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Feast on “Feast”: A Horror Meal Without Meat (Review) 

Renier Palland of Horror Novel Reviews take on my latest publication, FEAST!

Horror Novel Reviews

Feast by author Thomas S Flowers is a fun tale about vengeance and retribution with a strong social narrative on the structures of human sexuality and gender identity. Two rival families are corrupted by the misdeeds of their children, which inadvertently leads to a piece of literature that tries to quantity and equalise social injustice. Unfortunately, this is where Feast falls and breaks its beautifully structured back. The once-important narrative is diluted by oddly placed POV’s and bizarre allusions to Greek mythology.

The transgender son of Titus Fleming, Lavinia, becomes an integral part of the plot during the opening act, but this character – much like the rest – loses steam halfway into the novel. Although the character doesn’t directly refer to herself as a Trans male-to-female, I wished the author could have used she instead of he. It feels outmoded and doesn’t quite make sense. Yes, the character…

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Commentator Featurette: Kim McDonald

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Kim McDonald is no stranger to Machine Mean, having reviewed for us during our Fright Fest series back in October, The Thing (1982). Kim will also be with us during our Creature Features series coming up in 2017. Kim lives in Charleston and loves all things horror. especially foreign horror. Kim also publishes reviews for LOUD GREEN BIRD, tackling some of horror’s greatest treasures, giving readers a deeper retrospective and often introspective on films like “The Iron Rose,” “Baskin,” “The Conjuring 2,” “The Witch,” and much more. As you can see, she is no stranger to the art of movie reviews. You can follow Kim @dixiefairy on Twitter and you can follow her blog, Fairy Musings, here.


Fright Fest: HAUSU (1977)

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Some films you watch because you want to, they’re your usual type of fare. Be it horror, action or zombie films, we all have a certain type of film that irrespective of what we’ve heard from other people, we’ll watch. Then there are the ones that you get from recommendations, they’re not that frequent, and usually go one of two ways. You either love them, or hate them, and cut the aforementioned person from your life. Cos, let’s face it, no one needs that kind of person in their lives.

Then…and there is a point to my rambling, honest, there are the films that offer you a glimpse of something a little different. This is where HOUSE, or HAUSU steps through the doorway, and waves at you, whilst brandishing a bloodied cartoon knife.

I was first alerted to its existence whilst looking through a list of bizarro horror films. From the two paragraph synopsis, I knew that I had to see it. For the avoidance of doubt, this is the Japanese film, called HOUSE, not the 1986 American version. If you’re expecting something on that, well…yeah, you’re in for a number of WTF moments.

See, there is another type of film you watch, and these are the rarest of all, they’re the ones where they are an ‘experience’. Horror films, in the main, don’t really appeal to me. I find that they tend to be filled with tropes, and just aren’t really my bag. But you watch zombie films I hear you cry!

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Yes, yes I do, but see rule number 1. They are my bag, I love them, and I don’t care that you have to watch three or four to see something even remotely different, because of well…zombies.

HAUSU though, well, nothing can quite prepare you for the spectacle you’re about to witness. Reading about it, the film itself was greenlit by Toho studios for TWO YEARS, before it was made. A whole assortment of directors severed it, mainly because they thought it would be their death knoll. This is in part due to the fact that a lot of the film came about as a result of the writer’s daughter.

Yeah…

And to be honest, it shows.

Let’s get the bad out of the way now, lest it cling to the hull of our already heavily barnacled rowboat, and capsize us. The acting is so wooden, it makes enough to form a whole fleet of rowboats. The plot, if you can call it that, is utter BS. The animation, terrible, effects in general, utter shonky, yet none of that matters one jot.

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HAUSU is one helluva odd film to watch, one that you need to switch off that little piece of your brain, which tries to ground what you’re seeing into any semblance of ‘normal’.

So what the hell is it about? A bunch of school girls prepare for a summer way, except one, Angel, who is looking forward to some time away with her father, who has been working in Italy on film scores. He returns, with joyous news! They will be going with his new squeeze, Ryoko, who has a permanently waving scarf, and a penchant for stiff handshakes. Well, this does not please Angel, who scurries off to her room and reminisces about her dead mum. In the process, is reminded of her auntie, who, as luck would have it, lives in a big house all by herself.

Casually inviting herself and her mates for the summer, she waits eagerly by the post-box, with a white fluffy cat, that turns up out of nowhere. Her aunt replies and says she would love to see them all. So off they go…

What follows is the girls disappearing one at a time. Conveniently, they are all called things like Prof (wears glasses), Mac (eats a lot), Fantasy ( a bit of a daydreamer) and Kung Fu, which I bet you’ll never work out what she does.

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The way they go missing is just so comical, that you’re not sure if it actually happened. Obviously, with it being nigh on forty years old, it looks dated, but the director intentionally made the effects bad. I mean, that’s taking pride in your work to a whole new level. I don’t even know that I would still have a job if I applied that logic to my own vocation:

WORK: “So…Duncan, we called you into this meeting today, as we asked you to do this urgent database update.

