Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The Fine Art of Twisting Young Minds

Just about every horror fan that I know can trace back their love of the genre to one particular book or story, movie or TV show. It usually happens when we’re kids. Not always, but more often than not. Mine can be traced to a single 1950’s monster movie I happened to catch when I was in the the third grade. At the time, I was a voracious comic book reader—Sgt. Rock, Batman, Spiderman—and as soon as I realized that horror was my thing the superheroes got kicked to the curb and replaced by the Warren magazines—Creepy, Eerie—and the great Skywald magazines like Scream and Nightmare, the Gladstone E.C. reprints of Vault of Horror and Haunt of Fear that you could order out of the back of Creepy and Famous Monsters, and the occasional pre-code horror comic from the 1950’s that I could lay my greedy little hands upon (unlike today, in the early 1970’s pre-code books were not that uncommon, you could buy them cheap, and often find them in basements and attics, the cast-offs of a friend’s older brother in my case).

I left no stone unturned as I sought out my horror comic thrills. And although I read mags like Marvel’s Tomb of Dracula and Monster of Frankenstein, DC’s Swamp Thing and Weird War Tales—and loved them, oh yes—I knew they were basically pretty weak in comparison to the Warren’s and Skywald’s and the various pre-code anthology-type books. They lacked a certain edge, courtesy of the much-dreaded, weak-kneed Comics Code that watered everything down after 1955 (the Warren’s and Skywald’s skirted the code because they were full-sized magazines, not comic books by definition). Even some of the Marvel’s I enjoyed like Dead of Night and Crypt of Shadows seemed to lack a certain bite I found in the pre-codes. Later, of course, I would learn that a lot of the stories in these two mags were actually swiped from pre-code books and sterilized: the blood was removed, zombies made less rotten, violence and gore toned down until it was practically nonexistent so it did not warp the mind of ‘70’s kids like it had with kids in the ‘50’s.

Then one day, when I thought I’d exhausted every possible avenue of grue, I spotted a magazine called
Horror Tales.

I was in love.

The stories were grotesque and bloody, the covers practically indescribable and splashed with vibrant, nauseating color—wolfmen tearing off the heads of ghouls, headless bloody mummies pounding stakes through the chests of well-endowed green-fleshed vampire women, demonic hunchbacks yanking rotting corpses from graves, mad doctors transplanting monster heads. I soon discovered more magazines of this ilk: Terror Tales, Tales of Voodoo, Tales from the Tomb, and Witches’ Tales. Put out by a company called Eerie Publications—of course!—these books lacked the artistic sophistication of the Warren’s and Skywald’s. There were no Frank Frazetta’s, Berni Wrightson’s, or Bruce Jones’s to be found in these pages. But what they lacked in style, they more than made up for in impact. The stories and artwork were crude, lurid, and dripping with blood. But given that horror, in its most basic state, is crude, lurid, and gory, this worked perfectly. Schoolmates and teachers who had seen me reading Creepy and Scream on the playground and thought, this kid is weird, now saw me reading Tales from the Tomb and Witches’ Tales and no doubt thought, no, this kid is more than weird, he’s twisted.

Not that I cared. For how could I not be in love with these magazines? How could I not love stories like “I Chopped Off Her Head” or “House of Monsters,” “Bloody Mary” or “The Slimy Mummy?” Quite a few of these stories were reprints from old pre-code books from Ajax-Farrell and Comic Media. Stories that were far too gruesome to be “sterilized” by Marvel, were instead pimped-up by Eerie Publications with more blood or sometimes re-drawn to accentuate the gore. This under the leadership of “Mad” Myron Fass, an old hand at crime and horror comics back in the 1950’s. Although much-maligned in the comic book industry, there was and is nothing quite like Eerie Publications.

As a kid I loved Halloween, of course. It was a special night of magic and mystery to me. I loved staring at those wonderful old Halloween decorations put out by the Beistle Company you would see taped in windows and tacked on school room walls—skeletons frolicking through cemeteries with screaming pumpkins under their arms, evil-grinning dead trees and ghosts swarming about ruined haunted houses and witches stirring cauldrons. To me and my fertile imagination, this represented the secret world of Halloween. A place humans would never see where the ghouls and ghosties paraded about in shadowy burial grounds and abandoned houses on Hallowneen night. The Eerie Pubs had the same effect on me. Those grisly covers, my imagination told me, illustrated the secret world of monsters and graveyards, torture chambers and ghastly laboratories. This was the sort of thing that went on in churchyards by night—Frankensteins and zombies, werewolves and vampires, ghouls and mad doctors, all cavorting about dismembering each other and violating graves and stitching things together that were never meant to walk or be seen by sane eyes. I was a highly imaginative kid. But these were the worlds that I thought existed through some eldritch mist after sundown.

