Archive for April, 2020

Masters of Horror: “The Black Cat” (2007)

Posted in Byam Shaw, Cambridge Center for Adult Education, Dennis Paoli, Edgar Allan Poe, Elyse Levesque, Jeffrey Combs, Masters of Horror, Nevermore: An Evening with Edgar Allan Poe, Norman George (actor), Poe Alone: The Last Lecture, Stephen Peithman (ed.), Stuart Gordon (director), The Annotated Tales of Edgar Allan Poe with tags , , , , , , , , , , on April 29, 2020 by Manuel Paul Arenas

Back in the early 90s, when I was living in Boston, I went to a performance somewhere in Cambridge. I don’t recall the venue, but it was a cozy theatre somewhere not far from Harvard, if memory serves. There I saw a man, whose name eludes me, do a performance dressed as the author Edgar Allan Poe. He essentially was reenacting one of Poe’s soiree performances that he did to capitalize his success with his poem The Raven. I was enrapt in the actor’s performance and felt as if I was in the presence of the Master. I don’t recall exactly what he recited (all from memory) but I assume The Raven was featured, but I do recall being floored by a macabre parable which was so dark and devastating I had to know what it was. Decades later, I believed I had found the piece, titled A Dream (not to be confused with Poe’s poem of the same name), in a book called The Unknown Poe, by Raymond Foye; but I noticed online that Poe’s authorship of the piece is in doubt and my understanding was that the performance was a reenactment of an historical Poe recital, so whatever it was had to have been recorded in some way (the set list I mean, not the performance, obviously). I still have the program for the event somewhere in my things, and if I find it, I’ll credit the actor here.

The Unknown Poe by Raymond Foye (2001, City Lights Publishers).

Update:

I looked through my things at home and found the program stuck in my coffee table sized copy of The Annotated Tales of Edgar Allan Poe, edited by Stephen Peithman (1986, Avenel). Anyway, the show was called Poe Alone: The Last Lecture, and the actor was Norman George. I believe I saw the final of the three listed performances, because I recall fretting that I wouldn’t make it and miss out. The show ran from April 3 to 5, 1992 (over 28 years ago!) at the Cambridge Center for Adult Education. The program was as follows: Alone (1829), The Bells (1849) Annabel Lee (1849)  Cholera (1849) and of course, The Raven (1845).

Program from Poe Alone.

Obviously, the aforementioned piece was Cholera, but for the life of me, I cannot find any mention of it online. Perhaps it was just something he had excerpted from an essay or larger piece. All I recall is that it was devastating and left me in a daze. If memory serves the image that got me was a description of the Pest described as a gigantic bird of prey, possibly a scavenger, like a vulture, flying down the streets of a town screeching and breathing down death onto the people below who fled in terror. So awed was I with Mr. George’s performance, that when I came upon him afterward, smoking a cigarette near the exit of the building, I stood on the other side of a partition and lingered for several minutes debating whether or not I should address him. In the end I demurred, as he seemed to be coming down from the show, and as a fellow performer I know that one likes to be alone after an intense performance like that. Still, I believe this event did a lot in helping me create my own onstage persona for when I would later perform both as a front man with my myriad bands and later when I began to recite my own poetry at public recitals.

Of the series, the program explains, Poe Alone originated in a series of staged readings given by the actor in Boston, Richmond, and Baltimore in 1983-84. Its content and characterization draw upon published accounts of Poe’s lectures and parlor readings, on life-portraits and daguerreotypes of the poet, and on the elocutionary conventions and standard-American and East-Virginian pronunciations of the period.

Poster for Nevermore featuring Jeffrey Combs as Poe.

I mention all of this because actor Jeffrey Combs went through similar preparations for his rôle as Poe in the Masters of Horror episode The Black Cat (2007) directed by Stuart Gordon. So good was his portrayal that in the creative team behind the Masters of Horror episode (Gordon, his writing partner Dennis Paoli, and Combs) created a show similar to Poe Alone, which they called Nevermore: An Evening with Edgar Allan Poe and took it on the road for a limited engagement. A filmed documentation of the event was promised, but I see no mention of it online.

DVD cover art for the Masters of Horror episode, The Black Cat (2007).

The episode of the Black Cat is an ingenious adaptation of the 1843 Poe story which seamlessly weaves in actual events from Poe’s life. As the story is told in first person, they just inserted the author into his own story. Poe is down on his luck, and as his young wife Virginia begins what is to historically become a prolonged and eventually fatal bout with consumption (known nowadays as tuberculosis), he scrambles to find work and has to fight with not only unscrupulous editors, and unsympathetic doctors (their patience worn thin by his inability to pay for their ministrations to the ailing Virginia) he turns to the bottle. The conceit is that, in a drunken haze, he has a fantasy/hallucination which turns out to be the events of the titular tale. From what little I know of Mr. Poe’s personal life, the depiction seems fairly accurate and both Combs and his co-star, the lovely Canadian actress Elyse Levesque, lately of Ready or Not (2019), both look and play their parts convincingly. Combs even had a prosthetic nose added, which really clinches his uncanny resemblance to Poe. But the resemblance is not just physical; as I said, like Mr. George, Combs studied how he was likely to have spoken, and used contemporary documentation to inform his portrayal of the author.

Virginia Eliza Clemm Poe (August 15, 1822 – January 30, 1847)

The scene from real life, where Virginia burst a blood vessel while singing is depicted in gruesome fashion with a vintage pianoforte being drenched in the red stuff. This is also the only adaptation of the story which actually depicts the narrator’s abuse of the eponymous animal, including a cringe-inducing scene where Poe gouges out one the feline’s luminous green eyes with a pocket knife. Despite all the carnage (typical fare for Gordon, as well as the series) there are some real tender moments between Poe and Virginia; he even calls her Sissy (as in little sister; they were cousins) as he was known to do. Surprisingly, the show ends on a happy note, which I found bittersweet knowing how things ultimately turned out for them in reality.

