Tuesday, November 04, 2008
Included in this new compendium are "Interviews with 23 Veterans of Horror and Sci-Fi Films and Television, including COLOSSUS THE FORBIN PROJECT's Eric Braeden, Robert Conrad of THE WILD WILD WEST, James Darren, Robert Colbert and Lee Meriwether of THE TIME TUNNER, '50s kid star Charles Herbert, THE QUEEN OF OUTER SPACE herself Laurie Mitchell, HORROR HOTEL's Betta St. John, THE RAVEN's Olive Sturgess and more than a dozen others, including the hardcover debut of Tom's interview with THE CURSE OF THE CAT PEOPLE child star Ann Carter, which originally ran in VW. This is reportedly Tom 's 19th book, and I believe it's his twelfth collection of interviews, not counting McFarland's retitled paperback collections. It's amazing that he continues to find such top-drawer people to talk with, but it reflects the skill he applies to the job. As always, Tom dedicates this latest Q&A collection to past interviewees who have passed on since the last one; this book is dedicated to 32 people, which in itself is a testament to the value of the history Tom has been compiling.
Also now in bookstores is David J. Schow's GUN WORK (Hard Case, $6.99), his opening salvo as a contributor to the Hard Case Crime paperback series. I haven't read it yet, but it's my understanding that DJS undertook this book as a sort of lark, as a fan infatuated with the series, which revives the sleazy crime potboiler paperback genre of yesteryear, with reprints of classic long-out-of-print fiction by the likes of Mickey Spillane, Lawrence Block, Robert Bloch and George Axelrod, and new works in the milieu by such steel-eyed idolators as Max Alan Collins, Richard Aleas (a beard for the Hard Case line's founder Charles Ardai) and Christa Faust.
David supposedly wrote this book faster than a speeding bullet, but it turns out that's a key ingredient in the winning recipe for this type of thing. He knows his firearms anyway, and a thing or two about the ladies, I'm sure, and it's all paid off in what is being appreciated as a real knack for this sort of down-and-dirty storytelling. GUN WORK just scored an enthusiastic review at Bookgasm, and if you ask me, a label like "gun porn" just might have more staying power than "splatterpunk."
Monday, November 03, 2008
I met Betty only once, in Joe's office in 1993, around the time MATINEE was arriving in theaters. Joe and I had known each other by phone for 13 years at that point, but it was our first-ever meeting. Betty volunteered to commemorate the occasion by snapping a couple of pictures, and this is one of them. Thank you, dear.
As it happens, I went directly from Joe's office that afternoon to the Ackermansion, where I had a two-hour private visit with Forry Ackerman -- our second and last meeting. It was reported this weekend that Forry has been diagnosed with congestive heart failure and isn't expected to live much longer. Upon receiving the news, he asked to be released from the hospital so that he might spend his remaining time at home, visiting with friends and fans. This thread on the Classic Horror Film Boards contains some participatory reports from this final "Open House" from monster kids Rick Baker and Bill Warren, and many others who hold Uncle 4E dear. You'll find a message there from me, too.
Saturday, November 01, 2008
The Terror. Dan Simmons (Little, Brown & Company)
Dagger Key and Other Stories. Lucius Shepard (PS Publishing)
Softspoken. Lucius Shepard (Night Shade Books)
"Closet Dreams". Lisa Tuttle (Postscripts 10: PS Publishing)
"Honey in the Wound". Nancy Etchemendy (The Restless Dead: Candlewick Press)
Inferno. Ellen Datlow, editor (Tor)
Mario Bava: All the Colors of the Dark. Tim Lucas (Video Watchdog)
Postscripts. Peter Crowther & Nick Gevers, editors (PS Publishing)
The Nightmare Factory. Thomas Ligotti (creator/writer), Joe Harris & Stuart Moore (writers), Ben Templesmith, Michael Gaydos, Colleen Doran & Ted McKeever
Elizabeth McGrath for "The Incurable Disorder", Billy Shire Fine Arts, December 2007
PETER STRAUB, named earlier as the year's LIVING LEGEND, was honored in an essay by Stefan R. Dziemianowicz (http://horroraward.org/peter_straub.html or download as a document: http://horroraward.org/peter_straub.doc.)
