Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Monday, April 29, 2013

The Lords of Salem (Movie Review)

The Lords of Salem.  Directed by Rob Zombie (Anchor Bay, 2013).

Lords, what a mess.

A promising premise--local DJ hexed by the music on a mysterious album sent to her--regrettably gives way to a film full of occult mumbo jumbo.  The director seems to labor under the mistaken belief that blasphemous cackling and an assortment of bizarre images (that have all the narrative logic of a rock video) add up to frightening.  The typically fetching Sheri Moon Zombie here appears grungy and emaciated-looking, and practically sleepwalks (thanks to a conflict-starved plot) through her role as the cursed descendant of a 17th Century witch-burner.  No less disappointing, for a movie set in a town with such rich history and modern-day love for the macabre, is the fact that Lords supplies very little sense of Salem as a community.

For perpetrating such an atrocity upon his devoted fan base, Zombie arguably deserves to be stoned.  And audience members probably will need to be stoned in order to sit through this morose and unmoving mish mash. 

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Mob Scene: "The Thing Too Hideous to Describe"

David J. Schow's 2003 short story "The Thing Too Hideous to Describe" (collected in Havoc Swims Jaded) is a sterling, Serling-esque satire of American values.  The story highlights the illusory nature of the idyllic small town, and censures the "superstitious paranoia and hidebound, inbred fear" that reduces townspeople to a monster-hating/-hunting mob.  For all its serious subtext, though, the narrative is driven by tongue-in-cheek humor.  It is also wonderfully self-aware of the conventions of angry-villager scenes in (Universal) monster movies.  At one point the titular grotesque (who makes for an unusual, but quite useful, viewpoint character) is approached for an interview by a doctoral student whose thesis concerns "the weird crowd behavior of group insanity in small, isolated towns and villages."  In the course of the discussion, the scholar, Steve, deconstructs the familiar filmic event:
"I mean, you've seen some of those movies, right?" said the Steve-creature.  "Who really makes out, every time the besotted Burgomeister decides, you know, to blow up another dam?  Local contractors, funeral directors, hardware stores, the makers of pitchfork and rope, gun dealers and distributors of ammunition, hell... monsters are great for their economy.  They all get shit-faced at the inn until their fizzed enough to see monsters, then they start grabbing for the dynamite.  And who do you think gets first crack at developing the destroyed real estate?  I mean, where's the real problem, here?"
Schow's story (which offers terrifically descriptive prose as well as pointed satire) climaxes with a plot twist that puts the drunken unreason and violent intolerance of the lynch-happy locals on full display.  From start to finish, "The Thing Too Hideous to Describe" forms arguably the greatest work of angry-mob fiction ever written.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Beelzebub Tweets

BLZ, bub

[For previous tweets, click here.]

Beg to differ that Vampira was the 1st horror host.  I preceded her by millennia Down Below (and had quite a captive audience).
--5:50 A.M., April 19th

The Crypt Keeper: now there was a ghoul after my own heart--or any other organ he could tear out.
--9:16 P.M., April 18th

My favorite horror hosts? I'd have to go with the demonically possessed.
--4:27 A.M., April 17th

El-vi-ra: giddyup, her bazooms popping wow-wow.
--12:24 P.M., April 16th

/!\ Warning: schlock hazard. Discharge brain circuits before viewing.
--10:35 P.M., April 15th

Friday, April 19, 2013

Short Story Spotlight: Spyder

In conjunction with Horror Hosts Week, this edition of Short Story Spotlight is going retro: back to Norman Partridge's 1996 tale
"Spyder" (collected in The Man with the Barbed-Wire Fists).

The story is a clever fictional riff on the relationship between the ill-fated James Dean and Maila Nurmi (a.k.a. Vampira).  Here the latter is rechristened Layla, who hosts a televised spook show in Los Angeles as "Rigormortia."  The twist, though, is that Layla actually possesses witchy/vampiric powers, and uses her dark arts to help keep the actor narrator's name in bright lights.  Matters get complicated between the two figures, and both engage in a spiteful power play, but initially they were a hell of a team.  At the start of the story, the narrator reminisces (thirty years after the fact) about the wild ride he shared with the enigmatic femme:
The things we did together.  Like the time we drove from Hollywood to the Napa Valley and back, all in one night.  Impossible.  I mean the Spyder was fast, but it wasn't that fast.  Layla knew how to make it move, though.  A couple of drops of her blood in the carb, and that little Porsche sports-car roared like a Saberjet.
Fans familiar with James Dean's biography will appreciate Partridge's sinister revision of the details of the screen legend's life and death.  But the story succeeds on several levels at once.  It is replete with creepy weirdness (including a nocturnal visit to a graveyard to resurrect a corpse).  It's also highly erotic (e.g. "And there was Layla.  Her generous breasts pressed against the other side of the window, and her hands covered the same spots that the columnist's covered, but Layla's fingers were longer, slimmer.  She held the hem of her black dress between white teeth.").  It works as an elegiac memoir, as the narrator reflects upon the wreckage of his stellar career.  And it exhibits literary flair, using Hemingway's Death in the Afternoon as a symbolic touchstone.  In short, the hard-to-pin-down "Spyder" is vintage Partridge, and makes for a terrific read during Horror Hosts Week or at any other time.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Horror Host Vote

(Update 4/23: Apparently the Blogger Poll gadget isn't working [votes aren't sticking], so I disabled the two polls.  If anyone would like to chime in, you can still do so by leaving a Comment below.)

