Guest Blog Post: Jeff Carter – HELLRANKER

Today I’m giving over the blog to my friend and fellow author Jeff Carter, who if you’ll recall, has been a guest here in the past, previously rating the Friday the 13th series.

This time around, he took a look at the inimitable Hellraiser, it’s fine sequel, Hellraiser 2….and all those other ones. I actually liked the one with the detective, but we’ll see what he says….he has such sights to show you.

In the meantime, I’m off to my Extra Life 24 hour Dungeons and Dragons session for Children’s Hopsital LA. I’ll see you next week, if I make my Con saves.

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I watched the Hellraiser move franchise, so you don’t have to.

Hellriaser-Pinhead-Barker

Every year I watch a horror movie franchise (my top ten Friday the 13th list is here).  I’m working my way through them all.  Nightmare on Elm Street.  Halloween.  Chucky.  There were a lot of laughs, a few groans and the occasional scare, but it’s usually a fun time.

There are 9 Hellraiser movies with rumors of a remake in the wind.  I was looking forward to rewatching the first few that had terrified and haunted me, and was curious to see what strange places the franchise went in its many sequels.

It was torturous, but like the Cenobites say, you can’t know pleasure without pain.  While diving back into the first film, I was struck by how joyless the world of Hellraiser is compared to other horror films.  Many slasher films have more victims and grisly torture and dismemberment, but for lack of a better word, they’re fun.  You know, for the kids!  Hellraiser is a different, darker breed, existing in the hellish space between the first Texas Chainsaw Massacre and the torture porn of Hostel and Saw.

The more sequels I watched, the better the original looked.  The grim atmosphere of the first movie is justified by its artistic ambitions.  The sequels are just torturous.

  1. Hellraiser 9: Revelations

Ye Gods, this film is terrible.  It was an ultra low budget movie, written and shot in 3 weeks so that Dimension could keep the rights to the franchise.  To quote Clive Barker, the author of the Hellraiser stories and director of the first film, “If they claim it’s from the mind of Clive Barker, it’s a lie. It’s not even from my butt-hole.

What should have been a saving grace is that it was at least written as a Hellraiser movie, and centered around some core elements: The Puzzle Box, Pin Head, The Cenobites, the bone demon, The revolving pillars of flesh, the resurrection from a bloody mattress, the hooked chains.  Here they feel tired and perfunctory. This is the only film in which Doug Bradley does not portray Pin Head, and it is amazing how sorely he is missed.

  1. Hellraiser 6 – Hellseeker

This movie commits the most grievous sin of all: it’s boring.  The three main sets are an office cubicle, a police station, and a warehouse.  Trevor, the mayhem guy from the Allstate commercials, is trying to piece together how his wife came to die in a tragic car crash.

Things go from dull to worse, and then suddenly we’re in continuity city.  His wife was Kirsty, the ‘last girl’ from Hellraiser 1 & 2.  Trevor tried to kill her with the puzzle box, but she turned the tables by selling him out to Pin Head.  It’s way too much too late.

Hellraiser Hellseeker mayhem

“Switch to Allstate and avoid Mayhem, like me.”

  1. Hellraiser 7: Deader

Despite starring the always watchable Kari Wuhrer, this film was a typical low budget shot-in-Romania flick.  Kari is an underground reporter sent to investigate a cult.  Their leader is a necromancer that is raising the dead with his puzzle box in order to find the chosen one that will…help him rule the world?  This movie made no sense and featured precious little Pin Head, because it was in the straight to video run that took pre-existing horror scripts and shoe-horned in the Hellraiser Mythos.

  1. Hellraiser 8: Hellworld

This movie was a grave disappointment.  The premise: a diabolical website lures and kills teens.  I thought this would be wonderfully ridiculous.  It was just ridiculous.

The continuity here is off the charts in the weirdest way.  The spoiled thrill seekers that play the Hellraiser on-line game wear Cenobite masks and talk about the ‘Lament Configuration’.  While they manipulate a virtual cube on their screens the website plays sound bites of Pin Head’s voice from earlier films.  Strangest of all, one of the characters wears a T-Shirt with a photo of Pin Head’s face on it.

Hellworld t-shirt

 

“It’s just a crazy internet game!” (Actual dialogue)

It’s really bizarre and a giant cop out.  This is the Friday the 13th Part 5 of the series, in that Pin Head is not the killer here.

The website was simply created to lure the spoiled teens to a rave (in eastern Europe, of course) where they could be separated and tortured.  Pin Head only appears briefly because this is another story to which the mythos was later added.  Not even a young Henry Cavill or an old Lance Henrickson could redeem this one.

cavill

“Me am Bizarro.”

  1. Hellraiser 5 – Inferno

Part 5 was another sequel in name only, about a brilliant but reckless detective on a mind bending case to find the dark crime lord known as ‘The Engineer’.

This is another original script retooled as a Hellraiser story, but the source material and cast elevate this one above the later installments.  The mind games, plot twists and themes tie in quite nicely with the Hellraiser series.  And hey, it’s got James Remar!

hellraiser 5

“I’ve found a finger print.”

  1. Hellraiser 3: Hell on Earth

This movie was bold on many levels.  What starts as a cruel and greedy club owner’s deadly obsession with the puzzle box ends in a showdown between Pin Head and his own soul. First, a victim is wheeled into an emergency room while being torn apart by the puzzle box.  A reporter catches wind of the mystery and becomes a conduit for Pin Head’s soul to lure out and defeat the demonic Cenobite he has become.  Pin Head has a different goal: to open the gates of hell.

He very nearly succeeds, slaughtering hundreds of people in a night club and spilling his terror onto the city streets, murdering police officers and blowing up cars.  It’s totally bananas.  This one is so crazy they made a music video where Lemmy from Motorhead plays poker with Pin Head.

Cd

CD the DJ.  Raddest Cenobite ever?

  1. Hellraiser 4: Bloodline

Move over Jason X and Leprechaun, it’s time for Hellraiser to go to space.

