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Posts tagged “Duncan Ralston

Slashers & Serial Killers In Review : Zodiac (2007)

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This is not a slasher film. And technically it’s less about the serial killer than the people trying to catch him. Zodiac (2007) is an obsessively created film about an obsessive hunt for the obsessive Zodiac Killer, by the director of one of the most successful serial killer films of all time. So how does David Fincher’s first “horror” movie since Se7en stack up?

Zodiac is a personal favorite of mine. I’d say it’s in my top ten films of all time. I’ve seen it at least five times and it’s almost three hours long. That’s a good chunk time for someone who won’t give mediocre movies more than ten minutes.  Continue Reading

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Creature Features in Review: Nightbreed (1990)

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I’ve always had a soft spot for Nightbreed.

I think I responded mostly to what it was trying to accomplish, to make monsters into sympathetic characters and humans the villains, rather than what it lacked. Even as a kid, I knew there was something fundamentally flawed about it but I held firm to my love for Boone and the monsters of Midian and—maybe more so—to the coldblooded serial killer Dr. Decker. I’d often found myself fumbling to defend the movie I knew it could have been, not the film they’d given us.

Later interviews revealed Barker’s bickering with studio heads who had liked Hellraiser (or at least the money it made them) but felt audiences wouldn’t “get” a movie with monsters as the heroes. They thought it would be too confusing.

The finished film suffered greatly for their tampering. To Barker’s fans, the studio had entirely missed the point. Barker himself said of the theatrical cut, “The movie that was released in 1990 was not the movie I wanted to make philosophically or artistically.”

Still, Barker’s monsters shone through despite the deeply flawed theatrical cut. Barker has not only created some of the most iconic creatures in cinema history (Hellraiser‘s Cenobites, for example, or Candyman), but also the most complex. Barker’s script based on his own novel doesn’t paint these monsters as either wholly evil or tragic victims of an oppressive society. There are shades of gray here. You understand the “monsters” and even sympathize with them.

The first citizens Boone meets in Midian (“where the monsters live,” according to several characters) are Peloquin and Kinski. Peloquin merely sees the human interloper as “meat for the beast,” but his friend reminds him of Midian’s laws.

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In essence, Midian is a fully functioning society of “monsters” with all the flaws, culture, history and beliefs of any civilization—the only real difference is they must live out of sight for fear of human judgment and terrorism. Because of how they look. Because of how they live. And it’s not an irrational fear, as events prove in the latter half of the film.

Visionary director Alejandro Jodorowsky called Nightbreed “the first truly gay horror fantasy epic.” There are people who want the monsters of Midian hunted down and exterminated. Think about that. This movie was made and released during the tail end of America’s AIDS epidemic when many people erroneously believed it could be passed along simply by touching someone, and some still considered it a “gay disease.” Magic Johnson had yet to reveal his diagnosis, which some saw as a turning point in the AIDS scare, putting a human face (a very famous human face) on the tragedy.

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I can’t say whether or not Barker had this subtext in mind while making the film or if Jodorowsky was reaching, but it does add an interesting layer that makes Nightbreed transcend its flaws and the trappings of the “Creature Feature” subgenre. Another intended philosophy, that humans are the true monsters. Another that our fascination with monsters leads some to wish to be monsters and live among them. Barker spoke about this in a 2014 interview: “Why would you not want to change into an animal? Why would you not want to fly? Why would you not want to live forever? These are the things that monsters do.”

This adds layers to the Creature Feature aspect of the movie not found in many others. In addition to the “normal” monsters, we have Boone (do I need to say “spoilers”?) who is psychic-driven by his psychiatrist, played wonderfully icily by David Cronenberg, into believing he’s a serial killer. When he hides out in Midian he is bitten and transforms into the monster he thinks he is.

We have a man Boone meets in the hospital who so eager to become a monster that his cuts off pieces of his own face to join them in Midian. He seems to be accepted into their group without question, and later we see several more humanlike “monsters” below the cemetery where Midian lies.

We have the most heinous monster of them all Cronenberg’s psychiatrist, who kills families under the guise of his “buttonface” mask.

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We see glimpses of Midian’s citizens through the eyes of Boone’s partner Lori as she travels the underground city in search of Boone. Small lizard-like creatures feast on carrion. A sabre-toothed woman drums out a beat on a wall for some unknown reason. Monsters wash the penile humanoid head of a lumpy creature whose body resembles the Kool-Aid Man. A bulbous, greasy Jacob Marley lookalike limps around on a cane scaring people for fun. Another monster feeds his own blood to a jar of live eels. (The music that plays under this scene is phenomenal by the way, quintessential Danny Elfman. Watch the scene here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-T11WcS64_M.)

Later we encounter their religious leader Dirk Lylesberg, played by Doug Bradley (Hellraiser‘s Pinhead). They even have their own god, Baphomet: a giant living statue far below the earth.

Other monsters have been imprisoned in the bowels of Midian, called the “Berserkers.” These slimy behemoths with football player padding are never explained. They could be criminals or protectors or both. Whichever they are they are let out to charge the intruders, easily overpowering them.

Title: NIGHTBREED ¥ Year: 1990 ¥ Dir: BARKER, CLIVE ¥ Ref: NIG096AO ¥ Credit: [ 20TH CENTURY FOX/MORGAN CREEK / THE KOBAL COLLECTION ]

In its creature creation, Nightbreed is difficult to top. The sheer amount of thought put into this world and its inhabitants are a creature designer’s wet dream. Lori’s descent into Midian in particular calls to mind the cantina scene in Star Wars: A New Hope, one of the most iconic establishing scenes in movie history.

Nightbreed definitely has its flaws (the Director’s Cut fixed most of them while adding others), but as a Creature Feature, I’d list it among my favorites.

Bonus Review of Nightbreed: Director’s Cut for interested parties.

If you’re thinking of diving into Nightbreed for the first time I would suggest checking out the Director’s Cut instead. Critics pointed to the uneven direction and lack of characterization to the 1990 release. Little did they know 40 minutes of Barker’s original film had been cut. Until very recently it was thought this footage was lost.

The story of how Nightbreed: The Director’s Cut came to be started in 2008 when Mark Miller, co-head of Barker’s production company Seraphim Films, began to hunt down the extra footage. It was clear from the get-go the heads at Morgan Creek weren’t eager to help. When they finally relented Miller was left with a box full of VHS tapes. All the film they’d shot, according to Morgan Creek bigwigs, had vanished.

But the Monsters of Midian have a cult following. After a lucky group of fans saw the extra footage at something called the “Mad Monster Party” in 2010, the “Occupy Midian” campaign was born. That was the last I’d heard of it from Clive Barker’s Lost Souls website, aside from the occasional brief this-is-what-you’re-missing review from someone who’d seen the cut with the VHS footage inserted.

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Then in 2012 Morgan Creek officials miraculously “found” the originally filmed footage after seeing the potential audience (ie. dollar signs). From there, Shout! Factory put together the Blu-ray and DVD version with new interviews and featurettes and released it in 2014.

