Edgar Allen Poe: The Tell-Tale Heart, The Black Cat, The Cask of Amontillado

I don’t like Poe.

I freely admit that might be because I was forced to read him in high school. Does anyone like the writers they’re forced to read in high school? The only writer I recall liking was Kate Chopin. I guess I liked Mark Twain, also. I was too busy reading Stephen King to give a shit about literature.

I’ve always found Poe to be a very wordy writer. His philosophy seems to be, why use one word when you can use twenty? I do like his poetry, though. When I think of Poe’s stories, usually movie remakes come to mind – Vincent Price in The Masque of the Red Death, Bela Lugosi in The Murders in the Rue Morgue and Dario Argento’s kick-ass version of The Black Cat in the movie Two Evil Eyes.

I guess if I had to choose a favorite Poe story, it would be The Fall of The House of Usher, although The Masque of the Red Death is good also. Hey, want to try something fun? Read the end of The Fall of the House of Usher, and then read the end of Moby Dick. Think Melville read Poe? Props to my college professor thirty years ago for pointing that one out.

My other Poe problem has to do with the fact that I’ve read a billion Poe clones in the slush pile. These stories are invariably visceral with minimal character development, because the writer is too busy plastering the hair on the wall with a trowel to care about nuances like characterization. That’s not Poe’s fault, and imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but –

What about these stories? My favorite is The Black Cat.  I don’t think the narrator of The Black Cat is a psycho, btw. He’s a violent drunk who kills his wife and then tries to cover it up, just like a lot of assholes nowadays. There’s a giallo called The Psychic that’s basically a remake of The Black Cat. Holy crap, I just looked on the Internet Movie Database and Lucio Fulci directed The Psychic! I didn’t know that.

The Cask of Amontillado has been imitated countless times.  I’ve read a thousand revenge stories like this in the slush pile.  Usually they’re a lot more graphic. The technical term for the narrator in this story is prickly asshole. There’s not much nuance here. Lots of Poe’s stories are claustrophobic.

I vividly recall reading The Tell-Tale Heart in my high school English class. I don’t recall wondering what type of psychosis the narrator suffered from; I recall wondering when the bell would ring so I could get the hell out of class and go to lunch. Sorry, I’m just being honest.

What do I think when I read Poe now? I find reading him to be a chore, which is a real shame. Poe was way ahead of his time. The thing that struck me most upon reread is how he writes violence. Poe’s violence isn’t always realistic – I’ve never heard of an orangutan wielding a straight razor – but it’s blunt and unadorned. Poe doesn’t sexualize violence and murder. His world is naturalistic, totally without pity and mercy. The world eats your mother and then it eats you.

Brutal!

Advertisements

The Killing Joke

I didn’t like The Killing Joke. If you enjoyed The Killing Joke, that’s great. I have strong feelings about The Killing Joke for personal reasons, but that doesn’t mean I think everyone who likes this book is wrong or a bad person or whatever. If we all had the same opinion life would be boring. Also: I am going to delete this review after the assignment gets graded.

I won’t go into the making of The Killing Joke. For historical context, you might want to check out these two links:

Women in Refrigerators, by comics writer Gail Simone: https://www.lby3.com/wir/

Ms. Simone has written a number of wonderful comics (most notably Secret Six), and is now writing the Marvel title Domino (from the Deadpool 2 movie).

L.A. Times article on The Killing Joke, including a reference to the infamous statement by editorial (‘cripple the bitch’): http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/herocomplex/la-et-hc-killing-joke-comics-20160728-snap-story.html

Mr. Moore made the aforementioned claim in a 2006 interview in Wizard Magazine, which I can’t find online. It is worth noting that by 2006 Mr. Moore’s relationship with DC had hit rock bottom and he was the one who asked if he could cripple Barbara Gordon, so I don’t believe this was an editorial mandate.

The reputation of Alan Moore (the writer of The Killing Joke) rests mostly on The Watchmen. In my opinion – and I’ve read enough comics so that my opinion is as good as anyone’s – Moore’s best work is his seminal run on Swamp Thing. Much of Mr. Moore’s later material is very violent towards women. If you think this is a controversial statement, you haven’t read his body of work.