About The IHG AwardsThe International Horror Guild Awards recognized outstanding achievements in the field of Horror and Dark Fantasy. Nominations are derived from recommendations made by the public and the judges knowledge of the field.
The IHG Living Legend Award is determined solely by the judges. Living Legends are individuals who have made meritorious and notable contributions and/or have substantially influenced the field of horror/ dark fantasy. Previous recipients are Ramsey Campbell, Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, Gahan Wilson, Stephen King, Richard Bleiler, Charles L. Grant, William F. Nolan, Alice Cooper, Ray Bradbury, Clive Barker, Hugh B. Cave, Edward W. Bryant, Richard Matheson, and Harlan Ellison.
Edward Bryant, Stefan R. Dziemianowicz, Ann Kennedy Vandermeer, and Hank Wagner adjudicated for the final award year of 2007. William Sheehan and Fiona Webster have also served as judges. Paula Guran administered the award beginning in 1996. The awards were overseen by a non-profit corporation, The Mirabundus Project, Inc.
For additional information on the International Horror Guild, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Donna and I are honored and delighted by this wonderful news! We extend our heartfelt thanks to the IHG judges and membership, and our congratulations to all the other recipients and nominees!
Friday, October 31, 2008
I've been listening almost exclusively to Siouxsie and the Banshees for the last couple of weeks. Halloween seems an appropriate time to write something about them, and about Siouxsie Sioux in particular, given that a song entitled "Halloween" figures so prominently in their discography.
In my opinion, no other British group of the post-punk era underwent such dramatic metamorphoses or so thoroughly explored their potential as a recording unit as Siouxsie and the Banshees. Their albums were strong and intelligently sequenced, their singles (collected as ONCE UPON A TIME and TWICE UPON A TIME) were glorious, and their B-sides (collected in the box set DOWNSIDE UP) were a laboratory for fascinating experimentation. Siouxsie herself was such a compelling figure, so obviously a creature of theater and so sleekly photogenic in their videos, I find it incredible, even outrageous to this day that no one ever approached her to act in features. And when harrowing flipsides like "Umbrella" started turning up, I couldn't understand why at least one enterprising horror director out there didn't have the brain to put them in harness right away as the Anglo answer to Goblin. They were not ones for standing still; they went through guitarists like Kleenex (The Cure's Robert Smith moonlighted with them briefly), but their core guitar sound was essentially defined from the get-go by original six-stringer John McKay and later refined when the extraordinary John McGeoch joined the Banshees for three of their most beloved albums (KALEIDOSCOPE, JUJU and A KISS IN THE DREAMHOUSE). Even with later guitarists on board, they were a powerhouse live band, driven by Budgie's thundrous drum sound and one of the most original and authoritative female figureheads a rock band has ever had.
In the course of this latest immersion in the Banshees, I read some things and discovered that Siouxsie and Budgie divorced awhile ago and disbanded The Creatures, and that Siouxsie released her first solo album, MANTARAY, last year. She's still a handsome woman, and the album finds her still in strong voice, and noticeably less guarded about showing her tender side. (What's next, a sense of humor?) It's a good album, opening with "Into A Swan," a pounding ode to impending personal transformation -- a theme also reflected in song titles like "About to Happen", "Here Comes That Day" and "If It Doesn't Kill Me." The instrumental sound of the album is percussive techno-cabaret, appropriately fantasmagorical but with a array of instrumentation whose broad musical palette recalls A KISS IN THE DREAMHOUSE. But hearing Siouxsie's voice severed from the tantric, flangey, tidal swell of The Banshees sometimes brings about in actuality the sense of dislocation that she often sang about on the albums she made with The Banshees in the late '70s and '80s. The ever-fluctuating flavors of the record's instrumental backing gradually ring hollow (or at least fickle) over the course of ten songs, failing to provide in visceral anchoring what it delivers in varietal color. Of all the tracks, "Into A Swan" and "They Follow You" come closest to capturing a classic yet distinctively fresh Siouxsie sound. Vocally and instrumentally, MANTARAY is an inventive album, though it falls short of being a wholly convincing or coalescent one. Siouxsie's voice needs to backed by stronger personalities, and I hope her next solo album finds her sounding just as bold but less alone.