Fans asked for it and we got it.

I bought the Blu-ray on the day of release and popped it in the PS3 as soon as it arrived. For the most part, the additions work. It’s definitely closer thematically to what Clive Barker—and all of us diehard Cabal fans—had envisioned. There’s no doubt the monsters are the good guys here and there’s a massive amount of sympathy generated for them throughout, despite the few “lawbreakers” like Peloquin who just wants to eat the “Naturals” (humans).

The main villain as in the original cut is Dr. Decker (aka Button Face). He’s a maniac on par with some of the best, though he gets precious little screen time. I’d love to see a prequel movie about him and his murders, his adoption of the mask—which is pretty goddamned creepy—and if he’d blamed any of his previous murders on other patients, attempting to “psychic drive” them into taking the blame as he does to Boone. It doesn’t feel as though his part was beefed up at all from the Theatrical cut but it doesn’t feel like they’ve cut anything from his storyline.

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Many of the additions focus on the relationship between Boone and Lori; some work and some don’t. The scene where Dr. Decker has drugged Boone and Boone is hallucinating in his apartment, watching himself from outside his body having sex with Lori (who for some reason wears white lingerie, likely to symbolize her purity or “Natural”-ness), works much better in the original cut. In that cut, he takes the pills and suddenly he’s tripping balls, walking down the highway. We’ve seen all we need to. What they’ve added here doesn’t work, does nothing for the story and harms the film’s pace, front-loading it.

This sequence also features Lori singing to a sold-out crowd in a country bar. The song is “Johnny Get Angry,” whose lyrics suggest she wants a “real man,” but also that Boone could very well be a little abusive. The song itself works fine and has a very ‘90s feel, reminding me of those scenes in Twin Peaks with Julee Cruise—but it’s overlong. They play the entire song. During it, Boone, still tripping, wanders in and becomes confused and frightened. He stumbles off and that’s when we rejoin the theatrical cut where he’s about to be hit by a truck. I think it works well to establish Lori as a character, but it could have been pared down.

MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD:

The biggest changes are in the big final battle which is more of a bloodbath than anything since the Nightbreed barely get any shots in. This is The ATF Storms the Koresh Compound times a thousand. The police here act like paramilitary, lock-and-loading a plethora of automatic weapons (a Twitter friend remarked on the inordinate amount of guns in Canada since it’s meant to take place in Alberta). The scene in which the cops beat Ohnaka to death, a little man with his little dog, seems just about as traumatizing as in the original film.

Shot in slow motion this Rodney King-style beating during which the victim, dragged out into the sun and beaten, turns to dust, sets the stage for the slaughter to follow.

As Midian explodes it actually seems like a BIG thing, unlike in the theatrical cut where it felt and sounded like a Hollywood soundstage. We hear babies screaming, mothers crying. The earth cracks underfoot with huge, Surround Sound rumbles. By the time Boone finally unleashes the Berserkers we’re rooting for them to take out the human invaders—and they do, in classic monster-rampage style. Another good addition adds clarity to the scene where Boone inherits the spirit of Baphomet, the Nightbreed’s version of God, and becomes the living god “Cabal.”

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In the end, when Lori asks Boone to bite him so she can become Nightbreed and stay with Boone, the decision makes much more sense as their relationship is solidly established. Boone refuses, still the good guy even now he’s a full-on monster, and in her desperation Lori stabs herself, forcing him to bite her so she’ll live forever. Hidden in a barn, the surviving Nightbreed speak of Boone/Cabal returning “on the next wind.”  “Johnny Get Angry” plays us out into the credits.

If you’re a fan of the original cut you owe it to yourself to watch Nightbreed: The Director’s Cut. If you’re a horror fan who’s never seen it it’s worth a look. This is the movie that inspired Wes Craven’s The People Under the Stairs, and in my opinion, it’s a far better film. For creature fans, the Director’s Cut has many more monsters to satisfy your deviant pleasure. All in all, the new cut is a more cohesive story with a lot more focus on Boone and Lori’s relationship and much more sympathy for the Nightbreed themselves.

If it had been released this way originally, it might have spawned its planned sequel instead of just a cult following, a comic series, and a terrible video game.

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Duncan Ralston was born in Toronto and spent his teens in small-town Canada. As a “grown up,” Duncan lives with his partner and their dog in Toronto, where he writes dark fiction about the things that disturb him. In addition to his twisted short stories found in GRISTLE & BONE, the anthologies EASTER EGGS & BUNNY BOILERS, WHAT GOES AROUND, DEATH BY CHOCOLATE, FLASH FEAR, and the charity anthologies BURGER VAN, BAH! HUMBUG!, VS: US vs UK HORROR, and THE BLACK ROOM MANUSCRIPTS Vol. 1, he is the author of the novels SALVAGE, EVERY PART OF THE ANIMAL, and WOOM, an extreme horror Black Cover book from Matt Shaw Publications.

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How far would you go for revenge? When a six-year-old girl is abused and left for dead by a pedophile known only as the “Rabbit Man” due to the claw marks left on her body, police follow every lead but reach only dead ends.Hungry for justice, her grieving father abandons wife and child on a harrowing journey deep undercover into Miami’s sex offender colony under the Julia Tuttle Causeway. His purpose is simple: to find the “Rabbit Man” among them, and put him in the ground. Months later, with no one to trust and the pedophiles he lives among growing suspicious of his actions, he learns nothing is simple where the monsters live.

Get YOUR copy of WHERE THE MONSTERS LIVE on Amazon for $1.39!!!

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Book Featurette: Where the Monsters Live

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WARNING: contains mature content and violence not suitable for all readers.

When police fail to find the man responsible for raping a six-year-old girl, her father leaves home on a harrowing undercover journey into Miami’s sex offender colony under the Julia Tuttle Causeway to hunt down the “Rabbit Man,” and put him in the ground. Vengeance is a monster that lives within our own hearts.

What readers are saying about Where the Monsters Live:

“Efficient, powerful prose in a short story that delivers about as much emotion and punch as a book ten times its length. It’s a challenging character and his actions really need to be evaluated and thought over by the reader, which I think all good art should do. I have been a fan of Ralston’s work for some time now, and this one did not disappoint. Check it out if you are looking for a good, fast read.” -Chad Clark, author of Down the Beaten Path and Behind Our Walls

“Who knows what lies in the hearts of men? Duncan Ralston certainly does in this dark fast paced horrific read. Read it in one sitting.” -Amazon Reviewer

“While the subject matter, sexual abuse, may indeed be too traumatic for some audiences, this story tackles the difficult subject deftly. The protagonist, a man driven to hunt down a monster, must struggle not to become a monster himself. A quick and thoroughly engaging read.” -Lydian Faust

“I’ve been reading Ralston since Salvage. I feel that this is one of the best stories, he has told, so far.” -Kurt Thingvold.

