Barbara Steele: Queen of the Italian Gothic Film

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on May 11, 2018 by Manuel Paul Arenas

Sometime back in the 1990’s I read an article in the Boston Globe about the original scream queen, Barbara Steele. I had never heard of her before then and was intrigued by the description they gave of her unusual beauty. For the next several months I scoured the video stores for her films but was hard pressed to find much. Fortunately, a co-worker had a laser disc of “Black Sunday” (original title La Maschera del Demonio, 1960) which he taped for me onto VHS so I could see it. I was overwhelmed by Mario Bava’s Gothic vision and by Steele’s preternatural beauty. But she’s not just a pretty face! She could hold her own alongside the big boys of the Horror film genre. In many or her films she would even play two roles, one of a put-upon heroine, and in the other her evil doppelgänger, as in Black Sunday where she plays both Princess Asa Vajda and her evil ancestor, the vampiric witch Katia Vajda

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Promo photo of Barbara Steele as Princess Asa Vajda in Black Sunday (1960).

 

 

That said, what a face she has; with her large eyes, pronounced cheekbones, and pouty, sensual, mouth she looks like a cross between a death’s head and a kewpie doll. Even so, she has a powerful sensuality about her that makes it difficult to take one’s eyes off of her whenever she is on screen. Hollywood dyed her lush ebon locks a peroxide blonde and unsuccessfully tried to cast her as an ingénue in an Elvis Presley film, which she promptly ran away from to seek her fortune in Italy. The Italian directors saw her potential, however, and made good use of her sepulchral pulchritude and featured her in several Gothic Horror films, the most celebrated of which is Black Sunday.

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Italian poster for “La Maschera del Demonio” (a/k/a “Black Sunday”, 1960).

Other significant films in which she starred are “The Horrible Dr. Hichcock” (L’Orribile segreto del Dr. Hichcock, 1962); “The Ghost” (Lo Spettro, 1963); “The Long Hair of Death” (I lunghi capelli della morte, 1964); “Castle of Blood” (Danza Macabra, 1964) and “Nightmare Castle” (Amanti d’oltretomba, 1965).

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Steele menaces Vincent Price in Roger Corman’s adaptation of “The Pit & the Pendulum” (1961).

 

Oddly, in her most significant English speaking genre role, Roger Corman’s adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Pit and the Pendulum” (1961) starring opposite Vincent Price, her voice was dubbed by another actress, which is a shame because she has a very distinctive British accent. In fact, most of her early roles seem to have been dubbed by other actresses. I myself never heard her real voice until I saw her appear in the 1990’s reboot of the Gothic soap opera “Dark Shadows”, where she resurrected the role of Dr. Julia Hoffman with much aplomb.

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Barbara Steele as Dr. Julia Hoffman in the 1991 reboot of Dark Shadows.

 

She has appeared in many other TV shows and films over the decades, including Fellini’s “8½” (1963), “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” (1961) and “The Winds of War” (1983) but is mostly known for her Gothic Horror films of the 60’s. Although aged 80 years at the time I am writing this, she is still active and most recently had a supporting role in Ryan Gosling’s dark fantasy thriller, “Lost River” (2014).

On a final note, in a perfect world, the young Barbara Steele would have made an excellent Azraelle. With her haunting looks and her uncanny charisma she would have brought an enticing terror to the Litch Queen as she has in all of her best roles. Do yourself a favor and check out one of her classic films and prepare to be bewitched.

