Thursday, October 24, 2013

On Birthdays and Thinking About What "Getting Older" Really Means

"Go away! Stop looking at me! MOOOOOOOM!"
I started this week in a foul mood. I'm not going to sugar coat it; it was my fault, entirely. It seems that I, for the first time in my life, forgot how old I was. Naturally, I was rounding down, instead of up, and even though my integer was only off by one year, it shook me up.

This has been a bad year, kinda, sorta, in that I sidelined several personal goals to handle some business for other people. Some of it was creative, and a lot of it was economic. But I've not been driving my own bus for about nine months now and I just recently wrested control of my vehicle back, to belabor a metaphor.

I didn't want any hoo-hah for my birthday. I'm turning 44. No, really, that's the actual number. Forty-Four. 4-4. Symmetry be damned, I was just not feeling it. So I told everyone that it was going to be just another day.

Thankfully, my wife chose not to listen. And since I didn't tell anyone else, the well wishes came rushing in via email, text, tweet, and a veritable deluge of FaceBook posts. I had a great breakfast, a good lunch, got a massage (which I desperately needed, it turns out), and basically took a mental health day. The few cards I got in the mail were all awesome, most especially the hand-made card my sister sent me that must have taken her a week to build. I got to catch up on some NCIS, and napped a little. Turns out, I needed all of that.

Happy Birthday, O Bringer of Food and Treats!
Is that for me?
Now it's the end of the day, and I just found out that Cathy and I have been cast in a radio theater production of "It's a Wonderful Life!" for the Backdoor Theatre's Christmas show. We're super thrilled about it, because we have been dying to do some radio theater for several years now.

Oh, and it looks like I have found a home for my Sailor Tom Sharkey stories. More details on that when everything is locked down.

2014 is going to be an aggressive expansion for me. Lots of things coming out for you to read and enjoy. I'm looking forward to 44. My bad mood was just that: mine, and mine alone. I don't feel old. I certainly don't feel any older. I'm not about to start attempting to "be" old, because of this weird idea that I'm just supposed to. That's not who I am. Never has been, so why start now? Pfft!

Thanks to all of you dear friends, family, fellow writers and artists, and chums from all over the world, for the great birthday wishes. I'm grateful for whatever brought us together, and I love you guys in whatever amount of affection isn't considered creepy and strange.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

13 Days Until Halloween

I've been pretty busy writing these Top 5 Lists lately, and so with 13 Days Until All Hallow's Eve, now is a good time to stop and recap for the season. Here's the full list, just in case you missed anything:

My Top 5 Favorite Movie Maniac Movies

My Top 5 Favorite Killer/Creepy Kid Movies

My Top 5 Favorite Devils and Demons Movies

My Top 5 Favorite Ghost Story Movies

My Top 5 Favorite Monster From Space Movies

My Top 5 Favorite Zombie Movies

My Top 5 Favorite Vampire Movies

My Top 5 Favorite Werewolf Movies

I've been researching old spook
shows lately. I'm thinking of
putting one on at the theater.
 You will notice it is far from complete. For example, I don't have any Mummy or Frankstein movies listed, and that's because I'm going to start working on a book in my spare time that will cover all of the above, and much more. The as-yet-unpublished lists will include things like Creatures From the Deep, Creatures on the Loose, Comedy-Horror, When Animals Attack, and a bunch of other, really specific lists, like the Top 5 Horror Movies that Need to be Remade, and the Top 5 Worse Horror Movie Remakes, and a bunch of other things like that. So, if you don't mind being patient with me, I'll drop some occasional lists in for your consideration, and we'll see about getting this booger published somewhere, okay?

And hey, as long as we're talking about it, if you think there are some Top 5 Lists I need to cover in this as-yet-untitled movie guide, please share them with me and if I use your topic as a list, I will include you in the acknowledgements in the book.

In the meantime, for those of you who like to build up to it, there's a lot of inspirational movie watching in the above lists to get you in the Halloween state of mind. Thanks to everyone who favorited, forwarded, or otherwise commented on these blog posts. We'll do it again soon!

Thursday, October 17, 2013

My Top 5 Favorite Movie Maniac Movies

In the last great renaissance of horror movies, roughly 1978 to 1888, we saw the emergence of a new kind of monster: the masked maniac, and they were legion. Inspired largely by the movies on this list, a horde of second, third, and fourth tier quickie, no-budget films literally spewed out of Hollywood like a Tom Savini neck wound, muddying the waters and diluting the quality, and incidentally, setting the bar for horror for a generation of people. Sympathetic monsters, like Frankenstein and poor Larry Talbot, were right out. In its place was the mute, force of nature, hulking menace wielding gardening implements straight out of the Sears and Roebuck catalog.

At the time, there was an emerging body of scholarship devoted to these films, and I readily tracked down whatever I could. Most of the popular opinion regarding the newfound fascination with horror was divided between the appeal of the Grand Guignol, or theater of blood, from Victorian France, and a resurgence of the kind of morality play that was performed during the Reformation and eventually transmogrified into fairie tales, proverbs, and in the 20th century, urban myths. Essentially, the gist of the story was this: good girls are spared, and bad girls get punished. The good are spared, and the wicked get what’s coming to them. An eye for an eye, literally.

All of this was gleefully, if not consciously, sublimated into films like The Driller Killer, Prowler, Maniac, Pieces, and one of the all-time cult classics, Sleepaway Camp, a film that almost made my top 5 list. It was the age of Fangoria, and these movies were meat and potatoes for the masses.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Mark and Gloria's Final Word on Miley Cyrus

Punk hair, toungue out,
image carefully crafted to foment
shock and outrage from the
concerned parents of the world.

I’m taking a quick break from all of these Top 5 Lists to Weigh In on Miley Cyrus, the zombie-like non-story that refuses to die. First, here's some wisdom from Gloria Steinem that sort of inspired this blog post. It's short. Check it out here.

I’m glad that Gloria Steinem has scratched this off of everyone’s To Do list. I think she’s one hundred percent correct, by the way, but let me just add this to the mix: if you’re over the age of 30 and you are outraged about Miley Cyrus’ career trajectory, I want you to punch yourself in the face, really hard. Not because I want you to hurt yourself, but because I want you to wake the hell up.

As someone who grew up watching Madonna re-invent herself literally every 4-5 years, this is all just amusing and stupid in equal parts. But never mind that—there are probably more of you who can recall the crop of Mickey Mouse Club graduates that went on to become very famous and scandalous celebrities in their own right, right? On second thought, maybe you don’t. Here’s the wikipage. Go look and be amazed. Ryan Gosling? Yeah, even him.

None of this is new. There isn’t a child actor on the planet that hasn’t rebelled against their handlers as soon as they could do so. And when those handlers are Walt Disney, one of the most restrictive, manipulative, and calculating of our New Corporate Overlords, well, let’s just say, the pendulum always swing back the other way, doesn’t it?

But more to my original point, why on EARTH do you even care? This is music made for children pretending to be adults, made by children pretending to be adults, backed by actual adults with deep pockets and market research. I need you to really understand this: Hannah Montana was never, ever real. It was all made up, and it was done so with profit in mind. 

Remember the outrage? Album sales soared. It's all an act.
I think the thing that was the most upsetting to me was that there were people my age (over 40) watching the MTV Video Awards that night, and actually tweeting and posting about it as it was going on. Really? Seriously? I won't get into a rant about how youth culture is marketed to adults almost as much as it's marketed to youth, and how the only goal is to turn children into good little consumers. You can imagine how that would go already. But seriously. That whole event is one big televised press conference, a chance for the media conglomerates to roll out the new models and let everyone take them on a test drive. 

As parents, you're forgetting the number one rule that has been true for generations and is as bad as it ever was: if you hate it, the kids will love it. Your fear, your disgust, your confusion is like Ambrosia to them. If you can't understand why Miley is suddenly popular now that she's a "little tramp," it's because you think she's a "little tramp." 

But hey, there are a few earnest folks out there who genuinely, if inexplicably, love her music and think she has the voice of an angel and blah blah blah. If you’re a parent, and your child is confused about what’s happening with Miley or that demented little incubus, Justin Bieber, and why they suddenly seem so hurtful and nasty and no longer 14 years old, this is a GREAT opportunity to talk to them about media and the way content is manufactured, for profit and consumption in this country. It’s an important and necessary lesson, and the sooner they get it, the better off they will be as humans on this planet. Heck, while you’re on about it, throw in a discussion about advertising, too. In the end, it’s all the same thing, really.

Shocking. Scandalous. And carefully
crafted by the studio. Nothing is real.
Please don’t think this is some sign of the apocalypse. People were initially upset with Annette Funicello when she wore a two-piece bikini in Beach Party. She recovered. We all did. Most child stars are permanently damaged by the experience. Lindsay Lohan continues to be a slow-motion car crash in progress. The only thing I feel for these people is sadness, and maybe some pity. It's too much to put on the shoulders of a child and expect them to not get banged up by the process. Only a few have survived in modern times, and it's because they went ahead and acted out the childhood they never had, which included rebelling against their parents. It's just that when you build an artificial person and have a corporation for parents, that rebellion is usually well funded and capitalized, and done in the public spotlight. See also Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake. But they've come through it, more or less. It’s just a phase.  When you grow up in the spotlight, your “phases” become tabloid gossip, and in the end, just like most monsters that live under your bed, it all has exactly the power you assign to it.

Monday, October 14, 2013

My Top 5 Favorite Creepy/Killer Kid Movies

Nothing delivers good scares like a creepy or a killer kid movie. The reason is simple: there is a persistent mythology of childhood that is part of the American gestalt. The reasons are legion, and the culprits are many, but chief among them is the notion that kids are supposed to grow up in this Mark Twain-esque, Norman Rockwell-like setting where the colors are all saturated and there’s good fishing at the pond, and teachers still get apples on their desks, and children are completely innocent and devoid of negative images, feelings and emotions until they magically turn eighteen and then are eligible to be killed in foreign wars.

This is all crap, of course. All kids are born feral and require constant vigilance to ensure they don’t turn out to be creepy or killer kids. They all play with bugs, poop, and dead things, and they see and hear all manner of stuff that they shouldn’t, often without context or explanation, and so they form their own weird associations with things like death and violence.

And that’s why Killer Kid movies are so scary. They show us the thing that we don’t ever want to acknowledge or admit to ourselves, and it’s this: the myth of childhood is actually a lie. We can’t protect our children from death, from dying, from craziness, from monsters, from any of it. That’s extremely frightening to most people, and it’s largely the reason for the myth in the first place.

Discussion: Fear on Film, from 1982

(From L to R) the moderator, Landis, Carpenter, and
Cronenberg on the set of this TV program that ended
up being a huge influence on me. How strange.
When I was growing up in Abilene, Texas, there were limited resources for a kid that was into weird stuff. Truly, had it not been for the baffling ability for Abilene to pull in KTVT  channel 11 and WFAA channel 8 from Dallas, along with KERA channel 13, the PBS station that ran Star Trek and Dr. Who and Monty Python's Flying Circus, I don't know if I would have turned out like I did. Well, I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have had as deep a pop cultural education, in any case.

One of my most important early resources for news and information was Starlog magazine and Fangoria magazine. These early issues weren't so press release heavy back then; in fact, they often had to go find stories and make content for the magazine, which led to some really great articles about a lot of interesting stuff. One of those articles in an early issue, (maybe issue #9?) was called "Fear on Film" and it was a partial transcription and report about a round table discussion between John Landis, David Cronenberg, and John Carpenter. This was in 1982, and Cronenberg was the "old hand" at the time, having successfully made Rabid, Shivers, The Brood, and Scanners. Landis was white hot coming off of American Werewolf in London. And Carpenter had made a little movie called Halloween and also The Fog, and was working on The Thing. Talk about three directors at the top of their game. 

The article was interesting, and I never forgot reading it. But yesterday, I stumbled across THIS on the interwebs. Oh, thank you, sweet Interwebs!

This was a great discussion, and if I had any complaints, it would be that it was only a thirty minute talk. The moderator is pretty good, but the three guys are good speakers and eager to talk about their work. Very interesting stuff, particularly from Cronenberg, whom Landis and Carpenter seem deferential to. If you've never seen it, give the interview a watch. 

It's telling to me that all of this is happening before Landis' tragedy on the set of the Twilight Zone Movie (though he may have been about to work on it), before Cronenberg made Videodrome and the Fly, and before Carpenter went off the rails completely. Basically, they are still young enough that they've got stuff to prove and talk about, and hadn't been completely eaten alive by Hollywood yet. 

I miss the early days of Fangoria. If I'd had a decent amount of art training, I might well have ended up a contestant on Face Off. 

Saturday, October 12, 2013

My Top 5 Favorite Devils and Demons Movies

Possession and a loss of personal control, as I said earlier elsewhere in this series, are one of the things that most scares me in horror movies.  It’s no surprise, then, that I approach the subject of demon possession movies with some trepidation. I think with these movies, the phrase “Your Mileage May Vary” is terribly appropriate, because if you aren’t scared by these movies, or the ideas they contain, your list will be very different from mine.

Demons and devils in movies seem to be of two different varieties: The havoc-wreaking kind, and the possessing and controlling kind. There is frequent cross-over, too, as some uglies will possess a victim and then use that person to wreak havoc.

Curiously, there are very few “deal with the devil” movies, although that motif is still widespread in literature and short stories. I wonder why that is. I love those stories, myself. But these movies below kept me up at night, thinking and wondering, and concocting elaborate contingency plans for what to do if I ever come across a moldering old tome in a deserted cabin.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

My Top 5 Favorite Ghost Story Movies

Ghosts are everyone’s first exposure to the horror genre, unless you came from weird parents that didn’t let you watch Scooby Doo as a child. Despite the proliferation of Vampires and Zombies, ghosts and ghost stories remain the most prolific (and oldest?) form of horror story. Even children’s picture books include stories about ghosts. They are, figuratively (or literally) everywhere, depending on your beliefs.

Maybe because ghost stories are so commonplace, it’s easy to dismiss them as “not that scary” or effective as a vehicle for blood-curdling horror. I, of course, disagree with that. In fact, I think ghosts are the most versatile means of scaring the bejeezus out of someone.

A good ghost story, in print or film, should linger long after you’ve finished it, like too much garlic in a pasta salad. Done well, a good ghost story will have you questioning your perceptions of what constitutes reality. And it doesn’t hurt if it makes you not want to sleep for three days, either.