Friday, June 23, 2017

new fiction; FLAYED SKIN

written by Tim Murr
Copyright 2017 St Rooster Books/Tim Murr

Abel was tied to a large stone table, hands and feet stretched to all four corners. He had been stripped nude and left in the dark for many hours. Someone had come into the room several minutes ago, but had remained in the dark and hadn’t said anything.
“Hey! Hey, mother fucker!” Abel shouted. “I’m a cop, fuck face! Untie me or your going to be in a world of shit!”
A large metal work light snapped on over his face. He shut his eyes shut tight, turning away. He peered through slitted eyelids, but couldn’t make out the figure moving around on the periphery of the darkness.
“What did I do to you, man? Huh? Did I arrest you or something?”
“It’s March,” came a voice from the dark.
“Yea?”
“That’s why. It’s time.”
“Time for what?”
“To renew relationships with gods we have neglected.”
Abel’s captor came out of the darkness wearing skull face paint. He was nude except for a pair of boxer shorts and he’d painted symbols all over his body. The man held a long blade in his right hand and held it where Abel could see.
“Whoa, are off your meds? Guy, listen! Don’t do this! I can take care of you, ok? I can help!”
“I know you can, but I don’t think you understand how.”
“Tell me, ok? Talk to me. You don’t want to kill a cop!”
“I don’t care that you’re a cop. That doesn’t mean anything to me. I’m going to take your heart, then I’m going to wear your skin.”
Abel’s voice cracked, as he shouted, “no!”
“Be brave, man. You serve a higher purpose.”
The man plunged the knife into Abel’s chest, cracking bone. He chopped through roughly as Abel screamed and pleaded in agony. Then the man dipped his hand in and pulled Abel’s heart out and held it up to his face. Abel was speechless as he went into shock at the sight of his beating heart in the man’s hand. Darkness started to over take Abel as he slipped from this world and started to float through a dim tunnel going towards a light. There was someone approaching from the other side.
Abel couldn’t make out whom it was, as he was backlit, but he was big and lumbering. As they passed one another, Abel could see he was a hulking man with a skull like face, dressed in human flesh, and wearing gold jewelry. Abel reached out to touch him, but it was like touching smoke. Then the light enveloped Abel.
The man, who called himself a priest, spent hours carefully flaying Abel, to remove his skin in one piece. It was strenuous work that required much patience-which the priest had. Once done, he was able to hold up Abel’s skin to the light and put it on like long pajamas that were open in the back. To keep the skin suit on, the priest put on a homemade ceremonial belt, and leather cuffs on his wrists and ankles, and finally a leather choker. Once that was done, he pulled Abel’s head skin over his own and peered through Abel’s eyeholes. He opened his make up kit and started applying skull paint to Abel’s face, and drawing symbols down his chest.
He left the sacrificial chamber and climbed to the top of the buried pyramid and mounted the ladder, climbing to the hole in the basement. The windows were open in the basement and the sound of the city greeted him as he climbed out of the hole. He went into his little bedroom and admired his handiwork in the mirror.
Back in the pyramid, deep in the bowels, within the sacred chamber where the ancient deity had been left to rest, a large skeletal form adorned with dried human skins and silver and gold was bathed in light for the first time in centuries. The hulking man from the tunnel stood over the skeleton, satisfied that burial rites had been performed properly, then he departed to the sacrificial chamber to claim the meat left on the table for his use.
The priest climbed the steps to the sidewalk. His building was in the low part of town, parts of which were already being demolished for new glass and steel giants. The poor were being pressed into tighter and tighter places, as if commerce was trying to squeeze the blood right out of them. The priest pressed through the throngs of hungry, sick, exhausted, angry people. He laid hands on all he passed and promised a reckoning coming while walking toward the high town. When he came to the ten-foot tall chain link fence that kept the poor away from the rich, the priest pressed Abel’s skin against the steel, gripping it tightly.
