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Posts tagged “Kit Power

Creature Features in Review: Gremlins 2 (1990)

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This essay contains spoilers for, and assumes prior knowledge of, Gremlins and Gremlins 2. If you don’t want to be spoiled, go watch the films first. So, I’ve written about Gremlins < http://gingernutsofhorror.com/my-life-in-horror/someday-you-may-be-ready > elsewhere. It’s one of the most popular things I’ve ever written online, at least in terms of number of views, which is both gratifying and mystifying. And I feel like I should start by stating the obvious – it doesn’t need a sequel. There’s nothing significant left hanging in terms of plot or character resolution that needed another movie to explore. The movie is, in Aristotelian terms, a complete action. The most you can say in defense of any proposed sequel is that the first movie leaves the door open, what with Gizmo still being alive at the end, but that’s a long way from having a sequel be either needed or, necessarily, desirable.  Continue Reading

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Creature Features in Review: King Kong (1933)

I am going to assume you’ve seen this film so spoilers will abound. If you haven’t, for the love of God, go. Go now.

Well, now. Here we are again.

Last time, it was Bride of Frankenstein (check out THAT review here). Sure, Thomas, I’ll cover Bride’, thinking quick watch through of Frankenstein and the sequel, then 1500 words, bish bash bosh, job done. Then that sinking feeling, as I realized how ludicrously good Bride was, how much I’d have to say, would want to say, just how big the world of existing essays, books and criticism must already be.

You might have thought I’d have learned something from that.

Yeah.

Apparently not.

So, King Kong. In my defense, I had seen it before, and more in my defense, it had been well over a decade. So, my memory was simply that it was bloody brilliant, absurdly good for a movie made in 1933, a cracking, action packed monster movie with some bonus pathos and what have you.

And, you know, that wasn’t wrong, per se. Watching it again for this, I was forcibly struck by how sophisticated so much of the effects work was. The combination of stop frame and huge model work, for example, is incredibly impressive, as are the moments where the stop frame interacts with filmed actors at certain points (even if with modern eyes it’s painfully clear when the actor becomes a stop frame version of themselves, there’s still a certain not-quite-sure-how-they-did-that thrill to the transitions). Kong himself is glorious, especially in mid shot, fighting a T-Rex or giant snake. The giant model face isn’t quite as expressive or mobile as the stop frame equivalent, but it’s for the most part intelligently used for short close ups and is especially brilliant when he has some poor islander or explorer being used as a chew toy.

Similarly, Skull Island is as spectacular as I remembered. Bathed in the ethereal, slightly hazy black and white glow (my DVD copy of the movie was clearly a straight lift from the film stock, preserving even the cue marks signaling the need to swap reels), the island really does feel like a visitation to The Past. The giant wall, the extensive, gorgeous hand painted backgrounds, the cunning use of rear projection to show dinosaurs and explorers on camera together and the mighty, thunderous score, all combine to brilliant effect, creating a viewing experience that is utterly captivating. King Kong is a class act all the way.

Similarly, the acting is superb throughout, with special props going to the indefatigable Fay Wray, who has the absolutely thankless task of screaming in peril from basically the 30-minute mark to the close, with little pause for breath, but who nonetheless brings incredible depth, humanity, and interiority to her character. Her acting in her first big scene, when filmmaker Denham makes his pitch, is especially brilliant, her desperation and hunger warring with common sense and fear, her vulnerability genuinely heartbreaking. It packs an extra wallop when you consider that the Great Depression was both a current and ongoing event at the time the film was made, with many young actresses no doubt facing real world choices every bit as stark as Ann Darrow’s dilemma.

That’s a layer of sophistication the movie exhibits that had completely passed me by on prior viewings, actually. I’m so used to movie depictions of The Great Depression (The Sting being the example that immediately springs to mind, a movie I love unconditionally) that the contemporaneous nature of the film passed me by. And yet King Kong is, in part, a pretty pointed social commentary on the economics of that time – how people sought to escape from the crushing misery of the day to day by visiting movie theaters and getting blissed out on Hollywood. When you think about the essential amorality of filmmaker Carl Denham in King Kong, and the ultimate fate of the theatregoers eager to see the ‘8th wonder of the world’… well, let’s just say there was a to-me entirely unexpected level of anxiety and self-criticism from Hollywood that was both pointed and kind of thrilling. I mean, I was expecting – eagerly anticipating, even – the fifty-foot gorilla going ape. A movie displaying insecurity about the role of mass entertainment in the midsts of financial upheaval and social misery? That was a welcome and crunchy surprise.

There were other surprises that were less welcome. And here, I am going to wimp out by simply observing the painfully obvious; namely, that a movie that was made in the 1930’s and that depicts an island of ‘natives’ with brown skin contains racial politics that could charitably be described as ‘problematic’. I am both acknowledging and skipping that not because I don’t think it matters, or doesn’t deserve discussion, but because minds far superior to mine have already engaged with the subject with far more knowledge and insight than I could hope to bring, and you should go to Pop Matters and READ their article, and then read Angry Bitch Blog on the subject, and then Inverse’s take,  and don’t forget this bit of commentary. All I will say here is obvious; it’s there, and it’s ugly. And if you feel a discussion of Kong that doesn’t engage with the racial politics of the movie is woefully incomplete, you’re right, and I’m sorry, but I also know when a subject is too big for me, both in terms of concepts and word counts.

I think it’s worth taking just a quick look at the Kong-as-boy thing, though.

And let’s just start by observing that Kong clearly is male. It’s not just the name – though there is that – but his performative chest-beating displays are lifted directly from the behavior of the male silverbacks he’s modeled on. And let us further observe that this fifty-foot ape is, therefore, genetically speaking, a very close relative indeed.

Again, in full awareness that I’m dislocating my hip in order to sidestep the huuuuuuuge racial implications and encoding of the giant ape falling for a white woman, having previously eaten all the brown women he was offered (because, fucking yuck, let’s not), what we have here, therefore, is a love story. A violent, inarticulate, hugely powerful male is drawn to kidnap, then preserve and protect a small, vulnerable beautiful female from a hostile world.

Now, the movie itself draws an explicit parallel here between this situation and the story of Beauty and the Beast – indeed, it makes what looks suspiciously like a post-modern joke to that effect on the boat, with Denham fully saying out loud, apparently to himself ‘Say! I’m developing a theme here!’. But the film that I found myself going back to was Bride Of Frankenstein.

Because Kong, like The Monster, is, well, a monster. Powerful. Inarticulate. Angry. Violence-prone. Strong, yet vulnerable. Lonely.

Innocent.

That’s the real kicker, for me – the factor that gives both such amazing cinematic power and resonance. The innocence. Kong is innocent. Not good, you understand: he kidnaps women, seems to enjoy a spot of mortal combat rather too much, and certainly chews people to death, even if he doesn’t eat them. Like the other Monster, his anger is swift to rise and terrible to behold.

At the same time, he’s still innocent. In Kong’s case, he’s unarguably a product of his environment. In an ecosystem as hostile and violent as Skull Island, only the most ruthless and strong can possibly survive. Kong’s aggression and violence may be terrifying, but they are also understandable necessary survival mechanisms. He may have that considerable ape intelligence, but he’s still, as we’d understand it, a ‘dumb animal’.

Like the monster, we are invited to both fear Kong, but also pity him – perhaps even love him. It’s fundamentally Not His Fault, after all – he’s taken from a place where he belongs to a world he cannot hope to understand. Again, sidestepping the imagery of the chains (not enough yuck in the world, there), we’ve got the same notion seen in ‘Bride..’ of ‘civilisation’ colliding with a more primal force.

And this is where, I think, things get fundamentally fucked up. Because Kong is a monster. He kills indiscriminately, his obsession with Ann Darrow is the worst kind of stalker/woman as object behavior, and he appears to enjoy destruction and violence for its own sake. These are monstrous behaviors. Add in the whole fifty feet tall thing, and, well…

None of us would remotely dig having Kong in our town, and if he was coming down the street, the vast majority of us wouldn’t want the RSPCA (or ASPCA for my transatlantic friends). No, we’d want the army and a fucking bazooka.