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Tribute to Black Sunday by artist Bryan Baugh (2015)

 

 

 

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Charlie Chaplin’s “Monsieur Verdoux”

Posted in Charlie Chaplin, Henri Landru, Monsieur Verdoux with tags , , , on May 7, 2018 by Manuel Paul Arenas

Criterion DVD for “Monsieur Verdoux”

I recently watched the Criterion DVD release of Charlie Chaplin’s controversial film, Monsieur Verdoux (1947). The film was based on an idea by Orson Welles who wanted to make a picture about Henri Landru, the infamous Bluebeard killer. He had asked Chaplin if he would be interested in portraying the lead in the film, but instead Chaplin bought the rights to the idea from Welles then decided to make it into a comedy. Although historically referred to as a black comedy, the sinister underpinnings of the original tale are almost cancelled out by all the cutesy slapstick and saccharine  sentimentality of the scenes involving Verdoux’s real family or when he meets “The Girl” a the waif meets on the street who he originally intends to kill until she tells him her tale of woe. He then takes pity on her and ends up becoming her reluctant benefactor.

German promotional photo of actress Marilyn Nash as “The Girl”, a waif whom Verdoux begrudgingly takes under his wing.

Chaplin tries to make Verdoux as sympathetic as possible, whereas Landru was really just a cold-blooded killer.   The last time I had seen it was on laserdisc when I worked at Laser Craze in Boston back in the early 90’s. I recall enjoying it then, but had forgotten about the incongruity of the jarring American accents from actors who are supposed to be portraying French citizens. That being said, Martha Raye is amusing as Annabella Bonheur, one of Verdoux’s intended victims.

Monsieur Verdoux menacingly regards Annabella Bonheurone, of his myriad “wives” (played by Martha Raye in an uncharacteristically glamorous role.)

The film did not fair well in post-war America, but it did garner some decent box-office in France.  “Moreover, Chaplin’s own popularity and public image had been irrevocably damaged by multiple scandals and political controversies prior to its release.”  [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monsieur_Verdoux#Reception] A promotional campaign for the film was started to try to drum up support in the US, but it wasn’t quite successful. Posters were issued posing the question “Chaplin changes. Can you?”

Poster for Monsieur Verdoux

Although I enjoyed it when I first saw it, some 20+ years ago, I now find it kind of cloying and a bit off-putting in it’s misguided light treatment of a dark subject.

Update on Krampus chapbook

Posted in Baron Dixon, Dick Kelly, etching, Krampus, Rand Lyons with tags , , , , on April 22, 2018 by Manuel Paul Arenas

Yesterday morning my buddy Rand Lyons graciously allowed his living room to become a classroom. Our mutual friend, Dick Kelly came over and set up a small work area where he taught me the basics on how to make a print out of and etching. He brought along a wooden box with a UV light where we took a transfer of his original drawing for my proposed Krampus chapbook and burned it onto a copper plate, which we then covered in ink and applied to a paper which we put into a press.

Me rolling ink onto a copper etching plate.

It’s a bit more involved than that, but I don’t know enough about the technical side to get into it. I did make my first print though, which was a little thrilling.

Me, proudly displaying my very own print.

We made several copies of two separate prints, trying out different ink colors and hues, as well as different types of paper.

Close-up of my print.

We settled on a mixture of black and brown to create a sort of sepia tone, which should look very nice on the parchment paper we plan to use for the actual chapbooks. We still need to choose a font for the type and there was talk of possibly even giving some of them leather covers. Obviously, these will be more artful than your usual chapbook, and we may even make copies of individual prints for sale. Our good friend Baron Dixon suggested they might do well at the annual October Monster fest at the Allwun House.We shall see. I will of course keep you all updated as things develop.

Dick was even saying that his daughter’s girlfriend, who is  German may be able to do a translation into Deutsch for us. I would be thrilled if he were able to do so, but I think it might be a bit hard to get past some of the distinctly English aspects of the poem. Perhaps if I explain to him some of the nuance, he can do a prose translation of it. I might do the same for a version in Spanish. Again, I will let you all know as things develop.

The Tarot and Me

Posted in Aleister Crowley, Morgan-Greer Tarot Deck, Ordo Templi Orientis Tarot, Tarot with tags , , , on April 19, 2018 by Manuel Paul Arenas

I have always had a keen interest in divination, and tarot in particular has always fascinated me. Even so, I have only dabbled with it over the years and never delved into it too earnestly, despite what some would call a rather conspicuous invitation to do so.