Who is the greatest horror host ever?  Cast your vote in the pair of polls over in this blog's right sidebar.

I've divided the nominees into male and female categories.  If you would like to cast a "write-in" vote for someone else, simply leave a Comment to this post.

The female nominees:

Crematia Mortem: Hosted Creature Features in the Kansas City area in the 1980's.

Elvira: pop-culture icon and dark mistress of L.A.'s Movie Macabre

Stella: voluptuous co-host of Saturday Night Dead in Philadelphia in the mid-80's

Vampira: impossibly wasp-waisted hostess of The Vampira Show in L.A. in the mid-50's

The male nominees:

Chilly Billy: Host of Pittsburgh's Chiller Theatre for two decades, starting in 1963

Ghoulardi: Voice artist Ernie Anderson's mid-60's stint on Cleveland's Shocker Theater

Roland/Zacherley: The "Cool Ghoul" of Philadelphia's "Shock Theater" and New York's "Chiller Theatre" in the 50's and 60's

Bob Wilkins: Droll host of Creature Features in San Francisco in the 70's and 80's

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

American Scary (Film Review)

Director John E. Hudgens's 2006 documentary (available for Instant viewing on Netflix and Amazon) impresses on several levels.  The film comprises a virtual history of horror hosts, starting with Vampira in the late 1950's and continuing to the early 21st Century (considering figures such as Roland, Svengoolie, Elvira, and Chilly Billy along the way).  There's an abundance of vintage performance clips and interviews with the actual people who inhabited the now-famous roles (luminaries such as Tim Conway, Tom Savini, and Neil Gaiman also provide commentary).  The viewer quickly learns just how influential one generation of horror hosts was on the next (e.g. Ghoulardi naturally begot Son of Ghoulardi), and witnesses the proud sense of community that exists amongst modern contemporaries.

What I appreciated most about this documentary, though, is its reverent approach to its campy subjects.  Sure, horror hosts are shown hamming it up in front of the camera and spouting countless cheap jokes and bad puns, but the figures are never offered up for mockery, never treated like overgrown adolescents who've decided to air their glorified Halloween antics.  Intelligent analysis is hardly absent here, as the various interview subjects ponder the function and cultural significance of the horror host figure.  As informative as it is nostalgic, American Scary makes for a wonderful viewing experience for fans of the macabre.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

QuickList: Crypt Keeper Wit

Hello, boils and ghouls.  Today's post pays tribute to the wonder-fully rotten Crypt Keeper, underground host of HBO's Tales from the Crypt.  The series was a gallery for gallows humor, as the putrescent presenter spewed sinister alliteration and morbid puns punctuated by that shrill, nails-down-a-blackboard cackle.  Here's a QuickList of the Crypt Keeper's best lines from the show's first season:

Well, it just goes to show you--be very careful what you "axe" for for Christmas; you just might get it.
--outro to the episode "And All Through the House"

'Though "Dying for Dollars" could've been a popular game show.  They could've put it between "Wheel of Misfortune" and "The Newly Dead Game"...unless they buried it in the wrong time slot.
--outro to the episode "Dig That Cat...He's Real Gone"

Mirror, mirror on the wall, who's the fearest of them all? [Crypt Keeper's visage cracks a looking glass]
--intro to the episode "Only Sin Deep"

So plump up that coffin pillow, and settle back your bones; we're going to take a little ride to honeymoon hell.
--intro to the episode "Lover Come Hack to Me"

Before I get to tonight's terror tale, I'd like to introduce you to my pet: Peeved. [shot of a mortified dog]  He has a terror tale of his own.
--intro to the episode "Collection Complete"

I pitched them my idea for Tales from the Crypt, or as I like to call it, "Monsterpiece Theatre."  And they went for it--hook, line, and sinker.  We made a deal with HBO, the six of us, and it was so hack-citing, I actually got scared for a moment--I thought my heart had started.
--"Crypt Keeper's History of Season One" (special feature, The Complete First Season DVD set)

Monday, April 15, 2013

Horror Hosts Week Begins

It's Horror Hosts Week here at Macabre Republic...all week long, the posts will center around those beloved and colorful figures who have presided over late-night horror movie screenings and anthology series for the past half-century.