If you haven’t read these, you should. For a cheap and garish thrill, nothing beats ‘em. These days, the issues go for a high price on Ebay. Ten years ago I picked up a near-complete set of Tales of Voodoo on Ebay for sixty bucks. These days you’d be lucky to get four of five issues for that price. But no need to despair or empty your wallet because of the Ebay scalpers, there is an alternative. Scanned comics that you read on your computer. Several sellers offer sets of Eerie Pubs out on
www.ioffer.com and the one I bought also has a huge selection of Skywalds and even oddities like Stanley’s Ghoul Tales on it. For under twenty bucks you can have a nearly complete collection of Eerie Pubs and this without going in hawk or damaging your very collectible paper issues.

The complete story of Eerie Pubs will soon be told by Mike Howlett in his upcoming book The Weird World of Eerie Publications. Join his Facebook group, become a fan:


In closing, I can only say that nothing so completely twisted-up my young mind as these magazines. And if I write horror stories these days, I tend to track it all to a single source. Because ever since finding that copy of Horror Tales, I have never, ever been the same again.

Monday, March 29, 2010

3-D Reality Check

With the release of Avatar, we are currently poised on a major outbreak of one of Hollywood’s oldest gimmicks: 3-D. Will it work? Will it fall flat on its face? Only time will tell. It made for a nice fad back in the 1950’s when you could catch genre favorites like House of Wax, The Creature from the Black Lagoon, and It Came from Outer Space in three-dimensions, not to mention various Three Stooges shorts and “classics” like Bwana Devil. All you had to do then—as now—is wear a pair of those goony glasses and you were off into a theatrical land of enchantment where monsters jumped into your lap and knives flew in your face. The decline of 3-D in the ‘50’s was due mostly to the technology of the dual-strip format wherein two prints of the film had to be shown simultaneously to achieve the 3-D effect. If either print lost synchronization with the other, the result was unwatchable. Monetarily, the movies themselves were fairly successful, but the upkeep of the films, the repair and replacement costs, finally killed the first wave of 3-D.

Fast-forward to the present. With the success of Avatar and James Cameron’s unceasing efforts on the behalf of 3-D filmmaking, companies like Pixar and Dreamworks have announced that ALL their upcoming features will be shot in 3-D. A lot of Hollywood insiders are watching this announcement nervously and with good reason: only about 2500 of the country’s 38,000 screens have 3-D capability, something which is forcing makers of 3-D films into a war of competition as to whose films will get screen time and whose will be left writhing in the dirt like sun-struck worms…in other words, whose will make zero profit.

Back to James Cameron. Even before the release of Avatar, he was haunting trade shows and fan conventions, pushing theater owners and chains for 3-D conversion. Recently, at the National Broadcasters’ Digital Summit he addressed the harsh reality of steadily declining box office profits, saying the following: “We're in a fight for survival here…Digital 3-D is a revolutionary form of showmanship that is within our grasp. It can get people off their butts and away from their portable devices and get people back in the theaters where they belong.” Back where we belong. Oh boy. One gets the impression that Mr. Cameron does not have the greatest amount of respect for his audience. Maybe we should know our place. And our place is to fill the greedy coffers of a bloated, reeling Hollywood machine.

The reality. In tough economic times, theater owners are having a hard pull just like everyone else. Some people say declining box office receipts are simply due to the economic downturn and others are saying it's ample evidence that Hollywood’s output is scraping bottom, that creatively, tinsel town is in a major depression. Maybe it’s a little bit of everything. James Cameron seems to feel that 3-D is a giant Band-Aid that will heal all wounds and cover all unsightly abrasions and get us all back in the theaters where we belong so we can support the fat corporate monster of Hollywood which can barely contain the seams of its own pants. Well, that’s all and fine. Maybe he’s right. But here’s the reality. The majority of screens in the country—38,000 again—are 2-D, 35 mm. The cost to convert from 35mm projectors to a 3-D digital system is somewhere in the ballpark of $100,000 per screen—this doesn’t take in the cost of 3-D glasses which are not cheap—which is a pretty significant amount of money and especially when times are tough. Probably pocket change to Mr. Cameron, but serious green to struggling theater owners and managers. And particularly when they say that they make roughly zero profit from the movies themselves and rely almost totally on concession sales to grease their wheels. $100,000 is a lot of popcorn.

