Monday, April 30, 2012

WAIT A MINUTE! A review of THE UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS VS. A MUMMY


Chris Lukeman has done it again, this time with a horror comedy about . . . well, you saw the title. That’s exactly what it’s about.

A mummy is delivered (for some unfathomable reason) to the University of Illinois at the beginning of the movie. No one signs for it, so the driver just leaves the fucking thing and drives off. Shortly thereafter, the mummy wakes up and starts causing mayhem.


Meet Casey and his friend, Bill Williams. They have a plan to trick a couple of girls into going out with them, which involves Casey pretending to be knocked over by a mad bicycler (Bill) in front of them. This works out when Sarah and Jo Ann see this display and feel sorry for him. Luckily, they don’t recognize Bill later.


Perhaps all black guys look alike to them. And yes, true to the usual formula, Bill is the first to die. His death is treated like kind of a bummer by Casey, who was really looking forward to getting laid that night.


Now that they know a mummy is on the loose on campus, they go to an archaeology professor with an English accent (naturally) named Rudolphe, and they begin to formulate a plan to stop the monster. In the meantime, the rest of the college students have embraced the mummy. They’re sick of the discrimination being shown against it, and they are rallying together to protest the campus’s attempt at killing the bastard.


Throw in a campus officer who thinks he’s a hard-bitten cop, a guy wearing a shirt that says RED SHIRT before dying in a very cannon fodder-ish way, a lot of blood, and a musical number, and you get the flavor of this movie. What’s that? Yes. There is a MUSICAL NUMBER.


This is an indie flick, so there are a few problems. For one, the sound quality is pretty bad. The dialogue is hard to hear, so you turn it up. However, the music is spot on, so when it starts playing, you have to turn the volume down. Also, the pacing is bad due to a lot of bad edits. The acting is off because everything seems so staged. It’s like the actors all know they’re acting, rather than successfully pretending to be someone else. Also, because of the staginess of this, there is a bad scene in which a group of characters are talking, and the camera pans back and forth between each one who speaks . . . but they wait until the camera is on them before they say anything. Ugh.

The music is really good, though. Sometimes, it sounds like it belongs in an Ed Wood movie, and at other moments, it’s very reminiscent of silent movie soundtracks.

The effects are pretty good, for an indie flick. But where the movie really shines is in the humor. There are a lot of really good bits here. The scene where Rudolphe gets parking ticket after parking ticket after parking ticket is priceless. He also has an amazing fight scene with the mummy, which concludes in him dying in a very Obi-Wan-ish way. Yes, his body disappears from under a blanket he was covered with. Pay close attention to the note in his hand immediately after he kicks the mummy in the balls.


In another scene, the characters are talking about hunting down the mummy, and Casey holds up his hand and says, “Wait a minute!” Just like he’s about to object or offer a nugget of wisdom. He then pauses. Watch the timer on your DVD player. A full minute of absolute silence then ensues before he agrees to their plan.


In a scene where one person is murdered so badly that blood completely covers a wall, another person who was standing in front of the wall, moves away, showing a human-shaped clean spot on the wall. That same character later decides to touch up her make-up, despite the fact that she’s still covered in blood.

The best, though, comes when the group of characters that kind of act like a Greek play’s chorus encounters the mummy, they’re ready for battle. They then remember they have a test tomorrow and decide to run instead. They inadvertently lead the mummy into a trap (weighed by a fucking BOOM BOX!), and when they have the creature subdued, they decide to play it like the Scooby gang. They decide to find out who’s really behind that mask. Instead of taking it off, though, they accidentally take off its head, spraying blood all over everyone.

This film is flawed, and it is very noticeable. However, it’s just so damned funny that you’ll forgive a lot of transgressions. You’ll also see a very unusual death: one of the characters gets stabbed by a phone. No, not a cell phone, a PAY PHONE. Where the fuck else are you going to see something like that?


THE UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS VS. A MUMMY
Directed by Chris Lukeman
Produced by Illini Film and Video
2006
89 minutes $11.99

THE CENTURY'S BEST HORROR FICTION #11: A review of "Casting the Runes" by M.R. James


Here we have another powerhouse of horror fiction, and this one has very much deserved its place in the history of the genre. Like its predecessors so far, it has a very British and proper tone to it; perhaps it has more of a stiff upper lip than the others so far. Yet James delivers something timeless to us, which makes it a much easier read than, say, Machen or Blackwood. More on that in a moment.



This is the story of a misanthrope by the name of Karswell. He definitely thinks he’s better than others, and when something happens to incur his wrath, he is very ready to step in and get his vengeance in a very mysterious way. For example, when the local children trespassed on his property, he went in to their school to give a presentation on fairy tales with a slide projector. While he told the most gruesome versions of these stories, he showed them realistic and horrifying images of monsters ripping apart children on land that looks suspiciously like his own.


This time, a man named Edward Dunning has offended him by not allowing a paper of his to be published. After going behind several backs, Karswell learns Dunning’s identity and sets his revenge in action. You see, he goes after his enemies by “casting the runes,” or passing them a magical piece of paper that will bring them terrible fortune and death. (And yes, James is clever enough to call it “the black spot” at one point, an excellent reference to TREASURE ISLAND.) Karswell has cast the runes on Dunning, but Dunning, a resourceful man himself, suspects that something is amiss when very strange things start happening to him. He looks into Karswell’s history and discovers that another of the sorcerer’s rivals, John Harrington, died shortly after critically panning Karswell’s alchemy book. After a lengthy discussion on the subject with Harrington’s brother, they both come to the conclusion that Dunning has been cursed, too, and he will die very soon if they don’t reverse the curse by handing the “black spot” back to Karswell.


What James does so well is to give us a really interesting villain. Let’s face it, who among us doesn’t know a Karswell? He’s a creep, and he overreacts to slights against him. And he delights in fucking with kids. Every town’s got one (but hopefully, they don’t know the arcane spells Karswell does), and as a result, James has given us something we can all identify with, even though his story is just over 100 years old (1911, if you’re keeping track).


There is just one small problem: the beginning. At first, it begins in an epistolary fashion, which was the style of the day. It’s an interesting bait-and-switch to pull on a reader familiar with other stories of the time. However, it leads in with a prologue between two characters, Mr. and Mrs. Secretary, who don’t really have much to do with the rest of the story. They do serve to introduce Karswell in an amusing fashion, and without Mr. Secretary, Dunning would have never read Karswell’s paper and thus earn his ire, but the story wouldn’t suffer from having this lengthy prologue removed and starting with Dunning instead, perhaps with a quick flashback as to why he is in this predicament.


A trifling matter. This story will always be remembered, and deservedly so. If you haven’t given it a try, what are you waiting for?

[This story first appeared in MORE GHOST STORIES OF AN ANTIQUARY and can be read here.]

Friday, April 27, 2012

*SIGH* ARE WE DONE WITH THE ZOMBIE THING YET? A review of HOW WILL I DIE #1


Big surprise. What with THE WALKING DEAD reigning supreme on TV, Artist’s Alley is deluged with zombie books. Well, it usually is, anyway, but considering the ubiquitous nature of this trend, perhaps it taxes one more than usual this time around.



Yet somehow, HOW WILL I DIE sets itself apart, just a little bit. In this world, it seems that not just anybody can be a zombie; you have to be a kid. That’s right, zombie children. Another differentiating factor? The sense of humor. It’s not necessarily a comedy, but it injects just enough irreverence to make it seem real in a way other zombie books just can’t seem to do.


