Thursday, October 31, 2013

Merry Halloween!

From "Mickey's Gala Premiere," perhaps my favorite Mickey Mouse cartoon ever. Even the Monsters like a good cartoon! Click image to enlarge, and Happy Samhain to all!

-- Freder

A Quick Note

I've taken down the page devoted to Persephone's Torch and created a new mini-site all about it. Cleaner design, better information, and more Stuffs coming soon. You can find it right here:

... or click on the image in the sidebar. Watch for more changes as we introduce mini-sites devoted to all our characters and books. It will be so much nicer than the pages they currently have.

-- Freder

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

De-Romancing The Vampire

For Halloween, it’s time to set things straight about a venerable old monster.

Ever since Bram Stoker and all through the twentieth century, books and especially movies have been re-inventing the vampire as a Romantic Figure. This has never sat well with me. Perhaps they see the vampire’s lust for blood as a metaphor for sexual lust; but I am a literalist and trust me… when a vampire comes at you with its eyes glowing red, the last thing it wants is to get in your pants.

Would women swoon over vampires if they stopped and thought a minute about what they were swooning over? Hello, ladies, a vampire is a corpse. It’s stone dead. It’s kicked the bucket, run down the curtain and joined the bleedin’ Choir Invisible. At the very least, this makes for a cold and clammy embrace.

If you like having stinking corpses in bed with you, maybe you should see a doctor… preferably one named Van Helsing. According to both Hollywood and hundreds of books, there are about a million doctors in the Van Helsing family tree.

The vampire moves by the force of a will that refuses to die. This makes the vampire not a creature of lust, but one of self-determination. They are not soulful, Romantic types: rather, they are the Suited Corporate Bastard type who regards every living being as pawns, slaves, fodder or food.

Think about it. If Dracula came around today, he would be the owner and sole beneficiary of a huge multinational corporation, and his employees would be … dinner. That’s such a good idea that I’m laying a copyright on it right now!

The vampire’s heart does not pump. Even if a vampire still had any blood in its veins, which is doubtful at best, its heart is as inert as a hunk of iron and does not, can not pump blood through the vampire’s body. This is kind of the definition of being dead. Being un-dead just means that one gets around rather better than a run-of-the-mill corpse, not that it has a working heart.

This has ramifications. First, all those gory scenes in movies of vampires being staked through their hearts resulting in torrents of blood from their chest and blood gushing from their mouths… it’s all baloney. There’s no blood to gush, and no working heart to make it gush. Furthermore, there’s no reason for a vampire to scream in agony as it’s being staked. Hello! They don’t feel pain! They don’t feel anything. Including emotions. Their neural sensors have long since ceased to function. Hollywood wants it both ways. The Hollywood vampire feels no pain at any other time… it just conveniently feels pain when the filmmakers feel a need for a Big Dramatic Moment. 

Second — and this is a little more delicate — since the action requires blood and a working heart to pump it, by definition a vampire can not get it up.

So — even if dead things were still interested in sex (which is a pretty danged scary thought if you ask me), they simply would not be able to do anything about it. Which may explain a vampire’s generally bad temperament, come to think of it. Nonetheless, you have to wonder what all those silly women in the books and movies (who must have been raised on a steady diet of bodice-ripper romance novels) are getting their knickers in a twist over. A vampire may be the ultimate Bad Boy, but the relationship is still going nowhere fast.

I dunno, maybe vampires don’t have to drink blood from the victim’s neck.  Eww, I’m not going there.

By established folklore, a stake is driven through a vampire’s heart not to still an organ that shouldn’t be beating, but in order to nail the vampire down into its grave. It’s the vampire hunter’s way of saying “Now, stay there!”

This is also why vampire hunters who Know Their Stuff take the extra precaution of cutting off the head and stuffing it with garlic. Just makes it that much harder for the old boy to get around. 

So, if you see a vampire this Halloween, do not be seduced. After all, they really are only interested in One Thing.

— Freder

Friday, October 11, 2013

The Day of The Fox: TINSEL*TOWN #2 is finally here!