Let’s also keep in mind that 3-D has reared its head more than once since the 1950’s. Remember the 1980’s 3-D wave? Jaws 3-D, Amityville 3-D, Friday the Thirteenth Part 3, 3-D. Of course this particular “wave” was really just an attempt by Hollywood to breathe a bit of life into various tired franchises. Did it work? No. Not really. Will it this time around? Probably not.

Back to the 1950’s. The rise of TV, of course, hurt the theaters. It was much cheaper to stay home and watch your own screen than to drag the whole family out to the local movie house. Because even back then, it was not cheap. And today, to take a family of four to the movies means a major expenditure. Not something a lot of people can afford with any regularity. I recently read two very disturbing things. The first was that Mike Myers was paid something like $100,000 per minute for his voicing of the new Shrek movie and the second was that Will Farrell was paid $30 million per project. And we’re talking Mike Myers and Will Farrell here, not Johnny Depp or George Clooney. I shudder to think what the price tags of these guys might be. Let alone what it must cost to bring James Cameron on board for a project. And in my blue collar, working class thinking, paying anybody that much money for anything less than curing cancer is ridiculous. Nobody and I mean NOBODY is worth $30 million bucks or a $100,000 per minute to play pretend. With a bottomless money pit like this in operation it’s no wonder that profits are falling and the industry is having trouble recouping their original outlay. It’s insane. Absolutely insane. I have to wonder if Hollywood is ever going to pay any attention to movies like Paranormal Activity or Precious, both which were made on nominal budgets and scored huge box office profits…and neither required the debatable high-priced talents of Mike Myers or Will Farrell.

With that in mind, here’s my idea to end Hollywood’s financial woes: quit paying these people so much. Make films cheaper, give them realistic budgets. Pay your actors a million or two, but absolutely no more. And that goes for directors, too. They won’t work for less? Not at first they won’t, but if they find that the silver spoon has been yanked from their mouth and will not return, they’ll get hungry and they’ll come knocking on your door. Besides, a great many A-list actors regularly make indie films because it’s the only place they can get a decent script. So drive down the costs and that should drive down the ticket prices. Hence, more people will go to the movies. It’s simple common sense. And 3-D? It’s not the cure-all for anything. It’s fun…but you can’t do everything in 3-D. It’s a fun gimmick for sci-fi extravaganzas, fantasy films, action and horror. But it’s not going to do a thing for dramas. In the end, people are going to get tired of those glasses and this fad will fall as it has before.

That’s my take on it all, of course. According to a certain prominent director quoted in Entertainment Weekly, most people do not understand the Hollywood system at all, that the target audience for 80% of movies made these days is fifteen-year old boys. Apparently, they tend to be repeat viewers going to the same movie again and again, and they have more disposable income than us old people. Well, at least that explains trash like G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, and yet another tepid Saw sequel. If that’s Hollywood’s target audience, I’m completely out of the marketing loop and it explains perfectly why I only go to the movies three or four times a year…if that.

Now it’s true that I don’t understand the “business” of making movies, but, on the other hand, I do understand common sense and I firmly believe that Hollywood doesn’t have a clue what that even is anymore. If James Cameron really wants to get us back in the theaters, then how about some fiscal responsibility? With the whole country suffering economic woes and lay-offs, it’s high time to cut the fat. 3-D will not preserve the lumbering, bloated monster of Hollywood excess, it’ll only make it fall that much faster and that much harder. Time to start trimming. Really, it won’t hurt. The rest of us do it every day.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

All Right, I've Had it with TWILIGHT Fans!

Last week, out on Stewart Sternberg's blog, The House of Sternberg, Stewart reported the following chilling news:

"Most recently the absurdity of extremes in marking literature and film was succinctly rendered by a young woman who complained on a blog about the most recent version of "The Wolfman" (based on the screenplay by Curt Siodmak, penned in 1941). She was irate because the monster was hideous and not the sort of beautiful wolf that she associated with "Twilight". She was also offended because the monster was able to be killed with a single silver bullet. Who ever heard of such a thing??!! And for her, the entire film was nothing more than a rip-off of Stephanie Meyers."

May Lon Chaney, Jr. roll over in his f**cking grave!

