The Slasher Cycle Theory

Today some deep thoughts on slasher cinema from that deep thinkin’ pumpkinhead, Jeff Carter, author of Criterion from Crossroad Press and keeper of the Compendium Of Monsters.

Hallowe’en greetings, Ed-Heads.

I like to watch and review an entire horror franchise every October (see previous posts here and here). While every franchise has its ups and downs, nothing could prepare me for the mind shattering downward spiral of the Howling sequels. To spare you that suffering, I’ve pulled back for a wider look at the franchises in general.

In film school we were taught about Christian Metz’s ‘Genre Cycle Theory’. He wrote that each film genre begins in the Experimental Stage, evolves into the Classic Stage, devolves into the Parody Stage and ends in its Deconstruction Stage. With luck, the genre is reborn and the cycle continues.

You can see these rhythms play out across all forms of cinema. Without the masterful deconstruction of the Western genre in Clint Eastwood’s ‘Unforgiven’, we would never have received Paul Hogan’s ‘Lightning Jack’.

In my analysis of the great horror franchises, however, I have discovered strange mutations undreamt of by any stuffy French film critic. I give you Jeff C. Carter’s ‘Slasher Cycle Theory’.

These are more than just common tropes. They are essential rites of passage, and every great horror franchise must eventually pass through some or all of them:

The Original

Hilarity Ensues

3D!!!

Die Monster Die

Missing Monster

Magic!

Spaaaaaaace

Return to Roots

Das Preboot

Hilarity Ensues – while this sounds like Metz’s ‘Parody Stage’, these are not outright parodies like the Wayans brothers’ ‘Scary Movie’ series. This is when humor is injected into the horror, for better or worse.

Examples: Nightmare on Elm Street Part 4, Friday the 13th Part 6, Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, Child’s Play 4, Howling 3, Phantasm 2.

howling nuns

This doesn’t even scratch the surface of Howling 3: The Marsupials

3D!!! – For a genre that must constantly innovate, the gimmick of jumping off the screen is irresistible.

Examples: Nightmare on Elm Street Part 6, Friday the 13th Part 3, Texas Chainsaw Massacre 7.

Freddy 3D glasses.jpg

Get ready to dodge Dream Demons.

Die, Monster, Die – Slashers are notoriously hard to kill, but sometimes a tired franchise needs the promise of a ‘final chapter’ to get its viewers back.

Examples:  Nightmare on Elm Street Part 6, Friday the 13th Part 4, Halloween H20

jason dead

Fairly convincing….

Magic! – Sometimes the monsters are human, and sometimes there is a supernatural evil at work. During the Magic! stage, however, we get into some Harry Potter sh*t. I’m talking spells, dream demons and magic swords.

Examples: Nightmare on Elm Street Part 6, Friday the 13th Part 6, 7, 9, Halloween 5 & 6, Howling 2

howling magic

When being a werewolf is the least interesting thing about you…

Missing Monster – Probably the strangest mutation is when sequels lack their own main character.

Examples:  Friday the 13th Part 5, Halloween 3, Hellraiser 8

Michael on TV

Doesn’t count.

Spaaaaace – In these movies, no one can hear you scream.

Examples: Jason X (Friday the 13th Part 10), Hellraiser 4, Leprechaun 4

spaceraiser

Houston, we have a problem.

Return to Roots – With luck a franchise will shake off the gimmicks and return to its roots. Unlike the ‘Classic Stage’, which codifies the core elements, this is a hard won perspective about what audiences love about the series. Next to the originals, these are often the only scary movies in the franchise.

Examples: Nightmare on Elm Street Part 7,Halloween 7,Child’s Play 6, Phantasm 5

chucky smile.jpg

You can’t keep a Good Guy down.

Das Preboot – The unhallowed graves of infamous monsters are rarely left undisturbed. More often than not they are desecrated, updated and demystified with lousy prequels and reboots.

Examples: Nightmare on Elm Street 9, Friday the 13th Part 12, Halloween 9, Howling 4, Texas Chainsaw Massacre 5.

Robert says

How can the ‘Slasher Cycle Theory’ help you? Let the growing pains of our favorite franchises inspire you. The next time you’re feeling stale, try some magic, or take a trip to space. If that doesn’t help you return to your roots, perhaps you can go Back 2 Tha Hood.

Advertisements

Jeff Carter’s Criterion

Hey gang, turning my blog over to old friend and fellow author Jeff Carter, so he can tell you about his superhero novel Criterion from Crossroads Press, the fine folks who recently reprinted my novella collection With Sword And Pistol….

——————————————————————————————-

Hello Erdelmaniacs, thanks for having me back in the dusty confines of Delirium Tremens. I’ve been thinking about some of the influences on my new ‘Grimdark’ superhero novel Criterion.

The story for Criterion evolved from my short story ‘From the Barrel of a Gun’, featured in Humanity 2.0 alongside Ed’s outstanding novel ‘Perennial’. My main characters in both that story and my book are unpowered mortals.

Of all the sidekicks, cheerleaders and mascots, ‘Cadet’ is the only non-powered character that tries to fight super-humans. As you can imagine, this leads to a lot of good ol’ fashioned ass whoopings.

While I enjoy an unstoppable character like Kick-Ass or Dark Man, those guys are like Terminators. They feel no pain.

I love a character that feels pain and presses on. Deckard in Bladerunner. Brendan Frye in Brick. Bruce Willis in Die Hard and Last Man Standing. Frodo in Lord of the Rings. There are so many examples I won’t bother to list them all, because I’m here to tell you about the best.

pic 1

Ninja Scroll (1993), alongside Akira, was among the first wave of ‘japanime’ to hit American nerds and melt their faces. If you haven’t seen it, it’s about Jubei Kibagami, a wandering swordsman dragged into murderous intrigue. Caught between a group of monstrous killers and a government spy, he will stop at nothing to protect a woman he can never have.

Pic 2

Jubei’s got mad skills, but he is only human. He bleeds, breaks bones and loses teeth. If he has a superpower, it’s the ability to fight through the pain.

pic 3

Ninja Scroll is noir fiction. Jubei suffers as a pawn of powerful forces. He suffers because he does the right thing. He suffers because he fights for love.

“The noir hero is a knight in blood caked armor. He’s dirty and he does his best to deny the fact that he’s a hero the whole time.” – Frank Miller

pic 4

As Manga has so often taught us, if you ain’t spittin blood you ain’t trying.

I hope I have captured some of that struggle in my new book. If you like desperate heroes, over the top action and freaky villains you should check out Criterion.

CRITERION cover7.jpg

Criterion is available now in print and digital here:

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

Google Play

Smashwords

iTunes

Crossroad Press

 

Published in: on April 16, 2018 at 8:49 am  Comments (1)  
Tags: , , , ,

Thy Just Punishments in That Hoodoo, Voodoo That You Do from Angelic Knight/Ragnarok

Today editor and author Lincoln Crisler delivers another bouncing baby anthology, THAT HOODOO, VOODOO THAT YOU DO: A DARK RITUALS ANTHOLOGY with the help of Angelic Knight/Ragnarok Publications, the same fine folks who’ll be bringing you my novella collection WITH SWORD AND PISTOL this August.

Hoodoo-Front

The book has a great lineup (and an excellent cover by Shawn King and Joe Martin) –

“Sa fè lontan / Long Time, No See” by Sarah Hans
“Young Girls Are Coming to Ajo” by Ken Goldman
“Into the Mirror Black” by Tim Marquitz
“Severed” by Brandon Ford
“Afflicted” by A.J. Brown
“A Little Bit of Soul” by Craig Cook
“Coughs and Sneezes” by James K. Isaac
“Secret Suicide” by Amy Braun
“Wounds” by Greg Chapman
“Sturm und Drang” by Jeff C. Carter
“Shades of Hades” by E.J. Alexander
“For Love” by DJ Tyrer
“Gingerbread Man” by Rose Strickman
“Johnny Two Places” by Mark Mellon
“The Seed” by N.X. Sharps
“Late Payment” by Jake Elliot
“Masquerade” by C.A. Rowland
“Lessons from a Victory Garden” by Jason Andrew
“The Projectionist” by Timothy Baker
“The Right Hand Man” by J.S. Reinhardt
“Paper Craft” by Leigh Saunders

For my own offering, THY JUST PUNISHMENTS, I reached back into my own Roman Catholic upbringing for a tale of murder and (I hope) laughs.