I began reading comics in 1978. I was ten years old. My first title was The Flash #278, when Barry Allen – out to avenge the murder of his wife, Iris – fights Captain Boomerang. I continued reading superhero comics until about 2015 (forty-seven!), when the price of a comic book ($4.99!) drove me out of the field.

I grew up in the suburbs. I didn’t know shit. My OCD fucked up puberty, big-time. It’s hard to meet girls when you are counting cracks on sidewalks and trying to move leaves you’ve disturbed with your foot back to their original spot. I was what you’d call a weirdo and I read a shitload of comics. At the time my taste sucked: I traded all my Frank Miller comics for issues of Spider-Man because I thought the art was ugly. Over the years I’ve learned to appreciate talent, even if I don’t particularly like that talent.

I am going to be blunt: comics do warp your mind, especially young developing minds. After a few years of reading comics, I was so used to seeing the hero’s girlfriend/female sidekick/etc. kidnapped and tied up that I knew something was up, and at that time I didn’t understand what the word fetish meant. It wouldn’t surprise me to learn that a few of the writers and artists of that time had what you’d either call a kink or a paraphilia, depending on your view of such things.

Weird shit in comics escalated as the 1980’s progressed. I was not the most aware of human beings, but I was taken aback in the mid-80’s when the violence towards women in comics became much more realistic and graphic. There is a run of Green Arrow that stands out in that regard, but if you look at comics of that time period it’s rampant.

When I read The Killing Joke (back in 1988!) I didn’t know it was a piece of misogynistic shit. My viewpoint has changed over the years. At the time I knew that I didn’t like it. Batman comics have certain rules, and this book violated them all: women don’t get sexually assaulted, there’s no nudity and The Joker doesn’t have an origin.

And I couldn’t figure out what the fuck they were laughing about.

I didn’t know then, and I don’t know now.

Joyride

I didn’t like Jack Ketchum’s Joyride. This essay will give the reasons why. Please note that this review contains spoilers of Mr. Ketchum’s Joyride and Off-Season and the comic version of The Walking Dead.

My first problem with Joyride is that it is domestic (family-based) horror, and this particular subgenre tends to have a nasty moralizing streak that I find very unpleasant. An example – in the Walking Dead comic, Lori Grimes thinks that her husband Rick is dead so she takes up with his friend Shane. After Shane dies and Rick returns Lori discovers she’s pregnant, and it’s not clear who the father is. In a later issue, Lori and her baby die horribly. Was this piece of cosmic irony intentional on the author’s part? I don’t know, but I’d say that the symbolism is pretty clear.

In Joyride Carole and her lover kill her husband, and cosmic retribution comes in the form of Wayne the Psychopath. I won’t dwell on the fact that plot-wise, divine payback makes a lot more sense than the only budding serial killer in Barstow just happening to witness Carole bashing her ex-husband’s brains in with a rock. Still, one wonders if God’s Middle Finger was intentional on the author’s part. You could miss the connection, but it’s there. That’s #1.

My second problem with Joyride is that it’s not very well-written. Mr. Ketchum head-hops like a frisky bullfrog leaping from lily pad to lily pad. The book isn’t edited very well and character development is paper thin. There’s a reason this reads so quickly. I wonder if Joyride was originally a screenplay treatment converted into a novel.

Mr. Ketchum doesn’t much care about plot, using real life as the starting point for many of his stories. This isn’t a critique. Dostoevsky got the idea for Crime and Punishment from a newspaper clipping. Mr. Ketchum states in his afterword that the idea for Joyride came from a pair of serial killers culled from the book Bloodletters and Badmen. I won’t say Mr. Ketchum’s material is derivative, but it’s easy to see his influences.

Thus, the fact that much of Joyride flunked the believability test in many places is a real problem. Some of this has to do with plot (see Paragraph #3), but I found the characters’ motives to be unbelievable. To me, Carole’s asshole ex Howard is the most fully fleshed out character of the bunch. He was totally believable. I found the actions and the motives of the other characters harder to believe and understand.

Ketchum tends to hone in on his characters’ weaknesses and most unpleasant characteristics and treat that as character development. Susan dates Wayne the Psychopath because…well, I don’t know why. From Susan’s description of him, he sounds like the grumpiest, most unpleasant fuck in existence, and that’s before we learn that he’s a budding strangler and serial killer. I’m sorry, there’s no way anyone would want to date this guy, and that to me is a real believability issue.

