Thursday, February 19, 2009

Beyond The Edge

We like to be pushed towards the edge.

Last night, I re-watched the amazing Riding Giants ('04). In the film's most stunning sequence, surfing legend Laird Hamilton somehow rides this mind-boggling wave in Tahiti.

This ride has not been equaled, and he's clearly a guy who pushes himself not just towards the edge, but beyond it.

Aside from some freaky diving incidents and a fondness for an unofficial "sport" that involves pressing myself flat against a rock moments before a wave pounds that rock, my extreme edge pushing is mostly confined to books and films.

Since I was six or seven, I have been the go-to guy for shocking images, shocking books, and shocking films, at least in my own neighborhood. When I was growing up, I pursued my love for and curiosity about the EXTREME with vigor and studious discipline.

I even attracted a handful of apostles, some of whom are still good friends today, but, back before the internet, it was rare for someone to come to me with something that I hadn't seen or would be shocked by.

Being the go-to guy for SHOCK is not a role without pressures. You are expected to perform. Your life becomes a non-stop version of "Show-and-Tell", a game I loved at primary school almost as much as Truth and Dare. It was an opportunity to show my fellow students and teachers exhibits from my growing collections of monster mags, horror paperbacks, deformed dolls, movie ad mats, and medical photographs of babies with hydrocephalus (Water on the Brain, which is, more accurately, excess spinal fluid).

The bottom line for this go-to guy was this: it was pre-internet, I had pocket money for income, and my sources of SHOCK were drying up.

It wasn't until I took a part time job as a Mcdonald's "chef" that I was finally able to enrich my collections somewhat.

Something changed in me when I started reading a lot of horror. Books like Denis Giford's Horror Movies provided images, and those images stimulated my imagination, allowing me to develop ridiculous expectations of how good these movies would be.

Horror books (literature), however, were about ideas, and while reading them and reading hundreds of books that weren't horror, I learned about "context"., a trusted source of mine, defines context as a "set of circumstances or facts that surround a particular event, situation, etc."

My awareness of context changed the way I looked at horror.

For me, next came "contrast" , which my source defines deftly as:

"opposition or juxtaposition of different forms, lines, or colors in a work of art to intensify each element's properties and produce a more dynamic expressiveness."

I discovered these elements of good art because I was becoming bored with non-stop bloodiness and frustrated by would-be apostles who expected me to have an orgasm every time they showed me a gory picture I'd seen a hundred million times.

I guess I was maturing, but I wasn't articulate enough to explain why gore and blood on its own was no longer doing it for me.

Instead, I opened myself up to something new...

When I was sixteen, I met a fellow fan through a letter I had published in Starlog magazine.

He was a Gerry Anderson fanatic. Already married at eighteen, his little home in the Melbourne suburb of Chadstone was filled with amazing GA toys such as Lady Penelope's FAB1, chauffeured by Parker...
... fantastic Captain Scarlet merchandise...

and a Joe 90 doll.

After months of GA-themed get-togethers, my new friend and his wife hit me with something I wasn't expecting one sunny Sunday arvo:


Keep in mind that XXX-rated films were only legally available in most states in Australia for a couple of years in the mid-80's.

Even now (yes, in 2009!), they are officially banned from sale in all states.

They are available by mail order from Canberra, the nation's political capital (why isn't that surprising?), and the Northern Territory (which is 99.9% desert, .1% people).

Back when my Gerry Anderson-loving buddy hit with with an impromptu showing of the film that made Linda Lovelace a household name (in some houses) and Bambi Woods a legend, VHS had just been born and hardcore was unseen in Australia. There were hardcore magazines available from companies like Color Climax, Seventeen, and Private, but there was nothing that moved. Moving AND having sex was illegal Down Under.

For almost three hours, I watched a lot of moving and shaking and grinding and oral intercourse.

I was excited, shocked, and changed by the experience.

That the films, in hindsight, were not diamond examples of X-rated filmmaking was of no import.

Finally, SOMEONE had shown ME something that pushed me beyond my edge, and for that I was eternally grateful.

Which brings me almost full circle to Samuel R. Delany's Hogg. And context. And contrast.

Nobody thrust Hogg at me, but I started to hear about it.

Whenever I stumbled upon or cyber-hunted lists of Most Shocking Novels or Books That Ought To Be Banned, this Hogg book would always show up. Throw an on-line Perversion Party and Hogg would always RSVP. Was this a sign? Were I required to take action?

