Ghost Stories

Ghost Stories is a British horror anthology released in 2017. The plot: psychic debunker Philip Goodman uses his TV show to expose hucksters and frauds. Interestingly, he is portrayed as a spoilsport with an enormous ego. I’ve seen horror movies featuring skeptics before, but this is the first one I’ve seen that is so openly hostile to its main character. Anyway: Goodman gets a message from his mentor, Professor Cameron, who now lives in a spooky trailer by an abandoned amusement park. The good doctor gives Goodman three cases of the paranormal he’s never been able to solve, and there’s your frame story.

The first case features a security guard keeping watch over an abandoned women’s prison/asylum. Why anyone would hire a security guard to do such a thing, I have no idea. The lights keep going out as our hero wanders around in the dark. This asylum features lots of women’s mannequins, because reasons.

The second story involves a younger guy who hits something in the woods while he’s talking on his cell phone. In an act of cosmic justice, his car stalls in those selfsame woods and the goat thing he hit comes by to pay a visit. The third story involves a rich guy whose older wife gets pregnant. She goes into the hospital while he stays in his enormous home. From what we see of his personality he’s doing his wife a favor by staying away. Is it poltergeists that invade the baby’s room or something else?

Ghost Stories contains a few decent jump scares and shrieking ghouls. They made me jump anyway, but that’s pretty easy to do. The first story is good, but the second and third are skimpy. That’s because the frame story becomes vital to the plot as the movie progresses. Watch Ghost Stories closely, as certain characters and scenes repeat. Unfortunately, there’s no way for the viewer to guess what’s happening.

After awhile things get really, really surreal and I didn’t know what was going on, never a good sign in a horror movie. Please note that some of the characters make anti-Semitic statements, and since this movie dislikes its protagonist I wasn’t sure how to take them. Ghost Stories reminded me of Dead of Night, a wonderful 1940’s horror anthology which features a psychic battle between a ventriloquist and his dummy. Ghost Stories isn’t as good as Dead of Night, and for reasons I won’t go into (because spoilers) I also found this movie to be depressing. A decently made jumper that gets incoherent towards the end.

 

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The Silence of the Lambs

Hey, I’ve never seen The Silence of the Lambs! I’m not sure what I can say that’s new or interesting about this movie, but I’ll give it a shot. Do people know that the character of Buffalo Bill is partly based on an e.e. Cummings poem? Here’s a link to the poem: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/47244/buffalo-bill-s

Isn’t that great? I’ve often thought it’s a shame that it’s impossible to make a living writing poetry in this country. Anyway, when I watched the closing credits I learned that Roger Corman and Chris Isaak were in this movie! They thanked John ‘Mindhunter’ Douglas! And there was a Moth Wrangler, and an Assistant Moth Wrangler. Union jobs!

One of my favorite parts of The Silence of the Lambs occurs near the end, when Catherine Martin calls Clarice a bitch because she won’t let her out of the hole. I mean, it’s not a nice thing to say, but you can sort of see her point. The goat-green cam at the very end gave me flashbacks to all the shitty found footage movies I’ve watched.

I was curious, so I looked. Here’s Precious’ filmography: https://www.imdb.com/name/nm1584705/?ref_=ttfc_fc_cl_t28

Anthony Hopkins plays Hannibal Lecter, and he looks like he’s having the time of his life. You can almost hear him giggling. I’m not sure I understood the connection between him and Clarice. He calls her a dumb hick and then gets upset when the loony in the cell next to him throws sperm in her face. It’s a weird moment, because Lecter wears a mask (literally and figuratively) throughout most of this movie, and I think this is one of the few moments when he shows genuine emotion, and I’m not sure why. I read the book, years ago. Maybe I’ll take a look.

I thought Dr. Chilton had great taste in ties; even his clothes are loud and pompous. The guy who plays Buffalo Bill sadly isn’t in the movie much, but he’s awesome. He’s got some great lines. PUT THE FUCKING LOTION IN THE BASKET! His housekeeping skills are worse than mine, which is saying something, and when he’s wearing those night vision goggles he sort of looks like a bug. I figure his last words were something like – ah, shit. It’s a shame his performance has been overshadowed by Anthony Hopkins.

Jodie Foster is great as Clarice Starling. She puts up with tons of shit from everybody in this movie. Lots of people underestimate her, including Buffalo Bill, and boy does he pay for it. The only mistake she makes is not shooting him in the parlor, but who can blame her? What if she shoots the wrong guy?