For example, the main character is an unnamed slacker who spends his days eating shitty pizza, smoking weed, and playing video games, rather than working. In fact, when we meet him, he is trash talking a kid on the other end of his online game. When the storm troopers break down his door, his first thought is to shout, “It’s all medicinal, I swear!”


You see, he has no idea that the zombie apocalypse is happening because . . . well, he’s been busy with meaningless things. Later on, when he’s being taken to a safe zone, he jokes that it had better be the zombie apocalypse out there . . . .


And that’s another thing that separates this book from the rest. In most zombie stories, we watch the characters out in the open, doing what they need to survive. You hear about safe zones, but by then, they’ve already been overrun and destroyed. Here, creators Kevin and Megan Bandt (neither is credited with writing or art or anything) give us what it’s like to be in one of those safe zones from day one until the end, when the zombies inevitably win. The safe zone here is a stadium, which brings to mind Hurricane Katrina. After all the rumors of what had happened during that disaster, this husband/wife creative team has a smorgasbord of possibilities open to them.


But one hopes that they’re quick to explain the most baffling part of this book: why is it being narrated by a man living in 16th Century Roanoke?!


HOW WILL I DIE
Created by Kevin and Megan Bandt
Published by CuddleFish Comics
14 pages
$5.00

THE CENTURY'S BEST HORROR FICTION #10: A review of "The Whistling Room" by William Hope Hodgson


Here we come to another of the big hitters. Back in the days of the pulps, writers made names for themselves with recurring characters. Normally, they fell into the category of mysteries because such a character was usually a detective, or a crime-fighter of some kind. They would be the literary grandparents of the superheroes in comic books. Folks like Doc Savage, the Shadow, the Spider, and so on.



But horror had their fair share of such characters, most notably the protagonist of this story. While Hodgson will most likely be remembered for THE HOUSE ON THE BORDERLANDS in the long run, he most certainly earned a place in horror fans’ hearts with Carnacki, a paranormal detective.


The story opens with him sitting at a party with the narrator and several others. He has a tale to tell, but unlike others of this kind, his story he's telling isn’t over yet. You see, he’s looking for advice, because this is a case that has finally stumped him. He’d just been to Ireland with a friend of his, Tassoc. Tassoc’s got a problem: he’s recently acquired a castle, and one of the rooms keeps emitting a horrible whistling sound. Surely enough, Carnacki investigates and hears an ear-piercing whistle coming from the empty room.


At first, he thinks it’s a hoax, and he digs deeply into every corner of the castle. He comes up with nothing. He tries a few hexes and warding spells, but nothing seems to stop the infernal noise coming from the whistling room.


He stops in the middle of the story because there’s nothing more to tell . . . yet. He doesn’t know what to do. But then, a fortnight later, he invites them all back to tell them about how it all ended, and he produces quite possibly one of the most chilling images so far in this volume.


He thinks to look through the window into the room, and he sees a puckered set of lips forcing the middle of the floor up, through which the horrible whistling comes. In all seriousness, this should be laughable, but Hodgson somehow manages to make it seem insidious.


The only problem is, the story doesn’t end with much of a bang, as most horror stories should. SPOILER ALERT: His solution is to bust up the room and burn everything in a furnace built in a pentacle. They do this without issue. However, when they do so, they discover some documentation as to why there was a pair of lips growing out of the floor, whistling incessantly. Naturally, it’s an ugly little story about an angry king who burned a jester alive for a betrayal. The jester whistled the whole time he burned in the fireplace of that room, defying the king with his very last breath. Pretty creepy, eh? END OF SPOILERS.


There is more to recommend this tale. In a pre-Lovecraft era, Hodgson made use of esoteric tomes and made references to paranormal things with strange names. He brings the level of the horror story up a notch until it’s almost like a science fiction story. Carnacki uses science to explain the supernatural. Very strange stuff for its day.


If you’re not familiar with Carnacki, you should make the time. Very few names in the genre are more recognized than his.

[This story first appeared in the March '10 issue of THE IDLER, and it can be read here.]

Thursday, April 26, 2012

BACK TO INDIANA: A review of the new issue of ONE YEAR IN INDIANA


As fun as Kurt Dinse’s work is, he’s at his finest when he’s on his own book, ONE YEAR IN INDIANA. Conrad Lant is a very intelligent heavy metal vocalist, but somehow he has found himself homeless after his most recent tour. In an act of desperation, he moves in with a friend who is going to a university in Indiana. Disaster and hijinks ensue.



This time, we come upon our booze-addled hero on a night of heavy drinking in a college town, where every day has a glorious, cheap drink special. (Ah, the glory days. The best is “Wednesday: Pile of change gets you drunk!”) However, even that’s not good enough for Conrad, who is officially broke. He looks for a job and manages to find a few occupations an unmotivated rock could perform, but they’re not too permanent. He wants something with staying power, and a temp agency finds him something. However, they need the dreaded piss test from him.


A piss test he is guaranteed to fail.


What is a man to do? Well, his friend takes him to a head shop to get some kind of potion that promises to cover up any trace of weed in his system. That’s where Dinse’s true genius shines through, depicting places like this. “Good lord, it looks like Janis Joplin threw up down here,” Conrad says upon seeing the head shop. “Smells like it, too,” he adds. And in another moment of startling insight, he says, “The most treasured secrets of life can be found behind a filthy Wonder Woman bed sheet.”


The best part, though, is when the owner of the head shop goes over his legal spiel, clarifying that everything sold in his store is above board, and these products are all used for enjoying tobacco. Gotta’ love the hypocrisy some people have to live with as a result of government interference.


To say nothing of Dinse’s description of the Big Three Jobs: auto assembly, parts and assembly, and construction. (That last one’s the best.)


Does Conrad get what he wants? Read the book and find out. As always, it’s worth your time. You might even learn something from some of Dinse’s asides between the panels. Entertainment and education, folks. The best package you can get.

THE CENTURY'S BEST HORROR FICTION #9: "The Coach" by Violet Hunt



Here we have a mighty unusual story, unusual to the point where one has to wonder why it’s in this book. The only thing that hints this tale might be horror is that there is a supernatural influence, but that alone does not make for a horror story.



In order to qualify for such an august genre, one must actually make an attempt to scare a reader, or to make a reader question reality or human nature. Hunt starts out pretty well, depicting a very lonely scene with a very dark environment. In fact, like Blackwood, she doesn’t quite know when to stop; she just goes over the top trying to invoke the proper environment.


A man is waiting in the middle of nowhere, and then a coach stops and picks him up. There is a motley crew inside, and they start conversing. Before very long, it is revealed that these people are all dead—ghosts—and they start relating the stories of how they died.


It’s an interesting idea, possibly the first story to be told from a ghost’s perspective. However, it’s the way Hunt treats her material. The undead are pretty blasĂ© about their deaths, almost to the point of comedy. Even when they ride by a coach full of the living, and that coach gets in a horrible accident because the driver saw the ghosts (and people most certainly died as a result), Hunt shows that the ghosts are kind of amused by the prospect of running into these newly dead very soon.


And in one scene, where we learn that one of the characters had killed another of the characters (and that she’d recognized him), what could have been chilling just comes off as ho-hum. At the conclusion of this incident, we learn that the coach driver doesn’t have a head. Instead of being creepy, it seems like a Monty Python sketch.


Ultimately, this story doesn’t belong in this book. Perhaps it would be at home in a humor treasury, but not among these other horror greats.