Tracking down a mint copy of Hogg was a challenge a couple of years ago; it seems to be less so now.

The on-line reviews were very mixed. Was it extreme? There was a chorus of agreement there. Was it art? Divided. Was it well written? No consensus on that. Should it exist? Some thought not.

I read Hogg. Not in one sitting. It took me several days. That was because I had not stop along the way to confront nausea. I had never confronted that while reading before, so it was a strange but wonderful experience. It's not like I hadn't read some potentially stomach churning stuff. I'd gotten through most of Peter Sotos's work, Jim Goad's three volume Answer Me collection, and some of Dennis Cooper's raw, literary ejaculations. I read the Marquis De Sade's most popular works before I turned eighteen, and I've seen underground films I wish to God I could unsee.

Still, Hogg got to me. It's supposed to.

Set in the early 60's, it is about a revolting rapist/pedophile named Franklin Hargus ("Hogg") who takes an eleven year old boy, the narrator, under his wing, and subjects him to a deviant lifestyle that both brutalizes and excites the boy.

Hogg himself personifies the far extremes of perversion, if that is possible to imagine. His pig-like behavior includes urinating and defecating in his pants, which he never changes. He engages in rape, necrophilia, sexual torture, and gross humiliation of his victims.

The book is a tour de force of human darkness -- an unforgettable experience for the reader/accomplice, and heaven and hell for its characters.

What it does lacks is contrast. It is all black and no white. The non-stop incidents of gross sexual perversion form a nauseous chain that does become repetitive after a while. I know that's part of the point, but it does retard the reading experience.

Is this perversion without context?

Absolutely not. What happens is fully contextualized by the novel's milieu. Zelany drags us through a world of extreme human desire that doesn't feel like it is outside of possibility.

Most of the sexual activity is male to male, although there is an occasional incident of abuse with a female.

Originally written in '69, then personally revised a few years later, it was not published until '95 because no publisher wanted to touch it.

It is quite an extraordinary novel, and one you should read at least once, if only to test your repulsion parameters.

If you take some of the book's many sexual excesses out of context, you will find that contemporary fetish pornography has finally caught up with Hogg.

These titles, from a leading European fetish distributor, capture some of Hogg's anarchic, almost psychotic sexuality.

Of course, they do it less artfully, but no less honestly (which explains the high repulsion factor).

Samuel Ray Delaney is best known as a leading science fiction writer. His 20-plus novels, which include Einstein Intersection, Empire Star, and Triton have been highly acclaimed.

Hogg is certainly his most confronting work.

Some (those who find it objectionable) have called it "pornography" in an effort to reduce its status as literature.

Of course, that label assumes that pornography is a bad thing; the label is also predictably condescending.

So is it pornography? Does it turn the reader on?

It didn't turn me on sexually, but it fried my brain like few books have.

Its power has remained with me long after I turned the final page.

After Hogg, where to now?

SHOCK LITERATURE is going in one direction...

...and becoming more mainstream, while SHOCK PORNOGRAPHY continues to push the international envelope...

In the first category, you can pray for context and contrast, and sometimes you'll get it. JF Gonzalez's Survivor (2004) is Leisure Books' most extreme title so far, and very highly recommended.

In the second category, I'm sure you'll get your dose of SHOCK and some gentle edge pushing right here... Bring your own bone, though.

Note the MGM-inspired company log. Classic!


  1. I used to work in a school library, and they had a 'banned' book drawer. Irresistable. I would devour the contents every lunch time; everything from my first encounter with 'Barefoot Gen' to a compendium of true life psycopathic cannibals. Even 'The Killing of America' got my blood up.

    Come to think of it, why didn't they just get rid of them? Did I have a secret workmate into the same guilty pleasures??

    I admit I was pretty shocked the first time I saw 'Irreversible', but each time you see something like that, it opens something in you up a little wider (not unlike the work some do on their 'back passage'?) and you find yourself looking to push it further.

    Strictly speaking, there is no such thing as extreme horror in 'mainstream' cinema, I'm sure you agree, Phantom. I realise you speak of mainly literature, but let's face it, something like 'Devil's Rejects' was for me less an exercise in blood, torture, degradation and defiance, but more a nostalgic reminder of the best of seventies cinema.