It’s inspired by a throwaway line by Ward Bond in THE QUIET MAN (“I’ll read yer name in the Mass!”) which refers to the old belief that reading the name of a live person in the requiem for the dead portion of the Mass will result in their untimely death.

I was an altar boy in a Polish parish, and for this story, recalled a lot of the various draconian sisters, slightly inebriated priests, and disapproving old parishioners I have known.

THY JUST PUNISHMENTS concerns the matter of South Boston pastor Father Tim O’Herlihey, a bitter old racehorse aficionado who feeds his gambling addiction by regularly enacting a dark and blasphemous ritual under the noses of his parishioners, reading the names provided to him by a contract killer for the Southie Irish mob and then splitting the profit with him when the victims wind up dead. But when the neighboring parish closes for renovations a crotchety old lady named Mary Ladhe starts paying peculiarly close attention to his doings, and Father Tim finds himself matching wits with a lady of the Old Country, of the Old Magic….

Here’s an excerpt.

————————-

Twenty bucks later he had a black rooster in the kitty carrier and was on his way back to the church.

The sun had gone down and Eladio had locked up the church, but Father Tim had his keys.

He locked the door behind him, went into the sacristy, and changed into his vestments, taking the old red iron knife that had been his great uncle’s from the lock box at the bottom of his closet. He took the carrier out to the altar and lit the candles.

He laid out the chalice, missal, and the black corporal, and began the orate fratres.

“Orate, fratres, ut meum ac vestrum sacrificium acceptabile fiat apud Deum Patrem omnipotentem.”

The greatest injustice to the Roman rite had been the Vatican’s abandonment of Latin. His uncle had always told him that old words had power, and English diluted that power.

sanctuaryHe had loved the old Latin mass since his boyhood, and as an altar boy had not confined himself to the responses, but memorized even the priest’s words. Indeed, he had imagined himself not a mere server, but a kind of acolyte in the sacred traditions, a boy-priest on a mystic path. He sometimes fancied in his most blasphemous moments that the opulent house of God with its marble floors and golden accoutrements was his own throne room.

Then once during a particularly early mass, he had mistakenly dashed the silver paten against the edge of the altar and the Holy Eucharist had fallen to the floor. Just a clumsy, daydreaming boy’s mistake, but the entire congregation had let out a collective gasp that had colored his cheeks and ears.

The disapproving scowl of Father John as he stooped over to retrieve the Host by hand had solidified his embarrassment, and to make matters worse, Sister Doligosa had slapped him in the sacristy when he’d returned to change out of his cassock after mass.

“You serve like a cowboy,” the wrinkled old woman had scolded.

He’d been eleven, and run from the church with stinging tears.

He’d been something of a bad boy after that, smoking, profaning, drinking, fleeing wholly from the church in frustrated anger. He had decided that in that moment of innocent clumsiness, he’d been afforded a glimpse at the true nature of so-called believers; that they put more stock in pomp and ritual than in the true love of God.

Hypocrites.

Yet his dear mother had been worried at his turn around, and sent him off to spend time with his great Uncle Patrick, a priest himself from the old country, though of a decidedly different kind than any he’d ever met before or since.

Uncle Patrick had seen the anger in the boy, and one day coaxed the story of why he’d all but abandoned his faith.

To Tim’s surprise, Uncle Patrick had said;

“It’s entirely right you are, Tim. The world is populated wholly by dumb bleating sheep with no understanding whatsoever of the power of the Mass. The Mass is nothing less than magic, Tim. Magic passed down to us from the agents of the gods. And through it,” he said, touching the side of his red nose and winking one sky blue eye, “those with the knowing can bend the will of the angels to our own purpose.”

Tim recited the sursum coda,  sang the trisanctus and the hosanna, and then unlocked the carrier and took out the twitching black cockerel.

Now, with relish, he lifted the clucking chicken high with the iron knife and recited the consecration, the ultimate blasphemy, naming the fowl the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.

The knife was a relic of the Old Religion, Uncle Patrick had said, given to a monk named Finnian by one of the legendary Tuatha De, the magic folk of Old Ireland, Tuan mac Cairill.  The story was that the monk had sought out Tuan and preached the Gospel to him. Tuan had told the monk of his own gods, and that the monk Finnian had realized the folly of Christianity, and pledged himself to Tuan’s instruction. Tuan, knowing that Christ had conquered his people, saw an opportunity to keep their memory alive and strike at the Church from within. He bestowed Finnian with the sacred sacrificial knife, and the monk became the first of a secret line of priests who paid lip service to Christ but honored the old gods, and perverted the Mass to their ends whenever they could.

And so Tim had become the latest of that ancient line.

He passed the sacred knife of Tuan beneath the beak of the rooster and lets its blood piddle into the chalice.

When it was drained, he raised the brimming cup of blood and the dead animal carcass again to the empty church and proclaimed;

 “Per ipsum et cum ipso et in ipso est tibi Deo Patri omnipotenti in unitate Spiritus Sancti omnis honor et gloria per omnia saecula saeculorum.”

He recited the rest of the rite of transubstantiation, broke the chicken’s neck symbolically, and laid it on the paten.

Then, he recited in Gaelic the age old curse;

“Michael O’Bannon –

No butter be on your milk nor on your ducks a web

May your child not walk and your cow be flayed

And may the flame be bigger and wider

Which will go through your soul

Than the Connemara mountains

If they were a-fire.”

He raised the cup to his lips and downed the warm iron-tasting blood.

That night, as ever, he roasted and ate the chicken.

—————————-

I’m very proud of this story and hope enjoy it.

It can be gotten here –

http://www.amazon.com/That-Hoodoo-Voodoo-You-Anthology-ebook/dp/B00SQG9FFQ/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1422302407&sr=8-2&keywords=that+hoodoo+voodoo

Sláinte chuig na fir, agus go mairfidh na mná go deo!

Meaner Than Hell (2009)

This is the true story of the most spectacular failure of my life, the time I went for broke,swung for the fences, and made a feature film.

It was a ten day shoot, cost around ten thousand dollars, and clocked in around 89 minutes. It was a western.

It was Meaner Than Hell.

castwithsign2I moved from Chicago with my fiancée and son out to Los Angeles in the hope that I’d be able to make a living writing screenplays. I’d gone to school for it, graduated from Columbia College in Chicago with a degree saying I could do it, but had no ins. I spent my first two years out here temping at a major mortgage company, pretending to be busy in a cube, alternating between the same two pairs of beige slacks and basically hating my life.

Then in 2005 or so, Kaiser Permanente Hospital intervened in my future by buying the apartment building we’d been living in (we were now married and I had a little girl) and giving each of the residents $8500 to facilitate their move.

If I were smart, I would’ve put that money towards a down payment on a home which in the intervening years would have nearly quadrupled in value. We could’ve sold that house and lived almost anywhere in the country in comfort.

But I got the brainy idea to use the money to shoot an independent film. It was fresh off of Robert Rodriguez’s Rebel Without A Crew and my head was throbbing with Elmore Leonard stories, Blood Meridian, Leone and Corbucci.

Really, I think the idea germinated in the 20th Street Writers Group, an informal group of aspiring screenwriters who met irregularly of which I was a member.

I had once met Christopher McQuarrie, the writer of The Usual Suspects, the weekend before he won the Oscar, and he advised me to never pay attention to budgets or limit your writing according to what could be done conceptually. “If your script has to be filmed on location in space, don’t worry about it.”