But he’s not on our street. He’s on the screen. And there, knowing what we know about his history, safe in the knowledge that we’re not going to become Kong popcorn, we can feel for him. We can empathize with his pain. We can rationalize his obsession, forgive his violence. He’s a dumb animal. He doesn’t know any better. He’s been hurt and he’s lashing out. It’s the only behavior he understands.

And when the planes finally take him down, some of us may even weep.

I usually do.

And, you know, that’s okay, because he is an animal. If we take the fiction seriously, it’s not surprising to feel that way. But it is, also, undeniably unsettling. Kong’s behavior, his effect, is terrible, terrifying, horrendous. Yet he is innocent. As with that other monster, it’s the tension between those two facts that elicits such strong emotions, such powerful pathos.

Still, I can’t help feel like there’s a parable here, albeit not the one intended by the filmmakers. Because looked at as a list of traits, Kong is pretty much textbook toxic masculinity (yes, I know he’s an ape). And you can feel the racist barely-subtext tugging again if you note that the message seems to be that these traits are innate, a product of environment, and that ‘civilisation’ is ultimately to blame for transforming the environment to such an extent that these natural instincts no longer have relevance, have become destructive.

And, you know, fuck that, basically.

I think by far the more interesting read is to note that, yes, Kong has these horrible traits, but we as an audience can see them and still empathize with him, still feel sadness at his treatment and his passing. In the same way as we do for the Universal Monster, and interestingly, in a way that far fewer of us can for the real life, human monsters that share these traits.

Because, of course, Kong is innocent.

That’s the aspect of the movie that still gnaws away at my mind, the dichotomy that elevates this from merely brilliant period popcorn to something… ah, hell, we’ve come this far. Let us just call it art, shall we?

Kit 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.

Pick up YOUR copy of GodBomb! for $3.99 on Amazon!!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Creature Features in Review: Cloverfield (2008)

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Note: The below is written based on the assumption that you’ve seen Cloverfield. If you haven’t yet, go and see Cloverfield. Or be both spoiled and confused. Your choice.

I tried to resist the obvious pun. I really did. But I can’t do it. So, with apologies…

Cloverfield is a very odd beast.

Sorry.

But it is.

I mean, on the one hand, it isn’t, at all. Giant monsters have destroyed Manhattan Island since forever, after all. Like London, New York is one of those rare cities whose ‘centre of the universe’ mentality is actually somewhat borne out by reality (Tokyo is the other one that immediately jumps to mind, and oh, look…). So, I mean, of course, the aliens and monsters are going to start there. Why wouldn’t they? It’s where, as they say, the action is.

In that regard, Cloverfield is part of a long established tradition – none more trad, arguably, in the giant creature feature genre.

Similarly, found footage? It’s rare as a horror fan you’ll go through a month without someone complaining either on your Facebook feed or in a blog post about the ubiquity of the found footage movie and it’s disastrous impact on the genre – such complaints are almost a sub-genre themselves, at this point. Ever since the not-universally-popular-but-at-least-successful-and-then-somewhat-original Blair Witch Project rattled our tents and planted in our ears 17 years ago (yes, you’re old, get over it), seems like every indie wannabe superstar has been chasing that found footage Bigfoot, trying to recreate the magic. In musical terms, it reminds me of the rap/metal explosion that followed Rage Against The Machine – people trying to combine the same mechanical elements (hip-hop singer with a metal band) without the slightest clue as to what made Rage so damn special in the first place. Gifting the world Limp Bizkit and a million behind them that were even worse. Thanks, recording industry.

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But hang on, though, because we may just have stumbled over the point, there, while getting on our self-righteous nu-metal-bashing hobbyhorse (yeah, you were up here with me, don’t deny it). Because prior to Rage, there had been both Hip Hop and Metal (obviously), and both movements were, by ‘91, well established enough to have had mainstream successes, even while remaining musical subcultures as a whole. But aside from one-off songs like Aerosmith/Run D.M.C’s Walk This Way, nobody had thought to combine the elements – and certainly not in a fully functioning band unit, where neither style held obvious supremacy.

So, to finally get on topic, found footage movies weren’t unusual. Neither were giant creature features.

But a found footage giant creature feature?

That’s new.

And we might as well get this out of the way; one of the principle reasons it’s new is because it’s also an insane idea. If you’re making a giant creature feature in 2008 and wreaking Manhattan in the process, you’re doing it largely with CGI. However, if you’re making a found footage movie, especially with an in-fiction non-professional camera operator (as you are in Cloverfield) then you’re talking strictly handheld.

And to be fair, for your indie horror filmmaker, that’s an enormous plus, for the obvious reason that it’s dirt cheap. Slap cheap digital cameras into the hands of your actors, and then let loose the mayhem, and hilarity and awards ensue, right? And all the auto-focus fails, and blurry shots of the maybe-thing-maybe-person stalking or whatever, that all just adds to the atmosphere, right?

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Except, now, with Cloverfield, your shaky-cam is filming a skyscraper exploding, or your shutter speed is blurring the head of the Statue Of Liberty as it bounces down the street, or the autofocus is failing to decide which piece of the 200-foot monster to focus on.

And, of course, none of those things actually exist, outside of some computer whizzes laptop.

.That is what, frankly, blows my mind about Cloverfield, and why I wanted to write about it.

Because I do sometimes find myself wondering (outside of the total movie geek circles I am proud to inhabit) how many people really understand just what a staggering achievement this movie represents. I wonder if the average movie goer, benumbed as they must be by massive digital spectacles, fully appreciates how complex, how difficult, and how special Cloverfield is, in terms of what it achieves. How tough it is to integrate digital effects with handheld footage in such a way that the unreal appears so naturalistic that the only reason you know the creature isn’t really there is because it would be impossible to build.

It is, in the parlance of our times, fucking awe inspiring.

Of course, director Matt Reaves pulls every trick in the book to make it work. In 1975, a malfunctioning robot shark inadvertently forced Spielberg to the genius realisation that having the monster mostly be off camera made it WAY scarier, and while Reaves in a found footage format doesn’t have the luxury of cutting to the monster’s POV, accompanied by a John Williams score, we do see far more of the creature’s handiwork than we do the creature itself, in the scarred streets and skyline of the city. There’s also a return of the good old ground tremors from Jurassic Park, and a ton of similar tricks employed throughout to both build tension and, by happy coincidence, save money (another brilliant example is when the creature passes by the store our protagonists are cowering in – before it passes, the air outside becomes so full of brick dust and ash from a collapsing building that the monster itself is only heard and felt, not seen).

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It’s smart, savvy filmmaking, selling us on the scale and power of this thing without providing even a glimpse. Similar brilliance announces itself elsewhere in the storytelling. One of the central strengths of found footage is also its central weakness – you’re stuck with one perspective, one window on the world. This is compounded in Cloverfield by also ostensibly being unedited footage, the only cuts being when the camera operator turns the device off for some reason (during which segments we’re treated to bleed-through from the previous recording that is being overwritten – a cute device for delivering back story, albeit not one I’m convinced makes sense in a digital age – sure, a videotape would work this way, but digital files?).

Horror fans and writers will immediately grok to the appeal and strength of such an approach, but it can cause problems, not least when trying to transmit a sense of scale, or hints at a wider world response to events. There’s a superb moment where Rob, desperate to restore his mobile phone charge, runs into an electronics store that’s in the process of being looted. Our camera man follows him in, huffing and puffing (one of the funniest lines in the movie is his exclamation early on that ‘I don’t really do this running stuff!’) only to be pulled up short by the TV coverage. Via his camera pointing at the TV, we get a glimpse of how the news coverage is panning out, at least until he’s pulled away by his friends and off into the next part of the story.

Similar brilliant flourishes abound, from the camera perspective on the Brooklyn bridge as a tentacle (actually tail, we later learn) smashes into it, knocking the cameraman off his feet, to flickering or emergency lighting creating a dramatic, nightmarish strobe effect, to a brilliant sequence in the subway in which first the camera torch is employed, and later the night vision, in what is for my money one of the best jump scares of the last ten years – without cheating with some dramatic score or jump cut.

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And then there’s the creature.