You can get YOUR copy of Where the Monsters Live for $0.99!!!

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Duncan Ralston is no stranger to Machine Mean. He has previously reviewed for us The Invisible Man (1933) and Ash Vs. Evil Dead. Mr. Ralston is not just a wonderful human being, but also the author of gruesome tales like Salvage: A Ghost Story, and the horror collection, Gristle & Bone. He’s been published in a various of anthologies, including The Black Room Manuscripts, The AnimalEaster Eggs and Bunny Boilers, and VS: US Versus UK. His latest book will sure to knock your socks off, Woom. You can follow and chat with him at  www.facebook.com/duncanralstonfiction and www.duncanralston.com. You can read his review on Invisible Man here.


Fright Fest: Ash Vs. Evil Dead (2015- )

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PREVIOUSLY, ON ASH VS EVIL DEAD… So last season, I wrote a review of Ash vs. Evil Dead for The Ginger Nuts of Horror, (mostly) singing its praises. My few criticisms of the first season were the Scully character (do we need one of these in every show with a slight whiff of paranormal? let’s just do without them from now on, please) who eventually evened out and became interesting (right before she was killed),and the sometimes jarring tonal shifts. (You can read said review here)

 

Spoilers ahead, though (duh) it’s a review. We should all be used to this by now.

The ending of last season polarized fans. Some thought it didn’t make sense for Ash to hand his quest to rid the world of Deadites over to Ruby, though perhaps those viewers hadn’t been watching the same series I was. It’s always been an inner struggle for Ash between being a hero and being a hard-partying slacker—the whole season hinged on that. That, in the end, he gives up the Necronomicon to spend the rest of his days drinking and womanizing in Jacksonville fits perfectly with Ash’s M.O. prior to meeting fellow “ghostbeaters” Kelly and Pablo. That he does it under the guise of “saving” his new friends gives the decision a bit of emotional weight. We feel that even though he’s regressed, he’s at least grown in that he no longer sees himself as a lone wolf.

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AND NOW, THE CONCLUSION

(Although not really. We’re only 5 episodes deep.)

Season Two starts out with the pedal to the metal. No setup required. We already know Ash is partying hard in Jacksonville, and we could already guess Kelly and Pablo would be growing bored and restless, tagging along, likely waiting for Ash to come to his senses. What we probably didn’t guess is that Ash is a popular attraction. Everyone seems to love him. At first, I thought Jacksonville might be some sort of parallel dimension, but I suppose everyone is just drunk enough to find him and his chainsaw entertaining. When Ruby realizes she can’t fight the demon Baal on her own—she finds a picture of Ash in the Necronomicon—she then reneges on her part of the bargain, drawing Ash back to Elk Grove, where he grew up. (I suppose they changed his hometown from Dearborn, Michigan to Elk Grove for the same reason they changed S-Mart to Value Stop, due to a rights issue.) Everyone in Elk Grove knows him as “Ashy Slashy,” the crazy man who violently murdered his friends and sister in a cabin in the woods. It’s his biggest shame and plays into his hero/guilt complex brilliantly.

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The gang meets Ash’s dad, Brock Williams, who Ash told them was dead. (Ash’s dad told people Ash was dead, turnabout being fair play.) He’s played brilliantly by Lee Majors, a hard-drinking, hard-partying perv just like Ash. He doesn’t believe Ash’s story about the Necronomicon, and Ash is tired of trying. Or at least, he pretends he is. Their rivalry alone makes the first four episodes worth watching if nothing else. Though there is a lot to love in Season Two.

Firstly, it ups the ante with wild scenes of gore and brutal deaths. You’ve probably seen the NSFW clip that’s been making the rounds, and if not I won’t spoil it here. (You can watch the clip here if you’re really interested: http://bloody-disgusting.com/tv/3410013/nsfw-ash-vs-evil-dead-clip-everyones-talking. Or you can just watch the series, and you really should be watching it if you can.) It’s this kind of over-the-top stuff that makes the second season really shine. You can’t find anything else like it on TV, mostly because of a thing called Standards and Practices.

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Two, the jokes and interplay between characters are still on-point. There’s a scene where they’re discussing why Ruby is unable to find the Necronomicon and Ash “can’t fart without tripping over it”–it works so well because of the characters’ reactions, and Bruce Campbell’s gleefully stupid portrayal of Ash. I’ve watched it about a dozen times, and it makes me laugh. Every. Single. Time.

Third, Pablo and Kelly have their own storylines. Pablo, after having had his face torn off to adorn the cover of the Necronomicon, has now been seeing visions of possible futures. The book also calls to him, and he’s more susceptible to its allure. And Kelly is recruited by Ruby to find and kill her “spawn,” which she hopes will make it easier to send Baal back to Hell. Kelly is eager to prove herself, especially once Pablo reminds her of how much she doesn’t care that her life sucks.

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And lastly, Ash vs. Evil Dead burns through plotlines as quickly as Ash burns through beers. The second a new thread is introduced, the one leading up to it is burned (usually violently). Nothing grinds my gears more than a series that hinges on one minor plot point for an entire season, or half of one. It’s lazy writing and makes for damn boring TV.

Ash vs. Evil Dead Season Two keeps the twists coming fast and ferociously. So far, it’s better than the first season in almost every way, and I can’t wait for more.

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Duncan Ralston was born in Toronto and spent his teens in small-town Ontario. As a “grown up,” Duncan lives with his girlfriend and their dog in Toronto, where he writes dark fiction about the things that frighten, sicken, and delight him. In addition to his twisted short stories found in GRISTLE & BONE, the anthologies EASTER EGGS & BUNNY BOILERS, WHAT GOES AROUND, DEATH BY CHOCOLATE, FLASH FEAR, and the charity anthologies BURGER VAN and THE BLACK ROOM MANUSCRIPTS Vol. 1, he is the author of the novel, SALVAGE, and the novellas EVERY PART OF THE ANIMAL and WOOM, an extreme horror Black Cover book from Matt Shaw Publications. You can read Duncan’s work on the altar of Amazon b(u)y following this link here.

And as always, if you enjoyed what you’ve read here on Machine Mean, please subscribe to our mailing list by clicking on the FREE BOOK image below where you will not only receive updates on new reviews and articles but also a free anthology of dark fiction. And don’t worry, this is a spam free newsletter with well over 200 happy subscribers! 

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Universal Monsters in Review: Our Awesomely Horrifying Guest Authors

And that’s a wrap. The end of Universal Monsters in Review has come. Much as I said during last week’s review on the silent era of horror, I will certainly miss my weekend screening of these horrible yet awesome classic black and white pictures from the vault of Universal. I’d like to actually start making this a thing, something set aside for my weekend leisure, putting in ole Frankenstein or his Bride or The Wolf Man or The Mummy or Dracula, or even some of the lesser-known flicks, like Invisible Agent or any of the A&C ones. To think of the impact these movies had on future movie makers, and not just those dark producers and directors, but also the writers, both on screen and on print, is mind boggling. Personally speaking, the Universal classics have impacted some of my own creature/monster creations. And still do. The underlying mythos is nearly too much to avoid. These are the pillars for a reason. Certainly the same could be said of this up and coming generation of young writers and even the guest authors we’ve had during this series, tackling the movies that inspired them in some way. So, on this very last Universal Monsters in Review review, I’d like to shout out to all my guest authors that participated, the movie(s) they reviewed and a little bit about them and where you can buy their work.