1909 Illustration by Byam Shaw for Poe’s The Black Cat.

 

Update 04/22/2020: Quarantine Blues IV

Posted in Arnoldo Mondadori Editore, Bandcamp, Black Sabbath, Blood Ceremony (band), Countess Elizabeth Báthory, Deep Purple, Georges Franju, Gianna Maria Canale, Guy Rolfe, Hammer Horror, Jesús Franco (director), Mario Bava, Morbidezza, Mr Sardonicus, Puppet Master (franchise), Ricardo Freda, Spectral Realms, The Dark Young, Thriller TV Series, Tony Iommi, William Castle with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 22, 2020 by Manuel Paul Arenas

Well, these are indeed proving to be strange times. The usually bustling midtown Phoenix, where I live, looks like a perpetual Sunday morning, yet when I turn on the radio or take calls at work, I hear stories from across the country and around the world of hardship and loss of life that sound like wartime newsreels. It’s a bit surreal, to say the least.

Across the street from my apartment complex is a Seventh Day Adventist church that has a message board where they post inspirational messages and times for service. Passing by the other day on my Sunday stroll through the surrounding picturesque neighborhood, two things caught my eye; for one, they had Sabbath school, which of course inspired visions of a classroom full of wide-eyed, sable-clad kiddies being instructed on how Black Sabbath guitarist Tony Iommi lost his fingertips only to find a new music genre. Also on the board was the message “Trust the Lord and wash your hands”, which I found amusing, in a portentous way.

Anyway, back to distractions! For the sake of completion in my Bava-thon, I watched two movies that were originally attributed to director Ricardo Freda, but are now generally accepted as having mostly been the work of his cinematographer, Mario Bava: I Vampiri (1957, The Vampires), and Caltiki, il mostro immortale (1959, Caltiki – The Immortal Monster). The former is a story of a Countess (played by Freda’s wife, model/actress Gianna Maria Canale) who keeps herself young by having her henchmen procure the blood of local girls for a serum, created by her besotted cousin, that keeps her eternally youthful. As time goes on, the serum’s effectiveness wears off quicker and quicker, as the body count rises. In the interim, the Countess alternates between dual identities, choosing at once to hold court as her beautiful “niece” Gisele, then hiding from the world when her face reverts to that of a crone. Her fixation with her youth as well as her pursuit of a local journalist who reminds her of his father, who was once the object of her obsession, prove to be her downfall. I enjoyed this film a lot with its atmosphere and allusions to not only the Gothic tradition, but also the mad scientist genre; the apex of which is (in my eyes) the film Les Yeux sans visage (1960, Eyes Without a Face), by Georges Franju. I Vampiri reminded me somewhat of the Hammer film Countess Dracula (1971), only set in contemporary times. Both were loosely based on the Blood Countess, Elizabeth Báthory. Director Ricardo Freda acknowledged Edgar Allan Poe‘s Fall of the House of Usher as another influence, which is evident in the depiction of the dreary castle Du Grand. I Vampiri was the first major Italian horror film since the silent era and was a false start for the golden era of Italian Gothic films which really took off after the success of Bava’s Black Sunday. Two things of note: the opening scene with the body of a young woman being fished out of a lake has been repeated in several movies of the period. I noticed similar scenes in Hammer’s The Maniac (1963), and Jesús Franco‘s Gritos en la noche (1962, The Awful Dr. Orloff). Secondly, the film was released in 1960 in the US as The Devil’s Commandment which had some new scenes added, not in the original film. The movie went by largely ignored at the time, but has since become a classic of sorts due to its association with Bava.

Promo still from The Devil’s Commandment edit of the film.

Caltiki, il mostro immortale is the Italian answer to Hammer’s The Quatermass Xperiment (1955), a more thoughtful Gothic sci-fi film in the vein of the Blob. Caltiki includes a faux Mayan Apocalypse myth, and an obviously choreographed Caribbean style ritual dance which probably wouldn’t track with a savvy modern audience, but it’s a fun film anyway, and the earliest I’ve seen that bears the Bava look. I think this is because he finally had free reign to use all his special effects shots using painted glass and mirrors, etc., along with his great mood lighting. It is also a bit graphic for the time period, featuring a few grisly shots which were excised from the American release of the film.

Promo still from Caltiki il mostro immortale (1959).

As a palate cleanser after the Italian Gothics, I decided to watch some of the Puppet Master movies from the collection my buddy Zach gave me. I had seen the first movie before, but I must have seen an edited version on cable because I didn’t recall all the sexy stuff. In fact, the first three movies were full of softcore scenes and bloody puppet violence. After that the puppets went from being evil to chaotic good for the remainder of the franchise. The fourth and fifth films seemed to try to clean up the series a bit, perhaps to widen their commercial appeal, and start a new origin story using actor Guy Rolfe to portray the anti-hero Puppeteer André Toulon. However, by the 7th film, the quality really drops as the films lose focus and rely a lot on stock footage and flashback clips from earlier films. They also keep revamping the origin story, which is confusing and disrupts the continuity of the Franchise. Rolfe also appeared in Dolls (1987) and, of interest to me, I realized (after the fact) that he also was in the Terror in Teakwood episode from Thriller, and he played the titular villain in William Castle‘s 1961 film Mr. Sardonicus.

Guy Rolfe (1911–2003)

INTERMISSION (wherein I talk briefly about other stuff)

I realize that I haven’t mentioned anything about my writing in a while. To be honest, I haven’t done much creative writing in the last few weeks because it is difficult to focus on anything when all this virus craziness is going on outside. That said, I have worked a little on a few different stories. I reworked the mid-section from Nativity in Black so that the action flows better, and I have been coming up with ideas for some new tales, one of which is another installment of the Morbidezza saga. I sent a message to Hippocampus Press to update my contact info, but got no response, but I was able to get in touch with S.T. Joshi through his blog and he responded, saying he’d keep me in the loop when they have contributors update their bios for Spectral Realms 13, which I believe is slated for a late August or Early September release. I have 3 poems that are supposed to be included in that issue.

Listening to Blood Ceremony‘s rockin’ cover of Loving You, by Iron Claw, I am reminded of the cover my old band, The Dark Young, once did of Bloodsucker, by Deep Purple. Our arrangement features a baritone sax in lieu of an organ solo. I would love to see that made available on our Bandcamp page some day, if we could ever get the rights cleared for it. We have both a live and a studio version which are excellent, if I do say so myself.