[This story originally appeared in the March '09 issue of THE ENGLISH REVIEW and cannot be found online at this time.]

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

BORN WITH A PENIS: A review of A DRIFTER MIDNIGHT


This book is rather heavily endowed with a subtitle: GIDEON CHARLEMAGNE AND HIS CONTINUING ADVENTURES IN THE WORLD OF THE SUPERNATURAL. Sounds pretty awe-inspiring, eh?



Too bad it doesn’t live up to expectations. Gideon Charlemagne is a pretty cool name, though. Yet he, also, does not live up to expectations. He’s supposed to be an integral member of a team of supernatural investigators—the Brotherhood—but he really doesn’t DO ANYTHING. More on that in a moment.


When a manticore is discovered in Mason, IL, the team is called in to look into the matter. Led by Professor Woodhouse, a Yeti who prefers climate control to cold weather, and accompanied by the newbie, Agent Cooper, they delve into the underground chambers of a Mason farmhouse in their search for a supposedly mythological creature.


Gideon is supposed to be a wise-cracking ass-kicker, but when it comes down to actually doing stuff, Woodhouse is by far a greater hero. He gets shit done while Gideon is off in his own world. He’s got the wise-cracking down, but the ass-kicking? The most we see of his abilities is in a throwaway moment early in the story, when he’s being sacrificed by a Haitian voodoo priest and manages to get out of it by producing a gun which he must have hidden in his ass, because all he was dressed in at the time were his Jockeys.


The story has some good points, though. The humor is well done, and Agent Cooper’s first day on the job is pretty hilarious. With a few sly horror references (the best being a tip of the hat to Kolchak), writer Brendan Dortch firmly shows that he at least knows what he’s talking about. And the last page, where Woodhouse sums everything up about manticores, is pretty cool. Yet the protagonist is so poorly chosen, it takes away from the story.


Artist Mat Festa makes up for this a bit. When it comes to people, he doesn’t really do a good job, but when it comes to otherworldly things, like the manticore, for example, he does shockingly well. It’s like he was made to illustrate weird things, not regular stuff like human beings and cars. It is very clear that he’s still learning how to use his skills, which he perfected with his appearance in the most recent PRODUCT OF SOCIETY, as A DRIFTER MIDNIGHT is one of his earlier works. As an example of how he kind of fails with people, it’s hard to tell if Agent Cooper is male or female. It isn’t until later, when one of the characters refers to him as a “he” that we know.


So this book has its flaws, but it also has a lot of promise, too. Perhaps Gideon will become more useful with other installments of the tale. As things stand now, he isn’t much of a “best hope against the things that go bump in the night,” as the back of the book proclaims. He has a difficult enough time staying conscious. But he’s got a good mastery of the wise-crack, and he does make a hell of a TWIN PEAKS reference.


A DRIFTER MIDNIGHT
or, GIDEON CHARLEMAGNE AND HIS CONTINUING ADVENTURES IN THE WORLD OF THE SUPERNATURAL
Written by Brendan Dortch
Illustrated by Mat Festa
62 pages
$15.00

THE CENTURY'S BEST HORROR FICTION #8: A review of "Thurnley Abbey" by Perceval Landon


Here we have another story-told-to-me-by-someone else story. Typical of its day, it has a frame that is almost inconsequential to the story itself. Unlike others of its day, however, it interrupts the story itself with a strange return to the present in a very dramatic moment.



What starts out as a tale of a man on a long journey quickly turns into a fellow traveler’s ghost story. Alastair Colvin is the basic Englishman abroad, very polite, very well-groomed, but also kind of dull. Things don’t interest him enough for good conversation. However, he is on good terms with the original narrator, good enough to tell him the story of his friendship with John Broughton.


Broughton is a sturdy he-man of a fellow who gets married and moves into Thurnley Abbey, which is kinda-sorta known to be haunted. The previous inhabitant, a hermit by the name of Clarke, started the rumors of this haunting by playing tricks on the nearby villagers. The problem is, even though he got caught, people still decided the place was haunted.


Later, Broughton begs Colvin to visit him, but he never comes out and says why. What he wants is for his friend to have a ghostly experience with the spirit of the Abbey, supposedly a nun, and to talk to her, which is the custom of the day.


This is a very basic, run-of-the-mill ghost story for 1908 with one exception: it doesn’t take itself too seriously, yet at the same time it offers up genuine shocks. Colvin is absolutely certain that this is all hogwash, and he’s cocky enough to say that he’ll just talk to the ghost when he sees it, thereby banishing it once and for all. Yet when he finally is confronted by the nun, in the most visceral scene in the story, he is horrified beyond all reason.


All too often, stories like this depicted their main characters in a very gruff, fearless manner. Here, Landon gives a very palpable, very personal depiction of a man in the throes of terror.


But in keeping with not doing the expected, he has Colvin do a 180 after the shock of seeing a skeleton shrouded in a veiled tatter at the foot of his bed. He leaps to his feet and savagely attacks the thing, now convinced that it was some kind of joke. He beats and batters that skeleton so badly it crumbles and falls to pieces at his feet. The beating is so violent his knuckles are covered with his own blood by the time he’s finished.


SPOILER ALERT: By now, all he’s left with is a piece of the skull, and he marches down to Broughton’s room to call him all sorts of names and demand satisfaction for such an awful prank. Broughton and his wife pale and clutch at each other, trying to comfort one another. Then, they hear a shuffling sound in the hallway. Colvin knows in his heart that it’s the ghost, reassembled, and it wants to piece of skull he’s holding. He throws it on the floor and hides his face as he listens to it enter the room and take back its missing piece. END OF SPOILERS.


So while this story seems at first to be very ordinary for its time, there are some pleasant surprises farther in that make it all worthwhile. Sure, the most important part happens off-stage, but the suggestion is enough to make this a superior horror story.

[This story first appeared in RAW EDGES and can be read here.]

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

AN UNASKED-FOR ENTREATY ON THE BEHALF OF BLAST FURNACE


Most of the people around here are my friends. You know my strange ways and my weird tastes. And sure, I might steer you in a completely off the wall direction, but have I ever steered you wrong? Many of you might remember when I reviewed a series of books about a young man named Ernest Furnace, a recreational thief.



Clearly you did not heed my overwhelming praise for this book. For those of you who don’t know, this is a pet project of Ryan Browne (of GOD HATES ASTRONAUTS and SMOKE AND MIRRORS fame). He sets one hour out of his day to do one page of this book every day. He has no plan, he just sits down and sees how his own lunacy surprises him.


This has led to an absolutely batshit crazy comic book . . . one you’re clearly not buying. When I saw him last year, he had four of these little booklets out, and I swept them all up. Enjoyed every over-the-top, fucked-from-all-sides story. A man with a flaming tie and an electric mustache, stealing secrets from a place clearly labeled Non-Descript Factory? Where could you go wrong?


Apparently, things didn’t work out quite so well. The booklets were such low sellers, Browne didn’t bother to bring any of them to C2E2 this year. That hurt, because I was really looking forward to the next installments. Luckily, he brought the trade, and he is such a nice person that he let me have a discount, seeing as how I’d bought the first four books (and the trade contains 1-6).


