Friday, April 10, 2009

Classic Horror Book Review: The Spear


THE SPEAR
By James Herbert
(Original publication date: 1978)
When Herbert is on, he’s one of the best horror writers in the world. And I’m not just saying that. For anyone who’s ever read “The Rats”, “The Fog”, or “The Dark” can tell you he writes splatter horror like no one else in the business. But he has been known to write a quieter horror as well, as evidenced by such books as “The Magic Cottage” and “Fluke”. “The Spear” falls into that quieter category, as he tells the story of Harry Steadman, ex agent for Mossad living in London and working as a private investigator. When he’s asked to find a missing Mossad agent for his old spy fraternity, he refuses, tired of the violence of his old life. But his partner is tortured and killed at his front step and he makes it his business to find and destroy the people responsible. What he doesn’t bargain for is the desperate depths that his old Nazi enemies have sunk to regain world power.
“The Spear” plays more as a spy novel than a horror novel, and with that caveat having been said, fear not...there are moments of horror. For Herbert has attempted one of the few true mummy novels in horror. There are only a few of them around, and most were written long before this one. He does an admirable job of working the Nazi angle into his tale, and if nothing else “The Spear” makes for one heck of a rousing action story. But the horror isn’t going to come as a surprise to anyone who’s actually reading the book. There are plenty of hints of what’s to come, as we learn how Heinrich Himmler never actually died and the body identified as his was only someone pretending to be him to save the last power circle of Nazi masters from the righteous fury of the conquering armies. There is a certain surprising conservative message between the lines, as hedonistic sex and a hermaphrodite are made the targets of some pretty vile remarks, something I would never have seen coming from Herbert, who may be one of England’s most subversive living authors. But as this was written in the early 80s, things do change, so perhaps his philosophy has as well.
There is also a nice subplot about Hitler and his love for Wagner’s works, and a pseudo-religious one about the spear used to stab Jesus Christ as a weapon of mass evil destruction. But in the end, as much as the story seemed to rely on these dual components, neither of them carry through to the end as much as the spy angle, or the Himmler angle.
Herbert’s use of the solitary hero strongman was also used in another excellent horror novel, much like “The Spear” in its quiet insinuations instead of full blown blood and guts extremes: “Sepulcher”. And if you find “The Spear” to your liking, then I would suggest finding a copy of this one as well.
Check out his home page:

GOBLIN: The Soundtrack for Horror




























What would’ve the 70s and 80s been without GOBLIN? Certainly Romero’s DAWN OF THE DEAD (1978) and Argento’s SUSPERIA (1977) would have been poorer cinematic experiences without them. Soavi’s THE CHURCH (1988) wouldn’t nearly have been so darkly majestic minus their musical input. And even Bruno Mattei’s and Joe D’Amato’s cheapjack horror grue-explosions would have suffered for their absence.
But GOBLIN has done much more than just contribute some of the most famous horror film music for such genre classics as TENEBRAE (1982), BLUE OMEGA (1979), MARTIN (1978), DEEP RED (1957) and many more. They’ve played venues throughout the world, helped create music for television and opera, and, through their highly theatrical phrasing and arrangements, helped influence numerous rock bands and avant-gard jazz ensembles.
Originally a five-man band blend of classical, jazz, funk, and rock influences, GOBLIN started as the progressive rock group, CHERRY FIVE. When then-girlfriend Daria Nicolodi (actress, co-producer, and screenwriter of Argento’s DEEP RED and PHENOMENA) heard them, she suggested that he should use them for DEEP RED’s soundtrack.
Magic was born. Argento’s style seemed a perfect match for their blend of funky bass, eerie keyboards and evocative guitar riffs. The eccentric director fell in love with their vibe, hurried them into the studio, and had them cut the now classic tracks for his next Giallo offering, one with a bleakly supernatural twist, SUSPERIA. The haunting refrain that makes up the backbone of SUSPERIA’s soundtrack is probably the most recognizable piece of soundtrack music ever recorded for the Italian horror cinema movement, and has become part of the horror fan’s demarcation for creepy music.
GOBLIN became such a success on Argento’s films that word soon spread to George A. Romero, and he hired them on for DAWN OF THE DEAD, and later MARTIN.
As they continued to explore the connection between onscreen violence and their own complexly layered musical discordance, GOBLIN’s members found discord from within, and by the time the group was working on shite-fests such as HELL OF THE LIVING DEAD (1981), CONTAMINATION (1980), and NOTTURNO (1983) the group was splintering quickly. Founding band mates Claudio Simonetti and Massimo Morante were already working on solos efforts for soundtracks and beyond. The decline of GOBLIN followed the decline of the Italian horror cinema movement, and they soon seemed to disappear into the annals of horror history.
But longtime fans may now rejoice.
GOBLIN has reformed with some familiar faces, and has released a new CD, “Back To The Goblin 2005” (which can only be purchased online at http://www.goblinhome.com/shop.php). And with plans to hit the stage again, can new soundtrack music be far behind? Founding member Massimo Morante says he hasn’t ruled out the idea of this latest incarnation of GOBLIN creating fresh music for the new horror millennium.
So horror fans: grab your black gloves, your sharpest Giallo knife, and say it with me, “GOBLIN LIVES AGAIN!”

