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.

 

Advertisements

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.

_104553263_mayanewpic
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.

10646638_789409341105426_5409704124294311690_n
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.

50439772_2119963671383313_3329962808300273664_n
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.

50620526_2119963324716681_3285744131418095616_n
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.

50314584_2119963188050028_789020290100232192_n
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.

Naked. Space. Vampires.

The headline should tell you all you need to know. But for those of you out there reading this who don’t know me personally, vampires are kinda my thing. I love vampire fiction, I love vampire movies, I write vampire books. I can’t tell you how many vampire films grace this list. Maybe I should count them. The last entry in the series covered vampire movies from Hammer Films. Tonight, I offer something completely different.

MV5BMTU4MTMxOTQyOV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMzU1NDk0NA@@._V1_59. Lifeforce
1985

Steve Railsback stars as an astronaut who brings back three naked space vampires, two male and one females. Directed by Tobe Hooper of Texas Chainsaw Massacre fame, this film combines science fiction and horror in a way not seen before or since. Mathilda May plays the leader of the trio of deep space bloodsuckers. Okay, well, they don’t drink blood, they drain the “life force” of their victims. Same difference.

Patrick Stewart also stars as scientists and government officials try to discern the invaders’ end game and try to stave off a global apocalypse.

May, who was all of 20 years old when this was released, and her compatriots are inexplicably nude throughout most the film. This seems to distract the authorities and May is able to mesmerize Railsback’s character. Loud, different, stylish and influential, Lifeforce is much more than naked space vampires running around London. But who really cares?

MV5BMjEwMTE5MDY5MF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNjY0ODM3Mg@@._V1_58. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
1931

This was a big year for horror on the big screen as Universal’s Dracula and Frankenstein captivated audiences. At the same time, Frederic March was bringing Robert Louis Stevenson’s creation to life thanks to Paramount. Directed by Rouben Mamoulian, and also starring Miriam Hopkins, this movie stays acceptably close to the source material. Countless attempts have been made over the years to adapt this story to the cinema with varying degrees of success and twists and takes. I believe this is the best of the batch and it’s March’s transformation from mild-mannered Dr. Jekyll into the animalistic, almost demonic, Mr. Hyde that makes this go. One of the things I find interesting is how much science fiction is intertwined with Gothic horror.

One of the things in recent movies that drives me nuts is the portrayal of Mr. Hyde as some Incredible Hulk-type character, larger and stronger than normal human beings, with supernatural strength and muscles on top of muscles. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and Van Helsing are guilty of this. Hyde’s strength comes from his cruelty and rage, not physical size. He is repulsive and repugnant, yet indescribable.

I rarely read books more than once. Not that I am against it, it’s just that my to-be-read pile would give Jack’s beanstalk a run for its money. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is one of the few novels/novellas I make an exception for.

MV5BZmE2ODFlZjctOWZlZi00MGVkLTk5NDctYWZmMWQyOTczNjYzXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNzkwMjQ5NzM@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,673,1000_AL_57. 30 Days of Night
2007

I don’t know about you, but I like my vampires bloodthirsty. I like them homicidal. I like them violent. Anne Rice created the sympathetic, romantic vampire. Her books have sold millions of copies and have captivated readers for decades. I am a fan. And there is plenty of murder and mayhem in her stories. However, all manner of romantic vamps now fill the shelves of the “Teen Paranormal Romance” (yes, this is a thing) section of your local bookstore.

Left to my own devices, I prefer vampires more like the ones in 30 Days of Night. Based on the comic book/graphic novel series, a pack of vampires discovers it stays dark in Alaska for a whole month. The bloodsuckers descend on a small town and terrorize the local residents. Josh Hartnett plays the town’s sheriff who, along with his estranged wife (the regional fire inspector) and a small resistance band, try to prevent the extinction of their neighbors. And, oh yeah, try to survive themselves.

This is the first film featuring Josh Hartnett that I actually liked. Melissa George and her capped teeth play the estranged wife. Hollywood legend John Huston’s son Danny (American Horror Story) plays the leader of the vampires.

I like this because there is no pretense. You don’t feel for the vampires, you don’t sympathize or empathize with them. They are ruthless. They arrive in this town for one reason – the human blood smorgasbord. They are cruel and they don’t give a damn. Just stay away from the horrendous direct-to-video sequel. George is replaced as Stella and Kiele Sanchez just doesn’t fly in the role.

