Groovy & Wild Films from Around the World

Saturday, February 02, 2019

#MonthlyBookChallenge – January, 2019.

#MonthlyBookChallenge – January, 2019.

Well, this month has been crazy busy! Stephen King's and Richard Chizmar's utterly charming “Gwendy's Button Box” seems like so long ago... purchased at an Indigo Boxing-Day Sale, this was the first book of the month for me. I went on to read, upon recommendation (and to which I have fully appreciated this recommendation), “The Bullet Journal Method” – wannabe organizers, get ready to change our life! And I finally got through – or, rather, I finally gave my undivided attention to – Philip Kerr's Nazi-noir-thriller “Prague Fatale”, based around the novels of Agatha Christie, and quite good fun to read, too. I also finally introduced myself to Thomas Pynchon after years of curiosity, thanks to a local library sale, with “The Crying of Lot 49”, a very weird but electric hippie-underground-caper. I have come to believe that only Pynchon can make a caper story completely un-caper-like, as he'd apparently also created the ultimate un-noir noir thriller “Inherent Vice”. I think I'll track that one down next. I also, finally (and surprising that I waited this long?) checked out the writings of the Marquis de Sade, “The Mystified Magistrate” and “Philosophy in the Bedroom”, the latter book being of several catalystic influences for the films of Jess Franco. Lastly, I read JB Priestley's “An Inspector Calls”, a play that was brought to my attention during these strange times of social shaming, bullying, and the suicides of young people (please check out Jon Ronson, by the way, if your interest is piqued); Priestley's play is from 1912, if memory serves, but is in context now a chilling prediction of the power social media, and specifically social media shaming, can have on people. “An Inspector Calls” is still in print today and has also been adapted into a graphic novel, exemplifying its literary relevance today, over a hundred years later. 



Wednesday, January 02, 2019

3 Books a Month – December (Holiday Reading)

I'm seriously impressed that we've been able to continue this #3booksamonth challenge going since the spring of 2018 – but here we are, and Happy New Year to everyone! My first book of December seems so long ago it could've been months ago. It was Peter Straub's brilliant and deeply insightful serial killer novel “Koko”, and for those of you who think you may know Straub's name, I urge you to think about “The Talisman”, his famous collaboration with Stephen King. But “Koko” is one of the best horror novels I've read in a long, long time. It's a very rich book for the horror genre, but the picture it ultimately paints is vast as well as deep, weaving the mystery of the killer and those who attempt to find him or her with or without the help of the police, with the backdrop of the horrors of the Vietnam war, bot on and off the battlefield. It's complex and brilliant. Following that, I took a trip back to Dean Koontz land with his old horror/sci-fi/suspense novel “Lightning”, which I found at a Value Village while
searching for a different book entirely. “Lightning” is exciting and satisfying, as with most of Koontz' early genre works, it's entire out-of-reach in terms of identifiable protagonists, but you do love his good guys, regardless, they're just so perfectly perfect. Like how fudge is sweeteningly sweet. But, hell, who doesn't like fudge, right? A novel like “Lightening” is what happens when a movie like “The Terminator” inspires a time-travel scenario in another creative writer.

The third book (of four this month for me, all just barely squeezed in by New Year's Day) is actually an amazing, inspiring self-help book titled “You Are a Badass at Making Money”, which was recommended to me by Nicki, who said, “You're almost there, sweetie, I think you need to read this”. Whether you think you need to read something like this or not, it is a good, inspiring read by an inspired author. I closed the year out with the 1926 short novel “Dream Story” (aka “Traumnovelle”) by author Arthur Schnitzler, which was the basis for one of my go-to Christmas films, Eyes Wide Shut, by Stanley Kubrick. In the closing credits of Eyes Wide Shut it states that Kubrick's film was “Inspired by” the book... No, it was wholly based on Schnitzler's material, even using dialogue lifted directly from the book for the film version. All books this month are highly recommended (as usual). 