Dude. This book gets sooooooo much more batty. He even uses the turtle and the pirate from those old art school entry exams you’d always see advertised back in the day, and he names them ‘70’s Turtle and Pirate, respectively. True to the rest of the book, the story gets derailed very quickly by a flashback to ‘70’s Turtle’s past (with his father, Angry ‘70’s Turtle, and ‘Lil Dracula in a story that must be seen to be believed). Shockingly, Browne actually circles around to where the story began, with Blast Furnace in the motel parking lot . . . only to go off in a completely different direction. This story is pure, blissful chaos, yet it somehow makes sense.


There are no rails to go off of. This rollercoaster has no master, and you’re lucky if you don’t fall to your death. Most of all, it’s fun. The end of this book says that it will be continued. LISTEN TO ME IF YOU’VE NEVER LISTENED BEFORE! DON’T DROP THE BALL ON THIS AGAIN! READ THIS BOOK!

THE CENTURY'S BEST HORROR FICTION #7: A review of "The Willows" by Algernon Blackwood


Here we have yet another of Lovecraft’s heavy influences, and Pelan makes the grand supposition in his brief intro to this tale that it is the closest we’ll ever come to the perfect horror story. Well . . . not quite.



Not that it’s a bad story. No, Blackwood is a very capable writer, and his description of the swampy land where the two main characters wind up is sublime. Perhaps this is the greatest description of anything ever put down in a horror story—or any story, for that matter—but this alone does not fulfill Pelan’s claim.


This is the story of a nameless narrator and his traveling companion, the Swede. They like going to exotic places, and this time they are canoeing down the Danube River. They head off down a forgotten branch, despite a farmer’s ominous warning, where they find themselves in a boggy mess, where islands of hard land are crumbling, and the going is treacherous. The only trees here are willows, so they have to rely on driftwood to make a fire.


And then, they start noticing strange things. Soon, the Swede is making all sorts of mad claims, like the land they’re on is haunted by creatures from another world, and the narrator, who tries to remain skeptical about the whole thing, can’t help but feel paranoid about his surroundings.


The genius in this story is Blackwood’s way with the setting. When these characters first wind up in this strange land, they marvel at its wild beauty, awestruck by everything. Yet when night falls, everything takes on a sinister twist. The very things they fawned over in the day suddenly become menacing. Soon, they are jumping at shadows and deathly afraid of strange funnels in the sandy ground, which they take for the mark of whatever creatures are out there. The Swede suddenly becomes convinced that the only way they’ll make it out of the willows alive is if they offer a sacrifice to the creatures.


The problem with this story is, Blackwood doesn’t know when good enough is good enough. He goes over the top with just about everything. One can easily tell he was being paid by the word.


The other problem is, just about everything supernatural in this tale can be explained away in a rational fashion. The narrator tries to do this, but even when he loses his own senses and gives in to the Swede’s ideas, the reader is very capable of taking up this role. As a result, the reader has no choice but to believe that they are both being melodramatic fools, children caught up in their own fantasy. This thought becomes pretty certain when the Swede comes to the conclusion that if you don’t think about the creatures, they can’t find you.


One more problem: both of these characters are pretty frantic. How is it that neither one of them thinks to sacrifice his companion? It would be only natural. Hell, he wouldn’t have to actually do it. Survival instinct is a part of humanity, just as a moral compass is, but the former always takes precedence over the latter.


And now, for the ever-present SPOILER ALERT: in the above reference to supernatural things being easily explained away, the wording is very specifically chosen. “Just about” does not mean "all." At the very end, they discover a dead body and assume he is the sacrifice the creatures stumbled onto instead of them. This is backed up by the funnel marks all over his body. And in quite possibly the creepiest moment of this tale, the current sweeps his body away, the face staring up at the sky. END OF SPOILERS.


Is this the closest we have to a perfect horror story? No. But if you can get past the overbearing wordiness of it, you’ll find a damned good tale.

[This story was first published in THE LISTENER AND OTHER STORIES and can be read here.]

Monday, April 23, 2012

GUITAR-SLINGING, DEMON-RAISING, AND WHORE-HOPPING: A review of STAR #2

Writer Brian John Mitchell and artist Kurt Dinse have done it again with their new mini-comic, STAR #2. Everyone’s favorite guitar-slinger is back in yet another sex-and-demon-fueled adventure. Unsurprisingly, this one starts out with our hero tied down by the woman he’d picked up for a one night stand. She apparently didn’t plan on him waking up too soon, and she seems to be calling down a demon in this cheap motel room.



What else is new?


This book is a work of sheer genius. It’s no bigger than a baby’s hand, and there’s a panel a page. This is quite possibly the only way to guarantee someone with ADD will read your book. Your attention can’t possibly wander, even if every page was full of shit (and this one most certainly isn’t).


Mitchell mixes up a brew of Lovecraft and John Constantine while Dinse throws in a healthy helping of his own Richard Corben-ish work. The scene where the narrator breaks the woman’s protective circle is pure gold. And when he’s pondering his situation, realizing how impressive this woman is, his only thought is, “Where was she ten years ago when I was into this shit?”


Read more at www.silbermedia.com/star You won’t be disappointed.

THE CENTURY'S BEST HORROR FICTION #6: A review of "The House of the Nightmare" by Edward Lucas White


Here we have another major influence on H.P. Lovecraft, but this one is a lot easier to get through than Machen’s “The White People.” In fact, you can’t get simpler than this little tale. The narrator gets in a car accident in the middle of nowhere, and when he comes to, he finds a young boy with a horrible cleft palate staring at him. The sun has gone down, and it is eight miles to town, so the narrator asks the kid if he can stay the night at his place. They have an odd conversation about how the kid thinks his own place is haunted, that while he hasn’t seen or heard anything, he feels ghosts around him. The narrator then goes to sleep and has a horrible nightmare just like one the kid had told him about earlier.



It doesn’t sound like much, right? Once again, it’s all about the journey. It sounds like many stories of its time. A traveler finds himself waylaid at a haunted house and experiences strange happenings. Yet it’s the way White portrays everything. It seems so plausible because of the way everything is represented . . . at least until the ending.


Sadly, the ending is pretty predictable, at least as far as modern audiences are concerned. SPOILER ALERT (in case the ending isn’t obvious enough for you): THE SIXTH SENSE has ruined this kind of story for us. Of course the kid is a ghost. The modern mind already suspects this. When he doesn’t touch anything throughout the course of the story—he doesn’t help the narrator carry his stuff, he doesn’t open the front door when requested to, and he doesn’t eat dinner with the narrator—it’s like a smoking gun.


The narrator wakes up the next day alone, and he finally gets to town, where he tells a blacksmith (they didn’t have mechanics back then) who is going to fix his car that he spent the night at that house with the kid with the cleft palate. The blacksmith then tells him that the kid has been dead for a long time. It’s not quite so chilling, but the way it’s related is kind of funny. END OF SPOILERS.


So despite the obvious ending, it is still worth a read.


[This story first appeared in the Sept. '06 issue of SMITH'S MAGAZINE and can be read here.]

Thursday, April 19, 2012

THE CENTURY'S BEST HORROR FICTION #5: A review of "The Lover's Ordeal" by R. Murray Gilchrist

You don’t get more old fashioned than this tale. We have a young man coming to court a young woman. We have a task he has to achieve before she surrenders her hand in marriage. To say nothing of the grooms, the horses, the harpsichord playing, and, of course, the stately old house on the property where the family no longer sets foot.



Mary Padley is head over heels in love with Endymion Eyre, but she doesn’t want to make things easy for her young lover. No, you see, she wants him to stay the night in the family’s old house, where no one has been for eighty years. “The place is haunted—or so ‘tis said—and ‘twill require all your courage to pass the midnight hours in those deserted suites.”


