Movie Review: Pontypool

Pontypool is a small 2008 Canadian film that I finally caught up with on Netflix streaming. I’d heard some buzz around it the past year or so, but never got around to watching it.

My mistake.

It clocks in at an hour and thirty-six minutes, and since I hadn’t seen reviews or read much about it, I wasn’t sure what to expect. What I got was a funny, suspenseful, and ultimately disturbing psychological story about a loose cannon radio talk show host who is suddenly faced with the most unusual turn of events he’d ever encounter.

Writing a review is difficult, in that, when I like a film, I want to encourage you to see it with information about it, yet not give away the bulk of the plot. Here goes: Stephen McHattie plays Grant Mazzy, a radio show host. During his show, he begins getting reports that things in the little town are getting a bit strange. Before long, it becomes obvious that a unique type of deadly virus has begun to infect people around him. The film deftly dances the plot back to the radio station until the viewer begins to glean what is happening.

McHattie makes the film. His portrayal of Mazzy is deep and believable. He feels like a real person, as do the other, less recognizable actors. And this is the secret to the film. Don’t expect the apocalypse to be this massive, CGI-laden, action-filled extravaganza. Expect it to be the loss of real people that you care about.

There is also some questions about how the virus comes to be. If you can’t figure out exactly what has happened, I suggest researching about the film’s deeper meaning. A couple minutes on the internet will add much more to your understanding and appreciation of the film.

Pontypool opened in the United States in 2009 and grossed less than $3500. That’s right. There’s something wrong in our society when a decent film can’t gross more than a used car costs. It speaks to the way we approach films as a society. We want entertainment, so the big film companies give us what they think we want and what most likely will make them money, oftentimes sans quality. If those companies took a fraction of what they would spend on the blockbuster films they invest in and use it to fund more unknown films and filmmakers, the overall quality of our entertainment would increase exponentially. Sure those films won’t make the millions the big films will probably make, but then again, maybe they should be looking at the return on investment as a baseline.

Enough of my rant. See this film. I thoroughly enjoyed it. And be sure to pay attention to the opening lines, with Mazzy giving a nice overview of what is going to happen in the story. Also stick around for the end credits. Pontypool is an enigma, albeit an entertaining one.

Nine out of ten headstones, Deadies!

Deep Red: Argento’s Other Masterpiece of Giallo Filmmaking

Trying to review a Dario Argento film is difficult. Not because of the quality of the filmmaking, but rather to be totally honest, one must ignore the glaring issues of story. As was the case with Suspiria, so it is with Deep Red, Argento’s other great film.

Fortunately, when I re-watched the film, I happened to get the best version of the film. As was the case with Suspiria, there are several different versions floating around, edited for U.S. theaters. The disc I got from Netflix was the full version, and boy howdy, is it good. This was the first time I’d seen the entire film the way that Argento intended, so even though there are a couple logic flaws, the story holds together great.

The film stars David Hemmings as Marcus Daly, a musician in Italy to teach jazz. After class one night, he walks home and finds his friend, drunk on the street. After a short conversation, his friend eventually wanders back into the bar. Marcus turns and from that moment on, the film is a galloping, joyous, and uncomfortable ride until the end. He witnesses a murder through a window, and when he tries to stop it, winds up in the middle of a police investigation. An intrepid reporter joins up with him to figure out who and why the murderer is choosing victims. Saying anything more would probably kill the enjoyment of the story, so in this case, less is still very much more.

The film is, of course, photographed beautifully. Argento uses the Italian architecture to fullest advantage, with all its angles and curves presented prominently. The acting, beyond the always terrific Hemmings, ranges from good to competent, with no one being glaringly bad.

The development of Deep Red is interesting because originally Argento was going to have a jazz score, but apparently was unimpressed with the music written for it. So this was the first time he brought in The Goblins (who went on to write the music for Suspiria) to write and perform the score. Great choice.

When the script was being developed, Argento and fellow writer Bernardino Zapponi made conscious choices for how the murders take place. They used ways to die that the entire audience could identify with, and to say anymore would be a travesty that would ruin it for anyone never seen it before. Plus, don’t watch the trailer, which tells too much.

Word of warning: The film is in both English and Italian with subtitles, so if you are one of those folks who can only enjoy a film if you don’t have to read once in a while, then you might want to stay away from this one.

Try to find the original, full film that Argento made with the run time over two hours. The story makes more sense and the characters don’t do things that you don’t expect them to. I’ve seen three versions of Deep Red now, and this one makes the most sense and is the most satisfying.

See it. Ten headstones out of ten.

Until next time, Deadies…

WHAT ACTUALLY HAPPENED ON AUGUST 14, 2003

 

“I need to confess something.”

Officer Greg looked at the slight, middle-aged man who had stepped up to the barred window. He wore a faded plaid shirt, jeans, and an International Tractor baseball cap.

“OK,” the officer sighed. “Confess to what?”

“It happened a long time ago, sir. Back in 2003.”

“Okay, give me a clue, will ya? Confess something.”

“I was the cause of the great blackout.”

The police officer closed his eyes slowly, wishing he was anywhere but standing at the window. Every once in a while a nut would come in. Today was, apparently, one of those days.

“The world forgives you. Go home.”

“No, no. This thing has been eating me up for years. It’s getting so I can’t sleep. I’ve got no appetite. It’s really weighing on me more and more. Please, listen to me.”

The officer stared plaintively at the distressed man. He finally let out a sigh of resignation.

“You packing a gun? Any weapons on you?”

“No. I said I was coming in to confess. I wouldn’t bring a gun into a police station. I’m not stupid.”

That remains to be seen, the officer thought.

“Okay, empty your pockets, step through the metal detector.” He motioned for Officer Jane to take his place at the window.

Officer Greg looked over the few items passing through on the belt. Nothing but the usual things—keyring, nail clipper, a couple of wadded up store receipts. He instructed the man to gather his belongings on the other side.

“Buzz us in, Jane.”

“Not your day, eh Greg?” She pressed the button and shot her colleague a smirk.

Officer Greg replied with an irritated grunt.