A few touches I liked: when the cop moves Hannibal’s drawings away to clear the table and we see he’s sketched Clarice. I also liked Catherine Martin refusing to let go of Precious, even when the paramedics are leading her out of Buffalo Bill’s house.

I’m not sure if The Silence of the Lambs taught me anything new about serial killers. I mean, this movie is about as realistic as an episode of Aqua Teen Hunger Force, but it works wonderfully as a thriller. By the way, I view this more as a thriller with horror elements than a horror movie with thriller elements.

 

 

 

Red Dragon

Note: I curse in this review!!!

Red Dragon is a brilliant book. It is overshadowed by Thomas Harris’ follow-up novel, The Silence of the Lambs, partly because of the movie and partly because Silence has a happy ending (if you don’t read Hannibal). The other reason Red Dragon doesn’t get the accolades it so richly deserves is that it’s depressing as fuck. I can boil this book’s theme down to two words: People Suck.

Red Dragon’s protagonist, Will Graham, is mentally ill. All that talk about empathy and projection is a bunch of psycho-babble; Dr. Bloom has no idea what he’s talking about. Will Graham has a bunch of problems. One might say that his biggest problem is trusting Jack Crawford.  At one point in Red Dragon, Crawford says “I’m not a total asshole.” Crawford is lying. He is a total asshole.

The agency Crawford heads up doesn’t have a clue how to catch the loony, so they have to turn to the equivalent of a water dowser. Crawford is well aware that Will is damaged goods, mentally, physically, spiritually. He doesn’t care. If Crawford knew how Will does what he does, he’d drop him like a hot potato. But he doesn’t have a clue how Will does it. The funny thing is, Will doesn’t have a clue how Will does it either.

I love the scene where Will gets mad at the cop who doesn’t believe his story about how he captured Hannibal Lecter. I mean, are you kidding me? Arrow wounds? No, what happened is that Will’s subconscious whispered there’s something wrong with this guy into his ear, and Lecter saw it on his face. Are Will and Hannibal the same, like Lecter claims? Not really. Lecter is a lot more put together than Will.

One of Will’s problems is most likely OCD – he exhibits obsessive qualities throughout the book, most notably by repeatedly visiting Dolarhyde’s victims’ homes. But Will’s bigger problem is that he has no boundaries. When Will and Crawford eat breakfast at the diner, Will is disturbed by the couple in the next booth having an argument. Crawford is busy eating his ham and eggs and doesn’t notice. Will notices because his brain is wired that way and he’s incapable of not noticing.

This is not empathy. Will can’t control it. His ‘gift’ is like a mean Doberman Pinscher straining at the leash; very often that dog will turn around and savage the person holding the lead. That’s why Will is not a nice person. People who struggle with these issues aren’t easy, on others or on themselves. Another thing that struck me about Red Dragon is that Molly is a saint, because Will says some hurtful shit to his wife (Will on the phone, saying you can catch a baseball game after Molly’s first husband – a baseball player – died of cancer).

Which leads me to Will’s biggest problem: he thinks he deserves to be in the GUTTER, which is where he ends up. Crawford merely enables him. Do you think it’s a coincidence that both he and Francis Dolarhyde are disfigured at the book’s end? Will’s epiphany – that the universe doesn’t give a flying fuck about Will – comes thirty something years later than Dolarhyde’s selfsame epiphany, but it’s worth watching, in the same way car crashes are worth watching.

The other thing I want to mention about Red Dragon is the character of Niles Jacobi, the prodigal son. Niles is the son of Ed Jacobi, the patriarch of the first family killed by Dolarhyde. I was struck by the scene where Will and Niles talk because on the surface there’s no reason for it. The reader already knows that Niles didn’t kill anyone. This scene gives us a good character moment for Will – we learn that he’s vindictive, which pays off in spades when Will sets up Freddy Lounds. You mean to tell me Will spends most of the book telling people how Dolarhyde will react and he doesn’t know that he might go for Freddy? It’s no coincidence that Will’s downward slide really commences with Lounds’ death.