I don’t know why the director took his name off this one.  It’s clever, it’s interesting and it deepens the mythos.  We go back hundreds of years, to the origins of the puzzle box, created by   the genius toy maker L’Merchant.  A loathsome aristocratic sorcerer (and his apprentice Adam Scott!) uses the cube to open a gate to hell and summon a demon.

In present day, the demon travels to the office building (seen in the last shot of part 3) patterned after the puzzle box.  L’Merchant’s descendant, John Merchant, tries to destroy the cenobites and redeem his family legacy.

Finally, in the distant future, Paul Merchant intends to get it right on a giant space station.  Pin Head and the demon appear, there’s a robot, there’s lasers…it’s pretty sweet.

hellraiser4cubelightalt

It’s a disco inferno.

  1. Hellraiser 2: Hellbound

This sequel continues right where part 1 left off.  Kirsty, the ‘last girl’ from the previous film is understandably committed to an asylum.  Unfortunately, the brain surgeon in charge of the facility, Dr. Channard, is a bit of a collector.  He has a vast trove of occult objects, including dozens of puzzle boxes and a secret dungeon filled with insane patients.

Using their blood, Channard wants to resurrect Julia. Like her lover before her, Julia died after opening the puzzle box and can now be resurrected with fresh blood.  She seduces the doctor and offers him power in the hell dimension.

Things get worse from there.  Leviathan, the lord of hell, transforms the doctor into a funky new Cenobite with an overly elaborate, fatally flawed design and the dark power of…claymation?

Dr_Channard

“At least I’m not based on CDs or cigarettes!”

This movie has a Cenobite fight.  Why? I don’t know, but when I was a young horror fan such things were the stuff of dreams.  This is also the start of Kirsty’s negotiations with Pin Head, and his journey into remembering who he was before he first opened the puzzle box and became a pawn of hell.

This movie brings back much of the cast from the first film, including the sleazy mover.  When Doug Bradley was approached for the first Hellraiser, he was given the choice of playing Pin Head or the Sleazy Mover.  Sleazy Mover made it into 2 movies, but I think Doug made the right choice.

  1. Hellraiser

This movie holds up.  It’s rich, thematic and dark.  It’s a creepy psycho-sexual drama with a wildly original premise and some of the most jaw dropping character makeup you will ever see.

This is the story about a man returning to his childhood home with his new wife.  We never learn what went so terribly wrong, but the house is filled with shrouded religious objects and unspoken history. His new bride is distant and cold.  She secretly yearns for the forbidden passion she shared with Frank, her husband’s dead, degenerate brother.

In a visceral, creepy scene the man gouges his hand open while moving a mattress up the rickety stairs.  The blood resurrects Frank in an epic birth sequence and sets the stage for the family’s ruination.

Frank

“I don’t know why I even bother wearing white anymore.”

In the Clive Barker story, the leader of the Cenobites was simply called ‘priest’ or ‘The Engineer’.  Even though he was simply billed as ‘Lead Cenobite’, the Hellraiser franchise was built with the nails from his pointy head.  Doug Bradley is a commanding presence.  His creepy one liners are the high lights of the next few installments, and he fills the screen with cruel delight.

This movie is a true original.  It is a dark drama, with themes of obsession and transgression, an amour fou taken to the ultimate extreme.  It creates a dark universe with hints of diabolical mechanics and secret rules, bound together with pain and desire.

If you are looking to explore the franchise, enjoy the first four and skip the rest.  If you try to watch all 9, like I did, “your suffering will be legendary even in hell.”

——

Jeff C. Carter’s most recent work in print appears in O LITTLE TOWN OF DEATHLEHEM, now available in paperback and Kindle from Amazon.  Get more Halloween stuff at his blog Compendium of Monsters and say hey on Facebook and Goodreads.

DT Moviehouse Review: The Cabin In The Woods

Time once more for my blog feature, DT Moviehouse Reviews, in which I make my way alphabetically through my 200+ DVD/Blu-Ray collection (you can see the list right here) and decide if each one was worth the money. Today, and a perfect fit for the Halloween season, I review Drew Goddard and Josh Whedon’s The Cabin In The Woods.

Directed by Drew Goddard

Screenplay by Drew Goddard and Josh Whedon

Tagline: You think you know the story.

cabin-in-the-woods-poster-hi-res

What It’s About:

33d5bfc8College students Dana (Kristen Connolly), Holden (Jesse Williams), Marty (Franz Kranz), Jules (Anna Hutchinson), and Curt (Chris Hemsworth) depart for a secluded weekend at a remote forest cabin and ‘accidentally’ summon up an undead clan of pain worshipping murderers who begin to stalk and kill them one at a time. But is all as it seems, or are they being manipulated for some mindbending, sinister purpose by office managers Sitterson (Richard Jenkins) and Hadley (Bradley Whitford)?

Why I Bought It:

After a premature run-in (in a dark room no less) with the head twisting scene in The Exorcist when I was six or seven years old, I actively avoided watching horror movies for about nine years, finally breaking the ‘fast’ with, ironically enough, Exorcist III.

CITW_-_floaty_girlI’m really lucky that Exorcist III was such a great flick, or I never would have backtracked and sought out all the scary movies I’d missed.

And I never would have ‘got’ The Cabin In The Woods.

I never actually realized what a horror hound I had become until I saw this.

This is probably one of the greatest horror movies ever made, period. It’s so enjoyable it almost seems like every single horror movie that has gone before was created specifically so this could come into being.

Make no mistake, to fully appreciate the greatness of this movie you have to have at least a passing familiarity with Hellraiser, The Shining, Dracula, An American Werewolf In London, The Mummy, HP Lovecraft, It, The Ring, Suspiria, Evil Dead, Halloween, Juh On, David Cronenberg, George Romero, Scream, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Troll, Poltergeist, Alien, and Friday The 13th.

