in Rapid Fire:
Lee’s first solo lead in a Hollywood studio film makes it a standout from typical 90s actioners by strength of his performance alone. Yet the fights overall might have been dismissed as no better or worse than those of any direct – to -video schlockbuster if not for two scenes in particular, choreographed by Lee’s friend Jeff Imada (Big Trouble in Little China) The first features veteran martial arts and stunt performer Leong (also from Big Trouble in Little China) who was versatile enough to match Lee’s unusual style of JKD trapping and catch wrestling moves for a surprisingly complex and quick series of exchanges.
Lee’s best and best – known film The Crow, while action packed was entirely kung fu-free. Given the overall atmosphere, this is entirely appropriate.  For the third of his top three fights, we have to go back to Rapid Fire.

MV5BMTIzNDgxODkxNl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTYwNzkxMDI3._V1_Versus Three Assassins in Rapid Fire:
Lee as Jake Lo is a witness under police protection holed up in an upper level apartment. One of his protectors is on the take, and opens the door for a pair of assassins. What follows is an ingenious three-on-one that has Brandon making maximum use of his environment to outsmart and outfight his gun-wielding assailants while trying to escape through the barred windows and to the ground below. A lot of time and planning clearly went into this film’s fights which would explain why there are only a handful, and this fight in particular.
Before becoming an ascendant star on his own, Lee worked with a few notable action stars in higher profile films; David Carradine in Kung Fu: The Next Generation and Dolph Lundgren in Showdown in Little Tokyo. But the true showcases of his talent as both actor and martial arts will always be Rapid Fire and The Crow. Then, we lost him, and something more than a dynamic film star. Brandon Lee was intelligent, thoughtful and openly loving to his family, friends and fans. There will never be another.

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793 Words About Editing (Down from 127,987)

When my work first began to be accepted and published, I quickly learned several surprising facts about the process. Likely the most surprising was that many writers just aren’t into self-editing; something I thought was strictly required.

Youre-Next

My first forays into professional writing were as a screenwriter, a discipline which exists in an entirely separate universe, worlds apart from published prose. Submit a completed screenplay with so much as an extra space between words, and the assigned reader – often an intern or entry level assistant of some kind, feels perfectly justified in tossing your work into the can, or hitting delete. Seems unreasonable, even elitist doesn’t it? But there is a brutal Darwinian logic at work, stemming from multiple factors. Most significantly, one page of a properly formatted screenplay is said to equal roughly one minute of screen time. Thus, a finished spec (non-commissioned) script should top out at between ninety and one hundred and twenty pages. Typos, overly descriptive narrative and general sloppiness can queer the formula. Nobody has time for that. Anyone accepting screenplay submissions will not want to account for your mistakes. Your work has to be finished. And perfect. That includes editing.

If you’ve written so much as a mash note, (that’s how we used to refer to sexts, kiddies) you’ll know that not everything you drop on the page should stay there. Nobody gets it right the first time. We can all scan for typos and mistakes, but not every writer can take up the cross of amputating pieces of their children. That’s where professional editors and editing services come in. There are these wonderful souls have no interest in the process of world building from the ground up or stringing together narrative. Their calling is to clean, organize, refine. It’s as much an art as the actual storytelling, and we wouldn’t have decent books without them.

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That said – maybe I’m weird. I would rather be the one doing the amputating, if it must be done, than to leave that surgery to someone who could never be as emotionally or energetically invested in my monstrous fetuses as I am. It probably has a lot to do with habits learned as a screenwriter, but maybe also with martial arts and weight training, two activities which require constant personal refinement, self-sacrifice and yes, pain.

In any case, I’m inclined to chip away, to leave as little distraction for beta readers and as little work for editors and publishers as possible; to turn in a complete work. My belief is that a highly polished piece is that much more likely to be accepted, quicker to be published, and even more valuable to a publisher – and thus likely to command a larger purse for you the writer, not even to mention what it does for your reputation as professional, timely and attractive to work with.

