Saturday, May 20, 2017

OPEN CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS...THERE'S NO PLACE LIKE HOST; AN ANTHOLOGY OF PARASITE HORROR

Hey, fiends! I'm excited to announce St Rooster Books will be releasing a new horror anthology, There's No Place Like Host: An Anthology of Parasitic Horror. The book will be edited by myself and Joseph Bouthiette Jr.

As the name implies, we're seeking short stories about parasites. We're encouraging tales of body horror and gross-out globs and messy mutations, but keep it smart, keep it fresh. Your parasite can be be a common worm or bacteria adapted to freakish new heights, or something more exotic, such as a possessive demon or shiny new nanotechnology with host-degrading kinks in the software. As long as there's harm to the host, there are no bounds to your parasite!

Word count: 3,000 to 5,000 words. If longer, inquire with a synopsis of your story beforehand.

Original fiction only; no reprints.

Payment: half cent per word and a contributor copy.

Deadline: October 1st.

Attach your submission as a .doc or .docx and send to holyrooster76@gmail.com.

Friday, May 19, 2017

REVIEWING THE HANNIBAL LECTER SAGA PART TWO; HANNIBAL THE FILM

Hannibal as a novel and film was quite controversial from the get go. Thomas Harris worked on the follow up to Silence Of The Lambs for almost a decade, while Jonathan Demme, Jodie Foster, and Anthony Hopkins were all anxiously waiting to return to that world in the inevitable film adaptation. Though a best seller, the book was met with a very mixed response. The two biggest critics, three counting Silence screenwriter Ted Tally, was Demme and Foster who declined to be apart of the sequel once they got a hold of the "lurid" novel. The violence in Hannibal was far greater then it was in Silence (and remember, Gene Hackman passed on directing and starring in that film because of it's violent content) and neither director or actress could see themselves taking part in this grand guignol.

Producer Dino De Laurentis, who owned the rights to the Lecter character and had produced Mann's Manhunter, but not Silence, was eager to capitalize on the Lecter gold mine with Hannibal and approached Ridley Scott. Scott's one of my five directors, in fact along with Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, he was the first director I knew by name and looked for his films. I'd seen Alien with my dad at the age of five and was forever effected by it. Later it was the same with Blade Runner. Scott is a stylish director who has tackled many different types of stories through his career and for my money he's always been pretty damn successful. Scott had some initial reservations about coming aboard, one, he wanted to make sure he wasn't stepping on Demme's toes and two, something had to be done about that ending.

Probably the most controversial thing about Hannibal the novel was the fact that it ends with Lecter
and Starling becoming lovers. I've never met anyone that bought that ending. Fortunately for Scott, Harris wasn't married to the ending and allowed changes to be made. That was one saving grace the film had going for it, the other was Hopkins agreed to return to the role of Lecter. Everyone knew that without Hopkins they had no film.

Hannibal was going to be a hard road regardless of who was involved or what ending the film had. Silence in both book and film were massively successful, multi-award winning, and had a rabid public with high expectations for a sequel. That's almost always a recipe for disaster and few franchises are able to deliver sequels as good as the original.

However, the screenplay was written by David Mamet and Steve Zaillion and Julianne Moore was cast to replace Foster. In Part One of this series I expressed my overall disappointment with Moore in the role, but I want to say again, it was not because she did a bad job, it was because Foster was imprinted in my mind so deeply, that anyone else in that role would be distracting. It could also be that Starling in Hannibal was now a seasoned, hardened ten year vet with the Bureau, so the natural innocence that Foster brings to everything she does might have hindered the movie. Who's to say? In the end it's a minor gripe and Moore is a tremendous actress. Scott also brought in production designer Norris Spencer, cinematographer John Mathieson, and composer Hans Zimmer, all of whom Scott had worked with in the past, which helped to give Hannibal a very 'Scott' feel.

