Thursday, July 20, 2017

GOOD BYE, MR ROMERO, I OWE YOU SO MUCH

The loss of George A Romero this week is a staggering blow. As a director, he wasn't just a master of horror, he is the father of modern horror. After 1969's Night Of The Living Dead came out, horror cinema changed. His films The Crazies, Martin, Season Of The Witch, Dawn and Day of the Dead, Knightriders, Creepshow I and II, Two Evil Eyes, The Dark Half, and Monkey Shines are testament to his greatness. Some of his work is a bit uneven, he often struggled with budgets and getting distribution, but when the film arrived it did so through the vision and hard work of a man who never said die. Just days before his death we received news about his latest project, another zombie film, called Road of the Dead. It had been a long time since we had gotten a new Romero film, the last one being 2009's Survival of the Dead. Romero was no stranger to having film projects fall through, and in my opinion-and the opinion of a lot of fans-Romero never got the respect he absolutely deserved from the Hollywood establishment, despite a string of classic films that defined a genre and inspired generations of indie filmmakers.

I talked about discovering Romero's work back in "My Heroes Have Always Been Monsters Part 36" and the huge impact his Dead films had on my life as a kid trying to be a writer. At the annual Humanities Fest in 1992 I entered a short story called "Bios-Fear" that I "dead-icated" to Romero. It was, of course, a zombie story about people fleeing across the country trying to stay ahead of the zombie outbreak, many people escaping by plane to Hawaii, only to have zombies emerge from the ocean, marching on to the beach months later. I ripped off the ending from The Ghost Galleon, from the Blind Dead series, but the rest of the story was purely inspired by Romero's Dead films, I even named all the characters after actors from the three films. From that point there has always been a piece of Romero in everything I do. Cronenberg and Lynch may have had the biggest influence on me overall, but Romero was ground zero for everything I wanted to become. His spirit of independence and the heart and intelligence he infused into gory B-films, elevating them to pieces of art will always be something I lean on with every new story or book I write.

I never got to meet Romero, but his passing hurt really bad. It helped that day to be on Twitter interacting with others who were crushed by his death. We celebrated him and it was cathartic and I felt a little better at the end of the day. Hollywood may have churned out Happy Meal versions of his films instead of funding his vision, but his fans and friends knew how important he was. He was a giant who lifted others to heights they may not have achieved on their own. In these dire times we're going through right now, we could use a Romero flick to skewer our enemies and blow our minds with shocking visuals.

I woke up this morning and put on Dawn of the Dead. The film is still a striking masterpiece and a standard bearer of our genre. I've watched Dawn more than any other movie, in fact I'm going to watch it again tomorrow when I show it to my kids. I think it's an important enough film and they're old enough to handle it. I hope it moves them the same way it moved me. 

Peace and love to your spirit, George. 

 


Wednesday, July 12, 2017

TOBE HOOPER'S LIFEFORCE

Based on the 1976 novel, The Space Vampires, by Colin Wilson, Lifeforce (1985)was the first of a three picture deal Tobe Hooper had signed with Canon Films. It was also the follow up to his Steven Spielberg collaboration Poltergeist (1982). Hooper had made a name for himself with the notorious 1973 film The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, 77's Eaten Alive, and 81's The Funhouse. Poltergeist, despite it's PG rating was a phenomenal film that split the difference between Spielberg and Hooper's aesthetics, giving us the goriest, scariest kid friendly film I've ever seen. Hooper was next set to tackle the living dead Return Of The Living Dead, which would have been called Tobe Hooper's Return Of The Living Dead, but left the project when the Canon deal came through. Writer Dan O'Bannon (who wrote the screenplay and wrote Alien) was brought on to direct and was also tapped by Hooper to adapt The Space Vampires.

Though it was a critical and financial bomb at the time, Lifeforce is an ambitious film with a sturdy cast, really good, if not great special effects, and a truckload of memorable moments. For me, it's only second to
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2 as Hooper's most enjoyable film to watch. There are apparently some call backs to Hammer Films' Quatermass films, but I'm not familiar with those and can't speak to that, but I did catch some nods to Lifeforce in this summer's Universal The Mummy. Also, we've seen the idea of vampires from space before with Vampirella and Mario Bava's Planet Of The Vampires (which was one of the films that inspired O'Bannon's Alien). Lifeforce and Planet Of The Vampires would make an amazing double feature, by the way.

