Bibliography

Posted in Bibliography, Gargoyle, Morbidezza, My Bantam Black Fay, Spectral Realms, Speculations: Poetry from the Weird Poets Society, terza rima, Thalía, The Baleful Beldam, Vampire Vigil with tags , , , , , , , , , on November 27, 2018 by Manuel Paul Arenas

A listing of my published works and appearances.

2018

Thalía (poetry): Spectral Realms #9 [Hippocampus Press]

2019

Morbidezza (prose poem): Spectral Realms #10 [Hippocampus Press]

Gargoyle (prose poem): Spectral Realms #10 [Hippocampus Press]

My Bantam Black Fay (poetry): Speculations: Poetry from the Weird Poets Society 2018

Vampire Vigil (prose poem): Spectral Realms #11 [Hippocampus Press]

The Baleful Beldam (poetry): Spectral Realms #11 [Hippocampus Press]

Night Hag (prose vignette): The Phantasmagorical Promenade [Planet X Publications]

The Fell Fête (tribute fiction): The Averoigne Legacy: Tribute Tales in the World of Clark Ashton Smith [Pickman’s Press]

2020

Satanic Sonata (prose poem): Spectral Realms #12 [Hippocampus Press]

Kiss of Life (prose poem): Spectral Realms #12 [Hippocampus Press]

Update 07/15/2020: H.P.L. R.I.P. accepted for Spectral Realms #14!

Posted in H.P.L. R.I.P., Hippocampus Press, Penumbra (Journal), S.T. Joshi, Spectral Realms, The Hell of Mirrors with tags , , , , , on July 15, 2020 by Manuel Paul Arenas

Just heard from S.T. Joshi in regards to my submission for Spectral Realms #14. He has accepted H.P.L. R.I.P. with the caveat that I make a minor word adjustment. I shall get on that today and send it to him post-haste. I had been worried about this one as Mr. Joshi is a Lovecraft scholar and I was hoping my little tribute would pass muster.

I still have a couple other works in limbo, short stories awaiting acceptance from other venues, and I will keep you all posted about those.

Update (same day):

Mr. Joshi has accepted my revision and H.P.L. R.I.P. will be featured in Spectral Realms #14! He also responded to my query about Penumbra #1, which he said should be out next month or so. He went on to explain that Hippocampus Press has many releases coming out in the coming weeks, and that everything is done for issue #1, save for the cover art. Fingers crossed! I am anxious to see my story The Hell of Mirrors finally see publication in this issue!

Update 07/14/2020: Slashers, Witches and Demons… Oh no!

Posted in In the Meantime... (2014), Joe Bob Briggs, Purson, Quoc Dang Tran, Rise Above Records, Rosalie Cunningham, Samuel Bodin, Scare Package (2019), The Circle and the Blue Door, Victoire Du Bois, Zachary Strupp with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on July 14, 2020 by Manuel Paul Arenas

This past Friday I visited my buddy Zach and we had some pizza and watched a film he found that was a spoof of the 80s horror films, while also utilizing the portmanteau format of the 70s. The movie, Scare Package (2019) featured horror shorts by 7 different directors, illustrating different tropes in the horror genre. The over arcing story takes place in a video store that specializes in horror. A creepy regular customer, Sam, has been trying to get a job there for ages, but shop owner Chad won’t have it. Instead he hires a young man named Hawn, much to Sam’s chagrin. As Chad tries to school Hawn on horror he shows him these videos, which are the short films. It was wild and goofy and a lot of gory fun! Zach was very excited that there is even a cameo by his hero, Horror Host Joe Bob Briggs!

Poster for Scare Package (2019).

We also watched another episode of the French Horror series Marianne (2019), which is truly horrifying. The premise is that a young author Emma (actress Victoire Du Bois), who exorcised her childhood demons, so to speak, and made her fame writing a series of books about a witch named Marianne. Once her nightmares stop, however, she eventually tires of the character and tries to retire the series, but soon finds that, to the contrary, Marianne is not quite done with Emma.

This is a really well written series and am in awe of director Samuel Bodin and his writing partner Quoc Dang Tran‘s ability to dig deep in the traditional witch lore and come up with something that is so engaging and original. Zach and I have been watching the series piecemeal, savoring it over a protracted time period because despite it being so good, it can be a bit harrowing at times. Definitely worth watching despite Netflix having canceled it after one season.

Poster for Marianne (2019).

In other news I have finally scratched an old itch and gotten a couple of CDs by the (now defunct) British retro Psych/Prog band Purson. Named after one of the Kings of Hell, Purson was spearheaded by multi-talented Rosalie Cunningham, the band played a hybrid of distinctly British psychedelia with proto-prog overtones. Their sound, though reminiscent of the classic 67-72 era, is oddly original. Mostly due, in my opinion, to Cunningham’s idiosyncratic songwriting.