END OF INTERMISSION

I know I promised to talk about Bava’s giallo films, but I have already said so much in this post, I think I shall stop here for the moment. Next week I shall cover all that as promised. Till then, be safe…

Blood Ceremony’s “The Eldritch Dark”

Posted in Album Review, Blood Ceremony (band), Clark Ashton Smith, Drawing Down the Moon (1979), Fairport Convention, Iron Claw (band), Jethro Tull, John Buchan, Living with the Ancients (2011), Lucas Gadke, Margot Adler, Oliver Haddo, Progressive Rock, Rosemary Ellen Guiley, Sean Kennedy, Somerset Maugham, The Eldritch Dark (2013), The Encyclopedia of Witches and Witchcraft, The Magician (1908), Witch Wood (1927) with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 16, 2020 by Manuel Paul Arenas

When I first got turned on to Canadian witch-rock band, Blood Ceremony, I went to my local record shop and ordered their back catalogue on CD. I was able to procure all of their official album releases save for their third album, 2013’s The Eldritch Dark, which, for some reason was out of stock for a long while and what few copies I found online were going for upwards of $25. A couple of months ago, I noticed that it had become available again on Amazon for the customary price of around $12, so I had a friend order it for me, as he has an Amazon Prime account and can get free shipping. I had heard it many times before, of course, but this would be the first time I’d be hearing it in detail and reviewing the accompanying booklet, that features the lyrics, most of which were penned by guitarist Sean Kennedy, and are definitely worth checking out.

I must admit, that upon listening to it on a nice sound system The Eldritch Dark has quickly become my favorite album of theirs. It is the most consistent sounding album and the sounds and themes they explore therein are really close to my heart.

The album opens with Witchwood, a rocking song (replete with a tasty organ solo from front woman Alia O’Brien) about ancient rites and witchcraft in a rural town. I assume it to be inspired by the book of the same name by John Buchan, which treats of an old Scottish village that has a secret cult devoted to pagan rites and witchcraft. The final verse of the song sums up the gist of the song and sets the tone for the album itself:

A woman stood at Witchwood Cross
And spoke to me, although a stranger
Of eldritch worlds once thought lost
And blasphemies that once were whispered
She said: you’ll welcome us into your homes
We’ll linger in your blood
Our ways are in your bones

From the Witchwood we rise and greet you at your door
The old ways remain and the ancient gods they live on

The next song, Goodbye Gemini, is the album’s single, which is featured in their sole official video, which I mentioned before in my previous post about the band. It is a good song and a cool video that mixes footage of the band performing an in-the-studio pantomime, interspersed with psychedelic visuals, and video of Ms. O’Brien and a lady friend dressed in ceremonial gowns walking around the grounds of some venerable edifice. I do not recognize the references in the song and have not found anything online in my precursory searches. Listening to it, I am reminded that I wrote a poem back in the early 90s called Gemini, which my old friend Paul Mcafee wrote a tune for and recorded. I even made a special trip from Boston to his home in New Haven CT to record the vocal. I had fun, and it was a quaint ditty, but not in the same league as this number.

Next up is the haunting Lord Summerisle, a tribute to the character from the 1973 folk-horror film The Wicker Man co-written by Kennedy and bassist Lucas Gadke, who also sings lead on the song, accompanied by Ms. O’Brien. Mr. Gadke is credited as playing upright bass on the album, and I suspect this is where he does it. Although it is not mentioned in the credits, I could swear I hear mellotron on this song. I believe the instrument is listed as part of the gear used on the subsequent release, Lord of Misrule (2016), so perhaps this is an early uncredited instance.

The next tune is The Ballad of the Weird Sisters, which tells a tale of an enchantment gone awry. On returning home from a sojourn to foreign lands, two men (presumably soldiers)  are hailed by three hags just outside the city gates. The women persuade the men to follow them to their secreted dwelling in the woods where they are offered a “strange brew” with a “devil of a taste”. One young man, the narrator of the tale, is seized by the concoction and through some magical trickery, his many wicked and fell deeds are displayed in a kaleidoscope of images to all present. Knowing the jig is up, he decides to rid himself of any potential witnesses and kills everyone, sisters included. The final lines sum up the moral of the tale with a nod and a wink…

Possessed were they with fortune’s gift / And yet they were surprised / Three sisters should have better known / Than to let this devil inside.

The addition of fiddle, credited to Ben Plotnick, gives the song a real folk-rock vibe, like Fairport Convention, only darker.

Next in cue is the title song, The Eldritch Dark. Now, I am not entirely certain what Mr. Kennedy’s intent was by using this title, which is associated with weird poet Clark Ashton Smith. It is the title of an atmospheric poem of dark beauty and the name of the website dedicated to the author: http://www.eldritchdark.com. This dirge-like number about dark rites and ritual sacrifice features a vocal performance by Alia O’Brien that reaches an eerie crescendo in the final lines which gives me goosebumps!

The Candlemas Eve / Mid-winter witchery / On Candlemas Eve / This sacrifice receive

Drawing Down the Moon: Witches, Druids, Goddess-Worshippers, and Other Pagans in America Today by Margot Adler (1979, Viking Press)

Drawing Down the Moon is (presumably) a reference to the 1979 treatise on modern paganism by Margot Adler, which is seen by many as a benchmark publication on the subject, albeit with the band’s customary diabolic twist.

[update 05/10/2020: I found an entry in The Encyclopedia of Witches and Witchcraft, by Rosemary Ellen Guiley (1989, Facts On File) which explains the term. Note; words in all caps are references to other entries in the book: An important ritual in some traditions of neo-Pagan WITCHCRAFT in which a COVEN’s high priestess enters a trance and becomes the GODDESS, who is symbolized by the MOON. The transformation is accomplished with the help of the high priest, who invokes, or draws down, the spirit of the Goddess into the high priestess.]

Next up is a group instrumental called Faunus, which is the only one credited to the whole band, individually. It’s a light folk-rock piece featuring flute that really sounds to me like an outtake from a Jethro Tull album, circa 1975-76. Mr. Kennedy does a nice solo on here with a bracing guitar tone.

Lastly, is the companion piece to an earlier work from their previous album, Living with the Ancients (2011). The song is The Magician and is the second tribute the band has done to the character Oliver Haddo, from the book of the same name, by W. Somerset Maugham. The former was about the sorcerer, in 3rd person, whereas the latter is in first person. Oliver Haddo was very much a doomy track with a heavy riff, but The Magician is decidedly more proggy. Both tunes end with organ solos.