Our Guests

(in order of appearance)

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Daniel Marc Chant – Reviewed for us both The Mummy (1932) and The Creature Walks Among Us (1956). Mr. Chant is the published author of several terrifying tales, including Maldicion, Burning House, and his newest venture, Mr. Robespierre.  Daniel is also one of the founders of The Sinister Horror Company, the publishing team that brought us such frights as, The Black Room Manuscripts and God Bomb!. You can follow Daniel on his blog, here. And you can read his review on Mummy here.

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Jeffery X. Martin – Reviewed for us The Wolf Man (1941) and The Invisible Man’s Revenge (1944) and Revenge of the Creature (1955). Mr. X is the published author of several stories that are sure to shock, including those in the Elder’s Keep universe and Tarotsphere. He also published a fantastic tale in The Black Room Manuscripts. His latest novel, Hunting Witches, is now available on Amazon’s blood-soaked altar. You can find his work on Amazon. When Mr. X is not writing creep mind-benders, he’s the host and/or contributor to several podcasts and blogs, including, but not limited to, Pop Shiftier and Kiss the Goat. You can read his review on Wolf Man here.

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Duncan Ralston– Reviewed for us The Invisible Man (1933). Mr. Ralston is not just a wonderful human being, but also the author of gruesome tales like Salvage: A Ghost Story, and the horror collection, Gristle & Bone. He’s been published in a various of anthologies, including The Black Room Manuscripts and The Animal, and the anthology,Easter Eggs and Bunny Boilers. His latest book will sure to knock your socks off, Woom. You can follow and chat with him atwww.facebook.com/duncanralstonfiction and www.duncanralston.com. You can read his review on Invisible Man here.

Dawn Cano – Reviewed for us legendary Frankenstein (1931). Miss Cano has always been a fan of horror, she loves everything about the genre and has just begun her journey into the world of horror writing. When not pounding away at the keyboard, she can be found reviewing books and movies for The Ginger Nuts of Horror and wasting time on Facebook. Dawn has also started what will no doubt be a fantastic career as a storyteller. You can find her books, including Sleep Deprived and Bucket List, *Warning: Some Scenes May Disturb for both of these wonderfully gruesome tales. And you can check out her review of Frankenstein here.

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Kit Power – Reviewed for us both The Bride of Frankenstein (1935) and Monster Mash Pinball Game. Mr. Power lives in the UK and writes fiction that lurks at the boundaries of the horror, fantasy, and thriller genres, trying to bum a smoke or hitch a ride from the unwary. In his secret alter ego of Kit Gonzo, he also performs as front man (and occasionally blogs) for death cult and popular beat combo The Disciples Of Gonzo. He is the published author of such works as, GodBomb!, Lifeline, and has contributed to numerous anthologies, including The Black Room Manuscripts, Widowmakers, and upcoming Easter Eggs and Bunny Boilers. You can read Kit’s review of Bride here.

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Justin Park – Reviewed for us both Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948) and Werewolf in London (1935). Mr. 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, including Upon 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. You can read his review on A&C Meet Frank here.

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William D. Prystuak – Reviewed for us Dracula’s Daughter (1936). Professor Prystuak  is an award-winning screenwriter, film producer, and teacher in higher education, as well as a published poet, and essayist. His crime thriller, BLOODLETTING, has been adapted from his script of the same name, and he is currently working on a horror series. William also co-hosts THE LAST KNOCK podcast as Billy Crash with his good buddy, Jonny Numb, and currently, has thousands of listeners in 120 countries. You can find more about horror and William on his Crash Palace Productions site. As an Assistant Professor of English at Kutztown University of Pennsylvania, William teaches business writing and public relations. You can find more about William at any of these fantastic sites: Amazon: http://amzn.to/1Fu9PHS Barnes and Noble: http://bit.ly/1GhclaJ Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/23365977-bloodletting BLOODLETTING Book Trailer One: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TVNji_G-tSI BLOODLETTING Book Trailer Two: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=glK9DiVIHT8 IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm5464477/?ref_=fn_al_nm_1 Linked In: https://www.linkedin.com/pub/william-d-prystauk/10/9a1/a55 Horror Podcast: THE LAST KNOCK on iTunes Twitter: @crashpalace. You can read Professor Prystuak’s review of Drac’s Daughter here.

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Michelle Garza – Reviewed for us She Wolf of London (1946). Michelle Garza, one-half of the writing team based out of Arizona. Her sister, Melissa Lason, and Miss. Garza have been dubbed The Sisters of Slaughter by the editors at Fireside Press. Since a young age, they have enjoyed crafting tales of the dark and macabre. Their work has been included in anthologies such as WIDOWMAKERS a benefit anthology of dark fiction, WISHFUL THINKING by Fireside press and soon to be published REJECTED FOR CONTENT 3 by JEA. To be included in FRESH MEAT 2015 is an incredible honor for the sisters. Their debut novel, Mayan Blue, released with Sinister Grin Press. You can keep track of Michelle and the Sisters of Slaughter’s budding writing career by following them on Twitter and Facebook. You can read her review of She Wolf here.

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Duncan P. Bradshaw – Reviewed for us Invisible Agent (1942). Mr. Bradshaw lives in MIGHTY Wiltshire, with his wife Debbie and their two cats, Rafa and Pepe. Their barbershop quartet days may be behind them now, but they can still belt out a mean version of ‘Deepy Dippy’ by Right Said Fred when the mood catches them right. Duncan’s debut novel, zom-com, “Class Three,” was released in November 2014. The first book in the follow-up trilogy, “Class Four: Those Who Survive,” shambled into life in July 2015. Both have received glowing reviews. In early 2016, he released his debut Bizarro novella, “Celebrity Culture”, which has been well received, despite its oddness. Not content with resting on his laurels, Prime Directive blasts off in May 2016, a sci-fi/horror novella which pleased fellow founder J.R. Park. Before the main attraction…Duncan finished writing “Hexagram” in late 2015, a novel set over five hundred years, which follows an ancient ritual and how people throughout the years twist the original purpose to their own end. You can find all of Mr. Bradshaw’s work on the bloodied altar of Amazon. And you can read his review of Invisible 007 here.

