Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Editorial January 2011 e-issue #19

By Nickolas Cook
The Black Glove Magazine

Welcome to 2011, all you Horrorheads!
May it be a wonderfully frightening year for you and yours...and now on with the next year of free monthly horror culture and entertainment from all your friends here at THE BLACK GLOVE MAGAZINE.

For this new year's first editorial, I had planned to write about the recent upswing in the number of paranormal reality shows that have taken over the cable networks, but oddly two seemingly disparate events took place in the last few days that brought about a stunning realization on my part about something I've been carping about for quite some time now--for the past five years or so, in fact--and that's the dilution, homogenization, the soul killing death of intelligent adult horror entertainment, both on the screen and the printed page.
The first event that got me thinking about my loathing with modern horror, and why I keep poking at it like a rotten tooth, was a private conversation I had recently via FACEBOOK with a professional horror writer who said "horror is dead". I'm not paraphrasing his words in the least. And even though I won't name him here, I will say he's got enough experience in the industry, about 35 years, so that I take what he says seriously. He also happens to be a man whom I respect and admire, and he's one of the reasons I started writing horror to begin with. So you can imagine what an impression his words left on me. He's as sick with the current state of the genre as myself, so we talked for a bit more, lamented the death and remembered the good old days for a time, and then we left the conversation behind.

Only it stayed with me. It depressed me all over again. It got me to digging at that damned rotten tooth ideal of what the genre used to be and what it's become. Why, I asked myself for what surely must be the thousandth time in the past few years, as I've watched the slow and agonizing decline of something I love so much, why do I keep circling round to this subject? Why can't I just accept the fact that this ain't the good old days anymore, and that all things must, and do, eventually pass. I had been lucky enough to have lived through the extraordinarily great years of exploitation cinema, seen the rise of the KING himself, had seen some of the greatest horror films ever made during their first runs, and had been lucky enough to have read some of the greatest short stories and novels ever written in the English language. So why can't I just take what I've had, love all of it for what it's meant to me, and let it go?

Then the second thing happened that helped to bring on my realization about the love/hate relationship I have with the one thing in my life which has formed me, indeed, informed me, and has always been there for me, but now makes me feel old and pissed off.

In case you weren't aware, The Smashing Pumpkins have returned with a new album...well, to be exact, it's something more than simply an album. It's something which will probably revolutionize the way music is produced and distributed. The project is called "Teargarden by Kaleidyscope" and it began late 2009 and will go on for the next year or more, as four and five song mini albums are released to the public. This was dreamed up by the man who is basically Smashing Pumpkins, Billy Corgan. And it's specifically Billy Corgan that got me, yet again, pondering that jagged love/hate thing of mine I have for the horror genre these days.

Like I said, Corgan is Smashing Pumpkins, like Trent Reznor is Nine Inch Nails. Since the Smashing Pumpkins' formation back in 1988, Corgan has been the main lyricist, producer and has played most of the instruments on record that you hear. Since that time when he and the other original members, James Iha (guitar), D'arcy Wretzky (bass guitar, backing vocals) and Jimmy Chamberlin (drums), began the group, Smashing Pumpkins has been Corgan's life. It's been his Heaven and Hell, his safehouse and his haunted mansion, his anchor and his cage. If you don't know who the band is, go here and read about them, it's safe to say they were one of the biggest names in music for over a decade, until their official breakup in 2000. During that time, they'd gone from a club band, to the next big thing, to a huge mainstream top ten band, and then spiraled out of control because of death and drugs. Corgan made the decision to disband the band when he saw the writing on the wall back in the late 1990s, as their music became less and less relevant to a generation of new music fans who wanted boy bands and plastic pop music. He wanted to get out before the Smashing Pumpkins became a musical joke.

But the problem is Billy Corgan can't quit the Smashing Pumpkins. Not for good. He keeps coming back to the band, sometimes with one or more of the original members, most times alone, with various musicians he pulls into the studio to record and then to play on tour under the Smashing Pumpkins moniker. Smashing Pumpkins is Billy Corgan and vice versa. He can't let it go. It's the band, their past music and the new stuff he produces, that keeps him going. He's even tried to start other bands (ZWANS, anyone?), and has played in other bands as backup member (New Order, for one), but to seemingly little satisfaction, because he keeps coming back to Smashing Pumpkins, the thing he loves and hates most in his life.

But I can understand that. The horror genre is my own Smashing Pumpkins. I keep coming back to it, alternately moon-eyed and hopeful, and then pissed off and regretful.

Look, the bottom line is that I believe what that unnamed horror writer told me. I believe that "horror is dead". It is. At least it is here in America. Look at what's happened to so-called horror cinema in this country in the last five...hell, ten...years. The movies just keep getting worse and worse. They're overly reliant on CGI; they have sub par frat boy intelligence level narratives (and we all thought the 80s horror films were stupid?!); and almost all of them aim right for that coveted PG-13 market, which in and of itself is fairly oxymoronic when you get down to it--how the hell can any movie rated PG-13 for scare content be scary?

And the books aren't any better. Be they from the big house publishers or the small press, there's a disturbing lack of production value, editorial guidance, or even story. There are exceptions, of course, but these seem to me to be less and less populace each year. It's a fact that there are less and less people reading books these days, and that means even less people are reading what has long been considered by the publishing industry and educational intelligentsia as "ghetto-fiction". And the plain truth is that there are more and more bad self-published garbage being thrust upon the book buying public each year. It's gotten out of hand these days, what with the ease of access to publishing tools online and otherwise, which allows any person with the money and time to publish every little thing that pops into their little mind, and then call themselves a 'Horror Author'. It's so bad now that it's almost an embarrassment to call myself a horror writer because these assholes and idiots have given such a bad representation to the naive reading public of what horror fiction is all about. Seriously. Take a look at FACEBOOK, see how many Friends have the words Horror Author either before or after their names online. And it's a safe bet that if they do have said two word description hyphenating their name somewhere that they're probably pretty bad, and don't deserve to call themselves any kind of author, writer, editor, pig slopper, whatever. A damn safe bet, folks. And that ease of access I mentioned above is becoming easier and easier. I'm not saying that's all bad, but it's also going to drag the genre down even further into the abyss, along with anyone who is doing this thing for real, for keeps. Like me.

Yes sir, "horror is dead".

So why do I keep coming back to it in the hopes that it's NOT dead? Why can't I truly believe it in my heart and soul and move on?

Most people think I'm a pessimist, that I always see the glass as half empty and probably poisoned to boot. But when it comes to my beloved horror genre I am an unwilling optimist. A part of me deep down will not allow it to be dead. I truly want to believe it's going to heave itself out of its current PG-13, small press dreck, self-published, e-garbage coma and shamble back to life. That like Frankenstein's monster it will somehow get that much needed jolt of originality and mass public interest again. That like The Smashing Pumpkins, its creators, its lovers, its innovators will pull it out of the scrap heap and push it into the spotlight once more and give all of us lovesick Horrorheads the darkness, the nightmares and cathartic mirror we need to survive future days.

Yes, perhaps "horror is dead". But we true Horrorheads are not.

We need to remember that. We need to remind people why this is the most important fictional playground of the mind and spirit that the human animal has at its disposal. Perhaps through this re-evaluation, we can provide that jolt for the new writers and filmmakers out there who want to do this horror thing, not because they've been fooled into thinking that it's easy to do, that it's for the brainless gorehounds with no taste. But because horror is the way and the light for getting our sorry ass species to a better place. I earnestly believe that the best way for us to do that is by giving historical context to the genre and its offerings. By doing so, I know in my dark, dark heart that we can help rejuvenate and even mutate this thing we love with such insane dark passion. Now I'm talking to the true Horrorheads here, of course, not so much to the casual Horr-peas (see my now infamous editorial for April 2010 e-issue #10 for the definition of a Horr-pea) who still think movies like "Twilight", "Van Helsing" and the "Resident Evil" CGI-o-ramas are actually horror movies.

Horror may, indeed, be dead, but NOT if this Horrorhead has anything to say about. Because New Year's is traditionally a time for resolutions, I've resolved to start doing exactly that: putting the horror genre into context, to make more of an effort to put the horror genre into a historical context. So future issues of THE BLACK GLOVE MAGAZINE will have even more classic horror film and books reviews. Because as Horrorheads with a voice, we need to remind people about the classics, why the horror genre is the most impactful of all genres. Look for more of those classics in reviews and articles/columns right here at THE BLACK GLOVE MAGAZINE.

--Nickolas Cook
The Black Glove Magazine

Staff Profiles

Nickolas Cook (editor-in-chief)
Publishing Credits: Nickolas has had dozens of short stories and non-fiction reviews and articles published in print and electronic formats. He has been the fiction moderator for Shocklines.com for over four years. To date, his two published novels, THE BLACK BEAST OF ALGERNON WOOD (Dailey Swan Publishing), BALEFUL EYE (currently in pre-production with new publisher) and ALICE IN ZOMBIELAND 2nd Edition with Sourcebooks 2011, all of which have received several positive reviews and he’s been said to display a true craftsmanship missing in much of modern horror. His first short story collection, 'ROUND MIDNIGHT AND OTHER TALES OF LOST SOULS was recently released from Damnation Books.. He also has two new releases forthcoming: PAINT IT BLACK (early 2011 from Dailey Swan Press).

