Archive for June, 2012

Robert Bloch’s “Torture Garden” Part 2: “Terror Over Hollywood”

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on June 29, 2012 by Manuel Paul Arenas

The next thread on Atropos’s shears belongs to Miss Carla Hayes, an aspiring young actress who is willing to do anything to get to the top. In the beginning of her “vision” she is Lounging in her nightgown at her little apartment, which she shares with another young actress, Millie, who is running behind in her preparation for a date with Mike Charles who apparently is “not the kind you keep waiting”. “This dinner date could be important,” she continues, “you know what it could mean; going to the right places, meeting the right people…”
“I know,” Carla replies, “it’s the only way a girl can get ahead in this town.”
Millie continues to fuss over her dress for the evening, which is in desperate need of ironing but she needs to take a shower. Carla nonchalantly offers to iron the dress for Millie so she may take her shower and finish up her toilet, but once alone she places the iron directly on said dress, burning it beyond repair.

Later, as poor Millie hides in the bedroom leaving Carla to “handle it”, she steals her date and thus any opportunity Millie might have had arise from the encounter. This is probably the worst thing Carla does in the whole film, but I believe it is to stress her willingness to step on anyone who comes between her and her ultimate goal of stardom. Eventually, this includes Mr. Charles whom she forgets about as soon as they arrive at a hot Hollywood hang out called “Danny’s”.

Carla Hayes schmoozes with Bruce Benton.

Upon her arrival, she is introduced to actor Bruce Benton, who is impressed with her knowledge of Hollywood minutiae and her appreciation of his extensive film career. He gets her a part in his latest film and they become friendly, but she is troubled by some peculiarities in his behavior. After witnessing what should have been a fatal assault on Mr. Benton, she demands to be let in on his secret. To the chagrin of his associates he inadvertently lets slip a few hints, which she puts together that reveal a secret society of Hollywood big wigs who never seem to age and whose stars never seem to fade. She continues to press the point and demands to be let into this elite club until they relent and let her in on the secret and Carla finally learns what it truly means to be part of the Top Ten.

“Tales in a Jugular Vein” (1965), which featured the original story “Terror Over Hollywood”.

“Terror Over Hollywood” was first published in 1957, in the magazine Fantastic Universe, and later appeared in the Robert Bloch collection “Tales in a Jugular Vein” in 1965. For the most part, this segment follows the original storyline fairly closely, save for a few name changes and a minor plot change. In the story, Carla is known as Kay Kennedy, and she befriends producer Eddie Stone, not Bruce Benton, who decides to slowly let her in on the secret society of the Top Ten. Stone is in the film, but only as a semi antagonistic side character who disapproves of her being so nosey about Benton’s private life. Although the ending is essentially the same, the original story unfolds a little better than it does in the film, with the final revelation carrying a bit more punch.

Advertisements

Bentley Little’s “Washingtonians”

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on June 21, 2012 by Manuel Paul Arenas

Mike has come across an unusual parchment manuscript which, if proven to be authentic, could change the way we Americans view our founding fathers and turn our nation’s history on its head. The parchment in question reads “I will Skin your Children and Eat Them, Upon Finishing, I will Fashion Utensils of Their Bones.”

The message itself is gruesome enough to make one’s flesh crawl, but what makes this particular parchment so special is that it was written by none other than George Washington! Incredulous, Mike has it appraised by a Mr. Davis, who after trying to persuade Mike of its significance and his responsibility to see that it falls into the right hands, offers to put him in touch with a buyer if he is willing to relinquish it. Mike, put off by Davis’s overzealousness, opts instead to hold onto it for the time being and returns to his wife and daughter at home. Davis begrudgingly acquiescing, asks him to sleep on it.

Although he is a little disturbed by the whole interaction, he brushes it off and carries on with his normal home life. That night, however, the household is awakened by a thunderous clamor on their doorstep which turns out to be four men clad in white powdered wigs and satin Colonial garb, pounding on their door demanding he give them the parchment.  Mike bluffs that he’s called the police and by fortuitous happenstance a siren is heard in the vicinity causing the strange agitators to disperse, but not before threatening, “We’ll come back for you!”(…) “You can’t escape!”

The next day Mike decides to drive to New York University to speak to a professor in the History department to sort out what is going on. Upon arrival he is directed to a Dr. Hartkinson, a short elderly man with spectacles and “whiskers of a Disney movie college professor.” As soon as Mike describes the costume of his late night visitors, Dr. Hartkinson exclaims “Washingtonians!” then shuts the door and explains to Mike that they have spies everywhere and warns him whom he is up against. He guesses rightly that Mike most likely has something they want and he confesses to having the parchment.

The good doctor then explains that during the harsh winter at Valley Forge Washington and his men were forced to eat their dead when supplies were low. Unfortunately, our founding father found that he liked the taste and began slaughtering a man a night even after supplies came through. After the war, he carried on his cannibalistic activities in secret with some like-minded cronies. The Washingtonians carry on this tradition and do their best to maintain the squeaky clean public image of him the rest of us know today.