So all my scripts had gone that route, big epic things that only Cecil B. Demille or James Cameron could put together.  A biopic about the abolitionist John Brown, a post-apocalyptic adventure about a kick ass trucker out to avenge the death of his dog, a story of rugby players in World War I Scotland.

topeandpicaro4But with this money coming in, and with my dear wife willing to take the plunge with me and let me use the kitty for this crazy movie, I started writing to a budget, thinking about what I could pull off. I came up with a cool concept for a western that I was sure was gonna revitalize the genre. It was dirty, brutal, clever, like Chato’s Land and The Great Silence had a baby that was adopted by Jim Jarmusch’s Dead Man.  Westerns of late, I thought, had become bogged down by reality. I wanted to bring the coolness back to them, the muddy, bloody brawls and the insanely rich tough talk that led to the big shootout. I wanted to write a thinly veiled love story between two guys where the much anticipated kiss was a gundown.

I took the title, Meaner Than Hell, from a Johnny Cash song, and a line uttered by the nearsighted kid in Unforgiven.  A sadistic bounty hunter Tope Mullins, ambushes wild bespectacled outlaw Picaro’s gang and kills them all around the campfire one night. He shoots Picaro in the foot to induce him to share the location of the loot from his last robbery before he turns him into the authorities (adding a ticking clock element as Picaro’s foot begins to mortify).  Unfortunately when they wake up in the morning, Indians have stolen all the horses, and they have to make their way back to civilization on foot, contending with the threat of attack, the harsh elements, and of course, each other, the whole way.

thescalpingI wrote the thing in a couple weeks, shared it with the writer’s group, and sure enough, one of the guys in it, who would go on to become my Assistant Director, said, “I think we could shoot this ourselves.”

I took it as a sign.

Plans kicked into high gear.

I had gone to school with an absolutely brilliant cinematography student. He lived out in LA now, worked as a set electrician. He agreed to do it for five hundred bucks.

One of the guys in the group was a pretty talented SFX guy, another an editor with a home editing suite.

My dad had a collection of black powder revolvers.

My mother and wife were both talented seamstresses.

So I asked my aunt for an advance on my inheritance, got an HD camera for $3,000, put out a call for actors in Variety, and spent a year gathering props and costume material, and scouting Death Valley and unincorporated Lancaster.

I had a very talented group of guys respond to the casting call (though my ad for honest-to-God Native American actors went unanswered) and filled most of the bit parts with friends, expanding other roles as I went to give the guys that didn’t get cast in the principal roles more to do because I just thought they deserved it.

I budgeted the thing, set aside eleven days to shoot. Two of my best and oldest friends kicked in money and scheduled time to come out and help me with the thing, playing partially obscured Indians and corpses when needed and hoisting equipment.

As game time approached, I started to run into bumps.

First, with maybe two months to go, my extremely talented DP bailed for the chance to go be an electrician on The Gridiron Gang (I think it was).  He took a much better paycheck than I could offer, and continues to work steadily in the industry to this day on A-list productions as a Gaffer, Cameraman, and Electrician.  So be it. I lost his eye. I frankly think we all did.

He lined up a meeting with a friend of his, but the guy advised me to ditch the idea of making a feature and just concentrate on a short film. I recalled an anecdote Martin Scorcese related about how he made a short film and got it in front of some executive who shrugged and said, “Now go make a feature.” I was eliminating the middle step, I thought. Besides, I’d shot four shorts in college. I hadn’t come out to LA to make more shorts.

So I decided to shoot the thing myself.

More money for the budget, I figured.

Then, the whole cast and crew….I won’t say they totally mutineed on me, but we had a disagreement.

During a read-through of the script I mentioned that I intended to shoot the entire picture without live sound and foley all the dialogue and sound FX later.

Nobody wanted any part of that.

directingI argued that this was the way spaghetti westerns had always been shot, but I guess nobody liked the idea of trying to dub voices in later. The big worry was it would look stupid and amateurish, like a badly dubbed kung fu movie.

I think this was the part where I failed my movie. It was mine. Mostly my money, my vision, but I caved. If nobody wanted to do it that way, what could I do?

I scrambled to research boom mics and sound equipment, and I think, in the end, I was ill-prepared to shoot live sound and the end result suffered for it. The rattling of shingles on an old cabin by a howling desert wind can be evocative, but not when your actors are shouting over it. The sound quality of Meaner Than Hell varies pretty wildly from scene to scene.

But, mea culpa. I was the director, I shoulda put my foot down, but I didn’t.

So game day comes. My oldest friend flies in from Illinois and we bug out about how we’re shooting a movie in California over a table of In ‘N Out.

I gather up the actors, we drive out to the desert, shoot the first scene in a dry culvert.

My two principals are a great couple of guys.

Tope

Tope

Playing the bounty hunter Tope Mullins is Thomas Crnkovich, a guy whose father actually coached one of my relatives in football or something way back in the day, but who is twenty years older than me and whom I’ve never met, though we’re weirdly from the same general area. I could not write Tom as a character if I tried. When he sent me his portfolio, it included pictures of him wrestling with fucking tigers. He had worked for a time as a wild animal trainer for the shows in Las Vegas. He was a funny, funny guy, into Alice Cooper and his van. He was my pick for Tope from his first audition. Skin like leather, crazy eyes, I think his biggest role had been in Sgt. Kabukiman NYPD.  When I asked him in his audition what the first thing he had to do when training wild tigers was, he answered, in his Eastwoodian hiss, “Well the first thing I hadda do was teach the tigers not to kill me.”

picaro

Picaro

My pick for Picaro Gonnoff was a tough one. I left the ethnicity, nationality, body type, appearance, everything entirely to chance. I wanted to craft the role around the actor I chose. It was a hard pick for me between three guys, one of whom nailed the dangerousness of Picaro, the other who nailed the Tuco-esque craziness and humor, but only one of whom I thought could portray the balance between the two – be a charming, funny asshole one minute and be grinding his heel in your face the next. That was Jared Cohn (credited as Jared Michaels). Jared had a Colin Ferrel kinda look, but he brought this outrageous faux-southern accent that just won me over. He sounded like a guy that had gotten the shit kicked out of him at an early age and learned to kick back when you weren’t looking.  After I selected him for the role, I tailor made the character’s backstory for him, and wrote in some lines to incorporate who he was. I don’t know if a badass Jewish outlaw has ever been portrayed in film before or since, but that was Picaro/Jared.

jaredwithrifleguitarstyleAnyway, the guys were a little worried about my ability to point a camera in the right direction, and I remember Thomas asking to review the first shot after we’d done it. I remember it was a long take of the two of them stumbling down the gully into the foreground. It began with lots of negative space which the characters then gradually filled as they approached. I was proud of it, and apparently it alleviated their fears, because they both crowed over it and never questioned my framing again.

Film school, bitches! And extensive storyboards!

Well, storyboards which I swiftly abandoned as the day wore on and the light in the gully began to fade.

The second problem I ran into was my own insane scheduling. I really thought I could cram all these scenes into a set number of hours. I didn’t take sleep deprivation, egos, setup times, and getting lost driving in the freaking desert at night without GPS into account.

I reverted to a simple three shot set up for most of the early campfire scenes (one shot of each speaker, medium shot of the two of them).

edandcastI killed my minivan battery probably three times running the lights off of it. I remember too that Thomas had a hard time delivering his lines over the sound of the engine which he swore he could hear (but nobody else could) and we had to keep backing the van up behind boulders until he was happy. At the end of the shoot, my buddy Tom threw the wanted poster prop into the fire.

“WHAT THE FUCK DUDE?!” I hollered, snatching it out.

He had thought we were done with it. But eh, since it’s plucked off a corpse later, the big burn mark wound up looking cool. Happy accidents.

By the time we finished the initial shooting, it was dawn.

We pitched some tents and slept out there for about three or four hours and I got them up again to shoot the rest.