MV5BZmI1ODg4MjYtY2U4NS00NTRlLWJlMDEtYjY2YzJkNWVhMDdiXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMTQxNzMzNDI@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,641,1000_AL_56. Prince of Darkness
1987

Do you have Satan in a can? Well, you better let him out. Har-dee-har-har. Devil concentrate is what we have here in this Donald Pleasence vehicle written and directed by John Carpenter.  A group of researchers investigate a mysterious canister that just happens to contain … Satan?

It may sound like a ludicrous premise, but the mix of science and religion and strong performances from Pleasence (as usual), Victor Wong, Dirk Blocker (Brooklyn Nine-Nine) and Lisa Blount, plus a cast of deranged, possessed vagrants, makes this a thoroughly creepy, watchable movie. It is a bit of a slow burn, but it’s worth it.

If you like John Carpenter and 1980s horror, this one is definitely worth your time.

 

 

Eight-Pack of Hammer Horror Films as the Countdown of My 100 Favorites Continues

I really hate it when life or fatigue get in the way of posting this countdown on a daily basis. Last night, I had the occasion to watch The Limehouse Golem with Bill Nighy and a film called The Apostle with Michael Sheen (Underworld franchise). Let’s just say although watchable, these two won’t be making the list.

In February 2017, I finished my first novel, The Dark Truth. I may have been influenced as a horror novelist more by the films of the genre than the literature. From the birth of horror cinema with Universal to the lush technicolor of Hammer Studios, these movies have formed the foundation of my storytelling and my taste in entertainment.

The countdown continues.

MV5BNzEwZWE3MGYtZDYzZi00MmFhLWE2ODktYWRlMGU1MGQzNjc5XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNDc2NjEyMw@@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,659,1000_AL_67. Countess Dracula
1971

Another Hammer film of this era with “Dracula” in the title that was sans Dracula. Horror queen Ingrid Pitt stars as Countess Eilsabeth, a crone who can make herself young by bathing in the blood of the local maidens. Very much based on Elisabeth Bathory, who allegedly killed or had killed more than 600 young girls for this very purpose.

Pitt is fantastic in this role. Her sensuality mixed with the pathos of the character almost make her sympathetic. But her double-crossing, bloodthirsty nature wins out and she gets what she deserves in the end.

This is another lush, colorful Hammer Horror production and Pitt definitely makes it go.

MV5BMTcyOTMwNjkwN15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwOTc1Nzg0NQ@@._V1_66. The Vampire Lovers
1970

A year before Countess Dracula, Ingrid Pitt starred in The Vampire Lovers. One of the vampire stories that has influenced me is Carmilla by Sheridan Le Fanu. Hammer Films created a story arc based on Le Fanu’s novella. The Vampire Lovers is the best of the Karnstein bunch, mainly because of Pitt.

Pitt plays Carmilla/Mircalla, Marcilla, (it’s always an anagram for Carmilla), a vampire who terrorizes the local populace, usually young girls. Peter Cushing stars as a, you guessed it, vampire hunter. Okay, that’s a stretch. That’s not what he starts out as, but that is what he becomes along the way.

As much as I love Hammer’s Dracula films with Christopher Lee, I did enjoy it when they went off the rails a bit and used other source material or came up with original ideas.

MV5BMWRmYzAyOWItNDU2MS00MWIzLWI4MWEtZWU1MWIyODAyYzk2XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNDUxNjc5NjY@._V1_65. Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter
1974

This was another one of those movies I saw on a Saturday afternoon thanks to Commander USA’s Groovy Movies on USA Network. Horst Janson stars in the title role. His swashbuckling vampire slaying runs him afoul of Karnstein descendants.

Caroline Munro also stars in this rollicking adventure. More than one vampire meets their demise at the pointy end of Kronos’ sword. Another example of an original concept, Kronos would go on to influence numerous other films. He was refreshing after years of Peter Cushing as Van Helsing. Not that Cushing was bad, it was simply a case of needing fresh ideas, fresh blood if you will.

I recently rediscovered this movie and I had forgotten how much I enjoyed it.

MV5BNzgyMDFlZjEtMmVlNS00MTZjLWE2N2UtMTgzY2NjMTg0Y2FhXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNDc2NjEyMw@@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,657,1000_AL_64. The Twins of Evil
1971

Are you sensing a theme for today yet? More Hammer Horror. The Twins of Evil does have Peter Cushing, but not in a role you’d expect. He plays a religious zealot convinced that witchcraft is the scourge of his community. When his voluptuous twin nieces come to live with him, they fall prey to a vampire.