Sunday, December 02, 2018

3 Books a Month – November (Fall Reading... Still in the Mood for Horror)

After taking the first 10 days off from the Reading Challenge in November, and following the first regular-sized novel, I was then forced to move to some shorter novels for fear of not being able to live up to the 3-book challenge this month. A couple of these shorter ones were by Stephen Kin / Richard Bachman, and since his new book “Elevation” clearly states that it is in fact a novel right there on the front cover, then I'm going to say this swift little number totally counts. “Elevation” is a read-it-in-one-sitting novel, to be sure, it actually turned out to be one of my favourites by Stephen King, following an outrageous premise with our trusted author guiding the rather poignant plot through his well-drawn-out characters. This I read after the so-so “The Longest Night”, an old direct-to-paperback novel by 80s horror scribe J.N. Williamson. The book started off well, with a violent shoot-out in an old bordello, but the the ghost story remained at a simmer despite the good characters. I was actually really looking forward to this one, too. So back to King (or Bachman, rather), for the last of the original Bachman books that I'd never read – “The Running Man”. I remember I'd tried to ready this book back in 1987 after finding a paperback copy featuring Arnold Schwarzenegger in a Save-On-Foods – and promptly lost interest when it was clear withing the first two chapters that this was going to be nothing like the Schwarzenegger actioneer... Actually, I'm glad I waited, I would not have appreciated the biting dystopian satire as much back then. (Try reading this thing now in post-9/11 Trump times. Yikes). Still needing my retro-horror fix (I guess), I came across a copy of Harry Adam Knight's “Worm”, about the attack of several gigantic worms – and I was hugely surprised by this one – not just fast-paced and gory, but really well written, to boot, and the horror circled around a neo-noir-ish hard boiled world. I found out later that Harry Adam Knight was actually a pseudonym for a celebrated Australian author, who'd had a handful of his genre novels turned into films during his lifetime (he died in 2005). After these four horror novels (well, maybe “Elevation” wasn't exactly horror), I had the inspired notion that I could get two more “Preacher” books in – alas, I got one down. But overall, not too shabby for missing the first third of the month. I'll be starting December with the next “Preacher” graphic novel, though. 



Tuesday, October 30, 2018

3 Books a Month – October (Scary Readings)

Okay, quick re-cap although we're five month into this now – lovely wife and partner Nicole D'Amato created a three-book-a-month challenge. For October, I may have leaned slightly towards Stephen King. And it may have been a little infectious. Not only was 1408 one of the Halloween horror movies watched (re-watched) this month, but Nicki was compelled to delve into King's “Pet Sematary” over a re-watch of Mary Lambert's incredible film version. Admittedly, I also had only read King's “Pet Sematary” novel earlier this year. However, I feel I made up for that infraction by consuming not only one of my favourite Bachman Book (and King's least favourite), “Roadwork”. I had no expectations for this novel and found it King at some of his most mundanely humane – and I actually mean this in a very good way. His take on marriage and human relationships are far ahead of his then-young years (the novel was written in the seventies, post-'Salem's Lot). 

Adding to this I actually, finally, read “The Skin Trade” (aka “Dark Visions”) which includes stories by Stephen King, Dan Simmons (as I continues the exploration of his work from last month's “Lovedeath”), and George RR “Game of Thrones” Martin, in his experimental horror days. The standout of this book, for me, was an otherwise-unpublished novella by Stephen King titles Dedication. Can't explain that one here, but should be read, and I was so glad that it was at least published as part of this literary genre anthology. 

I also worked in a retrospective of Ray Russell's gothic works, published by Penguin and curated by filmmaker Guillermo Del Toro, titled “Haunted Castles”. Ray Russell is fast become one of my favourite underrated genre writers. (If you can get it, please read his short novel “A Case against Satan”). 

