Showing posts with label Horror. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Horror. Show all posts

Wednesday, May 10, 2023

Appendix N? How About Appendix Hammer Films? This Hard to Find Gem is a Pop Culture Geek's Dream


Peter Cushing’s Tales of a Monster Hunter (1978)

As you might imagine, the Geekerati library is filled with volumes containing tales of Sword & Sorcery, Sword & Planet, Science Fiction, Fantasy, and not a small amount of Horror. One of the books I am proudest to have in the library is the 1978 paperback printing of Peter Cushing's Tales of a Monster Hunter.

Cushing holds a special place in my geekiest of hearts. Not only did he star in several Hammer Studios Horror films, some of the greatest horror films ever produced, but he was himself a bit of a gamer geek. He collected, painted, and played miniatures wargames. In the British Pathé archival short below, you can see his genuine joy. I can’t quite tell if he has any copies of the British Model Soldier Society’s Bulletin on his shelves, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he did. This video was filmed in 1956, which lines up with the publication of Tony Bath’s medieval rules in the Bulletin. I’ve played a couple of games using H.G. Well’s rules from Little Wars, which Cushing features in this short, but I can’t help but think he would find the advances in wargaming game mechanics of the era intriguing.

As much as I want to believe that this collection of horror stories was selected by Mr. Cushing himself and reflects his personal taste, it is unlikely that the volume was actually edited by Mr. Cushing. The copyright lists both him and Peter Haining and Cushing's autobiographical preface is written in third person. I would think it odd if Mr. Cushing referred to himself in the third person.

Peter Haining was an anthologist of horror tales who had a number of volumes printed in the late 70s and early 80s. One of these volumes is the very interesting Sword & Sorcery paperback The Barbarian Swordsmen, which contains stories by Robert E. Howard, Lord Dunsany, C.L. Moore, and Fritz Leiber.

Setting aside my belief that Cushing wasn’t the actual editor of the book, there is reason to think that Cushing provided feedback to the selections. Even if he didn't the stories collected in the anthology pair nicely with a Cushing/Hammer Films marathon and are a fitting collection of Cushing adjacent tales if not his own selections.

Here is a brief overview of the contents of the book.

How I Became a Monster Hunter by "Peter Cushing" is a biographical essay that gives a very good overview of Cushing's acting career and has some nice quotations from Cushing himself.

A Masked Ball by Alexandre Dumas is a very short story that is included in the book because of Cushing's very small role in James Whale’s film version of The Man in the Iron Mask. Like all the stories in this volume, there is some connection between the tale and Cushing's career. In this case, it’s not a direct connection as Cushing’s role is small in that film. Then again, so too is the length of this story.

The Mortal Immortal by Mary Shelley is a reminder that the creator of modern science fiction wrote more than just Frankenstein. Given that much of Cushing's career was spent portraying various versions of Dr. Frankenstein, a Shelley story is a must and it is always nice to see a deep cut rather than an excerpt from a more well known work. As a society we often focus too narrowly on the works of past writers and leave out the rest of their career. In the case of Robert E Howard, we often focus on his Conan stories to our own detriment. In the case of Shelley, by focusing on Frankenstein we miss out on other stories that can touch upon our own times. While ChatGPT and other advances keep Frankenstein relevant, her novel The Last Man is particularly resonant in a world that just experienced a pandemic.

Dracula's Guest by Bram Stoker is an episode that, according to the editor’s introduction in Tales, was excluded from the famous novel due space restrictions imposed on Stoker by his editor. Cushing's connection to Dracula in his portrayal of Van Helsing is well known and it has been argued in D&D geek circles that Van Helsing is one of the inspirations for the Cleric class in D&D.

In the Footsteps of the Abominable Snowman by Joseh Nesvadba is a Yeti tale that is included due to Cushing's performance inThe Abominable Snowman of the Himalayas. This is not the story that inspired the film, which was a teleplay, but it bears some similarities in tone to the underappreciated film.