    Sitting here, I can't remember if there was any gore in that movie- all I remember is the admittedly stylish (albeit derivative) finale, to the strains of- 'Freebird', was it? Regarding Mr. Zombie, my appreciation of his work is mainly his reinvigorating the careers of some of my favourites, such as Karen Black, Geoffrey Lewis, et al; which make his films less about 'extreme horror', and more about nostlagia.

    'Kids don't know what horror is these days, eh grandpa?' In my early days as a young lawman, I had the dubious honour of seeing a cooked baby; (don't ask. please don't ask) talk about memories you can never unsee.

    Nothing quite like real life horror, is there? Man being fucked to death by a horse on You Tube? I hear the sound of a distant envelopes being forced...

    Unlawful military actions in unspeakably poor countries? For sheer shock value, a certain father trying to protect his son from a rain of bullets in a certain fundamentalist state, and in the end both dying horribly?

    Mondo Cane.

    While I sit here watching 'Marebito' looking for the horror...

    Sometimes I wonder; 'will we ever be set free'??

  2. I bet that chick is an Inspector Rex fan.

    Mr M., check out this Youtube link if you haven't already. Something very beautiful. No subs, but you don't need 'em.

    Loved all your faves on your profile. I second the kudos to DOMAIN, Herbert on all cylinders. I think that one came out a year or two adjacent to King's IT, something about magnum horror opuses was in the air. Still haven't read HOGG but 'going the whole hogg' would probably be a useful phrase at certain times or under certain circumstances.

    Mandingo, sorry I haven't responded to your thoughtful post just above. Your post is a better one than mine but I just got home from work and barely have the energy to string a coherent thought together.

    More in a bit.


  3. The story of how a couple slipped in Deep Throat one night cracked me up. It sounds like the start to a porn story, but not the kind you beleive really happens.

    I wonder how Delany's career handled 'Hogg'. A book like that is easy get branded with.

    I had a female friend who wrote these beautiful almost cheesy stories about Hispanic nymphomaniacs and one day, she posted a story about a donkey show. I personally knew she was experimenting and wanting to do something different but man, her readers freaked out. She quit writing shortly after that and she never understood why I thought her donkey story was her best work. I liked it because it was nice to see her take her talent and go somewhere with it.

  4. mandingo -- 'Rejects' was a reminder of 70's nostalgia. Interesting way to look at it.

    Seeing Mr. Hands in action is something I'd like to forget.

    'Killing Of America' is a favorite of mine.

    I have to ask -- do you remember the smell when you found the baby? Was there one?


    A -- 'Domain' and 'It' in the same year. At least nobody sullied 'Domain' with a weak TV movie.


    Shon, it does sound like the start of ap orno, but it ended with the screening.

    If 'Hogg' had been published when it was written, which was many years before Delany firnmly established himself as an SF writer of note, I think it would have impacted his career much harder.

    Shame about your female friend. Are her stories available on-line?

    It's interesting how so much erotica and porn inevitably ends up in the interspecies basket.

  5. Funny the way weekends make blogs slightly weirder; why is that??

    It's 5.12 in the am, Sat, here in Aust, and after then third or fourth glass of red to kill the nightmares, I just bought a copy of 'Hallam Foe' and am watching it to bring in the new day. My housemate is asleep in the next room, and she has no idea of all this.

    These all nighters are odd; they bring with them a kind of 'authorised oblivion', making it somehow ok to be tipping pain killers and sleeping pills on the dark memories.

    Phantom, there was no smell when we arrived at that job; It was electical, and quick. The body was puffed up, and the eyeballs bulged like two yellow eggs.

    The parents were doped to the bejeezes belt; and yes, the baby looked just like the one in "Trainspotting", without the ability to walk on the ceiling like Spidey.

    I have the dubious honour of carying this memory around with me for life. In a way, I could take the tragedy of adults when they died; I watched them die all the time, and I would send sympathy cards, which would stimulate the ridicule from other cops-'constable care', i was called with disdain, and all that. You probably know this. Anyway, I lost something of myself every time I watched someone die, but especially infants. I don't know why; but there it is. As irrational as it might seem even thouh babies at that age have no idea what the fuck is going on...I somehow wish they had the chance to live a little.

    Anyway, another tablet and one last glass of wine and I should shut them out for another couple of hours. The beasts have been tearing my flesh lately, and If I am lucky I should be able to make it to daylight, who knows, shut it all of for an hour or two?