The album was released on LP in a multiple special editions featuring colored vinyl and even a boxed set that contained a belt buckle!

The Eldritch Dark box set from Rise Above Records.

In summation, I feel that The Eldritch Dark is the point where Blood Ceremony stopped being a Doom-Rock band with proto-prog tendencies, to being a straight up prog-rock band. In fact, they remind me a lot of the Italian prog bands of the 70s, minus the Mediterranean melodies, of course. After this album, they released their first single, Let It Come Down, which was backed with a rip-roaring cover of the song Loving You by Scottish Hard Rock band, Iron Claw.

Let It Come Down, 7″ single (2014, Rise Above Records).

Blood Ceremony circa 2013 l-r: Michael Carrillo (drums), Lucas Gadke (bass, vocals), Alia O’Brien (lead vocals, flute & organ), Sean Kennedy (guitar).

 

 

Update 04/15/2020: Quarantine Blues III

Posted in A. Lee Martinez, Antonio Margheriti, Barbara Steele, Black Sunday (1960), Boris Karloff, Bram Stoker, Carlo Rustichelli, Christopher Lee, Contes cruels, Count Aleksey Konstantinovich Tolstoy, Cryptozoology, Denisse Montoya, Doom Metal, Dracula, Full Moon Features, Giallo, Gil's All Fright Diner (2006), Guy de Maupassant, Halina Zalewska, Hammer Horror, I tre volti della paura (1963), Johanna Sadonis, John Langan, Kiss (band), La frusta e il corpo (1963), Lamberto Bava, Lucifer (band), Lucifer III (2020), Mario Bava, Motörhead, Paul Stanley, Puppet Master (franchise), Rue Morgue Magazine, The Fisherman (2016), Tim Lucas, Updates, Zachary Strupp with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 15, 2020 by Manuel Paul Arenas

Well I believe it has been around a month since I have visited either family or friends. My only social interactions are with co-workers and the staff at my local coffee shop, both of which are necessarily brief. I cannot wait till this is all over and done with; although, as I told my cousin when I called her this weekend to relay my good tidings for the holiday, even when they lift the quarantine edict, I am not sure that I will feel safe enough to see anyone right away. We’ll see what happens whenever they do.

A colleague at work made me a mask, but I am having issues with the fastening buttons, trying to get them into the thread loops. I am just not that nimble with my arthritic fingers anymore. I may have to attach a safety pin or something the get it to stay in place. My friend Denisse says she is going to try to procure some quilter’s cotton, which apparently is good for filtering out the virus. If she does, she promise’s to hook me up with a mask. Fingers crossed…

In the interim, I try to stay connected through calls and text, as I have none of the gadgets that people are using to keep in touch. My good friend Zach Strupp sent me a care-package, which I received Saturday. It was loaded with goodies: first off, there were two novels which he wanted me to read, one is Gil’s All Fright Diner (2006), by A. Lee Martinez, which he has been trying to have me read for some time, and the other is The Fisherman (2016), by John Langan, a weird tale about two widowers and their encounter with a figure called The Fisherman. I started reading the latter, since he was anxious that I should do so, so we can talk about it. So far I am wrapping up the 3rd chapter, which is the set up. The action is supposed to begin in the 4th chapter, which begins the second section of the book.

The Fisherman, by John Langan (2016, Word Horde).

Also in the box were two notepads, both a red and a black pen, 3 issues of Rue Morgue magazine (one of which was one of their special themed publications-from their Rue Morgue Library-this one featuring the creatures of cryptozoology), a DVD of the Puppet Master franchise from Full Moon Features, various supplies and paper products and, last but not least, some plastic Easter Eggs filled with little malted egg candies! Zach has begun a blog where he talks Horror films and various other topics which you may find at http://www.filthyhorrors.com. Also, if you’re looking for a fun read you can check out his Killing Heart book series available on Amazon in both trade paperback and eBook formats.

Rue Morgue Library: Monstro Bizarro.

Saturday I picked up (curbside; a popular service these days during the lockdown) a CD I ordered from Zia records of the latest album by Johanna Sadonis & co., Lucifer III. The sound is a continuation of the more streamlined, 70’s rock sound from the previous album replete with Johanna’s customary occult themes. Sadly, it seems the Doom Metal of Lucifer I is definitely a thing of the past, but once one accepts that, it’s not a bad album. In fact, I rather like the song Midnight Phantom, which is featured in one of two videos made to promote the album. There is no new ground treaded here, but overall the quality of the remaining album is consistently decent if not exactly revelatory. What can I say? I just Like Johanna Sadonis. Oh, by the way, she is now Johanna Plowtow Andersson, having married her writing partner, drummer Nicke Plotow Andersson.

Lucifer 2020 (l to r): Harald Göthblad (bass), Martin Nordin (guitar), Johanna Plotow Andersson (vocals), Nicke Plotow Andersson (drums), Linus Björklund (guitar).

Caveat emptor , I have seen several reviews of the LP on Amazon where customers complain about the album sleeve being a bit flimsy and either arriving damaged in the mail or falling apart once they open it. As usual, there are multiple collectible versions  featuring colored vinyl, a copy of the CD, and a black and white version of the above photo with autographs by the images of the respective bandmembers. As with their previous albums, there are several singles and non-album b-sides accompanying this release. Apparently Lucifer were part of some challenge where groups were asked to write a song in the style of Motörhead, the results of which were made available as part of a subscription promotion for a Swedish music magazine. The resulting single, Fire Up & Ride can be heard on YouTube, but the 7″ single was limited edition in 111 copies, presumably long gone. I rather like it and wish they’d make it available for order on their site. I have also found a recent recording of a Paul Stanley song, Take Me Away (Together as One). The cover is okay, but the song isn’t especially exciting for me. I have never been a Kiss fan, and their solo work even less so.

Fire Up and Ride single by Lucifer

I spent most of my past week and this weekend watching Italian Horror films. I have several on Blu-ray, but my player shit the bed a while back, so I turned to my DVDs, beginning with Antonio Margheriti‘s I lunghi capelli della morte (1964, The Long Hair of Death), featuring my beloved Barbara Steele. In the 15th century a woman, Adele, is put to death for witchcraft, by Count Humboldt whose advances she spurned. Her daughter Mary (Steele in one of her infamous dual roles) tries to sway him but as he takes advantage of her offer, the mother is burned in a public execution. In her dying breath, she curses Humboldt and predicts the fall of his house. When Mary finds out about his betrayal she runs, but is overtaken by the Count and pushed off a cliff into a running stream where she perishes.

