HAPPY HALLOWEEN FOR CHRISTMAS, kids!
December 25, 2014
Hope you got lots of presents and trick or treat candy!
My father and I carved a jack-o-lantern under the tree last night while watching HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH (Silver Shamrock!!) and now it’s staring weirdly into the room with jagged teeth and glowing brain. Ain’t he cuuuuute? My dad gave me a Guy Fawkes mask he bought in Venice this year. I am now officially a vigilante superhero with a death wish. Knew it was only a matter of time . . .
Time now to venture forth for one final chapter, as I relate to you the grand finale of my October journey through Monstertown, USA.
When I say final chapter, I mean that literally.
After this blog has been posted, things will change at The Express. I’ll still come back and fill your ear with words, but it will be on very different subjects, in far smaller doses, and definitely less frequently. I may even start an entirely new blog at this site, with a new mission. In the coming year, I plan to unleash many new projects. There will be much grunt work involved in such activities, to say the least. So there will be a lot less time for this thing called blogging.
THAT SAID . . . The Express is still important to me. It’s the last stop on the front lines of my career, where the first word on everything I do will be always announced. Also, there will be lots of exclusive original content in 2015, such as my upcoming online poster gallery project. But as far as continuing to bear my soul? Well, that may change. As many of you know, my writing is what saved me this year from a very dark abyss. In the past I have felt that crying things out and sharing it with all of you for free is not the act of some desperate freak, but rather the committed work of a uniquely afflicted writing creature who feels the strange adventures of his life in turmoil may be useful information to others who have either experienced the same pitfalls or just want to be terrorized/repulsed and/or inspired by some batshit horror story. In the end, that’s why so many of us read the tragedies of others and the dark inventions of strange geniuses such as Edgar Allen Poe and Vincent Price. We are searching for understanding. For eternity. For ourselves.
But there are new frontiers to reach for also.
Many of them.
As I reach the end of Halloween-for-Christmas—which is not just a recap of a time when I watched 100 horror movies in October, but also a present-day celebration of goodwill and family and light at the end of a long dark tunnel—I find that eternity is much closer than I’ve ever thought. And that understanding makes me want to reach further, beyond these words and into the next adventure of my life. I’ve soldiered though all these things I’ve told you about this year and more. I’ve struggled in the deepest pit of blackest loneliness, fear, desperation and pain beyond pain. But I’ve also risen. Just days ago, in fact, I had my last official session of Physical Therapy at Seaton Rehab Center, and was “discharged” after more than nine months of very hard work. In order to maintain my bum leg in its current healing state, I must continue the gym workouts for pretty much the rest of my life. But I’m on my feet. I LIVE AGAIN.
And, tonight, I walk on.
Please enjoy what I have left for you. I had great fun writing it all down.
And I’ll see you on the other side . . .
Monday October 20: MONKEY SHINES, CREEPSHOW and CREEPSHOW 2
Last year, George Romero was King Of All Halloweens. This year, we honor him with a screening of one of his finest, which is about a psychotic, drug-addicted simian (a monkey junkie?) and her quadriplegic sidekick. Trust me, it rules. CREEPSHOW is also a masterpiece, not because it is particularly amazingly original or anything, but because of the sheer inventive comic book fun that oozes off the screen in virtually every scene. The acting in CREEPSHOW often gets overlooked because of all that fun, but it is uniformly among the best of any George Romero ensemble cast. (KNIGHTRIDERS and MONKEY SHINES may be close seconds.) Vivica Lindford’s wonderful monologue in the graveyard during the “Father’s Day” segment is timeless, creepy and art that I love. CREEPSHOW 2 is an object lesson. It does everything that was done in the first film, but gets it mostly wrong. Most of it is efficient but not progressive. Still, you won’t find any other movie where the hero gets killed by a demonic oil slick. Oh sorry. Spoilers. I’m a monster, ain’t I?
FUN TRIVIA: The hot chick in the red bikini who gets slimed on the raft in CREEPSHOW 2? Well, that’s the former girlfriend of the guy who directed Cheech and Chong’s UP IN SMOKE and THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW. And you wonder why you mother warned you not to play with us weirdos . . .
SPEAKING OF STEPHEN KING . . . well, he is the guy who wrote CREEPSHOW, after all. And I finish his DANSE MACABRE tonight, which is brilliant and fascinating and infuriating in it’s heady, street-raw anxiousness. Towards the end, he writes about his own work, which is also fascinating, and reminds me of his honesty in ON WRITING. And here’s my final theory: The man who gave us the berserk fun of a comic book about nasty homicidal zombies and weeds that take over the world—weeds that take over him, in fact, because he’s the only actor in that segment of CREEPSHOW, and he’s hamming it up so goshdarn broadly that he may provide the one weak note in an otherwise perfect enterprise—well, this guy is not only one of us. He may be the president of the Monster Club, if you get me? I truly believe were he to address his views in DANSE today, he would have very different things to tell us. It wasn’t long after this that he wrote PET SEMETARY, which embraced a horror comic book philosophy also, and might well have been the moment when King realized that “trash art” could be the most noble of pursuits. If you say it like you mean it. If you bring all your talent to the fore. If you’re here for all the right reasons. And if you’re good at it. (See CREEPSHOW 2.) King also happens to be an iconic master storyteller with one of the firmest grips on the human condition ever gifted to one of these bestselling mega-players. Which is really just a method of deploying common sense. My father always says he dreads the moment in Big Stevie’s novels when the monster peeks out and starts to wreck these beautiful, strange, failed, ordinary lives he sets up—only because Stevie is so goshdarn good at setting them up. I think that the real truth about all this lies somewhere between academia and John Waters. And therein is the answer to anyone’s question about the division between high art and low art.