Where Silence had very few scenes of violence and gore (most of it took place off screen, and we were only shown the aftermath or told about it), Scott inverted the ratio and gave us several harrowing and gory set pieces. Which may not be surprising coming from the guy who Texas Chainsaw Massacre in space, but Alien and all subsequent Scott films had actually been quite light on gore. This time though, Scott gave us disemboweling, cannibalism, disfigurement, and dinner table brain surgery. The most disgusting (and awesome) effects belonged to Gary Oldman's Mason Varger character. Varger had been Hannibal's only surviving victim (unless you count Will Graham), but he survived at a great cost. In Hannibal, we see him years after his meeting with Lecter, disfigured, paralyzed, and seething for revenge. After Lecter had escaped custody at the end of Silence, Varger had planned a very special revenge against him; he's going to have Lecter fed to wild boars he'd bred for this specific purpose. Oldman was completely unrecognizable in the role and went uncredited in the theatrical release. As a secondary antagonist, he practically stole the movie, for me, especially considering I feel that the film peters out in the third act.

Not that the third act didn't have one spectacular highlight, namely Lecter removing the top of Ray
Liotta's (who played Paul Krenndler) head and made him eat a part of his own brain. Hell, later Lecter fed a child a bit of that brain too! By the time the credits rolled, Scott had given us a classy grind house exploitation film, but the ambiguous ending, which saw Lecter escaping once again was a let down. Neither Lecter or Hopkins were young men, how many more times could we believably accept the further exploits of Hannibal Lecter? He wasn't Michael Meyers, he wasn't an unstoppable killing machine. It would have been far more satisfying with Starling either returning him to custody in the Baltimore State Prison for the Criminally Insane or killing him. When it was all said and done, it Starling I wanted more of, not Hannibal.

I get it though, Hopkins remained magnetic on screen. The way he delivered his lines, the way he moved, the life he brought to the role. They really would not have had a movie had Hopkins declined to return.

Though the film had the highest grossing opening weekend for a  R-rated movie at the time, critics were mixed and mostly dismissive of Hannibal. Roger Ebert called it a "carnival geek show" and gave it a thumbs down. It was mostly considered a gross and inferior film to Silence, which had enjoyed rave reviews to go along with it's numerous Oscar wins. I think there was a grand amount of unfairness and misunderstanding on the part of critics, though. Hannibal needed to be judged as an individual stand alone film and not held up so closely to Silence. Hannibal wasn't the same sort of slick, commercial, psychological thriller Silence was. It was very much a horror/crime film with it's own aesthetic. Scott was not beholden to Demme's vision, nor has Scott ever been turned off by violence the way Demme initially was before he accepted the Silence job.

There are four different Lecter "universes"; The Hopkins, The Rising, The Mann, and The Fuller. We're only concerned with The Hopkins right now though, which is Silence, Hannibal, and Red Dragon (which is a remake that basically exists to correct what DeLaurentis considers the mistake of Mann's Manhunter). All three films are so tonally different that they have to be judged more on their own merit than as a whole. Having three different directors, with three distinct styles doesn't help. The books though can be easily compared and ranked, with Silence and Dragon being strong than Hannibal and Hannibal Rising, which are both very strong books at the end of the day. Back to Hannibal the film though, I think the critical response was due more a misperception and/or prejudged misconceptions about what the film was and was not. How could anyone had gotten around that though? Silence was a juggernaut and Hannibal was doomed to wither in it's shadow before a single frame was shot.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

FADE TO BLACK (1980)

It was the same rented house in Georgia, back in 1980, when at four years old I had seen Carrie, Alien, Jaws, and Jaws 2-practically cementing my future as a horror-fiend. That house, while not as scary as the previous house we'd lived (which was straight up haunted and a story for another day), was where I started having reoccurring nightmares that are still fresh in my mind 37 years later. I never connected to them to Alien or Jaws, which seemed to play on HBO all the time, because they were about being strapped to a hospital bed in a dark room surrounded by doctors in surgical masks. I was unable to scream and everything kept speeding up and slowing down. I've never had a surgery in my life, so I have no idea why, in that house only, I was plagued by those dreams. I was terrified to go to sleep in there and that was the beginning of my sneaky late night TV viewings.

I've never really had much of a bed time in the first place, so I have vivid memories of seeing the opening of The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson all the time. That year, two films came out that I saw the trailers for on TV that really scared me. One was Alligator, which just seemed so much scarier than Jaws, since that fucking alligator had legs and being on land wouldn't save me. The other was Fade To Black. The image of the lead character's (Eric Binford played by Dennis Christopher) face, half painted in ghoulish Bela Lugosi Dracula-style was seared into my brain. Every time I caught the commercial, my blood ran cold. (Side note; my dad dressed up as Dracula every Halloween when he was the manager for the various Walmart stores he worked. He'd lay in a coffin at the front of the store and rise up to greet the shoppers. I was TERRIFIED to be near him until he wiped the make up off. I remember begging him to be Frankenstein instead, because Frankenstein didn't scare me. So I was already predisposed to be freaked out by Drac.)

