Slashers & Serial Killers in Review: Texas Chainsaw Massacre/ The Hills Have Eyes Remake Double Feature!
Fresh from Fright Fest we’re resuming our annual In Review series with a special double slasher feature with the remakes of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Hills Have Eyes. Yes. Okay. First off, I understand that reboots and remakes are typical fodder for heated debate. Often, i would agree with the naysayers and who much rather prefer new stories instead of rehashed ones. HOWEVER…sometimes a reboot or remake is just what the doctor ordered, no? Consider Cronenberg’s 1986 The Fly versus Kurt Neumann’s 1958 original staring Vincent Price. Or Don Siegel’s 1956 take on Invasion of the Body Snatchers versus Philip Kaufman’s 1978 version. While these originals were themselves fantastic films, the remakes added to the story for a new generation of moviegoers. Today’s double feature films are not necessarily better films than the originals nor are the above mentioned movies, but they weren’t totally unnecessary. Right? Let me explain myself. Continue Reading
If you’re subscribed to my newsletter or have been following my feed on Facebook, then you’ve probably already heard the news. The next installment in my growing Subdue Books Series will release next week with Limitless Publishing LLC. This new title is called Conceiving, and in this post, I’d like to tell you a little bit about the new story. Before that, though, maybe I should recap what happened in the previous books…without giving away any spoilers for anyone who has not read either Dwelling (Subdue Book 1) or Emerging (Subdue Book 2). What I’ll be giving then is general information while avoiding major twists and such. And let it be made know, to follow along in Conceiving, you do not have to have read the other books. Okay…let’s begin.
A long time ago in a galaxy far far away….
At the beginning of Dwelling, we are introduced to Johnathan and Ricky who are both in the U.S. Army serving in Iraq during the 2006-ish years, basically Operation Iraqi Freedom era. While on guard, Johnathan thinks he sees something…unnatural during a sandstorm. The event is juxtaposed with an actual attack on the Iraqi Police station they were guarding. Johnathan and Ricky’s trunk is hit with an RPG. And…no spoilers here as it is made very abundant in the beginning, Ricky is killed instantly, while Johnathan suffers the loss of a limb. This is how Dwelling opens. From here, we fast forward one year from the attack that claimed Ricky Smith and we are introduced to some other major characters.
Bobby Weeks (one of my favorite characters), who also served in the U.S. Army during the Iraq War, is now a homeless veteran. He wanders the streets out of necessity, or so he imagines. Bobby believes, due to a particular curse, he has to keep away from those he loves, his family and his friends. He doesn’t want to hurt anyone. Bobby has a secret, a curse he contracted in Kurdistan when the moon is full he blacks out and wakes the next morning either naked or nearly, and covered in blood and grime. A strange woman finds him in a field and tells Bobby what he is and offers him a place of safety, to keep the beast within him away from the public at large.
Jake Williams is another character we meet. He is a Presbyterian minister with a dark conscience. Like Johnathan, Ricky, and Bobby, Jake also served in the U.S. Army, but not as a combatant. Due to his strict religious observance, Jake was a chaplain’s assistant. Something happened over there, something Jake had witnessed, something strong enough to weigh heavy on his guilt, powerful enough to fracture his faith in God. In the book, Jake struggles with his faith as he fills his religious void with sex. Eventually, his guilt manifests in haunting ways and a soldier he believed dead returned.
Maggie Smith is our last of the group of childhood friends known as Suicide Squad (I know, the name was picked before the movie made the comic popular again!). Maggie is the widow of Ricky Smith and we get to know her one year following the death of her husband. She’s still on base housing but will be forced to relocate. During her house hunt, she is reminded of one of the summers her childhood friends (Johnathan, Bobby, Jake, and Ricky) had come across an odd old farm house in Jotham, TX. Said house, she discovers, is for sale. Maggie quickly buys the house and moves in almost immediately. This wouldn’t be much of a thriller book if the house was normal, would it? And as such, the House on Oak Lee is anything but normal. She begins to hear things at night, crawling, scratching behind the walls. Then she begins hearing sounds, like footsteps, coming down the hall. Haunting or hallucinations, we do not know, but they are escalating. Fearing she is losing her mind, Maggie writes to her childhood friends, hoping to bring them back together, to visit her at the House on Oak Lee.
