Cheap but good read: The Fearmakers


I’ve read a ton of non-fiction books about horror, gore, splatter, slasher, and exploitation movies and their history and directors, and this is one of my favorites.  It’s put together by John McCarty, who’s has written several books about movies and horror movies in particular.  The writing style is very easy to read, somewhat academic but without being boring, and there are a lot of very nice black and white photos from classic horror movies included.
It focuses on 20 directors who have made a strong mark in the horror film genre.  It was released in 1994, so it only follows their careers up until then, but let’s face it- most of these director’s best work was made before that point.
Read the introduction:
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You can find it on Amazon for only 1 cent (plus shipping of course) here.
Some sample pages:

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They also came out with a double DVD that isn’t as good (it’s mainly a talking head show) that you can also find on Amazon used for fairly cheap.

Good, cheap reads to curl up with- you can’t beat that.

The Babadook (2014)


I have just returned from “Dismember the Alamo”, an 8 hour horror festival in which they show 4 films in 35mm, but don’t announce what they are until right before they show them.  It was put on at the Alamo Drafthouse and hosted by Barbara Crampton, who was very nice and gracious (and dressed up like a witch for Halloween season), answered questions, talked about the movies, signed autographs, and seemed like a very pleasant individual.

All the Drafthouses that participated played different movies.  I know other Drafthouses played everything from Halloween III to Ernest Scared Stupid, Friday the 13th Part 4 to Of Unknown Origin, so I wasn’t sure what to expect.
I think our Drafthouse showed one of the best line-ups, with:
1) Rosemary’s Baby
2) Castle Freak (which Barbara Crampton chose herself because she felt it was her most underrated movie)
3) Ginger Snaps
4) The Babadook

Of the four, the only one I had never seen was The Babadook (tho I haven’t seen any of them in an actual theater, so that was a treat).
It has evidently only been shown once, at a film festival, and will be coming out in wide release this December.
The presenters all made a big deal about how scary it is, and I’ve read a few reviews of it that also said it’s incredibly scary, which I figured was a bunch of hogwash (people said that about The Conjuring and many other movies, and it usually turned out to be bunk), but I have to admit, it has some effective moments.

It’s about a single mother (played by Essie Davis, who I only knew from a very small role in the Matrix movies as a medic who gets killed by the Agent who possessed the body of a human) of a little boy with several psychological and emotional issues, presumably stemming from the fact that his father died while driving his mother to the hospital to have him.
The boy finds a book on his bookshelf called Mr. Babadook and asks his mother to read it to him as a bedtime story.  The book tells of a boogyman called Mr. Babadook who feeds on fear and torment, and eventually posses  people, making them do terrible things.
The kid becomes obsessed with the Babadook, and starts seeing him (even tho no one else can) everywhere.  The mother tears up the book and throws it away, but it appears on their doorstep taped back together, and with new depictions of her being possessed by the Babadook and doing terrible things.
What follows is in the highly tread tradition of The Shining, but is so well done and nicely filmed with a lot of very cool and creepy scenes (especially in the mother’s dream sequences.  Now most of you know I generally do not like dream sequences, but these are not cop-outs and fake scares like in most movies) that you may forgive it being yet another ghost/ possession movie in a long line of ghost/ possession movies that have been coming out for the past 10 years (at least it doesn’t look like all the other ones.  It has a very old school and original look and feel to it).

But the main thing to recommend about this movie is the acting.  Every person in it, and particularly the main characters (even  the young boy) do incredible jobs.  The dialogue and direction are fine as well.  I do have a few quibbles- the budgetary constraints are slightly felt, it’s just a little bit too talky (perhaps some small edits might quicken the pace a little)  and I really wish we had learned more of the mythology of the Babadook (mysterious is cool, but I love it when characters discover some engaging mythology about an interesting monster or boogyman).  Also the ending needed… something (it was a little goofy), but these don’t really take away from the overall enjoyment of the film.
In conclusion, this is nothing you haven’t seen before, but the level of character building, believablility, and fantastic acting as well as it’s overall theme of grief, regret, and resentment push it into the ‘a bit above average’ zone.