Stretching into the clouds, the glass/steel monuments to arrogance shone brightly. Neon lights lined the bases at the street level and the roads were choked with extravagant cars from over seas, bought with blood money. The priest looked up and down and laughed. Some cops patrolling the fence took notice and came over, ready to get him off the fence with the butt of their rifles.
Then they saw all the people coming up from the alleys behind him.
The man from the tunnel dragged the skinless corpse of Able down to the burial chamber and presented the body to the dried out husk of his former body. With his last bit of strength he pushed his husk off the throne onto Abel’s body and waited.
The bloody flesh became nourishment to the husk and it began to move. The muscles started to re-grow, the beastly heart began to beat, empty sockets filled with yellow eyes. The dried skin filled out and tightened until they threatened to tear.
The people pushed against the gate and shouted profanity at the growing number of cops, who smirked from the safety of the right side of the fence.
“This fence,” the priest bellowed, “will fall! Your buildings will fall! You will be stripped of your skin and worn by the refuse of this world!”
A lieutenant came forward, wearing $200 mirrored sunglasses, despite the night. He walked right up to the priest, looking around dismissively.
“All right, buddy, get off the fence and send these people home. They’re your responsibility. If they get shot their blood is on your hands.”
“Fuuuck you, pig!” The priest spits.
The newly revived god climbed from the basement and saw the stream of people heading toward the mighty towers. Such sights he had never known, what marvels these little people have become since his imprisonment.
The lieutenant took his shades off and took a closer look at the priest, really seeing him for the first time.
“What…are you wearing..?”
The priest raised his arms and turned around so the lieutenant could really take him in, then he pulled at the left eyehole so there would be no confusion.
“I’m wearing one of you!”
The priest wagged Abel’s cock at the lieutenant.
“The skin of one of you, pig!”
The lieutenant pulled his side arm, unable to speak, his words choked with rage. The other officers raised their guns against the people behind the fence and waited for the go-ahead.
Then the people parted on either side of the priest, like the Red Sea, and something came through. The cops took an involuntary step back, half lowering their guns. It was nearly eight feet tall, covered in dried skins that flapped in the wind, jewels glimmering in the neon lights; it’s yellow eyes alive with unrestrained anger.
The priest stepped aside and bowed deeply. The old god slapped his hands on top of the fence and the cops began to fire. The god pushed the fence down on top of them and strode forward. People in designer suits were stepping out of their cars to get a better look at the commotion. A wave of fear rippled through the high town. The fence had fallen. The garbage people had come through.
 In the center of the high town, there was a square where the tallest, most beautiful and breathtaking engineering marvels reached further into the Heavens than anywhere else in the city. They were connected by a magnificent rose garden in the center, with marble pathways. It was filled with the intoxicating smells of a Brazilian steak house, a Japanese/Mexican fusion bistro, a five star French restaurant, and three award winning micro-brew bars. Between each of these were the absolute to-die-for shopping experiences, where men and women could purchase the latest fashions for all seasons, and all the glittering accessories and state of the art tech toys from Fendi, Samsung, Versace, Armani, Apple, Dior, NIKE, Louis Vuitton, and Gucci…
Twenty days since the rising, the only scent of cooked meat comes from the skinned and sacrificed residents of the high town that now feed the masses. Skinned bodies are hoisted up the sides of the skyscrapers, while others are stripped and laid on a sacrificial table from Restoration Hardware, where their heart is removed before their skins. The people gather to worship at theses sacrifices, wearing the skins of the cops that once bashed their faces in and sprayed them with mace and tear gas.
All around the high town, high rises are in flames, while burnt out BMWs, Audis, Porsches, and Lexus cars are stacked as totems and adorned with the severed heads. 
End
Follow me on Twitter @holyrooster