ME: “Uh-huh, yep, you sure did.”

WORK: “One which was necessary to stop us losing our entire book of business.”

ME: “Oh yes, I felt really humbled that you asked me to do that, pretty big honour, I have to admit.”

WORK: “So, why did you debone a swordfish and play a medley of Ska songs on its skeleton?”

ME: “Well, thing is, I wanted it to be so bad, that instead of me keeping the business afloat, I wanted it to be really silly.”

WORK: “But you-”

ME: “Like, really silly. I think I managed it, don’t you?”

It just wouldn’t work, would it?

Or would it…I’ll save that for another day.

Kumiko Oba ("Fantasy")

Anyway, it is an unusual approach, and in any other film, it would have made it ridiculous. But HAUSU, is already light years ahead of you, presiding in the Ridiculous nebula, part of the Ridiculous galaxy. How might you ask? Well, you have a man fall down stairs, slide around on the floor, stop-motion style, before having a bucket stuck on his arse. This serves as his reason as to why he can’t drive the girls to the house.

How the hell can you try and make that shit legitimate?

You just can’t, so the only thing you can do, embrace it, know what you’re doing is so utterly mental, that all you can do, is push the envelope some more until it ruddy well works.

THAT is the beauty of this film. So many scenes are just filled with my internal monologue going, “What the actual fuck is going on?” I’m not gonna list them, as you really do need to spend some time and watch it for yourself, even if it’s just the once.

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As for horror, the effects kybosh any real chance of building up suspense or dread, and the sharp left turns, which make little sense, also remove any shock value. Again, though, it doesn’t matter. If you come into this film expecting a tight narrative, kickass effects and gasping shocks and turns, you chose poorly.

So why the hell should you watch it? I get ya, your time is precious, you have a million and one other things you could be doing. There are pigs to scrub down, flame wars to ignite on social media, Machiavellian plans to hatch. I will ask you but one question…do you want to watch something which is genuinely different than 95% of the other films you will watch during your life? If you do, then give it a crack. Revel in its awfulness, laugh at the effects, but most of all, just enjoy a film that will live long in your head.

HAUSU is like that one person you know, who you see only fleetingly, but for the brief time you do, you see how wonderful true strangeness can be.

DPB Picture

Living in a hollowed out pumpkin, Duncan P. Bradshaw finds October the most troublesome of months, as people become intent on sticking flaming candles into the midst of his happy abode. In fact, the only good thing to come about from it is the copious amount of candy that he steals from passers-by. When they have all sodded right off, he retires to the tip of the stalk, which affords him excellent views of the neighbourhood. As the rest of the street slumbers, he writes down the weird and wonderful thoughts that have built up during the day, like the plaque. Find out what he writes down, by checking out his website http://duncanpbradshaw.co.uk/ or follow him on Facebook, where he does all manner of things https://www.facebook.com/duncanpbradshaw/

And as always, if you enjoyed what you’ve read here on Machine Mean, please subscribe to our author mailing list by clicking on the FREE BOOK image below to not only receive updates on sales and new releases, but also a free anthology of dark fiction.

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Universal Monsters in Review: The Silent Era (1895-1929)

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Long ago (back in January), when I decided to start this series reviewing Universal’s classic monsters, I had based the review lineup on a box set release titled “Universal: Classic Monsters, Complete 30-Film Collection.” My very awesome wife had gotten me this set for my something-ish birthday back, also back in January. I was very excited to be able to watch the classics that I’ve loved for years and even more so the ones I had never seen before. In fact, according to the 30-film roster, there were plenty I had never seen. Some I’d never even heard of before. And there were a few that I was surprised to find not included in the box set. Of these, I was most surprised to find that Lon Chaney’s original masterpiece The Phantom of the Opera (1925) was missing. I imagine a lot of people consider the 1925 version to be a Universal classic over the 1943 remake. The one with Claude Rains was pretty good and has an excellent ranking of Rotten Tomatoes, but its inclusion felt kinda tossed in, like as a “bonus” film and not really flirted to be something really belonging to the Universal Monsters lineup. All you have to do is google a picture of the classic monsters and I guarantee you you’ll find Lon Chaney’s Phantom alongside Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff. Why is that? Perhaps it has to do with our affection for the precursors of horror. That’s right folks, I feel it’s a necessity that we talk about the great granddaddies of film, the silent era, even if none of the following films technically belong to the Universal Studios monster vault. For this last review in the Universal Monsters in Review series, I’d like to take a step back and discuss some of those non-talkies that paved the way for the more beloved character tropes.