Personal Info: Nickolas lives in the beautiful Southwestern desert with his wife and three wonderful Chinese Pugs, who are worse than little children…the dogs, not the wife.
Visit me at my official website, THE HORROR JAZZ AND BLUES REVUE
He also has a very active Facebook page
Or email him at Nickolasecook@aol.com

Steven M. Duarte (Co-Editor)
Personal Info: I have always been interested in horror culture from a very young age. I enjoy all aspects of the genre from movies, video games, books to music. I have a soft spot for foreign horror films most notably Italian made ones. I especially enjoy zombie horror films and have made it my mission to try and view any and all movies involving zombies.
Favorite films: Day of the Dead, Suspiria, Zombi, The Beyond, City of the Living Dead, Return of the Living Dead, and Deep Red, just to name a few.
I primarily listen to heavy metal but enjoy all different types of music. I have been a diehard Slipknot fan since the start and continue to be a supporter of the group. I also enjoy listening to horror soundtracks especially by the Italian group Goblin.

Shaun Anderson has spent many years researching and writing about different aspects of horror culture and entertainment. This interest led him to a Bachelors and Masters Degree in Film Studies, with the ever present spectre of a possible doctorate in the future shadowing his current movements. His major film interests include the Italian giallo, British horror (especially the productions of Hammer and Amicus), Asian horror, Cult film and European exploitation. His film reviews can be located on his own regularly updated blog The Celluloid Highway.

Bill Breedlove: In addition to his short fiction collection Most Curious, his work has appeared in publications such as the Chicago Tribune, RedEye, InSider, The Fortune News, Restaurants & Institutions, Encyclopedia of Actuarial Science, Bluefood.cc and Playboy Online. His stories can also be found in the books Tales of Forbidden Passion, Strange Creatures, Tails from the Pet Shop, Book of Dead Things, Cthulhu and the Coeds and Blood and Donuts.
In 2006, Bill founded the small press Dark Arts Books with co-publisher John Everson. The mission of Dark Arts Books is to create affordable trade paperback collections featuring multiple stories by four authors each. We publish sampler anthologies of some of the finest writers in modern horror. Dark Arts Books’ titles include: Candy in the Dumpster, Waiting for October, Sins of the Sirens, Like a Chinese Tattoo, Mighty Unclean and When The Night Comes Down.
In 2009, LIKE A CHINESE TATTOO was nominated for a Bram Stoker Award for Best Anthology.
Bill’s horror film screenplay Last of the True Believers won a competition sponsored by DAILY VARIETY where the prize was a trip to the Cannes Film Festival to meet with Hollywood producers and executives.

He lives in Chicago with his wife and Maestro the Dog and Sophie the Pigeon.

MyMiserys (aka Kim Cook)
Personal Info: Kim lives in the Arizona desert with her husband, Nickolas Cook, and a pack of Pugs. She met Nick in 1997 in an old AOL Horror chat room and they married a year later on Halloween 1998. She has had a passion for horror novels since the tender age of 12, when she read The Exorcist (before it was made into a movie). Her favorite author, other than Nick, is Stephen King, and she truly considers herself his “Number One Fan”. She has been reading and collecting King’s books since “Carrie” was first published. When she is not reading, Kim bakes …and bakes and bakes. You can see pictures of her wonderful cakes on her MySpace page and Facebook. Each month Kim asks a featured author “13 Questions” so Black Glove readers can get to know a little about the person behind the books.
Guilty pleasure? MeatLoaf...the man...not the entrée.
URL: MySpace

Carey M Copeland has worked in television, radio and film. He has been a special effects artist on several film and TV productions, through The Joe Blasco Makeup Academy of Orlando Florida. Having worked at Sally Industries (now Sally Corp) , he helped design dark ride exhibits around the world, including the E.T. ride at Universal Studios Florida. Carey has been a lifelong horror fan and knew after seeing a rerun of “NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD” that he wanted to make monsters for a living. Carey says, “I love the creativity of the movies from 1930’s to 1990’s. It seems that with the creation of more affordable computers, the solid effects artist has become almost extinct. When you see a movie now, it’s almost all CGI, with practically no hands-on sculpting and molding. ”

Lisa Morton is a screenwriter and the author of four non-fiction books, including THE CINEMA OF TSUI HARK. She is a three-time winner of the Bram Stoker award, a recipient of the Black Quill Award, and has published over three dozen works of short fiction. Her first novel, THE CASTLE OF LOS ANGELES, has received rave reviews since its release in early 2010 (by Gray Friar Press), and her newest novella, THE SAMHANACH, is a Halloween treat from Bad Moon Books. She lives online at http://www.lisamorton.com

Karen L. Newman lives in Kentucky where she's an active member of "Horror Writers Association" and edits "Illumen" and "Cosmic Crime Stories". She edited the online magazine, "Afterburn SF" for over four years before the market closed. Over three hundred of her short stories and poems have been published both online and in print in places such as "Dark Tales of Terror", "Dead Worlds: Undead Stories", and "The Pedestal Magazine". Her poetry collections include EEKU (Sam’s Dot, 2005), ChemICKals (SMASHWORDS, 2010), and Toward Absolute Zero (Sam’s Dot, 2009). She blogs for the Apex Book Company. Her poetry collections include EEKU (Sam’s Dot, 2005), and Toward Absolute Zero (Sam’s Dot, 2009), which can be purchased online at
http://scifi.drivethrustuff.com/product_info.php?products_id=78123 or
She won the 2005 Kentucky Mary Jane Barnes Award and two of her poems received honorable mention in The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror. She's been nominated for a Rhysling Award, James B. Baker Award, and twice nominated for a Dwarf Star Award.
Please visit her online at: http://home.zoomnet.net/~karennew
Contact Info: carynnaeNOSPAM@hotmail.com and leave out NOSPAM when contacting
Fav Movies: SAW, Rocky Horror Picture Show

Brian Sammons has been writing reviews for years for such places as the magazines Cemetery Dance, Dark Wisdom, Shock Totem, and The Unspeakable Oath. His reviews have also appeared on many websites like The Black Seal, Bloody-Disgusting, and Horror World. Wanting to give other critics the chance to ravage his work for a change, Brian has also penned a few short stories that have appeared in such anthologies as Arkham Tales, Horrors Beyond, and Monstrous. Some of the magazines where you can find his twisted tales are Bare Bone, Cthulhu Sex, and Dark Animus. For more about this guy whose neighbors describe as “such nice, quiet man” go here: http://www.freewebs.com/brian_sammons/

Jason Shayer
Publishing Credits:“The Ranch” – Necrotic Tissue #6
“No Man’s Land” – Dead Science Anthology (Coscom Entertainment)
“The Toll” – Hideous Evermore Anthology (Shadowcity Press)
Personal Info: Jason Shayer's 12-year-old mind frame has given more than a few people a reason to raise an eyebrow, most often his wife. When he’s not writing or reading, he’s teaching his three year old daughter and three week old son the finer points of zombie lore.
URL: http://marvel1980s.blogspot.com/
Contact info: jshayer@yahoo.com

The Black Glove Is Voted Best of 2010

The Black Glove Magazine is very proud and honored to announce we've been picked as one of the best magazines/e-zines of 2010 by Flames Rising, one of the internet's most prestigious websites for all things horror. We hope to rise to the honor and provide even better horror culture and entertainement content in 2011.

Our sincerest thanks go to the staff of FLAMES RISING.

--The Black Glove Magazine staff

Stabbed in Stanzas Book Review: Dwarf Stars (2010)

Dwarf Stars (2010)
Edited by Joshua Gage

Reviewed by Karen L. Newman

Each year the Science Fiction Poetry Association publishes an anthology of the best science fiction, fantasy, and horror poems of ten lines or less. In most such books horror is usually a subset of the other genres. Here horror stands alone with topics such as a Valentine’s Day gone wrong in a haiku, a poetic apocalypse, ghosts, a werewolf, aliens, and death. These short poems leave their mark in few yet descriptive words. An example is an excerpt from “Headstones” by Major Jackson:

Nightfall arrives through hemlocks, etching
tablets of planted bones. Sometimes I hear
my unnamed dead, falsetto beneath wind,
slow whine in the hearth returned to tell me
of absence of loss.

Poetic devices such as consonance are more expressive in short poems. The poet’s connection of wind and whine is clever. Jackson speculates the thought of headstones if they could speak, a novel approach.

Death is also a topic of “Undertaker: An Acrostic” by Jane Yolen. Here the undertaker is not whom the reader would expect:

… the undertaker comes
To carry your particulars
Up to a bleak, black heaven.

Yolan uses alliteration to emphasize heaven. This brief description says more and leaves more to the reader’s imagination than several paragraphs of prose.

Each poem in this collection conveys maximum effect in minimal words chosen by poets with care to leave a lasting impression. Though stylistically different, each poem is well-written, indicative of a best-of anthology.