Purson, circa 2014. (L-R)  Raphael Mura (drums), George Hudson (lead guitar, backing vocals), Rosalie Cunningham (lead vocals, guitar), Justin Smith (bass), Samuel Shove (keyboards) .

Purson disbanded in 2017 and their albums seem to have become a bit scarce. That said, I did find two used CDs online for a decent price. I picked up The Circle and the Blue Door (2013) and In the Meantime… (2014), both of which are excellent, and eclectic. I hear on these albums everything from English folk to Psych-Pop and Proto-Prog and even a tinge of Goth. Like former Rise Above label mates Blood Ceremony, they’re one of the few modern bands that use mellotron in their sound arsenal. It’s a shame they broke up so quickly, but my understanding is that Rosalie wanted to fly solo for a bit. What I have heard of her solo work, however, sounds like it could be from a Purson album. They made several videos, so if you’re curious, just pull them up on YouTube and you’ll be hooked in no time.

Update 07/09/2020: My many unfinished works

Posted in Helldorado, Nightmares in Yellow, The Burning Ember Mission of Helldorado, Zachary Strupp with tags , , , on July 9, 2020 by Manuel Paul Arenas

One of my main incentives to make it through this pandemic is that I have too many unfinished drafts of both poetry and prose, which I absolutely must wrap up before I shed this mortal coil. I am currently working on a story from my Helldorado series that I have tentatively titled The Dark Red House, but I am not 100% sold on that title, so it may change before the tale is submitted anywhere. I was never happy with the title for my contribution to Nightmares in Yellow, and it bugs me every time I think of it. This is the one I mentioned earlier, with the missionaries. It’s coming along nicely, but may take a while yet to complete and clean up before I loose it on the world.

Yesterday, while rummaging through the drafts on my blog, I re-discovered my unfinished sequel to The Burning Ember Mission of Helldorado. Provisionally titled Helldorado-Mouth, I have about 3 pages or so of some pretty intense sequences which got bogged down when I was trying to write the connective scenes tying them together. I would love to get back to that soon, as what I have written so far is some of my best attempts at a work that is a little more accessible for a modern audience. It is a bit ambitious in it’s scope however, and I must work out a way to have it all tie in neatly without any excess verbiage.

There are various other unfinished drafts that have been languishing on my blog as well. I have recently wrapped up a few reviews that were in limbo, but the fiction and poetry is a bit harder to fix, so it’ll have to wait while I sort out the details in my brain before knocking them out. I also promised my buddy Zach that I would work on a story for a writing challenge, which I am genuinely interested in, but haven’t figured out my take on the subject yet, so I have yet to write anything for it.

Update 07/03/2020: A mysterious letter…

Posted in Church of Satan, Jehovah's Witnesses, Satanic Temple with tags , , on July 3, 2020 by Manuel Paul Arenas

Yesterday was a long and arduous day for me at work and the last few calls I took really stressed me out to the point where I had a bit of a hypertension spell come on. For the last 15 minutes of my shift I thought I would have a heart attack. Anyway, once I got off phones and clocked out I began to calm down, so I decided I would have a nice evening at home and relax. I stopped off first at my local grocery store to pick up food for the weekend, as I expect, with tomorrow being the 4th of July, it will get crowded with the last minute rush for holiday meal and party supplies. That done, I headed home relieved at the prospect of a quiet evening at home. I was also a little excited because I knew that a DVD I had ordered from Zia Records had been delivered and was keen to check it out. 

Upon arrival at my apartment complex, I grabbed my groceries and headed straight for the mailbox and upon opening it found the usual junk mail along with my package, only there was a handwritten letter as well. I hobbled up the steps to my apartment and once inside immediately pulled the letter to see what it was. It was sloppily written, but it was addressed to me personally and the return address was some religious organization. The letter, accompanied by a business card, was in Spanish and began with something about the writer being from the neighborhood, so I at first thought “Oh no, I have somehow offended someone with something I have done or perhaps they’ve seen my heavy metal battle shirt with my Venom and Black Sabbath patches and feels the need to save my soul.” As I read on, however, I saw that it was a generic message of fear mongering and proselytizing from the local Jehovah’s Witnesses. I don’t know how they got my info, presumably from the phone book, but as they addressed me in Spanish, I reckon they don’t know me personally. I can speak read and write in Spanish, but my mother tongue is English.