What's with these Twilight monkeyskulls? No offense to Stephanie Meyers--wish I had her royalties--but the Twilight series is NOT horror, it's romantic fantasy. Any story, novel movie, comic book etc. that presents vampires or werewolves or what have you as romantic or erotic figures is romance, NOT HORROR. Period.

Horror, REAL, horror is not about how cute or sexy or fashionable supernatural creatures are, but how dangerous, scary, and simply awful they are. That's the catharsis of horror fiction/movies/scary stories told around the fire--damn, that's what it's like to have a zombie eat your guts or have your daughter possessed by a demon or have a vampire tear out your throat and bathe in your blood...death by proxy. No matter how shitty your life is going, you can watch or read horror and say, hey, maybe I lost my job and my girl dumped my sorry ass but at least there's not an alien parasite face-sucking me.

When Universal started putting out horror/monster movies in the early 1930's, it was at the height of the depression and people needed escapism. Frankenstein, Dracula, and the rest took people away from the despair and horror of their daily lives. And when Universal did The Wolfman in 1941, another European war was looming and the Japanese were eating up the Pacific. Again, escapism from REAL horrors lurking just around the corner.

I wish this blogger would set down her candyass Twilight novels long enough to see the forest through the trees.

Am I ranting? Goddamn, yes, I am.

I realize this blogger is just a kid and I shouldn't take what she says very seriously, but it's things like this that really irk horror fans like me. When Universal first made The Wolfman with Lon Chaney, Jr., and then remade it recently with Benicio Del Toro, I'm pretty sure the point wasn't to make a werewolf that was cute and sexy with impeccable fashion sense so all the little pubescent girls in the audience would swoon and say, Oh, Lawrence Talbot is simply dreamy, I wish he'd move to my town and be my crush. No, I'm pretty sure that as much as the wolfman/Talbot was to be pitied, he was also something to be feared because he would EAT you.
And, given the economic woes of this country, I think escapism definitely factors in once again.

Okay, we've straightened out that part.

Now...The Wolfman is a rip-off of Stephanie Myers??? Okay, this really makes my blood boil. I really hate uninformed people and this anonymous blogger--thank God I don't know her name or I'd be forced to produce something unpleasant and leave it burning on her doorstep--is really the tops. Yes, yes, I know, she's just a kid. But things like that are very insulting to guys like me who grew up watching Chaney do his bit and are very intrigued to see what Del Toro can do.

To this uninformed, ignorant, lovestruck little airhead of a blogger, I say: Shame on you, little girl! Shame on you!

To Del Toro I say: I hope your wolfman is perfectly scary and perfectly revolting in every way.

And to Stephanie Meyers: Please, Steph, now that you've taken away the self-respect werewolves and vampires once had--or at least what they had LEFT after Anne Rice and Laurell K. Hamilton--do us old horror fans a favor and please just leave The Frankenstein Monster, The Mummy, and The Creature from the Black Lagoon alone. I've no doubt that you're even now penning a zombie romance that will positively make horny/confused/silly teenage girls positively swoon with desire, but leave the other old monsters alone. All they have now is their respect. Don't take it away from them.

And to Stewart Sternberg: Sorry for stealing your thread, man.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Your Typical Hollywood Movie Deal??

(the following is true, the names have been changed to protect the guilty)

Once upon a time I opened my email to discover the following:

FROM: Michael Zoolan
TO: Tim Curran
SUBJECT: Hive movie rights?

Dear Tim,
My name is Michael Zoolan and I am currently a producer with
Universal's Focus/Rogue group and was formerly with Miramax's
Dimension Films. I am very interested in acquiring the rights to
your novel Hive. Are they available? May I call you concerning this?

