Thursday, October 18, 2012

Koji Wakamatsu RIP

Koji Wakamatsu, one of the few directors who never made a star-studded, audience-pleasing piece of commercial shit, has died. He was struck by a taxi cab and never fully recovered from his injuries.

He was 76 and made 100 movies.

I've written extensively on Mr. Wakamatsu on this blog, so I won't regurgitate the familiar.

An utterly unique filmmaker, he kowtowed to no motherless fuck and bravely railed against authority and authority figures, always presenting sex, politics, and violence -- and sometimes a combination of all three -- as intrinsic to life and our primal drives.

Every Wakamatsu film was a scream of outrage, of protest, at the way governments, figures of authority,  and media strive to pervert and destroy our basic natures.

Unlike 99% of all human beings, Wakamatsu gave a shit by not giving a fuck what people thought of him.

His work was a pure expression of his soul.

I admired and related to him so much. 

RIP, Koji.

A major bone from cinema's skeleton has been removed, and with that, so has a big, bloody chunk of hope.

Fuck it! Can't believe you're gone, Koji. 

* * *

My favorites of his:  

Go Go Second Time Virgin, Naked Bullet, The Man Who Assaulted 13 People, Violent Virgin
United Red Army, Caterpillar, Running in Madness Dying in Love, High Noon Rape
Violence Without A Cause, Dark Story of a Japanese Rapist, 
The Embryo Hunts in Secret, Sex Jack, Torture Chronicles: 100 Years 
Ecstasy of the Angels




Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Magic Month of Mags

The genre magazine business is healthy -- at least in terms of output (I don't know the rumpus on profits).

This month sees the release of the 170th (!) edition of Tim and Donna Lucas's Video Watchdog, the true successor to the French Midi-Minuit and the first decade or so of the late Frederick S. Clarke's Cinefantastique.

This issue features an extensive Lucas interview with the delicious screen siren Dalia (The Whip and the Body, Two Weeks in Another Town, The Silencers) Lavi. Also inside, and waiting to bust out, is a great piece on Almodovar's audacious The Skin I Live In by Lianne Spiderbaby. Ms. Spiderbaby explores the challenges women encounter in a man's world...a man's world seen through Mr. Almodovar's eyes, to be exact.

Nathaniel Thompson's review of the German Blu-Ray of Argento's Four Flies on Grey Velvet heaps praise on this edition's color palette and silky blacks.  Clearly an essential buy. Also reviewed are Lewis Gilbert's Paradise Lagoon, The Stranger Within (from Warner Archive) and The Boogens, the new Blu-Ray from Olive Films. The last time I saw that film, I was unsticking my foot from a floor in Detroit's 'Northgate Theater'. 

If all that wasn't enough for me, I was delighted to read Douglas Winter's 'Audio Watchdog' column on Jerry Goldsmith. The column marks the eighth anniversary of the composer's death, and the release of  the fantastic and definitive CD of his Star Trek - The Motion Picture score. Hard to believe, but there are sixty-five cues on this sucker, by crikey! 

As always, a brilliant issue that demonstrates the relevance of a serious genre magazine in an internet-dominated culture.

I never thought I'd be holding in my hand an entire magazine dedicated to the Dr. Phibes films and associated phenomena.  But Richard Klemensen's twenty-ninth issue of 'Little Shoppe of Horrors' is exactly that. 

It's an exhaustive look at Phibes from every conceivable angle production-wise; there are also pieces on 'The Unphilmed Phibes'(sic), Phibes in print, and Phibes on stage and on CD.

Coming up the rear is also a remembrance of Frank Darabont's first time (with Phibes, that is), and director Tim Burton pipes in with an affectionate piece on meeting Mr. Price.

Fanaticism then reaches a new peak with David Taylor's account of his hunt for Phibes' Rolls Royce(!). 

Justin Marriott's poem to pulpy paperback goodness hits new highs with its twenty-third issue. 

There is a terrific gallery of old Bradbury covers, a remembrance of the late Ronald Chetwynd-Hayes, a fascinating piece on 'Digit', the post-war publisher of crime author Edgar Wallace (replete with dynamic paperback cover reproductions), a colorful look at 'Eve Drum, The Lady From L.U.S.T.', a spy created to cash in on everything Bondish, and a rare look at the pulp 'Fantastic Adventures' accompanied by vivid color covers.

Published virtually simultaneously with this issue was Marriott's two-volume portrait of ace fantasy artist (and childhood hero of mine) Bruce Pennington. Featuring interviews, overviews, and amazing cover reproductions, this type of publication, dedicated to one artist, needs to be encouraged.