Le Manoir du Diable (1896)

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Also known for us English speakers as The Haunted Castle, 120 years ago is French directed short film was credited as the first horror movie depicting an encounter with the Devil and various phantoms. The movie was only 3 minutes long, but given the era, during the first birth pains of modern motion pictures, the film is considered to be rather ambitious for its day. There is also a flying bat featured in the short, which some have believed to be a vampire because it changes into the character Mephistopheles, and also because, towards the end of the film, one of the heroes banishes Mephistopheles with the use of a crucifix. Bram Stoker’s Dracula was published a full year following the film’s release in 1897…

Frankenstein (1910)

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Over a hundred years ago (106), the very first motion picture adaptation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein debuted. This was also the very first American horror movie. The Birth of a Nation (1915) could probably be considered to be the second non-credited American horror movie, but I’ll just leave that one alone for now. This version of Frankenstein was produced by Edison Studios and written and directed by J. Searle Dawley, one of the first “noted men” in budding Hollywoodland, directing over 149 films between 1907 and 1926. Frankenstein was only 16 minutes long, but in that span, they succeeded in creating a masterful work of horror. The image of the Creature coming to Dr. Frankenstein’s bedside is a chilling moment in film history. Commercially, according to the documentary Nightmares in the Red, White, and Blue, the film was a failure, but after its discovery in the 1950s among the Edison archives a niche cult following has developed for the film and others like it.

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)

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The post-Great-War German Expressionist Movement is in of itself a wonderful era of film worthy of digesting with a glass of wine and a cigar. Caligari will not be the only one we’ll mention here. The story is certainly interesting, a hypnotist uses a “sleeping” Somnambulist to commit murder in a way of proving his act is the “real deal.” But even more is the design and look of the movie. The characters inhabit a jagged landscape with sharp angles and tilted walls, strange staircases, and other radical distortions. It’s almost as if the movie itself is a funhouse. Caligari gave birth to not only the exploration of what films can do imaginatively but also (in my humble opinion) the world’s first movie star, Conrad Veidt, who would eventually move from Berlin to Hollywoodland and star is several feature films, including The Hands of Orlac, The Man Who Laughs, and Casablanca, to name a few. To say that The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is an important movie in film history would be an understatement. If you haven’t seen this one, you need to.

Nosferatu (1922)

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Another among the German Expressionist films, Nosferatu is considered by many to be the first film adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, there is some debate regarding that, but to say it is the only surviving film would be closer to the truth. And not just an adaptation but an unauthorized adaptation, hence some of the name changes such as Count Dracula becoming Count Orlok, and the term vampire changing to Nosferatu. Stoker’s wife ended up suing film producers and the courts ended up ordering that all prints be destroyed. Some copies survived and according to Rotten Tomatoes, Nosferatu is now the second highest ranking horror movie of all time, second only to The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. Nosferatu first made it to the shores of America in 1929 and was largely a success, paving the way for future horror movies, such as Dracula which released in 1931, following permission from the Stroker family, of course.

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1920)

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Some are surprised to find Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde not included within the Universal Monster roster, it is, after all, a beloved character trope based on the classic novella by Louis Stevenson. However, one of the major reasons for this is that Paramount owned the rights to the story, hence why Universal never added it to their monster lineup. Regardless, in my opinion, the story reeks of classic “Universal” monsters. And this movie, in particular, is a chilling one to watch. John Barrymore did a wonderful job playing the split personalities of Jekyll and Hyde. Rumor is, Barrymore was much like another American movie star, that of Lon Chaney, for his self-taught ability to contort his face, giving everything to bring out the character.

The Phantom of the Opera (1925)

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As mentioned before, The Phantom of the Opera certainly belongs to that list of must-watch films. There have been dozens of remakes over the years, but the original is still the best. Lon Chaney, afterward dubbed as The Man of a Thousand Faces, is the one who really made the movie. The revelation of the Phantom’s face is the most memorable moment of the film as Christine Daae reaches for his mask taking Erik by surprise, causing moviegoers in 1925 to scream and faint. And the quotes in that movie are some of the most romantic and horrific, “If I am the Phantom, it is because man’s hatred has made me so… If I shall be saved, it will be because your love redeems me.” Could you imagine if this was a talkie and not a silent motion picture? And yes, it still boggles the mind why Universal did not include this in their collection set. This is one of their movies, after all, produced by none other than Carl Laemmle. The ending is also one of my favorites, as the mob chases down Erik and he pretends to have some kind of weapon in his hand. The crowd swoons back, afraid. He opens his palm revealing to have nothing and laughs. The mob descends upon him and bludgeons him to death. These are the kinds of moments in horror films that I love because they make you stop and think. I find it very interesting to note that Lon Chaney was originally cast to play Dracula in the 1931 film, but tragically passed away suddenly from throat cancer. I’ve often wondered how he would have done with the part.