The beast itself is on camera rarely – I’d bet less than five minutes of the total running time feature any glimpse of it, and most of that is exactly glimpses – a tale, an arm, and a stunning in motion underneath shot as our heroes plunge into the subway and the army engages in a fierce firefight. Even seen on the news footage or from the evacuation chopper, it’s partially obscured by buildings, or smoke, or just the trembling of the camera man. But in the closing minutes of the film, we’re finally treated to a full, uninterrupted view, and it’s just glorious – huge, organic, monstrous both in size and features, raining grotesque parasites – it really is brilliantly realized, the stuff of nightmares.

So, yeah, there’s a lot to recommend Cloverfield, and I think it’s a brilliant movie – or at least, near brilliant. There are some elements that don’t quite hang together, for me. There’s the technical stuff – I’ve already mentioned in passing how the ‘bleed-through’ of the old video footage only really makes sense in the analog age and given that mobile phone networks were disconnected across New York throughout 9/11, Rob’s suspiciously functioning mobile is, well, suspicious.

And as we’ve brought it up.. So, there’s the 9/11 thing.

Because prior to 2001, there were a lot of movies that indulged in disaster porn and specifically blowing up New York. And let’s be honest – it felt like good clean fun at the time. I vividly remember being utterly thrilled at the destruction of the Empire State Building and The White House in Independence Day when it came out – not even slightly in a ‘fuck America’ way, to be crystal clear, but in a totally generic ‘wow, big badda-BOOM!’ way.

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And I similarly vividly remember watching ID4 for the first time post-9/11. And it felt different. A lot less fun. Kind of a bummer, actually.

But, you know, historical artifact, innit? Like any seismic historical and cultural moment, there’s just a pre and post-9/11 divide in art, and you can’t judge one by the standard of the other.

Except then, there’s Cloverfield.

And it kind of explicitly plays with the imagery and atmosphere of that day. When the attacks first start, and all people can see is explosions, one of the voices at the party says ‘Is it another attack?’. The police evacuating people in the street, clearly well drilled in massive disaster response. The moment I talked about earlier, with the group hiding out in the store as the smoke and dust rolls past – that could almost be footage from the day.

Now, I’m pretty much a free speech absolutist, to be clear. This isn’t about what people should or shouldn’t be allowed to say or write or film. At the end of the day, the same rights that protect your right (hypothetically speaking) to be a racist fuckhole are the rights that protect me calling you out on your racist fuckhollery and telling others about it. That’s how it works, and, IMO, the only way it CAN work. Social change powers political change, not the other way around. So be the change you want to see in the world and all that.

So I’m not saying you can’t or shouldn’t make a piece of popcorn entertainment in 2008 that evokes the imagery of 9/11. Of course, you can. Equally, though, as Dr. Malcolm might say, it might be worth thinking about whether or not you should.

Not just because 9/11 was an event of global trauma, the repercussions of which are still shaping lives and getting people killed – though it is. But because… well, look – you can make a movie like World Trade Centre, which is a pretty straight telling of the events of the day. That’s one thing. But to take imagery and iconography from the day and chuck them into your, let’s face it, popcorn monster movie… well, it is, at least, a little uncomfortable, and at worst smacks of being tasteless, even exploitative.

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Again, to be clear, I’m not saying the movie shouldn’t have been made, or anything like that. And I can even sympathize with the filmmakers in some ways – with the found footage vibe, it’s all about verisimilitude, after all. And damn, now we’ve got real footage of what a demolished Manhattan skyline looks like at street level – how could you not use that information?  At the same time, as much as I like Cloverfield (and I do, a great deal) this aspect of the film always leaves me feeling a little queasy.

And you know what, that’s okay. It’s okay – healthy, even – to have ambiguous or conflicted reactions to art. It’s okay to like or even love a movie (or album, or book) even as it’s flawed make you sad, or angry, or uneasy. To climb back on the free speech soapbox one more time, that’s almost the point. Conversation, discussion, argument – that’s how we improve our understanding, refine our opinions, and yes, sometimes, learn something new that changes how we see the world or a facet of it.

Cloverfield is a very good movie, that for me edges on greatness (and in a technical sense, it is unambiguously great, I think). Far from flawless (aside from the above, the plot that drives the characters is as hack and obvious as it’s possible to be, and the actors, while solid, don’t quite manage to elevate that into something more), but the things it does well it does SO damn well that, especially first time through, it’s a total thrill ride of a movie, a classic popcorn rollercoaster.

And yeah, it’s a brilliant giant creature feature. Maybe even the best post-2000 one, what with the intelligent and expertly realized use of the found footage format and a brand new monster that looks like nothing you’ve ever seen before.

And if parts of it make me uncomfortable… well, how bad is that, in the final analysis?

After all, beats the shit out of being boring.

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Kit Power is no stranger to Machine Mean. He was reviewed for us both The Bride of Frankenstein (1935) and the forever classic Monster Mash Pinball Game. And participated during Fright Fest with a review on Parents. 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 the frontman (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.

You can get Breaking Point, Kit Power’s newest release, for $2.99 on Amazon!

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BREAKING POINT – THE LIFELINE TRILOGY

A Cyclist is knocked unconscious on his way home and wakes up in a nightmare…
A devoted husband begins to suspect all is not well with his marriage…
A desperate family man, running out of time and options, turns to an old schoolmate from the wrong side of the tracks – looking for work – any work…
A young man’s world is thrown into chaos as his father is abducted…
Four tales of people pushed to BREAKING POINT.

For ‘The Loving Husband’ – “Gripping, compelling and utterly nerve-wracking.” – DLS Reviews.

For ‘Lifeline’ – “More savage than Rottweiler on meths with its nads caught in barbed wire.” – zombiekebab, Amazon reviewer.

“One of the best novellas I’ve had the pleasure to read.” – Duncan Ralston – Author of Salvage.

“a sliver of sheer brutality and nastiness that is unbridled.” John Boden, author of DOMINOES.

“Power gets splatterpunk in a way that few do.” – Bracken MacLeod, author of Stranded and Mountain.

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Book Featurette: Breaking Point

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BREAKING POINT – THE LIFELINE TRILOGY

A Cyclist is knocked unconscious on his way home and wakes up in a nightmare…
A devoted husband begins to suspect all is not well with his marriage…
A desperate family man, running out of time and options, turns to an old schoolmate from the wrong side of the tracks – looking for work – any work…
A young man’s world is thrown into chaos as his father is abducted…
Four tales of people pushed to BREAKING POINT.

What readers are saying about Breaking Point:

“Power gets splatterpunk in a way that few do.” – Bracken MacLeod

“One of the best novellas I’ve had the pleasure to read.” – Duncan Ralston

“This is my second book by Kit Power. I loved it as much as I loved GODBOMB. This collection of 4 short stories are well written and full of suspense. Each one will keep you on the edge of your seat and just about leave you breathless by the last page. Move this to the top of your to be read pile!! You won’t be sorry.” -Tina Marie.

“WOW! This book of short tales by the talented Kit Power is a stunning read. Like the famous book on anti-gravity, I couldn’t put it down. Genesis, the prequel to his superb novel GodBomb, blew me away with its emotional power and brutality. The Lifeline Trilogy consisting of ‘The Loving Husband and the Faithful Wife’, ‘The Debt’ and ‘Lifeline’ are extremely dark and made even more terrifying due to the fact that Kit Power has steered away from the realms of fantasy, and lingered uncomfortably within the domain of the feasible. Intense, and sinister is a great combination and Kit Power nails it yet again.” -Amazon Reviewer

You can get your copy of Breaking Point on Amazon for $2.99!

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Kit 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 the frontman (and occasionally blogs) for death cult and popular beat combo The Disciples Of Gonzo, http://www.disciplesofgonzo.com. Kit is no stranger to Machine Mean, you can read his phenomenal essay on Bride of Frankenstein here. And you can keep up with all his publications here.


Fright Fest: Parents (1989)

 

parentspsoterIt’s my personal opinion that the phrase ‘cult classic’ is overused. It’s a phrase often applied to movies that are mainstream successes, purely because they happen to be a bit odd. For example, I find labeling anything David Lynch has been involved in from Twin Peak on as ‘cult’ just… well, wrong. I like David Lynch’s work, a lot, as it happens. But cult? Dude’s a mainstream success, albeit one who has managed to do that without compromising his artistic vision. Which is utterly awesome, and all respect and praise due.

