98 Days until Corpus Evil!

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As usual I’m behind schedule. The holiday madness, ridiculousness at work, and the blog move aren’t helping one bit. I’m still spinning my wheels in part three (I like how I expected to have this section done by “the middle of the week”). The three parts in the middle of Corpus Evil are tightly woven, which means changes in one section cause ripples across the others, but I expect to have them done around the same time. By “done” I mean ready for the girlfriend inspection, at which point it’s going to be ready for other pre-release readers.

Amazon pre-orders for Corpus Evil will probably begin in January. I wasn’t aware you couldn’t list Amazon pre-orders more than 90 days in advance of the release date, which doesn’t feel like enough time to gain steam there. Frankly—and this is coming from someone who uses Amazon regularly—it’s troubling that the retailer has so much of the market under its thumb. There are certainly a lot of benefits, but how long will it be before they impose the same level of idiotic censorship on indie books as they do indie movies?

To be clear, Corpus Evil is far from the “extreme” variety of indie books in my opinion, but it hardly feels like my opinion would matter to the bastards whose guidelines made Samurai Cop 2 unwatchable on their VOD service. Not that I’m certain that movie would have been very watchable to begin with (I’m not a big fan of self-aware B-movies), but that’s beside the point.

Prom Night (1980) [Midnight Movie]

During a game of hide-and-seek, four school children accidentally push a little girl from the top floor of an abandoned building, killing her instantly. The bitchy ring leader of the gang makes the other three survivors swear they’ll never tell anyone what really went down. Fast forward six years and the children are now teenagers, gearing up for prom night. They’ve managed to keep their dark secret and it doesn’t really seem to affect any of them. This is odd to say the least.

Jamie Lee Curtis, who looks a little too old to be a high school student, is the sister of the victim. Her father is Leslie Nielsen, who isn’t nearly as fun as he was in Creepshow, and Sledge Hammer’s Anne-Marie Martin plays Curtis’s hot, Corvette-driving rival. The instigating moment of the film, mentioned in the paragraph above, happens in the first five minutes. Then nothing interesting whatsoever happens until the final act, at which point the masked killer will chase the characters through scenes that go on for far too long.

Martin’s character, who feels jilted by her ex-boyfriend’s interest in Curtis, concocts a Carrie-like prank which will humiliate Curtis as she accepts her tiara as prom queen. Another dreadful scene attempts to capitalize on Saturday Night Fever’s famous dance sequence, poorly, while the rest of the movie is chock full of high school rivalries and pointless gossip. I probably would have loved this movie if I were a teenager, provided I were a teenager in 1980.

I’m not sure why Prom Night is sometimes considered a classic. It’s about 90% filler and it’s immediately clear the killer is one of three people while, at most, only around four people will die. The infrequent kill scenes are so tame the film probably could have gotten away with a PG-13 rating if not for a handful of shots containing brief nudity. Unlike most slasher films, it’s not poorly made on a technical level (it’s actually pretty decent), but it really isn’t very interesting content-wise, either.

I started Prom Night 2: Hello Mary Lou soon after finishing this one and, although it was immediately more fun and campy, I fell asleep… hard. In fact, I haven’t slept so long during a movie in my life. (I suspect this has more to do with slogging through the first one than attempting the second.) I’ll give the sequel another chance in the future, but for the moment I feel like I’ve seen all I need to see of this franchise. Which is a shame because the VHS cover for part 3 has always piqued my interest.

When do you stop revising? [Corpus Evil]

Corpus Evil is told in five parts, beginning in 1982 and ending in the far future. I had planned on a single week of revisions for each part, but the first two parts took me months. I’ve just begun to revise part three of the story, but so far it’s going much better than parts one and two did. In fact, I think I’ll have it whipped into shape by the middle of the week.

And that’s a question I used to struggle with: How do you know you’re done with the first round of revisions? Lately, the answer is when I’m ready to show it to my girlfriend. After she’s done reading the book it’s going off to the beta readers. After that, I plan to use pre-orders to judge how much money I want to spend on editorial services, at which point I hope most of the developmental stuff will be done.

I still don’t have a marketable description for Corpus Evil, but I’ll talk a little more about it here. It was originally intended to be a short story about a group of teenagers who uncover an ancient evil in an abandoned church camp. Considering I had just spent five or six years working on an absurdly complicated science fiction novel, the story was extremely easy to write by comparison. (The biggest problem with the science fiction novel was I never set deadlines or limits on the revision period… the damn thing just ballooned and ballooned after the first draft was completed. I learned a lot, but I suspect I wasted a lot of my time, too.)