That’s not the reason for the Niles/Will scene, though. Niles Jacobi is a double for Francis Dolarhyde. When I read about Niles using the family portrait as a drink holder I didn’t much like him. Then I used EMPATHY and PROJECTION and looked at it from Niles’ point-of-view. Nile’s father abandons him when he’s a kid. Since its stated that Nile’s mother is disturbed, maybe he could’ve gotten custody. Maybe not. I don’t know. What I do know is that Nile’s father cuts ties, starts a new life and then reappears years later after the damage to his son has been done and it’s too late. He comes back hiding his guilt with his work hard/live clean horseshit, and Niles is like sure, whatever. But honestly, Niles doesn’t give a fuck about his old man. Would you, if you were him? It all ties into Red Dragon’s theme (if you forgot, see the first paragraph)!

Anyway: Red Dragon is a great book, but boy oh boy is it a bummer. I first read this book back in 1993. After finishing I was depressed as fuck. At the time I didn’t know why, but now I do!

 

The Sculptor

The Sculptor reminded me of the work of James Patterson, one of the most successful authors of the past twenty years. I’ve enjoyed reading a few of the authors Mr. Patterson has worked with. For instance, Michael Koryta’s The Ridge is a great, spooky read. If you like James Patterson, give The Sculptor a try. It’s a fast-paced mystery/thriller with plenty of action and romance.

Spoilers ahead.

SPOILERS

SPOILERS

SPOILERS

Okay, here’s my unvarnished opinion. I did not like The Sculptor, but I see that the author is a contemporary, as it were. Robert Bloch has passed away. Stephen Dobyns is off teaching and Bret Easton Ellis is off being Bret Easton Ellis. A bad review doesn’t mean anything to them. In addition, there are many people who enjoy books like The Sculptor, which are often quite successful. I myself used to read forty to fifty mysteries per year. My tastes changed, as you will see by reading this review.

The Sculptor reminded me of a movie called Blood and Black Lace, a famous giallo by Italian filmmaker Mario Bava. I did not appreciate Blood and Black Lace on my first watch because all the characters were incredibly shallow and the movie’s look and music reminded me of an episode of Charlie’s Angels. Later, I realized how influential Mr. Bava must have been to have so many directors imitate him (this movie came out in 1964). I also realized that the characters were incredibly shallow on purpose; indeed, they worked in an amoral field that almost required it.

The Sculptor has no such excuse. Saddled with unrealistic characters, multiple inconsistencies and a cliched plot, this book reminded me of a bad TV movie. It wouldn’t be a Lifetime movie, because Lifetime movies can often be quite gritty. Maybe a movie of the week?

The Sculptor’s problems can be narrowed down to three issues, believability, predictability and agency. This book has multiple believability issues – how did the Sculptor get in and out of prison to cut off and make a sculpture of Stanky’s penis? Did Stanky wear a full-body hazmat suit when having sex with the Aussie woman? Why did the college’s housing department make Jesse and Mara roommates? A serial killer is preying upon exchange students, but apparently that’s not a big deal because it’s business as usual. The grad students like to drink and carouse – wait, that part’s realistic. College students love to party.

The characters are – look, real cops don’t act like Enzo. Good-looking guys like Jesse aren’t secretly vulnerable. ‘Secretly vulnerable’ is a bad pick-up line, replacing ‘I used to work for the CIA.’ The only character I liked was Stanky, mostly because of his magnificent nickname. He also does a great job of cock-blocking Jesse. When your readers start pulling for the villain, your book has problems.

Second, predictability. There isn’t any suspense. I knew Mara wouldn’t be in any real danger until the book was almost over because the author isn’t going to maybe kill off her heroine until the final act. I knew Mara and Jesse’s relationship would have its share of bumps, because that’s what the plot requires. These plot requirements aren’t bad things, mind you, but it’s the author’s job to make the reader lose herself in the book and not think about such things.

My biggest problem with The Sculptor is agency. Mara has no agency; the killer does. To put it another way: it is the killer, and not Mara, who drives the plot. Many movies and books are structured like this, but at this point in my life I don’t read those books or watch those movies anymore.

 

The Church of Dead Girls

I read The Church of Dead Girls for the first time over twenty years ago. The gold paperback cover attracted me and Stephen King blurbed the book, which at the time wasn’t unusual. At one point it seemed like Mr. King was on a mission to blurb every book on earth.

The Church of Dead Girls isn’t a horror novel. It’s a mystery novel written by a poet with literary sensibilities. The first time I read it I figured out whodunnit. I am not bragging. Back then I read forty to fifty mystery novels a year, and the author plays fair – which means it’s possible to figure out who the killer is.  The dead girls are covered with symbols, a topic the talkative killer can’t seem to shut up about.