The House could certainly be another character. It has a strange history, which is revealed through the chapters with Augustus Westfield. If you enjoy historical fiction, I’ve been told these chapters were the favorite for some. But, most of what happens in the House happens in the next book, Emerging. Since Dwelling and Emerging are so closely related, there is no need for new character introductions. Emerging picks up where Dwelling left off. The once childhood friends, Johnathan (and his wife and step-daughter), Jake, and Bobby reunite in Jotham, Texas at Maggie’s house. Adding to Jake’s fear, Maggie looks…different, strained almost…sickly. Johnathan is struggling to keep his marriage together. Seeing one’s dead best friend talk to you in a public restroom can change a man.
Bobby agrees to go, but only if Jake promises to take him back to Houston before the next night. There’s a full moon coming and Bobby has no intention of putting his friends in danger. However, none of the others know about Bobby’s curse, and thus, especially with Johnathan, treat him as an eccentric selfish recluse. It has been years since the childhood friends were together. And things don’t smooth over that first night. The next morning, Bobby goes missing. The gang attempts to find him in town.
Unable to locate Bobby, and after being visited again by Ricky’s rotting specter, Johnathan and Jake become desperate to get Maggie out of the house. They don’t really know what’s really going on or what the house really is. All they know is that their friend is in danger. Her body seems to be wasting away before their very eyes. As the danger intensifies, trust is elusive, and betrayal is certain…
So…that’s a pretty good sum up of both Dwelling and Emerging.
Now for the “good stuff.”
Conceiving…if you’ve read the ending to Emerging…you may be wondering “how the hell do you go from there?” While keeping to my nihilistic style, Emerging still had some very finite conclusions. Things happened that you cannot write around or walk away from. However, that being said, I felt that there was still more to be told. Me? I’m a fan of developing characters. Sometimes they start out as minor and vaguely important. And sometimes they can grow and become much more influential to the story. Luna Blanche is one of those characters. She was in Dwelling and Emerging, but only in a minor role, attached to Bobby’s arch. In Conceiving, her role is much bigger. Though separated from Bobby, she can still “see” him telepathically due to her unique gifts. But the Mississippi Delta woods are limiting her visions, isolating her even farther from what she loves. Her garden. Her grandfather’s house in Hitchcock. And Bobby.
The cabin in the Mississippi woods is quiet. There are no other family members to help Luna take care of her ailing grandmother. No friends. Nothing but the sound of the trees swaying in the wind and a dark presence she can feel hiding in the woods. To add to the strangeness, her grandmother seems disconcerted by her prognosis and instead seems both urgent and hesitate to share with her some sort of secret, some family sin Luna will eventually inherit. If you recognize the name Blanche, especially the name Ronna Blanche, your suspicions are true. Ronna Blanche, now Memaw, is a holdover character from another story of mine called Lanmo. Lanmo was based in the 1960s when Ronna was a young voodoo priestess. Now she is aged and sick. And feels compelled to warn Luna, that she must get her granddaughter to understand why she did the things she did before she dies because her sin, the family sin, has not gone away but remains, hiding in the woods. I don’t really want to spoil anything here, but if you have read Lanmo, you can pretty much guess what that “sin” is.
The only major holdover from Dwelling and Emerging is Bobby Weeks. I don’t want to say too much about Bobby, as it may inadvertently give away something from the previous book. However, I will say that Bobby is attempting to move on with his life. He gets a job. Makes a real go at being normal, despite his curse. Poor Bobbs. Nothing ever seems to pan out for the guy. Eventually, he will spiral and be consumed with revenge, set on a trajectory back to Jotham.
There are a lot of new characters, but the most important ones are Boris and Neville Petry. And yes, Neville is a girl. And I love these two people. I know I wrote them, but that doesn’t make them mandatory to love. And yet, I do. They represent, for me, a young American couple seeking a piece of the American Dream. Boris is a history professor who is offered a job teaching at Baelo University, an obscure little school on the outskirts of Jotham, Texas. Neville, while reluctant to leave behind their life at Ole Miss, agrees, hoping in part that the change will maybe help cultivate the family, the child, she so desperately desires. Weeks following a faculty party, it seems her wish has come true. But dark nightmares plague the happy pregnancy…as does her husband’s strangely distant behavior towards her.
I could say more…but why spoil the fun!