My first introduction to tarot was when I was a young man, just out of high school. A family friend agreed to read my cards and in his deck I noticed the Death card, number 13 in the Major Arcana. It stood out for me because a few years prior I had done a drawing for a proposed album cover of the group I hoped to form one day. The group was Cerberus, which I never formed, actually. The sound I had imagined was something like what Blood Ceremony ended up doing, a sort of Doom/Proto-Prog hybrid. Anyway, the album was to be called Tarot, I believe, and I drew what I thought the Death card would look like…and that image was staring me in the face from the Morgan Greer deck before me.

XIII – Death card from the Morgan-Greer Tarot.

The image, an iconic grim reaper done with stipple shadowing. There is a rose on the card, and I believe there was one on my drawing as well, but I can’t recall. I hope to someday find the drawing amongst my things in storage and compare.
Either way, it sparked my interest in tarot, specifically in the Morgan-Greer deck, which I purchased. It served me for 30+ years, but I think it is time to retire that deck and get a new one. By chance, I think I have just gotten an invitation from another deck to come and play…

I recently came in early for my work shift and decided to go relax in the break room. Normally, there are one or two others relaxing, eating, reading their tablets, watching videos or beep-booping on their iPhones, but this time it was empty. The tables, of which there are many,  usually have the odd free food sample or the remnants of a refrigerator purging. This time, however, they were are clean and clear…save for one. On a table by the window, lay a lone card. Intrigued, I walked over to investigate. It turned out to be the introductory card from the Ordo Templi Orientis Tarot deck, replete with a commendation by Aleister Crowley.

I asked a couple of friends who regularly do readings and they said it was definitely an invitation of some sort, either to get that deck or to get a reading. I may do both soon. One friend cautioned however that this particular deck is a bit heavy for casual readings. I have also toyed with the idea of getting deeper into divination and esoteric studies in general. Maybe I’ll even take a class. We’ll see…

 

 

 

“Thalia” to appear in Spectral Realms #9

Posted in Black Hymeneal, Black Light Verse, Gothic Poetry, Literary Journals, published poems, S.T. Joshi, Spectral Realms, Thalia with tags , , , , , , , on March 23, 2018 by Manuel Paul Arenas

In my recent effort to join in on the current weird poetry renaissance happening in the literary genre journals, I joined a few forums on Facebook that focused on the writing and publication thereof. I have enjoyed my interactions with other writers on these forums, some familiar, others not so much, but each one respectful of the other and willing to lend a hand or give a friendly word of encouragement to their fellow scribes.

That being said, it was on another forum dedicated to a particular poet (whose name I shall withhold for privacy reasons) where I saw a post announcing the acceptance of one of their poems to the journal Spectral Realms. I offered my congratulations and mentioned how I’d always longed to get published in that particular journal but always seem to miss the submission date. Besides, I said, I was terrified of having my work dismissed by editor S.T. Joshi, adding that I would be crushed if he deemed my work unworthy of appearing in that esteemed journal.

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Spectral Realms #1, Summer 2014.

 

My poet friend’s response was to submit something right now. Unsure of what I read, I asked whether that meant they were currently taking submissions. They replied in the affirmative. I then asked whether there was a link to follow and they said no, but would send me the contact info. I then got a private message with Mr. Joshi’s contact info and instructions to mention their name in the body of my message of introduction. I was stunned. I quickly popped in my USB with the manuscript for Black Hymeneal and pulled up my poem “Thalia”, which I had been considering for The Audient Void, copied and pasted it into a fresh document, which I then attached to an email for Mr. Joshi. Oh, and I forgot to mention that during all this my time on my library computer ended and I had to pull everything up all over again on an express computer 3 minutes before the library closed for the night!

