More Excuses

Perhaps it was my Shingrix-addled brain—but we all know that’s an excuse—I decided to watch Creature (1985) and Attack of the Giant Leeches (timeless) over the past couple of days.  The former was a decision made when not having the energy to read, I could still search Amazon Prime for “free to me.”  I was all set to start Attack of the Giant Leeches when I scrolled over Creature only to learn it would be free for only eight hours more.  I recalled, somewhere in the haze, that a movie called Creature was on my watch list, and since time was running out, I clicked play.  Clearly a knock-off of Alien, with even a Sigourney Weaver stand-in, it was one of the most badly written films I’d seen in a long time.  I was surprised to learn it’d had a theatrical release.

A crew stranded on Titan, one of Saturn’s moons, finds a creature—one that looks like a down market version of Ridley Scott’s nightmare—that feeds on unsuspecting astronauts.  Still, the surprises kept coming.  The impossibly pretty women and rugged men of the crew seemed unlikely.  And was that Klaus Kinski trying a move on the security officer that he wouldn’t have survived if he’d tried it on Sigourney?  And how was it even possible that this was nominated for the Best Horror Film of 1985 at the Saturn Awards?  Okay, granted 1985 wasn’t a banner year for horror, but Creature really doesn’t seem to hit the bill for “best of” category—but it was over 25 years after a classic.

Attack of the Giant Leeches is obviously the lesser of the two movies, but it falls into the category of “so bad it’s good.”  The leeches are clearly people in rubber suits, and the caricatures of the hooch-swillin’ swamp-dwellin’ lazy ole homeboys is just too good to pass up.  And the fact that it’s just over an hour long is a bonus when you’re having trouble keeping your eyes open.  Those black-and-white sci-fi horror films of the fifties sure take me back to more innocent times (not the fifties, and the film isn’t all that innocent).  Given that both movies were free on Prime, and given that my head was fuzzy from my vaccine, I counted this as a worthwhile effort at staying awake.  We seem to have come to a more sophisticated era, in many regards.  Such films can’t compete with their modern-day counterparts and even streaming companies are producing their own these days.  There’s something to those older films, however, and maybe it’s helped along by a shot in the arm.


Opinion Piece

There comes a time, I hope, when the opinion of someone with over four-and-a-half decades of intensive reading experience, might matter.  I say this because I’m constantly struck by those whose opinions actually count, and how little they often are to be considered experts.  For example, I watch YouTubers young enough to be my children treated as experts.  A little probing sometimes shows that their qualifications are the ability to get people to look at them.  Click that like and share button.  If enough people do like and share, you can be an expert.  Or take opinion columns in newspapers.  I notice the headlines for some of these in the New York Times.  They are opinions only, and yet the prestige of one of the great American newspapers stands behind them.  These are opinions worth listening to.

The popularity contest is an old and venerable tradition.  I wasn’t popular in school and wasn’t voted “most likely to” anything.  Meanwhile, those chosen as the likely leaders and novelists and beauty-pageant stars generally don’t get too far along that road.  As Bruce Springsteen sagely noted, those “Glory Days” pretty much all end up back in high school.  But as Bowling for Soup observes, “High School Never Ends.”  We like to look at the confident, the well-adjusted, the narcissists.  Their sense of entitlement carries over into hoi polloi.  The quiet and self-reflective sometimes get noticed, particularly after they’re gone.  The Thomas Mertons and Thich Nhat Hanhs.  The household names, however, are those who loudly claim they should be heard.  Just because they think they should.

Another part of this complex equation is finding a subject that interests people.  In my case, I know lots of people are interested in horror, but I also know that there are many experts out there.  Ironically, I still have people ask me about ancient West Asian religions—this is a field where you need to be immersed to stay on top of what’s going on.  The books and articles you have to keep reading are dense and heavily footnoted.  The articles are located in journals not always easily found.  Don’t get me wrong—I still miss it.  Ironically, now that I can’t keep up people are starting to ask my opinions on it.  Perhaps the same will happen with horror and monsters, but long after I’m able to respond effectively.  Experts on social media learn to monetize their interests so they can spend full-time at it.  And that does, in fact, make them experts in the very specific field of being an expert.