“Have a seat, sir. I’ll get the paperwork started.” He switched on the notebook computer atop the scratched gray metal desk. He pulled a small voice recorder from the drawer and pushed a pen and yellow steno pad at the man. “Print your name and address and any phone numbers you have.”

The man scratched his personal information down, his hand shaking a bit.

“Am I going to jail?” The man slid the pad back to the officer.

“Not until I hear your story…” The officer read the name scrawled on the pad. “Mr. Colby.”

Colby shifted uncomfortably in his seat, then began:

 

Call me Bumper. My real name is Todd, but everyone calls me Bumper since forever. I’m not sure why. I’ve never been able to get anybody to tell me.

Anyway, it was back in 2003, like I said. I got done with my shift at the box factory, second shift. I went home like always. I had this little trailer in a park just outside of Rock Creek. I used to live at home until Ma passed, and then I had to get the rental. Nothing great, but that’s fine.

So I get home, watch a little TV, and then fall asleep in my chair. It was around two, two-thirty in the morning, I wake up. Right then I know, I mean know, that there was someone there. You know that feeling where you wake up and you don’t know what woke you? That’s what I was feeling. Except I get this feeling of something being real close.

The television is still on. All I can hear is squealing tires from some action show, so I turn it off to listen. It was quiet at first. Then, from the kitchen, I heard it. Somebody was crunching potato chips and rattling the bag just enough that I could hear it.

“Who’s there?” I said it pretty loud.

The crunching and bag rustling stopped. I get out of my chair real slow and tiptoe to the kitchen. I turn the corner, and there it was.

An alien. Yeah, I see the look you’re giving me. And I can’t blame you. But every word is true. It was one of those pasty-gray short guys with big oval eyes that kind of wrap around the big swollen-looking heads. It had skinny little arms and legs, and looked naked. Each hand had just three long fingers.

It just stood there staring back at me, a chip in one hand, halfway to its—I don’t know what else to call it—mouth opening, I guess. Then it finally just shoved the chip into its mouth, staring at me like it was nothing.

I was real scared, but then again, it kind of pissed me off. I mean, those were MY chips. It stood there crunching. Both of us staring at each other.

Finally I got my balls tightened up enough to talk.

“Those are my chips, you know.”

The thing never took its eyes off me. It just reached into the bag real slow and crammed more chips into its mouth.

In my mind, I heard, “I know.”

I mean, its mouth was full of chips just munching away, but it talked to me in my head.

“They cost me two bucks,” Now I’m more pissed than scared.

“Money is a thing of your world,” it said in my mind.

“And you’re eating a thing of my world, Snack-King. They’re my chips. Put ‘em away.”

It rolled the bag up and set it carefully on the kitchen counter. Then it turned to me and said, “It’s time for your periodic evaluation.”

“My what?” I had no idea what it was talking about.

“Oh, come on. You know what that means.”

“No, I don’t.”

“Yes you do.”

“Nuh-uh.” It wasn’t going to let me have the last word.

“Uh-huh. Now let’s stop acting like you’re eight years old and let’s go.” The alien turned and headed for the door. I didn’t budge.

He stopped, turned back. “Well? You coming?”

“Do I have a choice?”

“Not really. The data that you provide is enormous. I just didn’t want to make you unconscious, for once. We find we get much more data when the subject is awake and fully conscious.”

“Jeez. It’s the middle of the night. Can’t we do this during the day? I gotta go to work later.”

“Would you rather be unconscious?”

I thought about it, then shook my head. “Nah, I guess not.” I figured if I had my druthers, I’d rather be awake and know what I was getting myself into.

We went down the front steps, and, being the middle of the night, there were no lights on or any movement throughout the entire trailer park. Completely silent and dark. We stopped in the road, and it looked up into the sky. Suddenly, there it was. I don’t mean it snuck up on us. I mean it suddenly just there, right above my head. Like it might have had some kind of cloaking device, you know, like in those space movies. The thing was a wedge kind of shape, about the length of two Ford one-ton F-350’s with dual wheels and crew cab placed end to end.

A door opened, and light flooded onto the gravel.

“Enter,” it said.

I took a deep breath and went up the ramp. As soon as I got to the top, it lifted and closed behind me. Over to the pointy-front edge of the craft there was another alien dude. I waved at it, and it started to lift a three-fingered hand, then stopped. It turned back to the panel.

“Sit,” the chip-muncher said, pointing toward a recliner that moved out flush from a wall.

I sat, nervous and scared.

“You gonna do that probing thing?”

“What?” it said, surprised.

“You know, the anal probe thing. I heard about it, and it doesn’t sound great.”

“What? No! That isn’t the type of data we collect. Right now we’re on a mission to explore your culture and society.”

“Good. No probes.” Boy, was I relieved.

“Why would you even bring that up? You WANT us to probe you or something?”

“Hell, no. It was just something I heard happens to people who are abducted.”

“And what other fallacies have you heard?”

“Being seduced by sexy space babes.”

“What?”

“You know, your world is dying and you need the seed of manly men to repopulate your planet. So you use space babes to seduce…”

“That is the single most ridiculous statement I’ve ever heard from a human.”

“Sor-ry!” I was more than a little sorry to hear that wasn’t going to happen.

“Why is it that your planet insists on needing odd rituals and tall tales? They do no real good, from what we see.”

“So, you’re saying there are no such thing as space babes.”

I could hear it huff out a sigh in my mind. Then it said, “Well, okay, it happened once.”

“Once?”

“Okay, twice or maybe three times.”

I looked at it, feeling a little bit of hope that it might happen to me. “How about today?”

The alien at the panel spun its big head to face me, its mouth bunched up into an ‘O’. The first alien said, “No. Not today.” The other alien turned back to the panel.

“Damn,” I said.

“What is your idea of a ‘sexy babe’?”

“Here, I’ll show you.” I pulled out my wallet, opened it. I flipped past the picture of Ma. I held it out to it.

“Who is this next to your Federal Breast Inspector card?”

“A sexy babe. Not from space. She’s Hispanic, I think. Her name’s Sofia Vergara. She’s hot, huh?”