And lastly, while I was fully intending to take in yet another Preacher graphic novel, that intention was thwarted whan I came across a novel by Craig Spector – one half of the 80s-90s splatterpunk team of Skipp/Spector – in a thrift shop for a buck. Truthfully, I'd been interested in this book, “To Bury the Dead”, for quite some time. I'd read one of John Skipp's solo efforts (post-”Animals”), but I was curious about Craig Spector's solo work as well. During the reading of “To Bury the Dead”, I have to admit, I was mostly left with the feeling that from Spector's point of view, his writing really benefited from his previous partnership of John Skipp. Skipp's writing is more pared-down, pulpy, fast and furious. While Craig Spector undoubtedly maintains a high energy to his writing, it's thickly steeped in machismo and patriarchal heroism; it's testosterone-fueled to the point of being a little eyebrow-raising in these times. As fast as I was burning through the pages of “To Bury the Dead”, I was constantly and uncomfortably aware of the author's then-ideas of male-dominated ego-heroism. However, through the last fifty or so pages, things took a turn towards the existentially philosophical, turning something that at first appeared bizarrely conservative and right-wing into a work that explored ideas of, overall, understanding – which sort of saved this novel for me (and took it in a turn towards the surprising liberal). If anything, Spector's novel ends up being an experience in the complexities of Americans' personal beliefs and politics, and ideals that may have been built in the blood of America but has also softened in the education of the people. I'm actually glad I read this novel for the first time in the currently heated times of America, Americans, and their politics. It gives a strange light to Spector's work. Conversely, of you might be interested in his ex-writing-partner's anarchic horror-lit, may I recommend Skipps's “The Long Last Call”. Next month, I'll be back on Preacher! 


Sunday, October 07, 2018

And now, an Unused Article originally written for Absolute Underground...

Cabin Fever (and Streaming the Horror)

No, not Cabin Fever the film, cabin fever as in cabin fever – being locked up indoors for long periods of time without much relief from the situation. Anyone experiencing the wet cold winters in Canada (or those who have seen The Shining a thousand times) will know what I'm getting at. Many years ago, barely into my double-digits age, there was a long summer that was just as wet as any winter Vancouver had ever seen, and I'd spent my days – quite literally, every day that August month, walking back and forth to the local video store and spending a few dollars on one or two tapes at a time, trekking through the rain to bring them back to my house where I'd hole up in the basement den and watch movies like Out of Bounds and Friday the 13th Part V. The downstairs den wasn't really in a basement – not quite. We lived in one of those architecturally unique Vancouver homes where the foyer was the only part of the house that was even close to ground-level. Then you'd have to choose your destination: upstairs, a storey-and-a-half over the driveway, or downstairs, half-buried into the ground, where all the windows were half-height and set closer up to the low ceilings so that you could see over the grass on the front lawn. Anyway, it was down in that sort-of basement that I'd spent that wet summer getting an education in exploitation cinema. However, it isn't 1985 anymore, and you should consider yourself lucky if you still have an actual operating video rental store near where you live.

And now some really good horror can be found on most of the mainstream VOD streaming services now – the only problem, I find, is often how the search algorithms are set up on these platforms (not very horror-fan-friendly, in my opinion), but we'll get to that soon. For right now I thought it might be cool to feature some of the horror gens I've found streaming directly into my own home, especially for those downpouring days where you really don't want to leave the house.

Taking Netflix for a spin, while I have come across a few said gems, this is actually the streaming platform that I find the most frustration when it comes to its search options. However, the ones that I have discovered have been unexpectedly good – the Netflix “Original” slowburn gothic horror film I Am the Pretty Things that Lives in the House has a palpable Stephen King / Shirley Jackson literary-horror feel to its central ghost story and outlaying flashback scenes, making for a worthwhile entry in the haunted house canon. Another good haunting lies in the indie arthouse horror film Darling, a quick Larry Fessenden-produced romp that gives us its ghost story laced with madness and generous helpings of dark humour. The Bottom of the World, unavailable on any physical home media format in North America so there's no other choice but to stream it, stars Jenna Malone (from Neon Demon) in a similarly hallucinatory narrative as she becomes wrapped in a maze of subconscious and other-worldly realities; it's another quick arthouse genre film (around 80 minutes) that feels like an inspired collision between Twin Peaks, Psycho, and Jacob's Ladder. Bottom of the World is actually one of my favourites from Netflix, along with the weirdly erotic and murdery Sun Choke, which stars classic genre fave Barbara “Re-Animator” Crampton in what I think is one of her best screen performances ever. One of the best straight-hitting horrors on Netflix, though, in terms of sheer intensity and suspense, is Hush, which takes place all in one night when a deaf and mute woman is terrorized by a violent and clever home invader.