Michael Zoolan, Focus/Rogue

I'd be lying if I said I wasn't excited. Maybe more than excited. After reading this I was in a whirlwind state of disbelief. Something like this couldn't be happening. Not to me. I live in a small Midwestern town. I am not connected. I know no one in the business. Things like this happen to Brian Keene and Jack Ketchum who are both connected like fuseboxes, but not to me. I have the proverbial black cloud following me, pissing all over me every time I think I might get a break on something. In fact, my luck is such shit that I dare not even hope for the best in any situation, whether that's hooking up with a mass market publisher or getting through the drive-through at McDonald's with less than a fifteen minute wait.
But I was excited.
This was my big break. The one every bottom-feeder in the small press dreams about (and believe me, we ALL dream of it). Here it was, landed safely in my lap. I wanted to jump for joy. I wanted to get down on my knees and pray for a successful outcome. Better yet, given my history, I wanted to cover my head before the shit started flying and my big break fell to pieces.
Calmly then, I emailed Zoolan back. Gave him my number. Told him when I'd be home.
At four the next day, just as he promised, he called. We talked. He had a slight New York accent--Brooklyn? The Bronx? I didn't know--and that to me meant he was from the big time. Not like the people I knew and grew up with from Shithole, Michigan and Crooked Snatch, Wisconsin. He was a New Yorker! A player!
"Glad to hear the rights for Hive are available," he told me. "The book was recommended to me. I read it and, you know, it was even better than I thought it would be. Really damn good."
I beamed. Maybe I wasn't a bum after all.
"It says on the back cover that it's a sequel to H.P. Lovecraft's At the Mountains of Madness."
"It is and it isn't," I told my new important friend. "It's really inspired by rather a sequel to. I just basically took some of Lovecraft's central themes, reimagined them with a heavy horror/science fiction slant as opposed to fantasy and tied it all in with a lot of the stuff going on down in Antarctica. The discovery of warm water lakes beneath the glaciers, NASA's involvement in drilling down to them using technology they want to use on the ice-caps of Mars and Europa, Jupiter's moon."
"Yeah. I like that bit. Cutting edge," Zoolan said. "Tell you the truth, I've never read any Lovecraft. I tried to once but the writing was a little stiff for me."
"I'm already seeing this movie in my mind, Tim. Your subterranean prehistoric alien city, the sunken alien city under the glacier...man, the CGI is going to unbelievable." He paused. "You see, Tim, Universal owns the rights to The Thing, and I've been given the task of coming up with a sequel or a Thing-like project. I see Hive as that project. You don't mind me calling Hive Thing-like, do you?"
"Not at all."
"Great. See, we've been trying to launch a sequel to The Thing for years and without much success, I'm afraid. We had a dozen treatments written, a few different scripts...all not so good. Just between you and me, I think the guy who did the last script never even saw The Thing."
I laughed.
"You've see the The Thing, haven't you?"
"Only about ten times."
"Just out of curiosity...what would you do if you had to write a sequel to it? No pressure. Just wondering."
That was easy. I'd dreamed of writing a sequel for years. I'd dreamed that somebody would green light me to writing novels based on The Thing the way it had been done with Alien. "First, I'd go back to Campbell's original story. There's lots of good stuff in there. Secondly, to tie in with the movie, I'd probably do a prequel based at that Norwegian camp. All that great stuff about cutting the alien out of the ice, the spread of contamination. I'd have the crew paranoid and starving. They'd eat the dogs. The dogs would be infected by the alien."
"That's a good idea," Zoolan said. "I'm going to write that down. See, I knew if I thought outside the box, hooked up with somebody outside of this damn city, a fresh mind, I'd get something."
I felt something begin to fall inside me. "Hope that doesn't mean no Hive, the movie?"
"Of course not. We're doing Hive. But we'll keep that other idea of yours in mind down the road. Now I'll talk to my partners about your book, but between you and me, it's already a done deal. I know what they like and they're going to like Hive."
There's the gist of our conversation. I'm leaving out a few things, but you get the idea. I had reason to be excited. This was going to happen.
Zoolan said it usually took about a week to ten days to throw something like this together. He'd call me back with an offer soon as possible.
Goddamn! How incredible was this? I work in a fucking factory doing a shit nothing job, writing in my spare time, busting my ass on the laptop every day and now....VINDICATION. Here it was for me: my chance. My big break. The payoff for years and years of hard work. The possibilities were endless! I might sell other books to the movies! I'd have a real agent! I might get to write screenplays or novelizations at the very least! Big publishers would be knocking at my door!