“I’m afraid that she holds no fascination for me. However, her children will never go hungry.”

“That’s for sure.”

“Is she your mate?”

“I wish! But nah.”

“So, we have a few questions for you.”

“Shoot.” I put my wallet back into my back pocket, then clapped my hands and rubbed them together.

“What are the most important items that you use in your life?”

I thought about it for a while, then pulled out my cell phone. “This is pretty important.”

“That is a communication device, yes?”

“Yep. I can call people, have people call me, send and get texts when I’m too busy to stop what I’m doing to talk.”

“Is that all you do with it?”

“Hell no. I can take pictures. Hey! Let me take a picture of you.”

“No. No pictures.”

“What? You think that pictures make you look fat or something?”

“No. It’s simply that we must ensure our state of anonymity.”

“Oh. Okay.”

“May I see it?”

I paused, then handed it to the alien. Its long knobby fingers felt all over it.

“Hey, since I just let you see my phone, why not tell me your name?”

Without looking at me, it said, “My name would mean nothing to you.”

“I didn’t ask if it would mean anything to me. I asked what your friends call you.”

It looked up from the phone. “Sidonostominyxyx.” He said. This was my closest guess to what his name sounded like.

I tried to say the name, but only got the first part right. “Okay, that’s pretty hard to say. Mind if I call you Sid?”

“That’s fine.”

“What’s that guy’s name?” I asked, nodding towards the other alien.

Another voice, a different one, said “Oomizyxeffoozx.” Another guess on my part.

“Hey, mind if I call you Oomi?”

The alien turned, looked at me and nodded. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Sid flipped the phone open. The screen lit up.

“How do you make calls?”

“Easy,” I took the phone back, pulled up the phone list. “See. The phone numbers for everyone I want or need to call are there. I just press the button and it automatically dials.”

Sid pressed a button.

“Whoa there chief,” I said, taking the phone from him and cutting off the call. “I have no idea where we are right now and I don’t need roaming charges. I can barely afford my rent and don’t need no extra bills on my phone.”

“Roaming charges?” Sid asked.

“Yeah. Damn service providers charge a lot more when you call when outside of the coverage area.”

“I see.”

“Where are we right now?”

“What you call the dark side of the moon.”

“I just got here and we are already there?”

“Yes.”

“Pink Floyd’s got nothin’ on me.”

Sid said nothing, simply stared like he didn’t know what to say.

“Where you taking me?” I asked. “You got a window in this thing?”

Oomi looked up, his oval eyes slanted slightly.

Sid nodded. “Show Bumper where we are.”

Suddenly the wall disappeared, and I was staring into the stars. The sight was incredible. I mean, I’ve seen the night sky before, but this looked completely different. I fumbled for the flask in my back pocket, unscrewed the cap and took a big swig of Jack.

“What is that?” Sid asked.

“What?”

“That container from which you just drank.”

“Oh, just my flask. I keep some handy just in case.”

“Just in case of what?”

I waved at the stars. “Oh, something like this. Where’s the moon?”

“Behind the ship.”

“Can I see it?”

Oomi tapped the panel in front of him. The stars seemed to move and then the black shape of the moon came into view, half lit.

“I thought you said we were on the dark side of the moon.” I felt a little like someone was pulling my leg.

Sid sighed, and I saw him lower his gray lids over his eyes, then opened them to once again look at me. “As I would have figured you would know that the term ‘dark side of the moon’ refers to the side of the moon that those on earth cannot see.”

“So this is special, huh?”

“For humans, yes, this is special.”

“So where is your moon base?”

“Moon base?” Sid asked.

“Yeah, I figure you guys can’t be just flying around out in space without getting fuel or getting something to eat. You know. Your moon base.”

“We have no moon base.”

“Well, where is your base.”

“We have installations we keep hidden in various waterways around your earth.”

“What? You mean underwater?”

“Yes.”

I thought about this, unscrewed the cap to the flask again and took another pull.

“Why do you do that?”

“What?”

“Drink that liquid.”

“It makes me happy,” I said, shaking my head. These aliens didn’t know shit.

“May I have a drink?”

I didn’t want to be weird about alien backwash, but I didn’t want to get stranded on some asteroid, so I said, “Sure.” I unscrewed the cap and handed the flask over. Sid’s knobby fingers fumbled a little with it, then got the hang of it and curled all three fingers around the container. I heard the Jack gurgle into his mouth opening. Then he suddenly bent forward, making half-gagging, half-coughing noises. He held out the flask while he was still bent over.

I took it from him with a laugh. “That’ll put hair on your chest, huh?”

Sid finally caught his breath. “Yes, indeed. Especially if the hair comes from intense burning from within.”

I saw Oomi cross the room, looking at me.

“What?” I asked. “You want a tug o’ Jack Daniels?”

“Please.” Oomi said in my head.

I unscrewed the cap again and held it out to him. He carefully took it, glancing over at poor Sid. He raised it to his mouth opening. As he swallowed, his big eyes got even wider than I ever thought possible. When he held the flask out, I heard him whooping, like gasping for breath. Sid took the flask from him, drank some more. I took it from him, drank some more. We passed it around like that for a while.

Oomi got the last of the Jack. He held out the flask to me like he was sorry to see it end. Then he kind of stumbled back to the lighted panel and went back to work.

“So what kind of engine you got in this thing?”

Sid’s lids were halfway over his eyes, obviously feeling a heavy buzz. “Concentrated plasma drive.”

“No shit. Do you go like a bat out of hell?”

“Indeed.”

“Which one of the stars are you from?”

“This star.”

“What? The sun?”

“Yes. We are also terrestrials.”

“How can that be? Don’t get offended, but you sure don’t look human.”

“Think of us as energy forms. We appear as best fills our needs. This form you see is what you expect to see.”

“So why don’t you already know stuff like potato chips and Jack Daniels and hot chicks? I mean, if you’re from earth, you’d know about it.”

“Think of us as visitors from another reality.”