A few years later when we got our first VCR and I started regularly renting horror movies, Fade To
Black was a must see. I checked every shop in town (we had five or six) and no one had it. It did get a VHS and a Beta Max release in the 80s, but didn't see a re-release until 1999's Anchor Bay DVD, which was apparently bare bones. I've heard there were some rights issues with the film that made it sort of a lost gem. I poked around on the web before starting this piece and didn't find anything to back that up. I missed out on the Anchor Bay release, though, and Fade To Black continued to be a lost must-see, until a week or so ago when it was dumped onto Amazon's streaming service to very little fan fare. Johnny Metro of Cult Credentials tweeted about it and I was pretty damned excited.

While the film starts off with a great amount of promise and we get strong performances from Christopher and Eve Brent Ashe as Aunt Stella and even a young Mickey Rourke as a bully co-worker named Richie, Fade To Black quickly begins stumbling. With over the top dialogue, disposable co-stars, and an over abundance of on-the-nose references and gimmicks, the movie loses steam fast. Christopher's Binford is literally the only thing that keeps Fade To Black afloat through its 100 minute run time. My wife pointed out that some of the over the top dialogue sort of reminded her of a John Waters film and I can kind of see that too, but I don't think that's what the writer and director intended, which is too bad. If Fade was injected with a bit of Waters' humor and sleaze, it might have stood up better.

I hesitate to knock the film too hard, as it's been built up in my head to be something it never promised to be. In fact, if you watch the trailer, it represents the film pretty well. Also, I went in expecting a horror film, but instead got more of a psychological thriller with some muddled sub-plots. Would I be more forgiving if Fade To Black was a slasher film? Maybe. Also, now that we're living in a post-Scream meta world, did that color my experience as well? Also, maybe. Speaking of Scream, both movies reference Halloween; in both, characters are watching the film, in Scream there's a discussion about Halloween and the rules of the slasher film, and in Fade there's a Halloween poster prominently displayed, alongside a Tourist Trap poster (all three were produced by Irwin Yablans). Binford, though, is more Norman Bates than Michael Meyers. Plenty of Psycho parallels throughout. What's interesting about the Halloween parallels is that Fade was reacting to Halloween when the slasher boom was still young and coming together and Scream is reacting to Halloween after the slasher boom has crashed and burned under the weight of it's own tropes and cliches. If Yablans wanted another Halloween or Tourist Trap, Fade was just too cerebral, slow, and bloodless to compete with Friday The 13th or the following year's Halloween II.  

What's the verdict? Fade To Black is not a waste of your time. It is worth seeing, but I'd stream it rather than buy a physical copy. I think it would play best as part of a double feature with 1990's Popcorn. 

Friday, April 28, 2017

REVIEWING THE HANNIBAL LECTER SAGA PART ONE; SILENCE OF THE LAMBS

Before we dive in here, I wanted to acknowledge the passing of director Jonathan Demme this week at the age of 73. He was a very talented director and seemed very smart and compassionate. I'm not terribly well versed on his filmography, but Silence Of The Lambs had a tremendous impact on me. There are scenes etched in my brain from my very first viewing. My heart goes out to his friends and family and the fans he touched with his art. Rest in peace.

"I'd rather confuse the audience for five minutes, than bore them for five seconds." -JD


Thomas Harris' novel Silence Of The Lambs is a chilling and engrossing novel about FBI trainee,
Clarice Starling, who inadvertently becomes embroiled in the Bureau's attempt to capture the serial killer known as Buffalo Bill. It starts with a chance to prove herself to Bureau director Jack Crawford by getting incarcerated serial murder and cannibal Hannibal Lecter to participate in a questionnaire. Starling and Lecter soon find themselves engaged in a wild and frightening chess game with a young woman's life hanging in the balance. Lecter offers Starling his aid in capturing Buffalo Bill, but there's nothing altruistic about his help.

