Demons and Boogeymen

The countdown of My 100 Favorite Horror Films continues with a three-pack of movies that aim to be a bit, well, different.

MV5BMjI5MTg1Njg0Ml5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNzg2Mjc4Nw@@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,674,1000_AL_94. Sinister
2012

I have never liked Ethan Hawke. Ever since Reality Bites, I don’t like him. I don’t know what it is, I can’t put my finger on it. But when I saw the trailer for Sinister, I really didn’t care who was in it, I was going to see the movie. And Hawke is good in this. Sinister reminded me of why I don’t go see scary movies by myself. Yes, it is a touch predictable, and it leaves you wondering what the hell has happened to Vincent D’Onofrio, but what I like about it is its attempt at being something different. There is a confusing plot point at the end but don’t let that get in the way of you enjoying this well-made film.

Hawke plays a true crime writer who moves his family into the murder house on which he is basing his new book. Obviously, this doesn’t sit none too well with the missus because he doesn’t bother to tell her. Before long, the family falls victim to a demon.

There are some unique elements to this one. I like the use of home movies as an inter-dimensional vehicle for the demon. There are plenty of jump scares to go along with true moments of horrific suspense. The late Fred Thompson makes one of his last screen appearances as the local sheriff. Just don’t watch this one alone. Do yourself a favor, skip the sequel.

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1995

If you are anything like me then you used to watch Tales from the Crypt. I loved that show, along with Amazing Stories and Tales From the Darkside. I have always been a fan of The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits, and Tales from the Crypt was the horror version of those great sci-fi suspense classics.

I like Billy Zane, I really do, but his shot as The Phantom didn’t play well, and in Titanic, well, let’s just say he was a dick. He gets a chance to shine in Demon Knight. A great ensemble cast opposes “The Collector.” William Sadler, CCH Pounder, Brenda Bakke, Thomas Haden Church and Jada Pinkett Smith all have prominent roles.

The opening credits feature one of my favorite songs of all-time, Hey Man Nice Shot by Filter. It is wonderfully shot and it sets the stage for the entire film. I didn’t care much for Tales From the Crypt’s other feature film entry, Bordello of Blood, despite Angie Everhart, Erika Eleniak, Dennis Miller and Corey Feldman’s best efforts. And I use that term loosely. I do like a good deadtime story.

MV5BNzU0MzgxMjAtYjU0NC00ZWYyLTljZWUtNTRkNzBhZTYwYzY4XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMTM2MzgyOTU@._V1_92. The Void
2016

The Void, originally available on Amazon Prime and later Netflix, apparently was released in theaters but I don’t remember it at my local cineplex. Jeremy Gillespie and Steven Kostanski wrote and directed this film that reminds me of movies like Lord of Illusions. There is a cult, mysterious blood-soaked victims and unspeakable evil.

The Lovecraftian overtones and themes are palpable and the film has the look and feel of something from the 1980s like From Beyond. Another film that dares to be different in an era of sparkly vamps and Paranormal Activity schlock, this taut fright fest channels the true tenets of good horror film making. Darkness, violence, mysterious figures with unknown motives, and hidden evil waiting just on other side.

 

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Folk Horror, Giant Snakes and a Young, Witchy Kelly Preston

Last night’s blog took the first bite out of my countdown of My 100 Favorite Horror Films. I gladly present the next three selections.

MV5BMjAzMzAyMDI4Ml5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwODMwOTY2NDM@._V1_97. The Ritual
2017

I have an affinity for horror films that focus on village superstition, folklore and folk horror, and I am not talking about M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village either. The Old Ones, the Old Gods, ancient, prehistoric gods and monsters almost forgotten, make for great nightmare fuel.

Every once in awhile, a film comes along that really surprises you. It’s better than you thought it was going to be, it flew under the radar, it was a Netflix release (good ones are rare) … something … else. The Ritual is one of those movies. A group of friends take a trip to the forest to memorialize a pal killed during a convenience store robbery only to find something is stalking them, something inconceivable. That something is worshiped and tended to by a cult of true believers.

This film is well-acted, well-written and beautifully shot. Based on the novel by Adam Nevill, David Bruckner directed. I have become a big fan of Rafe Spall. He is an underrated actor and he is excellent in this.

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1988

The second film on the list that bends the vampire genre, much like Sleepwalkers, is The Lair of the White Worm, which is loosely based on a Bram Stoker novel.

Perhaps no other film I’ve seen plays on genre-bending concepts of the vampire mythos like Wasp Woman and The Reptile quite like The Lair of the White Worm. Universal Studios’ The Mummy is in effect a version of the 1931 Dracula, but more on that on another night. Virginal sacrifices, a giant snake, flashbacks to Roman debauchery, a young Hugh Grant, an emerging Sammi Davis, and Amanda Donohoe (with whom I happen to share a birthday) in all her pre-LA Law glory as a snake-like vampire creature. Donohoe really “vamps” it up while preying on and “enchanting” the populace of a small burg.

The plot involves a local legend, an archaeological discovery and small town folklore with Grant playing the role of the lord of the manor whose ancestor tangled with a predecessor of the title’s D’Ampton worm. Peter Capaldi, the 12th Doctor Who by the way, plays the archaeologist who discovers the fossilized skull of a previous D’Ampton worm. His cousin Lewis is a pop singer of some renown.

I personally find a lot of charm in this film. The pub band and song that tells the legend of the D’Ampton worm over the closing credits is one of the best parts of the movie. I’ll share it here.

MV5BMjIzNDkzMjY1NV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMzgxMTM4NA@@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,666,1000_AL_95. Spellbinder
1988

I love telling the story of how I discovered this movie.