Here’s another example. One of the main characters of Joyride is Carole, who has been abused by her ex-husband. The particulars of Carole’s marriage are depressing and awful; domestic horror also tends to rub the reader’s face in wretched excess. I don’t believe that a writer needs to treat his/her characters with kids’ gloves, but if they become punching bags with no agency, that’s a problem.

Case in point: it is Lee, Carole’s lover, who decides that they must kill Howard and Carole goes along with it. To me, this is important because it strips Carole – the most likely candidate to be the main character of Joyride –  of anything resembling agency. Carole kills her husband because Lee botches the job. They bash his brains in with a baseball bat and then a rock and throw his body into a creek, where he floats off downstream to be discovered by a perverted Eagle Scout.

The final deal-breaker is Joyride’s message. When I read Jack Ketchum’s Off-Season I saw a writer interested in sadism. The opening scene of Off-Season features a character being whipped. The introduction to Joyride is all about hurting people, also. This is fine, except the author seems to think there’s some sort of profundity in such statements as (paraphrasing) LIFE IS PAIN or THE WORLD EATS YOUR MOTHER, when these statements are in fact eye-rolling hogwash. Nihilism disguised as philosophy is still nihilism.

 

Se7en

I saw Seven once, years ago. Watching this movie a second time brought me back to the good ole’ days of the 1990’s, when listening to Nine Inch Nails was a great way to shock Grandma at the Thanksgiving dinner table. On a related note, the man who directed Seven also directed music videos by Foreigner, The Hooters and Loverboy (among others). I am not making fun of the director, because I adore two of those three bands and he does a great job with the visuals of Seven. I didn’t much like the source material, but that’s not his fault.

I was struck by how gritty Seven was. See all that grit? There’s a scene in National Lampoon’s Vacation, my favorite movie on earth, where Clark Griswold says – see all that plight, kids? The characters in Vacation are about a hundred times more realistic than the characters in Seven, who talk like they’re reading dialogue written by a guy who’s spent a lot of time immersing himself in – you guessed it – grit. If I could’ve gotten away with watching this movie with the sound off, I would have, but I’m a wimp who just can’t take that much GRIT.

In Seven, it’s always raining and none of the lights work. Everything’s dirty and smelly. There are buckets of puke and human heads in boxes. People talk tough. Morgan Freeman and Brad Pitt bicker! People call their co-workers assholes! Brad Pitt nuzzles Gwyneth Paltrow! And Kevin Spacey channels the Brilliant Serial Killer Trope, playing a brilliant serial killer obsessed with the Seven Deadly Sins.

I forgot how educational Seven is. There’s a Merchant of Venice reference – pound of flesh; a Paradise Lost reference – long is the way, and hard, that out of hell leads up to the light; and a Dante’s Inferno reference –Dante fucking piece of shit. One of the best parts of Seven is the scene where we learn that the FBI monitors certain library books. Whether or not this is true, the fact that this is how our heroes almost catch the killer is really clever and I liked it. The rest of this movie reminded me of a nihilistic Image comic book. The chase scene is Exhibit A – this scene looked great, but if they dropped a dime and called for back-up they could have gotten about a hundred cop cars to chase the one guy fleeing on foot.

Honestly, I am not sure why I disliked Seven so much. I think it’s because the Brilliant Serial Killer trope really pisses me off. Heath Ledger’s Joker is probably the best-known example of this wondrous trope. The Brilliant Serial Killer is beloved by everyone, just like Santa Claus and The Shmoo. He has some sort of half-assed philosophy that inevitably has to do with nihilism; he’s also smarter than everyone else, just like one of those villains in 70’s TV cop shows who robs a bank and then changes his clothes so that he looks like a priest, fooling everybody!

People with real mental illnesses don’t like the Brilliant Serial Killer, because he – let’s face it, the BSK is usually a he – is so fucking stupid. What can I say? It’s true. People with real mental illnesses don’t act anything like the Brilliant Serial Killer, who is more often than not a fucked up Mary Sue of the collective ID of the general public, who like their nihilism WELL-DONE. Yes, Seven is well-done, but as I’ve grown older I’ve come to despise the philosophy these types of movies espouse – life sucks and then you die and then you get hit by a truck, which drags your body cross-country where it’s eaten by wild dogs, etc., etc., etc.