And there you have it, folks. The low and dirty of Conceiving. Plenty of dark twists and history and story to unraveled. And again, you do not need to have read Dwelling and/or Emerging to follow the plot in Conceiving. It certainly helps, especially in understanding Bobby, but the guilt he carries is made pretty clear within the pages of this new story. I am really excited about this one. When I wrote it and turned it into my publisher, I immediately started working on Book 4…which is finished and contracted with Limitless. News on that one to follow soon. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy this new book. Lots of horror to devour. Voodoo priestess. Werewolves. Cults. Extra-dimensional insectoid creatures. Strange pregnancy. And my own personally take on the Frankenstein monster. Plus all the human drama and humor we love to feed on.
Conceiving is now available for preorder. Due to release on November 29, 2016. You can get your copy here. Or if you fancy getting a paperback, you can order that here. And if you are curious about my other books, you can find them on Amazon by following this link here. And as always, you can connect with me on Facebook here, where I post new book info and other horror related topics. Thanks for reading everyone!
With the recent release of Emerging, book 2 in The Subdue Series, I thought it would be a nifty idea to talk a little bit about what the book is about. Nearly a year ago, I dreamed up this magnum opus of sorts for what I deemed to be a telling of “my war experience.” But not just my own experience, my inference of war and what it can do to people, how war changes people as traumatic experiences typically do. When I had finished, I ended up with a massive 150,000 or so manuscript. Initially, I wanted to keep the series together as one book. I had shopped the book around to several publishers. Without turning this into some long publishing story, suffice to say I had stumbled upon Limitless Publishing, LLC, through a writer resource page. I heard back from LP about a month after submitting my book. And…not to brag or anything; they loved the story. The only problem was that it was too long. Most publishing houses, if not all, try to keep books to a 100K maximum. This has nothing really to do with the author in so much as it has to do with marketing/publication costs. If you’re a big time writer, like Stephen King, you can write whatever or however long you want! For me, I had to go smaller. Instead of deleting parts in the book, I agreed to turn Subdue into a series, thus Dwelling (book 1) and Emerging (book 2) were born. As luck would have it, Subdue had a natural split in the middle of the story. Book 1 (Dwelling) was a character focus book, where I spent most of my time letting my readers get to know the characters and their wounds and motivation, if any. And because there are four central protagonists, I pretty much needed to take up an entire book just to talk about them! So, if Dwelling is a character focused story, what’s Emerging about?
Emerging is a situational focused story. With Dwelling you were able to get to know the cast; with Emerging you’ll get to see what happens to them. Characterization is still key. With anything I write, I focus on characters. I believe, as I was brought up reading the likes of King and Barker and Bradbury, if you can create believable characters and make people care about them, you’ll create one hell of a book. Even if what happens is totally implausible. So long as the characters are human being, as in real humanity motivational type stuff, everything else is fair game. The Subdue Series is fictional, paranormal, perhaps maybe even a little horrific, or dear me, do I even suggest…literary? I’d like to think so. But I’ll let me readers be the judge of that! Because book 2 is situationally driven, the pace I think is faster. The book is longer, but I doubt it feel that way. Or at least not in my own head.
As Dwelling ends with a bit of a cliffhanger, Emerging picks up a few months after the events at the end in book 1. Without spoiling anything, I can say that a majority of the focus is with the house in Jotham and the characters interaction with the house that drive the plot in this second Subdue book. I’ve received some positive comments regarding some of the “flashback” characters. Don’t worry, Augustus and the Fetcher family make a minor appearance in the continuation. Questions about the house are answered, to a degree. Some mysteries are better left unsaid. You might also catch a Lovecraftian vibe in book 2. As with situation, I delved a bit more in mythology creation and mood. For those readers who’ve read Dwelling and have commented on how much you have come to love those characters, I cannot promise not to break your heart. As with life and war, some damages are unchangeable. There is an apparent theme about suicide, and I hope as you read you find some of those motivations or justifications. I’ll say nothing more on the subject.
Yes. Emerging was equally hard to write. Both books were. But aren’t the best stories worth sharing difficult to write? Consider H.P. Lovecraft’s short story, “The Outsider,” as a superb self-examination of personal fears and anxieties of how the “outside” world sees us. Or consider up and coming author Duncan Ralston’s debut novel, “Salvage,” a classic ghost story that doubles as an examination of depression and overcoming fears of not only our place in society, but of our past. Or even Clive Barker’s excellent novella, “Cabal,” where he talked thru mythos, his fears of how society views and too often mistreats homosexuality as some monstrous thing. I’m not saying mine is as good as these, but I think it fits within the same category. Below you’ll find some more info about Emerging, including Synopsis and purchase (wink wink) links.