(This volume can be purchased directly from the publisher, Science Fiction Poetry Association)

--Karen L. Newman

TIME CAPSULES classic book reviews by Bill Lindblad

DARKNESS WEAVES by Karl Edward Wagner

There are many impressive aspects to the Conan stories by Robert E. Howard, among them the tendency for the character to grow over time. He begins with youthful idealism and has become a worldly cynic in the stories focused later in his life. Through it all, though, he maintains a zest for life and a desire to meet and surpass all challenges.

There is no such development for Kane, the lead character of Darkness Weaves and Wagner's most famous series character. Kane appears in this and other novels, in novellas, in short stories, and through it all he is intelligent, devious, jaded and cold. Unlike Conan, who distrusted magic, Kane is a sorcerer as well as a swordsman. And he is the focus of many rumors, the most common of which is that he is immortal.

The stories bear out that rumor; they are set in a variety of time periods across a primal landscape and sometimes even in our own present day. From my interpretation, it appears that he survives prehistoric periods through our modern day, into a post-nuclear future and then beyond. It is likely from the hints granted to the reader that he is in fact the biblical Cain, cursed to live forever and to perpetually see his long-term schemes fail and his desires fail; that is never directly stated, however.

Like Parker in Donald E. Westlake's "Richard Stark" novels, Kane is an ideal antihero. He reflects many of the perceived ideals - self sufficiency, strength, a measure of loyalty toward those he respects and are loyal to him - while casually embracing his self-interest at the expense of others. This was Karl Edward Wagner's signature character, and this is arguably his best novel appearance, originally released in a savaged form by Powell in 1970 and re-released under the author's original text by Warner in 1978.

This book follows Kane through a war between a mutilated Witch-Queen and the brutish King who nearly killed her. Both are highly flawed, unpleasant people and it slowly becomes apparent that Kane is playing his own game against both of them. This isn't particularly surprising, but the way the story progresses manages to provide the many action sequences expected in an heroic fantasy tale as well as the tension and shock present in the best horror tales of the pulps.

As with any series where there is one primary character who is certain to survive more-or-less intact, the dark side of this book leans far more to the thriller than the traditional horror tale. That said, it is well-crafted and engaging with the careful construction which was to become a standard of KEW's fiction. It holds up nicely over time along with Moorcock's Elric and C.L. Moore's Jirel as standouts in the heroic fantasy field.

Five stars out of five


We all know that Robert Bloch was a deft hand with humor and horror, whose prose style was one which seemed deceptively easy. This book seems to prove that theory. While a smooth, simple prose style is normally quite difficult to maintain, Bloch's essays here generally reflect a similar tone. The primary difference is a tendency to incorporate far more humor than he did in most of his other nonfiction.

This is undoubtedly because this book consists of essays Bloch wrote for fanzines, from a time period between 1949 and 1958. During this time he was incredibly prolific both for his professional work and his work for fanzines, and he addresses the difference in the book. He also addresses many other topics of the day in the sf community, which at the time encompassed science fiction, fantasy and horror. There are discussion of early convention experiences, analyses of fan activity and appreciations of BNFs. BNF being a shortened form of Big Name Fan, which is something many contemporary readers of horror might not know. Bloch also proposes a method of delineating people who are merely famous within the fan community from people who have earned BNF status.

And that's part of the value of this book. Sure, it's full of humorous essays. But it's also a glimpse of the history of the field, and simultaneously it's full of thoughtful consideration about what it means to be a fan of science fiction, fantasy, or horror.

Five stars out of five.

THE DAY HE DIED by Lewis Padgett

In The Eighth Stage of Fandom, Bloch describes the progression of fandom in the opening essay. The Second Stage, he says, is characterized by the fan starting to "write letters to the pro magazines commenting on the stories and urging that the editors throw out everything except Kuttner yarns." The Third Stage, however, finds the fan "sending personal letters c/o the editor to his favorite authors (outside of Kuttner, most fans seem to like Lewis Padgett, Keith Hammond, Lawrence O'Donnell, Will Garth, Hudson Hastings, Paul Edmonds and such people.)" The joke is that all of those authors were merely pseudonyms of the highly productive Henry Kuttner, often in collaboration with his equally talented wife C.L. Moore.

The Day He Died is the second mystery that Kuttner produced, undoubtedly with some help and insight from Catherine. The plot concerns a female author who is trying to deal with a variety of problems. The most obvious concerns are an aggressive ex-husband who wants to reunite with her on his own potentially violent terms; the group of con-game mystics who are seeking her husband and operating under the assumption she's on good terms with him; a freeloading ghostwriter who is living at her uncle's home and depriving her of sorely needed rental income and a suitor who seems to be a little off-kilter since returning from World War II.

The big concern, however, is something less readily apparent to outsiders; she thinks she's losing her mind. Her memory is going, as best as she can tell. Things are rearranged when she wakes up in the morning, and sometimes lights are on or taps left running when she returns to her home. As a mystery writer, she has verified that nobody is entering when she is away or asleep; there are little hairs left in key locations, flour on the floor to catch footprints, and other devices, none of which have been tripped. Also, she has a new set of locks with only one key, and there are no alternate ways into the apartment.

This concern is magnified by the fact that pages have been finding their way into her stories which she doesn't recall writing; pages that plagiarize famous works by other authors. She didn't realize the first time it happened, but since then she's found a number of other pages in stories about to go out, and it's completely undermined her confidence.

Of course, as anyone who reads mysteries knows, she isn't doing this herself; it's a classic locked room mystery, albeit this time without a body. That fact is even referenced within the book, which is a nicely recursive touch for a book written in 1947. The story doesn't rely solely on the locked room aspect, though; the other elements combine for a crime thriller and eventually a murder mystery. Through it all Kuttner - sorry, Padgett - manages to convincingly present a view of a woman at the end of her rope and trying to regain control rather than succumb to the traditional feminine helplessness shown in many protagonists of the era.

The good news is that it's a great story. The bad news is that it's hard to find, even in paperback, and I haven't found any indication of it being reprinted. The other good news is that when you DO find it in paperback, it's not particularly expensive. Kuttner and Moore are seeing a tiny bit of a revival, no doubt in part fueled by the wonderful collection recently produced by Centipede Press, but most of their work remains under the radar for now and inappropriately cheap in paperback editions.

Five stars out of five.

--Bill Lindblad



I picked this to do for this month’s book vs. movie column. Why, I’m not entirely sure. I remembered liking it, when I saw it sixteen years ago. Mind you, I also remember liking the “Livin’ on a Prayer” era Bon Jovi.

This 1995 remake of the 1960 film (itself being based on the novel) has the same basic premise: all childbearing age women in a small town all mysteriously become pregnant at the same time. All the kids are born on the same day and grow into creepy bleach-blond children with telepathic powers who set out to destroy the town. Don’t get me wrong—I think it’s a fantastic premise that could become a fantastic movie. But what we have here is a steaming pile of wasted potential.

This could have been a great character study. What in the world could be going through the minds of the women who get pregnant through immaculate conception? What about that teenage virgin? They showed her looking confused for about ten seconds, and then never reexamined. Or the older woman who looked much past the age where she could naturally conceive? All we ever find out about her is that her Lamaze partner was the town priest. Even during the most dramatic death scenes, I didn’t care a bit, because I had no idea who the characters were beyond, “The Blonde”, “The Doctor” or “The Government Agent”.

It could have been a great philosophical examination. Does a separate race of beings become superior because of a higher intelligence? How about their lack of emotion? Would that knock them down a level on the cosmic food chain, or are human emotions a handicap? The closest they come to delving into this topic is a minute long conversation between the lead child and the doctor where says they are superior, and he screams that they aren’t because they can’t feel. Then on to the next sequence.

Hell, Village of the Damned could have been a great horror movie. Sadly, this version wasn’t. It went from a short set up of the pregnancies and birth, to a very brief moment of a three-year-old version of Creepy Kid making her mother kill herself to being the army of ten-year-old Creepy Kids. We don’t see their development into the fearsome horde that they became, or the growing terror of the townsfolk as, instead of piecing together the mystery of the children, the enigma that is their existence grows. Hell, they don’t even really question the pregnancies. All these events happen in the movie and nobody is given a chance to react to them. I understand needing to keep a film under a certain time limit. But, guys, please, if you have to cut out all but the basest plot points to fit in the time restraints, maybe this isn’t a movie you should be making in the first place.

I’m trying to figure out what it is that I remember liking about Village of the Damned when I first saw it, and came up with two theories. The first is the star, Christopher Reeve. I like the guy. I think he was a great actor, and in this one he did as much with the script as he could. The second is, in 1995 I would have been 21 or 22, depending on what month it hit the theatres. It’s entirely possible I had indulged in some sort of beverage refreshment before viewing. I’m leaning toward the second explanation.


