Autodidact: self-taught

May
09
2014

British Gothic Cinema

by V. L. Craven

British Gothic Cinema

Castles and howling wind (or is it wolves), lightning and thunder and perpetual murk. Capes and lace and bodices and everyone’s overwrought about everything all the time. There’s a candelabra on every other horizontal surface. You know the drill. It’s Gothic. And, if you’ve watched a certain type of film you’re probably picturing Hammer horror films.

British Gothic Cinema by Barry Forshaw is about the influence of British filmmakers on horror cinema from the very beginning of film. Hammer gets a (deservedly) large portion of the book, but other companies like Amicus get their time, as well. Forshaw clearly knows his material and history–explaining how the censorship codes (blood on cleavage used to give people the vapours)–were slowly chipped away.

There are interviews with the some of the key players of the time, and honest reviews of performances by the staple players like Peter Cushing, Vincent Price (shipped in from the States to bring in the crowds) and Christopher Lee. No stone is left unturned–it’s an exhaustive work. Forshaw’s love for the subject shows.

This is an excellent companion to the BBC4 documentary A History of Horror with Mark Gatiss . Indeed, Gatiss is mentioned a few times in the end of the book, as are Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. British Gothic Cinema, on the whole, is about horror cinema, and the British influence on it, though the earliest contributions were period Gothic pieces.

Very academic, I would recommend it only for people already interested in Gothic cinema or fans of film history, but for them it’s a must-read. There are some film spoilers for very well-known films, but if you’re a fan of the genre you’ve probably already seen them. (I didn’t find this to be a problem.) The biggest quibble I had were the typos, of which there were more than a few.

Overall, I did enjoy it, am glad I read it and wound up with a long list of films to watch.

[I was given a free copy of this to review, but was under no obligation to give a positive review.]

May
08
2014

The Act of Killing

by V. L. Craven

The Act of Killing

 

Werner Hertzog said, ‘I have not seen a film as powerful, frightening and surreal in at least a decade.’ Well. I had to see this.

In Indonesia in 1965 over 1 million communists were murdered. Today the people who ordered and did the murdering are happily living their lives–talking openly about their acts on television, heroes to their fellow Indonesians. The Act of Killing is about a few of those men. Joshua Oppenheimer and Christine Cynn asked the men to dramatise–in any way they wish–their involvement in the extermination (a word the men use  a lot of the Communists. The documentary consists of interviews with the men interspersed with scenes from the films the men write, direct and act in.

Much of the film revolves around Anwar Congo from the paramilitary–and a self-described gangster. He’s obsessed with the idea of gangsters being ‘free men’–free to do whatever they want, whether it’s good or bad. He was heavily influenced by Marlon Brando, Robert Deniro and Al Pacino.

When we first meet Congo, he happily tells us about how beating people to death left too much blood so they came up with a better–less messy–way that involved garroting. He demonstrated using the garrote on someone and later when watching the footage of this he only commented on his clothes and wondered if he should dye his hair black.

Though he doesn’t outwardly show guilt over it he says he takes drugs and drinks not to think about some of the things he’s done, but it’s in the same matter-of-fact, nearly cheerful tone.  And after playing one of the tortured victims in a scene and realising the people he killed were actual people, he becomes physically ill. He’s not a sociopath.

His fellow executioner, Adi Zulkadry takes a more pragmatic approach. He’s aware that morality is subjective. When asked about war crimes and the Hague he points out that you only get called up on war crimes if you lose. His viewpoint was the most complex–he was the only person in the documentary who’d moved out of Indonesia and was no longer in contact with Congo or the others. He was aware that showing people what they’d done would show them in a bad light, but he still thought he hadn’t done anything wrong. And, from a certain point of view, he hadn’t. If people are giving you money and weapons to kill loads of people and telling you those people are worthless, then clearly, those people deserve to be killed, right?

One of the most interesting aspects was the way democracy worked. If you think the government of the United States is corrupt have a look at the Indonesian government. It’s incredible. It’s not about whether or not you’re going to be extorted, it’s who you’re going to be extorted by. And all votes are bought–openly. Democracy! It’s fortunate they got rid of those pesky Communists, though.

In Adam Nayman’s interview with Joshua Oppenheimer (one of the directors) he calls the subjects ‘certifiably insane’. But these men are not insane. Exterminating things you’ve been told are less-than-human in order to protect your country makes you a hero–it doesn’t make you insane–which is what these men thought they were doing.

Later on in the article, Nayman talks about psychic distancing. He’s referring to the way the men compare themselves to the film stars they admire–therefore distancing themselves from the horror of their actions–but calling the men certifiably insane is also a form of psychic distancing. Anyone familiar with Milgram’s study or the Stanford Prison Experiment should know how easy it is to turn people against one another.