Every writer is different, and I can’t pretend to dictate how all writers should conduct their process. Maybe some are so driven to move on to the next project that they simply cannot conjure the focus needed to trudge through a fifth, sixth and seventh draft of nothing more than making cuts and additions. Maybe for some, the story is well and truly done, maxed out, past history – yet still needs an outside hand before being ready for mass consumption. Their cartridge is spent and it’s time to chamber the next round.

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Now lest I wax too high and mighty/writerier than thou, I should mention that recent experience has taught me that, as much as I may be driven to self-edit, I’m not always that good at it. My upcoming September release, Red Harvest: Haunted Hollow Chronicles Volume 1, probably made it to the “accept” pile by the very skin of its teeth. My editor, one of God’s own angels flying above a purgatory of self-indulgent keyboard and pen jockeys, sent my manuscript back to me with notes that, despite their diplomatic composition, exposed me as a mediocre compositionist with a few half way decent ideas. I learned a lot from her patient yet deserved annihilation of my sloppy prose. I wish for such an entity to nurture and afflict all you smug story slingers out there, if for no other reason than so that I can read your very best work.

But I also encourage you to self-edit the absolute hell out of your work. After all, if you’ve done your homework you should know everybody needs editing. The better your work is, the more readers it’s likely to reach. Swallow your ego, crush your lassitude and refine that diamond. You might be surprised at how satisfied you can be with your own work when you look at it after a harsh slash session or two.


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Triple Hit Combo!

Every action star worth his (ahem) assault should have at least three great fight scenes under his belt, am I right? I thought it’d be fun to list the top three of action cinema’s hard working men women, and even children. But a great film fight is not just about some athletic performers doing interesting techniques. Editing, build-up based on story line, camera angles and setting play a part.

With that in mind, you won’t see clips of these great fights posted here. Of course you can easily locate them yourself, but a great fight depends on context — and a youtube clip cannot provide that. If you’re a fan of screen/stage combat you owe it to yourself to seek out the full film — unless otherwise noted, of course; for a good fight scene can also save a mediocre film.

This will be an ongoing series, written and posted as the mood strikes. Recommendations are always welcome.


DONNIE YEN:

The latest Hong Kong superstar to cross over into Hollywood, Yen was acting in action films for nearly four decades before landing his best known Hollywood role in Star Wars: Rogue One. Always heavily involved in his won choreography, Yen’s films are among the best of the genre. His fight style has come to include a good deal of MMA, including submissions and wrestling takedowns.

Yen played legendary Wing Chun instructor IP MAN in the film of that name, turning in some of his best work across the trilogy.

3. Master Ip Man versus ten black belts, IP MAN: Set during the Japanese occupation, IP MAN plays on a popular theme in kung fu films; that of a good man, put upon by cruel oppressors, pushed to the breaking point. The scene comes about mid way. The Japanese general in charge pays locals to come and fight his soldiers, to keep their skills sharp. When he takes it too far and someone is crippled, Ip Man takes the challenge. The scene is a master work of camera work, sound effects, and Yen’s unbelievable speed, which Michelle Yeoh one commented is the fastest of anyone she ever worked with.

 

2. Inspector Ma versus Tony, FLASH POINT. Paired with innovative director Wilson Yip once more, Yen is a hot headed police inspector in a labyrinthine crime story that ends at an abandoned shack out in the country. Collin Chou of The Matrix series is his opponent. They use the environment to brilliant effect, giving the audience a couple of breathers in just the right spots to create a feeling of exhaustion -and satisfaction- when we reach the conclusion. Yen breaks out a lot of great leg locks, as well as his famous wind-up punch.

1. SPL Killzone: Ma Kwan versus Mob Boss Wong Po: I truly doubt Sammo Hung Kambao is capable of performing in or choreographing a bad fight, and this great battle has him doing both. Wilson Yip directing yet again in another gritty police drama. It’s just after Ma has battled Po’s best fighter, played by Wu Jing, in a fight nearly as bad ass as this one. The setting is a multi-level bar with lots of glass to break. Boss Po’s cellphone plays into the fight as well, giving this fight the emotional resonance Hollywood has either never mastered or never bothered with.