EMERGING by Thomas S. Flowers | @machinemeannow
Publisher: Limitless Publishing | @limitlessbooks
Subdue Series, Book #2
Release Date: Dec. 15, 2015
= = SYNOPSIS = =
Traumatized by war, friends gather for a reluctant reunion…
A historic house in Jotham, Texas harbors a malevolent force, and as her fear grows, widow Maggie Smith pleads with three lifelong friends to gather in her home. But will their presence combat the darkness…or feed it?
Minister Jake Williams fears Maggie has had a breakdown…
Feeling he has no choice, Jake locates the other intended guest, Bobby Weeks, who agrees to go with him but struggles with keeping his lycanthropic curse hidden.
Jonathan Steele, a wounded veteran battling PTSD, arrives with his disgruntled wife. After drinking too much at dinner, Jonathan insults the homeless Bobby, and Bobby is missing from the house the next morning.
The dark past of Maggie’s home awakens in the present…
Jake, whose faith is in doubt, confides in a local priest while he and Jonathan search for Bobby, and Ricky’s ghost makes another visit to Jonathan, causing him to become fixated on saving Maggie from the evil that surrounds her.
As the danger intensifies, trust is elusive, and betrayal is certain…
Maggie might be lost, Bobby confronts a terrible choice, and Jake and Jonathan fight to save them all—before they become more victims of the horror emerging beneath the deadly house in Jotham.
= = #OneClick = =
Check out book 1 in the Subdue Series, DWELLING: http://amzn.to/1Ov68Ld
Before we get into this, there is a quote from Michael Herr in his book, Dispatches, that I’d like to share. It’s a long quote, so bear with me. Herr says:
“I keep thinking about all the kids who got wiped out by seventeen years of war movies before coming to Vietnam to get wiped out for good. You don’t know what a media freak is until you’ve seen the way a few of those grunts would run around during a fight when they knew that there was a television crew nearby; they were actually making war movies in their heads, doing little guts-and-glory Leatherneck tap dances under fire, getting their pimples shot off for the networks. They were insane, but the war hadn’t done that to them. Most combat troops stopped thinking of the war as an adventure after their first few firefights, but there were always the ones who couldn’t let that go, these few who were up there doing numbers for the cameras… We’d all seen too many movies, stayed too long in Television City, years of media glut had made certain connections difficult” (Dispatches, 1977).
My reasoning for sharing this quote from Herr is because, in more ways than one, his voice sums up my own feelings regarding my experiences in the Iraq War, OIF (Operation Iraqi Freedom for those in the know), and writing/living with those memories today. Allow me to explain.
There seems to be a surge of “war stories” finding their way into the media nowadays. I’m in no way saying this is a bad thing; I wish there were more veteran writers. However, I have to be somewhat suspicious when I see books marketed as “another action-packed heroic tale of contemporary military service.” Such as from a Navy Seal’s perspective or some high ranked officer sharing their “retelling” of command with low fidelity storytelling. I’m not trying to be quip here, nor am I trying to call out any one individual. What I am trying to call out is similar to what Herr stated in the quote shared above. There seems to be this carnivorous appetite for war stories, but not war as it really is, rather war from a heroic narrative, or worse, war stories where soldiers are nothing more than pawns in a Mad Hatter’s political chess game. I feel these kinds of stories are for people who do not have a genuine interest in the reality of war from the perspective of, say, Joe-Shmoe from Littlerock, Arkansas. These kinds of stories are for people who want to be entertained, not enlighten to the cruel banality of combat.
For a long time, I didn’t write much about anything. A few poems, here and there, but nothing I was willing to share with anyone, under any circumstance. Well…except for maybe in death, if I was dead then I guess I couldn’t really do much about someone reading my work, could I?