I couldn’t wrap my skull around that one. I thirsted for another sip from my now-empty flask. “How long would it take to get back to earth? I could get us some beer. What time is it anyway?”

“We are outside of time right now.”

“Right. So what time is it?” I flipped open my phone and it told me it was nearly nine o’clock. “Shit! How long have I been here?”

“As I said, your time moves differently when you are in our presence.”

“Well, the Flash Mart is open twenty-four seven. I think I’ve got enough cash in my wallet for a twelve-pack. What say we zip on down and get some fortification. Plus, I can call in sick. I’m kind of enjoying tooling around with you guys.”

“We’re here!” Oomi exclaimed, promptly falling to what must have been his knees.

“Okay, cool,” I looked at Sid. “How do I get out of the ship without being seen by anyone? Hate to make you obvious to anybody else.”

“Don’t worry about that. Just walk down the ramp. We’re cloaked.”

“I KNEW IT! You guys are outstanding!”

The ramp opened, and I went down to the parking lot. As soon as I stepped off the ramp, I heard cars and the gas pumps tinging. I went around to the front of the building and went in. The place was busy, people buying coffee, newspapers, and scratch-off tickets. I pulled a twelve pack of Rolling Rock beer out of the cooler and went to the counter.

The cashier’s name tag said “Mikey”. I set the beer on the counter and grinned at him.

He looked at me and said, “Starting a little early, aren’t we cowboy?”

“Still going from last night, Mikey. Hey, how about some of those kettle chips. They might like those.”

Mikey rang it all up, shaking his head. “You and your friends must be hard core.”

“Maybe we’re just celebrating.”

“What?”

“Does it matter?”

“I guess not.”

We exchanged cash, and as I stuffed the change in my pockets, I grabbed the chips and beer.

“Have a good day, sir,” Mikey said, “The door is twelve steps that way.”

“You’re a funny guy, Mikey.” I said, a little annoyed.

I went back into the side parking lot, but didn’t see anything. I looked around to see if maybe someone was watching me. When I turned back I saw the ramp down so I ran up into the ship.

“What are those?” Sid asked, big-eyeing the bag of chips.

“Kettle chips. They’re good. I think you’ll like them.”

“What is ‘Rolling Rock’?”

“Oh, come on. You guys know about beer, right?”

“Is it like ‘Jack Daniels’?”

“Not quite. But it’s good. It’s got alcohol in it.”

Hearing those words, Oomi turned from the panel to face me, still kinda wobbly. I popped open the box and pulled out three cans. I popped the tops to all of them and handed one to each of my new buddies. Sid raised the can to his mouth opening, made a sucking noise. I figured it was the way he smelled stuff since he didn’t have much of a nose. Then he raised the beer up and took a swig.

When he lowered the can, his eyes told me that he liked it. He immediately raised the can back to his opening and tilted back.

I felt a tap on my elbow. Oomi stood there, weaving a little, holding out his can.

“More?” he asked in my mind.

His can was already empty. I hadn’t taken a drink from my can yet, so I just held out mine. Oomi took it and stumbled back to the panel.

I pulled another can out, popped the top. “Hey Sid! Road trip?”

“Road trip. What do you mean by this term, ‘Road trip’?”

“Aw, come on! You guys don’t know anything! We got some beers, we got some munchies, we just tool around drinking beer listening to AC-DC, eating stuff, and seeing what is out there.”

“AC-DC? How would you listen to electricity?” Sid asked uncertainly.

“Nah. That’s the name of only the best rock group in history. They rock! So. Road trip?”

Oomi’s voice popped into my skull. “Road trip!”

Sid said, “Road trip!”

“Road trip!” I shouted, chugging down half my beer.

Before long, Oomi had made all the walls and floors vanish and we all sat on the weird recliners and drank beer, the landscape whipping by. All the highways and trees and farms and the people not even looking up at us as we whizzed over them. I took out my phone and got a picture of Sid with kettle chip crumbs all over his skinny torso, lifting a beer to his opening. Then I got a pic of Oomi leaning heavily on the control panel, his eyes closed. They were awesome pics, too! Sid grabbed my phone and got one of me with my arm around Oomi.

“We need tunes!” I shouted.

“Tunes?”

“You know, music. Stuff that rocks! You got a radio? Maybe a CD player? Something that rocks?”

Oomi pressed the panel a few times. Sid just sat there swigging beer and shoving kettle chips into his mouth. Suddenly music blared on.

“Alright! That’s what I’m talking about! AC-DC!” I yelled, popping open another beer.

This went on for a long stretch until I got bored. I went over to Oomi standing over the panel. “Thunderstruck” was playing.

“Hey Oomi. You drive this ship, right?”

“Yes. I. Pilot. This. Craft.” He could barely put the words into my head. His big head wobbled on his neck like a top about to tip over.

“Can I try?”

Oomi’s big eyes looked all filmy and his lids were at half-mast. He shrugged and looked over at Sid. Sid said loudly in my head, “Let him drive!”

Oomi showed me where to press the panel to move the ship. I had no idea what I was doing. I mean, it looked like a blank panel to me. Just lights. But I finally got the hang of it with Oomi’s help. The ship moved real slow, but I got it moving.

“Where are we now? Norway? Germany?”

Oomi said, “No. Northern Ohio in your United States.”

“Aw shit. I was hoping to go around the world a few times.”

Judging from watching the passing landscape, the craft was moving at a super slow pace. I didn’t mean to, but I steered us slow and steady towards some trees. Behind the trees I could see power lines.

“Just be careful. You’re moving sideways. Stop. Stop. STOP!” Oomi screamed in my mind.

I pushed the craft into some maple trees. We kind of twirled in the air and then the ship slid over a power line. Suddenly the lights in the ship went bright, and I glanced over to my left and saw sparks flying where the ship grazed the line.

“Oh, shit,” Oomi said in my mind. I was surprised he knew that word. He edged in front of me and corrected our course. But it was too late. That was when the blackout happened. And I was the cause of it. Because I drove a space ship drunk.

 

Officer Greg stared at the man without saying a word.

“You believe me, right?”

“Do you have proof?”