The story is about the space shuttle Churchill intercepting Haley's Comet to study it and discovering a 150 mile long spacecraft that's full of bat-like creatures and three pods each containing a nude humanoid, one female, two males. The pods are brought back on to the Churchill and thirty days later the Columbia is sent to rescue the Churchill which is drifting off course back to earth with no communications. The Columbia crew finds the ship gutted by fire with only the three pods remaining intact and bring them back to earth for study. As the original title suggests, space vampire wackiness ensues.

If you haven't seen Lifeforce, Scream Factory's Blu-ray is an absolute treat and I don't say that lightly. The colors and visual effects really pop in this restoration. As sci-fi horror flicks go, it tends to be a bit more bonkers than scary, but that just makes it more fun. O'Bannon's script is solid, and if anyone knows sci-fi horror, it's the guy that wrote frigging Alien! As a director, at least up to 93's Night Terrors, Hooper had been really solid and consistent, working in film and television. His filmography may not be as distinguished as John Carpenter's, but I think Hooper's less loved films, particularly Lifeforce and Invaders From Mars is due a reassessment. Even TCM2 tends to get some undue hate to this day.
Lifeforce stars Steven Railsback, Peter Firth, Frank Finlay, and Patrick Stewart, but Mathilda May owns the film. Her bold, fully nude performance is without a doubt the centerpiece of the film. Her background in dance gave her the ability to move in a way that communicates both threat and allure. Lifeforce was her first feature and she barely spoke English, but you'd never know from her confident and commanding performance.

John Dykstra did the special effects, mixing puppetry, animation, and miniatures. Sometimes the effects look a bit dated, but no less charming and still beat out most CGI by a country mile.  Friday The 13th's Henry Mancini did the score with additional music from Michael Kamen (The Dead Zone, X-Men). I haven't read Wilson's novel, but apparently he hated the film. The Canon group was very excited about the project though and gave Hooper $25 million, in hopes of elevating the film above their usual low budget fare and getting the film taken seriously. Unfortunately, this wasn't meant to be as critics and fans didn't get it and didn't care and the film flopped, not even making back half its budget. But like Halloween III, Lifeforce is simply too good of a film to be relegated to the dustbin of history and has been kept alive by a steady cult following. Any flaws the film has are minor compared to its many strengths.



    

Friday, July 7, 2017

new fiction; MIDNIGHT WITCH DUB

By Tim Murr
Copyright Tim Murr/St Rooster Books 2017


The chemical orange of the streetlight bathed Thomas Street eerily. There was a mist hanging in in the air and the shadows were full of secrets. Alexandra was leaning back in a metal deck chair on her porch sipping coffee waiting for Dana to call back. Dana had said ten minutes, but it had been two hours. All the neighbors’ windows were dark and the only sound, save for an occasional passing car down on Main, was the Allen’s Labrador barking at the occasional wind knocking a tree branch against a bird house.

Alexandra had had her back to her house for too long and she was getting spooked. It was always the same emotional push and pull with this place. She worked nights and stayed up late even on her days off and loved her porch at night, but every time she would have to psych herself up to go back inside and go through the process of checking every room and every door, and every window. She hoped the anxiety was something that would pass after she was used to living on her own, but after six months it was still the same routine.

She checked her phone and decided Dana must have fallen asleep, which wasn’t unusual. All her friends had more conventional schedules, nine-to-five kinda lives. It was getting hard to even go out on the weekends, as everyone was getting older, landing in relationships, and just not having free time. Alexandra worked nights at county general ER and weirdly loved it. She was the only doctor on staff that showed up in a good mood. Somehow, working that shift with the drunk driving victims, bar brawlers, and crazies, she felt at ease and fully in control of her world. It was something her mother could never wrap her head around. Her mother had a private practice and was mortified that Alexandra insisted on night shifts.

“How are you going to have a life?”

“This is the life I’m happy with, mom.”

“You were always such a weird child…”

Alexandra sighed and turned her cup up, swallowing the last drop.

She was always the outsider, with every circle of friends, going back to grade school. A ship adrift in the night. She was rarely disliked, but people had a hard time getting a bead on her. This made her mysterious and interesting. She never felt like either of those things, instead she often felt bored and lonely.

Then a bird landed on the railing beside her. Noisily flapping the mist off its wings, as it came to an awkward landing. It was a large crow or raven, she was not sure what the difference was-it was just a big, black bird. It turned its head, looking right at her.