If a person was raised in an environment where they were told that Communists were the epitome of evil and were then given the support of Western democracies in overthrowing those Communists of course they would think they’d done something admirable. Also, people don’t want to think badly of themselves–they will justify their actions at all costs. The worse the action the more vehement the justification.

And let’s not forget: If you win, you’re right. You’re right because you get to write the histories that say you’re right.

The white man came to the new world and slaughtered ‘savages’, then enslaved more ‘savages’ and then wrote stories and made films about how they were the superior race.  How they ‘tamed’ the land.

If Hitler had remained in Germany rather than invading other countries he could have probably ‘purified’ the German race and the rest of the world would have left him alone. And then Nazis would now view themselves as having done the country a favour, having eradicated all of the undesirable elements. They could make films about it. But Hitler invaded other countries and the Allied countries intervened, the Nazis lost and thus, they committed crimes against humanity. And rightly so.

If some factions of China asked for our help to crush the Communist regime would we give it? Would the average Westerned support the idea? Absolutely. What’s worse than Communism? And what would happen to the Communists? In fifty years would you be comfortable watching a documentary about who did what to those Communists? But they would be heroes.

I thought The Act of Killing was going to be about what happens when the bad guys win and are venerated, but it turned out to be about what happens when a group of people are dehumanised, allowing them to be murdered and then those murderers to be dehumanised. As though anyone else wouldn’t be capable of doing the same thing given the correct circumstances.

May
05
2014

Great Minds Blog Tour

by V. L. Craven

I have been invited by Michael Hibbard  to join in the Great Minds blog tour of writer/bloggers. And thank you, Mr Hibbard for the kind words.

Before I answer the questions before me, I should like to tag Mr Paddy Kelly , author of Erotic Refugees. I’ve recently finished reading his latest manuscript that is, frankly, incredible–it will appeal hugely to fans of Neil Gaiman. It has that YA/adult cross-over appeal, as well. Very inventive and wonderful. We just need to find the man a publisher. He’ll be the next stop on the Great Mind’s blog tour, so be sure to check out his blog next Monday.

On to the questions:

1. What am I working on?

Just last week I started making notes for a novel about an woman who is invited to join a centuries-old intellectual organisation for people who do not excel at learning in a structured environment but who are encouraged to pursue their interests as fervently as they wish. But there are always prices to pay for getting what you most wish for.

 

2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I’m not sure I would say that it does–much of my writing is literary fiction along the lines of Patricia Highsmith. Where normal people appear to be going about their lives but things aren’t always what they seem. Or they’re pushed to the point of behaving like animals, which I think all people are capable of. The trick is to get the reader to identify with the characters completely throughout the situation to see how they would behave similarly. Very rarely do I write characters who start out evil, which is popular in media–people like black and white characters.

3. Why do I write what I do?

I’ve always had lots of things going on in my head–conversations, ideas, places, characters. I often write to play with those things–to see if I can make characters fit together. Or, like this novel I’m about to begin, it has several characters from different stories that either didn’t quite work or I didn’t start yet and it has two different organisations I’ve had ideas about for years. Suddenly, very recently, all of these things have coalesced and it’s so obvious they belong together. I feel like I’m about to bring all of these people into a room and have them do a read-through together like a play.

4. How does my writing process work?

Carrying on from the previous question, I think about characters and situations a great deal–whatever presents itself–but I’ve always had loads of imaginary friends. So I live with all of these invisible people talking around me and I listen to them and get to know them and eventually I’ll have an idea for a story they could be involved in. It always starts with the characters.

I make notes about plot, and characters–physical attributes and such. Then when I start writing I often write dialogue first, because my characters talk a lot. I write it like a play. Character One: whatever they say. Character Two: response, etc. Then I fill in their actions during the conversation. And work outward from there to descriptions and those sorts of things.

This particular novel is going to be interesting because it’s going to have a bunch of characters I’ve known for years but who’ve never ‘met’ each other. I did theatre for years growing up so writing has often felt like directing an improv group. I don’t tell them what to say or what to do–I just say, ‘This is where we’re starting and this is what needs to have happened by the end of the scene.’ And see what they do.

I suppose in response to the previous question–I write because I want to see what my characters are going to do. Readers probably think writers know exactly what’s going to happen, and writers do, to some degree, but I don’t know how these people, who are very much fully-formed people to me, are going to go about it. Or what is going to come out of their mouths.

Apr
24
2014

Erzsebet Bathory: A Life in Two Films

by V. L. Craven

Countess Erzsebet Bathory  (1560-1614) is remembered by popular culture as the female version of Vlad the Impaler–a feminine Dracula. She’s thought to have tortured and bled servant girls and maidens from her lands in order to bathe in their blood in order to remain young and beautiful. Apparently it’s not as straightforward as all that.

In 2008 and 2009 there were films made about the Countess that take slightly different views on the matter.

Erzsebet Bathory: A Life in Two Films

Bathory was the first of the two films–released in 2008 and starred Anna Friel. The Countess was released in 2009 and starred Julie Delphy (who also directed), as well as William Hurt.