I signed up for the U.S. Army in Sept 2001 and was honorably discharged in February 2008. Roughly seven years of service, including three tours in Iraq, 2003-2004, 2004-2005, and finally 2006-2007. The last tour was probably the hardest, not only was my deployment extended for the great 2007 Iraq War troop surge (Operation Arrowhead, I think), but I took more hits than in any of my previous two tours, and on top of that, I had someone other than my parents waiting for me at home. My wife and I had just met a few months before I deployed. She stayed with me the entire deployment. We wrote dozens of letters to each other, we chatted on the phone and on the internet, and that’s if circumstances made it possible. She supported me, with more than just care packages, but by giving me focus, reminding me that I was more than just a soldier. Being away from her was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Let me say, I don’t mean to sound callous towards my parents, I love my parents very much, but with my wife it was different. For the first time, I couldn’t imagine myself dying and not being afraid. Not just for the circumstance (bodily suffering) but for the recompense of leaving her behind (emotional suffering). I didn’t want to die. I didn’t want to be robbed of this imagined life we could’ve had together. I didn’t want to lose that. And I didn’t want her to suffer for my loss.
In 2008, after being pushed by family to get into college, I finally agreed. I’m glad I did. College helped with more than just furthering my career. Slowly, through the course from 2008-2014, I began to open up. I didn’t really want to at first, again, back to the “glamorization of war,” I feared any attempt to recount my experience would be a cheapening of it, a cheapening of other veteran’s experiences by attempting to sell my own. I didn’t want to do that, but I felt drawn to write something.
My first attempt was during a creative writing class into my second semester at San Jacinto Community College. The assignment was to write a short narrative story. I wrote, “There will be Ghosts,” which was my ode to both my experiences and the Tom Cruise Vietnam movie, “Born on the Fourth of July.” From there I dove head first into fiction-writing. I began a little science-fiction piece which never came to fruition, and probably never will. I consider these first works to be a learning curve, not something I’d want to see published. A dabbling, if you will, in the creative cosmos, finding my voice and all that fun stuff. When I left community college to enter the university (University of Houston-Clear Lake), I had to put my fictional writing on the back burner and focus almost exclusively on my history studies. While this may seem like a setback, I do not see it that way. In fact, I believe these two years of hardnosed historical study gave me an element lacking in my previous fictional-writing attempts. Dedicating myself to my studies gave me a depth I wouldn’t have been able to include in my work otherwise. My studies focused on 20th century Germany, namely the Weimar Republic and Nazi eras. I also took Vietnam War history classes, Texas history, and the Civil Rights Movement, each class taught from the ground-up. This is a somewhat relative new way of teaching history. Traditionally, history is taught from the top, that is, from famous generals and presidents or other such impressive folk. From the bottom-up, history is taught from the Joe-Shmoe perspective, the everyday lives of everyday people. It was fantastic. A new way of looking at our world and the people that fill it by giving them relevance. In 2014 I graduated from the University of Houston-Clear Lake with a Bachelor of Arts in History…now what?
Suddenly I found this huge pocket of empty space. My mandatory studies were over with nothing to keep my mind focused on. I decided to get back to fictional writing no longer for term papers, but something that would keep my mind busy, keep me sane, and present a challenge. I wrote two short stories soon after graduating. “Hobo: a horror short story,” and “Are you hungry, dear?” Both are of the horror genre. And before you ask, “why horror,” let me be brief and just say that I’ve always been a fan of horror and dark fiction, ever since my big sister let me watch “Night of the Living Dead” one Friday night. And even before then, I read Goosebumps and then grew into Stephen King. It made sense for me to gravitate to the genre that I felt more comfortable in. And besides, horror gives us the most honest and straightforward media for social commentary…sometimes we need that ugly non-decorum. And Hobo was as direct a social commentary piece I’ve ever written. Through storytelling, I discussed this growing issue with perspectives and homelessness and then threw that into a gory tale of cannibalism. Perhaps over-the-top…but it was fun to write! “Are you hungry, dear?” I was thinking about this problem with identity, are we who we are because of what we have done in the past, or can we be better. This, of course, was told in thru a story basically about a witch who performs a dark ritual on a pizza!
While these shorts were fun, they also gave me some traction toward my first full-length book, Reinheit.
Reinheit was published originally under Booktrope’s horror imprint Forsaken, and now currently resides with Shadow Work Publishing, was, to be frank, the most serious thing I’ve ever written, other than my wedding vows. But let me be clear, this was not my “Iraq War” piece, though, as a writer you have to draw emotion from somewhere, and it would seem a lot of my emotion still streams from my experiences in Iraq. I think some of that bled into Reinheit. As for the story, I tapped into my history studies and focused on Nazi Germany. I didn’t want this to be just a historical fiction piece, I wanted to say something about some of the issues going on in 2014, in the media, and on social websites, such as Facebook. The total disregard for looking at people as simply that, people. Reinheit drew from real history, but the story was really about the here and now. A school teacher dealing with an abusive husband, an SS officer pushing himself to carry out his ghastly orders, a thug of a husband who views the world from a very narrow hall, an old man looking for redemption, and of course, a curious armchair with a very dark purpose.