Updated 10.18 with Links!

It's been a long month of spinning my wheels, getting nothing at all done, and battling with CreateSpace over crazy stupid non-issues... but at long last the coin has dropped, the gears have clicked into motion, and Volume Two of my graphic novel about The Golden Age of Hollywood is at last published in paperback: Tinsel*Town, Vol. 2: Love and Death continues the story of Eddie Fox -- the greatest saxophone player of his age, star of screen and radio, whose ultimate disappearance (and presumed murder) caused such a stir at the height of his career. What really happened to Eddie Fox? The world will only know as the story of Tinsel*Town unfolds.

Volume 2 is available right now from this website (just click here)... or if you prefer, it's now available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, all other online retailers and even from your own local independent bookseller (you may have to ask them nicely to stock it for you). As always, that's the option I encourage you to follow: the days of the big-box corporate-owned bookstores may be coming to an end, but your friendly neighborhood bookseller still needs your support -- and so do I!

(While you're at it, the same options all apply to Volume 1 of the series: Ashcan Blues!)

For the curious but unconvinced, the original four-page introduction strip for Tinsel*Town is included on its own page here on this site. Just click in the sidebar over there --->

And while you're at it: This is just one of a growing line of quality books available from Duck Soup Productions (that's me!) Links to all the others (Persephone's Torch, Melies' Notebook and Quirk) can also be found on the sidebar.

Coming up later this fall and into the winter months: See Them Dance: A Fantasy Adventure from the Positively Spectacular Life of Cranch The Clown; our first children's book Under the Rooster Weathervane: Stories from a Real Maine Farm, and of course our sensational Tarot of the Zirkus Magi!

With your help and support, that will just be the beginning, I promise you!

Many thanks for visiting this site. As always, I can be reached at duckmeister(at)duck soup(dot)me!

-- Freder

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Carving the Bard

I have survived Theater of Blood. The movie and I have a checkered history going back forty years to its original release. 

This was one of the films I first learned about in the pages of the now long-defunct genre “newspaper” The Monster Times. From the start it intrigued me… but it was an “R” picture, which meant something in those days, and I have always been pretty squeamish about onscreen bloodshed, violence and torture. Most likely this is connected at least in a minor way with Asperger’s: movies have always been vivid and much more real than Real Life to me, and depictions of the mildest violence would send me running from the room.

There were episodes of Star Trek (of course I’m talking about The Original Series, which is the only Trek that means anything to me) that I could not watch: Too Scary. I dreaded the sound of a woman screaming. To some extent, I still do. If I could sense that a woman was about to scream I would tear out of the room and bury my head in the living room sofa. To this day, I cannot watch the shower scene in Psycho. The original trailer for Psycho opens with a woman turning to face the camera and screaming like a banshee. A TV station ran this trailer one afternoon (I think it was during The Wild, Wild West) and it pretty much traumatized me for life!

Jungle pictures, Tarzan movies, scared me the most. People were always getting killed in horrible, awful ways. Even on the Tarzan TV show with Ron Ely, Tarzan was always scary. One episode I’ve never forgotten opened with an invisible monster sneaking into the tent of a sleeping native. The native man woke, looked up directly into the camera and started screaming his head off. 

I ran out of the room.

Over the years my tolerance gradually deepened, and eventually I could look at all the scary episodes of Star Trek that I had run out on as a kid. And I developed that little-kid love of monsters, as distinct from horror. The Universal monster movies have always been pretty mild, so they gave me a safe outlet to explore my curiosity of All Things Scary.

When Theater of Blood eventually aired on TV, I finally got a chance to explore its dark depths. And I loved what I saw. Like the arguably better Abominable Doctor Phibes, also starring Vincent Price in his prime, its real story is about The Old World rearing its head to take revenge on the Modernity that has consigned it to mothballs. Unlike Phibes, Theater of Blood has several different “readings.” It can also be seen as the Creative Mind getting its due at last from Indifferent, Un-creative minds — the critics. At the same time it functions as theater critic on its own terms, exploring the darkly violent, gory, sensationalistic stuff concealed under all the poetry of Shakespeare’s plays (When asked why he had made his film version of Macbeth so very gory, the yet-to-be-exiled director Roman Polanski replied along the lines of “I didn’t make it gory. Shakespeare did.” — That said, I don’t think the extremely distasteful bear-baiting scene was in Shakespeare’s original).