“Hey, bird. You lost?”

The bird stuck its neck out and cawed.

“I’ve got some bread, but you’ll probably fly away when I get up to get it.”

The bird cawed again and clumsily danced side to side.

“Ok, cool. You stay right there,” she said as she slowly got up, turning away to pick up her phone.

“Actually, I was hoping I could come in.”

Alexandra spun around at the voice and found, perched in the bird’s place on the railing, a woman in a long black cloak, the hood thrown back, revealing long, dark, brown hair.

“I didn’t mean to scare you, but I don’t think there was any way around that.”

“Oh, uh, you didn’t scare me, but, um, have you seen my bird friend?”

The woman smiled and gingerly stepped down from the railing.

“Transmutation takes a lot of focus and energy,” she said as she straightened up, showing obvious signs of pain.

Alexandra calmly processed her situation. She wasn’t exactly freaked out, which struck her as a pointless reaction to this surprising situation. Instead, she became almost calmly analytical about it; a bird just turned into a woman beside her, ok, next? The woman’s hair was wet, her eyes were cat-like, her lips were red, but too red, she was bleeding, the black cloak over a white blouse and a black knee-length skirt, and combat boots.

She reached out to steady herself on Alexandra’s chair, revealing a wide crimson stain under her right arm. Drops of blood began to spatter on the white boards of the porch.

“Oh, my god, you’re hurt. Come inside, I’m a doctor.”

The woman smiled as she accepted Alexandra’s arm for support.

“I know, I…was looking for a doctor or a nurse and I found you.”

“Why didn’t you go to the hospital, it’s not far away?”

“Because I’d be found. I’ll explain.”

“I’d appreciate that.”

Alexandra helped her out of the cloak and then to sit on the edge of the bath tub. She got out a first aid kit and a box of gauze while the woman took off her blouse. When Alexandra turned to her, she was shivering in a black strapless bra. A very thin woman, who did have a bit a bird-like appearance that covered an inner strength that was not to be trifled with. The dark eye make-up was a brilliant contrast against her pale skin. Alexandra quickly realized, though, that she wasn’t pale in a goth sort of way, but from blood loss and exhaustion.

Alexandra straddled the tub beside her and inspected the wound.

“Damn, girl.”

Half of the back of the bra was cut revealing the top of an eight-inch vertical slash that went to bone.

“I’m Claudia.”

“Claudia. That’s a name you don’t come across much these days. I’m Alexandra. What happened here?”

“I was attacked by six men.”

“Shit! Was this from a knife?”

“A hatchet, actually.”

“I’m going to undo you in the back, so hold the front if you’re self-conscious.”

“I’m fine. Go ahead.”

“Can you identify the men?”

“I know who they are.”

Alexandra treated some cotton balls with peroxide and gently started dabbing the wound. Claudia winced but stayed still.

“…And turning into a bird was how you got away?”

“Not right away. It takes energy and focus…I had to put some distance between me and them to find a quiet spot. Then I had to focus on finding someone who could help me. I’m very lucky you’re a night owl.”

“I’ll call the police as soon as I stop the bleeding. Then I’m taking you to the hospital. You’re going to need stitches and I’d feel better doing it there.”

“If you call the cops…”

“Hey. You’re safe. How far did you come?”

“From across town, but it took a while to find you, and they know how to track me. So as soon as you can stop the bleeding, I need to go.”

“No. I’m going to call the cops. I have a friend on the force. A detective, really bad ass. We’ll keep you safe and those assholes will go to jail.”

“They’ll kill any cop that comes for them. You don’t understand…this isn’t a normal situation. I’m a witch and they are a cult of necromancers. They need the left hand of a witch to resurrect a guy named Clive Cunningham.”

“Why is that name familiar?”

“He was a mass murderer. The Syracuse Slasher. He was murdered in prison back in the ‘90s.”

Alexandra made a thick roll of gauze, big enough to cover the wound and then reached for another roll to wrap around Claudia’s torso.

“Right. I watched the episode of American Killer about him. I have so many questions right now, I’m not sure where to begin…”

“I just dumped transmutation, witchcraft, and necromancy on your doorstep. I’d be worried if you didn’t have a couple inquiries…Cunningham claimed to be gathering supernatural strength from each victim. This cult believes he’ll be this unstoppable weapon for them.”

“Weapon for what?”

“Basically, a gang war between them and some other sorcerers.”