Played by the Collinson twins (Mary and Madeleine), Frieda and Maria are of two minds when it comes to Count Karnstein. You would think that blood was thicker than water when it came to the twins, but you’d be wrong.

This is an interesting role for Cushing and he plays it well. The Collinson twins were Playmates of the Month for October 1970.

MV5BOWUwNDliOTYtN2IwZC00MzlhLTgwMTAtNmU0ZWZhNTA2NDViXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNDc2NjEyMw@@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,666,1000_AL_63. Satantic Rites of Dracula
1973

Hammer got the band back together for a few more Dracula films with Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. Cushing plays a descendant of Van Helsing and he now has not match wits with the immortal bloodsucker. Joanna Lumley stars as Jessica Van Helsing. Quite a few horror pictures in the late 1960s – early 1970s focused on Satanism and devil worship.

This one brings Dracula into the modern era as Scotland Yard gets involved in the fight against the legendary and infamous vampire who now finally appears to have some kind of end game.

Many vampire films up to this point, regardless of studio, were period pieces set in Victorian times. The fight between good and evil is brought into the bright lights of modern London in this one as the Lee/Cushing franchise winds down.

MV5BY2RkNzE2NjItYzRlOS00ZmI2LThjOTYtZjMyM2E1ZWNiOTQ1XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNzQzNzQxNzI@._V1_62. Dracula: Prince of Darkness
1966

I watched this again the other night. Two married couples on vacation get adventurous and end up at Castle Dracula. Christopher Lee, who doesn’t deliver one line of dialog in the entire movie, needs to be reconstituted by his servant, Klove. How does he do this you ask? With the blood of one of the travelers of course.

Lee is particularly menacing as Dracula in this because of the lack of dialog. He uses his eyes and facial expressions to convey his malevolent message. Suzan Farmer and Barbara Shelley star as Dracula’s female victims.

The story takes place in a vacuum despite the appearance of Father Sandor who chastises the townsfolk for continuing to believe in the local superstitions after Dracula’s supposed demise.

MV5BODYxMDQ5ZTEtYzM0ZS00MTk1LTlhODEtYjIyNjIxNTQ2NjQ0XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNDc2NjEyMw@@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,658,1000_AL_61. Taste the Blood of Dracula
1970

More freeze-dried Dracula. But this time, a trio of gentlemen thrill-seekers get bored with their run-of-the-mill debauchery and fall in with broke-ass Lord Courtley. Courtley convinces them to purchase the dried blood of Dracula and participate in a ritual to bring the count back to life. The gentlemen panic and kill Courtley, but not before Dracula is resurrected.

Linda Hayden stars as Alice, the daughter of the leader of the trio of gentlemen. Dracula takes his revenge on those who killed Courtley, for whom he has an affinity for thanks to the resurrection.

This has to be my favorite of all of the Hammer Dracula films, and probably all of Hammer Horror.

MV5BNzRhYTQ1MWEtNDJlYi00YzBmLWEyNDUtNDUwYjYzY2Y1ZmI1XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjUwNzk3NDc@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,666,1000_AL_60. Dracula Has Risen from the Grave
1968

Christopher Lee’s Dracula always seems to be out for revenge for some reason or another. In this film, Dracula seeks retribution for the exorcism of his castle by the regional monsignor. He turns a local priest to his cause indicating a level of corruption we have yet to see from the count.

One of the things I find interesting about the Hammer Dracula films, and perhaps it starts with Bram Stoker’s novel, is how Dracula has the balls to hide right under the noses of his would-be dispatchers. In the novel, he moves in next door to his intended victims. In Horror of Dracula, he takes up residence in the basement of the Holmwoods. In this, he invades the monsignor’s home and community.

Rupert Davies stars as the monsignor as Dracula sets out to claim his niece, Maria, played by Veronica Carlson.

I didn’t care for Scars of Dracula, Dracula A.D. 1972 or the abysmal Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires. Vampire Circus could very well fit right here but it has been some time since I’ve seen it from beginning to end and I need to before I can accurately assess its likability.

Now I can settle in for tonight’s offering of mummy movies from Turner Classic Movies as their run-up to Halloween continues.