5pR6aThis is really a movie that benefits in a huge way from going in entirely blind. What a hard movie to cut a trailer for! Being kind of jaded about the summer slasher movie genre, the very title The Cabin In The Woods was a turnoff for me. I’m not into the torture porn genre made popular by stuff like Hostel and Saw and assumed this was going to be more of the same. It looked like yet another vanilla cookie cutter teens in peril flick. There would be some topless scenes, some beer drinking and pot smoking, and in the end, the smartest guy (or more likely, girl) would go through hell at the hands or claws of some inbred hillbilly stereotype or a zombie or plague crazy gutmuncher and maybe get away in the end, maybe not.

Then a couple people whose opinion I trusted started sounding off that this was great, but wisely (and I thank them) refused to give details as to what was so great about it.

Just watch it, they said.

So after a long time of not thinking about it, I finally rented it.

Little did I know that Cabin In The Woods would contain just about every clichéd trope in my aforementioned laundry list….and yet still somehow manage to be entirely original. Thrillingly, awesomely original, and more, a hilarious, subversive in-joke directed solely at horror fans.

This is not to say that you have to be a horror junkie with an all-encompassing knowledge of everything the genre has to offer. It’s just that it offers so much more if you’re a nerd.

Surface-wise, the plot alone is entertaining and the tag line says it all. Going into it, you think you know what’s going to happen. The very title evokes a paint by numbers scenario. Early on though, you realize something weird is going on, when the movie opens not with the teens gearing up for their weekend, but a couple of middle-aged salarymen in suits preparing for some big to-do at their white, sterile workplace.

Of course, then we get the obligatory scenes where get to know who’s who and who’s with who, which is the jock, which the brain, which the burnout. Yet there’s still something just a little off. Our football hero has in-depth knowledge of socio-economic theory. Our stoner and his wild conspiracy theories make more and more sense as the movie progresses. The boy’s aren’t slavering pussy hounds – when one discovers a two-way mirror looking into the object of his desire’s room and she starts to undress, we don’t get the voyeuristic topless scene. He knocks on the wall and lets her know what’s going on (does she do the same for him later on?).

As we go deeper down the rabbit hole of Cabin In The Woods, our expectations start unraveling. A bird hits an invisible force field. The office guys are shown to be having some effect on the behavior of the kids. There are tantalizing hints toward some greater purpose being fulfilled. And when the kids start acting like we expect them to, it’s unexpected.

whedon4

W.T.F! Yeah, Cabin In The Woods is kinda like this.

By the time a character we thought was dead returns, we know this same drama is being enacted all over the world for some strange reason and I doubt anybody who hasn’t seen this movie or read about it beforehand can guess what the heck is happening. Yet it’s not all some fly-by-night-pull-it-out-of-your-ass-make-it-up-as-you-go-along thing. By the time Sigourney Weaver shows up to explain it all, it’s like the last piece of a puzzle is fitting into place and you think to yourself, “Ahhhh that’s perfect.”

It’s a real treat to be surprised by a movie, and it’s even better to be totally delighted by it as a genre fan.

cabinboardFor me, the movie really takes off when they go down into that cellar and find it packed to the gills with thinly disguised items from other movies. The puzzle ‘ball,’ referencing both Hellraiser and perhaps Phantasm. The diary with the incantations right out of Evil Dead. It’s all intercut with that wonderful whiteboard the office workers are all betting over, crammed with achingly great references to threats from across the horror spectrum. When that scene passes and you realize what’s about to happen, you love it, but a small part of you thinks in the back of your head, “Aw man, it would’ve been so great if they’d gone with the BLANK instead.”

And then, maybe twenty or thirty minutes later, they hit the Purge button and it’s Christmas morning, as every monster and beast, every ghost and murderer on that board floods your screen.

The_Monsters_The_Cabin_in_the_Woods-1024x426Cabin In The Woods that does the impossible. It’s a flick with a one off plot twist so great you can’t possibly expect it to be rewatchable once you know it’s coming. But you do watch it again. And you rewind and pause and slow mo it to death to see all those white board monsters tear their way through the complex. Geez there’s even a 50 foot woman in one of those cages.

One of the most supremely satisfying movies I’ve ever seen.

And, like the complexity of the plot itself, it’s smart. You can still delve a level deeper beyond the monsters and uncover a rich examination of the movie fan himself. There’s a great scene when Hemsworth and Hutchinson are being manipulated via hormone gasses, temperature, and lighting to have sex in the woods, and the team of manipulators are shown hanging on the scene from their viewing room, waiting for Hutchinson to show her breasts and groaning when she initially defers. How many guys have sat together watching a horror movie at home or in a theater and experienced the same audience reaction? It’s a funny scene, and yet the makers bring it back a step when Hadley and Sitterson dismiss the greater portion of the crew and put their full resources toward getting Hutchinson to disrobe, ostensibly for the viewing pleasure of the Old One (is the band of randy office drones a stand in for the moviegoing audience, which is funny, or is it the Old One, which suggests something more unseemly). Their expressions completely change. They’re almost sad to do it. But the Old One must be appeased. The tropes of the ritual must be adhered to.

When Marty says early on that the world needs to crumble, but everybody’s afraid to let it crumble, he speaks of the loss of privacy, the invasion of nebulous government watchers and dropping of sanctions on private life. This foreshadows the situation of the kids in the cabin, but doesn’t it also reflect on the fears of modern life in America?

What is the change Mary is calling for if we apply it to ourselves? Should the Old One rise up to completely tear down the system? Is popular entertainment an opiate used to keep that giant from waking up and breaking out? Maybe this is ham-handed political commentary to some, but then again how many of the general movie going audience came away with this message from something as innocuous seeming as a summer horror movie?

Cabin-In-The-WoodsIt also cleverly breaks the horror movie cliché down into a thematic, seemingly ancient codification. The athlete, the fool, the whore, the virgin. These are mystical concepts that really do occur throughout the history of human storytelling, and are most clearly represented in the cards of the Waite Tarot. The fool is often considered the stand-in for the questioner in a card divination. In Arthurian literature it’s the fool, often Sir Dagonet (as in Tennyson), Percivale (Perfect Fool) or in some cases (TH White) Merlin, who can look beyond the confines of his own story to comment on the greater meaning. The fool sees the strings, and can follow them to the storyteller. The fool attains the Grail, the greater, hidden knowledge, often to his detriment, as is the case with Marty here.