BOOK: The Midwich Cuckoos by John Wyndham

I used the fourth printing, 1972 Ballantine version of this book for review purposes. Not that it makes much difference textually from other editions – other than the Americanization of some words there are no changes with which I’m familiar – but the cover for this edition is wonderful. It shows what may be a piece of authentic Eastern art or what may have been produced with Hindu stylings in mind, and at first glance it has nothing at all to do with the book.
At first glance.
I chose a string of titles from superlative authors for review this month. Thankfully Jen’s decision to hand me The Midwich Cuckoos kept that streak alive. This may be Wyndham’s most famous novel because of the movies; if not, it runs a close second to another filmed favorite The Day of the Triffids. There’s something sad about that, because the movies really aren’t that good, at least not compared to the books.
Wyndham had a flair for taking an existing science fiction topic and examining it with a truly analytical eye, considering not merely the immediate ramifications but those of situations which would naturally follow. In this case, it was the struggle of man vs. an arriving superman.
The book deals expertly with mundane matters by treating them as simple facts, there and gone; the recitation of the dead following Midwich’s day of unconsciousness lends believability to the story but otherwise does not hinder the narrative flow. Characters are developed to different levels of complexity, just as would seem the case to any casual observer of any group. Analyses of the Children are performed by the town’s lone quasi-celebrity, an author of collegiate texts on Philosophy and Sociology who is recruited by them as their instructor.
Unlike the movies, the Children here have affection, fear and concerns. They also have advanced mental capacities and a gestalt knowledge which is shared amongst all Children of a particular gender simultaneously. This is the reason for the deaths; it is only when the Children are threatened or hurt that they strike back. As they mature, however, they recognize that humanity will be subjugated by their superior will and power and expect humanity to attempt to strike back.
There is no explicit evil in this book. All of the actions of the Children are taken in response to threats both direct and rationally extrapolated. In their views, it is merely self-defense. Wyndham takes us through periods in their growth in the same way that Dickens took us through periods of Scrooge’s life; there is the time of impregnation when Midwich falls silent; there is the time of birth; there is the time of youth; and there is the time of adolescence. By the time he reaches the multi-page political philosophy end of the chapter entitled “Impasse” at the end of the book we have learned how a variety of characters react to the children and why.
Those multiple pages, however, helped to define the novel for me. By their very nature they clarify what Wyndham’s thought process was like when creating the novel, and he was not taking his duties as an author lightly. He considers the dangers of a partisan political system, of religious extremism, of self-aggrandizement. And along the way he created a great novel.

Five stars out of five.


Fresh Blood: New Releases In the World of Horror

new movie news compiled by Steven M. Duarte

The Rite
Release date: Jan 28, 2011
Starring: Anthony Hopkins

We have another exorcism film but this time with Movie legend Anthony Hopkins. Let’s hope this film ends of being better than majority of the run of the mill exorcism films. Early buzz about the film has been positive so far which is usually a good sign.

Release date: Feb 4, 2011
Starring: Richard Roxburgh, Ioan Gruffudd, Rhys Wakefield

The film follows a group of skilled divers who take on the task of exploring one of the most dangerous cave systems ever known. There entry point is suddenly closed and they now have to find another way out. Kind of sounds like The Descent but without the cave creatures….. Hey at least James Cameron is putting his name all over it.

Vanishing on 7th Street
Release date: Feb 18, 2011
Starring: Hayden Christensen, Thandie Newton, John Leguizamo, Jacob Latimore, Taylor Groothius

Attack of the Shadow People!!! Brad Anderson of "Session 9" and "The Machinist" tells the tale of a power outage in the city of Detroit. The only problem is people also start disappearing, and those still around, begin to notice the sun is coming up later and later. The survivors end up being stalked by what appears to be shadow people. Interesting concept, I’m curious to see if Anderson can pull this one off.

--Steven M. Duarte

Celluloid Horrors Movie Reviews

Piranha 3D (2010)- DVD

Director: Alexandre Aja
Cast: Elisabeth Shue, Adam Scott, Jerry O'Connell, Ving Rhames, Jessica Szohr, Steven R. McQueen, Christopher Lloyd and Richard Dreyfuss

review written by Steven M. Duarte

Prior to Piranha 3D first being announced I was thinking to myself how cool it would be if Piranha was remade as a 3D film……Ok I’m only being half honest to that one as I currently despise the large abundance of 3D films. While I agree we have to evolve somewhere I just don’t see it being 3D. Ok all complaints aside was Piranha worth your hard earned cash?

Not really if you ask me. While we got the chance to see some awesome gore done by none other than KNB effects, there really wasn’t much substance to the film. There was little anticipation to seeing the fish as they pretty much came up right away. I also felt that some of the scenes were out of order such as the one where they discover millions of Piranha eggs. This scene should have been left for the end to show how many were waiting to hatch rather than the ending that was used.

Alexandre Aja of Haute Tension fame was the director of Piranha 3D which should have made for a good film. Keep in mind I say “SHOULD” because his last film Mirrors failed to deliver on many different levels. Piranha suffers the same fate Mirrors did being a mediocre film. Once you get past the awesome gore effects your left wanting more. Yes there is gratuitous nudity by some current porn stars but yet again boobs and blood don’t always make for a great film.

There were some nicely done death scenes that mildly spiked my attention. This included Eli Roth having his skull smashed by a boat and a bikini clad female having her face ripped open by a piranha biting through the back of her skull. Truly is one of the moments when you jump up a little bit and say wow that was kinda cool.

Final Thoughts:

As previously mentioned tits ass and gore can only take a film so far. We get to a point where we think to ourselves and say, “ok that was cool now how about the story?” I have seen way too many horror films with enough gore to fill 10 football fields with. Another film that decides to raise the bar with gore simply is not enough these days. Peter Jacksons Dead Alive did gore to the max back in 1992…almost 20 years ago!!! Let’s get it together Alexandre Aja and make a Haute Tension caliber film.

--Steven M. Duarte

Frozen (2010)- DVD

Director: Adam Green
Cast: Emma Bell, Kevin Zegers, Kane Hodder and Shawn Ashmore

review written by Steven M. Duarte

The film frozen initially caught my attention when I first saw the trailer for it. The premise of a couple of young twenty something’s being left on a ski lift for days really leaves the question in peoples mind if something like that could really happen to themselves. That really is the main premise behind this film. They are left on the lift about a couple hundred feet in the air in the freezing cold with viscous wolves prowling the ground beneath them. They are left on the lift on a Sunday and realize that the skiing area is closed during the week potentially leaving them up there for days.

I have to say the film was a nice departure from the influx of exorcism and 3D horror films that have cluttered the film industry over the last couple of years. The director relies more on character development than effects and gore. While there is gore it is not gratuitous.

At times the film often reminded me of Neil Marshals The Descent. In Frozen they were not in any caves and didn’t have any cave creatures after them but the shear feeling of dread and claustrophobia which The Descent had comes up when viewing Frozen. Once they are stuck on the ski lift they really don’t have anywhere to go. If they jump down they risk breaking bones due to the height of the fall. Aside from the great fall they risk being torn to shreds by wolves that started stalking them as soon as they became stuck in the air. If they stay in the lift and wait for help they risk frostbite, basically damned if you do damned if you don’t. That’s really where the dilemma of the film takes center stage. They are basically stuck and don’t have a way out that doesn’t involve great risk.

I enjoy horror/thriller films that leave the viewer wondering what they would do in the same situation. What makes Frozen work is the realness factor that this could actually happen to you. I remember going skiing a couple of years ago riding the ski lift looking down between my skis seeing just how far above the ground I was. Thoughts of the ski staff forgetting you and leaving for the day would ruin just about anybodies day.

Final Thoughts:

If you would like a nice departure from some of the run of the mill horror films of recent years give Frozen a try. You will find out that like Dairy Queen it will be a nice frozen treat ;)

--Steven M. Duarte


Director: Michael Paul Stephenson
Cast: George Hardy, Claudio Fragasso, Michael Paul Stephenson

review written by Brian M. Sammons

Going over my top movies of 2010 I remembered this one and then I remembered that I didn’t cover it when it came out on DVD. So looking to rectify that grievous oversight, I present to you BEST WORST MOVIE, a documentary about one of the lowest rated and most critically panned films ever. One that currently has a 2.2 out of 10 rating on IMDb and I believe that is up significantly since this doc has come out and sent some fans over there to pad out the score. Fans, you ask? Well yes, because as horrible as the movie is it has become a certifiable cult classic and for good reason. That movie in question is the infamous TROLL 2 and if you’ve ever seen it then you know how awesomely fun-bad it is. There is a whole legion of fans out there, and I count myself among them, that love that movie for all the wrong reasons.

However it is one thing to watch a great bad movie, it’s quite another thing entirely to be an actor in it. That was the bitter lesson child actor Michael Paul Stephenson found out first hand after staring in this turkey and suddenly finding himself unemployed in Hollywood. So after wrestling with the TROLL 2 fallout for years he did the most sensible thing imaginable; he decided to direct a documentary about the movie that has haunted him for most of his life.

So has that young man’s pain become something for us to point and laugh at? Most certainly, but it also has a surprising amount of heart, is very informative, and in all ways is entertaining as hell and here’s the biggest compliment; even to those who have never seen TROLL 2. Yes, I’ve shown this to a number of friends who had no idea about any of the TROLL movies and they still enjoyed this documentary. Now that’s saying something. I can’t think of another film about a film that does that. So why is BEST WORST MOVIE so darn good?