Bumper looked dismayed. “Not really.”

“What about the pictures? From the ship?”

“No. I messed up. I accidentally dropped my phone into the shitter a couple days later.”

“So what happened? Did you go to work?”

“I never showed up. The only reason I didn’t get fired was that the factory floor was closed because of the blackout. You believe me, right?”

“I—uh—don’t know. It’s kind of hard to imagine aliens who can’t hold their booze.”

Bumper slumped in the chair and shook his head. “They told me to not say anything. They told me no one would believe me.”

“Why are you coming forward now? So many years have gone by.”

“Well, I know from news reports that some people died because of it.”

“Well, you weren’t really the direct cause of their deaths.”

“I caused a 3,500 megawatt overload to the entire northeast power grid.”

“By driving a space ship into a power line.”

“Yes! Yes!” Bumper sounded hopeful.

“I can’t arrest you for that.”

“Why not? I’m admitting that I was drunk.”

Greg ran a palm over his face, feeling miserable. He knew he had to think of something to say that would satisfy Bumper and assuage his guilt.

“Aha!” Greg said suddenly, pointing at Bumper. “Statute of Limitations! That’s it! Your accident happened so long ago we can’t legally do anything.”

“You mean you can’t arrest me?”

“No.”

“How do I come to terms with myself over this?”

“You still drinking?”

“Not much anymore. Every time I put a twelve-pack in the fridge, it’s gone by morning.”

“So you’re still drinking a lot.”

“No, I’m saying that Sid and Oomi must come in at night while I’m asleep and take it.”

“The aliens are stealing your beer.”

“Yep. I’m guess I started a bad precedent. They also grab my snack food.”

“Aliens are stealing your snack food.”

“Chips, cheese puffs, popcorn, you name it. I made the mistake of buying Little Debbie Nutty Bars once and, poof, they were gone.”

“Do you see these aliens anymore?”

“No. I know they still visit me, but I don’t remember them. I think they block my memories somehow. So what do I do?”

“Why not stop drinking altogether? And stop buying snack foods. Work to become a better person.”

Bumper nodded. “Yeah, I suppose that would be the best thing really. And it really would save me money, especially since I never get back my can and bottle deposits.”

Officer Greg pressed the button to stop the tape recorder. Then he stood and shook Bumper’s hand, signaling the end of the interview, After Bumper went out the station door, Officer Jane came over, chuckling.

“So?” she asked.

“He’s a good person at heart. You know, I think he actually believes he did it.”

“But it’s a whole ton of bullshit, right?”

Greg paused for a long moment, then shrugged.

He said finally, “Probably.”

 

Catch more of my writing in my collection of weird stories, Banquet of Souls at Amazon. Click here:

Banquet of Souls

Dario Argento’s Maserpiece of Horror, Suspiria

Giallo films (Italian for yellow, the color associated with fear and based on popular pulp novels) were all the rage in the sixties and seventies. In fact, one of my other favorite horror films is also directed by Argento. Deep Red (1975) which starred David Hemmings. That film felt like you could sense Argento building his directorial talent to its height with Suspiria. Perhaps I’ll review that particular classic again sometime.

Dario Argento’s Suspiria is truly a masterpiece of horror and remains one of my favorite horror movies of all time. This 1977 film packs as much visual horror as possible into a simplistic storyline, and through the visuals, ultimately helped change horror forever. Think of it as an ancestor to slasher films, only with supernatural elements.

 

Every two or three years I revisit Suspiria just to re-experience the joy and audacity of the filmmaker. I watch it, enjoy it immensely, and then compare that to where horror is at that moment just to see how the genre is stacking up.

Most of the time, present-day horror really doesn’t stack up well against it. The plethora of remakes and supposedly original films made up of jump scares and buckets of gore just doesn’t cut it for me.

And it isn’t because of anything that Suspiria is. The film is a dopey, illogical, poorly dubbed, clumsily acted mess, with a storyline that shouldn’t work. But it does. And the reason that it works is that the director’s vision and use of the camera seems to overcome all sense of reason to make you feel as though the viewer is dreamily in on the nightmare.

I first saw Suspiria in a small art house cinema in Oneonta, New York, with my then girlfriend who begged me to see it. I went and was immediately blown away. I remember being filled with excitement over what I’d just watched, because of the visceral nature of the visuals. Ann, my girlfriend said it was “okay, I guess.”

I should have known that was the beginning of the end for us.

Jessica Harper stars as Suzy Banyon, a dancer traveling from America to Germany to attend the most prestigious dance school in the world. How a school with approximately two murders a week becomes the place dancers HAVE to go is a bit of a mystery, but hell, just go with it. Another issue is that the film supposedly takes place in Germany, but a character is heard saying ciao as they leave rather than auf wedersehen. Eh, well, we all know it is an Italian film, and things are bound to slip through the cracks. The terrific music by Goblin (with input from Argento) is compelling and suspenseful and brings the film together as a whole even when the logic of people’s actions and motivations falter. What Suzy finds is a string of murders, a very suspicious teaching staff and headmistress, and a whole lot of horror.

 

If you’ve seen this film already, then you either have come to one of two conclusions. Either that yes, Terry, you are completely correct, or that no, Terry you’ve missed the boat on this one and don’t know what the hell you’re talking about.

If you haven’t seen Suspiria, I highly recommend you do go out of your way to see it. The copy I got from Netflix had the original Technicolor wide-screen format, but unfortunately looked a little blurry on my TV. Plus the music kind of overwhelmed some of the dialogue at times. These are minor bitches though. See it.

I, of course, give this flawed, but truly classic fun film a full 10 out of 10 headstone rating.

And, as a postscript, I received word that there is a remake being filmed at this moment starring Dakota Johnson, Chloe Grace Moretz, and Tilda Swinton. Jessica Harper is even in this new one.

While I usually don’t hold much hope out for remakes, I’ll go to see this one, because even if it is a miss rather than a hit, I’ll always have the original.

Review—Ex Tenebris, the audio drama from The Night Keep

When an artist has passion for their work, it shows. And it shows in Ex Tenebris, the audio drama from the fantastic Night Keep.

