Conversation with a Voice Artist

My audiobook narrator is the guest on my latest podcast, Get the Knaak. Learn more about Cheryl May, the audiobook recording and narration process, her career and much more.

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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.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

That Time When Dee Wallace Turned Into a Pomeranian on Live Television

Earlier in the countdown I presented three werewolf movies. That doesn’t mean that I was done with the shapeshifting lycanthropes.

MV5BZTcwZmIyNjAtMWM4Yy00YzE1LTk5YzQtNjVlY2IxNzMwNzc2XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMTQxNzMzNDI@._V1_70. The Howling
1981

Dee Wallace has to be the most underrated Scream Queen in the history of cinema. From Cujo to ET The Extraterrestrial, she has been bubbly blonding her way through blockbuster after horror film. She also starred in the original The Hills Have Eyes and of course, The Howling.

The Howling features an all-star cast with Patrick Macnee, John Carradine and Slim Pickens. Wallace’s TV reporter character uncovers a pack of werewolves and does her best to expose their evil to the world. In the process, she transforms into the cutest pomeranian werewolf on live television.

This film spawned a full catalog of bad sequels. Stick to the original here.

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1985

Another from the 1980s, Fright Night is an iconic vampire film starring William Ragsdale, Chris Sarandon and Amanda Bearse. Lest we forget the great Roddy McDowell. Sarandon’s Jerry Dandridge moves in next door to Charlie (Ragsdale) and his family, and Charlie immediately begins to witness strange goings on leading him to believe that Dandridge is a vampire. Charlie enlists the aid of McDowell’s late night horror movie host, Peter Vincent, to vanquish the bloodsucker next door.

Full of 1980s cheese, comic relief and memorable performances, Fright Night is one of those right of passage horror films. If someone tells you they love horror movies and they haven’t seen Fright Night, just walk away.

Sarandon is wonderful as Dandridge – handsome, charismatic and downright sadistic. McDowell is well, Roddy freaking McDowell. The remake with Colin Farrell was abysmal. Again, this is another case of leaving well enough alone.

MV5BMTk1OTc2ZmUtODU0Yy00NGJiLWJmNmQtODI0MzBjODk3MjI4L2ltYWdlL2ltYWdlXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMjUzOTY1NTc@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,675,1000_AL_68. Underworld
2003

Ah, the film that launched Kate Beckinsale’s career and a movie franchise. Beckinsale stars as Selene, a vampire “death dealer,” a soldier in a trumped up war against werewolves (lycans). Bill Nighy, Scott Speedman and Michael Sheen star. This atmospheric film has its issues. You have no idea exactly where the movie is set, somewhere in the Czech Republic if I had to hazard a guess. The genre rules get bent a bit, but director Len Wiseman makes it all work somehow.

I don’t know if I would so much call this a horror film as some kind of supernatural thriller. There are vampires and werewolves, so I suppose it qualifies. There is plenty of murder and mayhem and betrayal and blood.

The sequels are hit or miss. They aim to tell a complete story arc of the origin of the two species and the war between them and carry that into the future. You would be fine if you quit after Rise of the Lycans. Shane Brolly’s horrible overacting as Kraven damn near derails the movie. But it has plenty of redeeming qualities.

 

Nine-Pack of Horror to Get You Through the Week

LEGO Batman says he has nine-pack abs. Well, on this hump day, I have a nine-pack of horror classics (I use the term loosely) to add to my countdown of My 100 Favorite Horror Films. TCM is continuing their month-long run-up to Halloween with the films of Christopher Lee tonight and I have 1958’s Horror of Dracula on in the background as I write this. So, let’s get you caught up, shall we?