It got through though, and Mr. Joshi was very complimentary, calling it “a fine poem”, but asked if I would either add punctuation myself or trust him to do so for me. I told him that punctuation was not my forte and that I trusted his judgment to make the appropriate adjustments. He seemed pleased. Now I await further instructions on how and when to submit my bio. If all goes as planned, this will be my first proper publication, aside from a vanity press publication of Tasty Little Muffins. I hope it shall be the first of many yet to come.

PS: For the curious, a recording of me reading “Thalia”, accompanied by moody music and images from my 2015 Gothic photo shoot by Hydroxia may be found in the “About” section of this blog.

Black Hymeneal Update

Posted in Black Hymeneal, Denisse Montoya, Dimas Akelarre, Irish Pubs, Krampus, Uncategorized, Zachary Strupp with tags , , , , , , , on March 9, 2018 by Manuel Paul Arenas

Well, after a temporary hiatus, it seems that, with the help of my friends, things are getting back on track with the imminent completion and publication of my book, Black Hymeneal. My buddy Zach has helped me with the page numbering and sorting out the  Table of Contents (for which I still owe him breakfast!). That being done, it was time for my friend Denisse and I to work on the cover images. She picked me up after 7 pm a couple of Sundays ago and we drove to the Goodyear Farms Historic Cemetery to see if we might take a picture there, but it was closed. If I am not mistaken their sign said something to the effect that they close at twilight. No specific hour, just twilight. Hmmm. Another note of interest: whilst looking up information about the cemetery online I found a photo of one of the graves which actually bears the name of the ill-fated hero, Anacleto, from my story The Fell Fête! I may have to return sometime during daytime hours and pay my respects.

anacleto

Moving on, I then suggested we try an Irish pub, for their folksy atmosphere. Obligingly, she drove us back to my neck of the woods to Rosie McCaffrey’s where we had a Black Velvet (Guinness stout and hard cider) and she took an excellent photo of me, which I intend use as my “author photo” for the back of my book. That being done, we still needed to settle on an image for the front cover. Monday morning, during my daily ablutions, I had an epiphany: Denisse once took a photograph, that I have long wanted to use for just such a project, that ties in aesthetically with the content of my book. I asked her permission to use the image, and she graciously gave her consent, but I won’t post it yet, as I don’t want to jinx our endeavors by showing our hand too soon.

In other news, my buddy Dick Kelly has been sending me scans of some of the new artwork he’s come up with for our proposed Krampus chapbook. It looks pretty awesome and I cannot wait to see how it will all go together.

In between all of this, I have decided to stick my toes into the online journal submission pool. Over the last year or two I have sporadically submitted poems and prose pieces to various online journals and contests but to no avail. After a few months demurral I have decided to get back into the fray. I also have selected to submit to sites which are a little more in keeping with the weird poetry vibe I espouse to improve my chances of success.

For starters, I have sent my poem Dimas Akelarre to Literary Hatchet. I made some changes to it however, adding to it the subtitle The Warlock of Navarra to give a hint as to what it is about. I also removed the reference to Nyarlathotep, because it felt like a name-drop, and replaced it with the Great Black He-Goat, which is more appropriate thematically anyway. I also have my eye on the submission date for the 6th issue of The Audient Void. More on all of this as things develop.

Ursula K. Le Guin: The Grand Dame of American Fantasy & Science Fiction

Posted in A Wizard of Earthsea, Bildungsroman, Earthsea Cycle, Fantasy, Uncategorized, Ursula K. Le Guin with tags , , , , on January 26, 2018 by Manuel Paul Arenas

A few days ago I heard the sad news about the passing of author Ursula K. Le Guin, the outspoken grand dame of American Fantasy & Science Fiction whose career spanned over 50 years. I won’t pretend to be that knowledgeable about her vast body of influential work, but what I did read, I liked a lot.

Author Ursula K. LeGuin, 1973.