Once I calmed down–for the second time that evening–I became irate and wanted to retaliate for their impertinence. I thought of responding in kind, sending some flyers from the Church of Satan or the Satanic Temple, which does have a branch in Phoenix. But upon thinking on it a bit I decided to take the high road and just retaliate with my pen. I am currently working on a short story in which there is a scene based on an incident that actually happened where I was accosted by a trio of attractive missionary women, the youngest of whom came up to my car door shoving papers and business cards into my face from the Jehovah’s Witness as I was alighting from my vehicle. In my story a similar trio, a mother and her two daughters do the same to a dark individual who lures them to his lair. As I have written thus far, they leave unscathed when the younger daughter sees something hair raising in his garden, but now with this second intrusion on my personal space, I think I am going to have them face a more immediate danger which they may or may not walk away from intact.

I photographed the letter with my new smartphone to share, and as a record if they persist and I need to file a harassment complaint. If I can figure out the way to do so, I shall share the photo here.

Update 07/13/2020: Here it is…

Unsolicited letter from the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Mario Bava and the birth of the giallo film

Posted in Alfred Hitchcock, Arnoldo Mondadori Editore, Black Christmas (1974), Blood and Black Lace (1964), Boris Karloff, Dario Argento, Five Dolls for an August Moon (1970), Giallo, Hatchet for a Honeymoon (1970), I tre volti della paura (1963), Jane Austen, John Saxon, Krimi, Mario Bava, Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), Northanger Abbey (1817), Suspiria (1977), The Girl Who Knew Too Much (1963), The Man Who Knew Too Much, Thriller TV Series, Ubaldo Terzano with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 2, 2020 by Manuel Paul Arenas

As promised, I do have some things to say about Mario Bava‘s early giallo movies. For the uninitiated, giallo is Italian for the color yellow. It also is the term used for the pulpy mystery digests which were popularized by Arnoldo Mondadori Editore and derives from the predominantly yellow covers of their books. In this sense, the term encompasses everything from the whodunnits of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Dame Agatha Christie, to the horror/thrillers of Thomas Harris and Caleb Carr.

Mondadori giallo pulp translation of an Edgar Wallace crime novel. Note the masked criminal which became a staple of the giallo film.

The movie term however, especially outside of Italy, has become synonymous with a certain type of film: the artsy erotic/thriller/horror film which took its cue from Alfred Hitchcock and was pioneered by Mario Bava and later popularized by director Dario Argento. In the beginning, there were specific guidelines that most of the big directors followed, like a checklist: the titles tends to either mention random animal names or feature numbers (this was the beginning of the body count concept in slasher films) or both! Usually the protagonist is a foreigner (i.e. non-Italian) who witnesses a crime and ends up being so moved by the experience that they try to sleuth out who the perpetrator is. This villain tends to be a faceless anonymous killer with some perverse mania and his more often than not female victims’ graphic and artful demises are usually sexualized in some way.

The circuitous plotline usually follows the wannabe detective going on a tour of the local sites like a travelogue film, on a quest to solve the case as they struggle with the admonishment of the ineffective police and their hair raising near misses with the killer. The ending usually has a twist of some sort that doesn’t always pay off, but can be amusing at the very least.

Many critics complain that the genre is misogynistic and glorifies violence against women. Many of the directors and writers dispute this claim saying that men are also victims in their films and that for a horror filmmaker to incite fear in the viewer they must sympathize with the person being pursued or attacked and women tend to incite the most sympathy and concern. Also, some of the most insidious villains in giallo films turn out to be women, so… you decide.

Most of these tropes were established in Bava’s first forays into the genre: La ragazza che sapeva troppo (1963, The Girl Who Knew Too Much), and Sei donne per l’assassino (1964, Blood and Black Lace). The former is a sort of spoof, the title being a play on the Hitchcock film The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934/1956). To me it comes off as a variation on Jane Austen‘s Northanger Abbey. Nora Davis (Drowson, in the alternate US cut, Evil Eye) a fanciful young girl who spends her days reading lurid pulp detective stories, finds herself in the midst of a real life crime story. Everyone tries to dismiss her account of having witnessed a murder as fantasies brought on by the distress of the unexpected death of her elderly aunt upon her (the girl’s) arrival into Rome from the US, and her choice of entertainment. The big difference here is that she really does get involved in a true crime. This movie is often cited as the first real giallo film.

Rare colorized poster for La ragazza che sapeva troppo.

I really love this film. It’s funny and dark all at once and has a thrilling murder mystery, as well as a farcical romance. Italian-American actor John Saxon, who may be known to American genre fans from his appearances in Black Christmas (1974) and Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), is the male lead, Dr. Marcello Bassi, who tries throughout the film to court young Nora, with disastrous results.

