Sunday, January 21, 2018

Film Review: LEMORA: A CHILD'S TALE OF THE SUPERNATURAL (1973, Richard Blackburn)

Stars: 3.5 of 5.
Running Time: 85 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Lesley Taplin (THE ACTIVIST), Cheryl Smith (LASERBLAST, THE INCREDIBLE MELTING MAN), and Hy Pyke (BLADE RUNNER, DOLEMITE). Directed by Richard Blackburn (who also co-wrote EATING RAOUL and wrote and directed a TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE episode). Cinematography by Robert Caramico (BLACKENSTEIN, FALCON CREST, JUST SHOOT ME).
Tag-line: "Through the doors up the dark stairs behind this window... a possession is taking place! Run, little girl... innocence is in peril tonight!"
Best one-liner: "I am the unkillable. My spirit is the strongest ever."

Longtime readers of this site will know of my interest in what I call "melancholy horror," which I roughly define as a sub-genre of especially artistic horror/thriller/supernatural drama films that offer  genuine scares and genuine sadness in equal measure. They routinely begin and/or end with a tragedy, often of an accidental, non-supernatural variety; and they were made, by and large, between 1970 and 1981, mostly on lower budgets which lend them a 'documentary' feel. Their visuals are impressionistic, hypnotic, and dreamlike, the 1970s film stock often lending sunlight, candlelight, and fall colors a special ethereal prominence. LEMORA: A CHILD'S TALE OF THE SUPERNATURAL fits firmly into this category, a truly American indie that later found a cult audience in France. It's a peculiar hodgepodge of Jesus and Lovecraft, of folk tales and arthouse sensibilities, drenched in scary-weird amateur acting choices and vibrant, expressionistic lighting.
LEMORA is mostly notorious for a lengthy condemnation by the Catholic Legion of Decency, and the re-release poster pictured (at the top of the review) is retroactively trying to cash in on these religious horror aspects by making visual reference to CARRIE. Truthfully, the film has much more in common with melancholy gems like LET'S SCARE JESSICA TO DEATH (1971) or VALERIE AND HER WEEK OF WONDERS (1970). Technically, this is a PG-rated children's movie, but it's also a perverse psychological miasma of adolescent paranoia and sexual aggression, and the fact that sections of it were filmed on abandoned sets from THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW only adds to the effect.
Welcome to Mayberry!

The plot revolves around the thirteen-year-old Lila Lee, a doe-eyed gangster's child turned evangelical starlet,
the "singin' angel daughter of a real life devil,"
who escapes her (possibly pedophilic?) foster Reverend for the Lovecraftian hamlet of Astaroth, where her father may be hiding out. Here, factions of proto-Fulci-esque zombies 
vie for dominance against Edwardian lesbian vampires who look like they just escaped the PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK.
To paraphrase Bush 43, "ladies and gentlemen, this is some weird shit." Essentially, every character that Lila Lee encounters attempts to exploit her to some end (whether by sexual or culinary means)
and the result is a deeply alienating life lesson (ostensibly for child viewers) regarding society's view of adolescent female sexuality. Minus the horror elements, it is a message that easily could have been delivered by Catherine Breillat, Simone de Beauvoir, or Chantal Akerman. LEMORA's inability to commit to a single horror trope (zombies, vampires, witchcraft, hag horror, ghosts, religious horror, haunted houses) feels deliberate, speaking to the universality of the message––almost as if to signal that all female Bildungsromane lead here, from  LITTLE RED RIDING HOOD to THE BELL JAR. 

At the center of all of this is a deeply bizarre performance by Lesley Taplin as the eponymous Lemora, a predatory vampiress who may very well be the most likable character in the film.
In the end, it's an obscure, atmospheric, and generally quiet entry into melancholy horror genre, and like ALICE IN WONDERLAND and many a coming-of-age fairy tale, it is ambiguous enough to inspire a wide range of reactions (I could just as easily analyze LEMORA as a progressive text, or regressive one).

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

"The Marked Book" in The Iowa Review

My latest short story, "The Marked Book," has been published in the Winter 2018 issue of The Iowa Review (Vol. 47, No. 3), which is available for purchase in print here.