Being a proper gentleman, Endymion leaps at the chance. Before long, he’s riding a horse down to the old house, which is described in the perfect gothic fashion from Gilchrist. In fact, it’s safe to say that this is the epitome of haunted house descriptions, at least until Shirley Jackson and Richard Matheson come along.


Unfortunately, Mary’s grandmother has neglected to tell her about the true nature of the haunting of the old house. Well, who can fault her? Still, when Mary learns about the truth of the matter, she rushes to her fiancĂ©’s rescue, hoping that she’s not too late.


It truly is a beautiful old tale, certainly one that couldn’t be told today. A relic of a bygone era, it belongs in the heart of all lovers of dark fiction. And there’s more . . . .


SPOILER ALERT: Ladies and gentlemen, we have our first vampire story of the anthology. In what is a breathtaking scene, Gilchrist introduces Diana, the beautiful creature who lives at the old house and feeds on the blood of humans. (The word “vampire” never comes up.) Endymion is so taken by her he completely forgets about Mary to the point where “[p]ast and future were blotted from his mind. He lived solely in the present.” And the part where she actually drinks of his blood is so elegantly done, almost to the point of politeness.


The only drawback is the ending itself. Mary saves her lover and burns the old house down. It’s pretty typical and also a let down. Happy endings in horror don’t usually mean much to a reader. The reason is, horror fiction is supposed to get down to the ugliest, basest parts of human nature. That’s not a fun road to travel. Very few good things come out of this, which is why happy endings always feel forced. This one certainly does, and the moment when Mary’s grandmother reveals the truth about the old house is so flat it reminds someone of a kid being forced to read aloud in class. END OF SPOILERS.

Despite the flaws just mentioned in the ending, the journey is completely worth it. Where Machen couldn’t control himself to get the right amount of beauty into “The White People,” Gilchrist succeeds at nailing in “The Lover’s Ordeal.”

[This story first appeared in the June 1905 issue of THE LONDON MAGAZINE, but sadly, not even the Gutenberg Project has the full text up online.]

WHERE I HAVE BEEN

My apologies, folks.  Due to a horrible illness, my coverage of C2E2 will be considerably less than it would have been.  I have a few things for you, but I got sick on Saturday morning and wound up missing days 2 and 3 as a result.  I also missed three days of work this week to this awful sickness, but I'm back on track now.

It sucked.  I drove all the way out to McCormick after a dentist's appointment on Saturday.  I felt a little queasy when I got to the city, so I figured I'd just find a quick parking spot, a quick bathroom, and quickly void the sickness in my guts . . . and then I couldn't find parking.  Lots were fucking closed down.  After circling for a while outside, the sickness got so bad that I just said fuck it and decided to go home, hanging my head in a trash can in my car, fully expecting to puke my guts out while driving.

I spent the next few days puking and in pain, much like I spent a lot of last summer, except this time I knew what was wrong.  This hereby marks the end of the Red Meat and Whiskey Diet, even though it was more like the Red Meat Diet, as I wasn't really drinking.  Three shots of whiskey would have me barely functioning, and one more after that would be night-night time.  That's all well and good, but not when I still have stuff to do.  People were not meant to eat nothing but red meat, and besides that, my doctor told me that Dr. Atkins is dead.  "And you should never follow a dead man's diet," he added.

Which sucks, because it was working.  I'm secretly pleased, though, because I miss whiskey, and I'd like to get back to drinking it.  Perhaps I'll just change it to the Whiskey Diet.  Nah, I'm not that crazy.

Anyway, what little coverage of C2E2 I have will begin shortly (and I'm furious because I missed EVERY FUCKING PANEL I NEEDED TO BE AT), and my 100 reviews, 100 days continues a little bit later today.  Sorry for the disruption and inconvenience.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

THE CENTURY'S BEST HORROR FICTION #4: A review of "The White People" by Arthur Machen


This is arguably the story Machen is most famous for, and it will in all likelihood be the one for which he is remembered centuries from now. Yet it is the weakest in this volume thus far, for a variety of reasons, but chiefly among them being its absolute denseness. For example, when we get down to the meat of the story, it’s told in the charming voice of a child. However, since it’s almost stream-of-consciousness most of the time, it gets hard to read through. In fact, paragraphs go for pages on end, giving a reader absolutely no place to rest his or her eyes.



It doesn’t help that not much actually happens in the story. First of all, there is a very unnecessary frame involving an argument on the nature of sinners and saints. It’s amusing and unconventional, but if this were to come across an editor’s desk today, it would be demanded that the frame is cut. It doesn’t serve the story at all.


Yet when we get to the actual story, most of it is told in an anecdotal fashion by the child narrator, thus robbing it of its immediacy. In a story where there is nearly a total lack of interest, this is not good.


It seems like there wouldn’t be much to recommend this story, but it is celebrated for a reason. There are amazing images to be found here, and it is a tale of fairies (some good, some not so good), sorcery, and other fantastical things. Yet Machen somehow makes it all seem . . . boring.


There are some parts where he can’t screw up, though; take, for instance, the scene in which a woman dances among the forest, summoning all the snakes out of the ground, where they twine about her, coating her like a second skin. And then, they all retreat, leaving her with a speckled and scaled egg, a magical object that will practically allow her to do anything she wants. It is so beautifully and eerily portrayed that Machen should be remembered for this remarkable scene alone.


Sadly, he can’t keep the magic going. It sparks up here and there, like when the child narrates about her nurse showing her how to use magic, but for the most part, by the end of the story, a reader is left not caring much about what has just happened.


Read it so you can say you read it, especially if you are heavily interested in dark fiction. It’s important to know the history of the genre, and Machen heavily influenced one of the most famous writers in the industry, H.P. Lovecraft. Just don’t expect too much. It’s a lot of work for very little reward.

[This story first appeared in HORLICK'S MAGAZINE and can be read here.]

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

THE CENTURY'S BEST HORROR FICTION #3: A review of "Valley of the Spiders" by H.G. Wells


This one is borderline horror. It falls more under the pulp adventure genre, as editor John Pelan readily admits in his introduction to this story. However, it does have a scene very much intended to horrify, and it does get to one of the baser parts of human nature.



The events are simple. A group of men are out in the middle of nowhere, looking for a woman who has abandoned her lover, the leader of this band, and along the way, they run into a massive swarm of carnivorous spiders. Thanks to its adventuresome nature, it stands out from the other two tales so far; whereas they are genteel, polite instances of horror, this one is balls out. Holy fuck! Man-eating spiders! AAAAAHHHHHH!!!!!! As a result, it reads a lot more modern than the others.


However, despite the cool idea, Wells just can’t connect with the readers on this one. We learn nothing about this woman, or why these men are looking for her. We don’t even learn their names; we only know the gaunt man, the little man, and their leader, the man with the silver bridle. Such a distancing alienates the reader. Why should we care about these guys?


The story gives a little back in the end, though. SPOILER ALERT (as this one wasn’t quite as widely read as, say, “The Monkey’s Paw”): in the end, the man with the silver bridle, who planned this great romantic adventure, turns out to be a coward. The little man recognizes this (as he, too, is a coward) and laughs at his leader. To protect his good name, the man with the silver bridle murders his friend. Then, as he rides away from the valley of spiders, he decides that the woman must have been killed by the arachnids, so he might as well go home. Then, he sees a column of smoke from a campfire and knows it is her and her companions, yet convinces himself it isn’t so he can go home with his skin intact. For such an old piece, it’s very unusual to not have a strong protagonist. In fact, none of the characters are particularly likeable. One wonders what Wells meant to say with this. END OF SPOILERS.