With a great cast including the always-delightful Diana Rigg, the version of Theater of Blood that I watched that evening quickly became a kind of favorite. But —

— it was “edited for television” and I knew it. Very sloppily edited for television, I might add, with awkward jump-cuts that made it self-evident where the bloody parts had been hacked out. I was of two minds about this. On the one hand, I knew that I would not be able to watch the unedited theatrical version, and this allowed me to get a kind of grip on the movie that I otherwise would not have had the chance to experience. On the other hand, it always pains me to see Bozos come in and chop a movie to death.

Many, many years passed and I always harboured a secret desire to see Theater of Blood again, wondering what it would be like uncut. At the same time, I was terrified of it… and this was not helped by critics like Leonard Maltin who wrote that the movie was “marred by a series of incredibly gory murders.”

I talked to a fellow who had seen it, and he confirmed “Oh, yes, it is incredibly gory.” Reviews at online sites drove this point home repeatedly. So I stayed away all these years — all the while harboring an undying curiosity about the thing.

Well. This Halloween Season I let my curiosity get the better of me, and when the now-unavailable DVD came up online in a used copy at an affordable price, I bit the bullet and ordered her up.

Glad I am that I did not watch this when I was younger. Even now, there were sequences that I had to watch with the sound turned off. Still and all, having sat through and not just survived but having actually enjoyed it for all the same reasons that I enjoyed the cut version years ago, I have to wonder what all the fuss was about.

Because Theater of Blood, although it emphatically deserves its R rating even today, is not nearly as gory as I was led to believe that it would be… and in fact is quite mild by today’s standards. More to the point: Theater of Blood is so skillfully shot and edited by the filmmakers that, through implication and camera angles and suchlike, it makes its audience believe that it’s far gorier than it actually is. These days, you see just as bad (or worse) on a network TV crime drama. These days, some of the things that are only implied in Theater of Blood are now shown in full and awful CGI detail. 

Especially the Maltin comment now irks me. Because Maltin reviews many movies in his annual Movie and Video Guide, and some of them — like Re-Animator and Peter Jackson’s almost pornographic Braindead — are far more violent, far more explicit, far more sadistic with far less justification, and use buckets and buckets more blood than Theater does … yet never once does Maltin advise or admonish his readers that they are “incredibly gory.” 

If Theater of Blood was remade today, I shudder to think what it would be like. Even at the time, it could have been worse. Theater of Blood has a point or two to make, and it gives you just enough to make that point. As an example, in the Shylock sequence a heartless critic has his own heart cut out — the pound of flesh (“exactly!”) that the Merchant of Venice demands. But you don’t see it happen: you see Price approaching the man with a knife, you see some very suggestive motion as the action itself is completely obscured by theatrical staging… and then you see the consequences of that action, as Price carries the organ in his hands to the weighing scale. Yes, that part is gory. But it could have been so much worse.

Today, in the hands of a less talented director, every detail of that scene would be explicitly shown. You would see the knife cutting flesh, you would see the actor’s hand reaching into the cavity to rip out the still-beating heart. Blood would be everywhere, by the gallon. Modern filmmakers do not have the creativity to stage it any other way. This is what I was afraid of. This is what I thought “incredibly gory” meant. And this is what Theater of Blood does not do.

So — yes, the movie is bloody… as bloody as a movie with a title like Theater of Blood needs to be… and no more.