Thursday, October 30, 2008
My favorite photo of Grace, circa 1969, from the inner sleeve of Paul Kantner's BLOWS AGAINST THE EMPIRE album.
Over the years, I've done my best to celebrate my love for Grace Slick and Jefferson Airplane in some tangible form -- I've finished the work but haven't been able to share it with the public as yet. Last year, I wrote an entire book about Jefferson Airplane's 1968 album CROWN OF CREATION that I hoped Continuum Press would publish in their "33 & 1/3" series; to date, they haven't. (They will start considering new submissions within the coming weeks and I will try, try again.) Before that, I wrote a four-hour script entitled JEFFERSON AIRPLANE: LOVE & HAIGHT, which told the band's entire story with founder Marty Balin as its protagonist and Grace Slick as its accidental antagonist. When more than a year passed without interest from anyone, I took my agent's advice and rewrote the script as a regular feature focusing on Grace. I had lots of ideas for people who could play Grace, ranging from Leelee Sobieski to Pink to Sarah Silverman, but the word that came back after all my troubles is that Grace and the Airplane weren't sufficiently well-known to have a movie made about them.
Excuse me? We're talking about the band that headlined at Woodstock and supported the Rolling Stones at Altamont, the band that Ed Sullivan and LIFE Magazine called "the top rock group in America." Grace herself was ranked #20 on VH1's 100 GREATEST WOMEN OF ROCK 'N' ROLL special. We're also talking about an industry that has made TV-movies about bands like Sweetwater and The Monkees. But be that as it may.
Caption: Palo Alto High School, 1954.
SCHOOL MAID #2
Grace today. Anybody want to buy a painting?
Jefferson Airplane's manager Bill Thompson read my script (which was informed by my own research, as well as Jeff Tamarkin's fine book GOT A REVOLUTION! THE TURBULENT FLIGHT OF JEFFERSON AIRPLANE) and told me it was pretty accurate. For now, though, it's in a drawer.
Grace, whose tongue-in-cheek song "Silver Spoon" once extolled the joys of carnivorous living (including cannibalism), is today a practicing vegan. A previously unreleased recording called "Surprise Surprise," featuring her, appears on the new Jefferson Starship release JEFFERSON'S TREE OF LIBERTY, but she has been retired from music for many years and now devotes her time to painting. I like the pretty storybook quality of her art, but it doesn't begin to compare to the cutting edge brilliance of her voice or the songs she wrote. Grace says that she continues to write and record songs at home on the piano for her own amusement, and I hope to hear some of them someday. There have been reports of health problems in recent years, but she continues to appear at gallery shows to promote her art. For now, I'm simply glad that she's still with us and that the possibility of new work from her still exists.
Happy Birthday, Grace. You made an impression.
Tomorrow: Some Halloween thoughts on one of Grace's greatest stylistic descendants... Siouxsie Sioux.
Go here, Trick or Treaters, for the World Premiere of COTTONMOUTH, a new and terrifying film short by Christopher P. Garetano, based on Stephen R. Bissette's classic horror comic, which originally appeared in the pages of GORESHRIEK and TABOO.
And here's a link to Steve's own intensive account of the project's history.
Wednesday, October 29, 2008
Last night I had the pleasure of screening BFI's new high-definition import disc of Michelangelo Antonioni's RED DESERT [Il deserto rosso, 1964] and came away with the unusual feeling that I had finally seen a beautiful woman captured in the Blu-ray format.