In an interval between The Girl Who Knew Too Much and Blood and Black Lace Bava filmed I tre volti della paura (1963, Black Sabbath), a portmanteau film with three individual stories, with an eye towards the American market. It was filmed in color and Hollywood Horror icon Boris Karloff was procured to emcee, as he did in the Thriller television series, introducing each segment and even staring in one of them, The Wurdalak. I have covered this all in a previous post so I won’t go into great detail here. What is significant is that the installment, The Telephone was Bava’s first real attempt at the stylized color thriller, which he fine-tuned to perfection in Blood and Black Lace. The untampered with Italian edit has some of the tropes which would become de rigueur in giallo films: a gorgeous woman presented déshabillé being stalked by a mysterious killer. An illicit affair (between the two females), salacious behavior (the protagonist’s past as a call girl), and a little bit of a twist near the end. Unlike the other installments of the film, The Telephone was presented without the use of colored filters, giving it a very realistic, if somewhat stylized, look. Bava would explore both of these visual styles in Blood and Black Lace.

Rosy is comforted by her jilted ex-lover, Mary in the Telephone sequence. (Lidia Alfonsi and Michèle Mercier in I tre volti della paura, 1963).

After the success of Black Sunday and Black Sabbath, Bava was given creative control over Blood and Black Lace. A German/Italian production, the backers apparently expected a black & white, Edgar Wallace type krimi, and Bava gave them so much more, a Technicolor bloodbath emphasizing some of the more prurient aspects of the mystery and presenting highly stylized and murder scenes with a focus on eroticizing the transgressive act. The story takes place in a fashion house where the diary of a recently murdered model is discovered by a colleague, causing a ruckus as many suspects attempt to get their hands on it to see if their own secrets are revealed therein. One of them, however, is willing to kill for it, and models start dropping like flies as the hunt for the faceless killer plays out like a whodunnit gone awry. The film is beautiful to watch as every scene is beautifully staged in exquisite, lush Eastman color. The general scenes appear in a normal, if visually heightened, mise-en-scène, and the more mysterious or even straight up violent scenes are filmed using colored filters giving them an almost psychedelic feel.

The movie, like Bava’s previous efforts, pushed the envelope of what was permissible, or at least what had been seen up to that point in film. The murders were elaborately staged and somewhat gruesome for the time period. One woman has her face pressed onto a glowing hot furnace, and another is killed with a spiked medieval gauntlet. In fact, the latter scene made such an impression, that in Denmark the film is known as The Iron Hand in the Night of Horror.

French poster for Blood and Black Lace featuring the masked killer with the spiked gauntlet.

This was also one of the first films that emphasized a body count, with the literal English translation of the title being ‘Six Women for the Murderer”. For me though, what makes this such a great movie is the look. It is so beautiful to look at. The colors are so lush, and are used in a very interesting way, much like director Dario Argento would later do with Suspria (1977). Colored filters or even just colored rooms and mannequins give the film a very distinct and artful look, and apparently, his cinematographer had a lot to do with that.

Screencap from Blood and Black Lace featuring one of the colored mannequins.

Although a lot of Bava’s creative success relies on his knowledge of old school visual effects and his uniquely artistic eye for composition, the fluidity of the camera work in his early films also owes a lot to cinematographer Ubaldo Terzano. Unfortunately, Terzano took umbrage at the fact he felt unacknowledged for his contribution to Bava’s films and parted ways with him after this film and his influence is conspicuously absent from Bava’s remaining filmography, which although still artful, never quite looked as lush or as lovely as the earlier films with Terzano.

Lastly, I would be remiss in not mentioning the score by Carlo Rustichelli, the main theme of which has a jazzy noir feel to it, that fits perfectly with the vibe of the film. It gets used a lot in the movie, to the chagrin of some reviewers, but I love the theme, so I don’t mind.

Initially panned for it’s unprecedented violence and (according to critics) “wooden acting”, Blood and Black Lace has fared better in posterity, becoming a major influence on the development of the giallo movie genre, inspiring the likes of Dario Argento, et al. Bava went on to make his own idiosyncratic gialli throughout the 70s with varying success. I have seen some like 5 bambole per la luna d’agosto (1970, Five Dolls for an August Moon), featuring the delicious damsel in distress of many a giallo: Edwige Fenech, or the truly bizarre Il rosso segno della follia (1970, Hatchet for a Honeymoon). But more on those in the next installment…

 

 

 

 

Update 06/29/2020: Reopening of the Damned

Posted in Adolfo Martinez Solares, Barbara Crampton, C. L. Werner, Cecilia Pezet, Fright Night (1985), From Beyond (1934), Gilberto Martinez Solares, Gregory Maguire, H.P. Lovecraft, H.P. Lovecraft's From Beyond (1986), Jeffrey Combs, Mondo Macabro, Nigel Wingrove, nunsploitation, Satanic Sonata, Satanico Pandemonium, Scott J. Couturier, Shout! Factory, Spectral Realms, Stuart Gordon (director) with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 29, 2020 by Manuel Paul Arenas

Well, Arizona has been in reopening mode since mid-May and already our COVID cases have sky-rocketed as people return to congregating en masse: dining in restaurants, swimming in public pools and socializing at watering holes, going to church and or rallies, all without wearing masks or practicing social distancing, even though people are still dropping like flies from the virus. I am not trying to be political here, just stating a fact. People act as if the pandemic is over, when in reality we still haven’t gotten all the way through the first wave yet.