Billy Zane’s Best Work, the First Stephen King Adaptation to Make the List and Young Kelly Preston

If you have ever read any of my Favorite 100 Horror Films countdowns in the past, you’ll find that some films slide up and down the scale, seemingly for no reason at times. Sometimes a newer or rediscovered movie slots in above. That’s probably the case with these three.

Turner Classic Movies has started their October programming and this month they have a real treat. On Wednesday nights they are featuring the work of five iconic horror actors and TCM is starting with Lon Chaney. I have The Monster (1925) on in the background. I would watch The Phantom of the Opera, but the blog would never get done.

MV5BNGM3N2VmNDQtNWMwNC00MDI5LThhNzYtNTlkZjkwZTJlNTRjXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMTQxNzMzNDI@._V1_SY1000_SX683_AL_94. Tales From the Crypt: Demon Knight
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 Dark Side. 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.

MV5BNWY4N2ViZDAtMGU0MS00NDliLWE1NjktN2UyNGEyZjA0YzNhXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMTQxNzMzNDI@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,673,1000_AL_93. 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. As a published author of vampire fiction myself, I am fascinated by the origin of the vampire legend.

Brian Krause, Madchen Amick and Alice Krige 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 for a little while.

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. And ladies, if an attractive young man in a blue Trans Am invites you to the cemetery to do some gravestone rubbings, make it a hard pass.

MV5BMjIzNDkzMjY1NV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMzgxMTM4NA@@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,666,1000_AL_92. Spellbinder
1988

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 (Wings, Storm 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 short trip to Nevada in the TV lounge in the barracks and I was stunned.

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

This one is hard because I don’t want to give any spoilers away. Let’s just say that M. Night Shyamalan could do well to go back and watch this one to re-learn the art of the twist. My jaw dropped and I gasped the first time I watched this the twist was so good.

Newer Films with Potential and a Unique Take on Vampires

Last night I kicked off the reboot of My 100 Favorite Horror Films with a couple of Hammer Horror vampire classics and a newer film I like very much. Tonight, the countdown continues with two relatively new films and a movie that brought a unique perspective to vampire lore and stories. Different is the theme for this evening, but you won’t see It Follows anywhere on this countdown. What a terrible disappointment that was.

There was a time when numerous films came out that sure looked and sounded like vampire movies, but the antagonist was something … else. Roger Corman’s Wasp Woman character had vampiric tendencies, as did Hammer’s The Reptile.

MV5BY2NiNTkzN2YtY2IyOC00NjQwLWIyYTItYzc0OWIxMzc4YTBlXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMTQxNzMzNDI@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,674,1000_AL_97. The Lair of The White Worm
1988

Perhaps no other film I’ve seen plays on these concepts like Wasp Woman and The Reptile quite like The Lair of the White Worm. 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 lesbian lawyer glory as a snake-like vampire creature. Donohoe really vamps it up while preying on the populace of a small burg.

The plot involves a local legend and folklore with Grant playing the role of a lord whose ancestor tangled with a predecessor of the title’s D’Ampton worm.

I personally find a lot of charm in this film. It has been awhile since I’ve seen it and it is time to view it again. The pub band and song that tells the legend of the D’Ampton worm is one of the best parts of the movie. I’ll share it here.

96. 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. 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.

MV5BMTUyNzkwMzAxOF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMzc1OTk1NjE@._V1_SY1000_SX675_AL_95. The Witch, or The VVitch: A New England Folktale
2015

I really wanted to love this movie. Hell, I struggled to like it as first. I had to watch it more than once. This was on my radar early on. A24 studios is really trying to carve out a niche and this was almost a case of the trailer being better than the movie. Set in the 1600s, the dialogue is thick and hard to navigate, as is the plot at times. It is beautifully shot if you enjoy deep dark woods and ominous gray skies.

The pace is what killed me. It is a slow burn, and I mean a slooooooooow burn. Anya Taylor-Joy, Morgan and Split, plays what ends up becoming the main character. She does a wonderful job portraying a descent from innocence, purity and piety into desire, temptation, sin and evil. However, there is a little too much telling and not enough showing during key moments.

I do love the setting, the atmosphere, the aesthetic. It is a dark and gritty film and I love all the things that it is trying to be. Ralph Ineson’s gravelly voice and dogged determination to maintain the attempt at period-accurate dialogue is painful to understand at times. But there are witches and there is plenty of witchery afoot. If you want something different, this might be the film for you.