Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Triangles and Joy

 For the last couple of days, it's been bothering me that my mostly negative review of Oliver Stone's Savages has led the charge on this blog. Such nonsense keeps me awake at night. A little obsessive-compulsive I guess, but that fact doesn't make it any easier to tolerate.

Best to address the issue by posting art from a book I love, have loved, will love forever, Jonathan Carroll's The Land of Laughs. Not only are the words inside completely hypnotic and entirely magical, but this art is the stuff of dreams (and nightmares) for me.

When I was a kid, I dreampt frequently about being chased by a little man with a triangular head. Mr. Triangle never managed to catch me (if he had, I probably wouldn't be writing this!), but he had a tenacity about him that scared me silly, and made me afraid to close my eyes. Most of the time, he was waiting for me in the area of the yard we called the sideway. The sideway, which was beside the house (obviously), was an enclosed space reserved for money-producing hobbies such as collecting empty beer bottles, collecting old newspapers, and stashing black and white pictures of breasts and vaginas (with that hobby I din't make jack) I wouldn't stash them openly up the sideway; I'd slip them under an abandoned lawn mower that my father kept in an asbestos shed. Now and then, the lawn mower would become the focus of my father's tools. Half an hour after that, I'd become the focus of some harsh questions.

 In my dreams, Triangle lurked behind my rows of beer bottles, his oily eyes tracking me as I entered the area with a fresh wheelbarrow full of bottles. Usually, he wouldn't wait for me to stack them. Nope, the cunt would jump out and take after me like a locomotive. I'd scramble for the fence and swing myself over it, his face and its bad breath just inches from my heels. The chase would take up most of my night's sleep, or so it seemed, and when I'd finally snap awake, I'd be elated to discover that I was dreaming.

The ice cream-eating Mr. Triangle on the cover of the Ace edition of Carroll's novel doesn't look like he'd come after me. He looks friendly. Hell, I'd love to eat an ice cream with him.

If you haven't read the book, I envy you your first time.

 Another fantastic read is Marcel Pagnol's My Father's Glory and My Mother's Castle. Both were made into beautiful movies, and both capture growing up at a particular time in a very particular place. Pagnol's childhood was no Angela's Ashes, so don't expect beatings, Catholic guilt, poverty, and brutal father figures. But do expect a superb tome that captures the magic of childhood adventure, the special gift we call friendship, and the disappointment of discovering that those you most admire are human just like you.

Read the books, see the movies, or see the movies, read the books. You can't go wrong with these exceptional poems to joy. Joy doesn't always live long, but when we experience it, we're grateful it stopped by.  

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Oliver Stone's SAVAGES

 Oliver Stone used to make tight, economical, sharply written films such as Salvador, Talk Radio, and Wall Street; they're my favorites of his. I enjoyed JFK, Platoon, and Natural Born Killers, too, but Salvador and Talk Radio remain, for me, his most powerful, fat-free films. They had something relevant to say about the soul, about the enemies within ourselves.

His newie, Savages, set in Laguna Beach (where I reside for most of the year), is a tale about two successful dope dealers, the woman they both love, and a Mexican cartel that threatens to ruin their piece of paradise. Trailers sell the film as a return to previous form for Stone, impactful, fresh, and rife with simmering surface detail. For the most part, they lie. The surface detail is there, though, and that's about it.

Despite Stone's insistence on playing with looks (hot, cold, black and white) and fabricating a 60's aesthetic in a Laguna that still exists if you squint a lot, the source material (from a novel) feels much too familiar to engage one's curiosity. Breaking Bad has been doing this stuff for four seasons, and tonight it will do it again for a fifth. Stone's biggest miscalculation with Savages is its protagonists: They're dull and cliched. One is a fella who, while not supervising marijuana crops, builds schools for the poor in foreign lands. His partner is a guy who isn't afraid to pull a gun to solve a problem. The girl they both love is a mentally delayed flower child who's a crashing bore with a hot body for two. When it seems that the three may have to leave the country in a hurry, her idea of saying goodbye to California is going shopping. Granted, this may be an authentic portrait of a certain type of Californian female, but do we have to witness such vapidity? Aren't characters supposed to be compelling?  Even worse, the bitch narrates, and what you'd expect from someone whose underworked brain has turned to mush is what you get. It's nausea-inducing.