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Chantel Feszczyn (aka Chaney Dreadful) – Reviewed for us House of Frankenstein (1944). Miss Dreadful — is one creepy ghoul hailing from a small city in Saskatchewan, Canada. She is a regular podcast voice frequenting on the podcasts, with the first being Dead as Hell Horror Podcast, and as well the likes of The Resurrection of Zombie 7, Land of the Creeps andWhedonverse Podcast. For the last three years she has brought her focus towards written reviews, posting occasionally on her Tumblr blog and recently moving to her new website dreadfulreviews.com — where she posts weekly reviews discussing movies, comic books and horror-themed merchandise. You can read her review of Frank’s House here.

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Daryl Lewis Duncan – Reviewed for us Abbott and Costello Meet The Invisible Man (1951). Mr. Duncan is an up and coming writer and graphic artist and one smashing guitarist. You can find his work on numerous book covers recently released this year, including books by Dawn Cano, Duncan Ralston, and myself (Thomas S. Flowers). He also has upcoming projects with the likes of Kit Power and Rich Hawkins. Some of Mr. Duncan’s publishing work includes Violent Delights, in which he co-wrote with Dawn Cano. He is an avid reader and supporter of fellow indie writers. His artwork is stylized in a retro, space-age grunge, 70s grindhouse. Yup, it is that awesome! You can read his review on A&C Meet Invisible Man here.

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Jon Weidler – Reviewed for us Abbott and Costello Meet The Mummy (1955). Mr. 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). You can read his review of A&C Meet Mummy here.

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Tim Busbey – Reviewed for us The Mummy’s Ghost (1942). Mr. Busbey is an award-winning editor and journalist who currently is the Assistant Editor at Richland Source (www.RichlandSource.com) and Ashland Source (www.AshlandSource.com). Tim also does freelance book editing and is a partner with Erin Al-Mehairi in Hook of A Book Media and Publicity. When he’s not editing other people’s stories or reporting on all the happenings in Ashland, Ohio, Tim writes sci-fi, thrillers and horror. You can read his review of Mummy’s Ghost here.

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Pembroke Sinclair – Reviewed for us The Mummy’s Curse (1944). Miss. Sinclair is a literary jack of all trades, playing her hand at multiple genres. She has written an eclectic mix of fiction ranging from horror to sci-fi and even some westerns. Born in Rock Springs, Wyoming–the home of 56 nationalities–it is no wonder Pembroke ended up so creatively diverse. Her fascination with the notions of good and evil, demons and angels, and how the lines blur have inspired her writing. Pembroke lives in Laramie, Wyoming, with her husband, two spirited boys, a black lab named Ryder, and a rescue kitty named Alia, who happens to be the sweetest, most adorable kitty in the world! She cannot say no to dessert, orange soda, or cinnamon. She loves rats and tatts and rock and roll and wants to be an alien queen when she grows up. You can learn more about Pembroke Sinclair by visiting her at pembrokesinclair.blogspot.com. You can follow the very talented Pembroke on Facebook  Amazon Twitter Or at her blog. You can read her review on Mummy’s Curse here.

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David Sgalambro – Reviewed for us The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942). MR. SGALAMBRO is a horror writer at J. Ellington Ashton Press and a contributing Writer at Resident Rock Star Magazine. He was born in New York, but spent the majority of his life sweltering down in Florida. Growing up, he was obsessed with every 1960’s Monster magazine on the newsstand (He still has hundreds of them that he can’t bear to part with ….ever) and any Horror movie his eyes could watch (He blames some of his lunacy upon seeing the original Night of the Living Dead at the age of nine). His continuous love for the genre has kept him in movie theaters throughout his life indulging in all of the decade’s bloodiest moments, but not up until recently has he tapped into his own dark inner voice as a writer, and brought forth his compelling debut novel published by J. Ellington Ashton Press titled NED. It’s his first attempt at the literary game and he credits his love of Horror for its terrifying content. David is currently working on his second novel which once again explores the darkest depths of his maniacal mind for inspiration and creativity. David’s other current literary escape is as a contributing writer for a music publication called Resident Rock Star magazine out of Colorado. With them he gets the freedom to write about what’s happening in the current music scene pertaining to his own personal taste, Heavy Metal. You can read his review on Ghost of Frank here.

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Patrick Loveland – Reviewed for us The Invisible Man Returns (1940). MR. LOVELAND writes screenplays, novels, and shorter prose fiction. He also draws somewhat disturbing imagery on Post-its. By day, he schedules classes, helps instructors get set up for class sessions, possibly draws said weird Post-its, and moves many a furniture at a state college in Southern California where he lives with his wife and young daughter. His stories have appeared in anthologies published by April Moon Books, Bold Venture Press, and the award-winning Crime Factory zine. Mr. Loveland’s first novel, A TEAR IN THE VEIL, will be published in late 2016 by April Moon Books.  You can connect with Patrick on Twitter:https://twitter.com/pmloveland   Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pmloveland/   Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B00S78LF9M Or Blog [under construction]:https://patrickloveland.wordpress.com/ You can read his review on Invisible Man’s Return here.

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Chad Clark – Reviewed for us House of Dracula (1945). Mr. Clark is a midwestern author of horror and science fiction. His artistic roots can be traced back to the golden era of horror literature, Stephen King, and Robert McCammon being large influences. His love for horror began as well in the classic horror franchises of the eighties. He resides in Iowa with his wife and two sons. Clark’s debut novel, Borrowed Time, was published in 2014. His second novel, A Shade for Every Season was released in 2015, and in 2016 Clark published Behind Our Walls, a dark look at the human condition set in a post-apocalyptic world. His latest book, Down the Beaten Path, released in September 2016. You can keep up with all of Mr. Clark’s works by following him on Amazon here. And you can read his review of House of Drac here.

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Matt Shaw – Reviewed for us The Invisible Woman (1940). Mr. Shaw is the published author of over 100 titles – all readily available on AMAZON. He is one of the United Kingdom’s leading – and most prolific – horror authors, regularly breaking the top ten in the chart for Amazon’s Most Popular Horror Authors. With work sometimes compared to Stephen King, Richard Laymon, and Edward Lee, Shaw is best known for his extreme horror novels (The infamous Black Cover Range), Shaw has also dabbled in other genres with much success; including romance, thrillers, erotica, and dramas. Despite primarily being a horror author, Shaw is a huge fan of Roald Dahl – even having a tattoo of the man on his arm; something he looks to whenever he needs a kick up the bum or inspiration to continue working! As well as pushing to release a book a month, Shaw’s work is currently being translated for the Korean market and he is currently working hard to produce his own feature length film. And speaking of films… Several film options have been sold with features in the very early stages of development. Watch this space. Matt Shaw lives in Southampton (United Kingdom) with his wife Marie, his bastard cat Nellie and three rats – Roland, Splinter, and Spike. He used to live with Joey the Chinchilla and Larry the Bearded Dragon but they died. At least he hoped they did because he buried them. You can follow Mr. Shaw and delve into his work by following his site at www.mattshawpublications.co.uk AND on Facebook at  www.facebook.com/mattshawpublications.co.uk. You can read his review of the infamous Invisible Woman here.