This film is one of the most pleasant surprises on this list. It flies so far below the radar and it is so good. Tim Daly (WingsStorm of the Century), Kelly Preston and Rick Rossovich star in this tale of witches, covens and devil worship.

I saw this when I was in the Navy after working hours during a detachment to Naval Air Station Fallon, Nevada, in the TV lounge in the barracks and I was stunned. I had never seen anything like it. Daly and Rossovich play friends who come across a young woman (Preston) as she is being assaulted by her boyfriend. Daly’s character intervenes and before long is romantically involved with the young woman. However, nothing is as it seems.

Now, I hate Top Gun, but Rossovich redeems himself in this, never mind his guest spot on International House Hunters several years ago.

This one is hard because I don’t want to give any spoilers away. Janet Greek directed and Tracy Tormé penned the screenplay. Three’s Company’s Mrs. Roper Audra Lindley also co-stars.

So It Begins, Again

brides-of-dracula-1960-07

Let’s try this again, shall we? I re-booted this countdown last year and only got halfway through it. Hopefully, this time I’ll make it through like the “final girl” in so many horror movies.

Anyone who knows me understands that my chosen forms of entertainment usually involve the macabre. I wrote a post for my official web site awhile back that described where the fascination with horror came from. It was Dan Curtis’ Dracula, a made for TV movie starring Jack Palance as Dracula. The first time I saw it I was four years old. Last year, I watched it for the first time in 45 years and found it to be surprisingly good.

As a published author of horror fiction, my inspiration and influences have come from books, comic books/graphic novels, TV shows and movies, especially movies.

I started this countdown several years ago as a Facebook thing and brought it to my blog in 2015. Several new films appear on the list and several didn’t make the, ahem, cut. Remember, these are my favorite horror films, not the “best.” You’ll find that I tend to lump certain franchises or original/re-makes together. Invariably, there will be more than 100 films on this countdown.

In the 1930s, prior to select showings of the titular Frankenstein, actor Edward Van Sloan would give a bit of a speech to the audience. I will borrow a line.

“Mr. Jerry Knaak feels that it would be unkind to present this countdown without a word of friendly warning … I think it will thrill you, it may shock you, it might even horrify you. So if any of you feel that you do not care to subject your nerves to such a strain, now’s your chance to, uh, well, we warned you.”

So, without further ado, here are the first three films.

MV5BYTQ0YTg2ZWEtYTI0My00YWNlLWFkMTAtN2M3MzAwNzJiNTI2XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNzQzNzQxNzI@._V1_100. Brides of Dracula
1960

The follow up to Hammer Studio’s Horror of Dracula didn’t even have Dracula in it. Peter Cushing reprised his role as Van Helsing, but Christopher Lee and Dracula are absent. Instead, David Peel takes a turn as the bloodsucking Baron Meinster. The plot is absolutely ludicrous, but Hammer was trying to find their footing as a major player in the genre. The ease with which the main character falls in love with and agrees to marry the vampire antagonist is laughable at best. Martita Hunt plays Meinster’s mother and captor. She is tormented as a tragic figure who tries to keep her son’s evil from the world.

But it is a Hammer vampire film and the cinematography and rich set design make it a very watchable film. Plenty of fangs and blood. The set pieces are gorgeous, something Hammer would  become known for during their run as the top horror film studio of the time.

Once again, Jimmy Sangster, Peter Bryan and Edward Percy combine on the screenplay. Hammer stalwart Terence Fisher directed. I would have this higher on the list if the plot wasn’t so ridiculous.

99. Horror of Dracula
1958

Terence Fisher directed Christopher Lee’s first outing as Count Dracula and Peter Cushing’s first turn as Van Helsing. I do love the Hammer horror films, but this is my least favorite of the Lee Dracula films. Not because of the performances. Both actors set new standards for both characters as Lee emerged from the shadows to put his own spin on the Prince of Darkness after Bela Lugosi had set the bar in 1931. Many find him to be the definitive Dracula, or at least their favorite. Michael Gough, who would go on to play Batman’s butler Alfred Pennyworth in Tim Burton’s Batman films, also stars.

What I don’t like about this movie is the plot. It strays too far from the source material. Although Tod Browning’s Dracula in 1931 didn’t adhere to Bram Stoker’s original novel either (it follows Hamilton Deane’s stage play), this film features an all-new screenplay. Characters are mixed up or blended or omitted.

Don’t get me wrong, it is stunning to see Dracula in technicolor for the first time and Lee is commanding as the Count. The film stands on its own with Jimmy Sangster’s original screenplay but I would have liked to see a more faithful adaptation for Lee’s first turn in the cape. The funny thing is, when Dario Argento made his Dracula 3D in 2012, he used Horror of Dracula for inspiration for the screenplay and not the source novel.

MV5BNWY4N2ViZDAtMGU0MS00NDliLWE1NjktN2UyNGEyZjA0YzNhXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMTQxNzMzNDI@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,673,1000_AL_98. Sleepwalkers
1992

I am usually not one for genre bending when it comes to vampires. However, in the opening credit sequence of the first Stephen King adaptation on this list, a slate appears that connects the origin of the vampire myth to ancient Egypt. Anne Rice explored this connection deeply in the Vampire Chronicles. As a published author of vampire fiction myself, I am fascinated by the origin of the vampire legend.

Brian Krause, Mädchen Amick (Twin Peaks, American Horror Story) and Alice Krige (Carnival Row) star in what almost plays as a dark comedy. What I find interesting is the use of cats in the folklore. The antagonists fear and can be harmed by cats, which are revered in ancient Egyptian culture. King is a master at scratching the surface of a myth or a legend, peeling back the curtain and letting you see just enough beyond the veil to terrify you. You get just enough folklore and mythology to understand the pathos of the mother and son “vampire duo.”