Then came the waiting.
Day by day by day.
The next two weeks were endless.
I started to get very nervous. Why the hell wasn't Zoolan calling? I waited another week. I was chain-smoking, my fingernails were nubs, I checked my email like every fifteen minutes. I'd wake up at five in the morning and check it again.
Still nothing.
I started to sense the approach of my personal black cloud. I could hear the ball drop in the distance and envision my great new career going to shit.
I called Zoolan.
He wasn't in.
I called him again three days later.
He wasn't in.
Finally, I got through to him. He was not so jubilant nor animated. "Well, Tim, these things take awhile, you know. Just give me some time. I'll be in touch." Click.
Every time I called, one of Zoolan's lackeys told me he was not in. Then came the day when I got a newbie lackey who apparently did not know about Tim Curran, how when he called, you said the man wasn't in.
"I'd like to speak with Michael Zoolan," I said.
"Certainly," said he. "May I ask who's calling?"
"Tim Curran," said I.
"Tim Curran. Okay. Just one moment." There was a pause and I knew what was coming. My name had been pronounced aloud in the office and all the other lackeys and dick-suckers were jumping up and down, drawing their fingers across their throats, trying to signal the newbie.
"Mr. Curran?" said the newbie. "I'm sorry, Mr. Zoolan has just stepped out. I'll tell him you called."
So ended my dreams. Zoolan built me up, made me feel like I was really something, then yanked the rug right out from under me, left me sitting there, dazed and confused, on my ass. I was so depressed I did not write for over a week. But it was a good lesson: beware strangers bearing gifts for if said strangers are Hollywood players, welcome to the weasel pen.
But be warned: weasels may slink about and crawl through the slime on their bellies, but they also BITE.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

I Saw Something in the Sky

I hate to even admit it in print, but the truth is, yes, I have.
I saw something in the sky and I still don't know what the hell it was.
Although I write horror fiction, I'm not someone who has an overwhelming interest in the paranormal. Yes, I've watched MONSTERQUEST and some of the UFO documentaries that are on Discovery etc. I admit to being a big fan of THE X-FILES. But I don't read UFO books or subscribe to newsletters or even visit any of the paranormal websites. To me, that stuff has always basically been fodder, grist for the writer's mill. I look at it as I look at just about everything: hey, that tidbit might work for a story or you know, if I twisted that around a tad it might make a pretty scary/weird/disturbing little tale. I've written science-fiction horror stories. Quite a few in fact. My novels HIVE and DEAD SEA are both sf/horror and have extraterrestrials in them...and not nice, cuddly ones either. I wrote quite a few stories of this type for Greg Gifune's now defunct BURNING SKY magazine. But I never wrote any of this actually believing in what I was writing. It was just a kick: make the impossible possible and have some fun and scares along the way.
So to me accounts of alien abduction/visitation/UFO sightings etc. are never something I spent a great deal of time thinking about. But I kept an open mind: maybe they happen and maybe they don't. You sleep better at night that way.
The thing that really interested me about these eyewitness accounts is not so much what they saw but what kind of person they are and how they deal with it. I mean, if you saw something, you REALLY saw something incredible...it would really suck to have everybody laughing at you behind your back. Most disheartening.
Which, in a very roundabout manner, brings us to the very point of this blog entry: I SAW SOMETHING IN THE SKY.
It happened about six, seven years ago. I was working the three to eleven shift. It was summer. Hot as hell. I went out and sat in lawn chair out in the yard at around one in the morning. The sky was very black and the stars were very bright. I was watching them. Just sort of daydreaming, I suppose. That's when I saw it: a jet-black triangular shaped object up in the sky. It was drifting up there, making no sound whatsoever. It had lights at each point. It was so black and so silent that if it had stopped dead up there it would have perfectly camouflaged itself to the night sky, the lights would have looked exactly like stars. It wasn't up very high. I'm guessing 200 feet, not much more. The entire sighting lasted maybe ten seconds. There. Then gone. And like I said: dead silent. No engines. No nothing.
When I first glimpsed it, I thought: a kite. What's a gigantic kite doing drifting in the sky? And then, as realization hit that it was a freaking triangle, a BIG triangle with lights on it...well, I just sat there in absolute awe. Stunned. Thirty seconds after it passed I was still sitting there. Then it hit me: the heebie jeebies. My flesh started to crawl and I ran inside, perfectly freaked out. WHAT DID I JUST SEE? WHAT IN THE HELL DID I JUST SEE?
To this day I do not know. It was a UFO, all right, in the proper definition of the term: Unidentified Flying Object. Did I see an alien craft? Did I see an experimental secret aircraft? Maybe some robotic unmanned drone? I don't know. I only know it was damn weird and writing this again makes my arms and back break out in goosebumps.

I guess this puts me in the position of those people I saw on TV: I saw something that no one would possibly believe. But I saw it. Goddamn yes, I did. And I wonder how many of you might have seen the same thing.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

The Gates of Hell or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Vomited Intestines

The setting: The Upper Midwest.