Both are narrated by men. Bathory is narrated by someone who titles himself a ‘fool’ and The Countess by her lover, Istvan Thurzo, and the son of her greatest enemy, Gygory Thurzo (Hurt). They both admit that history is written by the winners, in this case, the people who sealed Erzsebet’s fate.

Bathory begins with Erzsebet’s betrothal to Ferenc Nadasdy,  the son of another family for political reasons at 8 or 9 [Wikipedia says this happened when she was 12] . She is portrayed as knowing nothing about sex–asking her new husband how it was supposed to work.

Likewise, The Countess begins at the very start of Erzsebet’s life and betrothal to Ferenc, but it is at her christening, when Nadasdy is a young boy that this is shown as happening. In this film she is knowledgeable about sex–sleeping with a peasant and bearing a child before her marriage at 15, which is taken away from her.


Erzsebet Bathory: A Life in Two Films

In Bathory, Erzsebet takes a lover–an artist–while she’s still married. In The Countess, she doesn’t take a lover (the aforementioned Istvan Thurzo, played by Daniel Bruhl) until after her husband has died. Thurzo is much younger than she is and this is when she begins to obsess about her looks.

In Bathory, after Erzsebet is accidentally poisoned she is saved by a woman who is said to be a witch, Darvulia (Deana Horváthová). In The Countess the character is portrayed as much younger and as a much dearer friend and companion, where she’s played by Anamaria Marinca. In the former film the character doesn’t come into Erzsebet’s life until later on, but in the latter film, she’s been in her life from very early on. They also meet drastically different ends.

Both films agree that there was a great deal of political motivation behind the accusations levelled at Erzsebet–the King owed her a great deal of money for one–but we’ll probably never know just how many peasant girls were tortured and killed.

Bathory painted Erzsebet in a much more sympathetic light. It felt like more of a historical drama than anything else. There wasn’t much blood shown but our woman was certainly not portrayed as a kind and loving saint either. It was a bit slow-moving. I’d recommend it for people interested in Erzsebet Bathory or Hungary during the 17th century, but it would probably bore people who were looking for something titillating. There is a rape scene near the beginning of the film, as a trigger warning. It’s brief and not graphic, but it’s there.

The Countess was closer to what most people have heard about Countess Bathory. There is definitely more blood and torture shown (but not even up to standard horror film levels though there is one bit that’s wince-worthy). Delphy’s interpretation is interesting because though this version is much more sadistic she still has a human side. She could have played the character as a two-dimensional, cold-blooded lunatic, but she didn’t. This one I would recommend for people interested in non-stereotypical psychopaths, along with those who like period dramas, Bathory herself, etc.

Apr
20
2014

Happy 4th Anniversary

by V. L. Craven

Today is the fourth anniversary of this blog.

This will be the 588th post. And there are 236 pages.

It’s gone through some changes over the last four years, but it’s found its niche now and I’m looking forward to the next fourth years.

As a reward for my followers, my tattoos:

Happy 4th Anniversary

Poe, corvids and Tim Burton homage.

 

Happy 4th Anniversary

A logo from an academic organisation in my writing. The motto means ‘Learn so that you may live.’

 

Happy 4th Anniversary

Tree cover-up tattoo including an owl and blood moon.

 

Happy 4th Anniversary

An ouroboros. A symbol of self-reflexivity.

 

Happy 4th Anniversary

Alchemy symbols from the Middle Ages. From top Arsenic, Sulfuric Acid/Vitriol, Antimony.

 

Happy 4th Anniversary

Brimstone/Sulfur alchemy symbol.

 

Happy 4th Anniversary

The Sigil of Astaroth, Crown Prince of Hell.

 

Apr
12
2014

Undead Survival Show

by V. L. Craven

Undead Survival Show

So let’s say the zombie apocalypse is brought about by a virus. And all of the people who have it can be contained in large areas. They don’t have to be killed–it would be difficult to do so–they do still look like humans, after all. That seems plausible, right? More plausible than the entire human race being overtaken by the undead, who, let’s be honest, aren’t exactly masterminds.

So you quarantine them in places called Red Zones. And the uninfected would go about their lives in Green Zones. But people would still be obsessed with entertainment and, therefore, someone would inevitably step up to produce a reality show during the zombie apocalypse. (Seriously, no matter what’s happening to humanity, someone is going to want to cash in on it.)