The ‘Rona in Arizona

That said, I did go out a bit this past weekend; not to restaurants, or crowded places mind you, but I ran errands and visited loved ones. First off, I took my car for an oil change at the Firestone near my folk’s house. I’d just recently been having some issues with my door locks and dashboard features, so I asked them to take a look. Turns out I have an electrical short that requires I replace a box of some sort so they suggested taking it to an electrical specialist. I took it to my car’s dealership and got a good quote, so in a couple of weeks (after the 4th of July weekend) I’m having them replace the part.

Whilst I waited for my car, I visited with my parents. Again, we all wore masks and I kept an appropriate distance from them at all time, but still felt uneasy about being there for such a long stretch of time. Before I left, my mom gave me a bag that contained three books by Gregory Maguire: Lost (2001), Mirror, Mirror (2003), and Son of a Witch (2005). I have mixed feelings about his books, but they are an entertaining read. To date, I have read Wicked (1995) and Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister (1999).

Online image of some books by Gregory Maguire (l to r): Wicked, Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister, Lost, Mirror, Mirror.

I also visited my buddy Zach a couple of times over the weekend, and we watched two fun movies on remastered Blu-ray. On Friday evening we had Chinese take out and watched the Shout! Factory edition of H.P. Lovecraft’s From Beyond (1986). This is a pristine director’s cut which has a little more gore and an extended scene with the delectable Barbara Crampton slinking around in her BDSM outfit. Both she and Jeffrey Combs look so young in this film, it made me feel so old! Director Stuart Gordon and writing partners Brian Yuzna and Dennis Paoli really use the source material from 1934 as a springboard and go off on their own lurid tangent, but oh the places they go! I hope to do a blog entry just about this movie soon, so I won’t get into specifics here. 

Shout! Factory Blu-ray for H.P. Lovecraft’s From Beyond.

On Sunday, we had a small get together with about 2/3 of our usual movie night crew to see off our newest member who is returning to her home state. We had homemade chicken pot pie and watched the remaster Blu-ray of Fright Night (1985), which also looked great. This is an old favorite of mine, which I first saw on videocassette not long after it’s original release. It’s campy in spots, but the horror stuff is genuinely creepy. This is another movie I hope to write about someday soon.

Fright Night VHS

I have continued doing my recitation videos and was honored when fellow weird poet Scott J. Couturier did a video of himself reading my Satanic Sonata by candlelight! It was lovely and admittedly, not a little odd hearing my words on someone else’s lips. His post was popular with his Friends and even C.L. Werner chimed in on how much he enjoyed the recitation and the prose poem. I plan to reciprocate soon with a rendition of his werewolf poem, The Pack. Both poems may be found in Spectral Realms #12.

Speaking of Satanic prose poems, in honor of the 45th anniversary of it’s original release, I did a reading of my tribute to Mexican Nunsploitation film Satanico Pandemonium (1975), Sor Maria and the Devil, Luzbel. Sadly, it went by largely unnoticed.

Update 06/30/2020:

I re-watched Satanico Pandemonium last night, as it had been years since my last viewing. I had forgotten much, all of which came flooding back to me as the movie wore on. I still believe it is an intense movie with some interesting themes, but I find some of it hard to stomach in its more salacious scenes. SPOILER ALERT: I squirmed watching the more abusive scenes where Sor Maria is first raped by Luzbel, then she goes from victim to abuser when she attacks a sister who comes to her for help, then attempts to seduce a teenage boy and failing to do that murders both him and his grandmother. I am surprised they got away with the latter bit in particular, especially in Catholic Mexico, but I guess as the whole story ends up being dismissed as a fever dream, they could say it wasn’t put forth with any agenda or mal intent. It could be mooted as a precautionary tale.

That said, it has some striking images and of course it does, if in lurid fashion, show some of the hypocrisy of the church. I also find actress Cecilia Pezet fascinating to watch. She has a look, especially when done up in the nun habit that speaks of both innocence and sensuality. That said, I was uncomfortable with her nude scenes. I think my Catholic upbringing just cancels out the fetish for me. I am not turned on by the whole nunsploitation thing. I do like the way the story handles Luzbel and his infiltration into her life. I like the ample use of familiars and the way iconic imagery is turned on its head. I also noticed, if I am not mistaken, that the apple Luzbel offers to Maria, which she initially refuses, keeps appearing every time she transgresses, and each time a bite is taken out of it. Implying that she is complicit in those subversive thoughts and actions whether she admits it or not, and has indeed taken of the proffered fruit.