And there we have it, folks. For obvious reasons, many of the above movies and more from the Silent Era could not be counted among the Universal Monster classics. They were precursors and the great granddaddies of horror. But that does not mean they did not have an impact on the 1930s Frankenstein’s and 40s The Wolf Man films we all adore. The success and even late in life success of the silent motion pictures certainly aided the rise of modern horror, and not only that, they defined what horror could become, the potential of modern day warnings and social critques.  The history of this era is fascinating and deserving of more than just the few words I’ve uttered here. And there are more movies deserving of mention, London After Midnight and The Cat and the Canary to name two. Sadly, it would seem, the only people that are taking the time to appreciate the silent era, other than the universally loved Nosferatu and The Cabinet of Dr. Calagari, are film students, historians, or the more cultured of horror fan. Alas, my education of these films did not develop until later in life during my University schooling using film to study a particular period of history. Now, you’ll find me standing on the street corner, shouting to the gods and goddesses, mumbling benedictions of an era a 100 years in the past. I hope you’ve enjoyed the reviews provided in this Universal Monsters in Review series, I certainly have enjoyed watching them.

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Thomas S. Flowers is the published author of several character driven stories of dark fiction. He resides in Houston, Texas, with his wife and daughter. He is published with The Sinister Horror Company’s horror anthology The Black Room Manuscripts. His debut novel,Reinheit, is published with Shadow Work Publishing, along with The Incredible Zilch Von Whitstein and Lanmò His new paranormal series, The Subdue Books, including both Dwelling and Emerging, are published with Limitless Publishing, LLC. In 2008, he was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army where he served for seven years, with three tours serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom. In 2014, Thomas graduated from University of Houston Clear Lake with a BA in History. He blogs here at machinemean[dot]org, where he does author interviews and reviews on a wide range of strange yet oddly related topics.

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Universal Monsters in Review: Abbott & Costello Meet the Mummy (1955)

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As we enter into the sophomore era of the Information Age, which began its infantilism back in the 1970s and slowly grew, finally exploding in the early 2000’s, ushering humanity into a new echelon, what is commonly referred to as the New Media Age, it has become incredibly easy to get lost in the heartbreak and horror the world has to offer. Be it a mass shooting at a nightclub. The murder of children. A flood destroying an entire town. And probably the worst, the constant flow of personal opinion and prejudiced. Its easy to get lost in all the chatter. In all the turmoil. These were my thoughts while I was screening Universal’s last of the slap-stick dynamite comedic duo, Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy. My own fears of where our country is going politically, why it seems no one is willing to meet on solid ground, and contemplating when the death moderates and compromise happened. To tell you the truth, I’m not a huuuge fan of the A&C act. Sure, I love the historic quality of vaudeville. I used to watch The Three Stooges religiously. And Charlie Chaplin…well, a legend, to be sure. But my mood wasn’t willing. It took some struggle to throw in the DVD instead of watching something else a little more nihilistic. I believed it would be boring. I’m glad to have been wrong. As soon was the film started, with that over-the-top circus performance, and Bud and Lou came on screen wearing those ridiculous safari hats, looking more like Dark Helmet, my disposition softened. My fears abated, at least for the time being. Sure, the movie played out way longer than needed. The plot, if there was one, could have been finished within 45 mins, and that’s being generous. Regardless, it was fun and lighthearted and perhaps that’s something we all need more of in our lives. Not to forget or ignore the tragedy, but to cope, to put things back in perspective. Anyhow, I shall delay no longer. We have a very special guest with us today, co-host of The Last Knock, Jon Weidler.

Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy (1955)

By: Jon Weidler

[80 minutes. Unrated. Director: Charles Lamont]

Tom Servo: “Joel, what are ‘boobs’?”

Joel Robinson: “You know, like Jethro Bodine.”

  • Mystery Science Theater 3000 (“Pod People”)

My experience with the comedic oeuvre of Bud Abbott and Lou Costello is very limited; in fact, the closest I had ever gotten to experiencing their routines were the impersonations done by the comedians of the UK incarnation of “Whose Line is it Anyway?” and descendants of the duo riffing on the “who’s on first” routine. I watched “The Three Stooges” as a child, and found humor in their brand of easily-accessible, over-the-top slapstick – Abbott and Costello simply eluded my radar. Even in the VHS era, when Universal was reissuing all of their classic monsters in fancy new packaging, Abbott & Costello seemed to have a lower profile than the more straightforward horror efforts (for what it’s worth, though, Amazon is still selling new VHS tapes of A & C’s various cinematic adventures).

In any case: my crash course in their brand of black-and-white comedy-horror begins with Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy.

The second-to-last collaboration of the duo, the film comes late in the Universal Monsters cycle, and it shows (for a bit of perspective, Hammer would debut their own stylish, serious-minded, and colorized incarnation of The Mummy 4 years later): the production values have a stripped-down quality that conveys studio disinterest, the screenplay alternates between our bumbling buffoons and stilted scenes of dull exposition, and the synthesis of the comedic and horrific elements is lackluster at best.