Band Members:
Fabio Pignatelli- bass
Massimo Morante- guitar
Maurizio Guarini- keyboards
Agostino Marangolo- percussions

For more information about GOBLIN…

Official band web site:
http://www.goblinhome.com/

Fan based web sites:
http://www.cutrupi.com/ (Great, if you can read Italian, but full of great photos and music clips)
http://www.witchstory.com/ (Focused on Argento’s masterpiece, SUSPERIA. Great photos and facts, but, again, you’ll need your Italian dictionary to fully enjoy all it has to offer.)

Some definitive videos:
Phenomena
Suspiria
Dawn of the Dead
Deep Red

--Nickolas Cook

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Miranda by John R. Little




MIRANDA
John R. Little
Bad Moon Books

John Little has become one of the authors to watch. If you see his name attached to a project, you can bet your bottom limited edition dollar it’s bound to sell out and quick. In the few years this vibrant storyteller has been pro, his fans have become legion, screaming for more of his seemingly patented mix of slipstream Bradbury-esque prose.
With his newest release from the lucky dogs at Bad Moon Books, MIRANDA, he dives back into the time travel/slipstream storytelling, but with a devastatingly emotional twist.
Caveat: if you don’t want to blubber like a baby at the end, then please, don’t read this book! If you don’t want to be downright haunted by a plot that allows for no escape, no happy endings, and no Deus Ex-Machina to make it all better, do NOT read this book!
When Michael awakes on his death bed, very much alive, we are forced to bear witness to a man who must live his life backwards. The problem is, he doesn’t know what the hell he’s doing anymore than if he were living it in the right direction. He still makes mistakes, still hurts, and, man, does he ever feel the being an existentially aware upright ape. Little is a clever writer: he knows exactly how to condense a story down to its bare bones, and yet still give it a life that breathes and jumps. You will feel Michael’s fear, his pain, and finally his loss. There is no way to avoid any of it, because he’s already done it all before.
MIRANDA may be one of the most perfect books I’ve read in the small press in a damn long time, folks. This is exactly what a well written story should do: it makes you feel something, it forces you to think, to anticipate, and finally, to struggle with its inherent puzzles and pain.
I pondered and laughed along with Michael as he falls in love backwards with Miranda, the love of his life, with no memory of why he lost her in the first place. And I cried like a baby at the end.
There are two scenes especially that will haunt me forever.
I won’t tell you here; you have to read the book to feel the angst and overwhelming emotion that come along with them, because just when you think you can understand what it must be like for Michael to live backwards, you are given a whole new level of comprehension at the every end.
Unless you’re a heartless so and so, you’ll cry too.
Buy this book, if you can get a copy. It’s writers like John R. Little that should be selling more books.
--Nickolas Cook