 

 

 

Taxi Driver

True confession: I’ve never seen Taxi Driver. Thus, you may be surprised to learn that my first thought on watching this movie was holy shit, it’s Rorschach! That’s right, Alan Moore based one of the characters of his ultra-bleak, ultra-nihilistic graphic novel Watchmen on Travis Bickle. Actually, I’m being kind here – Rorschach is a blatant rip-off of Travis Bickle. Later this semester we will be reading Mr. Moore’s Killing Joke, a graphic novel which has somehow become a classic in certain quarters.

Oh well, onto Taxi Driver. It is obvious from the start of this movie that taxi driver Travis Bickle has problems. His first problem is that he’s pissed off; his second problem is that he can’t connect with anyone, especially women; his third problem is that he has no social skills. Separately none of these problems are insurmountable; combined, they are fucking fatal.

Travis Bickle is a stalker. I am not necessarily talking about women here, although Bickle has a weird, fidgety energy that makes people – especially women – nervous. No, Bickle stalks both men and women. He stalks and attempts to kill Senator Palantine, which parallels Arthur Bremer’s attempted assassination of George Wallace in 1972. Years ago I had to read Mr. Bremer’s diaries for a school assignment, and I believe that the character of Travis Bickle is partly based on Mr. Bremer.

Bickle tries to connect with campaign worker Betsy but they are worlds apart, education, social class, income level. It’s so cute when people say that things like that don’t matter! Also: Bickle has no social skills. When they meet at the diner she doesn’t get his jokes and instead of laughing it off he gets pissed off. He later takes her to a pornographic movie on their first date. Back in the 70’s couples actually went to X-rated movies, but it’s not something you did on a first date. It’s an honest – on revision I eliminated the word stupid – mistake on his part.

I don’t think Bickle’s mental wires are crossed. He knows he has problems. One of my favorite scenes in Taxi Driver is when he talks to Wizard, a salt of the earth type who is really an idiot in disguise. Look at it in this context: everyone wants their life to mean something. Bickle’s life means nothing. It’s sad. Taxi Driver is like his disastrous date with Betsy, ad infinitum – he’s trying but he keeps fucking up. Maybe it’s just his nature.

Digression: boy oh boy, that scene in the convenience store is totally mental.

Taxi Driver is a very grim movie, but there are a few funny parts. Bickle has an off-the-wall sense of humor that gets more unhinged as the movie progresses. Meet Henry Krinkle of Fair-Lawn, NJ! He doesn’t even try to get the zip code right.

The music was one of the few negative points of Taxi Driver for me. It reminded me of 1970’s sitcoms and Stacy Keach’s Mike Hammer TV show. The cinematography is amazing. Let me repeat: the cinematography is amazing. Look, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is playing! This movie brings back the New York City of my childhood, when 42nd Street was full of porn stores, the subways were filthy and New York City wasn’t some sort of glorified Disneyland. Nowadays, walking down 42ndStreet, past the Panera’s and the M&Ms Store, thinking – you used to be dangerous.

The Legend of Boggy Creek

The Legend of Boggy Creek bills itself as a documentary of the Fouke Monster, a bigfoot-type creature that supposedly stalks the woods of Fouke, Arkansas. The footage of this ‘documentary’ is grainy. We don’t see much of the monster, and the glimpses we do catch look like a man wearing a gorilla suit, but never mind that. There really is such a place as Fouke, Arkansas so maybe there is a monster!

Many residents of Fouke are willing to go on camera and tell us they’ve seen the Creature, pointing out where they saw it on their potato fields or telling the tale of how it killed their hogs.  It’s not clear if the monster is supposed to be Bigfoot, Sasquatch, a Skunk Ape or something else. The movie’s narrator just calls it The Fouke Monster or The Creature and leaves it at that.

Not content with interviews, the movie gives us reenactments of towns folks’ encounters with the Creature. Many of these witnesses are women, alone in their cabins while their menfolk are out and about. The Monster seems to spend a lot of time hanging around the cabins of these women scaring kittens to death, peering through windows and trying to get inside.

