Lovecraft Country: book in review
The critically acclaimed cult novelist makes visceral the terrors of life in Jim Crow America and its lingering effects in this brilliant and wondrous work of the imagination that melds historical fiction, pulp noir, and Lovecraftian horror and fantasy.
Chicago, 1954. When his father Montrose goes missing, 22-year-old Army veteran Atticus Turner embarks on a road trip to New England to find him, accompanied by his Uncle George—publisher of The Safe Negro Travel Guide—and his childhood friend Letitia. On their journey to the manor of Mr. Braithwhite—heir to the estate that owned one of Atticus’s ancestors—they encounter both mundane terrors of white America and malevolent spirits that seem straight out of the weird tales George devours. Continue Reading
Creature Features in Review: The Blob (1988)
!! CONTAINS SPOILERS !! CONTAINS SPOILERS !! CONTAINS SPOILERS !!
The Blob (1988) is my second-favorite 1980s remake of a classic monster horror film, The Thing by John Carpenter being the first—and if the ALIEN Trilogy (yeah, I said ‘Trilogy’) didn’t exist, JC’s The Thing would be my all-time favorite film. Now, I’m usually the first to say that JC’s The Thing is not strictly a ‘remake’, because of its alternate take on Who Goes There? by John W. Campbell, Jr.—but in his great Creature Features in Review piece on JC’s The Thing, William D. Prystauk beat me to it. John Carpenter’s take was a more accurate, more paranoid version of that novella than Howard Hawks’—and Christian Nyby’s and Edward Lasker’s and others’—The Thing from Another World, while also bringing in elements of amorphous, madness-inducing creature moments that—when paired with the snow-blasted, isolated Antarctic setting—came to draw well-earned and fair comparisons to aspects of H.P. Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness and creatures from his other works.
Okay, I’m not going the same route as my last Mean Machine guest review and framing my entire review of one film on elements of other works… but please bear with me a bit longer.
So, if John W. Campbell’s Who Goes There? was the basis of John Carpenter’s The Thing for its setting, plot, paranoia, and dread—with a healthy dose of Lovecraftian vague, disturbing forms as well as cosmic fear and wonderment—I’m of the opinion that The Blob remake from 1988 and its 1958 predecessor take their starting premise at least loosely from Lovecraft’s “The Colour Out of Space.”
I know, I know… The inspiration is directly attributed to a genuinely weird, fishy sounding police report from Philadelphia in 1950 that was detailed in a local newspaper, so I have no way of knowing if Irvine H. Millgate had read Lovecraft as well—but that’s my trip and I’m running with it, you guys!
But while “The Colour Out of Space” is a subtle and measured build of a tale about a meteorite crashing to Earth at a farm and something in it tainting the soil and water for a good distance around as its semi-physical presence wears down the people and eventually takes them… The Blob is like a far less elegant and more (squishy) blunt instrument of terror. Lovecraft’s story is one of ‘other’-ness and truly alien elements infecting and rotting the mundane setting due to the mostly-unseen menace’s weird attributes. The Blob is about a big nasty growing glop puddle ‘eating’ everything. Both crashing down from space with no explanation—except in The Blob remake, but I’ll get back to that—but with different approaches and implied motivations or at least confused actions.
Then the remake ratchets up the clever uses of the amorphousness and menace of the creature and goes in hard on the creature effects. Both JC’s The Thing and The Blob (1988) elevate practical creature effects during what was already their heyday as a way to take their source material and really focus the horror and visceral thrills and stakes.
Leaving comparisons behind, though, I’d say what really stood out for me on this review re-watch—I’d seen it several times over the years, but never paid too much attention to the actual story or presentation, instead just taking in the creature effects—was how much the film relied on and seemed to celebrate the concepts of heavy foreshadowing and pay-off, as well as one shameless deus ex machina moment. Hold that thought…
A meteorite crashes just outside a mountain ski town in the offseason (or the film would have ended there, from its own logic), a strange substance glowing in the center of the cracked ball of hot metal. A hobo who saw the landing gets too close—the pink Blob substance gloms onto his hand. From there on out, it’s a succession of setups for the continuously growing, gloppy creature to rack up gruesome kills as the main characters try to survive and figure out how to stop it.