The streaming platform Crave TV is, as you'd probably guessed with the name, focused on television series – some old, and a lot that are very new. Here you'll find the Stephen King / JJ Abrams supernatural horror series Castle Rock, and while Stephen King did not write any of the series' episodes (it's based on a world created by King in his horror literature), the first 10-part season is, appropriately, very Stephen King in feel and atmosphere, as the 10-part story rolls out itself much like a novel. But it was David Lynch's return to Twin Peaks that really floored me – this 18-episode limited series from 2017 takes place 25 years after the last time we were invited to visit the town of Twin Peaks, and everyone one of those 18 episodes was directed by Lynch himself. This hallucinatory, genre-bending return to Twin Peaks does boast a couple of episodes that are outright horror, and horror underlies most of what's going on in a very emotional level where Lynch brings us his subconsciously deep view of loss and agony, to an ultimately haunting conclusion. One professional critic had opted to maintain that the return to Twin Peaks was some of the best “cinema” of our time, stating that in this age of digital streaming, the lines between “television” and “cinema” continue to blur closer together.

Continuing my recent TV-series obsession, Amazon Prime has the first seasons of Preacher, which I've been wholly addicted to (based on the graphic novel series by Garth Ennis). I have a preference to the Amazon VOD platform for two reasons: 1. Unlike most of the titles available through Netflix, there are tons of horror and giallo films that date earlier than 2015, and you can also find a slew of wild independent genre films like the over-the-top Peelers, and the giallo-inspired Glass and The Editor. And reason number 2, the search-links are similar to what we're used to seeing on Amazon's shopping website, so if you see a title that looks interesting, it's easy to open up a whole line of selections that other “Customers Who Watched This Also Watched”, and thereby accessing hundreds of titles that may have gone unrepresented in the initial homepage categories. Through this somewhat intuitive browsing mode, I found a couple of inspired independent horror films – from 2012, a German take on the cannibal subgenre titled (very appropriately) Cannibal Diner, which admittedly does not have a high rating on the imdb, but I personally found it to be fast-paced and very enjoyable with an engaging (and nearly all-female) cast of characters, and it relies so heavily on the genre's tropes that it's almost impossible not to find it bloody charming. Not a lot of violence until near the end, which I didn't mind, and what there was was fairly gory – the story is basically a young woman who finds herself lost in the woods runs afoul of a Texas Chainsaw-type of family in an abandoned chemical factory.

I feel compelled to mention that Amazon Prime is one of the only places you'll find Spike Lee's gorgeous and thoughtful vampire remake of the 70s cult film Ganja and Hess – Lee's version re-titled Da Sweet Blood of Jesus. Also on Amazon's streaming service we'll find another Larry Fessenden indie film (actually, we'll find a lot of things, from the films of Umberto Lenzi and Lucio Fulci to the crazy flicks of Charles Band's Full Moon) – called Silver Bullets, and despite what Amazon will tell you, Silver Bullets was not produced in 1970; rather it's a modern low-budget erotic and existential movie from 2011 that eventually turns into a horror movie, after folding dream- and nightmare-fantasies over its own neo-realism and into the fantastic cinema of, well, werewolf films.

A lot of the independent horror films featured on these streaming services came from film festivals like SXSW, and now without the video stores of yesteryear to bring them in front of genre audiences, a lot of them are leaping directly from the festival circuit to Video-On-Demand platforms. And while it's probably abundantly clear that a large chunk of these personal horror selections lean towards the kaleidoscopic, I have found something hugely engaging and even inspiring with each of them, whether they're 75 minutes or 18 hours long. Follow this list and you'll certainly be in for a mindbending end to your winter months.