The narrator tells us that perhaps the Creature is lonely. Don’t be fooled by such double-speak. The Fouke Monster wants sex. Lest you think it only stalks co-eds, it also takes a shine to one of the menfolk, who has to bust through a door to escape its amorous designs! This is one of the best scenes of the film; unfortunately, it takes place at the end so you have to watch the rest of the movie.

The Legend of Boggy Creek stars the townsfolk who saw the Creature in real life. Apparently the town of Fouke, Arkansas is overrun by Crabtrees, because that’s mostly who are in the credits. This movie even has a song about the one and only Travis Crabtree.

I have a confession to make – even after watching this movie, I’m still a skeptic. One of the tales that has the ring of truth is the story of the guy the Fouke Monster takes a liking to. If I was him, I’d make up a story that was less humiliating. I can see the headlines now: Fouke Monster Attacks Man Taking A Shit.

Please note that The Legend of Boggy Creek isn’t as exciting as I’ve made it sound. At one point, I was watching this movie to help me fall asleep at night. If you are a cryptozoology fan or a Bigfoot hunter, it is of course a must-see movie. Please note that this is one of the films in Joe Bob’s Last Drive In Movie Marathon; Joe Bob’s commentary will tell you everything you ever wanted to know about this movie, plus a bit more!

Blood Feast

I have seen many stupid movies in my life. Being a dedicated horror fan means that a certain amount of stupidity is unavoidable. I’ve seen movies with titles such as Rabid Grannies, Satan’s Princess and The Toxic Avenger, but before this week I’d never seen a Herschell Gordon Lewis film.

Herschell Gordon Lewis was a pioneer in the horror movie industry. Possessor of both an M.A. and a PhD (in different fields!), he was an advertising executive who wrote books about junk mail. In the early 60’s he also started making his own movies. His horror movies are amateurishly made affairs featuring awful acting and bad writing. They’re also full of blood and over-the-top gore, which back in the early 60’s was a new thing.

Blood Feast is Herschell Gordon Lewis’ first horror movie – his earlier efforts seem to be mostly nudist camp films. But as we know and Mr. Lewis discovered, red-blooded Americans crave violence far more than sex. Blood Feast was a hit at drive-ins across our great nation!

This movie stars Mal Arnold as Fuad Ramses, exotic caterer, who wants to make an Egyptian feast worthy of the gods. This involves using various sharp implements to harvest body parts from young, nubile women. Yeah, about those young, nubile women – for a guy who cut his teeth directing movies about naked couples playing volleyball, Lewis’ films are hideously unsexy. He makes up for it with some truly over-the-top gore, including a tongue ripping out scene that grossed even me out.

The acting in Blood Feast is awful, but I want to give a special shout-out to Mal Arnold, who sports a bad Bela Lugosi accent and walks around with a limp. All that said, I enjoyed this movie. Blood Feast has a sly sense of humor which I truly didn’t expect. It’s  campy as hell, a ‘good’ bad movie, and I liked it more than anything Ed Wood – our country’s other celebrated ‘bad’ director – has ever made.

Don’t Look Up

I found Don’t Look Up on Shudder Streaming, which apparently is slightly different from the Shudder you get on Amazon. If you want to see the latest movies Shudder has purchased, subscribe to them directly. Anyway, Don’t Look Up was directed by Hideo Nakato, who directed Ringu (good) and Dark Water (excellent!). This movie shares plot elements and character archetypes with these later films. Apparently they did an English language remake, but I don’t know whether it was any good.

The plot: Toshio is directing a period drama about a pair of sisters. When watching footage of one of their just filmed scenes, he sees superimposed footage of an old TV show. This is the same show that scared the crap out of Toshio as a kid. Note: I think they see the footage because the studio reused old film, but I might not have understood the explanation correctly. Anyway, a strange woman in white lurks in the periphery of that footage.

Lurking on the periphery is a good way to describe what goes on in Don’t Look Up. The woman in white starts hanging around the set; she seems to enjoy the turrets. Things take a tragic turn when there’s an accident with one of the actresses, and a spooky turn when Toshio learns that the TV show he saw as a kid was never aired because another actress suffered the selfsame accident.