A large chunk of that credit goes to George Hardy who played the father in TROLL 2. This dentist with dreams of Hollywood really comes off as a nice guy and seeing how this remarkably normal, everyday guy deals with the infamy for being in “the worst movie ever” is the heart of this film. But George isn’t alone; virtually all of the surviving actors recount their tales of woe for being in this movie. In addition to the beleaguered and bemused cast, you get tons of fans relating their love for this very odd film, but for me the best parts were with Italian director Claudio Fragasso. There was a guy who just didn’t get it in every sense of the word. From truly believing that he made a great film with TROLL 2, to being confused why audiences were laughing at it during screenings he attended, to calling the actors “dogs” repeatedly for not recognizing his genius and just how great his movie is. Rarely have I seen a man so self-deluded even in the face of overwhelming opinions contrary to his own. I guess good on him for being true to himself and remaining positive, but on the other hand the man desperately needs to get a clue.

The DVD of this fine film from Docuramafilms comes complete with a nice selection of extras. There are 15 short featurettes and interviews ranging from three to 13 minutes, an 82 minute audio track of a creative screenwriting Q&A, trailers, a filmmaker bio, and even a fan made music video that was pretty funny. Sadly there is no filmmaker’s commentary, but I guess Michael Paul Stephenson said all he had to say about TROLL 2 once and for all in the documentary.

It might be trite to say that BEST WORST MOVIE is one of the best movies of 2010, but it would also be true. If you have yet to see this movie then grab yourself a copy and do so. You won’t regret it and if it gets you to watch TROLL 2 again, or better yet, for the first time, then consider that a nice, goofy bonus. BWM is charming, fun, funny, heartfelt, informative, entertaining, and just plain old good. Consider it a must have.

And just so you can see how BAD this movie is...

--Brian M. Sammons

Bill Breedlove's Horror Column #1: Fiend Without a Face



1958 was a pretty good year for horror films, all things considered. That was the year of THE BLOB, which is more fondly remembered in retrospect than actually being good; I BURY THE LIVING had a great premise that went directly into the toilet at the end, and the original version of THE FLY had that eternally-creepy “Heeellllllpppp Meeeee! Nooooo! Gooooo Away! Helllllllpppp MEEEEE!’ ending. Even Tom Tyron was busy showing how good German Shepard dogs could help thwart an alien invasion in I MARRIED A MONSTER FROM OUTER SPACE. Over in England, Hammer dropped their first reboot of the DRACULA franchise with Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing (HORROR OF DRACULA over here). There were many other monsters, giant bugs and assorted creatures, but—by far—the most important film of that year would come from, of all places, Canada (meaning a British production, with American actors, by way of Canada): FIEND WITHOUT A FACE.

Now, let’s be clear on one thing right away—I said “most important” not “best.” There is a difference, and it’s easy to make fun of all the bad, amateurish or just plain goofy things in FIEND, but we won’t do that here.
Oh, heck, why not? At least some of them. I am guessing that if you’re reading this column at this site, you already know this picture, and you are familiar with the plot. But, if not, you can check here. Or, if you want to watch the entire film (all 75 fast-paced minutes), it’s available here.
But, back to making fun of the bad and the goofy. For a 75 minute film, it is pretty slow moving until the last 10 minutes, but we’ll get to that later. Some of the sets are really bad, including the “control room” of the “atomic" (not the correct ‘nuclear’) power plant, which has more crazy angles and shadows than most of CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI. As a screenwriter as well as a lover of horror films, I have to just bend a knee in worship for the more than five minute chunk of exposition that occurs 50 minutes into the picture, where the dotty old scientist explains "Every Single Thing That’s Been Happening Up To This Point", while on screen we see him acting out what he is explaining. They don’t have that kind of balls in, say, INCEPTION. (There is also a hilarious bit in the exposition, where the invisible creatures wreck his “lab”—and they really trash and break everything—and then in the next scene, he is back in the perfectly restored lab). The acting is, well, to be kind, “understated,” with the comical exception of the Guy Who Is In The Room Just To Get Killed at the end, who starts to shamelessly overact with that old chestnut “I’ve got to get out of here…NOW!!!” and then he rushes the boarded up windows and the other actors look at him and quietly tell him to settle down and he says, “OK.” And that’s that. (Not to be outdone, in a later part of the same scene, the actor playing the Big Shot Colonel, who not two minutes previously had called the Scientist a “lunatic” after his long recitation, sees GWIITRJTGK, as described above, murdered by the title creatures, which leads to this priceless discussion:

Hero Guy: My God! We’ve got to stop them!
Scientist: There’s only one way—you’ve got to shut down your Atomic plant.
Hero Guy: There’s a dynamite shed(!) halfway between here and the plant, I can blow up the control room!
Colonel: mmm…Well, if that’s the way it’s got to be…
Hero Guy: I’m afraid it is!

Don’t you wish everything in life was that simple? Giving the ok to use dynamite to blow up the control room of an “Atomic plant” on a military base with a noncommittal shrug? All kinds of awesome.
I could go on, and mention the heavy use of stock footage of planes taking off, the other use of filler in a 75 minute movie, or even the world’s most incredible and pointiest pointy bra sported by Kim Parker during the film’s conclusion, but there’s no need to pile on. In fact, one would think with all these negatives, the movie flat out sucks, but that is so far from the case, and, in truth, in spite of all those not inconsiderable shortcomings, FIEND is still amazing, and completely prescient of horror movies to come.
We’ll get to that, but first, let’s take a small detour...
After Universal bottomed out their stable of monsters in the ‘40s by first throwing Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster and the Wolfman together in craptastic flicks like HOUSE OF DRACULA and HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN, and then driven a stake through their hearts with the Abbot & Costello pictures, horror movies were adrift for awhile. With no monster “stars” and literary characters to feature, horror films moved from Specific-Monster based to a basic template-based. What that means is instead of building around well-known stories featuring well-known monsters (Dracula, the Mummy, the Wolfman, etc.) what became more important was the “template” into which any kind of creature could be placed.
If, as a kid, you watched any old monster movies on Saturday afternoon TV shows, you know the template well:
Movie starts (often cold) with a character whom we’ll call “Fodder.” Fodder is either a old farmer out walking his acres in the dark, an explorer who has pushed farther than anyone else, or, in the case of FIEND, a guy creeping around a military sentry manning his lonely late-night post. The purpose of Fodder is, of course, to be killed, usually while turning to look directly at the camera where the off-screen monster is, and screaming as the titles come up. Then, the template really kicks in. These mysterious deaths attract attention, but no one believes the obvious explanation as more and more gnawed corpses turn up. There’s a hero, a scientist, some military guys, and a girl, who is usually the daughter of the scientist, and will need to a) be rescued by; and b) fall in love with the hero guy. Eventually, at the end of the film, the monster—be it an fanged alien, a giant bug or lizard or even a glob of red space gooberness—is revealed and goes on a rampage. Just in the nick of time, the hero (usually with the help of the military) uses the monster’s one weakness to destroy it. Question mark tacked on to the THE END title card optional.
As a regular viewer of movies like this, you know when someone has just been munched/squashed/melted, you have a good 10 or 15 minutes before anything else interesting is going to happen. As well, you know that the importance to the film of the character who gets killed increases exponentially as we move from beginning to end. So, at the start, it’s some random Fodder, but at the climax, it’s somebody much more important (see, for example, THEM!).
This template is so useful in its simplicity that it has been in constant use (with subtle variations) from the 50s up through JAWS, ALIEN, etc. etc.. Does FIEND WITHOUT A FACE depart from this time-honored format? Nope. But, it adds a new wrinkle that begins to explain the film’s enduring popularity, and why it merits discussion.
Way back in the day, before there was such a thing as CGI (and if you need to know what that abbreviation stands for, you’ve probably been misdirected to this site), special effects artists working on creature films had basically three options for their monsters: a guy in make-up or a rubber suit, using trick photography to make small objects look large (see TARANTULA), or animating models.
When animating models, the most popular method of bringing the effects to life was (and is) stop-motion animation, which involves taking one still frame exposure of a character or scene, moving the model a tiny bit, taking another exposure, and so on until a scene is completed. This is how Willis O’Brien animated King Kong and Ray Harryhausen created all of his amazing special effects creature work. Even in films like STAR WARS utilized stop motion animation.
The chief problem with stop motion animation was it was tremendously time-consuming and—concomitantly—tremendously expensive. To create a scene lasting only a few minutes of screen time could take months and months of painstaking work. And, of course, somebody has to be paid for those months and months of painstaking work.
If one tries to use models and/or stop motion animation on the cheap, you get either laughable puppetry (see THE GIANT CLAW or REPTILICUS) or some of the craptastic effects work in EQUINOX (where they use the EXACT SAME shot of the devil puppet gliding down about 10,364 times in a two minute span). So, what is a frugal production to do to achieve success on a shoestring budget?
Well, remember our template? The template allows the filmmaker to limit the views of the monster until the latter stages of the production. Even better, find some source material that supports such a strategy. In the case of FIEND, it was a short story culled from a 1930 issue of Weird Tales called “The Thought-Monster” by sci-fi writer Ameila Reynolds Long. Her story involves a scientist experimenting with telekinesis who creates an invisible monster who feeds on the brains of other creatures, thereby increasing its own intelligence exponentially. Right on!
The fact that the monster is invisible is only a bonus from a movie-budgeting standpoint. Alas, that would not make for a very cinematic experience if the monster were to stay invisible for the entire production. So, what if they add in a slightly ridiculous “Atomic power” subplot (it was the 1950’s, after all) that could explain how the monsters would eventually turn visible? Let’s step back a minute and look at the pragmatic genius of this. For the first 60 plus minutes of a 75 minute film, the only sense of the creatures the audience gets are actors pantomiming something strangling them and a truly awesome sound effects kit which includes creepy stealthy crawling noises, wonderfully disgusting slurping eating noises, and somewhat inexplicable—but effective—“pounding heartbeat” noises, which appear to be created by someone hammering on a large kettle drum. (since the eponymous FIENDs don’t have any organs other than their brain, and the noise persists after the hapless victims are dispatched, it’s a bit unclear where the pounding is coming from, exactly, but never mind, it works).
So, by using (and reusing, and then reusing again) stock airplane footage and having the monsters be invisible for the first 7/8s of the film, the clever makers of FIEND have saved virtually their entire SFX budget for the last few minutes. And, here is where they really—inadvertently or not—bit the ball out of the park.
Almost everyone who has been exposed to any pre 1970s horror films knows the iconic image of the crawling brain monsters from FIEND.