So what did I think about The Church of Dead Girls on my second read-through? I have a lot to say about this book. The first thing that struck me is that the opening scene makes it obvious that the author writes poetry. People who haven’t read many poems might think poetry is all about the rhymes, but to me contemporary poetry is all about vivid, offbeat imagery.

James Dickey, former poet laureate of the U.S.A., wrote Deliverance, which has an awesome scene of canoeing past a chicken factory. Ted Hughes, Sylvia Plath’s husband, was the poet laureate of England, and he wrote some of the most violent, fucked up poetry I’ve ever read. Read a copy of Crow, if you can get your hands on it. He’s most known for writing the children’s book The Iron Giant, which was made into an animated movie. I took a few poetry classes in college and one of the things that struck me about contemporary poetry is how many contemporary poets end up killing themselves. And how dark and violent their work is.

The Church of Dead Girls certainly qualifies as dark and violent. I suppose people will compare this book to The Crucible, but I think Our Town is a better example. This book is heavy on exposition and is told from the point of view of a townsperson who is essentially omniscient. However, there’s a difference. Unlike Our Town, everyone in the town of Aurelius is either involved in a weird incestuous relationship, sexually insatiable, harboring a horrible secret, a psychopath, or a blithering idiot. The town of Aurelius is the worst place on earth to live, and the fact that the narrator seems unaware of this is one of the ways that he reveals himself to be unreliable; the other way is that he conceals the identity of the killer from us.

A digression: years ago I saw a production of Our Town in New York City with my father. Paul Newman starred! I recall the play being full of pithy small-town wisdom, and my father – no doubt overcome by the pithiness – fell asleep. During a particularly pithy pause in the dialogue, he let out a great snore. I am not exaggerating when I say this was the single greatest moment of father-son bonding in recorded history.

Oh, yeah: the book. The Church of Dead Girls has two protagonists, Aaron McNeal and Ryan Tavich. Aaron returns to town to find the killer of his mother Janice, whose murder is the book’s inciting incident. The narrator tells us that Aaron blames the town for his mother’s death; I’m not sure I believe that, but I do think he figured that nobody there was capable of finding her killer, and he was right. Ryan Tavich, the other protagonist, is a cop who had a brief fling with Janice. He wants to find her killer, also.

If you combined Aaron and Ryan you’d have a kick-ass protagonist. Aaron is whip-smart, but you can make a good case he’s a psychopath himself. To be fair, that’s not totally true. Aaron has his moments of humanity. The narrator thinks he pays attention to Sadie to use her as bait to catch the killer, but they have something much more basic in common: they both lost their mothers. Ryan is a nice guy, but he’s not too smart. That’s not fair, either: he’s a small town cop, and not equipped to deal with the ensuing shitstorm.

The plot concerns three young girls who go missing. The authorities fixate on the Marxist reading group at the local college – no, I’m not kidding – because they are low-hanging fruit. In the authorities’ defense, in 99% of the cases obvious wins the day. Unfortunately, this is the other 1%. The author’s use of imagery, exemplified by the opening and the ear scene –  Aaron doesn’t just bite Hark’s ear off, he chews on it and then spits it out – is weird and unsettling. However, in some cases, it goes too far.

The thing that struck me most on my second read of The Church of Dead Girls is that this book’s treatment of women and gay people is just awful. Janice liked men and she liked sex, which is fine, but some of the descriptions of her sexuality read like something you’d find in Playboy Magazine. The murder of Jaime is off-the-charts violent and lurid. The narrator’s deep dark secret is a homophobic fairy tale that has been debunked for decades. I understand that this was the late 80’s/early 90’s, but in some cases the author goes way overboard and really rubs the reader’s face in it, as exemplified by the scene depicting the abuse of Barry in the graveyard. It is these passages stop me from recommending The Church of Dead Girls.

American Psycho

A note: since I read this book on my phone, I’m not going to list page numbers.

American Psycho is the dullest book I’ve read in years. This novel is long and it is boring and it repeats itself. We get the same jokes, ad nauseum (the characters all look and dress alike and mistake each other for other people) and we are subjected to an endless cycle of lunches, dinner parties, workouts, grooming tips and murder fantasies. Bateman’s pretend killings are brutal, but since they’re usually people we’ve met five pages ago it’s hard to care. Yes, the scenes are tough to read, but what’s the point?