The Night Keep is an eclectic website that presents original music and audio drama. I’ve listened to the works and this latest work, Ex Tenebris, is an absorbing blend of disturbing, suspenseful music and a compelling sci-fi horror drama. The composer and writer, the terrifically talented J. Daniel Edenfield, has obviously put forth a massive effort to bring this work to fruition.

This is a horror/sci-fi novel come to life. It’s pretty long, so it was tough for me to find the time to listen to the tale in its entirety in one sitting, since it is a whole novel acted out. But your patience is definitely worth it. The storyline is this: A spacecraft is sent on a recon mission to the planet Acheron. On the surface, it has the familiar feel of the film Aliens, especially in the beginning and ending chapters, but then the story moves on to so much more. I hesitate to tell you any more of the plot since I don’t want to spoil the surprises, but suffice it to say that things don’t go well in ways that you don’t expect.

This is sci-fi deftly blended with gothic horror, and it works nicely. Ancient forces are afoot in our solar system, and they are tenacious. I found myself caught up in each chapter wondering exactly what would happen next. And those who know me will tell you, when I can’t tell exactly what will happen next in a story, that gives it a hearty thumbs up from me! More than once I got chills down the spine, and that’s not an easy feat.

The other half of this tense drama is the music. I noticed that there was more than a touch of influence from John Carpenter’s music, the terrific artist Enigma, gothic symphonic works, and electronica from games. This sounds like the music would be a disjointed mish-mash, but it all works beautifully to give the entire piece a unique and disquieting feel, and accompanies the drama perfectly.

And, if you have a mind to, check out Daniel’s commentary on the entire project at the very end. He gives the in-depth backstory of his work and the influences on the story and music. Fascinating stuff.

Link to the show here: http://nightkeep.com/

So Deadies, get this and listen when you are in the car traveling, or if you have time to get your chills on! And if you dig it, check out past works by The Night Keep. Whether you’re approaching as a listener looking for a thrill, or a writer looking to set a mood, give Daniel Edenfield and The Night Keep a chance.

Before Jurassic Park: The Works of Michael Crichton

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I’ve been watching Westworld, the TV series on HBO, and I’ve been loving it. My wife came in at episode three and couldn’t take her eyes off the screen. Looking back, original 1973 film was pretty damned good, especially with Yul Brynner as the unstoppable Man in Black, sort of Terminator 1.0. When I heard they were making a series about it, I was a bit doubtful since people were messing with a classic. Screwing around with classics rarely bodes well for the material.

westworld2 You can catch the full movie on YouTube.

https://youtu.be/DTGsKtCnkIk

However, after watching the first episode, I was hooked. The original film was only 88 minutes long, so we never get into the deep science edge like we do with the new TV series. Don’t worry, I won’t be giving away any spoilers here, since it’s more fun when you see it for yourself. Rather I’m interested in talking about the man who was a major force in science fiction films and novels. I mean the guy who wrote good stuff before Jurassic Park.

strain Here is the trailer for the film:

When I was still in school, The Andromeda Strain novel came out. Subsequently it was made into a film directed by the great Robert Wise in 1971. I read the novel before seeing the movie, and was unfortunately disappointed by the changes in the ending. In the film, one of the heroes is getting shot at by lasers, while in the book, well, it was curare darts used to kill and make sure no animals escaped a secure level of the facility. I kind of preferred the darts, though I understood why the changes in the film were deemed needed. It’s still good, though the film sort of suffers since it haven’t aged terribly well. However, I still recommend it.

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If you look at Crichton’s novels and films, you’ll see that he craved to tell stories that were on the edge of technology, showing how scientific advances may affect our lives. His works include Terminal Man, the screenplay for Coma, a neat little TV movie about a possible nerve gas attack on a city called Pursuit (if you can find it), and the terrific Great Train Robbery.

He also wrote a couple less well-known films that I liked that also rode the cusp of technology. 1981’s Looker was about computer-generated models.

1984’s Runaway was about police who must deal with robots programmed to kill. Both are okay, albeit age-worn, science fiction films.

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If you can, check out these films and, better yet, Crichton’s novels. Once Jurassic Park was released, that’s when Crichton seemed to hit his stride with a whole lot of interesting and controversial ideas. Perhaps in a future post I’ll delve a bit further into Crichton’s later work.

Meanwhile, let me know which of Crichton’s works you liked the most, and which didn’t work for you.

Read and watch everything you can, Deadies! Immerse yourself in the good, bad, and awful. And above all, keep your sense of humor.

Film Review: It Follows

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I’m a little late to the show (yes, again! I know that this one is from 2014!) with a film review, but here is one worth mentioning. It Follows is a creepy, disturbing tale about teen sex and its consequences.

The plot goes like this: An evil entity attaches itself to someone after they had sex with the previous person they had attached itself to. The entity follows that person until they are touched by the entity and they die, all sexed up by the entity. And therein lies the big logical weakness of the plot. How the hell did this process start? If the entity hunts down and kills someone, then why hasn’t the evil thing finished its business by finally getting to the person it originally attached to? Even considering that once the last person you had sex with is followed and killed, it turns its attention back to you. I mean, how the hell did this thing start, and how the hell is it not finished? Then again, looking beyond this little hitch helped me enjoy the film. For the most part, horror is not based upon logic.

Okay, hmm, that part is out of the way. Let’s get down to the director and actors. The direction by David Robert Mitchell is crisp and compelling. He doesn’t use a lot of jump scares, which is good, and he concentrates mainly upon the theme of death by sex. He’s got a good eye for disturbing images, slow building suspense, and creepy scenery, all while maintaining a firm grasp of his actors and their actions. He is a director that you will be hearing much more about in the future, given the promise shown in this film.

The actors are all fairly unknown, but all good. Maika Monroe plays her role as Jay with the sense of fear and trepidation needed, given that anytime she has sex, she is sentencing them to a horrible death. Keir Gilchrist plays Paul, the sad sack love interest, who has a kind of pathetic pining for Jay. The entire cast commits to the material, even though it all feels pretty thin.