But it’s not cult.

Cult, IMO, needs to be small. Obscure. Flawed. If everyone on your friend’s list has heard of it, it’s not cult. It’s just a cool thing you like.

And basically, I’m not a cult guy. My ear isn’t to the ground enough for that – I’m too busy failing to  skim off the cream of the mainstream offerings out there, in any popular culture genre, to have any realistic chance of finding some deserving second or third tier band or movie or TV show to enjoy. By the time I come across something, in other words, it’s generally by the above definition no longer cult – it’s broken out, reached a critical mass, if you can dig it. It may have been ‘cult’, but by the time I find it, chances are good it’s graduated simply to ‘classic’.

Except then, they’re Parents.

Parents released back in 1989. It was made for $3 million and grossed $870,500 box office. It got a brief US DVD release, and so far none at all in the UK. It stars Randy Quaid, in I think his best screen performance, and probably no-one else you’ve heard of. And by sheer fluke, I saw it on TV in the UK, as part of a horror movie season on one of the broadcast networks – BBC2 or C4.

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Now, Parents is undeniably a goofy movie. It’s set in the 50’s, in whitebread suburbia, and that’s an inherently goofy setting. Randy Quaid, is, well, Randy Quaid, and though he exhibits a level of restraint in this film that becomes actively creepy, there’s still an essentially goofy quality to, well, him.

The brilliance of Parents is how it recognizes a great but underexplored aesthetic truth – goofy is only a very thin sliver away from creepy.

I mean, think about it for a second and it immediately makes sense. Grotesque is what happens when you twist caricature up just another half inch. Turn the volume up to eleven on an old cartoon and the distorted sound will become harsh, grating. The tragedy is when I stub my toe, comedy is when you fall down a manhole and die.

That said, I’m struggling to think of a movie that gets and exploits this better than Parents.

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It start’s with Quaid, for me. That 50’s buzz cut, the serious glasses, and his early, misplaced humor with his son. It’s a brilliant performance, by turns utterly buttoned down, the kind of icy calm that makes you instinctively nervous, through to behavior so exaggerated past comedy it turns into creepy, without ever landing on ‘normal functioning human’. When we look back of the culture and advertising of the 50’s, there’s an inherent eerie, pod person aspect to it these days, especially when it comes to the rigid enforcement of gender norms, and totalitarian representation of the nuclear family as the irreducible final form of society, of humanity. Parents nails that vibe perfectly, creating a suburban environment where every smile looks like an upside down scream, where the perpetual sheen of sweat on Dennis Quaid’s forehead seems to give the lie to his preternaturally calm voice – and yes, where the increasing insistence of Michael’s parents that he eat up the unidentified meat they serve him for dinner takes on an almost screamingly sinister tone, even as the actual words and actions could as easily be those of exasperated parents as… well… as what, exactly?

It’s not clear, of course, and it remains unclear for most of the film’s 81 minutes running time. It’s the internet age, so you can look it up if you want, but I’m not going to spoil it here, and my firm advice is that you shouldn’t either, if by the end of this you decide to give the film a spin (spoilers: you should ). One of the reasons I think this movie deserves far more attention and love than it gets is precisely the way in which it spins out the central tension of what, exactly, the hell is going on in this family, well past the point where most movies would have come down on one side or the other.

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A lot of that ambiguity is possible because of the kid. Michael, played by Bryan Madorsky, is about as far from a Hollywood leading child actor as you could have found in ‘89 (though he wouldn’t have been out of place one of the gangs in Stranger Things). He’s a quiet, shy, pale, awkward kid, with a vivid imagination that leads to some fairly spectacular nightmares. These sequences are beautifully shot, and yeah, they are a lot less impressive post The Shining, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t still effective. Steal from the best, and all that.

Beyond the very good, and occasionally actually brilliant direction, the kid turns in a superb performance. Mirroring the wider ambiguity of what the hell is (or is not) going on with his parents, Michael is straddling that line between quiet and withdrawn, imaginative and disturbed (as I write that last, I wonder if that even is a line, or just positive and negative spins on the same phenomenon). He’s certainly a misfit, which in the hyper-conformist atmosphere of the 50’s setting places the viewer in a constant state of anxiety for his wellbeing. This is further amplified by intentionally showing us a sequence where his parent’s behavior is understandable to the viewer but incomprehensible to him, further fueling his imagination and nightmares, and for the audience heightening our anxiety as to what the truth of his situation might be.

The other strength, for me, is the movie doesn’t cop out. It plays out the tension as long as it can – indeed far further than most movies would dare to – but ultimately, the ambiguity is utterly dissolved, leading to a final fifteen minutes of high-stress horror. Again, the cast performances in this sequence are brilliant, as are many of the directorial decisions – the film didn’t have a massive budget, but some very imaginative choices with camera positioning and movement really help elevate some of the closing scenes.

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In summary, Parents is a movie long overdue a critical reappraisal – it’s a smartly made, well acted, quirky horror movie, and one where most of the horror is based on psychological tension, generated by the potential gap between the kid’s perception of the world and reality. It’s not perfect, and it’s certainly not a gore fest, but if you’re a fan of 80’s horror in general, and this one passed you by, I think you could do a lot worse than treating yourself by hunting it down and checking it out.

If for no other reason than it unambiguously qualifies for the title ‘cult classic’. And it’s probably the only one I’ll ever be able to recommend. 🙂

PS – If you HAVE seen the movie, and want to hear me in conversation with a couple of other film enthusiasts pulling the movie apart in gleeful detail (including some quite dark suppositions about what the central themes might be metaphors for), check out They Must Be Destroyed On Sight! Podcast episode 70 http://tmbdos.podbean.com/e/tmbdos-episode-70-tommy-1975-parents-1989/ . In fact, check them out anyway. They’re brilliant.

 

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Kit Power is no stranger to Machine Mean. He was reviewed for us both The Bride of Frankenstein (1935) and the forever classic 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 the frontman (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 Bridehere.

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 BOOKimage 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: 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: Pinball Wizard

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The history of pinball games is an interesting subject. The 1930s, the same as the Universal Monster era, is ultimately when the game began, though an argument could be made for the development of the machine since the 1700s in the form of Bagatelle, a billiard indoor table game. Starting in the 1930s, there were Payout Pins, in which coins would drop out of the game, and Flippers, a Penny Arcade game where the players used a “bat” to launch balls into a scoring mechanism and even an early era pinball game called TILT! The exclamation point was to further the excitement one ought to feel when playing the game. By 1936, the invention of pinball bumper came about, consisting of coiled springs that allowed the ball to rapidly bounce around the playfield, forever changing the modus operandi of pinball. Pinball was also not without its enemies. In a 1957 article published by Better Homes and Gardens, advocates called for the ban of pinball games. Some American cities had already fallen suit, in January of 1942, New York mayor LaGuardia banned the game throughout his city, which wouldn’t be overturned until the 1970s. The issue advocates and lawmakers were having was a failure to distinguish slot machines from pinball machines and the fact that many just wanted to play pinball for the sheer enjoyment of the game. Starting in the 1980s and running through the 90s is when horror themed pinball machines really took off. Some of the most popular ones included Freddy: A Nightmare, The Addams Family, Gorgar, Scared Stiff, Elvira: Party Monster, Twilight Zone, and Monster Bash, just to name a few. These games gave players another way of experiencing the universe of their favorite monsters, including those of the 1930s-1940s Universal variety. Here to talk to us some more regarding Universal Monsters most infamous pinball game, Monster Bash, is our guest author, Kit Power.

Monster Bash

By: Kit Power

Because I know what y’all were really thinking as you slogged through my four thousand word essay on ‘The Bride Of Frankenstein’, back in March – ‘Yeah, yeah, Kit, all well and good, but can’t you tell me more about this pinball table?”

Your wish is my command.