-Vince D'Amato

(Cannibal Diner)

(Da Sweet Blood of Jesus)



(I Am the Pretty Thing that Lives in the Walls)

(Silver Bullets)

(Sun Choke)

(Twin Peaks -- Revisited)

Tuesday, October 02, 2018

3 Books a Month – September (The Last of the Summer Readings)

Alright, we're officially into fall and the Halloween season! Of course that didn't quite stop be from getting my horror on with September's book challenge (still ongoing between Nicole D'Amato and myself – and any friends that care to partake as sort of a self-challenge). Strangely, my first book book of the month was only the second novel I've ever read by the brilliant Peter Straub. Well, possibly the first novel, as the previous book I'd read had actually been his short story collection Houses Without Doors, and I'd read that way back in the 90s after having finished the Straub/King collaboration The Talisman. Anyway, I'd been in a used bookstore in Santa Monica when I accidentally came across a bent-up recent publication of Peter Straub's 70s thriller If You Could See Me Now. Reading this murder-mystery for the first time, with its dangerous smalltown redneck flavour and supernatural creep-factor, it struck me just how influential this novel might have been to the works of upcoming horror authors and filmmakers – and I say might have been, because in truth I'm not sure what the critical or commercial response to this book was when it was first published in the 70s, but I wouldn't be surprised to find out that it actually had a direct influence on other genre works. Moving from If You Could See Me Now to a weirdly similarly-toned The Wasp
Factory by Iain Banks, the prose in the latter novel was far more contemporary (and should I even use the word “clever”? – I suppose that would be subjective) yet both novels retained the same tense, engagingly creepy, and mysterious gothic atmosphere that continually signaled that there was so much more going on beneath the surface of these novels' main plots. Following these two novels, I finally read a book that I had purchased back in the 1990s (around the same time as I'd purchased Straub's Houses Without Doors, it would be extremely safe to assume), Dan Simmons' LoveDeath – LoveDeath is a collection of novellas dealing with the often horrifying and always tantalizing themes of love, sex, death, and violent bloodshed. Some of the works in this book are existentially haunting, other parts are terrorizing, and of course, there are some decent doses of humour, because really, what's sex and death without a little bit of nervous laughter? Everything in Simmons' book is extremely readable, although
Simmons' prose is such that it quite literally demands and simultaneously commands the reader's attention. Not concentration, just attention, and thereby the reading of LoveDeath felt more intense to me than the other horror literature I'd consumed this month – and of course, all of these books were so very appropriate in leading into the fall/Halloween season. Finishing my three books a couple of days before the monthly deadline, I once again went back to Preacher (as season three is still not available on Prime! Come on, Amazon!!) and I've now gone all linear – last month, I'd read the fourth book in the originally-compiled 9-book series (the series has since been re-compiled and re-published in a slightly different order and context over six books), and now I've firmly placed myself in the proper order, having devoured Preacher Vol. 1 – Gone to Texas, which collected the first seven comics in the long-running series. Hopefully, I'll have Vol. 2 in my hands by the end of October. 


Sunday, September 16, 2018

Issue #69 - The Absolute Underground Papers

(Original text from Absolute Underground Issue #69 - originally published April, 2016)
It was the summer of 1994 that I walked into the little corner store – an independent retailer – at Richards & Pender Street in Vancouver. It was primarily music, a used and collectible record store; the proprietor also had a lot of CDs – but in the far back corner of the store, as far away from the summer sun streaming in through the large glass windows as physically possible, was a small wooden thrift-store bookshelf that held, in no discernible order whatsoever, used VHS tapes of all genres. Interestingly, there were no mainstream Hollywood movies there on that shelf. There were a couple of 80s horror films that starred a very young Bill Paxton, and a weird-looking horror-thriller that starred Sting and was directed by celebrated filmmaker Robert Altman with I title I have never again come across since that day (and can no longer remember what it was). Attempts to find this film on the internet have been fruitless, as well, and possibly the VHS cover was using an alternate title; this happened quite a bit in those days. I still remember Uumberto Lenzi's Nightmare City and its Canadian-release VHS cover from the early 80s – a naked woman hanging upside-down with her nipple torn off, and the alternative title “City of the Walking Dead” partially obscuring said ripped-off nipple. Also long forgotten was the name of this little corner used-record shop, the shop itself has been gone for decades now, replacing by an ever-increasingly dilapidated convenience store that is somehow, inexplicably, still in operation to this day. I do remember, however, having a lively conversation with the proprietor when I brought the used VHS tape of Stuart Gordon's Re-Animator up to his counter to purchase. He was a tall, young-ish man with a sore-looking condition of skin psoriasis all over his otherwise pale face. I was about to pay $9.95 plus tax for this used Re-Animator tape that had be re-packed in a black Amaray clamshell by some unknown video store long before it ever wound up at this guy's shop, and he proceeded to explain to me why the VHS videotape in my hands would never become valuable to any collector.