Founded in 1970, The Iowa Review is published at the University of Iowa in Iowa City. It has featured work by writers such as Samuel Beckett, Jorge Luis Borges, Italo Calvino, Raymond Carver, Marilynne Robinson, Kurt Vonnegut, Alice Walker, and David Foster Wallace.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Film Review: REINDEER GAMES (2000, John Frankenheimer)

Reindeer Games: Way more than zero.
Running Time: 124 minutes (Director's Cut).
Tag-line: "The trap is set. The game is on."
Best one-liner: "When I get in there you better be wearing nothing but a candy cane!"

In a familiar, darkened alleyway:

"It's been a while."
–"Indeed it has."
"What's the deal? Too good to watch a trashterpiece with your old pal?"
–"Well, that's just why I'm here. To wish you a happy holiday... with REINDEER GAMES."
"Dear Lord. Isn't that bottom-of-the-barrel Frankenheimer? He did THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE and SECONDS, for chrissakes. He did THE TRAIN. SEVEN DAYS IN MAY. THE ICEMAN COMETH. How far the mighty fall."
–"I like to think it transcends the barrel. I mean, it's structure is sort of like a Coen Brothers flick in search of a consistent tone. And with a lot of holiday-themed one-liners.

In theory, it's FARGO meets POINT BREAK. In practice, it seems like a slow exercise in torturing Academy Award-winning actors."
"What's it about?"
–"Okay. Hold on to your Santa hat: Ben Affleck plays convicted car thief 'Rudy.' As in Rudolph. As in 'the red-nosed reindeer.' James Frain plays convicted manslaughterer 'Nick.' As in 'Old Saint.'"
–"Quite. So Nick has a pen-pal girlfriend, whom he's never met, played by Charlize Theron."
"Er... what?"
–"The love letters were really compelling, I guess. Anyway, Nick and Rudy are about to be released from prison, but Nick is shivved to death during a prison riot."
"What incites the riot?"
–"Isaac Hayes finds a cockroach in his JELL-O, it's not important."

–"Just go with it. So Rudy gets released from prison and immediately impersonates Nick so he can sleep with Charlize Theron. It's super creepy, perhaps especially so because of Affleck's perpetual frat boy leer."

"Okay. He's the hero of this piece?"
–"I'm getting to that. So Rudy-fleck thinks he's about to have a quiet Christmas with Charlize when  her brother 'Monster,' played by Gary Sinise, bursts in with his gang of gun-running truckers."

"This is a trucker movie?"
–"Sort of. So Nick used to work at a casino, and Gary Sinise wants to use his expertise to rob it. Rudy-fleck has been impersonating Nick, so he finds himself in a dangerous pickle. It's the kind of noir-ish set-up that could be really effective with a schlub or a sad sack at its center, but with Affleck doing his best impersonation of a bullying rich kid (in an '80s movie about a scrappy team of underdogs), you simply find yourself rooting for Gary Sinise. In fact, the whole movie plays better if you imagine it's a sequel to FORREST GUMP, set after Forrest and Lieutenant Dan had a falling out and the latter turned to crime.

The fact that his gang includes the masterful character actor Clarence Williams III and an unusually soulful performance by perpetual heavy Danny Trejo only makes your root for them more."

"Is Danny Trejo reading BUSINESS WEEK?"
–"There's a subplot about how he's going to night school. Don't worry about it. Can I also draw attention to the fact that 'Don't play no reindeer games with me' is one of my all-time favorite lines of dialogue in a motion picture?"

"I think Gary Sinise is actively upset that he has to say that."
–"He sure is. It's far from the only indignity visited upon a member of this cast. Sinise must refer to the sex act as 'getting down her chimney.'

Clarence Williams III has a whole bit about how he loves Christmas cookies:

Former cop and lovable performer Dennis Farina has a monologue about 'S-N-O-fuckin-W, snow!'"

"They really went all in, didn't they?"
–"It ain't DIE HARD, though. Or even BATMAN AND ROBIN.

The good news, however, is that REINDEER GAMES does deliver something in the way of a Christmas present: for those audience members whose greatest wish was to see Affleck have his ass handed to him in a variety of absurd scenarios, it's an embarrassment of riches.

Perhaps none of these scenarios are greater than the following, where Gary Sinise critiques Affleck's value as a scene partner (with a handful of darts).