One wonders what cultural tropes the Old Ones in Japan need to see to keep them sleeping.

A thing I’ve said this in other reviews, but a good movie is entertaining. A great movie ‘moves’ the watcher, either moving their heart to experience some emotion, or moving the mind into a previously unconsidered mode of thought.

I would say The Cabin In The Wood is a great movie.

Best Dialogue/Line:

Marty’s weirdly funny and cryptic (and ultimately prophetic):

Cops will never pull over a man with a huge bong in his car. Why? They fear this man. They know he sees further than they and he will bind them with ancient logics.

Best Scene:

Without a doubt the best scene is the monster Purge I’ve already described above. This flick has a lot of funny moments amid all the horror. Mordecai on speakerphone comes to mind.

But if I had to pick a scene that never fails to make me laugh because it’s totally indicative of the multilevel enjoyment I get out of this movie, is when Hemsworth’s Curt tries to escape the area by jumping the gorge on his motorbike.

6487After their camper is blocked from escaping through the tunnel by an unexpected explosion which results in a cave-in, Curt devises a plan to jump the gorge and escape on his motorbike, vowing to return with the police, the national guard, the ghost of Steve McQueen the LA Raiders, and ten thousand Roman gladiators to get his friends out, and especially to avenge the horrifying death and post mortem beheading of his girlfriend.

He assures them he can easily make the jump, and cuts a heroic, Thor-like figure for a moment, revving his bike and nodding to them his assurance.

“You can’t hold back,” his friend Holden warns him. He has to achieve maximum velocity to make this leap to freedom.

“I never do,” Curt growls.

He cuts loose, leaps the bike into the air, and it looks like he’s going to make it, until he smashes head on into the invisible honeycomb field enclosing the area. His bike explodes in a fiery ball and we sees his lifeless body tumble down the long length of the shield wall, bouncing as it goes, giving us a glimpse as to how deep it really goes (perhaps it’s there to keep the Old One penned in?).

For the victims in the story, it’s a horrible, hope-smashing moment.

For the guys in the control center, it’s a sigh inducing close call, which if you think of the movie in the terms that they are actually the ones trying to preserve the world and all human life on it, is kind of a time bomb cut the blue wire hero moment for them.

And for me, I just burst out laughing. Is it a guilty laugh? Maybe upon multiple viewings, but the first time, no. I just found the failure of Curt’s heroics unintentionally hilarious, like a somebody calling their shot in a game and then fumbling utterly, or Jack Burton exuberantly shooting in his gun in the air before the big fight in Big Trouble In Little China and then getting knocked out by the falling plaster.

I wonder if this made the Old One chuckle in his bed too?

Next In The Queue: The Call Of Cthulhu

Extra Life! You know….for kids!

IMAG0402_ZOE006_SHOT

M’boys. Ready for action.

I’ve never been particularly athletically inclined. I did a little bit of basketball in middle school (I was terrible), the usual PE stuff in high school, and for a very brief period in college, some jogging and biking.

In high school though, I did discover and gravitate towards a certain group activity that in the 80’s was sort of a subcaste in terms of popularity strata, so far off the accepted social map as to be nearly clandestine (we gamed with a guy on the football team who the first day made me swear never to tell anybody he played -a secret I have upheld to his grave), and that was roleplaying games. First Dungeons and Dragons, the old gateway drug, then Cyberpunk, Rifts, Shadowrun, and Vampire: The Masquerade.

In college I ‘graduated’ from playing games to running them. I ran a West End Star Wars game for about two years, and I truly believe that this past time was instrumental in my development as a writer.

Thak fails his Wisdom save.

Thak fails his Wisdom save.

There’s something about tabletop roleplaying that develops the storytelling ‘muscle.’ It’s not just a buncha guys and gals huddling over a table snickering about elves. I really believe it’s a re-enactment of the primal form of human entertainment; sitting around in a group, telling stories to each other. Now we’ve got lightbulbs instead of a fire, and we chow on cylinders of Pringles and Diet Coke (though in my heyday it was Captain Morgan’s rum) instead of smilodon meat and fermented fruit juice (well, in some circles, that probably hasn’t changed much).

What part of "interactive gaming" is not a lie?

What part of “interactive gaming” is not a lie?

Roleplaying games sharpen the mind, quicken the pulse, and they’re a riot. Best of all, a tabletop game can’t be done alone, which dodges a troubling trend in entertainment geared towards youth. I love video games. As a multiple-kid-parent with a full time job and a burgeoning writing career, plug and play has been a godsend in terms of my own personal relaxation. I even worked in the video games industry for a little while. However, despite the interactive gaming tagline, you’re basically just staring at a screen for hours on end. The anonymity allows a lot of unsupervised, underage kids to spew a lot of horrendous garbage they would never dare say to a person whose eyes they could look into, and conversely, rather than teaching a kid to deal with somebody they might encounter in life who doesn’t have any social skills for whatever reason, you can just mute the little a-holes. Again, kind of foments universal disconnect rather than advancing the whole brotherhood of man concept.

IMAG0130But then at the beginning of this year, a friend of mine coaxed me back into rpging (D&D specifically) at the Local Gaming Store, and it’s been a revelation. Much more satisfying than vegging out to GTA (though I still do that too when I have the time).

Anyway, then Extra Life came along. As I mentioned, I have never been athletically inclined. I don’t run unless I’m being pursued or chasing down one of my toddlers, so I’ve watched the charity marathons some of my friends participate in a bit wistfully. I’d like to do something like that, I’m sure they’re having fun doing it, but it’s just not in my wheelhouse.

But this is.

Here’s the nitty gritty, straight from the mouth of the Extra Life bot -

“My local Children’s Miracle Network Hospital treats thousands of children each year, regardless of their family’s ability to pay. These kids are facing scary stuff like cancer, cystic fibrosis, and injuries from accidents to name just a few.