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I have conflicted feelings toward the ensembles of successful film series (comedy or otherwise). For a recent example, consider the first sequel to Todd Phillips’ The Hangover, wherein the guys who laid waste (and wasted) to Vegas brought their culture-wrecking shenanigans to Bangkok. As with so many sequels, the result was an uninspired, watered-down retread of a far more endearing original, its formula poised to rake in easy box office dollars and line the pockets of its stars. Where I sympathize is in the expectations that the reprisal of such roles (and character types) instills in the actors, becoming typecast as smug douchebags (Bradley Cooper), mentally deficient man-children (Zach Galifianakis), or passive punching bags (Ed Helms). The complicity of the actors in these Xeroxed efforts is a point I sympathize far less with, especially when they know they could be doing so much more with their talents.

The same can be said for Abbott and Costello: perhaps the most successful of the comedic duos/trios of the early twentieth century, they bested their peers (The Three Stooges; Laurel and Hardy) with a presence in both television and high-profile films (indeed, they were the only comedians given access to the financially lucrative Universal Monsters vault). Their shtick subsisted on a mix of physical humor and bouts of wordplay that ostensibly appealed to a broader audience, but by the 1950s, had run its course as cinema in general moved toward Cold War-inspired horrors. Traditional monsters with a more romantic, literary sensibility gave way to everything that could be doused in radiation – for the most part, bigger didn’t equal better, but provided an evolution of the “spectacle” that filmgoers were seeking at the time.

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And perhaps that is why the musty aroma of antiquity seems to permeate each frame of Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy. I went into the film with an open mind – even a slight optimism – as the Mummy is one of my favorite monsters of all time (Christopher Lee’s rendition, especially, supplied considerable nightmare fuel for my childhood).

The film overall feels like one of those direct-to-DVD ventures wherein a top-billed “name” actor shows up for a few minutes before disappearing altogether. Despite a more pronounced presence, Abbott and Costello seem shoehorned into the plot. Our duo is wrongfully implicated in the death of Dr. Gustav Zoomer (Kurt Katch), who had recently excavated the Mummy of Klaris (Edwin Parker), who is subsequently stolen by a sect of followers to be resurrected and walk once more as their ruler…or something (extended scenes of ritual dance are involved). In the meantime, there are hijinks involving a priceless medallion belonging to Klaris, as Madame Rontru (Marie Windsor) looks to pay our bumbling pair for said medallion, and Lou crashing into closets, through walls, and stumbling into secret passageways. Some of the gags elicit polite laughter, but none are genuinely hilarious because the setup is so labored.

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For example, there is a routine where Bud and Lou, upon having learned of the “death curse” of Klaris’s medallion, spend a couple minutes sneaking it to each other in a restaurant; while this sequence shines as an example of old-school comic timing, it culminates in a protracted punchline wherein Lou is left to chew on the medallion for a couple minutes, well past the point of it being funny. And while it’s interesting to see the origin of certain bits that have wormed themselves into more recent films – including a scene that precludes Macaulay Culkin’s use of a tough-talking gangster movie to intimidate the burglars in Home Alone – earlier doesn’t necessarily mean better in this case. The voice-over narration that begins the film uses a lame pun to get things rolling (“a boy’s best friend is his mummy”), and the late-occurring “pick and shovel” debate comes off as an uninspired gloss on “who’s on first?” Though, when Bud explains to Lou that “some mummies are men, some are women” to his partner’s exasperation and surprise, one can admire screenwriters Lee Loeb and John Grant for bringing LGBT awareness to light (though I’m guessing that was unintentional).

Much like our less-than-dynamic duo’s routine, the main plot also feels tired. Populated by a stiff supporting cast whose lines are uttered as though at gunpoint, the exposition-heavy dialog scenes are dull at best, and painful at worst. The main problem with the film is that it’s never creative enough to be truly interesting, and its pantsuit-wearing depiction of the Mummy as a growling, twitching – and sometimes running – beast is a far cry from the subtleties that Boris Karloff originally brought to the role.

4 out of 10 stars

jonW

Jon Weidler works for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania by day, but is a podcast superhero by night. He co-hosts THE LAST KNOCK horror podcast under the moniker “Jonny Numb,” and is a regular contributor to the Crash Palace Productions and Loud Green Bird websites. His archived movie reviews can be found at numbviews.livejournal.com, and his social media handle is @JonnyNumb (Twitter & Letterboxd).

 


Universal Monsters in review: Werewolf of London (1935)

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Diving deeper into the chambers of Universal Classic Monsters, today we bring to you a strange and unusual tale of a botanist who, while researching a mysterious flower in Tibet, is bitten by a cursed and lowly creature. Coming from last weeks dreadful The Mummy’s Hand, I’m pleased to once again find myself pulled into a movie with directors, producers, and actors that’ve taken a story so fantastic as the Werewolf of London and created something phenomenal. Much as many of the Universal classics, and unlike the famed 1941 The Wolfman, we are torn into a battle between the supernatural and the discoveries of modern science. A reoccurring theme, I think, especially among these earlier films. Fears of the things man dabbles in, and the repercussions of progress and so-called modernity. I found Werewolf of London a wonderful film and wish I’d seen it sooner. I’m a fan of werewolf tales, as much as our guest writer I think. With Werewolf of London, its interesting to see a take on the lore set within the confines of science. Very interesting. But enough of that. Let us see what our esteemed guest has to say!