( Our first glimpse of the eponymous creatures, this one is sitting at the control panel of the local "Atomic plant.")

Specifically, they are brains with two antennae, along with attached “tails” that are sorta-but-not-quite spinal columns. These “tails” provide both locomotion (via an inchworm-like crawling), as well as conveniently wrapping about their victims’ necks. There are also “limbs” which I guess are nerve-endings which protrude and dangle. They also use those “limbs” later to steal a hammer, and then use their “tails” to pull apart the boards covering a window. The first glimpse of one of the FIENDS (which comes at about the 61 minute mark) also shows the brain pulsing as if in respiration. Which, while completely nonsensical, is still completely gross and wonderful. What purpose the twitching antennae serve is beyond me, but they also look cool, and, considering the FIENDs are supposed to be eating people’s brains but have no visible mouth, I am not going to quibble.
I can only imagine that whomever came up with the monster prototype showed it to the director and producer, and they spent the rest of the day drinking high-quality whiskey and laughing insanely. While the little crawling brains might look hilarious as an afterthought, or through the CGI-tainted prism of history, their odd stop-motion movements, along with the brilliant soundtrack of assorted noises (and we haven’t even gotten what is quite possibly the most disgusting soundtrack clip EVER) as well as the fact that they are completely off stage until the final 10 minutes of the film results in an incredibly effective group of monsters, which is why the aforementioned iconic status has been conferred on them. Essentially, they decided to spend their entire special effects budget on the last 10 minutes of the movie, and man, did they get their money’s worth.
But wait, there’s more.
Now that the monsters are visible, and your 1958 eyes think that these may well be the most horrible creatures to ever crawl across your movie screen, they start getting killed by the heroes. The first one is shot with a .45 sidearm at the 63 minute mark, and it undoubtedly qualifies as the single most graphic and disgusting moment captured on mainstream film up to that point. The FIEND does not display a bullet wound so much as deflates while spewing—repeatedly—dark goop, accompanied by an indescribable never-before (and never-again) heard clip on the soundtrack, which sounds for all the world like someone with an explosive case of dysentery evacuating their bowels. The filmmakers love this image and its accompanying sound so much, they overload the climax of the film with a nonstop onslaught of goopy, spewing brains and the most squirm-inducing noise to be put on a film soundtrack until Robert Shaw drags his nails down the chalkboard in JAWS.
When the FIENDs use their spinal column tails to rip open the boarded up windows and come flying (yes, “flying”) into the room where 95% of the cast is holed up, and the army guys fire shot after shot into them, it’s like horror-brain-spewing porn.
And, herein lies why FIEND is so important. Imagine you had gone to the show to see this movie back in 1958. Maybe with your best girl or best guy, you got some sodas and some popcorn and settled in for a nice time at the movies. For the first 60 minutes, a comfortably familiar (if somewhat below-average) “atom age” picture drones quietly across the screen. (If memory serves, I think that, before the climatic scene, a grand total of four folks—sentry, farmer’s wife, unhappy farmer and the “mayor” make up the list of murdered victims, along with one “half-brain eaten” guy who is turned into a kinda precursor of Charlie at the end of “Flowers for Algernon.”). But, then, all of a sudden, here is something you’ve never seen (or heard) before. And then, they don’t just show it, they don’t just hammer you with it, they go bug-fucking-nuts with it.
Pretty soon, you’re forgetting that Marshall Thompson running through the woods in what is supposed to be the middle of the night is in fact a daytime forest so bright everything casts a shadow, or that the door to the “dynamite shed” is actually a piece of plywood that Marshall Thompson pries open with that appears to be a car radio antenna, or that the mad professor’s matter-of-fact claim to have learned about the military base’s “top secret” program of using atomic radiation to boost radar capabilities is from “an article I read in Atomic Journal.” No, you are sitting staring slack jawed at the screen while crawling brains barf sickly goop over everything, at least until the Atomic plant is dynamited(!) and they all dissolve into variously-colored piles of noisily-decomposing goop.

( And, when things start to get messy.)

By the end of the film, your expectations of what you were thinking you were going to see and what actually happened on the screen were walloped into a whole new realm. And that’s what makes FIEND such a landmark film—it totally ambushes the viewer and pushes the envelope that crucial one step forward from what had been done previously. Despite all the banality that has come before, the last ten minutes wipe the nonsense away like a squeegee cleaning a dirty windshield.
Part of what makes NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD such a turning-point horror film is that it consistently makes the audience acutely uncomfortable. Not only do they not know what’s going to happen next (except that it is likely to be extremely unpleasant beyond anything they have experienced before), but they don’t even know who—if any—of the characters will survive. Even though that film is ten years on after FIEND, you can directly see the earlier picture’s influence on George Romero, especially in the scenes of the people huddled together, staring at the boarded-up window while the dreaded creatures mass outside.
And while FIEND only has that last ten minutes of shock and uncertainty, it marks the first steps that horror films would take in departing from that “safe” template, or at least throwing in variations that cause the viewers to become very uneasy. In a way, one could argue that NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD is simply an extension of FIEND—the last ten minutes of FIEND expanded into feature length and riffed on with even more gore and violence to create a whole new level of horror for the audience.
THE BLOB is memorable primarily for showcasing young Steve McQueen, and THE FLY, while also memorable, is thusly so primarily for the excruciatingly horrifying (or excruciatingly funny) “HELP ME” scene:

But, in the end, it is the underrated FIEND WITHOUT A FACE that really broke new ground in the horror field.

--Bill Breedlove

Theater of Blood #2: DARIO ARGENTO SPECIAL

by Shaun Anderson

In 2010 British DVD distributor Arrow Video developed into a label of major repute. For some time now the UK has lagged behind the US with regard to uncut pristine transfers of cult horror movies, but Arrow is starting to redress the balance. The centrepiece of 2010 was a series of high definition Blu-Ray releases that included Dawn of the Dead (1978), Day of the Dead (1985), Caligula (1979), City of the Living Dead (1980), Inferno (1980), Battle Royale (1999) and A Bay of Blood (1971). The 2011 Blu-Ray schedule is even more lip smacking with Deep Red (1975), The Beyond (1981), Vamp (1986), Phenomena (1985), Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970), The Cat O’ Nine Tails (1971) and Tenebre (1982) all appearing on home television screens in crystal clarity. Although the Argento titles can be enjoyed within their own limits and for their myriad merits, I find it difficult to watch his older films now without a wave of frustration derailing the experience somewhat. Argento’s incredible deteoriation from 1990 onward is one of the most enormous capitulations to mediocrity I can think of. The extent of this is indicated by the fact that only the most optimistic of horror enthusiasts expect anything decent from him, while the majority spend their time mocking his latest efforts. In a perverse way the only thing to look forward too is the new depths Argento plumbs with each new film.

While I admire a number of Argento’s films I have always been firm in my belief that Argento has always been a mediocre filmmaker. Therefore my frustration at his abject efforts in recent years rarely becomes full blown disappointment. Few acknowledge for example that his debut feature film Bird with the Crystal Plumage was actually preceded by nineteen giallo productions. What Argento did was make the giallo a major commercial proposition with the ability to succeed in a greater number of territories. However at the level of form and convention there is little in Bird to distinguish it from many of its contemporaries. In its favour the film is one of Argento’s most supremely plotted efforts, and the film moves along with an energy and wit rare for the cycle. But it is one of numerous Argento films that appear far better due to the creative poverty of later films. If placed within the context of the giallo cycle however there is nothing extraordinary about it. The same can be said for Argento’s next two gialli - The Cat O’ Nine Tails (1971) and Four Flies on Grey Velvet (1971). By the admission of the director himself these are lesser films. Aside from one or two trademark set pieces the only thing to recommend in these two films is the music by Ennio Morricone.