And there you have them. Please join me in giving them a huge round of applause and thanks for agreeing to participate in this new endeavor here on Machine Mean. And be sure to check out all their awesome work by following the links provided under each bio. Now, what? Well, keep your socks on, October is just around the bend and we’ve got an awesome event in store for you. Machine Mean’s Freight Fest 2016, featuring 21 guest authors reviewing 21 dark fiction movies of their own choosing running from October day 1 thru day 31. That’s right, I let 21 weirdos pick their own movies to review and they’ve selected some rather awesome flicks, ranging from the 1960s to released just last month. You can follow news and updates regarding Freight Fest by following our Facebook page here. 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 Invisible Man (1933)

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Of all the Universal classics, The Invisible Man was one of the few I’d never taken the time to watch. This past weekend, I alleviated my curiosity and found myself, as you’ll note from the below review written by the fantastically talented Duncan Ralston, surprised how different the pace is from the other Universal films. This is a tale about a mad scientist, but instead of boring audiences with the details of his experiment gone awry, we delve into a sprawling story of madness and revenge. Some other notes I found interesting were the references to disfigurement, as The Great War was not far from the minds of screenwriters, becoming part of the cinematic landscape in the form of mangled images. The “disguise” of Jack in the opening of the film reminded me very much of some of the images from early silent pictures, such as 1928’s The Hands of Orlac or even 1925’s The Phantom of the Opera staring the Man of a Thousand Faces. Beyond here, there story for The Invisible Man takes on its own linage, more than about vengeance, and perhaps more in terms of madness and the things we (humanity) mettle in. Without further adieu, lets see what Mr. Ralston has in store for us.

The Invisible Man: Dabbling in Things Better Left Alone

By: Duncan Ralston

Something I’ve heard a lot these days is that old movies are too slow, too boring. This is sometimes a fair criticism. In modern movies, it’s argued, the viewer is shown only the scenes they need. Countless movies prior to the 1980s give us scenes and dialogue unnecessary to move the story forward.

The Invisible Man is not that movie.

Smoke swirls in a howling wind as the credits play, introducing the main character as “the Invisible One,” rather than the Invisible Man. He blows into the Lion’s Head Inn on a snow storm, wrapped for the cold in a long trench coat, full face wrap, dark goggles and gloves. The tavern regulars gape at him. While the housemistress takes him upstairs, the regulars theorize about him, small town gossip: he’s an escaped convict, or he’s snow blind, or he’s disfigured. She catches him with the lower part of his wrap off his face, and tells people he’s been in a horrible accident.

From here, we discover what happened to the Invisible One. Jack, a scientist, has been missing for a month. His fiance and partners are worried about him, as he left a note saying he would return when he’s solved his predicament. The scene with the scientists is a bit of an info dump, but it’s not very long before we’re back with the Invisible Man we now know as “Jack.” He’s working on an antidote at the Lion’s Head Inn, but he keeps getting interrupted. He finally reveals his invisibility, pushing her husband down the stairs, throwing things and knocking stuff over during his escape. He steals someone’s bike and peddles off on it, fully invisible.

The thing that struck me most about this movie is how fast-paced it is. There’s a remarkable amount of story and character thrown into its hour and ten minute runtime, and yet it doesn’t feel rushed. Some scenes play out quickly, others are allowed to linger.

Another great bit is all the “poltergeist”-type wire gags, where Invisible Jack moves objects, has tantrums, beats people up, and prances around laughing like Scrooge on Christmas morning. These scenes are great fun, and look surprisingly good for the era. The effects don’t work quite so well when Jack is clothed while invisible, a black outline around his clothing unable to be removed during rotoscoping. These scenes were at first considered “unfilmable,” and effects work took up four months of production. Effects guru John Fulton said when he was given the script in 1933, “It bristled with difficult special process scenes, and I wondered if, even with our modern process techniques we could possibly make all the amazing scenes called for.”

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Once Jack’s evil plan is unveiled–which amounts to causing general mayhem, such as murder (“small at first”), and derailing trains–the police are hot on his trail. The montages of the police plotting and executing his capture are brilliantly paced, and the police don’t lose him due to Keystone Cop shenanigans, as one might expect in an older movie. They’ve conceived a decent plan, and only fail initially because of an accident of fate. Something I thought while watching these scenes is that they might have formed the foundation for every Authority Against the Vigilante sequence in almost every modern superhero movie.

I haven’t read H.G. Wells’s The Invisible Man in maybe 20 years, but from what I remember of it, it differs a lot from this adaptation. For one thing, I remember a lot of Jack dealing with his predicament, where in the 1933 Universal film most of that is cut in favor of action. But maybe I’m mixing this up with Richard Matheson’s The Incredible Shrinking Man. I do recall he was seeking revenge at one point on the partner who betrayed him? Stole his work? I don’t recall. Revenge is only briefly touched on in the movie, but for a different reason.

All in all, Universal’s The Invisible Man is an entertaining film that suffers slightly from a few corny lines, female roles that border on the “hysterical” (not hysterical ha ha, hysterical as in screaming at every opportunity), and by starting in media res, with Jack already a maniac, it doesn’t quite work as a tragedy.

Those few flaws aside, The Invisible Man is well worth a watch. It must have been a Herculean undertaking to put this film together using the practical effects at the time, and for audiences to have believed they’d actually seen an invisible man, as some critics mentioned, is something few modern movies with effects costing multiple millions can manage.

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Duncan Ralston is not just a wonderful human being, but also the author of Salvage: A Ghost Story, and the horror collection, Gristle & Bone. He’s been published in a various of anthologies, including The Black Room Manuscripts and The Animal, and the upcoming anthology, Easter Eggs and Bunny Boilers. You can follow and chat with him at www.facebook.com/duncanralstonfiction and www.duncanralston.com.


Hellish Interviews: w/ Duncan Ralston

Adding to the already growing list of differing topics covered with Machine Mean, we’re adding something new! Hellish Interviews is as it says, interviews with hellish authors of the dark and unusual. Interviewing is something I’ve wanted to dip my toes in for some time,especially among horror writers. From my experience, horror writers tend to be the most normal people imaginable, which is odd compared to the macabre twisted things they write about. Getting to know writers better is interesting on more then one level. There are things we all can agree on, to a degree, and some be probably will disagree, and then there of tidbits of information ultimately new and exciting, which is what the act of discover is, is it not?

Joining me today is horror author Duncan Ralston. Duncan was born in Toronto sometime during the year 1976. He lives with his girlfriend and their dog where he writes dark fiction about the things that frighten, sicken, and delight him. In addition to his twisted short stories found in GRISTLE & BONE and the newly released THE BLACK ROOM MANUSCRIPTS, his debut novel, SALVAGE, will haunt various booksellers later this year.

Duncan Ralston

Machine Mean: So, Duncan. You’ve got a horror anthology that recently came out with Booktrope: Forsaken. What drew you into penning this anthology? Did you have any favorite anthologies that inspired this work?