Reviewer self-sabotage or not, I’ll just say it outright—on the strength of the creature and makeup effects, and the kills alone, I love this movie. Always have. Some of the most incredibly graphic and messed up practical monster effects ever put on screen.
From the first death, we know this is going to be a dicey night for the characters. A high school football player and cheerleader—characters playfully introduced as a riff on the original film—accidentally run into the hobo with their car as he stumbles across the road clutching his own warped pink arm. They rush him to the hospital where he’s whisked away to a room in the ER. The football player goes to check on him… and the hobo’s body bulges strangely under a sheet. As the boy and a doctor approach, the body shifts, showing the hobo’s newly clouded-over white eyes. The doctor pulls the sheet off—the hobo’s body is mostly gone, having been dissolved and burned as if by powerful acid.
The second death follows this closely, and as the football player makes a phone call, the Blob drops onto him from the ceiling. When the cheerleader comes to find him, she takes a heavy SAN loss as she finds her beau almost entirely inside the quickly growing Blob’s mass—burning away at his flesh and pulling his skin and muscle from his face with its raw strength. This is one of the best practical creature/kill effects ever.
I won’t describe them all, but some other great ones are: a horny teenage friend and fellow football player of the cover kill kid who gets wrecked while trying to take advantage of a girl he got drunk at a make-out spot, a short order cook is pulled gruesomely into a kitchen drain, a movie theater projectionist is consumed on the projection booth ceiling, a sheriff’s deputy is snapped in half and pulled out through a barricade the remaining townspeople are trying to construct… Some quality carnage in this one.
I think my favorite kill involves a phone booth and a waitress who’s on the phone when the Blob starts pouring itself down over the whole booth. Other than being a nightmarish claustrophobic setup, before it crushes the booth into her from all around, she sees another recent victim floating in the thick, pink nastiness of the Blob’s formless body—and this last one leads me back to my intro remarks.
This review re-watch as I said really brought the story and its structure to the fore for me in a way it never has before. I’m not saying it’s an amazing story, but the way it’s all set up and executed felt way more deliberate than I’d ever given it credit for.
So, if you the reader will allow this reviewer the looser usage of a concept, I have to say this film is dominated by one interpretation of ‘Chekhov’s Rifle/Gun’ being repeatedly put into practice. That is in the form of constant foreshadowing—and this script is almost surgically precise and economical in its setups and payoffs. I bring this up because, in this most recent viewing, I couldn’t not see it. Knowing what would happen later from past viewings, I watched as every major scene was foreshadowed, sometimes down to the most unimportant seeming moments. My favorite example is what I’ll call Chekhov’s Zipper.
The cheerleader has a little brother—whose main purpose is to sneak into a late night horror movie showing (remember the projectionist?)—and almost get killed. When he’s introduced way back before the cheerleader and cover kill boy even leave so they can hit the hobo with the car, he’s supposed to be going out to his best friend’s house. As he’s getting ready to leave, he has trouble pulling his zipper up. What I have to imagine is at least 30-40 minutes of screen time—I checked; it’s 44 mins, 18 secs—later, the cheerleader, her little brother, and his best friend are escaping the movie theater and the exit doors slam closed on the back of the little brother’s jacket—and wouldn’t you know it? They can’t get the little brother’s jacket off to free him from almost certain death because… his zipper’s stuck. They get him out of his jacket and off for more survival shenanigans in the dark sewer system, but that was a planned, patient setup and follow-through, heavy-handed or not.
And that’s the second longest setup and payoff distance.
Tough kid (with bad hair) Brian (Kevin Dillon) is introduced in the early parts of the film smoking, drinking a beer, and lustfully gazing upon a ridiculously set up destroyed bridge with one side conveniently higher than the other… He discards his shameful chemical vices—especially for one so young, merciful heavens…—and he tries to jump the bridge gap on his motorcycle. He fails, of course, and his bike is damaged in the process of him eating shit.