Werewolf Of London

A look back at a Universal Classic

By: JR Park

Werewolves have always held a fascination for me.  At the tender age of six I watched Michael Jackson scream “Go Away” to Ola Ray in the Thriller video as he transformed with excruciating detail into a monster.  It terrified and excited me.  Thirty years later and I have still not recovered.

Vampires, ghosts, zombies and undead serial killers have all provided me with horrific delights since I was bitten by the horror bug all those years ago, but no monster has held the same intrigue to me as the werewolf.  The development of cinematic lycanthropes have certainly been a rapid one in the hundred years since they’ve appeared on film, and as we look back to their origins we find a creature oh so similar, and yet very different from the beast that stalks the moonlit world of the modern era.

WEREWOLF OF LONDON, Warner Oland, Henry Hull, 1935, strangle

Werewolf of London was Universal’s first werewolf film, released in 1935, six years before the much more successful and remembered Wolf Man.  The critical reaction was unfavourable at the time, calling it out dated, and given unflattering comparatives to Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, a film that had been released only a few years before and became a hit.

The plot to Werewolf of London involves a British botanist venturing to Tibet in search of a flower that grows and blooms only under moonlight, known as the mariphasa.  Keeping to the horror film standard for which we all know well today, the good botanist, Wilfred Glendon and his companion are warned against his quest.  ‘Somethings are best not to bother with,’ is the vague caution they are offered, as they causally ignore the rumours of demons in the valley.  It’s not long into their descent down said valley before they encounter the strange bloom.  And it’s not long again after that that a snarling wolf-like beast attacks the doctor, leaving him wounded and scarred.

Back in London and Wilfred has managed to bring home a specimen of the plant, but is irritated that the fake moonlight he projects onto the bloom causes it no reaction.  Then it’s a cut to a party scene with laboriously long dialogue that doesn’t seem to go anywhere until we meet fellow botanist Dr Yogami who seems to know an awful lot about werewolves.

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From the knowledge of Dr Yogami, and Wilfred’s diligence research in text books, we encounter the mythos for this film’s lycanthrope sufferers, and the driving plot of the film: 1) a person bitten by a werewolf will turn into a werewolf themselves during the full moon, 2) the plant, mariphasa, is not a complete cure, but is an antidote to stop each transformation, 3) the werewolf must kill at least one person per night of the full moon or become permanently afflicted.

We got that so far?  To make matters worse we are left with the lingering words from Dr Yogami, ‘The werewolf instinctively seeks to kill the thing it loves the best.’  Bummer.

Eventually the first transformation scene comes around, and let’s be honest, that’s the bit everyone’s waiting for in any werewolf movie.  The scene is handled well with Wilfred stumbling through his laboratory passing pillars as he goes.  Each pillar he passes, he comes out the other side more horrific.  It’s nicely handled and a good piece of drama that doesn’t disappoint.

But what of the monster itself?

This is a very different design to the snarling, furry faced Lon Chaney Jr of the Wolf Man.  Although both sets of makeup were created by the same man, Jack Pierce, his original design was toned down, the studio asking him to make it more human in appearance.

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But it’s not just its physical form that makes the creature in this film more human that its savage successor.  This monster has the decency to pick up its hat and coat before it begins prowling the dark streets of the city; and even manages to speak in the final act of its death throes.

The influence of Jekyll and Hyde is apparent in these scenes, and it’s interesting to think that this monster would only become popular when it shook free of the chains of another creation and fully relished in its own monstrous mythos.

But back to the plot:  Wilfred, now as a werewolf runs to the plant, knowing it will cure him, but as he stands over the strange flower a memory of his wife pops into his head.  The monster takes over, filling him with the desire to kill the thing he loves the most (remember the words from Dr Yogami?). This attack fails and so he satisfies his bloodlust with a random woman wondering the streets.

 

Ashamed of his actions, Wilfred rents a room in an Inn to hide away. This is the first time we get to see the wolf man as a tragic figure, something we’ll see a lot more of in the films that follow.  But the four walls provide no prison and he’s back out again, killing, this time in a zoo.  There’s a fun little twist in the movie that I won’t spoil, but ultimately the monster sets himself upon his wife before being shot.  Mortally wounded, Wilfred rolls to face the policeman holding the gun and thanks him for the bullet, before apologising to his wife (how very British of him).