   


Thursday, June 15, 2017

new fiction; WOLF SPIDER

Copyright St Rooster Books/Tim Murr 2017

The rain had not brought relief from the heat, but instead made the night more uncomfortable. His clothes clung to his skin and it was impossible to sit still in the booth of the Waffle House. The restaurant sat just off I-40 in Newport TN and he’d been stopping in all hours of the night for weeks. He’d order meager meals and sip endless cups of coffee. Waiting for the end of the world.
Sometimes, he’d go into one of the rest stops between there and the North Carolina border-just to sit in one of the bathroom stalls and make himself vulnerable. He’d stay until his legs fell asleep and then get up to drive more. He haunted that stretch of I-40, seen by thousands of travelers, spoken to by few. He’d park his car at gas stations and truck stops and just stare through the windshield for hours.
He used to be called Johnny MacReady, but that was back when he had a life, a home, a wife. These days, he had a car and a bunch of cash, and all the time in the world. His sensible and affordable sedan that he’d picked out with his wife was dirty and worn out. The backseat littered with clothes and pictures. Evidence that he once existed in the traditional ways of everyday humans.
A few times a week, just before dawn, he’d take an exit that had the remnants of a long closed truck stop at the base of the hill. The vast parking lot was cracked and weedy and garbage strewn. The building was squat and dark under the skeleton of the sign. The windows were cracked or broken with several ‘no trespassing’ signs posted. He’d park by the road where the car had once broke down and let the sun come upon him from over the mountains.
This spot was the last place his wife had been alive. This was as far as the car had made it. Another mile and she would have been at a functioning gas station that was open twenty-four hours a day. Her fate, though, was to coast to a stop at this derelict truck stop at three in the morning. Cell phone reception was spotty at best and she had made no contact with anyone. The police found the car the next day, key in the ignition, purse on the passenger seat untouched, door open, and a little blood on the steering wheel. The man that used to be Johnny was called to come see the vehicle as a search was began. She was gone though and would never be found.
Her name had been Cassandra and she had been flesh and blood-kindness and warmth-funny and resourceful. Now she was a faded black and white photo on a bulletin board under the words ‘Have You Seen This Woman?’ She was in good company there, with Margaret Simmons, Iris Wayne, Sonja Johnson, Victoria Woods, Suzanne Nichols, Wanda Fitzgerald, Elizabeth Eaton, and a few others that had been taken from the board or covered up by the other posts. The posts went back years with no pattern in the timing, but had in common this stretch of I-40.
The man that used to be Johnny had, on occasion, seen a couple of other men, waiting and watching with that far off look that he had himself. He knew they each had known one of the women from those posters. He knew they were lonely, hurt, and haunted like him, but they all kept their distance and would eventually disappear into the dawns and not be seen again.
Before he took to the road, he had haunted his own home, leaving the phone off the hook and not answering the door. Sympathetic eyes and hugs were never going to bring her back. He searched the Internet while waiting for the cops to tell him nothing of substance, that’s when he found out about the other women. No one had officially connected the women’s disappearances, but the pattern was there, stretching back to at least 1989. They were spread too far apart, but they all bore a striking resemblance to one another. All the women who’d gone missing could practically be sisters. One anonymous widow pointed out that man behind all the disappearances has a clear type and is patient enough to wait for the right woman to come along under the right circumstances. He’s not sloppy or impulsive and bodies never turn up. The closest thing to a clue that was ever found was the sighting of a red pick up truck seen near one of the victim’s cars, but that was back in 1994.
The man that used to be Johnny didn’t particularly watch for red pick up trucks- that would be too easy. Instead, he watched for eyes. He knew there’d be a certain type. He didn’t know what type, but felt sure he would recognize it when he saw them.
The rain had been bad. Flash flood warnings were in effect for the greater Newport area. Thunder rolled and lightning flashed and visibility was poor. The big yellow Waffle House sign had glowed like a beacon of hope from the intestate and he’d parked the car as close to the door as possible. The place was nearly empty, just a few weary travelers waiting out the thunderstorm. The waitress was friendly, but distant in a pleasing way. She recognized the man, as he’d been in that very booth many times. She never pried into his life, because she found such a thing inappropriate.