MV5BNmMwMWM1MWMtOGJlYS00NmIyLWI0MjYtNjJkNDI5OWQ2YjE2XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMTQxNzMzNDI@._V1_79. The Fog
1980

John Carpenter and Debra Hill wrote and Carpenter directed this terrifying film starring Jamie Lee Curtis and Adrienne Barbeau. I make it a habit not to give too many spoilers away in these capsules and I don’t intend to with this. There is a real feeling of foreboding and dread as the fog rolls in. Barbeau’s local radio DJ character Stevie Wayne gives a harrowing play-by-play account of the otherworldly phenomenon. Before long, it becomes apparent something(s) malevolent has/have arrived with the cloud.

If you like Carpenter and his aesthetic, and his do-it-all-himself manner of film making, this is a must-watch. Two years removed from Halloween, and two years away from The Thing, Carpenter is really stretching his legs as a storyteller during this part of his prolific career.

What I will say, is avoid the 2005 remake. For the life of me, I don’t understand why film makers try to make the monsters sympathetic. They’re monsters for crying out loud. Tragic backstory be damned. Why do we have to feel sympathy for the ghosts/goblins/vampires/ghouls/science experiments gone wrong when they start killing the local populace? I don’t give a damn why the sailors in The Fog have come back. I don’t feel sorry for them. Karma is a bitch, let’s just leave it at that. Watch the original, leave the remake in the fog where it belongs.

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1933

From 1931 – 1945, Universal Pictures enjoyed an incredible run with their horror films that continue to stand the test of time, and get remade time and time again. The Invisible Man is a masterpiece of a film directed by James Whale that gets overlooked by Universal’s stable of Gothic monsters, Dracula, the Mummy, Frankenstein and the Wolf Man. Each franchise is defined by an iconic performance by a master of his/her craft. Dracula – Bela Lugosi, Frankenstein – Boris Karloff and Elsa Lanchester, Wolf Man – Lon Chaney, Jr., the Mummy – Karloff.

It is Claude Rains who makes The Invisible Man go. He is the straw that stirs the drink as it were. Eight years before his turn as Larry Talbot’s father in The Wolf Man, Rains played the deranged scientist Dr. Jack Griffin who develops a a formula for invisibility. Rains’ depiction of Griffin’s descent into madness as a result of the not-approved-by-the-FDA human trials he conducts on himself is quite riveting and poignant.

This film, unlike the others, never did get a proper sequel or remake. And Universal just let The Invisible Man concept die on the vine while numerous sequels of The Mummy, Dracula, Frankenstein and The Wolf Man were produced, most were foisted on the public for the money and couldn’t hold a candle to Rains. It was, however, parodied brilliantly by Ed Begley, Jr., in Amazon Women on the Moon.

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1990

I love Clive Barker. This won’t be the last of his work that appears on this countdown. This one seems to be a favorite among Barker devotees, and not many others. Written and directed by Barker, Craig Sheffer and David Cronenberg star in this creature feature, in which the humans are actually worse than the creatures. Charles Haid of Hill Street Blues fame also stars.

Based on the 1988 novella, Cabal, Barker weaves a tale of an underground society of monsters and their attempt to stay hidden from the world of men. In the end, it is the men who come for the monsters. This is one film I will make an exception for when it comes to empathy for the oppressed and persecuted creatures of the night.

One of my favorite scenes involves a porcupine hybrid woman who is both tantalizing and deadly.

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1989

The late 1980s – early 1990s was a great time for a wide variety of horror films. Another Stephen King adaptation, this one reinforces the notion that maybe, just maybe, sometimes dead is better.

Dale Midkiff, Denise Crosby and Fred Gwynne (The Munsters) star in this tale of tragedy and demonic resurrection. After a couple’s young son is killed in a tragic accident, the husband and father finds a way to bring his boy back via the nearby native American burial ground. As you can imagine, this does not go well.

The movie begs the question, how far would you go to bring a deceased loved one back from the dead? Gwynne delivers an underrated performance as the next-door-neighbor who is all-to-willing to educate Midkiff’s character on the local folklore and the possibilities. A remake is in the works and it is due out next year. We’ll see, sometimes dead is better.