Adele’s youngest daughter, Lisabeth is taken in by the Count and raised within Humboldt castle, where she grows to be a lovely, but very sober woman. This role as well as that of Adele, is portrayed by the actress Halina Zalewska. The count’s son, Kurt, has his greedy eyes on Lisabeth and hounds her till she reluctantly consents, under some duress, to marry him. He is a cad, and is abusive with her and continually forces himself on her until the arrival of a new face… or is it? This is another plague movie by the way. I seem to keep coming across these nowadays. The Long Hair of Death is sometimes dismissed as a second tier movie because of it’s deliberate pace, but I believe it’s worth wading through the slow build up to fully appreciate the devastating climax. Besides, there is plenty of Gothic atmosphere and Steele is her usual uncanny self.

Barbara Steele as Helen Rochefort, eyeing her prey.

I then moved on to a Mario Bava-thon, beginning with my favorite, La maschera del demonio (1960, Black Sunday). As I have stated before, this Gothic fantasy is unequalled in it’s decadent visual style and in Steele’s performance in the dual roles of Princesses Asa & Katia Vajda. She is lovely as the mild and innocent Katia, but it as her wicked ancestor, Asa that her infamy rests. Her mixture of passionate eroticism and vile grotesqueness are positively mesmerizing. The opening scene, featuring her execution through having a spiked mask pounded onto her comely countenance, is as graphic as anyone had seen in a film of this type previously. Neither Bava, nor anyone else for that matter, ever topped this film, within the genre, for it’s visual splendor and grotesque beauty. A final note: I especially love the scene where her identity is discovered by the romantic lead to be that of the witch and not the ingénue and we are treated to a view of her not-as-yet regenerated torso which harkens the cover art from the penny dreadful Varney the Vampire, with the titular vampire’s exposed ribcage.

Asa uncloaked.

I then watched the Italian cut of I tre volti della paura (1963, Black Sabbath). My only complaint about this version is that it doesn’t have most of the intros by Karloff, nor does it have his incomparable vocal performance  (being dubbed into Italian). That said, this version does contain the original running order of the shorts as well as the preferred edit of the giallo segment The Telephone, that dispenses with the convoluted supernatural pretense and also shows the true nature of the relationship between the two women. The Karloff segment, The Wurdalak, is loosely based on the Family of the Vourdalak (1839) by Count Aleksey Konstantinovich Tolstoy, although it also owes a bit to Guy de Maupassant‘s story, La peur (1882, Fear) which tells the story of the traveler coming upon a home where a family is held prisoner by fear of the avenging revenant of a felled villain. Bava scholar, Tim Lucas believes Karloff’s look, as Gorca the paterfamilias, is reminiscent of Bram Stoker‘s description of Count Dracula. Perhaps, I don’t know whether that was intentional or just happenstance. It does have some genuinely creepy stuff that might not fly nowadays, like Gorca preying on his grandson. That aside, Karloff is brilliant, and this version contains some gory scenes (for the time period) that AIP cut out for the American release. The third segment, The Drop of Water, which ends the American release, yet begins the Italian cut, is based on a story accredited to Anton Chekov,  yet was later discovered to actually be based on a story called Dalle due alle tre e mezzo by Italian author Franco Lucentini. Basically, the story is about a woman who comes to prepare the body of a deceased medium for burial. The medium, who apparently died of an attack of some sort during a séance, is left with a ghastly grimace on her face, which spooks the woman, but not enough to keep her from pilfering a ring from the dead medium’s hand; an act that will incur dire consequences. I recall being terrified by this segment when I first saw it, many moons ago. Bava’s son, Lamberto Bava, says that since seeing this segment he cannot sleep at night if there is a dripping faucet anywhere in his home. The face was made by Bava’s father, sculptor Eugenio Bava. An unnamed actor wore it in the scene where the corpse rises from it’s repose, but the rest of the time it was affixed to a dummy that was rolled around on wheels to give the effect of it floating, rather than walking towards its victim.

The corpse of the medium with it’s ghastly grimace.

Next up was Operazione paura (1966, Kill, Baby, Kill). I have always felt that this film was a bit weak, although seeing it again now, I really enjoyed it. It doesn’t have any stars like Barbara Steele to recommend it, but there are some great characters, like the Baroness Graps (portrayed by Giana Vivaldi), a noblewoman fallen on hard times in the mode of Dickens’ Miss Havisham from Great Expectations. The Baroness’ daughter Melissa perished 10 years prior due to the negligence of her neighbors when she was run down by a carriage and they ignored her requests for help. Now her vengeful ghost keeps the villagers in constant fear of her deadly visitations. Melissa was actually played by a boy, Valerio Valeri, who gave her a creepy quality. Despite his androgynous look, one can tell in the murk of one’s mind that something is a bit off. This usage of a child as the instrument of evil has since become a common cinematic trope in the genre.

Creepy Melissa Graps and her dolls.

The last of the Bava Gothics I watched was La frusta e il corpo (1963, The Whip and the Body) featuring Hammer Horror star Christopher Lee and Israeli actress Daliah Lavi. This is a strange movie. Lee is Kurt Menliff, an estranged son returning to his family castle to stake his claim on his inheritance and bring discord to his brother’s recent marriage to his former lover, Nevenka (Lavi). Nevenka claims to hate Kurt, but is obviously obsessed with him and the film depicts in frank terms their sadomasochistic relationship, which upset a lot of people when the movie first came out, causing it to be seized for charges of obscenity, which were later dropped.

Kurt is killed early on and buried, but Nevenka claims to be haunted by his ghost, who comes and whips her in her bedroom when everyone else is asleep. These scenes were cut from the American release, which made the movie very confusing for viewers. All this however, has been restored in the respective DVD/Blu-ray releases from Kino Lorber. Although upset that he wasn’t asked to do the voice dub for the English version of the film, Christopher Lee was very proud of his role as Kurt, and he seems to really relish lording over the exquisite Daliah Lavi,  who gives a passionate performance as the harried Nevenka, whose true feelings for Kurt, despite her constant declarations of her hate for him, are betrayed by her ecstatic response to his flagellate ministrations: “You haven’t changed, I see. You’ve always loved violence.” Kurt growls as he lashes her.