Wait a minute…did I just say ‘Bateman’s pretend killings?’ Yes, the murders are all in Bateman’s head. No, I won’t argue the point, since what little plot American Psycho possesses occurs in the last third of the book and is all about whether Bateman is an actual killer. My read is that it’s not real, so that’s what I’m going with. At one point Bateman even says – ‘a pang of nausea I’m unable to stifle washes warmly over me, but since I’m really dreaming all this I’m able to ask…’ (during the lunch with Bethany chapter).

The fact that the characters have trouble telling each other apart can be viewed as satire, but it can also mean that Bateman has trouble telling them apart because it’s hard to keep track of that many people in your head. Bateman’s murder fantasies all highlight how strong he is and how weak and pathetic his quarry is – I was struck by how his Homeless Victim character is always hungry and crying.

Bateman even repeats a few of his fantasies, adding vicious flourishes – the first time he does The Man and His Dog Fantasy he mutilates Al and breaks his dog’s legs. The next time we see this fantasy he’s added a bunch of details – the dog is a Shar Pei and the dog’s owner wants to know if Bateman is a model before Bateman kills them. We have the scene where Bateman is taken aback by meeting the woman he’s acquainted with at the Chinese laundromat where he brings his bloody sheets. He fleshes out this scene later in the book when he’s taken aback by meeting Bethany, an ex-girlfriend, at a club. This segues into a new fantasy, Killing the Ex-Girlfriend. Ellis is a writer, so he’s familiar with the process of recycling material and fleshing out a scene.

The Bethany scene is when I realized I was reading about the fantasies of a sad man. Bateman has lunch with her in a public place, he makes a scene (‘do you have a non-smoking section?’), they get drunk, she reads his offensive poem loud enough for others to hear and then they go back to his apartment where he kills her. If we are talking about real life, Bateman would then be indicted by a grand jury. The tabloids would have a field day. Since this is a sex/murder fantasy nothing happens.

The timeline of American Psycho– or lack thereof – drove me nuts. I did have a frame of reference because I went to that U2 concert at Brendan Byrne arena. It was in May or early June 1987, and the fact that all the characters are stressed out about being in New Jersey is awesome. Anyway: the timeline skips all over the place. I thought about finding an episode guide to The Patty Winters Show online to try to nail down the dates, but apparently The Patty Winters Show doesn’t exist. My mistake; I was thinking about The Morton Downey Jr. Show, which I’m sure had an episode about dwarf-tossing.

Here are my positives: the dialogue is good. There are a few funny parts in this book, with the standout being the scene with the business cards. American Psycho portrays the sexism, racism, homophobia and misogyny that existed in the tri-state area in the late 1980’s very well. I know, because I lived there. Not everyone at that time was like Bateman and his friends, but the attitudes and conversations depicted in this book were more common than you might think.

And then there’s the plot. American Psycho doesn’t have a plot and at 400-plus pages is way too long for its subject matter, the definitive portrait of a man who has graphic sexual fantasies about killing his ex-girlfriend with a nail gun. Bateman describes himself as a void, and that’s pretty accurate. Everything he knows he’s read in a magazine. His eloquence about the band Genesis reads like something you’d find in a Rolling Stone article. Post Peter Gabriel Genesis is a joke of a band – even in the 80’s they were viewed as something of a punchline. Bateman also mentions Mike and the Mechanics. Anyone remember them? By the way, Phil Collins appeared in a Miami Vice episode that had no plot, just like American Psycho!

I figured out that this book was supposed to be satire when Bateman makes his speech about American interests and priorities at the sushi dinner party, so I suppose you could view American Psycho as a satire of the mores and attitudes of this country’s ruling class. You say you don’t think this country has a ruling class? Hahahaha. But again, what’s the point? The most horrifying thing about American Psycho is the characters’ attitudes towards anyone who isn’t a straight rich white male, and the book gets so caught up in porn and cannibalism and necrophilia that this point – which I’m not sure was intentional on the author’s part – gets buried in a sea of trash. And you want to have a point, don’t you? I mean, is this the hill you want to make your stand and possibly die on?

To quote Jack Skellington: What does it mean? What does it mean?

