Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Jack Vance, A Giant Of Fantasy, Has Died

Jack Vance, a fantasy writer I'm been in awe of since childhood, has died. He was thee years shy of a hundred.

He left a body of work that is truly staggering in its volume, scope, and quality.

I first stumbled on Jack in Melbourne's Space Age Books, a long gone palace of fantastique delights for fantasy and SF fans that was located a few doors north of Swanston and Lonsdale Streets.

The book I picked up was City of the Chasch,  the first volume in the stunning PLANET OF ADVENTURE series. It was the word ADVENTURE that hooked me.

More than other other fantasy writer, I found Jack's work magical and truly transporting. He cooked up fully-fleshed-out worlds of mind-bending wonder with just twenty-six carefully heated alphabetical ingredients. His works, set in galaxies a million light years from here, and in times few of us could even imagine, were so utterly complete, so real, so authentic in their customs, social structures, and histories (past and future), I never stopped wondering how the hell he did it, how he managed to get everything so right. And that's why I'm still in awe of his talent up to this very day. A sad day.  

Whenever friends or bloggers lament the sorry state of cinematic fantasy, I always think of Jack. My mind automatically turns to a man who set a literary standard that no film could possibly meet. Of course, someone will create a cinematic world based on Jack's imaginings, and someone will pilfer elements of what made Jack so visionary (Cameron did it in AVATAR), but nobody will do Jack as Jack did Jack. Nobody will get it right without surrendering quality and intelligence.

Before Jack, I read Asimov, Heinlein, Bradbury, Ballard, Moorcock, Leiber, Van Vogt, Malzburg (Barry), Ellison, Bester (Alfred), and others too many to list here. I ate their works up. They took me to places beyond my experience, beyond my childhood when childhood wasn't so sweet.  When its realities felt harsh.

When I met Jack, I journeyed further, and I encountered a type of science fantasy that, though set in remote places, blended the grand adventure of R.M. Ballantyne (a favorite of my pre-teen years) with the exotica of fully realized alien worlds. His prose soared, his characters sweated 'til we smelt them, and his affinity for invention colored every chapter. One couldn't read about things like 'sky rafts' and not be pulled into Jack's boundless creations.  

If you've never met Jack, I envy you your first handshake. You won't let go. 

John Holbrook Vance, RIP

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Why We Need Charlie Casanova

One imdb reviewer of CHARLIE CASANOVA described its characters as "barely recognizable as human".

Let me think about that for a moment.

Yes... yes... perhaps... maybe...could be somewhat accurate... IF YOU'D NEVER STEPPED OUTSIDE YOUR FUCKING DOOR!!!  Which is clearly the case with anybody who doesn't find immediate commonalities with this accomplished low budget psycho-drama and its stellar cast of flawed earthlings.

Jesus Christ, this is one intelligent, raw, emotionally gory autopsy of human behavior, its central focus being on  the man/woman thing, hypocrisy and lies (same thing), and the role fate plays in our lives.

Not a wise thing to give too much away because some of the revelations are like a surprise right hook to the head, but here goes a taste:

Charlie Barnum (Emmett Scanlan), a caustic, entitled, upper middle class bully who rides roughshod over his intimidated mates and their partners, is responsible for the death of a working class girl. In the tradition of Luke Rhinehart's THE DICEMAN, where fate is sealed by the roll of a dice, Charlie, in the immediate wake of her demise, consults cards to determine his course of action. The result of his choice gives him a newfound freedom with its inevitable consequences, and subjects everybody around him to the living hell of their true selves, and the pain of their own inertia.

Irishman Terry McMahon, the film's writer/director, has produced a work birthed by his outrage at what we settle for, what we take for granted, and what we pretend is happiness. It's a loud and beautifully articulated wake-up call to lives lived in a state of apathy.  Festering apathy.

Seems the film's copped predictable criticism from women, the Irish film "establishment", and anybody else who's not too happy to see their own soiled toilet paper draped over the local town hall. The film's portrayal of hopelessly broken male/female dynamics is spot on, and McMahon has as much venom in reserve for men as he does for women. Charlie's best friend is a prime example of a male who's had his balls torn off by a woman. Weak, pathetic, and convinced that submission will keep the peace, he is, like many men, unable to re-assert his masculinity in a world where male submission to convention is seen as acceptable and preferable. Of course, conventions such as marriage favor one sex and tend to enslave the other. Ultimately, both are enslaved because the fantasy writes checks that reality can't cash.

CHARLIE CASANOVA asks us to think, to question, to rage against the bullshit we're fed. Until we all do that, we'll be needing fellas like Charlie.

Available now on DVD from Amazon US and the UK. Also on VOD.

US distributor is BRINK.

 My radio mate Tom Leykis has been transmitting messages similar to Charlie's for more than a decade now.

He can be found at:

Tuesday, May 21, 2013


Sometimes you don't want grim, you don't want utter, hopeless darkness, but sometimes you do, you're ready -- at last -- to take the plunge. For those times, there's Jeff Kanew's NATURAL ENEMIES starring the wonderful Hal Holbrook.