Immediately after finishing the short story, which was called Church Camp at the time, I began working on another short story. About two pages into it I realized the main character of the new story could be one of the survivors from the previous story, all grown up. Once again, the story nearly wrote itself. Meanwhile, I began to wonder: What happened to the other survivors?

I think the most honest ending in a horror movie was The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, which leaves its heroine screaming at the brink of irreparable insanity. Events like that tend to fuck people up. If your characters are mentally unscathed by the end of your horror tale, you’re either cheating your audience or kidding yourself.

The first part of Corpus Evil is the massacre, so to say. The rest of the book explores what happens next.

Corpus Evil is coming April 1st, 2018.

Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992) [Midnight Movie]

They could have fixed 70% of my problems with Bram Stoker’s Dracula if they had just called it Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula. The problem isn’t that the movie isn’t as good as the book—that’s just par for the course. The problem is, with a title like that, you’d expect them to take far fewer liberties than they did, especially considering the novel itself was remarkably cinematic for its time.

The scene in which Dracula is spotted crawling across the wall is chilling in the imagination, but it’s lacking something on the screen. Likewise, there’s some great visual effects, but Coppola leaves them on display for too long while Keanu Reeves somehow manages not to react whatsoever. I appreciate the shameless use of old fashioned sets and sound stages, but the look of the film hearkens back to previous film adaptations even though the bold title suggests it’s intended to be more novel than movie.

Then there’s Keanu Reeves and Winona Ryder who are outrageously miscast for the project. Phony accents aside, I wouldn’t go so far as to say I hated them in this movie because I actually think they could have been good in a different Dracula project. They just weren’t cut out for this Dracula project, which feels like an unhappy marriage between a studio flick and a pretentious art film. The rest of the cast, with the exception of Tom Waits, is more or less spot on. Anthony Hopkins as Van Helsing is a dream come true, at least when the script doesn’t have him acting out of character, and the movie could have used more of Richard E. Grant, Cary Elwes, and Billy Campbell as Lucy’s suitors. The hunt scenes involving these players really are a spectacle; it’s just everything leading up to these scenes I’m not so sure about.

I guess I should mention Gary Oldman as Dracula, but I really don’t know what to say. He’s good here, I suppose, but I can’t decide if he’s “Gary Oldman good” or if he’s substandard compared to the rest of his filmography. This is at least the second time I’ve seen this movie and I still feel like there was too much stuff distracting me from Oldman’s performance.

Once it gets going, the movie frequently comes close to genuine thrills, but never really delivers the goods until heads are lopped off and blood is spewed at our heroes. The horror elements can be damn near perfect at times and the score is great throughout (I often listen to it while I write). It should be noted there was a fantastic pinball machine based on the film as well. But then the pacing is off and Coppola throws in a handful of what-the-fuck moments for no apparent reason.

It’s a highly watchable movie, but it doesn’t quite reach its potential. Usually I’m interested in seeing a director’s cut, but I’m beginning to think the studio cut of this movie is possibly better; I’m not really sure what Coppola was going for at times. I don’t think he did, either.

Corpus Evil is OOZING into retailers now!

Corpus Evil ($2.99) is now available to pre-order on Barnes & Noble and Kobo! Other major retailers coming soon! Please excuse the use of exclamation points! Apparently I’m supposed to use them now!

Corpus Evil releases on April 1st, 2018 (Easter Sunday) with the next book coming out the following September (Labor Day). Which means that, for the first time in my life, I’m actually on strict deadlines for my writerly duties. These self-imposed deadlines have actually benefited my writing habits, but I still don’t know what the next book is going to be about… it’s currently a toss-up between a horror story and a weird science fiction/fantasy/western/post-apocalyptic thing. All I know is I start the first draft on December 28th and I hope to have the promotional stuff ready by the time Corpus Evil goes on sale.

To give you an idea of what the deadlines look like: it took well over a month to get the first part of Corpus Evil into shape, but to stick to my schedule I’ll only have around a week for each of the remaining four parts. I also have to convert this blog to HTTPS, spend a little more time on social media, and work on other promotion-related boring stuff. This is a terrifying prospect for someone who’s an introvert six days out of the week, but it looks like I’ll be joining Facebook soon.