    Then I wake up, and write throughout the day, looking for...what? Transcendence? I work another four or five hours, watch some stuff- two special treats today; "Paris Texas" with the deleted footage free of commentary, "Death of a President", Then I get online, and I look for my collective; a co-operative of like minded people; and it helps. I am generally able to work through the day,writing films and books and reviews and essays, and as I work my way to the twilight shift, I find the nightmares usually start around 10 or 11; if I can get on line with a few glasses of wine, and write to people I like, I find I can make it through to day break; and when day break comes, and I taake sleeping pills, nothing can hurt me til i get online again...

    And on the cycle goes. Occasionally I get outside for a walk, but there is nothing quite like telling it like it is, telling the truth, sharing passions, and connecting with other human beings so one does not feel quite so alone. Let's see if I have this straight; we are fighting an illegal war in iraq; we are sending brave troops to die for oil. Brave soldiers are dying for a pipeline under Afghanistan. Or is this another bad dream??

    How would we know for sure???

  6. PS. In "Hogg", do I detect a dynamic betwen the older pervert and novice pervert not unlike that found in 'Apt Pupil', 'Glass Cage' and 'Hitman's Hero'?? Or is it one too many glasses of red wine, pray? It should have always been called "Hitman's Hero". As Orson said in "EdWood". 'life is too short to make other people's dreams...' or similar.

    "Words to live by, Bill..."

  7. So, would you say "Debbie Does Dallas" was your gateway drug?

    I haven't read HOGG- and am not likely to, based on your summary- but it sounds not unlike the true story of Shawn Hornbeck, the Missouri boy who was kidnapped and held captive by a real life monster before being reunited with his family, four years later. Who needs fiction when the real thing is in USA Today?

    Have your read THE END OF ALICE? Not a shock work at all, but still pretty creepy.

    Carry on!!

  8. Anonymous -- yes, 'Debbie' was my gateway drug.

    'End of Alice' is one of the books listed in my profile. I like AM Homes, and I think it's an excellent piece of work.

    At least it wasn't one of Mr. Dog's videos!

  9. mandingo -- a very similar dynamic.

    And, ah, yes, it SHOULD have been 'Hitman's Hero'

    Keep up the good drinking.

  10. Phew!! Now I know how Crispin Glover feels!

    This is why I don't have my own blog; the truth gets a little too self indulgent. I need an editor/bouncer at the gate to close the door when the going gets too weird.

    Beats me how the last one got through. Every once in a while, that dead baby fucks with my head, and last night must have been just one of those times.

    I guess the point of all that crap is that as many of you out there might know, there is nothing quite like the real deal to give you that little shot of horror some of us seem to need. As a young man I set out looking for it, and found it in spades.

    At the time of the baby incident, I was young, dumb and full of come, and assumed the experience would meld in with all the other weird shit I encountered, and become a simple footnote in my career; little did I know how such an experience can plague you.

    I saw all kinds of death and torture; I saw a man who bled to death trying to perform his own sex change operation, and another who set up an elaborate structure in his living room with a shotgun suspended over his head to blow his head off when someone opened his front door. Don't ask who opened it.

    These take a back seat compared to the dead baby. Funny what sticks with you...

    Go and see the horror, by all means; no one has the right to stop you. I just hope you don't see more than you can handle.

    It is indeed a 'razor's edge'...

    (BTW, I remembered something this morning as I 'reminisced' about said infant- there was a smell; I thought there would be the smell of cooked flesh or something, or shit, but in fact the one thing I could smell was that stench of vomit. I had forgotten about that. Everything in the baby's stomach came out- acid, bile; I remember the sheets were yellow. Funny what comes back to you.)

  11. mandingo -- your "truth" is very welcome here.

    You raise an interesting point hoping that we don't seem ore horror than we can handle.

    The addiction to this genre, this dark side of humanity, is more than mere curiosity, it's attempting to sate a hunger.

    As I discussed in a past entry, I believe that continual exposure to darkness gives us greater capacity for empathy.

    Your yellow sheet story struck a chord with me. I heard a story about a filmmaker who was sick for weeks. His devoted staff cared for him and enabled him to live out of his bed for that time. At one point, they needed to pick him up and move him. He was a terribly heavy smoker, so when they did peel him off the bed, the sheets were deep yellow with the nicotine that had oozed from his pores.

    Those yellow sheets have strayed with me.

  12. Sure, Maria's website is still up thanks to those wonderful people at ASSTR.