Enough of all that. The movie is a sly wink wrapped around a Great Idea that manages, in a way that seldom works, to combine genuine wit, black humour  and morbid scares in the cleverest of ways. You’ve just got to love the concept of a Bad Actor (itself a pretty good play on words) going out of his way to murder all of his biggest critics, and doing it using the plays of Shakespeare for inspiration (wait ‘till you get to Titus Andronicus). To use an appropriately outdated and chauvinistic expression, it’s “a thinking man’s horror movie.” Edward Lionheart is the role that Price was born to play, and he goes to town with it. As though to compensate for his deliberate over-emoting (I think Price as the hairdresser is the funniest bit), Rigg deadpans her way through the picture. 

The critics are a roster of great British character actors demonstrating what Good Sports they are. On an interesting side-note, Price met his future wife Coral Browne on this picture — she plays one of his victims!

I wouldn’t show it to a child, who wouldn’t get the joke anyway, nor even to a particularly sensetive teenager. I’m glad that I waited until now, well into my middle years, to fully attend the Theater of Blood. Having done so, I’m glad to report not only that I got through the experience unharmed, but found it a good bit of old-fashioned morbid fun.

— Freder

Saturday, October 5, 2013

More Shivers, More Shakes, More Rattles...

Last year I posted the details of my Halloween Music playlist for 2012 (“Shake, Shiver, Rattle, Roll Dem Bones”). Always in favor of Establishing Traditions, I created a new playlist of Halloween Music for this year.

The thing is, radio stations are pretty woeful this time of year. So unimaginative. If you’re lucky they might play “The Monster Mash” a time or two — and usually when they do, they play the wrong version, a knock-off by some no-name band, not the original by Bobby “Boris” Pickett and The Crypt Kickers.

I’ve nothing at-all against “The Monster Mash,” but there’s so much good music for Halloween out there that you wonder how radio programmers can be so bloody lame.

Herewith as a public service is my list of Halloweenish cuts for this year. It all fits on one disk. Take it away, Yanush…

#1) I always try for an arresting opening. Someone took one of the few extant recordings of Alastair Crowley reciting an invocation of some sort and put some atmospheric, eerie music behind it. Crowley was once “The Wickedest Man in The World;” now, I fear, his wickedness has been far outstripped by other Human Monsters. The cut is called simply “666” and it’s almost as if the wicked old bastard (who made a wonderful tarot deck once upon a time) is greeting us and consecrating what follows. Welcome into the lair…

#2) “Consider This: The True Meaning of Love (Instrumental Version),” by Sopor Aeternus & The Ensemble of Shadows. Sopor is the brainchild of Anna-Varney Cantodea, a German performance artist who certainly qualifies as one of “my people.” He — I mean she — I mean it — would certainly be right at home hanging from The Addams Family Tree. That’s her in the picture above… NOT a statue of her. Very talented musically, but O My Goodnitz you don’t get much darker. “Consider This” is a striking Gothic anthem that whirrs and lumbers like an arcane machine. A swell opening for a Nightmare Party.

#3) My cut number three is not a song at all, but a very brief and efficient “Introduction to Horror” by Arch Obler, from his record album Drop Dead. Obler was the diseased mastermind behind the great Old-Time Radio show Lights Out, a genius of manipulating sound and voice to produce a specific effect. In this piece, Obler quickly demonstrates that the old tried and true ways are often the best…

#4) “Halloween Spooks,” a really lively jazz cut by the vocalise trio Lambert, Hendricks and Ross. This was a great find. It’s available on several albums, including a comprehensive collection of their bright and crisp works. This is their only remotely Halloweenish song, a charming wink and nod to The October Country.

#5) Speaking of The Addams Family, did you know that Ted Cassidy, who was all over ‘60s TV (he lent his voice to many a Hanna-Barbera cartoon) and notably played Lurch, the Addams Family butler on the original series, actually issued a record right around that time? “The Lurch” is a hysterical parody of dance songs from that period, with Cassidy providing “vocal interjections” in character as Lurch. Cassidy died young, and was buried in the backyard of his California home. His family subsequently moved away… so some unsuspecting homeowner out there actually has Lurch buried in their back yard!