The Ring of Thoth by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle connects with Cushing's career in two ways. Cushing played Sherlock Holmes on the big screen in Hound of the Baskervilles and he also starred in a Hammer version of the Mummy story. "The Ring of Thoth" isn't a Holmes tale, but it is a Mummy yarn and one that makes me wonder if Robert E. Howard had a copy on his shelf (the answer is YES!). After all, Howard's villain Thoth-Amon sought his Serpent Ring of Set in the first Conan tale and there are similarities of tone here.

The Gorgon by Gertrude Bacon is a late Victorian tale published in The Strand that makes use of the Greek legend of the Gorgon. Cushing had starred as the villain in the 1964 Hammer film The Gorgonthough according to the Encyclopedia of Hammer Films that screenplay was based on a story submitted to Hammer by J. Llewellyn Divine, and there are few enough tales of the creature that this makes a nice addition to the book. The Hammer film is much better than its effects and is one of a list of Hammer productions I wish could be remade with the same caliber of performances but with modern effects.

The Man Who Collected Poe by Robert Bloch is the first tale in the volume that Cushing actually performed in an adaptation of during his career. The story is adapted in the film Torture Garden (1967) where Cushing plays the "bibliophile."

The Ghoul of Golders Green by Michael Arlen (published in 1925 and public domain in the US) is only connected to Cushing's career in that he starred in a film called The Ghoul in 1974 which was based on an original screenplay by John Elder. There are few enough tales of ghouls, so the tale fits even if the connection is limited.

There Shall Be No Darkness by James Blish is the final tale in the volume and it is a great story to finish with as it served as the basis for the film The Beast Must Die. A while back a Vulture article recommended watching this film before or after watching Knives Out. If you've ever played the game Werewolf, you really should check this movie out as it provides the audience with a short "Werewolf Break" in order for the audience to guess which character is the werewolf. It's great fun. In the aftermath of Glass Onion, I’d argue that the second Rian Johnson detective mystery shares even more with The Beast Must Die than Knives Out. To this day, I still think of Calvin Lockhart’s character, Tom Newcliffe, as an alternate universe version of Marvel’s Blade. Watch the film and see why. It’s a film I watch every Halloween season.

Friday, December 27, 2019

[From the Archives] Episode 24: An Interview with Jeff Mariotte and a Discussion of Vampires and Other Things that Prefer the Night

On October 15, 2007, Jeff Mariotte visited our show for a short 15-minute interview that helped us kick off a conversation about Vampire movies and television shows, as well as other nasty things that go bump in the night. Jeff Mariotte is a former editor-in-chief at IDW Comics and the co-author of two published 30 Days of Night media tie-in novels. In this interview, Jeff discusses his comic book series Graveslinger, his 30 Days of Night media tie-in novels Immortal Remains and Rumors of the Undead, as well as his novel Missing White Girl. After the interview, Shawna Benson, Eric Lytle, and Christian Lindke discuss there favorite vampire stories on film and television.

This is the episode where Shawna Benson coined the phrase Friday Night Death Slot referring to how networks increasingly scheduled shows they thought would fail on Friday evenings.

Wednesday, November 06, 2019

Can H.P. Lovecraft, Nicolas Cage, and Modern Horror Tropes Mix? COLOR OUT OF SPACE Will Answer This Question

Film adaptations of H.P. Lovecraft's fiction have a record as mixed as Lovecraft's legacy. Some of them are very good (I'm looking at you Call of Cthulhu), some are fun (like Re-Animator), and some are best left to the dustbin of history (no, I'm not linking The Unnamable).

There's no doubt that there is rich potential in Lovecraft's fiction that can be exploited and adapted to a modern environment. Cosmic horror, the terror of knowing that in the end everything is meaningless, is a truly terrifying concept. We can fight that fear with nihilism or irony, but it still lingers in the backs of our minds. What if nothing matters? That is the question at the heart of much of Lovecraft's fiction and it is a question that digs deep into our subconscious.