Before I start, though, in the interests of honesty, I have to confess something important: I haven’t played the physical table. I love pinball but was born about ten years too late for the heyday. One of the very, very few positive things about growing up in the ass end of North Devon was that there were two local pubs that still had machines. So I got to play Star Trek: The Next Generation, Judge Dredd, and later the Tommy table (based on the musical). ST and JD just ate my money, for the most part, but Tommy I absolutely owned – I remember one afternoon going in there with a single pound coin (which back then got you 3 credits) and playing for over 3 hours.

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But that was ‘98 or ‘99, and the art of pinball was already dying. Seeing a table in the wild is a rarity these days, and the time when any arcade of a decent size had a whole rack of them is long gone.

Luckily for shut-ins like me, there is, at least, Farsight Studios and The Pinball Arcade.

The press release version is, they buy real tables, take them apart, photograph each bit, then render them in 3D software, emulating the actual ROM used in the original machine to simulate the experience with as much fidelity as possible. Now, I only have one data point for this, because the Star Trek table is so far the only one they’ve digitized that I’d previously spent any time with, but I can say with some confidence that they have absolutely nailed the physics and feel of that table, so I have no reason to suppose that their talents are not similarly in evidence on the other tables in the collection. So, what follows is based on the experience of playing a simulation of the table rather than the thing itself. That bucket list moment will have to wait for when Tarantino comes knocking for the film rights for GodBomb! Hey, I can dream. 🙂

So, Monster Bash – as previously noted, a 1997 table by Williams, of which 3361 units were manufactured, according to Farsight Studios. The plot of the table (no, really) is that six of the iconic Universal Monster crew – The Creature from The Black Lagoon (hereafter Gil), The Bride, Frankenstein’s Monster, The Mummy, Dracula, and The Wolfman – are putting a band together, with the end goal of playing a gig in ‘Transylvania Square Gardens’.

Of course.

To achieve this – well, it’s pinball. Keep the ball in play, and hit a lot of shots.

Or, in more detail…

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So there’s six creature games, each of which has ‘win’ states, which award the instrument for that creature (Gil plays Sax, The Bride is on vocals so claims a microphone, The Monster has an organ(!), Dracula is on lead guitar, with The Mummy on Bass and The Wolfman, of course, on drums). Playing all six games, win or lose, sets up the ‘Monster Bash’, which is the table’s wizard mode. Wizard mode is basically the ‘win’ state of a pinball game. Typically a multiball with a generous ball saver period (meaning 30 – 45 seconds where any balls you lose are replaced) and huge jackpots on all targets. If you’ve ever looked at the mind-boggling high scores on a pinball table and wondered how they were achieved – wizard mode is how. It’s always tough to achieve, and aside from Tommy, something I’ve never managed in real life (brag – though for Tommy, I managed it three times in one game).

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There is a fun wrinkle with Monster Bash, which is this: If you manage to ‘win’ each of the monster missions and claim the instruments, you enter a kind of super wizard mode called ‘Monsters Of Rock’, where the targets are worth even more, and the ball saver stays active for longer. If you can get that done before activating the Monster Bash, there’s a substantial bonus, but I’ve never managed that.

 

Here’s a quick breakdown of each of the monster missions:

FULL MOON FEVER: Shoot the left and/or right orbit 4 times to light a full moon and start the mode. You then have 45 seconds to shoot the orbits as many times as you can, scoring the full moon fever jackpot each time you do so. Score 4 full moon jackpots to claim the drum kit for ‘Wolfie’.

  • MUMMY MAYHEM: Hit the jets 45 times to uncover the sarcophagus and light mummy mania in the drop target. Once the drop target is hit to start the mode, shoot the orbits, ramps, and central spinner to score mummy mania jackpots. Score 7.5 million points to win the game and light the bass guitar.
  • BALL AND CHAIN: Shoot both ramps 3 times each to start the ball and chain game. Shoot both ramps a further 3 times each in 40 seconds to win the game and light the microphone.
  • DRAC ATTACK: Shoot the Dracula target on the right-hand side to spell the word DRACULA (the first time through you only need to do this 4 times, as the first three letters are lit for you). This lights Drac Attack in the drop target. Once you shoot that, a model Dracula will pop out of a coffin on the right-hand side of the play area and move slowly back and forth. Hit him five times with the ball to win the mode and light up his guitar.
  • CREATURE FEATURE: Shoot the far left target gully 4 times. On the fourth time, Creature Feature mode begins. Shoot each of the lit targets (both ramps, both orbits and the central spinner (though you can also shoot the left gully as a substitute) to win the mode and light the saxophone.
  • IT’S ALIVE MULTIBALL: To start this mode, shoot The Monster target in the center left of the playing field 7 times to build the monster. The target will then lift up, revealing a ramp. Shoot the ramp to start the multiball. Score jackpots by shooting the flashing targets, and score 6 super jackpots (by hitting the monster) to light the organ.

With me so far? Excellent. Now, let’s talk strategy…

Because beyond ‘keep the ball in play’, there are some useful tips. For example, if you complete three monster modes, an extra ball is lit, and if you go through to the Monster Bash mode and ‘loop’ the table, this chance is restored the second time through as well. Also, the monster game modes are stackable – as in more than one can be running at the same time. Even better – if you start the ‘It’s Alive!’ multiball the timer on the other games stops, which is really handy with games like Ball and Chain, where hitting 6 ramps in 40 seconds can often be a bit of an ask.

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Also, if you complete the skill shot by using the flippers to make sure the ball falls through the lit target post launch, you’ll get an item, such as a garlic clove or spear gun, that can be used to reduce the difficulty of the monster mission by one (A silver bullet, for example, scores you a free ‘full moon fever’ jackpot once that game mode has started). You use the items by pressing the launch button – pleasingly, there’s nothing in-game to tell you this, it’s just a neat little thing you discover through play – or, I guess, not.

And really, it’s a game of neat little touches. The sound is great throughout, with the side comments by the cast (“I hope he’s tall and handsome like you, doctor!” from The Bride, for instance, or “Somebody fetch me a razor!” from The Wolfman) amusing enough that they don’t grate on repeated playing. Similarly, while the table is relatively fast and the ramp entrances not over generous, it’s far from impossible to play, with a little practice. The single toughest shot is The Monster, not because he’s hard to hit but because the rebound tends to send the ball down the center gully with depressing frequency, but on the other hand, if you are anything like as bad as me at pinball, you’ll hit it with glancing blows enough times while aiming elsewhere to unlock the mode organically after a while.

And sure, it is both shlocky and goofy – they’re none of the horrors of the original tales here, this is strictly played for laughs, and if the idea of that offends you, this is probably not the pinball table you’re looking for. That said, there’s also an unmistakable ring of affection to the whole thing, if not outright love.

And if nothing else, it led me, by and unlikely and circuitous route involving the author of this blog, to finally actually watch The Bride Of Frankenstein on Blu-ray. For that alone, this pinball table will always hold a special place in my heart.

kitpower3

Kit 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.

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Universal Monsters in review: Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

Lock your gates. Shut the doors. The monster has returned!!! And I’ll keep my little intro here brief as our esteemed guest writer today has given us a magnificent opus on what many consider to be James Whale’s masterpiece, The Bride of Frankenstein. The Bride certainly has it all, social satire, horror, wit, comedy, and perhaps even a nuance of sexuality (homosexuality, to be bold). While Whale’s private may have private, not surprising considering how homosexuality was believed to be a mental disorder by the majority of Americans up until the 1970s, in Bride we get a little glimpse of satire to his hidden persona. Many symbolism’s I’m surprised survived the sharp blade of the Motion Picture Production Code censorship goons, now known as the MPAA, especially the scene in which the Monster is hoisted up in a near crucifixion pose.  However, I do not wish go too deeply into this topic, as there have been tons of scholarly paper written in its regard. If you are curious to dig deeper into what I’ve mentioned above, feel free to check out the following site I found, the research I found to be quite interesting, here. So, without further delay, let us see what our guest has in store for us today!

Would You Like To Hear What Happened After That?

By: Kit Power

 

So basically, this’ll be the ‘ignoramus’ portion of this blog series.