Undead Survival Show  is an upcoming webseries about just that. The protagonist is Chainsaw Martin who is an ex-Special Forces survivalist who puts himself in insanely dangerous proximity to the undead hoardes and shows the viewers at home how he gets himself out again. From the website:

“Undead Survival” is a show within a show.  It is a series of 9-to-12-minute action-comedy programs with a dark twist.  As it follows the making of television’s most popular program, actual viewers see a world separated into two zones.  The Red Zone is an abandoned wasteland where the undead reign.  Entire cities lie in ruin. Streets crack, spontaneous fires rage out of control, and buildings are nothing more than hollow tombs where the walking dead shamble in their never-ending walk. With places like New York and LA in ruin, the Green Zones are massive, walled-in city sanctuaries speckled throughout the country with names like Shreveport, Evansville, and Dayton.  The new capital of cool however, is the city of Louisville, Kentucky, where new trends are defined and excitement is always at hand. It is also where the network responsible for the creation of “Undead Survival” and several other popular programs runs its corporate offices.

Inside the Louisville green zone, the living try to spend their days as if the apocalypse was nothing more than a pesky flu.  People hold jobs, shop at the grocery, go to bars, surf the net and of course… watch television.  Still, the reality of what lies outside the walls is very present.  It has worked its way into the mental and emotional lexicon of everyone now living inside the walls.  Newscasts give daily undead reporting, businesses hock the latest zombie-wear, manufacturers produce things like Zombie-load shotgun shells and undead repellant and of course the television networks churn out series after series of undead storylines. The most popular of these is Undead Survival.

This sounds to me like the most accurate portrayal yet of what would happen during a zombie apocalypse. The show is still in pre-production, but give them some love if you can, as it sounds like an intriguing concept.

A teaser:

The YouTube channel is going to have new content coming up soon, and there’s an email list for exclusive content, as well. Check out Explosivo (the production company’s) website and Twitter for more info.

Apr
10
2014

Inside No. 9

by V. L. Craven

Inside No. 9

Inside No. 9 is the newest show from two of the four members of the League of Gentlemen , Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton.

Each episode is stand-alone and, being a British show, there are only six episodes. The action of each episode occurs in a different place with the address of No. 9. All are residences save one, which is dressing room number 9.

As you’d expect from these two, there are a host of creepy characters–some are in bizarre situations, others in are seemingly ordinary situations that turn surreal. All of them are original and surprising. The second episode was particularly creative, as there’s no dialogue.

Inside No. 9

The first episode ‘Sardines’, concerning a party game in a mansion that seems just a bit…off, dragged a bit, but turned out to be a nice start to the series. It fell firmly into the average people in a slowly devolving into a sinister situation sort of episode. It was also one of the funniest of the lot. Some of the guest stars in the episode were Anna Chancellor, Julian Rhind-Tutt, Katherine Parkinson and Anne Reid, which kept things interesting.

Inside No. 9

The second episode ‘A Quiet Night In’, as mentioned above, has no dialogue. Background music supplies all of the commentary about what’s going on. It concerns two hapless criminals (Sheersmith and Pemberton) who are trying to steal a piece of modern art from a house whilst the owners are in and out of the room and also in the midst of a domestic crisis. Tension is built nicely and the viewer finds themselves rooting for the ‘bad guys’, as their evening is definitely not going to plan.

Inside No. 9

The third episode ‘Tom and Gerri’ (‘her last boyfriend was Ben’) was the strongest both plot-wise and in terms of characterisation. Sheersmith is a teacher who really wants to be a writer. One day when his actress girlfriend, Gerri (Gemma Arterton), is at an audition, he has an interaction with the homeless man (Pemberton) who lives across the street. Then everything goes a bit funny and not in a ha ha sort of way.

Inside No. 9

This is followed by the weakest episode ‘Last Gasp’ about a little girl with a terminal illness who has asked the Wish-Maker charity for a visit by her favourite singer (David Bedella) for her birthday. When he dies while blowing up a balloon for her there becomes a power struggle between the adults (Pemberton, Tamsin Grieg, Sophie Thompson, Adam Deacon) over what to do with his last breath. This one never comes together. The characters felt incomplete. But I’ll forgive anything with Grieg in it.

Inside No. 9

‘The Understudy’ was the penultimate episode. The titular character (Sheersmith) is hesitant to push his luck with the overbearing lead of the company he’s in (Pemberton). His girlfriend (Lyndsey Marshal) is more ambitious for him–knowing he has more talent than he gives himself credit for. When Pemberton breaks his long sobriety our man assumes his girlfriend is to blame, but as with the play the company is performing–Macbeth–things do not go well and there is blood indeed. Julia Davis is hilarious as the lesbian stage manager.

Inside No. 9

I think my favourite episode was the final one, ‘The Harrowing’, which was of the extraordinary characters in a surreal situation type. It was about a teenage girl asked to baby-sit for an evening whilst two Poe-like characters (this is even acknowledged, much to my delight) have one of their very rare evenings out. The female character is played my Helen McCrory, who played Narcissa Malfoy in the Harry Potter films and was perfectly cast in the Madeleine Usheresque role. The girl brings her friend along, which is fortunate because the house is absolutely terrifying, with art depicting all the torments of hell. The girl is informed that she’s really there to house-sit as their older brother doesn’t actually need anything most of the time. But she’s there ‘just in case’. It was somewhat less developed in some ways, and the only one that seemed like the main characters could go on to be in other sketches. Or perhaps that was my wishful thinking.