I enjoy this because it is corny and cheesy, but it also has a certain charm. Released in 1992, it plays more like a a solid mid-1980s horror film. Krige adds a gravitas to this, as she does in all her performances. However, Krause has a tendency to overact. Ladies, if an attractive young man in a blue Trans Am invites you to the cemetery to do some gravestone rubbings, you might want to say “no.”

The venerable Mick Garris directed this one.

 

My Favorite Horror Comedies

As promised on social media, I will bring the countdown of my 100 favorite horror movies back from the dead starting tomorrow night. In the meantime, I thought I would whet your appetite with my five favorite horror comedies. This sub genre has produced a few of the most beloved films of all time and each of the movies I am about to present have a special place where my heart used to be. The funny thing is, some horror comedies were never intended to be funny, they just turned out that way. It’s a hard genre to pin down. Quick web searches for the term “horror comedies” produces head-scratching results. I better stop that and get to the list. They say nothing bleeds like a scalp wound.

MV5BMTEzNjkwMzIyMjZeQTJeQWpwZ15BbWU4MDI2NTU5ODYx._V1_SY1000_SX670_AL_5. Tremors

I love creature features. Monster movies are some of my favorite things to watch, especially the giant bug movies of the 1950s – Them, Tarantula, The Deadly Mantis, etc. Tremors, starring Kevin Bacon and Fred Ward, is a send-up of all of the great b-movies of the 1950s and 1960s. Bacon and Ward live in a small desert community. The discovery of giant worm-like creatures dubbed “graboids” sends everyone into a tizzy. Michael Gross, Ariana Richards (Jurassic Park) and Reba McEntire also star. Finn Carter plays the scientist who first discovers the giant worms. The townsfolk gather together to fight the monsters with Gross and McEntire playing doomsday preppers who are armed to the teeth.

MV5BMTg5Mjk2NDMtZTk0Ny00YTQ0LWIzYWEtMWI5MGQ0Mjg1OTNkXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNzkwMjQ5NzM@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,669,1000_AL_4. Shaun of the Dead

This is the film that put Simon Pegg on everyone’s radar. This send up of zombie films written by Pegg and Edgar Wright, and directed by Wright, is as much satire on the doldrums of every day life, loves and loves lost, as it is zombie film. Nick Frost co-stars with Pegg, a future frequent team-up, as two pals who are besieged by an outbreak of the undead. Hilarity ensues as Shaun and Ed (Frost) concoct a plan to rescue Shaun’s now ex-girlfriend Liz and his mom, and begrudgingly his step-father (played by the wonderful Bill Nighy) and his ex-girlfriend’s pals. The movie is well-written and well-acted with several side-splitting scenes. Many zombie movie tropes are skewered and one of the funniest scenes involves Shaun and Ed trying to kill a pair of zombies by flinging vinyl record albums at their heads. The music and pop culture references are enough to make this film enjoyable.

MV5BMjAwNDA5NzEwM15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMTA1MDUyNDE@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,674,1000_AL_3. What We Do in the Shadows

New Zealand’s Jemaine Clement of Flight of the Conchords fame is becoming a Hollywood powerhouse. He has done some pretty good voice over work to go along with his acting. He is also a writer and a director. Perhaps his best work to date is the vampire film, What We Do in the Shadows. Written and directed by Clement and Taika Waititi, this irreverent take on vampire myth and lore is filmed documentary style, almost MTV Cribs style. A reality TV crew follows a group of idiot vampires who each has unique traits or abilities. The bottom line is, none of them really know how to vampire. IMDB describes the movie this way: “Viago, Deacon and Vladislav are vampires who are finding that modern life has them struggling with the mundane – like paying rent, keeping up with the chore wheel, trying to get into nightclubs and overcoming flatmate conflicts.” It’s like Friends meets Keeping Up with the Kardashians, only with vampires. The film has spawned a popular TV series of the same name. The film and the series are hilarious.

MV5BNTZiZTQ4YjItY2Y4ZC00MTVhLThmYTEtYWM5NmRlNDI5Y2JmXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNDY2MTk1ODk@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,657,1000_AL_2. Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein

I almost forgot about this one. I grew up on Universal Horror, fell in love with Universal Horror. Dracula, Frankenstein, The Wolf-Man, The Mummy, The Invisible Man, and all their sequels. I also grew up on Abbott and Costello films and routines. Their “Who’s on first?” sketch remains one of the funniest and timeless bits ever written and performed. There wasn’t much taste for horror films in the 1940s because of World War II. The world had witnessed enough horror. Universal decided to trot their beloved monsters out for one more go-round, this time with Bud Abbott and Lou Costello. The best of the batch was Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein. This film marked only the second time Bela Lugosi played Dracula on the big screen. And it would be his last. Lon Chaney, Jr., reprises his role as Larry Talbot/The Wolf-Man and he is as tragic as ever. Cowboy actor Glenn Strange takes a turn as Dr. Frankenstein’s creation. The boys run afoul of Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster and Talbot’s werewolf in what is more comedy than horror. This 1948 film just might be Abbott and Costello’s best.

MV5BMTEwNjg2MjM2ODFeQTJeQWpwZ15BbWU4MDQ1MDU5OTEx._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,645,1000_AL_1. Young Frankenstein

I can practically quote this one by heart. I adore this movie. Gene Wilder is at his best in this 1974 Mel Brooks film. The usual suspects – Marty Feldman, Cloris Leachman, Madeline Kahn, Terri Garr, Kenneth Mars, and Peter Boyle – are all pitch perfect in this send-up/mash-up of Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein. Filmed in black and white, the movie pays tribute to the great Universal horror films of the 1930s and early 1940s. Feldman, as Igor, chews scenery, literally in one memorable moment with Kahn, and steals every scene he is in. Wilder’s exchange with Leachman’s Frau Blücher upon his arrival at the castle is hilarious. Boyle is wonderful as the monster and Mars’ Inspector Kemp pays homage to the original film’s sequels. Gene Hackman is a delight as the blind hermit. There are too many great scenes to mention and too many lines to quote here.

