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.