The Time: Midsummer, 1981

The mood: Frantic

Part One: Debbie from Hell

I didn't knock on Mitch's door; I never did. I stormed past his sister and mother in an absolute state of hysteria. I jogged down the stairs to Mitch's basement room. He was standing on a step ladder layering the ceiling with Reynold's Wrap. I didn't even ask why.
"The drive-in? Can't. Debbie's calling tonight. I have to be here."
Debbie was his girlfriend who lived in another city which made absolutely no sense to me. It was like having a third arm growing out of your back...what use? Mitch would stay home, wait for her calls, miss all the fun, just so he would be there when she called and he didn't have to wade through the teenage crapstorm of Where were you? Don't you love me? I miss you, don't you miss me? Do you want to break up? Sure. She'd lay the girly drama on, frost his cake with an extra big can of guilt. But I wasn't having it. Not this time.
Mitch pulled off a sheet of foil, examined it for inconsistencies. "The one about the Hell's Angels in Vietnam?"
"The one about the girl at the prom?"
"Well, I still gotta wait for Debbie's call."
Man, this was too much. Even the sound of her name irked me and how carefully she plucked the strings of my friend, the puppet. In my mind I pictured her like the girl on the snack cake box, but with eyes like Linda Blair in THE EXORCIST. But I calmed. Inch by inch. "What time's she calling?"
"We gotta make the drive-in by 9:30."
"Never said I was going."
"Oh, you're going, all right. You owe me."
He still wasn't convinced so I reminded him who helped clean out his mom's cottage after he had the beer party which turned into a massive, unholy vomit-a-thon. I reminded him who helped him siphon gas the Saturday before. And, for added effect, I reminded him of the porno movie. A few months before they had a porn movie playing at the Michigan (adults only, XXX, dig it) and they were carding people at the door, I used my connections with the local motorcycle gang to get us in (my older sister dated one of them, so badass Clyde Hardwicke opened the fire door for us and snuck us inside and being Clyde, the fleshmobs and wee willy wankers in the theater did not dare question it).
Mitch agreed. "All right, all right."
The day was interminable waiting for Debbie from Hell to call. Seconds. Minutes. Hours. Kids don't realize how lucky they are to have cellphones these days. Finally, the phone rang. The day's guilt session began.
Mitch was in the kitchen, explaining himself, defending himself, doing everything but bronzing his balls for Debbie and making a handsome choker out of them.
I sat on the couch, writhing in agony. Watching the clock. While inside my head, I screamed: AUUUUUUUGHHHHHHHHH! THE INDIGNITY OF THIS BULLSHIT! There was nothing for me to do but listen to the interminable teenage soap opera.
All I could hear was the ever present wasp-like buzzing of Debbie's voice (she lived in a hive, I'm sure of it) and poor, sad little Mitch dancing a two-step for her:
"You know I don't think that."
"You know I love you."
"I never wanna see anyone else."
"Just you and me, babe. Just like we always said."
"I know I said that, but it's not what I meant."
"You're the only one."
"No, I'm not going out. Not without you."
Good God, reach for the vomit bag, Tim, it's spewing time. Finally it ended. It was time. The drive-in and THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE awaited. But first, Mitch had to show me what all the tinfoil was for. Down to his room. Kill the lights.
"Watch this," he said. "Cherry kerosene."
He sucked in a breath (a real deep one like he was going into labor), poured some kerosene in his mouth, lit a match and spit it at the flame. VOOOOOOM! A rolling cloud of fire traveled along the tinfoil. Gene Simmons. Detroit Rock City. Cool.
"You're mom isn't going to like this," I said when I calmed down.
"She won't say anything."
No, she probably wouldn't. She was gullible. Like the time she came downstairs and four of us were hitting off a bong. "What's that smell?"
"Just cigarettes, mom."
"Oh. What's that thing?"
Mitch grabbed the bong. "This?"
"Yeah." The bong was about five feet high, a red glass cylinder, looked like a rocket. "This is a tailpipe for my motorbike."
At which point his sister from college came down there. "That's a bong!"
Mitch was nonplussed. "Yeah, that's what they call it. A bong pipe."
Mitch got away with it. He was smooth.
Anyway, we had escaped Debbie from Hell. Now it was time for chainsaws!
"This movie is kind of based on Ed Gein," I told him. "Kinda. Sorta."
"Who's that?"
"Dude down in Wisconsin that was making lampshades out of people."
"Yeah. I heard about that. He use a chainsaw?"
"No. I said kinda. It's kinda based on Gein."
This was lost on Mitch. Guys making lampshades out of dead people were the least of his worries. He had Debbie from Hell to think about.