Apparently, this scene was judged by the MPAA as too intense for an R rating, and therefore only appears in the Director's Cut. I would wager that it's no more damaging than anything in ALF'S SPECIAL CHRISTMAS."
"That's some sad shit, there. The ALF Christmas Special, I mean."
–"See, Charlize Theron, you feel bad for.  Whereas, Affleck inspires some primo schadenfreude. But there is something specifically magical about watching Gary Sinise wage war against dignity. The man deserves an award."
"Is that a De Palma shot?"
–"Sure is. Also, note the '90s double-loop earring on Sinise. It's a nice complement to his existential disappointment. Though he seems to cheer up a little after he and Clarence Williams III get to double-team the following one-liner:

'Tis the season, convict...'

'Ho, ho, ho.'"
"Ho, oh no! Sort of a tragic Christmas tale, then?"
–"Well, I did notice in one scene that there's a STREET FIGHTER II pinball machine in the background.

So maybe they got to play with that between takes of flinging darts at Ben Affleck."
"That's nice. Any benediction for us? A Merry Christmas and a happy New Year?"
–"I think this should suffice.

Happy holidays!"

Friday, December 8, 2017

"The Movie" in Dream City Blues: Dystopian Utopias

My surrealistic horror short story "The Movie" is one of eleven weird tales featured in the new British anthology Dream City Blues: Dystopian Utopias. The collection is edited by Mark Howard Jones (a Welsh horror author and frequent contributor to S.T. Joshi's Cthulhu anthologies), and is described thusly: "From shining towers to filthy back alleys; from bright sunlit parks to dingy, cramped basements; this misguided tour through our dream cities is beset with dangerous pitfalls. Here are eleven diverse visions of cities that are unsettling, horrific, outlandish and bizarre in turn. Come and visit...but don't forget your return ticket." It is available for purchase in print here.

Friday, November 17, 2017

"The Subtle Difference" in Monkeybicycle

My latest (very) short story, "The Subtle Difference," has been published in Monkeybicycle's latest collection of one-sentence stories.

Monkeybicycle is a Seattle-based literary journal (active since 2002) that has published work by writers such as Sarah Silverman, Patton Oswalt, and Charlie Jane Anders.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Only now does it occur to me... BEAUTY AND THE BEAST

Only now does it occur to me... that a century before The Thing awakened in Antarctica (as depicted  in John Carpenter's version of THE THING) that it must have ravaged provincial France. As this clip below demonstrates, The Beast's enchanted carriage (as seen in Disney's 1991 BEAUTY AND THE BEAST) sounds eerily similar (i.e., exactly the same) to The Thing in Carpenter's film.
This means that by the end of the Disney film, 100% of the characters are The Thing, and therefore explains the rapid shape-shifting and perfect imitations (of animate and inanimate objects) observed throughout. It also explains the bad attitude of the neighboring wolves/wild dogs, who react to The Beast in a similar manner as Clark's dogs do with The Thing. There's probably even a deleted scene where the wardrobe opens up, severs a man's arms, and The Beast's head crawls away on spider legs.

Monday, October 23, 2017

My analysis of "Freddy Vs. Jason: The Novelization" in Barrelhouse

Longtime readers of this site know that I am no stranger to in-depth reviews of dubious movie tie-ins and absurd horror novelizations. Today, I am proud to present my heavily-footnoted critique of the seminal work FREDDY VS. JASON: THE NOVELIZATION OF THE SCREENPLAY in an essay I call "The Free Thinker and the Automaton: Polarity and Duality in Stephen Hand's Freddy Vs. Jason: The Novelization of the Screenplay by Damian Shannon and Mark J. Swift." It's appearing online in Barrelhouse Magazine (a publication I have long admired for its commitment to high-brow aesthetics and pop culture detritus) as a part of their "Barrelhouse of Horrors" series, and I recommend checking out the other entries as well.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

CHRISTINE: THE MUSIC VIDEO (2017, John Carpenter)

Ah, a new John Carpenter music video never fails to cheer me up, especially when it's a miniature remake of CHRISTINE, and when it features Carpenter in a brief acting role as a ghoul/himself/an incarnation of George LeBay. (Also, this song must be one of Carpy's personal favorites, because he chose it as his encore piece when I saw him live in concert last year.)