Of course, Monica Vitti isn't the first beautiful woman to be showcased in Blu-ray, but my own appreciation of beauty involves a woman's faults and flaws, her intensity, her fun, her mystery. Till now, I never came away from a Blu-ray experience with so many details of femininity left to savor. The freckles on her back. The fainter freckles on her cheekbones, sublimated by powder. The intoxicating auburn swell of her hair. The zipper down the back of her green dress. The wrinkling of her beige nylons. The way she gives herself to the camera, and what she withholds from the camera. The impish delight with which she bites into a quail egg when she's told it's an aphrodesiac. It's no wonder that Roger Corman once cited Monica Vitti as his favorite actress. Blu-ray brings us so close to her that we can feel all the warmth of this alleged Ice Princess of the northern Italian intelligentsia, and this startling access into her humanity brings us into deeper intimate contact with the anxieties she portrays. The film itself consequently becomes more powerful because the presentation excuses the iconography and lets us become involved with her as a flesh-and-blood being, alienated by a once-rural landscape that, with its foregrounded miniatures and electronic music, has creepily transformed into something like the alien spookscapes of Mario Bava's Terrore nello spazio.
I first saw RED DESERT (very much a science fiction film, I think) many years ago when it was released in a much inferior DVD presentation by Image Entertainment. I'd heard that the film marked an important advance in the use of color onscreen, but the Image disc did little to show why this was so. Consequently, I have long chalked the film up as my least favorite of the Big Antonionis. Today I feel quite differently. The BFI disc makes the film's innovative uses of color quite conspicuous, as it also does with what was gained from its use of heavy grain and shots lensed out of focus. Unfortunately, the richer presentation can do nothing to get the starch out of Richard Harris, whose dubbed performance isn't half the obstacle of the sheer two-dimensional look of him. Every time Harris appeared onscreen, I couldn't help thinking how much RED DESERT could have used the readier warmth and self-abandon of Antonioni's ZABRISKIE POINT compatriot Rod Taylor.
The movie's unusually understated climax did nothing to resolve my concerns for Vitti's Giulietta, whose expressed wish that everyone who ever loved her might form a wall around her is, I must confess, a yearning I have sometimes felt myself. For this reason, RED DESERT will probably now become one of those movies I revisit, less for cinematic reasons than because I found them inhabited by a kindred spirit -- like the calls I sometimes make on the spur of the moment to friends I've fallen out of touch with, to compare notes on how life has been treating us. Of course, Giuliana's fate will not change, but that's beside the point, because neither will mine.
RED DESERT is also available as a standard definition disc, also from BFI.
Monday, October 27, 2008
Friday, October 24, 2008
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
Monday, October 20, 2008
For all that, I've had letters on the subject in the past, which is why I took care to predicate the term with "so-called" in VIDEODROME. Even though I don't take the term as nergatively as some, I would hope this gesture shows a dawning sensitivity on my part to how other people perceive it and a resolve to use it with greater care and awareness.
Saturday, October 18, 2008
Friday, October 17, 2008
Monday, October 13, 2008
As an admirer of Alan Ball's previous HBO series SIX FEET UNDER, I was somewhat underwhelmed by the September 7 debut episode of his new vampire-themed series TRUEBLOOD on that same network. The initial promotional use of imaginary commercials for vampire-related products didn't help, weakly echoing SIX FEET UNDER's own initial (and thankfully abandoned) use of tongue-in-cheek TV commercials for undertaker accessories. However, partly because it has such a great timeslot, I've stuck with the show -- based on Charlaine Harris's "Sookie Stackhouse" novels -- and have enthusiastically warmed to its well-thought-out imagining of a near-future world in which vampires and the living attempt to coexist.