In the meantime, feel free to follow me on my Instagram and Twitter accounts! I’ll try (and probably fail) to be more active!

Corpus Evil coming 2018

Corpus-Evil

An immortal cult. A shamed priest. A killer robot. What do they have in common?

At the end of a condemned road lies the church camp where Levi’s darkest memory formed. Attempting to shed light on his enigmatic childhood, the teenager convinces a group of friends to visit the secluded area. What they find is the land has been abandoned by all but a demonic presence. Several years later, the survivors of that terrifying night learn they can run from the forces of hell, but they can never hide.

Coming soon. Subscribe to this blog and I’ll keep you posted!

Creepshow (1982) [31 Days of Gore]

 

 I wanted to end this year’s 31 Days of Gore with something special. The entire month I’ve been carefully considering which movie it should be. It turns out I can think of few movies more quintessential to my childhood than Creepshow. It was probably my introduction to King, Romero, and Savini, it sports an unbelievable soundtrack by John Harrington (which I listen to quite a bit), and possibly replicates the experience of reading an issue of EC horror more accurately than HBO’s Tales from the Crypt. Never mind the fact it barely works as a horror film, it has a killer cast and every person in it knows exactly what kind of movie they’re making, which is rare when you have so many different kinds of actors.

In the container story, an angry father (Tom Atkins) reprimands his son (Joe Hill) for the horror comic he finds in his bedroom. The comic looks suspiciously like Tales from the Crypt, Vault of Horror, and The Haunt of Fear, right down to the style of the advertisements found inside. The father calls it sick filth and tosses it in the trash. Once the boy is alone, he wishes his father would rot in hell, at which point a ghoul appears at his window to tell him the stories from the comic book in person. Cue the opening credits, which are colorful and fun. (Seriously, why do so many modern movies skip the tone-setting credits?)

The first story features Carrie Nye, Ed Harris, and Viveca Lindfors, and it’s probably the weakest of the group, but it has a great line (“I want my Father’s Day cake!”) and the hokey feel of a campfire story. I complain about stereotypical characters in horror movies all the time, but these characters are hyper-stereotypical and intentionally so. That’s part of the reason the film is so successful at feeling like the material which inspired it: it revels in being pulp.

In the next story Stephen King plays Jordy Verrill, a country bumpkin who discovers a fallen meteorite. Much like that moment in The Blob, touching the meteorite is a very bad idea; it infects Verrill’s hand with some sort of alien substance resembling chia grass. King might be the worst actor in the entire movie, delivering a performance which would make Jerry Lewis roll his eyes, but that’s not a complaint. He’s obviously having a blast and it’s just as contagious as the stuff growing on his hand.

 Following the conclusion of King’s segment, Leslie Nelson gets the best lines of the entire movie in his portrayal of a rich maniac who goes to far-fetched lengths to punish his wife’s lover (Ted Danson). Although he plays it straight, Nelson is doing something completely different than what he did in Airplane and Naked Gun; maybe he’s not as funny here, but he’s definitely the character who made me laugh the most. It might even be my favorite segment of the movie because he’s so cartoonishly evil you can’t help but root for him to do terrible things… so that you can root for terrible things to happen to him later.

It seems that the penultimate story, The Crate, is everybody’s favorite. In it, Adrienne Barbeau (who also appeared in Romero’s half of Two Evil Eyes) plays a loud-mouthed alcoholic whose husband (Hal Holbrook) fantasizes about killing her. Meanwhile, a friend of theirs discovers a mysterious crate beneath the stairs of the local university. I can certainly see why this is the fan-favorite, and it was probably mine, too, at one point or another, but I found this one was the biggest candidate for trimming some of the movie’s two-hour runtime.

The final story the ghoul tells was probably my least favorite as a kid, but I’ve grown quite fond of it. This analysis is at least partly responsible, but I discovered creepy crawlies are much more effective to me now than I was a kid. My girlfriend, who I’ve never known to squirm during a movie (with the exception of Ichi the Killer) almost couldn’t stand to watch it. In it, E.G. Marshall plays a rich and powerful hermit whose sterile home is infiltrated by cockroaches.

