Thursday, February 08, 2007

The Six Stanzas of Fear

Meticulous collectors of my work (if there are such people) will want to know that I'm one of the contributors to the current issue (Feb-May 2007, #14) of the Manchester-based poetry zine THE UGLY TREE. This is the second issue in which my work has appeared, after the previous issue's "Crapulous Elektra." I have three poems in the new issue: "The Breakfast Bell", "Mario Bava", and "Think of the Things You Could Drop in Black Ink."

I hadn't read any of these poems since turning them in, but I was particularly pleased upon revisiting the Bava piece. I think I nailed it; I find it picturesque and chilling in the way that Bava's films are, perhaps because I've lived with them for so long -- unlike my other poems, which are usually written on the spot to capture transient moods, frissons, or angles of light.

Where emerald and amber intersect
When clock hands overlap
Dead fingers cut the Tarot deck
As guilt drips from the taps.

That's how it begins. Yes, the Year of Mario Bava includes poetry.

To order your copy, visit the UGLY TREE website here.

Cover Art, As Promised

The Latarnia International forums beat me to it!

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

THE YELLOW SIGN AND OTHERS reviewed

Shawna Waldron as a woman whose dreams reconnect her
to a forgotten identity in "The Yellow Sign."

THE WEIRD TALE COLLECTION, VOLUME 1:
THE YELLOW SIGN AND OTHERS
2001-03, Lurker Films, DD 5.1/2.0/16:9/LBX/+, $15.95, 100 minutes (approx.), DVD-5

Lurker Films, the Portland, Oregon-based company behind some well-received compilations of short films based on the works of H.P. Lovecraft and Edgar Allan Poe, here branch out into different avenues of short form horror with the first offering in a new series, "The Weird Tale Collection." While this disc has some unfortunate presentational faults, the films it collects are worth checking out, made with intelligence and subtlety and show a connoisseur's appreciation for the genre's history and what's best in it.

The program consists of Aaron Vanek's "The Yellow Sign" (2001, 45m 28s), David Leroy's "Tupilak" (2002, 13m 17s), Emilio Guarneri's "Il re giallo" ("The King in Yellow," 2003, 6m 20s), and a 15m profile of weird tales author Robert W. Chambers by French literary scholar Christophe Thill. The films are presented in a variety of formats and different aspect ratios, with "Tupilak" (the only 35mm contribution and the only anamorphic entry) looking the best of the bunch. The disc is best enjoyed on a standard video monitor.

Inspired by THE KING IN YELLOW by Robert W. Chambers, an early collection of dark metafiction that H.P. Lovecraft counted among his most influential readings, "The Yellow Sign" is a contemporary story about a young gallery worker, Tess (Shawna Waldron), who seeks out the reclusive artist Aubrey Scott (Dale Snowberger) to request an exhibition after having a series of nightmares about his work. Scott, who lives in a dank studio surrounded by his disturbing works, agrees to her request on the condition that she pose for him -- an exercise in stillness and concentration that makes her increasingly aware of something animated in a canvas hung on the wall behind the artist... a "yellow sign." Incisively scripted by John Tynes, the film is a good deal more engrossing than most MASTERS OF HORROR episodes, unsettling the viewer with words, ideas, and intimations of other dimensions lurking on the periphery of reality rather than bloodshed. It's well acted by the two principals and disappointed only by one unfortunate scene in which the Sony DV camerawork becomes so busy for its own sake that it upstages the action it should be representing. THE MONSTER SQUAD director Fred Dekker served as associate producer on this project. "The Yellow Sign" is offered in a choice of DD 5.1 or 2.0 audio with a variety of subtitle options, with numerous supplements, including outtakes, "normal" and "profane" audio commentaries, Snowberger's audition tape, and a slideshow.

Dale Snowberger as deranged artist Aubrey Scott in "The Yellow Sign."

Christophe Thill's "Chambers in Paris" documents the years which American author Robert W. Chambers spent in Paris, France, which yielded his obscure masterpiece of terror, THE KING IN YELLOW. For those familiar with the book, Thill's research is a treat as he videocams various authentic locations described in the novel and shows how they look today, which lends a verisimilitude to the fiction that Chambers would have surely appreciated.