Don’t Look Up is an entertaining ghost story. Toshio and one of his actresses apparently have a mutual thing for each other (at least that’s how I understood it), but neither ever says anything. The movie doesn’t explain itself and the ending was not at all what I expected, but I mean both of these things in a good way.

Don’t Look Up is worth checking out, especially if you like J-horror!

Daughters of Darkness

The seventies were a golden age for lesbian vampire movies, a tidal wave that crested with 1983’s The Hunger. Jean Rollin is of course the gold standard for this subgenre of cinema, but he wasn’t the only practitioner. Take Daughters of Darkness, which I must admit that I’d never even heard of before Joe Bob’s Last Drive-In Movie Marathon.

The plot: newlyweds Stefan and Valerie vacation in Ostend, Belgium, a gloomy port city. Ostend appears to be totally empty except for Stefan, Valerie and the hotel’s porter. Soon enough the Countess Bathory and her secretary show up, trailed by an Inspector Clouseau type cop.

Valerie and Stefan met only a few days ago and now they’re married; if you think that’s weird, just wait. You ain’t seen nothing yet. Valerie is afraid Stefan’s mother will hate her, except Stefan’s mother is out of the picture. Stefan does have an older male lover, which is fine, except he’s lying to his bride about it. Stefan is also turned on by sadistic murder and likes to beat Valerie with his belt. This is why you should spend at least a week getting to know a person before marrying him/her!

The Countess and her secretary, Ilona, are almost normal compared to Stefan and Valerie. They travel by night, leaving a trail of nubile dead virgins in their wake. The Countess takes a shine to our newlyweds much to the dismay of Ilona, who expresses her displeasure by showing up nude at Valerie’s window.

I don’t want to give away too much of the plot, here. Suffice it to say there are lots of cocktails, witty repartee, the color red and sex. Daughters of Darkness does have a plot, although it crawls along at a slug’s pace. Unlike Mr. Rollin’s movies, which are Eurotrash and are in awful taste, this is an arthouse flick. Don’t get me wrong, Daughters of Darkness is in awful taste also, except its HIGHBROW awful taste.

My biggest problem with Daughters of Darkness is that the filmmakers don’t care about vampires or vampire lore. There’s a shower scene that I didn’t understand. Ilona either doesn’t like showers or she doesn’t like running water, which would make more sense, but it’s never explained which. I will say that Daughters of Darkness is a good-looking movie that held my interest, but there are better offerings out there. If you want to see a lesbian vampire movie, watch a Jean Rollin flick or The Hunger.

Tourist Trap

I saw Tourist Trap on Joe Bob’s Last Drive-In, a twenty-four hour movie marathon that I highly recommend. Tourist Trap is a weird movie that borrows its look from Tobe Hooper’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but without that movie’s fabled grit.

No, Tourist Trap has a bizarre vibe all its own. It stars Chuck Connors and Tanya Roberts along with a group of attractive roadkill – er, I mean youths. Seeing Tanya Roberts before she became famous is a real eye opener, sort of like watching Jennifer Aniston in Leprechaun, the best movie you’ll ever see about a homicidal leprechaun.

The plot: six young people get stranded at a roadside wax museum run by friendly weirdo Chuck Connors. Unfortunately, Chuck’s crazy telekinetic brother isn’t as friendly and the attractive youths get picked off one by one. I will say that the killer wears some pretty freaky masks. Our youthful revelers dress in cut-offs and t-shirts, but the final girl wears a white dress paired with a white sunbonnet and looks like she’s going to church. The subtext, it burns my eyes!

Tourist Trap gets an A-plus for its creative use of mannequins. Chuck’s house used to be a roadside wax museum, and Chuck’s wacky brother uses his telekinetic powers to animate those mannequins – at points, he goes way beyond animating the mannequins. He thinks the final girl looks like his dead wife, even though she looks nothing like her, but he’s crazy so we should cut him some slack.

Tourist Trap sure isn’t boring. I don’t know if it deserves the title of a cult classic, but it doesn’t deserve to be forgotten. It’s well-made and it has a bizarre vibe that I liked. If possible, watch Tourist Trap on Joe Bob’s Drive-In, as his commentary will add to your movie-going experience!