Now let’s get back to what the film really seems to be about: sex. Jay has a weird sexual encounter with someone she half-heartedly dated, and he warns her afterward that an entity will follow her until it touches her and kills her. So after this she begins having sex to protect herself from the entity, putting off the inevitable. Hold on, this is not a titillating ride for the sex-crazed.

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Even the initial sexual encounter seems joyless and unfulfilling. It seems as though she has sex with the first guy out of obligation, like it was expected since they had a date. The sex was as unsexy as you could ever imagine. In fact, all of the sex in the film is tainted with the same nagging lack of enthusiasm and sense of foreboding. I know, I realize that when she is performing a sex act, she is literally fucking killing them. Even a biological response of pleasure would have been a welcome addition, but then again, maybe that is the point.

These characters are all school age, but you don’t get to see the parents much at all. By design, I know, because those authority figures would mess up the framework of the film and add a dimension that would be difficult to explain.

So ultimately the film is wrapped in the guise of an evil entity out to kill you, it also hints about fear of diseases, sexual repression, guilt, shame, and societal expectations, all wrapped up in a neat and tidy, and extremely uncomfortable, horror story.

So Deadies, if you haven’t seen this one yet, give it a try if only to see how the director and actors pull together to put out a decent little film about the horrors of sex. 7 out of 10 headstones.

I got to see it through Netflix. Yeah, it’s a couple years old. So shoot me. I’m working on catching up on my movies.

Banquet of Souls, 12th Course, Dessert, “Who’s a Good Boy?”

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What follows is an excerpt from the twelfth story from my new anthology, Banquet of Souls.

Who’s a Good Boy?

 

A gunshot shattered the quiet. Sharon jerked her head toward the sound, almost dropping the two large food bags she was carrying to the dog pens. Three more shots fired off in quick succession. A hunter trying to hit the broadside of a barn, she thought. I just hope it’s not MY barn.

Another single gunshot rang out, louder than the others.

“That was too close,” she muttered. Two boarding dogs were yapping loudly, a beagle and a cocker spaniel, agitated by the sudden noise. They were her only boarders now that the summer season was winding down; they would be gone in a couple days.

Autumn would soon be upon her, with only her jewelry sales to get her through until spring. She had worked every evening during the hot summer months fashioning the homemade silver pieces, and she would have to travel every weekend to the different shows throughout the northeast to make her profit. Long hours. At certain shows, she could strike it big and sell most of her pieces. Other events were simply a waste of time. It was always a crapshoot.

Another gunshot, this time even closer. Sharon hurried to the barn for cover, just in case the person holding the gun ended up stupidly firing in the direction of her farm. She unbarred the big door and ducked inside. The pens were through the door on the left. Both dogs swung their heads to look at her when she joined them, dropping the bags of dog food. She kept these two in the pens closest to the door for convenience sake. The chain link pens had simple flip-up latches. She closed the door behind her and went to the first pen.

“Hiya, Roscoe! You hungry today?” The beagle grinned at her happily, yapping quickly and bouncing into the air. Sharon poured some food into the metal bowl and grabbed the water hose. Once she filled the water dish, she repeated the process with Binks, the cocker spaniel. Binks was not so active or joyful, moving slowly and silently to her dish to eat. She clearly missed her people.

Sharon spent a few minutes playing tug with Roscoe, and sat down beside Binks, stroking her fur and talking to her low and sweetly, assuring her that her people would be back tomorrow.

When both dogs seemed to settle down, she shut the pen doors. Roscoe had fallen silent, looking at her with soulful eyes. Binks had already curled up on her blanket and lay her head on her haunches. From the barn doorway, she spotted someone crossing the dirt driveway.

“You seen a dog run by here?” the man called out. He wore camo head to toe, right down to his camo cap and camo-colored boots. He held some sort of rifle.

Sharon shook her head. “Nope. You realize you’re on my property, don’t you?”

The man ignored her question, scanning the yard carefully. His dark eyes darted around. Absently, he scratched his chin with his shoulder. Sharon heard his beard brush against the stiff fabric.

“I said, you realize you’re on my property, right?”

“You the chick that sells jewelry, eh? I heard about you in town.”

Sharon ground her teeth. “Yes. I’m the chick who sells jewelry. And I would appreciate it if you’d get off my property and take that fucking gun with you. You are trespassing.”

The man glared at Sharon. “You got some mouth on you.”

“I also got a phone. To call the Sheriff if need be. Now leave.”

The man ignored her. “I was tracking a coyote or something. Killed a goat and a couple of my sheep. Over the hill at my place. I saw the fucker slink into the woods. I grabbed my gun and followed. Think I winged ‘em.”

Sharon stared steadily at the man. Finally, he lowered his rifle, pointing it to the ground.

“Look,” she said, approaching the man slowly. “I appreciate that something was killing your animals, but I’ve seen nothing, and you’ve been trespassing and shooting up my land. Please leave.”

The man tucked the rifle under his arm and stuck out his hand. “Ben. Withers.”

Sharon felt her face clench tight from reining in her anger. The last thing she needed was to get into a shouting match with a local redneck. Reluctantly, she took his hand, shook it once, let it drop.

“And you are…” he started.

“Sharon. Foti.”

“Shit, you don’t look Eye-talian. You look Swedish or something.”

“Weirdly enough I took my husband’s name when I married him.”

“Ah. I guess that explains it. Is your husband…” he looked around.

“Dead.” Sharon said it with a finality that she hoped would end the conversation.

“Oh. Sorry.”

“Listen, I’ve got chores to do, so I’ve got to get at them.”

“Okay, okay. I’m going. But like I said, I think I wounded the coyote. Just be careful when you are outside for a while. Pain can make an animal dangerous. Carry a handgun if you have one.”

“I don’t. Please leave.”

“All right. Have a nice day,” he said with more than a touch of sarcasm in his voice. The man turned and crossed back across the yard and went into the woods, scanning the trees all the way. He finally disappeared into the shadows.