My Obsession with “IT”

EDUwYotU4AAtzCQIt takes quite a bit for me to obsess over a movie or a TV show. When it comes to TV, if I don’t finish a series, sometimes the show jumps the shark or loses me somehow. Sometimes, the show is cancelled prematurely. When it comes to Stephen King’s IT, I have been obsessed for the last two years. The last time a book or movie captivated me like this was the last time I watched Sergio Leone’s gangster epic Once Upon a Time in America all the way through, the almost four-hour version. The film affected me. I had to read and research everything I could about it. That’s where my head has been since IT: Chapter One came out in 2017.

This is another one where we all think we know the story. A group of kids, the self-titled Losers Club, band together to fight a demonic clown. They make a blood oath to reunite and fight the evil again if they failed the first time and IT returns. IT comes back to terrorize Derry, Maine, every 27 years, it casts a pall on the residents of this accursed town, and finds its food tastier when the food is scared. The Losers Club reunites and fights IT again. All the while, Henry Bowers and his gang lurk around every corner. IT’s favorite form is Pennywise The Dancing Clown, because, hey, who’s afraid of a clown? Right? We all are now, thanks Stephen.

I call myself a Stephen King fan but to be honest, I haven’t read as much of King’s work as I thought I had. Sure, I have seen numerous movie and TV adaptations for stories I have never read – Pet Sematary, Carrie, Creepshow, The Dark Tower, The Storm of the Century, Golden Years, Castle Rock, The Stand, The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile, The Tommyknockers, The Longoliers, The Mist, The Shining, The Dead Zone, Firestarter, Children of the Corn, Silver Bullet, Misery, Dolores Claiborne, 1408, The Running Man … I am sure I am missing something.

As for novels or books, I have read ‘Salem’s Lot, The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger, The Dark Half, Needful Things, Gerald’s Game, Bag of Bones, Dreamcatcher, Joyland, Revival, The Outsider, and On Writing. I have also read the short story collections Night Shift and Full Dark No Stars. In all, just 13 books. I made it my mission to read IT, all 1,153 pages of IT, before IT: Chapter Two hit theaters. I accomplished that goal. I put everything else I was reading on hold until I finished it. It took about a month. I read a bit of IT every night except for maybe two or three nights. So, make that 13.

Most of us remember the made for TV mini-series from 1990 starring Tim Reid, John Ritter, Richard Thomas, Annette O’Toole, Dennis Christopher, Richard Masur, Harry Anderson, et al. Ageless wonder Seth Green stars as Richie Tozier as a child. Emily Perkins plays young Beverly Marsh. She goes on to star in the cult favorite werewolf film Ginger Snaps as Ginger’s sister, Brigitte.

I watched the mini-series again when IT: Chapter One was on the horizon, and then again when IT: Chapter Two was nearing its recent release. It’s better than you remember, Tim Curry is, well, pretty darn good as Pennywise The Dancing Clown. He plays it pretty straight as a circus clown until the moments when he has to feed. Then he is downright monstrous. It is pretty faithful to the book. It transitions seamlessly between 1958 and 1988. You have to get past Harry Anderson’s shtick as he was riding high on Night Court, and the fact that Tim Reid once played a disc jockey named Venus Flytrap on WKRP in Cincinnati.

The mini-series gets vilified for two reasons: 1. it was made for TV so it had to go light on the gore; 2. the special effects in the boss battle scene with IT at the end were comical at best. It gets a bad rap on the whole, it is worth a watch.

IT: Chapter One was pitch perfect. The young actors cast to play the Losers Club were on the money, including Stranger Things’ Finn Wolfhard. Sophia Lillis is great as young Beverly Marsh. The timeline is shifted a bit. It is set in 1989, so the adults’ story that comes later can take place in our time. The decision was made to split the story into two parts – the kids’ part and the adults’ tale. Bill Skarsgard is wonderful as Pennywise. There is so much to like about this film. Director Andy Muschietti nailed the aesthetic, the 1980s nostalgia, the Easter eggs and homages to the book, especially for the things they left out of the narrative but found a way to incorporate. Bowers’ descent into madness, aided by IT of course, illustrated the bully’s pathology although it didn’t dive into the origins of his nature enough. His father was an asshole in the movie and that had to suffice.

IT: Chapter Two was a disappointment in my eyes. I had high hopes for the casting. James McAvoy as Bill, Bill Hader as Richie, Jessica Chastain as Bev, Old Spice pitch man and former football player Isaiah Mustafa as Mike, James Ransone as Eddie. McAvoy is miscast, as is Jay Ryan as the adult Ben Hanscom. Chastain misses the mark on her portrayal of Bev, who was tough and determined as a kid, but bursts into tears at the drop of a hat as an adult. Skarsgard is underused as Pennywise as he is replaced by bad CGI creature effects in many scenes. Mike is portrayed as a raving lunatic who lured his friends back to Derry on false pretenses, despite their blood oath. Hader is pretty good as Richie and Ransone is a pleasant surprise as Eddie. Teach Grant is completely wasted as the adult Henry Bowers. The attraction between Bill and Bev isn’t handled well, and Bev ending up with Ben makes no sense the way it’s filmed.

My mind was filling in the blanks while I watched this three-hour slough through the sewers and streets of Derry because I had read the book and it was fresh in my mind. I could go point for point on how the book differed from the movies and the mini-series, but there are plenty of YouTube videos that’ll do that for you. Trust me, I’ve watched them.