Two of the guys who had been rendered corpses needed to leave, but one of them was in the shot and I had to shoot several takes around the guy lying there dead and eventually getting scalped. Nightmarish.

I also remember this was the day my good friend Jeff Carter was scheduled to show up at the extremely remote cabin location of Ballarat in Death Valley to render a couple of the guys into living corpses for a dream sequence. The shoot felt so bad, I nearly abandoned the idea. We were far out of cell range, and I assumed because Jeff hadn’t heard from me, he would stay home. I very nearly went home without heading to the cabin, but decided at the last minute to do it anyway.

cabinWhen we showed up at the cabin, something like three hours late, Jeff was sitting there with his makeup kit on the porch of the little store run by the only two residents of Ballarat, a rawboned old father and son pair. I had to hide my freakin’ tears when I pulled up because I had nearly left him there and he had showed up to do his part. God bless that guy. We didn’t even end up using the ‘zombie’ shot, but we heard a passel of crazy ghost stories about Indian spirits in the mountains and jet fighters from Edwards Air Force Base crashing out in the dead lake where Charles Manson’s van still sat mired in the alkali.

That first day, nobody talked much on the drive home, and when I climbed into my bed I broke down when my wife asked me how it was going (did Sam Peckinpah cry like a girl so much while shooting The Wild Bunch? He probably just got drunk a lot – I wasn’t budgeted for booze) .  I remember saying I felt like I was trying to paint with boxing gloves on. I was in over my head.

The next day one of the actors slept late and we lost an hour knocking on his door and windows. We drove back up to the desert and had another grueling day/night shoot, but my AD Elliott McMillan, God bless HIM, suggested we not drive back and instead get a cheap hotel room out in the desert and thus get an early jump on the next day.

That was one of the most fun nights I ever had. It was Elliott, Jared, Tom, and I with my buddy Tom from kindergarten drinking beers and half-watching a monumental Dodgers game, laughing over Tom’s crazy sex stories and just being a buncha guys.

I think it was the next day’s shoot at the cabin that was one of the best days of my entire life.

I don’t know if you’ve ever made a movie, or seen something you’ve written adapted by actors, I mean…RIGHT.

jaredwithgunAt this point in the story, Tope and Picaro are holed up in a remote cabin. They have a heartfelt moment in the night, sharing their personal stories of killing and mayhem (this is the scene I think most suffered from live sound as the wind wouldn’t die down and we had to keep stopping to accommodate the jets flying maneuvers in the distance).  When Picaro tries to shoot Tope, they wind up beating the shit out of each other (in my storyboards, their crazy brawl across the cabin floor is portrayed like a sex scene with clenching hands and tangled feet – I don’t think it came through in the final project) and at this moment the Indians decide to attack.  Tope kills an Apache in the doorway and they both look on in shock as the guy’s corpse is whisked away by an unseen comrade.

Tope makes some remark about ‘His squaw must’ve had supper waiting’ which causes both of them to forget their enmity for the moment and share an honest laugh. And in the middle of that laugh, Picaro produces a hidden Derringer and blasts Tope through the face.

It was written to be a jarring moment, and of course I knew it was coming, but Jesus Christ, I swear, when it did….when Jared and Thomas played it PERFECT on the first take….I nearly ruined it by hissing an appreciative “FFFFFFUCK!” at the end of the scene. Haha.

I don’t know. Seeing that, something just clicked.

We had to beat the sundown to get the rest of this sequence finished. At first Thomas didn’t wanna roll around on the ground, which had old nails and glass scattered across it. So I, in a t-shirt, dove down to the ground and rolled around first to show him it was OK. I don’t know if it was OK but you wanna hear the funny part? You know what made me do that? It was a line from a Larry Hama GI Joe comic – or maybe it was the cartoon. But General Hawk told somebody ‘Don’t order men to do anything you aren’t willing to do yourself.’ And that stuck with me through years and years of adulthood, and reared its head in my mind at that moment.

Or maybe it was something from Patton’s War As I Knew It.

I don’t know.

edandtom

Magic day

But after that, and after I expressed such unbridled exuberance for what they were doing, it was like all of us were on the same page, and we were killing it. We zipped through the scenes. And Jeff was there, and he had to create a blossom of blood – a bullet hole in the side of Tom’s face, and it seemed like slow, meticulous work that was taking forever while I shot what I could of Jared. A gust of wind blew a cloud of particles into my wide angle lens and I unscrewed the thing and handed it over to my buddy Tom (from kindergarten). We were revolving, hunched around that cabin, grabbing the footage like war photographers.

In between takes I was jumping in place urging Jeff to hurry up with the makeup, saying it looked good enough, but professional as he was, he urged me to shut up till he got it right – till Thomas’ face was a mess of hamburger and powderburns, leaking Kayro all over the place.

We shot the hell out of that scene and it was goddamned beautiful. So beautiful that years later, when I brought a promised DVD copy of the finished product to the two guys that ran the Ballarat story, I walked through that ruined cabin (half of it is collapsed now), and I started crying like I had PTSD or something.

That day, I was a filmmaker. I was a freakin’ auteur, wearing every damn hat on the tree.

topesilhouetteWhen we finished, the sun was plunging into the desert and all the land was painted orange, and out of the mountains a flock of bats came spiraling out across the desert to light on a wading pool the residents kept out there behind their trailer. They whipped all around you, little flying mice, swarming erratically but taking no interest in you.

We were all of us buzzing. It was utterly awesome and one of the best days of my life.

We shot under a railroad trestle, Elliott mimicking Jeff’s makeup on Thomas’ face perfectly. I shot him pursuing a ghost through the stark, over exposed desert while Thomas assured my two year old daughter Magnolia that all that blood was just because he’d cut himself shaving.

We shot out near the Kill Bill church.

We shot Thomas’ last scene on a hilltop – the big climactic gunfight. It looked great, but I made the mistake of telling him he could keep the black hat that was part of his costume, so when he was supposed to get drenched in blood, he kept protecting that goddamned hat.

bodieWe applauded his last scene, and moved on the next day to the mountains near Bodie, California, where a perfectly preserved 1880’s mining town sits up there as part of the National Park Service. We spent the night in some absolutely freezing cabins (one of which John Wayne had apparently stayed in at some point), my friends playing guitar and drinking beer, smoking weed with the cast. Stayed up late, had a great time, got up at the crack and went to shoot the final scenes of the movie on the steps of a period church.

Now as I mentioned, I couldn’t get any real live Indians for the shoot because none responded to the casting call. So I put my eldest son in a black wig, and my buddy Dan, who is Mexican, and a guy named Maeis who was the only guy that came to the Indian casting and was Middle Eastern or something. On the ride up there I spied an Indian Casino, and I had the guys walk through there and offer seventy five bucks to anybody who’d come to the two hour shoot, suit up, and participate. I budgeted for three guys. Jared brought me one, a guy named Richard Sallee. But damn if he didn’t look the part.

tragedyWe put him in Apache costume, and set him front and center to offset the questionable Indians. I think he worked out great. Plus he got paid three times what I offered him since he was the only guy there.

Meaner Than Hell was a wrap. The back of my van looked like we had birthed a calf back there.

We moved into a slow editing process.

I inquired into getting the rights to two professional songs, Johnny Cash’s God Is Gonna Cut You Down for the credits (which we originally cut the ending to) and Bill Monroe’s haunting My Last Days On Earth, which I envisioned as the recurring theme throughout the picture, and which we cut the trailer to.

But the price was, in the words of the Duke, “absolutely re-god-damned-diculous.” indiansIt was almost two thirds of my entire budget. So I picked up a guitar, having never played before, brought a Jaw harp and a harmonica to my buddy and editor Ryan Gerossie’s apartment, and somehow he mixed the disparate elements together into a cohesive theme which you hear now on the soundtrack. We attributed it to John McGovern, a portmanteau of his relatives and mine, but that’s us. Believe it or not, I was originally in talks with Vince ‘Rocky IV’ DiCola to do the score, but it fell through.