This makes Deep Red (1975) and Suspiria (1977) all the more exceptional. These are the two films for which Argento is justifiably remembered. The former takes the gialli into a heightened realm of gothic violence as it interrogates questions of art, sexuality, and conceptions of femininity and masculinity - themes which are united by an appropriate and at times exceptional collage of music from the progressive rock band Goblin. Suspiria takes the gothic leanings of Deep Red a step further by totally committing itself to an irrational vision of the supernatural. Argento’s first true horror film remains a powerful and impressive work largely due to an audacious attitude to stylisation and an experimental attitude to the sonic and aural possibilities of the soundtrack. It is an experience to be enjoyed unthinkingly. A film that does not allow for an intellectual response, only an emotional one. The problem for Argento however at this point is that horror was beginning to gain serious critical attention from the esteemed halls and libraries of academia. As an emotional exercise in film form and stylistics Suspiria is flawless, as an intellectual experience the film is a failure. The sheer physical awesomeness of Suspiria (and don’t get me wrong, it’s a marvellous film) managed to paper over numerous cracks in plotting, construction and continuity. This is no bad thing, if you can pull it off. Unfortunately for Argento he only pulled it off the once. His sequel Inferno becomes a confusing mess because of Argento’s self-conscious determination to construct an elliptical narrative. Inferno is a frustrating viewing experience, and while many dismiss the need for carefully plotted narratives in Argento’s ‘dream like’ or ‘hallucinatory’ film world you have to ask yourself what is it exactly that makes so many of his films only partially satisfying.

In 1981/2 Argento found himself having to once again adjust to the plot complexities of the giallo with Tenebre. The attitude to narrative displayed in Suspiria and Inferno could not be repeated with this film. But this method of storytelling was hard to dislodge and in the 1980’s Argento embarked on a series of films which were successful in part, but never as a whole. Films punctuated with flashy music video moments, elliptical and fragmented editing patterns, and an over abundance of heavy rock music which only served to jolt audiences out of the fictional world of the film. This reached an apex with the nonsensical Phenomena (1985), a film of thinly sketched ideas and characters, and hollow moments of sadistic violence totally lacking pathos. With Opera in 1987 Argento did at least show he still possessed an ability to subvert convention, and displayed a very self aware attitude to critical perceptions of his work. But even Opera with its majestically framed sweeping camera movements and brilliant stylisations is unable to resist heading into the murky territory of flashback in order to build up a more complex picture of protagonist and antagonist. The tacked on ending is particularly damaging, but Opera still remains Argento’s last great film.

In the early 1990’s Argento’s cinema began to gain serious critical interest from scholars and academics. In some quarters Argento was acclaimed as an auteur, a view I don’t agree with at all. There is a self-consciousness to his output in the 90’s and 00’s that convinces me that Argento was well aware of this academic and scholarly interest. A conception of gender framed within a psychoanalytic discourse has long been a fundamental aspect of Argento’s films. But only in the 1990’s did Argento begin to actually construct films around psychological conditions. This seems to almost invite further theoretical and academic debate. The chief offender is The Stendhal Syndrome. This is a tawdry little rape/revenge thriller that has pretensions well above its sadistic content. I would concede that the obscure psychological condition the protagonist suffers from does set up a tension between fantasy and reality, but the film doesn’t really develop this in an interesting way. Aside from the increasing self-consciousness (in other words the ‘hey look at me I’m Dario Argento‘) aspect of his films, Argento was also determined to make his daughter Asia an international star. The problem is no matter how much you rub you can’t polish a turd. Asia is blandness personified, she totally lacks charisma, and exhibit’s the enthusiasm of a mouldering corpse for the roles her old man gives her. In amidst these twin concerns poor old Dario forgot that he was meant to be telling exciting stories and delivering them with stylistic aplomb. Talk about taking your eye off the ball!

Of course there is something else that has affected directors like Argento for the last twenty years. This is the deterioration of the horror genre as a site of social, political and cultural innovation. The quotient of sadistic violence has now reached unheard of levels, but modern horror films only appeal to moronic adolescents or adults who haven’t developed past this stage. Or maybe adults who find the real world too distressing and instead return to the comforting mindset of the juvenile. I’m glad to say my interest in the horror genre has always been from a dispassionate and objective stance. Therefore I don’t think the term ‘fan’ really applies to me. This comes has something of a relief to me, because if I was a horror fan I’d be deeply embarrassed by the excrement that passes for modern horror. Those occasional blips of brilliance on the horror landscape almost always draw on the past. There is nothing new in the torture trash of the odious squeaky schoolboy Eli Roth and the retards that follow in his wake - the Japanese Pinku-eiga films were doing similar thing decades ago. So perhaps Dario Argento and others are victims of their age, great talents who are just unfortunate enough to still be making horror films at a time when mouthing gibbering cretins are the main audience.

DEEP RED (1975)
Dir: Dario Argento
Country: Italy

After the critical and commercial failure of Dario Argento’s historical comedy The Five Days of Milan (1973) he returned chastened to the familiar terrain of the giallo. This was a province that Argento had helped to both popularise and innovate with such trend setting thrillers as Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970), The Cat O’ Nine Tails (1971) and the obscure Four Flies on Grey Velvet (1971). For his fourth and ultimately defining entry into this cycle he enlisted the writing skills of frequent Fellini collaborator Bernardino Zapponi and between them they concocted a witty, literate, and truly exhilarating example of post-Hitchockian suspense. Almost every formal trick conceived of by Argento succeeds here. From the saturated and vivid colours brought to life by the Technicolor cinematography of Luigi Kuveiller, to the smooth and seamless tracking shots that offer a subjective glance into the scheming and voyeurstic mind of a psychopath. These stylistic attributes are given added resonance and impetus by an inspirational and much imitated soundtrack composed by Giorgio Caslini and arranged by progressive rock band Goblin. Led by Claudio Simonetti Goblin would almost single-handedly define the sound of Italian genre films in the 1970’s and 1980’s. The music shifts from the mysterious bass driven opening theme (itself indebted to Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells), to a creepy nursery rhyme leitmotif, to funk rock atmospherics, and ultimately create a college of contemporary sound that fits perfectly with the artistic credentials of the film.

In one deft movement Argento manages to successfully bridge the gap between the trashy and exploitative realm of the giallo and the lofty traditions of Italian art cinema. He achieves this partly through his collaboration with Zapponi, but also through the self-conscious decision to cast David Hemmings as avant-garde musician turned amateur sleuth Marcus Daly. This provides an extra-textual link to Michelangelo Antonioni’s existential exposè of swinging London Blow Up (1966). The themes of Argento and Antonioni crisscross regularly and one can see that Argento was as much informed by the art cinema of his native country as he was by Hitchcock or the horror genre in a wider sense. However a key difference here is that rather than explore the isolated psyche of the alienated loner contending with the difficulties of modernity (a major preoccupation of much Italian art cinema) Argento subverts this subjectivity to explore the perversity and insanity beneath the pretence of the bourgeois art world. In Deep Red artistic endeavour is strongly liked to femininity or homosexuality and through art Argento is articulating a crisis in masculinity. This is played out in a number of witty encounters between Daly and the assertive and liberated journalist Giana Brezzi (played with wide-eyed enthusiasm by Daria Nicolodi). The most obvious moment comes when she beats Marc in an arm wrestling contest.

Art is being used in a metaphorical fashion. A metaphor for madness, insanity and eventually violent death. This is taken to an extreme when the murderers face and identity is almost submerged into a painting, the identity of the psychopath at one with the nightmarish artwork. Gialli live and die by the success or failure of their set piece murder sequences. In Deep Red not only are they exceptional, but they seem to go beyond the narrative and into the realm of the poetic. They become the most artistic element of the film. They include a memorable and chilling sequence involving a mechanical dummy and perhaps most horrifying of all a death by scalding. This is not an unconventional giallo though, and like most examples the narrative hinges on a past event that has been repressed - this is superbly hinted at by a prologue sequence that breaks up the opening credits, and offers us a murder shot from a peculiarly low angle. This scene becomes the key to the whole film and it remains a satisfying enigma until the films violent conclusion. One can even put aside the clichéd criticism of Argento’s narrative faults. In Deep Red every aspect of the plot works seamlessly with the story. One or two mistimed comedy moments aside Deep Red emerges as a lucid, artistic, metaphorical, symbolic and visually impressive film that even finds time for a progressive discussion of gender politics.

First published on The Celluloid Highway 19/02/2010 - reproduced by permission of the author.