He’d scanned the room upon entering and found no one out of place or of interest. There had been one blind spot though, a booth. He could tell it was occupied by a woman on her own, but she was obscured by a beefy, bald man in a dress shirt and tie who sat with a shorter, but no less beefy, bald man in a short sleeved button up shirt and a clip-on tie. The two of them dominated the room with their loud and gruff talk about territory, zone meetings, growth, and all the inept salesmen under their weary watch. They were unpleasant and rude and when they finally went to get back on the road, despite the ongoing down pour, there was a collective sigh of relief.
Once they were gone, the man had a clear view of the woman and his heart began to race. She had a pretty face, with round cheeks, and a bright smile. She had dark blonde hair, nice curves, and dressed comfortably in a t-shirt, knee length skirt and tennis shoes. She looked slightly too old to be a college student, she had no ring on her finger, and she was a dead ringer for Cassandra. No jewelry, no visible tattoos, little make up. She was engrossed in a book, absently picking from a plate of French fries. Occasionally she’d look out the window and check her phone. He figured she must be waiting for the storm to pass, but was in no hurry. A night owl, probably, as she didn’t look tired like the rest of the people here. He thought about how Cassandra would curl up with a book, how she would have an unwavering smile when she was really deep into it.
He, the man who used to be called Johnny, knew that he, the man who stole women from this stretch of I-40, would choose her. So he finished a fourth cup of coffee, paid, and ran to his car. He backed to far end of the parking lot near the entrance and sank down to give the appearance of sleeping if anyone were to look in on him.
The rain continued for another hour. There were little ponds across the parking lot and the drainage ditch running down the hill had become wild rapids. Every time lightning would strike the sky would become purple behind the black silhouette of the mountains.
After the rain had slacked to a drizzle, the woman got up and paid. He scanned the parking lot, but nothing moved. The cars were empty. He guessed which car was hers-the dark blue, sensible and affordable sedan. The alarm chirped on that very car as she came out the door, walking toward it. He wondered if it would happen here, or if he’d have to follow her for a while. She’d probably be safe in Knoxville or in North Carolina, depending on which way she was going. Her plates said Cook County, so she wasn’t likely local.
Her car was just off to the left of the building’s front corner. She walked casually and confidently, looking around for safety’s sake, but not afraid. Then something shifted in the darkness behind her as she went around the front of her car. He put his hand on the handle and got ready.
A round man with a bulbous head sunk into his shoulders crept out of the shadows. His arms were up and Johnny could see he had long spindly fingers. He walked with a strange gait that was almost a waddle. His face was obscured by darkness.
He slipped out of car, leaving the door open and quickly circled around them in a wide arc, staying out of eyesight. His heart was in throat as the man grabbed the woman from behind and started to pull her back to the shadows, but the man who used to be Johnny was already on top of him. He threw his arms around the man’s neck and yanked him back hard enough to throw all three of them off balance. The woman, who’d been unable to scream because of the hand over her mouth, broke free and bounced off the side of her car and sprawled out on the ground.
“Get inside! Call the police!”
She scrambled to her feet and ran headlong towards the door, falling once.
The man struggled under not-Johnny, trying to throw him off, but years of rage coursed through his body now as he wrenched the man’s neck, jerking him back and forth and finally slamming him on to the hood of that sensible and affordable sedan.
He let go of the neck and started raining fists down on the man’s head and back. The man tried to cover himself and crawl away, but not-Johnny began kicking him wildly and stomping on those weird, skinny, long legs, that didn’t look strong enough to hold up the fat torso.
The man was making pained, rasping noises between shrieks of pain. Not-Johnny took a step back and caught his breath, circling the man intending to kick him in the head. As he brought his right foot back for the blow, the man turned his head up to not-Johnny’s face and hissed.
The man once called Johnny went pale as the contents of his stomach rushed into his throat and the back of his mouth. The man had two massive black eyes that reflected the yellow sign behind not-Johnny’s head, but he had two more smaller black eyes on each cheek, and still two more medium sized ones in his forehead. Worst of all though, was the mouth; a wide vertical slit, and in the light, not-Johnny could see a spiral of razor like teeth down the pulsing, red cavern of his throat.
The man leapt to his feet with uncanny agility and bolted across the parking lot in a wild, serpentine path-his legs wide apart, moving in a half skip, half waddle-arms out-stretched, fingers wiggling manically.
He got his nerve back and chased the man. The man looked back with nothing in his eyes, just eternal voids. He was looking into the soul of his attacker, his pursuer, but that man was looking at the tractor-trailer that had just come down the off ramp. Not-Johnny came to a skidding stop as the man ran right into the path of the truck and exploded across the grill.