It doesn’t exist, people.
Tuesday October 21: DOCTOR BLACK AND MISTER HYDE and HARDWARE, plus BLOB ’88 ENCORE
The great-and-mighty Bernie Casey classes up any joint he walks into, even this one. His performance as DOCTOR BLACK AND MISTER HYDE redeems what I perceive as a fairly full piece of work. Which is sort of interesting, because this is directed by the man who made BLACULA, a film also similarly afflicted. Ahem. In my opinion. We move right onto HARDWARE, my favorite film of the great-and-mighty Richard Stanley. It impresses the hell out of everyone tonight. Imagine The Terminator meets Jason on the site of the latest Survival Research Labs experiment, and you sort of get the idea. At the very least, it’s a cautionary tale for dudes of The Very Awful Future, and the message is this: Never buy the remains of a killer android for your super-hot-yet-hopelessly-bitchy artist girlfriend to make into some weird junk sculpture. Because, sure as I’m sitting here, it will put itself back together and spend the rest of the movie trying to hack that bitch to pieces. Just sayin.’
Later tonight, I re-watch THE BLOB ‘88 in chat with Joe, because he missed it earlier. And it’s worth watching, like, a lot of times. We observe on a hard critical analysis, that the first half is much stronger than the second half. But Shawnee Smith versus a giant wad of K-Y jelly is just a worthwhile endavour, no matter how oddly-paced the ending of your film happens to be . . .
Wednesday October 22: INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS 1978, YOUTH IN REVOLT
There are, to date, four film versions of Jack Finney’s novel THE BODY SNATCHERS. The 1978 Phillip Kaufman film, INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS, is far-and-away, my favorite. I think it’s easily the scariest of them all. I watch it alone and get major heebie-jeebies. But I also sometimes sleep with this film on because I find it weirdly comforting. I’m kind of insane, I think. YOUTH IN REVOLT is a sort of Jekyll and Hyde story, starring Michael Cera as the nebbish kid who has a cocky alter ego with a big dick who pisses off Ray Liotta from GOODFELLAS a lot. There are so many human monsters in this movie that it’s hard to determine who is the worst one, but the cocky alter ego has the best line in the film, which he delivers in one weird breath of snotty air: “Round up your donut dipping friends I’m turning myself in fuck you.” Either my brain has finally turned to yogurt from so many monster movies or this is the greatest motion picture ever made. It horrifies me. Really, truly horrifies me. It’s the only movie I can think of where M. Emmett Walsh licks mashed potatoes off his own face. “You’re a son of Satan and that dog is a hellbeast.” Rock on!
Thursday October 23: BLUE RUIN, THE FLESH EATERS, GODZILLA Vs. BIOLANTE and JASON 6
BLUE RUIN is another Lansdale-like redneck shotgun vengeance story which totally rocks our worlds. It’s one of the best films I’ve seen this year. A serious, no-bullshit low-budget affair with a tight script, great acting and a truly empathetic lead character, who starts out homeless and ends as an avenging instrument of justice. It’s rare when a movie this good comes out of nowhere and kicks your ass with no apologies. I almost feel bad for dialing down my I.Q. for THE FLESH EATERS. But I don’t feel too bad. It’s one of my favorite films, after all.
A delightfully campy period 1960s black and white horror cheapie that plays like a delightfully campy period 1950s black and white horror cheapie—only, you know, with more blood. I’m just in love with this movie. It’s killer stuff. People on an island get duped by German mad scientist, who eventually creates big monster that eats flesh. My buddies Dana and Scott join me for this one. Dana loves the bit where the mad scientist is interrogated by the good guys and spits out in his hilarious gestapo accent, “Next you’ll accuse me of stealing zee Empire State Building at high noon!” I’m almost positive that’s not what they were about accuse him of. But whatever, he’s evil and stuff.
And now, ladies and gentlemen . . .
Once more time . . .
The KING OF THE MONSTERS.
GODZILLA VS. BIOLANTE is the first sequel to GODZILLA 1985, in which our old buddy fights Audrey II from THE LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS. No shit. He actually goes head-to-whatever with a big goofy plant thing. It never sings a song, but I think it comes damn close at the end. This film got great reviews at the time of its release and I’m not sure why. It’s pretty off-balance. But the final plant battle is fairly cool. It’s hard for me not to like a Godzilla film. All he really ever has to do is show up for work. After the film, we watch the documentary on the blu-ray, which doesn’t have subtitles, and we imagine that these guys are all reciting lines from Hamlet. You can’t get much better than that, folks. Not without stealing the Empire State building at high noon.
Now, onto FRIDAY THE 13th PART 6: JASON LIVES! This was the first film in the series to treat the formula with self-reflexive humor. Oddly, it’s one of Joe’s favorites, in spite of that. Or maybe because of it. We have a great time here. Joe thinks it’s a zombie movie, a Frankenstein movie and he loves the lead hero, played by Thom Matthews, who was also excellent in THE RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD. This was another F13 that Joe loved madly as a child, and I can tell why. It’s sleek and focused and built just for kids. In this one, the killer is played by a few different guys. In fact, there are a billion Jasons in this film. Let the chat highlights explain:
“Gadget Belt Jason.”