I think the following when it comes to the film makers on this one. They missed the point. Don’t get me wrong, I am as big a fan of creature features as the next person. But, the folks who made Chapter Two distilled all of what IT is into one monster – Pennywise. Pennywise is a great villain to be sure. In the book, however, IT is a shapeshifter and is rarely Pennywise. They also spent way too much time flashing back to the Losers Club as kids and not enough developing the adults’ stories. This is such a rich and layered story, to distill it down to a monster movie is downright sad. A big swing and a miss here.

I also thought they should have stuck to the source material a bit more in Chapter Two. I thought too many key elements were changed. I did like Stephen King’s cameo, however.

What they really missed was the whole point of the book. Trauma. Especially childhood trauma. Every single member of the Losers Club went through some sort of childhood trauma which is symbolized, in most cases, by an encounter with IT.

As adults, they repressed those memories, which was symbolized by their memory loss when they all left Derry (except Mike, who stayed behind). Beverly married an abusive man after growing up abused by her father, Eddie was brow beaten and turned into a hypochondriac by his mother and married practically the same woman, Bill lost his stutter but forgot how his brother had died and tries to work it all out by writing horror novels, Richie covers it all up with humor as a popular disc jockey (comedian in the movie and late night talk show host in the mini-series), Stan just can’t handle any of it so he chooses to end his life rather than face IT again, Ben obsesses over work and fitness after losing weight after being tormented as the fat kid and never publicly professing his love for Bev. And Mike, poor Mike, was left behind to pick up the pieces and prepare for the next round with the damn clown.

These elements are not present in the movie the way they should be. They’re there all right. You see them, you just don’t feel them or understand them.

The beauty of Stephen King’s story is that IT represents whatever it is that traumatized you as a kid. It really doesn’t matter what “IT” is. And the bottom line is, what “IT” is for you, “IT” has to be dealt with. And what better way to handle it than with the people who love you the most. The people who know everything about you and love you anyway.

That’s why I didn’t care for Chapter Two getting distilled down into a monster movie. Read the book, watch the mini-series, watch the two new films. Judge for yourself. The book is tremendous. It was exhausting, but I enjoyed it immensely.

So, now I am on a Stephen King kick. I immediately set to reading Doctor Sleep, so make that 15 King novels I have read. He’s only written 60+. Doctor Sleep is the sequel to The Shining, and a film adaptation is due out soon. I then started Mr. Mercedes.

There is a chart or a graph or something on the Internet that shows how all of King’s works are interconnected. He’s so much more than a horror writer. I think many people don’t realize that. He has created a multidimensional multimedia universe that the Marvel Cinematic Universe could only … marvel at.

Read it, watch it, enjoy it. Somewhere in the Stephen King universe, you’ll find something you like. Just don’t ask me to go to Maine.

You’ll float too.

 

My Newspaper Odyssey

IMG_3843Holy neglected blog, Batman! As I am fond of saying, life really does get in the way. I just realized that I haven’t blogged since February. Yikes.

As everyone who knows me can attest, I can be a bit, well, nostalgic. I get paid to live in the past in my profession as a historian. That’s not to say I don’t have knowledge and appreciation for technology, especially online news delivery. I was a digital media director for more than 15 years. That being written, I have a story to share.

My late father read the newspaper religiously every day. He read it back-to-front, front-to-back, cover-to-cover, every damn day. The only things I think he skipped were the Jumble, the advice columns, the Bridge tutorials, and the crossword puzzle. My hometown of Rochester, N.Y., had a morning paper (Democrat & Chronicle) and an evening paper (Times-Union). My dad read at least one. I don’t recall which he subscribed to. You couldn’t get his attention, he wouldn’t play ball or help with my homework, until he finished reading the paper.

Perhaps it represents a connection with my dear departed dad, maybe I like the way the paper is organized or the feeling of newsprint between my fingertips, or maybe I just like the funny papers, but I have been getting a Sunday paper delivered to my house ever since we purchased it in 2008. (As I write this, I have asked Alexa for a selection of jazz. My father often listened to jazz records while he read the paper).

I have a Sunday ritual. I get up, make my way downstairs, plop down on the couch with a cup of coffee and argue with the wife over when to fire up CBS Sunday Morning from the DVR while she makes breakfast. After CBS Sunday Morning’s “Moment of Nature,” I open the front door and walk out to the driveway a la Ray Liotta in Goodfellas. I pick up the Sunday paper and survey all that I can survey. A sly grin usually curls my lips as I think about the suburbanite existence, the normality of Sunday morning in my neighborhood. The pull-cough-start of lawnmowers, birds chirping, the sun slowly warming the air, my bare feet cold and wet from the dew on the usually fresh cut grass.

I read the paper pretty much cover-to-cover, starting with the comics.

Earlier this year, regular delivery of the East Bay Times became spotty at best. Finally, at its worst, I got one paper in a five-week span. Now, I get the local town paper for free every Friday and it is pretty serviceable, but it doesn’t have a Sunday edition with the inserts and coverage that a bigger paper has. After numerous unresolved complaints and the requisite begging from the circulation department, I cancelled the subscription. Unsure what to do, I decided to wait and evaluate the other options in the area before starting a new subscription.

Before I could, my wife and mother-in-law ventured into San Francisco on a Saturday to pick up their race packets for Bay to Breakers. The whole family was supposed to go, but the weather was awful and I didn’t feel well. While at the expo, I got a message from my wife. The San Francisco Chronicle was having a subscription drive and was offering a deal. Daily digital plus a physical Sunday paper. The price was right and I said, “let’s do it.”

That was May 18.