Island of Terror (1966)


By the time I watched Island Of Terror, around the age of 7 or so, it had become a staple on afternoon sci-fi theater type TV shows.  I had seen many horror and sci-fi movies, from The Fly, Creature From the Black Lagoon, Jaws, and Kingdom of the Spiders to stuff like The Exorcist and Night of the Living Dead.  None of these movies scared or bothered me, but for some reason Island of Terror did.  It actually gave me nightmares, which very few movies have ever done in my life.

Directed by the prolific Terrence Fisher (who directed some of the most notable British horror films of the 50s, 60s, and 70s including a ton for Hammer (such as The Curse of Frankenstein, Horror of Dracula, The Hound of the Baskervilles, The Gorgon, Brides of Dracula, The Mummy, The Earth Dies Screaming, and many more) and starring Peter Cushing, it’s another story of scientific research gone wrong.

On a remote British island, the body of a man is discovered with no bones left in it (“He’s like jelly” remarks the constable).  A couple of specialists (played by Peter Cushing and Edward Judd (from First Men In the Moon, The Day the Earth Caught Fire, and The Vault of Horror to name a few)) are brought in and discover that a researcher who was trying to find a cure for cancer created a new life form which can dissolve bones and suck them out of a person (or animal’s) body.  These creatures are also virtually indestructible and divide into two every 6 hours or so (which means that the island would be overrun by them in less than a week).
After trying to shoot them and blow them up with dynamite, they discover a possible weakness and hatch a desperate plan to destroy them for good.  But with their numbers diminishing and no place to run, the odds of surviving are pretty low.

In contrast to some of his Hammer work, Fisher’s direction here is fairly subdued, making me think a bit of Tod Browning’s style (in which he generally would set up a camera and let all the action happen in front of it, rather than moving around a lot or utilizing a plethora of cuts, zooms and close ups. Of course with Browning this was mainly because of equipment available at the time, but he still seemed to favor a “sitting back and filming a play’ direction style).  He’s never really had the flair or atmospheric touch of fellow Brit director Freddie Francis, but he seems more subdued on this film than most of his others.  The acting is decent, tho the main ‘hero’ (played by the aforementioned Edward Judd) is lacking in charisma quite a bit.  The unnecessary love interest (played by Curse of the Fly‘s Carole Gray) is a fairly annoying character as well, but everyone else plays their parts perfectly.   The setting is used nicely with the remote island and old school feel of everything.  Basically this is like a zombie movie- the creatures move very slow, but keep multiplying and are unstoppable.  The main characters end up barricading themselves (tho not very well) in and under siege.

The monsters are pretty cool looking, kind of like turtle/ snails with a tentacle coming out where their head should be.  They also make a creepy, radioactive synthy sound (and a comical slurping one when they suck someone’s bones out).
The film is a little slow moving by today’s standards, but fairly fast paced by 1966 horror/ sci-fi movie standards.  I found myself getting into the story and enjoying it (tho it didn’t scare me like it did my 7 year old self.  I have no idea why it affected me so).  People these days are so overstimulated I doubt a lot of them could watch a movie like this and get into it.  They would be looking at their phone, texting, filling the chip bowl, doing laundry, looking at the iPad, etc. way before it got going.  I like movies that take their time building to something.  I like to see these small villages and old ways portrayed in detail.  It was a simpler time, and if a movie can show it realistically it often fascinates me (it doesn’t hurt that this movie was filmed not too far into the future from when times were really like this).
So some of me liking it might have more to do with the period setting than the actual plot, but I still found it a good watch after all these years.   It’s never been released in a Region 1 DVD or Blu Ray, so it might be hard to track down, but you can’t consider yourself a classic British horror/ sci-fi film connoisseur, even if you’ve seen all the Hammer and Amicus films, until you’ve seen some of these offbeat titles (this one done by a small company called Planet Film Productions), and this is a good one to start with.

Peardrop ‘zine #1


Peardrop was one of my favorite old ‘zines, put out by my old pal Laurent Merle (who did USD ‘zine, and now does Listenable Records)..  He has a great sense of humor, and it comes through in his writing.  Even when he doesn’t like a band he finds a funny way to talk about them.  It was full of wacky interviews with death metal, grindcore, thrash, and hardcore bands.  Here’s some pages for you to peruse:

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