On October 25, 2014, I’ll be participating in this huge worldwide celebration of the social impact of gamers of all kinds from video games to board games and tabletop RPG’s! It’s my sincere hope that you’ll find it in your heart to support my efforts with a monthly pledge or one-time gift that will go directly to my hospital.

Your donation is tax-deductible and ALL PROCEEDS go to help kids.

I need your help to reach my goal.  Please make a safe, easy donation online today.  Click the “Support This Participant” button on this page to get started.  Thank you so much for supporting my efforts!”

My friend and I will be participating in a 24-hour marathon session of the new fifth editions of Dungeons and Dragons this October the 24th at a local gaming store, JJ’s Gaming Lounge in Chatsworth. It’s a mad little endeavor that I hope will raise awareness of the heinous problems the less economically fortunate and infirm children of our country face daily when it comes to finding the affordable healthcare many people with more stable lives take for granted.

I’m blessed that my own kids are healthy and that the safety net of a medical plan is there for them if they need it. I want to show that gratitude now by giving back in a small way. My chosen charity is the Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles, altruistic folks who can always use a helping hand helping others. I believe the D&D team for Extra Life has already pledged something over one million dollars total, so it’s not just a lark.

Please, if you have the means and are so inclined, catch the link below for a similar version of what I just posted here and the more-important donation button.

-Hasta pronto.

http://www.extra-life.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=donorDrive.participant&participantID=113334

Published in: on October 7, 2014 at 8:29 am  Leave a Comment  
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Lock And Load! World War Cthulhu on sale!

Dark Regions Press’ WORLD WAR CTHULHU is available for purchase.

World War Cthulhu: A Collection of Lovecraftian War Stories

World War Cthulhu: A Collection of Lovecraftian War Stories

Buy from Amazon

You can read an excerpt from my short story THE BOONIEMAN right here.

Each of the stories has an accompanying illustration from M. Wayne Miller (who also did the cover for my Van Helsing in Texas novel TEROVOLAS). Here’s the one for THE BOONIEMAN. A ting of beauty, ain’t it?

wwc

How do you kill a senses shattering monstrosity from beyond the outer dark? Easy. You just don’t lead it as much.

Published in: on September 25, 2014 at 1:49 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , ,

De Horrore Cosmico At Kickstarter

6c586547735714014eda8f29c8cfc9f8_largeGolden Goblin Press is into the final seventeen days of their kickstarter for He Horrore Cosmico, six scenarios the the Cthulhu Invictus game. In their own words:

Long before ivy grew on the walls of Miskatonic University or the Deep Ones first came to Innsmouth, centuries before the mad Arab penned the dreaded Necronomicon, the malevolent powers of the Cthulhu Mythos plagued mankind. During the Age of the Antonines (96 AD–192 AD), when the Roman Empire was at the peak of its power, dark and unknowable forces were at work.  Ancient wizards sought ways to cheat death, explorers stumbled on the remnants of alien civilizations, foul cults practiced unholy rites, and inhuman creatures sought to mix their blood with ours.

Across Rome’s vast empire, a few brave men and women rose up to meet these threats for the greater good of mankind. They carried light into the darkness, dispelling a poisonous taint which grows best in the shadows. With steel and spell and burning torch, these heroic investigators of the ancient world defended their civilization from the fearsome powers of the Cthulhu Mythos. Golden Goblin Press is proud to offer up six of their adventures.

58634b4826cb1310d0efd57fb05efddc_largeOnce GG Press hits the $23,000 stretch goal, they’ll be putting out a companion fiction anthology edited by Brian Sammons and featuring nine stories of Lovecraftian horror set in Roman times to fire the imagination of players and GMs.  The lineup for that book consists of -

Vulcan’s Forge, by William Meikle
To the Fertility of the Empress, by Christine Morgan
A Plague of Wounds, by Konstantine Paradias
Time Devours All, by Pete Rawlik
The Unrepeatables, by Edward M. Erdelac
Signs of the Black Stars, by Penelope Love
Lines in the Sand, by Tom Lynch
The Temple of Iald-T’quthoth, by Lee Clark Zumpe
The Seven Thunders, by Robert M. Price

My tale, The Unrepeatables, is about Damis of Nineveh, the lifelong friend and companion of the renowned mystic and miracle worker Apollonious of Tyana, and an ex-legionnaire insinuating themselves into the estate of a famous charioteer to investigate rumors that he is profaning the secret and sacred Eleusinian Mysteries.

More about the story as the book is funded – which means, hey, if you like Roman history and Cthulhu, go kick Golden Goblin Press a buck or two. They’ve got some really killer swag for backers, including Lovecraftian lare (household god figurines – which feature prominently in The Unrepeatables), custom Roman coins, and more.

DT Moviehouse Review: Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid

After a prolonged hiatus, it’s time once more for my blog feature, DT Moviehouse Reviews, in which I make my way alphabetically through my 200+ DVD/Blu-Ray collection (you can see the list right here) and decide if each one was worth the money. Today I review the timeless classic, Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid.

Directed by George Roy Hill

Written by William Goldman

Tagline: Not That It Matters, But Most Of It Is True.

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What It’s About:

In the waning days of the American West, notorious bank and train robbers Butch Cassidy (Paul Newman) and The Sundance Kid (Robert Redford) see the writing on the wall for their way of life and head for Bolivia and a fresh start with schoolteacher Etta Place (Katherine Ross).

Why I Bought It:

bandsdThe first trip I ever took the West Coast was with my parents. We did the tourist thing, walked Hollywood Blvd, and hit the wax museum. On the way out, my dad and I were pulled aside by the photographer in the gift shop, who put us in front of a screen (I think it was blue, maybe green) and snapped our picture, then put our heads on the bodies of Butch and Sundance, in that famous pose where they’re leaning against some crumbling Bolivian backdrop, possibly on the last day of shooting (no pun intended). And for probably the only time in my life, it was a perfect fit. My dad was Redford, and I was Newman. My mom bought it on the spot, and it’s hanging still in the basement of their house on the stairs going down to his model Santa Fe railroad layout, next to a framed photograph of the real life Hole In The Wall Gang I picked up somewhere.