With this quarter's booty of Video Watchdog, Little Shoppe of Horrors, The Paperback Fantatic, and a slew of others (Diabolique, Mad Scientist, Mondo Cult, and Monsters From The Vault), it's a great time for the eyes!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Sex Hunter is Cumming

 Coming soon from Synapse/Impulse is Yukihiro Sawada's SEX HUNTER: WET TARGET, a film well worth owning that I've seen (only) on non-subtitled VHS. Falling into the harsher end of Nikkatsu's Roman Porno line (thank God!), it's from a director who has made some excellent crime/sex flicks, the best being RETREAT THROUGH THE WET WASTELAND. 
 He also made the relentlessly grim FLESH TARGET: RAPE.
SEX HUNTER, not to be confused with Toshiharu Ikeda's film of the same name (but without the 'Wet Target' addition), focuses on a man's efforts to catch and kill his sister's rapists/killers. The film does bear some similarities to the Swedish THRILLER: A CRUEL PICTURE.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Mars Attacks Magic

If you can forget Tim Burton's awful Mars Attacks movie, you'll be able to embrace this utterly fantastic book that puts all the released and unreleased Mars Attacks trading cards into one volume

Like their recent book covering the first five sets of Garbage Pail Kids trading cards, Topps' Mars Attacks book gives full respect to what can only be described as glorious pop art, art so subversive, so dark, it redefined the form. It's a tribute to the brilliant artists who pumped bloody life into the concept.

I love the marriage of sci-fi horror and sexuality here. There is no more intoxicating marriage.

 In addition to the card sets, the book features slabs of art from Mars Attacks comic books, artists who took a shot at it, and wrappers from both the US and the UK.

As Mars is currently being explored by an unmanned rover, one can only hope something as exotic and terrifying as these beings is discovered. 

Inside the book, director Burton is quoted: "The original [Mars Attacks] cards were so beautiful. They were really pure, not campy. They had a lurid quality that I like."

Really, Tim? A lurid quality that you like? 

Then why didn't we see any of that lurid quality in your campy pile of shit that decimated the spirit of the original cards?

 The good news is: The cards still exist in their original form. Mars Attacks still lives. Camp-face Burton can't touch them.

If you love the Mars Attacks concept as much as I do, add this treasure to your shelf.

And add this, too:

Saturday, October 6, 2012

The Fuckness of Andersen Prunty

Fuckness, from Andersen Prunty, is one gloriously messed-up tale of brutality and alienation. It focuses on Wallace Black, a school bully's punching bag, and it details how Wallace gets his own back on his victimizer and attempts to avoid further trouble and misery.

'fuckness', according to the author, is a term he uses to describe the absurdity of life, the collective shit that surrounds us and complicates everything.

As in Prunty's also excellent Zerostrata, Fuckness blends harsh reality with dogged fantasy. Reading it, I was carried back to the first time I read Iain Banks' The Wasp Factory. I got that same sense of horrible but strangely familiar unease. Sometimes, if life is shitty, you want it to get shittier so it'll finally hit rock bottom. Then you'll have something to stand on when you begin that climb back up again.

I get that. Prunty gets it, of course. I think you'll get it, too.


Friday, October 5, 2012

The Moon of Rick Hautala

As improbable as it sounds, I was introduced to the writer Rick Hautala by a Mr. Charles Dickens. Charlie wrote the not unknown Oliver Twist and was responsible also for David Copperfield, A Christmas Carol, and A Tale of Two Cities. Not too shabby, eh? He was no literary slouch.

Neither is Mr. Hautala.

The Bookshop of Charles Dickens, like Charlie himself, was buried deep in the oily guts of a mighty city. You accessed this cavern of literary surprises via Melbourne's Flinders Street Station, the city's commuter hub. At the bottom of a steep stairwell the bookshop flourished for more than a decade, attracting distracted travelers rushing home to dinner and enthusiasts like myself who weren't yet old enough to cook their own dinner. Each trip to Charlie's place was an adventure for me, an opportunity to open new doors and step into fresh crypts. When I stepped into Charlie's joint, it always amazed me how variations on twenty-six letters of the alphabet could fill a decent sized building.

Mr. Hautala's Moon Bog, his second book, jumped off the shelf at me with its illustration of a young lad sinking into brackish water. The lad, by the way, was a dead ringer for my brother Colin, and the two of us would often regard the illustration with pleased smiles.

My brother Colin appeared without credit on this book cover

The title married two of my favorite words together. If you're a horror fan, or a mere visitor to the dark, you can't  go past "moon"; it evokes everything we love: mood, time, and myth. It's practically a verb. Then there's "bog". At this time in the early 80's, I was still hot for Guy N. Smith's boggish  The Sucking Pit, a nasty bit of pulp set also on uncertain ground, ground referred to frequently as both pit and bog . Hautala's use of "bog" in his title aroused deliciously familiar horrors in me.

Who doesn't love a bog? Who's can't conjure their own private horrors in the moist, sucking earth?