You see, I know nothing about the Universal monster series. Absolutely bugger all. Never one to let ignorance stop me writing (as those familiar with my work will no doubt attest), when Thomas S. Flowers approached me to take part, I lept at the chance – it felt like an opportunity to make a long-overdue correction, and fill one of the many many embarrassing gaps in my cultural knowledge.

Having been advised that the ‘marquee’ debut pictures were all already spoken for (The Mummy, The Wolf Man, Dracula etc) I was given a choice of over fifty titles. Scanning that list, Bride Of Frankenstein lept out at me immediately.

Because of the pinball table.

No, really.

See, of the many, many displacement activities I have to distract me when I really should be writing, pinball is one of the most consistent. The Pinball Arcade, a company dedicated to digitizing real world pinball tables to produce painstakingly realistic simulations pretty much owns a portion of my soul. Fortunately, all this play happens on the PS3 – if I was a Steam gamer and could readily see how many hours of my life have been sunk into the quintessentially pointless activity of using (digital) flippers to propel a (digital) steel ball around a (digital) table to make (digital) lights flash and bells ring, I suspect there’d be very little reason not to just end it all.

Anyhow, one of my favorite tables is ‘Monster Bash’, a 1997 table from Williams that features the Universal monster menagerie – specifically, The Wolf Man, The Mummy, Frankenstein’s monster, Dracula, The Creature From the Black Lagoon… and The Bride. If I tell you that ‘The Bride’ mini game consists of hitting a series of ramps, causing her digital counterpart to whack Frankenstein’s monster over the head with a frying pan while ‘Here comes the bride’ plays on a heavy metal guitar, you’ll perhaps get a flavour of how seriously the source material is being treated. That said, it’s a genuinely fun and well designed pinball table. My high score is in the 800 million range (more on this story later in the series).

So ‘Bride…’ felt like an obvious choice. A quick Amazon search to confirm that it was available in the UK (it was, as part of a BluRay set of 8 Universal monster movies for under £20 – sold!) and I was in.

I watched Frankenstein first, just to try and get some context, before settling down to Bride. I noted that Boris Karloff didn’t get a named credit in the original movie, but is absolutely star billing in the sequel. And I mean, fair enough, because he was fairly awe inspiring in the first movie, but it’s still interesting the degree to which this has become the Boris Karloff show.

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The opening five minutes didn’t inspire me with a huge amount of confidence, I have to say. The actor playing Byron is operating like we’re on the back row of a 1,000 seater auditorium, and at least to a modern eye, he’s camp as ninepence. It’s not a serious problem, but I did find myself trying to frantically readjust my sensibilities to 1935 settings.

And then the movie proper started, and none of that mattered.

I found this film to be so thunderingly good I watched it twice, and I’m still not sure I’m going to be able to do full justice to it. After all, there’s a ton of elements that go into making a good movie. When a film is actually great – as I think this one is – each of those elements could fill an essay in their own right. I’m going to try and talk about most of the elements in the order they occur in the film, but that won’t always be possible. I will also talk spoilers, for both this movie and it’s predecessor, Frankenstein, so  please, please, if you haven’t seen these movies yet, go away and come back when you have, okay? On the other hand, if you’re an aficionado, apologies in advance for my no doubt shocking stupidity and ignorance.

The first thing to note is that it’s an immediate sequel, in the style of Halloween 2 or Hellraiser 2, beginning where the drama of the first movie ended, with the burning mill. And it looks brilliant. I mean, there’s a gorgeous effects shot of the outside of the mansion that the prologue is held in – crashing thunder, torrential rain – which logic dictates has to be a model shot, but… well, I guess back then they knew how to sell a model shot. The burning mill is similarly spectacular, the black smoke against a grey sky, the roaring timber frame collapsing.

And there’s a weird thing about the acting. Because on one level, for many of the performers (cf. Byron, above) there’s a clear sense that these are stage actors who simply don’t get how film acting is different. So there’s a lot of what we might charitably call broad performances, especially from some of the bit players, like the burgermaster, and the maid. And you can absolutely chalk that up to the fact that it’s 1935, and ‘talkies’ have only been a thing for 8 years, especially with the older performers.

Except then, there’s Karloff.

And I mean, sure, the makeup does at least some of the heavy lifting. It’s absolutely iconic. It’s so good that I’ve seen it a million times, from Halloween masks to coasters to T-Shirts to  pinball tables to, shit, everywhere, same as you. And still, the moment that he stands out of the water and that face fills the frame is genuinely chilling. And that’s not all the makeup.

There’s something in his eyes.

There’s this terrifying blankness, with just a hint of… something. Some spark.

BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN, Colin Clive, Elsa Lanchester, Boris Karloff, Ernest Thesinger, 1935

The movie wastes no time in reestablishing the monstrosity of the creature, with him committing a swift double murder of the parents of the child he killed in the last movie. There, of course, it was out of a tragically misguided sense of play. Here… well, he’s a wounded, terrified animal, cornered and burned, and righteously pissed off. And it’s not like he knows who he’s fighting with, or why.

Still, it’s uncomfortable – a genuinely grizzly fate for a blameless couple that have already suffered more than anyone should. It was an interesting decision to link the beginning of the movie so explicitly to the most horrific sequence of the original. It’s a clear statement of intent, but also reminds us how dangerous the monster really is.

From there we are acquainted with Dr. Henry Frankenstein, and his suspiciously young bride –  and I can’t tell if it’s comforting or depressing to know that even 80 years ago, actresses would get swapped out from one movie to another, but there it is. It’s also interesting to me to note that the technique of having the characters explicitly talk about the themes of the story via argument/dialogue, which has really been in vogue in a lot of TV writing of the last few years (I’m thinking particularly of Moffat era Doctor Who, here, but I’m sure you will have your own examples) was, again, clearly standard practice in 1935. In once sense, of course, that’s really a happy accident – likely if I’d seen this movie ten or fifteen years ago, there’s every chance this scene would have felt far more clunky and old fashioned that it does now. On the other hand, I found it surprising to find that modes of storytelling like this can apparently be both fashionable and cyclical, such that a film from 80 years ago can feel almost anachronistically modern.

And I guess this is a good time to talk about Colin Clive as Dr. Henry Frankenstein. I mean, the headline is, he’s brilliant, but it’s worth unpacking why, I think.

For starters, there’s a real range to his character. In this scene alone, he goes from romantic lead, to remorseful, to wistful dreamer, to a hint of the manic driven scientist from the first movie, then back again. In a single short monologue. The way Clive plays it is really clever, fluid, transitioning from one to the other smoothly, generating real unease in the process. Given the title of the film, and the tagline on the poster (‘The Monster demands a bride!’), there’s no real suspense about where the story is actually going. Nonetheless, the conflict evident in the character serves well to re-establish him as sympathetic, as well as laying the groundwork for the inevitable tragedy of his temptation and fall.

bride2

And then of course, there is the agent of temptation himself – Dr Pretorious himself, played by Ernest Thesiger.

Again, you really could do a whole essay just on this guy. Possibly even a book. He really is that good, the performance that deep. There’s elements of Peter Cushing, for me, albeit camper and less restrained. It’s a fascinating performance – I mean, morally speaking, he’s unambiguously the villain of the piece, the snake in the garden tempting Henry back to the forbidden fruit of even more forbidden knowledge. He compares himself to the devil at one point, so you couldn’t fairly call it subtle. At the same time though, it’s not quite the flamboyant villain of, say Rickman in Robin Hood, (or, for that matter, the cold calculated villainy of Die Hard). He occupies a strange space, suave, but not too suave, persuasive yet sinister. It’s a fine line to walk, and for my money he walks it to perfection. It also reinforces my point earlier about stage vs. screen actors, because this guy has absolutely gotten the memo – so much of his performance is in his face, his eyes.

As befitting the Devil, he also gets all the best lines – ‘A new world of Gods and monsters’, of course, but even more striking to me, perhaps because I hadn’t heard it before, ‘Science, like love, has her little surprises’. The scenes with the two doctors talking, one by turns pleading and manipulating, the other drawn in against his will reminded me strongly of the classic ‘Doctor vs Davros’ conversations from Doctor Who (if you don’t know what I’m talking about get out. No, really. Get. Out). While the power dynamic is of course quite different, there’s still that tension of intellects being attracted even as the divergent morality creates repulsion. it’s potent stuff.