I don’t know what, exactly, elevates Creepshow so high above its aspirations, but there are so few things that make me so gleeful. Creepshow 2 ain’t a bad movie either, but the end of that film is where I part ways with the franchise. Don’t ever expect me to feature Creepshow 3 and the internet-only Creepshow Raw… they really are that bad.

That’s it for this year’s 31 Days of Gore. It was the breeziest one yet!

The Dark Half (1993) [31 Days of Gore]

 

 It seems there was something in the zeitgeist which led to some superficially similar movies about duality coming out within a short period of time. Brian De Palma made Raising Cain less than a year before The Dark Half and not very long after David Cronenberg’s Dead Ringers, a spectacularly discomforting movie which somehow came out the same year as Twins. I’m not sure why I felt like revisiting The Dark Half more than the examples above, it just seemed to call to me last night the way the sparrows seem to call to Timothy Hutton’s character… that and it was the only one of the bunch freely available on Amazon’s VOD service.

 I give many movies a hard time for not making a lot of sense, but The Dark Half doesn’t make sense in an agreeable way… if that makes sense. There are details the movie takes its time to set up, but many of these details don’t strengthen the core experience, which is this: a novelist’s pseudonym has somehow embodied himself and now he’s going on a killing spree.

So, uh, what the hell does all this have to do with the tumor discovered in the main character’s brain when he was a kid? Why is it important for us to get a pseudo-medical explanation (which somehow manages to explain nothing at all) when the character in question seems to be purely supernatural in origin? Why is there so much talk about schizophrenia when it’s made perfectly clear, early on, that’s not what’s going on? And why write so many one-note characters when you have a cast as outstanding as Timothy Hutton, Amy Madigan, Michael Rooker, and Royal Dano?

It probably sounds like I’m getting ahead of myself here, but that’s kind of the way the movie operates: the cart before the horse, the chickens before the eggs. And it probably sounds like I disliked the movie, but I didn’t. I liked it much more than I did before, I just have questions… lots and lots of questions.

Director George Romero, who made my favorite horror movie of all time (Dawn of the Dead), doesn’t necessarily strike out here, but he makes some strange decisions. Fortunately, none of these decisions break the movie and it’s not hard to look past them. When he adapted Stephen King’s novel of the same name, I imagine he took the bits which interested him as a visual storyteller but failed to transplant some of the connecting tissue.

The result is an uneven movie which manages to work in spite of its flaws. The horror has a nice upwards curve in terms of intensity, and the way the final conflict resolves is one of the most satisfying deaths ever filmed. I’m just not sure what the hell happened at the end or why it happened. Maybe it’s just a little too metaphysical and/or metaphorical for my tastes.

Be sure to come back tomorrow… 31 Days of Gore concludes with yet another Romero picture.

 

 

Creep 2 (2017) [31 Days of Gore]

I thought Creep was good, but I never felt it needed a sequel. In fact, it never even occurred to me that it could have a sequel. It came pretty close to wearing out its welcome to be honest.

Two years later Mark Duplass returns as the creep, this time going by the name Aaron, which was the name of the victim in the previous film. His new target is Sara (Desiree Akhavan), a struggling YouTuber whose dreadfully artistic video series involves responding to the Craigslist ads of lonely people. When “Aaron” posts an ad for a videographer job, Sara decides to put her failing series on hold to make some money for a change. She meets Aaron at his house and the creepiness begins immediately as he directs her into making a documentary about his life.

Once again the creep has targeted someone who should know better than to stick around. At one point the creep confesses part of the fun is watching how his victims fail to heed the warning signs. Sara, too, has a scene in which she admits she should get the hell out of this situation as soon as possible, and her excuse for staying is a little more believable than it was the last time around.

The trailer I glimpsed prior to watching the movie led me to believe Duplass’s character might have met his match this time. There’s a little bit of that going on, which makes for some of the film’s funniest moments, but it’s apparent that the creep isn’t just lying to Sara, he’s lying to the audience as well—he’s always got something up his sleeve and he’s not to be trusted about anything, including the glimpses into his (possibly made-up) past.

I liked the first Creep and, against all odds, loved the second one. Superior sequels are rare in general, but even rarer in horror. It’s absurd, it’s funny, and the performers are absolutely fearless in where they’re willing to go to make a creepy movie.

So am I left with a burning desire to see a Creep 3 someday? Not really, but if it turns up on Netflix, I’m probably gonna watch it.