Film makers like Guillermo Del Toro have discussed making a big budget adaptation of At the Mountains of Madness, but derivative films like Prometheus present challenges to film makers who want to go straight to the source in the same way that Star Wars and Avatar present challenges to those who want to make Edgar Rice Burroughs' Barsoom tales on the big screen. There is the risk that audiences will think that a film inspired by the original material is the derivative film.

Stepping into this challenging market is Color Out of Space. The film is written and directed by Richard Stanley, who directed 1990's Hardware. You remember Hardware right? No? I liked it, but you might not. It's in the "not everyone's bag" category of film. This leaves me thinking the film could be good, or it could be very bad. The cast includes Nicolas Cage, Tommy Chong, and Joely Richardson, a cast that leaves me feeling the same way as the choice of director. If Nicolas Cage goes full Nicolas Cage, or dials his Cage level to Zero, the film could be great. If Cage sets the Cage level to 5, it could be trouble. I cannot tell by the trailer which Cage we are getting, so I'm still on the fence.

This isn't the first time that The Colour Out of Space has been adapted to film. Die, Monster, Die! (1964) adapted the story, with some liberties, and Wil Wheaton starred in an adaptation called The Curse in 1987. Die, Monster, Die! is on my annual horror viewing list, but I've not seen The Curse or heard anything good about it.

The story itself is a classic Lovecraftian tale, that draws more than a little imagery from American Gothic fiction and in particular Washington Irving's "Legend of Sleepy Hollow."

Compare the introduction to "Colour":

"West of Arkham the hills rise wild, and there are valleys with deep woods that no axe has ever cut. There are dark narrow glens where the trees slope fantastically, and where thin brooklets trickle without ever having caught the glint of sunlight. On the gentler slopes there are farms, ancient and rocky, with squat, moss-coated cottages brooding eternally over old New England secrets in the lee of great ledges; but these are all vacant now, the wide chimneys crumbling and the shingled sides bulging perilously beneath low gambrel roofs" -- H.P. Lovecraft, "The Colour out of Space" 1927.
 To the introduction to "Sleepy Hollow":

"In the bosom of one of those spacious coves which indent the eastern shore of the Hudson, at that broad expansion of the river denominated by the ancient Dutch navigators the Tappan Zee, and where they always prudently shortened sail and implored the protection of St. Nicholas when they crossed, there lies a small market town or rural port, which by some is called Greensburgh, but which is more generally and properly known by the name of Tarry Town. This name was given, we are told, in former days, by the good housewives of the adjacent country, from the inveterate propensity of their husbands to linger about the village tavern on market days. Be that as it may, I do not vouch for the fact, but merely advert to it, for the sake of being precise and authentic. Not far from this village, perhaps about two miles, there is a little valley or rather lap of land among high hills, which is one of the quietest places in the whole world. A small brook glides through it, with just murmur enough to lull one to repose; and the occasional whistle of a quail or tapping of a woodpecker is almost the only sound that ever breaks in upon the uniform tranquillity" -- Washington Irving, "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" 1820.
The paragraphs are by no means identical, but both set the stage for bucolic New England farmlands that hide horrors in the shadows. Lovecraft's almost reads like a sequel to Irving.

Check out the trailer and let me know what you think. 

Friday, August 12, 2016

Ghost House Pictures' 'Don't Breathe' Reunites Fede Alvarez and Jane Levy

In 2013, Ghost House Pictures rebooted the classic horror comedy series Evil Dead with a new director (Fede Alvarez) and a new star (Jane Levy). The film attempted to balance itself between the two horror/comedy extremes of the Evil Dead franchise. It was less creepy and haunting than the original film and focused less on humor than Evil Dead 2 or Army of Darkness. In attempting this balance, the film selected a talented comedic actress whose prior work included the short-lived and entertaining series Suburgatory.