Ultimately, it’s not Wells’ best work. For something better, seek out such classics as WAR OF THE WORLDS and THE TIME MACHINE. “The Valley of Spiders” is short, so if you’ve got fifteen minutes to kill, go for it. Otherwise, you might want to pass.

[This story first appeared in the March '03 issue of PEARSON'S MAGAZINE and can be read here.]

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

THE CENTURY'S BEST HORROR FICTION #2: A review of "The Monkey's Paw" by W.W. Jacobs


If you’ve spent any time breathing in the 20th Century (at least from 1902 and on), chances are, you’ve read this story. It is possibly the most imitated horror tale in history. Even if, by some strange set of circumstances, you haven’t read it, you at least know the point: be careful what you wish for.



Considering the ubiquitous nature of this story, it’s hard to know where to begin. In case you don’t know, it is the tale of the White family. When a friend comes visiting with a strange relic, a mummified monkey’s hand, and an even stranger tale (an Indian fakir—of course—cursed it so that three men can have three wishes each to show that fate rules over all, and if you tamper with it, you just make matters worse), Mr. White decides he must have it. He rescues it from the fireplace, where his friend has thrown it, and shortly thereafter makes his first wish, for two hundred pounds. He certainly gets what he wants in a horrible way; his son gets killed at work, and the White family’s compensation is, you guessed it, two hundred pounds.


One thing leads to another, and Mr. White wishes for his son to come back to life, except when he does, he realizes young Herbert will probably return as he’d looked just after his death. When a mysterious knocking comes to their door late at night, he is practically driven mad by the idea of the grim specter on the other side of the door, and he resorts to his final wish.


It’s certainly a horrifying story. There is definitely a reason why it has survived this long, and continues to go strong. It’s also interesting to see how Jacobs goes about his story. Back in those days, people liked to orally tell horror stories to one another, usually around Christmas time, so the stories usually had a frame structure in which a character tells the actual events of the story to another character (a little something to help listeners empathize with said characters). At first, it seems like this is going to be one of those narratives, except the Sergeant-Major (Mr. White’s friend) actually produces the monkey’s paw. The story he tells is just the beginning of what actually happens, so that when we find ourselves with Mr. White at the door with his dead son knocking on the other side, it has a sense of immediacy that a lot of stories from back then lacked. It’s pretty revolutionary stuff.


That said, here are a few things to think about: the fakir who set the curse on the monkey’s paw in the first place was a dick. First of all, why a monkey’s paw? Did he just want to gross people out? And what about why he cursed it? Why can’t he mind his own fucking business? Why does he want to hurt people? To be fair, the three men who had their wishes did, indeed, choose to have their wishes. Yet, why throw that kind of temptation at someone?


Also, when Mr. White acquires the monkey’s paw, he doesn’t know what to wish for. He even says, “It seems to me I’ve got all I want.” And then Herbert himself tells him to wish for two hundred pounds, which is pretty funny in and of itself. But still: why would he rescue a gristly relic from a fire to wish for something he doesn’t even want? When you think about it, such a concept kind of belongs in Chuck Palahniuk’s FIGHT CLUB.


Lastly, SPOILER ALERT (on the off-off-off-off chance you haven’t read this story): We never get to see Herbert on the other side of the door. We have no indication that he’s going to be as fucked up as Mr. White seems to think. He wishes his son back to the grave before Mrs. White manages to open the door on a spookily empty street. Granted, considering how much of a dick the fakir was, the chances were good that Herbert wouldn’t have looked too peachy, but still. This is a weakness, but it’s also kind of a strength, too. As with Pain’s Undying Thing, Herbert’s corpse remains off-stage. All we have to go on is our imagination, and fans of the grotesque are noted for their dark creativity. END OF SPOILERS.


So if you’re one of the rare people on this planet who speaks English and has not read this story, look it up. It’s impossible to not find online. And if you haven’t read it since you were a kid in school, throw an adult set of eyes on it. It’s a very simplistic tale, but it gets to the guts of something important in the nature of humanity. Think about it: how many times have you gotten something you wished desperately for and were subsequently let down?

[This story was first published in HARPER'S MONTHLY, and it can be read here.]

Monday, April 9, 2012

THE CENTURY'S BEST HORROR FICTION #1: A review of "The Undying Thing" by Barry Pain


Meet Sir Edric Vanquerest, a lifelong misanthrope who has somehow managed to find true love in Eve, his second wife. We come upon him pacing frantically as she gives birth upstairs. The pregnancy was troubled, and her survival is in question. Then, he who once cared nothing for religion implores God to not strike her dead. As payment, Sir Edric would devote the rest of his life to worship and kindness.



The doctor descends the stairs and notifies Sir Edric that Eve has died, and she has given birth to . . . something. After a lot of hand-wringing, they decide to murder the monster of a baby she has birthed and throw it into the deep caverns nearby.


Not a bad start, especially to a story written in 1901, but that’s just some background material. The real story begins centuries later, when the modern day Sir Edric, a nice guy by most standards, is trying to survive a curse laid on his line by the local witch lady. You see, it is rumored that some beast called the Undying Thing lives in the local caverns. The witch lady says that when it comes to the Hall, “the Vanquerest line will be ended.” Officially the end of the line, Sir Edric has a valid concern.


For such an old piece, this story reads pretty smoothly despite a few thee’s and thou’s early on. However, it suffers a bit for putting the story of the first Sir Edric’s child at the front, like some kind of prologue. There is a good scene later where Andrew Guerdon, Sir Edric’s friend, is asked to go through some family papers to see what needs to go to the solicitor and what needs to be burned. The story of the child would fit in nicely here. In fact, some details of the story do, indeed, come out here. Why not all of them?


As with other work of its time, there is a lot of extra information, stuff that would be cut these days to streamline the tale. However, when the ending arrives, it is very suitable to everything that came before. It strikes just the right chord of horror to satisfy a reader of any generation. SPOILER ALERT (if something more than a hundred years old really needs a spoiler alert): The only flaw is that it’s a sins-of-the-father kind of ending. Poor Sir Edric doesn’t deserve his horrifying ending. Also, it is a nice, classic touch that Pain never describes the Thing. It is never onstage, not once (except for when it is carried wrapped in a blanket after Sir Edric supposedly killed it). END OF SPOILERS.


All in all, this is a good way to start out THE CENTURY’S BEST HORROR FICTION. It isn’t the strongest horror tale in the world, but it’s pretty strong for its day. It’s a good departure point for seeing the evolution of the genre over the course of 100 years.

[This story was originally published in STORIES IN THE DARK and can be read here.]

Friday, April 6, 2012

EVERYONE'S GOT ONE #17: FUCK THE LAW!


All right, not all of the laws. There are a few pretty good ones in there. I like that I exist in a country where kid-fucking, for example, is frowned upon. Can’t say that for every nation, you know. But we’ve seriously got a case of overload on our law books, and I’m not talking about those stupid laws people drag out for a laugh every once in a while. (For example, in New York, there is a law stating that it’s illegal to break laws. In Forest City, NC, it is illegal to shoot paper clips with rubber bands. In Joliet, IL, it is illegal—to the tune of $500—to mispronounce “Joliet.” In Wisconsin, it is considered a felony to wage war against the state of Wisconsin.) No, I’m talking about things that people get ticketed for every day.