 It's hard to imagine anybody concluding that the script for this should have millions of dollars thrown at it. The situations are stock, the resolution is typical, and the taste it leaves in your mouth will be familiar to anyone who's suffered through recent Stone efforts such as Any Given Sunday, World Trade Center, Alexander, and the hideous Wall Street sequel.  

For gore fans, there's a recreation (without the flesh-tearing) of the video that did the rounds a year ago of two Mexican drug couriers having their heads shaved off with a chainsaw. Other than that, Savages already exists as pieces of your video collection. Best to rent Breaking Bad, a show that's achieved greatness with  characters we give more than two shits about; even better, we're fascinated by their human journey, and human traits we recognize in ourselves.

I recognized people I once met but would never want to meet again in Savages. That's not a good thing.

As the far superior Cannibal Holocaust once asked its audience, this film also asks: Who are the real savages? In this case, who cares! 

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Very Special People (I Mean It!)

Let's can it with the "everybody's special" bullshit. It's patronizing and nauseating. SPECIAL once signified something extraordinary that distinguished one thing from another. If you had one leg, but managed to hop your way around, you were special. If you ate glass instead of hamburgers, you were special. And if you were born looking totally hideous and eating through your ear, that made you special. Winning a race doesn't make you special. Neither does existing. If you figure out a way to exist forever, that'll make you special. Try it.

Frederick Drimmer, the author of Very Special People, knows a thing or two about special people, and wrote a very fine book about them. It's my kind of book, and perhaps your kind of book, too. I know a person or three who will dig it as much I did.

And as I am presently preparing a feature film, Circus of Dread, on this very subject starring Bill Oberst and Domiziano Arcangeli, my interest and fascination level is off the bloody meter.

What makes this book about human oddities unique is its straightforward focus on the day-to-day lives of over a hundred extraordinary human beings such as Kobelkoff: The Human Trunk, Carl Unthan: The Armless Fiddler, The Two-Headed Tocci Brothers, Swan and Bates: Two Giants in Love, Zip and Other Pinheads, General Tomb Thumb, Tommy Jacobsen: The Armlessd Pianist, and Robert Wadlow: The Alton Giant.

Writer Drimmer first saw folks of this persuasion in the circus, and sourced documents and letters from all over the world before beginning work on this love letter to being different and "special".

Today, extraordinary people like these do exist, but they are more likely to turn up on youtube or theync.com than your local midway. Unfortunate, really. The recent story of Indonesia's smoking baby provided some oldtime thrills, although a follow-up piece on the lad by the 'Vanguard' documentary program (highly recommended series, by the way) reported that he's quit smoking and has returned to childhood. He's still a weighty blighter, but his days of chain smoking are behind him.

Let's be under no illusion that, if the old freak show were still in operation, there'd be no freaks to fill it. On the contrary, human birth defects are alive and well, and if you factor in the damage that big business is doing to native environments (Chevron's polluting of Ecuadorian rain forests, for example), many generations of birth defects are assured.

Recently, my brother sent me a link to a gallery of photos of people suffering from "Treacher Collins", a syndrome that creates a distinct appearance. Notable characteristics are an underdeveloped jaw, missing cheekbones, eyes slanted downwards, and ears not properly formed or missing.

It is the Google image gallery that has replaced the circus and the sideshow as a showcase for exotic human beings who are but only a step away from those who are not so special.

In Very Special People - The Struggles, Loves, and Triumphs of Human Oddities, Frederick Dimmer opens with a terrific quote from William Lindsay Gresham:

"On their faces was a strangely luminous smile.
I know now what it indicates --
they had met tragedy and fought it to a standstill;
they had taken a handicap
and turned it inside out,
making it work for them;
with courage and patience
they had built themselves a life."