Duncan Ralston:  I’ve always had a deep love of short stories. I started with the Alfred Hitchcock Presents books, moved on to Stephen King’s Night Shift and Clive Barker’s Books of Blood. Now I’m reading a lot of Harlan Ellison shorts, Ramsey Campbell’s, and some small press crime and horror anthologies. Short stories are the bastard children of the literary world, but with horror and crime, they are often better than novels. To maintain a consistent level of horror and/or suspense throughout a novel can be difficult. Short horror cuts right to the quick. It doesn’t mess around. It makes its point and then it gets the hell out.

MM: If you had to put a label on your “writing voice,” what would that label be?

DR: The Darkest Place of All is the Human Heart. Short and sweet, huh?

MM: Absolutely! Thinking about your inspirations, if you could pick one famous author, dead or alive, to review your work, who would that be? Why?

DR:  No question, Stephen King. I love a lot of authors from many genres, but King was my inspiration. And he was never afraid to call himself a horror writer, unlike some, as if the term itself is distasteful, and the genre should be looked down upon. Plus, he’s proven that horror isn’t just myths and monsters with stories like Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption, The Body, Roadwork (one of my all-time favorites, written as Richard Bachman), etc.

MM: Great answer! I’m a total freak about King as well. And I love the way he blends normality into these classic monster motifs. Speaking of which, what horror mythology would you consider focusing on most for your next anthology? Werewolf’s, swamp creatures, vampires, mad scientists, aliens, mummies, ghosts, or zombies, or any combination of the above?

DR: My next collection (I’ve already been gathering up some stories for it, but I won’t be putting it together for a while) will focus more on human monsters, the darkness within the psyche. Serial killers, crimes of passion, cults, crimes “against nature,” and against humanity.

MM: On the subject of anthologies, do you have a favorite film or television anthology?

DR:  Of all time? Probably The Twilight Zone. I just loved how it often took real world issues and gave them a dark twist. I know the plots seem a little hackneyed nowadays, following a pretty standard formula. But the formula is virtually perfect, so why mess with it? I’ve got a a novelette out (How to Kill a Celebrity) that’s inspired heavily by The Twilight Zone. It was fun to write. I love when stories surprise me, when I’m not sure exactly what’s going to happen, and I was surprised by how it turned out. I hope other people feel the same.

I love anthology horror, though. Kolchak, American Horror Story, Masters of Horror, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Amazing Stories, Tales from the Crypt, Tales from the Darkside. There’s just so much you can do with anthology TV that you can’t with episodic. They’re the short stories of television.

MM: I couldn’t agree more. Love me some classic Twilight Zone! And I pretty much grew up ingesting Tales from the Crypt. So, I’ve heard you’ve got a full length novel coming out later this year? Salvage, right? Could you tell us a little bit about the book? What are some of the main themes?

DRSalvage is a novel about a man struggling with depression after the death of his little sister. His depression leads him to follow in her footsteps to the lake where she’d drowned, Chapel Lake: a valley flooded for a hydroelectric dam, with the ruins of a town below the water. The further he looks into her drowning, the more he believes foul play might have been involved. But he also starts to think the lake itself might be haunted. Depression, lost memories, childhood trauma and religious zealotry feature heavily.

MM: What inspired you to tackle the subject matter in Salvage? Would it be fair to say that faith, religion, and spirituality have deep roots in Salvage? Do you have any life experiences that helped you tap into the themes?

DR: My own memories of early childhood are very spotty, and I often wondered why that was, if other people’s memories of their own childhoods were mostly a mystery. One thing I do remember is a time when I was about three or four, my mother was invited to what turned out to be a sort of hippie Sufi commune, unbeknownst to her, and she brought me and my brothers along. It was a lot of holding hands and chanting, and since we didn’t go to church, it was my first experience with religion. It wasn’t exactly what I would call a fun time, but I think it’s the root of my interest in cults. Not that it was a cult, necessarily; I’m not even sure how faithful it was to the Sufism (which I believe is a sort of mystical offshoot of Islam, like what Kabbalah is to Judaism), since I was about three or four years old. I’ve always been interested in fringe groups, and atypical religions. Jim Jones, the Heaven’s Gate cult, David Koresh, Charlie Manson. The Svengali archetype is fascinating to me. I’m curious what makes intelligent, rational people follow maniacs to their deaths?

Plus, I’ve always wanted to write about God and religion in a horror story. It’s often used as a crutch to solve problems in horror (or used to be, like using the cross against vampires), and I thought it might be interesting to deal with it head-on, but without the Satanic overtones of most horror stories that deal with religion.

MM: How do you feel about your main character? The transitions? Are they a sympathetic character? Pitiful? Strong? or Despised?

DR: Owen Saddler starts out on shaky ground. He’s deeply depressed, but it hasn’t really occurred to him it could be a problem. He doesn’t much like the world around him. He’s in a downward spiral. I’ve been there myself, and it’s not a good place to be. After his younger sister drowns, he really feels he has nothing to keep him afloat–so to speak–aside from throwing himself into work. When his partner suggests he takes time off to grieve, instead of grieving (which he doesn’t want to do), he turns his sister’s death into mystery to solve. So in the beginning he’s possibly delusional, heading down a dangerous path, but he believes it’s the path to healing.

MM: During the process of telling a story, many writers tend to favor some of their characters over others, who would you think is your least favorite character? Why?

DR: None of them! Okay, I guess if I have to pick, it’d be Howard Lansall, Sr. He’s the sort of sad sack drunk who seems interesting at first, but you’d hate to meet at a bar. Gabbing your ear off, and complaining about his life, so drunk he doesn’t know he’s repeating himself.

MM: Why is water such a large focus in the book?

DR: Water heavily featured in my childhood. I grew up near a lake. I used to spend hours playing in the water, entire summers at another lake up north. I used to have dreams about draining the lake and finding treasures, hidden caverns, lost ruins. It’s also a nice metaphor for the subconscious, and buried memories, which is a big part of the book.

MM: Thanks for telling us a bit about your upcoming debut novel, SALVAGE. When can we expect to see its release?

DR: I’m hoping to see it released before Halloween, most likely late-October.

MM: Before we end this hellish interview, do you have any other projects you’re willing to discuss?

DR: ‘m percolating a thriller about a couple undergoing an unusual form of therapy, while I write my next novel. The blurb for this one is TOP SECRET, but I think it would be safe to reveal that it’s all about ghosts.

MM: Okay, last question. If you could create your own horror anthology on TV, what would that look like and why?

DR: There’s a lot of untapped talent in the indie author world. We had Masters of Horror (and it was mediocre, at best), so why not Indies of Horror?