It’s like people have forgotten why certain laws exist. First of all, I think things like helmet and safety belt laws are stupid. I’m a huge fan of survival of not just the strongest, but also the smartest. I wear my seat belt all the time not because I fear legal consequences, but because I don’t feel like taking a trip through my windshield if—L. Ron Hubbard forbid—I get in a car accident. (Also, my car gives me crap if the passenger doesn’t buckle his or her seat belt. That voice on a long drive alone would drive me to insanity.) If some moron doesn’t want to protect himself, then he should be able to do that.


But I see why that law exists. All right, fine. That’s reasonable, I guess. But there are other adjacent laws that MAKE NO FUCKING SENSE. If you are at a red light, and you take off your seat belt to remove your coat because it’s getting kinda’ hot, you have just broken the law. If you start your car before putting on your seat belt, you have just broken the law. If you pop off your seat belt as you’re settling into a parking space in order to save time because you’re running a little late, you have just broken the law.


WHY?! What is the point of this bullshit? Is the government so hard up for money they’ve got to nitpick their constituents? Seat belt laws exist to save the lives of morons. Whose life are you saving by ticketing the people who have done anything in that previous paragraph? The argument could be made that someone could still crash into you while you’re parked. That argument, however, would be stupid. If that was the case, perhaps we should make walking or standing around illegal, because you never know when some asshole is going to jump the curb.


Here’s another example: if you talk on your cell phone while your car is on, even if you’re parked or at a stop light, you are breaking the law. I’m not talking about the jerk offs who text while driving. Put the leeches on those fuckers because they’re not just a danger to themselves, they’re a danger to others around them. However, people who are merely on the phone are still watching the fucking road. They are aware of their surroundings. If the car in front of them comes to a sudden stop, they’ll know that they need to stop, too. They’re just having a conversation, or maybe we should ban conversations with passengers in the car, too. Don’t believe me? Then why is it legal to have radios in your car? Think about all the times you’ve looked away from the road to change the station. Or how about GPS systems? On mine, you can’t really fiddle around with it if you’re in motion, but that’s not true of everyone’s. How much attention are you paying to the road if you’re trying to put in the address to a bar you want to go to?


Fellow drunkards? (You knew this was coming.) I’m not going to get into the argument as to whether or not driving drunk should be legal. You know my stance on that. However, if you’re a good responsible citizen after a night of having maybe one too many drinks, you can’t just walk to your car and pass out inside of it. It is illegal to be intoxicated inside your car, even if it’s not turned on, even if you’re laying down in the back seat. And some bars don’t even have parking lots; in a lot of places, your car is parked by the sidewalk, which means if you don’t get it home, you’ll be, you guessed it, ticketed for parking it over night. Even worse, depending on the law, you might even get towed and have to get your car back from the impound the next day (and you’ll probably be hung over for that). Yet it’s illegal for you to drive it home while intoxicated. This is so unfair it borders on discrimination against those who like to imbibe. While it may be dangerous to drive drunk, it is not dangerous to do anything else I have mentioned here. Why is this even an issue? And the same goes for open container laws. Louisiana doesn’t have these, so they’re good in my book. Everywhere else, however, will ticket you for this, even if no one in the car is actually drinking from it. Picture this: you’ve brought some alcohol with you to a friend’s place. You guys didn’t really drink much of it (meaning, you’d probably blow a .04 if put to the breathalyzer), but you want to bring it home with you for future enjoyment. Can’t do it. That’s illegal.


These are just a few examples of the legal system running amok. Hell, feel free to post your own examples in the comments below. People are always concerned about laws covering just about every aspect of our lives. We don’t need that much. Generally speaking, we all know right from wrong. We all know which laws are actually important to obey. (For the aberrant cases who don't know this, that's why we have the law.) Why don’t we just trim the fucking fat? Wouldn’t it be nice to have a thin law book instead of the entire library you see in most lawyers’ offices?


Well, that will never happen. Taxes aren’t enough to run a government, apparently; they need money from fines on stupid laws because, and this should come as no surprise, even ordinary people with their brains in the right place break these laws. That’s because there’s nothing wrong with doing so. If the government collapses (and believe me, that will happen before ANY government cocksucker votes to cut his own pay), the politicians will be out of their sweet jobs, perks and all. And here’s another thought: when was the last time you’ve ever heard of the government legalizing something? They’re always bending their every effort to ban everything they can.  Why?  Money, chum.  That's the be-all-end-all.


Hell, it’s not all doom and gloom, despite all of my ranting. Here’s the cool thing about being a free person—and for all of this legal insanity, make no mistake, each and every human being on his planet, with the exception of prisoners, is free—is that you can make your own rules. Maybe that sounds a bit childish, saying that I can do whatever I want, but it’s true. Today (I wrote this a few days ago), on the way home from work, I talked to a friend on my phone. Last week, I had a few drinks at a friend’s place and then drove home. I haven’t smoked weed in many years, but, well, I have done that. I speed all the time (unless I’m drunk; I don’t want to bring attention to myself, after all). I have fucked women in public. I say horribly inappropriate things in any social setting. I don’t censor myself around children. (I used to, but I’m too old to play bullshit games. And they are games; there is no reason why you can’t say bad words in front of a kid because there are no bad words.) Guess what: after I did all of that stuff, no one got hurt. The world didn’t end. Hell, no one even noticed.


To quote Robert A. Heinlein, “Mighty little force is needed to control a man whose mind has been hoodwinked; contrariwise, no amount of force can control a free man, a man whose mind is free. No, not the rack, not fission bombs, not anything — you can't conquer a free man; the most you can do is kill him.” Words to live by.


What do you think? Let me know in the comments below.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

COOL SHIT 4-5-12


DICKS #3: I’m sorry, I said I was not going to talk about this book, but I won’t take up too much of your time. Seriously, just look at the cover. If you don’t find that it’s enough to get you to read this book, then fuck you. Just . . . fuck you.




G.I. JOE: INFESTATION 2 #2: I feel so grossed out that I like something in this stupid INFESTATION cross-over. But . . . I can’t help but like how they’re using characters like Serpentor and Crystal Ball. I’ve never really cared for Storm Shadow, but this issue makes some very good points in his favor. And honestly, GI Joe could have sat this one out. We don’t need them here. Cobra could have done this on their own. Snake Eyes seems to make an obligatory appearance. Anyway, it’s over now. I stand by my opinion of INFESTATION, but I will make an exception for this very small mini-series under its wing.



COBRA COMMAND: G.I. JOE #12: Here we have the aftermath of the most recent IDW series. Cobra Commander has exerted his absolute mastery over the heroin industry that he’s certain to indefinitely fund his terrorist organization. Hawk gets fired, and G.I. Joe gets their funding cut. Things are looking pretty grim for our heroes. Not only that, but everyone thinks Snake Eyes is dead. Us readers know the truth, but still. I can’t wait to see what these guys do with this title next.