The truck came to a skidding stop in the middle of the road and it wasn’t long before sirens could be heard, screaming through the now still night.   
Murphy called me the punk rock Gandalf

Sunday, June 11, 2017

NEW RELEASE! WOLFMEN OF MARS...DON'T LET IT IN

Horror synth rockers, Wolfmen Of Mars, have come roaring back with yet another impeccable release; Don't let it in! This is the Wolfmen's 11th album following on the heels of Warp Suburbium. Once again they lay down some serious grooves while giving shape to the soundscape of your favorite nightmares.

The album opens with the title track and might be my favorite song of theirs so far. "Kiss The Broken Bottle" is thudding urban gothic funk from hell. "Ritual" is  the title theme for some great lost Argento film. "Welcome To The Fear Theme/Hallucinatoria" will time travel you back to the glorious days of the video store and renting something fucked up you were too young to see. "At The Barn" and "Omens" are short interludes on the way to the album's closer, "Della Strega," which is Italian for whip lash or back strain, but I wonder if it's a reference to the 1973 Italian film Il Sesso Sella Strega or Sex Of The Witch? 

The artwork is by Patrick Sparrow, who had previously done The Wolfmen's The Light In The Corner Of Your Eye. It's a damn great total package, lots of fun, and will leave you wanting more, more, more! It's available HERE at Bandcamp and it's a name your own price deal.

Keep up with evil goings-on of Wolfmen Of Mars on Facebook and Twitter and play their music loud!

Friday, June 2, 2017

JOEL SCHUMACHER'S FLATLINERS AND WHAT HAPPENED WITH BATMAN

With it's Ellen Page starring sequel arriving on September 29th, 2017, and that I just re-watched it, I thought it would be a good time to talk about Joel Schumacher's 1990 haunted psychological thriller Flatliners. The premise was simple but effective; a group of medical students experiment with near death experiences to see if the stories of lights, and tunnels, and voices told by other near death survivors holds any water. What they discover are very personal experiences that bring secrets/demons of their pasts into their physical reality. It stars Kiefer Sutherland (Lost Boys), Kevin Bacon (Friday The 13th), Julia Roberts (Erin Brockavich), Oliver Platt (X-Men; First Class), and William Baldwin (Backdraft). This is my favorite film Schumacher ever made and his best looking one. He was backed up by cinematographer Jan De Bont, production designer Eugenio Zanetti, and set decorator Anne Kuljian and together they created a very cool, very alive, stylish film that had touches of gothic horror, crime noir, scenes straight out of a comic book, and washed in lighting that almost rivals some of DePalma's or Argento's work.

Flatliners was one of those films that I watched repeatedly on cable and also rented a fair number of Silence Of The Lambs had ridden in on the wave of slick adult horror *cough cough* THRILLERS, like Jacob's Ladder. Despite the genre label, Flatliners had a fair amount in common with Frankenstein and dealt with some very heavy spiritual issues. Regardless of what it was called, the important thing is that it's a smart, well made movie that offers a very satisfying experience. It has strong characters, some decent scares, high re-watchability, and ultimately a decent pay off. Schumacher had already proven to be an adept film maker with a good eye. Tonally his films were pleasing, even if they weren't always my thing. The last film of his I enjoyed was the every-man-at-the-end-of-his-rope hit Falling Down, starring Michael Douglas and Robert Duvall.
times. It came out after the 80s slasher boom had run out of steam and with the run away success of

Schumacher would betray me though. Stab me in the heart through my back even, when he made the shit-tastic Batman and Robin and Batman Forever. Yes, stellar set design, amazing lighting, yes, yes. But. There is not one other good thing to be said about these films. At all. From the casting on these films were utter mistakes, culturally tone deaf, and killed Batman in the cinema for years. Schumacher wanted to do a wild, campy, fun take on The Dark Knight that combined the feel of the two previous Burton films, with the colorful world of the 60s TV show. As far as I'm concerned, the Burton films were already a big step in the wrong direction and Schumacher just wheeled the whole franchise off a cliff. It wasn't because Batman had landed in the hands of a bad director, it was because a good director didn't respect the character enough-or perhaps have enough faith in the character to further his career in a notable way, so he decided to have fun and collect his check.

Returning to Flatliners after so many years really made me sad for what could have been. Take the
film and imagine Chicago as Gotham City (Nolan shot his DK trilogy there). Think about the themes and techniques Schumacher employed; there's touches of horror, science fiction, action, mystery, redemption, fear, heroism...If you change the plot to fit a Batman story, Joel Schumacher would have defined the character for a generation or more. It could have been a small, claustrophobic, mystery that took the character seriously, while embracing all the elements of the comic (the other-wordly, sci-fi, super human aspects) that Nolan flat out ignored. Ras Al Ghul could be hundreds of years old in that version, instead of just a man, you could imagine gods and monsters coming out of the wood work, and even an alien savior. Baldwin would have made a good Batman/Bruce Wayne. Sutherland could have pulled off a Joker to rival Ledger's performance, Roberts would have been a far more comic accurate Vicky Vale, Bacon would slay as Scarecrow, and Platt would have been a great Penguin.