Hartkinson asks if Mike has any children, specifically daughters, to which Mike replies that he has one daughter, Amy. The doctor then informs him that these benighted individuals prefer the meat of young virgins. He asks whether Mike has seen the insignia on their uniforms of the hatchet and the cherry tree, then explains that the cherry tree is, among other things, a modern day reference to Washington’s preference for young virgin meat.

Just as they are sorting out what to do about the parchment, the door bursts open and a group of Washingtonians falls upon them. Hartkinson manages to escape, but Mike is grabbed and thrown into a van then taken on a long drive to what turns out to be Mount Vernon, Washington’s old estate in Virginia.  Once there, he is taken to a shed with a secret stairwell that leads to a tunnel that leads back under the house to a secret lair. He demands to see his wife and daughter whom he has been informed are also being held captive. He is first given a brief tour of the macabre collection of Colonial artifacts and artwork that hearken to Washington’s cannibalistic proclivities. Mike gets impatient and demand they do what they will and be done with it. “Eat me, you sick assholes!” he says, to which they reply “Don’t worry. We will.”

At that moment, they bring in his wife and daughter and just as things look their bleakest for our hero and his loved ones, something totally bizarre yet apropos happens that I will not share with you here so as not to ruin the story for you. Suffice it to say that it was a welcome slice of levity after all of that gruesome build up.

Bentley Little’s “The Collection” (Signet 2002), which features story “The Washingtonians”.

The Washingtonians is really a clever story; the gem in Bentley Little’s “The Collection”, which consists mostly of creepy awkward tales that either try too hard to be outré or just don’t go anywhere. HBO’s Masters of Horror did an episode based on it and stuck fairly close to the story but changed the location to Virginia (understandably) and camped it up a bit by making it seem as if everyone in the town his family had just moved into was in on the Washingtonian business and out to eat his child. If memory serves, the phrase “sleep on it”, which was only used once by Mr. Davis in the story, was used again by the cops who come in response to the first visit by the Washingtonians, implying that they were privy to Mike’s conversation with Mr. Davis.  My only major complaint with the show, however, was the ending which was changed to a more straightforward denouement, with a tacked on last laugh epilogue. If you get a chance to see it, it’s fun, but if I had to choose between the two, I’d go with the story which is more subtle with its black humor approach.

The cover-art for the DVD of the Masters of Horror adaptation of “The Washingtonians”.

7 Minutes in Heaven 06-09-12

Posted in Uncategorized on June 11, 2012 by Manuel Paul Arenas

Last night I performed at the 7 Minutes in Heaven show at Space 55. It has been a while since the last time I graced that stage (since last Christmas if memory serves me) so I felt a bit nervous. So much so in fact, that my heart was beating at an accelerated rate that made me a bit queasy. I really felt like I was on the edge last night, which is odd as I am always made to feel so welcome by my friends there and my recitals are usually fairly well-received.

The line up wasn’t as long as it has been on previous nights but since I was humming I didn’t pay much mind to the preceding acts. For the sake of completion, I shall quote my buddy Ashley Naftule’s description of the show:

“”7 Minutes” was a lot of fun: Tommy Cannon did his dinosaur impressions, Kevin Flanagan invoked the spirit of Evel Knievel and jumped over a pile of monster trucks, Manuel Paul Arenas read some poems & I played Truth Or Dare with the audience*. Lots of other fun stuff happened that night on the show, and there’ll be plenty more to see over the next 3 Saturdays as “7 Minutes” continues.”

He neglected to mention the Arcana Collective, which did one of their esoteric performance art pieces involving Ernesto being abused by three nubile Goth girls whilst jabbering about tarot cards and Fate, Hanna Leister and Rich Briggs doing a one-act farce about a string of “pearls”, and Leslie Barton doing something involving a werewolf mask and a little stuffed animal of some kind. And a fun time was had by all…

I read three poems and in a moment I shall reproduce them below in their entirety. The first piece, “Ode to Stout” was an old Creative Writing assignment from my Community College days in Florida. Our professor asked us to compare two items which on the surface seemed unrelated, but we were to find their similarities. I chose chocolate milk and stout ale. It went over well and he suggested I enter it in a contest Guinness were having where if one wrote something nice about their product, one could win a genuine Irish Pub. Alas, by the time I got around to looking it up the contest was over.

The next poem is a portion of a larger piece which I had intended to read at the “7 Minutes in Love” show that I missed. I have printed the full poem on here before, but so that you might see it as a stand alone piece, I present “Broceliande”.

The last was my offering to the legions of poems about murder and mayhem: “Manqueller Manque”. This was originally inspired by a word I found in a book entitled “The Word Museum”. The word in question, “”Manqueller”, is defined by The Free Dictionary as “a killer of men; a manslayer” . My poem is about a man who aspires to be a killer and follows him as he muses on what sort of killer he’d like to be.