THE BOYS #65: This. Is. It. I’ve been waiting for this moment since issue one. This is easily the greatest issue of this book EVER. Butcher vs. the Homelander, except . . . it’s nothing like I thought it would be. The Homelander isn’t quite what he seems, and neither is Black Noir, which is the true surprise. My mind was certainly blown by it, so I don’t want to ruin it for anyone. Those of you who have read this issue know what I’m talking about. I am absolutely shocked that this is not the last issue. All of the conflicts have been resolved. Where the fuck can Ennis go from here? My absolute favorite part is when Butcher breaks down, apologizing to his dead wife for everything that he’s done . . . and even more so, for what he’s ABOUT TO DO. What the fuck is he talking about?! SIX ISSUES TO GO.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

100 REVIEWS IN 100 DAYS


Thought I'd forgotten about this, eh?  Nope, my plate's been pretty full, but I've been accumulating a few reviews, just in case I fall behind.  I'm going to start posting them next week.  Every day I have Internet access, I will post a review.  That will go on for 100 days, as there are 100 stories in THE CENTURY'S BEST HORROR FICTION, one for every year of the 20th Century.  I'll try to do some research to show where each story first appeared, and if at all possible, get a picture of the author.  That's going to be hard, considering how obscure some of these guys are.

As a result of this new project, a lot of my other posts will be suspended.  Cool Shit will definitely go away for a while.  (Not too big a loss.  I've just been talking about the same books, anyway.)  Comic book reviews will also fall by the wayside for the most part.  Forgotten Comic Books and Everyone's Got One will also stop appearing in that time.  The only exception I'll make is C2E2 coverage.  Starting Monday, we'll be balls deep in the horror classics of the last century.

Anyway, on Wednesday we'll have a review of the new comic book adaptation of AT THE MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS.  On Thursday will be Cool Shit (provided I'm impressed enough to write one).  On Friday is Everyone's Got One, which will be entitled FUCK THE LAW.  Then, the horror!  The horror!

Monday, April 2, 2012

QUITE POSSIBLY THE MOST UNCOMFORTABLE MOVIE EVER MADE: A review of MYSTERIOUS SKIN


Any prospective viewer of this movie should be warned in advance: you will want to shower the filth off of you when you’re done with MYSTERIOUS SKIN. While the copy on the back of the DVD case doesn’t lie (except in one case), it certainly doesn’t give an accurate summary of the movie.



Meet Brian Lackey. He’s an awkward kid, eight-years-old, who is an absolute disaster at little league baseball games. However, there is a gap in his memory. Something so horrible happened to him in that time that the rest of his childhood is plagued with bloody noses, shortly followed by fainting spells. He constantly wets the bed. He is incapable of human contact outside of his own family. After a late night viewing of a movie, he is convinced that during that gap, he’d been abducted by a UFO and experimented on.


Meet Neil McCormick. He’s Brian’s exact opposite. He’s outgoing, great at little league, and a generally happy kid. However, there is something off about him, something that his little league coach recognizes and tries to encourage . . . by sexually abusing young Neil.


Fast forward a few years until both Brian and Neil are 18. Neither of them know each other, but they are destined for a meeting. Brian pretty much confines himself to home, where he is a momma’s boy. He is obsessed with alien abductions and soon learns through a television program that someone in a town 30 miles from his own has been abducted, and he goes to her for help, as no one else is willing to do so. Meanwhile, Neil spends his time recklessly prostituting himself. (This is where the copy on the DVD case lied.  It called him a hustler, not what he actually is.  It's like whoever distributed this movie was ashamed of it and didn't want to tell the truth about what happens in it.)  While he’s still outgoing and attractive, there is something dark and empty about his soul. When his best friend in the world, Wendy (played by Michelle Trachtenberg), moves to New York, he decides to up his game and follow her. You see, he’s sick of Kansas, and he thinks he can make some real money in the big bad city.

Brady Corbet, who plays the adult Brian, is amazing in his awkwardness. Viewers have no choice but to cringe, watching him in action, coming so close to understanding what is going on around him, but never quite getting there. On the other hand, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who plays Neil, is holy-fuck-over-the-top-is-this-really-happening awesome. The man has absolutely no fear in the graphic scenes he has to take part in. Most notably is the one in which he is paid, by a character played by the eternally creepy Billy Drago, a fellow who very clearly is suffering from AIDS, to rub his lesion-ridden back and jerk off. His hands kneading that awful, stomach-turning flesh is one of the grimmest images put to film.

Or how about when Richard Riehle (mostly known as the Jump to Conclusions guy from OFFICE SPACE) lustily rubs at Gordon-Levitt’s crotch, lasciviously opening his pants so he can suck Neil’s cock so hard he leaves bruises?


And then there is the ugly scene in which Neil is viciously beaten and raped while coming home from his real job at a sandwich shop. There is a reason Gordon-Levitt is the hottest rising star in Hollywood right now; he will go to any lengths to get the performance he needs.


But Corbet and Gordon-Levitt are small potatoes compared to the kids who play their younger selves. (Their names are Chase Ellison and George Webster.)  They have to do something that very few other children actors do; they have to play victims of sexual abuse in some pretty graphic scenes. Granted, there is no actual child pornography in this movie. The scenes are so suggestive though, it would sicken any viewer who isn’t actually a kid toucher. But these scenes are never done to titillate. No, these are supposed to be grim and ugly scenes.


The coach, played by Bill Sage, is handsome in an ‘Eighties kind of way, kind of like Cary Elwes, but his mustache belongs on a biker. It’s like he walked right out of a cigarette ad. He manipulates Neil in such a way that is very creepy, but not to young Neil’s way of thinking, meaning he doesn’t understand the implications of what is happening to him, it all seems reasonable. Being kissed by the coach is normal. Having his genitals fondled is an everyday occurrence. Sticking his fist up the coach’s ass is just a couple of guys hanging out.


When they are starting to form their relationship, the coach takes a few Polaroids of Neil holding a microphone up to his mouth like a cock. There are a few goofy pictures, too, but the coach’s favorite is the one when he sticks his finger into Neil’s mouth.


Grossed out yet? Good. That’s the reaction this movie is going for. Because when this shit happens to little boys, they tend to grow up just like Neil. Morally and emotionally void. That’s the warning of this film.

Either that, or they turn out like Brian. Ineffectual and afraid of any human contact. When he starts developing a friendship with his fellow abductee, played by Mary Lynn Rajskub (Chloe from 24!), she mistakes his attention for romantic inclination. She tries to kiss him, but he turns her away. Thinking he’s playing hard to get, she tries to open his pants up, to give him a blow job, swearing that it will feel good, but he freaks out and completely severs all ties with her.

SPOILER ALERT: In case you couldn’t tell (and it is pretty obvious throughout the movie), Brian wasn’t abducted by aliens. He was abducted by not only the coach, but also Neil. The scene when Brian and Neil meet as adults is shocking and possibly the saddest in cinematic history. Brian remembers none of this, and Neil has to explain what happened. END OF SPOILERS.

It isn’t often a piece of art like this comes along, not afraid to explore the deepest, nastiest corners of human nature. It’s too easy to tell a story about child abuse that merely destroys its victim. Here, writer and director Gregg Araki goes that extra mile and shows how child abuse continues in ever-widening cycles.


Not convinced? While Neil is still a kid, he and Wendy trick an awkward, Brian-like character away from his group of friends and make him hold bottle rockets in his mouth. He then lights them, which horribly ruins the poor kid’s mouth. Neil then makes it up to the guy by sucking his dick before Wendy's horrified eyes.


That’s the key: the coach has so rewired Neil’s brain that Neil thinks everything he did with the coach is normal. So why wouldn’t he do that stuff to other people, too? Perhaps that’s the most horrifying part of this movie.


No, this film is not for everyone, but it is a work of art. It will change your life. It will disturb you. What more can you ask from art?