Photo by Markus Winkler on Unsplash

O Viy

Viy is a most unusual movie.  I’m talking about the 1967 version, of course.  Filmed and produced in the USSR, it was, by many counts, the first Soviet horror film.  There’s been a resurgence of interest in it because of the study of folk horror—and it’s certainly an example of that.  Not really known for its plot, it’s noteworthy in its early special effects.  Since it’s a story that revolves around a monk, however, it participates in religion and horror as well.  Unusual for a Soviet-Era film.  Set in an undefined period in the past—before electricity, in any case, and perhaps the Middle Ages—a class of seminarians is released for vacation.  They’re a rowdy, unruly bunch, hardly the pious priests you see associated with orthodoxy.  When three of them get lost on their way home they end up spending the night at the farm of an old woman.

The woman comes after Khoma (one of the three) that night and bewitches him.  Riding him like a horse—and this is common witch lore—when she finally releases him, he beats the old woman severely.  But she has turned into a beautiful young woman.  Khoma returns to the seminary but is sent to say prayers over a dying young woman—one guess who it is.  Between getting drunk and trying to escape, Khoma seems to guess his fate.  At the compound of a wealthy merchant, the girl’s father, he learns she has died.  The father insists he keep vigil for three nights, praying over her corpse.  In the church scary things happen, not least her return to life.

On the third night all kinds of monsters appear after she calls on the god Viy.  Viy means something like “spirit of evil.”  Each night Khoma has drawn an effective magic circle around himself, which keeps the dead witch at bay.  The last night the monsters make it through, with predictable results.  There’s so much folklore at play here that it’s easy to see why the story by Nikolai Gogol suggested itself for a film.  It was poignant to watch because it’s set in Ukraine (Gogol was a Ukrainian writer).  Gogol had a tremendous influence on other writers, but isn’t as widely cited among western authors in contemporary times.  The film is fairly easily found online, and an updated version was released in 2014.  Even in the USSR, when horror emerged in the late sixties, it was doing so with religion, even before Rosemary’s Baby.


Fictional Truth

In honor of Banned Book Week I read Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.  Funny and poignant, it tells the story of Arnold Spirit Junior, a Spokane tribe boy on the reservation.  Born with a disability, he nevertheless overcomes adversity to become both a good student and excellent basketball player.  I suppose you’d classify this as young adult literature since the protagonist is a teen and many of the issues are those of kids in that age group.  Although it’s funny, and the illustrations underscore this, there’s a realism that account for various people wishing to ban it.  First of all, it reminds readers that white men put Indians on reservations and, despite our national guilt about this, we still refuse to do anything to try to lift them out of poverty.  And, like most boys his age, Junior likes to talk about sex once in a while.

Fiction can be the most nonfictional form of writing.  Junior describes the realities of reservation life.  Alcoholism, poverty, and violence are part of his everyday experience.  He attends far more funerals than his white counterparts.  This particular point gave me pause.  A New York Times article that appeared pointed out, statistically, that American Indians had much higher death rates from Covid than many other demographics.  It was like the genocidal introduction of European diseases during the “age of discovery.”  I suppose people would’ve grown curious and explored their world, regardless of the distorted Christian belief that they were to take it over.  At least we could’ve treated those we met with respect, as equals.

I think about the missionary mandate quite a lot.  Based on an undying literalism, it became an excuse for behaviors explicitly condemned by Scripture itself.  There’s a real danger when conviction comes with guns.  At least modern-day missionaries try to help those they’re attempting to convert with hospitals and medical care.  Still, that doesn’t help the American Indians.  They still struggle and our policies still ignore their problems.  Their plight stands in the way of capitalistic exploitation.  And when an Indian writes a fun book, honest about the experience of his people white critics begin to raise their voices to ban it.  How do we think the situation of the Indians will ever improve if we refuse to listen?  And what better time to get people to listen but when they’re young enough not to have been corrupted by our system of entrenched unfair treatment?


Novelization

It must be both difficult and easy writing the novelization of a movie.  I suppose it depends on the movie as well.  Sleepy Hollow is a film based on a story already, but Washington Irving’s tale isn’t a novel and the movie was a collaboration between Irving’s original, re-envisioned by Kevin Yagher, Andrew Kevin Walker, and Tim Burton.  The novelization was done by Peter Lerangis and it, naturally enough, follows the movie.  As a novelizer, however, you need to try to make sense of some scenes where a film only implies what’s going on.  Now, in this case I’ve seen the movie many times and any deviations come across as “that’s not the way it goes” moments.  Still, it’s competently done.  It  even helped me make sense out of some things that had me puzzled since the start of the millennium.