Dir: Dario Argento
Country: Italy

As each new piece of cinematic excrement is ejected from the mind of Dario Argento I begin to think that Suspiria might have been a fluke. Each successive Argento picture is puked up onto a wounded and insulted fan base, one which has no option but to retreat into the mists of time to remind themselves why they liked Argento’s films in the first place. This period is generally recognised as being the 1970’s. There has developed a rose tinted view of this decade in horror circles; propagated by those who were around at the time (unfortunately this generation pretty much still sets the parameters when it comes to horror discourse) and their nostalgic agendas to tell us it was better in their day. Argento directed six films in the 1970’s, three of them (Bird with the Crystal Plumage, Deep Red, and Suspiria) were very good, the other three (Cat O Nine Tails, Four Flies on Grey Velvet, and The Five Days of Milan) were poor to average. Even in Argento’s decade of peak creativity he only had a strike rate of 50%. The 1980’s was even more frustrating, a series of the films that were impressive in part, but failures as a whole. Argento has proven himself to be a mediocre filmmaker, time has shown him to make more poor and dissatisfying films than good ones. So what makes Suspiria such an exceptional film? The answer of course lies in the talents he surrounded himself by. There are three key elements to Suspiria, which if extracted, would damage the film irrevocably.

The first is the influence of Daria Nicolodi. Her interest in witchcraft and the occult, the family anecdotes that formed the centre of the idea, and her writing of the screenplay is vital. This is the only film of Argento’s upon which Nicolodi had a major creative influence, and it just so happens to be one of his best. The second is the stunning aural assault of Goblin’s soundtrack. The third is Luciano Tovoli’s saturated cinematography; it might have been Argento’s idea to use the 3 strip Technicolor printing process, but it was Tovoli who had to light the scenes. The removal of any one of these aspects would be fatal to Suspiria. Argento brought the set pieces, and one cannot fault his use of camera here, these sequences achieve a brilliance that Argento would never repeat. But therein lies the reason why Suspiria is such an exceptional film in a mediocre career; the strength of the collaborators. Ironically Suspiria is sometimes included by scholars as evidence for Argento’s authorial stamp, but in fact this film totally opposes the auteur theory, and it is the strongest proof that Argento is not an auteur.

A great deal of the success of the film lies in the manner in which Argento draws upon the uncanny. This is one of numerous allusions to Freudian psychoanalytics that litter Argento’s films. Argento invests the opening scenes in and around Munich airport with a sepulchral atmosphere, danger lurking in the most unexpected places; the automatic doors for example swish closed with eerie menace. When Suzy Banyon (Jessica Harper) makes it outside the rain and wind lashes her frail form before she embarks on a hellish taxi journey. The overflowing storm drains, and barely glimpsed figure fleeing in the words add multiple layers of disquiet. Also of note here is the way in which the sound design works; switching from diegetic to non-diegetic makes us aware of a manipulating omniscient force (this is of course the filmmakers) but it also establishes instantly the reach and powers of the witches coven. This technique is extended most successfully in the set piece which sees the blind pianist meet his fate in an empty plaza. Though this sequence pales in comparison to the audacious double murder that opens the film.

The ballet school in Freiburg is a nightmarish space replete with labyrinthine passageways, secret entrances, a maggot infested attic, and a room full of barb wire for anyone whose curiosity gets the better of them. The architecture is decadent and self indulgent. It is presided over by a severe matriarchal presence, all of whom belong to the secret coven. These cruel matriarchs are powerful enough to use men, who in this film are weak, ineffectual, and easily manipulated. They are led by an ancient witch; The Mother of Sighs, Elaina Marcos, a rotting hag who controls events through her pliable minions. Despite the fact that Argento favours aesthetics over plot, the structure of Suspiria is not dissimilar to the gialli in which he specialised. Banyon is a foreigner in a new and frightening environment, she also takes on the role of the amateur detective in order to root out the mystery, in many ways Suspiria dramatises the incursion of the supernatural into the narrative strategies of the giallo. Although the narrative is slight, the mystery at the heart of the film is a strong unifying force, and even allows Argento one or two moments of self-reflexivity. It is also interesting to note the fascistic undertones of the coven, an appropriate stance considering the weight of history on that region of Germany. The film has the hysterical tenor of a fairy tale, a fable of caution which brings with it aspects of Germanic folklore. Fairy tales achieve resonance through their conclusions, and its only right that Suspiria should build to a fitting climax with heavy doses of stylisation. This is an emotionally hollow experience, but an utter triumph of technicality.

First published on The Celluloid Highway 23/11/2010 - reproduced by permission of the author

Dir: Dario Argento
Country: Italy/USA

The monumental capitulation to mediocrity that has beset the cinema of Dario Argento from 1990 onwards (with the honourable exception of Sleepless (2001)) remains one of the most perplexing chapters in horror history. Argento’s cinema has for the past twenty years been a creative wasteland. Part of the reason in my view was a steadily building sense of self awareness that appeared from Opera (1987) onward. I think Argento began to believe all of the ‘auteur’ nonsense hype of a number of under researched academic and critical pieces that sprang up in the 1990’s. Along with an awareness of this status came a self-consciousness within the films themselves. Where before Argento explored psychoanalytical concepts and gender issues (usually in a playful manner) as part of the plot dynamics of his films, in the 1990’s these theoretical paradigms began to take centre stage over the plot. This reached a ludicrous extremity in the utterly abysmal The Stendhal Syndrome (1996) in which Argento sought to use an obscure psychoanalytical device to cover up for the fact that the film was essentially a tawdry and grimy rape/revenge thriller with little redeeming value. The revisionist criticism this cinematic offal has received should not in any way convince you the film is any good. This is something scholars, academics and critics do very often - in a bid to be different (usually for the purposes of funding) they will attempt to reclaim those films which are lesser known or have been dismissed. With this in mind Mother of Tears will probably also experience a period of critical revisionism in the future, I wish whoever takes on the task all the luck in the world.

The Three Mothers’ trilogy which began with the distinctive Suspiria (1977) and Inferno (1980) achieved an almost mythical status throughout the 80’s and 90’s. The question of when the third and final instalment would see the light of the day dogged Argento’s movements. For horror fans of a certain generation this was a big deal, ever the optimists fans were even willing to momentarily forgive and forget unwatchable garbage like Trauma (1993), The Phantom of the Opera (1998) and The Card Player (2004) , as long as Dario got this film right. Before the action of the film even begins the writing is on the wall. Mother of Tears had five writers, which is never a good sign - joining Argento was Walter Fasano, Simona Simonetti, Jace Anderson and Adam Gierasch. It’s the last two names that should have sent alarm bells ringing. The ’talent’s’ behind such moronic monstrosities as Crocodile (2000) and the pointless remake of The Toolbox Murders (2004). The evidence in these two films is that Anderson and Gierasch would struggle to write their own names on an exam paper - yet Argento in an act of supreme senility felt that these two were of value. The film opens with an extended cliché as an ancient urn is dug up in a graveyard. The most important artefact within is a red tunic (which believe it or not holds the key to the Third Mother’s powers!). The majesty of Suspiria and Inferno which gave a real sense of omnipotent evil on a global scale, is reduced to being dependent on a cheap red t-shirt.

The resurrection of Mater Lachrymarum (Moran Atias - who looks as though she’d be more at home in a strip joint) creates what we are led to believe is apocalyptic chaos. This involves a few robberies and beatings, a tasteless scene in which a woman throws her baby off a bridge (a classy touch Dario…thanks for that!) and several random acts of violence….and that’s it! - it’s the end of Rome as we know it. In addition lots of gothic witches descend upon Rome. Their first appearance at an airport is embarrassing in its over statement. It’s a huge bonus for these witches that the reawakening of Mater Lachrymarum also coincides with the Italian leg of a Siouxie and the Banshees European tour. The heroine of the piece is Sarah Mandy (the atrocious Asia Argento), an art history student who suddenly discovers she can will herself too appear invisible. She is guided by the ghost of her mother Elisa (played by the cadaverous Daria Nicolodi) who appears to her at random intervals in a blur of bad special effects. Mandy takes all this in her stride, and goes from one expert to another in episodic fashion to piece together the ‘mystery’. One such expert is Father Johannes (Udo Kier) who in a few seconds explains it all away and gets his head cleaved in for his troubles. The camp presence of Mr. Kier is the only highlight in this derisory effort.

The set pieces reach a new high in absurdity, surely a scene in which a woman is strangled to death with her own intestines is intended as a joke? A monkey acts as the Mother of Tears’ spy, it puts in the best performance of the film. Argento opts for a very different aesthetic presentation, one which is more in line with his recent efforts, than the Technicolor glory of Suspiria. Its drab, its dull, this is a visually unappealing film. When the action descends predictably into the catacombs beneath Rome, the film reaches an apex of stupidity. Is this really how the ‘cruellest and most beautiful’ of the Three Mothers would enact her evil? Characters that are totally forgotten suddenly reappear, and yes The Mother of Tears is defeated when Mandy removes her t-shirt! Her and a bland cop end the film in fits of giggles, I’d like to think that Argento et al are not intending this laughter at the idiocy of those who actually spent their hard earned cash on the film (me included), but I’m not so sure. This is possibly the most cretinous film that has ever come down The Celluloid Highway, but I’m going to cut Dario some slack. This is what happens when you employ writers with the intelligence of plankton, I hope you’ve learned your lesson Dario!

First published on The Celluloid Highway 21/10/2010 - reproduced by permission of the author

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