Kurt and Nevenka (Lee and Lavi: note the whip in her hand.)

The film is dripping with Gothic atmosphere and tropes and has an Anne Radcliffe type twist ending that has some minor plot holes but one may forgive them when weighed against the great performances from the lead actors. The celebrated film score, known as the Windsor Concerto, by Carlo Rustichelli, who also scored The Long Hair of Death and Kill, Baby, Kill, is very lush and brings to mind the grandiose Romantic piano concertos of the late 19th century.

 

Next installment: Bava goes Giallo!

 

 

 

Peter S. Beagle’s “Lila the Werewolf” (1969)

Posted in Algernon Blackwood, Clark Ashton Smith, Dark Imaginings (1978), Gothic Fantasy, H.P. Lovecraft, In Calabria, Lila the Werewolf (1969), lycanthropy, Peter S Beagle, Werewolf Fiction with tags , , , , , , , , , , on April 8, 2020 by Manuel Paul Arenas

 

As I have little else to do on my down time but go through my book, CD, and DVD collections, I have discovered some gems I might not have noticed in normal times when I am more selective about what I read. Back in the 90s I bought an anthology entitled Dark Imaginings: A Collection of Gothic Fantasy. I was exploring the world of Dark Fantasy at the time and it seemed up my alley, so I picked it up but never really read through it because it wasn’t dark enough for my taste, despite the title.

Dark Imaginings: A Collection of Gothic Fantasy (1978, Delta).

It has some worthy fantasy tales for sure, by some of it’s most celebrated authors, but there are only a handful of tales in there which I believe truly fit the theme, and they are by the usual authors associated with the genre like Algernon Blackwood, Robert E. Howard, Clark Ashton Smith, and H.P. Lovecraft, all of whom I was very familiar with already. Anyway, I set it aside and eventually it ended up in my storage unit where it, unfortunately, got pretty banged up. I found it again in recent months and left it out so I could take a fresh look. I read the introduction by co-editors Robert H. Boyer and Kenneth J. Zahorski, then I flipped through the pages looking for something that caught my eye. I settled on Lila the Werewolf, by author Peter S. Beagle, which had been touted in the introduction as a perfect example of contemporary Gothic Fantasy.

Chapbook of Lila the Werewolf (1974, Capra Press)

Without giving too much away, the story is told by a jaded New York bohemian musician, Sam Farrell, who finds out that his new girlfriend, Lila, is a werewolf. His blasé attitude and frankly cavalier handling of the situation are a bit off-putting and surprising, considering Beagle’s sensitivity and deft manipulation of the miraculous intruding upon the mundane in his 2017 novella In Calabria. Of course, there is an almost 50 year difference between the tales, and the author writing in 2017 had the benefit of experience and maturity to inform him. Beagle himself is quoted online as having said of Lila:

This story was written very long ago, in another world, by a young man to whom the idea of equating womanhood with lycanthropy, sexual desire with blood and death and humiliation, seemed no more at the time than a casual grisly joke. I would write ‘Lila the Werewolf’ today, but not for that reason, and not in that way.

There are some inspired moments and, at times, some humorous situations, but overall I think this is a werewolf story with no bite. Had he been more thoughtful, I think Beagle could have had a great story, as I feel that Lila is an interesting and sympathetic character. Most significantly, to me anyway, I found nothing at all Gothic about it. Lila’s lycanthropy is handled very matter-of-factly, with none of the customary allusions to folklore or the occult, and one never feels any impending threat save for the occasional menacing growl from the wolf. What’s more, had he not described her as a wolf in the beginning of the story, one would almost swear she was a just a peevish dog, despite her dietary inclinations. The story fell apart for me in the farcical third act, which I thought went on for way too long. As I said, I don’t think he took the material very seriously, which is a shame, as I think the idea had great potential. That said, I’d be curious to see what Beagle might have to say if he were to check in on Lila today.

Update 04/07/2020: Quarantine Blues II

Posted in Alaric de Marnac, Blood Ceremony (band), Carlos Aured, Frankenstein, Gilles de Rais, Helga Liné, Loreley (siren), Oliver Haddo, Paul Naschy, Spanish Horror Films, Updates, zombies with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on April 7, 2020 by Manuel Paul Arenas

Hello everyone, just checking in again. This is my only communication with the world at large, so I am going to be keeping you all updated on a regular basis until I can go back onto social media when this all lets up. Although at first I was stressing real hard and having regular panic attacks, things have slowed down now and I believe I have started to adjust to this new situation. I’ve been practicing social distancing, not even seeing my family, which hurts because we are a close-knit clan. I only go to work, a few local food stores, and my local café (take out only, of course). I wash my hands and use so much sanitizer that I always smell like I just came out of a heavily chlorinated pool! To be honest, this is not too much different than my normal life, save for maybe all the sanitizer, only now I must be hyper aware of where I go, what I do and how I do it. yesterday I went to a doctor appointment for a prescription renewal check-up. I was surprised when I arrived to find the door to the facility was locked, but someone inside motioned for me to hold on. Soon after, one of the aides came out with a mask on and pointed a gadget at my forehead. I was taken aback, but I complied without a fuss, because I knew and trusted her and I’d heard that other offices were taking temperature. Still, it just would have been nice to have a head’s up first.

Temporal thermometer, like the one that was aimed at my noggin.

Once my lack of a fever was confirmed, everyone seemed to let their guard down and resume their usual friendly demeanor. I left there after a bit with a clean bill of health, although the doc was concerned about my blood sugar rising a few points. He asked me if I drank sodas or much alcohol and I responded in the negative. Of course, I neglected to mention the slab of tres leches cake I bought on Friday and ate piecemeal over the weekend. Speaking of things one eats, but probably shouldn’t, I picked up an instant Cup Noddle soup from the Asian food shelf at Walmart that was Curry flavored! I’d never seen one before, but apparently it’s popular in Japan. I figured I’d take a chance, and it wasn’t half bad for what it was. It had a decent curry flavor and little bits of potato and some mystery meat that I assume was beef. In a pinch, I’d get it again.

Nissan Cup Noodle soup, Curry flavor. The meat in my cup was minced meat, not cubed.