I had never seen the movie at that point. I was maybe thirteen or fourteen and didn’t care a whit for westerns.

My love for the genre came much later, after I’d burned through Eastwood’s spaghetti westerns, John Ford, and the Duke and came the long long way around the barn back to the great American westerns of the late sixties and seventies, of which is this is one of the very best.

butchRewatching this movie is like slipping on an old coat, or seeing a couple friends from the old bunch. You know, the guys you were inseparable with in high school – only neither of you has changed. This is a flick carried on the shoulders of two giants in, if not star-making, star solidifying roles; Paul Newman as the irascible, likable Butch Cassidy, and Robert Redford as the winsome, steely eyed  Sundance Kid.  It’s impossible to imagine William Goldman’s words coming out of any other pair of actors. The charisma, the affability of the two leads is irrepressible, inimitable. Newman and Redford are one of the greatest pairings in movie history, right up there with Bacall and Bogart, Flynn and DeHavilland, Tracy and Hepburn.  This is the touchstone of male buddy movies. Without it Shane Black could never have a career.

If it sounds like I’m taking this one up inordinately, it’s just that there’s nothing to  really say about BC&tSK except praise.  The word classic gets bandied about for every superhero movie and Disney cartoon that comes down the pike – but this is the real deal. A bona fide Hollywood classic. If you haven’t seen it, your repertoire has a great big hole.

butch_cassidy_and_the_sundance_kid_enough_dynamiteButch and Sundance is the father of bromance movies. It’s a platonic love affair between two guys who are so good together the people they rob step out of cover just to see them do their shtick.  The lawmen that should be arresting them on sight offer them a place at their table. They’re the ideal romantic outlaws, stealing from the modernizing, corporate juggernaut of the advancing railroad and somehow never having a dime to retire on because they frankly suck at it. They don’t kill anybody, take no personal effects, and spend what they earn like water on the myriad of fairweather friends and women who appear out of the woodwork after they pull a job and fade away when the money’s gone. It’s their fallibility that makes them loveable. For as renowned a train and bank robber Butch is, sometimes he uses too much dynamite. For as deadly a gunfighter as Sundance is, he can’t hit the broad side of a barn if he’s not bending, spinning and twisting while he shoots, like some kind of proto-Jon Woo heroic bloodshed protagonist.

I call it a love affair. It’s definitely about the relationship between Butch and Sundance (I think, without any of the homoerotic subtext that you’d expect), but moreso, it’s a love affair between them and us, the audience. It doesn’t take long to fall for Butch and the Kid. They’re devilishly good looking, but again, their fallibility makes them seem real, like a pair of guys you’d like to hang out with, not movie stars aping real people. Katherine Ross has an admittedly light role as schoolteacher and Sundance’s paramour Etta Place, but she’s almost like the blank protagonist character in a video game. She’s the audience, wooed by these two guys into participating in their crazy lives for the thrill. But she’s also, I think, a stand-in for Goldman and George Roy Hill. Everybody falls for Butch and Sundance. You just can’t help it. The filmmakers can’t help it. I think the actors couldn’t even help it. That’s why Newman’s charity for mentally disabled youths was called Hole In The Wall, and Redford’s continuing film festival is named for Sundance.  These are such well written parts. It’s a lightning strike. Perfection.

The rest of the cast is a cornucopia of familiar faces, all memorable even in their minute roles. The Addams Family’s Ted ‘Lurch’ Cassidy as Butch’s enormous, ambitious, and surprisingly clever underling Harvey Logan. Strother Martin rasping through Sweet Betsy From Pike. Jose Torvay, the bandit with the watch from Treasure Of The Sierra Madre, playing a bandit again here. In the opening scene where Butch defuses an ornery gunfighting gambler with a mere mention of Sundance’s name, you can just about make out Sam Elliot’s left hand as he vacates the card table.

butchcassidy-420x0One of the more ingenious elements is Burt Bacharach’s swinging, playful score which on paper sounds like a recipe for disaster, but plays perfectly, lending the three montage sequences in which it’s specifically brought to the forefront a fun, airy quality, particularly the song, Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head, which plays over a brilliant scene of Newman and Ross just playing around on a bicycle. There’s an underlying sadness to the musical numbers too in their down moments, which matches the images excellently. There’s a sad clarinet and accordion duet during the travel montage in which, via a series of still photos, we see Sundance and Etta dancing at a New Year’s ball on the passenger liner while Butch looks on a little sadly, then dozes in a chair. Very lyrical without a word spoken.

I once heard James Coburn tell a story about working on Pat Garrett And Billy The Kid in which he said that the day before they were to shoot Kristofferson’s death scene, Sam Peckinpah confided to Coburn, “I just don’t wanna kill him.”

600full-butch-cassidy-and-the-sundance-kid-screenshotWe don’t want to see Butch and Sundance get their inevitable comeuppance. Yet when the boys brutally gun down a gang of Bolivian bandits, we know they’ve somehow crossed a line they won’t return from. It’s the heartbreak of the movie that is telegraphed by the bicycle salesman and the relentless, never in focus superposse led by the ominous night tracking Lord Baltimore and Joe LeFors in his white skimmer, and by Jeff Corey’s Sheriff Bedsoe, who warns them, “Your times is over and you’re gonna die bloody. All you can do is choose where.” Etta tells them before well before parting ways, “I won’t watch you die. I’ll miss that scene if you don’t mind.” And whether by some mercy of Hill or reluctance of Goldman, we are spared the final heartbreak of say, The Wild Bunch. Butch and Sundance are surprised by Bolivian troops and after a desperate rush for the horses, are repelled and wind up surrounded by the Bolivian Army. Already bleeding from a half dozen wounds, Butch suggests they try Australia next. They trade a quip about LeFors and rush out shooting. We hear the Bolivian commander give the order to fire, we hear the crash of the guns, but like Bruce Lee forever leaping at the camera in the final shot of Fist Of Fury (no doubt lifted from this), the boys are washed in sepia, not blood, and we get to remember them as we loved them, game and daring, framed in the same daydream magic tones of the clever, old timey cinematograph opening credits.