“Look at this,” he said, removing the videotape from inside the clamshell case and pressing the tiny black release button that allowed the back of the tape to swing up, exposing the magnetic tape and all of the thin silver and white reels the tape had to wind around in order to get from the right side to the left while playing through a VCR. “All these moving parts. Records don't have moving parts, and that's why they can become collectible. Something like this, all these parts and components – it will never become collectible. These tapes won't ever be worth anything to any collector”. I paid for my Re-Animator tape and left. 
I still have that tape to this day, almost 22 years later.

Funnily, I was not the only one to hold onto a couple of my old VHS horror tapes. In fact, I literally only held onto a couple of them when the DVD revolution hit. Now, though, it's astoundingly clear that VHS tapes have indeed become highly coveted collectors items, some going for hundreds of dollars on eBay and Amazon, in a time where we've gone even further beyond the original DVD revolution of the new millennium into HD and 4K Blu-ray disc media, creating something of a treasure trove for collectors of all types of media from magnetic standard definition to digital hi-def picture quality; and often, fans of niche and genre film fare are the ones benefiting; many genre (horror) titles have survived the advances in film media technology, and it's not unusual to see titles that have made it across all the home video formats: Betamax, VHS, Laserdisc, DVD, and Blu-ray (and I'll include digital streaming in this sentiment, as well). Of course the biggest impacts were made by the VHS, DVD and Blu-ray formats specifically, clearly defining the technological generations in home video history. And with these defined generations, we see that there are also titles that had skipped a generation, and it's amusing to me when I happen to come across a horror or cult film title that had run out its print in the VHS days only to make a surprise comeback on a hi-def 1080p Blu-ray disc, while missing out on the entire DVD generation altogether. 
Most recently, Slasher//Video (through an output/imprint deal with the Blu-ray distribution company Olive Films) has begun to release niche and sought-after horror and slasher videos on Blu-ray while incorporating the nostalgic aspects of the VHS days. These Slasher//Video releases were not entirely imagined by design – often, Slasher//Video (Olive Films) could only track down a Betacam SP tape master to provide us with the digital transfer to their Blu-ray discs – Betacam SP is a large videotape master, in standard definition (or Standard Play, SP), that was the standard delivery master to broadcast television and often to direct-to-video distribution in the eighties and nineties. In the case of the direct-to-video films, while they were nearly all originally shot on film, they were cut together and mastered only onto standard definition Betacam SP tapes in that bygone era of film and video production. The very name of these tapes – Standard Play – signified the maximum video quality that the technology had produced at that time. So now, mixing these distant generations of video technology, Slasher//Video has given us niche horror and genre fans a bit of an unusual and offbeat treat – we can see these wonderfully strange, gory, exciting, and low-budget originally direct-to-home-video horror movies in their original video/VHS anesthetic, but on a Blu-ray disc that will never wear down, no matter how many times the film is played at home. In the VHS days, god forbid you would fast-forward to your favourite part of the tape (an explosion of blood, a couple of boobs, a kickass werewolf transformation and subsequent gory slaughter) more than a couple of times; the tape would soon develop tracking issues and interruptive glitches, constantly changing the way you could see your favourite scenes. Admittedly, this is one of the charming aspects about VHS to some collectors. But for those who are keen on reliving the nostalgia of the VHS aesthetics with their 1980s horror obscurities, Slasher//Video and Olive Films have fallen on something very unique for horror fans, by delivering that VHS aesthetic on their Blu-ray and DVD releases. I'm curious to see how Slasher//Video's new mixed-technology retro-releases will be received by fans down the road. For me, it gives me the chance to see some of these films that I missed before the VHS tape went extinct, and I'm personally loving it.