Over the weekend I continued my Spanish Horror film marathon. I watched La Marca del Hombre Lobo (1968, released stateside in a doctored print called Frankenstein’s Bloody Terror, in which neither Dr. Frankenstein nor his monster made any appearance), La Noche de Walpurgis (1970, Shadow of the Werewolf ), El Retorno de Walpurgis (1973, Curse of the Devil), all of which featured Paul Naschy. My favorite though was El espanto surge de la tumba (1972, Horror Rises from the Tomb), in which Naschy plays his 2nd most popular character, Alaric de Marnac. Alaric is essentially inspired by historical serial child killer Gilles de Rais. In this film Alaric, a warlock, and his lover, the witch Mabille De Lancré (portrayed by the lovely Spanish/Portuguese actress Helga Liné), are executed for the practice of witchcraft. Alaric is beheaded and Mabille is disrobed and hung from a tree to be tortured before being put to death. Before their executions the pair curse the men who officiated at the event saying that they will come back in a couple of centuries to bring down the houses of their families.

Helga Liné & Paul Naschy in El espanto surge de la tumba.

Naschy and Liné are a great villainous duo in this film. They both have an otherworldly appeal that makes them look both fearful and enticing. They go through the film, chewing up the scenes, seducing everyone in their path and turning them into mindless slaves and when they grow tiresome, they kill them and reanimate them as zombies. Naschy in particular seems to relish the sinister role, and really gives a no bars held performance. Canadian occult-rockers Blood Ceremony sampled a line of his dialog about ritual sacrifice (from the English dub version) for their song Oliver Haddo. Of note are the scenes featuring the handling of Alaric’s talking severed head by his thralls, which are quite clever considering the limitations of the era.  My DVD copy of this film has a nice commentary section with Naschy and director Carlos Aured, in Spanish, with English subtitles. It is also a double feature, paired with a non-Naschy vehicle for Liné called Las garras de Lorelei (1973, The Loreley’s Grasp). As the titular water spirit, Liné mostly flits through the scenery in a fringed bikini and lies around staring forlornly off camera, but her preternatural beauty and personal charisma carry the film.

DVD double feature of The Loreley’s Grasp and Horror Rises from the Tomb.

Next installment: Italian Gothics!

Robert Bloch’s “Torture Garden” Part 3: Mr. Steinway

Posted in Amicus, Arkham House, Atropos, Fantastic (magazine), Mr. Steinway (1954), Pleasant Dreams—Nightmares (1960), Robert Bloch with tags , , , , , , , on April 3, 2020 by Manuel Paul Arenas

Yes, I know, it’s been 8 years since my last installment on this protracted review of Robert Bloch’s Torture Garden, but during this quarantine I have been pulling out my old DVDs and re-watching some films I haven’t seen in a while and Torture Garden was among them, so I thought I’d get back to this thread.

April 1954 issue of Fantastic.

The next segment is based on the story Mr. Steinway, which first appeared in the April 1954 issue of Fantastic, and was later collected in the 1960 Arkham House collection, Pleasant Dreams—Nightmares. This is a rare instance of the screenplay being better than the source story. In the movie Carla’s English friend and host, Dorothy, has become smitten with a concert pianist, Leo. Her feelings are reciprocated, but she seems to have a rival, Euterpe, Leo’s Bechstein piano!

Color still from Torture Garden (1967) featuring Dorothy and Leo.

Named after the Greek goddess of Poetry, Euterpe was a gift from his mother, who is shown in a portrait to be the very image of Atropos. In fact, the Fate makes an appearance in every episode of the film, even if only as an illusory image, gone in the blink of an eye. The conceit of the story is that the piano is sentient, and is very jealous of Leo’s attentions to Dorothy, and her demands on Leo’s time, time that he should be practicing for his upcoming tour. Initially she shows her displeasure by not playing well–Leo has to meditate to get in harmony with Euterpe’s wavelength, but apparently Euterpe can also play with or without Leo’s manipulation– but when Dorothy gets Leo to cancel his upcoming tour, Euterpe takes matters into her own…hands?

In the story, however, Euterpe is Mr. Steinway, and his connection with Leo is a bit more esoteric and convoluted. Mr. Steinway takes his displeasure at the neglect out on Leo, and Dorothy retaliates in kind. The story is told in first person by Dorothy and for some reason Bloch makes her sound batty at the very end, thus making her an unreliable witness and throwing doubt on the veracity of all of the details in her story. Overall, I find the screenplay is tighter and ultimately more satisfying.

Tune in next time for the final installment: The Man Who Collected Poe!

 

 

Update 04/01/2020: Quarantine Blues.

Posted in Allen Koszowski, Ashley Dioses, Blood Ceremony (band), Boris Karloff, Chapbooks, Clark Ashton Smith, Derek Fetler, Edgar Allan Poe, Giallo, Hereditary (2018), Paul Naschy, Robert H. Knox, Somerset Maugham, Southwestern Horror, Spanish Horror Films, Stephen King, The Magician (1908), The Masque of the Red Death (1964), The Stand (miniseries), The Wolf Man, Thriller TV Series, Updates, Video Watchdog, William Peter Blatty, Zachary Strupp with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 2, 2020 by Manuel Paul Arenas

Well, it is April 1st, April Fool’s Day, and the joke is on us all. This Covid-19 is the pits. I hope that, if you are reading this, you are well, and that you and your loved ones are safe and sound. As far as I know, my family and friends are okay. I say as far as I know, because I am shut off from access to most of my regular communication venues. I am a bit of a luddite and have no personal Internet service, and I have an old flip phone, so I can do nothing but call or text. I keep in touch regularly with my parents, and they fill me in on family stuff, but many of my friends I only communicate with through social media, which I have no access to at present. Nor do I have access to my personal email. I am only able to do updates on here because my work computer does not block access to my blog.