I love Nolan's films, but while they are top notch Nolan films, they're only so-so Batman films, because he doesn't embrace the of the levels of the character. Which is where Burton and Schumacher fail as well. They only adapt Batman at a surface level and never dig into the depths of what makes the character so weird, and fun, and dark, and scary, and absurd. Did Snyder capture any or all of that in the new DC cinematic universe? I think we have to wait for Justice League to really judge. I have high hopes and really like Affleck as Bats. What's even more exciting is the fact that Matt Reeves will helm the solo Batman film and I base my excitement solely on Let Me In, which isn't just a great remake, but a great film in it's own right. He gets characters, atmosphere, and horror, in much the same way Schumacher did with Flatliners. 


Saturday, May 20, 2017

OPEN CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS...THERE'S NO PLACE LIKE HOST; AN ANTHOLOGY OF PARASITE HORROR

Hey, fiends! I'm excited to announce St Rooster Books will be releasing a new horror anthology, There's No Place Like Host: An Anthology of Parasitic Horror. The book will be edited by myself and Joseph Bouthiette Jr.

As the name implies, we're seeking short stories about parasites. We're encouraging tales of body horror and gross-out globs and messy mutations, but keep it smart, keep it fresh. Your parasite can be be a common worm or bacteria adapted to freakish new heights, or something more exotic, such as a possessive demon or shiny new nanotechnology with host-degrading kinks in the software. As long as there's harm to the host, there are no bounds to your parasite!

Word count: 3,000 to 5,000 words. If longer, inquire with a synopsis of your story beforehand.

Original fiction only; no reprints.

Payment: half cent per word and a contributor copy.

Deadline: October 1st.

Attach your submission as a .doc or .docx and send to holyrooster76@gmail.com.

Friday, May 19, 2017

REVIEWING THE HANNIBAL LECTER SAGA PART TWO; HANNIBAL THE FILM

Hannibal as a novel and film was quite controversial from the get go. Thomas Harris worked on the follow up to Silence Of The Lambs for almost a decade, while Jonathan Demme, Jodie Foster, and Anthony Hopkins were all anxiously waiting to return to that world in the inevitable film adaptation. Though a best seller, the book was met with a very mixed response. The two biggest critics, three counting Silence screenwriter Ted Tally, was Demme and Foster who declined to be apart of the sequel once they got a hold of the "lurid" novel. The violence in Hannibal was far greater then it was in Silence (and remember, Gene Hackman passed on directing and starring in that film because of it's violent content) and neither director or actress could see themselves taking part in this grand guignol.

Producer Dino De Laurentis, who owned the rights to the Lecter character and had produced Mann's Manhunter, but not Silence, was eager to capitalize on the Lecter gold mine with Hannibal and approached Ridley Scott. Scott's one of my five directors, in fact along with Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, he was the first director I knew by name and looked for his films. I'd seen Alien with my dad at the age of five and was forever effected by it. Later it was the same with Blade Runner. Scott is a stylish director who has tackled many different types of stories through his career and for my money he's always been pretty damn successful. Scott had some initial reservations about coming aboard, one, he wanted to make sure he wasn't stepping on Demme's toes and two, something had to be done about that ending.

Probably the most controversial thing about Hannibal the novel was the fact that it ends with Lecter
and Starling becoming lovers. I've never met anyone that bought that ending. Fortunately for Scott, Harris wasn't married to the ending and allowed changes to be made. That was one saving grace the film had going for it, the other was Hopkins agreed to return to the role of Lecter. Everyone knew that without Hopkins they had no film.

Hannibal was going to be a hard road regardless of who was involved or what ending the film had. Silence in both book and film were massively successful, multi-award winning, and had a rabid public with high expectations for a sequel. That's almost always a recipe for disaster and few franchises are able to deliver sequels as good as the original.