Classic Horror Book Review: The Legacy




THE LEGACY
By John Coyne
(Original publication date: 1979)


Folks, it doesn’t get much better than Coyne’s “The Legacy”. This book is the one of the reasons that horror is still cool. Written at the tail end of the 70s, Coyne managed to capture that exciting moment in horror history when all things were possible and there were yet no real clichés to avoid. It was a time when horror readers were being created by the likes of Straub and King, molded by savvy book marketers, and shaped by a burgeoning horror film trend.
A mysterious customer, who requests her specifically, contacts Maggie Walsh- an unknown designer for a small firm. So along with her suspicious fiancé, she travels to England for the job. Instead, she finds herself caught up in a bizarre drama between six strangers and their mysterious benefactor.
What makes this book a page-turner is Coyne’s facility in keeping the prose simple, yet potent. There are some wonderfully creepy moments in “The Legacy” that will give you a chill late at night, after the lights have gone out. His characterization is straightforward, archetypical, and still not without originality. The strangers are a diverse and interesting mix- a stimulating counterpoint to Maggie’s austere personality. The buildup to the ‘surprise’ ending is well thought out, and handled with a master storyteller’s deft touch. The ending is one of the oddest turns in a modern horror novel, and one not expected from the conservative times from which it sprang.
Again, we have a transitional book between the gothic and modern, an updating of the old dark house dramas of the 30s and 40s, without the silly Scooby-Doo ending. Here, we find masked fiends pretending to evil. This is a true evil.
But even that definition is examined in the greater context of what constitutes evil in a world of indifference and avarice. “The Legacy”, aptly named for many reasons that become apparent, as you get further into the story, is a choice of the lesser of two evils, and its place in the universe as a balance. And in essence it’s almost a modern fairy tale in the sense of its worldview of prosaic magic in a non-magical environment.
The great John Coyne hit plenty more homeruns as his career continued. Unfortunately, he’s not as well known as some of his peers from the same period. If you want a new favorite horror writer to explore, pick up Coyne’s other works, which include “Hobgoblin”, “The Searing”, “The Piercing”, “The Hunting Season”, and “The Shroud”.
See his home page
(Warning: he's gone a bit golf crazy since the good old days of horror fiction)
--Nickolas Cook

Horror Lovin' (Web Sites That Rock #1) Bleeding Skull


Incredible storehouse of VHS and DVD reviews, written by a guy who knows the value of cheese in movies. This is not your typical horror devotee site. My horror hat's off to him.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Steve Moore: The Henge (2008)


THE HENGE (2008)
Steve Moore

As "Introduction" rises like some lost soundtrack to an 80s exploitative Italian splatter flick, Steve Moore's THE HENGE let's the listener know what is about come will be dark and emotive, filled with moments of ambience and moments of whirling electronic frenzy. Moore, member of the cult underground prog-rock duo known as ZOMBIE (notice even their name is an homage to the 70s and 80s grind house movies), has been putting together these textural soundscape/songs for a long time now. His sense of cadence, the ability to get simplistic sequences to rise and fall with a life of their own, and the sense of when to make changes to the tempo and tone all harkens back to the early works of Michael Oldfield and Philip Glass, where sudden switches of tone, and repetition itself, gave life to the music experience. And like ZOMBIE's offerings, THE HENGE displays a strong thread of the Goblin/Simonetti-esque years of horror soundtrack. Unlike ZOMBIE, however, the music tends to come off a bit more light hearted and less confrontational, not filled with as much angst and melancholy. However, this isn't the kind of music meant to allow for free association meditation, or sitting down to a good book and a cup of hot tea. There is a constant atmosphere of dread and menace, like Carpenter's electronic soundtracks for his horror films. For anyone into dark music THE HENGE is a must for your collection.
Check out his MySpace below for free samples of his work.
(http://www.myspace.com/stevemoore2600)