“Muff dive Jason.”
“Head Crack Jason.”
“Where Is He Now? Jason”
“Bloody Aftermath Jason.”
“Playing Possum Jason.”
“GET UP AGAIN, JASON!”
“Rocks In Your Head Jason”
“Bloody Screwed-Up Cop Jason”
“Kill The Shit Outta The Sherriff Jason.”
“Harry Manfredeni’s Silly Music Jason.”
“BUST THROUGH THAT GODDAMN DOOR, JASON!”
“GRAB THE HOT BLONDE, JASON!”
“DON’T GO OVER THERE, JASON!”
“YOU’RE TOTALLY FALLING FOR THIS SHIT, JASON!”
“Dumbass Jason . . .”
“Breathe underwater Jason.”
“Jump on the Boat Jason.”
“Back in the water, Jason.”
“Totally on fire Jason”
“Rock Straight to the Bottom Jason.”
“Lots of Bubbles Jason.”
“DEAD ON THE BOTTOM JASON.”
“Only Not Really Jason.”
“OUTBOARD MOTOR JASON.”
“Straight to the Jugular Jason.”
“Do The Twitch Jason.”
“OKAY NOW HE’S REALLY DEAD JASON.”
“Um. Or . . . well . . . not actually Jason.”
“ALICE COOPER JASON!”
The Alice Cooper bit comes from the final theme song, which plays over the end credits. It was produced by the guy who did a lot of the hair metal bands of the eighties and early nineties, such as Ratt, Winger and Warrant and you can tell.
1980’s ROCK STAR JASON!!!
Again, I kneel before the superior intellect . . .
I start writing a new horror short story tonight, rather than reading a new book. I write it for my friend F13 amigo Joe, because it’s inspired by all this Jason business. Actually, it’s an idea I’ve had for years, but I was never able to crack until tonight. As writing creatures, we search for inspirado. Sometimes we force it. This year, I’ve written thirty-seven short stories and I’ve been working on a screenplay for months—which may be the most difficult script I’ve ever tackled because it’s based on one of my own novels—and when you sit down to write any of this stuff, it tends to take shape on the page, regardless of how well in advance you think things through. Tonight, my story almost literally writes itself. I regurgitate my darkest, most personal feelings about all this slasher movie stuff into a deep chasm, filled with years and years of slumming in the “trash art” ghetto. And something begins to make itself visible there. Something about all of us. The story is called M13. It will be one of the great centerpieces of my next collection, which will most likely be called IT’S JUST US. Those among you who read my last book of short stories, THE RIOT ACT . . . well let me just tell you something, folks. You ain’t seen nuthin’ yet.
Friday October 24: NIGHTBREED and THE HOWLING plus TERROR IN THE AISLES
Tonight is a special outdoor screening, held in chat buddy Rob’s backyard on his giant HD projection TV screen. We are watching Clive Barker’s director’s cut of NIGHTBREED. I have strange feelings about this film, which I have already blogged about this year. I got nothing tonight. It looks amazing on Rob’s setup, and the wind is chilly and friendly. I walk around on my cane when the film is over and impress the hell out of a lot of my friends who thought I might never walk again. Then we run THE HOWLING. My favorite werewolf movie of all time. I saw this on TV in 1982 and it changed my life. Many years later, when I became friends with Joe Dante, the film’s director, I got to tell him in person that his film had changed my life. And he bowed his head and smiled and said, “I get that a lot, Stephen.” He gets that for a reason, people. THE HOWLING is bracing, dark, sexy, original, dazzling, exhilarating, crazy, passionate, skilled, learned, eager, wise, campy, serious, and funny-as-hell. The woman who played the film’s dark seductress should have gone on to great fame and riches. She left us instead. And the chill of October only makes it the experience of watching her for the 105th time all the sweeter, as I imagine the sweet breath of Marsha The Wolf at my neck, the lupine wail of lost souls drifting deep into the night of All Saints, forever and ever . . . .
Later at my house, I run a killer clip movie from the 80s called TERROR IN THE AISLES. I actually saw this in a movie theater with my dad back then. It’s nothing but scenes from a lot of horror and thriller films, all jagged together with new music and a few linking bits with the obliging Donald Pleasance and Nancy Allan. I watched this last year with Joe and it was a damn-near religious experience. We rolled through the past darkly, sharing airspace with everyone from Rutger Hauer to Ms.45. And the amazing thing is that this entire movie is included as a bonus feature on a very affordably priced HALLOWEEN II Blu-ray. And it looks great, too! I mean, this was a theatrically-released motion picture that someone, somewhere, just decided to give away basically for free on a disc that cost lest than ten dollars retail. Sort of makes you wonder why most blu-rays are so goddamed expensive in the first place, huh? A lot of times you’ll hear people whining about how the scanning and mastering process for HD is so expensive, but I happen to know that’s mostly bullshit these days. I think that someone, somewhere, is screwing us. And getting away with it. I mean, 35 bucks for a Blu-ray of the Academy Award winning art film HER? A major American movie studio cannot possibly need the money that badly.
I come back to work on M13 tonight, and the story becomes longer, more complicated, more terrifying. My short work is always unflinching, but this is especially dark alchemy. I’m messing with something very real here, I think. I’ve never actually considered myself a horror writer, per se, but yeah . . . this one is horror. It’s about horror. About why we love it and why we fear it and how far down the rabbit hole it can take us. The story is about a guy who finds a TV show one night that he knows can’t possibly be real because it’s filled with the most over-the-top slasher violence he’s ever seen. And he can’t stop watching it. Because many of us cannot turn away from The Worst Possible Thing. If we can face that, we can face anything. I’m reminded of the words of Peter Straub, as I press on into the dark, discovering truth. What’s the worst thing you’ve ever done? I won’t tell you that, but I will tell you the worst thing that ever happened to me . . . the most dreadful thing . . .