“Claudia, promise me one thing; when all this is over, explain all of it to me from the beginning and spare no details!”

Claudie smiled over her shoulder.

“Promise.”

Alexandra made a nice tight wrap and clipped the gauze.

“Hang tight, I’ll give you a shirt.”

“Thank you, Alexandra. I’m sorry to have made all this on your life.”

Alexandra stopped half way out the door and turned.

“Oh, please. Helping people is my job…You know what’s funny though? None of this is terribly surprising. It’s almost like I’ve been waiting for this night all my life.”

“Maybe you and I have some connection in the past.”

“Let me get that shirt. Don’t move.”

In the bedroom, there was no overhead light. Alexandra had to walk halfway across the room to her nightstand to turn on the lamp. She had taken two steps in, when she saw movement outside her window. She froze in the dark and watched. There was a person there, fortunately she was hidden in the shadows. Then a chill ran up her spine when she realized that she didn’t remember locking the front door.

She grabbed the first t-shirt from the top of the drawer and ran back to the bathroom. She tossed it to Claudia and ran for the living room without a word. Claudia knew that she’d been found.

Once she reached the living room, Alexandra could see that the door was closed, but the deadbolt had not been turned. As she went for it, the door knob began to turn. Her blood ran cold and she threw her whole weight against the door as it began to open and quickly latched the door. Whoever was on the other side began rattling the knob, and throwing their shoulder into the door and then started trying to kick it open.

She held herself against the door and opened her phone and dialed 911.

While Alexandra talked to the operator, Claudia surveyed the house from the midway point between the living room and the kitchen. The house had too many weak spots, no time for warding spells, and there was almost definitely no gun in the house. She knew that any cops that showed up would be slaughtered, but they might create a chance for she and Alexandra to escape.

“Get away from the door, we’re too exposed out here. We need to barricade ourselves in a room we can defend.”

“There are some big knives on the kitchen counter!”

Claudia looked over her shoulder and saw the chunky wooden knife holder, with half a dozen handles sticking out. They grabbed two knives each and Claudia followed her down the hall, stopping to grab her cloak from the bathroom.

“We’ll use the spare room, there’s only one window to watch.”

As she closed the door, they could hear the front window being smashed. They quickly pushed the bookshelf in front of the door, followed by the treadmill. Alexandra kept trying to do it herself, afraid for the state of Claudia’s wound, but Claudia was determined, after all, Alexandra’s survival was now her responsibility.

They could hear footsteps at the other end of the house, but then they also heard sirens coming down the street. Claudia’s stomach sank. She’d seen these men slaughter a coven of senior witches before, the cops didn’t stand a chance.

Claudia closed her eyes and softly began to chant. Alexandra was watching out the window and looked back at her as Claudia’s fists began to glow. Claudia got into a fight stance and became still.

Three police cars came to a screeching stop in front of the house. There were five cops total that got out with guns drawn. Alexandra could see two men dressed in black suits and wearing skull masks come out on to the lawn to meet them.

“Get your hands up and slowly lay down on the ground!”

The men looked at each other and then one yelled ‘no!’ before rushing the officers.

There were footsteps right outside the door.

All five officers opened fire, but the men just danced around the bullets before leaping into the air and pouncing the cops like animals. Alexandra was fumbling to reopen her phone as the two men effortlessly ripped the officers to pieces.

“911-“

“They’re killing them…they’re killing them-“

Two shoulders were banging against the door. Books began to fall from the shelf. Claudia stayed still.

“Oh god, they’re being-“

“Mam, slow down-“

“They’re in the house-“

The door cracked.

One officer stumbled halfway across the yard before one of the men pounced on him and ripped the skin off his face, while his friend beat another officer to death with a severed arm in each hand.

The book shelf tipped over and the other four pushed in.

Alexandra dropped her phone, on the verge of hyperventilating.

Claudia suddenly spun and threw her left fist into the closest man’s chest, blowing him backwards into two others. The fourth grabbed Claudia’s throat, but she jammed her thumbs into his eyes with a sickening, wet pop. The man screamed and threw his fists out wildly, hitting Claudia in the chest and the side of the head before she could get out of the way.

Alexandra rushed forward and sank one of the knives into his chest and he stumbled backwards over the treadmill and went still. The two that were knocked down were already back on their feet. Alexandra could see the one Claudia had hit was dying with his chest caved in.