However, the screenplay was written by David Mamet and Steve Zaillion and Julianne Moore was cast to replace Foster. In Part One of this series I expressed my overall disappointment with Moore in the role, but I want to say again, it was not because she did a bad job, it was because Foster was imprinted in my mind so deeply, that anyone else in that role would be distracting. It could also be that Starling in Hannibal was now a seasoned, hardened ten year vet with the Bureau, so the natural innocence that Foster brings to everything she does might have hindered the movie. Who's to say? In the end it's a minor gripe and Moore is a tremendous actress. Scott also brought in production designer Norris Spencer, cinematographer John Mathieson, and composer Hans Zimmer, all of whom Scott had worked with in the past, which helped to give Hannibal a very 'Scott' feel.

Where Silence had very few scenes of violence and gore (most of it took place off screen, and we were only shown the aftermath or told about it), Scott inverted the ratio and gave us several harrowing and gory set pieces. Which may not be surprising coming from the guy who Texas Chainsaw Massacre in space, but Alien and all subsequent Scott films had actually been quite light on gore. This time though, Scott gave us disemboweling, cannibalism, disfigurement, and dinner table brain surgery. The most disgusting (and awesome) effects belonged to Gary Oldman's Mason Varger character. Varger had been Hannibal's only surviving victim (unless you count Will Graham), but he survived at a great cost. In Hannibal, we see him years after his meeting with Lecter, disfigured, paralyzed, and seething for revenge. After Lecter had escaped custody at the end of Silence, Varger had planned a very special revenge against him; he's going to have Lecter fed to wild boars he'd bred for this specific purpose. Oldman was completely unrecognizable in the role and went uncredited in the theatrical release. As a secondary antagonist, he practically stole the movie, for me, especially considering I feel that the film peters out in the third act.

Not that the third act didn't have one spectacular highlight, namely Lecter removing the top of Ray
Liotta's (who played Paul Krenndler) head and made him eat a part of his own brain. Hell, later Lecter fed a child a bit of that brain too! By the time the credits rolled, Scott had given us a classy grind house exploitation film, but the ambiguous ending, which saw Lecter escaping once again was a let down. Neither Lecter or Hopkins were young men, how many more times could we believably accept the further exploits of Hannibal Lecter? He wasn't Michael Meyers, he wasn't an unstoppable killing machine. It would have been far more satisfying with Starling either returning him to custody in the Baltimore State Prison for the Criminally Insane or killing him. When it was all said and done, it Starling I wanted more of, not Hannibal.

I get it though, Hopkins remained magnetic on screen. The way he delivered his lines, the way he moved, the life he brought to the role. They really would not have had a movie had Hopkins declined to return.

Though the film had the highest grossing opening weekend for a  R-rated movie at the time, critics were mixed and mostly dismissive of Hannibal. Roger Ebert called it a "carnival geek show" and gave it a thumbs down. It was mostly considered a gross and inferior film to Silence, which had enjoyed rave reviews to go along with it's numerous Oscar wins. I think there was a grand amount of unfairness and misunderstanding on the part of critics, though. Hannibal needed to be judged as an individual stand alone film and not held up so closely to Silence. Hannibal wasn't the same sort of slick, commercial, psychological thriller Silence was. It was very much a horror/crime film with it's own aesthetic. Scott was not beholden to Demme's vision, nor has Scott ever been turned off by violence the way Demme initially was before he accepted the Silence job.

There are four different Lecter "universes"; The Hopkins, The Rising, The Mann, and The Fuller. We're only concerned with The Hopkins right now though, which is Silence, Hannibal, and Red Dragon (which is a remake that basically exists to correct what DeLaurentis considers the mistake of Mann's Manhunter). All three films are so tonally different that they have to be judged more on their own merit than as a whole. Having three different directors, with three distinct styles doesn't help. The books though can be easily compared and ranked, with Silence and Dragon being strong than Hannibal and Hannibal Rising, which are both very strong books at the end of the day. Back to Hannibal the film though, I think the critical response was due more a misperception and/or prejudged misconceptions about what the film was and was not. How could anyone had gotten around that though? Silence was a juggernaut and Hannibal was doomed to wither in it's shadow before a single frame was shot.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

FADE TO BLACK (1980)