Whether they appear in the next series or not–bring on series two, please.

Apr
04
2014

Dancing Skeletons Life and Death in West Africa

by V. L. Craven

Dancing Skeletons Life and Death in West Africa

Katherine Dettwyler is an anthropologist who’s been working and conducting research in Mali for decades, focusing on childhood nutrition. Dancing Skeletons: Life and Death in West Africa is a collection of her observations. In it Dettwyler introduces us to the social conventions of the region–including an extended greeting that must be got through for every person you meet that makes the obligatory, ‘Good morning, how are you, hope your weekend went well’ look like a snub.

Dettwyler has been there long enough she’s treated less like a tourist and more like an honoured guest–at times being brought special (if stomach-churning to Western palates) foods and feted at dances–at other times she’s treated like just another person walking around. There’s clearly a mutual respect between the woman and her subjects. At times, they’re more than just subjects.

Other stories are heartrending. Mali is a country with less-than-adequate medical facilities and education on the best practises for proper healthcare. This leads to higher rates of childhood disease and death. Malaria, for example, can even be drug-resistant. Something Dettwyler finds out first-hand, unfortunately.

Overall, the attitude of the people Dettwyler met was one of accepting life as it was–whether it was the child who had what we’d call Down’s Syndrome, or the woman who had such severe mental disabilities she was going to allow her child to die from malnutrition. In the Down’s Syndrome child–no one ostracised the child in anyway–she simply went about her life as happy and carefree as possible–something that wouldn’t happen in the West. In the latter case–social services would take the child from the mother immediately. But in Magnambougou there was an acceptance that some children die from malnutrition and this child would be one of them.

The most challenging chapter was probably the one about female circumcision. It follows on from the acceptance in that, when asked about it, people said it was simply the way it has always been. They usually did it when the girls were six months old so they didn’t remember it and all the girls had it done. The boys were all circumcised, as well, so it only seemed right that the girls were, too. When Dettwyler (an American) said she wasn’t circumcised, the woman she was speaking with was shocked. After all, if everyone you know. And everyone in your entire culture has forever done something, how absolutely bizarre is it to find someone who doesn’t? And then to be asked, well, why don’t you?

It’s a slim volume, but is a fascinating look into a culture quite different from the one Westerners are accustomed to. Though it’s somewhat academic, I’d still recommend it for fans of Mary Roach or people interested in anthropology in general.

Apr
03
2014

Vampires in the Cold

by V. L. Craven

Vampire films, as a genre, don’t particularly hold my interest. Immortality seems boring–humans would whine about the same problems every century–and having sex with a room-temperature body (vampires are corpses) is stomach-churning, so their sex appeal is similarly lost on me. I’m not against watching a film about vampires, but there has to be some other draw.

In this case, it’s cold climates–the beauty of a frozen landscape will get me to watch a lot of things. So this week’s film review is a comparison of two films about vampires in cold climates: Let the Right One In and 30 Days of Night.

Vampires in the Cold

Let the Right One in is based on the Swedish novel of the same name by John Ajvide Lindqvist and is about a boy who befriends his unusual new neighbour–a girl of twelve. The girl advises him to fight back against his bullies and even offers to help. Much of the story is about the budding friendship between the two young people and the boy learning to stand up for himself.

The backdrop to all of this are the horrific killings that have been happening–one man was found upside down, drained of blood; and another was attacked and murdered in front of a witness, who swore it looked like the attacker was a child.

This film is much more atmospheric and subdued than most vampire films, which was refreshing. There was also very little blood and onscreen violence, considering the trend of horror films in general. Several tropes common to vampires were handled cleverly–trusting the intelligence of the audience rather than relying on special effects. I would recommend this to fans of vamp flicks who were looking for something a bit out of the ordinary, as well as to people who simply liked a good story. I’ll definitely watch it again.

Vampires in the Cold

The premise is that the town farthest north in the U.S. experiences thirty days of darkness once a year and someone (or something) has cut them off from civilisation even further by stealing and destroying all the mobiles amongst other things. Once no one can get in or out or can contact the outside world, things start picking off the humans. Yummy, yummy humans. 

I’m going to admit that I wasn’t expecting much from this one. It looked like pretty standard fare so I just came for the pretty scenery. However, some genius in casting had Danny Huston as the lead vampire. And he had a sidekick who rather looked like Marilyn Manson, which amused me greatly.

Vampires in the Cold

‘Why do people keep asking me to sing Beautiful People?’

This one was better than I was expecting, but I’d only recommend it to people who like vampire films. It had plenty of blood and action and one very cool shot of the town that (along with Huston) made it worth the watch.