In the “book or movie” debate I tend to think a book should be read first.  Sometimes it should go the other way around.  Novelizations are, of course, intended to increase the profits for a film.  You’ve got the box office take, and if there are advertising tie-ins or other merch, you can add to the haul.  A novelization can also help.  In this case, the movie has a somewhat complex plot with revenge and double-crossing, and so a novel helps to make all that clear.  However, when the novelist asks you to accept what a character is thinking you may have already come up with your own ideas on that point and any postmodernist would tell you that your opinion is just as valid as that of the writer.

Movie scripts tend to be a bit short for novels—if the movie isn’t based on a novel, of course—and sometimes extra material is needed.  This novelization includes the public domain story by Irving as well, even though the movie completely recasts all the characters into unfamiliar roles.  Brom, for example, is a minor part, whereas Katrina is a witch and Ichabod a constable from New York City.  All of that having been said, there really aren’t many surprises here.  I read this because I’m interested in the life of “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.”  Its many retelling and re-envisionings.  The original story was published less than fifty years after American independence and has memories closer to the time.  It tells us something of what it was like in those early days.  And this novel both retells and redacts a movie already a couple decades old itself.


Who’s Calling?

The first twenty minutes are impossibly scary.  I didn’t see When A Stranger Calls back in 1979, when it came out.  I prefer my monsters in non-human form, thank you.  But still, to be writing books on horror movies without ever seeing what is widely regarded as being the scariest opening ever?  Although the first twenty minutes were indeed scary, and extremely tense, for me the scariest part came after that because I didn’t have any idea what else would happen.  Of course I knew the initial calls were coming from inside the house.  That urban legend seems to have been around since I was a kid.  I wasn’t sure who survived, if anyone.  And psychopaths are scary in real life, let alone in fiction where they can break into locked houses pretty easily.

The story, as laid out, is better than most critics give it credit for being.  The only part that seemed difficult to believe (and don’t get me wrong—I love Charles Durning) was that an overweight John Clifford could do all that running (particularly up stairs).  It’s believable that the criminally insane can escape—Michael Myers seems to do it every couple of years—and even that they could blend in on the streets of any city.  I do have to agree with the critics that the writing isn’t great, but those who say it’s not scary enough, well, they’re made of sterner stuff than me.  Or perhaps they lack empathy, which is a scary thing in itself.

Curt Duncan, perhaps because he’s clearly killed at the end of the movie, never became the serial boogyman that the aforementioned Myers, or Jason Voorhees, or Freddy Kruger, or Hannibal Lecter became.  Although sequels were made, once you’ve seen that first twenty minutes of Stranger, you get the sense that they’re not going to be able to do it any better.  Snopes tells us the legend began in the sixties.  It was clearly a reaction to the proliferation of telephones and the potential to abuse such technology.  That’s an object lesson we still haven’t learned.  We now seem never to be more than inches away from a device at all times.  Except maybe when in the shower, but that’s a scary story for another time.  Although I won’t be going back to rewatch or analyze this one over and over, still I feel I somehow earned a stripe or bar for watching it.  And I now feel even more appreciative of caller ID.


Misremembered

There may be a name for it, but if there is I don’t know it.  Like the more well-known Mandela Effect, it’s a strange memory issue, only it affects the individual.  The Mandela Effect is a collective false memory, often involving the death of someone famous.  Many people—sometime very many—think, for example, that someone famous has died.  The death, or other false memory, is posted in the past and people who don’t know each other all agree that it happened, only it hasn’t.  Instead, what I’m talking about happens to me once in a while and perhaps it happens to others.  Most recently I was listening to The Proclaimers’ song “I’m Gonna Be,” also known as “500 Miles.”  It’s got a catchy chorus and I was thinking it was an oldie, so I looked it up.

First of all, I didn’t know The Proclaimers were a set of twins from Edinburgh.  Second of all, I didn’t know they were (only) my age.  Third of all, I was sure I knew and heard the song from when I was growing up, but it came out in 1988, the year my wife and I moved to Scotland.  I was just stunned by this.  I was sure I’d heard the song, for instance, when I was in college and that it was an oldie even then.  I didn’t and it wasn’t.  In fact, the very year I could’ve first heard it I was busy making plans for an international move, getting married, and starting a doctorate.  This kind of time distortion can be very disorienting, and it says something about memory.