Yes, I am still working. I do captioning for the hearing impaired, and we are considered essential workers, for the time being anyway. I work 10 hour days listening to phone calls of people freaking out about the virus. It is a bit overwhelming sometimes, and I generally go home feeling depleted. Once I settle in, I generally just make supper, watch a DVD from my vast collection, then maybe I’ll read for a bit or listen to a CD before retiring for the night. I live alone, and if ever I were lonely, this has been exacerbated tenfold by the quarantine. In normal times, I would have a few social activities which would keep me feeling connected. I would go to my local coffee shop every morning and chat with the staff and a few of the regulars who were nice enough to engage me in conversation, and I had family visits as well as my frequent movie/game night soirees with my friends at my buddy Zach’s house. Now I have none of that, and weekends in particular, I get cabin fever and pace my apartment itching for a human interaction. For selfish reasons, I want this all to end and everything to go back to normal. I also am fearful that someone I know will get this, especially my loved ones who have vulnerabilities.

Anyway, to pass the time I have been reading and watching DVDs, as I’ve said. In the beginning I foolishly consumed a bunch of stories and movies with plague themes and basically spooked myself! I started out by reading Poe‘s The Masque of the Red Death. It’s a masterfully written story and very effective.  I couldn’t help but think of those covidiots (a new term I’ve seen written on a dry-erase board at work) having parties or going to the beach, then getting sick. In fact, I even heard tell of a bunch of well-to-do folks from Scottsdale or some such affluent neighborhood that got together to hunker down in some remote rural area to keep out the riff raff but, as in Poe’s fateful tale, the Covid-19 held illimitable Dominion over all. 

“The dagger dropped gleaming upon the sable carpet”. illustration by Harry Clarke.

 I did re-watch the 1964 Roger Corman film eventually, but not right away. It is a fun film and I hope to do a separate post about it some day soon. I then watched the miniseries of Stephen King’s The Stand, which was like an amped up version of what’s going on right now. It was a bit eerie to watch. After thoroughly spooking myself, I decided to lay off the plague films for a while. I watched several episodes of the TV series Thriller, featuring Boris Karloff. Then I re-watched Hereditary (2018), which I’d checked out from the library before they closed. I’d been putting it off for a while, but finally gave in. It is a brilliant movie but harrowing to watch. I remember being white-knuckled, gripping the armrest of my seat when I saw it in the theater with my buddy Chester. I followed that with a viewing of “The Version You’ve Never Seen” of the Exorcist. I enjoyed it in the theater when it came out in the early 2000s, but seeing it now, with a more critical eye, I believe it’s a perfect example of “gilding the lily”. Although it’s interesting to see the additional footage (Regan’s spider walk down the stair is especially fun to finally see after having reading about it in Video Watchdog over 20 years ago) some of the new scenes mess up the pacing and diminish the impact of the more shocking or thrilling moments. Also the image of Captain Howdy is startling when seen briefly in Father Karas’ dream sequence in the original cut. but seeing the same image pasted all over the film like graffiti is almost risible.

Captain Howdy

This week I’ve been watching my Paul Naschy DVDs. For the uninitiated, Paul Naschy is the stage-name of Jacinto Molina, a Spanish actor/writer/director  who is renowned for his films series based on the character of Waldemar Daninsky, a reluctant werewolf in the mode of Larry Talbot from the Lon Chaney Jr. Wolf Man series. Naschy also co-wrote and starred in many other horror/thriller/exploitation films in a career than spanned from the late 60s till his death in 2009.

Blue-ray double feature of classic Paul Naschy features.

His movies are Gothic fever dreams. Like the giallo films of Italy, they don’t make much narrative sense, but their intensity and graphic imagery leave an indelible mark on one’s psyche. Unlike the Italian gialli, however, Naschy’s films are a bit less stylish and are more rough around the edges. Fun fact: my current favorite band, Blood Ceremony, sampled an ominous snippet of Naschy’s dialog from 1972’s El espanto surge de la tumba (Horror Rises from the Tomb) for their song Oliver Haddo, the first of two tributes they penned about the villain from Somerset Maugham‘s 1908 novel The Magician.

I began last week with 1980’s El Retorno del Hombre Lobo (The Return of the Wolfman) a remake of his most successful film 1972’s La Noche de Walpurgis (Shadow of the Werewolf). Essentially, the film pits the werewolf Waldemar Daninsky against a vampiric Countess Bathory. Werewolves + sexy vampires + skeleton knights = Gothic Horror fun.

 Next on the video machine was 1974’s Exorcismo which, despite what Naschy may have said to the contrary, has many scenes that are at the very least inspired by William Peter Blatty‘s The Exorcist. I then watched 1973’s La rebelión de las muertas (Vengeance of the Zombies) where Naschy plays no less than 3 roles! In a convoluted story of supernatural vengeance, the daughters of a handful of prominent English families, with ties to an old scandal that occurred in India, are being murdered then resurrected as zombies to mete out vengeance on their own people from beyond the grave! Thugees and voodoo; two great tastes that taste great together! Last night I watched 1972’s La Orgia de los Muertos (The Hanging Woman), in which Naschy guest stars as a necrophilic grave digger. This too features murderous reanimated corpses. We’ll see if I continue my marathon tonight or not.

Nostalgia of the Unknown: The Complete Prose Poetry of Clark Ashton Smith (1988, Necronomicon Press, cover art by Robert H. Knox)

Just before the self-imposed quarantine, I received a package from artist Robert H. Knox containing a 2nd printing of the Necronomicon Press chapbook Nostalgia of the Unknown: The Complete Prose Poetry of Clark Ashton Smith. (1988), signed by Knox. I had lost my original copy a couple of years ago, and this was a welcome replacement. Inside the package was also another chapbook Manfish & Other Tales, which he also signed, and a card that featured the poem Djinn Deceiver by my fellow weird poet Ashley Dioses, illustrated by Allen Koszowski.

The Smith chapbook contains the prose poem Offerings, which my old cohort Derek Fetler and I recorded as a spoken word recording accompanied by synthesizer back around 1989-90. I once had it on cassette tape, which I have long since lost. I need to ask him if I can still get a CD burn of that some day.

Anyway, thus ends my first quarantine missive. I will try to keep in touch with you all as I can. Be safe, be well…

PS: I forgot to mention that Werner Herzog’s Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht  (Nosferatu the Vampyre) was the third plague film that I watched. In this 1979 remake of the 1922 Murnau film, Herzog emphasizes the connection between Count Dracula and the plague. Rats infest the town of Wismar, Germany, and people cavort in the town square with farm animals as the world around them falls apart and coffins pile up by the dozens. This is another film I have much to say about and hope to do a separate post for it on here some day soon.

The plague scene from Werner Herzog’s Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979). Note the rats under the table.