"Tupilak," in French with English subtitles and filmed in a two-perf pulldown process called "Multivision 235", concerns the role played by an Inuit avenging spirit in the guilt suffered by two men (one of them played by writer-director David Leroy) who abandoned a dying man during an Arctic expedition. The story is predictable and a bit thin, but the acting is sincere and the film itself is opulently produced, to the extent of a grandiose score performed by the Hungarian Symphony Orchestra. It would be interesting to see such resources and commitment applied to a more ambitious story.

Despite its title, "Il re giallo" is less an hommage to Chambers' THE KING IN YELLOW than a revisitation of the zombie hospital action of Lucio Fulci's THE BEYOND, redone with lots of digital herky-jerky J-horror scare effects.

THE YELLOW SIGN AND OTHERS is available from the Lurker Films website. As the site acknowledges, mistakes were made in the mastering of these films for disc. Contrary to what Lurker Films suggests, however, "The Yellow Sign" or "Il re giallo" are presented in their correct 1.85:1 screen ratios; the problem is that neither film is anamorphically enhanced, which can lead to some playback problems. For example, on my widescreen set, the image defaulted to a correctly letterboxed albeit non-anamorphic format that I had to zoombox to fill my screen. This was okay for "The Yellow Sign" (though it did accentuate its grain), but in the case of the Italian film, it cropped the English subtitles offscreen, requiring me to watch it in "wide zoom" mode, stretching the image horizontally -- distortive but acceptable, considering how short it is. Viewed on my computer, however, I find that both films play back in a 1.78 anamorphic frame but with letterboxing bars visible, causing the image to be horizontally stretched to 2.35:1 or thereabouts, pulling it out like Silly Putty. I suppose it's possible that the disc could play back on some systems this way, and I disagree that either film is "watchable" under these conditions. Anyone who buys independently made product like this, sight unseen, is already meeting it at least halfway and shouldn't have to forgive anything about the presentation. (Incidentally, the frame grabs used to illustrate this piece come from the slideshow for "The Yellow Sign," not from the film itself.) On the bright side, I would imagine that anyone viewing the disc on a standard television monitor wouldn't have any playback problems.

Lurker Films promises that the problem will be fixed with the second pressing but, unfortunately, this is no incentive to buy the current, flawed pressing. This is regrettable because it prevents me from more enthusiastically endorsing THE YELLOW SIGN AND OTHERS, whose seriousness, intelligence, and literary grounding are otherwise a breath of fresh air in the "tits and blood" arena of DTV horror. It's a series (and approach) I would like to see continue, and graduate to even better things. In the meantime, I think I'll track down some books by Robert W. Chambers.

Monday, February 05, 2007

More Bava Specs from Anchor Bay

On the same day that Anchor Bay Entertainment will be releasing their MARIO BAVA COLLECTION, VOLUME 1, they will be separately releasing another Bava two-fer feature on DVD.

Also due on April 3 is RABID DOGS/KIDNAPPED, which will present the two extant versions of Bava's cult crime thriller, originally produced in 1975 but impounded when the production was bankrupted and shelved until a belated release more than 20 years later. Anchor Bay's disc will include the following:

RABID DOGS
96 minutes
1.78/16:9
Italian mono with English subtitles
Tim Lucas audio commentary

KIDNAPPED
95 minutes
1.78/16:9
Italian mono with English subtitles
Featurette: "End of the Road: Making RABID DOGS and KIDNAPPED" with producer Alfredo Leone
Mario Bava bio
Bava trailers

A word about the English subtitles on RABID DOGS. I provided ABE with newly corrected English subtitles for the film -- these were written for the original Lucertola Media release, but they included a mistake or two I've long wanted to fix -- but, at the moment, no one at ABE can tell me whether or not they were used. If they weren't used because a subtitle master had already been created, this could be a little embarrassing for me, as I reference some of the choices I made in my audio commentary, and without my subtitles onscreen, those comments won't make any sense. ABE sent me an advance tape to check my audio commentary for accuracy and placement, but it was wedded to an unsubtitled copy of the film, so I can't tell whether or not they'll be included. I guess we'll all find out together.

In closing, you might say that I've buried today's headline. Contrary to my earlier spec notes on the MARIO BAVA COLLECTION, VOLUME 1, I am now told that Anchor Bay's BLACK SUNDAY disc will indeed include both the MASK OF SATAN and BLACK SUNDAY versions of the film! I've corrected yesterday's blog to bring this information up to date.