The pairing was a success. Rotten Tomatoes ratings show that many critics and audience members found the Alvarez/Levy Evil Dead to be a worthy addition and the film is by a large margin the most successful theatrical release in the series. This success was in no small part due to the cult classic status the movies have attained as they have continued to build audience. The box office success of the 2013 Evil Dead film doesn't in itself answer whether audiences truly liked the new vision or whether the success was due primarily to the power of the brand. The film was polarizing among some of the fan base who thought the film was too gory and lacked sufficient humor. Ghost House Pictures has an opportunity to prove that Alvarez and Levy have appeal outside of a strong brand with this year's Don't Breathe. This film is an original story that features no supernatural elements and promises to focus on suspense rather than gore.

Don't Breathe opens with a premise similar to that of In Cold Blood, but turns the tables on the criminals in a fashion common in horror films like You're Next. The filmic twist in this case is that audiences are supposed to sympathize with one of the home invaders as she realizes that she and her friends have invaded the home of someone who, though blind, is freakishly good at killing people.

The film is slated for wide release on August 26th, right in time for the new school year and a good lead into Halloween.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Deadlands: Ghostwalkers [Review] -- Does It Bring the Big Guns?

Unlike many genre fans, I have a great deal of respect for "media tie-in" fiction. I believe that some of the best science fiction and fantasy fiction has been the result of hard work by a media tie-in author. William King's Gotrek and Felix stories are wonderful Sword & Sorcery duo fiction, Diane Duane has written some wonderfully entertaining Spider-Man novels, and no list of praise for this sub-genre would be complete without mention of Paul S. Kemp's tales of Erevis Cale. These three authors merely scratch the surface of the high quality work that can be found in media tie-in fiction.

One of the things that most impresses me about well written media tie-in fiction is how an author can bring their own spark of originality to a world that has potentially been thoroughly explored by the media creators. Writing a novel tale within a world without being crushed by restrictions created by other creators, or without writing too far outside the box as to not be working within the shared world, takes a high level of skill. 

The media tie-in author is writing for two audiences: the existing fans of the setting and fans of the genre who may be unfamiliar with the television show, video game, or role playing game where the story takes place. The job of the author is to make fiction fans of the media fans and turn genre fans into fans of the underlying media. This is a difficult challenge.  Fans of a setting can be your harshest critics if they believe that you have written a story that violates the rules of the setting, even if the tale itself is creative and entertaining.  Even if the author manages to satisfy the fans of the setting/game, they also need to appeal to the genre fan in the hopes of making them fans of the underlying property. To put it in the crudest terms, media tie-in fiction are both a way to interact with existing fans of the media and are advertisements to future fans. It's a delicate balance between entertainment and advertisement.

One of my own personal favorite intellectual properties, and game settings, is the Weird West setting created by Shane Hensley (and friends) for the Deadlands role playing game. The game was originally published in the late 90s and has always had related fiction published for the game. I often re-read the "Dime Novels" that were written in the early days of the game. This year (2015) is the year that Deadlands has really exploded into the media tie-in market with comic books and novels being published for the setting. The novels are being published by Tor Books.  One of the largest, if not the largest, publisher of speculative fiction. 

The first Tor novel is entitled Deadlands: Ghostwalkers and was written by talented horror veteran Jonathan Maberry who has written the Joe Ledger and Pine Deep series of books. He's an excellent writer, but how well is he able to combine his own talents with the requirements that come with writing a media tie-in novel?

The Book

Ghostwalkers is the tale of Grey Torrence, a former Union soldier with a haunted past who now wanders the Weird West as he flees the ghosts of his former misdeeds. Torrence is a combination of John Wayne's character Col. John Marlowe in The Horse Soldiers and a Peckinpah badman with a dash of James West. Like Marlowe, he was caught behind enemy lines during the Civil War, but where Marlowe escaped triumphant Torrence's mission ended in failure. In Ghostwalkers, Torrence finds himself continually compelled to do the right thing even against overwhelming odds. He does this in part to atone for his past failings.