I plucked the mint condition Zebra paperback (pictured) from the shelf, paid a princely sum for it (Aussie book prices have always been murder!), and practically waltzed out of Charlie's book vault with a plan to devour the book immediately on my homebound train. Thirteen stations and one hour later, I'd become well acquainted with Mr. Hautala and his doom-laden tale of a bog that eats children replete with creepy and  doom-laden Shakespeare quotes.

In the weeks ahead, Mr. Hautala was worked into my inevitable book conversations. When someone would mention Clive Barker, Stephen King, and James Herbert, I'd throw back names like Michael McDowell, Guy N. Smith, Richard Laymon, TM Wright, and, of course, Mr. Hautala. Most of my acquaintances were slow to adventure beyond their literary comfort zones, but one fellow did ask to borrow my mint copy of Moonbog. That, of course, presented a problem, because, by that time, I'd gotten smart already and decided that I didn't loan my books (especially my paperbacks!) to anybody anymore.

A first edition paperback of Herbert's The Rats, loaned to a friend, had crawled home looking like one of Jim's rats had chewed it up and regurgitated it onto a pile of steaming dog shit. A second friend, who transitioned rapidly to ex-, borrowed my copy of Smith's Night of the Crabs and returned it with spinal damage so severe, if it had been human it would have required a wheelchair. The final straw was a John Saul book ruined by a female friend. The book was Cry For The Strangers, the writer's third outing, that had left my shelf in a handsome state. It returned ugly. The truth is, the female friend almost cried when I made her re-buy the book for me. Not surprisingly, we were strangers a week later.

It made sense that I wouldn't part with the Hautala book. Hell, Charlie had given it to me for a gratuity. Out of respect to him, and Mr. Hautala, I needed to protect its integrity. My solution was a trip back to Charlie's place with this friend. I walked him to the horror section and hand-picked the last copy of Moon Bog. I also picked up Moon-Death, the writer's first. The guy liked moons, it seemed, and, like Mr. Smith, had started with wolves and followed up immediately with bogs.

Mr. H broke the cycle with Night Stone and Little Brothers a few years later, but he returned to his lunar origins with Moon Walker.

Like Guy N. Smith's maiden novel, Werewolf By Moonlight, Moon-Death was about a werewolf loose and hungry in a small town. It was a fine harbinger of great works to come, boasting strong characterization, unexpected chills, and prose often close to poetry. 

I'm happy to report, thirty years later, that Mr. Hautala is still at large with a string of distinguished horror novels such as Winter Wake, Night Stone, Occasional Demons, Twilight Time, Impulse, and Reunion.  I'm not so happy to report that he's not as well known as he should be. Through no fault of his own, he's been flying a couple of inches below the mainstream radar while managing to forge a brilliant career as both himself and another writer named A.J. Mathews. I recently enjoyed a second hand edition of Mathews' Looking Glass, a twisty ghost tale. It and other Mathews books are soon to be reprinted by Dark Regions Press, so Mr. H's secret life will continue to remain no secret.

Last week, I stumbled across Mr. Hautala on Facebook, and acquainted myself with him in person --  virtually, anyway. There's something terribly magical about meeting someone you've had a thirty year relationship with, a relationship built exclusively on twenty-six letters of the alphabet. It builds a foundation like no other, and gives you an unfair advantage over them. I met Charlie under similar circumstances, of course, and I'm grateful for his "friendship", too.

Like a werewolf who's been dodging silver bullets for three decades and running on moon time , Mr. H is still out there. I hope -- I really do --  he crosses your path one day. If not, you can always put yourself in harm's way by by clicking up one of his books.

Very recently, the Horror Writers Association gave Mr. H a Lifetime Achievement Award.

They had this to say about him:

 “Rick Hautala is the horror writer’s horror writer. Since his first novel, Moondeath, was published in 1980, he has held the torch of the genre high, for all to see. At the height of the horror boom of the Eighties, he stood shoulder to shoulder with the giants of the era, perfecting the contemporary ghost story. With such novels as The Night Stone, Little Brothers, and Winter Wake, Hautala helped to influence a great many young writers who were just coming of age. Self-effacing and approachable, he has always combined a blue collar work ethic with literary sensibilities shaped by his love of Shakespeare and Hawthorne. His passion for the horror genre is second only to his love for writing, and all of these elements have conspired over decades to transform him into a determined mentor, offering critical feedback and quiet encouragement to many new authors as they begin their own careers. Over the course of more than thirty years, he has produced as many novels, both under his own name and as AJ Matthews. Hautala has also authored the scripts for award-winning short films, and dozens of short stories and novellas, including his wistful and unsettling masterwork, Miss Henry’s Bottles. Despite the mark he has made on the genre and his quiet mentorship of other writers, Rick has rarely been recognized for his work. Thus we are doubly pleased to present Rick Hautala with the HWA’s Lifetime Achievement Award.”

Not too shabby, eh, for a man who sells the moon?