--Nickolas Cook

Monday, April 6, 2009

William Girdler: 70s Horror Icon Director


























In the past two decades, much has been written about the importance of the 1970s horror films. After all, the decade saw the release of some of the most iconic American horror films in the history of cinema: HALLOWEEN, THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, and DAWN OF THE DEAD. It was a decade of lost American values, still bloodied by the disillusionment of the Vietnam War, the Kent Campus massacre, and the still troubling racial issues that have plagued America since its founding. In a cathartic reaction, exploitation cinema, in all its variegated forms, was at the top of its game, suckling on the bountiful tit of European cheapjack movies, and drive-ins, still one of America’s favorite summer pastimes, were catering to an eager audience for late night blood and scream extravaganzas.
One of the lost icons of this time in American cinema was William Girdler. In the span of seven short years, he made nine feature films, most of them in horror, before his untimely death at the early age of thirty.
Fresh out of the Navy, in his early twenties, Girdler started Studio One Productions, in his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky. His first feature, the low budget ASYLUM OF SATAN, found release in only a handful of theaters, and was almost universally panned as nothing more than exploitive garbage. But this didn’t stop him from hitting the studio again for his second feature film, THREE ON A MEATHOOK.
And although his films didn’t get much in the way of reviews, they did garner the attention of Samuel Z. Arkoff of American International Pictures. Arkoff handed Girdler a contract to direct three films in the, then popular, black-exploitation genre. THE ZEBRA KILLER, ABBY (a competent rip off of THE EXORCIST), and SHEBA BABY, starring Pam Grier, were all minimally successful, and began to get him noticed by larger studios. So when he finished his commitment to American International Pictures, he left to pursue other genres.
After directing Leslie Nielson in the political thriller, PROJECT: KILL, he found himself in Clayton, Georgia filming the now legendary cult classic, GRIZZLY. Running the gauntlet of the drive-in circuit, it became one of 1976’s biggest box office hits. However, even his most ardent fan cannot discount its obvious debt to that summer’s blockbuster JAWS. But that doesn’t change the fact that Girdler created one of the 70s most enduring animal-on-the-loose horror films.
With the success of GRIZZLY, the studio gave him a larger budget, an all star cast, and more creative control, which brought him back into the forest and hills to film the cautionary tale, DAY OF THE ANIMALS. But this second attempt at man-vs.-nature wasn’t as successful as GRIZZLY, and left Girdler floundering for direction.
He found direction in Graham Masterton’s cult classic, best selling horror novel, THE MANITOU.
His most expensive production to date, the film was viewed as a huge gamble for the up and coming director. Another mediocre film could have ended his career at that point. After months of planning, shooting, and post-production special effects, Girdler had the movie in the can and ready for the summer crowds. THE MANITOU was a huge box office success, topping even GRIZZLY from the year before.
Sadly, Girdler never had a chance to enjoy his well-earned success. In 1978, before the release of his latest film, he was killed in a helicopter crash in the Philippines while scouting for locations for his tenth feature film.
Though largely ignored by mainstream film buffs, and sorely under-appreciated by trash genre devotees, William Girdler Sr. remains one of Hollywood history's most prolific directors. Had he lived, it is possible that he would have become the next John Carpenter, or even Alfred Hitchcock.
In April 2006, Shriek Show re-released his classic GRIZZLY on a special edition DVD. Most of his films are still available on the Internet, and several staple DVD issuers are in the works to release his other films, as well.