While penning Reinheit, I was able to develop my, what authors call, “writers voice.” When you read a lot, which is a must if you want to write, you kind of take on the voice of the authors you are reading. You need to write to chisel away all those voices, and hopefully find your own in the process. I think this is intended to be an ongoing thing. The more you chisel, the more defined your voice becomes, until maybe reaching some point when your aged and withered and giving lectures to a new generation of writers. Obviously, I haven’t reached this milestone yet. I’m still having fun with it. So, yes, writing Reinheit helped define my own voice and gave me the necessary encouragement to take the next step, writing my “war story.”
Again, I couldn’t write something heroic, though I know a lot of whom I consider to be heroic. I didn’t want to pass the war off as some grand adventure. I wanted to rip the decorum off war, the shininess of it. I wanted to bring audiences into the preverbal trenches of “All Quiet on the Western Front.” I wanted to bring an air of hardnosed poetry as Philip Larkin had done for his own generation with his masterpiece, “MCMXIV.” And above all this, I wanted to be direct and honest, no matter how difficult or depressing that may be. Even for myself, rehashing brutal memories. With my pile of one-subject notebooks (yes, I write everything longhand before MS Word), a set out on this endeavor. What I had titled Subdue was inked in about nine months, from paper to MS Word, and has recently been picked up by my new publisher. I cannot go into too many details about the book just yet, but I can say that within those pages are real, raw, and utterly difficult subjects. While hopefully still entertaining, because of the relationships between the characters, it was not written to entertain, it was written to discuss the reality of war and living with the memory of war, I wanted to talk about PTSD, anger, war-guilt, and suicide because these are discussions that need to happen by getting away from the myth of superman and disconnect of high-adventure combat by focusing on the naked ugliness of it and how we can live with those memories through expression…and the sad gut punching fact that many cannot live with the memories of war…
While there will always be “those” books that do not give much substance to the echoes of war, I’ve been seeing more and more veteran writers coming forward from the trenches, unabashed by unrepentant honesty. BRAVO! There was a recent Vanity Fair article called, “The Words of War” that included a few of these up and coming writers of poetry, novels, and screenplays. I felt encouraged reading it. Seeing fellow veterans picking up the pen and expressing themselves. I’m proud to be part of this “Lost Generation,” for as Elliot Ackerman, one of the veteran writers mentioned above, puts it, “it might have been better to be part of the ‘Lost Generation’ than the lost part of a generation.”
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 paranormal/miltary 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 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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“Before proceeding with the showing of the following HIGHLY UNUSUAL ATTRACTION, a few words should be said about the amazing subject matter. BELIEVE IT OR NOT – – – – STRANGE AS IT SEEMS. In ancient times anything that deviated from the normal was considered an omen of ill luck or representative of evil. Gods of misfortune and adversity were invariable cast in the form of monstrosities, and deeds of injustice and hardship have been attributed to the many crippled and deformed tyrants of Europe and Asia. HISTORY, RELIGION, FOLKLORE AND LITERATURE abound in tales of misshapen misfits who have altered the world’s course. GOLIATH, CALABAN, FRANKENSTEIN, GLOUCESTER, TOM THUMB AND KAISER WILHELM are just a few, whose fame is world wide. The accident of abnormal birth was considered a disgrace and malformed children were placed out in the elements to die. If, perchance, one of these freaks of nature survived, he was always regarded with suspicion. Society shunned him because of his deformity, and a family so hampered was always ashamed of the curse put upon it. Occasionally, one of these unfortunates was takes to court to be jeered at or ridiculed for the amusement of the nobles. Others were left to eke out a living by begging, stealing or starving. For the love of beauty is a deep seated urge which dates back to the beginning of civilization. The revulsion with which we view the abnormal, the malformed and the mutilated is the result of long conditioning by our forefathers. The majority of freaks, themselves, are endowed with normal thoughts and emotions. Their lot is truly a heart-breaking one. They are forced into the most unnatural of lives. Therefore, they have built up among themselves a code of ethics to protect them from the barbs of normal people. Their rules are rigidly adhered to and the hurt of one is the hurt of all; the joy of one is the joy of all. The story about to be revealed is a story based on the effect of this code upon their lives. Never again will such a story be filmed, as modern science and teratology is rapidly eliminating such blunders of nature from the world. With humility for the many injustices done to such a people, (they have no power to control their lot) we present the most startling horror story of the ABNORMAL and THE UNWANTED.”