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So is the film any good?  The werewolf make up is okay, and the transformations are pretty effective; the first one handled well and the rest being made of dissolving stills, which is something us modern viewers would expect from a Universal werewolf movie.  Its major problem is the long periods of dialogue, which in themselves would be okay if they were handled well, but sadly the acting is poor.  To begin with I blamed the time period, but a shining light in the film not only gave me some much needed entertainment, but it also highlighted as a comparative, how starch-like stiff the other actors were.

During the scene where Wilfred looks to rent a room he enters a pub and meets two ladies with whom to rent from.  These two characters had fast, snappy dialogue, were forever drunk or drinking, and played with a comic melodrama that stole the show.  In fact the performance of these two were so strong that I’d recommend watching the movie just for these two, despite how fleeting their appearances are.  Good acting is good acting, no matter which period the film is made; just as funny is always funny.

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So Werewolf of London helped birth the cinematic werewolf we know of today.  It had the changing by moonlight, the tragedy of the affliction and the fascination of the transformation.  And although it in itself is not a great movie, it helped pave the way for something far, far better.  To quote a line from the opening scenes of the film, ‘Without fools there would be no wisdom.’

And I got through the whole thing without mentioning Warren Zevon.  Almost.

jrpark

JR Park draws from the crazy worlds of exploitation cinema and pulp literature for his literary inspiration. His family are both equally proud and disturbed by his literary output, dragged from a mind they helped to cultivate. He resides on the outskirts of Bristol in the UK and hopes one day they’ll let him in. Mr. Park is the author of several twisted tales of morbid doom, includingUpon Waking and Terror Byte and Punch. He was also featured with a horrifyingly wonderful short in the horror anthology The Black Room Manuscripts. Besides giving his readers terrifying nightmares, Mr. Park is also one of the founding members of the up and coming UK Publishing team, The Sinister Horror Company, active in promoting other writers and attending numerous conventions.


THE HATEFUL EIGHT: movie in review

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Lets take a ride on the wagon wheel to Minnie’s Haberdashery. And before we pick up any strangers along the way, let me forewarn you, though I plan on keeping this review as spoiler free as possible, don’t get mad if I let a few things slip from here to there. Okay? Okay. You’ve been warned. THE HATEFUL EIGHT is as you may have guessed, if you’re a fan of this particular type of movie, and this type being very much a Quentin Tarantino movie, is his eighth film, with Django Unchained and Inglourious Basterds before that. With this new adventure behind the pen of Mr. Tarantino, we’re brought into the western/frontier world of a very recent post-Civil War America. After watching his last film, Django, I suspected Mr. Tarantino would be making a return to frontier/western film-esk America. If you’ve seen that film, then you may agree, with the story and the characters, he seemed to have a lot of fun with his screenplay and directorial duties. This new film runs nearly 3 hours, and the pace is one of the more interesting or “telling” aspects, pointing to an otherworldly reference, mentioned in other reviews by more talented reviewers than myself.  Our eyes first witness a white landscape with a very large snow capped mountain. From there, we then get to spend, about an hour or so, inside the wagon with one John Ruth (Kurt Russel), Maj. Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson), Sheriff Chris Mannix (with a running jag how no one believes he’s really the sheriff of this town everyone’s trying to get to), and imprisoned outlaw, Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) before finally arriving at the Haberdashery. The conversations are what you may have come to expect from a Tarantino film, filled with plenty of adult language, the use of the N-word, and exposition. If you can stomach all this, well…as the saying goes, you’re in for one hell of a ride.

But don’t come expecting high octane action. You’re not going to get that. Instead, you’ll get a colorful mix of exposition told without the need of repetitive flashbacks. In a somewhat risky move, especially with today’s attention-deficit-disorder generation, Mr. Tarantino allows the characters to interact as naturally as conversation. Conversation, imagine that! And while some of the interaction seemed awkward and forced, we have to be somewhat honest here, isn’t most conversation forced and awkward? Or am I such a recluse that natural conversation seems wholly unnatural? Hmm… MOVING ON! After spending a lengthy, what I found to be quite comfortable, amount of time in the wagon, shooting the breeze and sharing stories of past bounties, nicknames, Lincoln letters, and Civil War exploits, we finally arrive at the crux and final stage of our play…oops, I mean movie. That’s right. We get the wagon. And we get the Haberdashery. No exotic local, no trip around the world, not even a walk downtown. Nope. And why? Django at least trotted across the rural south. And Basterds carved swastikas throughout Germany and France. Well, THE HATEFUL EIGHT is not a wide-birth story, its a story about suspension as well as vengeance. Its a classic “who-done-it” with the added benefit of being a western paranoia story. And one of the best ways to invoke the dread of paranoia is to isolate the cast…and the audience. And there’s another reason too…