Luzbel makes an offer to Sor Maria. (lobby-card).

The DVD (now available in Blu-ray) from Mondo Macabro has an interview with the co-screenwriter Adolfo Martinez Solares where he talks about how he and his father Gilberto Martinez Solares came about to write and film the movie. There is also a featurette on nunsploitation with English director Nigel Wingrove.

Neil Gaiman’s Graveyard Book

Posted in Chris Riddell, Dave McKean, graphic novels, H.P. Lovecraft, Neil Gaiman, P. Craig Russell, Rudyard Kipling, The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath (1943), The Graveyard Book (2008), The Jungle Book (1894) with tags , , , , , , , , , on June 26, 2020 by Manuel Paul Arenas

The Graveyard Book (2008, Harper Collins)

In 1985 author Neil Gaiman was inspired by the sight of his then 2-year-old son riding his tricycle around a nearby graveyard. However, deciding that his craft was not yet honed enough to do any potential story justice, he held off for several years before writing what would become the 2008 young adult novella, The Graveyard Book. Modeled after Rudyard Kipling‘s The Jungle Book (1894), it is the story of an orphaned boy who is taken in by the ghostly residents of an obsolete graveyard to shield him from a murderous cabal that want to keep him from fulfilling an ancient prophecy predicting their demise. Each chapter is a little story within itself usually taking place at two year intervals.

The boy, is given the name Nobody, Bod for short, by his adoptive parents, the late Mr. & Mrs. Owens and then given the Freedom of the Graveyard, which grants him special access, powers and protections within its confines. Since most of the spirits cannot stray far from their final resting places, a reformed vampire, Silas, agrees to take him under his wing and sponsor him, taking care of his corporeal necessities such as clothing, food, etc. As the familiar adage goes, “It takes a village to raise a child”, so Bod is reared and educated by the collective denizens of the graveyard.

Bod’s guardian, the vampire Silas by Chris Riddell.

Bod encounters many memorable characters during his adventures in the graveyard from whom he learns valuable life lessons, even sometimes in spite of their well-meaning but antiquated advice. Things get sticky when he is old enough to want to learn about the world outside the graveyard, thus exposing himself to the scrutiny of wrongdoers and the making his presence known to the people who mean him harm.

This is an amazing book! For a kid’s book it is very dark and complex, however it does have a lot of heart. There are some real tender scenes, particularly between Bod and his spectral foster parents, as well as his guardian, Silas. I also liked the endearing relationship between Bod and the Witch, Liza Hempstock. In her day, Liza was accused of ensorcelling the sweetheart of another woman and was dunked, burned and buried in the unconsecrated ground of the cemetery. Liza and Bod become friendly when she heals his injuries after he takes a tumble out of an apple tree. They remain fairly tight friends until he grows into a young man and she becomes unaccountably temperamental around him.

The Witch, Liza Hempstock by Chris Riddell.

Another great chapter for me was the Danse Macabre where, on a special night, the dead are given a temporary reprieve to leave the cemetery to dance the macabray with the living residents of the nearby town. Bod senses something is up, but no one in the cemetery will talk openly about it, and so he decides to follow them as they partner up with the living, who seem to be enchanted. As he walks the line between the realms of the living and the dead, Bod seems to be the only one who can interact with both sides and retain his self awareness. He dances for a spell with Liza, and eventually dances with the Lady on the Grey, who is an avatar of Death. Silas, clandestinely watching from the shadows, is the only one who cannot participate as he lives in the limbo of the undead.

Bod and the Lady on the Grey dance the macabray.

There are some genuinely scary moments, like the scenes featuring the minatory Jacks of All Trades, and the chapter on the ghoul gate is appropriately creepy, as well as reminiscent of Kaa’s Hunting, from the Jungle Book. In it Bod stumbles into the hands of the ghouls and is saved when he remembers to use a call for succor in the language of the night-gaunts, which he was taught by his occasional governess, Miss Lupescu. The episode is very tense and exciting, although I did have a hard time reconciling the fact that night-gaunts, a creature from the Mythos of H.P. Lovecraft, are traditionally depicted as not having any face at all, much the less making any vocal sounds.