Saturday October 25: THE COMEBACK, MADHOUSE, THE DUNWICH HORROR and JASON 5
I blow through the first three films tonight solo, without hardly seeing them. I have, after all, seen them many, many times. So they are easy standby filler for the holidays that I keep on as more radio noise while cleaning my house and getting set for the main event of the evening. But I should probably mention that MADHOUSE is my favorite Vincent Price film and THE DUNWICH HORROR contains one of the genre’s rarest, most unheralded method performances, by the great Dean Stockwell. He’s simply amazing in this as the bad guy, who is also the hero, and it’s all very complicated. As is Vincent, always. This year, my buddy Joe is actually hosting a festival of Price films in New Haven, and I sent him all of my Blu-rays so he can have good pristine prints of films like LAST MAN ON EARTH. Vincent’s daughter arrived at the theater to introduce one of them. What I would have given to be there for that. I should also mention THE COMEBACK briefly. There, I mentioned it. CLICK THE IMAGE BELOW for more extensive commentary on the film, and what you should NEVER EVER tell your favorite rock star when you meet him.
FRIDAY THE 13th PART 5: A NEW BEGINNING continues the backwards Jason marathon late tonight in an epic chat session that starts with a film we think we will hate, but ends in a gloriously unexpected way. You see, every series like this has a retarded cousin that nobody likes. That is to say, there’s always a film that betrays the series and which none of the fans generally appreciate. The HALLOWEEN cycle has HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH, which has no Michael Myers in it. (But it’s still awesome—Silver Shamrock!!!) The Jason films have PART 5: A NEW BEGINNING, which technically has no Jason in it. See, the killings are all done by a copycat in this film. So we think we’re in for another hate-fuckfest.
But a reaaaaaaaly funny thing happens . . .
Teighlor, from our regular chat group, makes her first appearance at the Jason marathon tonight, and sees the film for the first time. And so we see it with fresh new eyes—eyes that have never seen a single FRIDAY THE 13th movie at all. And it turns out to be pretty good. A true Halloween-for-Christmas miracle, kids! What we find remarkable about this Jason-film-without-Jason is its berserk sense of daring-do and even originality inside a slasher formula that had long grown rote and predictable. You really have no idea where this NEW BEGINNING is going at any given moment, and it might take some kind of perverted accidental genius to make that happen. The writer-director is a guy named Danny Steinmann, who’d made porn before this. And a film called SAVAGE STREETS, which is truly remarkable in many, many ways. It stars Linda Blair as a very campy actress who hates you all.
Steinmann’s FRIDAY picks up after PART 4, in which Jason was supposedly killed off. By Corey Feldman. Not kidding. He shows up at the prologue to get whacked out in a dream, then wakes up played by a different actor, all grown-up and getting shipped off to a halfway house, which is little more than a camp in the woods, which of course is where Jason loves to get busy with nubile young hotties. Which, of course, he does. Even though it’s not really Jason. The real killer turns out to be an ambulance driver summoned to the scene of a completely random and unrelated massacre at the farm, when a very annoying fat kid is butchered by a high strung, teeth-gritted mental patient, because the fat kid offers him a chocolate bar. The ambulance driver, who is the fat kid’s father, goes berserk and dresses up like Jason and kills everyone. That’s the plot. The entire new outbreak of murders in this film is literally brought on by a fat kid offering a psychotic asshole some candy. There is something truly, bizarrely, serendipitously brilliant about that. And the movie itself is brutal, funny, sleazy, weird and even well-made in places, fueled by a kind of naïve alchemy that achieves a queasy, delirious, low-budget freakout effect. We are so amazed by our new understanding of this thing that the chat conversation lasts well after the film ends, and spirals deep into the night. We cover many additional topics, from the lie of high art to the beauty of fatherhood to the fall of Yoko Ono.
It’s amazing when Jason Voorhees shows you the way to true understanding.
And he’s not even really Jason.
I mean, wow.
Sunday October 26- Monday October 27: PLANET OF THE DINOSAURS, A HATCHET FOR THE HONEYMOON, SATURN 3, BOOGIE NIGHTS, THE MACHINE and A CLOCKWORK ORANGE
Sunday, I’m still reeling from the awesome Jason chat. I haven’t even been doing any reading or even writing on M13, because the discussion was so thoughtful and full of ideas. I will use many of the thoughts reeling through my head in the short story, but for now I want to experience the rush of all this, because it’s like being on a drug of some kind. I feel energized in a strange, otherworldly way, like I am now infused with a sort of mutant superpower that allows me to see the truth in everything. Really. Not kidding. Everything seethes this morning with random new levels of meaning.
So I watch PLANET OF THE DINOSAURS.
This is a very low budget sci-fi survival flick about a collection of assholes who crash land on an alien world in their groovy spaceship, to find an Earth-like atmosphere crawling with stop-motion dinosaurs in the Ray Harryhaussen tradition. It’s lovingly made by obviously obsessed Harryhaussen fans, and though the acting is phoned in from community theater, the script is copied off the back of a cereal box, and the production values beyond the terrific animated dino-effects are just this side of home movie dreadful . . . well, I just love this. I can see every day on the set. The struggles. The fistfights. The affairs between these nobody actors who never went anywhere. The obsessive blinders-on love in the hearts of fledgling filmmakers who couldn’t catch a break. There’s a whole history to the thing if you look closely enough. With my new X-ray vision, I can see for miles . . .