As she watched Withers leave, she relaxed and exhaled. This was the reason she lived this far outside of Rock Creek. She hated to mingle with assholes.

***

12 courses of fear and horror! Banquet of Souls is available now at Amazon Books https://goo.gl/Cs427c

Kindle Unlimited…FREE

Kindle edition $2.99

Paperback $10.00

Banquet of Souls, 11th Course, “Dead Run”

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What follows is an excerpt from the eleventh story from my new anthology, Banquet of Souls.

Dead Run

 

“Get in.”

The voice was familiar, but John couldn’t place it, nor did he recognize the car. He stepped closer. The face behind the wheel was shadowed in the darkness. A hard rain had begun hitting both the sidewalk and his back, chilling his skin though his wet shirt.

“No, that’s okay. I’m parked right up here.”

“I know. I said get in.”

That’s when John saw the gun. Snub-nose .38, pointing directly at his face. Then he looked up and recognized the holder of the gun.

“Hello, asshole,” the gun-holder said. Lisa’s ex-husband, Carl.

John wanted to bolt, but doubted he could move fast enough to dodge a bullet, even a bullet from the small-ish .38.

“What are you doing, Carl?” He asked, trying to keep his voice strong and steady, but not really feeling either.

“Get the fuck in the car, John. Now.”

“When did you get out?”

“Two days ago. Took me that long to track down where you and the bitch live. You gonna get in or do I have to shoot you in the kneecaps and drag your ass in?”

John looked around, quickly trying to assess the situation. A tropical depression was swirling up the coast, on the verge of dumping an ocean of rain and the streets were nearly deserted. He would not have been out, either, if he hadn’t worked late. A lone Toyota passed them, creating waves like the parting of the Red Sea. No one else was around.

What the hell? Weren’t the authorities supposed to notify you when an attacker was finally getting out of prison? Carl Bell. Ex-coworker. Full time lunatic.

Lisa divorced Carl when, after they first got married and all was fine, his personality changed. He started out by screaming at her for every little infraction. Then he began the slapping when something annoyed him. Then came the punches. And the vicious rapes. The final straw came when she dialed 911 just before he began beating her with an ax handle, pinning her down by sitting on her. The cops busted down the door and took him away. Her arms were broken and she had serious internal injuries, so much so that she spent four days in intensive care. The moment she left the hospital, she went to a divorce lawyer. She never went back to her home, and the last time she had seen Carl was at his trial. He was convicted of first degree assault and sentenced to fifteen years.

John flipped up the door handle and got in. The car smelled like stale cigarettes and old burger wrappers. A woman’s handbag lay on its side at John’s feet, its contents spilled out on the floor. Compact, feminine napkin, a stick pen for cleaning spots off clothes, a nearly empty pack of Salem cigarettes. A wallet lay open and in disarray, several credit cards out and loose on the dirty floor mat. It did not look good. John arranged his feet around the mess, then pulled the door closed.

“What do you want? Weren’t you instructed by the parole board never to come near us again?”

“Of course they told me that! And I promised on a stack of Bibles I wouldn’t. But here I am, huh?”

“Where did you get the car?”

“A female acquaintance loaned it to me.”

“Where is this female acquaintance?”

“Close by.”

John’s brain whirled in fear. “Where?”

Carl barked out a short laugh. “Close.”

“The trunk?”

“Bingo!”

“She alive or dead?”

Carl’s smile slid from his lips. He pulled the hammer back. “Let’s just say I had my fun and she doesn’t have much to say about it anymore. Now shut the fuck up while I tell you what’s going to happen next.”

***

 

12 courses of fear and horror! Banquet of Souls is available now at Amazon Books https://goo.gl/Cs427c

Kindle Unlimited…FREE

Kindle edition $2.99

Paperback $10.00

Banquet of Souls, 10th Course, Palate Cleanser, “What Actually Happened on August 14, 2003”

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What follows is an excerpt from the tenth story from my new anthology, Banquet of Souls.

What Actually Happened on August 14, 2003

 

“I need to confess something.”

Officer Greg looked at the slight, middle-aged man who had stepped up to the barred window. He wore a faded plaid shirt, jeans, and an International Tractor baseball cap.

“OK,” the officer sighed. “Confess to what?”

“It happened a long time ago, sir. Back in 2003.”

“Okay, give me a clue, will ya? Confess something.”

“I was the cause of the great blackout.”

The police officer closed his eyes slowly, wishing he was anywhere but standing at the window. Every once in a while a nut would come in. Today was, apparently, one of those days.

“The world forgives you. Go home.”

“No, no. This thing has been eating me up for years. It’s getting so I can’t sleep. I’ve got no appetite. It’s really weighing on me more and more. Please, listen to me.”

The officer stared plaintively at the distressed man. He finally let out a sigh of resignation.

“You packing a gun? Any weapons on you?”

“No. I said I was coming in to confess. I wouldn’t bring a gun into a police station. I’m not stupid.”

That remains to be seen, the officer thought.

“Okay, empty your pockets, step through the metal detector.” He motioned for Officer Jane to take his place at the window.

Officer Greg looked over the few items passing through on the belt. Nothing but the usual things—keyring, nail clipper, a couple of wadded up store receipts. He instructed the man to gather his belongings on the other side.

“Buzz us in, Jane.”

“Not your day, eh Greg?” She pressed the button and shot her colleague a smirk.

Officer Greg replied with an irritated grunt.

“Have a seat, sir. I’ll get the paperwork started.” He switched on the notebook computer atop the scratched gray metal desk. He pulled a small voice recorder from the drawer and pushed a pen and yellow steno pad at the man. “Print your name and address and any phone numbers you have.”

The man scratched his personal information down, his hand shaking a bit.

“Am I going to jail?” The man slid the pad back to the officer.

“Not until I hear your story…” The officer read the name scrawled on the pad. “Mr. Colby.”

Colby shifted uncomfortably in his seat, then began:

***

12 courses of fear and horror! Banquet of Souls is available now at Amazon Books https://goo.gl/Cs427c

Kindle Unlimited…FREE

Kindle edition $2.99

Paperback $10.00