We ended up having to foley some of the sound in a makeshift sound booth that basically consisted of Tom Crnkovich, Jared Cohn, and Robert Vertrees taking turns in Ryan’s hallway with a microphone and pillows and towels stuffed under the doors. I think those scenes have some of the best sound work of the movie.

bloodytiger2SFX, we had a blast doing those, selecting various gunshots (at one point Elliott and Ryan put this ridiculous cannon explosion over the shot of Jared’s Derringer going off which made all of us lose it hysterically). We did Rebel Yells, officer calls, volleys of fire, Indian screams, all from a Westwood apartment.

We shot pick ups out in the desert, and even brought the desert home to Ryan’s back alley for the shot of Picaro’s foot getting a bullet (it was actually, I think either my foot or Ryan’s).

We premiered the thing at a bar in Hollywood. Thomas and Jared showed up with their character’s hats. Jared introduced me to a few people who never called me. I got the drunk on hard hard liquor for the very last time in my life, until I puked up my guts in the street afterwards. It surprised me the people that turned out for the thing – old coworkers, friends of friends. It surprised me who didn’t show too.

5652_112203793691_112183918691_2319596_6612763_nI didn’t get to give a speech or anything before the movie ran for the only audience it ever had. I kept everybody waiting up to the last possible minute, affording no time for a proper introduction. I don’t know that I had anything to say. I think maybe by that time I hated Meaner Than Hell. It wasn’t precisely what I wanted to accomplish, and I was sick of it. Much of the crew had stopped believing in it, dismissing it as crap. I guess a lot of it is.

In the intervening years it garnered no attention. I submitted to all the big indie festivals and a lot of the small ones. Nobody wanted it.

I had, in my mind, taken the best shot I could, and nobody had turned their head. Nobody had noticed it. It sat on Ryan’s computer. I made half hearted attempts to put it on Netflix and Amazon over the years, but always turned to other projects. Thomas would call me out of the blue and ask about it now and then. Everybody had their DVD’s. Every actor had been paid (except Alex Bakalarz, who played the wounded soldier – I owe him fifty bucks for the two hour shoot still). I couldn’t even look at it anymore.

jaredwantedposterAnd over the years, as my tenuous connection to the film industry dwindled and my fiction writing began to supersede it in terms of success, Jared’s, conversely grew. I started doing script work for his projects, and now the guy seems to be directing a movie every other month. I see him on Netflix and all over Facebook, shooting in freaking Thailand. His movies show up in my newsfeed, getting reviewed on major websites. He’s a driven guy.

Thomas….last year, Thomas called me again. “This is Tope,” he said, as always, and by God he was.

He told me he was playing Dillinger, in an indie film shooting back in the Midwest, where he was currently living. He asked me about Meaner Than Hell as always, and about any other projects I had going. But I was just writing novels now and had nothing for him.

Elliott and I had such plans for Thomas. One late night ride back from the shoot we talked about how we wanted to do a kick ass Lone Ranger movie, and Thomas and Lance Henricksen would play the Cavendish brothers. Thomas would be a Lash LaRue type character with a bullwhip. When I was still writing scripts, I put a role for him in an unrealized zombie project, as a cantankerous caretaker of an amusement park. I even talked about redubbing Meaner Than Hell the way I wanted, if I could get Thomas and Jared together to do it.

5652_112212353691_112183918691_2319636_882466_nBut around Memorial Day Thomas got killed by a train, almost out of nowhere. Well, out of nowhere for me. That guy palled around with tigers. I thought he was unflappable, untouchable. The obituary said it was deliberate, though. I don’t know. Friends of his I’ve talked to doubt it. I don’t know what I think.

My affection for Meaner Than Hell grows with each subsequent viewing now, though.

It’s no masterpiece, but I really believe there is a good movie in there. Maybe I should have shown the Indians more. Maybe I should have cut the dialogue down. My biggest regret about the whole thing is that I feel like I failed the talent involved. There was a great group of guys that gathered together and believed in this thing while they were doing it, and in the end, I guess they got nothing from it. Or at least, it wasn’t something they felt proud of, could point to, or that (perhaps most importantly) got them more work.

But I’ll tell you what. I firmly believe that at the fifty five minute mark to the end, I made almost exactly the movie I wanted to make. It’s right there. It started for real on that day I wrote about above, when I nearly ruined a take with my own excitement.

And how many people can say they did that?

I like Meaner Than Hell. How can I not?

Anyway, if you want to watch it, we put the whole thing up on Youtube now. You can watch it here. And if you get bored out of your mind, fast forward to the 55 minute mark I guess and give it a half hour of your time.

It’s a very slow burn, but I lit it with the help of some good friends.

The Next Big Thing

Author Weston Ochse (whose supernatural military thriller Seal Team 666, already optioned for a movie, is due to hit the stands running next month) tagged me in something called The Next Big Thing, in which authors answer questions about their forthcoming works and then tag five other writers they’d like you to know about.

So here are my answers.

1) What is the working title of your next book?

Terovolas.

2) Where did the idea come from for the book?

In 1997 I came across a collection of papers in a sealed box on a shelf in the basement of the University of Chicago’s Regenstein Library. I call the documents The Van Helsing Papers. They were a series of primary source accounts, including the personal journal of the actual Professor Abraham Van Helsing, translated from Dutch by Dr. John Seward. I chose to collect the events of 1891 immediately following those depicted in Bram Stoker’s Dracula as Terovolas.

3) What genre does your book fall under?

Though a nonfictional account, it’s being presented as fiction, in which case I guess you’d call it a weird western horror/mystery.

4) What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?
I think Francis Ford Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula infected me with the notion that Anthony Hopkins is the perfect Abraham Van Helsing. Alexander Skarsgard might make a good Sigmund Skoll. I could see Michael Shannon as Coleman Morris, Robert Duvall as Aurelius Firebaugh, Carrie Ann Moss as Callisto Terovolas, and Sam Rockwell as Alvin Crooker.

5) What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Recently released from Purfleet Asylum after suffering a nervous breakdown stemming from the events of Dracula, Professor Abraham Van Helsing bears the remains of Quincey Morris back to Texas and winds up tangling once more with the supernatural, doubting his own sanity in the process.

6) Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

Terovolas is being put out by JournalStone Publishing.

7) How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

I compiled it in about three or four months.

8) What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
Eaters Of The Dead by Michael Chrichton, Nicholas Meyers’ The Seven Percent Solution, The Memoirs Of Wild Bill Hickock by Richard Matheson, and of course Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

9) Who or what inspired you to write this book?
When I learned the truth about Van Helsing, I wanted to present this information to the world. I think in a lot of media, Van Helsing is portrayed as something of a fanatic. My research has led me to believe that nothing could be further from the truth. He’s no more a fanatic than he is exclusively a vampire hunter. The real Van Helsing was a man who walked the line between science and faith, reasoning and superstition, really the best of both worlds. He had an amazing career of which the account of Dracula for which he is most remembered, is only a small part. In popular modern fiction he’s most often depicted in a negative light, whereas Dracula has conversely been lionized. This is a travesty that I felt needed rectifying.

10) What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?

It’s the first of a series of true accounts of the further adventures of Abraham Van Helsing, beginning with a sojourn in Texas in which he encounters shapechangers, cultists, and outlaws. If you need more than that, I don’t know what to tell you.

So next Wednesday, visit the following writer’s blogs to read about what they’ve got in the works, and why I chose them as The Next Big Thing…

 Jeff Carter

Tim Marquitz

Lincoln Crisler

Ted Grau

Greg Mitchell

Jeff On Jason: The Top Ten Friday The 13th Movies

Hey all, turning the blog over today to my friend and sometime collaborator Jeff Carter (his story of submersible terror, The Wager, appeared beside my own Tell Tom Tildrum in Tales From The Bell Club, and we’re working on an RPG together for Heroic Journey Publishing), whose blog, The Monster Compendium, can be found on my sidebar. Check it out – it’s a trove of obscure stuff from around the world, general geekery, and of course, all things Carterian.