“..But Carter preferred to look at them than at his captors, which were indeed shocking and uncouth black things with smooth, oily, whale-like surfaces, unpleasant horns that curved inward toward each other, bat wings whose beating made no sound, ugly prehensile paws, and barbed tails that lashed needlessly and disquietingly. And worst of all, they never spoke or laughed, and never smiled because they had no faces at all to smile with, but only a suggestive blankness where a face ought to be. All they ever did was clutch and fly and tickle; that was the way of night-gaunts.” [excerpted from the novella, The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath 1927/1943 by H.P. Lovecraft]

 

Night-gaunt

In 2014, artist P. Craig Russell adaptated the story as a graphic novel, which was originally released in two volumes. This is the medium in which I first read the story. It is beautiful rendition and well worth checking out. A few years later, when I began getting into Gaiman’s audio recordings (he is a superb reader and has done recordings of many of his own books) I checked out a recording of the book from the library and was enchanted with Gaiman’s attention to detail and the pristine prose as well as his charming portrayal of the various characters.

Cover art for volume 1 of the graphic novel adaptation by P. Craig Russell of The Graveyard Book (2014, Harper Alley)

The original book came out in two distinct editions in the UK and the USA, respectively, each with illustrations by distinctive artists. The US edition is illustrated by Dave McKean and the British by Chris Riddell, who has illustrated several of Gaiman’s books. Talk of a movie adaptation has been bandied about since 2009, but nothing concrete has materialized as of yet.

Update 06/23/2020: The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

Posted in Anthony Hopkins, Candyman (1992), Gene Hackman, Hannibal Lecter, Jodie Foster, John E. Douglas, Kasi Lemmons, NAACP Image Award, Scott Glenn, The Silence of the Lambs (1991), Thomas Harris with tags , , , , , , , , , , on June 23, 2020 by Manuel Paul Arenas

Last night I watched The Silence of the Lambs for the umpteenth time. It is the best of the film adaptations based on the books by Thomas Harris which feature his greatest creation, the magisterial villain, Hannibal Lecter. I have read all four books, albeit not in recent years, and enjoyed them all. I own DVDs of all the films, save for Manhunter (1986), which I did not care for. My favorite book I think was actually Hannibal Rising (2006), although the film fell short a bit, mostly due (IMHO) to a poor choice of actor in the lead role of the young Hannibal.

Internet image of a US first edition for The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris (1988, St. Martin’s Press).

I think what makes The Silence of the Lambs work better than the others is the people involved. From what I understand everyone had a passion for the project and something to prove, unlike afterward once it was a cash cow franchise. Director Jonathan Demme, known for comedies, apparently hated the idea of directing it at first due to it’s violent content, but was persuaded to read the book and afterward changed his stance. Actress Jodie Foster had read the book and really identified with Clarice Starling, and fought for the role. To prepare for it, she went through the physical training of the agents at Quantico, which (in an interview from the bonus features of the DVD) she said was grueling, especially because of her diminutive stature.

The really arduous task, however, was finding the right actor to portray Hannibal the Cannibal. Many famous actors were considered but in the end they all turned down the role due to the gruesome subject matter (a common excuse for the demurral of many approached for this project, including Gene Hackman, who had a keen interest in the project, but just couldn’t stomach the violence). It was eventually offered to Anthony Hopkins, who accepted the challenge. His performance is subtly nuanced and he brought a lot of quirky flourishes to the role, not in the initial script, which make his portrayal iconic.

Behind the scenes Anthony Hopkins menaces Jonathan Demme.

The supporting cast were great as well; actor Scott Glenn met with retired FBI profiler John E. Douglas to prepare for his role as Jack Crawford the Agent-in-Charge of the Behavioral Science Unit of the FBI in Quantico, Virginia, a job once actually held by Douglas himself. The story goes that Douglas played him audio recordings of a real assault to give him perspective on the kind of horrific things they deal with on an every day basis. The recordings had a profound affect on the actor and informed his portrayal in the film.

Promotional pic for the movie featuring (front to back) Jodie Foster, Anthony Hopkins and Scott Glenn.

Actor Ted Levine is super creepy as the film’s primary antagonist, Buffalo Bill, although the choice to not relate his back story, which is thoroughly explored in the novel and delineates his development into a violent psychopath, led to a misinterpretation of the character which caused an outcry in the LGBT community that felt he misrepresented trans/gay people and promoted erroneous stereotypes and cast aspersions on the community. 

“It puts the lotion in the basket, or else it gets the hose again.”

Although seldom mentioned, I feel a shout out is also in order to actress Kasi Lemmons who plays Clarice Starling’s friend, Ardelia Mapp. I recently watched the director’s cut of Candyman (1992), in which she played (again) the black friend of a white protagonist and was surprised that I hadn’t remembered that she was in there, although I’d seen the movie before, albeit years before. Lemmons has had several other film and television roles and is also a filmmaker in her own right, for which she has garnered an NAACP Image Award. She is a mentor and an educator as well, and anyone interested in learning more about her should take a gander at her Wikipedia entry: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kasi_Lemmons.