This movie made legends of the real Butch and Sundance as much as it did the men who portrayed them.

It’s also, on a personal note, a movie I will forever associate with my father.

Best Bit Of Dialogue:

Butch 7 End“If he’d just pay me what he’s spending to make me stop robbing him, I’d stop robbing him!”

Best Scene:

The escape from the superposse via the jump from the cliff is hilarious, and deserving of the description classic, but my personal favorite is the moment Butch and Sundance first attempt to rob a Bolivian bank. This has been Butch’s big brainchild the whole movie, and their reason for retreating the heat in America for this tiny but booming South American nation. The first time they try to size up a bank, they are discouraged by a friendly teller who fends them off with simple Spanish, which neither of them can speak or understand.  This necessitates Etta having to tutor them in Spanish. Sundance neglects his lessons for amorous pursuits with her, and Butch scrawls his answers on a crib sheet in the next room when she quizzes them.

They burst into their first job, guns drawn, Butch yelling “Estu es un robo!”

The patrons raise their hands and go to the wall, Sundance covering them.

Butch fumbles through a couple false starts of Spanish, then furiously digs out his wrinkled crib sheet and reads;

“Manos arriba!”

Sundance, exasperated, yells;

“They GOT ‘em up! Skip on down!”

“Arriba!”

“SKIP ON DOWN!”

“Todos ustedes arrismense a la pared!”

“They’re AGAINST the wall ALREADY!”

Butch squints at the paper.

“Donde es….AWWWW You’re so damn smart, YOU read it!”

He flings it down and stalks forward with his gun. Sundance empties the drawers and they run out of the bank, bickering all the way, Sundance muttering “A goddamned CRIB SHEET.”

Would I Buy It Again?

Undoubtedly.

Next In The Queue: Cabin In The Woodsishot-2205

My Coolest Story From Comic Con 2014

Sergio Out Take 3I’m a bit late in posting this, but I wanted to share the coolest thing I saw at San Diego Comic Con two weeks ago. I took no pictures (wish I had) so I guess you’re gonna have to take my word for it. But Sergio Aragones is a genuinely nice man, and I think he’ll bear this story out if you just ask him.

Whenever I go I invariably see celebrities, and my daughter and her friend always grill me about who I saw. This year crossing the street I could’ve reached out and slapped Chris ‘Captain America’ Evans on the shoulder (and got my arm broken by his entourage for it), I shared a train with Anthony Head, and spied Robert Carlyle on the corner with his little girl hanging on his arm.

But I haven’t braved the colossal lines of Hall H since they announced the title for Revenge Of The Sith, and I don’t really go to star watch anyway. It’s Comic Con. I go to buy comics and just generally gawk and mingle.

So I’m a big Sergio Aragones fan, a big Groo The Wanderer fan. I don’t think you can be a fan of Robert E. Howard’s Conan without liking Groo – or you shouldn’t. It’s wonderful social satire centering around a bumbling barbarian parody of Conan. One of the first comics I ever collected, and filled marging to margin with astounding art. For those that don’t know, Sergio Aragones is one of the best artists working today – a living legend. He’s an Eisner Award winning cartoonist who began his career doodling in the margins of Mad Magazine and he’s probably the fastest cartoonist alive. He’s….aw heck, just look at these samples.

aragones3 aragones4 aragones5 aragoneswoodstock1_3

Mad #500-028-29The way Sergio fills a page is nothing short of extraordinary. A running joke in the pages of Groo was the exasperation of colorist Tom Luth who had to inject color into these staggeringly detailed crowd scenes….a task involved enough to drive anybody insane, but which Luth performed admirably on a monthly basis for a number of years. Sergio packs his splash pages with dynamic individuals and a myriad of hidden side jokes.  The only artist that comes close to what Sergio does, in my opinion, is Geoff Darrow.geoffReally, if I had the money to commission them both, and if they were willing, my dream is to have two pieces of art hanging side by side on my wall, one featuring Groo slicing his way through one of Geoff’s backgrounds, and the other of Darrow’s Shaolin Cowboy fighting through an army of Sergio’s cartoon denizens.

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Anyway, all gushing aside, I always make it a point to stop by Sergio’s table when I’m at San Diego. It’s always a treat to see what he’s up to, and just listen to him, and once his wife baked a plate of awesome brownies for everybody.  This year I was in line to pick up a copy of his new Groo Vs. Conan comic (something I’ve anticipated for decades), and he was telling a story to the guy in front of me out of the pages of Sergio Aragones Funnies, his anthology series of illustrated autobiographical anecdotes (he has led a fascinating life). I had read somewhere his father had once been a line producer on movies in Mexico, but he was talking about his dad’s work on the movie Animas Trujano, which featured his (and my own) idol Toshiro Mifune as a Mexican revolutionary.

animas-trujanoMifune is one of the all-time great Japanese film actors, who solidified his place in history in movies like Yojimbo and The Seven Samurai. He was the John Wayne to Akira Kurosawa’s John Ford, like DeNiro to Martin Scorcese, and if he’s been in a bad movie I’ve frankly never seen it. Apparently Animas Trujano, as absurd as his casting may sound, was no exception – Sergio said it was nominated for the Mexican Academy Award, and a little internet digging confirms this.  Sergio told us Mifune didn’t know a word of Spanish, but learned his lines phonetically, like Shih Kien in Enter The Dragon. As we were geeking out about this cool little inside story, Sergio pulled the topper, the thing that put this neat little moment over the edge for me. He reached into his thick, worn wallet, dug a bit, and produced one of those old Kodak photographs where the colors are mostly orange and a bit blown out and there’s a white border around the image – those kind you don’t see anymore and is basically only preserved in Instagram filters and crackling old photo albums.  In the picture are two sun reddened men with their arms over each other’s shoulders buddy style, smiling at the camera through their brushy black whiskers. From the peon costume of one of the men it looked almost like a behind the scenes still from a Sergio Leone movie, as if Gian Maria Volonte had taken a break in his Indio costume and taken a shot with a friend on the crew.