And this is how Tod Browning’s Freaks (1932) opens. We are forewarned with a somewhat strange historical account for the philosophical reasons for the most traditional accounts of ethnocentrism. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s presentation of Tod Browning’s production of Freaks follows one of the most classic idealizations and horror film motifs, the carnival. According to film historian David Skal, Tod Browning first became enthralled with the carnival when he was sixteen years old, “infatuated with a dancer, a so-called sideshow queen in the Manhattan Fair & Carnival Company” (The Monster Show, pg. 28). The unusual attraction to the carnival for those in my generation is probably best seen through the eyes of Ray Bradbury in his epic novel, “Something Wicked This Way Comes.” Dark images of Ferris wheels silhouetted against dark skies. The circus, as far back as I can recall, has always been a place of strange attraction. We do not venture to the circus to see the mundane, after all. In the history of cinema, the film began in much the same way, as a sideshow. And, furthermore, is that not what horror movies are? A strange attraction?
Freaks follows the doomed tale of a trapeze artist named Cleopatra (performed by the ever talented Olga Baclanova) who discovers that a circus midget by the name of Hans (Harry Earles) has a sizable inheritance. She knows Hans is in love with her and decides to marry the lovesick performer, all the while concocting a dubious plan to murder him and steal his fortune, running off with her lover, a dim-witted strongman by the name of Hercules (Henry Victor). But everything is not as it seems. Cleopatra is openly disdained towards Hans’ fellow freaks. And when Hans’ friends discover what is going on, they band together and carry out a brutal revenge that leaves both Hercules and Cleopatra knowing what it truly means to be a so-called “freak.” The best scene, I thought, was at the end, during a torrential downpour as both Hercules and Cleopatra are attempting to flee from their would-be assassins. Hercules is caught under one of the wagons and as we watch, the freaks knife drawn, close in on him. Watching these mutilated forms drawing near, crawling through the mud, has always given me this sense of dread one hopes to find in movies such as these. Cleopatra’s fate is probably the most heinous albeit deserving (SPOILERS) when they mutilate her so badly she herself transforms from something of beauty to just another sideshow attraction. When had looked upon her, they swooned with love, and now they doing nothing but scream!
There is little doubt that it was Tod Browning’s directorial success with Dracula (1931) which allowed him to work on what many have considered his masterpiece. This is my personal opinion, of course, but I think it is more accurate to say that Freaks was more of a passion project, considering his own past experiences working the sideshow as a geek up and down the Mississippi River. What I find most interesting about Freaks is the time period in which the film was released. Horror during the 1930’s, in my opinion, is a retrospective look at the Great War. The maiming and grinding machines of war which ended in 1918 found its way into the picture shows of this era, in movies such as Freaks (1932) and even Frankenstein (1931) we find a representation, if intended or not, of the mutilated shell-shocked forms of returning soldiers and perhaps even modernity. One need only to look at Lon Chaney’s career to see what his custom-made effects were to symbolize.
If this was an intentional use is debatable, but nonetheless, especially in the 1920’s-1930’s, it was a familiar image, the afterbirth of war, so to speak. Even here in our own age, we find an intuitive symbolic gesture. Consider the latest season of American Horror Story, subtitled: Freak Show. A period piece set during the 1950’s telling the story of the last remaining freak show struggling to survive. This new season of AHS is juxtaposed with the end of the Iraq War, or at least the era of the war of which so many of my own generation fought and died or worse survived — mutilated both externally and internally. Have Tod Browning’s classic 1932 Freaks found a new audience in a new generation of witnesses to the horrors of war and the macabre afterbirths? To each their own, I’m sure.
My rating: 5/5
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 Apocalypse Meow. His military/paranormal thriller series, The Subdue Series, both Dwelling and Emerging and Conceiving, 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 at machinemean[dot]org, where he does author interviews and reviews on a wide range of strange yet oddly related topics. You can keep up with Thomas and all his strange books by joining his author newsletter, at http://goo.gl/2CozdE.