To kick the theme-week off, here's a clip from a classic episode of The Munsters that involves a fictional spookshow host named Zombo.  I can remember being utterly captivated by Zombo's outrĂ© appearance when watching this episode as a child (a viewing experience that no doubt helped mold my love for the macabre).  In hindsight, it also seems apropos that The Munsters highlighted the mid-20th Century horror-host craze: just as the makeups of the titular family members were inspired by the Universal Monsters, the horror host phenomenon was born of the "Shock Theater" packaging of Universal horror movies for television broadcast in the late 50's.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Phoenix (ebook review)

All the hallmarks of Chuck Palahniuk's writing are on display in the short story "Phoenix" (available for download as a $0.99 Kindle Single): a sense of humor that tends toward the grotesque (Exhibit Aggh: a robotic vacuum cleaner crosses paths with a diarrhea-spewing cat); the running gags that function like narrative refrains (here involving hotel minibar items that cost more than the jewelry being hawked on the Home Shopping Channel); the knack for scripting evocative similes ("She tries not to ask, to stop asking, but the effort is like trying to un-pop a balloon"); a fondness for esoteric information (in this case, the protozoan parasite Toxoplasma gondii); and the unrivaled ability to create offbeat storylines.

The narrative flashes back and forth seamlessly between a present in which the POV character Rachel tries on a nightly basis to elicit a single response from her sulking daughter during long-distance calls home, and a past that is rife with marital power struggles and Machiavellian schemes.  Let's just say that the fate that befalls Rachel's husband Ted's beloved feline Belinda Carlisle makes Poe's
"The Black Cat" read like an ASPCA pamphlet by comparison.  And only a warped genius like Palahniuk could come up with a scenario where a wife threatens to call Child Protective Services on her husband unless he physically abuses their daughter.  In "Phoenix," the author's talent for writing searing satire burns incredibly bright.  This one is a must-read for longtime acolytes and curious newcomers alike.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Branch Macabre

One of the few things I enjoy about the winter season is the view of trees in their leafless splendor.  Gnarled and darkly skeletal, their branches extending like monstrous phalanges, such specimens prove starkly atmospheric.  Here are some snapshots of the personal favorites I've encountered in my daily travels:

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Macabre Quiz

Test your knowledge of dark genre material with the following trivia game (which combines crossword-type clues with a word jumble).  The grid below is comprised of the letters forming the correct answers to questions 1-4 (suggestion: copy the grid down on scratch paper, and then cross out the appropriate letters each time you come up with an answer; the less letters remaining in the grid, the better your chances of figuring out the answers to the other questions).  Finally, the letters that appear in brackets ([ ]) can be unscrambled to form the answer to the bonus question.

Good luck! Correct answers appear in the Comments section of this post.

          O A P Y E S W A B

          H R E L R N D I T

          E N B M A N J E O

          T G L H S I U O K


1.Midnight Meat Train marauder

__  __  __  [__]  __  __  __  [__]

2.Mr. White's "cooking" partner

__  [__]  __  __  __      [__]  __  __  __  __  [__]  __

3.Lansdale's Drive-In

__  [__]  __       __  [__]  __  __  __

4.McCammon story collection

__  [__]  __  __       [__]  __  [__]  [__]  __

Bonus: Mitchum's phony-preacher role

__  __  __  __  __       __  __  __  __  __  __

Monday, April 1, 2013

Dead Lines

Bullets rained in last night's action-packed season finale, "Welcome to the Tombs," but that didn't drown out some incredible dialogue:

The Governor: Hey.  I'm gonna tell you the secret.  There's a threat, you end it.  And you don't feel ashamed about enjoying it.  You smell the gunpowder and you see the blood, you know what that means?  It means you're alive.  You've won.  You take the heads so that you don't ever forget.  You kill or you die.
Milton: What would your daughter think, about what you are?
The Governor: She'd be afraid of me.  But if I had been like this from the start, she'd be alive today.

The Governor [to a mortally wounded Milton]: I told you you were gonna do it.  And now you're gonna die.  And you're gonna turn.  And you're gonna tear the flesh from [Andrea]'s bones.  In this life now, you kill or you die.  Or you die and you kill.

Highlighted Bible Passage [left for the Governor to read]: ...And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.

Carl: I couldn't take the chance.  I didn't kill the walker that killed Dale.  Look what happened.
Rick:  Son, that is not the same thing.
Carl: You didn't kill Andrew, and he came back and killed Mom.  You were in a room with the Governor, and you let him go.  And then he killed Merle.  I did what I had to do.  Now go.  So he doesn't kill any more of us.

Andrea [to Rick]: Please.  I know how the safety works.