1988

Our lives are the stories we tell about ourselves.  Memory, in an evolutionary way, serves some basic functions such as recalling which other people you can trust, where good food sources are, and where the saber-tooths tend to hang out.  Those with better memories survive longer and procreate more and over time the trait becomes common.  Memory isn’t intended to recall specific dates.  I often wonder if something like the Mandela Effect isn’t behind Trump’s unaccountable popularity.  A kind of memory that refuses to believe the song came out in 1988 although clearly it did.  Believing false memories is the stuff of drama, of course.  That drama can take in whole societies because we misremember that we knew all about propaganda because we learned that in high school, but now we fall for it.  Or it may be a lonely moment when a song comes to mind and we think we’ve known it far longer than we have.


Things that Appear

As a movie, Apparition fails on many levels.  One way that it passes is being free on Amazon Prime, which is how I found it.  The trick with Prime, of course, is that really good movies tend to be available for a limited time, keeping you on the website.  Time is money, after all.  I was drawn into Apparition from the “based on real events” tagline, even though I should know better.  It was a hot, sleepy weekend afternoon, and I’m not a good napper.  I’m not going to worry too much about spoilers here, so if you’re into penance, you might want to wait until after you’ve seen it.  Set at the real life Preston School of Industry—a boy’s correctional institution in California—the boys are tortured and sometimes murdered by the warden and guards.  This is one of the few real-life parts: a housekeeper at the facility was murdered in an unsolved crime at the site.

Fast-forward two decades.  The former warden (the place has been closed), is hosting the lavish rehearsal dinner for his son’s wedding.  The son is unloved (his father is a sociopath, after all), and doesn’t treat his fiancée very well.  Meanwhile a younger son is a nerd who’s developed an app called Apparition.  Through some unexplained technological wizardry, it allows the user to connect to the dead.  Another couple, son and daughter of two of the former prison guards, decide to try it and discover that it works.  When the bride gives it a try it leads the five young people to the Preston School.  There various ghost-hunter startles are used as the ghosts of the murdered boys take their revenge on the offspring of the warden and guards.  The bride discovers her father was a “good cop” and that’s why she wasn’t killed.  The younger son is actually the son of the murdered housekeeper, another of his father’s dark secrets.  The parents come and get what’s due to them.

What makes this unremarkable film (and very little comment has been given on it) worth discussing here is that during the opening credits a Bible is shown open to Exodus.  The verse called out is 20.5: “Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me.”  This isn’t referenced per se in the film, but the warden does suggest the school is a righteous place.  That’s a fairly brief reward for watching, but I hate to waste even a lazy weekend afternoon when it’s too hot to work outdoors.


Hollow

Now that we’re officially in September, it’s kosher to talk of Halloween horror (I’ve seen Christmas decorations in the stores already).  Well, around here we don’t really need an excuse, but since it’s handy I’ll use it.  Regular readers know I’ve been on a Sleepy Hollow kick lately, and I’d been wanting to see The Hollow.  Released as an ABC television movie, it had a fairly modest budget of only about $900,000 but managed to pull in stars with name recognition.  A pre-Penny Kaley Couco also appears as the new version of Katrina Van Tassel.  Let me back up a bit.  This is set in the present day.  Halloween eve.  Karen (not Katrina) is watching a Sleepy Hollow retelling being done by Ian Cranston, but her bored escort, Brody (Brom, anyone?), goes to the graveyard instead with some of his friends.  Two of them are killed.  Oh yes, there will be spoilers.

It turns out that Ian, who’s just moved to the area, is the last remaining descendant of Ichabod Crane.  You see, after Ichabod fled, and settled in New York City, he changed his name for fear that the Horseman would find him.  Now that a Crane is back in town, the Horseman rides again.  The teen-rivalry between Ian and Brody plays out at Karen takes a shine to the newcomer.  A descendant of Hans Van Ripper, who unaccountably talks like a pirate—lots of “ye”s thrown in—realizes that the Horseman’s after the young Cranston.  Since he’s the town drunk, though, nobody really believes anything he says.  On Halloween the town has a haunted hay ride in which each side of the love triangle is involved.  Brody plays the Horseman, but suddenly there are two of them—uh oh!