Every Sunday since I have made my trek to the driveway only to be disappointed, disheartened even. What the hell do I have to do to get a freakin’ Sunday paper around here?!?! I finally gave up. My wife has been complaining for weeks and I had taken to holding the local town paper until Sunday to read it. Blah. Credits have been promised and I have been contemplating cancelling this subscription too. The daily e-mails are great, the digital edition of the paper is a marvel – it’s organized and reads just like the physical edition.

But it’s not the same.

This past Sunday, I had the occasion to go check the mail. Our mailbox is part of one of those community contraptions with eight other compartments and it’s across the street. My wife quipped, “I wonder if we got a paper.” I chuckled and mumbled to myself as I opened the front door and made that walk to the driveway. A walk I had made hundreds of times before. And what should my wondering eyes behold? Not one newspaper, but TWO copies of the San Francisco Chronicle for Sunday, July 21, 2019. One was in plastic wrap and the other was loose. I scooped them up in my arms and giggled and cackled all the way to the mailbox and back.

When I walked into the house with my arms full of mail and newsprint, I proclaimed, “YOU’LL NEVER GUESS WHAT WE GOT!” When I showed my 12-year-old, the incredulous look on his face spoke volumes and all he could do is put a finger to his temple and walk away.

Although my routine this week was tossed out the window by the time I got the paper(s), I read the Chronicle cover-to-cover reveling in my nostalgia and rubbing the newsprint between my fingers. I didn’t even bother to wash the transferred ink off my fingertips when I was done. I felt good, I felt right.

As I’ve gotten older, I just turned 50 recently, I have learned to appreciate small things, comfortable things, older things, pieces of my childhood, connections to bygone eras – a good glass of Scotch, jazz, reading a real book, the feel of a newspaper in my hands.

I bridge two worlds having been born in 1969, my breadth of pop culture knowledge spans six decades. So, I know analog and I know digital. I have a record player, a cassette deck, a DVD player, Smart TVs and several Alexa units. Since the age of 30, I have been a digital native. I love the Internet, I think it’s one of the greatest inventions of all-time. With some things, I’d never go back, but sometimes, modern technology can’t compare with the way things used to be.

Every so often you see one of those articles online about what kids today wouldn’t recognize – VCRs, VHS tapes, old video game cartridges, cassette tapes – I just hope newspapers don’t become one of those things. Who knows what I’ll find in the driveway this Sunday? There might be seven weeks of back issues or maybe this week’s snail races. I guess we’ll see, won’t we?

Another Step Along the Way

dark-terror-book-mock.jpgI usually try to keep this blog and my novel writing endeavors separate but there always seems to be some crossover. The book creation process has so many milestones and touch points and I never seem to grow tired of them. Maybe it’ll wear off some day, but that day is not today. My latest novel, The Dark Terror, just went out for pre-order.

Let me break it down for you, at least the way I have done it.

Step 1: Write the story. I am what is commonly referred to as a “pantser.” I fly by the seat of my pants. Meaning, I don’t plot and I don’t outline. When I started The Dark Truth in 2016, I had a character and a premise in mind. It just went from there. Not outlining or using a complicated novel writing application like Scrivener did lead to some continuity errors, however.

Step 2: Editing. Lots and lots of editing. Not so much with the story, more spelling and grammar. As much as I’d like to say I have command of the English language I do still have trouble with sentence structure, word usage/choice and of course, spelling and grammar. Writing is a discipline. If you can’t spell, if you don’t know basic grammar and if you have no concept of sentence structure, then what are you doing? Funny, I can always tell the writing sessions when I had a few too many adult beverages, that’s where all the damn typos are.

22237098_10212510335852055_114300165_nStep 3: Query. I got lucky. I got a contract offer from a publisher on my first go-round. No rejections. I just had to agree to make some revisions. They weren’t unreasonable, so I added some things and re-wrote a few others and voila. You get your release date in your contract or shortly thereafter. In my case, we were able to release the first book early. Press releases go out and, once you have a release date, e-mails to bookstores for book signings go out.

Step 4: More editing.

Step 5: Cover design. This is fun. This is when it gets real. You start to see what the finished product is going to look like.

Step 6. Pre-Sale. Several weeks before publish day, the book goes up for pre-order. That’s where we are with my third book right now. The Dark Terror is now available for pre-order. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention all the prep work that went into getting ready for this stage with the creation of a brand and a social media presence. Hopefully there have been a few interviews here and there, blogs, podcasts, radio and TV and other outlets. I’ve been lucky that way. More press releases and media advisories go out to promote what hopefully is now a book tour.

Step 7. Author copies arrive. I am anxiously awaiting my copies of The Dark Terror, which should arrive sometime this coming week. This is the moment I relish. When I first received the book of copies of The Dark Truth, I lost my mind. My words, printed, in a book. Sweet, sweet nectar, and I’m not talking about the Scotch I drink when the box arrives.

IMG_3227.PNGStep 8. Publish day. Wooohooo! Readers start getting copies of the book they pre-ordered. This is a day that is also celebrated with a dram of good Scotch. My publisher, Trifecta Publishing House, and I have hosted online Facebook parties to celebrate my book launches.

Step 9. Marketing. Lots and lots of marketing. Book signings, social media posts, paid social ads, more press releases and media advisories. Full court press on getting the word out. I am a regular Vistaprint customer. Nothing makes me feel more like a rock star than a book signing, I can tell you that.

How long does all of this take you might ask? Good question. It took 13 months to write The Dark Truth. I finished in February 2017. The book was released in November 2017. I think it took roughly six-seven months to write The Dark Descent and it was published in April of 2018. My deadline was New Year’s Day. The Dark Terror took nine months to write, my deadline was the end of October 2018, I beat it by three weeks, and the book is due out March 18. In just over three years, I have written and had three novels (and two audiobook versions) published. I didn’t even mention the production that went into those audiobooks.