Something strange started happening during the dawn of the new millennium. Beginning as early as 2003, once revered horror movie classics were being revamped for a supposed new audience, a audience geared toward a sicking predisposition for hyper violence and “better” special effects. Now that we’re well into a new decade, its interesting looking back and speculating why certain trends even started in the first place. The biggest and most fascinating parallel between those “classics” and their children are the things happening in the world when said films were being made. For me, the two biggest world events impacting film worth mentioning (especially considering our horror subject matter!) are the Vietnam War and the Iraq/Afghanistan War.
The Two Wars:
Doing our best to avoid a politico argument, lets look more at the similarities between the two decades (1965-1975, 2001-?). Besides the obvious similarities in the type of war (strategic and tactics, guerrilla urban warfare, and the precarious balance in winning hearts and minds while simultaneously engaging the enemy), the Vietnam War and Iraq War could also be compared to the amount of combat footage that made its way into the mainstream. In the living rooms of millions of Americans, while folks sat down for their nightly news, they were bombarded with images of seemingly “random” acts of violence. Allow me to clarify. These acts of violence feel random because folks in the U.S. and folks over in the desert or jungle getting blown up are disconnected. The people back home in their living rooms have no way of knowing whats really going on “over there” except from what the media provides. This new norm impacted how we engage movies, especially the shock value in horror movies.
The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly:
The best thing that could ever come from the mess over in Asia-Minor was how it effected horror films and turned them into positive avenues of expressing discontent. Some have dubbed this epoch in the history of horror as Savage Cinema. Films, such as: Deliverance (1972),The Last House on the Left (1972), The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) and later The Hills Have Eyes (1977) disconnected horror away from fantasy. The horrors of the world were no longer shown in the castles of Transylvania or some tomb in Cairo, but in our own backyards, down the road, behind the curtain. The monsters were no longer beasts or creatures of myth, but our own neighbors, our relatives, or that seemingly ordinary fellow walking down the street. Horror, in essence, became set in reality.
Now, flash forward to the post modern take on Savage Cinema during the 2000’s. Comparatively, in every way possible, each and every remake falls short of the original. The effects and filmography were often better, but what they left behind was the message, the meaning behind the chainsaw and the desperate family living among the rocks in the Californian desert. The heart was replaced for even stronger images of violence. In a way, I suppose this could say something of the time period. Did we no longer care for actual storytelling? Were we simply looking for our “new” norm among the flooding destruction brought on during our nightly news broadcasts? Perhaps, but can we really forgive those remakes, such as: The Fog (2005), The Wicker Man (2006), Halloween II (2009), The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (2003) and so many more that needless tore asunder classic storytelling for pointless mayhem? The only real forgivable remake during this epoch was Dawn of the Dead (2004), though not entirely. The forgivable aspect of the new Dawn of the Dead was how producers didn’t trash on the old characters, but instead introduced new ones for a new evolution of the film. And, in a way, maintained the similar, though less obvious, take on consumerism.
A New Decade:
Though we are just entering the 2010’s, there seems to be a change in how movie makers are approaching remakes. The trend of completely redoing the classics have, in a way, transformed into a continuation in the story itself, in a undefined kind of way. Basically, the new remakes are not really remakes anymore; they are and they aren’t. Make sense? Consider the recent revamp of Evil Dead. The story wasn’t so much a new story of the original, but a continuation without having to give a huge boring and needless back story. The simply yet obvious easter eggs were enough to reconcile the old with the new. The way Evil Dead was re-imagined could possibly (and hopefully) be a reacquiring trend in how future remakes will be done. News of the upcoming revamp of Poltergeist seems to confirm this “new” direction as we’re given not a retelling of the same story with flashier gimmicks, but a continuation of the story with a new set of characters facing a similar threat without having to spend an hour explaining the original. The most interesting take on this new Poltergeist (which, by the way, the 1982 classic is a personal favorite of mine) is how producers are approaching home ownership. In the original story it was about the 1980’s boom in home development, and with this new revamp, its about the boom in refurbishing old homes. Keeping it the same; not keeping it the same, simultaneously.
Hopefully this trend will continue, especially when pertaining to old classics. While I personally would rather see new stories being told, if Hollywood insists on remaking the classics, let the story evolve instead of just mindlessly rehashing what has already been said.