A HATCHET FOR THE HONEYMOON also seethes with offcamera vision. But it’s a Mario Bava film, so that’s not too hard to see, really. It’s my second favorite of his movies, actually, and is a very difficult enterprise, a sort of precursor to AMERICAN PSYCHO, inside the head of a sociopathic killer, with loads of Edgar Allan Poe overtones baked in the pie. I go right from this to SATURN 3, with Kirk Douglass, Farah Fawcett and Harvey Keitel as a psychotic rapist who brings his killer robot to a remote agricultural station in outer space to wreak havoc. It’s a cold, sterile, weird movie that makes me feel unhappy to be in the future. It is filled with monsters, obviously, but I have the sneaky feeling—energized as I am with new levels of sight-beyond-sight—that most of them may be lurking behind the camera on this go-round. See, this cold, sterile, weird horror movie was directed by the man who gave us SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN. That may be one of the strangest cinematic riddles ever visited on humankind. I think I might even be able to solve it if given enough time. But I also have this awful, crushing sense of the universe titling on its axis when I get near the equation, and I stop thinking about it because I’m pretty sure if I figure this out, the very fabric of reality will unwind like a roll of cosmic toilet paper and Gene Kelly will rise from the dead with his killer rape-robot to destroy us all in some weird apocalyptic future-dance number . . .
So, yeah. No more of that shit.
Into the wee hours of morning, I witness the rise and fall of Dirk Diggler in BOOGIE NIGHTS. I witness the rise and fall of Little Alex in Stanley Kubrick’s A CLOCKWORK ORANGE. And I take in a marginally entertaining bit of current-day sci-fi tomfoolery from Netflix called THE MACHINE, in which a mad scientist creates a robot who looks like a woman, who goes full-on La Femme Nikita and kills a lot of people. It’s pretty good, but I like BOOGIE NIGHTS better. It’s almost six in the morning when I come to the rather astonishing conclusion that, out of all the films I’ve marathoned tonight, I’ve decided the one I really just don’t like at all anymore is the Kubrick film. For years, I’ve suspected that A CLOCKWORK ORANGE was really not all that good, and tonight clenches it. As a child, I thought it was shocking and edgy. As an adult, armed with my new second sight, courtesy of Jason Voorhees, I think ORANGE plays like a sterile experiment full of obvious, pandering themes and dead-on unfancy filmmaking moves. Most of you probably already know that they didn’t really have a script for this film. They literally just made up scenes from day to day, right out of the novel it was “based on.” The more I think about that, the more the film plays like exactly what it is: Some bored, stoned legendary filmmaker reading aloud from a mediocre book about the dangers of tampering with human nature. Even Malcolm MacDowell’s performance, which I once thought to be dynamic and shaded, comes off loud and obvious and cheap now. Then again, I’ve met Malcolm McDowell a number of times since I was a kid, and that may color my view of what he does here. Though I’ll not speak ill of the man, you are welcome to read between the lines, kids.
And yeah, they’ll pretty much make a franchise out of just about anything . . .
Tuesday October 28: SQUIRM, FRIDAY 4 and 3
I own not one, but TWO copies of the paperback novelization of SQUIRM. I also own three VHS versions of the film. I also own the Super-8 film version. And because someone very nice gave me the Blu-ray as an early birthday present, I now have the film in High Definition. It’s about a plague of killer worms who eat a small town. I’ve always loved this movie. It’s loud and obvious and cheap, too. And it doesn’t even have Malcolm McDowell in it.
FRIDAY THE 13th PART 4: THE FINAL CHAPTER is one of my favorite films in this series. It’s a slick production and I dig Jason here. He’s a menacing presence, played by a stuntman who also happens to be a real actor, who’s name is Ted White, who actually threatened to beat the shit out of the producer when asked if he wanted to be credited with playing the role. Ted is also, apparently, not very nice to his fans at conventions. Joe points this out to me in chat and that makes me kind of sad. I still get the giggles, however, imagining Frank Mancuso Jr. quivering in abject terror in the face of certain offcamera doom. Movie producers are not all that good at confronting Pure Evil. Unless they’re looking in a mirror. (Sheesh. Okay, I promise the next joke will be lots funnier. It’s late and I’m tired . . .)
We move right into PART 3, which may be Joe’s favorite in the series. (I say may, because this run through these films has caused both us to seriously re-evaluate our stance on a lot of them.) Teighlor joins us for this one. We continue the dissection of the nuclear family and our Constant Discussion of all things existential in relation to the Jason mythos. It kind of blows my mind how deep all this is getting. Also, this film has disco music over the main credits. AND it was originally shot in 3-D. So everyone in the cast pokes stuff in our faces all night. Jason even gets into the act with a nifty-cool eye-popping near the end of the film. So it’s all groovy, baby. During the last chase, when the Final Girl is brought forth to challenge Jason in the usual battle-to-the-death, Joe reminds us constantly that if any of this was really happening to any of us, we’d be actually scared shitless and scarred for life if we managed to survive. I have to agree. This film also possesses a raw heart and one of the most physically menacing Jasons of them all. He didn’t mind being credited with the role, either. RICHARD BROOKER. Who left us also, just last year. Rest in peace, my awesome psycho-pal.