“Here’s a picture of my father on set with Mifune,” he said. “He really looked Mexican.”

Totally blown away. Knowing my tastes as readers of this blog may, it was like all the stars of my fandom aligned perfectly at once in some kind of Great Conjunction. I was standing at San Diego Comic Con, talking with one of my all-time favorite artists, looking at a candid, unpublished photo of one of my all-time favorite actors.

I felt weird asking to take a picture of him holding a personal photo of his dad, so I didn’t. But next time you’re at Sergio’s table, if you’re a Mifune fan, ask to see it.

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Published in: on August 4, 2014 at 10:53 am  Leave a Comment  
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From Pompeii To The Endeavour

Visited the California Science Center yesterday to see the Pompeii exhibit.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESThe Ancient Roman artifacts were very elegant and striking, but the last room with its casts of dead men, women, and children left me a bit shaken. The physical attitudes of a group of three people who expired on a set of stairs, the last apparently huddled behind the legs of another, and that of a young pregnant woman turned on her face, one hand to her belly…. I couldn’t help but project myself into the lives of those long deceased citizens facing what must have amounted to Armageddon. With no word for volcano in the ancient Latin language and no mass communications lines to inform them of natural phenomena they did not personally have knowledge of, what must they have experienced on that final terrible day when the ambivalent mountain in whose shadow they’d lived their lives suddenly burst open and vomited fire and hot ash into the sky? It must have been horrifying; mind-splitting. They must have died in abject terror; what an ant suddenly exposed to focus sunlight through some unfathomable child’s magnifying glass must experience – to have your life choked off by something completely beyond your comprehension.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESWe ended the visit with a look at the space shuttle Endeavour, a really awe-inspiring sight in its own right. When you walk in the shuttle is like an immense bird only a few feet overhead, a bit battered and weathered from its journies.

The myriad heat panels that cover it are very like an intricate mosaic from the floor of one of Pompeii’s atriums, perfectly interlocked shingles whose individuality are only perceivable upon close inspection. Nearly two thousand years in the span of an hour or two. I couldn’t look at the two without thinking that one was the pinnacle of human achievement and the other one of the deepest troughs of human tragedy. Did the children of Pompeii, who probably didn’t understand the volcanic eruption that killed them ever conceive of the world 2000 years in the future in their daydreams?

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESPeople live and die, new people are born. Do we feel cheated when we expire that we won’t see the progress of humanity? Is every individual a single piece in the advancement of all of humankind? The shuttle doesn’t mourn the loss of one or two heat tiles, and the artisans of Pompeii did not abandon their portraits in the face of a handful of broken tesserae.

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Dionysus (Bacchus) Enthroned

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Ptolemy II

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Unidentified bust of a forgotten Roman

Bit depressing I guess, but it was kind of an emotional seesaw to go from sorrow to elation SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESpompeiithat quickly.

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Household Lare

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Published in: on July 14, 2014 at 10:53 am  Leave a Comment  
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My Panel At San Diego Comic Con

The Thursday schedule for San Diego Comic Con 2014 is now up at their site, and if you scroll down to the 7pm slot you’ll see a familiar name…..

Word Building -

Robert Roach (Menthu, The Roach), Gini Koch (Alien Collective), Ed Erdelac (Terovolas),Nathan Long (Blackhhearts Omnibus), and Nancy Holder (Wicked Saga) discuss structure and storytelling, the use of pacing, and how certain creators use a timeline to build flow. Moderated by Jeffrey Twohig.
Thursday July 24, 2014 7:00pm – 8:00pm
Room 32AB
So if you’re in the neighborhood of Room 32AB that evening, come by and give a listen.

On This Day Richard Matheson Found What Dreams May Come

Today is the first anniversary of the day one of my five favorite writers of all time passed away.

little_girl_lost_chalk_portalMy first exposure to Richard Matheson was undoubtedly the Twilight Zone, where he delivered such classic episodes as the Nightmare At 20,000 Feet, Steel, Death Ship, and for me, the unforgettable Little Girl Lost, about a girl who tumbles through a spot in her bedroom wall into a pocket dimension.

Matheson famously split Captain Kirk into two halves via the transporter in The Enemy Within on the original Star Trek.

enemey-within-kirkThe first novel of his I can remember is I Am Legend. My high school English teacher had an old paperback copy of it sitting on the shelf. The cover art was of a man reaching up to heaven howling with a stake and a mallet in his hands as dozens of grasping hands clutched at him from the shadows. The cover copy read “The Last Man Alive On A Planet Of Vampires.”

It would be years before I read it, but it always stuck with me. It’s a seminal work, singularly most responsible for the zombie craze.

iamlegendI think the first book I read of his was The Shrinking Man, a harrowing, surprisingly existential story about a man shrinking to subatomic size.

The next, I think, was The Memoirs Of Wild Bill Hickock, a ‘found’ journal of the famous gunfighter debunking the myths of his life. I relished that book, one of the first westerns I ever read, and was astounded to make the connection at the end between this and ‘the guy who wrote for The Twilight Zone.’

Then I read What Dreams May Come.

It’s probably one of the finest, most life affirming novels I’ve ever read about the possibility of the continuance of the human soul unfettered by denominational dogma. A book I cherish, constantly recommend, and hope to pass on to my own children.

beardlessMatheson constantly surprised me. When I found out he’d written a World War II memoir, The Beardless Warriors, I rushed out and got it.  It’s a powerful first person account, deftly bringing a modicum of comprehension to the total insanity of war.

Another book that holds an honored place in my library is his collection of western short stories, some weird, many rivaling even early Elmore Leonard, By The Gun.

And prose wasn’t enough. Matheson was an accomplished screenwriter, penning such great flicks as The Devil Rides Out, and Somewhere In Time (based on his own novel, Bid Time Return).

Last year the world lost a very great talent.

Nothing further to add, except if you haven’t read Matheson, do so.

 

http://www.amazon.com/Richard-Matheson/e/B000AQ285E/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1403582681&sr=8-1

 

 

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