This reflexive heroism leads him into companionship with Thomas Looks Away of the Ogala Toyospaye in what could have been a simple Lone Ranger and Tonto tale. Maberry is too talented to fall into that trap and instead of giving us the Native American mystic, he gives us a Native American Mad Scientist more in the mold of Artemis Gordon than Tonto. It's a refreshing change and one that signals that the author might be giving us a couple more twists as well.

Torrence and Looks Away, two of the heroes of our tale, are caught in the middle of an apocalyptic time. What separates the Weird West from the Old West is that in 1863 a ritual opened the doors to the Happy Hunting Grounds and created a Hell on Earth where the dead rise from the grave and scientific innovation is fueled by a substance that seems to scream in pain when burned as a means to create power for Weird and impossible gadgets.

These heroes, and some additional companions, face off against the horrors of the Weird West. They fight the Walking Dead and resurrected Dinosaurs, but no opponent is as fearful as the greed and lust for power of their fellow man.

The Good

Maberry manages to introduce those unfamiliar with the Deadlands setting to the world in a seamless fashion.  By focusing the narrative on a character unfamiliar with most of the changes that have taken place in the world, he has a perfect cipher for our own experiences. Maberry also introduces the Weird West in small doses. He doesn't try to convey the entirety of the differences between this fictional West and our own. Instead, he lets us discover how the Los Angeles and California of this world differ from ours at a steady pace. We see the world unfold as the characters encounter it. It's good world building technique used to reveal existing information.

I was particularly impressed with how Maberry was able to show how the influence of the Reckoners, particularly Famine, affected the world in a way that only fans of the game would notice. Genre fans get a good story, but there was a nice easter egg for the media fan. Since the knowledge of the world is passed on by people who live in it, and since they would be unfamiliar with the Reckoners, it was demonstration of solid storytelling. Additionally, modeling some of the characters and narrative on Wild, Wild, West was also a good choice. I don't know if it was intentional or sub-conscious, but I would have loved to watch this book as episodes of that classic show.

The Bad

There were a couple of moments I was pulled out of the text. Given Maberry's use of "Harrowed" characters, read the book to find out what those are, I kept expecting to see Stone (an iconic Deadlands character) around every corner. That never happened, and the story is better for it, but I kept expecting it and was a barrier in my reading.

There were also a couple of sentences/phrases that pulled me out of the fiction. The first was when Maberry discussed Juniper trees early. He wrote, "The mingled blurs coalesced into a canopy of Juniper leaves..." which left me wondering if he had ever seen a Juniper. One wouldn't normally use the term "leaves" when describing them. It seemed more like he was describing Oaks than Junipers. That could just be me though.

The second sentence included the phrase "mound of sobbing frilly whites..." as a means of describing clothes that were still wet from a demon rain storm.Given that I read an advance copy, I hope this got corrected before the final version. Clothes tend to be sopping wet, though in Deadlands it wouldn't be impossible to find sobbing clothes.

As you can see, "the bad" in the tale is pretty minor. When you are resorting to nitpicking as your criticism, you have read a pretty entertaining piece of fiction.

The Ugly?

Aside from a sex scene that made sense narratively, but was still a little too "because HBO" as it seemed unnecessary as a demonstration of affection, I found it near impossible to put the book down once I started reading. Maberry's tale has wonderful pacing and the right combination of mystery, horror, and action to reflect the underlying intellectual property.

There were only a couple of moments where I could "hear the dice drop" in the background. Grey's heroism sure seems more like a Savage Worlds Hinderance than an actual character trait, but moments like this were rare. If you like Westerns and Zombies, you should love Maberry's work here. I know that I did.

It was an entertaining mash up of The Wild Wild West, John Ford, and Sam Peckinpah. I can think of no higher praise than that.
3.5/5 stars.Dea