Not too bad for a guy with a day job and a hefty commute.

Check out my official web site, www.jerryknaak.com, for more information about the books and how to get them.

I’m Actually From this Planet

I have spent my first 49 1/2 years on this planet oblivious of my ethnicity. When I look in the mirror some things are self-evident. I am Caucasian, I have hazel-brown eyes and up until 20 years ago, I had brown hair. You might say I am an average white guy. However, unlike just about everyone else I know, I was unable to tell you where my ancestors originated. I couldn’t say, “Hey, I’m Italian,” or, “I’m Greek,” if anyone asked my heritage or ethnicity. All I could say was, “I have no idea.”

Why? I’m glad you asked. I was adopted when I was three days old. All my parents told me was that my biological mother was a single school teacher and couldn’t afford to keep me. Fair enough. I was born in Erie, Pennsylvania, but grew up in western New York. I never really wanted to pursue my biological family because I thought it would be an insult to my parents. The topic particularly upset my mother, who always felt that maybe I thought she wasn’t good enough (this couldn’t be farther from the truth). Pennsylvania is one of the few states that hasn’t loosened privacy restrictions when it comes to adopted kids looking for their biological parents.

Today, Erie’s 100,000 residents are a hodgepodge of every ancestry under the sun from German to Yugoslavian. No Scotch-Romanian however.

It has been more than a decade since my folks passed away, so I don’t feel like it is disrespectful to go hunting for blood relatives at this point. Many people have encouraged me to. I have some paperwork in my possession that I could start that would get my foot in the door with Pennsylvania’s record keepers but I am not quite there.

I have always wondered about my ethnicity. What am I, really? In today’s charged political climate and the hot debate about immigration, I have thirsted for this information because I don’t believe that being “white” is a thing. There is no heritage or culture in just being white. We all came from somewhere else. We are all immigrants. The only people in America who aren’t immigrants are Native Americans. Everyone else either came from Asia, Europe, Africa, or hell, even Australia. I’m no anthropologist but I find all of this fascinating. As Americans, we have developed our own unique culture, especially when it comes to regional traditions and language, but we haven’t been a country for all that long. But just being white? That’s not a thing.

So, what I am I? Who are my people?

My wife actually had the thought that maybe, just maybe, my dad was my biological father. We can’t find my adoption records. What we have found doesn’t make any sense.

Within the last 10 years, I have become the keeper on my family tree. I stood on the shoulders of one of my cousins and filled in the blanks after she and her father did the bulk of it. My father’s ancestors, the Knaaks, are very German. My great grandparents left Germany in 1900 and came through Ellis Island. I have traced the Knaaks back to 1803 or so, I know where they lived, Mecklenberg-Schwerin, I know they were Lutheran, and I know what parish they belonged to. My mother was Korean. Her family and ancestors are nothing but Korean (as far as I know).

My wife got me a 23 and Me ancestry kit for Christmas. A few days later I cracked it open, followed the instructions, and sent my spit off into the great beyond. About a month later I received an email indicating my reports were ready. I only had a few minutes before I had to rush out the door to work but I pulled up enough info to proclaim to the house that I am … wait for it … here it comes … not German … not Korean …

British/Irish with Scottish and Irish Ancestry

 

When you dive into the reports, within the last 200 years, 23 and Me points to London as the strongest concentration of my ancestors; 8 million people live in London today. Mixed in with the list of points of origin for my United Kingdom ancestors – Glasgow City, Scotland, and Belfast, Northern Ireland. My more recent Irish ancestors most likely hailed from County Cork in southern Ireland. Although the breakdown says French/German for No. 2 on the list, the Netherlands (north Holland) is a strong contender for likely ancestors. Apparently what was considered French is greater than I knew. Germany is barely a blip on the report.

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Facial reconstruction of my maternal Scottish ancestor from Achavanich, HIghland, Scotland. Copyright © Hew Morrison

23 and Me offers plenty of rabbit holes for you to dive into and perhaps the two that I find the most intriguing take me back a few thousand years. They can tell you about ancestors through paternal and maternal “haplogroups.” Apparently, I have a maternal ancestor scientists have dubbed “Ava,” who lived more than 4,200 years ago in Achavanich, Highland, Scotland. The paternal haplogroup points to ancestors who were part of the Uí Néill dynasty in northern Ireland, who also spread to northern Scotland.

This information certainly helps me make some sense of a few things.

I have always been fond of Scotch (Highland in particular) and Irish whisky (of course there is a Jameson distillery in County Cork), and gravitate to darker beers – porters, stouts (I love Guiness, and I named my first novel after an Imperial stout). I don’t know if it has anything to do with my taste in food.

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I guess there was a deeper reason why I enjoyed London.

I felt very comfortable walking the streets of London when I visited in 2014. I love books and pubs. I could live in an Irish or English pub. I’m drawn to the sea, I have a year of my life underway – Ava was discovered just west of Scotland’s northeastern shore on the North Sea. I enjoy dreary, rainy, foggy weather (I just hate being out in it).

 

I have always been fond of James Bond films, almost obsessively so, Bram Stoker’s Dracula had a profound affect on me. Stoker was Irish. I love the works of Oscar Wilde and Lord Byron. I adore Hammer Horror films – the aesthetic especially. I enjoy Sherlock Holmes stories and shows like Ripper Street. Boring period movies and TV series set in the Edwardian or Victorian eras don’t do much for me. Much of my favorite pop/rock music originates from England and Ireland. It’s possible I had ancestors in the last 200 years from Manchester, where my favorite band – New Order – hails from.  More likely, some of my forebears came from Merseyside where Liverpool is. I enjoy quite a bit of music that originated there. Everyone knows I am a fan of The Pogues, who hail from London.