 

Psycho

I didn’t want to read Psycho. Maybe it’s because I’ve seen the Hitchcock movie, which has thoroughly eclipsed the book, about a hundred times. Or maybe it’s because I’ve never been a fan of Robert Bloch’s writing. I recall reading a short story Bloch wrote when I was just a kid. A woman has an affair and runs away with another man. She makes a big deal about the fact that she’s never celebrated Christmas. At the story’s end her ex-husband comes out of the living room holding a big machete and says – “I have granted her dearest wish. She is decorating the Christmas tree.”

You know, over the years I’ve read and forgotten a lot of crap, but that line has stuck with me. Unfortunately, it didn’t exactly instill a burning desire to leap out of my armchair and read all of Bloch’s material. In fact, it had the opposite effect.

And then I read Psycho. Did I like the book or not? That would be yes. Bloch mentions his source material – Eddie Gein – but makes it palatable to his audience. Instead of wearing his victim’s skin, Norman wears her clothes. Although Norman is an occultist kook, there is nothing supernatural about Psycho. The only possible supernatural element is when Norman reads The Realm of the Incas (available on Amazon for $888.63!) in the first chapter. We learn that the Incas used their enemies’ flayed skins as a drum, and this scene foreshadows the auditory element to Norman’s transformations.  Whenever Mother takes over, there is the sound of drumming – the thrumming of the shower, Arbogast knocking at the front door and the thunderstorm. Nice writing, there!

Of course, Bloch writing style has its weaknesses. He is a lover of bad puns and his descriptions are sloppy (the two might be related). Bloch tells us – ‘it was the knife that, a moment later, cut off her scream. And her head’ – but later in the book, Mary’s head is still attached to her shoulders. His scene transitions are awful. Prime example: near the book’s end Sam and the sheriff are ascending the hill to Norman’s house when they hear Lila scream, and Sam has to use his heretofore unmentioned teleportation powers to teleport into the basement in time to stop Norman from killing his would-be beau.

The Hitchcock movie made a number of changes from the book, and most of those changes are for the better. Norman isn’t forty years old. When we learn of Norman’s taxidermy hobby we see a stuffed owl, not a squirrel, which makes sense since Mary’s last name is Crane. Mary herself is portrayed as a nice person who’s made a dumb mistake, and her dinner with Norman is actually kind of touching.

I will note that I didn’t like any of the characters in this book except for Lila. Norman is Psycho’s protagonist, but he’s too blatantly misogynistic to be sympathetic. Sam is – well, more on Sam later. Bloch gets away with this because Psycho is a short book that moves fast and presumably keeps the reader guessing. Well, it didn’t keep me guessing but that’s not Bloch’s fault. I can’t talk about the effectiveness of the book’s biggest plot twist because I’ve seen the movie too many times.

Speaking of predictable, let’s talk about Sam. Oh, Sam. Lila may seem headstrong, but remember she’s saddled with Sam. When Norman reveals that he’s batshit crazy and starts talking about how he dug up mother from the grave Sam just sits there nodding, and I was like DO SOMETHING JACKASS! One of my favorite parts of Psycho is when Lila turns Sam down cold. Gee, why wouldn’t she want to marry her dead sister’s fiancée, move into his basement apartment and share the joys of poverty?

I adored the psychological gobbledygook at the book’s end, where Sam explains to Lila why Norman is batshit crazy. Since Lila is the next-of-kin the authorities should have told her, but societal mores were different back then. Perhaps they were afraid Lila would swoon, although she is one of the two characters in Psycho who shows any grit. The second character is of course Norman’s mother, who singlehandedly runs a small business despite being saddled by an ungrateful failure of a son. She’s sadly missing from the pages of Bloch’s Psycho 2, which  features Norman Bates dressed up as a nun. But that’s another blog post…

30 Days of Night!

30 Days of Night is a fast, mean graphic novel. You should read it.

What, you want more?

Come on! The semester’s almost over. I’m exhausted.

Okay, well…

30 Days of Night describes the undead invasion of Barrow, Alaska, a place so far north the sun doesn’t rise for thirty days. The vampires (there’s about twenty of them) cut off the townspeople’s access to civilization so that they can enjoy an all-you-can-eat human buffet. Unfortunately for the bloodsuckers, the law in Barrow – Eben and Stella Olemaun – are on the job. And that’s your plot.

