Groovy & Wild Films from Around the World

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 The standout of this book, for me, was an otherwise-unpublished novella by Stephen King titles Dedication.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.