Apr
01
2014

Back into the Swing of the Pendulum

by V. L. Craven

Back into the Swing of the Pendulum

Get it? A Pit and the Pendulum reference. I’m witty. I’m also apologising for being so remiss in posting.

This winter, which, with any luck, may possibly end at some point in the next six months, has been a difficult one for a variety of reasons.

Back into the Swing of the Pendulum

Seriously. Look, I live someplace warm to avoid this nonsense.

Anhedonia , about which I’ve written before, and other personal events have got in the way of (or even feeling like) writing much of anything. Or really doing much of anything other than play Legend of the Cryptids and 2048.

And faff about on Tumblr. My site there is called Bookish and Macabre , where I post book-related or spooky or Gothic sorts of things.

Back into the Swing of the Pendulum

Or, sometimes, a combination of those.

There’s also the occasional Sherlock, Hannibal or Harry Potter gif. And soon I’ll be posting book and film reviews that don’t necessarily fit with the theme of this blog. I’ll still be posting here, though, as well.

It may take me a bit to get completely back into things, but here goes.

And when I came in to write this post, I was greeted by this:

Back into the Swing of the Pendulum

Which was immensely cheering, I can tell you.

See you on Thursday with a comparative film review of 30 Days of Night and Let the Right One In.

Mar
06
2014

A History of Horror with Mark Gatiss

by V. L. Craven

A History of Horror with Mark Gatiss

In 2010, Mark Gatiss ( Crooked House , League of Gentlemen, that show about Sherlock Holmes with that Cumberfellow) did a three-part series for the BBC about the history of horror in the cinema.

The first episode (Frankenstein Goes to Hollywood) starts with the Phantom of the Opera and is a paean to Lon Chaney, Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff and other pioneers in horror cinema. Gatiss travels to Hollywood to see Chaney’s make up kit and visit locations and people involved in early horror films like Dracula, which was the first horror film with sound. And Frankenstein, where he visits both the sound stage village and the lake where the monster met the little girl. One of the people he talks with is Barbara Steele, who appears in other episodes of the series.

The episode also covers quite a few early horror films that haven’t garnered as much attention, though deserved more than they received. There’s also a bit about the classic Freaks, which disturbed young Mark.

A History of Horror with Mark Gatiss

The Count looks a bit unsettled, as well.

The second episode (Home Counties Horror) begins with the Hammer films, which were filmed in Britain. We’re onto the colour era of films, which made blood—which they actually showed—that much more terrifying. The first colour horror film made in Britain was The Curse of Frankenstein and starred Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. Then we get on to the Hammer version of Dracula, where Lee takes over the Lugosi role.

There’s also discussion about the prudishness of the British film board that asked for cuts to avoid sexually suggestive material. This episode also has a fantastic story from Gatiss’ childhood as a young horror-lover whose weekly compositions where about such delight subjects as decapitations. There’s also a touching ode to Peter Cushing.

This one covers the Corman films based on Poe stories, as well, which are sort of the U.S. versions of Hammer films. Gatiss talks with Corman and talks about Vincent Price as a centrepiece of those.

The second episode  goes from the Gothic era to the English country sort of horror like the Wicker Man and Witchfinder General.

A History of Horror with Mark Gatiss

imagine opening a cupboard and seeing that. Gah.

The third episode (The American Scream) concerns the revival of horror, which takes place back in the States, beginning with The Night of the Living Dead. Gatiss interviews George Romeo and Tobe Hooper. Hooper, of course, directed Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

Once those independent films began making money, big production companies began making films. Including Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist. And the first horror blockbuster, The Omen, which was a sort of U.S./U.K. combination film being written by an American, but starring many English actors and being filmed primarily in England.

Gatiss also visits lesser-known films like Romero’s Martin about a teen boy who may be a vampire or may just not be able to talk to women with any aplomb. Cronenberg and his love of body-horror is then discussed. Then back to Romero and Dawn of the Dead.

The final section is on slasher films, which was properly ushered in by Halloween. Gatiss sits down John Carpenter about his inspiration and philosophy of filmmaking. Then our intrepid host carries on about where horror is going.

A History of Horror with Mark Gatiss

Terrifying, terrifying places.

Gatiss is clearly an enormous horror fan—at the start he admits that the films he chooses to highlight are his personal favourites. There’s a great love for the works and humour throughout. And bits and bobs of trivia—prior to playing Frankenstein’s monster, Karloff had been in eighty films, yet he was still virtually unknown for example–keep the viewer interested.

This is an excellent introduction to horror for people curious about the origins of the once again popular genre. It’s also sure to please devoted fans, who will no doubt find a friend in the engaging Gatiss. Tomorrow I’ll be reviewing a book entitled British Gothic Cinema, which will appeal to a similar audience. So be sure to check back in for that.

[Update: the British Gothic Cinema review will be next Friday]

Feb
27
2014

Seven Psychopaths

by V. L. Craven

Seven Psychopaths

 

Hans (Christopher Walken) and his associate, Billy, (Sam Rockwell) ‘borrow’ dogs and give them back to their grateful owners after they’ve posted lost dog posters with rewards offered.