Clarice and Ardelia analyze the evidence.

No one expected the film to be the hit that it was and, of course, sequels and prequels were made, and even another adaptation Red Dragon was made with a script that was a little more faithful to the book than Manhunter had been. Hannibal Lecter is a household name and has become ingrained in the public consciousness. Lines of from his dialog are constantly being quoted, like the creepily intoned “Hello Clarice” or “A census taker once tried to test me. I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti.” replete with the attendant slurping sounds.

Poster for The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

The first sequel was an adaptation of the follow up book Hannibal (1999), which was hampered by the fact that Jodie Foster didn’t reprise her role as Clarice Starling. She did not think the route Harris took in Hannibal was true to the character, and demurred, with the official reason being that she was involved in another project at the time. Demme also backed off when he read the book because of because of Harris’ treatment of Starling as well as the extreme violence.

 “It was a foregone conclusion that when a new book came out, the team that made Silence of the Lambs would make that movie. And Tom Harris, as unpredictable as ever, took Clarice and Dr. Lecter’s relationship in a direction that just didn’t compute for me. And Clarice is drugged up, and she’s eating brains with him, and I just thought, ‘I can’t do this.'” [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hannibal_(2001_film)#Development, retrieved 06/23/2020]

The script is a bit different from the book, altered in keeping with the consensus that Starling’s actions in the novel are not what anyone would have expected from her. I beg to differ, although I shall save my comments on that for another post.  Anyway, the resultant film is interesting in its own right, with good performances by all involved. It gives one an opportunity to revisit these beloved characters and it is thrilling to see Anthony Hopkins reprise the role which made him famous, in the US at least. As in the case of Red Dragon, I relish watching him chew up the scenery (and some brains) but it the film is nowhere near the work of macabre art that is The Silence of the Lambs.

 

 

 

 

Update 06/21/2020: Happy Father’s Day!

Posted in Dark Corners Zine, Errant Jenny, Father's Day, Scott J. Couturier, The Audient Void with tags , , , , on June 21, 2020 by Manuel Paul Arenas

Happy Father’s Day to all you Dads out there! I am putting in a little overtime at work to make up for the time I missed earlier this week when I went to the dentist, but then I am going to visit my Dad. We will observe social distancing, and I shall wear a mask. I will only stay long enough for a cup of coffee and to wish him a happy, then I am off.

On another note, I submitted a revised edit of my story Errant Jenny to Dark Corners Zine. I wasn’t aware of it till I saw Scott J. Couturier post about his story appearing in issue #4 and he shared pics of the magazine and it looked very cool. They also gave him some cool swag to go with his contributor copy. I think he got an enamel pin and some other nifty stuff. We’ll see what they have to say. This is the second time I’ve submitted this tale, the first was to Audient Void but they passed on it, so fingers crossed!

Update 06/242020:

I got to see my folks and we had a lovely time catching up but, even though we all wore masks and I tried to keep a safe distance at all times, I still had a nagging feeling that my presence there was a danger to them. I don’t think I will feel entirely safe with them or any of my more vulnerable loved ones until a vaccine is available.

Devil Electric: Doom from Down Under

Posted in Devil Electric (band), Stoner doom, Traditional doom​ with tags , , on June 17, 2020 by Manuel Paul Arenas

I recently discovered that a band that I’d previously dismissed is much better than I gave them credit for. The band in question is the Australian Doom Rock ensemble, Devil Electric, from Melbourne.  I had heard them before, when they were suggested to me by a YouTube algorithm, but somehow I wasn’t impressed by them at the time. The other day, however, I stumbled across the video for their song All My Friends Move Like the Night, and they all of a sudden clicked for me. I went back, re-watched all their other videos, and listened to their 2017 eponymously titled debut album online and now find that I have become quite fond of them, particularly The Dove & the Serpent, Shadowman (very creepy video that one) and the aforementioned tune. They have a melodic, bluesy doom-rock sound, with supernatural themed lyrics and the singer has a good voice and a charismatic presence. There are so many female fronted heavy bands these days, not all of which are good. That said, the real reason I gravitate toward so many of them is that they tend to have a more melodic sound and usually have clean vocals instead of all the Cookie Monster growling which is so prevalent in contemporary metal and hard rock.

You can find Devil Electric’s music and merch on their bandcamp page: https://devilelectric.bandcamp.com/music

Cover art for Devil Electric (2017, Kozmik Artifactz)

They also have a website, http://www.devilelectric.com, as well as the requisite Facebook and Instagram pages.