#6) I “discovered” The Birthday Massacre last year and was immediately taken with their eerie brand of hard rock and sensitive vocals. Got to have one of their cuts in any Halloween playlist… this year, I selected “Shallow Grave,” from their album Pins and Needles. “She wears her dress like a body bag every day…”

#7) Jazz great Artie Shaw is next in line with his wonderful seasonal cut of “Nightmare,” a terrific piece that lumbers along like a steam-powered Ghost Train.

#8) When, in the early '30s, Universal Pictures was just beginning their cycle of Monster Movies and the art of movie scoring was unsophisticated to say the least, they used a version of “Swan Lake” as a kind of a generic mysterioso theme for at least a couple of their pictures… especially including The Mummy. Any version will do; mine is by the London Symphony Orchestra. 

#9) Walter Disney’s (as distinct from the evil corporate entity that now bears his name) animated version of “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” scared the crap out of me as a little kid. A musical highlight of the short is “The Headless Horseman,” sung in the picture by Bing Crosby. It was re-recorded for Disneyland Records in the sixties, performed by Thurl Ravenscroft, he of the basso profundo who sang for us “You’re a Mean One, Mister Grinch,” and also voiced Tony the Tiger! I have owned this single ever since I was about five years old! It's a terrific, atmospheric tribute to the season.

The LA duo billing itself as “Creature Feature,” put out a terrifically fun monster-themed rock album called “The Greatest Show Unearthed” a while back. Their song “A Gorey Demise,” inspired by Edward Gorey’s wonderfully sinister book The Gashleycrumb Tinies holds down the middle of the selection at song number ten. 

#11) A group that I know nothing about and have not researched called Reliquary is up next with a cut from the gothic music collection Dark Moments called “Dreams Torn Away.” 

#12) No Halloween selection would be complete without an offering from Gothic Diva Jill Tracy. This year, I chose “The Fine Art of Poisoning,” from her honky-tonk horror album Diabolical Streak.

#13) Next up, the horror soundscape group Midnight Syndicate welcomes us to the Carnival Arcane with the first cut from that album, “Mesonoxian Visitors.”

#14) Brit Pagan Rockers Inkubus Sukkubus are up next with their fine blood-pumper, “Pagan Born.” To a certain extent nearly all of the music that this produced pretty much sounds alike, so I could have selected almost any one for this spot. They do what they do very well, but they don't do anything else...

#15) I needed a dash of Classical right about this time, so the London Philharmonic kindly stepped in with their performance of the Spooky Standard, “Carmina Burana: O Fortuna.” 

#16) A three-member eccentric Australian band, Brillig next puts a smile on our faces and a dark light up in our soul with “Absinthe Makes the Heart Grow Fonder.”

#17) Jazz legend Cab Calloway could be super-creepy when he wanted, and recorded a number of spooktacular songs. This year he joins us with “The Ghost of Smoky Joe.”

#18) Everyone’s pal Boris Karloff joins us next with one of his Tales of the Frightened… this time featuring a story about a man who tries to run from death — with predictable results.

#19) Ever since Garrison Keillor introduced me to the concept that a melancholy rag made excellent, unconventional Halloween Music, I have included rags in all my seasonal listening. This year I selected Scott Joplin’s “Solace,” made famous as one of the tunes Marvin Hamlisch adapted for use in The Sting. My version is performed by William Albright.

#20) Didja know that the Joker of Jazz, Spike Jones, put out an entire Halloween-Monster-themed album? It’s called Spike Jones in H-Fi, and for my penultimate cut I chose the opening track from that album… a genuine groaner in music, Spike’s version (with Paul Frees, the voice of Boris Badinov on vocals) of “I Only Have Eyes for You.”

#21) … and I close out this year’s affair with a skin-crawly number from another German Goth group, actually a duo and actually now defunct (which seems appropriate enough) called In My Rosary. "Day Fly" will pulse you out the door… but be sure to stay for your own burial at the end of the song!

That’s my 2013 Halloween Playlist. What’s on yours?

— Freder

Monster Soup


-- Freder.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Just FYI --

Volume 2 of Tinsel*Town is being delayed because the printers are idiots.
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