Here’s a few words about the creators. Steve Niles has written a bunch of horror comics. He did a stint for DC, where he wrote a Batman and a Creeper miniseries, but nowadays he mostly sticks with the indies. I used to follow him on Facebook, when I used Facebook. He’s a guy who likes his monsters.

Ben Templesmith’s art is dark and ugly and awesomely surreal. Look at page 26! That is amazing! I want a poster of that for my apartment! Mr. Templesmith also did a comic called Wormwood, Gentleman Corpse which should be required reading for everyone on earth.

30 Days of Night is extraordinarily well-designed. The colors and lettering of this graphic novel are standout. I don’t know if that was the doing of Mr. Templesmith or Robbie Robbins, who is credited with letters and designs.

The vampires in 30 Days of Night are as stupid as humans. What they do – as one of their own kind points out – is amazingly dumb, because in this world vampires are parasites and need to blend with humans in order to survive. It’s stupid but they do it anyway. A guy I used to know called this ‘flexing your beer muscles,’ but I guess ‘flexing your blood muscles’ would be the better term.

What, you want more?

Mr. Niles has written a lean script, a standout in the age of decompressed storylines. He tells his story in three issues. If he worked for the Big Two (Marvel and DC), this would be six or even twelve issues. I could go into an extended rant here about how The Big Two have been reduced to being idea farms for movie studios, but I won’t do that.

There are a bunch of sequels to 30 Days of Night. I haven’t read any of them so I don’t know if they’re any good.

There is also a movie adaptation, which I haven’t seen.

Have I said that the artwork is amazing? Well, the artwork is amazing.

Let’s see…

Steve Niles lives with a tortoise named Gil, who is enormous. You can see pictures and video of Gil’s exploits over on Mr. Niles’ Twitter feed. He is now writing a comic called The October Faction, which looks cool.

Ben Templesmith posts pictures of his artwork on his Twitter feed. He also posts about American politics. He’s working on a book called Original Hate, which seems to only be available on Patreon.

I’m outta here.

Have a great summer, folks!

 

 

 

 

Relic!

I read Relic back in the early 1990’s. It turns out that I have watched and/or read much of the material for this course. The rub is, I don’t remember a lot of it! I recall reading Relic, but I have no recollection of the actual contents of the book. Years ago, I thought it was funny when my dad didn’t remember seeing a movie he’d watched six months ago; now that I’m in the same boat, it’s not so funny.

I almost gave up on Relic after the first chapter, which is a veritable cornucopia of clichés. Whittlesey is part of a disastrous expedition in the Amazon Basin. I couldn’t decide whether Whittlesey knows that he’s a character in a horror novel and just wants to collect his paycheck, or if he took too many blows to the head in the high school chess club.

What am I talking about? Let’s see: 1. Whittlesey’s companion vanishes mysteriously when they are researching a feared tribe that worships a satanic lizard-ape. 2. The hair of Whittlesey’s native guide turns white when they 3. enter a hut full of shattered human skulls. When Whittlesey decides to soldier on alone in search of his companion, my eyes were rolling so hard I’m surprised they didn’t spin out of my head.

What saves Relic is the American Museum of Natural History. Fun fact: for about six months in the 1990’s when my OCD was really bad I would drive into New York City every weekend, park my car and walk around the AMNH. I visited the galleries in a certain order. I don’t recall what order anymore. I liked the Hall of African Mammals, the Arthur Ross Hall of The Meteorites and anything to do with the dinosaurs.

Anyway: I spent a lot of time at the American Museum of Natural History, and so did one of the authors – I’m betting Mr. Preston –because he does a wonderful job describing the ins and outs of the building. He goes behind the scenes of the museum, bringing to life the people who work there and the weird jobs they have, the crap that’s been sitting untouched in the basement since the 1930’s and the museum politics. These descriptions are what kept me reading.

The plot is fairly boilerplate with a few twists thrown in. We have Margo, the likable graduate student; Lieutenant D’Agosta, the hard-boiled cop with a heart of gold; Smithback, the hard-boiled newspaperman with a heart of gold; the crazy scientist; and the Museum Cabal, a group of administrators who cover up a murder. Of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Agent Cooper – I mean Agent Mulder – I mean Agent Pendergast.

Agent Pendergast has godlike powers. Reading this book, I formed the unbreakable conviction that this dude is good at EVERYTHING. I have no doubt he could whip up a Roast Duck a ‘lOrange for a dinner party at a moment’s notice and know what side of the plate the fork goes on. When the Museum Monster – who may have something to do with that disastrous expedition – develops a taste for tourist brains, Pendergast takes over the investigation because the murders are similar to – oh well, don’t think too much about it. What’s important is that he’s here!