Marty McDonagh (Colin Farrell) is a writer working on a screenplay called Seven Psychopaths . The problem being that he only has an idea for one psychopath and that one is a Buddhist who doesn’t like violence. With the help of his good friend Rockwell he changes the idea to include, you know, seven actual psychopaths.

Farrell still has the problem of only coming up with other psychopaths, though. His buddy has a plan–he’s the sort of person who always has a plan. These people are really best to be avoided.

That would make for a boring film, though, so through his friend’s rather questionable methods, Marty meets psychopath no. 6, Tom Waits, who is just as spectacular as you’d expect.

Then psychopath no. 7 (Woody Harrelson) loses his beloved Shih Tzu, Bonny, to psychopath no. 3. It’s never a good idea to take the sweet doggy of a lunatic with a penchant for guns and henchman like Kevin Corrigan and Zeljko Ivanek.

Meanwhile, someone is killing criminals and leaving playing cards in his wake. Dun dun DUN.

From the first scene you’re drawn into this dark, twisted comedy (the best kind). The dialogue is sharp and witty (the real Martin McDonagh deserves a slow clap), the plot genuinely surprising with layers that will give the viewer something to think on days afterward. This is the kind of film you quote with your friends and watch when you need cheering up. Highly recommended. 

Feb
21
2014

Immortal Memories by Michael Hibbard

by V. L. Craven

Immortal Memories by Michael Hibbard

Immortal Memories is a collection of short stories set in the Waking Dream universe, meant to be read after the first book in the series, Devlin, which I reviewed last year . I also had the opportunity to interview the author, Michael Hibbard .

Because the main characters in Devlin can time travel, the stories in Immortal Memories take place in different time periods, and tend to also have their own atmosphere, which is a testament to Hibbard’s agility with language.

A couple stories are set in Devlin, Virginia, though in 1958 and 2012, but the others are in places as diverse as Bavaria, New Orleans and Baltimore. Each story has its own feel and there isn’t a weak one in the bunch but my personal favourites are:

The Black Heart in Madness: [Bavaria, 1886] Taking place in and around Neuschwanstein Castle , and featuring Ludwig II, this one concerns the mysterious Black Heart. The description in this one was excellent. There was a coldness that was appropriate to the location.

The Fairy in Red: [New Orleans, Louisiana, 1919] As cold as the previous story felt, this one felt hot and sticky, which was fitting, as it was set in New Orleans. The style put me in mind of Fitzgerald–very Jazz Age–and was about a writer who’d caught a glimpse of a dancer once and he only wanted to dance with her again. He gets his wish, but it goes a bit differently than he expects.

What Rough Beast: [Richmond, Virginia, 1995] Anne Rice-esque BDSM erotica, where we meet a character who reminded me of Patrick Bateman, who plays host to an entity that allows him to have everything he most desires. An the entity asks very little in return. Just a little sin eating here and there. You don’t want to know how he gets the sin. Or you probably do.

The Charnel House: [Morgantown, Pennsylvania, October, 2010] This one will please Lovecraft fans. You know those horror films where some teens go into an old house and everyone’s shouting at the screen, ‘Don’t go in there, you tits!’ Well, an axe murderer would have been a blessing compared to what they actually come up against.

Immortal Memories by Michael Hibbard

Don’t you just want 14?

Blood Dolls: [Devlin, Virginia, 2012] Little voodoo-type dolls given special powers in order to do their maker’s bidding. The ritual involved here was particularly interesting and it made me want a bunch of little dolls scrambling around on my behalf.

The Place of the Sisters: [Devlin, Virginia, 1958] This reminded me of the ghost stories I used to love to read as a child that would make me frightened to be alone in the house–it gave that sort of delicious thrill of fear.

All of the stories are well-written and expand on what we knew from Devlin. They explain a bit about many characters and subplots that make the reader want to know more about the Waking Dream universe. This was definitely an enjoyable read and primes the reader for the next novel in the series The Unkindness.

Feb
20
2014

Some Guy Who Kills People

by V. L. Craven

Some Guy Who Kills People

Ken Boyd (Kevin Corrigan) has recently been released from a mental hospital and his best friend has helped him get a job at an ice cream parlour. One by one, Ken’s enemies–the one’s who tortured him when he was younger are suddenly being knocked off in gruesome ways.

The sheriff (Barry Bostwick) is dating Ken’s mother and, as goofy as he is, isn’t a complete doofus, and begins to suspect Ken of the murders.

During all of this, Ken’s eleven-year-old daughter (Ariel Gade) from a one-week fling shows up and moves in, hoping to get to know her father. And a new woman, Stephanie (Lucy Davis) shows an interest. Perhaps Ken’s life is getting back on track.