And while it’s not technically an anthology, I’ve written a pilot for a series about the town of Dark Pines from “Beware of Dog” in Gristle & Bone. It’s about a small town psychiatrist dealing with inner monsters gone very bad.
MM: Okay! Thanks Duncan for stopping by and giving us our first author interview. I wish you all the best with your release of GRISTLE & BONE with Booktrope and the upcoming novel, SALVAGE.
DR: THANKS, THOMAS! Great questions!
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And there we have it folks! I want to thank Duncan Ralston for taking the time to answer my questions. Hopefully i didn’t make things too hard on him! If you want to keep up with Duncan, check out his website here. You can purchase his book, GRISTLE & BONE, here. Duncan is also hosting a giveaway contest for GRISTLE & BONE. If you want to enter for a chance to win a free copy, follow this link. Duncan also has a short story that will be published in a newly minted horror anthology, THE BLACK ROOM MANUSCRIPTS, available here for purchase.

 

 


Opus Questions with Duncan Ralston

Greetings Boils and Ghouls, on this episode of Opus Questions we’ll be hearing from the fiendishly talented Duncan Ralston. If you’ve been following this chain of segments on Machine Mean, Opus Questions is all about finding out what horror writers enjoy reading, what books tickle their fancy, what novelizations have terrified them, haunted them, forced them to turn on the light. Opus Questions is also about discovering what books have inspired up and coming wordsmiths of macabre. For every writer has their favorites, the ones they hold dear. Because part of being a good writer, you have to be a good reader. You have to read — prolifically (grammar?).  So, to keep things interesting and to be a bit villainess on my part, I’ve asked my guests to tell us what their favorite books are and why. And they can pick only two. You heard me. Just two!!! (laughs manically) So, without further ado, here is…

Duncan Ralston:

When someone asks “What’s your favorite (book, movie, TV series, song)?” I find the answer about as difficult as choosing what to order when everything on the menu looks good and I haven’t eaten since breakfast. For the sake of Thomas’s request, I’ve narrowed it down to the two books that influenced me to start writing. Stephen King’s Night Shift, and Clive Barker’s Books of Blood were my first journeys into their terrifying minds, and still resonate with me long after reading. They aren’t necessarily my all-time “favorites,” but they’ve inspired me to achieve similar heights in my own writing.

Night Shift was on the shelf at the old cottage, and its creepy cover called to me… You may know the one: the hand covered in eyeballs and wrapped in gauze (this was the double cover, with the eyes peeking out from holes in the flap). It refers to the story “I Am the Doorway,” where an astronaut brings home an alien stowaway that uses him to peek into our world. Night Shift effectively blends science fiction, horror, terror (if you don’t know the difference, pick up his seminal non-fiction book, Danse Macabre), and gross-outs. Most may not be the best King shorts, nor the most chilling, but they are memorable for the far-outness of their concepts, and the sheer amount of adaptations they produced.

Night Shift, Stephen King, 1978

Night Shift, Stephen King, 1978

“Jerusalem’s Lot” and “One for the Road” serve as a sort of prologue and epilogue to the novel, ‘Salem’s Lot. “Children of the Corn,” about a couple who stumble into a creepy religious town where there are no adults, was made into more sequels than it deserved. “Trucks” became King’s directorial debut, Maximum Overdrive, with Emilio Estevez and an AC/DC soundtrack King probably listened to while he wrote the script. My favorite of the bunch when I was a kid, “Battleground” (which I copied from memory for a school assignment on my dad’s Tandy laptop), was adapted well in the Nightmares & Dreamscapes miniseries, with John Hurt as the hitman besieged by the toymaker’s box of animated soldiers.

In a recent reread, I found two decidedly non-horror stories work very well for their surprising level of emotion and honesty. “The Last Rung on the Ladder” is a haunting story about siblings, trust, and suicide. “The Woman in the Room,” the first short film by Frank Darabont (The Shawshank Redemption, The Walking Dead), is a sad tale of a man’s inner demons and remorse as he prepares to pull the plug on his dying mother. I have a feeling King, whose mother had recently passed, wrote the story to purge his own demons, and those feelings shine through (darkly) on the page.

The book also stands out in my mind for two quotes about writing that have stuck with me, one from John D. MacDonald, and the other from King himself. In the Introduction, MacDonald wrote that when he met people at parties, someone would always said, “You know, I’ve always wanted to write,” to which he began gleefully replying, “You know, I’ve always wanted to be a brain surgeon.” In the Foreword, Stephen King answers a question in a similar fashion: when asked “Why do you choose to write about such gruesome subjects?” King responds, “Why do you think I have a choice?”

I think he was on to something.

“I have seen the future of horror… and his name is Clive Barker.” This quote by Stephen King was splashed across the covers of Clive Barker’s Books of Blood omnibuses that I happened across at my local library. (For a small town, the Millbrook Public Library seemed to have just about everything a young horror fan required to keep himself sane.) Barker’s short stories are still some of the most visceral and imaginative I’ve ever read. His prose is often spare, but always vivid. It was Barker’s work that inspired me to try my hand at writing fiction outside of school assignments. My first few short stories as a teen were very Barker-esque, featuring sado-masochism and love-starved demons.

Books of Blood: Vol 2, Clive Barker

Books of Blood: Vol 2, Clive Barker

The omnibuses open with the eponymous frame story, in which we learn the Books have been carved into the flesh of a phony psychic by the ghosts of a haunted house. From there we take a ride on “The Midnight Meat Train,” following serial killer Mahogany into the depths of depravity. “In the Hills, the Cities” contains some incredible imagery and heavy metaphor, and introduced me to openly gay protagonists, which is significant mostly because I almost chose Barker’s 1996 novel, Sacrament, as my favorite, a book often criticized by cretins for a handful of explicit gay sex scenes.

There are other stories that return to my imagination like the animated dead from time to time: “The Body Politic,” in which our hands revolt, lopping each other from the oppressive shackles of our bodies and skittering off to conquer the world. In “Down, Satan!” a man seeks the attention of God by building a Hell on Earth. “The Age of Desire” is a chemical aphrodisiac experiment gone wrong. “The Forbidden,” a story about the power of legends, became the basis for one of my favorite horror movies, Candyman. It was Barker’s collection, filled with gruesome imagery, insane twists, poetic style, and in-your-face sex and violence, that made me decide to publish a short story collection of my own.

Stephen King once wrote that short stories are becoming a dying art. Everybody wants longer novels, series, sequels. I believe there will always be a place for them. Anthologies are becoming increasingly popular, particularly in the horror genre. Short stories have the benefit of being read in one sitting. For a writer, there is no better spark for the imagination. Both Barker’s and King’s short stories have been and continue to be a huge inspiration for me and my writing.

DuncanRalston

I want to thank Duncan Ralston for taking the time and telling us a bit about his two favorite books and how they’ve inspired him in his our disturbed quests. Duncan Ralston is the author of Gristle & Bone, a collection of fantastic and terrifying short stories. His debut novel, SALVAGE, will hit eBooks and paperback shelves this summer. You can find and keep up with Duncan via his website The Fold and/or you can follow him on Twitter and/or Facebook.