I believe I first heard of Le Guin through my colleague, Derek Fetler. Back in the days when Derek and I haunted the Cambridge open mike circuit as the Gloom Twins, there was a song we used to play that Derek had penned called Sparrowhawk, based on Le Guin’s A Wizard of Earthsea (1968). I was not familiar with Le Guin’s work prior to that, but I was a fan of J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis from my childhood, so I was intrigued when Derek turned me on to the original Earthsea trilogy. I recall burning through A Wizard of Earthsea (1968), The Tombs of Atuan (1970), and The Farthest Shore (1972), which told the coming-of-age tale of Ged, a wizard from the isle of Gont, and getting totally absorbed in Le Guin’s very distinctive fantasy world.

The Bantam paperback editions of the original Earthsea Trilogy. I always loved the artwork on these by Pauline Ellison.

While still under her spell, I picked up a chapbook called From Elfland to Poughkeepsie (1973) which is an essay by Le Guin on writing fantasy that had some valuable insight on dialog writing that I have tried to follow to this day when writing my own dark fantasy tales.

Chapbook of Le Guin’s essay From Elfland to Poughkeepsie (1973, Pendragon Press).

Over the years I tried to find more Le Guin books to read, but since a good portion of her output is pure Science Fiction, a genre I don’t have much interest in, I stopped seeking out her books. I did however read the novella The Beginning Place (1980), as well as the story The Rule of Names (1964), the latter of which I really got a kick out of, but I haven’t read much else since.

The Wind’s Twelve Quarters (1979, Bantam) featuring another lovely cover by Pauline Ellison, where I first read The Rule of Names.

When Le Guin published a 4th novel in the Earthsea Cycle, Tehanu (1990), I was initially excited, but I was so deep into my exploration into H.P. Lovecraft and the Cthulhu Mythos by then that I didn’t get around to picking it up until relatively recently and still haven’t read it yet. Apparently, there is also a 5th novel called The Other Wind (2001), as well as a short story collection called Tales from Earthsea (2001) which I have yet to read as well, but might take a look at now that I have begun re-reading the original trilogy.

Paperback copy of Tehanu (1991, Spectra) which I used to see everywhere when it first came out.

At the tail-end of 2004 I saw a SiFi Channel mini-series adaptation of the original trilogy called Legend of Earthsea (2004) which was a watered down affair with none of the wonder and wisdom from Le Guin’s novels. I understand Le Guin herself was dissatisfied with it and accused the producers of “whitewashing”, by casting a fair-skinned actor in the lead when Le Guin explicitly describes the inhabitants of Gont as being of reddish-brown cast.

1st edition of A Wizard of Earthsea (1968, Parnassus Press) featuring cover art by Ruth Robbins depicting Ged’s coppery countenance.

Apparently there is an anime as well, which is a very loose adaptation of the original trilogy that also had Le Guin in a tizzy:

“Ursula K Le Guin, the author of the Earthsea series, gave a mixed response to the film in her review on her website. Le Guin commended the visual animation in the film but stated that the plot departed so greatly from her story that she was “watching an entirely different story, confusingly enacted by people with the same names as in my story”. She also praised certain depictions of nature in the film, but felt that the production values of the film were not as high as previous works directed by Hayao Miyazaki, and that the film’s excitement was focused too much around scenes of violence. Her initial response to Gorō Miyazaki was “[I]t is not my book. It is your movie. It is a good movie”. However, she stated that the comment disclosed on the movie’s public blog did not portray her true feelings about the film’s vast departure from original stories; “taking bits and pieces out of context, and replacing the storylines with an entirely different plot…”” [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tales_from_Earthsea_(film)#Reception, retrieved 01/25/2018]

Perhaps someday someone will come along and do it right. Till then, do yourself a favor and pick up Le Guin’s exquisite books.

PS: As I re-read A Wizard of Earthsea I am reminded constantly of Derek’s song, Sparrowhawk, the melody of which goes round on a loop in my head. I wish we had recorded it together. Perhaps someday we will.