With last night's episode "Cold Ground," TRUEBLOOD reached a climax of sorts with its most effective episode to date, full of genuine panic, pathos (at its most multi-leveled as Sookie cries while eating the remains of the last pecan pie made by her murdered grandmother) and passion (as she consecrates her advent into unsupervised adulthood by donning a nightgown any Hammer heroine would envy and racing to an intuited rendezvous with Vampire Bill, whom she finally allows to penetrate her orally with the vulnerable words "I want you to"). This episode, directed by Nick Gomez, achieved a level of greatness within its genre that made the sometimes awkward path it took to reach this high point seem more special and interesting in retrospect.
I've never been a particular fan of the Anne Rice approach to vampire fiction, or the rock star/leather duster-wearer variety of vampire that has cluttered the movies in their wake. I haven't read anything by Charlaine Harris either, but I'm beginning to think that TRUEBLOOD may be the most important addition to vampire cinema -- if television can be termed cinema -- since Count Yorga laughed at the crucifix wielded by his adversary. As the author of two vampire novels myself, I have my own ideas of what the subgenre should and should not be, and it pleases me to no end that another body of work has finally come forward that seems to share my ideals and wants to move the genre in a more correct direction.
TRUEBLOOD functions as social satire and metaphor, with the introduction of a Japanese brand of bottled synthetic blood called Trueblood allowing vampires to "mainstream" by nurturing themselves from product rather than victims, and the outsider nature of the bloodsuckers serving dual purpose as an illustration of antiquated biases against gays. In an especially clever subplot, vampire blood is being sold as an underground street drug called V, which is doled out on blotters and expands the consciousness and physical powers of the user like a combined hit of acid and Viagra. (Note: Kim Newman informs me that this same idea was explored in his novella ANDY WARHOL'S DRACULA, published two years before the first Sookie Stackhouse novel.) But what I find most consistently intriguing about the show is Stephen Moyer's nuanced portrayal of the 173-year-old vampire Bill Compton, a non-survivor of the Civil War, who speaks with a dead-accurate sense of Southern manners that convincingly embodies the sense of a character who has lived entire lifetimes and who, despite the obscenity of his condition, is struggling to preserve within his own demeanor a sense of values that make his pained existence somehow liveable. He may be the best vampire character to come along since Barnabas Collins, and the way he seems to speak from another era recalls the chills raised by Chris Sarandon in the 1992 Lovecraft adaptation, THE RESURRECTED. Bill's sometimes unbearably tense romantic link with the plucky and so-far-inexplicably-telepathic heroine Sookie (consistently good work by Anna Paquin) makes sense because, as damned as their relationship would seem to be, it's underscored by a mutual and specifically regional moral rigor that gives Sookie the peace of mind she craves (the thoughts of vampires cannot be overheard), and Bill the mirror he is otherwise denied in undeath.
The executive story editor on TRUEBLOOD is Chris Offutt, whom I credit -- rightly or wrongly -- with some of the brushstrokes I'm appreciating so much in Moyer's rich characterization. In his bourbon-voiced courtliness and subdued volatility, Vampire Bill Compton reminds me a lot of Chris's dad, the sci-fi/sword & sorcery/pulp porn scribe Andrew J. Offutt. Andy was the first professional writer I ever met, and very kind to me when I was a youngster; in fact, he contributed an amusing article surveying the then-current horror movie scene to the second issue of a film-related fanzine that I published in the early 1970s. I remember meeting Chris when he was just a kid at various Midwestcons as the eldest in a procession of youngsters that fandom knew as the "Offuttspring," trailing their pretty mom Jody like so many quail. He has since gone on to enviable success and respect as a literary (as opposed to genre) novelist and short story writer, and I was pleased and surprised to find someone with his credentials and knowledge of the South affiliated with this program. I don't know if this perceived nod to his dad is deliberate or subconscious or just a natural emanation of Chris's life experience, but there's a lot of the Andy Offutt I remember in Vampire Bill.
This is a show rich in characterization, inventiveness and incident, and I hope it can stay on track after so powerfully forking the road of Sookie's humanity. Even if it stumbles after this, these early episodes of TRUEBLOOD will continue to represent vampire cinema at its most clever and progressive.