Runners up: Vs Mike Tyson in IP MAN 3, Vs Jason Scott Lee in CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON 2, VS Jet Li in HERO.


TOP 13 HORROR SUB-GENRES (Part 3 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 GREEN INFERNO (2013) 8
JUNGLE CANNIBAL
Italy comes to mind again, as it was a grimy fistful of mostly bad shockers that came to characterize this subgenre, using the terrifying urban legend of undiscovered cannibal tribes as a springboard for high exploitation and supreme bloodletting. In fact, long before The Blair Witch Project, Cannibal Holocaust employed an advertising campaign that implied the film contained actual footage of South American natives chowing down on hapless city folk — though an obviously staged narrative sets it up. The disgusting animal cruelty IS real however, undermining any sense of wonder that should accompany scenes meant to be accomplished through special effects craftsmanship. Hence, few films from the cycle are actually worth mentioning -or seeing. However, Eli Roth’s more recent GREEN INFERNO, meant as an “homage” to the notoriety of the 70s efforts, if not to their actual content, is both an intense upgrade of the subgenre and a razor-sharp satire.

last_house_on_the_left_2009-1024x427

TRIAL BY TORMENT

Given that a mainstream critic once offhandedly, and rather pompously, dismissed this genre by associating it with pornography, it’s been difficult to come up with the right term for this category; I feel this venture forces me to coin one. That said, there are entries that are entirely bereft of art, substance or grace, as my friend Paul puts it. They offer no value other than that “I watched that crazy shit!” cred. The earliest TBTs are probably the seventies-era post-Vietnam exploitation flicks that often blurred action and horror to gritty effect. Wes Craven and Steve Miner’s protest sign to the war was LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, which is hard to watch even today, along with Meir Zarchi’s I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE a.k.a. DAY OF THE WOMAN. Both depicted rape and torture murder so unflinchingly that they were impossible to ignore.

These films are characterized by lower body counts in favor of extended scenes of abuse and dismemberment.

More recent entries include HOSTEL, CAPTIVITY, MARTYRS, FRONTIER(S), arguably the SAW films, countless remakes of the aforementioned seventies clas-sicks, and of course the TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE franchise.

The-Last-Broadcast
FOUND FOOTAGE
We’re getting into fuzzy territory here, as found footage could be said to be more a style of filming than a subgenre. Fact remains, though, that a good 99% of FF flicks ARE horror films, and abide by their own rules and conventions — to their detriment. That said, there are great FF films, as well as great mixes of the medium with more more traditional film narrative, such as RESOLUTION, THE LAST BROADCAST and SINISTER. The biggest problem is that found footage usually can’t sustain themselves for feature-length, so you wind up with lots of padding and repetition, already a problem in such a limited structure. Hence, it’s not surprising that yet another horror-centric device; the anthology/omnibus structure, is best suited for found footage. The V/H/S series largely nails it, minus a segment or two.

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FOLK HORROR
1973’s THE WICKER MAN, with its paganesque trappings, is the first film that comes to mind here. Elements include but are not limited to: an ancient religion whose god(s) demand sacrifice; nature settings, and apparently, gatherings of pale folk. In THE VVITCH, the ancient religion itself is not specifically Christianity, but a more general post-Christian Abrahamism, including devil worship (as opposed to Satanism.) Weird processions, a magnetic leader, a hidden deity/devil (or at least belief in same,) the feeling of an apocalyptic End of Innocence, and heavy doses of symbolism characterize this category. CHILDREN OF THE CORN, LAIR OF THE WHITE WORM, the underrated WAKE WOOD, and I’m gonna go ahead and toss in RACE WITH THE DEVIL just because of its delicious 70s spiciness!

For you more literate-minded fear freakos, here’s an excellent piece on horror subgenres in fiction from DARK ECHO 

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)


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


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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

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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

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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