MV5BMTkwNDU0NTE0OV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNzAzNzQyMTI@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,675,1000_AL_75. Jeepers Creepers
2001

Justin Long and Gina Philips star in another horror film that dares to be different. They play brother and sister who run afoul of a hungry demon on the back roads. Written and directed by Victor Salva, this film launched a bit of a franchise that explores “The Creeper’s” mythology. It follows a similar pattern of hibernation as Stephen King’s Pennywise from IT.

There are plenty of tense moments as Long and Philips try to both solve the mystery of The Creeper and try to stay out of his clutches. His? It is a a “he,” no? Eileen Brennan’s cameo as a crazy cat lady is almost wasted in this film.

The second movie in the series is watchable, but doesn’t have the, dare I say, charm of the first. I have yet to see the third film in the franchise. Jeepers Creepers is an acquired taste, much like the taste for certain body parts The Creeper acquires along the way.

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1981

Talk about an all-star cast. Not just a good ensemble cast, we’re talking about cinematic legends here – Fred Astaire, John Houseman, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., and Melvin Douglas star opposite Alice Krige, who makes her second appearance in the countdown (Sleepwalkers).

Four gentlemen fall in love with the same woman and kill her in a tragic accident. Rather than be honest about it and report it to the authorities, they cover it up to save their prep school, or Ivy League, or whatever reputations and high-falutin’ career aspirations. Sound familiar? Krige comes back to haunt her suitors turned killers.

I have an affinity for this because it was one of the first horror films I saw when my family first got cable in the early 1980s, and it has haunted me ever since. Spoilers be damned, this is one creepy movie. And one helluva ghost story.

MV5BNDk4MDM1NTI5MV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMDkyMDc2MTE@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,614,1000_AL_73. Phantom of the Opera
1925

Okay, let’s get something straight. The Phantom of the Opera is a F*&!ing horror movie. It’s not some stupid musical starring I’ll work for food Gerard Butler. We all like to think the Universal Horror began in 1931 with Dracula, but in 1925, Lon Chaney, than man of 1,000 faces, brought the Phantom to life and scared the living daylights out of moviegoers with one of the greatest creature reveals ever filmed.

When I was 12, I attended what was called a “magnet”school in my hometown. We had electives and I took a class that had to do with monster movies. We made stop-motion claymation films and studied the techniques the masters of horror used. I had the opportunity to take my girlfriend to a screening of the film accompanied by a live orchestra. It was a thrilling experience and it cemented (like I needed another push) my love for horror.

Lon Chaney is brilliant as the Phantom. He was originally cast to play Dracula but died before filming started and the part eventually went to Bela Lugosi.

MV5BNjUyNjU0NDE0OV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTYwNzcwMzg3._V1_72. House of 1,000 Corpses and The Devil’s Rejects
2003, 2005

Once again, I give you a bonus. Ah, the saga of the Firefly family. Deranged, backwoods killers in the vein of Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, the Firefly family lures unsuspecting travelers and legend hunters into their lair and visit unspeakable horrors on their unassuming guests.

Sid Haig, Bill Mosely, and writer/director Rob Zombie’s wife Sheri Moon Zombie make up the core of the Firefly clan. Leslie Easterbrook replaces Karen Black (House of 1,000 Corpses) as Mother Firefly in Rejects.

Zombie creates quite the dark, gritty, depraved universe with two films that could work independently of each other. House plays very much like Chainsaw, and Rejects, well, the Fireflys become a sort of rag-tag band of antiheroes we’re supposed to root for. Perhaps we’ll get some closure in the long-awaited third film in the franchise.

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1920

You gotta love German expressionism. The set pieces alone in this silent masterpiece are reason enough to watch it. You’ll also get an education. I love words (I have the best words). I had occasion to drop “Scholomance” in my second novel. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari taught me somnambulist – sleepwalker.

In the film, Dr. Caligari is a bit of a sideshow showman and he uses his charge, Cesare (played by Conrad Veidt), to commit murder at his behest, or does he? This is an early example of the unreliable narrator concept. It’s hard to get your head around that part of it because it is a silent film. This movie inspired a lot of early Gothic horror, and definitely had influence over F.W. Murnau who made Nosferatu two years later.