That occurs 1 hour, 1 min, and 16 secs before he makes that same jump on his repaired motorcycle—while being chased by military helicopters and a pickup truck filled with biohazard suit wearing soldiers, no less.
Side Note: that unbelievable setup and jump will lead to something even sillier—after making the jump, Kevin Dillon hides by a huge storm drain opening as military vehicles search for him all around… and wouldn’t you know it? That tunnel is just large enough for a guy, a motorcycle, and the guy’s horrible, huge hair to fit in and comfortably ride down. And that’s just really serendipitous since the cheerleader and her brother are in dire need of rescuing down the same tunnel just a bit later… Yeah, there’s our shameless deus ex machina usage.
Another great setup and payoff takes us back to my favorite kill/death, the woman in the phone booth. This one was a layered setup and also made the already disturbing creature scene messed up emotionally. From early in the film, it’s established the town sheriff has a thing for the woman who runs the diner. They have a possible date setup for 11pm—before all that horrible monster stuff starts, ruining their evening—after she gets off work. When things get worse in town, the sheriff says he’s heading to the diner. That’s the second to last time we’ll see him. So, after the diner kitchen sink kill, all the people in it escape in different ways. The woman who works there runs out to the phone booth. As she’s on the phone, the Blob comes down to the booth and she starts losing it. On the phone, she hears the dispatcher say that the sheriff came down to the diner… and the victim floating up through the Blob over the phone booth—is wearing a badge. Boom. Cold-blooded business.
The projectionist in the theater sequence has a whistling yo-yo that later drops from the ceiling, causing the theater manager to look up and see him being consumed on the booth ceiling.
The whole resolution is set up in the establishing intro shots of the town, with signs for snow equipment and such all over. The Blob’s weakness is cold, as in the original, so those familiar with the first film probably chuckled at sight of those signs in the theater when it came out. Brian uses an artificial snow machine to save the day, so that might actually be the rightful longest setup, thinking about it now.
But going back a few steps, it might have seemed strange to those unfamiliar with this film—who for some reason are reading this quite spoiler-y review—that I hadn’t mentioned the military before the motorcycle jump. Wacky, right?
Sooooooo, like I’d mentioned early on, the menacing forces/creatures in “The Colour Out of Space” and The Blob (1958) both have unexplained origins. Not The Blob (1988), oh no!
This being a sci-fi/horror film from the 1980s, it’s revealed late in the second act that this Blob creature isn’t just some run of the mill space monster—it was the result of a germ warfare project from the Cold War that was launched into space because it was so dangerous. Good one, Cold War guys…
One last thought I’ll express about this film is that it differs from many other creature films in one major way—in ALIEN films, every stage of the creature is strange and frightening in its own right as what it is. In JC’s The Thing, the creature is most viscerally frightening as it goes between mimicked forms, becoming amorphous and disturbing as it changes. In The Blob, the pink glop is the creature. It grows and gets tentacles here and there in the remake, but the most gruesome and memorable shots in this film are victims inside the translucent muck of the creature’s form. Their bodies being burned and digested/absorbed—and the torture of that expressed on their disintegrating faces—are the truly haunting moments I always think of. Silly as the film can be, some of those images are genuinely classic and stick with me.
WHAT I LIKED:
- Creature effects and kills are glorious.
- Foreshadowing mini-meta-game is fun and rewarding.
- Setting up the beginning in a similar way to the original film, then completely going a different way with it.
- One of the best ‘But Wait…’ style horror ending scenes/shots ever.
WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE:
- This movie and its predecessor probably having no relation to “The Colour Out of Space,” even though I want them to… I mean c’mon—the whole setup is like TCOoS, only a shoggoth-like thing comes out instead of the vanishing/infesting color. If Millgate didn’t read Lovecraft’s work, he should’ve. He would’ve loved it.
- Foreshadowing is fun and rewarding to find and watch play out, but it’s obvious and overdone enough it could turn people off because of its making light of the artifice.
- While I’m a big fan of 1980s cynicism about military science experiments gone awry as a plot frame, I think it had already been overdone, even by the time this film came out. Doesn’t ruin it and adds a layer and some “hew-manns are teh real monsturrs…” moments, but that’s some well-worn territory, even then.