So it would be something of a shame if he was  Some Guy Who Kills People . On the other hand… bitches gots to pay.

This was definitely a fun one. Well-written, well-acted, an all-round good time. John Landis was the executive producer and it shows–it’s a blend of horror and hilarity perfect for fans of Shaun of the Dead and Tucker & Dale vs Evil.

Feb
17
2014

An Interview with Gary Glass

by V. L. Craven
An Interview with Gary Glass

Gary Glass author of The Nirvana Plague

 

Last Friday I reviewed the excellent Nirvana Plague by Gary Glass and I’ve recently had the opportunity to ask him a few questions about his novel.

The novel takes place in 2027 and technology has progressed, as it does. How did you decide which way technology would go? For example, one character’s phone looks like a pen, whereas right now, the trend is for phones to be able to do to more and more, etc. Did you do any research or read any futurists?

Mostly I just imagined how I’d like things to go. For example, I’m sick of tapping with my fingers, but if part of my phone was shaped like a stylus then I could use it to write on a screen or a projected surface. Or again, sharing screens or information between systems: it ought to be easy, so I decided it would be.

Setting is really important–how did you settle on Chicago rather than, say, Boston or New York (or other East Coast cities, which was important to the plot)?

It was pretty cold-blooded actually. I wanted a big city that I was fairly familiar with. I grew up in Terre Haute, Indiana, and I’d been to Chicago many times. At the time I wrote the book I was living in northern Virginia but I couldn’t use DC because I wanted DC to be the place the protagonist goes away to because that’s where the NIH is. So, Chicago.

The book is psychiatry and psychology-heavy. I’m not a professional, but I’ve read a goodly amount about psychology/iatry, and a lot of it read believably. Do you have a background in those fields and if not, what sort of research did you do?

My wife has a masters in psychology, and it’s a field I’ve always been interested in. We’re the sort of people who own a copy of the DSM-IV! Also, many years ago I trained and worked as an RN, and did a psych rotation, which was one of my favorites. And, of course, I have had a life-long interest in spirituality and consciousness transformation.

The one thing that I felt I elided over for the purposes of plot is that psychological illness is very real and commonly has structural or chemical etiology, particularly when we’re talking about schizophrenia and psychosis. It’s not the sort of thing you can just get over with a change of heart, however profound. On the other hand, I wanted to talk about something that concerns me: the social and cultural aspects of mental illness. As Theodore Roszak said, it isn’t healthy to be well-adjusted to a sick-making society. To dramatize the latter point, I didn’t do justice to the former.

I liked the way you demonstrated that by showing the society that saw the ‘sick’ people as being angels. As being more enlightened. In our society we do tend to dismiss those who talk about oneness as being hippies or naive, but in other cultures it’s the height of awareness. What planted the seed of making Enlightenment a sort of, well, plague?

It has been said the most radical thing you can do in our culture is embrace joy. Political power feeds on fear. Suppose they gave a war and no one came? There’s a scene in Lost Horizon where Conway, who is about to become the new British Foreign Secretary, says he plans to disband the army: “Then when the enemy approaches we’ll say, ‘Come in, gentlemen – what can we do for you?’ So then the poor enemy soldiers will stop and think … to themselves – ‘Something’s wrong here. We’ve been duped. This is not according to form. These people seem to be quite friendly, and why should we shoot them?’” – If people were to embrace peace, love, and understanding as a regular way of life, wouldn’t it just knock the old world order on its ass? Wouldn’t it hit them like a plague? – You say want a revolution? You better change your mind instead!

Another thing you seem to have a great deal of understanding of (from a civilian point of view, at least) were the operations of the military and government operations in war zones and under a bio-threat. Do you have military experience? What percentage was research versus writer’s license?

I don’t really know anything about the military aside from what I see in the movies. Also an online acquaintance from Readerville and BookBalloon ( David Abrams , author of Fobbit) was kind enough to answer some technical questions for me (so I named a hospital in his honor). The rest was Google and imagination. Oh, and a Marine Corps field manual I picked up in a yard sale somewhere!

Your cover art is spectacular for a self-published book–or for any book, really–who did it and how did you find them?

Another online friend from Readerville and BookBalloon is a notorious graphic artist, so I approached him about doing a cover. He couldn’t take it on but he recommended another friend of his, the talented Mr. Jeremy Lehman , who put up with my endless niggling and dithering over the art. Jeremy has done two covers for me now, and they’ve both been completely unlike anything I had imagined, and they’ve both been terrific.

And finally–Do you have anything else in the works?

I’m currently working on a private detective tale, set in contemporary Boston, that takes a turn toward the surreal. Our hero, Christian McBride, is drawn into a dangerous game of cat and mouse between two apparently identical twins. I’m calling it “The Brothers Brown and Gray.”

Thank you so much for your time–I look forward to The Brothers Brown and Gray!

Thanks for reading it and telling your readers about it!

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