Cranston, who’s on the fencing team (to the everlasting shame of his football-coach father), is able to engage the fiend in swordplay and eventually destroys him.  He gets the girl and impresses his father all in one predictable way.  There are some laughs along the way, but for the most part this is played as teen drama.  Some racy scenes (and head-chopping) led to an R rating, but there’s little that’s surprising here.  For anyone who’s interested in the various ways Washington Irving’s “Legend of Sleepy Hollow” has been repackaged over the years, it’s a reasonable enough diversion.  When Halloween draws closer, however, it may well be time to try something a bit more appropriate for the harvest season.


The Time Is Nigh

Although I have many authors I like to read, I haven’t fully explored the oeuvre of many.  I’m an eclectic reader and I’m also often limited by bookstores as to what I pick up.  I’ve read Shirley Jackson’s two biggest successes, The Haunting of Hill House and We Have Always Lived in the Castle, as well as her famous short story, “The Lottery.”  I knew she had written much else, but I couldn’t really tell you what.  When I go into a small, independent bookstore I hate to leave with nothing, and seeing Jackson’s The Sundial on the shelf, I decided to give it a try.  In some ways it was quite a departure from her usual style in that it is openly humorous.  Nevertheless, it’s clear that this is the same thinker who gave us the Castle.

Plotwise, the story is about anticipating the end of the world.  The Halloran family lives in a large mansion on the money made by the original patriarch,  but is beset by interpersonal issues.  A wealthy family, there are at least three contenders for control of the fortune.  When one of the family members has a premonition about the end of the world, they come to believe it and prepare for the event with personality quirks becoming more and more pronounced as they realize the only people that are going to be left to judge them will be themselves.  Various guests stop by and the matriarch decides on who might stay, and survive, and who must go.  A group of twelve, including two domestics, is finally settled upon.

As with all Jackson novels, there are layers here.  Things to think about.  One of the funny scenarios involves the goodhearted maid—perhaps the most innocent of all the survivors—revealing to a local villager what’s about to happen.  Not believing her, he refers her to a group of religious believers that have come to a similar conclusion.  This leads to a meeting between the matriarch of the Halloran family and the leaders of the religious group.  Not surprisingly, it turns out that their versions of the end of all things are different, and Mrs. Halloran turns them away since she can’t relinquish her secular beliefs about the matter.  As the time grows closer, the reader is drawn in by the conviction of those in the house.  Their isolation and reflections on life with no other people beyond themselves grows in intensity.  After putting the book down a sense of doom lingers.  And that, it seems, is what Shirley Jackson is very capable of doing, even if in a comedic gothic setting.


Naming Conventions

Okay, I confess.  Every now and then I do it, but then, a lot of people do.  Perhaps because I’m trying to figure out who I really am, or perhaps because I’m looking for any reviews of my books, I search for myself online.  Various search engines (I prefer Ecosia) bring up different websites near the top, generally those with large numbers of hits.  I was surprised to find a website that gives away lots of personal information, even in the description so you don’t have to click on it.  One bit that caught my attention about myself was where it said “Steve also answers to Steve A. Miller.”  That’s incorrect.  My mother’s second husband was a Miller.  He never adopted us.  One thing that kids fear, however, is being teased and the name “Wiggins” came in for quite a bit of teasing in rural Pennsylvania.  We started using “Miller” since both our mother and stepfather used that name.

What is it with the singers? Photo credit: Capitol Records, public domain via Wikimedia Commons

Of course, I only later found out that “Steve Miller” was an up-and-coming pop artist at the time.  That singled me out for more teasing.  It didn’t help that I didn’t like Steve Miller’s musical style.  I still don’t.  I kept the name Miller up through seminary.  When I was preparing for ordination I was also rediscovering who I was.  A wise minister I knew told me that since there were two names out there for me, I’d need to nail down one to keep.  Although we’d only recently officially changed names to Miller, my brothers and I had to officially change them back to our birth names.  In a way perhaps inconceivable today, as I recall it, we simply introduced ourselves at our new schools (we had to move after the wedding) as “Miller.”  We registered for Social Security under that name, and nobody batted a lash.  Maybe we talked with an inexpensive lawyer at some point?

Only as an adult did I feel that my birth name was my heritage.  I suppose some of those who friend me on social media, who knew me in high school or college, wonder who “Steve Wiggins” is.  They only knew me as “Miller.”  Changing names is a pain.  I can understand, and support women who want to keep their “maiden” names.  It confuses our dowdy society even now, but one thing about marriage is that it generally involves two individuals.  But then I glanced down at the next entry.  This person, apart from living in a state where I’ve never resided, had even the same middle name as me.  Who’s the joker now?  I don’t answer to that name any more. And no, I didn’t find any reviews.