I should probably mention that this is the movie in which the killer receives his signature hockey mask. It is given to Jason by one of the more annoying victims, a nerdy fat kid who can’t get laid, so he gets killed instead. The annoying fat kid may be the one reason why I don’t dig this movie as much as Joe does. (It bugged me in Jason 5 also.) Subplots like this in mainstream American narrative art truly disturb me. I believe they send bad messages about “the beautiful people vs. the ugly people,” reinforcing basic human values that strike me as very Nazi-like. To me, that sort of thing is far more insidious than even the violence in films like this, because it’s far less obvious psychology and has the potential to create a lot of assholes in this world. I once actually listened to a good friend of mine named Kenny (whose ideologies and opinions I often have a huge problem with) rail for an entire hour in my kitchen about how “birds with brightly colored feathers are meant to flock together, in order to propagate the species.” He was using this as a metaphor to explain why an average-looking friend of ours who was dating a really hot chick was doomed to get dumped any day now. I wanted to punch Kenny. A lot. Fat people need love, too. Even if they are annoying.
And by the way, our average-looking friend ended up marrying the hot chick.
Take THAT, Jason movie!
Tonight, I don’t read or write because I’m in a mourning period of sorts. I got word from my agent today that after an entire year of hassles, my ELEMENTARY tie-in novel for Titan and CBS has been deep-sixed permanently, due to no fault of my own. I’m honestly glad its finally all over, but you never shake the sting that comes with things like this. I actually thought that was a pretty good book. One of the things I learned while still writing it was that a distinct and individualized prose style is generally not welcome in the world of tie-ins. Which is why a lot of writers tend to dumb down their act when they get hired to do a novelization. But then again, a lot of us don’t. My great hero, William Kotzwinkle, brought all his powers to bear on the various book versions of E.T. THE EXTRATERRESTRIAL, and the results were magical. Bill once told me a tale of writing one of those books in a storage room at Universal, where the flying bikes from the film were kept. That image keeps me warm tonight, as I stare across the horizon, in mourning for a lost child I may never meet and a magic I might never never decode . . .
Wednesday October 29 PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES and JASON 2 (1)
Closing in on the end. Almost to the terminator of Halloween Eve. Oh boy! Time for one last Mario Bava film. My third-favorite of his incredible body of work. PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES. This is more than a silly 1960s outer space monster movie that supposedly inspired ALIEN (though Ridley Scott still claims he’s never seen it). No, people, this is an ingenious film. Made by true artisans and talented craftspeople. Everything is done in-camera in this movie, from holographic view screens, to space ray guns, to absolutely astonishing real-time glass matte shots and miniatures. Just about every frame on display is some kind of slick, professional work of art. And I can’t take my eyes off it. I highly recommend this film in blu-ray, people. It just sparkles.
FRIDAY THE 13th PART 2 brings us almost to the end of the beginning, with the first real appearance of Jason as the killer in these films. His mom is the killer in PART ONE. So we’re really watching JASON 1 tonight. Confused yet?
This is my favorite of the series, and we are reminded why tonight. It’s a well-crafted thrill ride in which every element seems to be perfectly oiled and dovetailed together. It’s formulaic, sure, but something started the rumor, and this is one of the finest examples of the sub-genre. The acting is excellent and compelling, particularly in the third act. And Jason is a raging, unstoppable force, who also appears as a specter of very ordinary Americana—some backwoods redneck deformo-dude who just so happens to have a big problem with camp councilors.
Jason keeps his face hidden in a burlap sack—shades of THE TOWN THE DREADED SUNDOWN—which is also bizarrely eerie. Again, Teighlor joins us. Again, Teighlor is a newbie to this movie. And its scares the holy living tar out of her. Particularly that last act. Full disclosure: The awesome Miss Beastmaster was once my ladylove, and it was moments like this that made me fall for her, lo those many years ago. I am glad we still know each other in our new lives and that we still share such moments as chat amigos. (She paid me back for almost all of it not too long ago by turning me on to THE WIRE, which instantly became my favorite TV show of all time.) I make the observation near the end of PART 2 that I usually resent these extended cat-and-mouse games at the end of slasher movies because the beats are always so predictable. Tonight, it works. There is real filmmaking style and an urgency to be frightening in the filmmakers agenda. And the final jump-scare is almost beautiful in its audacity. I say almost, because nothing is supposed to be beautiful in these films. Unless you are the kind of perverted weirdos who find art in being scared to death.
Thursday October 30: GODZILLA vs. KING GHIDORA, GODZILLA vs. MOTHRA and GODZILLA Vs. MECHAGODZILLA 2
The Big G returns to rule the final four days of Halloween and Die de Muertos! He’s like an old pal who shows up with candy right when you need him the most, and I’ve needed him a lot this year. Beginning tonight, with GODZILLA VS. KING GHIDORAH, we will run each and every Godzilla film in chronological order, right up until the final one made in Japan and the most recent one made in America—in 3-D!!! This actually reminds me that the director of FRIDAY THE 13th PARTS 2 and 3 attempted to get a big budget remake of GODZILLA off the ground in 1983. It was Steve Miner’s dream to reinvent the character using stop-motion special effects and shoot the whole thing in 3-D. It would have been a glorious trainwreck, I bet. I wish we could have seen that. Would you like to know why it never happened? Sure you would. The studios which Miner pitched the project to—and he pitched it to all of them—thought the proposed budget for the project was too high. How much were they asking for? 35 million. Yeah, you read me right. That’s a down payment on some actor’s salary these days. I wonder what Miner thought of the new film, which was made and marketed well north of 225 million? He probably laughed a lot. Or maybe he started crying.