I’m conscious that I haven’t talked much about one of the absolute crown jewels of the movie yet; namely, the direction. In this regard, it’s instructive to watch this movie back to back with the 1931 original, because one of the things you realise is just how much technique improved in just four years. Not that the direction for Frankenstein is bad – quite the reverse. But here, less than half a decade later, director James Whale has improved his already considerable skills dramatically.

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I mean, you can take your pick, really. As in, put the movie in and scene select at random, I guarantee you’ll see something within five minutes that, if you know anything about film making and what it must have been like in the ‘30’s, will just blow your mind. There’s an effects shot involving little people in jars at one point, during one of Dr. Pretorius’ seduction attempts, and I just flat out do not know how it was done. I mean, I know how you’d do it now, in 2016 – piece of piss. But 1935?!? It’s insane.

But in some ways, it’s the things you don’t notice that are the most powerful. Like just how amazingly well lit Dr. Pretorious face is, especially in a few pivotal dialogue free scenes. Or how – and this I only spotted second time through – almost all the shots it the lab have the camera at a slight angle, creating a subtle sense of disorientation, dislocation – an unease that you can’t even quite put your finger on. It’s powerful enough that they’re still using techniques like this today.

But I’m getting a bit self conscious, to be honest, because I have no doubt that a real film buff will see a hell of a lot more than I did, so I guess I’ll attempt to quit while I’m ahead on the direction, and just say that if you want to know more, I’m sure there will, again, have been many books written.

Getting back to the story, there’s an interesting runaround where the monster is found, captured, then escapes again into the woods. In a modern film, you’d cut between these scenes and those of Dr. F and his old friend having their ‘will they/won’t they’ chats, but it doesn’t detract from the storytelling that they don’t do that – indeed, it’s a pleasure to spend such an unbroken amount of time in the presence of Karloff’s monster, because it’s an amazing performance.

bride3

Especially in this sequence. Because, after a bit of good old fashioned growly rampage, we get to one of my favorite sequences in this exceptional film – the blind hermit. It’s lifted straight from Shelley’s novel – the blind old man in the woods who befriends the monster because he cannot see his monstrosity. And again, as ideas go, not exactly subtle, right? But what sells it is the performances from both players. The old man is superb – ernest, yes, but with a drive to kindness born of desperate loneliness and desire for companionship. And of course, the monster responds to that kindness (after some initial understandable suspicion) with a joy that’s just heartbreaking.

One of the reasons it’s so powerful is because it highlights again one of the core traits of the monster, which is that he is innocent. Not good – he kills from rage, and indeed killed a child, albeit from a misguided spirit of play – but innocent nonetheless. And innocence is a term we normally associate with either goodness (as in children) or blamelessness (as in victim). To have an innocent murderer, an innocent monster… I mean, never mind 1935, that’s a sophisticated and difficult idea in 2016 to put out there. There’s echos of it in other movies – King Kong, most obviously (I can’t be the only one who cries at the end of that picture), and even The Incredible Hulk, to a lesser degree, but I can’t think of a purer expression of it than the ten minutes or so of screen time where the blind man teaches the monster to talk, to smoke (!). When the monster grins and yells ‘Friend!’ while grabbing the woodsman’s hand and shaking it, your heart creaks a little. When the woodsman tucks him in, and the camera fills the frame with Karloff’s scared, discoloured face, and the tears start to flow from the monster, overwhelmed by simple kindness… I mean, that’s pathos.

Because, of course, it can’t possibly end well, and when a couple of hunters inevitably turn up and attack the monster, he’s left in a burning house as his blind friend is dragged away.

There’s an incredible effects shot here as a ball of fire rolls out the window of the burning cottage, and I’m no expert, but it looks bloody dangerous to me.

The circumstance that brings Dr. Pretorious and the monster into contact does seem suspiciously convenient in retrospect, but I have to say it’s not something that jumped out on either of my viewings. I think the performances are a big part of why – Thesiger is on fire in this scene, moving from imperious and overbearing with his hapless graverobber flunkies, to drunken revelry when he thinks he’s alone, to the look on his face when he realises he isn’t. From there, his interaction with the monster is just superb – you can almost hear the gears in his mind turning as he reacts to the creatures’ newfound ability to talk (which he later casually takes credit for as he confronts Henry Frankenstein, in a deliciously subtle character moment).

And of course, on the other end of that equation is Karloff. It feels dumb, if not outright surreal, to be talking about the emotional arc of a creature in a 30’s monster movie, but what the hell, we’ve come this far, right?

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Because this is where the tragedy of the monsters innocence plays out, in the process again highlighting the difference between innocence and goodness, and the inherent exploitability and danger of innocence wedded to strength. The monster here is traumatised, desolate even – having unexpectedly been given, all too briefly, something that had been outside of his realm of experience – kindness, friendship – only to have it inevitably snatched away again. His desire to rekindle that is as palpable as it is desperate, and the way both Karloff and Thesiger play it establishes the true depth of Pretorius’s callousness in a far more profound way than his causal pronouncements about the nature of good, evil, and science ever could. His manipulation of this innocent creature reveals him to be by far the darker and more evil monster. Similarly, the desperation of Karloff’s repetition of the word wife, the awful hunger in his voice, manages to elicit sympathy and fear in equal measure.

From there, the inevitable dragging of Henry Frankenstein back to his ‘extreme stitching’ antics (aided and abetted by the monster kidnapping his wife, of course) is handled with commendable pace – though the scene where Henry is confronted by the monster, and the Doctor’s reaction to his creation having rudimentary language skills, is wonderfully played by all concerned. Similarly, Clive’s performance as he returns to his laboratory is superb – the manic, driven scientist of the first movie is there, but more haunted, desperate… and, when he remembers, guilty and remorseful. A more pitiful and accurate portrayal of a regretful addict, succumbing to their demons despite the voices of his better nature crying out, you will not find. I’ve generally avoided metatextual knowledge here, but I can’t help but note that this was a struggle Clive was all too familiar with, as by the time of making this picture, he was already deep in the throes of the alcoholism that would kill him just five years later. I didn’t know that when I watched his performance, of course, but it surely makes sense of just how well he nails that desperate energy.

Then we hit a sequence where it just all comes together – the direction, the acting, the lighting, the sound, the set design, the effects – In a set piece that, 80 years on, is still thrilling and mesmerizing – the awakening of The Bride. I mentioned earlier the slightly off-kilter camera angles, but it’s something I only noticed second time around, because there’s so much else going on, and none of it remotely that subtle. There’s the enormous crashing and booming of the storm, for starters, and maybe it’s just my BluRay remaster, but it’s a glorious cacophony, especially mixed with the static bursts from the machinery in the lab. The lab set itself is enormous, and tall – the gurney that lifts the Bride up into the storm must be 70 or 80 feet, maybe more, and it’s amazing watching it go up, with all the thunder and lightning crashing around, under the fixed stares of the two Doctors, their faces underlit to perfection.

And so, at last, we reach the portion of my notes labelled simply The Bride.

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There’s a genius cut, first of all, where they start with the bandages, and reveal the feminine eyes, before jumping to her fully unwrapped and robed. It means we as the audience have no time at all to get introduced to her gently, instead being given the full-on impact of a full length shot of her awesome weirdness with basically no chance to prepare.

And, I mean, bloody hell, it’s an amazing piece of costume/makeup/effect work. The Bride in on screen, all told, surely no more than ten minutes (I suspect less) but that initial shot alone is enough to understand why this creature is so utterly iconic. To the extent that there’s an excellent chance, bordering on near certainty, that you already know exactly what I am talking about – can picture her clearly in your mind’s eye right now. And in the unlikely event that you can’t – firstly, I’m envious, but secondly, go watch the damn movie, okay?

It’s possible what you may not be as familiar with is how she moves – and here, Elsa Lanchester earns her stripes with a truly remarkable performance. There’s a fragility, utterly at odds with the solidity of Karloff’s monster, but at the same time, underneath is that same blank innocence, that same animal fear. She is uneasy on her feet. Her head snaps about, eyes flitting, like a bird about to take flight. The score swells with wedding bells as Praetoris declares ‘The Bride of Frankenstein!”, but they are discordant, cacophonous, eerie.