Like Sheep

Since horror grew up in the late 1960s, religion has become a favorite theme in the genre.  Although religion had been in horror from the beginning, Rosemary’s Baby marked a definite sea change.  More and more religion has been moving from a subsidiary theme to the main vehicle of horror.  Małgorzata Szumowska’s The Other Lamb is a case in point.  “Shepherd” is the leader of a separatist religion that consists only of women.  The premise itself is creepy enough, but it becomes clear that Shepherd—the group literally has a flock of sheep—physically abuses the women.  They are divided into two groups: sisters and wives.  When unexplained things happen, Shepherd gives prophetic pronouncements.  His followers are expected to accept everything he says on blind faith.  Many religions do this by proclaiming faith against evidence a virtue.

One thing that I’ve emphasized in various presentations I’ve done is that Christianity, and perhaps all religions, work because believers are great followers.  While Shepherd uses biblical-sounding language, there are no Bibles in the film.  There are recognizably Christian themes, but the doctrine isn’t familiar.  Part of the reason, obviously, is that Christianity has a negative view of sex and Shepherd treats his flock as his harem.  The women follow because he “rescued” them from worse situations and their communal life is better.  Only it’s not.  When a woman director stands behind such a film, there’s clearly a message being sent about male privilege.  Any system set up with male superiority will lead to abuse.  When Shepherd’s enclave in the woods is discovered, they must move.  He instructs the women that they are going to find Eden.

Throughout, the movie is more creepy than scary in the traditional sense.  There are no jump-startles, but the situation makes you sense that something’s not right.  The women, acclimated to this lifestyle, many of them for years, know no other way of being or even where to go.  They have no vehicles.  Forced to move, they walk—Shepherd carries nothing while the women backpack out supplies.  Once Eden, on the shore of a lake, is reached, Shepherd baptizes the sisters and drowns the wives so the younger women can take their place.  You get the sense throughout that this movie is a parable.  Men like to take the privilege of determining women’s fates without understanding women’s needs.  This new kind of horror is insightful and symbolic.  There is no final girl when women band together.  The Other Lamb deserves wider exposure than it’s had.  It’s a good example of what religion can do to those who simply follow.


The Burton of Thought

I haven’t seen all of his films.  Some of them I have seen I didn’t really like.  When Tim Burton does strike a chord, however, he does so hard.  Burton on Burton is one of a series of books of interviews with directors.  This one covers all of Burton’s films up to Corpse Bride with free-ranging answers to what are really more remarks than questions.  (The book is edited by Mark Salisbury.)  Although I’ve not experienced his entire oeuvre, it’s pretty clear that I share quite a few sensibilities with Burton.  He expresses that what he’s looking for in movies is feeling.  A good plot helps, but it’s the emotion he’s after.  And he knows that the dark isn’t bad.  At many points I had to shake my head and say, “I thought I was the only one who thought like that.”

This memoir is also full of information on the way movies get made—not the technical side, but from the studio or creative side.  Someone has an idea.  It may be original or it may be an adaptation of a well-known tale.  Sometimes, especially in Burton originals, they begin as a series of sketches.  Anybody who’s watched DVD extras knows about storyboarding.  A movie is sometimes laid out in a series of cards that show, step-by-step, the action.  Before that, or maybe during, a script is written.  In order to get funded—for all this costs money—a studio or production company has to pick up the concept.  The person pitching it might be a screenwriter or a potential director.  And, as in every avenue of life, money talks.  Once you’ve had a breakout success they start to pay attention to you.

Although Burton and I grew up with similar outlooks, he notes that he never did like to read.  Being a visual artist (he got his start at Disney), that’s perhaps no surprise.  You start to realize, once you get a sense of the number of people involved, why film credits go on and on.  It takes a village to make a movie.  Not only that, directors may be involved with several projects simultaneously.  That’s not so different from being an (unofficial) writer, I suppose.  At any one time, from my experience, I’ve got at least a half-dozen projects going.  Some will never be finished, most will never be published.  And who knows?  Maybe someday one of my fiction stories might catch a sympathetic (or perhaps simply pathetic) director’s eye?  In the meantime, we go on creating.