Maybe my British/Irish heritage has nothing to do with my tastes at all. Maybe it has everything to do with them.

Bringing this full circle, I am very American. I love American things. Baseball, hot dogs, apple pie, cheeseburgers, amusement parks, all that – I am a patriot, I served my country. But I am not a wave-my-flag-in-your-face kind of patriot. I don’t believe in forced patriotism. I don’t run around telling everyone that the United States of America is the greatest country in the world. I am not naive or blind to the horrible things we’ve done as a country, as a people, in the last 245 years or so. However, I know the great things we’ve done as well. I believe in the American dream and realize that it is different for everyone. It is especially relevant for the immigrants who have helped make our country great, those who have contributed to our scientific advances and our national security interests, those who have brought their culture to our shores and shared it and enriched our neighborhoods and communities with their language and song and dance and art and literature.

In my day job, I have become a professional historian and have been one for the past year and a half. In that position, I am like a dog with a bone with my research. I have been that way with the Knaak family tree. I am nowhere near done with that. I’ve just hit a temporary roadblock. I have no doubt that I will dive into what 23 and Me has revealed about me through my DNA. I will embrace my heritage, culture, and history, celebrate it and learn it. I now have reasons to study the history of the United Kingdom, Ireland, the Netherlands and even Charlemagne and the Franks.

I’m not a fan of the royals, I think the colonies were right to rebel against England in the American revolution, British colonialism hurt more than it helped – but the history is fascinating and it is history that helped forge and shape the modern world as we know it today.

I now know what I’m not. I’m not German. But I finally know what I am. I am British and Irish with northern Scottish and Irish ancestry. I am also an American. But you know what? I am still a Knaak. And I always will be and I am proud to be.

I don’t think I’ll be trying haggis any time soon, I will always prefer American football (I might be talked into picking and following a favorite soccer team), I doubt I’ll learn Gaelic, but I may be convinced to wear a kilt.

Just remember, if it’s not Scottish, it’s crap.

 

An Evening with Bruce Campbell

First of all, let me get a little housekeeping out of the way. Please accept my humble apologies for not finishing the latest iteration of the countdown of my 100 favorite horror movies. I promise I’ll get to it. I was on deadline for my latest novel, and well, as they say, life got in the way. However, one of the films on that list is the reason for this post.

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The iconic Castro Theatre in San Francisco.

In 1987, I was on the verge of graduating high school and enlisting in the United States Navy. I had developed a friendship with a kindred spirit who liked some of the same horror novels and many of the same films that I enjoy. Our hometown of Rochester, N.Y., had a thriving midnight movie culture and we took them in on the the regular. These were not first run films mind you, not all of the them anyway.

Jean-Paul and I saw H.P. Lovecraft’s From Beyond and Re-Animator, Heavy Metal, Rocky Horror Picture Show and countless schlock “B” movies. Many times we were two of six movie goers in the theater, a few times we were the only two.

Evil Dead was released in 1981. We saw it as a midnight movie. What was intended to be a shocking gore fest and legitimate horror film had us rolling in the aisles. Then, in 1987, came Evil Dead 2. This second film plays more like a remake than a sequel and is closer to comedy than true horror. Buckets of blood are splashed across the screen, limbs are severed, and plenty of cheesy dialogue is spoken.

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Bruce Campbell introduces Evil Dead 2.

In what has become an iconic scene, the main character – Ash Williams played by Bruce Campbell – takes part in a typical gear up for battle scene. When he is ready to fight the evil with his new arsenal, which consists of a sawed off shotgun and a chainsaw, Campbell dead pans, “Groovy.”

Jean-Paul and I were stunned by the dialogue in this film, we couldn’t believe the lines Campbell was given. Cheesy was the only way we could describe it. Campbell taunted the demons possessing the living. This only got worse (or better depending on your perspective) in Army of Darkness in 1992 with lines like “Come get some,” “Gimme some sugar, baby,” and of course, “Hail to the King, baby.” Cheese yes, but part of the charm certainly, and one of the reasons why I love the films.

If I had to pick a year that forged our friendship, 1987 had to be it. Jean-Paul and I went to several concerts, I fixed my wardrobe and developed my musical tastes, and we bonded over our shared love of horror literature and films. Despite a gap in contact, and now a continent between us, we remain as close as we can be.

Last night, I attended “Who’s Laughing Now?” with Bruce Campbell at the iconic Castro Theatre in San Francisco. Campbell introduced a screening of Evil Dead 2 and then participated in a Q&A after the film. Sitting in a packed theater whose patrons cheered as if their team just won the championship when Campbell delivers, “Groovy,” was one of the highlights of the night.

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My view of Evil Dead 2.

Campbell was as funny, witty, and sharp-tongued as any stand-up comedian I’ve ever seen or heard. He regaled the audience of tales of the making of the Evil Dead films and the Ash vs the Evil Dead TV series and his place and turn in show business. It was a pleasure listening to him. I only wish Jean-Paul could have found his way out to California and experienced it with me.

It was a fun night. I put in for a beer at at the Twin Peaks Tavern before the show after taking BART and the Metro to get to the Castro District. I’ve lived in California for almost 19 years and this is the first time I have ever made it to that neighborhood or gone to that theater.

I’ve seen Campbell, a lifelong friend and co-conspirator of director Sam Raimi’s, in Raimi’s Spider-Man films, I’ve watched him in Bubba Ho-Tep, My Name is Bruce, Alien Apocalypse and a few other things. But with Ash Williams, he has created an iconic cult hero who I quote frequently. I use the word “groovy” in my vernacular because of him. I got tired of saying “cool.” “Groovy” means something to me.

More importantly, I bonded with my best friend over Campbell’s films and for that I am eternally grateful.