A fade cut, and the monster is introduced to his bride. Karloff’s desperate hunger here is palpable, his instant infatuation heartbreaking. And I mean look, there’s something about this scene and how it plays out that I think connects to a fundamental element (of at least the majority of) the hetrosexual male pyche, so I’m just going to lay it out here: I think most straight men, when we are around a woman we desire, kind of feel like the monster. We feel clumsy, inarticulate, ugly, undesirable. Inadequate. This is irrespective of how the lady in question feels about us, incidentally – this is about especially the moments before first contact, when we’re torn between our desire to reach out and our abject terror at being rejected. We are all, in that moment, the monster. And Karloff just nails it. Agian. His dopey grin as he lurches towards her is – there’s that word again – heartbreaking.

As is her reaction.

Because she’s an innocent too. Everything that applies to the monster applies to her. Moreso for her, in fact, since at this stage it the story she’s effectively maybe an hour old. And it’s fascinating, because there’s a moment in the story, right here, where the whole structure, the type of story being told, is hanging by a thread. If this is ultimately a comedy, in the classical sense (and the film is not devoid of humor, making this genuinely plausible)  it will end in a wedding, after all.

“Friend?” The monster asks, hopefully. Her reply is a sharp short noise, a maybe-laugh, and a maybe-grin. The monsters’ smile wavers, grows. he staggers towards her, as she lurches on the spot, uncertain, her actions unclear. He reaches for her arm.

Then she screams.

bride5

It’s a powerful moment. Heartbreaking, of course, for the monster, but perhaps even more chilling for what it tells you about the Bride. All at once, it is clear that, despite all the callous assumptions of the arrogant men around her, she is a creature of independent thought and mind. And she does not like what she sees. In some ways, it’s an inversion of the blind man sequence; there, a man with no sight could, with mindfulness, find the innocent inside the monster, and speak to him. Here, an innocent has only her eyes to guide her, and her response is as predictable as it is chilling.

Chilling, because it brings home the horror of what the doctors have done, in their arrogance and the kind of stupidity that only very intelligent men can manage.

The rest of the courtship is brief, and excruciating. When the monster reaches out to embrace the Bride, and she screams again, Karloff’s face moves from fragile hope, to despair, and then to blank resignation.

From there, the end is swift.

And really, I kind of know how he feels. I’m sure, without checking Amazon, that books will have been written about this movie – at a guess, a lot of them. To come in as a green observer in 2016 and try and find anything original to say about it was always going to be an act of  folly, doomed to failure. Nonetheless, it’s been a privilege to take the journey. I hope this inspires people to rewatch this movie, because it’s a film the deserves to continue be seen and talked about.

Thanks for the opportunity, Thomas. Hope I didn’t stink the place up too bad.

kitpower3

Kit 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.

 


Opus Questions with Kit Power

Inside the imagination of horror writers you’ll find untold curiosities. Strange and unusual stories crafted from equally appalling minds. But where do horror writers get their ideas? Certainly, from the world around them. No doubt. For the world, historically speaking, can be both strange and unusual. But I think equally important, horror writers hone most of their craft from reading the works of others. It most certainly feels like a prerogative. To write, you must first read. Thus, here with Opus Questions we delve into this line questioning. What do horror writers read? What works have helped shape their own words. What books have inspired these wordsmiths of the macabre? 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…

Kit Power:

It is, of course, impossible. Two favourite books? Just two? I’d struggle with the two favourite books I’ve read this year. Of all time? Ludicrous bloody question. Quite impossible.

I have therefore done what any honourable person would do – I’ve cheated. Here, then, are not my two favourite books, but rather the two books that I think have had the most direct and immediate impact on my writing life. Without these two books, I’m fairly confident you wouldn’t be reading this now. So, you know, blame them.

Or rather, as both books were written by Stephen King, blame him, I guess.

First up is IT. I read this book when I was eleven years old, and read it every year for the following ten years at least – normally over winter. Something about short days and long nights made this epic tale of the summer of 1958 deeply appealing – even with all the child murders, shape shifting monsters, and bowel loosening terror.

IT, Stephen King, 1986

IT, Stephen King, 1986

That first time though – jeepers. The book is dedicated to kids, thus giving the entirely false impression that it may be in some way suitable for them. It isn’t, as anyone with even a passing familiarity with the text will attest. It emphatically isn’t. For example, (and spoiler alert, I guess, but for heaven’s sake sort your life out and go read the bloody thing) the opening chapter of the book involves a six year old boy having his arm ripped off by a clown that isn’t really a clown but a monster that lives in the sewer.

Chapter 1. Things do not improve from there, to put it mildly. There was at least twice, during that first read through, when I had to abandon the book for a while, so vivid and terrifying were the nightmares (and for that matter, daymares) it invoked. The first was a passage concerning the strange death and even stranger life of a ten year old psychopath called Patrick Hocksetter, and the second involved the Losers Club preparing to storm what was clearly the haunted house from hell, which I wasn’t expecting any of them to survive.

But really, the book doesn’t let up at all – cruelty after cruelty, monster and human alike, a catalogue of horrors that avoids monotony by sheer force of imagination, of personal touch, of characterization.

Not Safe For Kids. And yet… reading it transformed my outlook. About what fiction could be. About what it could do. The notion that a horror story containing kids could have the kids get killed was a violation of what I’d thought of being a fairly iron clad rule of fiction – threat, sure, temporary cruelty or hardship, absolutely, but vicious death? Never! Impossible. And yet…

It was suddenly clear to me that actually, it was possible that there were no rules. That the gloves could come all the way off.

That anything was possible.

That’s the reason I write the kind of fiction I do – whatever the genre, this insight is my north star, the question I ask myself when I edit, draft, polish. Did I go all the way? Did the story?

So for better or worse, IT is why I write what I write.

The reason I write at all is “On Writing.”

The timing was perfect, that’s all. I’d gotten the book as a birthday present three years ago, after finally finishing The Dark Tower series which reignited my interest in King (yeah, I didn’t hate the end or the last three books. Sorry.) It sat on the shelf as I frantically completed a year of distance learning to improve my CV. I picked it up either as the course was finishing or just before.

On Writing, Stephen King, 2000.

On Writing, Stephen King, 2000.

And just POW! ‘Do you need permission to write? Very well, I give you permission.’ Lightbulb. Fireworks. Pick your choice of overworked synonym.

I loved writing. I loved it so much. I even didn’t completely hate writing essays about a subject I detested to get a qualification I needed. This realization collided with the fact that I’d been spending 8–10 hours a week for the last year on this course. That’s 8–10 hours of time a week ‘spare’. Unclaimed.

Wasted.

Would I go back to watching lame telly, or acquiring PS3 trophies? That would feel… not good. Should I perchance enroll in another course, maybe start trying to complete a degree course? My very soul shriveled from the thought of another five years spent thus wise engaged.

There was Another Way. Another Choice. The author who had most shaped my philosophy about fiction, and done so by raw example, had just advised me that writing fiction for fun was one of the greatest, most rewarding and pleasurable pursuits known to man, and that the more seriously you took it, the more fun it was. He’d shared his approach to the craft, which married so closely with my own I found it eerie (I guess not thinking then how it must be a fairly common approach overall – there may be more than one way to skin a cat, after all, but probably not a ton more).

Best of all, I had Permission. Permission to write. Permission to take it seriously. Permission to set loose that imagination in the service of telling a story, and making others feel by sheer force of language.

I sat down and wrote my novella Lifeline in three weeks. I still haven’t looked back.

 

kitpower

I want to thank Kit Power for taking the time and sharing with us a bit about the books that have helped shape his strange and unusual mind. Kit Power is an up and coming wordsmith of macabre. He has several anthologies he’s contributed to, all available on Amazon. His novella is also available, Lifeline. You can find Mr. Power lurking about on Ginger Nuts of Horror as a contributing writer and reviewer for the site. Or you can find him on his own site, here, discussing the art of writing and the world of horror entertainment. Kit Power will also be featured in the up and coming horror anthology, The Black Room Manuscripts, coming later this summer.