There was a piercing scream outside and gun shots. Alexandra heard her elderly neighbor shrieking. She ran to the window, but couldn’t see anything. Something was on fire and the yard was full of smoke.

Claudia had her knives and was fighting off both men. Realizing this, Alexandra ran over trying to stab one of them, but he caught her wrist and punched her in the mouth. Taking advantage of the distraction, Claudia slit his throat. Blood sprayed the room. The last man lunged at Claudia, but got stabbed by both women instead.

They heard another gun shot and more yelling. It sounded like the whole neighborhood was awake now and under siege. There were more sirens coming their way, and Alexandra was afraid for them.

Claudia grabbed her arm.

“We have to run.”

The man Alexandra had stabbed was starting to rise and the one with his chest caved in coughed and sat up.

“Claudia, what the fuck?”

“Just run!”

At the end of the hall, they could see a police officer staggering around on the porch with his face beat in. One of the police cars was in flames. They could see shadows moving in the smoke. The man with the caved in chest staggered into the hall breathing hard, trying to say something.

“Back door.”

They rushed through the kitchen and whipped open the back door as a hail of gun fire rocked the neighborhood. Claudia spun and grabbed Alexandra.

“I am so sorry!”

Alexandra hugged her, taking care to avoid her wound.

“Be my best friend when this is over and we’ll call it even! Now shut up and run!”

Outside, they ran for the neighbors’ backyard, but as they reached the no man’s land between properties, they saw it. The two necromancers were descending on the fresh reinforcements. Another neighbor came forward with a shotgun, but before he could get a single shot off, he was knocked unconscious by the severed head of an officer, that was ripped off and thrown with inhuman force.

“How are they doing this,” Claudia gasped. “How have they gotten this strong..?”

Claudia pulled up the hood of the cloak and knelt.

“What are you doing?”

“Watch my back…”

The four necromancers from inside shamble into the backyard. Alexandra started looking for something heavy, when she heard a growl. A panther stepped between her and the necromancers.

“Claudia…”

The one that got stabbed in the chest stepped forward.

“Little witch…look at all the suffering you’re causing.”

Claudia growled.

“Fuck it then!” He roared as they ran at Claudia.

Claudia leapt, ripping flesh with her claws and teeth.

Alexandra considered running back inside for her car keys, but then a powerful hand had her by the neck and she was jerked from the ground. The two necromancers from the front had spotted them and moved like lightning. Alexandra kicked at the one who was choking her, but he just laughed. She tried to focus on Claudia, but she was suddenly slammed to the ground.

Claudia was able gut two of the necromancers before sinking her teeth into the head of the one with the caved in chest. She bit as hard as she could until his skull popped in her mouth. Then there was an explosion in the back of her head. She spun as one of them threw another punch and caught her in the eye. Another dug his fingers into her wound and ripped flesh. Then she was kicked, then punched, then bit, then stomped, then punched…her legs faltered as she took a kick to the side of the head.

Alexandra was forgotten. She staggered in a circle looking for anything-anything-to help Claudia. Then she saw it; her neighbors’ tool shed. She ran for it and thanked Christ out loud when the door wasn’t locked. She fumbled for a light switch, found it, and felt a wave of relief…

Claudia had reverted to her human form and laid helpless, bleeding in the grass as the six men stood over her laughing. The lead necromancer dropped to his knees, pulling a hunting knife from a holster on the back of his belt. Another one held her arm out.

“Stupid, little witch. I coulda done this clean with my hatchet. You can expect this to hurt a bit more and take a bit longer…”

Exhausted and weak, Claudia closed her eyes, hoping that at the very least Alexandra would escape. Then an engine roared to life. She opened her eyes as blood splashed her face.

Alexandra sank her neighbors’ chainsaw into the lead’s head and then swung it at the one holding Claudia’s arm, tearing his jaw half off. She then buried it into the belly of the one that had choked her. The two that had been gutted and the one with the crushed head were already reviving.

Claudia yelled, “cut their heads off!”

Alexandra didn’t hesitate and put the chainsaw’s blade through neck meat six times, tossing the heads a good distance from the bodies. Then she killed the engine and dropped down beside Claudia.

“Is it done?”

“We need to bury the heads somewhere, but that’s not urgent.”

“Ok, cool…I’ll just go get a bag and my car keys and then I’m taking you to the hospital. I’ll bury these assholes tomorrow.”

“You’re my new favorite person, Alexandra.”

“You’re pretty fucking cool too, Claudia.”

End.