Made in '79, at the end of an era when films like this got major studio support, this is a (still) very timely piece about a family man (Holbrook) who tells us at the film's outset that he's going to kill his wife, kill his young children, and kill himself. "Every man thinks about killing his family at some time," he says, pretty much setting the tone for what's to come.

The events of the film take place over eight to ten hours. 

Holbrook, a magazine publisher in a marriage polluted by mental illness, fills his day lamenting -- in voice-over and with colleagues -- the rotten state of his marriage, his career, and a future he can't perceive as anything but terrible. From these laments and ruminations emerge existential vomit trails that no intelligent viewer could fail to relate to. In fact, the film does a knock-up good job of covering pretty much every dark corner of the human journey, and offers enough food for thought to fill the cranial belly.

Holbrook takes an afternoon detour into group sex and extracts some female perspectives from naked females before returning home to meet with a concerned wife (Louise Fletcher in top form) who's made a discovery that may or may not impact on her longevity. You'll have to watch the film to find out.

The film's tone, nihilistic narrative, and rigid, formalized compositions reminded me of Buddy Giovinazzo's COMBAT SHOCK, Richard Mahler aka Roger Watkin's MIDNIGHT HEAT (with Jamie Gillis), Scorsese's TAXI DRIVER, and Gasper Noe's I STAND ALONE.  The way the film presents a society that is becoming more and more aware of its own inevitable destruction is a great deal more honest than today's portraits of a world too busy tapping cell phone keyboards to know or care about greater issues. 

This is one powerful movie from the director of EDDIE MACON'S RUN,  REVENGE OF THE NERDS(!), TOUGH GUYS, and TOUCHED BY AN ANGEL (TV series).

Based on a novel I must read by Julius Horwitz.

Thanks to Mark at Soiled Sinema for the recommendation.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

A Deriva (Adrift)

A DERIVA (ADRIFT; 2009) is a powerful, perceptive, and sensual Brazilian feature about a crumbling marriage seen through the eyes of a fourteen year old girl. Starring the always compelling Vincent Cassell as the father and Laura Neiva as the girl, the film depicts how the ups and steep downs of a marriage shape the already tentative world view of a younger person. 

Set on the craggy shores of an island-like holiday haven, director Heitor Dhalia uses surreal water imagery to convey the mental state of his heroine, and takes a refreshingly mature, non-hysterical approach to the ever-present subject of sex pertaining to both younger and older cast members.

A DERIVA, for me, explored some of the territory French director Catherine Breillet has been mining since her brilliant debut A VERY YOUNG GIRL; she followed those with 36 FILLETTE, then FAT GIRL. All three focused on a younger person's perceptions of adulthood, and how signals can be so easily misinterpreted. 

In Dhalia's film, which is based on a novel, a great deal of attention is also paid to the marriage itself, and Cassell is met with equal force by Debora Bloch, the actress playing his transitioning wife. Camilla Belle is also electric in a role pivotal to Neiva's awakening.

The use of The Ronette's BE MY BABY, at crucial junctions in the film, is inspired.

Highly recommended.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Pulpy Porn and Gutter Romance

Time for another look at the luridly wonderful world of pulpy porn and gutter romance.

Love the Forbidden Women art, and the catchy premise.

Myron Jubilee's Always Young Enough is a title that surely reflects the viewpoint of the terribly handsome fellow pictured on the cover. And perhaps the intended reader? Priceless cover.

Subtle image of a woman who likes her meat rare. The gentleman, a cast member of Mad Men, isn't quite sure where to take it from here, so he bangs his head against an empty glass.

Carnal Close-Out is a perfectly evocative title.

Good old Liverpool Press puts out again. Simple, effective illustration that says everything that needs to be said about this book "for mature readers". I reckon some immature readers got a hold of it, too.

"Her body was sin-bait in this lust game!" Sin-bait? 'A' for effort, Sundown.

Trying something much finer here to sell Mary's "misfortunes". 

A cover Tinto Brass would give his stamp of approval to. The gent appears to be sketching a woman not seen in the image here and she's naked also.

Brutal, dark art for Terrorist Tormentors, a series known for its more extreme illustrations.

A hint of Robert Bishop in its shading, too.

"Shame" was a frequently used word back in the day. "Shame-stunts" wasn't so common.

Friday, May 17, 2013


Almost hard to believe (in a good way) that Bryan Fuller's HANNIBAL is on a commercial network in the US. It's easily the artiest, most experimental, most grotesque show I've seen on network TV. Definitely represents a sincere network effort to go head-to-head with cable greats such as SIX FEET UNDER, BREAKING BAD, and DEXTER.

The latest episode, 'Sorbet', was riveting, almost transgressive cinema, and was crafted by several names with strong pedigrees in the dark arts.

It was directed with icy, inventive precision by James Foley, who made the extraordinary AT CLOSE RANGE, and was photographed by Canada's Karim Hussain, who directed SUBCONSCIOUS CRUELTY, and shot installments of the recent THE THEATER BIZARRE and three other HANNIBAL episodes.