My “otherworldly” reference before was a nod at what a few other reviewers have claimed regarding this eighth film by Mr. Quentin Tarantino. And I’ll flat out say it here, people are claiming that THE HATEFUL EIGHT is a homage to John Carpenter’s 1982 masterpiece, THE THING. When I heard this floating around the web, it pretty much sealed the deal. I was going to watch this movie. And I’m so glad I did because they were absolutely right. Besides the obvious markers, the opening sequence with the white landscape and snow capped mountain, isolated “cabin” with a male dominate cast, the only woman technically being Daisy Domergue, and I’m not sure if she is really counts as a lady, there are other THE THING identifiers. The biggest and best is the musical score. As advertised in certain cycles, Ennio Morricone gave his all in the fantastic musical score for THE HATEFUL EIGHT,  even including unused music from, you may have guessed, THE THING. And its very very noticeable and awesomely chilling, invoking the very essence of paranoia, and filling the audience with the same dread and distrust the characters are struggling with.

Here is a mere sample of the overture:

From here, there’s not much I can reveal without giving away too much. There is a certain level of dark humor to the movie. I found myself laughing several times…though admittedly, looking around in the movie theater, I was the only one. And there was some gore, which I thought played wonderfully with the whole THE THING nod. All the characters were fantastic, all but for one…and he wasn’t entirely terrible either, just didn’t really need to be in there. Michael Madsen makes an appearance through the second half of the movie. He plays the role of John Gage, a rough but silent “cowboy” archetype. And yes, much like in all the roles Madsen plays in Tarantino pictures, he’s a man of few words. And perhaps that’s fitting for a “western” type movie, but I just didn’t see that great of a performance from him…its hard to describe without ruining it. He acts as he always does, its not bad or all that great, I guess…maybe he wasn’t really used as much as he could have been. He seemed pretty much in the background for most of the movie while all the others were for the most part front in center. I had the vibe Madsen was just there because he’s buds with the director…and its sad, because as we know from previous Tarantino films (Reservoir Dogs), he can play a really sinister “man of few words” guy.

Well…in summary, THE HATEFUL EIGHT is a fantastic show, well worth the price of admission. For fans of THE THING, this movie needs to be on your “must watch” list. The musical score alone with make you giddy.  And if that don’t, then a certain scene involving Kurt Russel, when he says, “One of them fellas is not what he says he is…,” will.

My Review: 5/5

 

 


Interviewing Thomas S. Flowers, Author of REINHEIT

Author and fellow Horror Hooligan Duncan Ralston puts the screws to me on this recent interview!! Check it out!

Duncan Ralston, Author of Dark Fiction

For a change of pace, I sat down with Thomas S. Flowers, author of the excellent horror novel Reinheit (Forsaken, 2015), to talk shop. Okay, technically I didn’t sit down with him, as he lives in Texas and I’m in Canada, but I had to sit down at my computer to write the questions, and I assume he was also sitting when he answered them. Unless he’s got one of those standing desks, in which case, I sat while he stood and answered the questions I provided him.

The interview delves into a little of the psychology of writing as well as history, war, and what projects he’s got for us in the future. Thomas is not just a writer, but a veteran of the first conflict in Iraq, and has a Bachelor’s in History. Well-rounded? Uh, maybe a little!

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Q: Hey, Thomas. Thanks for joining me. Let’s start off with an…

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What’s Your Favorite Horror Film? Pt3

My guest post with the delectable Latashia Figueroa!

Latashia Figueroa - Author

After I stalked, I mean, uh, asked, my good friend, Thomas Flowers agreed to share his top three horror film with us. It’s always fun to see what a horror writer considers scary.

Three Top Favorite Horror Movies

By: Thomas S Flowers

Whenever asked the proverbial go-to question among fellow horror fans, “Hey, what’s your favorite scary movie?” the geek in me races to find solace in some discover of self: “Just what is my favorite? Can I break it down in genre? Sub-Genre? Decade? Country?” It is a mind numbing endeavor to be sure, especially among the more fanatical of horror fiends. There are just so many movies to choice from! However, I’ve been handed this task of solidifying my top three among the multitudinous of macabre. And I aim to do so. This great commission can be made easier if we are able to rate our so-called favorites…

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Halloween with Reinheit

NicholasConley.com

Happy Halloween, everybody!

Just in time for the most haunted holiday of the year, I recently finished reading Thomas S. Flower’s rather intense new novel, Reinheit.

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Flowers’ Reinheit—which in English translates to purity, or cleanness—is the story of a schoolteacher who blows her budget on an expensive armchair, hoping that the present will ease the tension between her and her hideously abusive husband.  The gesture goes badly, but the husband’s rage soon gives way to morbid obsession; the chair, as it turns out, is merely the external form of a deeply malevolent, potentially sentient evil. Throughout the course of the novel, Reinheit flashes back and forth between the present and the past, as the armchair’s unsettling effect on human history is revealed piece by piece.  Political, social and humanitarian issues are deeply woven into the storyline, presenting a horrifying menace that is both supernatural—and at the same time, all…

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