Jeff, like me, is a horror movie fan, and he hosts our annual Black-O-Ween celebration, in which we view one or two African American themed horror movies from the golden age of blaxploitation (past showings include Blacula, Blackenstein, Sugar Hill, JD’s Revenge, The Thing With Two Heads, and most recently, Abby and The Beast Must Die).

For the past couple weeks he’s been viewing the Friday The 13th film series, which holds a dear place in my heart as the novelization of Part VI: Jason Lives by Simon Hawke is one of the first books I ever read that made me want to write.

As an end result, he’s put them in order of enjoyment.

Happy Friday the 12th.

————–

Howdy!

Ed’s posted a lot of movie reviews here, as well as his  annual Halloween list of must-see horror.  I thought I’d toss my hockey  mask into the ring with a list of the top ten Friday the 13th movies.

Not many movies get eleven and a half installments and a remake.  Few  characters can take that kind of punishment, but Friday the 13th has  Jason Voorhees, an unstoppable killing machine with an endless hatred of teenaged hijinks.  Having a lead character that wears a mask and  disposable casts of unknowns helps too.

So let’s take a look at the first ten, leaving out Freddy VS. Jason and the 2009 remake.

I reached these rankings through a complicated algorithm that tabulated  kills, scares, the ratio of serious to goofy, amount of Jason or other  core elements, cameos, and continuity.  And no, I will not show my work.

So here they are, from worst to best:

10) Friday the 13th Part 5: A New Beginning

This movie has a lot of detractors, but the algorithm nearly spat this out for one fatal flaw:  Jason is not in the movie!

Just a guy

9) Friday the 13th Part 7: New Blood

This was a powerfully close tie for last place.  The story: A psychic  girl  accidentally uses one of her 9 million powers to resurrect Jason from the bottom of Camp Crystal Lake.  Most of the kills occur off screen, a  strange choice for a slasher flick.  In the movie’s defense, the MPAA  apparently cut it to ribbons before its theatrical release and then slashed it even more viciously for home video.  That being said, the end result is boring and inane.

8) Friday the 13th Part 8: Jason Takes Manhattan

This movie was almost hallucinatory with its surreal, incoherent jumbled plot. Psychic visions, drug addled gangs of rapists, nuclear waste.  The Crystal Lake High graduating class take a cruise ship to New  York…from Crystal Lake? Via Canada?  I don’t understand the geography, but distances clearly don’t matter in this film.  Jason teleports,  TELEPORTS, more than once.

Why take public transportation when you can teleport?

Perhaps this can all be explained by a certain shift: Marijuana has been  replaced with cocaine as the drug of choice.  Don’t miss the cameo by a young Kelly Hu, who is tempted to snort up with the line “the night  time is the right time”.

7) Jason X

Many would say that this half sci-fi/half farce cyborg flick is the worst of the series, but  clearly the rankings say otherwise.  Yes, the movie was goofy and cheesy and cheap, but unless you were kidnapped and brought to a sneak  preview, you must have known all that going in.

The movie was set  in the distant future to avoid any continuity conflict with Freddy VS.  Jason, which was being developed at the time.  So let’s talk about  continuity – in my algorithm, continuity not only addresses the  preservation of the established timeline, facts, and use of core  elements, but also the broader scope of the Friday the 13th events and  their impact on the wider world.

In this future world Jason is still infamous.  Scientists and soldiers both want his body for his  amazing regenerative properties and black market collectors will pay top dollar for such a gruesome piece of history.

The movie is campy  and self aware, and I really liked it.  I must confess that I had  thought it would be higher in the rankings than the extremely silly self parody of Part 6, but the algorithm does not lie.

Look for the cameo by Director David Cronenberg and a fun performance from genre veteran Peter Mensah.

The highlight is a clever gambit by the space students to distract Jason: a holodeck simulation of Camp Crystal Lake, complete with vapid,  indestructible teenagers.

Jason is going to work out some issues.

6)  Friday the 13th Part 6: Jason Lives

This was a relaunch after the supposed ‘Final Chapter’ Part 4 and the  failure of Part 5.  This was also a parody, an inevitable stage in the  cycle of any genre.

The ‘kid who would be Jason’, Tommy Jarvis  from Pt. 4, digs up Jason’s grave to destroy his remains.  Jason is brought back to life by  lightning.

Jason has now transformed from tough, super strong mutant to indestructible  super zombie.  A magic ritual of sorts is also used to ‘bind’ and trap  Jason at the end, hinting at the mystical nature of Jason’s past.

I didn’t care for this one.  The forced attempts at humor undercut any  sense of horror.  I don’t need a movie to parody itself, I can mock it  just fine, thank you very much.

There is a nice nod to another long running series in the intro that I rather liked, however.

“The name’s Voorhees. Jason, Voorhees.”

5) Friday the 13th Part 4: The Final Chapter

Now we’re talking.  This movie had a lot of meat for the algorithm to chew  on: Cameos (Crispin Glover! Corey Haim!), Core elements (fighting Jason  with psychology!) and tons of kills and scares.  In the continuity  department, we see Pamela Voorhees’ tombstone and the character Rob, who is seeking revenge for his sister who got killed in Part 2.

“I’m YOU, Jason. And you are cool, so I popped my collar.”

4) Friday the 13th Part 9: Jason Goes To Hell

I know people hate this movie like O.G. Star Wars fans hate Return of the Jedi for its ewok shenanigans.  Fortunately, the algorithm is beyond  your petty emotions.  It’s all in the data.  Consider the cast: Erin  Gray (Buck Rogers!) as Mrs. Kimble nee Voorhees, Steven Williams (21  Jump Street! X-Files!) as the world’s most ruthless serial killer hunter and John D. Le May, who stars in this movie AND the Friday the 13th TV  series!

This movie has world building in spades.  It features the  Necronomicon Ex Mortis, the ACTUAL book of the dead from the Evil Dead  movies!  Jason is such a well-known terror that the FBI forms a special  task force to lure him out and destroy him with overwhelming firepower.

When they succeed (or did they?) the entire country watches TV news reports  about the incident with relief.  One local business celebrates with a  “Jason is Dead” sale and special hockey mask shaped burgers.

I could totally go for a Jason burger right now

This movie suffers from a lack of Jason – after the FBI blows up his body,  the evil energies that inhabit his body begin to leap from body to body, seeking a body with the cursed Voorhees bloodline that can either  resurrect or destroy him.  This is another stage in Jason’s life cycle,  from deformed child to hulking freak to super zombie to this, the dark  scion of a strange occult ritual.  Fortunately, Jason is in the  beginning and end of this movie, and does a lot of crazy killing in  between.

The final cameo opened the movie up, in a big way that  blew the minds of horror fans everywhere:  after Jason is destroyed by  his ancestor with a magic sword/knife/demon broadsword, Freddy Krueger’s glove bursts up from Hell to snatch the iconic hockey mask.

MIND…BLOWN.

3) Friday the 13th Part 2

Taking the bronze medal is part 2, a strong sequel to the original with an  almost perfect score on continuity and core elements.  Jason steps out  of the lake and onto the center stage, killing teenagers and preserving  his mother’s rotting head and grody sweater on an altar.

Some people put their mother on a pedestal. Some put them on an altar.

A savvy co-ed dons the crusty sweater at the end to mess with Jason’s  mind.  The only core elements missing are the machete and hockey mask – at this point Jason is rocking a sack with an eye hole in it.

The bag-heads soon switched to fat suits, but it was not until they adopted gangsta personas and renamed the group CB4 that they reached stardom.

This movie also has the original harbinger, crazy Ralph.  This colorful  local warned the teenagers in the first movie to stay away from Camp  Crystal Lake.  They didn’t listen, but crazy Ralph was so iconic that he became part of the slasher genre formula.