It was the same rented house in Georgia, back in 1980, when at four years old I had seen Carrie, Alien, Jaws, and Jaws 2-practically cementing my future as a horror-fiend. That house, while not as scary as the previous house we'd lived (which was straight up haunted and a story for another day), was where I started having reoccurring nightmares that are still fresh in my mind 37 years later. I never connected to them to Alien or Jaws, which seemed to play on HBO all the time, because they were about being strapped to a hospital bed in a dark room surrounded by doctors in surgical masks. I was unable to scream and everything kept speeding up and slowing down. I've never had a surgery in my life, so I have no idea why, in that house only, I was plagued by those dreams. I was terrified to go to sleep in there and that was the beginning of my sneaky late night TV viewings.

I've never really had much of a bed time in the first place, so I have vivid memories of seeing the opening of The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson all the time. That year, two films came out that I saw the trailers for on TV that really scared me. One was Alligator, which just seemed so much scarier than Jaws, since that fucking alligator had legs and being on land wouldn't save me. The other was Fade To Black. The image of the lead character's (Eric Binford played by Dennis Christopher) face, half painted in ghoulish Bela Lugosi Dracula-style was seared into my brain. Every time I caught the commercial, my blood ran cold. (Side note; my dad dressed up as Dracula every Halloween when he was the manager for the various Walmart stores he worked. He'd lay in a coffin at the front of the store and rise up to greet the shoppers. I was TERRIFIED to be near him until he wiped the make up off. I remember begging him to be Frankenstein instead, because Frankenstein didn't scare me. So I was already predisposed to be freaked out by Drac.)

A few years later when we got our first VCR and I started regularly renting horror movies, Fade To
Black was a must see. I checked every shop in town (we had five or six) and no one had it. It did get a VHS and a Beta Max release in the 80s, but didn't see a re-release until 1999's Anchor Bay DVD, which was apparently bare bones. I've heard there were some rights issues with the film that made it sort of a lost gem. I poked around on the web before starting this piece and didn't find anything to back that up. I missed out on the Anchor Bay release, though, and Fade To Black continued to be a lost must-see, until a week or so ago when it was dumped onto Amazon's streaming service to very little fan fare. Johnny Metro of Cult Credentials tweeted about it and I was pretty damned excited.

While the film starts off with a great amount of promise and we get strong performances from Christopher and Eve Brent Ashe as Aunt Stella and even a young Mickey Rourke as a bully co-worker named Richie, Fade To Black quickly begins stumbling. With over the top dialogue, disposable co-stars, and an over abundance of on-the-nose references and gimmicks, the movie loses steam fast. Christopher's Binford is literally the only thing that keeps Fade To Black afloat through its 100 minute run time. My wife pointed out that some of the over the top dialogue sort of reminded her of a John Waters film and I can kind of see that too, but I don't think that's what the writer and director intended, which is too bad. If Fade was injected with a bit of Waters' humor and sleaze, it might have stood up better.

I hesitate to knock the film too hard, as it's been built up in my head to be something it never promised to be. In fact, if you watch the trailer, it represents the film pretty well. Also, I went in expecting a horror film, but instead got more of a psychological thriller with some muddled sub-plots. Would I be more forgiving if Fade To Black was a slasher film? Maybe. Also, now that we're living in a post-Scream meta world, did that color my experience as well? Also, maybe. Speaking of Scream, both movies reference Halloween; in both, characters are watching the film, in Scream there's a discussion about Halloween and the rules of the slasher film, and in Fade there's a Halloween poster prominently displayed, alongside a Tourist Trap poster (all three were produced by Irwin Yablans). Binford, though, is more Norman Bates than Michael Meyers. Plenty of Psycho parallels throughout. What's interesting about the Halloween parallels is that Fade was reacting to Halloween when the slasher boom was still young and coming together and Scream is reacting to Halloween after the slasher boom has crashed and burned under the weight of it's own tropes and cliches. If Yablans wanted another Halloween or Tourist Trap, Fade was just too cerebral, slow, and bloodless to compete with Friday The 13th or the following year's Halloween II.  

What's the verdict? Fade To Black is not a waste of your time. It is worth seeing, but I'd stream it rather than buy a physical copy. I think it would play best as part of a double feature with 1990's Popcorn.