Veidt went on to star in The Man Who Laughs (1928), which is widely considered the model and inspiration for the look of iconic Batman villain, The Joker. Veidt also played a significant role in 1942’s film noir classic, Casablanca.

 

Vampires and Mobsters, Throwback to 80s Horror and Hillbilly Justice

After last night’s werewolf theme, it’s back to mashing up the styles. If you can’t tell already, I like horror films that dare to be different. Now, the genre-bending aside, if the film at least tries to adhere to the rules and mythology of the genre, I’m usually okay with it. I am a fan of H.P. Lovecraft, specifically the Cthulhu mythos. One of the films tonight has Lovecraftian overtones and themes. I have chosen a unique vampire film for tonight as well and a good old-fashioned creature feature straight from the backwoods.

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1992

Directed by John Landis, Innocent Blood dares to be a different kind of vampire film. The story focuses on vampire Marie, played by Anne Parillaud, and a cop played by Anthony LaPaglia. Our girl Marie runs afoul of some mobsters during her nocturnal feeding. Robert Loggia, Don Rickles, Tony Lip, Kim Coates, and a host of other mob film veterans are conscripted by Loggia’s character who has been turned into a vampire.

It’s fun, it’s campy, it’s different, it doesn’t take itself too seriously. The film adheres to many of the familiar vampire tropes and Parillaud is delightful as Marie.

You almost expect an appearance by Triumph the Comic Insult Dog as this plays more like a black comedy than a horror film. It’s like Goodfellas, only with vampires.

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1988

Longtime movie veteran Lance Henriksen stars as Ed Harley, a simple single country dad who lives in Appalachia. When his young son is killed in a tragic accident by city folk, Harley seeks country vengeance and visits the local crone. Of course he does. But at what cost?

What Harley unleashes is the stuff of nightmares. The 1980s were full of slasher films and franchise players like Freddy Krueger, Jason Voorhees and Michael Myers, along with a host of other knife-wielding spree killers. The title monster is otherworldly, large and terrifying and impossible to stop. The sound design for the film alone will give you night terrors.

Henriksen has appeared in dozens of films, including installments in the Alien franchise, and aside from Bishop in Aliens, this might be his best role. Underrated and terrifying, this is a must-watch for any horror fan.

MV5BNzU0MzgxMjAtYjU0NC00ZWYyLTljZWUtNTRkNzBhZTYwYzY4XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMTM2MzgyOTU@._V1_86. The Void
2016

This one is new to the countdown. 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.

Like The Ritual, this is one I have to watch again and I am sure will eventually move up this list.

Werewolves

The werewolf genre is under represented when it comes to good films. However, there a handful of really good ones. The best of the bunch will be included later on in the countdown but I will present some tonight. You won’t see some of the bad ones like Skinwalkers, the re-make of The Wolf Man with Benicio Del Toro, or the later Howling sequels. My problem with The Wolf Man with Del Toro was that it conflated Lon Chaney, Jr.’s seminal role with Henry Hull’s turn in Werewolf of London. It took Hull’s origin story and mashed it up with Chaney’s Larry Talbot story and made one big hairy mess.

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1961

Most of the younger generation’s introduction to Oliver Reed came via 2000’s Gladiator as he portrayed Proximo in his last on screen performance. He died before the film’s release. This legendary actor’s performance as Leon in Hammer’s The Curse of the Werewolf is obviously my favorite performance of his.

In the late 1950s, Hammer Studios decided to re-invent Universal Horror, with re-makes and re-boots of Frankenstein, Dracula and The Mummy. The effort would not have been complete without a werewolf film. Again, I am not one for genre-bending, however, this film, directed by Terence Fisher, dares to be different and that’s one of the things I like about it. John Landis borrows heavily from this movie for 1981’s American Werewolf in London.

The make-up effects alone make this movie worth the watch. It is set in Spain, another element that sets it apart from other werewolf films.