Filmography:ASYLUM OF SATAN- 1972
THREE ON A MEAT HOOK- 1973
THE ZEBRA KILLER- 1973
ABBY- 1974
SHEBA BABY- 1975
PROJECT: KILL- 1976
GRIZZLY- 1976
DAY OF THE ANIMALS- 1977
THE MANITOU- 1978

Official Fan Web Site:
http://www.williamgirdler.com/home.html

Various trailers for Girdler's filmography:
Grizzly
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E8Tl_1rgIcE
Day of the Animals
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U2khyNDzV_U
Three on a Meathook
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uP-rNaARf_k
Manitou
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yIKU9hzRq6k

Five Finger Death Punch: Way of the Fist (2007)




THE WAY OF THE FIST (2007)
Five Finger Death Punch
From the all too soon abortive ashes of nu-metal's brightest star, MOTOGRATER, rises FIVE FINGER DEATH PUNCH. With their rage filled debut album, THE WAY OF THE FIST, these guys proved that the driving power of nu metal has not yet lost its power to make people think and emote and feel a latent power in empathy and humanity for one another, and yet, they surpass even the stellar sounds of their contemporaries. This is a group of musicians who know the value of a good hook- lyrically and musically. Each song has a definitive sound, but different enough that each could easily become a single or a metal anthem. The bass and guitar work keeps a consistency that lends itself to the drum's polyrhythmic approach. No song is without space or layers. This is not simplistic metal; in no way derivative or shallow. No band out there sounds like these guys. Many have tried to find that mix of hard core, but still retain a sort of popish catchiness, to their songs. FFDP has succeeded.
Hand's down, this was my favorite metal release of last year. Once you plumb the angry, frustrated depths of such songs as 'Ashes', 'Meet the Monster' or 'White Knuckles' it's easy to understand why this album debuted at 3 on the Billboard New Artist Chart, and made the Billboard 200 as well in its first week of sales.
Now with a huge summer tour already in the works, The Rockstar Energy Mayhem Festival (http://www.mayhemfest.com/) it's a sure bet FFDP is going to take the world by storm in 2008. Look for them to play alongside such groups as Slipknot, Disturbed and Mastodon, and perhaps to even upstage them this year.
Discography:
PRE-EMPTIVE STRIKE [EP] (2007)
WAY OF THE FIST (2007)
(http://www.fivefingerdeathpunch.com/)

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Best DVD ad EVER!!!


Truly hypnotizing, isn't it?
If you haven't already done so, get thee to Best Buy or wherever and buy this little gem from the master himself, Lucio Fulci. The more we fans buy from places like Grindhouse Releasing, the more companies such as them will put out the bizarre films we crave.

Frightmare (1983)


FRIGHTMARE (1983)

Cast: Ferdy Mayne, Luca Bercovici, Nita Talbot, Leon Askin, Jennifer Starrett, Barbara Pilavin, Alan Stock, Twyla Littleton, Joe Witherell, and (THE!) Jeffrey Combs
Director: Norman Thaddeus Vane
Studio/Label: Troma
Release Date: 2005

Ah! The 80s. A simpler time of cheesy horror, screaming bimbos, and budding horror stars. And I’m here to tell you, FRIGHTMARE is a classic example of that wondrous period in horror cinema history.
Ferdy Mayne plays aged horror star Conrad Radzoff, once great, but now bitterly arrogant and a little evil…well, just evil enough to kill a couple of people who piss him off before he crocks in front of an auditorium full of fawning college film students.
Some of these said idolatrous students decide it’d be a great idea to break into old Conrad’s Hollywood tomb and carry his corpse to his classic stomping grounds, an old mansion where his once great films had been shot. Well, you know the story…the kids get a little tipsy, a little naked, and the next thing you know, old Conrad gets a little back-from-the-dead and starts killing them off one at a time, in some pretty nasty ways.
Yeah, pretty standard stuff…but wait…this is where the film really starts to get better than the average back from the dead revenge flick.
Like a bad dream, things get weird. Fog rolls in from nowhere onto the set, the music gets dark and foreboding, and the scenes go from day to night, from one scene to the next.
Continuity errors, you say?
I don’t think so.
This looks to have been done on purpose, and it really gives the movie a nightmarish quality that disorients the viewer.
The acting is much better than you’d expect from this kind of low budget, run-of-the-mill lot, including (little known at the time) Jeffrey Combs. And the production values aren’t glaringly bad. At least the house remains spooky, and the lighting is consistent from scene to scene.
The worst part of the this film is the terribly ridiculous introduction by Lloyd Kaufman, the creator of the legendary Toxic Avenger and owner of Troma Studios, during which he makes some oblique attempt at humor as someone dubs in the names of the stars and director while he pretends to hold stuff in front of his mouth. Having a little background on Kaufman’s varied legal problems, I’m sure this was done more for a ‘fuck you’ to whomever got the short end from Troma in regards to FRIGHTMARE than for fun times. But, hey, Debbie Rochen is around to brighten it up, so I can forgive it.
The quality of the DVD isn’t great, folks. So don’t expect much from the tech end of this little seen gem of the 80s. I mentioned the lighting and music, both of which work hard for the movie. Unfortunately, Troma didn’t work hard for them. And that’s a shame; because I’m sure it would’ve added an extra kick to FRIGHTMARE.