Anyway . . . Godzilla.
Earlier this year I shared some of my thoughts about The Big G in a highly personal blog, which had to be taken down for various reasons. Here are some of those thoughts, reworked slightly, because it’s Halloween. And Christmas. And Godzilla is awesome. In fact, he remains one of my closet, most primal connections to eternity, because when I was a child, he was one of the first movie titans to convince me that he actually existed.
Let me explain what I don’t mean by that.
I don’t mean that as a five year old child, I thought movie monsters were real. I don’t mean that the specter of a billion-ton super lizard haunted my nights and that I was convinced he might come crashing through my hometown at any moment to fry the innocent and the guilty alike with waves of napalm death breath. I don’t even mean that Godzilla was my imaginary friend or that I thought those films were speaking directly to me, as you’ll hear a lot of die-hard Toho scholars claim. Truth is, I hardly saw the films at all back then. The 1970s was an odd twilight moment in film history—a primitive backwater moment. Seeing a movie in a cinema was very special. You remembered every aspect of the experience. The way the theatre smelled, the buttery air above your popcorn, the awesome spectacle of whatever it was. Everything that didn’t happen in a movie theatre was just . . . well, TV, man. And that was pretty awesome also.
But TV was a primitive thing, too, in those days. You couldn’t binge-watch THE SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN in 12 hour marathons. You were at the mercy of programmers. A Godzilla flick might appear once in a blue moon on the tube, even more rarely in movie theaters—and I never saw a single one of them until 1977, when the original appeared on a tiny black and white TV set in my father’s bedroom at 3 in the afternoon. And I remember that first shot of the big guy coming over the hill, like it was some incredible moment of real truth. Which, of course, it was. It was frightening and exhilarating. Godzilla became an elusive, mythical presence in my life after that, even more precious and hard-to-glimpse than King Kong . . . or even Bigfoot. You could only catch his act in blurry photographs within the pages of monster magazines, or in the TV trailers for GODZILLA VS MEGALON, which I remember vividly. My father and mother never took me to see those films—and for some reason, when I was that young, I never really bothered to ask them to. The presence was enough. The myth. It filled my imagination and fired my private playtimes. When my mom finally purchased the ten minute super-8 film reel of DESTROY ALL MONSTERS a year later, and that full-blown creature-jam flickered across my wall—all the Toho studios monsters ganging up on King Ghidira and showing him the hard-and-nasty rules of the road in an epic beatdown, with Godzilla leading the charge—these characters were a full-blown religion.
It never occurred to me that what I was looking at were guys in rubber suits. I never saw the wires holding up the model airplanes. I didn’t think of filmmaking when I looked at that stuff. I thought of characters. I took it all on blind faith, and still do, to this very day. I look right in the eye of the cheesiest imaginable storytelling storms in monster exploitation film history—and I believe it.
Godzilla actually exists in my mind when I look at him.
He is maybe the only cinematic character of his kind that I see that way.
Which, amidst so much adult understanding about the way films are really made, makes me feel completely normal. I’m not kidding. Completely. Normal.
Um. Well . . .
Annnnyway . . .
Something that helps you feel even a little normal tends to be a big boost when you get bounced across the hood of a truck and you’re forced to reevaluate everything that makes you normal in the first place. Godzilla, along with all my other awesome friends, saved my life and made me whole again. I am very grateful for this. Obviously. I am grateful for cosmic fire and deep thunder. I’m grateful for maniacal mecha-steel and the jaws of the beast. I am grateful for the monsters who explode across my TV tonight, blasting me full of new and awesome insights. And with their screams ringing in my ears and the ghost of Jason Voorhees hovering over my head with his machete, like the spirit of Conan ready to cleave his deep-Texas biographer in half if he doesn’t finish the chronicle of his life by any means necessary . . .
. . . I break the final wall of M13 and I finish the story. It ends in a terrible way, like much of my short fiction tends to. But it also ends with an important question. Is it possible to get a grip and turn away from The Most Dreadful Thing? I think it is, people. But I think that we also live in that question, every single day.
It is only our great friends, and constant work, and the muses that sit on our shoulders, that allow us to see all this beauty in the dark.
Friday October 31: HALLOWEEN!!!! GODZILLA RAIDS AGAIN! GODZILLA VS. SPACE GODZILLA, GODZILLA VS. DESTROYAH . . . and FRIDAY THE 13th PART ONE!!!!
Tonight, I strap on my leg brace and venture into the neighborhood, and ignore stabbing pain in my knee, as the night vanishes into a multicolored light-show of Halloween madness. Everyone comes out to play. Kids in costumes and adults of all ages. There is trick or treating and werewolf howling and scare-dancing in the street. Every tree is filled with glowing skulls and candy glitter. The Stay Puft Marshmallow man haunts the gateway to Shangrilea. A ten foot tall mechanical Jason tries to kill you if you reach for too much candy. And Godzilla is with us, all night long. Many of my friends join me tonight, and we set up base camp at my house, where the Big G plays on the HD screen in constant rotation. We do GODZILLA RAIDS AGAIN from 1957 and two others from the later Heisei era, which all blur together like a magical blast from the past, as we venture out time and time again on our Halloween trek. I stick in the fangs early in the night to become a wolf in cheap clothing YET AGAIN, this time with a bum leg, but everybody screams anyway:
Scott shows up dressed as one of the Death Corps Nazis from SHOCK WAVES:
My favorite costume of the night is this one, which is a rather disturbing one, which is a little girl wrapped up in a straitjacket like Hannibal Lecter, being led around by her mom on a goddamn leash:
And my buddy Dana just hangs out on the corner and looks cool:
We take some time off between Godzilla movies to watch an episode of KENDRA ON TOP, which contains some of the worst monsters yet seen this year. I shiver in horror at the very mention of this woman’s name. And then . . .