As this episode featured a lot of material involving the removal and cooking of body parts, the direct musical references to Nacho Cerda's AFTERMATH, in addition to soundscapes that, for me, also echoed Cerda's necrophilia-themed short, were music to my ears and riches for my eyes. 

As an expansion of the world (characters and themes) created by Thomas Harris in his novel 'Red Dragon' (filmed as MANHUNTER and RED DRAGON respectively), producer Bryan Fuller and his team clearly respect the origins of their show, but understand that they must venture beyond those origins in order to fly, and to enrich the source. 

They are doing that skilfully and artfully. 

Like the current BATES MOTEL, HANNIBAL is a refreshing, intelligent enrichment of a familiar literary and cinematic world. Both get the tone right, and never come across as imitative or purely profit-driven. Their respective original writers, Robert Bloch and Thomas Harris, might be comforted by a feeling I have that good TV is looking, sounding, and smelling more like a great novel these days where there is more room and time to depict the internal as well as the external.

Good, bloody times!

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Dick Laymon Told To Lay off The Rough Stuff

Richard Laymon, one of my favorite writers (and horror writers) of all time, a writer whose sensibilities and subject matter resonated with me from the moment I opened his first published novel, THE CELLAR, also wrote one of the greatest non-fiction books on writing and publishing of all time: A WRITER'S TALE.

These scanned pages (below) are a mere sample of the 350 pages of raw wisdom, pain, and truth (always truth!) found within this now hard-to-find book tome that is worth its weight in literary gold.

Before his death, Mr. Laymon's experiences with American publishers (one in particular: Warner Books) were pretty terrible, and one badly mismarketed book (THE WOODS ARE DARK) sealed his fate, resulting in the withdrawal of marketing support for years and the trashing of his reputation in US publishing circles. In the book, he documents the gory ups and downs of his entire career in painstaking detail, the likes of which I've never read before.

In the scan below, the writer details a terrible situation in which his US agent, Jay Garon, withheld money owed to him for up to two years (!)

Fortunately, a month later, he received a tremendous break courtesy of Dean Koontz, who emerges smelling like roses from this book. 

Fortunately, English publishers were kinder to Dick Laymon, and his reputation was rescued somewhat by publisher Hodder Headline.

A fascinating piece (scanned here) involves Mr. Laymon's young adult suspense novel, MY SECRET ADMIRER, a book that was to be his first and last for Scholastic, despite healthy sales.

Throughout the book, he offers tips on writing, cautions about publishers, lists his favorite horror and non-horror writers, goes into graphic detail about how he was marginalized, and provides shitloads of wisdom about a mostly indifferent publishing world where the good guys are few but still out there. The trick is finding them.

Some Laymon novels such as the excellent QUAKE are still barely published in the US , which is a tragedy, and the recent campaign to reprint earlier novels and others not published at all Stateside went down in flames when Leisure's horror line crashed recently.

This scan from the book (below) is especially interesting to me. Dick Laymon discusses a book he never completed to final draft  called Lo Down, a rape/revenge novel. 

The author writes, "The book was a little too nasty."

Mr. Laymon thought it too nasty (hard to comprehend!), or was he expressing the concerns of others?

"I'd been advised to back away from the rough stuff," he says. Advised by whom? Publishers? Friends? Family?

So, are we to infer that everything he wrote after he wrote the above was an example of him backing away from the "rough stuff"?  I'd like to know what Dick Laymon's definition of "rough stuff" was.

I sense the "rough stuff" was probably sexual violence-oriented, but I can't say for sure. What else could it be?  

I've read pretty much everything Mr. Laymon ever published in the UK and the US, and would say my favorites are THE CELLAR, THE WOODS ARE DARK (the unabridged version), QUAKE, ENDLESS NIGHT, FLESH, OUT ARE THE LIGHTS, ALL HALLOW'S EVE, SAVAGE, FUNLAND, ISLAND, BITE, INTO THE FIRE, BEWARE!, and ONE RAINY NIGHT. 

Critics of Laymon criticize the raw sexual content in his work, some thinking it goes too far (THE CELLAR often a target) and crosses sacred boundaries. Bullshit! I reject these criticisms and feel that few writers have written as honestly about the euphoria of human lust and its good and bad consequences as Laymon. In all his books, Laymon wrote with great honesty, never caring if he offended those who wear their sensitivity like a badge of honor.

A WRITER'S TALE needs to be reprinted. Mr. Laymon ripped his soul open to write it.

This beast of a book, a tribute to the writer from professionals and non-professionals courtesy of Cemetery Dance, is a treasure trove of short stories inspired by him, unpublished works from him, and passionate remembrances of him.

Contributors include Tom Piccirilli, Gary Brandner, Steve Gerlach, John Pelan, Ann Laymon, Adam Pepper, Dan D'Auria, Richard Chizmar, Bentley Little, Brian Keene, Ryan Harding, Norman Partridge, and daughter Kelly Laymon.

The impression the book leaves you with is Dick Laymon was a magnificent, generous, encouraging, hard working human being who inspired everybody he came into contact with.