And so, without further ado…

ODE TO STOUT

Stout is like a chocolate drink, semi-sweet and well nigh black
Dellectable amaritude in creamy bitter draught
Sweet unmalted barleywort, cordial cocoa quaff
Heavy, almost viscous, seen darkly through the glass
Liquid velvet, hazy curtain obfuscates the eyes
Tawny lips, the foamy kiss, a bittersweet goodbye

BROCELIANDE

Piscean, watery enchantress, ardent; lubricious lady of the lake
Merlin, assotted, awaits you, though he knows your kiss means to quell
Nimue, bury me in your joyous garden, once curiosity is slaked
The loving-cup, which you offer over-brims with a philter fell

Eyes of pale green luminescence, searing my soul straight thru
Nipples like red Chinese lanterns, on hillocks of new-fallen snow
I hate you, I hate you, I hate you; but know, that I love you still true
In a place where time is suspended, tho’ forgiveness and love freely flow

MANQUELLER MANQUE

I could’ve been a lady-killer, just like Springheel Jack
Decollating prostitutes, prostrate on their backs
Viscerate them cleverly, split up to their necks
Displace all their vital bits and desecrate their sex

Or, perhaps, a Bluebeard bridegroom, handsome, suave, and fell
Loving husband, till the wifey breeched my private Hell
Monsieur Verdoux killed his spouses, only for the cash
I would do it for the bloodlust, then char them to ash

Don’t think me a woman-hater, I’d kill menfolk too
Just give me a sniper gun, and I’d know what to do
Ensconced up in a bell tower, in the hub of town
The cops would have to take me out, before they took me down

Maybe I’d just go legit, tho’ still indulge my spree
Killing killers on Death Row, whilst other people see
When I’m done, I’d get a check and Uncle Sam’s glad hand
Only in America could slaying be so grand!

Stephen King’s “Children of the Corn”

Posted in Uncategorized on June 7, 2012 by Manuel Paul Arenas

The other night, I finally got to see the 1984 film adaptation of Stephen King’s “Children of the Corn”. I have been wanting to see this film for years now, but the opportunity never arose and to be fair, although I could have easily picked up the DVD cheaply enough, I was hesitant since the reviews from most folks were lukewarm to hostile

Now, I don’t recall having read the story before, although I could swear I read “Night Shift” (the short story collection where it was first collected in book form after its initial appearance in Penthouse magazine in 1977) back in the 80’s, but I may be confusing it with “Different Seasons”, which I know I read for sure.

UK edition of “Night Shift” with cover art depicting an image from the story “Children of the Corn”.

Anyway, I came to the movie with no preconceptions of how the plot should unfold or how the characters should look or behave, but even with that, I found it a little unsatisfying. I could sense a good story somewhere in there, but it felt diluted somehow. Well, after seeing the movie, I pulled out my copy of the book “Stephen King Goes to the Movies” and read the story for what I believe is the first time ever and I loved it! It was so creepy and even though a lot of the same scenes were in the movie, they were so much creepier in the book and there were little details like a painting of what seemed to be a creepy leering Jesus, with green hair which looked like corn plants. The discovery of the list of births and deaths in town since 1964, insinuating that no one lived past the age of 19, which in the movie was made into a big deal with Burt (the protagonist) confronting some kids in the church, was a much more subtle and hair raising scene in the story. The eerie silence of the town (before the kids showed up and attacked Vicky, Burt’s wife) and the lack of weeds or insects in the corn rows was unsettling and, lastly,the respective fates of Burt and Vicky in the harrowing finale were completely different from the milquetoast movie version.

“Stephen King Goes To the Movies” 2009.

Even so, the movie was watchable at least, unlike the 2009 TV remake, which according to 9-out-of-10 reviewers online, sucks so bad it hurts. In fine, I may still purchase a copy of the original film for my DVD collection some day, if I find it cheap, but I recommend reading the story first, if you are curious.

French movie poster for the 1984 movie, with alternate title.

Stephen King’s “Carrie”

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on June 7, 2012 by Manuel Paul Arenas

I just finished reading the book “Carrie”, by Stephen ing and I am surprised by how different it is from the movie version, which I have known and loved for so many years. The basic storyline is the same, with the expected few minor Hollywood changes, but there is a whole side to the novel that wasn’t addressed in the movie. I understand why, but it just surprised me to find it there because no one I had ever spoken to that had read it had ever mentioned it to me until recently right when I decided to read it.

“Carrie” paperback, Signet 1992.

The Carrie of the novel is not quite as endearing and sweet as Sissy Spacek’s movie portrayal, and is actually kind of pathetic and slightly unlikable. She also ends up showing way more power than demonstrated in the movie and ends up not just burning the gymnasium where the prom was held, but almost the whole town! The death toll at the end is almost 500 townspeople and investigations are held and studies are done years after the incident. This is another difference from the movie, the pseudo-scientific tracts and FBI interviews with survivors that pepper the narrative and set up scenes. Carrie’s death is protracted as well and she shows signs of not only telekinesis, but mental telepathy. Her death scene in the arms of Sue Snell, after killing her mother and burning half the town down is very dramatic and somewhat unsettling.

Spanish poster for Brian De Palma’s 1976 movie version of “Carrie”.

For my money, I still like the movie better as a coherent, streamlined narrative, with a sympathetic protagonist and a “gotcha!” ending, but the novel did make me think a lot and provided a depth to the story that I hadn’t considered before.