Then . . .
It’s time for JASON 0.
FRIDAY THE 13th. The original.
Joe and I go this one alone, when everyone else has conked out. It’s almost 2 in the morning when we chalk up the chat cue and get the ball rolling. It flows through us in a delirious haze, and we are damn-near tears when it’s over. Jason is not in this film, except at the very end, when the final jump-scare happens. This was a novel ending in 1980, and has now become legendary. This first movie is actually quite different from the other films, in that it’s a sort of murder whodunit which become impossible to guess, because the killer turns out to be some lady we never heard of before act three. Her son is Jason, and is apparently a figment of her imagination most of the time—right up until the end, when he leaps up out of the water to pull poor Adrienne King down below. This happens in SLOW MOTION. It seems to last forever. And it is over far too quickly.
I find that it is somewhat difficult to express what I am feeling to Joe or even to myself. It’s like being at the end of a very long road, and yet somehow being at the beginning of an even longer road. Because every journey begins when the last one ends. And when you travel back in time, you’re really at the start of your life. I see all of that lain before me, in another magnum burst of sight-beyond-sight. Which is the past. Which is every day I have left in this world. And every day that may come after I am long dead. And every strange book, every bizarre poem, every schlocky-ass horror film—every goddamn fucking everything that will teach me to see in the darkest night, while I still live. Like the unexplainable glow of a xenon lamp, lighting the woods in a slasher film. Or the unmistakable roar of a 40-story thunder lizard calling from miles away, guiding us to some remote and alien shore.
I do some last minute polish on M13 and send off of to Joe in an email. I hope he’ll enjoy what I have written for him. It’s the most over-the-top “Jason” story ever written, after all. I even named a couple of the key victims after his daughters. There aren’t many people alive who’d let you get away with that. But we are not ordinary people. We are best friends and this is make-believe and it’s all fun time in the life of the mind . . . and I am happy. This is what is best in life. This may even be the meaning of life. But living in the question, that’s important, too.
I fall asleep well past 4 in the morning thinking about these things.
My dreams are of Godzilla.
My oldest friend in the world of monsters . . .
November 1 and 2: die de muertos: GODZILLA 1998, GODZILLA 2000, GODZILLA vs. MEGAGURIOUS, GIANT ALL OUT MONSTERS ATTACK, GODZILLA AGAINST MECHAGODZILLA, GODZILLA: TOKYO SOS, GODZILLA FINAL WARS, and GODZILLA 2014
. . . and when I awaken, the final game is on. For the next two days, it’s Godzilla and me. Daylight savings time gives me an extra 120 minutes for the Roland Emmerich abomination, before I marathon-binge each and every film in the Millennium series, well into the final day of Die de Muertos. It’s a 16 hour demolition derby of badass robots and ten-billion-ton super-reptiles, of heroes and villains and exploding cities. One adventure blurs into another, until the whole thing reaches a fever-pitch, until I almost cannot tell one film from the next. It’s like having family for the holidays—they’re loud, rude and combined into one shrill voice that you can’t stop hearing. But I like this voice. It comforts me. It reminds me about The Meaning Of Life. It’s one big hurricane megapower killblast of concentrated awesome. In the final Japanese film, which is actually called FINAL WARS, every single monster who ever mattered in the Toho Studios family shows up to pay their respects and get the shit kicked out of them—and Keith Emerson even provides the music! It’s, amazingly, a lot like a rock concert starring Godzilla and all his friends. Even the human bad guys look like rock stars from the 1980s—weirdo looking Devo aliens with wraparound sunshades and spiky hair. They all seem to be in on the joke. Everybody is.
As Godzilla and his son truck off into the sunset at the end, never to be seen again in Japan, he affords us one look back . . . and a mighty roar.
And still it’s not over. It’s 7 in the morning, and there’s still one last tale to be told.
GODZILLA 2014 IN 3-D.
And even though I haven’t slept in almost 24 hours . . . and even though this film only has about eleven minutes of Godzilla in it . . . I still can’t take my eyes of the screen. The movie deeply disappointed me when I first saw it, and I was still in a wheelchair. But it works on me now because I can see for miles. I am reborn from radioactive fire. My heart glows in this moment. I feel completely normal.
And FINALLY . . . at the climax of the story, when Godzilla has crushed the city, bested his enemies, and saved us all from certain death . . . well, he does the cutest thing. He lies down and has a nap. Right there in the middle of the city. And it makes perfect sense to me because, after all, the old boy is 60 years old. Not exactly a senior citizen, mind you, but no spring chicken, either. And when he’s done with his nap? Well, he gets up. And he shakes it off. And he heads back for the open sea. Where all-new adventures await.
And as he walks away, everybody cheers and calls him THE KING OF THE MONSTERS.
Which, of course, he is.
You know what?
I think I’ll follow him, and see where he leads me.
Merry Halloween, folks!