Hannibal Lecter was originally introduced in the novel Red Dragon appearing in much the same capacity; incarcerated in the Baltimore State Hospital For The Criminally Insane, being sought for his help in capturing a killer known as The Tooth Fairy. In Red Dragon, though, it's not an inexperienced FBI trainee that dummies into Lecter's help, but a seasoned FBI profiler, what's more, the profiler, Will Graham, has a dark history with Lecter. Graham captured Lecter, but nearly died and subsequently quit the Bureau. Crawford drags Graham out of retirement to capture The Tooth Fairy and Graham reluctantly turns to Lecter-once a brilliant psychiatrist with a taste for human flesh.

Red Dragon is a fantastic novel, dark and chilling, full of characters that we still can't get enough of twenty-six years later. The book was adapted into a great, if a bit reductive, film by Michael Mann in 1986. The title was changed to Manhunter, fearing it would be mistaken for a kung fu flick. Lecter was played by Brian Cox (X-Men 2). The film was met with mixed reviews, but over the years has become a cult favorite. As good as the movie was, it was light years away from the phenomena that the Silence Of The Lambs would become.

Jonathan Demme was the director that ultimately ushered Silence Of The Lambs into cinemas after Gene Hackman backed out due to the overt violence. Demme was an odd choice for such dark material as his previous films had been off-beat comedies, but he got the material and with an already on board Jodie Foster, he was about to capture lightning in a bottle.

Foster campaigned for and won the role of Starling, while Jack Crawford was played by Scott Glen (Netflix's Daredevil) and Ted Levine (Shutter Island) was cast as Buffalo Bill aka Jame Gumb. There was an exhaustive search for who'd play Lecter and Demme found the perfect fit in British actor Anthony Hopkins. The behind the scenes/making of story of Silence Of The Lambs is well documented. In fact, the newest Blu Ray that you can pick up at Target for less than $10 has a handful of excellent featurettes that are worth every second of your time, beyond that there's the film's Wiki and IMDB pages. So let's skip all that and get down to the focus of our latest review series; Hannibal the Cannibal.

The novel Red Dragon gives us far more insight and background for Lecter than Manhunter does, but the character is far more fleshed out in Silence Of The Lambs. I've liked Brian Cox in everything I've seen him in and really liked him as Lecter as well, but I saw Silence first, so Hopkins was imprinted in my brain as Lecter and it took several viewings before I was able to fully appreciate Cox in the role. That said, Hopkins is the stronger Lecter for a number of reasons; the size of the role, the richness of material, the quality of the film, increased fleshed out source material, amount of screen time...Hopkins had no shortage of advantages over Cox, but primarily he was simply the better choice for the character. It's a role Hopkins was born to play and he did so in three films darkly delightful.

It's important to note, and I think it gets forgotten more than two decades later with Hannibal a household name, that Hopkins was not the main star of Silence-that would be Starling and it's Foster's stellar performance that propelled Hopkins' performance to the cultural heights we know today. I hate to imagine anyone else sitting on the other side of that plexiglass from Hopkins, because it is just too good watching them verbally spar. When he starts mocking her southern accent, it's not just the character Starling about to jump out of her skin, but the actress Foster. The two are so deep in their roles and so good at what they do! Which is why it was such a disappointment when she didn't return for Ridley Scott's Hannibal. Her replacement, Julianne Moore, who I normally love, suffered the same fate as Brian Cox for me, having to fill a role I couldn't imagine anyone else playing.  She's an accomplished and talented actress in her own right and doesn't deserve to be held to anyone's standards but her own and she still turns in an excellent portrayal. Also, the movie succeeds on many other levels as well.

Back to Silence Of The Lambs, the film was released in February 1991 and as the year went on and the film built a reputation and gained popularity, it became clear that the hero of the film was being eclipsed by the monster, and not even the main monster. Buffalo Bill is the main antagonist of Silence, while Lecter's story is more of an ongoing sub plot carried over from Red Dragon. Public interest made Hannibal the focus of Harris's next two novels, Hannibal and Hannibal Rising (a prequel/origin story). But why?