Part 2: Greaseburgers, Fries, and Vomit

It turned out it wasn't just Mitch and I. There were three other guys. Everyone was stoned, drunk, carrying on, yelling, laughing, wrestling. And this in a little Vega. The damn drive-in started THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE way too early while it was not quite dark so I missed most of the pivotal crucifixion in the graveyard sequence that I had heard so much about. My drunken, rowdy friends ruined most of the movie for me turning it into an episode of MSTK with their comments. They were destroying it for me and I was not happy.
By the time of the second feature, however, they'd mellowed.
We ate pizza.
We ate dill pickles in little bags.
We ate fries.
We ate burgers that were so greasy you could oil a rusty hinge with them.
By the time THE GATES OF HELL started we were tired, cranky, and nauseous. But quiet. Thank God, we were quiet. Maybe the night wouldn't be a total waste. Now, I knew Gates was about zombies. I'd seen something about it in Fangoria. Saw the movie poster at the concession stand: Dead guy, all rotten. Tagline: THE DEAD SHALL RISE AND WALK THE EARTH. Silence. Crickets chirping. Some lady calling out for extra butter on her popcorn. A few beeping horns. The picture rolled. It started out good. A priest hangs himself in a cemetery and opens the gates of hell. That was how it started. For the next ninety minutes or so we were all fixated.
And believe me, it took a lot to hold the attention of those guys.
Even Danny was sitting still and he never sat still. He liked to walk around at drive-ins doing what he called the "bone-patrol". He'd look around until he saw a white ass going up and down in the back of a car and run back to report it: "BACK ROW! THIRD CAR! RED GTO! GUY'S SLIPPING HIS GIRLFRIEND THE BONE!" But tonight, even he was quiet.
Oh, we saw it all that night. Even with the grainy drive-in print and the fuzzies and hairs dancing over the big screen, we could tell that some of the actors were foreign. No matter. Yes, we saw it all.
"Check it out," Danny said when the part came on where the girl and guy were parked in the cemetery. "He's gonna give her the bone!"
"In a cemetery? That's warped," Mitch said.
"That's why they call it a boneyard."
Yeah, it was a pretty bad place to go parking. Right away the girl saw that priest hanging there, staring at her, and right away the blood starts running from her eyes.
"Something's gonna happen," Danny said. "I know it."
And it did. Boy, did it ever. The blood kept running from her eyes while her dumb boyfriend kept asking her if there was something wrong. Yeah, no shit, dude.
She starts gagging.
Out come bloody chunks and loopy things and slimy clots.
"WHAT'S THAT?" Mitch asked. "THAT HER HEART?"
"WOW! LOOK AT THAT! IT KEEPS COMING AND COMING!" I cried, absolutely in love with the scene.
To this day I do not know how they did it. What was that stuff? Was it chicken livers? Raw meat dipped in bloody Karo syrup? What was it? And how did she keep so damn much of it in her mouth? I'd known girls who could keep a lot in their mouths, but not like this!
What a night and what a movie. I went to see chainsaws and became mesmerized by vomiting guts. But that wasn't all. Let's not forget the crucial maggoty baby scene. The part where Christopher George chops through that lady's coffin and almost kills her. The dead priest rubbing maggoty meat into his victim's face. The infamous drill press scene. The maggot windstorm. And the zombies. Nasty looking zombies, too.
And how about what the woman at seance says: "City of the dead...city of the living dead...a cursed city where the gates of Hell have been opened..."
The Gates of Hell, a.k.a. The City of the Living Dead, was one of Lucio Fulci's zombie movies and one of his best. The deserted town with the blowing dust storm is very atmospheric and you gotta love them calling the city Dunwich.
From that night on I became a fan of Italian zombie pukefests. I'm proud of that.

A QUESTION YOU MIGHT ASK: Why SATAN'S MEATLOCKER? Simple. There's a poster here on my wall from the cover a 1940 pulp called Horror Stories. One of the horror stories listed is "Meat for Satan's Icebox" by Francis James. They also made a cheesy, very cheesy, zombie movie called this a few years ago so I didn't want to use the name, hence SATAN'S MEATLOCKER.

SHAMELESS PLUG: If you've got a Barnes and Nobles by you, grab a copy of HIVE.

VOCABULARY WORD FOR THE DAY: "ED LEE" (adjective). Derived from horror writer Edward Lee, of course, this word means anything gruesome and extreme. As in: "Did you see HOUSE OF A 1000 CORPSES? It's pretty Ed Lee, man." So now go read some Ed Lee!