MV5BMTg1NTg3OTI4N15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNDAxNDYwNQ@@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,672,1000_AL_90. Ginger Snaps, Ginger Snaps 2: Unleashed and Ginger Snaps Back: The Beginning
2000, 2004, 2004

See, this is how I get more than 100 films on my list. I lump these three together because, well, the sequel to the original film wasn’t all that great. The first movie, Ginger Snaps, had cult classic written all over it. Katharine Isabelle and Emily Perkins star in all three installments. Isabelle plays the title role and she is quite good as the Ginger who snaps. The plays on words, the double entendres, the 1980s horror aesthetic all make for good campy, bloody fun.

Ginger Snaps 2 plays as a straight sequel to the first and Perkins’ character, Ginger’s sister, goes off the rails for me and that’s where the movie loses me. Ginger Snaps Back is more of an origin story of sorts. The relationship between the two sisters is more akin to the first film and that why I think it works better.

As far as werewolf films go, you could do a lot worse than this triumvirate. Or you could skip 2 and just make it a double-feature.

MV5BZGJlMzk1ODctYzdjMi00ZGI3LWE3YjgtNjY2N2FiNzQzZTMwL2ltYWdlL2ltYWdlXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMjI4MjA5MzA@._V1_SY1000_SX655_AL_89. The Beast Must Die
1974

This film is the cause of some division in the Hammer Horror fan community. There are those of us who love the film and there are plenty who despise it. I think it is different, unusual and unique in the genre. Calvin Lockhart, who goes on to play King Willie in Predator 2, plays a wealthy big game hunter who decides that werewolf is the ultimate prey.

An great ensemble cast is featured in this film, including Peter Cushing, Michael Gambon (Alfred in the Tim Burton Batman films), and Charles Gray (Rocky Horror Picture Show). The movie includes some audience participation elements that some find off-putting. I think it adds to the film’s charm.

I grew up watching Commander USA’s Groovy Movies on the USA Network. Every Saturday afternoon, this loony tune in a knockoff Captain America costume and a trench coat would introduce creature features. That’s how I was first made aware of films like The Beast Must Die and I am forever grateful. It also explains a lot.

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.

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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 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.

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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.

Well, I Warned You

bela-lugosi-in-mysteriet-dracula-1931-large-picture

“I bid you welcome.”

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

Horror movies get a bad rap. Critics usually don’t care for them much and I never let a critic or lack of Academy Award recognition keep me from watching a horror film. I do have an eclectic palette when it comes to my horror films and I have found it necessary to expand the definition.

I started this countdown several years ago as a Facebook thing and brought it to my blog in 2015. It has been awhile since I updated the list. 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.”

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.

100. Horror of Dracula
1958

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.

What I don’t like about this movie is the plot. It strays too far from the source material. Even Tod Browning’s Dracula in 1931 didn’t adhere to Bram Stoker’s original novel.

Don’t get me wrong, it is stunning to see Dracula in technicolor for the first time and Lee is commanding as the Count, but even Lee himself longed to play the Transylvanian bloodsucker in all of Stoker’s glory and he never got the chance. The film stands on its own with Jimmy Sangster’s script but I would have liked to see a faithful adaptation for Lee’s first turn in the cape.

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1960

The follow up to 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 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. 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.

Once again, Jimmy Sangster et al penned the screenplay. Hammer stalwart Terence Fisher directed.

MV5BMjAzMzAyMDI4Ml5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwODMwOTY2NDM@._V1_98. The Ritual
2017

I have an affinity for horror films that focus on village superstition and folklore 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 source material.

And 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, something. The Ritual is one of those movies. A group of friends take a trip to the forest to memorialize a fallen comrade only to find something is stalking them, something inconceivable.

I need to watch it again, it probably should be much higher on this list.

This film is well-acted, well-written and beautifully shot. Based on the novel by Adam Nevill, David Bruckner directed.

So, join me each night for the next 31 days as I could down to Halloween. I’ll post three movies at a time.