We love our monsters. We go don't go see Friday The 13th for the camp councilors or Frankenstein for the good doctor. Our monsters can reflect our real life boogy men-recession, divorce, abuse, war- while their defeat provides a moment of catharsis or their crimes and transgressions can be the catharsis for all of our inner angst that we have to push down and bury in our hearts and psyches. Hannibal is not like Jason. Jason can be our school bully or he can be us. Hannibal can't be imprinted on in the same way. We're not half as smart as Hannibal and our bullies and bosses sure as hell aren't either. Hannibal is this uncanny other. More real than Jason or Frankenstein's monster, because he's not a cultural archetype. His DNA is in real life serial murderers and he's infused with an intellect that's awe-inspiring, but not wholly unbelievable. He's in equal measures alluring and repulsive. As a villain, he has far more in common with Sherlock Holmes' Doctor Moriarty-a superior intellectual superman always one step ahead of the good guys, made all the more real by his flaws and weaknesses. He's egotistical and prideful and for all machinations he still wound up in a cage. Somehow, the way both Harris and Demme portrayed Hannibal in his cell with the whole institute on high alert where he was concerned made him so frightening.

The film spends ten minutes talking about Hannibal before we finally see him. Demme builds suspense and tension for Hannibal's big reveal like Hitchcock on steroids. When we finally see him, he's a friendly looking (at first glance), middle aged man with a warm smile. It's only after we have to spend some time with him that we realize that he's not blinking. That's not a smile, not a human smile, but more like the illusion a cat's smile gives us-there's no joy, that's just the face of an apex predator. In addition to his eloquent speech, he has impeccable manners, but he's always toying with the edges some immoral and perverse word play or riddle. There's a crudity to the man that's like a dirty, moldy wall covered in layer after layer of good paint. He toys with the film's characters like a cat that bats around a mouse for fun. He could snuff them out effortlessly, but he enjoys the game.

Neither the success of the novel or the success of the film can be solely attributed to Hannibal though. As magnetic as the character is, Moriarty needed Holmes and Hannibal has a host of adversaries worthy of him. Graham and Starling, with Jack Crawford, Alan Bloom, (Alana Bloom for TV), and others to a lesser extent either put Hannibal away or kept him running. In Clarice Starling, Harris created a great spoil for Hannibal, Buffalo Bill, and the powers that be in the FBI. Silence Of The Lambs and Hannibal.
Starling could have come across like a Nancy Drew, but Harris crafted a believable and sympathetic heroine. Starling has the smarts, a strong, fierce drive to succeed, and a natural goodness inside her that take her a long way with her Bureau training and then it's her wits, her intuition, and in equal measures her bravery and ability to control her fears that ultimately saves the day. She's no Sherlock Holmes or Jason Bourne, she's someone we can believe in. We can believe in her smarts, her intuition, her endurance, her vulnerability, and her strength. Starling is the heart, the engine of Silence Of The Lambs and Hannibal.

In the next installment we'll look at the book and film Hannibal before backing up to the book and remake of Manhunter, Red Dragon, since that was the order the Anthony Hopkins led films were shot in. Following that, I'll dig into both Hannibal Rising and Manhunter, while Popshifter's Leslie Hatton will join us for a look into Bryan Fuller's excellent TV adaptation, Hannibal.  
     

    

Thursday, April 27, 2017

CONTEST TIME! WIN A COPY OF JOHN LANDIS'S MONSTERS IN THE MOVIES!

Wanna win a copy of this gorgeous and exhaustive tribute to our favorite monsters on film? All you gotta do is comment below with your favorite monster! Winner will be chosen at random Sunday night!

Friday, March 31, 2017

MOTEL ON FIRE A NEW COLLECTION OF HORROR STORIES AVAILABLE NOW!

The wait is over, fiends, my new collection of horror shorts is out today!

You can go to Createspace directly right HERE or order from Amazon or your local bookstore.
ISBN 978-1543039016

From the author of the horror-noir City Long Suffering, comes a collection of horror stories that takes on much of what the genre has to offer, from body horror, to the supernatural, to the paranormal, to the occult, and beyond.

Motel On Fire is a book of journeys-some physical, some mental. It is a travelogue of terror, zig-zagging across America.

"The stories in "Motel on Fire" are short exploratory surgeries, deep cuts exposing the stinking, poverty-stricken heart of hell. Filled with gangs, nuns, demons and desperate people, "Motel on Fire" is horror without compromise. Violent without shame, terrifying without regret, each turn of the page will have you wincing in expectation of what's coming next. Murr has hit his stride with this collection, and "Motel on Fire" should put him on the map. Read it if you've got the balls." 
--Jeffery X Martin
Author of "Parham's Field" and "Hunting Witches"
copyright 2017 Stephanie Murr