“It’s got a DEATH CURRRRSE!!!…and many scenic bike paths.”

2) Friday the 13th 3D

Ah, back when all movies with a part 3 were in 3D.  It was a simpler time.

This movie exploited the full potential of the third dimension more fully  than James Cameron’s AVATAR.  Seriously, if it could swing, float, jump, fly or pop out at the audience, it was comin’ atcha.  Not just spear  guns and pitchforks, either.  Yo-yos, popcorn, snakes, EVERYTHING.

Comin’ Atcha!

The tone was a little more silly, but only to pump up the cheap thrills.   There was plenty of scares and violent, creative death to go around.   Jason finally gets his hockey mask here, which is why part 3D gets the  silver medal.  The only thing missing is Jason’s mother…

1) Friday the 13th

The origin story of the most gifted, prolific and hardest working slasher  in history.  We learn who Jason was, meet his devoted mother, and learn  our way around Camp Crystal Lake.

Jason’s mother, Pamela Voorhees, is easily one of the most original and compelling characters of any  slasher film.  That wild eyed old lady in the christmas sweater with the blade?  She’s fueled by grief, maternal love and righteous fury.

“Kee Kee Kee Kee…Kah Kah Kah Kah can only truly be whispered through dentures.”

JAWS stopped night swimming. This stopped lake swimming.

This movie ends with the only image from the series as iconic as the hockey  mask: the slimy body of a freakish child erupting from depths of a  watery grave.

——

Jeff C. Carter’s most recent work in print appears in AVENIR ECLECTIA Volume 1, now available in paperback and Kindle from Amazon.  Get more Halloween stuff at his blog Compendium of Monsters and say hey on Facebookand Goodreads.

In Teh Realms Of Teh Unreal: San Diego Comic Con 2012

Fortunately, we had plenty of bubblegum.

Not a whole lot of news to report on my trip to San Diego Comic Con this year.

Brought three writing samples and didn’t pass out nary a one, to my detriment.  My friends and I had a late start and I narrowly missed connecting with the IDW editor I had acquainted myself with at WHC. I’m terrible at just cold-approaching people for the most part, something I’m working at getting over.

Most of the day was spent traversing the huge exhibit hall and shopping for presents for my kids. Wound up with one of those plushie Wonder Womans for my middle daughter and a Poison Ivy t-shirt for the eldest (she likes Poison Ivy because she’s into gardening).

Open your miiinnnnd, Mr. Carter

My favorite costume of the con.

Of note, there was a seriously intense pair of sprawling action figure dioramas at the Hasbro booh I had to stop and take a few appreciative pics of.

Snake Eyes and Jinx battle ninjas.

Yes – that is a flying guillotine.

I did manage to connect with author and friend Alice Henderson. We had a decent dinner, marred by an unseasonal chill and obnoxious fellow diners (sorry, Alice – you pick next time). We adjourned to the Hilton later and had drinks and talked with Warhammer authors Nathan Long and Mike Lee, as well as Chelsea Monroe-Cassel and Sariann Lehrer, the culinary experts behind the A Feast of Ice And Fire: The Official Game Of Thrones Companion Cookbook.  Nice group of folks. A good time was had I think by all.

2AM on the streets of San Diego. Moments later I saw the Doctor.

Two AM rolled around and we took a pair of pedicabs back to the garage. I’ve never taken one of these things before, being content to walk usually, but given the lateness of the hour and the cuteness of the driver, I agreed. It turned out she was ashmatic, so my guilt was compounded, but we happened to pass another pedicab going the other way and saw the Doctor himself, Matt Smith, yucking it up in the back with a lady friend.So I guess it was worth her suffering?

Our much put-upon pedicab driver….I don’t know if we even tipped her, assholes that we are.

Next year, plotting a three day weekend to really take more advantage of things professionally.

Hasta pronto.

Great White Horror In Tales From The Bell Club

No, not sharks.

In all the Four In The Morning and Prometheus excitement, I missed telling you all about the release of Knightwatch Press’ very cool horror pulp anthology Tales From The Bell Club, featuring my short story Tell Tom Tildrum and edited by Paul Mannering. It also features The Wager, a yarn of un-fathomable submersible horror from my good friend and sometime collaborator Jeff Carter.

You can read about Jeff’s story at his blog here.

Take a look at this great cover…

The premise of Tales From The Bell Club is that there exists a upscale private club, much like the world famous Travellers Club, Mycroft Holmes’ Diogenes Club, or the Cobalt Club (to which Lamont Cranston belongs in The Shadow series). The Bell Club’s sole requirement is that prospective members must have undergone some personal horror and agree to share the tale.

All stories are set in an era ranging from the early 1900’s to the mid to late 1930’s – the ‘golden’ age of adventure and pulp.

My own offering is called Tell Tom Tildrum, a reference to the old English fable, The King ‘O The Cats (special thanks to Jeff for pointing out this tale to me and giving me a springboard).

For sake of context, in The King ‘O The Cats, a gravedigger witnesses a body of feline pallbearers carrying a small casket in which lies a dead cat in state, with a golden crown upon its head. One of the cat onlookers notices the gravedigger and tells him to tell Tom Tildrum that Tim Toldrum is dead. The terrified and bewildered gravedigger returns home to his wife and relates the strange tale, but despairs that he has no idea who Tom Tildrum is. At that point, their housecat, who had previously been sitting on the floor supping milk from a pan, rises up on two legs and declares;

“If Tim Toldrum’s dead, then I am the King ‘o Cats!”

And leaps through the open window to go scampering down the lane toward the graveyard.

My story concerns the application for membership in the Bell Club of one Captain Howe, an arrogant, racist and cruel veteran of the King’s African Rifles, the British colonial suppression of Africa, and the Great War who settled in the Wainhoji River Valley in Kenya and made a living as a safari guide and big game hunter for the notorious Happy Valley Set.

The Happy Valley Set was a scandalous collection of aristocratic young British ex-patriots and American socialites living in the shadow of the Aberdare Mountains whose promiscuous sexual and narcotic exploits were nefarious throughout the 20’s.

The Happy Valley set: L to R: Raymond de Trafford, Frederic de Janze, Alice de Janze (with two of her husbands) and Lord Delamere.

The colony was founded by Hugh Cholmondeley, the 3rd Baron Delamere, who became one of the region’s first white land owners and was instrumental in drumming up homesteaders from among the wealthy British peerage. Interestingly, he also was the first to coin the term ‘white hunter’ (he employed both a Somali hunter and a white man named Black, and so began referring to them as ‘white hunter’ and ‘black hunter’ respectively). An eccentric but dogged character in his own right, Lord Delamere was instrumental in pushing modern agriculture into Kenya. He also frequently drove golf balls onto the roof of the Muthaiga Country Club, and then clambered up after them.

One of Lord Delamere’s friends was the notorious officer and sometime ornithologist Lt. Colonel Richard Meinertzhagen, who as a captain in the KAR singlehandedly crushed the eleven year Nandi uprising by calling its leader, Chief Koitalel Arap Samoei to a truce and then shooting him dead while in the act of shaking his hand. He then ordered the chief’s companions machinegunned to death (my Captain Howe is the trigger man on this). T.E. Lawrence described Minertzhagen as being ‘so possessed of his convictions that he was willing to harness evil to the chariot of good.’

Colonel Richard Meinertzhagen

There is an amusing anecdote about him, probably fictional, that he met Adolf Hitler in his later years and was bemused when the fuhrer raised his hand in the sharp Nazi salute and declared ‘Heil Hitler!’ Supposedly Meniertzhagen returned the salute and said, ‘Heil Meinertzhagen!’

But back to the Happy Valley Set.

One of the most famous members of the Set was American socialite Kiki Preston, an heiress of the Vanderbilt family. Nicknamed ‘The Girl With The Silver Syringe,’ she was famous for her public use of morphine, cocaine and heroin, and was an avid big game hunter, along with her cuckold husband, Harvard alumn Gerry Preston. Sort of a roaring twenties version of Paris Hilton – famous, or rather infamous for her extravagances (and not much else).