October Early

Still feeling that August is the new October, although that particular day happened to reach over ninety degrees, I watched Halloween.  Not the John Carpenter original; I’ve seen that one a few times before.  No, I watched the 2018 version only to learn it’s a retcon.  If you’re like me you’ll wonder what a retcon is.  It’s a portmanteau of “retroactive continuity.”  That’s where a sequel goes back and makes adjustments, or simply ignores, story elements from the original to take the story forward.  I haven’t followed the Halloween franchise.  There are too many movies I want to see that are original, with fresh ideas, to be spending my time trying to find my way through an emerging mythology of a serial killer.  Michael Myers, as horror fans know, inexplicably killed his sister as a child.  As an adult he terrorized Haddonfield, Illinois  one Halloween and Laurie Strode was the final girl.

What drew me to this sequel was that Jamie Lee Curtis was back as Strode, all grown up.  Michael predictably escapes again and goes for an even higher body count in Haddonfield.  Laurie, meanwhile, has gone NRA and booby-trapped her entire house in anticipation of this day.  You can see the draw, I hope.  You kind of want to see how this ends.  The original had Michael’s apparently dead body disappear at the end.  In the retcon he was arrested after that and re-institutionalized.  The thing is, you can never really kill a monster.  Original scenes and scenarios are revisited, and those familiar with the Carpenter story are rewarded by situations that subvert expectations.  Where is he hiding this time?  You always watch the credits roll wondering how “the authorities” don’t realize that a guy shot, stabbed, and incinerated and keeps coming back might be something other than human to be put in an asylum.

I should know better than to watch these kinds of movies when I’m home alone, but I don’t.  So it’s a good thing that I try to piece all these things together.  We have three strong women—three generations of final girls here, and the obligatory basis for a sequel.  (At least two, in fact, bringing the franchise up to thirteen movies.)  Laurie’s granddaughter is among the virginal, non-drinking final-girl prototypes.  Her less Puritan friends are killed off, although her worthless boyfriend survives the night.  You’ve got to love the endless self-references of such situations.  That’s why we keep on coming back.  We’ve seen it before but we still want more.  Even if it’s only August.


Lovecraft’s Palace

So, to see Witchfinder General I had to buy a set of Vincent Price movies.  Complex copyright deals mean that not everything can be streamed—there’s a movie I’ve been waiting months to see because Amazon Prime says “not currently available in your area.”  That word “currently” tells you that it’s a rights issue.  In any case, that box of Price movies contained a few goodies I’d never seen and had wanted to.  And one that I hadn’t heard of: The Haunted Palace.  Legendary producer Roger Corman had Price star in a variety of Edgar Allan Poe adaptations.  (Witchfinder General wasn’t one of them.)  Corman wanted to make an H. P. Lovecraft movie, but the studio insisted it stay within the identity of this Poe series.  This movie is an adaptation of Lovecraft’s “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward,” but titled after a Poe poem, “The Haunted Palace.”

Suffice it to say, I knew little of this before I sat down to watch it.  I didn’t know, for example, that this was the first big-time movie based on Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos.  I didn’t realize it would involve the Necronomicon and perhaps the first, blurry—to preserve the sanity of viewers—view of maybe Cthulhu.  The movie doesn’t specify which of the Old Gods is kept in this pit, so it could be Yog-Sothoth instead.  You see, as a child I watched some of the movies in this series.  They would’ve had to have been the ones showing on television, likely on Saturday afternoon.  The one that I clearly recall, and remember thinking “that’s not how it goes!” was The Raven.  And as a child I had never been exposed to H. P. Lovecraft.

Some of us have our own brand of cheap or free entertainment.  The small number of friends I had growing up didn’t care to read.  My family wasn’t literate, and most high school teachers couldn’t suggest much to a kid who’d somehow found Poe and liked what he read.  As I’ve said before, Goodwill was my bookstore.  I discovered Lovecraft on the internet during a lonely stretch of teaching at the University of Wisconsin, Oshkosh.  Like many visionaries, Lovecraft didn’t achieve fame in his lifetime, but is now considered a bizarre American treasure.  The Cthulhu mythos is everywhere.  Even my auto-suggest is quick to fill in his name as I type.  The Haunted Palace isn’t a great movie—this is Roger Corman—but it’s a pretty good movie.  And its history in the cinematography of Lovecraft makes it worth part of a Saturday afternoon.