- The motorcycle jump scene I mentioned before is fucking ridiculous, especially as an even more obvious deus ex machina setup.
- Kevin Dillon’s hair.
This is a very enjoyable piece of 80s creature horror with an almost dizzying series of setups and payoffs, usually of the disturbing and visceral kill type.
I’ll give The Blob (1988)……………..7.5/10.
PATRICK LOVELAND writes screenplays, novels, and short stories. By day, he works 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, Sirens Call Publications, Indie Authors Press, PHANTAXIS, and the award-winning Crime Factory zine. Patrick’s first novel, A TEAR IN THE VEIL, will be published in early-to-mid 2017 by April Moon Books. Twitter: https://twitter.com/pmloveland Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pmloveland/ Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B00S78LF9M Blog: https://patrickloveland.com/
THE HOBBSBURG HORROR now available for $0.99!!!
what the heck is EMERGING (Subdue Book 2)?
With the recent release of Emerging, book 2 in The Subdue Series, I thought it would be a nifty idea to talk a little bit about what the book is about. Nearly a year ago, I dreamed up this magnum opus of sorts for what I deemed to be a telling of “my war experience.” But not just my own experience, my inference of war and what it can do to people, how war changes people as traumatic experiences typically do. When I had finished, I ended up with a massive 150,000 or so manuscript. Initially, I wanted to keep the series together as one book. I had shopped the book around to several publishers. Without turning this into some long publishing story, suffice to say I had stumbled upon Limitless Publishing, LLC, through a writer resource page. I heard back from LP about a month after submitting my book. And…not to brag or anything; they loved the story. The only problem was that it was too long. Most publishing houses, if not all, try to keep books to a 100K maximum. This has nothing really to do with the author in so much as it has to do with marketing/publication costs. If you’re a big time writer, like Stephen King, you can write whatever or however long you want! For me, I had to go smaller. Instead of deleting parts in the book, I agreed to turn Subdue into a series, thus Dwelling (book 1) and Emerging (book 2) were born. As luck would have it, Subdue had a natural split in the middle of the story. Book 1 (Dwelling) was a character focus book, where I spent most of my time letting my readers get to know the characters and their wounds and motivation, if any. And because there are four central protagonists, I pretty much needed to take up an entire book just to talk about them! So, if Dwelling is a character focused story, what’s Emerging about?
Emerging is a situational focused story. With Dwelling you were able to get to know the cast; with Emerging you’ll get to see what happens to them. Characterization is still key. With anything I write, I focus on characters. I believe, as I was brought up reading the likes of King and Barker and Bradbury, if you can create believable characters and make people care about them, you’ll create one hell of a book. Even if what happens is totally implausible. So long as the characters are human being, as in real humanity motivational type stuff, everything else is fair game. The Subdue Series is fictional, paranormal, perhaps maybe even a little horrific, or dear me, do I even suggest…literary? I’d like to think so. But I’ll let me readers be the judge of that! Because book 2 is situationally driven, the pace I think is faster. The book is longer, but I doubt it feel that way. Or at least not in my own head.
As Dwelling ends with a bit of a cliffhanger, Emerging picks up a few months after the events at the end in book 1. Without spoiling anything, I can say that a majority of the focus is with the house in Jotham and the characters interaction with the house that drive the plot in this second Subdue book. I’ve received some positive comments regarding some of the “flashback” characters. Don’t worry, Augustus and the Fetcher family make a minor appearance in the continuation. Questions about the house are answered, to a degree. Some mysteries are better left unsaid. You might also catch a Lovecraftian vibe in book 2. As with situation, I delved a bit more in mythology creation and mood. For those readers who’ve read Dwelling and have commented on how much you have come to love those characters, I cannot promise not to break your heart. As with life and war, some damages are unchangeable. There is an apparent theme about suicide, and I hope as you read you find some of those motivations or justifications. I’ll say nothing more on the subject.