Countess Alice de Janze with Samson

Indina and Alice

In a similar vein was Countess Alice de Janze, another American socialite nicknamed ‘the wicked madonna,’ married (ostensibly) to Count Frederic de Janze. She spent her days playing the ukelele and caring for her tame lion cub, Samson, and her nights with The Earl of Erroll, Josslyn Hay (who some say wound up murdered by her hand in the early nineteen thirties), or any number of men and women. Alice was an unpredictable firebrand who kept her marriage entirely open. Yet when her paramour Raymond de Trafford bowed to pressure from his traditional Catholic family and announced he would not marry her after she left the Count for him, she shot him in the stomach in a Paris railway station, then turned the gun on herself (and ‘shot herself gently’ according to one newspaper). Both survived, and Alice got her way. She and de Trafford were married a year later!

Idina Gordon

Lady Myra Idina Hay nee Gordon, nee Wallace, nee Sackville (at one point wife of the aforementioned Josslyn Hay), hosted wild, cocaine and alcohol driven wife-swapping parties at her mountain home, Clouds. She was renowned for greeting visitors as she emerged dripping from her immense green onyx bath.

Now against this background, my Captain Howe, very much in with the in crowed, describes to the shadowy members of the Bell Club an incident in which he led a party of socialites into the bush after a wounded lion with eight Maasai askari hunters, and stumbles across something much more dangerous.

The basis for the weird in my story is the legend of the watusimba.

In the 1940’s, there were reports of young women who were enslaved via narcotics to East African witch doctors, forced to live in cages and given raw meat (sometimes human) to eat. These women were supposedly given lion skins to wear and claw-like weapons, then directed as assassins against the witch doctor’s enemies. They were known as watu Simba (or invariously, simba mtu), or were-lions.

Another story I took inspiration from was that of legendary big game hunter George Rushby, who as game warden of Taganyika, was called to deal with a pride of twenty two killer lions who killed and eaten approximately 1,500 people in the districts of Njombe and Singida. Battling not only killer lions, Rushby came face to face with local superstition as well, as the villagers believed the lions were magically directed by the will of a local witch doctor, Matamula Mangera, who was called The King Of The Lions.

Here’s an excerpt –

“It was an intimate party. Only myself, two gents with their wives, eight askaris…ah, that is, guards, culled from the Maasai, and about fifty Kikuyus, including the cook, bearers, and horse trainers. Quite a small entourage, really, for a hounding party.”

“Huh-huh-hounding pah-pah-party?” asked another of the unseen audience, this one a man, younger than Bertrand, it sounded like, and a bigger stutterer than Moses.

“Yes sir,” I said. “Like your fox hunt, but we use gundogs. African Lion Hounds. Bloody beautiful animals, stiff ridgebacks and fine red coats, like proper British soldiers, bred for the purpose. They flush ‘em out, keep ‘em at bay till we can come up with our Express Rifles and blast ‘em.”

I took a sip of scotch and went on.

“Anyway, the dogs had surprised a lioness with her kill, and they surrounded her. You could hear the barking and her roar way at the back of the train, a real hullabaloo boiling over. She killed two hounds by the time we got to her. Big, yellow thing she was, magnificent, her shoulders and her whiskers painted red with blood. Gerry shot her first with his .404 Jeffrey, right there,” I said, pointing to my own left shoulder. “Clipped her just enough to make a blood trail for us to follow, really.

Of course, most of the Maasai wouldn’t follow. They’re against killing a lioness unless out of necessity.”

I recalled arguing with the Maasai, when Kiki and her husband Gerry and Malcolm and Bernice rode up to see what was the bother.

It was barely noon, but we were all of us drunk already, and Kiki and Bernice were giggling as Gerry sloshed most of a bottle of gin over the lip of her glass, it being deucedly hard to pour on horseback.

“What’s all the hubbub, bub?” Gerry snickered.

I waved my hand dismissively at Leebo, the headman.

“Ah, these black devils don’t want to chase her. Something about the area they don’t like. They’ve just got a thing against killing females.”

“Aw, that’s so chivalrous of them,” Bernice remarked, pouting her lips. She reached down and patted one of the bearers’ heads, even though it was the askari who were refusing.

“Yeah, knights in shining loincloths,” Gerry remarked.

“Won’t kill females,” Malcolm grumbled. “How little they understand the fairer sex, eh Ger?”

“I think it’s sweet,” Bernice said, now twisting her finger in the African’s curls. “Tell b’wana,” she cooed silkily, to the man’s obvious embarrassment.

“It’s bibi, for you, you numbskull,” Gerry snickered, shaking his head. “Bea, you’re scandalous. What’s it gonna take to get them moving, Cap?”

“Well the bearers’ll stick with us,” I said, “but half the Maasai won’t go.”

“Bullshit!” Gerry snarled suddenly. “We’re payin’ them aren’t we? Listen up, you apes….”

“Oh, let ‘em be, Gerry,” Bernice said, knocking back her glass and wiping the hand that had been stroking the Negro’s head on her khaki riding pants. “They wouldn’t be any help anyway.”

“She’s probably right, Gerry,” I allowed. “No help at all’s better than reluctant help in this case.”

“Oh but I so wanted a lion skin for the sitting room,” Kiki whined.

“I don’t know, tootsie wootsie,” I said. “Going into the bush after a wounded lioness with half the askari…”

“Can’t you all just see me laid out on a lion skin in front of the fire?” she mused, stretching suggestively in her saddle and lacing her fingers beneath her chin like a calendar girl.

“Can’t I!” I grinned.

“Oh brother,” Bernice said, rolling her eyes. “Theda Bara over here.”

“Well let’s send these wogs packing, and press on, chums,” Malcolm said, draining the last glass and tossing it over his shoulder.

As I explained to Leebo the headman that I was discharging him, Kiki let out a wail.

“What’s the matter?” We all of us asked at once.

She was rifling through her bag and I knew right away what it was, because the hard little velvet lined case that contained her famously silver syringe was already in her hand.

“I don’t have anything! Not a bindle!” she screeched, throwing things out of the purse.

“Aw, daddy’s little hop-head can’t get snowed for the big bad lion?” Bernice sneered.

“Shut up, you bitch!”

“Now now,” said Malcolm.

“Kiki,” I said, “you don’t really wanna go after a lion on that stuff do you?”

“That’s easy for you to say, Cap, you’re already plastered,” she snarled.

“Oh and you’re not?” Gerry prodded.

I knew I was. I had lost count of the bottles we’d left lying in the bush behind the train. Wine, scotch, absinthe, vodka….

“Well I’ll just have to go back and get Beryl to fly toNairobiand get some more,” she said, turning her horse around.

“Hey Kiki, what about the lion?” I called.

“Oh bring it back for me won’t you, Cap? I’ll give you a big kiss!” she called over her shoulder as she bounced away.

“Better give me more than that,” I called after her, watching the swell of her hips.

“Hey, that’s my wife you’re talking about, you limey profligate,” Gerry grinned, his eyelids wavering.

“I’m surprised you got that word out in your condition. Go catch her before she rides off a cliff,” I said.

He smiled and winked at me as he turned his horse toward the back of the train.

“Bag her for me, Cap.”

“Clean up your mess, you mean,” Malcolm shouted after him as Gerry joined the sacked askari heading home with their spears over their shoulders.

“Yes,” I chimed in, “if you’d of shot straight to begin with we’d be back at the Count’s laying around playing sheik andShebaright now.”

“Gimme a break, chum,” he said in parting. “I’m drunk.”

“Well,” said Malcolm, once they’d gone. “A hunting we will go.”

—–

You can pick up Tales From The Bell Club here, and see the old gang get what’s coming to them…

http://www.amazon.com/Tales-Bell-Club-Paul-Mannering/dp/098787473X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1339736986&sr=8-1