There are two big plot twists in Relic. I assumed the crates from the expedition were full of monster eggs, but I was wrong. They are the monster’s food source, which sounds good until you realize that the contents of those crates kept the monster satiated for years – which means it’s a herbivore, right? No, it also eats rats and tourist brains which means it’s an omnivore!

Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a reliable website listing the nutritional contents of a rat on Google. If I do find anything, rest assured I’ll update immediately. Let’s assume the Museum Monster needs to consume 10,000 calories per day to do his monstering duties. That adds up to a lot of rats. No wonder it switched to tourists.

Despite the monster’s new diet, the Museum Cabal goes ahead with the opening of their prized exhibit, which I have no problem with plot-wise. They’re rich and powerful, and such people usually get their way. The actual opening of the exhibit is a disaster, requiring the coordinated snafus of many incompetent people to pull off.

The plot dashes on. Bullets bounce off the Museum Monster’s skull! Pendergast turns out to be a crack shot! The scientist I thought was going to turn out be crazy doesn’t turn out to be crazy! The FBI agent who takes charge after Pendergast ends up being transferred to Waco, which may or may not be a tasteless joke on the authors’ part. There’s also the second plot twist, which is pretty clever.

All in all, Relic is an entertaining read. If you like the American Museum of Natural History, it’s a must read!

The Blob

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I saw the remake of The Blob in the movie theatre in the summer of 1988 and reviewed it for my weekly school newspaper, The Rutgers Review. Unfortunately, I don’t have any exciting stories to tell about my moviegoing experience because I don’t remember anything about the movie.

Wait, that’s not true! Del Close, who plays the crazy preacher, co-wrote a DC comic with John Ostrander called Wasteland. John Ostrander happens to be my favorite comic writer of all time. He wrote The Suicide Squad and Grimjack, a wonderful comic nobody today has ever heard of. This gives you, the reader, two pieces of important information. 1. I was predisposed to like The Blob. 2. I was a comic nerd decades before it became fashionable.

I don’t recall if I enjoyed The Blob on my first viewing because I can’t find my original review and my memories of it are sketchy. Since I had no desire to revisit this movie, I’m assuming I didn’t think much of it. I do recall being surprised when football dude bites the dust. I also remember the scene when football guy and his friend go into the drugstore to buy rubbers – does anyone say rubbers anymore? Fun fact: that’s what we used to call condoms in New Jersey back in the 1980’s. And that’s about all I do remember.

The thing that struck me most on rewatching The Blob was Kevin Dillon’s magnificent mane of hair, which I’m not sure qualifies as a mullet. Maybe it left such a strong impression on me because I’m slowly losing my own hair. I also thought Shawnee Smith was very good. She almost takes out the Blob herself before getting her foot stuck in – what? What the hell was that? A foot-trapper?

The scene where the girl passes out in the car was really unpleasant to watch. In general, the tone of The Blob is way off. The word I would use is squicky. This might have been a decent PG-13 movie, but it just doesn’t work as an R-rated movie. The gory parts of The Blob are gross, yes, but not in a good way. They’re just gross. These are the kind of effects you’d see in a body horror movie like Dave Cronenberg’s remake of The Fly.

This just isn’t a very good movie. It’s been forgotten for a reason. Most of the effects are laughably cheesy, which clashes with the ultra-gross scenes when the Blob eats people. The screenplay is full of holes. Why would the U.S. government fire bacteria into outer space when they can simulate outer space conditions in a bunker in Roswell, New Mexico? Why would sewer guy in the white containment-suit have a rocket launcher strapped to his back?

The characters are clichés. We have the local yokel cop, the cheerleader, the jock, the burnout (an 80’s phrase!) with a heart of gold – incidentally, I didn’t think Kevin Dillon’s character had a heart of gold. I thought he was a dickhead (another 80’s phrase!).

That being said, I liked both the leads. It’s not their fault they got stuck in The Blob. The screenplay has a couple of surprise deaths and thus isn’t totally predictable. I do enjoy watching horror movies where it feels like anyone can die. I was also happy that they weren’t madly kissing at the end of the movie. After seeing this movie, I didn’t feel like kissing – I felt vaguely queasy.