Friday, July 6, 2012

The Rising Of Deadite Press

 Today I want to write about a certain joy I'm experiencing knowing that the old Leisure Books horror stable has, to some extent, been replaced by Deadite Press.

I was a member of Leisure's horror book club, and got small orgasms when their monthly box of books lobbed against my door. It's not often that horror comes to you in a surprise package like the one Leisure used to send. For their troubles, I paid them about twelve bucks a month. Hardly a fortune considering the work that goes into a book. I wasn't a fan of all the Leisure authors, and I must admit I read a dozen pages of some books and abandoned them. That was rare, though.

When it comes to horror, some themes just don't float my boat these days. I take a dim view of voodoo stories and voodoo rituals. Fuck off with that. I'm almost beyond being convinced to read another haunted house story. They've been done to death -- literally. Perhaps that's why writers keep writing them. It's arrogance. A belief that their haunted house story will be a fresh one. I'm sure it can be done, but it's hard to work up the energy to read another. New zombie stories are still appearing on bookshelves. I avoid them. Zero interest. Vampires? Time to lay them to rest for a while. Twilight pussified the genre while broadening one side of its audience. The side with vaginas and braces.

If you're on the fringes of or deep inside the horror community, you probably know about the demise of Leisure and the company's shabby treatment of its writers. Film distributors treat their filmmakers like this pretty much all the time, so Leisure's disrespect for writers didn't seem too shocking to me. Terrible, yes, and unforgivable, of course, but not shocking to someone who's been fucked upside-down and sideways by film distributors. Some Leisure authors such as Brian Keene, Bryan Smith, and JF Gonzalez extricated themselves and their book rights from Leisure and fled to Deadite; others are still untangling the mess Leisure left them in. There are rumors, however, that Amazon may offer refuge and some outstanding checks. I wish these folks well.

Deadite Press is an imprint of Eraserhead Press, the home of the Bizarro genre, and base of Bizarro Central. Deadite is releasing both new books and re-releasing older books. Some of Leisure's old horror titles are turning up on Deadite in refined versions with vivid new covers and in trade paperback size. As far as I know, Deadite doesn't have a monthly book club set-up, but their books are very reasonably priced and can be accessed via a link on their site. The link usually carries you through to Amazon. Titles I've purchased recently have been Like Porno For Psychos (Wraith James White), Genital Grinder (Ryan Harding), Hero (JF Gonzalez/White), The Cage (Brian Keene), The Dark ones (Bryan Smith), All You Can Eat (Shane McKenzie), and Take the Long Way Home (Keene).

The presentation of their books and cover art is really impressive and provocative; you get the impression that the folks behind Deadite really do give a flying fuck about what they're doing. Their love shows.  I've yet to see any crappy art like the shit poor old Ray Garten had to endure with Leisure's release of Bestial and Ravenous. Masterton's Blind Panic got fucked up the nasal passage, too. Gary A. Braunbeck's Coffin County paperback had a cover that was conceptually strong but poorly executed. It would hardly have jumped off the shelf at you.

To be fair, Leisure, under editor Don D'Auria, did a lot of things right, too, by getting behind some terrific writers and bestowing some books with potent cover art. Now, some of these guys and gals might argue that Leisure got close enough behind them to slip an unwanted penis (at least financially) into any available orifice, but it needs to be said that Leisure did create a profile for authors like Keene, Smith, Gonzalez, and Wrath James White, a profile that's enabled them to soldier forth into brighter theaters of literary combat. Sad really that it all had to end in a sweaty clusterfuck. Still, these four and others have migrated to Deadite and word from them has been that Deadite are good people whose definition of getting behind you involves check writing, promotion, and timely sales reports instead of fiscal rape.

Leisure's very impressive cover art for Lee's The Golem.

The not-so-striking art for Braunbeck's Coffin County.

I hope anybody who gives two hoots about horror gives Deadite a decent shot. I don't work for them, have no professional affiliation with them (not yet, anyway!), and don't receive free books for review. I just wanna see 'em doing well... because, if they're doing well, you're getting good horror at a bargain price. That's nothing to blow snot at.