Nickolas Cook
Trailer:

Fear No Evil (1980)

FEAR NO EVIL (1980)

Cast: Stefan Arngrim, Elizabeth Hoffman, Kathleen Rowe McAllen
Director: Frank LaLoggia
Studio/Label: Anchor Bay
Release Date: 2003

What do you get when you mix a rock and roll teen movie with devil horror? Of course, you get FEAR NO EVIL, Frank LaLoggia’s 1980 low budget drive-in masterpiece of young lust and a vengeful Satan.
For those of you unfamiliar with the movie it’s a simple tale of three angels, now in contemporary human forms, who must destroy a young satanic youth (played straight faced by uber-Goth looking Stefan Arngrim), possessed by an ancient Lucifer. The forms that the three defending angels take, an elderly priest, his aged serenely spirited sister, and a young innocent high school girl, are only slightly reminiscent of THE EXORCIST, but owe a great deal to the success of Friedken’s bigger budget devil scare. Thrown into the mix, we have teen sex, drinking, drugs, guns, fighting (even a fatal game of dodge ball), and lots of very cool 80s style alternative music. The soundtrack alone is worth the viewing.
But the strengths of the film lay mostly in the older actors’ strong performances, as they work hard to make the mostly silly plot believable. Arngrim also turns in a stark, maybe at times a bit overacted, performance as the reincarnated Lucifer. His reactions tend to pull us along with him, and make him a very sympathetic evil. The unfortunate casting of a talentless young Kathleen Rowe McAllen is the biggest detraction from the movie, as she looks woefully into the camera and tries hard to convince as a high school girl. But she does almost nothing to help the ailing plot, and seems almost an afterthought to the cast.
FEAR NO EVIL has a quick beginning, but lags in the middle, as it stumbles through a couple of wasted sub-plots that fall short of logic and emotion.
Don’t get me wrong: There are some fine creepy moments in FEAR NO EVIL, but most of them tale place in the last twenty minutes. I especially liked the Easter play gone awry. Bloody and surprisingly nasty.
The special effects are what you’d expect from a low budget drive-in flick. Nothing fancy, some explosive pre-green screen effects, and a great orchestral music to back it up. But what works best for the film is when the effects are low key; as when the dead workmen are resurrected by their unholy master.
LaLoggia chose his locations well for the climax, an eerie castle, punctuated by sparse lighting and lots of mid-frame camera work. He really makes the atmosphere work for the story. But one can only wish he had used it more throughout the film.
In 1980 this was considered quite a successful low budget film, and helped spawn even more EXORCIST ripoffs. The movie holds up as well for me as it did back then, and might just be considered classic status in this post-Scream UPN/FOX teen horror PG13 horror backlash.
If you like your devil films cheap and dirty, this is the one for you.

Nickolas Cook
Trailer: