Thursday, October 31, 2019

Top 5 Horror Movies of the 1960s

The sixties were a decade of extremes. The joys of The Beatles and the British Invasion, the hipster excess of Frank Sinatra’s Ratpack, the birth of Marvel Comics, the Space Race, and trippy, free-loving hippies were opposed and even overshadowed by the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Kennedy Assassination, The Martin Luther King Assassination, the Viet Nam War, and dirty smelly evil hippies. Historian Mark Kurlansky alleges that 1968 is when things took a turn for the sober because it is the year that television started showing uncensored and unfiltered images of the Viet Nam war and other important news from the other side of the world, and those real-life horrors certainly colored and shaped the events of subsequent decades.

I don’t think that the decade of the sixties was ground zero for the birth of pop culture as we know it, but I do think it started to codify around college campuses and having access to more forms of mass media. Books were cheap. Comics were everywhere. Nearly everyone could read and most folks had access to a television. Airlines were flying people from Los Angeles to New York. Pop art was emerging. The Cult of celebrity was nascent. It was a groovy, happening time, driven mostly by the ever-mercurial “Youth Market” and it drove the first tentative wedge between the Greatest Generation and the Baby Boomers.

This decade, then, was the battle ground between generations, as the protests on college campuses later in the decade would attest. Things changed, seemingly overnight, and the world became a darker, more frightening place. It made the Elvis movies and the Beach Romp Teen Comedies seem more vacuous and out of place, but there were suburbs everywhere that these movies were playing to packed houses.

In some ways, the decade was also the last hurrah for the American Dream; the bill of goods that Generation X would inherit bore little resemblance to what the Greatest Generation or even the Baby Boomers had access to. The myth of America had been exposed, but it would take a few decades more to fully die. The horror of the 1960s is largely about exposure, metaphorically or otherwise and commentary on our collective impressions of the status quo. We don’t know who the monsters are anymore, and that’s because we are the monsters.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Top 5 Horror Movies of the 1950s

Post-World War II, American tried desperately to return to normal. The problem was, 1940 was ten years ago, before the atomic bomb, secret Communists teenagers running amok, and science greatly overstepping its bounds. The artifice of the 1950s can be seen in popular culture, at every level from newspapers and magazines on up to radio and television. The military-industrial complex seamlessly transitioned from ammunition to space-age toasters, and thanks to the G.I. Bill, everyone could afford a house and get cracking on the business of having a job, having kids, hosting cook outs, and living that American Dream.

It was all weapons grade baloney, of course. In the midst of all this prosperity, the threat of encroaching Communism was portrayed as very real and something to fear. This was the time of the Hollywood Blacklists, the start of the Cold War, and real-life Cat and Mouse games with Russian spies.

And let’s not forget the emergence of youth culture, too: rock and roll became big business, thanks to Elvis Presley kicking the door down for everyone that followed. Teenagers suddenly mattered, and that was terrifying to the establishment. Why, they’d only recently gotten control of juvenile delinquency by publicly “encouraging” (by way of televised Senate Sub-Committee hearings) the comic book companies to self-regulate, thus putting an end to crime and horror comics, presumably forever.

It’s no wonder that pop culture pushed back. The fifties saw the rise of counter-culture, the codification of what would become known as Film Noir, and the popularity of darkly pessimistic novel writing, in particular hard-boiled crime novels from authors such as Jim Thompson, Cornell Woolrich, and James M. Cain.

I don’t think anyone was really buying what America was selling, but the mindset was one of wanting to conform, to belong, to fit in, even if you don’t feel like you do. Horror movies moved from the gothic into the modern age, and made scientists and generals the patsies and the fools who usually exacerbated, if not outright caused, the monsters to roam free.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Top 5 Horror Movies of the 1970s

Cinema Verité. The death-throes of the studio system. Docu-dramas and New Age Woo conflated with UFOs, Bigfoot, The Loch Ness Monster, the Bermuda Triangle, the pyramids, the Moth-Man, and a variety of urban myths into a muddled roux of pseudoscience and fictionalized academic speculation.

It was a great time for monsters. Or rather, it should have been. Unfortunately, while the horror movies had a wealth of history and tradition to draw on, they instead relied on quick camera cuts, shaky, hand-held footage, and confusing storytelling to hide the fact that the mutant bear was, in fact, only a guy in a suit, and not a very good suit, either.

There was a lot going on in the 1970’s, both at home and abroad. Television had finally become ubiquitous in American households, and the networks wasted no time showing everyone the horrors of the Viet Nam war, the Manson children trials, the tragedy of the 1972 Olympics, and of course, the Watergate investigation. People were protesting on campuses, and four of them were killed at Kent State. The economy was in a recession and we were in the midst of an energy crisis. Is it any wonder we needed to escape to the movies?

Horror movies in this decade were largely reactive, and carried a verisimilitude of realism that wasn’t quite an imitation of reportage, but had enough leading headlines cobbled together to make it seem like the events could have happened. All pretense of decency was abandoned, and with it came shockingly realistic depictions of violence like what was shown (or implied) in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) and The Exorcist (1973). It’s not surprising that some of the most iconic and influential horror movies of all time were from this decade.

Monday, October 28, 2019

Top 5 Horror Movies of the 1940s

The 1940s found America engaged in the business of war, and for four and a half years, business was good. Then in 1945, all of the active service men came home and everyone was expected to pick up where they left off, before they had seen the atrocities of war. Most of the horror movies during this decade were produced by Universal, who had a growing stable of now-classic movie monsters to menace earnest young women, when they weren’t engaging in their own turf wars for supremacy.

The modern world was rapidly intruding on the gothic sensibilities of the previous decade’s horror movies, so Universal obligingly dropped the monsters into a more contemporary setting. Apart from the change of scenery, the monsters still grappled with their inner demons. What the 1940s horror movies seemed to be most preoccupied with was keeping it together. This would have real and fictional repercussions a decade later.

The optimistic propaganda of early wartime America was quickly subsumed in the aftermath of the atomic bomb drops that signaled the end of World War II and would soon usher in the Atomic Age and the Cold War in equal parts.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Top 5 Horror Movies of the 1980s

 Mullets, keyboards, and Day-Glo Swatches. Also, Dungeons & Dragons, Heavy Metal, and the ever-present threat of nuclear holocaust. It should come as no surprise that with all of that going for it, the 1980s were a kind of Renaissance for movie (and TV) horror; the genre was popular on every medium from comic books to TV, movies and of course, the VHS straight-to-video market that sprang up to meet the seemingly insatiable need for more tapes.

I was part of this, however briefly. My family ran a video rental store in my small town and I worked there from 1985 to 1988. It was the best of times, to be sure, and I got to see (by acquiring for the store) lots of stuff that wasn’t making it to Waco, Texas, for some reason or another. Because I just liked this stuff, I was somewhat indiscriminate, which made our horror section the best, most eclectic selection in the area. As a consequence of this, many of my initial viewings of classic 1980s horror were on good old VHS magnetic tape.

The decade was one of weird contradictions; the surface, Cosby Show normalcy was a cover for the AIDS epidemic, a weakening of the public trust in government, drugs and crime in record numbers, and the dawn of Big Media in the form of cable television. MTV told us everything was going to be all right, but we didn’t really believe it.

Friday, October 25, 2019

Some Thoughts on a Half-Century

Taken one week before my fiftieth birthday. Not much
has changed since then. 

Not to put too fine a point on it, but this is not the year I imagined having.

I mean, who starts their year, literally the first day of the year, in recovery from surgery? And who gets dangerously sick because the recovery time is freakishly, abnormally long, and winds up spending nearly a week in the hospital? Who does that?

Well, I do. At least, when I’m not looking after Cathy and her second round of chemotherapy, which is an even more treacherous and unpredictable ride than the first round, which we only barely began to recover from when it was revealed to us that nope, she needs to go back on again.

Nuts. Nuts to all of it. Including (but not limited to) my much-decreased but still tumescent scrotum. Turning fifty has royally suuuuuuucked. Not for the usual reasons, though. But it’s been a shit-show, pretty much, all year.

Let me ‘splain. No, there is no time; I sum up.

Friday, October 18, 2019

Cancer: A Long-Overdue Update

I met Cathy in 2000, which makes it easy to compute our anniversary and our wedding and all of those other days. Weirdly, in our relationship, I'm the one that tends to remember those things, so this works out great. Today is our 16th wedding anniversary, and I can't quite remember what the 16th year present is, but I'm going to call an audible and wish, instead, for a break from all of the crap Cathy's been dealing with.

This second brace of chemotherapy has been, in many ways, worse than the first round. Chief among them has been the nausea. Cathy didn't have severe nausea the first time around, not like this. Two weeks ago, I woke up to the sound of Cathy throwing up. It was horrible. I mean, any time you throw up, it's bad, but this was scary. I sat up with her the rest of the night, and every time she ran to the bathroom, I dutifully wetted some paper towels and waited for it to subside. It's a helpless feeling, to say the least.

We are also battling the new schedule, because it's a twice a month deal, but they have been calling her in for iron infusions and blood work. So, in effect, it's been more or less weekly anyway. We have tried five times to move the treatment days to Tuesdays, to no avail. The self-populating schedule making program that Texas Oncology uses will let you change one appointment date, but not all of them. Very frustrating, considering that I can do it was Google's calendar app and I'm not a medical facility.

We are trying to focus on the upside, which is this: Cathy gets a CT scan at the end of the month. They are looking now for any shrinkage, rather than waiting for six months. That means we'll know very soon if all of this horrible poison is working. If it's not, we get to try a different cocktail of chemicals. If it is working, however, we will soldier on through and get more anti-nausea meds and all of that fun stuff.

In the meantime, we are trying to live as best as we can. We have an evening planned for our anniversary, and I'm crossing my fingers that we'll get to go through with it.

Next week is my birthday. I'll be turning 50. I haven't decided if I'm going to write about it or not. But I know some of you like to do nice things for people, so if you want to do anything, you can either drop a few dollars into Cathy's GoFundMe account, or head over to and buy one of my books. My author page has all of the things currently available that I have stories or essays in, as well as things like Blood & Thunder: The Life and Art of Robert E. Howard, the Con-Dorks trilogy, and all of that other stuff. Recently some folks have re-discovered the Con-Dorks trilogy and have been saying nice things about the books.

Cathy's GoFundMe page.

Mark's Amazon Authors page.

That's it, really. I'm sorry the update is so short, and that it's not very funny. I just wanted to let folks know that we are still here.

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

My FenCon Toastmasters Speech

From FenCon's Facebook Feed. It's Finn at the Finish!

Several of my non-geeky friends have asked me what a Toastmaster does at a convention, and moreover, why I got to be one. I told them that it was a mainly ceremonial position, part greeter, part genial host, and ideally someone with a bit of verve and aplomb. When I get to that part about verve, they all go, "Ooh, okay, now it makes sense."

They have also asked me if I have to make a toast. I then tell them that it's not a toast, but rather some toast. They don't get that joke, and I've stopped trying to explain it to them. But they are curious as to what kind of speech I gave.

So, for those that didn't make it this year, here's what I said, more or less.

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

The Ongoing and Updated Top 5 Horror Movies Master List

This has become something of an October tradition around here at the North Texas Apocalypse Bunker.  And the lists are all spread out over the blog and it's hard for me to link them and for you to track them.

That's why I'm making an evergreen list, and I'll add to it each year. This is current up to 2019, and as new lists are created, they will find their way here, too. That means if you want to bookmark this post, it'll serve you well and you can jump on and off without losing your place.

Finally, know this: I will be updating these lists until I don't. As new movies come out, it may change the rankings of the other films. I may have an epiphany and change my mind about something. When I do, those updates will be made on the appropriate lists and I may not think to mention it.