Yes. Emerging was equally hard to write. Both books were. But aren’t the best stories worth sharing difficult to write? Consider H.P. Lovecraft’s short story, “The Outsider,” as a superb self-examination of personal fears and anxieties of how the “outside” world sees us. Or consider up and coming author Duncan Ralston’s debut novel, “Salvage,” a classic ghost story that doubles as an examination of depression and overcoming fears of not only our place in society, but of our past. Or even Clive Barker’s excellent novella, “Cabal,” where he talked thru mythos, his fears of how society views and too often mistreats homosexuality as some monstrous thing. I’m not saying mine is as good as these, but I think it fits within the same category. Below you’ll find some more info about Emerging, including Synopsis and purchase (wink wink) links.
EMERGING by Thomas S. Flowers | @machinemeannow
Publisher: Limitless Publishing | @limitlessbooks
Subdue Series, Book #2
Release Date: Dec. 15, 2015
= = SYNOPSIS = =
Traumatized by war, friends gather for a reluctant reunion…
A historic house in Jotham, Texas harbors a malevolent force, and as her fear grows, widow Maggie Smith pleads with three lifelong friends to gather in her home. But will their presence combat the darkness…or feed it?
Minister Jake Williams fears Maggie has had a breakdown…
Feeling he has no choice, Jake locates the other intended guest, Bobby Weeks, who agrees to go with him but struggles with keeping his lycanthropic curse hidden.
Jonathan Steele, a wounded veteran battling PTSD, arrives with his disgruntled wife. After drinking too much at dinner, Jonathan insults the homeless Bobby, and Bobby is missing from the house the next morning.
The dark past of Maggie’s home awakens in the present…
Jake, whose faith is in doubt, confides in a local priest while he and Jonathan search for Bobby, and Ricky’s ghost makes another visit to Jonathan, causing him to become fixated on saving Maggie from the evil that surrounds her.
As the danger intensifies, trust is elusive, and betrayal is certain…
Maggie might be lost, Bobby confronts a terrible choice, and Jake and Jonathan fight to save them all—before they become more victims of the horror emerging beneath the deadly house in Jotham.
= = #OneClick = =
Check out book 1 in the Subdue Series, DWELLING: http://amzn.to/1Ov68Ld
Close Encounters of the Third Kind is secretly the most terrifying movie ever made…
In the glamour of watching a Steven Spielberg film, it is easy to understand how caught up we can get in the chaotic wonder of blinking strobes and superb John Williams magnum opus score. But, while we found ourselves in that childlike stupor, did we see what was really going on? The visuals dazzled us, no doubt there, but was the subversive message really received? Did we hear? Did we jump? Did we cower? Since watching, have we kept a precarious eye on the nights sky, glaring into the dark depths of the cosmos and wondering who or what is out there? And not only who or what, but what capabilities do they have? What technology or power can they subvert us with? Mind control? Abduction? Electromagnetism? Black outs? Radiation burns? Sickness? Madness? All these are terrifying symptoms, no? If you’ve paid attention you’ll find the terrifying powers listed here are all in that Spielberg film we’ve loved and adored since 1977. And this is why I think Close Encounters of the Third Kind is the most terrifying surreptitious movie ever made. While we were dazzled and awed, strange elongated aliens were abducting children in a blaze of orange fog. While we giggled and cooed over the keyboard synthesizers and light show, a husband and father of three aggressively and tragically lost his mind, eventually being taken away by these so-called visitors. If we can sit back down and watch this movie again, carefully, point for point…well, I’m sure you’ll agree: Close Encounters of the Third Kind IS a cosmic horror movie. Why? Well, this goes back to that ole Lovecraftian fear, not really knowing “what’s out there” or “where they come from,” and having zero control over “what they do.”
Since its release in the 1977, Close Encounters of the Third Kind has grossed over $337 million worldwide. Ray Bradbury declared it the greatest science fiction film ever made. The film was nominated for several Oscars; having only taken home one in cinematography. Had Star Wars not released the same year, I’m certain Close Encounters would have won all the eggs. No surprise there, if you’ve seen the movie the you know there is no denying the films powerful dream-like quality . There’s nothing uber complicated with the plot or story structure. Its actually rather cut and dry, in which some may say is a tad slow for our rapid fire attention spans. I too recall watching this when I was a kid on VHS and thinking it had its fair share of boring scenes; however, as an adult now, I think the movie has a fantastic pace in which every moment is important in some way. I think a part of why we never watched Close Encounters of the Third Kind thinking how horrifying the movie really was is because of the simplicity of the story, we glaze over and…again, coo over the musical numbers and flashy bulbs. Look at the film, watch the movie, even those on screen, especially at the end, the characters are all moon pied, as if surrendered to some kind of trace or hypnosis. AGAIN…isn’t that in itself a terrifying factor?
And we have to ask, what exactly do these aliens really want? If they’ve been abducting people for generations, what do they want with the one man crazy enough to have made it to Devils Tower? If they’ve been taking people all willy-nilly since before WWII, or even longer, well…it goes to say they probably already have a clear understanding of human anatomy. And if they can insert images and thoughts into our minds, well… this begs the question, how much more of us do they really need to know? To me, it all seems like a subjective test. A greater intelligence than our own giving humanity the equivalent of an SAT exam. Consider this bit from an article published by Keith Phipps:
When Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfuss), a humble lineman for an Indiana electric company, investigates a power outage, he witnesses an unidentified flying object, a run-in that leaves him with what appears to be a severe sunburn. Nearby, 3-year-old Barry Guiler (Cary Guffey), follows some lights outside as his mother Jillian (Melinda Dillon) chases after him. Both Roy and Jillian, who soon meet, are fascinated by their experiences, but this feeling soon takes a turn. Having strayed from his duties as a result of his sighting, Roy first loses his job then seems to lose his mind as he becomes fixated on alien encounters while his family looks on in horror. Jillian’s life turns even more dramatic than Roy’s when the UFOs return and draw Barry to them as Jillian fights their efforts to avail, in a scene Spielberg stages like an otherworldly home invasion, with Barry’s unwitting delight only amplifying the horror. Something from beyond Earth has arrived, but its intentions remain vague, as does its respect for human life.
And at the end, we get the impression of open communication with the whole sign-language gag. But I wonder…how open that communication really is. Neary was still taken. He was obviously still insane, giving no thought or hesitation of leaving behind his wife, two sons, and daughter. My impression is that these intelligent aliens are still rather indifferent about humanity. And indifference can be dangerous. I question the “friendliness” of the final encounter, the film to me reeks of its post-Watergate-pessimistic era of misguided trust. Sure, they are taking Neary to some place that might be benevolent and beautiful, but how do we know and we’re never guaranteed his return. Will they bring him back as they did the countless others? (Did you see the billboard with all those names and pictures of people they believe had been abducted? Freaking insane number, right?) The final act is the answer to the entire mundane meets the spectacular and secretive undertone of the movie, we don’t know, we don’t know if Neary will return, we don’t know what they’ll do with him, and we have absolutely no power to stop them from taking him. And we have to ask ourselves, would we take a ride with these cosmic visitors?
Would we even have a choice if they came for us?
Update: According to several sources, including Blumhouse News, “in honor of the 40th anniversary of Steven Spielberg’s classic feature CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, Sony Pictures has recently done a 4K restoration and is planning on re-releasing the film in theaters on September 1st.”
Thomas S. Flowers writes character-driven stories of dark fiction ranging from Shakespearean gore feasts to paranormal thrillers. Residing in the swamps of Houston, Texas, with his wife and daughter, his debut novel, Reinheit, was published with Shadow Work Publishing, along with The Incredible Zilch Von Whitstein, Apocalypse Meow, Lanmò, The Hobbsburg Horror, and FEAST. His veteran focused paranormal thriller series, The Subdue Series, including Dwelling, Emerging, Conceiving, and Converging, are published with Limitless Publishing, LLC. In 2008, he was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army where he served three tours in Operation Iraqi Freedom. In 2014, Thomas graduated from University of Houston-Clear Lake with a Bachelors in History. He blogs at machinemean[dot]org, where he reviews horror and sci fi movies and books and hosts a gambit of guest contributors who discuss a wide range of strange yet oddly related topics. You can follow Thomas at a safe distance by joining his author newsletter at http://goo.gl/2CozdE.